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(This is part two of a three part series. For part one, go here.)


Equality was the first of Stott's four key words. Complementarity was the second. The third word is responsibility. In this section we see clearly how general categories in the debate (like equality) are often used to mute or negate specific Scriptural texts. We also see in this section Stott at his most conflicted. He's too good an exegete to buy the typical egalitarian arguments that headship is based on the fall, or that culture or a specific situation dictated Paul's teaching in Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11, or that submission to husbands can be dismissed because slavery has been discredited. And yet, time and again Stott backs away from any understanding of headship that doesn't conform with the broad, controlling category of equality.

Let me walk you through Stott's argument and point out a number of missteps.

1) Stott claims that Paul "adds" the idea of masculine headship. Genesis only taught equality and complementarity, but now the Apostle adds the new idea of headship. This claim, however, does not do justice to the specifics of Genesis 2 that we enumerated above (336).

2) He is always looking for a third way, here a third way that can harmonize headship and equality. While this sounds alright on paper, what it forces him to do is take a secularized version of equality and use it to disregard a priori any strong notions of male authority. So when Stott sets out to explain headship he starts with the first option he calls "traditionalist" or "hard-line." This "lordship" position "understands Paul's prohibition of women speaking in church or teaching men, and his requirement of female submission and silence, as literal, permanent and universal injunctions. It therefore deduces that, although women do have ministries, leadership and decision-making in both the church and the home are male prerogatives" (337). Now, I might want to clarify a few points in that explanation, but basically this is the complementarian position. Amazingly, Stott simply dismisses this view in one sentence, saying it "seems impossible to reconcile [this kind of thinking] with the full equality of the sexes which has been established by creation, redemption and Pentecost" (337).

Later, with a similar wave of the hand, Stott asserts that we certainly have to reject any language of hierarchy patriarchy or subordination (342). It's as if Stott can't fathom headship actually having "teeth" to it. I think it is telling that Stott spends most of his time trying to defend some element of headship. In this effort his exegesis is tight and he sticks closely to the text. Clearly Stott is writing to bring those on his left just a bit more to the right. But it's as if he can scarcely conceive of anyone really making a good case to be further on the right. Stott deals carefully with egalitarian objections, but routinely dismisses full-blown complementarianism without critical reflection. His "third way" approach hems him in and prevents him for letting the text lead him to conclusions he's already determined are unpalatable.

3) Stott asserts, without any supporting evidence, that authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12 means to "domineer" (341). Besides the fact that no modern English translation renders authenteo this way, H. Scott Baldwin has in recent years demonstrated from exhaustive research of the word in ancient Greek literature that authenteo can mean to rule, to control, or to be responsible, but it does not carry the negative sense of "to usurp" or "to domineer." The unifying concept is that of authority. In other words, Paul is not prohibiting women from abusing authority, something he would not permit for men either (and all the problematic teachers in the Pastoral Epistles are men). Rather, he is, as a general rule, prohibiting women from having authority over men in the church.

4) The headship espoused by Stott ends up, on a practical level, evacuated of any notion of authority. Once again, Stott argues for a third way. He shows little sympathy for recent attempts to redefine kephale as "source." He even claims that headship "seems clearly to imply some kind of 'authority', to which 'submission is appropriate" (343). But then he quickly warns that "we must be careful not to overpress this" (343). So in the next paragraph he sidesteps the lexical debate between "source of" and "authority over" and argues for a "third option which contains an element of both" (343). Headship implies "some degree of leadership" but this is not best expressed as authority but as responsibility (343-44). Thus, male headship means husbands have the responsibility to love sacrificially and to care selflessly.

Of course this is right, but we must say more. If headship is simply the responsibility to love sacrificially and care selflessly, what makes this a distinctive command for men? Are women not also meant to love sacrificially and care selflessly? Headship certainly implies sacrificial, selfless leadership, but it also implies authority. The husband is a first among equals in the marriage relationship. He is not told to submit to his wife (the participle hupotassomenoi in Ephesians 5:21 being a general statement about various relationships where submission is called for). Headship cannot be divorced from authority.

