Wives Speak Out

Can we be anecdotal for a few moments? To be clear, TGC and the women represented in this article believe what they believe about marriage not primarily because of experience but fundamentally because of God’s Word. But I’ve been impressed lately by a host of strong, gifted married women who actually, joyfully, and productively give witness to the beauty of Scripture’s pattern for marriage—headship and submission and all!

Complementarians often hear that women’s gifts are being ignored or unused. Certainly in some cases this is true. However, in an effort to soften or eliminate biblical distinctions between women and men, women’s hardships are too often blamed on those distinctions rather than on sinful human hearts that—whether they lean toward complementarianism or egalitarianism—so easily pursue selfish gain rather than the other’s good. Might it be possible that the gospel lived out in marriage can by God’s grace restore to the headship and submission of husbands and wives their rightful, Christ-reflecting beauty?

The following words from women are not proofs but glimpses of such grace. The focus here is limited, as we peer briefly into the lives of a few married women—acknowledging that such stories of grace, strength, and productivity emerge from all kinds of lives, married or not. But marriage has been on our cultural minds lately, in many ways, not just in the church. All the forces battering this institution have actually brought it vividly onto the public stage for a hearing. Because of these cultural battles, but especially because of the way the Bible talks about it, marriage is a crucial subject for all of us no matter what our relational status.

Kathy Keller has offered one clear woman’s voice, along with her husband Tim, in their new book, The Meaning of Marriage. They certainly don’t make marriage sound sentimental or easy, but their voices achieve a firm, joyful clarity in affirming the gospel of Jesus Christ as the power and the pattern for biblical marriage as taught in Ephesians 5.

But that’s Tim and Kathy Keller! Let’s add some other voices from women in Christian marriages aiming by God’s grace for that gospel model of loving headship and respectful submission taught in the Scriptures and acted out by Christ himself. I asked this group of ten women one question: How has your husband encouraged you to grow and use your gifts for the kingdom?


These women are all different and certainly don’t offer one particular lifestyle to be emulated. They all know they and their spouses are far from perfect (as do the Kellers!). They’ve known struggles—with illnesses, handicapped children, untimely death, hard stretches within good marriages. But they’re confident in Christ’s love first and in the love of husbands who in obvious ways give themselves up for them. I hope husbands will be encouraged, noticing what wives say and appreciate about godly husbands. I hope wives will be encouraged, seeing that God’s gospel pattern grows and nurtures us in joyful directions when we even haltingly follow it. I hope unmarried people will be encouraged, believing that marriage is God’s good gift through which we are meant to live out gospel beauty and truth.

Word of Thanksgiving

Mindy Belz, editor of WORLD magazine, lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She and her husband, Nat, both work in writing and publishing—and in raising their four almost-grown children. She told me she could have written about Nat’s changing all the moldy shower curtain liners while she was recently in Afghanistan, but instead she sent the following.


One of the most important ways my husband encourages me to grow and use God-given gifts for Christ’s kingdom is first to recognize that any traits or talents I have are just that—gifts. The Lord gives them. So we use them with abandon, with joy, in sickness and health and sometimes only for a season (as the Lord also takes away). My husband has led with thanksgiving for all that’s in our household and in and out of our lives, and has put serving the kingdom first in ways that are appealing and enjoyable. Nat has also hugely helped me in setting priorities. Too often I am driven by tyranny of the urgent, the loud, the emotional, or the plain selfish, but my husband is and always has been a steady, trustworthy guide to what comes first, even down to whether to see the school play or head out on a business trip.

Anne Harley Duncan has taught, administered, and counseled in educational contexts from elementary to grad levels. She presently describes herself as the best taxi driver around, ferrying her pre-teen and teen children all over Jackson, Mississippi, where her husband Ligon pastors First Presbyterian Church.

Early in our dating Ligon made it clear to me that he celebrated gifted women with leadership gifts, having benefited from the example of such celebration in his own father and mother. While he very much wanted a complementarian home, as I did, he sees his ministry to me as one of guidance, consultation, and protection, making sure I do not “overdo it” in my zeal to serve. My first priority has always been our home. As God has provided opportunities and as we have prayerfully and mutually evaluated them, during the years of our marriage I have served as university professor, seminary professor, counselor in a private clinic, and director of community service at a local high school—as well as in various leadership capacities in our children’s schools and in our church. Ligon has encouraged and helped me to maintain professional licenses through workshops and clinics. I have also stayed home, in certain seasons, with only “wife” and “mom” on the schedule. In all seasons my husband’s main desire is to prayerfully enable me, as I am led, to use God-given gifts in creative, joyful, and missional ministry. If I feel that it is time for me to serve somewhere, Ligon makes it clear he will “help make it happen.” That has meant he has tried his hand as “chef, bottle washer, and chauffeur”—and always with a smile!  Ligon is an honest encourager and while so busy himself has always been concerned that I experience settings of significant contribution.

Nancy Guthrie is an author and Bible teacher, living in Nashville with her husband, David, and son, Matt. She and David together host the GriefShare video series and the Respite Retreat for couples who have experienced the death of a child.

David never grudgingly, but always gladly, sends me off for the week or weekend, assuring me that he doesn’t care that I’m leaving him with nothing in the refrigerator. He waits patiently when people want to talk to me, when I know he’d rather get going. He celebrates with me when I read him an e-mail from someone who has benefited from my ministry, rather than acting like he’s really rather tired of it. He carefully offers critique I need to hear (which is often painful for me because I respect his opinion so much) in a tone and context that lets me know that he is for me, not against me. He loves and accepts me for who I am, providing a safe haven in which I can be weak and needy, and a solid foundation from which I can give myself away with joy and freedom.

Lisa Helm enjoys managing a busy Hyde Park, Chicago, household with her five children as well as working for an investment firm. For more than 20 years she has been greatly involved in her husband Dave’s pastoral ministry at Holy Trinity Church, especially in leading women and children in study of the Bible.

The biggest encouragement of my spiritual growth has been Dave’s confidence in the truth and power of God’s Word. Over 25 years he has faithfully opened God’s Word to me through sermons, at the dinner table, and over morning cups of coffee. Not only has Dave’s teaching the Word shaped me but so has his living it out. My husband loves me . . . sacrificially. Is he perfect? No. But I have seen him day in and day out trying to die to himself and demonstrate love to me. That combination of Word and deed has spurred me on in my faith. It frees me up to serve those around me. It encourages me to be more like Christ, to live selflessly, to build up the church. Because we all know that showing hospitality without grumbling is a lot easier when your husband washes the kitchen floor!


Patricia Lindley, mother of five and grandmother of seven, lives with her husband, Gary, on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Pat helped establish and for 11 years has served as the executive director of Chattanooga’s CHOICES Pregnancy Resource Center. She is a founding board member of the National Memorial for the Unborn.

For more than 35 of our 40 years of marriage, my husband and I have had deep involvement in pro-life efforts. We see the need for Christians to address the abortion issue as a matter of both justice and mercy and also to take a stand in both word and deed. I have served on Chattanooga’s pro-life coalition and also as a volunteer, member of the board of directors, and now executive director of our local crisis pregnancy center. None of that would have been possible without my husband’s partnership in raising our five children and his loving care for me in years of health challenges. As a history teacher, he has brought perspective and insights. As a builder, he has willingly brought his carpentry skills to complete projects at the center. Most of all, he is my encourager; he has given me the confidence to face difficult situations and supported my efforts with faithful prayer.


