God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



[Subtitle: A Christological Model of Headship and Submission]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

This study looks at Jesus Christ in a search for answers to questions of church governance and practice debated in the complementarian/egalitarian discussion about the role of men and women in the church. It endeavours to find an alternative to the polarisation that results from using the terms ‘egalitarian’ and ‘complementarian’, because these terms put in opposition two concepts that the Bible holds together as two mutually inclusive aspects of one truth.

The inclusiveness, mutuality and synergy of the two concepts of hierarchy and equality are clearly demonstrated in Jesus Christ, where total equality with God the Father and a very evident authority structure exist and operate in unison, with neither the equality nor the authority compromised.

The legitimacy of applying the Christological model to the question of gender roles and functions in the Church is grounded

[1] in the fact that Jesus Christ is both ‘the Light’ and ‘the Truth’ ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (John 8:12: 14:6; Colossians 2:3); and

[2] in Paul’s application of the Christological analogy to the male/female question in 1Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22ff.

We will be looking at:

Jesus Christ – a model of submission
Jesus Christ – a model of headship
Relationship with relevant Old and New Testament texts
Appendix 1: Anticipated responses
Appendix 2: Interpreting the three main texts
Appendix 3: Perspectives from History
Appendix 4: FF Bruce: Women in the Church: a Biblical Survey
Appendix 5: John Stott: Issues Facing Christians Today – Women, Men and God
Appendix 6: Misunderstood words and concepts
Appendix 7: The Biblical Principle of Submission


Jesus Christ, who is one with God the Father, sanctifies submission.

1.1 The essential unity and equality of the Son and the Father
The Bible affirms the full deity of Jesus Christ. This is true of prophetic anticipations of Christ in the Old Testament and of New Testament references to Christ.

In the Old Testament:

Jesus is the exalted holy being seen by Isaiah in his vision [Isaiah 6:1-5; John 12:41].
Christ is called ‘Mighty God, Everlasting Father’ [Isaiah 9:6].
He is similarly referred to as ‘your God’ and ‘the Sovereign LORD’ [Isaiah 40:9,10].
He is ‘the LORD, our Righteous Saviour’ [Jeremiah 23:6].

In the New Testament:

Jesus is identified as God [John 1:1,18; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8; 1John 5:20].

Qualities that the Old Testament ascribes to God, Jesus claims for himself, for example - John 8:12 (light); John 14:6 (truth and life); John 8:58 (eternality).

Such is the unity, shared divine identity, and equality of the Son and the Father, that to see one, to know one, to receive one, is to see, know and receive the other [John 6:45; 12:44,45; 14:7-9].

Similarly, to reject, to fail to recognize one, is to reject and fail to recognize the other [John 5:23, 37,38].

Jesus stated ‘I and the Father are one’ [John 10:30].

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son [John 14:23,26; 16:7; 1Peter 1:11].

1.2 The Son’s submission to the Father
Although the Son is thus both one with the Father and equal to the Father, the Father’s position of authority and the Son’s submission to the Father are very evident. Of the Son we read:

He came to do the Father’s will [John 6:38; Hebrews 10:7].
He did nothing by himself; he did only what he saw the Father doing, indeed that is all he could do [John 5:19,30].
His works were those the Father gave him to finish [5:36].
He was sent by the Father [John 5:37].
He came in the Father’s name [John 5:43].
His teaching was not his own, but came from the Father [John 7:18].
He was not on earth on his own authority [John 7:28].
He did not judge alone; he stood with the Father who sent him [John 8:16].
He spoke just what the Father taught him [John 8:26,28,38; 12:49,50].
He always did what pleased the Father [John 8:29].
He did not come on his own, God sent him [John 8:42].
He sought not his own glory, but the Father’s [John 8:49,50; 17:4].
His works were done in his Father’s name and were from the Father [John 10:25,32].
He submitted to the Father’s will, even when it hurt [Matthew 26:36-46; Philippians 2:8].
The time will come when Christ will hand over ‘the kingdom’ to the Father [1Corinthians 15:24-28].

The submission to authority so evident above does not and cannot infer either division or inequality of essence. Rather this submission to the Father’s authority derives from Christ’s acute awareness of his essential unity and equality with the Father. In the perfection of his will any renegade, non-submissive, action is unthinkable.

1.3 The Father’s delegation of authority and responsibility to the Son
The role distinctives that clearly exist between the Father and the Son include the Father’s delegation of authority to the Son. Roles and responsibilities that are the role and responsibility of God, are handed over to the Son:

God is the only Saviour [Isaiah 43:11] but he sent Jesus into the world to save the world. Hence Jesus is called ‘our Saviour’ [Titus 1:4] and ‘our great God and Saviour’ [Titus 2:13].

God is the Redeemer [Isaiah 41:14] but he sent his Son to redeem us [Galatians 4:4,5; Romans 3:24,25].

God is the Judge of all the earth [Genesis 18:25] but he entrusted all judgement to the Son [John 5:22,27].

God is the source and giver of life [Genesis 1; Amos 5:4] but he granted the Son to have life in himself [John 5:21,26].

God is the Sovereign Almighty Lord, but he has placed ‘everything’ in the Son’s hands [John 3:35].

God is the one who sits on the throne, but he has also placed Christ the Son on his throne, with all powers and authorities subject to him [Ephesians 1:19-33; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:18; 2:10].

This delegation of such highly significant and powerful roles and responsibilities is potentially quite instructive for gender roles in the church.

The fact that these roles and responsibilities are delegated by the Father to the Son assumes the complete unity and equality of the Father and the Son. The Son can fulfil these roles and responsibilities precisely because he is of the same nature as the Father. The Father is God. The Son is equally God. The Son fulfils these roles and responsibilities not less competently nor less effectively than the Father, but just as the Father would have fulfilled them.

The Father’s position as ultimate authority in the Trinity is neither threatened nor diminished by entrusting these roles and responsibilities to the Son. Indeed, because the Son fulfils these roles, the Father is honoured and glorified by the Son and the Father’s will is accomplished by the Son.

There is a total absence of conflict and competition. The Son is not competing for the Father’s authority. The Father’s position is not abdicated during the Son’s effective filling of these roles. The Son is not diminished by filling these roles under the authority of the Father.

1.4 Applying the Christological model of ‘submission’ in the divine role structure to church governance questions related to the role of women

1Corinthians 11:3 teaches a correlation between the Father/Son role structure and the man/woman role structure. This correlation cannot be dismissed by reference to the essential unity and equality of the Father and the Son because man and woman are also essentially one and essentially equal. That is clear in Genesis 1 and 2 where both male and female are created in the image of God, both are equally blessed, both are equally responsible to rule and care for the created world. Indeed the man’s first words about the woman were ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. Nor can the concept of role distinctives be dismissed by an assumption that ‘head’ is merely a reference to ‘source’, without any inference of authority. The willing and deliberate submission of the Son to the will and authority of the Father is too clearly stated to validate such an escape route from the concept of authority and hierarchy. [See also the sections relating to Christ as ‘head’ and ‘source’ below.]

Assuming then that the correlation between the Father/Son role structure and man/woman role structure is indeed taught by the Bible, what can the Church learn from the Father/Son hierarchy in attempting to come to a biblical definition of the respective roles and responsibilities of man and woman in the Church?

I would suggest the following lessons can be derived from the Father/Son analogy:

[1] That the concepts of ‘gender hierarchy’ or ‘authority/submission’ are about a divinely prescribed order of role and responsibility that does not relate to or interfere with the essential or ontological being or significance of man and woman. Indeed, the Father/Son analogy firmly establishes essential/ontological unity and equality. There is no place, therefore, in the church, for any perception of male headship that diminishes the woman either in practice or by inference.

In 1Corinthians 14:34 and 1Timothy 2:11 Paul actually puts the onus on the woman to ‘be in submission’. [The verbs ‘to subject/submit’ or ‘be in subjection/submission’ are in the Middle Voice – indicating submission of oneself. The word ‘hupotasso’ literally means to arrange under – hupo – ‘under’, tasso – ‘arrange’.] Just as the Son willingly and deliberately did the Father’s will, so the woman of her own volition deliberately puts herself under the authority of the male leadership of the Church – not because he/they are men, but because this is the divinely appointed role structure. It is not the submission of a lesser to a greater. It is the willing personal alignment with and involvement in the purpose of the one in with the responsibility of headship. It is the recognition, not of male superiority, nor of ontologically derived female subordination, but of a divinely appointed order or arrangement. The submission of the female is not primarily to the male, but to the divinely appointed order. [Note that neither of these two passages specify submission to the male, they simply require ‘submission’.]

[2] That the role/position/responsibility of authority or headship is not about the ‘head’ personally doing everything that the ‘head’ has to accomplish. The Father delegated the accomplishment and fulfilment of his roles and responsibilities to the Son. So intense is the unity and equality between Father and Son, that the Son possessed the innate ability to accomplish all that the Father could accomplish. Delegation does not assume inferiority or lesser ability; rather it assumes and requires equal ability. Neither does delegation diminish the ‘head’. The Father is not diminished by the Son’s equality and accomplishments. Rather the Father is honoured by them.

In the Church, this Christological analogy infers that the male ‘head’ or ‘heads’ will have both the personal freedom and the trust/confidence to delegate to appropriate (suitably gifted and trustworthy) women responsibilities that are understood to be the responsibility of the ‘head’ to accomplish. So great is the equality and unity, and so deliberate is the woman’s alignment with the purpose/will of the ‘head’ that the ‘head’ is able to do this with total confidence.

[3] That just as the Father is always the ‘head’ of the Son, so the man is always the ‘head’ of the woman in the Church. This is the divinely appointed order. Neither the unity and equality of the Father and the Son, nor the delegation of ‘everything’ into the hands of the Son, annuls this divine order. Similarly, neither the unity and equality of the man and the woman, nor the delegation of immense authority to the woman, can override or annul the divinely appointed order of role distinctives in the Church.

[4] A difficulty arises with the implementation of this Christological model: that whereas both the Father’s headship and the Son’s submission are perfect, this is not the case in the Church, where neither the male leadership nor any female in the Church is perfect. The perfect trust that existed between the Father and the Son does not, and indeed cannot, exist between man and woman. However, in Christ, and as we learn to apply the grace of Christ to ourselves and to others, there can and should be increasing trust between man and woman, and a correlating increased willingness of the man to delegate responsibility to the woman, and of the woman to work under the leadership of the man.


Note #1: Proverbs 31:10-31 provides a description of the Christological model of headship/submission worked out in the life of a ‘wife of noble character’:

[1] Verses 11 & 12 state ‘Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.’ This very closely parallels the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. It is surely an example of what biblical ‘submission’ looks like.

[2] So great is her husband’s confidence in her that she goes about her life in the home and the community with an extreme liberty, engaging in actions and operations that are traditionally male tasks. [Which parallels the Father’s entrusting the Son with divine prerogatives.]

[3] This woman’s life brings honour to both herself and her husband [verses 23,32]. Again, this parallels the impact of the submissive life of Christ [John 17:4]. It also provides a basis for understanding Paul’s comment that ‘woman is the glory of man’ in 1Corinthians 11:7.

Here we see a woman so totally trusted by the man, and so totally committed to the man’s well-being, that she lives and acts with an incredibly broad liberty that could easily be mistaken for usurping authority! This woman, not a weak, subjugated, dominated woman, brings honour not only to herself but to the man.

Note #2: In 1Corinthians 11:10 Paul, in a context of wearing a head covering, states that a woman ought to have ‘power on her head’ when praying or prophesying – the Greek is exousian ... epi tes kephales – power/authority on the head. The clear meaning of the words is not submission to the authority of another but the possession of authority. Exousia is everywhere else a reference to the right or power of authority, including delegated authority; never to submission. The head covering endowed the female wearer with the liberty and authority to pray and prophesy in church meetings, because, in the context of the early church, it identified her as doing so within the divinely appointed role structure.

Leon Morris comments: ‘Paul’s meaning then, is that by covering her head the woman secures her own place of dignity and authority. At the same time she recognizes her subordination.’ (p154, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians).

FF Bruce states: ‘Paul, on the other hand, expects Christian women to play a responsible part in church meetings, and if, out of concern for public order, he asks then to veil their heads when they pray or prophesy, the veil is the sign of their authority to exercise their Christian liberty in this way, not the sign of someone else’s authority over them.’ (Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey published in Christian Brethren Review, Vol. 33, 1982.)

Note #3: When we consider the complete submission of the Son to the Father that difficult word in 1Timothy 2:12 (authentein – 2011 NIV: ‘assume authority over’) is perhaps more readily understood. [Authenteinauto (a reference to self), hentes (obsolete word meaning worker or working). This verse is the only biblical use of this word.]

