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De Profundis

The Need for a Third Way Between Egalitarianism and Complementarianism

Published on:
January 27, 2022
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18 min.
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Complementarianism is a theological model of women and men that faces two problems.[1]

The first problem is the perception that this theology demeans women. When many people hear the discourse about role distinctions of women and men, they hear an emphasis on inequality. Some people also hear an implication that women are ontologically inferior, or they are more vulnerable to deception than men are (since many prominent proponents of complementarianism insist that God excludes women from teaching the church or functioning as pastors or elders). Many women have been hurt by complementarian institutions.[2] I know that many proponents of complementarianism do not intend these impressions. We should all deplore this impression that complementarianism makes some women feel diminished, inferior to men, and less valuable to God. To meet this problem of perception, I propose six items below that should be emphasized because they are ways to affirm women in church practices. I expect that many who identify themselves as complementarian will agree with most or all these six emphases. Some who bear the label of complementarian will disagree, which is another problem.

You are reading a paper presented at ETS.

The Evangelical Theological Society is a professional academic society of biblical and theological scholars, pastors, and students. This paper—slightly edited for publication—was presented at the 2021 ETS Annual Meeting by Dr. John McKinley.

The second problem facing complementarianism is that many proponents of the position disagree so strongly with the six emphases presented below that they do not belong to the same position, despite the way that both sets of proponents embrace the label of complementarianism. The two competing definitions for one label causes confusion that could be fixed by pursuing a distinct position that is neither egalitarianism nor normative complementarianism (restriction of women from teaching men and doing leadership functions in churches). To address this second problem, the seventh proposal is to articulate a gender humility theology of women and men which affirms the ideas already embraced by many who otherwise identify themselves as mild or soft complementarian. An alternative to normative complementarianism and egalitarianism is needed to continue the work on thinking about sex distinctions, relationships, and God’s calling to individuals.  

The seven proposals are listed as follows:

  1. The goal of humility  
  2. Jesus is our goal, instead of restrictive gender stereotypes and roles
  3. Women are the image of God alongside men
  4. Paul’s meaning of the head-body metaphor according to his actual use of it
  5. Update theological discourse and Bible translation 
  6. The metaphor of the church as a family  
  7. Distinguish a third way of gender humility
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1. The Goal of Humility 

Humility is a lowly posture brought about by God in a person so he or she can serve others.[3] God the Son humbled himself into human life and served people. He brought divine revelation down to the level of his students’ understanding. He accommodated himself to their needs for healing, instruction, reminders, and friendship. Everything he did was for their benefit, to serve their needs. Jesus reversed himself from rabbi and Lord to be a slave for his students and suffer for their redemption. He urged this same humility to his apostles. He warned them against taking up a position above others the way that people normally do in leadership, pointing them instead to serve each other as he served them.[4] 

The humility of Jesus is God’s goal for each person, so complementarianism should promote the humility of men and women toward each other above concerns for authority, rights, and power. Christians are called and moved by God in a race to the bottom for humble service that can only be humble because no one keeps track, like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is giving. Love does not keep a record of wrongs, and humility does not keep a record of rights—neither personal privileges nor good deeds that might be praised. The largest ideas of leadership supplied from our culture are authority and power, but Jesus has displaced that mistake by supplying himself as the contradiction, humility, and service. We can know we have been humble when others feel supported by us, but we are relatively anonymous.

Complementarianism has the reputation among some as calling women to support men in leading. A better reputation is available in calling women and men to support each other, according to the humility of Jesus.

Rachel Green Miller warns that we “. . . need to be careful not to let our appropriate discussions on authority and submission in the home and church become the lens through which we see all male-and-female interactions.”[5] Instead of seeing everything according to authority and submission, our lens should be the humility of Jesus toward one another. He possesses all the authority as Lord of creation and the sole head of the church, and Jesus operates by serving the others around him constantly. He worked to lift others up. His work was to equip, encourage, sustain, comfort, and provide for others to be able to respond to God. Complementarianism has the reputation among some as calling women to support men in leading. A better reputation is available in calling women and men to support each other, according to the humility of Jesus. 

