Do complementarian gender roles result from sin?

Egalitarians often claim that gender roles are a result of the Fall of man into sin. They might agree that the husband appears to be the “head” of the wife in some biblical texts but that those texts are reflecting an imperfect situation. Male leadership in marriage is not rooted in the order of God’s good creation but in sinful human pride. For example, Rachel Held Evans has written,

In the biblical narrative, hierarchy enters human relationships as part of the curse, and begins with man’s oppression of women—’your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’ (Genesis 3:16). But with Christ, hierarchical relationships are exposed for the sham that they are… (A Year of Biblical Womanhood., p. 219)

In this view, there is no mention of male and female roles in Genesis 1-2. Ideas of leadership and submission only enter the picture after Adam and Eve have sinned. Thus male headship is a feature of the curse that God seeks to overturn through the redemptive work of Christ. At least that is how the egalitarians have it.

But are they correct? In an article for The Gospel Coalition today, I argue that they are not. Adam appears as the head of his wife in chapters 1-2 before there is any sin in the world. Here are five evidences that I give for Adam’s headship in Genesis 1-2:

1. The Order of Creation

2. The Order of Accountability

3. The Designation of the Woman as “Helper”

4. The Man’s Naming of the Woman

5. The Order of Satan’s Temptation

For a full explanation of each of these, you’ll have to go read the rest of the article here.

38 Responses to Do complementarian gender roles result from sin?

  1. Brett Cody March 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    As always, Denny, I am thankful for your faithful defense of the Scriptures. Thank you for all you do!

  2. Elke Speliopoulos March 6, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Thanks, Denny. Contra what you wrote, I found

    extremely useful. Tim Ayers does a great job explaining why Grace Church chose another path.

  3. andrew alladin March 6, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    It’s no use contending with Rachel Held Evans on any biblical viewpoint that goes against the current zeitgeist – the same goes for Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and the like. Somehow orthodox biblical beliefs on sex and marriage always need to be reinterpreted to fit with what “progressives” also believe. It always begins thus:”Did God actually say…?”

    “But with Christ, hierarchical relationships are exposed for the sham that they are…” Perhaps not. The bible speaks of the Archangel Michael and the Seraphim – a hierarchy among the angelic beings (and in heaven of all places!). And in the New Jerusalem we have “on the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel” – yes, the hierarchy even survives into the new creation. God has no problem distinguishing between one’s moral worth (no distinction) and one’s role or function in His divine order.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy March 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    The order of accountability is the most disturbing. How can children be left at home alone with the least accountable parent? What a travesty! I didn’t know that God gives some adults less accountability than others.

  5. Chris Ryan March 7, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    This is a thin reed to hang a hat on. I don’t think you can take the specific case of Adam and Eve and generalize out millenia later. There’s lots of OT practices we’ve long since renounced. And under primogeniture, for instance, wouldn’t we have to ask who was born first, the husband or the wife? And its not clear why we should care what ancient Jews thought of Genesis anymore than we should care what ancient Jews thought of Jesus–many of them got that wrong, no? At any rate while Adam was the head of Eve its not obvious from Genesis that I should be the head of my wife.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy March 7, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    Here is an interesting bit of evidence for the meaning of “helper.” It was used for Christ, by Clement of Rome, 36,

    This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation; even Jesus Christ, the high priest of our oblations, the champion(prostates) and defender(boethos/ezer) of our weakness. tr. Charles Hoole 1885

    This is the way, dearly beloved, wherein we found our salvation, even Jesus Christ the High priest of our offerings, the Guardian(prostates) and Helper(boethos/ezer) of our J. B. Lightfoot.

    Phoebe was prostatis, and Eve was boethos. Even using “helper” it still represents the relationship of Christ to the church.

    The only way to get subordination out of these words is to use context, to say that any relationship between man and woman is hierarchical because it is between a man and a woman.

    But what is the source of this hierarchy? is it because of primogeniture, origin, name-calling, etc. What is the secure and obvious base of the hierarchy that can be used to prove that all these other things refer to a male – female hierarchy?

