Why I’m a Complementarian Part 1: The Biblical Narrative

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I’m doing a series on why I am complementarian. My first post will offer proof from the biblical narrative.

For those who do not know what “complementarian” means, it is the thought that biblically, men and women are created to complement one another in marriage. They have differing roles that fit and function well together. The man was created as the leader of the relationship, while the woman was created as the support and bolster of the relationship.

Some Christians espouse “egalitarianism” which supposes that male and female were created with equality, and therefore no one is the leader or supporter, and either can operate within those roles.

Common arguments for egalitarianism include the citation of Genesis 1:27, which says that all mankind was created in God’s image, both male and female. The thought is that we therefore should be equal. Others cite 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”.

My common response here is that I don’t argue about equality in regard to value and worth. No intelligent Christian will say that men somehow have a better standing before God than women. Rather, men have a different role than women. What Paul is saying in Galatians 3 is that in Christ, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek…all have equal worth and value before God. All are justified by Christ in his sight, no matter who you are. The same with Genesis 1:27; both men and women are made in God’s image — but this doesn’t mean that they must therefore function the same

If we are to logically look at it: just because both Jew and Gentile are equal in Christ, this does not mean they lose their ethnic distinction. So likewise, although men and women are both equally righteous in Christ, they still have differing roles. And, those roles have important purposes!

Now, let’s go on to the biblical narrative for evidence toward complementarity among men and women. It is so easy to look at the narrative of creation from Genesis 1:26-27, and assume a lot about gender roles. Both are made in the image of God yes; but, we must not miss the context of the next chapters. Genesis 2 gives a rehashing of the same creation account, but with more detail.

And Genesis 2:15 tells us that God created Adam first, and gave him a command to work the garden and be fruitful and multiply. This command was given to Adam, not Eve. Eve was not created until Genesis 2:18 when God said to Adam, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper for him“. Now what this does not mean is that Eve has no involvement in God’s command to work the ground and multiply — rather, it is that Eve has a different role in that same mission. Eve is to be Adam’s helper. She is to come along side Adam and help him accomplish his God-given mission. This cannot be missed. This was the purpose of marriage from the beginning: that Adam would hold the responsibility of leading, and that Eve would help and bolster that God-given mission; both equal in God’s sight, but with differing roles.

It is not until the fall that we see gender roles within marriage being distorted. And it is interesting to see exactly how they are distorted. Genesis 3:16 says that after the fall, the woman’s “desire will be for [her] husband”. This word “desire” gives the connotation of wanting rule and authority over something (cf. Gen 4:7). In other words, Eve in her sin will desire to thwart Adam’s leadership by becoming her own leader. What this means is that the fall created in woman a natural aversion toward being a helper, and a sinful desire to be in authority. More than that, Adam’s role was distorted in that rather than being a loving leader, he would instead “rule over [her]” (Gen 3:16b). What this means is that after the fall, man has a sinful desire to overreach his authority as husband and domineer rather than lovingly lead.

What we must affirm here is that gender distinctions are not part of the fall. Rather, gender distinctions are distorted by the fall. This cannot be overlooked. Many today decry the thought that men should lead. The feminist movement calls for female equality. But what we should be decrying is the harsh and domineering rule that is a result of the fall.

This is why we need a new and perfect leader who can restore us not only to right relationship with God, but to one another! And Christ does this by becoming the ultimate husband to his bride. Paul picks this motif up in Ephesians 5 by giving an ethic for marriage that revolves around Christ as head over the church. Paul says to the women, “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). Likewise, Paul says to men, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph 5:25).

By his death and resurrection, Christ gives us not a new model of gender roles, but a redeemed model. Just as Christ sacrificially loved and gave himself for the church, so husbands should lovingly lead and die for their wives. And, just as believers submit to and bolster Christ’s redemptive vision and mission, so wives are to model that for their husbands. As Tim Keller says, “the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another” (Meaning of Marriage, p 47)

The biblical narrative therefore makes it clear that in marriage, while man and woman are equal in God’s sight, they are differing in their respective roles.

In my next post, I will consider the Trinity as a proof for gender complementarity.

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4 thoughts on “Why I’m a Complementarian Part 1: The Biblical Narrative

  1. Pingback: Why I’m a Complementarian Part 2: The Trinity | Lucas Hattenberger

  2. Pingback: Why I’m a Complementarian Part 3: Christ and the Church | Lucas Hattenberger

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