And yet, Stott concludes his responsibility section with a view of headship that focuses more on the wife's need for self-actualization than on the biblical command to submit.

The resolute desire of women to know, be and develop themselves, and to use their gifts in the service of the world, is so obviously God's will for them that to deny or frustrate it is an extremely serious oppression. It is a woman's basic right and responsibility to discover herself, her identity and her vocation. The fundamental question is, in what relationship with men will women find and be themselves? Certainly not in a subordination which implies inferiority to men and engenders low self-esteem. Only the biblical ideal of headship, which because it is selflessly loving may justly be called "Christlike", can convince them that it will facilitate, not destroy, their true identity. (345)

Biblical headship which is Christlike will be selflessly loving. No doubt about that. But Stott has practically turned submission on its head (no pun intended). His anchor is not the meaning of the Greek word kephale, nor the context of Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11. His anchor is the desire of women to develop and use their gifts. His anchor is woman's basic right to discover herself and her vocation. His anchor is that we must not accept any principle which smacks (to him) of inferiority or gives women low self-esteem. I hope it goes without saying that I love my wife deeply and want for her to flourish and use her gifts. I would shudder to think that my headship was a crushing burden to my wife. But none of this should determine our exegesis of disputed texts. Our experiences must be interpreted and vetted according to Scripture, not the other way around.

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25 thoughts on “Go Big or Go Home: Why Complemegalitarian Doesn’t Work (2)”

  1. Paul Adams says:

    RE: 3) Have you read Payne on αὐθεντεῖν? I sum Payne’s findings with:

    Since αὐθεντεῖν is rare and 1 Tim 2:12 is one of the first occurrences in Greek, its etymology (origin) is of great import. Payne’s findings show that αὐθεντεῖν has its root in two words, αὐτὸς (self, himself, herself) and a second term meaning “achieve, realize.” Thus, “self-initiated activity” is a likely meaning. A papyrus dated 27/26 BC sheds light on the use of αὐθεντ- root. In it an apology is written to a slave owner for “self-assumed authority” by intervening for a debt owed. In addition, other fragments circa before/near Paul’s date suggest αὐθεντ- root has the sense of “taking authority unto oneself that had not been delegated.” Payne shows that it was not until centuries after Paul (ca. AD 370) that αὐθεντεῖν had the meaning “to have authority over” or “to exercise authority.”

    While giving credence to the likelihood of “dominate” being in the semantic domain of αὐθεντεῖν, Payne notes it does not fit the context. “The major weakness of the ‘teach and dominate a man’ interpretation is that the appeal to Eve’s deception does not directly support it…Paul’s stress on the deception of the woman that led to the fall seems designed instead to support a prohibition focused on stopping women in Ephesus who were deceived by the false teaching from assuming authority for themselves to teach men, which could lead to a corresponding fall of the church there.” Thus, “to assume authority” or “to assume a stance of independent authority” is best-supported.”

    For the full summary, see

  2. Justin Lonas says:

    One wonders if Stotts lifelong bachelorhood (which has served him well in terms of diligence and academic output) in this case has completely handicapped his ability to understand this issue fully.

  3. Michael says:

    It appears Stott takes that view that headship was a post-Fall problem, but not in place before the Fall. And since Pentecost gave us the Spirit, this restores our relationships to pre-Fall status? Yet, he runs into problems with Paul since Paul’s writings are post-Pentecost. Most will take the path here that “kephale” doesn’t really mean “head”. But Stott appears to be arguing from the point that women should not be prevented from pursuing what a man does. Therefore, he reads that back into Scripture to drive his hermeneutic of Paul.

  4. Rick says:

    Mark Driscoll has a great study that I believe if every church leader would read and apply the state of the church would truely be a different one. “Pray then Act, NOT VICE-VERSA”:

  5. Andrew says:

    Yo Kevin, this has nothing to do with your post, but you should check some of the stuff from Lampmode’s “The Church” album – the one where they rap through the 9 Marks. It’s baller!

