arguments for women pastors

This tag is associated with 3 posts

“Ordained Proclaimers or Quiet Learners? Women in Worship in Light of 1 Timothy 2” by Charles A. Gieschen in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“Ordained Proclaimers or Quiet Listeners? Women in Worship in Light of 1 Timothy 2” by Charles A. Gieschen

Gieschen starts by noting that 1 Timothy 2 is a “battleground” text, often taken into account even so far as on issues of whether we should let women serve as lectors (people who read the texts) or vote in meetings (69). This chapter purports to settle the issue regarding exegesis of the text.

Before delving into exegesis, though, the question arises of how the text ought to be translated. The author translates the text himself, specifically 1 Timothy 2:12, as follows: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but [I want her] to keep quiet” (69, brackets are from Gieschen). Needless to say, this translation is highly controversial to begin with, particularly since the author decides to add in his own preferred way to read “keep quiet” by bracketing in his presumed meaning. Indeed, Gieschen’s translation differs markedly from the translation offered by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North in their own chapter on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Their translation, instead of stating that “I want her” to keep quiet, as Gieschen suggests, has this clause as a continuation, simply saying “she must be silent” (52). Such a difference may not seem like much initially, but when one is going to go so far as to ask whether women ought to be kept from reading the Bible in worship based on this text, the importance of what is being said here multiplies dramatically. Moreover, given that Gieschen is providing his own translation, one might expect some defense of the meaning of authentein as “exercise authority.” As Marg Mowczko shows from a brief survey, however, the word’s meaning as simply “exercise authority” is highly contested, even from other Greek sources. Nevertheless, Gieschen offers no defense of this translation, and simply uses this translation for his exegesis. If one finds questions in his translation of the meaning of authentein, then much of what follows is also thrown into question.

Gieschen then goes into three alleged reasons why people are “overrun[ning]” this “biblical command” (69-70). First, he alleges that it is because “biblical authority has eroded… to the point where the demands of biblical texts simply are not heeded.” Second, some argue the command is “culturally conditioned.” Third, “feminism had a profound impact on the Western world.” These three allegations amount to poisoning the well from the start, a technique that, unfortunately, has been repeated throughout the book. It is simply assumed that if a reader does not come to the same conclusions as the authors, they must “not heed” biblical texts, they must dismiss them, or they have given into some bogeyman, whether Gnosticism (in the next chapter, this is the argument), some form of feminism their readers ought, apparently, to fear, or some kind of historical heresy. This does nothing to advance the argument and indeed seems to show just how little regard the authors have for those with whom they disagree.

Background is important, and Gieschen provides his own basic assumptions about 1 Timothy before delving into more exegesis. First, he holds that Paul did write this letter. Second, he argues it is the word of God. Third, he argues the “implied reader” of the text is churches across Asia Minor (73). Next, Gieschen goes into the context of 1 Timothy 2, stating that the context is “after addressing false teaching and before discussing congregational offices” (74-75). Oddly, when offering a translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, his translation of 2:12 is actually different from that offered at the beginning of the chapter. Here, it is “I [also] neither permit a woman to teach, nor [do I permit a woman] to exercise authority over a man, but [I want her] to keep quiet” (75). Again, this is a different translation by the author than he offered just pages before. This translation has additional brackets putting words into the text, presumably for clarity. These brackets, though, offer miles of intepretation inserted into the text, particularly when one looks at the brackets he inserts into verse 15, which he adds “[God-ordained role of]” in front of childbearing (itself a somewhat atypical translation). These brackets are, in fact, adding the author’s interpretative framework into the text, moving it in the directions the author prefers, and allowing him to state that women are to occupy certain roles, simply by adding it to the text of Scripture through brackets. The number of bracketed words added into the text here is alarming, but what many of them tend to do is shift the meaning towards a patriarchal understanding that is stronger than what seems to be in the text itself. It is alarming to see the author, who just a few paragraphs before was attacking his opponents for not taking Scripture seriously enough, seriously just add entire clauses with meaning (like “God-ordained role of”) into that very Word of God.

Finally, Gieschen moves into the exegesis of the text. Immediately, however, we encounter the problem we’ve encountered several times before: Gieschen prefers a reading of the text that selectively makes words literal or not based upon his preferred meaning. For example, he asserts that the quietness or silence of women is not to be understood as women having to be completely silent in worship. The text says quiet/silence, but it doesn’t mean that; what it means, according to Gieschen, is that women “are not to be in a verbal teaching mode during the service but to be in a ‘quiet’ learning mode” (78, emphasis his). So now, we have the author being selectively literal with this text, and then moving beyond selecting which parts to take literally into saying that what the text actually means to say is this longer text, that women are not to be in a “verbal teaching mode.” Well, one may wonder, why doesn’t Paul just say that, then?

