The short answer is “books like Kevin DeYoung’s Men and Women in the Church.” Over at Ian Paul‘s site, he passes along Andrew Bartlett’s review of Kevin DeYoung’s book, which I believe needs to be captured here. Bartlett shows (to my mind, at least) all that is wrong with the complementarian hermeneutic (the notion that only men are qualified to be leaders in the home and the church). Read on and you’ll see why this is so important.

Andrew Bartlett has written the outstanding study Men and Women in Christ: fresh light from the biblical texts which I think should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in this question. Here, he reviews another book on this subject, Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction(Crossway, 2021) by Kevin DeYoung.

Looking at Men and Women in the Bible through Distorting Spectacles

Kevin DeYoung (KD) wanted to write a book “that explained the Bible’s teaching about men and women in the church in a way that the interested layperson could understand and in a size that he or she could read in a few hours”. 

Assessed in light of his objective, the book merits more than one star, because KD writes lucidly, he packs a lot of content into a short book, and there are some important things that he gets right. For example, we should not use the Trinity as our model for the marriage relationship [Ch 4]. 

But what we mostly get is not really “the Bible’s teaching”. Instead, it is the Bible as viewed through patriarchal spectacles. (I’m using ‘patriarchal’ in the sense that men are in charge—not in the sense that men are oppressors, which KD rightly condemns.)  KD wears these spectacles enthusiastically, for he is committed to men’s leadership of women in home, church and society. The spectacles make it very hard for him to see what God’s word actually says, where it contradicts his views. 

(Full disclosure: I’ve written a book on the same subject, in which I arrive at different conclusions from KD. I’ve also written some articles which you can find via Terran Williams’ website.)

The longest passage of teaching in the New Testament concerning men and women is in 1 Corinthians 7. But the spectacles are so blurry that KD does not consider this passage to be worth discussing in his book. That is remarkable. For KD rejects mutual submission in marriage, asserting that a husband is the decision-maker, with unilateral authority over his wife and sole responsibility for spiritual leadership [Chs 5, 8]. Yet 1 Corinthians 7 is the only passage which expressly teaches about the ‘authority’ of husband and wife and the only passage which expressly teaches how couples should take decisions on significant spiritual and physical matters such as joint prayer and sexual intercourse. 

Why might the spectacles prevent KD from seeing the significance of 1 Corinthians 7? Because if he perceived it, it would defeat his view. Paul teaches the mutual submission of husband and wife, whose authority is identical (see 1 Cor 7:4, exactly as we should expect from Genesis 2:24 ‘one flesh’). And Paul teaches that those significant marital decisions should be taken by mutual consent (see 1 Cor 7:5).

In Ephesians 5, Paul’s own indication of the meaning of his ‘head’ metaphor, as applied to the husband, is in Eph 5:23 (literally, “a husband is head of the wife as also the Messiah is head of the church, himself saviour of the body”). Addressing husbands, Paul spells out the practical content of the “saviour” idea in Eph 5:25-33a. It is all about humble, self-sacrificial love and care. Not one word telling a husband to exercise authority over his wife. But the spectacles screen this out. KD never quotes or even notices the critical words “saviour of the body”. He interprets the metaphor as if Paul’s explanation had been “lord over the body” [Chs 4, 5, 8]. Paul’s phrase “as to the Lord” (v 22) is not an instruction to husbands. If KD’s patriarchal viewpoint is correct, why is there no statement in Ephesians 5—or even in the whole of the Bible—that husbands ought to exercise authority over their wives?

Having missed Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 on mutual submission in marriage, KD misunderstands the word ‘submit’ (hupotassō) in Ephesians 5:2124. He treats it as a synonym for ‘obey’. He claims that the Greek word is “always” used “with reference to a relationship where one party has authority over the other” [Ch 8]. But that’s simply wrong. In 1 Corinthians 14:32 the spirits of the prophets are subject to their own control. That is not a relationship where one party has authority over the other. And in 1 Corinthians 16:16 Paul urges the believers to submit to the household of Stephanas and to everyone who joins them in their works of service. That would include women, slaves and other people who serve as believers in a range of ways not limited to leadership, so Paul’s instruction does not indicate a relationship of one-way authority. So also in Ephesians 5:21. Paul wants all the believers to be filled with the Spirit (v 18) so that they will be singing praises to God, giving thanks, and submitting to one another (which is all in the same sentence). The word hupotassō is not a synonym for ‘obey’. It means ‘place below’. In v 21 Paul is urging all believers, including wives and husbands, to place themselves below others. That does not imply that the others are in authority over them. It means treating them as if they were in a higher position.

