Why I’m Not Complementarian

About: this paper was submitted to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class concerning Women, the Bible, and the Church.


Out of the two major competing positions dealing with women and ministry, one of them proves to be too problematic for me to uphold as a viable option for my own personal position on the issue. The two options are egalitarianism and complementarianism. Complementarianism, the position that generally denies women the right to participate in formal church leadership, desires to be true to the biblical texts by allowing them to speak out to the interpreter through responsible hermeneutics. Egalitarianism, the position that generally gives women the right to be involved in any form of church leadership, also seeks to be true to the authority of the text. The fact that complementarianism seeks to be true to the text does not indicate that egalitarianism does not. Both believe themselves to approach the Bible as the authority on the issue and they both desire to responsibly study the biblical texts. In order to responsibly study the biblical texts, the interpreter needs to take into consideration several hermeneutical factors such as, but not limited to, cultural influences, exegesis, and terms. Although the complementarian position admirably desires to be true to the biblical texts, it fails by inconsistently maintaining dialogue with relevant cultural contexts, by conveniently overlooking key exegetical insights, and by inadvertently embracing a faulty understanding of the church leadership depicted in the New Testament. As a result, out of the two major competing options presented, I do not agree with complementarianism and naturally lean towards egalitarianism.

Why I am not a Complementarian

The basic desire of the complementarian position is for interpreters to be responsible exegetes by allowing the text to speak for its self. This approach contains no less than three hermeneutical presuppositions. One presupposition maintains that the interpreter must consider the cultural contexts that are involved in the interpreting process. The interpreter must at least recognize that culture has a powerful influence in the interpretation process. Culture influences interpreters in a similar way that it influenced the biblical authors and audiences; we are culturally biased. Every interpreter’s understanding of the biblical texts is culturally confined socially, individually, ecclesiastically and theologically (Scholer 1986, 215). It is essential to consider the cultural influences when responsibly studying the Bible and to proceed cautiously with the highest level of sensitivity towards the historical-cultural settings involved (Scholer 1986, 215). It is also important to carefully recognize and consider the influences of the biblical authors, since they thought and lived according to particular cultural settings (Scholer 1986, 215). The Bible is equally culturally influenced, containing texts that were written for specific cultural-historical settings (Scholer 1986, 215). Therefore, in order to responsibly study the Bible, one must presuppose the recognition of and dialogue with the historical-cultural contexts and influences.

Another presupposition contends that the interpreter must study the texts in the original languages and be mindful of skewed lexical data. It is true that words in the biblical languages have disputed meanings. Other words have become translated in such a way that they lost the meaning for which they were originally penned (for example, Belleville’s treatment of proistêmi in Women Leaders and the Church, p. 139). It is important when responsibly studying Scripture that we are cautious of the data in lexicons, because some words have been culturally influenced over time to take on a particular English gloss that does not necessarily fit the original use of the word (Nystrom 2007, February 10). For this reason, the responsible exegete must presuppose the necessity to weigh the data carefully when studying the texts in the original languages and considering the possibility of having skewed lexical information.

One final presupposition present in the complementarian argument is the necessity for the interpreter to determine how the original audience would have interpreted it. This presupposition is tied in with the first, but it is much more narrowly defined. This presupposition identifies that it is irresponsible to interpret something that was written 2,000 years ago according to our cultural values, views and understandings. If an interpreter were to do that, then the text will lose its original meaning. However, the original meaning is essential; without it, the text simply would not matter. We need to know what the author intended and how the audience understood it. If we do not determine these things, then we will make the text mean whatever we want, becoming reckless and valueless because it is merely our understanding and not the understanding of God or the author (Caird 1980, 61). Therefore, it is essential that we retain the value of the text by seeking the original meaning as understood by the biblical author and audience.

Out of these three fundamental presuppositions, none of them are maintained well by the complementarian position. It suffers logically as the basic tenets of its central premise are not consistently adhered to. Now that we have arrived to a brief understanding of the logical impairment of complementarianism, we can now look at three of its hermeneutical failures.

