Monday, May 17, 2010

The Rebel Bride: A Response to the Charge of Inconsistency

Some time ago, a friend of mine (who has been struggling with the issue of whether or not women should be elders and pastors in the modern-day church) told me that he doesn’t see evidence in the New Testament for women in pastoral leadership. His reason? According to him (and those who have instructed him), the creation order (which he believes 1 Timothy 2:12-15 teaches). My response to his statement was that if 1 Timothy 2 said what he believed it did, why is it that we read so much of wife submission (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18, 1 Pet. 3:1), but do not read of the submission of women to men in the church? The Scriptures, however, do command that the sheep of the flock submit to those who lead in the church (Heb. 13:17, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, 1 Tim. 5:17-18), but it never directly tells women to be submissive to the men of the church. Instead, what we find is that women, like men, prayed and prophesied publicly in the early church (1 Cor. 11:5), and women even served as apostles (Junia, Rom. 16:7). Women such as Phoebe were active as not only recognized workers of the church, but even as ambassadors or representatives to other churches (Rom. 16:1-2). Contrary to the belief of most complementarians, women even conducted churches in their homes (such as Nympha, Col. 4:15). Last but not least, women such as Euodia and Syntyche served side-by-side with Paul in preaching the gospel (Phil. 4:2-3). All this evidence cannot be a biblical “mistake.” No---it serves as an incredible witness to the role women played both in the church itself and outside of it. And all of this New Testament evidence doesn’t even mention the great prophetesses (such as Huldah) and judge (Deborah) of the Old Testament!!

In this post, I wanna tackle the issue of inconsistency. It has been said that conservative egalitarians are inconsistent when they advocate male headship in the home but teamwork leadership (both male and female) in the church. I was labeled “inconsistent” by my friend above, when I made this same statement to him.

But I would like to stop and pose this question to complementarians everywhere? How are conservative egalitarians inconsistent for their view? The Bible is what decides inconsistency, not my logic. If the Scriptures do not point out the error of egalitarianism, then its position is just as valid (if not more than) as complementarianism.

What do the Scriptures say? That’s the kind of question I like to answer this question, let’s look at the Bible.

As I mentioned above, the Bible confirms male headship in the home. A good example of this is Ephesians 5:22---

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, AS TO THE LORD.” (NKJV)

As this verse tells us, wives are to submit to their husbands as if they are submitting to the very Lord Himself. The husband has been given headship in the home. This is undisputed amongst complementarians and conservative egalitarians. I mention “conservative” egalitarians because there are liberal egalitarians (some are called “feminists”) who assert that male headship must be overthrown. While I sympathize with feminists and their mistreatment by male authorities, I cannot say that I agree with them. God has given the male headship in the home, whether you and I like it or not. If the Bible is the Word of God, then we must accept everything in it (whether or not it fits a preference of ours or not).

Having said that, though, the next question would be, “Does the Bible confirm male headship in the church?” the answer to this question would be a resounding no!! Let’s read further in the text of Ephesians 5:

“For the husband is THE HEAD OF THE WIFE, as also Christ is THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23, NKJV).

Here we see that, while the husband is the head of the home, his headship stops there; Christ is the head of the church, and He will share His place with NOONE! So for complementarians hung up over male headship, check Ephesians 5:23. Nowhere does it affirm the male as the head of the church. So if the male is not the head of the church, then what is he in the church? Part of the bride. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:29-30,

“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, JUST AS THE LORD DOES THE CHURCH. FOR WE ARE MEMBERS OF HIS BODY, of His flesh and of His bones.”

No matter the gender, whether male or female, both genders comprise “the body of Christ.” Christ is the head, and we are the body. And the head is greater than the body, so Christ is Lord over and above all of us, whether male or female, whether Pastor, Elder, Deacon, choir member, nursery worker, etc.

Now that Ephesians 5 has cleared the air, one more question remains: Is the conservative egalitarian consistent in his/her view of male headship in the home and teamwork leadership in the church? Yes. The answer is found in the husband-wife analogy of both home and church relationships. Let’s revisit Ephesians 5:23 once more:

“For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church...”

