The Single Problem

The doctrine of Complementarianism is a major one, so much so it must be considered as supremely important and made to apply in all situations – as an all-encompassing belief that reigns over everyone in every conceivable situation. I see two sides to this coin, gender and status. Here’s why – the Koine Greek word for “man” was one and the same for “husband” and the Koine Greek word for “woman” was one and the same for “wife” – and Koine Greek is the one of the languages used to write the New Testament. While we separate gender and status, for the ancient world, the two were deeply connected. A single man wouldn’t be likely to have children to inherit his property. A single woman wouldn’t be likely to have children to take care of her when she gets old. Being a man opened up many opportunities to him and being a woman meant that many opportunities were closed to her.

Women only enjoyed status and wealth through their husbands, which was why Roman wives (for example) often promoted or mentioned her husband’s interests at important parties with their important and influential friends at their homes. So there are two men, a Patron and a Client. The Client’s wife is invited to a party and mentions that her husband admires the Patron to the Patron’s wife and also mentions a problem that her husband is having that only his Patron can solve. Later on in the day, the Patron’s wife mentions the problem the Client’s wife told her that the Client was having  to her husband, the Patron, and then he is obligated to take care of it, but this saves the embarrassment and/or shame of having to ask directly or in public because of the nature of the problem. Men, on the other hand, could meet together in public, hammer out business arrangements, and make things happen. Patron to Client, asking a favor for something that honor demands be resolved publicly. Yes, the Bible does have women who are businesswomen in their own right (like Lydia) but one must recognize that their world was designed to favor men and their interests. Women had to get by in a man’s world and were always second-class because of it.

The problem is that we don’t live in their world, but one where single individuals have finally matched (or slightly overtaken) the number of married couples. So Complementarianism applies as a gender rule to single individuals and as a status rule to married individuals, as a result it’s made to stretch and holes often result when it’s stretched too far. That’s what happens when the general teaching is applied to specific situations. First, let’s take a look at the general teaching: “God made men and women equal in person-hood but with different complementary roles. Husbands are to lead their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands in the home and the role of leadership belongs to men in the church.” One thought is dependent upon the other to support it’s assertions as true.


Situation: Mixed gender Bible Study
The new Bible Study on the book of James was originally planned to be for the women, so a woman volunteered to teach it. Because women teaching women is biblical. There was a typo in the bulletin, the word ‘women’s’ was excluded, so a number of men came to the study. Since the Bible says that women are not allowed to teach men, a male teacher must be chosen.

Refers to: “… Second, the temporal priority of the male in the image of God means that in general, within male-female relationships among singles, there should be a deference offered to the men by the women of the group, which acknowledges the woman’s reception of her human nature in the image of God through the man, but which also stops short of a full and general submission of women to men. Deference, respect, and honor should be showed to men, but never should there be an expectation that all the women must submit to the men’s wishes. And for single men, there should be a gentle and respectful leadership exerted within a mixed group, while this also falls short of the special authority that husbands and fathers have in their homes, or that elders have in the assembly. Because all are in the image of God, and because women generally are image of God through the man, some expression of this male-headship principle ought to be exhibited generally among women and men, while reserving the particular full relationships of authority to those specified in Scripture, viz. in the home and the believing community…” (From:

Some Thoughts: This language is really worrying. For one, the meaning of the word “defer” is “to submit“. That’s like saying: “In general, within male-female relationships among singles, there should be a submission offered to the men by the women of the group … which also stops short of full and general submission of women to men” or “In general, within male-female relationships among singles, there should be a deference offered to the men by the women of the group … which also stops short of a full and general deference of women to men.” It’s also quite vague – what does this look like in action? Who leads the prayer? A man or a woman? Who asks questions first? men or women? Who answers questions? A man or a woman? Can a woman answer a man’s question? Should women bring snack and drinks to serve to the men? If a man says to a woman “hand me that book” must she comply? Are men always right? What does it look like for a single woman to defer to a single man in a way that shows male headship that stops short of submission? Does this principle apply in non-christian contexts? After all, wouldn’t a Hindu man still have temporal priority because he is male? Would a Sikh woman still be expected to defer to male headship?

