Complementarianism and the Bible

Some complementarians want to frame the gender debate as a battle for the Bible, the gospel, and the very soul of the church. Some have even implied that their side is the only one that takes scriptural authority seriously.

Exhibit A, Thomas White, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

If we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose the proper interpretation of God’s Word, we lose inerrancy, we lose the authority of the Bible itself.

Exhibit B, Wayne Grudem:

I believe that ultimately the effective authority of Scripture to govern our lives is at stake in this controversy.

And exhibit C, John Piper:

As soon as you ask what are the implications of not following through with what Ephesians 5 seems to say or what 1 Timothy 2 seems to say… sooner or later you are going to get the gospel wrong.

Complementarians revel in their embrace of the so-called “difficult doctrines” or less palatable parts of Scripture. According to Wayne Grudem, egalitarians “pick and choose” what they like and don’t like in the Bible. Complementarians, on the other hand, faithfully adhere to “every word.”

But it’s not even close to being true. 

How many complementarians, for example, support reinstating the biblical test for an unfaithful wife? Women suspected of adultery were forced to drink a vile cocktail of water, dust, and ink — which, according to Numbers 5, would cause them to miscarry if they’d been having an affair. (That’s not very “pro-life,” is it?) ANY woman could be subjected to this indignity, even if the only basis for suspicion was her husband’s paranoia. And by the way, she had no similar recourse if she suspected her husband of infidelity.

Yes, it’s part of the Old Testament. But remember, Dr. Grudem said “every word.”

How about Leviticus 27:1-8, which assigns a monetary value to men and women? Males ages 20-60 were valued at 50 shekels of silver. Women the same age were worth only 30 shekels. How do we square this with the belief that women and men are “equal before God,” something modern-day complementarians strongly affirm?

What about Paul ordering women to cover their heads during worship? Complementarians frequently refer to Paul’s teaching about headship in 1 Corinthians 11, yet they mostly ignore the part about head coverings (which was the whole reason for Paul’s comments about headship in the first place).

Or what about the apostle Peter who, after advising slaves to essentially take a beating for the Lord, told wives to obey their husbands “in the same way”? I don’t know of any mainstream complementarian who argues that Christian wives should stay in abusive relationships for the sake of their unbelieving husbands.

So how is it that complementarians follow “every word” of Scripture while only egalitarians “pick and choose”?

Next up: complementarianism’s appeal to church history…

Image: Ryk Neethling on Flickr

2 thoughts on “Complementarianism and the Bible

  1. Good article, touching on what many of us have been saying ”in the trenches” for years. No matter what the topic, people who say that only their side is Biblical or faithful and the other side is just looking for excuses to sin, are really afraid that they can’t win a debate without threats. Their inconsistency and double standards are only sustainable through sheer numbers and holding all the places of power.

    But there really are mainstream comps who say a woman should put up with abuse ”for a season”… just ask Piper. But the most egregious error in that is the fact that suffering as a Christian is never to come from another Christian, but from unbelievers. And there is no escaping the fact that to treat any human as ”the Lord” is idolatry, and to play God to another person is blasphemy. They don’t like to hear this and whine about it ”shutting down discussion”, but it only seems fair when they try to shut women out of it from the start.


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