    There isn’t one piece of evidence that is not based on the presumption of hierarchy. There is no text in Genesis before chapter 3:16, that in and of itself, proves hierarchy. It is all circular reasoning, and unlikely to be accurate because as Jesus said “those who seek to be first, shall be last.” Women do not seek to be first, but simply want to also sit at the table. Men live to prove their own priority.

    For many reasons, men seeking their own priority over women, is likely to be counter gospel.

    • Ian Shaw March 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

      So you completely disagree with the 5 points that Denny lists in the linked article where hierarchy is listed prior to Genesis 3?

      • Suzanne McCarthy March 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm #


        I look at it in a whole different way. Reading in the Greek, the Bible of the early church, we see a chiastic structure. Man comes out of the ground, woman comes out of man. Then woman returns to man and man returns to the ground. The sorrows of humankind are that childbirth is difficult, many babies and mothers die, working the ground is hard and discouraging, and finally we all die.

        Men and women, as partners, experience the sorrows of childbirth, men and women, at the time digging in the ground, without a plow, shared equally in food production – we know this about ancient societies – and, men and women share the same death.

        This is not a story about female rebellion against God’s order, but about the sorrows and difficulties of life. Eve was tempted by beauty and wisdom, the values of human civilization, but also values which the scriptures teach outright. This story is a struggle to understand the hardships of life in a subsistence economy, to reconcile the tension between a desire for transcendence, beauty and wisdom with the requirements of survival.

        That is the story from another point of view, a poignant recounting of the human condition.

        • Shaun DuFault March 9, 2014 at 12:50 am #

          Minor detail – Though the LXX is a decent translation, one probably should go to the actual Hebrew from whence it was translated from. You might have a better argument that way, but then again your argument may fall apart. A risk, but is it worth taking?

  7. Suzanne McCarthy March 7, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    We will understand the role of naming better if we refer to Genesis 16 when Hagar named God,

    And she called the name of the LORD that spoke unto her, Thou art a God of seeing; for she said: ‘Have I even here seen Him that seeth Me?’

    It is a form of according certain attributes to the person you are addressing. Adam accorded to Eve the attribute of Life. She was the life-giver. He recognized that in her.

    • Randall Seale March 8, 2014 at 3:28 am #

      The contexts of Gen. 2 and Gen. 16 are not the same. Adam first calls her woman (Gen. 2:23) against the backdrop of giving the animals their names (Gen. 2:19) and due to her source, i.e., she was taken from man. I don’t see the parallel with Hagar ascribing to God a name in Gen. 16.

      • Suzanne McCarthy March 8, 2014 at 1:29 pm #


        Adam named the animals in order to recognize that they all had partners, but there was no partner there for him. Then he called Eve “ishshah” in a declaration of recognition of her attributes, an equal partner.

        Any authority that Adam had over the animals comes from Genesis 1, where dominion is given to both male and female.

  8. Mike Bergman March 7, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    This discussion would be interesting if it took place within the Godhead. Interestingly Jesus said the Father is greater than I. Jesus who is equal to the Father had no problem with a hierarchy. If we took the Trinity as also a model we would not be grousing over headship. There are clearly defined roles. A role is not inherently an inequality. Interestingly the Holy Spirits role is helper, same as a wife’s . You don’t find The Spirit quibbling over who is equal and in charge.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy March 7, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    Yes, but here on earth, the discussion goes like this – “the woman is lesser than I.” I realize that the woman is supposed to imitate Christ in Phil. 2 but sometimes I get the dreary feeling that those men who teach this, want women to be obedient even unto death. Funny how that quote when applied to women is usually terminated just before the ending, but we know the ending, us women, we hear those words on our heads, “even unto death.”

    The problem is that you aren’t supposed to sacrifice the other person, or teach the other person to self sacrifice by dictate. It would be something else if men modeled taking the lower position. It would be something if a man would take a vow of obedience 24/7 for the rest of his life to someone who lived in tha same domicile as himself. No initiative, no agency unless granted by someone else’s whim.

    Add that to the questionable hermeneutics requiring ezer to mean subordinate when we all know it doesn’t mean that, naming to mean subordination when Hagar names God, primogeniture to mean authority but only for males, and add lesser accountability for women than men – these are the complementarian assumptions and gymnastics.