Readers who are already committed to a patriarchal outlook may read the book quickly without finding much to disagree with. But anyone who checks KD’s exposition against what Scripture says will find many more discrepancies and errors of reasoning. I’ll give some examples.

KD says that, in Genesis, Adam is Eve’s “leader” because Eve is Adam’s “helper”. He adds that in multiple places in Scripture God is Israel’s “helper” [Ch 1]. But he fails to notice that this fatally undermines his reasoning. Since God is Israel’s “helper”, by KD’s logic that means Israel is God’s leader.

KD says that Adam was the “designated leader and representative”. He says this is made “indisputably clear” in Romans 5 [Ch 1]. But that is a confusion, for “leader” and “representative” are two distinct ideas. In Romans 5, as in Genesis, Adam is representative of all humanity (in accordance with the meaning of his name, ‘adam’ = ‘humankind’) and nothing is said about Adam being either Eve’s leader or anyone else’s leader.

KD’s reading of the Old Testament through patriarchal spectacles results in elementary mistakes which downgrade the contributions of women. He says that the leaders of the Exodus were all men, even though the narrative shows Miriam among the leaders (see also Micah 6:4 “I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam”) [Ch 2]. He claims that Miriam ministered only to women (Exod 15:20) [Ch 8]. But the words “to them” in Exod 15:21 are masculine in Hebrew, which tells us that Miriam did not sing to the women in v 20 but to the whole people of Israel (Exod 15:119). 

KD states that only men rightfully led Israel in any governing office [Ch 2]. But God raised up Deborah as the highest civic, spiritual and judicial authority (Judges 2:16-184 – 5). In that period, the only person of comparable stature was Samuel, who prophesied, decided disputes at the highest level, and oversaw military victories (1 Samuel 3:19-217:2-17). KD claims that Deborah possessed no institutional authority and judged in private [Chs 2, 8]. But she was Israel’s governing leader and Supreme Court, and she administered justice in public, “under the palm of Deborah” (Judges 4:4-5).

KD says that the “virtue” of the “godly woman” in Proverbs 31 “is primarily in helping her husband” [Ch 2]. But the text describes her as providing both for her family and for the poor, as a manufacturer, entrepreneurial farmer, commercial trader, and philanthropist.

Moving to the New Testament, KD continues his downgrading of women’s contributions. He says “there is no indication” that Priscilla “exercised teaching authority over men” [Ch 8]. But what does Luke’s narrative in Acts 18 show? A church-planting team of three arrived in Ephesus (Paul, Priscilla, Aquila). Paul’s message received a favourable reception but he promptly resumed his travels, leaving only Priscilla and Aquila to teach and care for the new converts. The learned and mighty orator Apollos arrived, preaching an incomplete gospel. Priscilla and Aquila corrected him. Why should he take any notice of anything that they said? Because they were Paul’s delegates, whom he had left in charge of the nascent church. As the first leaders of the new group of believers in Ephesus, they exercised their authority to correct Apollos. The point of including this story is to show that Paul’s ministry was continued through his female and male co-workers, whom he had trained well. This is underlined by Luke’s choice of words. The relatively unusual verb which Luke uses in Acts 18:26 to describe Priscilla’s and Aquila’s teaching (ektithēmi) is the same word which he uses of the apostle Paul’s own expository teaching in Acts 28:23, in the passage where he brings his whole narrative to an end.

KD rightly understands that the Jewishness of the 12 primary apostles chosen by Jesus was “linked to a particular moment in salvation history”, so that leadership became more diverse after Pentecost [Ch 3]. But he sees the maleness of the 12 apostles as of enduring significance, despite Peter’s plain explanation of the new thing which began at Pentecost, which was that the Holy Spirit was poured out abundantly on both men and women (Acts 2:14-18). He fails to see that the primary apostles were male for the same reason that they were Jewish and for the same reason that there were 12 of them. By choosing a group of 12 Jewish males, resembling the 12 patriarchs (sons of Israel), Jesus showed that he was reconstituting God’s people around himself. KD argues: Jesus came as a man, embodying “what true manliness was meant to be—saving, protecting, rescuing, leading, teaching and serving. So it makes sense that … he chose only men.” But Scripture shows no interest in Jesus’s “manliness”. Rather, it teaches that Jesus came to embody what humanity was meant to be (Hebrews 1–2), which is why the goal for both men and women is to be like Christ (Romans 8:291 Corinthians 11:12 Corinthians 3:18Philippians 2:5).