True to the Text Versus Dialoguing with Cultural Contexts

The complementarian position desires to be true to the text, but it suffers from inconsistently maintaining dialogue with cultural contexts and influences, which is evident in its contradicting practical uses of cultural influences and its basing of arguments from silence without regard to cultural influences. As we have already noted, in order to be responsible exegetes, it is essential to consider and dialogue with all the relevant cultural contexts. However, because complementarianism lacks this essential dialogue, it suffers from inconsistency. Dan Doriani’s book, Women and Ministry: What the Bible teaches, a good representation of the complementarian position, proves this point quite well. (Although one book cannot represent a position like complementarianism entirely, this book does cover all the basics of the position and sums up the complementarian position quite nicely.) Doriani failed to recognize the cultural influences of the biblical authors, although he does recognize at least in part the cultural influences of the interpreters and the biblical audience. However, he is inconsistent in the way he recognizes them.

Doriani failed to thoroughly address the cultural issues involved in the story of Deborah in the Old Testament book of Judges (2003, 33-34). He did not explain the cultural significance present in the fact that the Israelites came to Deborah to have her judge them. This fact alone indicates through cultural practices that Deborah did have authority (Nystrom 2007, January 13). Doriani did not mention this fact at all, but rather he focused on his own interpretation and reading of the story that understood Deborah to be a private judge, since everyone came to her while she was “under a tree” (2003, 110). Conversely, Doriani attempted to thoroughly address the cultural contexts involved in the naming of the animals after creation in Genesis 2 (2003, 55). He readily points out that naming was understood in that culture to be an authoritative act (2003, 55). Doriani’s book suffered from an inconsistent use of cultural contexts.

In terms of cultural influences, Doriani made some conflicting points. First, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 11, Doriani said that Paul wants his Corinthian audience to maintain the customs of their culture (2003, 76). It sounds as if Doriani was affirming cultural influence, even if only as an evangelistic tool. However, Doriani did not allow culture to influence modern interpretations or readers in his comments on 1 Timothy 2 (2003, 98). It sounds like Doriani was adamantly opposed to cultural influence. The former seems to look upon cultural influence on a positive note, while the latter has a very negative one. Is that not inconsistent? Which one is it? Doriani recognized cultural influences, demands and ideals for our time as negative, but for some reason or another he did not recognize them as negative for Paul’s time. It is safe to say that Doriani would hesitate to argue that we should adopt the customs of our culture—women leading in authoritative positions—if only as an evangelistic tool, even though he has no problem saying that Paul would have argued for that to the Corinthians. Doriani’s book suffered from contradictory uses of cultural influences.

Doriani’s book also formed several arguments from silence to help prove his point that women were not given biblical authority to preach and teach as authoritative leaders. His points were already weak because they were arguments from silence, but they were even more devastated by the lack of consistent dialogue with cultural contexts. For instance, Doriani identified that because women were not ever commanded to go and preach the gospel, they do not have the authority to preach (2003, 124). However, this point does not say much. Why? If cultural influences were considered, it would have been realized that women were typically not mentioned at all during the first Century A.D. (Nystrom 2007, January 13). Therefore, it seems normal that women are not mentioned much throughout the New Testament and it ought to be expected for that time period. In other words, it is no wonder that we do not read stories of women doing all sorts of miracles, sermons and teaching, since no one else mentioned it outside of the New Testament either (Nystrom 2007, January 13). The fact remains that the authors of the Bible were also culturally biased just as we are. The problem is Doriani did not even mention this fact.

Other complementarians (if we can label them as such) throughout history have also based their position on similar arguments from silence. One source from history argued that if women were to teach, then Jesus would have commanded it, implying that because he did not, women are not allowed to teach (Didascalia apostolorum 3.6). Another source, Panarion, written by Epiphanius, also argued from silence, saying that women were not entrusted with the rite to administer baptism, because a woman did not baptize Jesus (79.2,3-4,1). Similarly, Epiphanius constructs another argument from silence, saying that Jesus chose twelve males to be his chosen apostles to spread the gospel throughout the world, so women have not been entrusted with this task and should not participate in it (Panarion 79.2,3-4,1).