Whatever authentein is, it is something the Son of God never did to God the Father. And what is it that he never did? He never took the authority into his own hands. He never changed the agenda to suit himself. He never assumed he knew better than the Father and acted independently of the Father’s words and the Father’s will. All of this is something that the devil tried to get the Son to do. From this Christological model Paul’s prohibition becomes clearer: that Paul is not prohibiting women from engaging in the same activity as men [in this instance ‘teaching’] but from doing so independently of and in conflict with the male leadership’s authority and agenda.

Note #4: Similarly, and closely connected with the above discussion of authentein (Note #3), the Christological model throws some light on 1Timothy 2:14. Here Paul states that ‘Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.’

Looking at this from the perspective of the Christological model: Whereas Jesus, the incarnate Son, was not deceived by the devil into disobedience – into assuming authority over the Father by rejecting his command, his agenda and his authority – Eve was. Deceived by Satan, she discarded the word of God, which Adam had obviously passed onto her, assuming the right, (taking it upon herself), to reinterpret that word, doubt that word and disobey that word. She put herself over the word. She put herself over Adam, who had given her that word. (She did not consult with Adam, but acted independently on her own initiative. In this she ignored the unity in duality embedded in Creation.) And she put herself over God, whose word it was. This is the attitude that Paul is outlawing in these verses.

[While Paul seems here to almost exonerate Adam he does not do so elsewhere. In fact, because of God’s role structure, it is Adam, not Eve, who is held responsible for bringing sin and death into the world through his sin – Romans 5:12ff; 1Corinthians 15:22. Although it is not precisely stated, these verses make it highly probable that if Adam, the responsible head, had not also taken the fruit the entry of sin and death would have been thwarted right there.]



As we have seen above, in terms of his relationship to the Father, Jesus Christ modelled submission. But this is not the only parallel drawn by Paul in 1Corinthians 11:3. Paul also parallels the Christ/man and man/woman relationship; and in Ephesians 5:22ff he parallels the Christ/church and man/woman relationship. In both of these we see Christ modelling headship.

It is not possible to avoid or discard the issue of male headship if we to remain true to the Bible. Paul clearly states ‘the head of the woman is man’, and clearly bases his teaching not in culture but in the very nature of the Trinity. It cannot be dismissed on cultural grounds. Given the unavoidable biblical fact of male headship, both in the church and in the home, there are divergent opinions about the biblical meaning of this headship:

Does headship refer to authority?
Does headship refer to ‘source’?
Is headship defined in terms of representation?

The New Testament does not permit us to see these as three alternative definitions of headship. Read in context, the texts affirming one or the other of these aspects of headship indicate that these aspects of headship are mutually inclusive – especially the aspects of authority and source. The tables in the three sections below investigate this.

2.1 Christ as ‘head’ in texts using kephale
Summary: The texts below indicate that, while kephale is in fact used with the meaning of ‘source’, this is not in isolation from its reference to authority/position. Indeed, the authority/position derives from the fact the ‘head’ is the ‘source’. ‘Source’ then does not exclude authority/position, rather it necessitates authority/position.

Contexts in which Christ is referred to as ‘head’




Matthew 21:42

Mark 12:10

Luke 20:17

Acts 4:11

1Peter 2:7

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone

The Greek reads – ‘has become the head of the corner’.

This is the most important stone of all; the one that holds the arch together; or the one that sets the right angle of the structure.

If the headship of Christ over the whole church is a pattern of male headship over the local church and the home, then this text speaks of the extreme significance and responsibility of headship. The stability and direction of the local church and the home depends on (is sourced from) the integrity of its male leadership.

1Corinthians 11:3

‘... the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’

This parallels male headship with the headship of God over Christ and of Christ over man. It is a powerful affirmation that makes male headship unavoidable. An understanding of how God is head of Christ gives important insight into the nature of the headship of man over woman. [See above.]

The context is concerned with honouring the head.

It is in this context that Paul refers to man as the source of woman [verse 8 and 11], and woman as created for man [verse 9]. But Paul rather disempowers the source concept here by saying that, similarly (hosper = as) man is born of woman and that, in any case, everything comes from God.

Regardless of Paul’s stated ambivalence about the ‘source’ concept, his over-riding concern is that of honour – both of the ‘head’ and of the woman.

Ephesians 1:20-23

‘... seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be named ... And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body ...’

Here Christ is obviously in a position of supreme authority over – ‘far above’ - everything else that might be seen as an authority. ‘Head’ here cannot be understood as ‘source’; it is essentially about rank/position/authority.

Note that Paul is not in this context speaking of Christ as ‘head’ of the Church.

Ephesians 4:15,16

‘... we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work’

This probably supports the inclusion of the ‘source’ concept in the ‘headship’ of Christ. ‘From him’ (Greek – ek) can infer origin.

But this raises questions: Is Christ our ‘source’ because he is the Head? Or, is he the ‘head’ because he is the ‘source’? Or, is he our ‘source’ in addition to and separate from being our Head?

Ephesians 5:23-32

‘... as Christ is head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour’

‘... the church submits to Christ ...’

‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy ... to present her to himself ...’

‘... as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body’

Here Paul sees the Christ/church relationship as:

[1] headship/submission

[2] head/body

[3] Saviour/saved

[4] Self-denier/beneficiary

Is there any evidence of the ‘source’ concept here? Possibly – in that Paul says ‘of which he is the Saviour’ [without his saving action the church would not exist], and states that Christ’s sacrificial cleansing action was so that he could present the church to himself ...

But ‘source’ is in this primarily related to Christ’s role as Saviour, not to his position as ‘Head’.

Colossians 1:18

‘He is head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in all things he might have the supremacy’

There is both authority and ‘source’ in the context:

1:16 speaks clearly of Christ as the source of everything.

arche, the word translated ‘beginning’, which is its primary meaning, is also commonly translated ‘ruler’ and ‘rule’. So both concepts of ‘source’ and ‘authority’ are contained in this word.

‘firstborn’ – is a title referring to priority of rank and position.

All of this is that Christ ‘might have supremacy’ – which is a reference to authority/position.

It is obvious here that ‘source’ cannot be understood to the exclusion of ‘authority’. They are not either/or alternatives.

Lightfoot, a Greek scholar, comments about ‘head’: ‘and not only does He hold this position of absolute priority and sovereignty over the Universe – the natural creation. He stands also in the same relation to the Church – the new spiritual creation. He is its head, and it is His body. This is His prerogative, because He is the source and the beginning of its life, being the First-born from the dead. Thus in all things – in the spiritual order as in the natural – the Church as in the World – He is found to have pre-eminence.’

Colossians 2:10

‘... Christ, who is the head over every power and authority’

The Greek has ‘head of ...’

Unless it is presupposed that ‘head’ means ‘source’ this verse is automatically understood to refer to Christ’s position of authority.

However: Lightfoot comments on kephale: ‘The image expresses much more than the idea of sovereignty: the head is also the centre of vital force, the source of all energy and life ...’

It would seem that Lightfoot sees ‘source’ as the primary meaning of ‘head’ and authority/sovereignty as derived from and concurrent with ‘source’. Christ is in the position of authority because he is in fact the source. If this is the case, then interpreting kephale as ‘source’ intensifies rather than removes the concept of authority.

Colossians 2:19

‘He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow’

Dependence of the body on Christ, the Head. Obvious inclusion of the ‘source’ concept’.


2.2 Christ as source or origin
Summary: In the texts below Christ is seen very clearly as the source without the use of the term ‘head’. However, in the context of each one of these references the authority and supremacy of Christ are also clearly seen. The concept of ‘source’ cannot, in respect to Christ, be divorced from the concept of authority and position.

Texts in which Jesus is referred to as ‘source’ in some manner.


Text or summary of text


John 1:1-4

(Jesus, who is God, is the creator of everything that exists, and the life-source of all that exists, including humans.)

The fact that Jesus is the source of everything is dependent on the fact that he is God. I don’t think that any Bible-believing person would seek to remove the concept of authority from God.

John 20:21

‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’


1Corinthians 8:6

‘... there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’

Context: Jesus Christ is clearly identified as the ‘one Lord’ – the one who is the source is also the Lord = the one who is ‘supreme in authority’ (Strong); ‘owner, possessor, potentate, sovereign’ (Bagster’s Lexicon); ‘having power or authority’ (Vine).

Colossians 1:15-17

(Jesus the source of everything)

Paul’s intention in Colossians is to stress the full deity of Christ. His mention of Christ as the source of everything is part of his strong and repeated affirmations of the divine supremacy of Christ.

In addition, at the same time as identifying Christ as the source he also identifies Christ as the goal of all things – the end purpose for the existence of all things.

The perspective of using ‘head’ in terms of ‘source’ to deny any idea of gender role distinctives is rather undercut by these Colossian verses, which clearly present Christ as both source and goal. As do the Revelation texts below. Rather than removing gender role distinctions the source/goal perspective intensifies those role distinctions [if we understand the headship of Christ as analogous for male headship.]

Also in the context the term ‘firstborn’ is used twice: Christ is ‘firstborn over all creation’ and ‘firstborn from among the dead’. The title ‘firstborn’ is more a reference to primacy/priority of rank and position than a reference to chronological primacy. This is inferred in the NIV’s use of the preposition ‘over’ in verse 15 (there is no preposition in the Greek text), and explicit in Paul’s added statement ‘so that in all things he might have the supremacy’ in verse 18.

Hebrews 1:2

‘... through whom also he made the universe’

Christ is the creative source of the universe. As such he is ‘heir of all things’. Source and ownership go hand in hand.

Revelation 1:17; 2:8

‘I am the First and the Last’ x 2

All of these are spoken by the glorious Lord, Jesus Christ – the one who walks among the ‘lampstands’ (the churches), and the one who comes in final judgment. The one who is the source – the beginning, is also the ‘End’ – the one in supreme authority whose words, and our response to whose words, determines our final destiny.

Revelation 22:13

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’


2.3 Christ as representative head
Summary and comments: Both Adam and Christ are seen as representative heads: Adam as the representative head of the whole human race; Christ as the representative head of the redeemed. This representative headship has a high element of responsibility. There is also a ‘source’ element. In both of the main texts anthropos is used [= man with the meaning of human]. This representative headship is essentially about one human being representing multiple human beings, not one male person representing multiple human beings. It is, however, instructive that Paul clearly holds Adam, not Eve, responsible for plunging the whole human race into sin and death, even though it was Eve who ate the fruit first. The only reference to authority is a contextual reference to the authority of Christ as the conquering King of the kingdom.


Text or summary of text


Romans 5:12ff

(Adam, the one man – anthropos – is held responsible for the entry of sin and death into the world and impacting all; Christ, the one man – anthropos – is similarly responsible for bringing life and justification to all.)

Adam is the representative head of the human race.

Christ is the representative head of the redeemed human race.

Representative headship is about responsibility and accountability.

There is nothing of authority mentioned or inferred in this passage.

There is an inference of the ‘source’ concept – in that it is ‘through’ the one man Adam that death reigns, and it is ‘through’ the one man Christ that we reign in life.

1Corinthians 15:21,22

‘For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’ (man = anthropos in both)

The ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’ speaks of Adam and Christ as the representative heads – including the concepts of responsibility/accountability.

The ‘through’ infers the source concept.

The context includes authority in reference to Christ – Christ ‘must reign’ v25ff

1Corinthians 15:45

‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit ... just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man’

Minor elements of representation and source.


2.3.1 Representative headship and the burden of responsibility
It is probably under this heading of representative headship that the concept of ‘servant’ headship modelled on the suffering of Christ best fits. The burden of headship is heavy. Adam, as representative head bears the burden/responsibility of being the ‘one man’ through whom sin, death and condemnation entered the world. Christ, as the ‘one man’, bore in his own body that sin, death and condemnation in order to liberate from it all who through faith are united to him as their ‘head’, and to give to those whom he represents life, grace and justification. As the representative head Christ is thus also the source of the Church and of its life.

Christ, who is the ‘head’ of the Church, thus voluntarily subjected himself to suffering to secure the present and eternal well-being of the Church. This is clearly depicted in the following texts:


Text or summary of text


Mark 10:45

‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’

The title ‘Son of Man’ is a title of high authority and power [Daniel 7:13,14; Revelation 1:12-18]. This adds significance to the fact that he came ‘to serve’ and ‘to give his life’.

John 10:10-18

‘... I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ...’

The ‘shepherd’ is in charge of his flock and has the responsibility for the well-being of the flock. As part of that responsibility, Christ, ‘the good shepherd’, lays down his life for the sheep.