2. Jesus is our goal, instead of restrictive gender stereotypes and roles.[6]

Aimee Byrd writes that “. . . there are no exhortations in Scripture for men to be masculine and women to be feminine,”[7] and “. . . men and women are often assigned roles that align with conventional beliefs and hinder their ability to grow.”[8] Preston Sprinkle is right to recognize that “The Bible’s primary invitation to every Christian is not to act more like a man or to act more like a woman, but to act more like Jesus.”[9] Just as Jesus’s humility is the Christian’s path for serving others instead of pursuing one’s own ambitions, Jesus is also the Bible’s clearest revelation of biblical womanhood and manhood. No better godly models are available for either gender. 

Some complementarian emphases on gender roles and stereotypes function as alternatives to the pattern of Jesus, which is misleading. For example, Ruth is not a better model for women than Jesus is; Abraham is not a better model for men than Jesus is. If we focus on these others for gender types, then we divert ourselves from the clearest human example of what God wants people to be. 

If we look to the Bible for the lesser goal of gender types and roles, then we risk missing the Bible’s gift of presenting Jesus to us.

Jesus is the savior of all people, women and men, and Jesus demonstrated many episodes of responding to God and caring for the people around him. He shows us how to love God and love others. The gift of biblical revelation is to train us how to think about being a human and to engage with God as his children. The lesser goal of how to think about being a female or a male requires God’s guidance to us in our unique gendered experiences in a particular culture. If we look to the Bible for the lesser goal of gender types and roles, then we risk missing the Bible’s gift of presenting Jesus to us. Our identities as women and men with distinct ways of experiencing life are important, but not so much as our identity in Christ.

Another problem of gender stereotypes and roles is that these are too narrow for the actual range of behaviors expressed by men and women within cultures. The biblical accounts of men and women doing various things have a mixed presentation of alignment with and contradiction to the gender expectations of the ancient world.[10] The accounts show that there is a complicated range of different ways men and women behave. The accounts are not sufficient to be guides for people to repeat in modes of being women and men. Many biblical statements are ancient descriptions, not prescriptions that stand above history and culture.

Absent from the Bible are statements commending these descriptions as transcultural gender types for men and women to emulate. Many gender statements are analogies drawn from historical descriptions and ancient cultural norms. Examples of hairstyles, head coverings, clothing styles, tattoos, cosmetics, descriptions of marital interactions, greeting others with a kiss, and episodes of parenting are accounts that are all deeply rooted in ancient cultures. The possibility of drawing transcultural gender norms from these examples is difficult to establish.[11]

Gender behaviors have patterns across cultures because of physiological differences in women and men. Some of these patterns are expressed in the Bible descriptively. Cultures develop gender types that can be helpful and harmful to individuals and societies, depending on how closely a culture’s norms allow for some individuals’ preferences and gifts for operating as women or men. Clothing styles, roles of work, hobbies, and behavioral traits vary among cultures according to what men and women in that society do. For example, the kilt is masculine clothing in Scotland, which to some looks like a woman’s skirt, and the skirt is feminine clothing in France. Many gender types are consistent across cultures because women and men are broadly similar from physiological experiences.[12] 

When complementarian theology defines gender stereotypes and roles for women and men, the result is praise for marriage and family, but this praise has the bad effect of putting people down for not being married, for not being parents, or for being called to a career. With Jesus there is liberty to fulfill all of one’s gifts and talents. With Jesus as the model for all human lives, we see that God values our uniqueness and distinctive gifts as women and men. With Jesus there is freedom to be a woman or a man as God might engage a person individually, without regard for the cultural distortions about gender. His maleness and cultural context of first-century Israel do not disqualify him from being the model of God’s call because God’s agenda is clear to present Jesus as the model of loving others and loving God in humility.

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3. Women are the image of God alongside men. 

Both women and men are the image of God.[13] We should emphasize the collaboration of women and men in unity and interdependence with each other, like the internal life and external works of the triune God. Complementarian theology is perceived as diminishing women, so we have an opportunity to emphasize the biblical revelation that women are the image of God. Ancient cultures viewed women as inferior to men and denied women many of the rights and responsibilities reserved for men.[14] Were complementarianism to weave into our theology an indelible notice that women are the image of God, then it would be more difficult for some women to imagine they are inferior and of lesser value to God and the church compared to men. God has chosen to express himself visibly in the creation by making humanity in two kinds: women and men. We reflect God in many ways, including our gender (from sex distinctions) as an aspect of our personal life. 