  6. Stephen Shead says:

    @Paul Adams:

    Thanks for the link to the summary of Payne on αὐθεντεῖν. I have to say, I find it unconvincing, for two reasons:

    1. Relying on its etymology is very risky, given the frequency with with words simply don’t mean exactly what the sum of their parts would lead you to think. The context, where it tells us anything, should take priority.

    2. The interpretation “to assume a stance of independent authority” or “to assume authority that had not been properly delegated” does not fit the context: Why would that injunction particularly apply to women, and not equally to men?

    I recently (re-)read Mounce’s commentary (WBC 46) on that passage, and found him very helpful.

  7. Patrick says:

    Bad interpretation inevitably leads to bad application… Hermeneutics matters so much! I’m always rather taken back (maybe I shouldn’t be) when men with histories of such faithfullness to exegetical exploration of the Scriptures seem like they’re playing fast-and-loose with words, verses, and doctrines that are culturally unacceptable and under scrutiny within the church. “Fast-and-loose” may be hyperbole, but Stott’s definitions for headship, authority, equality, and complementarity are certainly derived, at some level, eisegetically. Kevin, the last sentence in this part of the series speaks so loudly: “Our experiences must be interpreted and vetted according to Scripture, not the other way around.” Amen, brother. Sola Scriptura et Ex Scriptura.

  8. John says:

    Thanks for interacting carefully with Stott on this issue. And thanks for your session at T4G which I enjoyed. I think one of the problems with Stott’s entire treatment is the way he classes things. For example, what does he mean when he says “It is a woman’s basic right and responsibility to discover herself, her identity and her vocation.” What does he mean by “woman”? A Western woman? A learning-disabled woman? An enslaved woman, a young daughter, an old grandma, a peasant, a queen? Methinks he is presuming feminist ideas of womanhood in his argument from the start. I hardly think this kind of language would even make sense to a middle-eastern woman.

  9. Greg says:

    “Our experiences must be interpreted and vetted according to Scripture, not the other way around.”

    In reality, isn’t the above statement impossible? When I think about it, it seems that it is more honest to say that our experiences influence how we interpret Scripture and Scripture influences how we interpret our experiences.

    There are occasions when it is right for our experiences to change our interpretation or understanding of Scripture. After all, God teaches us through our experiences, not just through the Bible.

  10. Paul says:

    @ Stephen Shead

    Re: 2. You’ll have to read Payne. He addresses this thoroughly.

    Re: 1. Payne does not rely on etymology; he relies on the historical uses of the term. Again….recommend a careful reading of Payne; my treatments are but a mere snapshot.

    Do not find Mounce convincing.

  11. Mike R says:

    “There are occasions when it is right for our experiences to change our interpretation or understanding of Scripture.”

    No, there aren’t. Our experiences are fallible, Scripture is not. Certainly everyone comes to the Bible with presuppositions, but we should always acknowledge our presuppositions and seek to correct them, if necessary, in light of Scripture. It is never appropriate to correct Scripture in light of our presuppositions, like Stott is doing.

  12. Skeeter says:

    Perhaps it would be good to look at how God’s authority structure functions. When we look at the trinity we find that each member is equal but functions in a structured way. God is the source of all authority. All three persons of the trinity are separate yet co-equal. We find Jesus appealing to the Father and sending out the Holy Spirit. And yet we find that he says the father and him are one. So we understand that God is the source of all authority. God has established a balance of power in the family, church, and government. And these authorities are designed to bring us under God’s protection and out of the realm of Satan’s domain.

  13. Dan says:

    @ Mike R

    Peace to you, but Greg is onto something that shouldn’t be so quickly knocked aside. Our “experiences” as Christians (whether it be the charismatic influence of CJ Mahaney, or some eye-opening RC Sproul book explaining Reformed theology, or a great complementarian sermon by Wayne Grudem) do indeed shape or even reshape our “interpretation or understanding of Scripture”. This happens all the time for believers. I’ve even had my own understanding of the Scriptures changed by a DeYoung book!

    I don’t think Greg was saying that our experiences “correct” Scripture (as you put it), but rather our experiences sometimes change the way we (perhaps incorrectly?) have interpreted Scripture. After all, our interpretations are never infallible either.

