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Home arrow Women and the Church arrow Beyond Sex Roles arrow EXAMINING BILEZIKIAN'S BOOK, "BEYOND SEX ROLES"
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

Several years ago I read Gilbert Bilezikian's, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says about a Woman's Place in Church and Family.  Some of his egalitarian arguments are thorough and worth a response.


While his work is only one of many on this subject, it is the one that I will mainly interact with.  I will deal with his most thought-provoking ideas, especially the ones that give the complementarian perspective the most trouble.  My goal is not so much to refute him at every point, but to give him a chance to air his views, and then to see if I think those views can be squared with Scripture.




Genesis 1-2

Generally I disagree with Bilezikian when he says, "There is nothing in Genesis 1 and 2 that provides even a hint of a disparity of nature or rank between man and woman" (37).  But he makes an interesting point, "Conspicuously absent in Genesis 1-2 is any reference to divine prescriptions for man to exercise authority over woman....The total absence of such a commission indicates that it was not a part of God's intent" (41).


Against Bilezikian, I think the creation order itself could be significant for this whole debate.  And, is the fact that Eve wasn't formed from the ground as Adam was, more significant to this debate than Bilezikian admits?  "There is no justification for the derivation of Eve from the body of Adam to be viewed as a sign of her subordination to him.  Such a theory might have had a chance of being true if she had been made out of the ground like the plants, the animals, and Adam himself" (29).  But does his reasoning really hold up?


Adam was created out of the ground and those of us who believe the Bible don't question his humanity.  So why would we question Eve's humanity?  God surely could have created Adam and Eve at the same time, out of the same material.  Wouldn't that have easily made it clear that there were no role distinctions between them?  Or better yet, God could have created Eve first.  So, these details-such as Adam being created first and Eve being referred to as a helper-causes me to wonder about some of the things Bilezikian argues.


I can see his point that the "one flesh" idea of Gen 2:23 argues in favor that there is no leader between husband and wife (34).  But is it so impossible to think that the biblical instructions for the man to leave his father and mother, in order to cling to his wife, could imply that the husband is the leader?  Are we sure that this verse isn't telling us that the husband is a provider and protector of his wife in a way that actually makes him the leader?


Genesis 3

That God addressed Adam (Gen 3:11) as an individual could be significant (51). Maybe in fact, he wasn't meant to be Eve's leader.  But again, why was God looking for the man, and why doesn't Eve speak out first?  Her failure to speak out doesn't prove that she was subordinate, but it could be significant.


If Eve, in fact, was "taking the blame" as Bilezikian claims (53), rather than passing the buck like Adam did, it's not obvious to me.  Adam seems to have told the truth just as Eve did.


Bilezikian trudges ahead, "As a result of Satan's work, man was now master over woman, just as the mother-ground was now master over man.  For these reasons, it is proper to regard both male-dominance and death as being antithetical to God's original intent in creation" (56).  But at least two other possibilities exist: 1. Adam became her leader/ruler at the fall, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the passage is predicting the abuse of such leadership; 2. Adam was already her leader/ruler, but now he will have a tendency to rule over her harshly.


After all, Gen 3 never says that man ruling over woman is a result of the fall.  It could be a result of the fall, but it's not stated explicitly.  Not everything changed at the fall.  For example, Adam already had to work (2:15, 20), and Eve, assumedly, was already going to be the one having the babies (1:28).  Is it impossible to concede that male-rulership was already in place before the fall?  (See pages 268-69 where Bilezikian argues against male-rulership being implemented before the fall.)


Concerning Gen 3:17, Bilezikian says, "Adam was not reproved for allowing Eve to assume leadership; he was rebuked for having followed her in her state of disobedience to God" (57).  This is certainly a possibility.


He makes some good points about "desire" in 3:16 (266-67).  Maybe "desire" in Gen 3:16 and 4:7 actually means "want" like in Song of Sol 7:10, instead of "overthrow" as 4:7 has been thought to mean.  Exactly what this would mean, that Eve will want Adam or that women will want men, is a bit of a mystery.  But whatever it means doesn't seem to affect how we interpret the rest of the passage (See 267, n.12 for a possible meaning).