Kristie Anyabwile is a pastor’s wife, joyful homemaker, and mother of three in a household regularly filled with additional “adopted” family members. Living in the Cayman Islands where her husband, Thabiti, pastors First Baptist Church, Kristie is passionate about mentoring young women in the faith.

My husband constantly encourages me to grow and use my gifts for the kingdom. He values what I do and does not take my service/contributions to the family for granted. He enters my world by pitching in with things in the home—with joy and compassion to free me to pursue ministry relationships and projects, and to allow me to rest and refresh my body and spirit. He is concerned about my spiritual life, asking regularly about the ways in which I’m growing (or struggling), what the Lord is teaching me through his Word, how I’m benefiting from books, blogs, sermons, etc. He helps me discern areas of ministry to pursue or to pass on. He helps me to say no to “good” things in order to say yes to things better suited to where we are in phase of life, family, and ministry. He pushes me out of my comfort zone by challenging me to use gifts that he sees the Lord developing in me but that are not always apparent to me. He’s my best friend, cheerleader, and pastor, and in each of those roles he sets his heart, mind, and actions on heavenly things, and inspires me to do the same.


Rebecca Painter trained and served professionally as a nurse practitioner, primarily in geriatrics. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband, Rob, an investment banker in New York City, and their five children. Rebecca presently serves as a trustee adviser at Covenant College and in various leadership capacities at The Wilberforce School, the classical Christian school their older children attend.

I praise God for a husband whose love for me is rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ and not dependent upon my appearance, domestic skills, or financial contribution. My husband is quick to remind me that the work I do in raising our children is more valuable to our family than a paycheck and that all of my education and experience is crucial for doing this difficult task. However, when ministry opportunities arise and allow me to use my gifts to serve the Lord outside our home, he supports me wholeheartedly. He is a hands-on father who cares willingly for our five young children in my absence. His delight in being a father frees me from worry and distraction when I need to be fully present somewhere else. He is eager to hear about my work and gives invaluable feedback. He encourages me to lead and participate as I feel called and will assist me in these opportunities as he is able. He understands how spiritual growth and refreshment in my life fortify our family’s spiritual life.


Keri Folmar lives in Dubai with her husband, John, pastor of the United Christian Church of Dubai, and their three children. In earlier years, Keri was the chief counsel of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution in Washington D. C.  She writes, teaches, and leads women’s Bible studies at UCCD, working with women from every habitable continent.


I love this question because my husband is a gifted encourager, and I have been the chief beneficiary for the last 14 years. Looking back, I realize that John has been the main kindling God has used to ignite spiritual growth in my life. He has spurred me on to know God better by speaking the gospel to me and by loving Christ supremely in his own life. Living with him, I cannot help but love the Scriptures and reach out with the gospel to others because his love for God and people and his excitement about the expansion of the kingdom is contagious. John has always treated me as a co-equal heir to the kingdom. His priority for me has always been to have a close relationship with the Lord. When the children were young, John made sure I had time during the day to read the Scriptures and pray. He would remind me of the importance of the work I was doing, changing diapers and reading board books. (He changed many diapers and read countless board books too!) During seminary years, he carved a night out of our busy schedule each week and put aside his workload to spend time with our babies so I could audit seminary courses. He has spurred me on to share the gospel, study the Bible, disciple, and teach other women. He happily edits and gives valuable input for everything I write, even when he is crunched for time. He regularly affirms what I have written and prays with me for fruit among the ladies I teach. John wholeheartedly wants to bring glory to God and sees us as partners in the endeavor to see God’s kingdom grow. In parenting and ministry, he gives me wise counsel and treats my counsel as valuable. I am so thankful for the gift God has given me in John!


Jane Hensel used her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management for several years in banking in New York and Chicago, and in development at Wheaton College. She and her husband, Andy, have four sons and live in Chicago. Jane serves on the board of The Charles Simeon Trust.

My husband, Andy, has encouraged me in countless ways as I have enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom for the past 18 years. From the beginning we viewed rearing our four boys as tending eternal souls. Therefore, Andy has always highly valued my work within the home. During the early years it would have been easy to lose sight of the end goal of raising children who love the Lord Jesus. There were diapers to be changed, baths to be given, meals to be cooked, dishes to be washed, and laundry to be done—a seemingly endless cycle of chores. However Andy consistently prayed for and supported me with our shared belief that I was using my gifts to nurture our four precious children each day. Over the years he has repeatedly affirmed my spiritual input into our boys’ lives, my organizational skills, my financial management abilities, and my culinary exploits. As I watched our oldest son head off to college this fall, I realized how quickly those years had passed and how thankful I was to have had Andy’s love and encouragement through it all.

LaVon Buswell has been married for 62 years to her husband, John, a seminary professor and pastor for many years. For decades, LaVon taught school and directed church choirs. The Buswells have two daughters, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

In 1949 as John and I committed our lives together in marriage, I knew he was convinced of a clear calling from the Lord to ministry in the church. As we left college and seminary we were already serving together as a team. We were consciously striving to interpret 1 Peter 3 as our lives unfolded. Why would my husband, who prayed daily to be a faithful shepherd, not want to encourage me to use my gifts to further the goals the Lord had given us? Many exciting and challenging doors opened for me to serve alongside my husband in the church and community. After prayerful consideration John would encourage me to courageously walk through them. What a joy to teach different ages, help develop children and adult choirs, join in women’s ministries, and often open our home for good fellowship. Over the years our love became even deeper as together we sought to train our daughters to grow to love and serve the Lord. The underlying strength and foundation of our home and work has always been God’s Word and prayer together. John has truly been the spiritual leader in striving daily, throughout all these years, to read the Word and pray together. Now in our eighth decade as a team, what a blessing to begin each day reading the Bible aloud and praying for loved ones and needy ones around the world.

Be Encouraged

None of us should ever dream we’ve got this marriage thing down! That final couple in their 80s, who happen to be my parents, know better than ever how much they desperately need their morning prayer and Bible reading together in order to get through whatever the day will bring them. However, I believe we should be encouraged by the voices of those who are tasting the goodness of God’s design for marriage. Many of us could join in to give testimony to the blessing of a godly spouse. Many women could add to these words of thanksgiving for a husband who celebrates his wife’s gifts and does everything possible to see that those gifts are nurtured and used by God—from spiritual care to cleaning kitchen floors and children’s bottoms! Many of us could be challenged to focus on these things even more carefully.

Most of all, I hope we in the church will be encouraged to protect and pursue God’s good gift of marriage, so that we will increasingly live out the love of Christ and his church among ourselves and in the midst of a needy world.

  • http://www.domestickingdom.com Gloria Furman

    Pardon the pun– but How Encouraging!! :)

    I benefited from so many remarks in this post. In particular… I was challenged to read Kristie’s reflection, “He understands how spiritual growth and refreshment in my life fortify our family’s spiritual life.” What a testament to how Moms should prioritize fellowship with God. Also, Keri’s remarks on how John practically partners together with her in ministry and LaVon’s note about how she and her husband pray together.

    This was wonderful– thank you!

  • Estelle

    I can’t wait to read the article SLOWLY and take it in – thank you. May I put in a request along slightly different lines as the present topic on behalf of the unmarried women in the church. I am married, but I do hear some wondering how they can be used more fully in the church. This is not a complaint, and neither are we in a church that are anti-women-ministries, but it can be a sore point and an area of great influence for gospel-advancement. Sorry I’m slightly off the point of this post. I salute the wives!