  14. Stephen Shead says:

    @Paul Adams:

    I would be love to read Payne’s book so as to consider his argument more fully, though at the moment do not have access to it. (I live in Santiago, Chile, and we don’t exactly have good English-language theological libraries…)

    Have you seen Craig Blomberg’s fairly detailed review?

  15. Anthony Mator says:

    Is it a coincidence that Al Mohler’s most recent blog post touches on the issue of male authority and its seeming imminent demise? Check it out:

  16. Paul Adams says:

    @ Stephen Shead
    Yes…I pointed out Craig’s review to Phil and he then wrote his response to Craig. I highly respect Craig (as my former Greek prof), but believe Phil Payne has the upper exegetical hand here.

    If I could I would send you Phil’s book! Better yet, I’d hand deliver and enjoy a glass of that fine Chilean vino with you!

  17. Kenny Taylor says:

    Dan, is there a distinction to be made between “experience” and “teaching”? Certainly, various forms of teaching (books, sermons, etc..) shape our interpretations; but “experience” smacks of subjectivism, don’t you think?

  18. Kenny Taylor says:

    By the way Kevin, I love the title to this article.

    Would love to hear more on the particulars of “manhood” and “womanhood” apart from headship/submission matters. I’m totally on board with that, just wondering if there may be more to uncover here. (Without going the Ethridge route)

  19. Sue says:

    “Besides the fact that no modern English translation renders authenteo this way, H. Scott Baldwin has in recent years demonstrated from exhaustive research of the word in ancient Greek literature that authenteo can mean to rule, to control, or to be responsible, but it does not carry the negative sense of “to usurp” or “to domineer.””

    In fact, there are no occurrences of the word with a positive sense. The word has a few occurrences near the time of the NT.

    BGU 1208 – is listed by Baldwin as “to compel”

    1 cent. BCE) BGU 1208 (27 BCE): “I Καμου αυθεντηκοτος over him, and he consented to provide for Calatytis the Boatman on terms of full fare, within the hour.”

    This can also be translated as “prevailed on” or “compelled”. The context was hostile. This is directly from Grudem’s notes in Ev. Fem. and Biblical Truth.

    (2nd century) Ptolemy Tetrabiblos “If Saturn alone is ruler of the body and dominates mercury and the moon.”

    (2nd cent. AD) Moeris, Attic Lexicon “to have independent jurisdiction”

    (3 cent. AD) Hippolytus (d. AD 235) On the End of the World. De consummatione mundi, in Hippolyt’s kleinere exegetische und homiletische Schrften, ed. H. Achelis in De griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller, 1.2 (Leipzig: Himrichs, 1897), 239-309.

    Therefore, everyone will walk according to his own desire, and the children will lay hands upon their parents, a wife will hand over her own husband to death and a man his own wife to judgment as deserving to render account. Inhuman masters will authenteo their servants and servants shall put on an unruly disposition toward their masters.

    Cited from Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. pages 680-682.

    Those are the choices. All three are impersonal, controlling or negative. There is no instance where it means to lead in church. It was considered by Jerome to be a synonym of katakurieuo, and mashal in Gen. 3:16. A man only dominates his wife as a consequence of sin, and likewise for a woman to dominate a man. Church leaders are not to dominate the flock.

    There is no occurrence of autentein which suggests that it means to have normal leadership. Chrysostom said that it was a very shameful thing for a man to authenteo his wife. It was considered tyrannical.

    I would like to see one example of authenteo used in a positive way. I believe that it was used for God, to have absolute control. I guess I am wondering if complete control and domination is normal for a church leader. Peter suggests that it is not the way to lead the flock.

    Does anyone have evidence that this word could means “to lead” or to “exercise authority.” Thanks.

  20. Dan says:

    @ Kenny

    We could try to separate them… but I might argue that the very act of hearing a sermon, reading a book, or attending seminary at WTS are valid experiences in and of themselves. When I first heard Sproul’s Holiness of God video series (back in the day) it rocked my world and my theology. That experience has shaped my interpretation.