To sum up Doriani and the others in the complementarian position, they fail hermeneutically, because they wanted to affirm cultural influence as a viable factor only when it supported what they wanted to say. When it did not give direct support to their position, they denied the influence of culture as a pertinent factor to hermeneutics. Complementarianism is inconsistent in maintaining dialogue with cultural contexts. It is inconsistent in maintaining cultural influences as a factor when interpreting the biblical texts, not only for us, but also for the composition of the writing of biblical authors and the understanding of the biblical audience. Although the complementarian position wants to be true to the text, it is not, because it suffers from inconsistent dialogue with, contradicting practical uses of, and basing arguments on silence without regard to cultural influences.

True to the Text Versus Overlooking Key Exegetical Insights

The complementarian position desires to be true to the text, but it suffers from conveniently overlooking key exegetical insights, such as particular words and significant phrases. Again, Doriani’s book demonstrated this point for us as a representative of the complementarian position. Two examples of many of the overlooked exegetical insights in his book are Doriani’s failure to recognize the use of ’adam in his treatment of Genesis 1-2 (2003, 54-59), and his failure to recognize the significance of “because of the angels” in relation to “in the Lord” in his comments on 1 Corinthians 11 (77-79). Doriani’s book and position were incomplete, because he does not thoroughly and consistently examine the original languages or consistently practice basic hermeneutics.

The Hebrew language uses ’adam and ’ish for man in Genesis 1-2. Doriani failed to recognize the Hebrew in his comments on this biblical passage (2003, 54-59). Although we do not know why he overlooked this material, we do know that his position was worse off because of it. Richard Hess pointed out two word plays involved in Genesis 1-2 (2005, 87). The first one is ’adam (human) and ’adamah (ground). The Hebrew words for man and ground are a word play, where the latter is the source from which the former came into existence. The second play on words is with ’ish (man) and ’ishah (woman). Although linguistically it is unintentional, the vocabulary is intentional; therefore, we still have a play on words when the author of the Genesis text used them (Hess 2005, 87). Woman and man here function in the same way as man and ground function earlier in the story, where the latter is the source for the former. Note the presence of the source language in the word plays. Would this language not be at least indirectly pertinent in the discussion of kephalê later on for Doriani? Apparently it was not, because he did not mention it at all in his book. Or perhaps it was problematic for his argument so he chose to exclude it. Either way, the fact is his treatment of Genesis 1-2 was not thorough enough, which left the reader wondering if maybe Doriani has missed something important, whether here or elsewhere in the biblical texts.

In commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 within a larger treatment of verses 3-16, Doriani argued that “because of the angels” should read “because of the messengers” in verse 10 (2003, 78). Doriani noted that a Roman visitor might be shocked to hear women speaking in the gatherings, because women were not allowed to speak in public, so Paul wanted women to show submission to men by covering their heads for the sake of the messengers (2003, 78). Additionally, further evidence for the lack thoroughness in his argument is that Doriani did not even treat verses 11-12 in his section called “11:7-12” (2003, 77). Is it not significant that Paul first wrote “because of the angels” followed by “Nevertheless, in the Lord”? Are these two phrases related, either as complementary or contrasting statements? Doriani’s treatment was insufficient to answer that question because he completely overlooked the second statement. Furthermore, Doriani’s treatment of the first statement was also insufficient because he failed to compare the use of the word angel here with its earlier occurrences in the letter.