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  • Emily

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! From the perspective of an unmarried woman (who longs for a Godly marriage), this was a very encouraging article that bolsters my confidence in the complementarian view of marriage. I appreciate that many of the women exemplify both professional leadership and also a humble submission to their husbands.

    As noted by Estelle above, I agree that there is a desperate need for notation concerning the role of single woman in the church. How are single women supposed to live in a complementarian mindset if there is no one whom to complement? In the case of many single women, it seems subconsciously assumed that they are somehow inferior because they are not submissive to a husband.

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  • Jimmy Meeks

    As a single male, I was greatly encouraged by this article, as I feel spurred to set disciplines into practice now that will serve me in serving my wife later.

  • Dinah Clarke

    Yes, I thank God for His gift of marriage …. what I bitterly resent however, is the view portrayed here that only the “complementarian” model of marriage is
    a) God’s will
    b) leads to a long and satisfying marriage

    I have been married nearly 50 years, to a wonderful Godly man … who models Christ to me – I know how blessed I am.

    But our marriage has always operated on the basis of equality – there are times when either one of us submits to the other – the criteria is need and love.

    to me, that models Christ, who submitted Himself in love for our need.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com hannah anderson

    While I understand your concerns Dinah, this is a view of complementarian marriage that I can get on board with–there seems to be clear service and submission of wills and desires going in both directions.

    But I am curious–perhaps others can speak to this–is developing a woman’s gifts apart from them directly benefiting her husband a view widely propagated in complementarian circles? I don’t hear this very much and seems somewhat counter-intuitive given the way the conversation is usually framed. I think what this article represents is a more holistic and (dare I say) Biblical understanding of marriage, but honestly, I don’t think it’s what is being modeled and taught most often among complementarians.

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  • EE

    Hannah, you put your finger exactly on what I’ve been trying to verbalize for months! I do fear that complementarians slip into the belief/reputation that wives’ gifts must be directly of benefit to her husband and children. Perhaps complementarians (myself included) do not truly believe this and when directly questioned will deny it. However it does seem to be a pervasive message that is being propegated, perhaps without intention. This article just a wonderful job of demonstrating the appropriate use of gifts in a woman and the support of the husbands.

    • Henrietta

      My husband is so nice. He lets me read my bible and talk to other women about it. What a guy!

      • http://www.sometimesalight.com hannah anderson

        While snarky, this is actually funny. :-)

      • Henry

        My wife is also called Henrietta! I’ve only allowed her to be educated enough to read the writing on the biscuit tins though, and she doesn’t get a chance to speak to other women because I only let her outside once a week to do the shopping.

        Isn’t complementarianism wonderful?

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  • sdd

    The descriptions of these marriages above do not match the teachings of complementarianism. Complementarianism promotes unilateral submission of the wife to the husband and denies that a model of mutual submission is biblical. Complementarians promote a hierarchical ordering of the relationships between husbands and wives with husbands over wives in the hierarchy. The above descriptions of marriages are more closely reflective of egalitarian relationships. This article comes across as an attempt to portray complementarianism in a positive light, but in doing so, it obscures what complementarianism truly is. For instance, Ligon Duncan (whose wife is spotlighted above) is all over the CBMW website depicting husband/wife relationships as authority/submission. This approach is certainly NOT depicted above.

  • Ali

    @sdd – a complementarian marriage can often LOOK as if it is one of mutual submission – after all, being required to lay down your life for another and being required to submit both demand that each spouse puts the other first so this is not surprising. These marriages seem to reflect these dynamics and in no way take away the spiritual authority of the husband.

  • sdd

    That is what I am saying. Your scenarios above do not depict an authority structure, which is the primary difference between egalitarian and complementarian marriages. The scenarios above illustrate the beauty of egalitarian marriages; not complementarian ones. Since no authority structure is depicted in the above scenarios, the scenarios are not indicative of the reality of complementarian marriages.

    Your last statement refers to the “spiritual authority of the husband.” In actuality, complementarianism promotes the authority of the husband over the wife in ALL areas of the wife’s life; there are no limitations on his “authority” unless the husband agrees to limit his authority in some ways. It is totally up to his discretion.

    • Ali

      No – SOME complementarians promote authority to be exercised in all areas of the wife’s life but definitely not all. It is a little ironic having to point this out as I am of an egalitarian persuasion myself but as I am a more than a little tired of being portrayed in generalised terms I suspect most complementarians are as well. Proponents of both camps come in a variety of shades.
      As far as saying it’s up to the husband’s discretion – not really – Jesus Christ has authority over the husband. That’s the part complementarians sometimes seem to forget.
      The scenarios portrayed are examples of some complementarian marriages – just not ones that you have witnessed. It doesn’t mean these are not good examples of complementarian marriages.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

    EE– I too have always considered myself a complementarian but have been becoming very nervous lately with how the conversation is playing out in these circles. Like you said, perhaps it’s not so much what is being said, as what is NOT being said and NOT being modeled. And how the absence of it leads people to stereotype gender roles.

    I’m hearing things like a woman’s created purpose is only to serve her husband and children, that a woman’s particular ministry is to flow through her husband’s calling, etc. And while I have no problem with supporting and loving my family–even as a primary calling–the imbalance of not teaching how a woman contributes to the church and larger society apart from this sets up some dangerous (and I believe, unbiblical) paradigms. I would also venture it is why single and childless women feel so isolated in the current context–generally speaking, we are not modeling a robust view of womanhood in a complementarian context.

    That being said, this article presents a long overdue balance, and I’m wondering if it took so long simply because the women at the top (so to speak) WERE fulfilled and satisfied in their roles. As this article shows, they have been able to use their gifts in ways that the women in the pew have not necessarily been encouraged too. Simply put, their context as wives to husbands who encouraged their unique gifting is very different from a lot of complementarian marriages that I know.

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    • sdd

      Whether “complementarians come in a variety of shades” or not, complementarianism promotes the unilateral authority of the husband over the wife, according to the leaders who developed this point of view–including Ligon Duncan, whose wife is profiled above. The writings of complementarians are clear that the responsibility of submission is not mutual. Without the unilateral male authority structure, it’s no longer complementarianism.

      According to complementarian leaders, the only restriction on a husband’s authority over the wife is if he asks her to sin. Otherwise, the wife is required to submit to whatever he decides in all areas of life. Some husbands may not push that “right” as far as others choose to do so, but complementarian teachings compel women to submit to their husband’s authority to the extent that their husbands require them unless sin is involved.

      This is true whether the husband is a Christian or not. A nonChristian husband who does not see himself as being under the authority of Christ nevertheless has unilateral authority over his wife, unless he compels his wife to sin.

      The hierarchical aspects of complementarianism are not put forward in the scenarios above and therefore give inaccurate representations of what complementarianism is. The scenarios obfuscate the true meaning of complementarianism.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

    SDD- While I understand your perspective,I’m still holding out that the relationships portrayed above can be consistent with complementarianism if complementarianism is defined by the whole body of Scripture. What I THINK is happening though is that (generally speaking) the complementarian paradigm is being shaped by proof-texting only the passages that relate to headship and hierarchy without bringing into play Scripture’s fuller teaching on personhood, identity, and calling.