How many normative things can we legitimately draw from the Gen 3 passage?  Bilezikian says, "Although at this time I am not ready to venture more than a cautious opinion, it would seem to me, in view of the total absence of further references to this text in the Bible, that its original intent concerned the situation of Adam and Eve at the time of the fall, and that universal applications drawn from it are not valid unless they can be corroborated in other biblical teachings...Likewise for verse 16, whatever situation may have prevailed between Adam and Eve, most women do not seem to desire men as much as men desire women.  Many women do not suffer in childbearing or childbirth.  In matriarchal societies and families, women do a pretty good job of ruling men" (267). 


He continues, "The only part of the curse that became an inescapable universal reality is the prediction of death in verse 19" (268).  But does he contradict himself when he admits men have in fact ruled over women throughout the ages (57-58, 210-11)?


If rulership/subordination came about during the fall, and Christ reverses the affects of the fall pertaining to this issue, how come the main curse from the fall-death-is not overturned in any real immediate sense of the word?  Bilezikian assumes that not everything from Gen 3:14-16 applies to the rest of humanity, but we see a principle drawn from what Adam said before the fall, in 2:24, that was universally applied to all of humanity, at least all who will marry.  Has Bilezikian too hastily dismissed the general application of Gen 3:14-16?


The other things he talked about in this passage-men ruling over women, women desiring men, pain in childbirth, the ground not always being cursed-are universals.  Granted there's discussion on what it means for a woman to desire a man, but there are possible interpretations of that, as well as the other things mentioned there, that lead me to believe these were universals.  Occasional exceptions don't disprove it anymore than the fact that Enoch and Elijah having never died disprove the universality of death.  Bilezikian can still argue his point that rulership came about as a result of the fall without going to the extreme of trying to keep these other things from being universal.


Some things changed at the fall, things that don't change with the coming of Christ.  For example, the shame of nakedness, that came from the fall, is still shameful in most contexts.  People still die physically.  Many people in the world do labor in their jobs.  Most women do go through extreme pain when giving birth.  And some would even argue that there has never been such a thing as a matriarchal society (See Appendix).


If headship wasn't established before the fall, does Bilezikian answer why, suddenly, husbands will rule over wives?  What accounts for this sudden curse?


Bilezikian mainly interacts with one work he disagrees with, James Hurley's, Men and Women in Biblical Perspective.  Bilezikian says, "Hurley's mishandling of this text (3:14-19) illustrates the subtle dangers inherent in the practice of interpreting Scripture from the perspective of predetermined models such as a hypothetical authority/subordination construct for male/female relations in Eden.  Instead of Scripture being allowed to control our teaching, it is our teaching that eventually controls Scripture and produces deviant interpretations" (269).  Bilezikian seems to be begging the question.  And, no one, including Bilezikian, approaches the Bible with the ideal objectivity he promotes.


In chapter 3 of his book, Bilezikian makes some good points about women being unfairly treated by their husbands because of the idea of rulership.  But can we really say that all abuses of male-rulership are a natural result of rulership?  Or could the biblical injunctions for men to love their wives be encouraging men not to abuse their rulership, rather than undoing their rulership?


I'm uncomfortable when he says, "Such inequities are indeed reflected in the old-covenant legislation on adultery, which is summarized in Deuteronomy 22:13-30" (64).  Referring to Num 12, Bilezikian also says, "The fact that Miriam was punished for this act of mutiny-and not her male accomplice Aaron-provides another example of the inequity that resulted from the fall and persisted during the old-covenant period in what we called its 'dark side'" (284).  Again, these passages aren't allowed to speak to the issue, rather they are regarded as just other examples of sinful male-dominance.


Genesis 16 and 21

Bilezikian correctly notes some instances of Abraham obeying his wife Sarah in Gen 16:2 and 21:10-12 (72).  Believing in male-headship doesn't mean never listening to or obeying your wife.  Maybe this passage nicely goes along with male-headship; but it indicates something that many men don't want to do-listen to (obey) their wives.


1 Samuel 25

Bilezikian's example seems unsound when he uses Abigail's disobedience to her husband Nabal in 1 Sam 25 as an endorsement that the biblical narrator did not believe in male-headship (72-73).  Many odd things occur in the OT that are presented as narrative.  Does Jephthah's example in Judges 11, and the narrator's failure to comment on it, teach us the wisdom of making such vows regarding our children?  What about Isaiah going naked (20:1-3)?  Should we do away with our clothes to enhance our ministry?  Should we marry a prostitute as Hosea did?  Should we put out fleeces as Gideon did?


