Complementarian Logic Proves Women Are Spiritual Leaders Over Men

Wayne Grudem recently gave an interview in which he argues that women should not lead men, that men are the spiritual leaders over women, and that all of this has been God’s plan since the dawn of creation.

I’m not convinced, despite his list* of reasons why he believes this:

As I explain in detail on pages 30-42 of Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, I think that at least the following 10 reasons indicate that there was male leadership in marriage before there was sin in the world:

(1) Adam was created first, then Eve (Genesis 2:7, 18-23).

(2) Adam, not Eve, at [sic] a special role in representing the human race (see 1 Corinthians 15:22; also Romans 5:12-21).

(3) Adam named Eve (Genesis 2: 23).

(4) God named the human race “Man,” not “Woman” (Genesis 5:1-2).

(5) Adam, not Eve, had the primary accountability for their conduct, because God spoke to Adam first and called him to account first after the Fall (Genesis 3:9).

(6) Eve was created as a helper for Adam, not Adam as a helper for Eve (Genesis 2:18; compare 1 Corinthians 11:9).

(7) The curse that God imposed after the Fall brought conflict between Adam and Eve for leadership, but this was a distortion of previous roles, not the introduction of new roles (Genesis 3:16, where “desire” means “desire against, desire to rule over,” as the same Hebrew word does a bit later in Genesis 4:7).

(8) In the New Testament, salvation in Christ restores the beautiful creation order of male leadership and female support of that leadership in marriage (Colossians 3:18-19).

(9) God designed marriage from the beginning of creation to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church, in which the husband represents Christ and the wife represents the church (see Ephesians 5:31-32, where Paul draws a quotation from Genesis 2, prior to sin, to show what marriage should be like).

(10) The equality, differences, and unity between men and women in marriage reflect the equality, differences and unity in the Trinity (1 Corinthians 11:3).

My purpose in reproducing the list here is not to deal with his misunderstanding of the Bible, but to address his lapses in logic.**

In fact, if you follow his logic then women should be recognized as the spiritual leaders over men under the New Covenant.

Women Have Primacy, So Men Submit

Items 1, 2 and 5 are each based on primacy: Adam is first in creation, first to receive instruction from God, and has a special role in representing creation (according to Mr. Grudem). Well then, let’s take a look at instances of primacy between Jesus and the people in his life when he walked the earth.

  1. God told Mary (Luke 1) about her upcoming pregnancy with the promised Messiah before Joseph (Matthew 1), who only got word that this was God’s plan after he learned she was pregnant.

    Annuciation, by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (Wikipedia)

    Annuciation, by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo

  2. Jesus told the woman at the well that he is the promised Messiah before the men in her village found out. Plus, she had a special role in representing him to her neighbors and bringing them into a relationship with him. (John 4.)

    Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Giacomo Franceschini (Wikipedia)

    Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Giacomo Franceschini

  3. The first people to learn of Jesus’ resurrection are women (Luke 24), and Mary Magdalene is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. (John 20.) The women – and Mary Magdalene in particular – are explicitly given a special role in bringing the good news (the Gospel) to the men.

    The Holy Women at the Sepulchre, by Peter Paul Rubens (Wikipedia)

    The Holy Women at the Sepulchre, by Peter Paul Rubens

By Mr. Grudem’s logic about Adam in pre New Covenant days, these instances of women with Jesus mean that under the New Covenant women are in a special leadership role and men should be in submission to them.

That’s not my conclusion, of course. I don’t think only women are leaders and all men are in submission to them under the New Covenant, and I don’t think only men can be leaders and all women are in submission to them either. In fact, there are too many instances of both men and women leading God’s people and delivering the word of God in Old and New Testament passages to conclude that leadership and teaching is categorically reserved for just one sex.

No, my conclusion is that Mr. Grudem’s list doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. He picks and chooses his examples and this causes his logic to fall apart.

He’s just not logical.


*Mr. Grudem’s list-making seems to be more problematic than helpful.


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33 Responses to Complementarian Logic Proves Women Are Spiritual Leaders Over Men

  1. We had a traditional marriage with hubby as the head of the home. Loved it. Then Alzheimer’s entered our marriage. I needed to be the best helpmate I could be and became the leader in many areas.

    It was hard for me to take my husband’s gun collection away from him because he felt he was losing control with his dementia and this became a huge problem. Guns were hidden and when I couldn’t produce his hidden 45, we had to go buy one. I later sold all the guns.

    But I was being the best helpmate I could be with the weapon situation and others helped. His doctor wrote out a prescription and I replaced the loaded gun in the drawer with a note that the LORD would be our protector with appropriate Scripture. One time a police officer had a little chat with my husband. The doctor and the police officer made it so I didn’t have to lord it over my husband. A scenario was avoided should he hallucinate, think someone was an intruder, and shoot.

    I did not have to tell my husband, as some caregiving wives do, to stop driving. He figured that out himself and would watch the road traffic and help while I drove.

    • Tim says:

      Carol, you and your husband sound like you each cared for one another as you were able over the course of your time together. Thank you again for your guest post here yesterday with the insights you gave us into your experiences in your marriage.

  2. janehinrichs says:

    Thank you Tim. I agree!

  3. Jeannie says:

    I’m glad you’re not using YOUR “this happened first” examples to prove the opposite of what he’s saying, Tim, because we can see how this approach would quickly break down, no matter which side you are on. By that logic one could argue that The Law came first, so it’s superior to the salvation that comes from Jesus! God chooses to do much of His work through human time so that one event happens before another; that alone doesn’t automatically make a prior thing better/superior to a later one.