    Here’s what I mean: I believe that Scripture does teach a husband’s headship(and there’s very little room to escape that in my mind) but that our understanding of what that headship means in context of a marriage must be guided by the whole body of Scripture. I also believe that Scripture teaches that each of us is uniquely gifted for kingdom work. Putting those two together, a man’s headship (responsibility) would include supporting his wife as she develops herself in the ways that God has uniquely created her. Simply put, if headship means having spiritual authority over a family/wife, it also means making absolutely sure that she has ample time and opportunity to do whatever God has called her to do as an individual.

    And this is the root problem in my mind: this kind of fuller, broader perspective of womanhood is getting shouted down by a one-dimensional understanding of gender roles calling itself complemetarianism.

  • sdd

    But Hannah, are you in a position to define complementarianism? Complementarianism was defined by those who developed the concept and who followed up with books, podcasts, sermons, websites, etc. (Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Bruce Ware, Ligon Duncan, etc.) It’s not yours or mine to define.

    So therefore, as originally defined, complementarianism always involves one-way unilateral decision-making authority of the husband over the wife. The developers of complementarianism emphatically state that complementarianism is not mutual submission. Without the husbandf’s unilateral authority over the wife, it ceases to be complementarianism and becomes another model. Therefore, the scenarios depicted in this article do not accurately reflect complementarianism.

    • Ali

      @sdd ‘Complementarianism’ is the label used by men such as Piper and Grudem but it is not a novel concept – it’s just a handy name to describe a particular position. Of course Hannah or anyone else is in a position to define what they see it to mean – those who gave it a particular name don’t have a monopoly on this doctrine or how it works out in practice – the doctrine has been far longer than any of us. If you don’t like the description of complementarian for the marriages described then what would you use? Egalitarian doesn’t cover them either – that requires mutual submission.
      I also didn’t state that it was mutual submission being practiced – I said it LOOKS like mutual submission and that is a very different thing from BEING mutual submission.
      You are very keen to state what a complementarian marriage should be like and what those party to it should say about it. This is your opportunity to listen to the voices of those people modelling some complementarian marriage. The fact that it does not reflect what you expect it to suggests that you have not properly understood the application of complementarianism or your experience of it is limited – this is your opportunity to expand your understanding whether or not you agree with it. It is obvious that those involved in the marriages above do not see the idea of hierachy an issue and are simply explaining how it works out in their marriage.
      You state ‘…complementarian teachings compel women to submit to their husband’s authority to the extent that their husbands require them unless sin is involved.’ YES! So ….. a husband who is not exercising authority in a godly manner is sinning. Therefore a husband who is domineering and abusing his position of power does not have to be submitted to. A wife who allows her husband to abuse his power is failing in her duty to be a dutiful wife – her role is to support and encourage her husband as he seeks to become more Christlike and it is most emphatically not to prop up his sinful attitudes and behaviour. In fact, by colluding with such sinfulness she is reneging on her responsibilities to her husband.
      Complementarianism doesn’t have to be the suffocating trap that it is so often portrayed to be. The marriages quoted above are good examples of what happens when husbands and wives apply this doctrine understanding that a good marriage requires that both parties lay down their lives for each other even if they have different responsibilities within the marriage.

      • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

        Perhaps I’m relying on a very strict, literal definition of complemetarianism apart from a cultural definition. In my understanding the core element is headship, that a husband has ultimate responsibility for his home (and by necessity, ultimate authority if you want to use that word.)And by this definition, the relationships above can still fit within a complementarian framework.

        If you want to evaluate them in light of larger complementarian cultural expression, I would have to agree that they do not look like the average complementarian marriage. But this is precisely the problem: obviously these men (some of whom, as you accurately pointed out, are the very spokesmen for complementarianism)MUST have a broader view of marriage than the ground-level complementarian culture does–their actions prove that. But, in my mind, it is not being communicated as vocally and effectively as the concepts of headship and hierarchy are. There IS a disconnect but I still think that it is a tension that can (and needs to) be resolved. Quickly.

  • Concerned Complementarian Male

    I am little troubled by the very subtle implication starting in the second paragraph that the appropriate ‘place’ for the expression of “women’s gifts” is from the starting or vantage point of marriage. “Complementarians often hear that women’s gifts are being ignored or unused. Certainly in some cases this is true.” If the scope of that statement is household or marital gifts, then please clarify and ignore the rest of this response. If the scope is broader and intended to include ministry gifts (as it tends to on TGC blogs), then please keep reading.

    I know that the topic of ‘single women in ministry’ goes far beyond the scope of this article (presumably by design given space constraints)…but I would also venture a guess that a lot of women reading this article are both single and ‘in ministry.’ It might be worth taking this discussion up in some future post as I’m not sure that ‘marriage as the (only) context for the expression of gifts’ is either biblically defensible nor remotely practical. And coming from a church of mostly single women (many of whom struggle with bitterness over being single and feeling useless until they get married), this kind of argument can be incredibly infuriating.

    Fortunately, very little of the rest of the article seems to address the context for the use of “gifts” in an explicit way…

    • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

      If you’re reading something as a “very subtle implication,” then it’s likely you’re reading something into the author’s words that she did not intend. It’s not clear how an article celebrating husbands who encourage their wives to exercise their gifts in a complementarian context could be read as “incredibly infuriating” simply because the author did not cover the angle you desired. Since Nielson makes no explicit effort to advance the kind of argument you attribute to her by “very subtle implication,” you might learn she actually shares your concern if you only asked instead of assumed.

      • Concerned Complementarian Male

        Fair enough. And “very subtle” was probably too conciliatory a choice of words. I do think “…Complementarians often hear that women’s gifts are being ignored or unused. Certainly in some cases this is true…” sets an expectation that is ultimately unrealized in the article. By focusing on how ‘women’s gifts are being used’ only in the context of marriage, the article does imply something about ‘single women in ministry’ — a constituency that can feel neglected and/or inferior because of their unmarried status. An overwhelming demonstration of the greatness of complementarian marriage does not feel — to that marginalized constituency — like much of an answer to the problem. If anything, it’s a little insulting. At the very least, the complete lack of reference to ‘single women in ministry’ reinforces the expectation that healthy complementarian ministry can only be done from within marriage. For many women, I think “incredibly infuriating” is a fair way of describing this omission.

        And for what it is worth, I was trying to be very careful to not assume any position for Dr. Nielson. Based on her publishing initiatives and her involvement with training organizations like the Charles Simeon Trust, I would have assumed that she cared very much about training women — single or married — for robust, biblical ministry. What’s more, I have had conversations with her on this very subject…so I am in the very fortunate position of not having to assume. I was simply trying to draw attention to the omission of this subject from the article and how that omission will be read and felt by a significant constituency.

        Finally, I found your tone to be condescending. I’m afraid TGC is going to lose me as an acquaintance if this keeps up.

        • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

          As brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s celebrate together God’s good intent for creation, partially realized in marriage when following the example of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for his bride, the church. Such rejoicing need not be seen as somehow derogatory toward the unmarried. And with our culture’s overwhelming hostility toward marriage, we hardly have enough good models. This site has also devoted many resources toward helping both single men and women live out their calling to the glory of God. So if singles are “incredibly infuriated” by reading this joyful article, let’s serve them by asking why, then direct them to other resources. Rather than perpetuate ressentiment, let’s “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11).