Interesting to note though, when Abigail later bows to her new husband David in 1 Sam 25:41-43, Bilezikian is quick to say that their relationship became "defiled by the sin-generated principle of male-rulership" (74), even though the narrator didn't say it was wrong to do such.  Bilezikian forces his view on the passage here.


Judges 4-5

Deborah's rulership as a judge supports Bilezikian's argument that women could exercise authority over men (70-71).  However, it argues against his point that rulership in general was only a pagan system (108).


Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31 helps dismantle many of our preconceived ideas about what a wife can and can't do, but does this passage really accomplish "a verse-by-verse demolition of the male-rulership system that issued from the fall...," as Bilezikian claims (78)?


Commenting on Pro 31, Bilezikian says, "The very point of the poem is that a strong wife does not need rulership.  Mutual trust supersedes rulership" (271).  He may be right, but what about when the wife doesn't possess these characteristics?


Why do the Proverbs speak things like, "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband..." (12:4), "She does her husband good and not evil all the days of her life" (31:12)?  Why does Scripture nowhere reverse things?  The wife was created for the husband (1 Cor 11:9).  However, we should be careful not to draw too much from these proverbs.  (See 272 where Bilezikian argues for the implications of Pro 31.)


The Gospels

Bilezikian is a little overly zealous to prove his point when he says that Jesus, "fearlessly demonstrated in his actions, teaching, and example his rejection of the male-rulership principle" (82).  The end result may be that the Bible opposes the idea of male-rulership, but to say Jesus rejected it implies that we can easily turn to any one place in the Gospels and see Jesus clearly rejecting it.  Just as Jesus had nothing per se to say about child molestation, homosexuality, buying stocks, or dieting, he had nothing to say about male-rulership.


The examples Bilezikian gives from pages 82-104 of women that Jesus encountered are unnecessary to this discussion.  Of course Jesus cared about women!  I don't know any person worthy of a hearing on this debate who thinks that women were second-class citizens to Jesus.


Regarding leadership in general, Bilezikian makes some interesting points (104-118).  Concerning Mt 18:15-20, Bilezikian says, "Jesus smashed the pyramidal concept of ecclesiastical authority and replaced it with participatory consensual community rule.  He denied any one individual the right to arrogate the power to control other persons in Christian communities, which power belongs to him alone" (107).  And, concerning Mt 20:20-28, Bilezikian comments, "A hierarchical authority structure is legitimate in the pagan world but is prohibited among Christ's followers" (108). 


Bilezikian clarifies by saying, "As Matt. 18:17-18 prescribes, authority is indeed to be exercised in Christian communities, but only on the basis of participatory consensual community rule" (109).  About Mt 23:1-2, Bilezikian states that the role of a teacher of the Word is to "...merely dispense the revealed teaching.  Whenever a teacher arrogates to himself divine authority, his leadership becomes idolatrous (as a God substitute), and the following abuses ensue..." (110-11).  But does this ignore 1 Pet 4:11?


Apparently Bilezikian is okay with authority structures and makes a distinction between Christian communities (church and family) and church institutions (hospitals, missionary organizations) (274).


He says that Jesus' words to Peter in Mt 16:18-19 give Peter no special authority (275).  According to Bilezikian, it must be balanced with Mt 18:18 and 1 Pet 2:4-6.   But maybe Mt 18:18 and 1 Pet 2:4-6 can be balanced with Mt 16:19 even if Peter was given some special authority.  Leadership and priesthood of the believer need not stand in conflict.


I'm wondering about Acts 15:13-21 where James had some sort of authority, as well as places in Scripture where Paul had some sort of special authority.  Even Bilezikian understands that Paul, as an apostle, had special authority over Timothy (299, n.47). If the gift of prophecy still exists, doesn't apostleship?  So, isn't it possible that we could have leaders in the church, who are truly leaders with God-appointed authority, who balance their authority with humility and love?


It's not that I'm against congregational government.  In fact, I support it.  I certainly don't believe that pastors are to be dictators.  But it seems like Bilezikian is doing some overkill to accommodate his other presuppositions.


About Mt 23:11, Bilezikian also says, "A leader is a servant.  The true leader submits to the authority of the group" (113).  Regarding 23:12, he affirms, "A leader is a team worker, not an order giver" (114).


Bilezikian's comment that rulership dehumanizes females (120) seems to assume too much too early, like the discussion is over and finished.  After all, if rulership were found to be truly biblical, wouldn't we support it?  Hell seems like a pretty harsh doctrine, but I still believe it.