    My initial response to Mike was merely a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that our experiences as believers never affect our understanding or interpretation of sacred Scripture. My life is filled with minor and major adjustments to my interpretations as I “experienced” Reformed theology, T4G, CJ Mahaney’s influence concerning spiritual gifts, or DeYoung’s love for the local church…

    Never meant to distract from the review of John Stott’s fence straddling!

  21. Kenny Taylor says:

    Yeah, I’d call all that teaching that shaped your interpretations, but I hear you, bro.

    It does appear that Stott is straddling the fence, sadly.

  22. e-Mom says:

    “The resolute desire of women to know, be and develop themselves, and to use their gifts in the service of the world, is so obviously God’s will for them that to deny or frustrate it is an extremely serious oppression. It is a woman’s basic right and responsibility to discover herself, her identity and her vocation.”

    In this statement, it’s very clear that Stott misunderstands women and their fundamental needs. He’s projecting his own masculine need for these things onto women… and shuddering. It’s well-known in psychology that a woman’s brain is wired for relationships FIRST. Generally, for women “self-actualization” takes place in community–familial and otherwise–not through individual accomplishments. It is for a man (not women) to “discover himself, his identity and his vocation.”

    I know that Stott was celibate, and never married. (Was he afraid to take on the mantle of true manhood?) Now I’m curious to know what his mother and father’s relationship was like. There’s no escaping our family history when it comes to shaping our belief systems… unless we truly submit to the Truth of Scripture… which apparently Stott is having difficulty with on this issue.

  23. Radiance says:

    With all due respect E-Mom (and to John Stott for matter) both your conclusions are based on the findings of modern psychology — not Scripture.

    And regardless of whether we are men or women, our identies and “actualizations” must be realized in JESUS CHRIST-> not in our genders, “vocations,” or marital status.

    In Christ alone.

    Carolyn McCulley wrote a great piece on the subject:

    “…After making this point, Sayers stated that feminists were generalizing in the same way that they accused their opponents of doing. Sayers argued for the common humanity of both men and women to be recognized: “The first thing that strikes the careless observer is that women are unlike men. They are the ‘opposite sex’–(though why ‘opposite’ I do not know; what is the ‘neighboring sex’?). But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings.” This common humanity is what Sayers was arguing for in this essay–and in that common humanity, also the permission to be viewed as individuals within that classification, individuals with varying abilities, interests, and pursuits.”

  24. Maverick says:

    Radiance –
    Thank you for coming to the defense of BOTH men and women against closeminded argumentation.
    E-mom – I have to respectfully (though I’m afraid not very kindly) respond to your arguments. I agree with Radiance that your “findings” are based off of modern psychology, not Scripture. Also, I would posit (and I am a male) that the observation that women are more relational than men is because of the fact that society has told women that they SHOULD be more relational, and society has told men that they SHOULD be more independent/warrior-esque/etc.

    I think this is harmful to BOTH men and women as individuals. We are individuals first, not genders. Of course I agree that our sex (male/female) is intrinsic to who we are, but we cannot say that women are a certain way, full stop, and that men are a certain way, full stop. We must treat others as individuals. I know men who do not want to be in leadership, because that is not their strength. I know women who do want to be in leadership, because they are leaders. Why would we tell someone who is not a leader naturally (and true, they can learn leadership qualities) that they SHOULD be a leader, and someone who IS naturally a leader that they cannot be, simply based on their anatomy? This seems ridiculous to me.

    Also, E-mom, I think your dig on Stott about him not being married (and “Was he afraid to take on the mantle of true manhood?”) is totally out of line and demeaning to those who do not want to get married! Am I not a man if I don’t want to get married? (I do, by the way). Have you read 1 Corinthians 7? NEITHER married nor single is better!

    We must be careful not to draw false/unhelpful conclusions and to call them “Biblical” when they are not. This does way more harm than good, and honestly can make Christians look closeminded and unloving.

  25. Maverick says:

    Also, Kevin, can you explain how “The husband is a first among equals in the marriage relationship.” How can someone be “first” when there is no hierarchy? How are people “equal” if there is a hierarchy? Equal ontologically? In calling? Socially? What “equally” are you talking about here?

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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