John 13:1-17

[Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Peter, recognizing the inappropriateness of such an action, objected. Jesus, clearly anticipating his sin-bearing death, replied that his cleansing action was necessary. Jesus then said]: ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.’

Both Peter and Jesus knew that Jesus was in a position of authority.

He who is ‘Lord’ put himself in the position of a servant.

Jesus deliberately referred to this culturally inappropriate action as a model of the attitude that should characterize his followers.

Ephesians 5:23-32

‘... for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour ... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless ...’

The costly, self-denying, sacrifice of Christ for the well-being of the church – is a model for male headship in the home.

Philippians 2:5-11

[Which describes the self-denial, humility, abasement, etc of Christ, who is by very nature God, and equal to God.]

The self-denial and humility of Christ, described here in terms of putting aside one’s real rights, is a model for inter-personal relationships within the Church.

Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:14-16

[An extended passage about the real humanity and comprehensive suffering of Christ necessary to his atoning and mediatorial role.]

Christ, identified as God in Hebrews 1, had to become fully human and experience the suffering common to humans, in order that he could substitute for us in his death and in order that he could represent/mediate for us. 


Also worthy of inclusion under this heading of the burden of representative headship are the many references in Revelation to Jesus Christ as ‘the Lamb’. The first such reference is surprisingly unexpected: In Revelation 5:5 John was told ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ These words, tracking right back to Genesis 49:8-10, throb with power and authority. But when John turns to look he sees not an all-conquering Lion, but a Lamb, a Lamb with the marks of a brutal death still upon him. The term ‘Lamb’ has a long biblical history of representation – of sacrificial substitution. But the fragility and vulnerability contained in the word ‘Lamb’ and in the concept of a slain Lamb, is far removed from the contexts in which we find ‘the Lamb’ in Revelation. As we read through Revelation we see the Lamb in positions of power and glory: the Lamb is on the throne, the Lamb is the conqueror, the Lamb is the King of kings and Lord of lords. And, in addition, those whom he represents are with him.

Representative headship thus speaks of inclusion, not exclusion. Although he is the representative head, and bore the intense burden of representation so that we do not have to bear it, Christ takes those who believe in him with him. He does not stand apart from them. Indeed, they share in his glory, they partake of his victory.

2.4 Applying the Christological model of headship to Church governance
What can we learn from Christ’s headship that will assist in the definition of male and female roles and responsibilities in the Church?

[1] Christ’s headship includes the concept of ‘source’. As ‘source’ the head of the Church bears the responsibility for the integrity, growth and maturity of the Church. In the divinely appointed order within the Church this responsibility is borne by the male leadership of the Church.

[2] Of necessity, if the male leadership of the Church is held accountable/responsible for the integrity, growth and maturity of the Church, authority is synergistic with that responsibility. Responsibility without the necessary authority is an impossibility.

[3] The concept of headship as responsibility is intensified by the representative nature of Christ’s headship. As our representative head Christ bore the full responsibility for all of our actions. His representation of us makes him the source of our identity as the Church: we, the Church, exist only because of his representative action. But this representative action also required of him an immeasurable degree of self-denial, exposure to horrific misunderstanding, and deep, deep grief. This representative headship modelled by Christ instructs us that headship, at least the divine order of headship, is a painful role indeed.



This section gives a brief look at how this Christological model of headship/submission relates to texts commonly referenced in complementarian/egalitarian discussions. [See Appendix #2 for expanded discussion of three significant texts].



Relationship of Christological Model (CM) to the text

Genesis 1

The CM upholds the male/female equality and unity clearly evident in Genesis 1:26-28.

Genesis 2

The CM upholds the pre-fall role distinctives grounded by Paul (1Corinthians 11:8,9) on the Genesis 2:18-22 facts that woman was made from man and for man.

The CM upholds the pre-fall role distinctives grounded by Paul (1Timothy 2:13) on the fact that man was created first – Genesis 2:7.

The CM thus sees the pre-fall role distinctives as a divinely appointed order. But it was neither a prescribed order nor a described order. It was neither demanded nor defined. It simply was – as natural and as free and as spontaneous as the Father/Son role structure in the Trinity. It was thus non-threatening to either the male or the female; and it was non-competitive and non-divisive. It existed in the context of uninhibited and unimpeded trust and unity.

The CM upholds the unity and equality embedded in Adam’s ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ [verse 23]

Genesis 3

The CM exposes Eve’s action in verses 1-6 as rejection of God’s authority – the opposite of Christ’s submission to the Father.

The CM sees the Genesis 3:16 as descriptive of the corruption and disruption of the male/female role distinctives – a dysfunction of ‘gender hierarchy’ - resulting from the fall and God’s judgement on the fall, not as a command. In keeping with the example of Jesus Christ in redemptive reversal of the impacts of Genesis 3, both during his incarnation and by his death, and acknowledging the ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ reality, the CM seeks to undo the pain and disintegration that has cursed the male/female order since Genesis 3:16, and to restore the trust and unity in which a restoration of the original divinely created and spontaneous structure is increasingly possible.

Various OT & NT texts about women engaging in ministry or leadership.

The CM validates the involvement of duly authorized women in the full range of roles and functions, excepting the ‘head’ role. It validates also a dominant role/function of a woman when the male ‘head’ delegates, (or otherwise defers by choice or by default), that role/function to a woman. [e.g. Barak/Deborah; Aquilla/Priscilla]

Jesus’ attitude to women

The CM maintains the same equality of women evident in the extremely counter-cultural attitude of Jesus to women.

Matthew 28:18-20

The CM upholds the inclusive nature of the great commission.

Romans 5:12ff

The CM upholds the representative nature of headship (but not to the exclusion of ‘source’ and ‘authority’).

1Corinthians 11:3

The CM is grounded in the divine role structure taught in this verse. It understands that by this verse Paul introduces his lengthy section (Ch. 11-14) about appropriate order in the Church.

1Cornithians 11:4,5

The CM reflects the fact that both men and women are engaged in the same activities in the context of the local Church – praying and prophesying.

1Corinthians 11:8-10

The CM upholds the concept of ‘head’ as ‘source’, but not to the exclusion of ‘authority’. Rather it sees ‘source’ and ‘authority’ as mutually inclusive of each other.

[Note that Paul calls the head covering ‘authority’ – exousia – (NIV – ‘a sign of authority) – that is, it authorised her, gave her the right, to pray and prophesy in public.]

1Corinthians 11:11,12

The CM upholds the mutual dependence of male and female taught in this verse.

1Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31; 14:1-40

The CM upholds the fact that there is no gender distinction in the divine distribution of the gifts and their intended use in the Church.

1Corinthians 14:33-35

The CM maintains that, given Paul’s reference to women praying and prophesying in 11:5, he does not here forbid women giving teaching in the local Church; rather he is forbidding a disruptive, inappropriate asking of questions, as indicated in 14:35. Paul’s concern from verse 26 to 40 is that everything be done in ‘a fitting and orderly way’. Disruptive women were not the only people he told to be quiet and to submit to the appropriate order.

1Corinthians 15:20-23

The CM model affirms the representative nature of headship taught by Paul in this text.

Galatians 3:28

The CM upholds the equality and unity of male and female in Christ.

Ephesians 5:22ff

The CM understands that male headship is analogous to the headship of Christ over the Church; and that this headship includes the three aspects of source, authority and representation.

1Timothy 2:11-13

The CM upholds the gender role distinction assumed in this verse. However it does not understand this distinction to exclude the male delegation of authority to a suitable trusted female. By its very nature the Christological Model exemplifies such delegation. Just as Christ did not usurp the Father’s authority, even so a woman entrusted by male headship with a delegated role or function is not taking authority upon herself; rather she is given that authority, she has been empowered to do it. [And it may be that this kind of delegation/authorisation is what Paul was indicating by his reference to head-covering as ‘a sign of authority’ in 1Corinthians 11:10.]

1Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10

The CM affirms the priesthood of all believers, male and female. It thus rejects any exclusion of women from certain roles that is based on the fact that Old Testament priests were only men.



Reduced to its practical implications and application in roles and functions in a local Church, the Christological model can be summarized as follows:

In terms of Christ modelling submission:
[1] There is a structure within the Trinity in which the Father is the head of the Son and the Son submits to the Father. Paul refers to this Father/Son role structure as analogous to the man/woman role structure [1Corinthians 11:3].

[2] This Christological analogy thus very strongly affirms male headship of the Church.

[3] The Son’s willing submission to the Father models the role and function of women in the Church. As such it glorifies ‘submission’. It robs it of all negative connotations.

[4] However, the Christological analogy, by the Father’s delegation of authority to the Son, also affirms the inclusion of women in all the roles and functions of the Church, excepting only the position(s) of the ‘head’.

In terms of Christ modelling headship:
[5] The New Testament presents Jesus Christ as the ‘head’ of the Church. [Paul uses the Christ/church relationship as an analogy of the man/woman (husband/wife) relationship in Ephesians 5:22ff].

[6] As the ‘head’ Christ demonstrates that headship includes the three synergistic and interdependent aspects of source, authority and representation.

[7] Not one of these exists or operates apart from the other, and each involved Christ in intense self-denial. This indicates a very heavy and sometimes painful burden on the (male) head of the local Church.

The obvious difficulties with the Christological model:
While it is relatively easy to understand the implications of Christ’s modelling of both submission and headship, there are difficulties in the practical application of this model to male/female roles and functions in a local Church.

[8] There is perfect trust between the Father and the Son. Men and women in the Church do not trust each other perfectly.

[9] Both Christ’s submission and his headship are perfect. Neither woman’s submission nor man’s headship is perfect.

[10] Both of the above mean that there will be failures and frustrations in any application of the Christological model to Church governance and practice.

The existence of these practical difficulties does not invalidate the Christological model. Paul used the Christological analogy knowing full well that the practical application of that analogy would fail to fully replicate the Christological model. The analogy instructs us; it models both submission and headship; it shows us what real submission looks like; it shows us what real headship looks like. It does not guarantee that our application of the model, our attempts to emulate Christ both in submission and in headship, will succeed.

But as the Church, corporately and individually, focuses on Christ, the Spirit who indwells both the Church corporately and the believer individually, will do his transformational work of changing us so that we, both in our individual lives and together in the Church, will increasingly look like Jesus [2Corinthians 3:18].

With this hope, with this assurance of the Spirit’s work, we can implement the Christological model of both submission and headship. One question ought to be quite clear: How can we humans be offended by a role structure when such a role structure is obviously embedded in the very nature of God? The offence ought not to be because of the existence of such a structure, but because of the way that structure is expressed by humans, including Christian humans. Our goal ought not to be to do away with male/female role distinctives but to emulate the way role distinctives [both perfect headship and perfect submission] are revealed and exemplified in Jesus Christ.



Our response to the Christological model depends on our existing viewpoint. Both egalitarians and complementarians will agree with some aspects of the Christological model and will disagree with some aspects.

1 If we are egalitarian

1.1 Offense at the concept of ‘hierarchy’ and the term ‘hierarchy’
The use of the concept of hierarchy in the Christological Model has potential to offend us. It is an emotive and loaded term. To some extent this emotional loading is valid. Both inside and outside the Church mutually dysfunctional and damaging expressions of male/female hierarchy are all too evident.

But there does not seem to be any other single word that accurately depicts the respective roles of the Father and the Son. The only apparent alternatives are compound, and therefore cumbersome, phrases – ‘divinely appointed order’, ‘divine arrangement’, ‘appointed structure’.

The challenge for egalitarians is clear: the concept of ‘hierarchy’ is not in itself offensive. It is embedded in the very nature of the Trinity. As such it is good, for God is good; there is nothing negative or undesirable in him. It is only what we humans have done with ‘hierarchy’ that is bad. We have misinterpreted and misapplied ‘headship’. We have misinterpreted and misapplied ‘submission’. We have so corrupted the concept of ‘hierarchy’ that it has become a destructive and alien thing rather than being the divinely appointed structure within which our human (and our Church) potential is maximized.

Both in our original creation [Genesis 1:26,27] and in our re-creation in Christ [2Corinthians 3:18] God’s purpose is that we image him. This is our human glory. This is our divinely appointed maximum human potential. We cannot, therefore, maximize our potential, either individually or corporately as the Church, on a strictly ‘egalitarian’ basis according to the contemporary secular definition of ‘egalitarian’. The removal of all role differentiation from the male/female question automatically reduces our ability/potential to image God, because role differentiation is embedded in the Trinity. Just as dysfunctional hierarchy fails to image God, so also does the removal of hierarchy.