    And I don’t understand his last point AT ALL: how can a relationship between 2 people (husband and wife) be reflected in a relationship between 3 (Trinity)?

    • Tim says:

      His relationship of marriage to the nature of God in that last point is dangerous. He has written elsewhere that wives (and by extension all women) are eternally subordinate to husbands (and all men) because the Son – in his doctrine – has eternally subordinated his will to the will of the Father. The danger in this teaching is that it the only way one will can be subordinate to the other is if the Father and Son have different wills. To have different wills, they would need to be different beings. But the three Persons of the Trinity are not separate beings. His take on this is more akin to heretical tritheism than orthodox trinitarianism.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    WOW! A can of worms opened if not handled with tact. So much has been written on this form many perspectives. I like how this was handled tactfully. I am currently watching a on online debate on the topic, and it is intense. the words studies, the logic traps, the flaws in presenting position, the intransigence, the firm unyielding resolve – wow!
    Blessings to all!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, PB. I love to discuss the comp/egal issues with those who stay rooted in scripture (see my footnote about reading Aimee Byrd’s insights). There’s a lot to learn and it leads to better exegesis on the part of both people. But taking leaps of logic that reach a predetermined conclusion is not the way to discuss anything, let alone a topic that can get quite contentious at times.

  5. Laura Droege says:

    Good work with refuting Mr. Grudem’s logic.

    Re: point number 1. Can I point out that if Adam being created before Eve is an indication that the man has authority over the woman, then it’s a problem that everything else was created before man or woman? I mean, the animals were created before Adam, so does this mean (by his logic) that animals have authority over humans?!

  6. Angie says:

    If we don’t divine through conjecture the details of other historical narratives in Genesis, or any biblical text, and turn those interpretations into law on which even the gospel supposedly hangs, why is this done to Genesis 1-3? For instance, no one, that I know anyway, reads the historical narratives about Sarah and Abraham, or any other patriarch of Israel and his bride(s) the way Grudem, et al read what they believe to be a historical narrative of origins in Genesis 1-3.

    • Tim says:

      Good question, Angie. Context is important in understanding what the text says but it doesn’t substitute for the text (or for what a reader thinks is missing in the text, for that matter).

  7. Ruth says:

    Thought provoking article Tim, and by that I mean your considered response, not an argument that appears to have more holes than a fishing net. The lack of Scriptual consistency is worrying, it seems to head towards a revised ‘bible’ that each author can quote a verse or two from, totally out of context, and declare it ‘the word of the Lord’.I’ve just spent ny first few days back in a Christian school that is entirely Bible based, and just a great place for sharing and discussion without fear or favour!
    To be able to pray, quote Scripture, share with tinies to 16 to 17 year olds, have a morning devotion, and not have to watch for the thought police is amazing.
    We have had more restrictions in state schools about R. E. and Christian clubs or prayer groups. Thankfully our Minister for whatever pulled up the legislation and removed most restrictions. We are fighting to keep chaplains in our schools too…the attacks are really growing.

    • Tim says:

      That sounds like a wonderful place to spend the day, Ruth. Rich in the word of God.

    • Shy1 says:

      Ruth, I’d like to challenge you not to see these things as attacks but rather as attempts at impartiality and fairness. State schools are schools for everyone, regardless of religious backgrounds. This doesn’t stop religious groups from offering what they may for children and young adults, we just need to find different avenues to do so that respect others differences. In the past, Christianity enjoyed preference. Today, we must learn to allow for other views and rethink how we can reach people with our message. I believe that in showing respect to others we will earn respect ourselves. I hope it’s not wrong for me to say this, I don’t want to cause any offense. I just think we should look at this more impartially as Christians.

  8. Laura says:

    Great post Tim! While it is possible to refute each point, I love how you took a different approach all together!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Laura. There are many people who have looked at those same passages and shown that they do not lead inexorably to complementarian doctrine. Whether a passage means one thing or another should be the subject of careful study and I appreciate those who conduct that study whether they are egalitarian or complementarian.

      Mr. Grudem’s complete lapse of logic, though, is inexplicable. You can’t look at a Scripture passage and apply a logic to it that you would not apply to similar passages. He’s not studying those passages. He’s co-opting them.

  9. Aimee Byrd says:

    Thanks for the compliment, Tim. This really is a touchy theological topic in our day, and both sides of the issue can take their position beyond what the Bible says. I appreciate that you do read outside of your own position, and I have been sharpened by your writing as well.

    • Tim says:

      That’s such a great way to put it, Aimee: taking one’s position beyond what the Bible says. I remember years ago hearing an older believer speaking to a young person with a lot of questions and the older one always began each answer with “Well, the Bible says …”. He never sounded pretentious or like he was using the phrase as a cop-out. Rather, everything that followed was as well-reasoned as it was well-grounded in Scripture.

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  14. Really good food for thought, Tim! Thank you!

  15. Lindsey Smallwood says:

    Great headline! And love your grace filled refutation.

  16. Purple Kitti says:

    John the Baptist came before Jesus. John the Baptist is the spiritual authority over Jesus.

    There. I said it.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the fridge and worship my tomato. After all, God created tomatoes before He created (wo)men, so clearly that tomato has spiritual authority over me.

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