It sounds to me like the idea here is that the rule that men have authority still applies, however because the men and women aren’t married, they don’t have full authority over the women, so that women don’t have to fully submit to men in everything, but their interactions must show that men have authority and women do not. Here’s the other problem – the teaching borrows from Ephesians 5 – “that wives should submit to their husbands”, and modified for gender and status: “single women should defer to single men, just not as fully as wives submit to their husbands”. In this way, the juxtaposition of gender and status can be used to take any passage about husbands and wives and make them reflect male and female interaction instead, as all husbands are men and all wives are women, then what is true of status must also be true of their gender. This is why headship proponents often teach that a woman’s submission is to her father (a man) when she is single, to her husband (a man) when she is married, and (to her church elders, all men) when she is widowed.

Male headship is preserved alongside with the female submission that it entails, even if it goes unsaid. Even if women aren’t to submit to all men in general, the teaching is designed so that women do submit to certain, specific men all of their lives. Factor in that she’s asked to defer to all other men, and you still arrive at a conclusion were not once is she her own authority, but always under the authority of another either fully or partially, who is always a man. That means there’s really never a point where men are asked to defer to women though Ephesians does point to mutual submission, it’s always in the context that wives and husbands do not mutually submit themselves to one another in the same way. It’s not a scenario where there is reciprocity, rather, it’s that mutually, both parties are subject to another. It’s not a scenario where just as the wife is to submit to the husband, the husband is to submit to the wife, but they define mutual submission as a scenario where both are to submit, just as the wife submits to her husband, the husband submits to Christ.

This is a problem when this verse is applied to singles because it confuses roles with genders. They can’t say that they want single women to submit to submit to single men as single men are to submit to Christ, but that’s what they teach is true of married couples and so they expect it to be true of their gender as well. It’s why single women are often confused as to whether or not they are the head of their household, and if they are, then why they weren’t told about the head of household meeting, and why the pastor was kind enough to ‘represent’ them at the meeting.

Complementarianism would require that a male teach the class, the best if possible, but the worst man is better than the best woman because he is male. The best woman teaching is just like Eve – easily deceived, and that’s why Paul said that women can’t teach or have authority over men. Egalitarianism would prioritize gifting and skill, whomever was a natural teacher with a lot of knowledge would be tasked with teaching regardless of his or her gender.


Situation: Single Woman Hosting Dinner Party
A single woman has decided to host a dinner party for her friends, many of which are from her church. She grew up watching her father pray for meals at all parties and holidays. Her youth pastor often reminded her that “God really wants to hear the boys pray”; so she’s been taught that while women can pray over meals for women, when men and women are in the same room, a man ought to pray. She writes into a singles’ ministry asking for advice.

Refers to: “… But we must also guard against going to the other extreme of adding things that aren’t there. You say it’s understood in your community that the women should defer to the men and ask them to pray. But this isn’t commanded in the Bible. Scripture is clear that women are not to teach men in church. But nowhere does it say that women are not to pray in the presence of men, whether in the sanctuary or in a home or any other setting (see 1 Corinthians 11:5, 13, 15; Acts 2:17; 21:8-9)…” (From:

Thoughts: Somehow, this woman’s community gave her the impression that women should defer to men and ask them to pray. To me, the problem is that this question had to be asked. We’ve become a society that is so conscious of these gender distinctions that everything we do must be filtered through the questions of how can women in general show that men have priority only to be told that most of the rules we’ve designed to do just that are not there in the Bible. The idea that women shouldn’t pray first that women shouldn’t lead prayer, fits with the idea that men have priority and so they should be the ones to pray first and to lead prayer. What other things have we done – what others rules have we written that do very much the same thing – adding to scripture, as it were, to make it fit with our lives so that our lives fit with what we say it says? Perhaps it’s because of 1 Timothy 2:8, which specifies that men should pray, but doesn’t mention that women should pray, too – so it must mean that only men should pray.