Action: We need to deconstruct defective concepts of ‘hierarchy; to redeem the concept of ‘hierarchy’ from its corrupted state; and to redefine and reconstruct the concept of male/female role differentiation on the Father/Son model, so that the Church reflects this powerful aspect of the nature of God.

1.2 The issue of ‘culture’
1.2.1 It is possible some egalitarians will refer to ‘culture’ to validate their position and to deny the need to consider the Christological model or any other discussion. This reference to culture understands 1Corinthians 14:34,35 and 1Timothy 2:11-13 as applicable to the specific time and culture then current. Some egalitarians include place and circumstances, reducing the application still further. From such a perspective, these texts have no on-going relevance.

Such conclusions ignore three clear biblical truths:

  • the fact that in 1Corinthians 11:3 Paul compares male/female role distinction to the Father/Son role distinction.
  • the fact that in 1Corinhtians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22ff Paul compares the male/female role distinction to the Christ/Church role distinction.
  • Paul’s grounding of the male/female order in Genesis 2 – that man was created first [1Timothy 2:13] and that woman was created from and for the man [1Corinthians 11:8,9].

These three truths outlaw any discarding of male/female role distinctions on the basis of the argument from ‘culture’.

Action: We need to re-educate our minds regarding the biblical basis of male/female role distinctions and the relative irrelevance of New Testament ‘culture’ [time, culture, place, circumstance] to the question of gender role distinctions.

1.2.2 It is possible that some egalitarians hold their position because of the influence of contemporary twenty-first century culture, without having given any consideration to what the Bible may or may not teach.

Our culture officially/legally outlaws ‘discrimination’ of any kind. ‘Gender hierarchy’ is viewed as ‘discrimination’ and is therefore automatically understood to be bad and wrong.

Action: We need to remember that the Scripture, not contemporary culture, is our final authority in all matters of faith and action; that our position re male/female roles and functions in the Church is to be determined by what the Bible teaches, not what contemporary culture dictates.

1.3 The issue of ‘justice’
For some egalitarians the goal is to achieve ‘justice’ for women, and the Bible certainly identifies with that goal. Equal pay for equal work. Equal human rights to education, safety, protection, health services, etc. Wherever the gospel has been embraced and Christian values have influenced society, it has led to an improvement in the dignity, safety and equality of women. And as Evangelical Christians today, we should fight against injustice to women in our society.

But when the quest for equality overlooks or discounts the distinctions between men and women it actually does women and men an injustice. Although men and women are equally human with equal value and equal dignity, women are not men, cannot be men, and never will be men; and men are not women, cannot be women, and never will be women. Each is a distinct creation of God. Although there is God-given equality there is also God-given distinction. Each have unique identities, capabilities and roles within God’s creation. The push for the elimination of distinctions is unjust because the elimination of distinctions is impossible. Not only so, it also denies the wholeness and integrity of being ‘woman’. It encourages women to be dissatisfied with their gender distinctives and to strive to be all that ‘man’ is. In doing so it actually overrides God’s creative intention of unity in duality, equality in distinction, clearly evident in Genesis 2. Although the same [‘bone of my bones’, ‘flesh of my flesh’] in terms of equality of humanness, the two are distinct from each other, each complementing the other. God did not make another man as Adam’s counterpart; he made a woman. [The implications of this fact are far broader than homosexual issues.]

Justice is best achieved when we recognize the distinctions and allow woman to be woman and man to be man.

[Note: The egalitarian quest for ‘justice’ for women can result not only in diminishing the value of the functional uniqueness of women, but also in diminishing the functional uniqueness of men, and in doing so result in injustice for, and disempowerment of, men.]

[1] We need to strongly recognize and affirm the functional uniqueness of both women and men.

[2] We need to disempower and discard the concepts/arguments that:

  • State there is a functional equivalence between men and women.
  • State to be equal women need to become like men and do whatever men do.
  • Attempt to erase real gender differences.
  • Privilege traditional male roles over traditional female roles.
    Assume that equality between men and women will only be achieved when men and women are equally represented in various roles.


2 If we are complementarian

2.1 Concern for faithfulness to the Scripture
Our initial response as a complementarian will probably be a fear that the Christological model denies Paul’s instructions to Corinth and Timothy about female submission and silence, and has therefore abandoned faithfulness to the Scripture.

While faithfulness to the Scripture is, in itself, a non-negotiable concern, we must remind ourselves that that holding to a specific interpretation or historical application of a biblical text is not the same thing as faithfulness to the Scripture.

Action: While maintaining our strong affirmation of commitment to the authority of Scripture, we need to recognize that the Christological model also affirms, and is grounded on, that same authority.

2.2 Difficulty in accepting any alternative interpretation of Paul’s instructions
The traditional complementarian interpretation of Paul’s instructions to Corinth and Timothy is so embedded in their minds that even considering the possibility that there are other interpretations of these texts is difficult.

From the traditional complementarian perspective any suggested alternative interpretation will appear to be not a sound exegesis of the texts in context but an invalid re-interpretation forced onto the texts because of a pre-conceived desire/intention to change the historic practice of the Church regarding female roles and functions.

Action: We need to carefully study the meaning of the texts not only in their immediate context [see Appendix 2], but also in the context of the rest of Scripture, which provides us with significant over-arching truths within which to understand these particular verses

2.3 A possible confusion of ‘historic’ interpretation and biblical meaning
The traditional complementarian interpretation of Paul’s instructions in 1Corinthians 14:34,35 and 1Timothy 2:11-13 has been the historic interpretation over many centuries. It was long assumed, with little question, to be the correct interpretation of the texts.

What has happened to bring about the egalitarian/complementarian debate/discussion is that the prevailing secular culture has changed. In previous generations, and still today in some cultures, ‘gender hierarchy’ in which males dominate and females live in unquestioning subjection, was the secular norm. The traditional complementarian interpretation of the texts resonated with this secular norm. There was no reason for Christians to ask if the traditional interpretation of the texts was biblically valid. Very few, secular or Christian, questioned the common expressions of the male/female hierarchy, including impressions of inequality. However,

Pre 1900 women were mostly uneducated or minimally educated. The education of girls has removed all valid doubts about the equal intelligence of women.

Pre 1900 women were extremely limited in occupation. The two world wars precipitated the availability of an ever-increasing range of occupations to women, removing all valid doubts about the equal ability of women [exclusive of some physical/strength abilities].

Pre ‘human rights’ declarations and anti-discrimination laws, the ‘rights’ of women were legally less than those of men. Despite some of its excesses, the ‘human rights’ movement actually has much in common with the male/female equality clearly defined from Genesis 1 onwards. To persist in any conceptual or practical affirmation of inequality in expressions of gender hierarchy is to align oneself with dysfunctional humanity, which reduces the value of some humans, instead of aligning oneself with the biblical view of ‘human’ in which male and female are of equal value and dignity and worthy of equal respect.

[1] We need to keep two things in mind: (a) that historic and contemporary human corruptions of gender hierarchy and denials of gender equality, both secular and ‘Christian’, are not the biblical standard; and (b) that these corruptions must always be seen to be distinct from true biblical equality and true biblical gender role distinctions.

[2] To be true to the Bible, we need to disassociate the biblical texts from historic interpretations which were, in their historic setting, culturally but not biblically valid.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

There is only one New Testament text that makes specific reference to male headship in the context of the Church:


In this passage Paul strongly teaches a divinely appointed gender structure in the Church context. He parallels this to the God/Christ authority structure and the Christ/church authority structure. He also grounds it in the original perfect creation of Genesis 2. It is therefore unavoidable and non-negotiable, not tied to history or culture. Role distinctions are thus tied to the nature of God and the original nature of humans. [How history and culture have understood these role distinctions is another matter.]

However, in this passage, the only passage to specifically teach male headship in the Church context, Paul also affirms that women were praying and prophesying in mixed gatherings of the Church. The culturally significant indication that these women had the authority to do so was the head covering worn while engaged in praying and prophesying.

Although grounding gender authority structure in the fact that the woman was created from the man, Paul also affirms the mutual inter-dependence of male and female, and their shared dependence on God. This instructs us that although there is indeed a role/function structure this structure is an order/arrangement determined by God; it is not an order/arrangement issuing from or necessitated by any essential or intrinsic inequality or by any lesser importance or dignity of the woman.

Paul’s overriding concern in this passage is that of honour, as opposed to dishonour/disgrace. The dishonour/disgrace was not generated by women praying and prophesying in public, but by their doing so unveiled. This raises the question: was this perceived dishonour/disgrace because of cultural norms and cultural expectations or is it something derived from creation and/or redemption? Given that in the Old Testament it was men in leadership (the priests) who worshipped with covered heads, the most obvious answer is that the disgrace associated with uncovered female heads was relative to the historical context.

There are two texts that speak of women being under ‘submission’ and ‘silent’ in the context of the Church:

B. 1CORINTHIANS 14:34,35

(a) The broader context [chapters 11-14] is that of appropriate order in the Church when it meets together. In this broader context Paul has already affirmed [without any disapproval] that women were ‘praying’ and ‘prophesying’ [proclaiming God’s word] in mixed gatherings [1Corinthians 11:4,5], and that they had the ‘authority’ to do so [11:10; culturally, the ‘head-covering’ was a sign of that authority]. [In addition, in 14:26, Paul states that ‘when you come together, each of you has a hymn or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.’] Paul’s instructions in 14:34,35, cannot, therefore, be understood to prohibit women from public speaking in mixed Church meetings. [Such a limitation can only be made by adding to the text. If one person chooses to interpret this verse to prohibit women speaking from the pulpit on the basis of 1Timothy 2:11-13, then another person can just as validly refer to Matthew 28:20 and affirm that Jesus commanded all believers to teach.]

(b) The immediate context of Paul’s instructions is heavily focused on maintaining a peaceful, ordered environment in Church meetings that was conducive to learning and instruction [14:26,31].

  • Prophesy is preferable to tongues because it instructs, encourages, comforts and edifies the church [14:2-5,12,17]
  • Paul would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than 10,000 words in an unknown language that cannot edify anyone [14:18,19]
  • The ‘spirits of the prophets’ are under the control of the prophets [14:32]
  • God is a God of peace, not of disorder [14:33]
  • Everything must be done in a fitting and orderly way [14:40].

Generally, these instructions about ‘order’ in the meeting apply to everyone in the meeting.

Within this general requirement for peace and order, there are three distinct groups of people whom Paul told to stop talking and be quiet:

  • People who spoke in languages, but without an interpreter, were told to ‘keep quiet’ [NIV, 14:28 - sigao].
  • Prophets who were speaking were told to ‘stop’ [NIV], if another prophet had a message [14:30 - sigao].
  • Women who wanted to ask questions during the meeting were told to ‘remain silent’ [NIV] and leave asking their questions till they were at home with their husbands [14:34 - sigao, 35].

In each instance he commands people who had been talking to stop talking and be quiet – to ‘shut up’.

In addition, once a maximum of three people had spoken in languages, no one else was permitted to do so; and, similarly, once a maximum of three people had prophesied, no one else was permitted to do so [14:27,29].

(c) In this context Paul’s prohibition of women ‘speaking’ simply uses a verb for talking – laleo [v34,35]. It is a very general word with no specific reference to teaching or preaching. Given 11:5, where women are praying and prophesying in public meetings, we cannot understand that Paul is here, by this general verb, prohibiting women from speaking roles. Verse 35 gives an immediate explanation of the kind of disruptive talking he intended to prohibit. Paul is addressing these instructions not to women who were exercising any of a range of communication gifts of the Spirit in the meeting (they are covered by verses 26-33), but to women who wanted ‘to inquire about something’ in the context of the meeting. They are women who wanted to learn, not women engaged in edifying the church by their spiritual gifts. His instruction in verse 35 is that ‘they’ [the women he has told to be silent in verse 34] should ask their husbands at home, rather than disturb the meeting with their questions.

(d) A further consideration in this text is Paul’s use of the verb ‘submit’. There are three interesting facts about Paul’s use of this verb:

In v32, Paul uses the verb hupotasso in the Passive Voice. Here he states that the ‘spirits of the prophets’ are to be controlled [‘subject to the control of’] by the prophets. The Church meeting is not a ‘free for all’ – even the God-given desire/urge to prophesy is to be subjected to control by the prophets.

In v34, where Paul says women ‘must be in submission’ he uses the Middle Voice of the verb hupotasso. The Middle Voice indicates that it is the woman who controls herself – she deliberately holds herself in ‘submission’. This ‘submission’, whatever it is, is not imposed on her; she chooses it and imposes it on herself.