Regarding public teaching, Gieschen goes on to argue that what is meant is that “I do not permit a woman to engage in the authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures to men” (80). Again, one wonders why Paul didn’t simply state this rather clear exortation, relying instead upon his exegetes to do so for him. But smuggled in alongside this argument is the shift in meaning from “teach” to “authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures.” This lengthy meaning derived from a single Greek word is simply placed into the text, once more moving the meaning of the text into Gieschen’s reading without argument. And, of course, because this lengthy reading of didaskein is taken to mean “authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures,” Gieschen then feels comfortable to state that it “clearly prohibits woman [sic] from holding the pastoral office…” (81). Of course it does, when one imports a lengthy prohibition into a single word!

Here, though, we finally see Gieschen address the meaning of “exercise authority.” But rather than delving into the rather lengthy modern discussions of the meaning of this phrase in Greek, Gieschen cites a single article in his favor in order to state that it means exercise authority. Remarkably, however, Gieschen goes on to acknowledge the word’s meaning is generally “in the sense of ruling, controlling, or dominating without inherently possessing the authority to do so” (81). But this is exactly what many egalitarians have argued–that the word is a usurped authority or one wielded in such a way as to harm others. And if that is the proper translation, then the meaning of the text shifts: “I do not permit a woman to… (domineer/harm/hold authority wrongly over) a man.” And this is a reading that hardly undermines the egalitarian case. Indeed, if we agree with Gieschen here that the authority is exercised in a way of controlling/dominating, then we have moved into an egalitarian reading of the text–one that Gieschen himself apparently endorses partially only to undermine it by, apparently, holding that women inherently are unequal in authority (despite his earlier insistence that women are equal “before God” (71).

Next, Gieschen surveys various responses to his argument, some of which we’ve dealt with already in this series. But of interest is his argument against those who note that women did indeed teach men or apparently hold various offices. He shifts the goal posts. He simply states that these women cannot be proved to have held the “pastoral office” (83), however he chooses to define it (he doesn’t). Yet when we have looked at others in the same volume who have defined pastoral roles, we’ve seen they can’t even show that anyone held such an office in the NT. So Gieschen’s saying that it is “very difficult to defend” that women held the “pastoral office,” it should not be surprising. (See discussion of ordination and its definition in this book here.)

Order of creation is a major buzz-theme for complementarians, and we see Gieschen wield it here. He argues that there is a “created order” that grounds his interpretation of this passage. What is that created order? He simply appeals to verse 13 in which Paul says Adam was created first, then Eve. But, as many, many have pointed out, this bald-faced appeal is extremely inconsistent, because any number of creatures, dirt, skies, and clouds were all created before Adam. So if “created order” is simply the order in which things were created, this argument turns into an absurdity. Now, many complementarians will insist this misrepresents their argument, but Gieschen, like so many others, fails to go beyond this simple reading of “first Adam, then Eve” as if it solves everything for them. One might as easily say “first cats, then Adam.” Gieschen is concerned, though, with proving that this “order of creation” (however defined) is not “nullified” or undone. Rather than acknowledging that Galatains 3:28 presents a massive problem with his reading, however, Gieschen enlists that text by saying that “differences in genders and roles do not imply that women are inferior to men…” How not? Just because Galatians 3:28 says so? But Galatians 3:28 actually says “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” (ESV). Once again, Gieschen is using a text that seemingly says the opposite of what he wants it to–“there is no male and female”–in order to say what he does want it to: male and female genders have different roles which are put into creation order for all time and are in no way contradicted by saying “no male and female.” But this the height of eisegesis rather than exegesis–Gieschen is reading into Galatians 3:28 that which is not there. Indeed, Gieschen’s ultimate defense of his position is to punt it to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s theological statements, rather than defending his readings from the text. The quote he offers doesn’t cite Scripture to back up its twisted reading of orders of creation and redemption; it simply asserts their position.

Finally, Gieschen looks at the “saved through child-bearing” in verse 15 briefly, arguing that it must mean some kind of role for women. Why? It seems because it most closely matches Gieschen’s own reading of the context.

This chapter on 1 Timothy 2 is problematic in several ways, as we’ve seen. There’s no need to rehearse all the errors Gieschen makes in his translation or exegesis. What is important is to note that Gieschen’s own understanding of one of the key clauses in the text–the meaning of “authority” is one that egalitarians can–and do–argue for themselves. Ultimately, it seems that it is Gieschen’s theological presuppositions that guide his reading of the text, locking in words to specific meanings, selectively being literal when needed, adding words where needed, and expanding words to mean entire sentences. Once again we see that the complementarian reading of the text is far from a plain-sense reading of Scripture as is so often argued.