    It is really a matter of whose gymnastics seem real and whose seem to be supported by unadulterated self interest. Women want equal moral authority to provide and protect. Men want greater authority – why? Do they attribute to themselves greater morality than women?

    • Esther O'Reilly March 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

      Does a good captain ascribe to himself greater morality than his men? Does a good king or president? Yet do we still regard them as captain, king and president?

  10. Suzanne McCarthy March 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    The community decides that these people have superior training or skills suited for a position from which they can be removed if they don’t perform.

    Neither are we subject to the leader but to the laws created with the consent of the community.

    We don’t actually have true monarchies anymore because the risks involved in having bad kings are just too high. Christian men have participated in dismantling both monarchies and imperial power – especially Americans. Nobody looks back on the growth of British parliamentary powers, or on the American Revolution as rebellion against Scripture ordained hierarchy, but that is exactly what it was. Should Americans vow obedience to her majesty and hope she is a good person? According to The epistle to Romans, yes, I think so.

    Let’s put everyone back in their place under hierarchy, not just women.

    Tim Keller is one who, citing C.S. Lewis, says we, citizens, must have access to seats of power because of the risk of abuse due to sin. He then goes on to explain that this does not apply in marriage which is a sacred domain. Does he think nobody sins in a marriage! Does he think no one is abused in marriage? Does he advocate participation in government for citizens for their protection, and then does he think women don’t need protection?

    No, one only takes leadership if they intend to represent the goals of their electorate and believe they are better prepared to do so. Nobody today enters marriage with the thought that men, as a class, are better prepared to make decisions for the good of the family than women.

    • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

      Complementarians will argue that a man is uniquely suited to be the leader of the home because of the qualities he possesses as a man, just as the captain is uniquely suited to lead his outfit. Furthermore, many would also agree that if a man abuses that authority, a woman no longer has to obey him (e.g., violence, infidelity).

      • Suzanne McCarthy March 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

        You don’t mention particular qualities so I can’t really respond to that. On the other comment,
        Do you remember this example given by John Piper?
        “I dealt with a couple one time. They were sitting in front of me, and she said, “He learned from you that I have to get permission from him for everything I do.” I said, “Really? Like what?” And she said, “To go to the bathroom! He won’t let me leave the room without his permission. If I get up and walk out of the room, he says, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to ask me first.'””
        This wife was not hit. But she lived a life of unmitigated misery with little recourse. Of course, Piper appeared horrified but was there any funding for therapy? How many women live lives just cut back a notch from outright violence? The following is a positive example for women,
        “Responding to the priorities he has established in the realms of caring for the home, such as cooking, cleaning, food shopping, errands, and any other tasks he delegates to me.
        Regularly sharing my “to do” list with him and asking him if anything should be removed or added, which items are his priorities for me to do, etc. Then, I should do whatever I can to serve him on a daily basis, even if it means that items I’d rather get done don’t get done.”

        • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

          Anything can be abused. Of course a control freak guy can abuse his role as the leader of his home. Pastors should take an active role in correcting that when it happens. I’m sure for your part you could think of ways egalitarianism could be abused. Nevertheless, this does not mean that loving, humble masculine leadership isn’t part of God’s design.

          • Suzanne McCarthy March 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm #


            I just lost a comment so excuse me if it reappears and I repeat myself. The second example I used was out of a blog post teaching Christian women how they ought to behave. They should make a list of their domestic chores, and ask the husband which ones they should do first and how. This is the main focus of their life, killing their attitude of entitlement to make any decisions around the home.

            • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

              My parents are complementarian to the bone and this doesn’t even remotely resemble how they’ve conducted household affairs over the years. Mom even did all our taxes. If anything, I would think it the epitome of true complementarianism to decree that the domestic sphere is the woman’s entirely while the man concerns himself with bread-winning. But I would have to see the blog post you’re describing to understand what the author even meant.