  • Henry

    I see some concerning signs in the Gospel Coalition, further confirmed by the latest newsletter. There seems to be an underlying desire to get women to teach and exercise authority over men in at least some contexts. This has not been said explicitly, but consider the following trajectory:

    o first workshops offered by women at last April’s national conference (for mixed audiences)
    o having women lead men in corporate worship (Kristen Getty)
    o Getting more women’s voices heard in public forums of instruction (blogs)

    It seems that TGC is content to adopt a minimalist approach to Paul’s prohibition of women teaching and exercising authority over men. If they are not allowed to teach men from the pulpit on a Sunday morning then lets see if we can allow them to teach men at a ‘conference’ because that doesn’t count!? Or get them to occupy a public position of instruction through a blog that has no intention of being directed towards women. How far can the boundaries be pushed without anyone objecting?

    Does anyone here really think that although the Apostle Paul would be against women teaching in church, as long as it is done in a different building and called a ‘conference’ he would have no problem with a woman teaching hundreds of men if they happen to come and listen. I do not think that kind of defence can withstand a matchstick.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com hannah anderson

    @Henry–it’s great to have all perspectives weigh in on this and I’d love to hear your response to something that I’ve been struggling with as a woman with verbal/teaching/rhetorical gifting but also with complementarian convictions. Here it is:

    Is there a way for a woman to contribute to the larger theological discussion, present valid arguments and perspectives on an issue, and offer helpful insight to men in leadership without usurping their headship? If they are persuaded by her reasoning and argument, does this constitute them being “taught” by her?

    I’m curious because, like you, I want to maintain Biblical principles, but I also know that there are a lot of godly women who have insight that would edify the Body. The tension comes from figuring out a way for them to contribute that respects headship.

  • Henry

    thanks for your question Hannah,

    I think I would answer it with a few things.

    First, I do not believe the crying need for the church today is how women can have more opportunities to express their gifts. We are far more liberal than any generation of Christians who have gone before us in this regard. Almost all churches give far more room for the public speaking of women than the church has historically believed the scriptures to allow. I think this meme is often a symptom of a deeper malady, one where women (and men) are discontent with the place God has assigned women since they see how different things are in the secular world, and deep down feel we should be more like them.

    As Charles Spurgeon said (politically incorrect as it may be):

    Women are best when they are quiet. I share the apostle Paul’s feelings when he bade women to be silent in the assembly. Yet there is work for holy women, and we read of Peter’s wife’s mother that she arose and ministered to Christ. She did what she could and what she should. She arose and ministered to him. Some people can do nothing that they are allowed to do, but waste their energies in lamenting that they are not called on to do other people’s work.

    The second thing I would say is that the primary way a women should focus on witnessing to the truth is by her godly conduct. To quote Spurgeon again:

    In like manner, you Christian people who cannot talk,—the women especially,—I mean that you cannot preach, you are not allowed to preach,—I want you to shine.

    Some may scoff at Spurgeon, but you will find the same kind of thoughts in Scripture:

    they may be one without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 1Pet3:1-2

    let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious 1Pet3:4

    With this proper emphasis in place, we can consider what public means of witnessing to the truth are appropriate for women. The best way to answer this question is to look at what examples the Bible commends to us and what prohibitions it gives. The first thing our culture needs to notice is that in the Bible you struggle to find a commended example of women exercising gifts of preaching/prophesying/teaching in a public preaching ministry like the male OT prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah. Nor do you find them leading public audiences of men. So it is a very strange thing that given our similar struggle today, that we conclude it is unhealthy and must be rectified!

    Women with certain gifts (such as Huldah, Priscilla and Anna) are observed to use them privately, speaking to people in private/informal settings. You never see women set on public stage before a gathered assembly of men and women to instruct them, whether that be in church, a conference or a blog directed to men. So I do not see that a woman should stress about not being able to have a public platform to voice her thoughts to the men in the church. God may grant opportunities for private discourse with a man, and commands older women to teach the younger ones, and their children, but beyond that I do not see grounds for having a public platform (physical or digital) to address the men of the church. That is a burden God has placed on men’s shoulders, and this fact is largely reflected in the reformed blogosphere, although there are many who would like to change it.

  • Concerned Complementarian Female

    Prohibition of a woman acting as an elder (in exercising authority and teaching) does not mean that women having nothing to contribute by way of education and intellectualism outside of the place of eldership.

    Women are in the priesthood of believers; they are called to be disciples and study to show themselves approved. They are to be sharpened, and dare I say, even sharpen a man within an appropriate context.

    I think some men are really threatened by educated women and even view them contemptuously. That makes me sad. Paul put that kind of prejudice to rest when Galatians 3:28 says, “…nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”, pertaining to being a child of God.

    Of course the irony in the men who do not want women to teach is that they often insist that those women are the ones to stay at home and homeschool their boys…who grow up to be men.

    • Henry

      Concerned Complementarian Female,

      I don’t know who your comment was directed to (if anyone), but I’m not aware of anyone in this thread who would disagree with your first three paragraphs. I would add too though, that the reason some men do not like the idea of women teaching men is because it appears to them as an upturning of the created order, which is an unnatural and unseemly thing to do, forbidden by God himself.

      As for your last paragraph, would you not concede that it is biblically valid to make a distinction between teaching a child and teaching a man?

    • JT

      This is the best post on this whole string. Thank you CCF, I wonder if Paul asked Priscilla to be quiet so he could only listen to Aquila? Acts 18:26 Please let’s take the whole counsel of Scripture.

  • Henry

    If they are persuaded by her reasoning and argument, does this constitute them being “taught” by her?

    The unbelieving husband in 1Pet3 may be ‘persuaded’ by his wife’s conduct, so in a sense he may be ‘taught’ by her. Just like Apollos was persuaded by Priscilla’s words, and so in a sense was ‘taught’ by her. As was David by Abigail, and many more.

    The ‘teaching’ of men prohibited by Paul is the formal/official/public type, not private/personal conversations. The issue is not men learning valuable things from women, that is good. Rather the issue is the manner and setting in which a woman allows herself to communicate her wisdom. Is she teaching men from a public platform that is designed for that purpose? Does she speak privately to a man in a directive/authoritarian kind of way? Or in a respectful, submissive (I know our rebellious culture doesn’t like us saying that word) attitude?

    One other thought, intention is key. God may chose to have a woman’s wisdom expressed in a public format (like the Bible! e.g. the mother of King Lemuel at the end of Proverbs 31:1-9). But, as I hope you can see, that is a very different thing from that woman designing to preach to the men who read the Bible. In actuality she is only addressing her son. But we are being allowed to look into that conversation and see the wisdom she communicates to him. That is not the same as intending to publicly teach the men who read the Bible.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com hannah anderson

    @Henry: I do think that intention is very significant and appreciate the differentiation between public teaching and private conversation. Still, given texts like I Cor 11, I wonder if there aren’t still ways for women to speak in a public setting while honoring and respecting headship. Perhaps this passage would not fall under your understanding of “teaching” as prophecy would not be authoritative unless validated by others. But I guess, I don’t interpret blogging, writing or lecturing as authoritative the same way eldership in a local church is. Sure, there are a lot of women (and men) who are speaking into theological matters on the internet, but all of them are bound by being validated by the rest of the Body in light of Scripture. And ideally in tandem with their own elders.

    • Henry

      Hi Hannah,

      I don’t think 1Cor11 specifies any particular setting as the context, thus I don’t think the prophesying need be taken as contradicting Paul’s prohibition of women speaking in church found in 1Cor14:33-36.