A related opportunity is to emphasize the way God has revealed himself by many feminine types and women in the Bible. Complementarian practice gives the impression to many people that God is more aligned with the masculine form than the feminine, and some people directly limit God as being more like a man, according to the concepts of authority, protection, and provision. Instead, we should emphasize that God is above human gender and inclusive of both human genders.[15] Both genders are expressive of God and reflect him in creation. God’s traits are not a more natural fit with male human beings. God’s authority is not a masculine trait. Miller is right that “Leadership isn’t uniquely masculine, and submission isn’t uniquely feminine.”[16]

4. Paul’s Meaning of the Head-Body Metaphor According to His Actual Use of It

The complementarian use of the biblical term “head” needs to be revised to fit Paul’s actual use of the metaphor on a case-by-case meaning. The complementarian interpretation also takes the head metaphor as a gender role of authority for men in relation to submission by women. Since Paul exhorts wives to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22, 24, 33) the conclusion appears natural for “head” to refer to a husband’s authority. The concept of a husband’s headship in relation to a wife has been extended to male headship in four additional spheres: the family, society, government, and church. None of these four is mentioned in the Bible as further aspects of the husband as head, so the complementarian interpretation of male headship must be pulled back to application in marriage and according to Christ’s humble service. 

A normal argument in complementarianism is to draw parallels between the husband as head in marriage, the male-only qualifications for elders and overseers of churches, the chronological priority and naming activity of Adam in the original creation, the male leadership for Israel’s priesthood and government, and the twelve apostles of Jesus who are all males. These parallels may be adding up to something, but they may be given by God for different reasons separately from a unified program to declare male authority in all matters of home, church, and society.[17] Complementarianism identifies and connects these dots in a way that adds up to male authority, but the dots are not connected by scripture. 

I have two concerns about the interpretation of “head.” First, an illegitimate totality transfer of meanings may be obscuring the complementarian vision of the metaphorical meanings in Ephesians 5. We have uses of the head metaphor for Jesus’ relation to the church as his body (Eph 1:20–23; 4:15–16; Col 1:18; 2:18–19) and in relation to all humanity (1 Cor 11:3). The meanings of “source” and “authority” are both possibly in view in these five other uses, as context can confirm in each use. The temptation is to read these uses and extrabiblical use of the metaphor into every use of “head,” but this would deprive Paul the option to use a single term in various ways and for a unique meaning according to his detailed explanation in Ephesians 5. Michelle Lee-Barnewall has explained that the head-body metaphor was well-known to Paul’s readers in the Greco-Roman world for a meaning of authority.[18] Surprisingly, Paul appeals to the metaphor in Ephesians 5 and invests it with new meaning that was abnormal and shocking. Paul reverses from the conventional usage of “head” as “authority” by contradicting it with Jesus’s actions of humility. 

Instead of marking the normal meaning of distinct roles of a husband and wife as corresponding to the head’s primacy in relation to the body’s service to the head, Paul re-orients the head as called by God for service to the body.

The revelation in Ephesians 5 is that Paul creates an entirely new meaning of the head in relation to the body, according to Jesus’s self-giving love for his church-body in the cross. Paul has flipped the normal use of the metaphor because the cross turns everything upside down.[19] The theology of the cross that Paul provides for his use of the metaphor is self-giving love because of Jesus’s solidarity as head with his body. This shocking injection of new meaning is about the head’s service for the benefit of the body. Instead of marking the normal meaning of distinct roles of a husband and wife as corresponding to the head’s primacy in relation to the body’s service to the head, Paul re-orients the head as called by God for service to the body. This re-orientation is what Jesus does for the church, and naturally what all people do for their own bodies. Paul’s meaning of head here is different than in his other uses and the conventional usage of the metaphor in the ancient world. Paul’s point is not at all about male authority.

The ancient world already positioned men in authority over women, so it is no revelation that wives submit to their husbands.[20] Paul’s start in the passage with exhorting mutual submission in 5:21 would have been shocking to all his readers. Wives and husbands are obviously obligated to each other by mutual commitment, service, and appropriate sharing of the diverse work of marriage and family. Paul’s exhortation for a new kind of headship goes against the cultural norm of the ancient world. His reversal is to dignify wives as collaborators living in unity with husbands (head and body are unified). Husbands are pointed to Jesus’s example to serve their wives instead of expecting to be served by them as lords at home.

