In the process of engaging Scripture, we inherently bring certain presuppositions to the text. Because we operate from a different historical, societal, political, and economic setting than the real life situations of the original audiences, we often ask questions of Scripture which it was not specifically written to answer. As we attempt to find answers to questions, we must always remain cognizant our endeavor is not objective but subjective. This allows us to be sensitive to the work of the Spirit as he guides us through the appropriated text, even as we seek to critically engage the Scriptures.
The danger of Complementarianism is precisely that it claims to be an objective interpretation of Scripture. In failing to admit and critically analyze their own subjectivity, complementarians promote a reading of the text that ultimately serves only themselves. They demonstrate their commitment to preserving a patriarchal power structure over and above any attempt to critically engage the inspired text of Scripture. It is this desire which leads them to try to “protect the Gospel, put safeguards around it…” . In fact, they insist that failure to embrace their belief will ultimately lead to denial of the Gospel. This is the most sinister form of anthropotheism, the creation of God in human image by reducing Scripture to a small, rigid, unchallengeable box.
Perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more obvious than in complementarian eisegesis (no sic) of Genesis 3.
Previously (here, here) , I have discussed how the book of Genesis has been used to argue for a hierarchical view of gender defined by an inerrant approach to Scripture – that men are, by God’s design, the leaders while women are created to be submissive, to encourage and endorse this leadership. At the center of this argument is the assumption that patriarchy is not only the backdrop for the Scriptural narrative of God’s redemptive work, it is how God accomplishes this goal.
To be fair, complementarians have long attempted to shirk the descriptors “patriarchal” and “hierarchical”. These words, they say, imply an inequality before Christ that their position denies. However, I argue they are simply attempting to present a “white-washed tomb”. They have created a beautiful facade by which they sell complementarity to the masses but underneath lies the festering corpse of patriarchy – the preservation of male privilege at the expense of the daughters of God.
In reading Genesis 3, John Piper argues a gender binary/hierarchy is part of the natural order of “pre-fall” creation. He believes that creation order in Genesis 2 establishes that Adam was created as an authority over Eve, who functioned as his subordinate. He states that they possess equality in personhood (their personhood is not diminished by gender differentiation) and dignity (their God-given rights are not infringed by differentiation) which leads to mutual respect and harmony by embracing their divinely appointed, complementary gender roles. They also share a unified destiny of inheritance in Christ by fulfilling their call to complementarity. That is to say, they can only realize their “equality” when they recognize “If they don’t know their different assignments on the stage, there will be no drama, no dance.”
As Piper understands it, men must respect the feminine role, empowering them to trust God by recognizing call and giftedness are not the same thing. They must lead women to embrace their God-given roles and accept masculine authority. Conversely, women are to submit to the authority of men and empower them to reach their leadership potential in God. Even if a woman is more gifted, she must accept that male leadership was God’s design even in pre-fall creation. Thus, she should use her gifts to empower men and not attempt to assume any position, in any venue, which would give her direct influence or authority over men.
Piper believes this view is also upheld in Chapter 3 by the way in which the serpent target’s Eve. He believes the serpent’s aim was to upset God’s divine plan by tempting Eve to seize power over Adam by eating the fruit. The temptation to “become like God” is actually a temptation to decide who gets to lead, and who must submit – upsetting God’s natural order of male headship. This is why God chooses to address the man after they have fallen. He is seeking to restore the proper order. This, Piper claims, is confirmed by the “curse” on the woman, who will desire a husband, but receive a ruler.
Piper considers this confirmation that the height of sin – both the cause and result of the fall – is a woman seeking dominion over men. The punishment for this is men who sin against women through brutal domination.
However -somehow – the ultimate curse is placed on men. As Piper sees it, the man was the moral authority, the pattern the woman was supposed to follow. Adam abdicated his role of authority, and all of creation suffers. The problem with the world today is that men follow this example, instead of seeking true balance found in male authority and female submission. Piper claims these are the central roles of masculine and feminine identity.