      I have studied this quite a lot and in my opinion it is by far the most defensible view (not to mention being the historic view of the church). If you’d like to read more check out these 2 articles:



      I don’t interpret blogging, writing or lecturing as authoritative the same way eldership in a local church is.

      I would ask whether this approach can be reconciled with Paul’s prohibition on teaching men? And whether it can rightly be said that a woman who publicly lectures men theologically is not in any position of authority over them? Paul roots his commands in creation, so I do not see how one can limit them to church buildings, as though as soon as we step outside we can stop being male and female.

      • http://www.sometimesalight.com hannah anderson

        @Henry: (Speaking of names, my little boy is a “Henry.”)Thanks for the links — I’ll hit them when I have a chance. The only other issue that I might have difficulty reconciling is that we’ve already agreed that there are many different ways a woman can legitimately “teach” a man – by her conduct, private conversation, educating boys, etc. So I guess my question, given the variety of contexts and forms that are acceptable, why do you classify blogging, writing and lecturing in the same context as teaching and preaching in a local church? Is it the structure –one person speaking to a large body? Is it the topic? The form of address?

        In my mind, a lecturer at an academic conference or (especially) a blogger has to gain credibility by his argumentation, not his role or his gender. In a local church setting however, it’s almost the opposite. There is an assumption of authority based on position; and his teaching and leadership(while it must be valid and Scriptural) in a way derives credibility from his being an elder. In the first case, authority is rooted in the argument; in the other, the authority is rooted in the position or headship.

        Trust me, I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just trying to tease out the nuance of what we’re actually talking about.

  • Henry

    that’s fine Hannah,

    I hope I can elucidate. As I mentioned before, the ‘teaching’ Paul has in mind is the formal/official/public type, not private/personal conversations/conduct. The latter is clearly allowed in scripture so I think it is quite obvious that Paul was not subsuming it under his prohibition of ‘teaching’. This is a critical distinction and is why I class blogging, writing and lecturing as ‘teaching’ – it is not a personal conversation, rather it is occupying a public platform of instruction to the men of the church. This is ‘teaching’ in its most basic sense.

    I have yet to see a convincing argument that lecturing/writing/blogging to men is merely the same as Priscilla and her husband having a private conversation with Apollos, or Abigail pleading her wisdom with David. One type is a private conversation, the other is a public and official platform. Authority comes from the very act of taking up a public platform in order to teach men with words. That platform can be physical or digital. And in any case, Paul does not only prohibit authority, he also prohibits teaching, (which I assume you accept does not refer to private conversations and conduct).

    It is not solely about whether a woman holds an official office/title, it is about what she actually does. A woman can quite easily function as an elder in the church without the title. Paul does not mention titles, he focuses on actions, because actions communicate whether a woman is teaching and leading men or learning “quietly with all submissiveness”.

    I should perhaps also mention that I don’t limit Paul’s prohibition about women teaching and exercising authority over a man either to church buildings or to theological contexts/material. So for example, like John Piper, the reformers and our complementarian predecessors (and also most egalitarians today), I think it is absurd that a church would not permit a woman to be an elder but would allow her to rule the nation. That, to me, is the height of absurdity. It overlooks that Paul consistently roots his commands in creation, thus we cannot abandon male and female roles when we step outside of church buildings. Who would think it reasonable to limit the command for women to dress modestly to church buildings? (yet this command is found in 1Tim2 in the same context as his prohibition of women teaching men) – and Paul does not even root that command in creation. Thus I don’t think it is faithful to God’s design for women to encourage them to become professors and lawyers who will teach and exercise authority over men. Our limp and watered down version of complementarianism today which is limited to the four walls of certain buildings stands in stark contrast to the consistent application of scriptural principles found in the writings of our forefathers from church history. This dissonance is why I think many see complementarians as arbitrary and inconsistent.

    Does that make sense?

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

    It does make sense, but where I struggle is that the logical extension would be that women really shouldn’t teach men ANY subject because they would effectively be overturning creation order. And I think that is a little more difficult to support. (And I agree that the tension between the prohibition for a woman being an elder and still being able to be a political leader is a difficult one; and one that I would naturally be inclined to agree with you on if it weren’t for (albeit a few) OT women who held high positions of authority within Israel. Perhaps we can agree that it would not be the norm for women to hold such a political position but not prohibited?)

    And this illustrates my overall tension–trying to reconcile the whole body of Scripture with the very issues that you bring up. I do think what you are presenting is valid in a way, but that these principles must be expressed in a way that recognizes and reconciles prototypes in Scripture that “seem” to contradict them. To be honest, I come to the Scripture with the assumption that every piece fits and until the puzzle is finished with no left over pieces, I have to keep going back to see what I missed.

    Thanks for your time and your very thorough answers — it has challenged me.

  • Henry

    yes thanks for the conversation Hannah,

    I think I would agree with you that the logical extension is that women should not teach other subjects that aren’t theology. It seems absurd to think that a woman is not allowed to lecture a group of grown men on theology but as soon as she changes the subject to mathematics it is fine. I don’t think the content of the teaching is really the issue, it is the act of leading and instructing men.

    I hear you when you are wishing to reconcile the whole of Scripture, that is my desire also. I don’t think I can quite agree with your statement:

    Perhaps we can agree that it would not be the norm for women to hold such a political position but not prohibited?

    I think I would phrase it:

    Perhaps we can agree that it is far from ideal for women to hold such a political position but that in exceptional circumstances (Deborah?) she may not be condemned if circumstances transpire that thrust her into that position?

    I think I might put it in the category of the Hebrew midwives lying to save the lives of the children – they were not condemned but it was far from ideal, and they were not seeking to lie as though it is a good thing in and of itself, rather it was thrust upon them.

    I think the only example from scripture that really gives me pause for thought is the example of Deborah. But I think it is a struggle to make her example (which is a narrative, not a command) undercut the explicit commands of scripture. It is generally safest to interpret narrative in the light of explicit commands.

    I will paste some things into the next comment concerning Deborah that make me inclined not to use her as an example that overturns what I have argued.

  • Henry

    THOUGHTS ON DEBORAH (most of this is relevant to the question at hand):

    It can’t just be assumed that everything recorded in a narrative is blanket approved, it may be, but it may not be. When you have direct commands in scripture (such as 1Cor14:33-36 and 1Tim2:12) it is not good practice to attempt to trump them with an (unusual) narrative portion that may or may not be a good example to follow.

    Isaiah 3:1-12 shows it is a sign of God’s judgement on a nation when a woman or a child rules over them, read the whole passage and particularly verse 12 which says: ‘My people – infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people…’. We find it repeatedly said in Judges that ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’ and at the very beginning of the chapter about Deborah and Barak it says: ‘And the people of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord… And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan’ (Jud 4:1-2). Thus the statements in Isaiah 3:1-12 and the state of the nation at that time very much suggest they were being chastised by God by having a woman lead them in some way.

    Having a woman lead them would thus be something to feel shame about, not glory in. This is actually played out in the narrative when in Judges 4:9 Barak is actually chastised for desiring Deborah to help him lead – it is an indictment on men when God uses a woman to slay the enemy (see also Judges 9:53, 54). The lesson from this is that men should step up to the plate and not be cowardly, not that women should seek the reigns of leadership. Notice the themes in the chant that bear this out where those who stepped up to the plate are commended but those who did not are condemned:

    ‘That the leaders took the lead in Israel… bless the Lord!… My [probably Deborah see vs 7] heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly… Bless the Lord… from Machir marched down the commanders… from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; the princes of Issachar… Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too,…’ (Jud 5:2, 9, 14, 15, 18).