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Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


A Sacramental/Lutheran Response to Women in Church Leadership

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_BreadThe debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.

In the Place of Christ

One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).

The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:

Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.

The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.

The Levitical Priesthood

Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:

[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.

He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.

A Lutheran Appeal

The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments

From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.

The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”

Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.

Responses to the Argument Above

The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.

No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.

Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.

If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.


There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.

We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.


Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at

All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The Image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons and published under Creative Commons licensing. It was created by John Snyder and may be found here. Please appropriate cite if re-used.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails

The argument advanced in this post will make the following claim:

If women are excluded from the ministry solely due to their nature as women, then women are ontologically inferior.

The argument entails:

If complementarianism (the position that women should not be in the ministry) is true, then women are ontologically inferior to men.

Some may note that this doesn’t necessarily imply that complementarianism is false, but astute readers will note that there is one further implication, namely:

If complementarianism holds that women are ontologically equal to men, but the position entails that women are inferior to men, then complementarianism holds contradictory propositions to be true.

And this would entail that complementarianism is false.

The Argument

Argument 1:

The argument is directly from Rebecca Groothuis, “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role,” 317 (full citation below). She writes,

P1: If the permanent, comprehensive, and ontologically grounded subordination of women is justified, then women are inferior persons.

P2: Women are not inferior persons.

Conclusion: Therefore, women’s subordination is not justified.

Premise one is contentious. Complementarians often anticipate such arguments and counter by asserting that women are “equal in being, unequal in role.” Groothuis has cogently argued that this is merely a semantics game. First, she notes that “functional differences often are compatible with personal equality…” (“Equal in Being…” 315). The problem for those who wish to exclude women from the ministry is that the role of women is not simply functional. Rather, it “differs from functional subordination in its scope, duration, and criterion” (316). Women’s subordination is permanent, because women are subordinate throughout their life, and it applies to all women at all times (Ibid). The subordination is comprehensive in scope because everything a woman does must be done in submission to males (if one disputes this they need only browse complementarian literature: see John Piper, cited below, 50ff). Finally, the criterion for women being subordinate is not analogous to functional subordination (wherein the subordinate member enters the functional relationship either willingly or through need) because the subordination is based merely on the woman’s unalterable female being (Groothuis, 317).

P2 is almost universally acknowledged as true. Unless the complementarian is willing to swallow the pill and affirm that women are inferior persons, they must grant P2.

The conclusion follows from P1 and P2. Therefore, it seems that women should not be made subordinate to men. There are, of course, many objections to this argument. We shall turn to these below.


Objection 1: The argument above is all well and good, but it is a philosophical argument. We all know that it is Sola Scriptura, and your argument assumes that philosophy can trump the Bible, which it doesn’t.

There are a number of clarifications required to respond to this objection. First, those who assert Sola Scriptura are themselves making a philosophical claim: that Scripture alone is the basis for our faith. Second, if one wishes to jettison philosophy because they hold a position which is philosophically untenable, then they cannot coherently assert “My position is true.” Why? Because when one throws philosophy out the window, one throws logic out the window. Thus, the principle of non-contradiction would also be false. If that is true, then when one says “My position is true” they could be both right and wrong, and therefore their position could also be false. This is absurd, and it undermines every single truth claim. Those who reject philosophy must also reject truth.

Finally, even those who argue that philosophy and logic must have a “ministerial role” implicitly accept that their claims are governed by logic. I can think of at least two extremely plausible reasons for this to be true. First, those who want philosophy to occupy a “ministerial” place argue that because they have come to the logical conclusion that the Bible must govern reality. Here’s the problem: they also seek to reconcile contradictions in the Bible and draw out its claims–and this is a philosophical endeavor. Thus, those who argue in this fashion are, themselves, doing philosophy and logic. Second, those who argue that philosophy must be “ministerial” often do so because a position they hold is logically untenable. But if philosophy (and, by implication, logic) must function underneath Biblical truth, why reject logic to begin with? If philosophy and logic don’t apply to Biblical teaching, then there’s no reason to reject it, because things can be true and false!  Yet those who argue this way realize that their claims are philosophical (without using that word), and so reject the counterarguments by trying to make the logical move of throwing philosophy out the window. It’s incoherent.

Objection 2: P1 is false because ontologically  grounded subordination does not imply inferiority.

Clearly, this objection is more thought out than objection 1. Those who object in this way accept that logic governs these disputes, and instead set on rejecting a premise of the argument so that the conclusion will not follow.