However, Gordon Fee looked at this passage in light of the surrounding texts of the letter and does attempt to work through the difficult parts of the current text. Fee argued that Paul was possibly agreeing in principle with the likely Corinthian belief that they were like the angels, which is evidenced in 1 Corinthians 13:1 in which their speaking in tongues was perceived to be speaking the language of the angels (2005, 157). Paul refers to angels in 1 Corinthians 4:9 as his witnesses for his apostolic weaknesses, and he proclaims that the Corinthians will participate in the judgment of the angels in 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 (Fee 2005, 157). Fee wrote, “Within this scenario, our sentence [v. 10] could be yet another instance in the letter where Paul is reflecting their own point of view—in this case, of some Corinthian women” (2005, 157). In other words, Paul is affirming the Corinthian women’s viewpoint that due to their “angelic” status they have the authority to do what they please in regards to their own heads (Fee 2005, 157). The “nevertheless” qualifies this possibility, so that Paul continues to stand by what he has already said in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, which states that woman is the glory of man, while not allowing that fact to be used for the subordination of women (Fee 2005, 157). Interpreting the present text in light of the surrounding texts keeps us from interpreting angels as messengers. The question is not what we can make of this possibility. The real question is, “What can Doriani make of this possibility”?

In sum, exegetically speaking, complementarianism cannot be fully relied upon, because it is selective and not thorough. Doriani is a prime example. He overlooked key exegetical insights and neglected fundamentally basic hermeneutical methods for whatever reason. The trustworthiness of Doriani’s treatment was therefore in jeopardy and his argument was skewed because it was based on unreliable interpretation. Although complementarianism wants to be true to the text, it fails hermeneutically for overlooking key exegetical insights and neglecting proper hermeneutics.

True to the Text Versus Misunderstanding New Testament Church Leadership

Before we examine the third hermeneutical failure of the complementarian position, we should quickly review what we have already seen. In terms of dialoguing with cultural contexts and overlooking key exegetical insights, complementarianism suffers hermeneutically. The first point is quite important as any interpreter must take cultural contexts and influences into consideration in order to best understand the meaning of the text. However, the second point is not so crucial as it only shows that the complementarian position is neither hermeneutically perfect nor completely reliable. If it were, then there would be no need for this paper and there would be no debate about the issue. In fact, Doriani’s book is not the example that suffered from overlooking exegetical insights. Linda Belleville’s book, Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions, overlooks the same key phrases addressed above in her treatment of 1 Corinthians 11 (2000, 126-131). Overlooking exegetical insights is not a problem that is relative only to complementarianism. There are so many pieces of information to work through and so many exegetical insights to comment on that it is impossible to treat them all in a small section of a book. Therefore, this second point serves only to show that complementarianism is not perfect, because it must abandon its central premise at times for the sake of space; it fails to achieve what it seeks—to stay true to the text. However, this next point is of the utmost importance and is the most crucial highlight of the failures to the complementarian position.

The complementarian position is primarily based on a particular notion of New Testament church leadership. It believes that the New Testament upholds church “office” in that all pastoral positions are official and public leadership roles are designated by God who decided it was best to only make the positions available to males. Is this belief an accurate description of New Testament prescribed church leadership? Doriani, who represented the complementarian position regarding church leadership very well, argued for it as an accurate interpretation of the New Testament in his chapter on the gifts of the Spirit and women’s roles (2003, 101-114).

Doriani argued women can function in ministry and serve some ministry roles, but they cannot hold a ministry office (2003, 109). First, he perceived function to be a brief exercise of any spiritual function, so that women can temporarily perform spiritual functions as necessary (2003. 109). Second, he understood roles to be regular spiritual service that can be “customary, joyful, and effective” (2003, 109). Finally, Doriani contended that an office is a church recognized calling in which the church consecrates the person for formal leadership (2003, 110). Those who hold such offices, such as priests, monarchs and apostles, must be males who meet the necessary biblical criteria. Doriani concluded that women cannot hold such offices that are a “formal position” and “formally bestowed” (2003, 110). But what exactly was Doriani referring to as offices? He primarily referred to the leadership offices of elders and deacons, but even he admitted that it is possible for women to be deacons (2003, 127).