              • Suzanne McCarthy March 9, 2014 at 5:47 pm #


                My parents had a happy traditional marriage also. But I don’t remember any talk of headship and submission. Doing the taxes? Well, who wouldn’t assign doing the taxes to someone else if they could!

                I don’t think a division of labour is all bad, or sinful or anything like that. But I do think that gender-based authority, when the man can just say this is one of those times where he must impose a decision – that’s sinful. Who is to say he is not putting himself first? Gender-based authority is at odds with morality based authority, deciding what is really best for everyone.

                Women need to have the same opportunities as men to develop their skills, to earn a living, to provide, to experience agency and accomplishment. These things should be restricted only by circumstances and good judgement, agreed on family goals, but never by saying that the man gets to have goals and the wife not. BTW, the biblical model has the wife providing in Proverbs 31, although women also sat as community leaders from time to time.

                • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

                  I realize that’s your position, but as I’m sure you know, all this is immensely complicated by the question of children. Women were created to bond with their children, and there’s really no escaping that basic physical reality. On the flip side, men are driven to provide and care for their families (at least good men are). Sometimes a woman must work out of economic necessity—e.g., single mothers. But a complementarian looks at that and says “This may be necessary, but it’s sad.”

                  I’ve never seen Proverbs 31 as some kind of egalitarian blueprint. The woman manages a household full of servants (a harder task than one might think), she invests wisely in property and sells hand-made clothing, gives generously to the poor—this all sounds like run-of-the-mill stuff for, in the words of Rev Tevye, “a rich man’s wife.” I’m not seeing the connection to our 21st century notion of the career mother or the military mom who marches off to work while Dad stays home washing bottles.

                  • Suzanne McCarthy March 9, 2014 at 9:21 pm #


                    I am not here to defend or propose any particular division of labour. I am simply saying that the five points cited here do not establish the subordination of women in ceation, and say that hierarchy is not essential to a happy marriage. Women do live beyond the child-rearing years, and can experience fulfillmnt and satisfaction though work beyond the home.
                    Mostly I am protesting the life of sin that some couples live because of male based authority. It hurts both partners and marrs the image of God in us when one partner has all the agency and authority and the other partner has none. Many complementarians compensate in some way to balance out authority in the home, but some play it by the book, one person decides and the other one is obedient. There is no higher scriptural fidelity among complementarians than among egalitarians. Complementarians chose the subordination of women because they want it, not because it is the only clear way to interpret scripture.

                    • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

                      Well, on that we will simply have to part ways. However, I will point out that I said nothing about a childless woman or a woman beyond child-bearing who would like to pursue a career.

                    • Suzanne McCarthy March 10, 2014 at 4:25 pm #


                      Thanks for the chat. I don’t think we would disagree much in real life. I am simply not a fan of gender-based authority and how that plays out in real life.

  11. Shaun DuFault March 9, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Thanks Denny for taking the time to correct the mishandling and misunderstanding we see in our culture today of Scripture, especially in regards to gender roles.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy March 9, 2014 at 11:44 am #


    I am not sure what I missed from the Hebrew Bible. The LXX simply acts as an ancient commentary on the Hebrew, drawing attention to certain features of the Hebrew.
    As far as the main arguments are concerned – let’s review –
    1. The Order of Creation
    God places the youngest in a position of leadership: Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon.
    2. The Order of Accountability
    God speaks to women: Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Samson’s mother, Mary.
    Woman is equally accountable: Ananias and Sapphira.
    3. The Designation of the Woman as “Helper”
    Ezer describes God’s enduring attribute towards humanity.
    Boethos, the Greek translation, describes Christ’s role towards the church.
    4. The Man’s Naming of the Woman
    As Adam names Eve, as Hagar named God. Recognition not authority.
    5. The Order of Satan’s Temptation
    The serpent made that decision. He saw the woman as the most attracted to wisdom and beauty?? He thought she was the leader?? Many interpretations are possible.

  13. Shaun DuFault March 10, 2014 at 2:06 pm #


    Your argument that Hagar named God has been refuted above and a very poor sequitur at best and a non-sequitur at worst. Did someone bring God to Hagar and waited for her to “name” Him? Context is key sadly you are comparing an apple to an orange.