Tradition is also a factor here, traditionally (at least as far back as I can recall) my grandfather or my father would be the one expected to lead prayers, this was true for both sides of my family which came from two (or more) different states. When we let tradition inform our beliefs about gender, our complementarianism is no longer biblical and that’s why we end up with situations that get blown out of proportion. While it is true that our tradition is sometimes shaped by Scripture, our tradition and customs are also subject to change. In general, people used to wear hats and smoke cigarettes, these days both are optional. What we might not understand that that there are a lot of traditions and customs written into the Bible that reflect the culture it was written in. It was subject to change – and it did change. When we use the traditions and customs of another culture as the basis of our own, then we have to realize that there will be quite a few rough spots. The ancient would couldn’t have predicted the rise in popularity or power of single people, for example, so their rules can’t be used to inform how single people ought to live their lives. Sames goes for ideas about marriage, they couldn’t have predicted that what worked for them two millennia ago in their culture would be flawed for our culture here and now. Egalitarians really wouldn’t care who prays over the meal, the hostess can, she can ask a guest, she can request that all of them pray silently and end with a vocal ‘amen’ to let them all know they can start eating. This tradition becomes a problem for anyone who is missing a father/husband to lead the prayer. Whose responsibility does it become then? What is there for Christians with incomplete families but to miss out on the glory that a whole family has?


Have you noticed how many words used have multiple definitions? The first article talks about male priority and then clarifies: “When I speak in this section of the “priority” of the male in God’s creation of male and female equally as his image bearers, readers should understand that I do not intend to communicate any sense of greater value, dignity, worth, human person-hood, or sharing in the image of God that the male possesses over the female; in fact, the preceding section should make clear that I believe Scripture clearly teaches the complete equality of female with male as being bearers of the image of God. As will become clear, just as children become fully and equally image of God through the God-ordained reproductive expression of their parents, so the woman who becomes the image of God second, and she does so fully and equally to the image of God in Adam, although she is deliberately formed by God as the image of God from Adam’s rib, not from the dust of the ground as was Adam. … As will be seen below, while both of these texts stress the temporal priority of the creation of the male, they are not identical in how they state this historical reality, and an interesting difference can be noted in the wording used in these verses, respectively.” The dictionary defines “priority” as “a thing that is regarded as more important than another, the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important, the right to take precedence or to proceed before others” let’s see where this logic goes: “important” means “of great significance or value, having high rank or status.” Wouldn’t it be better to invent a word and give it it’s own definition that to use a word and deny it’s primary definitions?

I already pointed out the flaw exists with defer / submit, but another one I noticed was “mutual“. Deciding that one definition “our arrangement is mutually beneficial” doesn’t apply in this context, but agreeing that the other “we have a mutual friend” does. This really doesn’t help – twisting the English as if what we say it means is what the Koine Greek clearly stated was so. Most of the time, the vague, definition-switching, meaning-muddling wordy double-speak is so confusing that it’s difficult to understand what is really being said. The Bible is confusing enough on it’s own, but with a complementarian interpretation, using modern tradition and reading it back into the Bible as if what exists for us now is exactly what it would have been like millennia ago denies the reality that everything has changed. Empires have fallen, laws have changed, rights have been granted, and there’s no going back to how things used to be. Women can have higher education and have careers just as the men have always done and it’s not likely that women will, en masse, quit school and work. Our customs, traditions, and our roles are changing – what the Bible says will not, but we’ve already decided to break with Scripture when we opted to end slavery. If we can change a part of our reality despite what Scripture says, that must means that there is no limit to other changes that are in store for us. Christianity would do well to remember that – and that their not-married members do have a place in Christianity, everyone does:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all – Colossians 3:11
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus – Galatians 3:28

I wonder, were Paul here today, would he also write: … there is neither single nor married … in there somewhere? Or does it’s exclusion mean that God is partial, that he prefers one over the other? That being married is better than being single as it’s the fullest expression of Christianity, of the relationship of Christ and the Church? If God isn’t partial, why is his church? Single believers often find themselves marginalized because the material is designed for married couples. For them, the teaching is confusing, irrelevant, and holding them back from their full potential. That’s the biggest single problem with the teaching of complementarianism, it’s being applied to everyone, male and female, married and single – but it’s becoming unbiblical in the process.


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