I cannot answer this objection without a bit of philosophical development, so my readers will have to forgive me.

Adam Omelianchuk addresses this objection head on in his article “Ontologically Grounded Subordination” (full citation below). He writes that “the central metaphysical concern is over whether subordination is essential to the personal identity of woman” (169). He goes on to introduce the notion of “proper function” (well known in philosophy due to Alvin Plantinga’s series on “Warrant”). Proper function “means something is functioning properly if it is doing what it is supposed to do” (170). Now, on complementarianism, women are designed in such a way as to be subordinate to men, while men are designed to be the leader. Thus, the woman’s proper function is to be subordinate by nature, while the man’s function is to be leader by nature. When a woman tries to become a minister, she is violating her proper function. She is, by nature, only functioning properly when subordinate. Now, we’ve already addressed the notion of unequal roles, but here we are trying to establish that a woman is, in fact, ontologically inferior if complementarianism is true. Omelianchuk writes:

[I]t is not plausible to believe that men and women are ontologically equal, because manhood and womanhood are not ontologically equal. Obviously, manhood and womanhood are “different,” so they are not equal in the sense that they are not identical. But if we differentiate manhood and womanhood by hierarchical features essential to manhood and womanhood themselves, and if we maintain that God designed men and women to fulfill these functions of manhood and womanhood, then we have a prima facie reason to believe that women are essentially inferior to men. Hence, complementarianism fails. (174).

In other words, the very nature of manhood and womanhood is such that man is at a greater position on the hierarchy of authority than woman. They are not equal. Again, as Omelianchuk writes, “[Women] simply are not equal in being, and their ‘role’ obtains just because their being is fit for subordination” (176-177).

Finally, those who continue to object may assert that I have not yet made explicit how women are inferior to men.  It seems to me to have already been made fairly explicit–men, by nature, are higher in authority than women–but some persist in this objection. Perhaps a thought experiment may help illustrate my point. Complementarians hold that women should also be subordinate in the home to their husbands. Consider Jackie and Jim. Jim gets a job offer in Alaska which pays about the same as Jackie’s current job, but is something he would enjoy (as opposed to the job he currently has, which he hates and pays much less). Jackie loves her current job, but would have to work at a job she didn’t like were they to move to Alaska. They argue about whether or not to move to Alaska. Finally, they get to the point where they are at an impasse, and neither is willing to budge. Jim, on complementarianism, is the leader of the home, and Jackie is subordinate. So, when push finally comes to shove, Jim decides they will move, and Jackie, on complementarianism, should submit with all due respect and go to Alaska without further debate. Jim has asserted his role as the leader of the home, and therefore they must move.

It seems clear to me that this story may not make explicit how subordination entails inferiority, but it does seem to show that the woman has a clearly inferior position. If an argument comes to the point where neither side will go one way or the other, the man always gets his way. Now I realize that complementarians often argue that men should be loving leaders, should not use their leadership role to trump their wife all the time, etc., but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details, Jim in the above story was acting in his role as the leader in the home. His decision is the one which must be followed. Perhaps Jim later grants Jackie’s requests to visit friends and family “back home” and does all sorts of other things for her to make her comfortable in Alaska, but that doesn’t change the fact that her position is inferior to his–at least in the sense that whenever a decision is made about which they are split, his choice wins out.


[Thanks to one reader who was kind enough to point out I hadn’t properly drawn my points together, I have added this conclusion a few hours after this post originally went up.]

The argument I have written above shows that on complementarianism, women are ontologically inferior. Why should that entail that complementarianism is false, as noted in the introduction? Well, there are few (if any) who actually assert that women are inferior. In fact, the Biblical teaching on this topic is extremely clear. God, throughout His Word, affirms the equality of man and woman. Galatians 3:28 is one oft-cited example, but one can also look at Genesis 1:26-28, wherein male and female are created equally in God’s image. Groothuis addresses the notion of Biblical equality more in her chapter, so I won’t expand much more.

We therefore have issued a major challenge to complementarians: Women, according to Scripture (and essentially universal affirmation of all involved), are equal to men in being. Yet complementarianism entails that women are inequal in being–they are, in fact, inferior. If that’s true, then complementarianism affirms contradictory truths: women are equal and inequal, equal and inferior. Thus, complementarianism is false.


Adam Omelianchuk, “Ontologically Grounded Subordination,” Philosophia Christi 13-1, 2011, p. 169-180.

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Comlementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 31-59 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).

Rebecca Groothuis, “‘Equal in Being, Unequal in Role’: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination” in Discovering Biblical Equality ed. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis, 301-333 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005).



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