However, this asserts an artificial interpretation to the narrative. By arguing from the notion of primogeniture, Piper tips his patriarchal hand. In the ancient world, the rite of primogeniture ensured the first born son a double inheritance and the right to be next in line as family patriarch when his father dies. Piper, in his attempt to preserve male hierarchy quite literally argues that Adam is God’s primogeniture, thus he holds the position of patriarchal leadership.
This argument is summarily destroyed by the short comment on “One Flesh” provided in Genesis 2. According to the text, the man must leave his father and mother and become “One Flesh” with his wife. As Carolyn Custis James notes in her book Malestrom, this is counter-cultural in a patriarchal world. If patriarchy a la “complement” was the presumptive norm of the text, the woman would be required to leave her family and join her husband’s household. Also, the biblical narrative itself works largely against the practice of primogeniture. For instance the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Ephraim and Manasseh, and the sons of Jesse show that being firstborn does not hold much weight in God’s design.
The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
Piper’s attempt to create a universal gender binary rooted in patriarchy is further undermined by an appeal to the term ezer kenegdo, Hebrew for “suitable helper”. In my post on Genesis 2, I noted the word “helper” does not carry the connotation of subordination. In fact, it is the image of a deity or warrior rescuing the “helped”. Adam in his loneliness could not fulfill the call to rule over creation, God created a co-ruler to aid him in his mission, someone suitable to allow human community to model the diversity of community that is God.
This makes it difficult to argue that the woman’s role renders her the “submissive” partner. God creates the woman from Adam’s literal flesh, she is imbued with all the same responsibilities as Adam. She is to tend the Garden and maintain covenant relationship with Yahweh by not violating his command regarding the one tree. Unless procreation is made the center of “one flesh” – something I have already argued against in depth – it is extremely hard to argue immutable gender roles from any passage in Genesis.
It seems even less sensible to argue that “becoming like God” is primarily a work of usurping Adam, which -by the way- subverts God’s gender design. Such a reading decentralizes the role of God in the narrative and asserts men in his place. It is a violence to the text, as there is no basis for arguing that women serve God by submitting to men. Instead, the serpent’s words to Eve imply that she is being tempted to usurp God directly. She is told that God is withholding knowledge from her, that eating the fruit will give her God’s secret knowledge. That she will be “like God” herself. She has failed in her role of helper/warrior, covenant partner, and steward of God’s kingdom. She – and Adam who stood with her – presumed that they could pursue God-likeness apart from covenant, that they could advance his kingdom purposes on their own terms.
I find Piper’s notion that exploitative and abusive male violence is the curse placed upon women for trying to usurp male power the worst of his offenses. Even if this power is held as sin, as Piper asserts, the notion that God cursed women to this is inane. I trust the reader can see for themselves how the teachings of inerrancy – that the Bible is universal and God is always right – suggests that in some way God punishes “feminism” (Piper’s scare word for those who want women to have mutual authority) with rape.
Sadly, Piper is not alone in his abuse of Scripture. Raymond Ortlund, Jr. (a cohort of Piper) sees the sin of the Garden as Adam’s failure to embrace his “headship”. He allowed Eve to take the leadership role, thus he fell into sin. Ortlund believes this is why God’s curses Adam, “because you have listened to the voice of your wife”. He addresses Adam last because Adam’s role was the most important. He had been passive, assuming the “feminine” role. Likewise, the curse against Eve means that she will forever seek to take control, to abandon her call to submissive femininity and take upon herself the “masculine” role. He even argues that Adam’s naming of Eve is rooted in his desire to reassert his leadership. This, he argues, is confirmed by the Pauline author in 1 Timothy 2:14.
This is a perversion of both texts. The order of the curses/punishments Yahweh pronounces can hardly be indicative of anything more than the author’s desire to create a well-balanced literary structure. Consider:
Verses 1-7 Serpent -> Eve -> Adam
Verses 8-13 Adam ->Eve -> Serpent
Verses 14-19 Serpent -> Eve -> Adam
This is a clearly chiastic structure.