Bilezikian does, however, explain more in his endnote that, "Rulership of itself need not be dehumanizing.  Self-appointed dictators may exercise benevolent rulership, and appointive representative rulership is often benign.  Rulership becomes dehumanizing when it is viewed as deriving from the biological process of sex or rank differentiation at conception, which process then becomes invested with mythical connotations of power by divine right" (275, n.1).  Furthermore he says, "Whenever the principle of equal rights is denied and one sex is subjected to another, a natural outcome is the denial of the right of privacy for the subordinated party.  Violation and exploitation ensue" (36).


He makes some good points by saying that just because there were not women apostles, doesn't prove that women could not minister in that capacity.  According to him, if this line of reasoning were followed strictly, then Gentile men would also be excluded from such a ministry (273-74, n.14).  He also addresses the implications of the fact that Jesus came as a male (274).  I agree with Bilezikian that the most significant thing is that the Word became flesh not that it became male.  However, could Jesus' maleness still be more significant than Bilezikian admits?


Acts 2:15-21

Bilezikian says, "Peter's restatement of Joel's prophecy should be allowed to govern our understanding of relationships within the church.  As a key constitutional document of the church, this statement should be allowed to play a determinant role in the definition of relationship and ministries in the new community" (125).  The mention of "daughters shall prophesy" certainly gives more credence to Bilezikian's argument than to the side that says women can't preach in church when men are present.  If I wanted to play Bilezikian's game though, I'd point out that the overall point of the passage seems to be that the Spirit of God will be poured out on all of his children, rather than to clearly define the roles of men and women.  This is the sort of thing Bilezikian does when discussing 1 Cor 11 and 1 Tim 2.


Acts 18:24-26

In this passage, Pricilla and Aquila pulled Apollos aside to explain to him the way of God more accurately.  Some use Acts 18:24-26 to prove a woman can disciple or teach a man the Scripture.  And some say that because Pricilla's name is mentioned before Aquila's, then this proves she was seriously involved in the teaching.  But this text says that "they" taught him.  Pricilla didn't teach him on her own.  We don't even know if she taught him at all.  Just because her name is mentioned first proves little.  Maybe she just listened, or maybe she did in fact teach Apollos.  We don't know.  But whatever we say about this passage, it's a narrative.  Luke is telling what happened and not necessarily teaching us principles in this narrative.  All we know is that they pulled Apollos aside and taught him.  Comment is not given as to whether or not this was approved of.  (First Timothy 2 is a clear teaching passage, whereas Acts 18:24-26 is a narrative.)


Acts 21:8-9

Again, female prophets support Bilezikian's argument.  It's clear that females prophesied.


Romans 16:1-2

Phoebe almost always gets a lot of attention when it comes to this whole debate (204-206).  When she is called a "servant" in Rom 16:1 it adds little ammunition to Bilezikian's arsenal.  If anything, being called a servant argues against what Bilezikian's really trying to accomplish.  Since complementarians typically don't argue that women can't minister (serve) in any capacity, why mention Phoebe in this debate?


1 Corinthians 7:1-5

Verse four says, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does."  Bilezikian notes that, "The importance of this verse for a biblical perspective on male/female relations cannot be overestimated" (130).  He goes on to say, "Both husband and wife have exactly the same right of rulership over each other" (131). 


Bilezikian opposes those who say this passage is just pertaining to the sexual relations between husband and wife only.  Bilezikian points to the larger context (see 1 Cor 6:13) and tries to show that, "The 'body' represents the totality of a person's being, responding to the Lord or to a spouse" (131).


From 1 Cor 7:1-5, Bilezikian makes some good points that certainly may have implications for the discussion at hand: the couple makes decisions conjointly; they're not a military unit but "a church in microcosm" (132).  If things can be worked out this way regarding sex, then why not regarding the other decisions couples have to make?


1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Bilezikian argues that "head" conveys the idea of origin, starting point, or fountainhead, but not authority (137-38).  He argues that 11:3's listing of Christ-man, man-woman, and God-Christ is chronological in nature rather than hierarchical (138-39).  According to him, 11:3, "conforms to a chronological sequence that is further confirmed in the remainder of the passage as it emphasizes the symbolic meaning of headship as original representation and not authority" (138).