Here we see the “husband-wife” analogy in both spheres. In the home, the male is the husband, and the female is the wife. In the church, Christ is the husband (the head), and the church is the wife, the Bride. We can see this in verse 25:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR HER” (Eph. 5:25).

The church, then, is the Bride of Christ (Christ being the husband). This is why the church in the Greek is an “ekklesia,” the “ia” ending serving as a “feminine” noun ending. Paul continues this analogy further in the same chapter:

“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak CONCERNING CHRIST AND THE CHURCH” (Eph. 5:31-32).

So the verse Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24 he now tells us refers to Christ and the church. So the church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is the Husband of the church.

Where then, is the inconsistency? We’ve seen that between male and female (and between Christ and church) that there is a husband and a wife established in both spheres. So, I ask complementarians, “What’s the problem?” Don’t worry: I think I know what it is...they continue to desire to replace women in the church because of a presupposition concerning 1 Timothy 2. But if Ephesians 5:23 tells us that Christ is the head of the church, and 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that the Spirit gives spiritual gifts “as He wills,” then how can complementarians continue to assert that 1 Tim. 2 refers to male leadership in the church? I think this is a fitting time for complementarians to step back and take a look at their scriptural interpretation. If you ask me, I think their interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 needs some serious reform...and the church needs to stop playing “rebel bride” and submit to her Husband (that is, Christ) by allowing Him to decide the giftedness of the church instead of the church herself.


  1. If the Bible is the Word of God, then we must accept everything in it (whether or not it fits a preference of ours or not). -deidre

    I totally agree!

    A couple things:

    1. The Bible teaches that
    "the husband is the head of the WIFE"
    NOT head of the home or household.
    I have written about that here:
    Part 1: “Keeper of the Home” – OIKOUROS.
    Part 2: “Head of the Household”- OIKEDESPOTEO.

    2. Regarding the wife being subject to the husband in Eph 5, some time ago I requested that you look at some greek for me on another post:
    Apparently you missed that, so I went ahead and did some research myself. “Wives [are Subject] to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24

    Having been married for 28 years now, I can testify that the passive voice understanding strikes me as the right understanding. I am indeed SUBJECT to him in everything, its not something I control (no matter how much I wish I could). Its rather like I am SUBJECT to gravity whether I like it or not and it parallels the consequence of the Fall on woman from Gen 3:16. Her desire will be for her husband and he will RULE OVER her. A husband IS HEAD. That is not something he DOES but what his IDENTITY. Inherent in being HEAD is a great deal of power and control over his wife which can be used to minister LIFE or DEATH.

  2. Charis,

    Thanks so much for responding. Please feel free to do so anytime.

    Regarding the verb "be subject" as the NKJV labels it, the verb in the Greek text is actually a participle, "hupotassomenoi," meaning "being subject." It is a present participle, which implies continuous action. In other words, the woman is "continually being subject" to her husband in everything.

    The husband is the head of the wife as Ephesians 5 teaches, but the sphere of the home is where husband and wife reside. In Ephesians 5, Christ is called the head of the church, and the church is where He meets with His people. Christ is the "Lord" of the church; therefore, the husband is called "lord" (1 Peter 3) as well, because he is to represent Christ in his role over the wife. Regarding the issue of the home vs. the wife, I state what I do about the home because that is the place where the family resides. Not meaning to cause harm there...

    My point above was to state that there is no inconsistency in my view. The male is the head of the human marriage, Christ is the head of the spiritual marriage. As a result, cries of inconsistency are just stalling tactics.

    I hope this helps. Sorry it took me so long...

  3. you are invited to follow myblog

  4. Steve,

    You are more than welcome to join this blog. I have another blog, called "Center for Theological Studies." Feel free to look through that site as well :-)


Comments should only be made related to the passages and issues discussed on the site. Biological arguments against women and men, name-calling, or violent religious language (or violent language in general) will not be tolerated.