5. Update Theological Discourse and Bible Translation 

Translations should properly show women as included in the intended audience of biblical statements and as essential members of collective humanity and the church. Unfortunately, readers of our most popular translations (especially the ESV) hear an unintentionally distorted biblical voice that God speaks primarily to men and about men, leaving women to the margin as less valuable and less important to God (the marginalization is false). Likewise, all theological discourse of sermons, lectures, and writing can be adjusted easily to speak with pronouns, examples, and varied terms for addressing the whole audience.

Just as successive generations move beyond some skills and technology of their parents, so also the current society has moved beyond using masculine collective terms in an inclusive way. The result is that English translation done in earlier decades now speaks in a distorted way about the intended audience and subjects of many biblical passages. This unintended translation slippage makes the Bible unnecessarily difficult for a female reader to use. The Bible is hard enough with all the features of the ancient cultures and God’s own strangeness as compared to our intuitions and philosophy. We should be highly concerned about producing biblical translations that speak in modern English usage without using archaic forms that can be barriers to many readers.

One example is the use of “man” or “mankind” to translate the Hebrew adam and the Greek anthropos. These ancient terms were (mostly) intended to communicate as collective terms of humanity, human beings, a human being, and refer broadly to women and men. English usage of the male collectives carried the broad meaning for several centuries. To readers in the present day, the collective meaning is diminishing quickly. The term “man” has become specific as a reference to males only. Many female readers know to decode the usage in the Bible translations that is different from normal discourse, but this is an unnecessary barrier for women reading the Bible. English usage has changed for many reasons, such as dropping the archaic thees and thous of earlier translations. Along with translating collectives accurately for the intended broad reference, singular collective terms “he” and “him” also require updating so they speak about all human beings.[21]

Another example is the Greek term adelphoi, usually translated as “brothers” or “brethren.” This term carries the rich family metaphor of sibling bonds for the church in a way that made sense to the ancient readers. The original usage referred to women and men. Some English translations have adjusted translations of the hundreds of uses of adelphoi with the intended ancient meaning brothers and sisters.[22] 

Family can teach us how to do church, particularly with the unity and collaboration of women and men contributing to each other in the ways urged upon us by the Bible.

6. The Metaphor of the Church as a Family   

The surrogate family metaphor of the church is important because interdependence and shared life make a new essential relationship of sisters and brothers. In the ancient world, this model helped the church members to understand how to love one another.[23] Complementarian churches normally limit leadership and teaching of the whole church and many ministries to men, particularly those men who are elders. The result is that women’s contributions are limited to ministries that are neither teaching nor considered to be leadership of the church. These limitations can make churches function as male-dominated, like families without mothers.

Unfortunately, the limitations on women can be broad. For example, women are often blocked from leading worship or speaking before the whole church. Since many ministry roles may be considered pastoral, and since women are not to function as pastors, then women are excluded from doing many ministries, such as teaching teenage boys or organizing a ministry with supervision over male staff or volunteers. Other examples are disallowing women to facilitate a small group discussion of a sermon, serving as ushers, collecting the offering, or distributing the Lord’s Supper. The impression given by limiting women from serving or speaking to the whole church is that women are not trustworthy or valuable as compared to men. 

In contrast to the limiting practice of many churches, the instructions and examples in the New Testament describe the church as a new sort of family. Individuals belong to each other as children of God who care for their siblings, pray for each other, and contribute from the Holy Spirit as sisters and brothers. Aimee Byrd observes, “Scripture has about sixty ‘one another’ passages to help direct us. They are not gendered.”[24] Likewise, the lists of ministries given by the Spirit are not gendered, including the ministry of pastors.[25] The siblings’ solidarity with each other flows from belonging to God as their Father. Jesus called all believers his sisters and brothers in Mark 3:31–35, indicating a new belonging and close involvement with each other. 

Family can teach us how to do church, particularly with the unity and collaboration of women and men contributing to each other in the ways urged upon us by the Bible. In the home, mothers and fathers contribute to the life of the family according to gifts from their gender. The collaboration of both genders leads to well-being for the family in balance and unity. Men and women need each other, as the Spirit works ministry in the church through our personality and life experience, including our gender. 

