Complementarianism Revisited

Families are essential part of society, and even more so of the Church. God created the family and uses it to teach the Gospel. We begin on the foundation of these two truths:

  • God created families- see Genesis 2:15-25
  • God uses the husband and wife relationship to teach the Gospel- see Ephesians 5:22-33

I love to study. Whether it is theology or not, I enjoy learning new things. I love contemplating deep thoughts as well. But one of the aspects of my personality is a drive for practicality. How will this change my life? And as a follower of Jesus, I want to know how this can help me love God more and love my fellow neighbors more?

With this background understanding, I studied the different viewpoints on the husband-wife relationship. In my studies, specifically of the family, I came across a different viewpoint from which I was taught. I attended a small Bible college, and though the name complementarian was not used, a form of it was taught. I think, in general, the view held by this institution and churches associated with it, it was more a radical approach. Perhaps an illustration will be helpful. The husband comes home after a long day at the office. He is tired, wearied by the day’s work. As a result, he desires to come home, sit down in his favorite rocking chair, and eat in silence while he watches the television. Thus his wife is to prepare the meal, have everything prepared for him, and keep the children quiet while the husband unwinds. Whenever the husband desires to have sex, the wife is not to deny him on the basis of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. This king-of-the-castle approach to marriage is how I was taught the roles of marriage. During my time at this institution (as well as my interactions with other churches) I saw both positive marriages and marriages that functioned to the illustration above.

One thing I came to believe is that there had to be a better way. Why? Because the verse often left out was Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Chris loved the church and game himself up for her.” There was this lack of self-sacrificing love from the views of marriage taught by the institution and accompanying churches. As a result, and much to my own blame, I began to seek the opposite view: egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism is the belief of equality in marriage. The husband does not have any specific role to play, nor does the wife. If the wife decides to be the leader, she can be. Likewise with the husband. There are several passages of Scripture that those who teach egalitarianism utilize. Perhaps the most significant one is Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, I was taught a radical form of complementarianism, moved to egalitarianism, and am slowly making my way back to a biblical view of complementarianism.

How in the world did this happen?

To begin with, I love to study! You may be thinking, “Didn’t I just read that?” Yes, you did. But it is a matter of importance, the significance of which cannot be overstated. Because I desire to study and seek what Scripture states, I desire to be accurate, to achieve truth. Scripture is an open book, given by God for His glory and our good (see Deuteronomy 29:29). In the effort to be brief, I will provide bullet-points of the most significant reasons for this new transition.

  • Complementarianism pictures the Gospel in Marriage in a way that Egalitarianism cannot.
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    The role of husband and wife has the specific purpose of illustrating the love Jesus has for His Church (see Ephesians 5:29, 32). Complementarianism allows for the unique beauty, worth, and significance of both the husband and wife. Simultaneously, it also allows the headship of the husband (a picture of the headship of Christ) and the submission of the wife (a picture of the submission of the Church to Christ) without debasing either. Certainly, an abuse of the roles is contrary to Scripture as well as a distortion of the Gospel. Egalitarianism, however, is unable to paint the same picture. Mutual submission, yes. And this can be seen in Ephesians 5:21. But mutual submission cannot be a picture of the Gospel, and therefor complementarianism lends itself to the more biblical view.

  • Complementarianism, when properly practiced, is a picture of the Gospel in your home, community, and church.

    Because God ordained marriage between husband and wife to be the living picture of His incredible grace, it is used by God to reach others. I think about my children and hope that the love my wife and I share lead them to God. Our communities, constantly debating what marriage is or how one should define a family, need the rock of certainty found within the family as the Gospel. The Church, the “pillar and buttress of the truth” ( 1 Timothy 3:15), is to be the body of Christ (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). That is, the Church is the Gospel Living. Egalitarianism is a reflection of our society more than of the Gospel. Certain aspects of it are appealing. That is why I was and still drawn to it. I love the teamwork atmosphere. However, Egalitarianism does not picture the Gospel in the way that Complementarianism does.

  • Complementarianism enjoys the breadth of Scriptural support.

    This one is a little more difficult, and one that I am in the process of working through. Scripture is written to individuals in specific places at specific times. The world of Scripture was a heavily male-dominated society. Today we enjoy more equality, with women enjoying many aspects of life previously unattainable. However, something must be said that it is within those times that God decided to provide His truth. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture consistently places the husband as the head (please note head and not king) of the home. The issues faced by many who object to complementarianism (myself included) are not issues with God’s views, but mankind’s execution of it. The fact that Scripture solely functions within the complementarian view is astounding and must weigh heavily in our understanding.