A chiasm is an ancient literary convention named by modern scholars after the Greek letter “chi” (pronounced like the “ki” in kite). The letter “chi” is written as X and the literary structure resembles the shape of the letter. This particular text would form a chiasm between the temptation and the interview scenes, followed by a reverse chiasm between the interview and the punishment scenes. It would be written thus:
In terms of Genesis 3, this structure calls into question the idea that the author was concerned with a specific statement of a universal gender binary, intended to be inferred according to the order in which individuals are mentioned. It seems more likely he simply intended to create a skillful literary device as an act of praise pointing to the character that exists outside the chiasmus, Yahweh, driving the dramatic tension and exercising authority over all the other characters.
Likewise, Ortlund’s insistence on deriving a gender hierarchy from the words “because you listened to you wife” is absurd. God is not placing the emphasis on masculine/feminine dynamics but on human/deity relationship. That is to say, God is not superfluous to the text, but an intimately involved main character. Adam specifically received the covenant from Yahweh himself, yet could not fulfill it on his own. Thus God created Eve as his equal partner in his covenant purpose.
Yet, In the moment of temptation, Adam chose the council of Eve over covenant with his creator. Rather than helping each other to fulfill covenant, they failed each other in trusting their own wisdom. Adam violated the covenant because he has put his human relationship before his relationship with God and his calling as priestly steward of God’s creation. Where once humanity existed in image bearing community between, modeling the communal nature of their Creator, now they have placed their own relationship first in an attempt to usurp God himself. The focus on Adam’s obedience to Eve is in the belief that, unlike Eve, Adam was not deceived but ate of his own volition. It has nothing – in Jewish or early Christian thought – to do with gender roles.
This brings us to 1 Timothy 2. Contrary to Ortlund’s baseless statements, the only thing obvious about his treatment of this passage is that he has a dog in the fight – namely, his own privilege as a male interpreter of Scripture. He has set up a system by which anyone who dares challenge his ideas is (1) denying Scripture, (2) attempting to usurp God’s good design, and (3) assuming a non-normative gender identity.
This demonstrates perfectly the ways in which the doctrine of inerrancy (generally) and the beliefs of complementarianism (specifically) discourage honest engagement with the text by creating an environment of fear, shame, and rejection. Questioning this sickening concoction of masculine ego is rendered tantamount to rejecting the “clear teaching of Scripture”. The average layperson is thus completely impotent to read Scripture beyond the presuppositions forced upon them by those whose privilege is at stake.
A close look at 1 Timothy 2 will expose this further. According to verses 13-14:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
These verses occur in the midst of one of the most controversial chapters in all of Scripture. 1 Timothy 2 has been the subject of so many reactionary doctrinal statements, debates, and church splits that even attempting to reread it can be a daunting task. However, it is my hope that a little context will cut through much of the tension (fingers crossed).
At the beginning of 1 Timothy 2, Paul provides instructions for worship. He tells Timothy that in his church, the church of Ephesus, they ought to be praying for everyone, especially for governing authorities. The reason: “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (v.2) Those words will prove important as they create a theme throughout the text.
Beginning in verse 8, Paul begins to specifically address the worship services in the Ephesian church, under Timothy’s leadership. The men are to conduct worship with mindfulness toward praising God. They are not to use the worship service as a place for expressing anger and disagreement amongst the congregation.
Verse 9 then transitions to instructions regarding women in the congregation. It is important to note that the word often rendered “I also…” (hosautos) is better rendered “likewise” or “in the same manner”. Had Paul intended to launch a separate and (potentially) unrelated set of instructions to the women, the highly versatile Greek conjunction kai would have been a better fit.
This seems to indicate that Paul is, by his word choice, connecting the issue of men who bring anger and argument into worship with his statement to women. That is to say, Paul is not painting with broad strokes a set of objective, unquestionable gender roles for the entire Church. Instead, he is specifically addressing the situation of the Ephesian church at the time the epistle was written. Only in grasping this can we discern how it may apply more broadly.