    ‘Why did you [clan of Reuben] sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks?… Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea…’ (Jud 5:16, 17)

    Thus despite his earlier timidity, Barak and his men must have got their act together, which is why he is commended in the Hebrews hall of faith.

    Unlike religious feminists today, Deborah sought (and by God’s own command) a man to lead them into battle, in Judges 4:4 she says:

    ‘Has not the Lord commanded you [Barak], ‘Go, gather your men ….’

    Women desirous of leadership positions over men today should note this.

    Note that it was Barak who actually led the army:

    ‘10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.’ (Judges 4:10).

    Barak went down … with 10,000 men following him’. (Judges 4:14).

    ‘Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed at his heels’. (Judges 5:15).

    Notice also the role differentiation in the song:

    “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam.Judges 5:12.

    Just because someone has the gift of prophecy does not mean it validates their lives. E.g. Balaam (Num 22-24), Saul (1Sam 19:23-24) cf Matt 7:22 and 1Cor13:2.

    Similarly, should Samson be chosen as an example to follow just because God used him to deliver Israel? So Deborah being called a prophetess is not necessarily a rubber stamp.

    God sometimes performs exceptional things that are not to be used as a moral example to follow. E.g. God willed Samson to take a philistine wife (Judges 14:4), contrary to OT law. God is sovereign and can do as he pleases, but this is not an excuse for us to abandon the commands he has given us.

    Did Deborah really exercise a public leadership office over men? She (like Huldah and Anna) seemed to prophesy in a more private setting (people would come to her at the Palm tree of Deborah) rather than exercising the more public preaching ministry that you find with other male OT prophets and judges. Is it not more like people going to seek counsel from a wise woman in personal conversation? Indeed, when the time comes to publicly lead a group of men she (by God’s own command) calls Barak to do it (Judges 4:6).

    Those using Deborah as an example for church leadership should remember Deborah was not a priest, in the OT only men were admitted to the priesthood. That is the closer parallel to church leadership. You never find a female priest in the Bible.

    Even if one wants to use Deborah as a positive example of women holding a public leadership office over men, to be consistent, you should also require that this be a rare occurrence. Having, say, 30% women leaders overturns the pattern in the OT where leadership was overwhelmingly male.

    Why is it that the Hebrews hall of faith passes over Deborah as an example, yet commends Barak? And why is it that 1Sam12:11 says: “And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies…”. It seems here that it was Barak who was the one the Lord raised up to deliver Israel at that time, Deborah was used to kick him out of passivity.

    If Deborah did hold a public leadership office, she did not seek it. Those wishing to follow the example of Deborah should note this (Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin).


    In conclusion, if one thinks Deborah did exercise a public leadership role over men, I think there is no reason why she cannot be viewed as a gifted lady who ended up assuming a de-facto leadership position because the men did not step up to the plate, but this was not the Lord’s perfect will, rather He ordained it as judgement on a wicked nation. It is perhaps similar to a situation where a husband abdicates his responsibilities and the wife has to assume much more leadership over the household than is fitting. It is too much to say that she is sinning, but it is certainly less than ideal, and she would seek, as we see glimpses of Deborah doing, for the man/men in her life to ‘arise’ and discharge the duties of their office (Judges 4:6), and rejoice when they do so.

  • Henry

    So one may consider the following questions:

    Question 1
    Did Deborah occupy an official public platform of leadership and instruction of men?
    Answer 1
    Not necessarily. She did not exercise a public preaching ministry like other OT prophets. Rather, her wisdom seemed to be communicated in personal/private conversations (like with Barak) and with the people who came to her for counsel under the Palm of Deborah.

    Question 2
    Did Deborah seek this platform of leadership over men (if she had it)?
    Answer 2
    No, she was sought out by the people under the Palm of Deborah, much like Huldah was sought out by men sent from the king. She did not go forth preaching to the nation.

    Question 3
    If Deborah did become a public leader of the nation (by virtue of everyone coming to her for her prophetic words from God), is this a state of affairs that scripture commends to be sought after?
    Answer 3
    No, Isaiah 3:1-12 teaches that it is judgement on a nation when a woman or child rules over it. And Paul, rooting his arguments in creation, does not permit women to teach and exercise authority over men.

    Question 4
    Was Deborah condemned?
    Answer 4

  • Ali J Griffiths

    Hmmm – interesting to think that perhaps I shouldn’t even be participating in this conversation because of my gender. Rather than try and silence the voices of women perhaps men (like you Henry) who feel strongly we should always be quiet in a public forum should have the courtesy to choose not to read anything written by women in case you inadvertently learn something. This is clearly an article written by women about women – or did you just feel the need to check up on us?
    I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt but when a man wants to silence the voices of women in all public spheres including the internet and he doesn’t even print his full name, I have difficulty in taking him seriously.

    • Henry


      I think you have misunderstood me. I did not argue that it is always wrong for women to comment on blogs (if you have read my arguments carefully you will be able to know why), neither did I argue that blogs written by women directed to women are wrong.

      Rather I made the point that there is no principled difference between a woman taking upon herself a public digital platform in order to directly instruct the men of the church with her words, and her taking on a public physical/verbal platform in order to directly instruct the men of the church with her words.

      I am arguing that those who forbid the latter but permit the former are inconsistent with the Apostle Paul, whose teachings we are obligated to submit to.

      (And I do not see how the personal conversation I had with Hannah falls into this category.)

      • http://www.sometimesalight.com hannah anderson

        @Henry: I think some of the tension lies in that, while we may agree in basic principle, most of us (I would assume) could not agree with your application of a the prohibition of a woman’s teaching that extends to digitial media and academic lecturing. There are some significant differences between these situations and teaching in a church context, not the least of which would be that she would have no ruling authority to expect her audience to submit to her teaching. What would compel them, if anything, would be the validity of the Scriptural argument itself.

        • Henry

          she would have no ruling authority

          Most people if you asked them would think that an academic professor is in a position of authority. They are viewed as in authority over the class, who listen to them. Paul does not say ‘ruling’ authority, as though to be in a position of authority over a person you have to be able to exact obedience. But in any case, the class does obey the professor, they do the work set and are expected to submit to the teaching of the professor.

          Nobody is unconditionally obligated to obey an elder, we are to judge what they say by God’s word. Authority is rooted in their leadership role – what they do not the mere title ‘elder’. Paul does not even mention the title ‘elder’. He focuses on actions. And this applies to professor and pastor and policeman alike.

  • Henry

    Hi Hannah,

    May I ask whether you limit the following command to church buildings:

    I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty 1Tim2:8-9


    Paul does not root this command in creation, yet we all know it would be senseless to limit it to church buildings, such that women can dress like prostitutes the rest of the week, as long as they are modest in church. In the following verses Paul goes on to say:

    Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 1Tim2:11-14

    On what basis would you limit this command to church buildings (but not the modesty command a verse earlier)?

    More importantly, if something is true about men and women because of the pattern set down with Adam and Eve, why does it suddenly cease to be true everywhere except certain buildings on a Sunday morning? Do we cease to be male and female outside church buildings? Since when does a creation ordinance only apply inside church buildings?

