The title of this chapter of “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”(http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bbmw/bbmw.pdf) has always intrigued me, for it sums up the complementarian position in a nutshell. Since the church is given the analogy of a family, it is to be run like one, with men in control and women in submission.
The writer of this chapter, Vern Sheridan Poythress, goes to great lengths to make his case; however, he flaws on two major points. I will discuss these below.
First, he flaws in his analysis of the book of 1 Timothy. In his section of the chapter entitled “God’s Household in 1 Timothy, Poythress writes, “The overseers or elders ought to be respectable family men: ‘Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife…he must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect…’ (1 Timothy 3:2-5, pg. 238).”
There is a fundamental flaw in Poythress’s analysis. 1 Timothy 3:1 states the following:
“1The saying is(A) trustworthy: If anyone aspires to(B) the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1, English Standard Version).
Verse 1 of chapter 3 begins with “anyone” who desires the office of an overseer. The word here then, surely does not mean “a male,” but “a man,” anyone, someone, whoever. The word “tis” in the Greek then, is inclusive of everyone, not exclusive. When the requirement “the husband of one wife” is listed (v. 2), this shows the masculine hermeneutic at play. Notice at the end of 1 Tim. 3:1 that “he” desires a good work. The “he” used here isn’t in the Greek; instead, the word in the Greek for “desires” is “epithumei,” a word in the third person singular—which refers to “he” or “she”! Piper and Grudem begin their book with discussions about how the race of humanity was named after “Man,” not “Woman.” That is why we are called “mankind” and not “womankind.” But if this is so, then when the word “someone” is used, and the masculine pronoun is used, the usage of the masculine does not discount the feminine but rather embraces it. “Tis” is inclusive of the female gender and the Greek word for “desires” (in the third person) further confirms this thought.
In the quoted passage of 1 Timothy 3:2-5 (pg. 238), we see the words “He must MANAGE his own family well…” There is a problem, however: the word used here for “manage” also refers to the woman as well. In 1 Timothy 5:14, we see these words:
“14So I would have(U) younger widows marry, bear children,(V) manage their households, and(W) give the adversary no occasion for slander. ”
The word for “manage” here in the Greek is “oikodespotein.” This word is coined by Paul here in 1 Timothy 5 and is a combination of two Greek words: “oikos” (house) and “despotein” (to be the despot). While “oikos” shows the sphere of influence, what is of particular interest is the second word, “despotein.” The word “despotein” literally means “to be the despot.” What is a despot? A despot is a dictator, a tyrannical ruler. So young widows were not just to remarry and have children, but to “rule the home,” to be despots of the home. The word used here, “despotein,” comes from the parent word “despoteis,” which is used of “Christ” in Jude:
“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4, ESV).
The word here for “Master” is “despoteis.” So when the younger widows are told to marry, they are told to be “rulers” in their homes. The idea of “ruling” takes us back to the qualifications of the overseer in 1 Timothy 3:
“4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity(J) keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for(K) God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5, ESV).
There is a clue located in these two verses that give the woman a greater inclusiveness into the office of overseer itself. Notice that the person who desires the office of overseer must “manage his household.” The woman is to manage her household as well, so this includes her. But there is something else: in addition, the candidate for the office must “keep his children submissive.” Notice that it says NOTHING about keeping the woman submissive. Surely, if Paul wanted to keep women out of this office, he would have included the submission of the wife, for he does it throughout his letters (Ephesians 5:22, 24; Colossians 3:18). Peter mentions this as well in 1 Peter 3:1. The fact that Paul doesn’t use it, combined with his idea that women were to “be the despot” of their households indicates what Paul thought of women—they, like the men, were just as capable of serving in the office.
Finally, with our favorite passage, 1 Tim. 3:2-5, there is one last thing to point out—the question Paul asks:
“If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
I need to focus on this part of the passage above for a few moments.
This verse, placed on page 238 of Poythress’s chapter, is a mistranslation of the Greek text. The text does not read about the man who “manages his own family.” In the Greek, the text literally says, “if someone does not know how to MANAGE ONE’S OWN HOME, how will he care for God’s church?”
With the idea of managing the home comes the idea that these verses of 1 Timothy 3 are inclusive for both man and woman. If Paul used such a strong word to refer to women “managing the home,” then surely, this verse would apply to them as much as to a man. The ending of the question as well is inclusive: “how will he care for God’s church?” Notice that the person in line for the office does not RULE God’s church, but instead, CARES for the church. Because the church is the “house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15), God is the ruler of the church, the head of the church (Eph. 5). A man or woman as overseer can only CARE FOR the church, can only be a steward for the church. This truth doesn’t place the man any more in the position than it does a woman.
To finish a critique of this article, we have Poythress’s comment and a Scripture text to support his supposed “family theme” throughout 1 Timothy:
“14I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:14-15, ESV)
“In fact, these verses SUMMARIZE THE THRUST OF THE WHOLE LETTER. The phrase ‘these instructions’ is most naturally understood as referring to the contents of the letter as a whole. Thus the letter as a whole has the purpose of indicating ‘how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household” (239).
But these words trump the complementarian argument; for, if Paul is writing to restore order to the house of God, then why does 1 Timothy 2 have to refer to women not teaching over men when it could, instead, show us the chaos in Ephesus? If the letter rests on these words, then 1 Timothy 2 would be more about Paul correcting abuses in the church at Ephesus, not about church leadership (after all, he doesn’t tackle leadership until chapter 3).
The only thing in the letter that the complementarian can use to advocate male leadership is 1 Timothy 2. But what’s sad about the complementarian interpretation is that there is NO OTHER PLACE in the Pauline epistle where women having spiritual authority in the church is mentioned. In fact, Paul doesn’t write about women not having spiritual authority in any more of his letters.
I could say more about the analogy of the church as family, but I’ll finish this discussion soon.