Placed within the context of verses 1-2 – specifically the concern of verse 2 with leading a “quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” – the section on women begins to take a different shape. First, it seems obvious that anger and argument in the time of worshipful prayer amongst men would directly interfere with their ability to achieve the goals of 1-2. Likewise, the women were contributing to the problem by “immodest dress”.
Notable for this is what is considered “immodest”. In a modern context, we connect modesty almost entirely with the notion of sexual ethics. A woman who is immodest is one who dresses or carries herself in a sexually provocative manner, according to a particular set of “norms” established within her belief system. In the ancient Church, however, immodesty was the opposite of humility. The Greek word, kosmos, rendered “modest” is from the exact same root as kosmein, which is rendered as “suitable” (speaking of clothing) in the NRSV. Thus, the notion of “modesty” here bears the connotation of being presented in an orderly manner appropriate to the occasion.
Paul defines this immodest dress further with admonitions against “braided hair…gold, pearls, or expensive clothes”, indicating he likely has economic inequality in mind. Paul is instructing a group of wealthy women not to flaunt their wealth/status. Instead they are to behave themselves – note the connection between immodest dress and appropriate behavior – in a manner befitting worship (v. 10).
This is further enhanced by the preceding verses. In verse 11, Paul’s words are often rendered to say that women ought to learn quietly, or even silently. However, the word used for quietly here “hesuchia” is of the same root word used in verse 2 for a “quiet and peaceable” life. Thus, the issue is shifted from whether women are allowed to speak, and already becomes an issue of maintaining order and peace. This creates a link between the command to be “quiet and peaceable” in verse 2 with the desire to maintain order for worship in verses 9-10, and the peaceable submission of the women in verse 11.
While the word submission has a rather terrible rap sheet – due to the profound ways in which it has been used to subjugate women in the Church – at its core it is a word rooted, biblically, in the cross of Christ. Ephesians 5:21 calls everyone within the Church to submit to one another. In the following verses, this is developed as placing the other above one’s self (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). Specifically for husbands, this is a call to submission to their wives as Christ submits himself to the Church. It is the call of Christ to make the first last and the last first. It is imitation of Christ as he strips down to his under garment and washes his disciples feet like a common slave (John 13:1-17). Most profoundly, it is love that embraces the same humility and self-sacrifice that Christ displayed in becoming human and dying the death of a rebel and a heretic, the death of one accursed before God (Gal 3:10-14, Phil 2:1-11). It is the leadership of the lamb who was slain (Rev 5) which subverts the power systems of oppression, violence, and exploitation (1 Cor 1:18-31). And, it is the reminder that our attitude of grace, love, and humility toward others ought to be rooted in the grace, love, and humility demonstrated for us by Christ crucified (Phil 2:1-11; Matt 18:21-35, 1 John 4:7-21).
This submission completely upends any notion of subjugation or hierarchy. Instead, it roots all submission in the headship of Christ who leads not as a tyrant abusing their authority, but as a servant and a slave (Matt 20:24-28). The call of the wife to submit as the Church in Ephesians 5, then, is the call of mutual submission. As the Church has been called to imitate the kenosis of Christ (Phil 2:1-11), the wife is called to embrace this Christ-centered submission in her relationship with her husband. This does not place the husband over the wife, it subverts the entire patriarchal social order of Roman society and creates a mutuality which always points to Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).
As such, when women in 1 Timothy 2:11 are required to submit, they are not called to uphold patriarchy, but to subvert it while affirming the lordship of Christ. They are not submitting to masculine authority, nor are they to assert their own authority and subjugate men (v. 12). They are to practice the mutuality of Christian community, ensuring that proper worship is given and all are called to recognize:
[T]here is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all…” (vv. 5-6).