7. Distinguish a Third Way of Gender Humility that Partitions Complementarianism

The last several decades have seen a development of views within the position of complementarianism, showing disagreement among proponents who otherwise are agreed with each other in contrast to egalitarianism. I propose that a third way is already in circulation among these proponents who wish to distinguish themselves from both positions.[26] Sandra Glahn has identified six different complementarian positions.[27] I propose the gender humility model of women and men without the concerns for power, authority, and rights that obscure gender collaboration.[28] The main idea is that men and women are called to care for each other as friends, allies, siblings, spouses, and co-workers conditioned by humility to support each other.

First, gender humility follows the biblical emphasis on unity and collaboration of women and men with their shared and differing strengths and perspectives (instead of modern concerns for authority and equality).[29] Marriage, family, church, and society are relationships of people collaborating with each other according to their personal and gendered gifts. The battle of the sexes is a painful distortion of God’s positive intention that men and women should serve the other and work for the other’s good in unity. God wants women and men to be involved with each other, even as the church is repeatedly described as a family of sisters and brothers. Galatians 3:28 shows the identity provided by Christ that is deeper and more important than all other identity markers, leading to unity in the diversity. The genders are not the same or interchangeable, so the commonality and differences in strengths, gifts, experiences, and perspectives bring unity when each person lives by Jesus’s humility.

Gender humility is a label reminding us that we are given by God to each other in many sorts of relationships where God provides for us through the other kind of human.

Second, gender humility embraces the collaboration that God shows by the term ezer to describe the woman in original creation (Gen 2:18, 20). The traditional translation of ezer as helper should be updated to recent scholarship that has recognized ezer to mean “ally.”[30] The term is used repeatedly in the Bible to refer to God’s support for Israel in the sense of military support and rescue from enemies. In the context of the woman and her relation to the man, ezer refers to her as a necessary ally because the commission from God to rule creation is impossible without the collaboration of women and men. The shared work leads to the unity of different members. Gender humility is a label reminding us that we are given by God to each other in many sorts of relationships where God provides for us through the other kind of human. Women and men will do best when they work together in all the ways God has gifted them, according to humility. 

Third, eschatology should shape the Christian vision and practice of our sex distinctions because the resurrection is humanity’s permanent and perfected condition. The Bible is clear that the resurrection continues sex distinctions and the accompanying gender differences because Jesus was bodily raised as a man. Marriage and family do not continue in the resurrection. The ways women and men relate in marriage and family are temporary and limited. Many people are called to other work, as Jesus was. Gender humility looks to the future of humanity in the resurrection when humility will be constant. God’s design for distinctions and unity goes deeper than the temporary relations of marriage and family. Life together in the resurrection involves people in friendship and collaboration of a sort that can be anticipated now for mutual benefit. Humans were created to need each other in many ways beyond the vocations of family building and marriage. Concerns for power, roles, equality, rights, and authority distract from the humility of Jesus and the unity and collaboration that will be characteristic for all people in the age to come.  

Fourth, gender humility affirms women to teach the Bible and do other ministry to all the church. Scripture presents women contributing to the church by speaking to the public assembly. Luke and Peter identify women functioning as prophets (fulfilling Joel 2:28–30), and Paul emphasizes women prophesying and praying in the public gathering at Corinth (1 Cor 11:3–16; 14:31). Descriptions of the churches in the New Testament show women and men teaching each other in ministry provided by the Spirit (1 Cor 14:26; Col 3:16; Eph 5:18). The example of Priscilla explaining theology to Apollos at Ephesus stands out as a declaration of women’s contribution to men in the ministry of teaching (Acts 18:26). Other examples are the many cases in the biblical narratives of wise women and female prophets guiding, encouraging, instructing, warning, and teaching men. Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Since God has worked through women to contribute by his word, then we should embrace the continuing ministry of the word through gifted women who teach in the church. 

Israel lived with a limitation of the priesthood to men in the tribe of Levi, but the church has been ordered by Christ so that all share in his priesthood to serve one another by the work of the Spirit through them. Martin Luther recognized this gender-inclusive reality in the church by affirming women to minister the sacraments to others and teach the Bible in the church. All Christians share in the priesthood of Jesus to do ministry to each other (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 5:10), so Luther argued that “all Christians are priests in equal degree,” that “the ministry of the Word . . . is common to all Christians,” and that “all Christians . . . even women, are priests.”[32]] The lists of ministries in the churches embrace both genders, including the ministry of pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11). 