Paul does not, in this context, state to what or to whom woman are to submit themselves. He simply states they ‘must be in submission’ – which could reasonably be translated ‘must keep control of themselves’. Just as the prophets are to keep their ‘spirits’ under control, so the women are to keep themselves under control. In the context of Paul’s requirements for peace and order in the Church meetings these women, who are eager to learn, are to keep themselves under control in order to achieve the peaceful learning environment for the whole gathering demanded by Paul.

There is actually nothing in vv34,35 that specifically mentions male headship. It is only inferred by interpreting the prohibition/disgrace of women speaking to refer to women teaching.

(e) Paul states that women must be in submission ‘as the law says’. This phrase evokes considerable discussion. Nowhere does the Old Testament law actually command women to be in submission. Paul in 1Corinthians 11 and 1Timothy 2 bases his understanding of male headship and female submission in Genesis 2, and it may be that is what he is referring to here. But these are creation truths, not commands. To refer this to Genesis 3:16, as some traditionalists do, is to overlook the fact that Genesis 3:16 is not a command any more than the ‘pains in childbirth’ (v16) and the ‘sweat of your brow’ (v19) are commands.

The KJV reads ‘but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law’ [italics in the KJV indicating a translators’ insertion.] The margin in the KJV and Amplified Bibles note Genesis 3:16 as a reference. Both the insertion and the margin reference are interpretative additions to the text, not translations of the actual text. But it is the KJV that informed much of the traditionalist understanding for generations.

(f) Paul states that it is ‘disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church’. The word is aischron. It is variously translated ‘shame’, ‘shameful’, ‘shocking’, ‘a disgrace’. It is used only here and in 1Corinthians 11:6 and Ephesians 5:12 (and a variant in Titus 1:11). Note that Paul does not state that it is ‘immoral’ or ‘unlawful’ or ‘sinful’. He is not talking about the morality or legality/lawfulness of women asking questions in church [or, of women teaching in the church, if ‘speak’ is understood as ‘teach’]. Vine states that the word refers to ‘that which is opposed to modesty or purity’. Strong refers to ‘indecorum’. ‘Modesty’ and ‘indecorum’ are relative terms – relative to the historical cultural context. They mean different things in different generations and different geographical locations.

Paul’s use of aiskron here, as in 11:6 about uncovered heads, suggests a reference to what was considered shameful/disgraceful in the historical context. And here we face a dilemma: even if Paul’s statement is based on the perceptions of his historical/cultural context, those same perceptions are present today in the minds of traditionalist complementarians. They have been conditioned by their own context [a history and church culture of understanding this text to prohibit women preaching/teaching men]. For a woman to preach/teach in the church meeting is in their perception, in their personal historic religious context, disgraceful. So the position today is that while our general historical/cultural context sees no disgrace in a woman teaching men (indeed it considers the prohibition of women teaching men disgraceful), there are within the Church both men and women, brought up in a church context that viewed it as a disgrace, for whom it actually is a disgrace.

[This raises the issue of Christians aware of their freedom in Christ engaging in activities that give offence to a fellow believer, or cause a fellow believer to stumble. Paul addresses such situations in 1Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14:1-23. In both passages the onus is put on the ‘strong’ believers to forego their freedom out of consideration of the ‘weak’ fellow believer.

In the matter of the roles and functions permitted to women in the church, this seems to put the onus on the woman who is gifted by God to teach to forgo the liberty to speak to men if by speaking to men she would give offense to or cause her fellow believers to stumble. Paul’s command in Romans 14:19,20 is ‘Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.’ Or, reworded into the current discussion: ‘Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of permitting women to teach men.’

On the other hand, while Paul commands such consideration of the ‘weaker’ brother on some issues, he does exactly the opposite on other issues – issues where the grace nature of the Gospel is seriously threatened. For example, in Galatians 2:5 he states ‘We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.’

The question becomes: Is the traditionalist (extreme complementarian) perspective compromising the Gospel of grace, or is it not? If it is not, then the ‘weaker brother’ principle might apply to ensure peace in the church. If it is, then it must be resisted and disempowered.]

C. 1TIMOTHY 2:11-13

[see also Note #3 & Note #4 in this study. ]

(a) The broader context of this letter generally is

A concern for the preservation and proclamation of God’s truth [1:3-7, 18-20; 3:2,9; 4:1-16; 6:2-5, 20,21.]

A concern for administrative integrity in the church: selection, appointment and management of elders, deacons, deaconesses [3:1-13; 5:17-21]; the care and management of widows [5:3-16]; issues of discipline [various verses].

These concerns constitute a large part of Paul’s instructions given to Timothy in relation to his oversight of and responsibility for the Church in Ephesus. The instructions were not written to the Church, but to Timothy.

(b) The immediate context is that of prayer [2:1-10].

Paul gives Timothy a general exhortation: ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people’ [v1]. Paul follows this with explanations about who to pray for, and why [vv2-7].

In this context of prayer he instructs Timothy about how men [v8] and women [vv9-10] are to pray. That his instructions about women relate to prayer is evident in his use of hosautos kai [‘in the same way also’] at the beginning of verse 9. [The NIV reduces this to ‘also’.] Just as men are to pray in a specified demeanour, so also are women. Prayer is not an occasion for expressing anger or debating issues [v8 – men], nor for vaunting elaborate and expensive fashions [v9 – women]. In addition, the instructions regarding both men and women are governed by Paul’s ‘I want’ in verse 8; he does not repeat this in verse 9. And to both he gives a positive instruction and a negative prohibition – this way, not this way.

These instructions about appropriate demeanour for women who are praying are reminiscent of Paul’s instructions about head coverings for women praying and prophesying in 1Cornithians 11:5ff; they encourage the modesty and decorum which is the opposite of the aischron (the lack of modesty and decorum) which he strove to prohibit in 11:6 and 14:35.].

Another point of interest is the connection between ‘prayer’ [v1,8] and ‘worship’ [v10]. The women praying are those who ‘profess to worship God’. The Greek for ‘worship God’ is one word – theosebeia – theos – God; sebes – from sebomai – worship. Note that Strong includes ‘worship’ in the meaning he gives to ‘prayers’ [v.1] and ‘pray’ [v8].

The context therefore, like 1Corinthians 11, but not as clearly, has women engaging in public prayer. Paul’s concern is not to shut this down, but to ensure that the women so engaged are appropriately dressed, and that their daily lives reflect their public profession of worship.

(c) Paul moves straight from his instructions about men and women in prayer/worship to his statement ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission’ – verse 11.

Note that at this point Paul is talking about women learning, as he was in 1Corinthians 14:34,35, not women teaching. Women are to learn in quietness and full submission.

‘Learn’ is the usual word for learning – manthano. It is related to the noun mathetes which translates into our English ‘disciple’ – which is literally, a pupil, a student.

‘quietness’, both here in verse 11 and in verse 12, translates the Greek hesuchia, which refers to an absence of clamour more than to the absence of sound. It means ‘stillness’ and refers to what is ‘peaceful, peaceable, undisturbed, undisturbing’. The same word is used in verse 2, where Paul speaks of being able to live ‘quiet’ lives as the reason for praying for national rulers. [It is a different word from the one translated ‘keep quiet’, ‘stop’ and ‘remain silent’ in 1Corinthians 14:28, 30 & 34.] What Paul is forbidding is not the act of talking, but talking in a noisy, clamorous manner.

[Various commentators draw attention to the method of learning then current: students, particularly more advanced students, engaged in discussion/debate with the teacher. It is possible that this is the kind of learning that Paul is forbidding to women. In any case, his focus in this verse is how women were to learn.]

‘full submission’ translates pas hupotage – all submission. As in 1Corinthians 14, nothing is said in verse 11 about whom women are to be in full submission to. The context of the ‘submission’ Paul is requiring is how women are to learn. Their learning is to be ‘in full submission’. This parallels the absence of clamour he has just stated. In other words, women are to learn in a manner that quietly accepts and submits to God’s truth.

(d) Paul expands on the manner of learning in verse 12: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.’ It is in this verse that the man/woman role distinctives are brought into Paul’s argument, and the command about ‘submission’ given clearer focus. Keeping in mind the immediate context is that of women learning:

The apostles, to whom Jesus entrusted the truth he revealed and established, were all men. Along with the Old Testament (‘the prophets’), this deposit of apostolic truth is the foundation upon which the Church is built. [Today this apostolic foundation is recognized as the New Testament canon.] Before the written New Testament existed this apostolic foundation was passed on verbally and guarded against corruption.

This apostolic deposit was non-negotiable, unchangeable and irreducible. It was not open to debate and discussion.

When a woman argumentatively questions or debates the validity or content of this body of foundational apostolic truth, she has ceased to be a learner, she has ceased to be ‘quiet’, she has ceased to be in ‘full submission’, and is clamorously setting herself up as a teacher, assuming that she has authority over both the foundational truth and the men to whom it has been entrusted. She is seeking to redefine the truth.

In this context, [1] John Stott understands that it is the laying down of the apostolic foundation that Paul is forbidding to women; and [2] John Dixon similarly understands that what is prohibited is the passing on and preserving of the apostolic teaching. He believes ‘teach’ has this limited technical sense in the Pastoral Epistles. Both Stott and Dixon (both complementarians) hold that there is very little of this kind of teaching in the church today, and therefore very little teaching/preaching that is forbidden to women.

(e) In verse 13 Paul gives a simple reason for male responsibility: Adam was formed first. In this Paul grounds the God-ordained role structure in Genesis 2 in the pre-fall, perfect world, just as he did in 1Corinthians 11:8-12.

(f) In verse 14 Paul’s reference to Eve is more complex, and is rooted in the events of Genesis 3:1-6. [See Note #3 and #4 in this study.] Although this is a difficult verse, it is most likely the key to understanding and rightly interpreting Paul’s instructions in verses 11 & 12. Paul’s second reason for female ‘submission’ and male responsibility is that ‘it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner’. God had entrusted the Genesis 2:17 prohibition to Adam. Genesis 3 makes it clear that Adam had informed Eve of God’s word. She learned it from Adam. But, deceived by the devil, she did not submit to that word – and in that absence of submission to the word, she also did not submit to Adam, who was responsible for the word, nor to God, whose word it was. Deceived by the devil, she set herself up over that word, debated it and reinterpreted it, then disobeyed it. Her learning was not ‘quiet’ – not without ‘clamour’; her learning was not submissive; her learning overrode the God-ordained role structure; her learning morphed into teaching, in which she assumed/usurped authority over Adam and did so at the expense of Adam’s God-given responsibility. In doing so she also assumed/usurped authority over God and his word. Her word (her understanding), not God’s word, determined her action.

I suggest that this is the kind of learning/teaching that Paul is forbidding.

The obvious flip-side of Eve’s action is Adam’s inaction. At the same time as Eve was usurping authority Adam was opting out of his place and responsibility in the God-ordained role structure. Both failed. But Adam’s failure did not mean he became unaccountable; it did not mean that the responsibility he refused was actually by that refusal removed. That God continued to regard him as the responsible ‘head’ is obvious in Genesis 3 and in Paul’s teaching in Romans 5 and 1Corinthians 15, as indicated earlier in this document.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

This appendix contains a number of quotes from secular and Church history. Most of the selected quotes express the mindset out of which the traditionalist complementarian position developed. There are, however, some unexpected exceptions.


Plato suggested that the worst fate would be reincarnation as a woman.

Aristotle ‘regarded a female as “a kind of mutilated male”. He wrote: “Females are imperfect males, accidentally produced by the father’s inadequacy or by the malign influence of a moist south wind.”’ In Generation of Animals quoted by John Stott in Issues Facing Christians Today p255.

Jewish Talmud: William Barclay describes the view of women expressed by the Jewish Talmud: ‘In the Jewish form of morning prayer … a Jewish man every morning gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman” … In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely in her husband’s possession to do with as he willed.’ Ephesians, Daily Study Bible, pp199ff, quoted by John Stott.

‘A Jewish male was forbidden to talk to a woman on the street, even if she were his wife, daughter or sister. It was regarded as impious to teach a woman the law; it would be better for the words of the law to be burned, said the Talmud, than that they should be entrusted to a woman’ [Stott, p261]

Comment: But Jesus both spoke to and taught women.

Rome at the beginning of the NT era: Women had no formal role in public life; they could not vote or stand for office. Legally they were under the authority of either their father or husband. Education of women was basic, or none at all.

Josephus: ‘the woman is inferior to the man in every way’ ibid

Tertullian: ‘You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die’

Comment: This contradicts the NT teaching about Adam as the one who brought in sin and death. But it is sadly similar to some tradionalist comments on 1Timothy 2:14

Ghandi: ‘A Hindu husband regards himself as lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon him.’ Ghandi: An Autobiography, quote by John Stott, p259.