The historical prominence of the Diana (Artemis) cult in 1st century C.E. Ephesus suggests such a reading is decidedly preferable to patriarchal readings. The Diana cult was known for its radically matriarchal system of worship, in which the females were exalted and the males treated as lesser subjects. Many Gentile women converting to Christianity in Ephesus were likely coming out of this cult. They would have been women used to exhibiting influence and power, to having and exercising regular authority over men. Thus, Paul specifically tells the men not to react in kind by keeping the women from learning. Instead, they must be allowed to “learn peacefully and submissively” before God, just like every other worshipper (vv. 1-2). They must not attempt to seize authority through flashy shows of power, by dressing as they would to worship their former deity, but instead must realize that Christ is worshipped in good works rooted in his example, not in such demonstrations. Lastly, these women must not exercise their own authority, trying to rule men, but instead must be peaceful (same word used in vv. 2 & 11) in their interactions (v. 12).
This brings us to the verses at hand, properly 13-15 though Ortlund for some reason only cites 14, forming half a thought at best. In 13-15 we have the first direct tie between Genesis 3 and 1 Timothy 2. First, we are told that Eve was deceived and became a transgressor, but Adam was not deceived. Already, by expanding the statement to 13-14 then, we see something interesting happening. If Paul here wanted to simply blame Eve, the bit about Adam is out of place. We know that Adam sinned, and was held accountable for that sin. Thus, being “not deceived” cannot mean Adam didn’t sin. This is especially true given the treatment of Adam in Romans 5. So, the assumption that Paul is somehow denigrating women requires one to bring patriarchal presuppositions to the text.
Instead, Paul is leveling the playing field. Lest a woman claim (perhaps from knowledge of Paul’s treatment of Adam elsewhere) men are responsible for everything wrong with the world, they are reminded that Eve was also a transgressor. Lest a man turn that around and insist women are to blame, the men are reminded Adam knew full well what he was doing. He was without excuse. He was created first, and thus given the prohibition about the forbidden tree (2:16-17). Eve could only have known it as secondary transmission. Thus, just as Adam failed his role as transmitter of God’s covenant in the Garden, Eve failed her role as the “helper/warrior” called to serve equally alongside Adam towards the maintenance of said covenant.
However, if they can set aside these petty power plays, if women are allowed to embrace their proper role as equals within the Church, something profound will happen. The women will be redeemed in childbirth.
This is not, as some would claim, intended to insinuate that a woman’s God-given role is found entirely in motherhood. Instead, Paul is pointing to the curse of the woman in Genesis 3 and saying, as he does on Galatians 3, that the curse has been reversed. While Genesis 3 promises pain in childbirth and tension between the sexes, Christ redeems this and removes the tension, restoring the beauty of feminine identity as rooted in him, and not against the masculine.
This is further confirmed by looking more closely at Galatians 3. Here the Galatians church is reminded they are adopted as children of Abraham in Christ. The curse had been lifted and the covenant fulfilled, by which all the nations are blessed (vv. 10-14). The condemnation of the law has been lifted, and all are made equal in Christ. The prior identities of Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female (v.28) are flipped on their heads. Baptism becomes the sign of the new covenant (v. 27) and with it, all social divisions and antagonistic identity claims are swept away. In their place, the mutuality of adoption in the covenant establishes a new, equal identity for all which subjects and transforms any particularities of biology, social or economic status. In other words, participation in Christ necessarily subverts any power plays and antagonism based in selfish concerns and human systems of exploitation and oppression.
A brief reading of 1 Corinthians 11 will also support this reading. Despite the claims of complementarian thinkers, this section of Scripture serves poorly as a clobber passage against female leadership in the Church. In fact, as I have argued elsewhere (link), this passage serves as a rhetorical excursus against gender division. Paul criticizes the Corinthian church for arguing a hierarchy based on creation order (vv. 8-12) and asserts that such thinking is contentious and has no place in his churches (v. 16).
This brings us full circle to Genesis 3, and our analysis of complementarian claims. Specifically, we arrive at the blame game which ensues after the couple is confronted by Yahweh. Here, we see all aspects of relationship within the paradise community have been disrupted. Yahweh and humanity, male and female, Yahweh and creation, humanity and creation. The serpent will exist in enmity with his stewards, the woman will suffer in childbirth under a husband who seeks only dominance, and the man will be forced from paradise to cultivate a world that resists him at every turn. There is no hierarchy, no privilege, only destruction, enmity, conflict and exile.