Many proponents of complementarianism restrict women from teaching men in churches because of reading 1 Timothy 2:12 as a rule and limitation for all ministry by women, instead of seeing it as an exception to the pattern of women and men collaborating in the home, church, and society.[33] The continuing use of the label complementarianism may apply to this model that limits women from teaching men and affirms male authority and female submission. Accordingly, the difference of the gender humility position from restrictive complementarianism is to support women to teach and serve the whole church and detach from a theology of gender stereotypes and roles. The difference from egalitarian views is that proponents may yet view church oversight as limited to qualified males, however, that is worked out in a particular congregation.[34] 

Conclusion

Let us not limit women where God has not told us to do so. Women and men need each other because God intends to make contributions from the diversity of human beings, including sex distinction and gender differences. Misleading are the warped concerns for rights and power that continue to shadow egalitarian and complementarian views. The good purposes of God in designing women and men to benefit each other must be promoted according to humility without the distracting concerns for authority, roles, and equality that frustrate our encounter with gendered community. Redemption should extend to gendered experiences and relationships in which women and men are free to fulfill all the God-given purposes of our diverse and gender-rich humanity. One way of keeping focused on Jesus in the ways we live and interact with others is to keep his model of humility in view for our own mindset (Phil 2:3–11). The seven proposals introduced here aim constructively at a way forward so Christians may be the church in a clear demonstration of humility and love for one another.[35]

John McKinley
John McKinley is associate professor of theology at Biola University in Southern California. He lives there with his wife, Becky, and three children, Abby, Alex, and Arik. He is the author of Tempted For Us: Theological Models and the Practical Relevance of Christ's Impeccability and Temptation. He has recently adopted a cat, named Albert.
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[1] One theologian has defined the model as “men and women have different roles and responsibilities, thus, they complement each other.” Octavio Esqueda, “Much Ado About Gender Roles,” Christianity Today (August 18, 2022), accessed online at christianitytoday.com on 21 October 2021.

[2] The trend has been identified in a study of 2,234 women of an average age of 47 using surveys from the last fifteen years that more women suffer health problems when they attend complementarian churches compared to inclusive churches. Patricia Holman and Amy Burdette, “When Religion Hurts: Structural Sexism and Health in Religious Congregations,” American Sociological Review, 2021, Vol. 86 (2): 234–255.

[3] Andrew Murray, Humility: The Path to Holiness, first published1895; rev. ed. (Morgantown, KY: Tole, 2018).

[4] Matt 20:25–28 || Luke 22:25–27 || Mark 10:42–45

[5] Rachel Green Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2019), 246. 

[6] Gender refers to culture-specific concepts of masculinity and femininity. 

[7] Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 111.

[8] Aimee Byrd, Why Can’t We Be Friends? Avoidance is Not Purity (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2018), 39.

[9] Preston Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible has to Say (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2021), 69. 

[10] Sprinkle, Embodied: Transgender Identities in the Church, 59–62. Sprinkle gives a helpful illustration of this contradiction with several examples from King David’s life, exhibiting the emotion, poetry, weeping, and same-sex friendship as atypical for a man in his own culture and contemporary American society. More extensive examples of contradictions in the presentations of women and men are given by Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, 105–52.

 [11] Gregg R. Allison, Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021), 49–50. “[P]eople mistakenly speak of the masculine and feminine attributes of Jesus. Some examples of his so-called feminine side are Jesus’s washing the disciples’ feet, healing the sick, showing compassion to the Syrophoenician woman, weeping over dead Lazarus, and gently treating children. But servanthood, a healing touch, compassion, lamentation, and gentleness aren’t properties that pertain exclusively to women or to men. Rather, they concern all human beings. To repeat: there are no particular capacities and properties that belong exclusively to women or exclusively to men. There are, instead, common human capacities and common human properties that are—indeed, will naturally be—expressed in gendered ways.”

[12] I have in mind these examples: bearing children, breastfeeding babies, differing hormonal influences by sex type, differing muscular strength, differing skeletal proportions and height averages, differing voice pitch, males grow facial hair, and different sets of organs for sexuality and reproduction.

[13] Gen 1:26–28. Emphasis on women as the image of God is also noted by Esqueda, “Much Ado About Gender.”