The Koran: ‘Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other … As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.’ The Koran, Penguin, 1956, pp 360f, quoted by John Stott.

John Calvin [1509-1564]
Comments on Genesis 2:
Woman was created as ‘a kind of appendage to man’.

Comment: Even so he affirms male/female equality.

Commenting on 1Corinthians 14:34,35:
‘It appears that the Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.

Comment: Note: ‘merely ... what is becoming

34. Let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? “ what is there,” some one will say, “ hinder their being in subjection, and yet at the same time teaching?” I answer, that the office of teaching (877) is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside (878) over the entire body! It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent — If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. (879) And unquestionably, (880) wherever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense, that female government is improper and unseemly. Nay more, while originally they had permission given to them at Rome to plead before a court, (881) the effrontery of Caia Afrania (882) led to their being interdicted, even from this. Paul’s reasoning, however, is simple — that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.’

Comment: Calvin uses arguments from inconsistency, history and secular culture.

35. If they wish to learn anything. That he may not seem, by this means, to shut out women from opportunities of learning, he desires them, if they are in doubt as to anything, to inquire in private, that they may not stir up any disputation in public. When he says, husbands, he does not prohibit them from consulting the Prophets themselves, if necessary. For all husbands are not competent to give an answer in such a case; but, as he is reasoning here as to external polity, he reckons it sufficient to point out what is unseemly, that the Corinthians may guard against it. In the meantime, it is the part of the prudent reader to consider, that the things of which he here treats are intermediate and indifferent, in which there is nothing unlawful, but what is at variance with propriety and edification.

Comment: Calvin’s final sentence rather moderates the significance of Paul’s instructions. Calvin points out that the issue of women teaching in a mixed gathering of the church is ‘intermediate’ and ‘indifferent’. For a woman to teach is not ‘unlawful’, but simply ‘at variance with propriety and edification’. In this he is seeing Paul’s instructions as conditioned by the prevailing perspectives of what was proper and acceptable.

John Wesley [1703-1791] – in his early years
Commenting on 1Timothy 2:13: ‘... woman was originally the inferior’ [Explanatory notes on the New Testament, 1754]

Comment: But Wesley’s attitude to women altered during the years of his ministry; in later years he ordained women. His changed attitude is expressed in the second quote in Section B below.

James Macknight D.D [1835] [an example of the traditionalist view]
Commenting on 1Corinthians 11:
‘the wearing of the veil being an expression of inferiority, by appearing in public unveiled, she renounceth her subjection to the man her superior’

‘the different mental and bodily accomplishments of man and woman’

‘women being formed to sweeten the toils of men by their beauty ...’

Commenting on 1Timothy 2:11ff
On v11: ‘Let every woman receive instruction in religious matters from the men in silence, with entire submission, on account of their imperfect education and inferior understanding.’

On v13: ‘The natural inferiority of the woman, God shewed at the creation’

On v14: ‘Besides, that women are naturally inferior to man in understanding, is plain from this – Adam was not deceived by the devil ...’ ‘he attacked the woman, knowing her to be the weaker of the two’. ‘... the fall of the first man stands as a warning to his posterity, to beware of the pernicious influence which the love of women ... may have upon them to lead them into sin’. ‘The apostle’s doctrine concerning the inferiority of the woman to the man in point of understanding, is to be interpreted of the sex in general, and not of every individual; it being well known, that some women, in understanding, are superior to most men. Nevertheless, being generally inferior, it is a fit reason for their being restrained from pretending to direct men in affairs of importance; which is all the apostle meant to prove.

Comment: Macknight grounds his interpretation of Paul on the basis of the ‘imperfect education and inferior understanding of women’, and on the assumption that Genesis 2 indicates a ‘natural inferiority’.

E.J. Young [1966]:
‘Emancipation of women is an illusion; woman cannot free herself. She is not the equal of the man; only before God is she equal.’ He refers to ‘an original divinely-planned subordination for the woman’ but does not see this as the negative thing it became after the fall.

Comment: Although denying the original equality of women, and using the emotive term ‘subordination’, Young, in context, seems to have a fairly good grasp of the changes to the divinely appointed order that resulted from the fall, and of the redemption of women from those changes by the Gospel, including the Christian man’s responsibility to implement that redemption – ‘Christian husbands are not to domineer over their wives and relegate them to a position of abject obedience and servitude’.

Roman Catholic, Orthodox and high Anglican churches
These churches hold a specific view of the priesthood that reserves priestly functions to men. This excludes women from presiding at Holy Communion and from being ordained as ‘priests’.

FF Bruce comments:

‘The recent debates about the admission of women to the priesthood in the Church of England and similar communities arise largely from a conception of Christian priesthood which we’ (the Brethren) ‘do not share. In these debates it has been freely conceded by many that women may perform in church practically all the ministries performed by a nonconformist pastor. The one thing she may not do is to celebrate the Eucharist.
The concept of priesthood implied in such a position is of a restricted order to which certain selected men are solemnly ordained. The exclusion of women from this order is defended by a variety of arguments, some of which are more unconvincing than others. Without the presence and action of such an ordained priest, it is held, a communion service is irregular, if not invalid.’

While some in the Anglican church are pushing for ordination of women, there is resistance by others, especially by those who are seeking reunion with the Roman Catholic and/or Orthodox churches.


Quakers: Speaking in the public ‘Friends’ meeting was open to women from the very beginning of the Quaker movement [1650s].

Wesley & Methodism: In his later years Wesley both encouraged and authorised women to preach. After his death this acceptance of women preachers declined, and during the 1800s women were denied the right to preach to mixed gatherings. Women were formally given the same rights etc in Wesleyan Methodism in 1918.

Wesley in a sermon ‘On visiting the sick’: ‘"Indeed it has long passed for a maxim with many, that "women are only to be seen, not heard." And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! But is this doing honour to the sex or is it a real kindness to them No; it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any woman of sense and spirit can submit to it. Let all you that have it in your power assert the right which the God of nature has given you. Yield not to that vile bondage any longer. You, as well as men, are rational creatures. You, like them, were made in the image of God; you are equally candidates for immortality...’

Finney: Allowed women to speak and pray publically. He believed that the Holy Spirit would not ignore half of the human race.

The Holiness movement: [Wesleyan Methodist; Free Methodist Church; Church of God; Salvation Army; Church of the Nazarene; Christian & Missionary Alliance] – a history of appointing women clergy.] Here is a statement from a 1939 Church of God publication:

‘the prevalence of women preachers is a fair measure of the spirituality of a church, a country, or an age. As the church grows more apostolic and more deeply spiritual, women preachers and workers abound in that church; as it grows more worldly and cold, the ministry of women is despised and gradually ceases altogether. It is of the nature of paganism to hate foreign people and to despise women, but the spirit of the gospel is exactly opposite

Pentecostal and Charismatic: Recognize and authorize egalitarian participation on the basis of spiritual gifts.

Comments: Both Wesley and Finney may have been influenced by a degree of pragmatism: women were needed to maintain the momentum of these ‘awakenings’.

As well as egalitarian participation based on gender neutral spiritual gifting, there is also in some of these groups an acceptance of egalitarian participation based on the supposed existential moving of the Spirit: if the Spirit moves a woman to prophesy or preach who is man to forbid it! While this appears to parallel Peter’s validation of his baptising Cornelius [Acts 11:17], it actually does not do so. The action of the Spirit in Acts 10:44-48 was an objective, observable, verifiable event. The supposed action of the Spirit in moving someone to speak or giving someone a ‘word’ is subjective, non-observable, non-verifiable. Indeed, most false cults, and one world religion, exist because of subjective experiences interpreted as communication from God.

New Apostolic Reformation: The NAR, a contemporary expression of the ‘third wave’ of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, unashamedly denies the sufficiency of the written Scriptures for twenty-first century people. God, they say, is giving new revelation today through powerful anointed prophets and apostles, revelation that is at least as authoritative as the written Word. It includes women as ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’.

Liberal churches: Churches whose liberal theology permits them to discard whatever parts of the Bible they want to tend to very easily discard Paul’s instructions about women in the church.

Comment: The actions and teaching of those who do not recognize the authority, sufficiency and finality of Scripture ought never be our standard or our guide.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Below are excerpts from a paper on Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey published in Christian Brethren Review, Vol. 33, 1982. FF Bruce is a respected Christian ‘Brethren’ scholar. This paper is a surprising document, given its source. It is well worth reading in its entirety - here .

[Note: Emphasis is added.]


The basic teaching of the creation narratives is that when God created mankind (Adam) in his own image, he created them male and female (Gen. 1:27).

In the narrative of Gen. 1 no question of priority, let alone of superiority, arises. In the narrative of Gen. 2 the female is formed after the male, to be ‘a help answering to him’ ― not, as a later interpreter put it, ‘he for God only, she for God in him’. The priority of the male in this creation narrative does not bespeak his superiority: any suggestion to this effect might be answered by the counter-argument that the last-made crowns the work - but either argument is beside the point.

It is in the fall narrative, not in the creation narratives, that superiority of the one sex over the other is first mentioned. And here it is not an inherent superiority, but one that is exercised by force. The Creator’s words to Eve, ‘your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you’ (Gen. 3:16), mean that, in our sinful human condition, the man exploits the woman’s natural proclivity towards him to dominate and subjugate her. Subjugation of woman, in fact, is a symptom of man’s fallen nature.

If the work of Christ involves the breaking of the entail of the fall, the implication of his work for the liberation of women is plain.


(a) The attitude and teaching of Jesus.
Jesus was born into a male-dominated culture. Some of its basic presuppositions he quietly and indirectly undermined. His treatment of the divorce question, for example, not only illustrates his constant appeal to first principles; its chief practical effect was the redressing of a balance which was heavily weighted against women. His male disciples immediately realised this, as is shown by their response. ‘If a man cannot divorce his wife under any circumstances’, they meant, ‘it is better not to marry’ (Matt. 19:10).

Unwarranted inferences have sometimes been drawn from the fact that all twelve of the original apostles were men. But in fact our Lord’s male disciples cut a sorry figure alongside his female disciples, especially in his last hours; and it was to women that he first entrusted the privilege of carrying the news of his resurrection.

He treated women in a completely natural and unselfconscious way as real persons. He imparted his teaching to the eager ears and heart of Mary of Bethany, while to the Samaritan woman (of all people) he revealed the nature of true worship. His disciples who found him thus engaged at the well surprised to find him talking to a woman: for a religious teacher to do this was at best a waste of time and at worst a spiritual danger.

(b) The attitude and teaching of Paul
No distinction in service or status is implied in Paul’s many references to his fellow-workers, whether male or female. Among the latter we recall Phoebe, deacon (not deaconess!) of the church at Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1f.), who by her safe delivery of the Epistle to the Romans performed an inestimable service to the church universal, and Euodia and Syntyche of Philippi, who received Paul’s commendation as women who ‘laboured side by side’ with him in the gospel together with Clement and others (Phil. 4:3). Paul uses the designation ‘apostles’ more comprehensively than Luke does, and he may even include at least one woman among them, if the companion of Andronicus in Rom. 16:7 is Junia, a woman (as Chrysostom understood), and not Junias, a man.

From the standpoint of Paul’s upbringing he voices a revolutionary sentiment when he declares that ‘in Christ Jesus... there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is neither male nor female’ (Gal. 3:28). Already in his time the Jewish morning prayer probably included the passage where the pious man thanks God that he was made a Jew and not a Gentile, a free man and not a slave, a man and not a woman. All three of these privileges are hereby wiped out: real as they were in the Judaism of Paul’s day, they are abolished in Christ. In Judaism it was the males only who received in their bodies the visible seal of the covenant with Abraham; it is a corollary of Paul’s circumcision-free gospel that any such religious privilege enjoyed by males over females is abolished. To the present day among orthodox Jews the quorum for a synagogue congregation is ten free men; unless ten such males are present the service cannot begin. (We may, incidentally, be happy that for Christian meetings we have the less stringent quorum of ‘two or three’, with nothing said as to whether they are men or women.) Paul, on the other hand, expects Christian women to play a responsible part in church meetings, and if, out of concern for public order, he asks then to veil their heads when they pray or prophesy, the veil is the sign of their authority to exercise their Christian liberty in this way, not the sign of someone else’s authority over them.

Nothing that Paul says elsewhere on women’s contribution to church services can be understood in a sense which conflicts with these statements of principle. This applies to the limitations apparently placed on their public liberty in 1 Cor. 14:34 (‘the women should keep silence in the churches’) and 1 Tim. 2:11 (‘let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness’). Critical questions have indeed been raised about the text of 1 Cor. 14:34f. (which the ‘western’ recension places after verse 40) or the direct authorship of the pastoral epistles.

