How Can Equality and Role Differentiation in Marriage Be Reconciled?

Many people object to the Bible’s teachings on the roles of men and women in the church and home. Feminists love to hate the Apostle Paul who said that, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim 2:12). But how can this be reconciled with Galatians 3:28 when he says that in Christ “there is neither male nor female”? How can equality between men and women be compatible with role differentiation on the basis of gender when we did not choose to be male or female (the objections to God’s sovereignty in assigning gender by transgender advocates notwithstanding)?

The solution to this alleged contradiction is revealed in the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. While egalitarians would say that we shouldn’t invoke the Trinity to defend our view of gender roles, we have to deal with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The term “head” describes a position of authority over another person. We use the same term today to describe a “head of state” for example. Paul is saying that Christ has authority over every man, the husband has authority over his wife, and the Father has authority over the Son. This demonstrates that equality and differences of role are not incompatible with each other.

The hidden assumption behind the egalitarian argument against complementarianism is that equality and subordination of role are incompatible with each other. But the same logic would make Jesus less than God since God the Father is head over him hence the argument creates a reductio ad absurdum since the vast majority of egalitarians would never deny the equality of the Son with the Father. As Bruce Ware has said, a wife’s submission to her husband is godly, because in doing so, she is imitating God the Son. Imitating God himself can never be demeaning.

E. Earle Ellis, in his book Pauline Theology, gives a good summary of the Bible’s solution to this question:

“The mind-set that places ‘equality’ and ‘subordination’ in opposition and that views distinctions of class and rank as evil per se is a largely modern phenomenon. It may reflect a justifiable resentment towards attitudes of disdain and elitism that often (and in a sinful society always) flow from such distinctions, but it seems to be less aware of the egoism and antisocial evils inherent in egalitarianism itself and sometimes expressed in programs for economic or social conformity, in a libertarian rejection of authority, and in a despisal of servanthood as a ‘demeaning’ role. In any case Paul, like the New Testament generally, holds together quite harmoniously an equality of value and diversity in rank and resolves the problem of diversity in a manner entirely different from modern egalitarianism. In this issue as in others, the Apostle finds the key to the problem in Christology. Jesus himself, Who, though existing in the form of God, Did not count equality with God as a prize, But emptied himself, By taking the form of a servant . . . (Phil 2:6). That is, Jesus the Son of God manifested his equality with God the Father precisely in fulfilling a role of subordination to him. In Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11, Paul applies this analogy to marriage” (58).

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