KD believes it to be “likely” that the woman apostle Junia, who was commended by Paul in Romans 16, was actually “a man” called Junias [Ch 8]. Why, then, are there hundreds of other examples from antiquity of the female name ‘Junia’ and none of the imaginary male name ‘Junias’? And why did even Chrysostom, who believed in male leadership, admit (as something remarkable) that she was a woman apostle and explain that she was outstanding because of her achievements? (On this whole question, see Eldon J Epp’s short book Junia, the first woman apostle.)

KD offers an interpretation of Paul’s discussion about heads and hair (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) which makes it all about male authority over women, especially wives [Ch 4]. But in Paul’s text the only actual mention of ‘authority’ is the authority that a woman ought to have (1 Cor 11.10 “because of this the woman ought to have authority over her head”). To maintain his patriarchal interpretation, KD reverses the meaning of v 10, so that authority is removed from the woman and given to the man. He does this by endorsing the ESV translation, which adds into v 10 some extra words which Paul did not write. These make it say that a wife ought to have “a symbol of” authority on her head (meaning, a symbol of her husband’s authority over her, and/or of her submission to it).

διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους

In 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches about and encourages vocal participation in worship by both men and women from 1 Cor 11:2 to 1 Cor 14:33, and from 1 Cor 14:36-40. But in 1 Cor 14:34-35 he appears to prohibit all vocal participation by women. That makes no sense. And v 34 contains an untruth (“… as the Law also says”, though it doesn’t). So, either Paul is quoting opponents in 1 Cor 14.34–35, or, as the manuscript evidence strongly suggests, the two verses were not in the original letter but were someone’s marginal comment, which got incorporated by mistake (in two different places, after v 34 or after v 40). KD does not mention either of these solutions, though he finds space to dismiss four others. 

KD acknowledges that Paul allowed women to prophesy. His solution for 1 Cor 14.34-35 is: “The explicit situation in which women must be silent is where prophecies are being evaluated” [Ch 4]. But that proposal is in conflict with the words on the page. First, the ban is not explicitly on evaluating prophecies; instead, the words in v 34-35 are a comprehensive ban on all vocal participation by women, and it is given maximum emphasis by being stated three times in different words. Second, Paul says who should evaluate prophecies. In v 29 he instructs that it be done by “the others”, which in context refers naturally to the other prophets, who include women. (Just possibly, “the others” could refer to the whole congregation, but that again includes women.)

In 1 Timothy we come to what KD calls “the heart of the matter”. The biggest question for understanding 1 Timothy 2:12 is this: what was Paul concerned about, that gave rise to his instructions? Was it (A) the spread of false teaching in Ephesus, in which misguided and misbehaving women were involved? Or was it (B) when the church in Ephesus met for worship, faithful women (rather than faithful men) were teaching faithfully? If we read from 1 Tim 1:1 to 2:11, we find it fits (A) rather than (B), and chapter 5 of Paul’s letter confirms this. But KD doesn’t perceive the relevance of this context [Ch 6]. 

Paul’s supporting reasoning in 1 Tim 2:13-14 refers to the well-known story of Adam and Eve. KD’s explanations provide the crowning examples of the blinding effect of the spectacles [Ch 6]:

  • KD suggests that Paul is referring to the nature of women as being “more likely to acquiesce to doctrinal deviation”. But would any thoughtful person choose that story to demonstrate that men are more likely to take a firm stand? What did Adam do? He acquiesced. 
  • Perhaps half-aware that his first interpretation makes Paul look stupid, KD also offers “another understanding”, which involves what he calls “role reversal” (though there is no mention of that either in Genesis or in 1 Timothy). He says “Paul is pointing to the difference between the two guilty persons: Adam sinned openly, but Eve was deceived.” But this again makes Paul look foolish. How is it safer to be taught by a deliberate rebel than by a person who is merely deceived?

Discussing spiritual gifts, KD concedes, with seeming reluctance, “Women can even have gifts of teaching and leadership”—and they may be “powerful gifts”. But just as he downgrades Deborah (who led Barak and all Israel) and Priscilla (who taught Apollos), KD does the same to gifted women today: he insists they must not lead or teach men [Ch 8]. He offers no explanation for Paul’s urging of both men and women to eagerly desire the greater gifts of being apostles, prophets and teachers (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). I suspect Paul would say that KD’s view dishonours gifted women and deprives men who would benefit from their ministry. When men refuse the ministry of women leaders and teachers, simply because they are women, it is like one part of the body saying to another part, “I don’t need you” (v21). 

Dear brother Kevin, for your own sake, for women’s sake, for men’s sake, for the Lord’s sake, please take off the spectacles and look again.

Ian Paul writes: For an overview of the case for women exercising authority in ministry, see my Grove booklet Women and Authority: the key biblical texts.

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