The evidence is not sufficient to extrude 1 Cor. 14:34f. from the authentic text; the prohibition expressed in these verses refers to the asking of questions which imply a judgement on prophetic utterances (so, at least, their context suggests). As for the pastoral epistles, we have received them as canonical scripture, and that goes for 1 Tim. 2:9-15. I am disposed to agree with Chrysostom, who read the Greek new testament in his native language, that in 1 Tim. 2:9f we have a direction (developing the teaching of 1 Cor. 11:2-16) that woman’s dress and demeanour should be seemly when they engage in public prayer. In verses I l and 12 of this chapter, however, women are quite explicitly not given permission to teach or rule. The relevance of the two arguments ― (a) that Adam was formed before Eve and (b) that Eve was genuinely deceived whereas Adam knew what he was doing when he broke the divine commandment ― is not immediately obvious; I am not too happy with the suggestion that the former is an early instance of the principle of primogeniture, which the special rights of the firstborn are recognised.

Exegesis seeks to determine the meaning of the text in its primary setting. But when exegesis has done its work, our application of the text should avoid treating the New Testament as a book of rules. In applying the New Testament text to our own situation, we need not treat it as the scribes of our Lord’s Day treated the old testament. We should not turn what were meant as guiding lines for worshippers in one situation into laws binding for all time. (It is commonly recognised that the regulations regarding widows, later in 1 Tim., need not be carried out literally today, although their essential principle should continue to be observed.) It is an ironical paradox when Paul, who was so concerned to free his converts from bondage of law, is treated as a law-giver for later generations. The freedom of the Spirit, which can be safeguarded by one set of guiding lines in a particular situation, may call for a different procedure in a new situation.

It is very naturally asked what criteria can be safely used to distinguish between those elements in the apostolic letters which are of local and temporary application and those which are of universal and permanent validity. The question is too big for a detailed discussion here. Where the writings of Paul are concerned, however, a reliable rule of thumb is suggested by his passionate emphasis on freedom ― true freedom by contrast with spiritual bondage on the one hand and moral licence on the other. Here it is: whatever in Paul’s teaching promotes true freedom is of universal and permanent validity; whatever seems to impose restrictions on true freedom has regard to local and temporary conditions. (For example, to go to another area, restrictions on a Christian’s freedom in the matter of food are conditioned by the company in which he or she is at the time; and even those restrictions are manifestations of the overriding principle of always considering the well-being of others.)

An appeal to first principles in our application of the New Testament might demand the recognition that when the Spirit, in his sovereign good pleasure, bestows varying gifts on individual believers, these gifts are intended to be exercised for the well-being of the whole church. If he manifestly withheld the gifts of teaching or leadership from Christian women, then we should accept that as evidence of his will (1 Cor. 12:11). But experience shows that he bestows these and other gifts, with ‘undistinguishing regard’, on men and women alike ― not on all women, of course, nor yet on all men. That being so, it is unsatisfactory to rest with a halfway house in this issue of women’s ministry, where they are allowed to pray and prophesy, but not to teach or lead.

Let me add that an appeal to first principles in our application of the New Testament demands nothing should be done to endanger the unity of a local church. Let those who understand the scriptures along the lines indicated in this paper have liberty to expound them thus, but let them not force the pace or try to impose their understanding of the scriptures until that understanding finds general acceptance with the church - and when it does, there will be no need to impose it.’



© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

This appendix contains excerpts from John Stott’s chapter on ‘Women, Men and God’ in his book Issues Facing Christians Today, 1990, pp 254-281.

[Note: Emphasis added.]

‘It is clear, then, that feminism in all its forms – whether non-Christian, Christian or post-Christian – presents the church with an urgent challenge. Feminism cannot be dismissed as a secular bandwagon which trendy churches (in their worldliness) jump on board. Feminism is about creation and redemption, love and justice, humanity and ministry. It obliges us to ask ourselves some searching questions. What does “justice” mean in reference to both men and women? What does God intend our relationships and roles to be? What is the meaning of our masculinity and femininity? How are we to discover our true identity and dignity? ...’ p257

About equality
‘... it is clear from the first chapter of the Bible onwards the fundamental equality of the sexes is affirmed. Whatever is essentially human in both male and female reflects the divine image which we equally bear. And we are equally called to rule the earth, to co-operate with the Creator in the development of its resources for the common good.

‘This primeval sexual equality was, however, distorted by the Fall. Part of God’s judgment on our disobedient progenitors was his word to the woman: “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Thus the sexes would experience a measure of alienation from one another. In place of the equality of the one with the other, and of the complementarity of the one to the other ... there would come the rule of the one over the other. Even if ... sexual complementarity included from the beginning a certain masculine “headship” ... it was never intended to be autocratic or oppressive. The domination of woman by man is due to the Fall, not to the Creation.

‘Moreover, men have misused this judgment of God as an excuse to maltreat and subjugate women in ways God never intended. ...

‘... Without any fuss or publicity, Jesus’ (in his attitude to women) ‘terminated the curse of the Fall, reinvested woman with her partially lost nobility, and reclaimed for his new Kingdom community the original creation blessing of sexual equality.’

[Galatians 3:28] ‘affirms that all who by faith are in Christ are equally accepted, equally God’s children, without any distinction, discrimination or favouritism according to race, sex or class. So, whatever may need to be said later about sexual roles, there can be no question of one sex being superior or inferior to the other. Before God and in Christ “there is neither male nor female”. We are equal.

‘Sexual equality, then, established by creation but perverted by the Fall, was recovered by the redemption that is in Christ. What redemption remedies is the Fall; what it recovers and re-establishes is the Creation. Thus men and women are absolutely equal in worth before God – equally created by God like God, equally justified by grace through faith, equally regenerated by the outpoured Spirit. In other words, in the new community of Jesus we are not only equally sharers of God’s image, but also equally heirs of his grace in Christ (1Peter 3:7) and equally indwelt by his Spirit. This Trinitarian equality (our common participation in Father, Son and Holy Spirit) nothing can ever destroy. Christians and churches in different cultures have denied it; but it is an indestructible fact of the gospel.’ p261,262

About complementarity
‘Although men and women are equal, they are not the same. Equality and identity are not to be confused. We are different from one another, and we complement one another in the distinctive qualities of our own sexuality, psychological as well as physiological. This fact influences our different and appropriate roles in society. As NH Yoder has written, “equality of worth is not identity of role”.

‘When we investigate male and female roles, however, we must be careful not to acquiesce uncritically in the stereotypes which our particular culture may have developed, let alone imagine that Moses brought them down from Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. This would be a serious confusion of Scripture and convention...

‘What is revealed in the second story of creation is that, although God made male and female equal, he also made them different. For in Genesis 1 masculinity and femininity are related to God’s image, while in Genesis 2 they are related to each other, Eve being taken out of Adam and brought to him. Genesis 1 declares the equality of the sexes; Genesis 2 clarifies that “equality” means not “identity” but “complementarity” ... It is this “equal but different” state which we find hard to preserve. Yet they are not incompatible; they belong to each other as essential aspects of the biblical revelation.

‘Because men and women are equal (by creation and in Christ), there can be no question of the inferiority of either to the other. But because they are complementary, there can be no question of the identity of one with the other... ‘

‘... the debate about the distinctions between men and women continues. Are they due to ... unchanging biological differences between male and female, or to ... changing cultural differences between masculine and feminine? Also ... which of them are due to the Creation (and therefore to be preserved), and which to the Fall (and therefore to be overcome)?’

About responsibility
[Refers to Paul’s concept of male headship in Eph 5:23 and 1Cor 11:3].

‘But what does this “headship” mean? And how can it possibly be reconciled with sexual equality and complementarity?

‘Three ways of resolving the paradox between sexual equality and masculine headship have been proposed. Some affirm headship so strongly as to contradict equality ... Others deny headship because they see it as incompatible with equality. The third group seeks to interpret headship, and to affirm it in such a way as to harmonize with, and not contradict, equality.

‘... the right way forward seems to be to ask two questions. First, what does “headship” mean? Can it be understood in such a way as to be compatible with equality, while at the same time not manipulating it or evacuating it of meaning? Secondly, once headship has been defined, what does it prohibit? What ministries (if any) does it render inappropriate for women? Thus, the meaning and the application of “headship” are crucial to the ongoing debate.

‘How, then, can we interpret the meaning of headship with care and integrity, and allow Scripture to reform our traditions in this respect? We certainly have to reject the whole emotive language of hierarchy, as if headship means patriarchy or patronizing paternalism, autocracy or domination, and as if submission to it means subordination, subjection or subjugation. We must develop a biblical understanding of masculine headship which is fully consistent with the created equality of Genesis 1, the outpouring of the Spirit on both sexes at Pentecost (Acts 2:17ff) and their unity in Christ and in his new community (Galatians 3:28).

‘... the word “authority” is never used in the New Testament to describe the husband’s role, nor “obedience” the wife’s. Nor does “subordination” seem to me to be the right word to describe her submission. Although it would be a formally correct translation of the Greek hupotage, it has in modern parlance unfortunate overtones of inferiority, even of military rank and discipline...

‘How then shall we understand kephale, “head”, and what kind of masculine headship does Paul envisage? It is unfortunate that the lexical debate confines us to the choice between “source of” and “authority over”. There is a third option which contains an element of both. On the one hand, headship must be compatible with equality. For if “the head of the woman is man” as “the head of Christ is God”, then man and woman must be equal as the Father and the Son are equal. On the other hand, headship implies some degree of leadership, which, however, is expressed not in terms of “authority” but of “responsibility”. The choice of this word is not arbitrary. It is based on the way in which kephale is understood in Ephesians 5 and on the two models Paul develops to illustrate the head’s attitude to the body. The first is Christ’s attitude to his body, the church, and the second is the personal concern which we human beings all have for the welfare of our own bodies. ...

‘The husband’s headship of his wife, therefore, is a headship more of care than of control, more of responsibility than of authority. As her “head”, he gives himself up for her in love, just as Christ did for his body, the church. And he looks after her, as we do our own bodies. His concern is not to crush her, but to liberate her. As Christ give himself for his bride, in order to present her to himself radiant and blameless, so the husband gives himself for his bride, in order to create the conditions within which she may grow into the fullness of her womanhood....’

‘The resolute desire of women to know, be and develop themselves, and to use their gits in the service of the world, is so obviously God’s will for them, that to deny or frustrate it is an extremely serious oppression. It is a woman’s basic right and responsibility to discover herself, her identity and her vocation. The fundamental question is in what relationship with men will women find and be themselves. Certainly not in a subordination which implies inferiority to men and engenders low self-esteem. ... “Equality” and “partnership” between the sexes are sound biblical concepts. But not if they are pressed into denying a masculine headship of protective care. It is surely a distorted headship of domination which has convinced women that they cannot find themselves that way. Only the biblical ideal of headship, which because it is selflessly loving may be justly be called “Christlike”, can convince them that it will facilitate, not destroy, their true identity. ...’

About ministry
‘... if God saw no impediment against calling women to a teaching role, the burden of proof lies with the church to show why it should not appoint women to similar responsibilities.’

‘... on the Day of Pentecost ... God poured out his Spirit on “all people”, including “sons and daughters” and his “servants, both men and women”. It the gift of the Spirit was bestowed on all believers of both sexes, so were his gifts. There is no evidence, or even hint, that the charismata in general were restricted to men, although apostleship does seem to have been. On the contrary, the Spirit’s gifts were distributed to all for the common good ... We must conclude, therefore, not only that Christ gives charismata (including the teaching gifts) to women, but that alongside his gifts he issues his call to develop and exercise them in his service and in the service of others, for the building up of his body.’

[Stott understands 1Cor. 14:34,35 to be addressed to loquacious women who were disturbing public worship with their questions, not to all women; just as he has ordered prophets and tongue-speakers to be quiet under certain restrictions. He understands that 11:5 and 14:26 (‘each of you’) both indicate that women were allowed to speak in public church meetings.]

[About 1Timothy 2:11ff:]
‘... Is it further possible, then, that the demand for female silence was not an absolute prohibition of women teaching men, but rather a prohibition of every kind of teaching by women which attempts to reverse sexual roles and even domineer over men? ...

‘... I believe that there are situations in which it is entirely proper for women to teach, and to teach men, provided that in so doing they are not usurping an improper authority over them. For this to be so, three conditions need to be fulfilled, relating to the content, context and style of their teaching. ...

[Stott’s discussion of content is similar to John Dixon’s perspective. The kind of teaching done by the foundational apostles has long ago been completed. Today’s ‘teachers’, both men and women, are under the authority of the apostolic teaching now formalised in the canon of Scripture. His discussion of context sees a team of elders, of which at least one is a woman, and of which a man is the team leader. His discussion of style includes submission to the authority of Scripture and, in respect to women teachers, women who ‘have come to terms with their sexual identity and are not trying to be, or behave like, men.’]