Elders were held with great leadership authority as the highest office in the church for Doriani (2003, 111). Doriani perceived the office of elders to be closed to women: women may not participate in church leadership as elders, but they can work alongside and aid the efforts of this office (2003, 111). Doriani appealed to the following facts within Scripture to show the exclusivity of male leadership: the law said Israel’s priests were supposed to be male; monarchs were supposed to be male; the twelve apostles Jesus chose were all male; Paul assumed that all elders were male; the first missionaries and church planters in Acts were all male; and all of the traveling companions Paul mentioned in his letters were male (2003, 23). Women may have served in ministry roles but not as official leaders (2003, 24). In fulfilling teaching as a ministry role, Doriani argued that women only taught privately (2003, 36). Public teaching was reserved for males as elders (2003, 174). Authoritative leadership is reserved for offices such as apostles and elders, who succeeded the apostles, but women cannot participate in either of these offices (2003, 84).

Is this kind of leadership really what the Bible prescribes? Belleville would disagree. In her book, Women Leaders and the Church: Three crucial questions, Belleville studied church leadership in detail, and her findings reveal the problems of the presupposed church leadership of Doriani and the complementarian position.

Belleville detailed five church leadership terms found in the New Testament: leader/guide; shepherd; overseer; elder; and deacon (2000, 138). First, Belleville examines the use of leader/guide in the New Testament. She looks at the characteristics of a leader/guide as depicted in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 first. The word in Greek for leader/guide is proistêmi, and in this passage leaders are described as “those who ‘work hard,’ ‘admonish,’ and ‘go before’ (Belleville 2000, 138). A leader is one who participates in the “exhausting and tiring character of leadership” (2000, 138). A leader is one who corrects and redirects wrong behavior (2000, 138). A leader is also one who leads the way, protects or cares for by standing or going before someone (2000, 138). Paul uses these characterizations of a leader in Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and Titus 3:8 to describe the work of the church, which indicates that “Paul is not talking about a leadership role that is distinctive in any way” (Belleville 2000, 138). Furthermore, the Greek word for leader, proistêmi, is often translated either as “over,” “above,” or in “charge of” in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 (2000, 139). In 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and 12 it is often translated as “to manage” or “to rule” (2000, 139). Belleville asked, “But does the term carry these commanding overtones?” (2000, 139).

In order to answer her question, Belleville examined how proistêmi is used throughout the rest of the New Testament. She determined that this word “clearly points to a leadership capacity of some sort,” but that it is a guiding leadership—not a ruling one (Belleville 2000, 139). Belleville determined this conclusion to be true based on three reasons: proistêmi is grouped together with the spiritual gifts that offer practical assistance to the needy; the noun form of proistêmi, prostatis, was used of those “who provided patronage and protection”; and the parallel words used alongside of proistêmi are of pastoral activities (2000, 139). Because she viewed this term as pastoral in nature, Belleville viewed any rendering that translates this word with an authoritative sense in mind as “less than desirable,” such as “to rule,” “to be in charge of,” or “to manage” (2000, 139). She rightly noted that this term is a qualification for overseers (1 Timothy 3:4-5) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:12), and it identifies one of the functions of the elders (1 Timothy 5:17), so that at the least it ought to cause us to question why we construct these leadership roles in a authoritative, ruling structure (2000, 139).

Second, Belleville demonstrated the use of shepherd in the New Testament. Local leaders are commanded to be “shepherds of God’s flock” (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Belleville looked at the role of a shepherd as “one who guides, protects, and cares for the flock” (2000, 140). Shepherding in the New Testament does not involve ruling authority, especially since Peter instructs the elders in Asia to not rule over the people in 1 Peter 5:3 (Belleville 2000, 140). Instead, shepherding requires being an example by leading the people in thought, word and deed (2000, 140). But a shepherd is also a teacher, as is evident in Ephesians 4:11, where the Greek syntax calls for pastors and teachers to be conceptually joined together (2000, 140). This joining means that shepherding is inseparable from teaching (2000, 140). Belleville noted that the shepherding leadership is used in reference to elders (2000, 140), and teaching leadership is also used in reference to elders as well as overseers (141). As a result, we determine that shepherds need to be able to teach so that they can fight off the predators that seek to harm the flock; metaphorically, we are speaking of false teachers who distort truth when we talk of predators, so it is therefore necessary that the shepherds be able to teach and refute false teaching in order to protect the flock (Belleville 2000, 141).