    Similarly, in 1Cor14:34 Paul says:

    the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

    So Paul says ‘the Law’ teaches women should be in submission. But as you may have noticed in reading the OT, nowhere does it teach that women should be in submission specifically inside church buildings. It does not even mention the submission of women in church buildings. So therefore Paul must be applying a general creational ordinance to a specific situation. Like he does in 1Tim2.

    By the same token, how does applying this creational ordinance of submission, taught in the Law, enable one to conclude that a woman can hold positions of directive authority over men – whether as President, Politician, or Professor?

    Do you think that is a reasonable application of the principle of submission? If so, then why can’t she sit on the elder board? What’s the difference? And why in the history of the Church have writers never even considered the notion that submission is limited only to church buildings? Have we discovered some secret interpretative key? Or is our exegesis tortured due to having imbibed heavy doses of the feminist revolution in society around us?

  • Henry

    Finally, I’d like to ask 5 questions:

    Why can a woman instruct 500 men in theology at a TGC conference centre yet cannot instruct 10 men inside a small church building on a Sunday morning?

    Why does a woman instructing 10 men verbally inside a small church building count as ‘teaching’ that is forbidden, but if she deliberately instructs 10,000 men from a digital platform it does not count as ‘teaching’?

    Why is it not ok for a woman to serve as an elder in the church but it is fine for her to rule the most powerful nation on earth?

    Why does something we obey because of the creation order about male and female cease to apply on Monday morning? Are we no longer male and female when we interact?

    Why do many commands which Paul does not root in creation, and only says it in the context of church meetings (such as modesty for women) apply outside church buildings whereas a command that Paul does root in creation is limited just to certain buildings on certain days?

    Are you hopeful that God’s people can be persuaded by this kind of application of scriptural principles? Is it ok if they take the same approach to other commands in the Bible?

    • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

      As The Gospel Coalition’s Council has made clear many times in regard to the 2011 national conference, no woman taught theology to men. Sessions devoted to Bible/theology and taught by women were restricted to women.

      • Ali J Griffiths

        Thank you for making clarifying that Colin – I did wonder how that was managed.

        • Ali J Griffiths

          Whoops – sorry – I really must read what I’ve written before I press ‘post’. Of course I meant to say – thank you clarifying that Colin – I wondered how that was managed!

      • Henry

        Collin, thanks for your input.

        My larger point concerns the historically novel introduction of artificial distinctions between exercising authority in certain buildings vs ruling the nation, or publicly teaching Bible/theology to men vs being a professor who teaches those same men physics.

        Nevertheless, I do not see that your own statement bears out:

        The Gospel Coalition’s Council has made clear many times in regard to the 2011 national conference, no woman taught theology to men

        If one looks at the TFG 2011 National Conference web page one finds a distinct lack of clarity with regard to women teaching men theology:


        If one looks in the ‘Media’ tab, one finds workshops by women (with no restrictions at all mentioned) such as the following:

        Old Testament Narrative: Letting the Literature Speak
        Literary Beauty and Gospel Truth: Celebrating the Biblical Union
        One-on-One Discipleship: Grass-Roots Church Growth
        The Genesis of Gender
        How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story

        If none of these topics count as “Bible/theology” then I’m afraid to say we’re working with some very strained definitions. The last one actually has a video where men are present whilst the woman with the immodest skirt helps teach the men present from the panel. Please understand that some people find great difficulty understanding how this is consistent with the Apostle’s command to ‘let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, she is to remain quiet.’ Do you really think the Apostle Paul was meaning that ‘quietness’ and ‘submission’ = teaching male pastors from a platform?

        The website goes on to describe that the purpose of the various workshops (some of which are taught by women) is to:

        reflect The Gospel Coalition’s goal of ministering to the whole church and helping leaders in a variety of contexts and roles to communicate and live the truths of Scripture.

        No ‘bible/theology’ ?? (“communicate … the truths of Scripture”). And how is the statement consonant with the alledgedly “clear” restrictions of TGC? The women who teach the workshops are speaking to ‘leaders’ – which to the casual reader is most obviously male pastors.

        Likewise in the ‘Speakers’ tab, there is absolutely no distinction made, the female speakers are indiscriminately interspersed with the men with the seeming intent being to window dress in order to give the impression that TGC is not ‘sexist’ and averse to women teaching men.

        The only time I have seen even a hint of trying to address the issue was an FAQ that was once put out (apparently no longer online) that I remember was distinctly non-committal about drawing any clear lines in the sand with respect to women teaching men. If you still have access to this FAQ I would be interested if you could post the text of it for us to see.

        I hope you don’t take this in the wrong spirit since I appreciate much of the good work done by TGC, but I think I have presented some good reasons to be less than confident about TGC’s commitment to publicly confess (let alone apply) unpopular biblical truth in this area.

        • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

          Did you attend the conference, Henry? If not, then I can understand why you’re confused. These restrictions were handled in the process of registering online for workshops ahead of the event.

  • http://www.sometimesalight.com Hannah Anderson

    @Henry:In regards to your point of consistency of application: yes and no. You are correct that it is not proper for a women to dress immodestly outside the church — except in certain circumstances like surgery, marital relations, etc. In this sense, modesty is determined by what is appropriate to the context.

    Point being: circumstances do change applications.

    And so to this particular discussion, do the circumstances change enough to warrant a different application? Is there a significant enough difference between teaching in a context other than the local church and teaching within the local church that would allow for a woman to teach in a public way?

    Obviously, you would say “No.” And I can respect your conscience being bound to your convictions. But just as obviously, I am saying, yes. In certain circumstances, a woman can use public teaching gifts without undermining headship principles.

    And I would offer that making this distinction actually heightens the supremacy of preaching in a local church. If you work on a paradigm that allows a woman do all kinds of other public teaching, but not preaching, then you essentially protect local church exposition as a unique paradigm (which we have lost in this age of blogging, conferences, and celebrity preachers.)

    Thank you again for engaging in this conversation–it has forced me to wrestle with where public discourse derives its authority and credibility — both invested (through headship) and earned (through knowledge and character). And I do appreciate the tension when it comes to subjects of theology, but again this is an age-old issue and as fun as it’s been, I doubt we’ll be able to solve it here.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    In Christ we are no longer slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female.

    Does the Word of God not contain it’s own power, aside from the gender of the one who is proclaiming it?

    And what about the gifts of the Spirit?

    There are many women that I believe should not be preaching or teaching about Christ and the gospel. But there are a gret many men that also should not.

  • Karen

    When a man questions whether a woman can be used of God I just want to say What? How do you think you got here? Understanding to me that if you understand what happened in the Garden, Satan also refused to be born of Woman. I do not believe we can take a few of Apostle Pauls comments to mean decreed and commands. Otherwise, the rest of the Word would be Void to female gender. I Trust Gods Word over Mans. I will not commit the unpardonable sin (not allowing the spirit to speak through me) because of this blog or any traditions of men that make void the Word of God. When Men today will not do the “work” involved to understand what God wants for His people. I find blogs like this to be unedifying to the Body of Christ and wonder who or why these certain men feel threatened by women who are called? In eternity we will not be separated so if we do Gods will on earth as it is in heaven I would only know that I am obeying Jesus.

  • http://benknotts.wordpress.com Ben Knotts

    Wow. What a resource. I’ll definitely pass this on to my wife, Amanda.

    You can keep up with Amanda and myself here: benknotts.wordpress.com

    Thanks for keeping up an outstanding ministry!