‘... It seems then to be biblically permissible for women to teach men, provided that the content of their teaching is biblical, its context a team and its style humble. For in such a situation they would be exercising their gift without claiming a responsible “headship” which is not theirs.’ ...

‘I continue to believe from Scripture that the principle of male headship is a revealed and creational, and therefore universal and permanent, truth; that it needs therefore to be publicly and visibly expressed; and that a male team leadership (especially in a local church and diocese) is an appropriate cultural symbol to express it in the twentieth century, as veils and silence did in the first. Exceptions can prove this rule; they do not undermine it.’ ...

‘Our Christian struggle, in the midst of and indeed against the prevailing secularism, is to bear witness to the twin biblical principles of sexual equality and male headship, ... as we debate how this can best and most appropriately be done.’

[Stott quotes JI Packer’s conviction from the Scripture: “... the man-woman relationship is intrinsically non-reversible .... This is part of the reality of creation, a given fact that nothing will change. Certainly, redemption will not change it, for grace restores nature, not abolishes it.” ...we need to “theologize reciprocity, spiritual equality, freedom for ministry, and mutual submission and respect between men and women within this framework of non-reversibility ... It is important that the cause of not imposing on women restrictions that Scripture does not impose should not be confused with the quite different goals of minimizing the distinctness of the sexes as created and of diminishing the male’s inalienable responsibilities in man-woman relationships as such.”]

Stott concludes his chapter: ‘If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), then the church must recognise God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should “ordain” (that is, commission and authorize) them to exercise their God-given ministry, at least in team situations. Our Christian doctrines of Creation and Redemption tell us that God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled not frustrated, and his church to be enriched by their service.’



© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Equality is misunderstood to infer sameness.
Difference is misunderstood to infer inequality.

Equal is misunderstood to mean identical.

Hierarchy is misunderstood to infer superiority/inferiority.

First (chronologically) is misunderstood to infer better or more important.

Authority is misunderstood to infer superiority.
Authority is misunderstood to mean domination.
Authority is misunderstood to authorise subjection of those under authority.

Submission is misunderstood to mean inferiority.
Submission is misunderstood to mean subordination.
Submission is misunderstood to require abject and slavish servility.

Weaker is misunderstood to mean less important or inferior.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

[Note: this appendix does not give a complete list of relevant scriptures.]

The focus in some Christian circles on submission as something specifically commanded of women is far from biblical. The principle of submission pervades the whole New Testament and applies to all – both male and female - who believe in Jesus Christ.

We have already seen in earlier parts of this document that the concept of submission is applied to:

Christ’s submission to the Father
The Church’s submission to Christ

The biblical principle of submission reflects the humility and self-denial exemplified by Jesus Christ and commanded of all believers. It is the opposite of the ego-centric, self-promoting independence and pride that was our human downfall in Genesis 3. The submissive person, recognizing the biblical priority of the other, puts aside their own rights [whether real or perceived] in order to achieve the well-being of the other. This principle of submission, of prioritizing the other, applies at both ends of any ‘authority’ structure – to both husbands and wives, to both parents and children, to both masters and slaves.

Reading through the New Testament we find the principle of submission expressed repeatedly, but not always using the words ‘submit’ or ‘submission’:

MATTHEW 5:1 & 3 Having already called ‘the poor in spirit’ blessed Jesus also designates ‘the meek’ blessed. The comments below give us insight into the submission involved in this meekness.

Leon Morris comments: ‘Meekness is not to be confused with weakness: the meek are not simply submissive because they lack the resources to be anything else. Meekness is quite compatible with great strength and ability, as humans measure strength, but whatever strength or weakness the meek person has is accompanied by humility and a genuine dependence on God. True meekness may be a quality of the strong, those who could assert themselves but choose not to do so.’ [p98, The Gospel According to Matthew]

William Hendriksen, taking his cue from the whole of Psalm 37 where the ‘meek’ and ‘inheriting the land’ are mentioned [verses 11,22,29,34], states that the word ‘meek’: ‘describes the person who is not resentful. He bears no grudge. Far from mulling over injuries received, he finds refuge in the Lord and commits his way entirely to him. All the more does he do this because he has died to all self-righteousness. … Yet meekness is not weakness. Meekness is not spinelessness, the characteristics of the person who is ready to bow before every breeze. It is submissiveness under provocation, the willingness rather to suffer, than to inflict injury. The meek person leaves everything in the hands of him who loves and cares.’ [p271-272, The Gospel of Matthew]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones recommends that we read the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Stephen and Paul to see meekness in action, then points us to Jesus himself for the supreme example. He then writes: ‘Meekness … is not a natural quality. … Every Christian, whatever his natural temperament or psychology may be, is meant to be like this. Take these various characters whom I have mentioned, apart from our Lord Himself, and I think you will find that in every case we have a man who was not like this by nature. … Meekness does not mean indolence … flabbiness … niceness … weakness in personality or character … a spirit of compromise or “peace at any price” … not merely a matter of outward manner, but also, and still more, of inward spirit.

‘Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others … It is my attitude to myself; and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. It inevitably follows being “poor in spirit” and “mourning”. … When I have a true view of myself in terms of poverty of spirit, and mourning because of my sinfulness, I am led on to see that there must be an absence of pride. The meek man is not proud of himself … does not demand anything for himself … does not make demands for his position, his privileges, his possessions, his status in life …is not even sensitive about himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive … he no longer worries about himself and what other people say. To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see nothing there worth defending. … The man who is truly meek never pities himself … to be meek … means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realize that nobody can harm you … that nobody can say anything about [you] that is too bad.’

Lloyd-Jones then describes the qualities and attitudes that demonstrate meekness: gentleness, the complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, patience, longsuffering [even when suffering unjustly], teachability. Meekness, he says, ‘leaves everything – ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future – in the hands of God … with a quietness of spirit and heart.’ [p67-70 Studies in the Sermon on the Mount]

These comments reflect what we have already seen in 1Corinthians 14:34: that submission is something that the woman does to herself – she holds herself under submission, she deliberately aligns herself with the God-ordained role distinctions. It is not something that is arbitrarily imposed upon her. It is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It expresses constructive humility not destructive pride.

Matthew 18:1-4: The disciples asked ‘Who ... is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Jesus answered that unless we become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven; that we must take the lowly position of a child – that is true greatness.

Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:32-45: Similarly, Jesus rebuked the mindset of James and John (and their mother) in seeking positions of authority and prestige in Christ’s kingdom. He outlawed any exercise of authority in which one Christian ‘lords it’ over another. Those who want to become great must be slaves of all. Just like Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom. Applying this to the male/female role distinctives: male headship must reflect the servant mindset of Christ not the ‘lord it over’ mindset of the Gentiles.

John 13:1-17: This is the report of the last supper during which Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He who was their Lord and Master took upon himself the role of the lowest servant. This action was symbolic of his death, by which our sin is cleansed. Out of this action, and the reality it symbolised, comes the command: ‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’ It is not that he expects us to be running around washing our fellow-believers’ feet. It is that this same humility, this same self-denial, this same unconcern for personal position, this same submission – should be our mindset, attitude and our action towards each other.

Romans 12:10: Here Paul commands: ‘Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.’

Romans 13:1-7: Submission to governing authorities is submission to God.

Romans 14:1-15:9: Putting aside one’s freedom and rights in order to achieve the well-being of the other. This follows the example of Christ who ‘became a servant of the Jews on behalf God’s truth so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.’

1Corinthians 9:19-23: Almost the whole of 1Corinthians addresses arrogance in a range of contexts within the church at Corinth. In the middle of addressing the ‘right’ of Christians to eat food sacrificed to idols Paul inserts a chapter in which he gives the example of his own denial of his ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’.

Paul, although he had the highly authoritative responsibility of an apostle, nevertheless refused to exercise his rightful freedoms. He deliberately put those freedoms, those rights, aside in order to ‘by all possible means ... save some’.

Galatians 5:13-15: Here Paul commands that, rather than selfishly insist on our exercising our freedom we are to ‘serve one another humbly in love’. If we don’t, if we insist on our freedoms, then we stand in grave danger of destroying the other, and if we do that, we are walking out of step with the Spirit.

Galatians 6:2: Paul’s ‘carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ’ contains a strong element of submission.

Ephesians 5:15-6:9: In 5:21 ‘submitting to one another’ is listed as an expression of being filled with the Spirit. [This is very obvious in the Greek text, where there is only one command [‘be filled with the Spirit’, followed by five present participles, of which ‘submitting’ is the last.] In 5:22,26; 6:1,4,5,9 Paul gives six examples from 3 common human relationships of what this ‘submitting’ looks like.

Paul gives us these three common relationships by which he illustrates the kind of mutual, reciprocal, submitting to the other that he has in mind. We must note clearly that this is not a one-sided submission. Each party, if subject to the control of God’s Spirit, will be ‘submitting’ to the other. Submission will look different from the perspective of the two parties in each of these relationships, but it is still submission – the putting aside of my perceived or real rights in order to achieve the well-being of the other person.

Hidden deep within Paul’s words here is the radical concept that in every relationship we are to evidence two standards:

1. That we act towards this other person as we would act toward Jesus Christ.
2. That we treat this other person as Christ has treated us.

In such submission to the dignity and well-being of the other person we demonstrate the very nature of God whose Spirit indwells and seeks to control us. In such submission we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ [John 13:35]. In such submission we follow the example of Christ [John 13:14,15,17].

Philippians 2:1-9: Here again Paul uses the example of Christ to demonstrate the humility/submission to one another appropriate for all believers. He points to both Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion as illustrations of denying self for the well-being of our fellow believers. Christ’s self-denying, humble consideration of us is the measure and motivation of the mindset of submission to the well-being of other believers that should characterize believers. He instructs us:

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’

‘... have the same mindset as Christ Jesus ...’

Colossians 3:18-4:1: Colossians 3:18-4:1 parallels the Ephesians 5-6 passage. It teaches that submission ‘is fitting in the Lord’ and is to be pursued ‘with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord’. Paul adds that, even though slaves are working for human masters, it is actually ‘the Lord Christ you are serving’. With this in mind, even in this obvious slave-master relationship, all work must be done whole-heartedly ‘as working for the Lord’.

This is actually quite instructive for the male/female role distinctives in the Church: although the male is ‘the head’ of the woman in the Church context [and also of other men in the Church] any voluntary submission/service carried out in the Church by women is to be done with a similar perspective: that the women are not serving the male head of the Church. They are serving Christ. Their service, therefore, is to be fulfilled ‘as working for the Lord’.

1Thessalonians 2:1-12: Paul describes his motives and attitude to the Thessalonians when he was with them previously. In describing his self-denying humility he says ‘we were like young children among you’ [v7].

1Thessalonians 5:15: The need/desire for personal justice is over-ridden by the command to ‘always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else’.

2Thessalonians 3:7-9: Paul discarded his right to be financially supported by those to whom he ministered, in order (1) not to be a financial burden to them, and (2) to give them an example of denying personal rights in order to achieve the well being of others.

1Peter 2:11-3:7: In 2:11-12 Peter says: ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’ He then goes on to spell out the implications of this instruction in various situations:

We should all submit to the government for the Lord’s sake. [2:13-17]

Slaves [employees] should submit to their masters [employers], even insulting or unjust masters, and so express the example of Christ [2:18-25].

Wives in the same way should be submissive to their husbands, and possibly by this submission win them over to Christ [3:1-6]. Note that this submission is not an expression of fear [3:6].

Husbands in the same way are to treat their wives with consideration and respect because they know they are weaker and because they are heirs together of the gracious gift of life, and, Peter adds, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Like the Ephesians passage this neither authorises nor commands male domination and female servility. Peter, very much aware of the pagan world looking on and observing the behaviour of Christians, calls Christians to express their knowledge of Jesus Christ in their relationships in such a way that God will be glorified.

Governments may be wrong: but the Christian’s responsibility before Christ is to submit to their decrees.

Masters may be harsh and unjust: but the Christian servant’s responsibility before Christ is to respect them and not retaliate.

Husbands may be unsaved and demanding: but it is the Christian wife’s responsibility to choose to respect their authority.

Wives may be frustrating dependents, but it is the Christian husband’s responsibility to treat them with consideration, respect and equality.

This does not endorse governments in their wrong decisions.
This does not endorse harshness or injustice in masters or employers.
This does not endorse harsh leadership in a husband.
This does not endorse helpless weak dependence in a wife.