Third, Belleville explored the word overseer in the New Testament. Overseer is the first term mentioned here that is not only used to describe a leadership task but also a specific leadership group (Belleville 2000, 141). In Greek, overseer is episkopos, which is often translated as bishop, being traditionally defined as “a position of rule and authority” (2000, 141). However, Belleville noted that episkopos is descriptive of a pastoral function and is more properly rendered as overseer (2000, 141). An episkopos watches over and looks after those in one’s care; the term is used of God’s renewed concern for his people, of caring for those in need in society, including, but not limited to, the sick, prisoners, widows and orphans, and of the care that Paul and Barnabas gave to the new churches in Galatia (Belleville 2000, 141; Luke 7:16; Acts 15:14; Matthew 25:36, 43; James 1:27; Acts 15:36). Furthermore, the qualifications for overseers are that they must be hospitable and able to teach, above reproach, considerate, and well thought of by outsiders, family oriented, act respectably and with self-control, and they should not be recent converts (2000, 141-142; 1 Timothy 3:2-7). In weighing the textual witnesses, Belleville determined that overseers were omitted from 1 Peter 5:2 due to an apparent redundancy, so the term is actually synonymous with shepherds and should be in the text (2000, 197). Therefore, Belleville wrote, “Overseers are shepherds of God’s people. They are not appointed or elected by the congregation but put there by the Holy Spirit. Their job is to keep watch over and to pay close attention to the flock” (2000, 141). Because overseers and shepherds are synonymous, it is hard to see how they differ. Belleville proposed that overseer is indicative of a position of church leadership, while shepherd is indicative of the task of church leadership (2000, 141). She also noted, however, that the qualifications Paul listed for an overseer are not ones that we would associate with an office, especially because he does not give a job description (2000, 141). If we are to call overseers an office, then we have to define office as a common service, but there is no indication regarding the function of the overseers that we could call it a position of ruling authority (Belleville 2000, 142).

Fourth, Belleville looked at elder in the New Testament. Belleville admitted that elder might in fact be an office (2000, 143). This term is not portrayed as the responsibility of the congregation, and out of all leadership positions mentioned so far, it is the only one that is given by appointment (Belleville 2000, 143). Elder is actually consistently used in the plural form, indicating a corporate entity rather than a particular function (2000, 143). The Greek term for elder, presbyteros, is often used in the New Testament in reference to those of older age, and therefore highly valued and respected within the church community (Belleville 2000, 143). However, elders did not rule the church community, although they did play an official role in it (2000, 143). Belleville suggested that elders were at least to a certain extent guardians of the apostolic tradition, and beyond this guardianship they were summoned to pray and care for the sick, aid the weak, refute false teaching, commission for service, preach and teach, be shepherds and guides of the flock, and possibly even be the handlers of the money (2000, 144; Acts 20:17-18, 29-31, 35; 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:17; Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 5:1-2; James 5:14). This leadership role was pastoral in nature, so that although they were appointed into the office of elder they functioned in a practical way (Belleville 2000, 144).

The qualifications for elders reinforce their function (2000, 144). The elders were not given a job description; instead, they were to be hospitable, able to refute false teaching and adhere to sound doctrine, blameless, upright, holy, not overbearing or quick-tempered, to love the good, faithful to their spouse, have obedient and believing children, self-controlled and not given to excesses (Belleville 2000, 144). Elders were a “group whose responsibility was to care for the spiritual life of the local congregation” (2000, 144; emphasis mine). The job of the elders was to “shepherd God’s flock” (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), and their function was to serve and shepherd, not rule (2000, 144). Ruling and authority are nowhere close to being connected with the elders in the New Testament (2000, 145). An elder seems to have a “wide range of functions that a number of leaders performed in the early church” (Belleville 2000, 145).