[14] Miller, Beyond Authority, 50. One example is the ancient Greek view: “Men are rational; women are irrational. Men are strong and courageous; women are weaker and nervous. Men were made to rule; women to obey. As Aristotle wrote, ‘The courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying….All classes must be deemed to have their special attributes….’”

[15] Allison, Embodied, 48–49. Notice that gender is connected to embodiment, which God lacks (Incarnation aside).

[16] Miller, Beyond Authority, 245.

[17] Adam is never called head of humanity or of Eve. The twelve apostles are judges for the remnant of faithful Israel, following the twelve sons of Jacob, and the role of Adam as created first can have more to do with the role of Jesus in salvation than a divine intention to align authority with the masculine (1 Cor 15:45–49). 

[18] Michelle Lee-Barnewall, “Turning KEPHALE on Its Head: The Rhetoric of Reversal in Ephesians 5:21–33,” in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture, eds. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 599–614.

[19] Lee-Barnewall, “Turning KEPHALE on Its Head,” 609. 

[20] Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2021), 46.

[21] I agree that messing with singulars, plurals, and personal pronouns makes a mess of the text in a way that can carry the reader far away from the original intention. Translators lament that English lacks a third-person neuter personal pronoun alternative to he, and the substitute of he or she is cumbersome. Better options in some cases are person or people. In some occurrences, demonstrative pronouns can work as collectives: that one, those, and one who instead of the original text that gives a third person pronoun he, him. One’s also works as a third-person possessive instead of his. The change from male collectives shows in NET, but not NASB 2020 or NIV 2011.

[22] E.g., NRSV, NET, NLT, CSB, NIV 2011, NASB 2020. Other options are siblings and family members.

[23] Joseph H. Hellerman, The Ancient Church as Family (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 221. Hellerman explains: “…[T]hose who had the most to gain from the image of the church as a family were the poor, the hungry, the enslaved, the imprisoned, the orphans, and the widows. For brother-sister terminology in antiquity had nothing to do with hierarchy, power, and privilege, but everything to do with equality, solidarity, and generalized reciprocity.”

[24] Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 228.

[25] Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4. Thanks to Octavio Esqueda for pointing out to me that pastor is a ministry of the Spirit and not necessarily identified with the functions of elder and overseer.

[26] In addition to the label soft complementarianism, Craig Blomberg in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck, rev. ed.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 124–25, distinguishes his position from egalitarianism and what he calls “classic complementarianism” and also identified his view as “neither hierarchalist nor egalitarian.” Donald Bloesch distinguished his view from complementarianism and egalitarianism, calling it “…covenantalism, in which man and woman agree to submit to one another in the Lord and to become one flesh, though allowing for a relative autonomy in the recognition of real differences,” Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 224. Also, a position partitioned from more restrictive versions of complementarianism shows in Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016).

[27] Sandra Glahn, https://blogs.bible.org/eight-views-of-women-in-the-church-home-and-society-within-the-inerrancy-camp/, 9 September 2018, accessed on 22 October 2021.

[28]  I thank Rebecca McKinley for this observation and the corresponding need for humility.

[29] Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian. Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, 176.

[30] Both John Walton and Tremper Longman argue for the meaning of ezer in Genesis 2:18, 20 as ally instead of “helper.” See John McKinley, “Necessary Allies: God as ezer, Woman as ezer,” presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 18, 2015 (Atlanta, GA).

[31] Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 127.

[32] Martin Luther, On the Ministry (1523), in Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 21–23. I recognize that despite his argument for the priesthood of every believer, Luther was not consistent and affirmed male authority over women in the church and home in the typical pattern that is repeated by complementarianism today. Luther’s practice of honoring his wife’s many contributions in Table Talks and other areas of life, and his theology of the priesthood of every Christian were better than some of his restrictive devaluing comments about women.

[33] Robert L. Saucy has argued that 1 Timothy 2:12 is exceptional and limited to functioning as elders. Robert L. Saucy, “Paul’s Teaching on the Ministry of Women,” in Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective, eds. Robert L. Saucy and Judith K. TenElshof (Chicago: Moody, 2001), 291–310.

[34] 1 Tim 3:1–8 and Tit 1:4–7 are considered normative for many who would fit in a Gender Humility position.

[35] I thank my friends, students, and colleagues (too many to list by name!) who contributed abundant feedback.

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