So where does this leave us? Perhaps I will put together a small series on the topic. Either way, I am constantly thinking, constantly searching the Scriptures. Let us, as we search the Scriptures, seek God’s wisdom on every issue. Likewise, let us seek to practice the Scripture as God intended.

 

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A Comparison of Genesis 2:17 and 3:4 in light of the understanding of the Creation of Man and Woman

In my studies of the New Testament book of Hebrews I have come across some incredibly interesting information. Today, as I am working through Hebrews 2:14-18, I was puzzled at the phrase used in verse 14. We read, “…the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (ESV) This led me on a journey. I am looking at an overview of the devil’s work throughout Scripture.
In keeping with the typical evangelical understanding of the devil, I went straight to Genesis 3. Now, in my reading of Scripture, in both the creation story of humanity (Genesis 1:26-31) and in the fall of humanity (Genesis 3:1-6) man and woman were given the same command to avoid eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequences would be death.

However, in Genesis 2, we see a parenthetical view of the creation of man. In this account, man was formed first, given the commands concerning paradise, and then after naming animals God drew woman from one of his ribs. Below you will find a comparison of the command given to man (Genesis 2:17) and that of the statement made by the serpent to woman (Genesis 3:4).

 

Genesis 2:17

Hebrew Gen 2 14

 

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (ESV)

 

Genesis 3:4

Hebrew Gen 3 4

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” (ESV)

 

I have color-coded our words for ease of reference. The first word found in the almost identical statements by God and the serpent is Maveth.PNG. This word is a Qal infinitive absolute. Arnold and Choi describe this as “both ‘atemporal’ and ‘apersonal,’ meaning that only the context determines the time/aspect features of the action, as well as the subject of the action itself.” (Arnold and Choi, 2003) The word means natural death, and the scope of death in Scripture ranges from human beings to animals and plants. The structure of the Hebrew text, then, offers us further clarification as to who will die and when (relatively speaking).

The next word TMaveth (in Genesis 2:17) and Tmavethn. (in Genesis 3:4) are practically identical.  The only difference (besides the paragogic nun) is the ending. The word in Genesis 2:17 is a Qal Imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, singular. In the context, God is giving man the command that should he eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of God and evil “dying he would die” (author’s translation). The word in Genesis 3:4 is a Qal Imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, plural. The difference is found in the number. God, in Genesis chapter two, speaks to man, singular. In Genesis chapter three, the serpent speaks to woman and man, plural.

This may seem to be an insignificant point, but to me it has great implications. Here are a few:

  • When God created humanity, he created both male and female. This is stressed in Genesis 1:27. When it says that “God created man in his own image” (ESV) the word used for the collective of humanity is the singular word Adam.PNG , from which we derive the proper name Adam. When we look at Genesis 3:9, shortly after woman and man ate the fruit God addresses man (Adam.PNG) and asks him (singular), where he was. It is not until man blames his wife (Genesis 3:12) that God begins to address them individually. Thus, according to the beginning account of humanity, man and woman were so combined as to be seen as one.
  • While it may appear, on the surface of the text, that God only gave the commands to man, this is not the case. Some theologians and scholars use this to prove a complementary view of the male-female relationship. For example, see Andreas Köstenberger, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundations, 24-26; David Lee Talley, “Gender and Sanctification: From Creation to Transformation A Comparative Look at Genesis 1-3, the Creation and Fall of the Man and the Woman, and Ephesians 5, the Sanctification of the Man and the Woman in a Redemptive Marriage Context”, in Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Spring 2003, 6-16. However, the Hebrew reveals that man and woman were oneNow, it is easy to simply take the definition of one and apply it in an incorrect manner. The Hebrew word can mean one in number or a collective of a group. For our understanding of the male-female relationship, it is quite helpful. The man and woman, one, were issued the commands regarding the keeping of the garden.
  • This has further implications for marriage roles today. Rather than seeing the husband as the king of his castle, or wives as subservient, the original Edenic nature of the male-female relationship is equality. Certainly there are physical differences between the sexes, but at creation when “God saw everything that he had made…it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31, ESV)

If you would like more information for an egalitarian point of view, check out this excellent resource: Christians for Biblical Equality.

What are your thoughts? How do you see the creation account’s implications for today?