Finally, Belleville examined the use of deacon in the New Testament. Deacon comes from the Greek word, diakonos, which means servant. The verb form of the noun means “to serve” or “to wait on tables” (Belleville 2000, 145). The New Testament does not give us a job description for deacons (2000, 145). What is important is that the qualifications for deacons are spelled out, and these requirements are very close to the ones for those who are overseers and elders (2000, 146). There is a focus on the character and lifestyle on the deacon in the same way that there is for the overseers and elders (2000, 146). Deacons are to be above reproach, have strong family values, act respectably, have self-control, and adhere to sound doctrine (Belleville 2000, 146; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10-12). The difference in qualifications of deacons from the overseers or elders is that deacons must be “sincere” and tested over a period of time (2000, 146; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10-11). Belleville viewed these two qualifications as perfectly understandable given the nature of the role of the deacon if it included “some house-to-house visitation” (2000, 146). To the best of our knowledge, deacons were primarily responsible for caring for the material needs of the church (Belleville 2000, 146; Acts 6:1-4; 1 Peter 4:11).

Belleville noted that of the five church leadership terms presented only two have any ties to women. She showed that Phoebe was a leader (prostatis) and a deacon (2000, 147). However, she also showed that of the five terms, no men are singled out in those positions, with the one exception where Peter identifies himself to be an elder in 1 Peter 5:1 (2000, 147). Belleville suggested that the reason for the lack of identification is because we define deacon, elder and overseer differently than the New Testament (2000, 147). We place emphasis on position while the New Testament places emphasis on service (2000, 147). In other words, the way we currently define church leadership is not how the New Testament defines it. We have constructed church leadership after a different model than the New Testament—an authoritarian type based on management and ruling—when the New Testament looks at leadership as service.

Bearing this distinction in mind, the complementarian position faces some huge problems. The New Testament prescription for leadership does not involve a ruling office as complementarianism says it does. The argument that women cannot be in authoritative church leadership positions is very problematic in the light of the New Testament prescription for church leadership. Biblical church leadership is not about authority. However, complementarianism presupposes that church leadership is about authority and in that sense does not stay true to the text. Complementarianism suffers hermeneutically because it looks into the text that which does not belong there—authoritative church leadership. It is guilty of keeping women from participating in leadership on account of this unbiblical principle. Basically, its terms are flawed, because they are based on a non-biblical idea. Additionally, its argument is invalid because of its flawed terms. Doriani did not ever explicitly say that women cannot be involved in church ministry apart from the basis that they are not to be in positions of authority, and since the office of elders is a position of authority, they cannot serve in that office. However, since church leadership is not biblically based on authority, this argument is irrelevant. The complementarian position has irresponsibly allowed its cultural contexts to define how they understand leadership in the New Testament. Through irresponsible hermeneutics, complementarianism has inadvertently embraced a faulty understanding of New Testament church leadership.


I cannot hold the complementarian position because of these three hermeneutical failures. In order to be a responsible exegete, I have to consider the cultural contexts and influences even if I do not want to. I have to wade through, identify and examine all the exegetical insights, and I have to allow the Bible to inform me. I should not inform the Bible, nor should I be exegetically negligent of important insights, nor disregard cultural influences in the interpretation process. Complementarianism fails in these areas. Although it desires to be true to the texts, it fails hermeneutically in its treatment of cultural contexts, use of exegesis, and commanding influence of modern presuppositions over interpreting biblical texts. I simply cannot be a serious scholar or theologian and attempt to hold any view that suffers from irresponsible hermeneutics, especially when it claims that it does employ responsible hermeneutics. Therefore, I cannot hold a complementarian position regarding women, the Bible, and the church.

Instead, I hold an egalitarian position. This position seeks to consider the cultural influences involved in the interpretation process, both on the part of the interpreter and the biblical author. It additionally position seeks to be mindful of the lexical data available to us as we study the original languages and perform exegesis, and seeks to allow the text to speak for itself and not place our own constructs onto the text. In other words, I believe the egalitarian position is culturally, linguistically and textually sensitive, allowing the text to inform the interpreter, demonstrating care in the interpretive process, and by recognizing cultural biases. Given these factors, egalitarianism is more capable of staying true to the text than complementarianism. For this reason, I am not a complementarian, but rather an egalitarian.

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