    Wow, that is so cool now we can have even more confusion regarding Satan’s choice for Eve. One thought that the reason was that she was deceived, meaning more acceptable to . . . . I must say you do seem to enjoy your wordplay.

    Speaking of wordplay, I am deeply interested in knowing what you mean when you use the word, “submit”.

    • Suzanne McCarthy March 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm #


      Authority and naming are separated in the creation story. Adam and Eve are given dominion together over the animals in Gen. 1.

      “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.””

      In Gen. 2 Adam is naming the animals as he seeks his partner. When he calls the woman ishshah, he is identifying her as being of the same substance as himself. He recognizes her as his God-given partner.

      “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

      Naming and having authority are two separate activities. I am not sure what your other comments are about.

      • Suzanne McCarthy March 10, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

        More clearly, in one episode God gives rulership two both man and woman together. In the other episode, God brings the animals to Adam to see what he would call them. Two separate events.

      • Shaun DuFault March 13, 2014 at 11:56 am #

        Seriously, you cannot see that the one who is giving names to the animals was first given the authority to do it?

        Please, define for me the term, “submit”.

        • Suzanne McCarthy March 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

          The woman was given equal authority. Surely if God wanted to give the male more authority, he would have said so in so many words. He didn’t need to make it so speculative. There are no irrefutable arguments in Denny’s post.

          Perhaps it is true, as John Piper says, that God is “whispering” male headship in creation. And like a parlour game, we all hear something different. Or perhaps God doesn’t whisper but we all imagine that we hear whispers, but they are just the expression of our own desires rattling around in our head. Who wouldn’t want to believe in his own priority? It’s only natural.

          I responded to your request on “submit” further down as I saw it there first.

  14. Don Johnson March 10, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    I see Denny’s interpretation as a classic case of seeing what is NOT there because one expects it to be there, in other words eisegesis. God could have inspired Scripture to be as clear as Gen 3 in terms of gender hierarchy, but instead Denny is reduced to trying to find supposed hints that are easy to see are not really hints if one takes off one’s blue-colored glasses.

    Gen 1 is totally symmetric and therefore egalitarian, so even the title is a overstatement. The traditions of men that negate Scripture are still with us.

    • Shaun DuFault March 13, 2014 at 11:52 am #


      Please, throwing out the eisegesis comment against Denny would be hilarious if not so sad. You love rehashing some of these supposed arguments you postulate, but when challenged you seem to not be able to respond.

      You want to talk about being clear – Gal. 3:28 and how about the question raised to you about Jesus submitting himself to the authority of the church as you claim. When you start actually answering these questions, you may start making some headway.

      By the way, I will ask you the same question I did for Suzanne – please define, “submit” as you use it.

      • Don Johnson March 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

        Words get their meaning from how they are used.

        Hupotasso is the word in question and Paul uses it in a mutual way in Eph 5:21 but gender hierarchalists decline to accept it that way. If one is going to distort one “one another” verse like Grudem does, where does it stop? One has already distorted Christianity as the end result is akin to Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”.

        On Gal 3:28, being an inheritor of Abraham’s promise is exactly what one should be wishing for, if one had read the Bible up to that point. And this realization is what affect relations between master and slave, who would deny this today? Perhaps the people that formed the SBC in the first place would deny it, but they have been repudiated for a few years now. At some point, the people in a future SBC will repudiate the current leadership on the gender issue.

  15. Suzanne McCarthy March 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm #


    I did not actually use the word “submit” in this thread and as you say “context is key” so of course I can only remark on the word “submit,” in this thread, as what I do when I decide that my comment is done and I touch the submit icon. I send my comment in to be posted.

    Anyway, you should address me as you would to your mother, according to the scripture. Would you talk to her this way? I submit to my children in many ways, but less so, if they are demanding.

  16. Shaun DuFault March 23, 2014 at 12:22 am #

    Wow, talk about the two-step. When an egalitarian uses the term, “submit” what do you mean. Simply define the word. To help clarify, Suzanne states she submits to her children. I would just like to know what that actually means. So please define the word “submit”.

    Why is this so hard Suzanne and Don?

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