This is emphasized by one further consideration from Genesis 3. Whatever names are assigned to Adam and Eve as historical figures after Chapter 4, Chapters 2-3 treat them as representatives. Adam literally means human, Eve means life.
More significant is that Eve is not named until the end of Chapter 3, until this point she is simply called “the woman”. This leads most to believe that the word “adam”, likely a pun on the word for clay “adamah”, is meant to be read as “man” up until the naming of Eve. This reading emphasizes how the characters in this story are meant to be representative of all of humanity and the Garden representative of creation itself complete with temple imagery.
To reinforce this last point, it is helpful to note that the jewels depicted as existing in Eden are the same as the jewels inlaid in the priestly vestments (Ex 28) and also the same as those inlaid in the gates of the New Jerusalem when all things are made new (Rev 21). This creates a stunning parallel with the story of Israel. Just as the man and woman were chosen to enter into a covenant relationship with God – do not eat of the one tree, remain in paradise in the presence of God – Israel also received a covenant. However both failed and received the living death that is exile from God’s presence. Their promised land was defiled and they were forced to live in conflict, enmity, and constant power struggles (i.e. the split of Israel into two kingdoms) which undermined their relationship with God and each other.
It is interesting, then, to note – as Carolyn Custis James does so poignantly – that Eve is not named until after gender/sex relations have been destroyed. Adam initially names her “woman” or “she who comes from man” indicating their intimate, one flesh relationship as established before Yahweh in chapter 2. Now, immediately after the curse of childbearing and abandonment/subjugation is pronounced Adam gives her a new name – “life maker”. That is, he names her for her curse, which emphasizes child birth. This is not the same as the priestly naming of the animals. It instead reflects Adam’s spiteful words “the woman you gave me…”
Ignoring these themes and making the text largely anthropocentric – focused on human gender roles – is the height of interpretive hubris. A text about covenant with God becomes a text about gender hierarchy, demonstrating that in order to arrive at a complementarian reading of these texts, two things must take place. (1) A person must have a functioning hermeneutical presupposition and/or conviction that complementarian reading is not only appropriate to, but wholly reinforced by Scripture. (2) The same person must possess an unwavering willingness to decentralize Yahweh/Jesus as the most important characters in the text.
To reinforce this second point, consider how passages like Genesis 1-3 and Matthew 19 are utilized. Despite the fact that Yahweh is by far the dominant character in the OT passage and Jesus is the most prominent character in the NT, a complementarian reading insists that we cannot truly understand what they are saying about God unless we understand what Yahweh/Jesus are saying about humanity.
Complementarians thus seeks to understand God by looking at humanity, to read Scripture anthropotheistically. They insist we understand God by studying a particular explanation of the imago dei, thus placing the cart before the horse. Using Scripture to promote an artificial agenda that limits women, preserves male privilege , and claim God cannot operate any other way because he can’t contradict his word as we interpret it is nothing short of sin. Ironically, this complementarian reading tempts us to heed the serpent’s deception, to believe humanity must seize for themselves “God-likeness”.
Complementarianism, as such, is precisely what is wrong with the American evangelical church. The way forward is not to circle the wagons or preserve our comfort with empty eisegetical protective strategies. We can only begin to heal the gender wounds, begin to respect the God-given authority of our sisters in Christ, and find a truly human identity by seeking one thing: to imitate Christ. We must seek to limit ourselves. Specifically, men must deny the privileges afforded by societal patriarchy and allow the witness of the cross to be made manifest by those to whom Jesus originally entrusted the Good News – women.
 John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006) xii
 Ibid. “The Danvers Statement”, 469-472.
 Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015) pp. 49-52, 79-84.
 (cf. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3) pp. 95-112 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).
 Wayne A. Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than 100 Disputed Questions (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004), pp. 332-39
 Custis James, Malestrom, 55-57.
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