He argues that 11:5 clearly shows that women could freely prophesy in church where men were present (140, 142).  "The point of the passage is not gender roles but worship protocol" (142).


Bilezikian continues, "In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the issue is not lines of authority.  The word authority is mentioned only once in this whole section, never in connection with man or with headcoverings.  It is not used in reference to male/female relations, but in reference to women, 'because of the angles'" (281, n.20).  I'd like to note, however, that there is a textual variant with the word "authority" in 1 Cor 11:10, which could affect either side's attempts at making too much of it.


About the headcovering, Bilezikian says it "pertains to the relation of men and women to God, not to each other (v. 7)" (282).  Bilezikian even calls the headcovering the "badge of humanity" (282).


For him, verses 11-12 are the equalizers that indicate that men and women are interdependent and that this passage isn't about who has authority over whom, but about "decorum in worship" (143).


Seeking to prove his point against hierarchal structures, Bilezikian says, "Nowhere in the Bible is there a reference to a chain of command within the Trinity" (279).  (Also see pages 278-80.)


Regarding making "head" mean "authority," Bilezikian asks, "In what sense can Christ have authority over man and not over woman at the same time?" (278, n.16).  But could not we say that this passage is pointing out something specific about men and Christ rather than trying to say that Christ isn't also Lord of women?  What if this passage really is saying something about man's authority over woman?  Or in what way is God the Father a fountainhead over Jesus and not also over the Holy Spirit?


How can Bilezikian be sure the phrase "the woman for the sake of the man" in 1 Cor 11:9 isn't saying something about roles?


He goes on, "When Christ is cited as a model to husbands, he is presented in his servanthood and saviourhood, never in his lordship (Eph. 5:23, 25).  And, in any case, modeling Christ is not the issue in 1 Corinthians 11:3.  Therefore, head has a meaning other than 'authority' in this passage, and it is a meaning that applies to man and not to woman.  The use of head as 'fountianhead' resolves this difficulty..." (278-79, n.16).  But perhaps glory in 11:3 suggests something about leadership.


Can Christ's lordship be separated from his servanthood?  Christ even calls the church his bride in the context of submission and love in Eph 5, giving us a picture of husband and wife.  This seems like a clear example that submission indicated a leader and a follower in the family, as well as in our relationship to Christ.


Even if "head" should be translated as fountainhead, and there were no debate about it, would that mean that authority should be ruled out of the connotation?  After all, Bilezikian later rejects the more common meaning of "submission" in Eph 5:21 on the basis of contextual clues (154).


1 Corinthians 14:31-40

Regarding verses 33-34, Bilezikian says that Paul's statement here "...so blatantly revokes clear statements of egalitarian participation that a multitude of attempts have been made to resolve the scandal it provokes" (145).


Paul could have been quoting a Corinthian statement he didn't agree with as Bilezikian suggests (144-53, 283-88).  Bilezikian argues that Paul would likely not be limiting women from certain kinds of speech, like speaking in tongues or evaluating prophecy (283-84, n.25).  The rebuke Paul gives in verses 36-38 makes sense in light of this possibility.  But it's speculation, and a little too convenient, that Paul was quoting a statement he disagreed with.  It's more likely that Paul meant this statement.


"Keep silent" (sigao) is used in 1 Cor 14:34, and according to John Bristow, it could mean a voluntary silence (Lk 9:36; 18:39; 19:40; Mk 14:61; Acts 12:17; 15:12).  Although sigao is stronger than the word "be quiet" (hesuchia) in 1 Tim 2, sigao isn't the word for "shut up" (phimoo), as found in Mt 22:12, 34;  Mk 1:25; 4:39; Lk 4:35  (Bristow, 62).


"Submit" (hupotasso) is also used in 1 Cor 14:34.  But it's a textual variant.


Galatians 3:26-29

Concerning men and women, Bilezikian declares that, "They still remain male and female, but such distinctions become immaterial to their equal participation in the life of the church.  Sex distinctions are irrelevant in the church.  Therefore, the practice of sex discrimination in the church is sinful" (128).  He continues, "The pop theory-according to which Galatians 3:28 promises non-discrimination only to people in the process of entering the church through justification by faith-is grotesque.  According to such premises, unbelievers are encouraged to make their commitment on the basis of nondiscriminatory acceptance, only to discover that once they are within the church they are faced with discriminatory distinctions" (276). 


Bilezikian sees more in Gal 3:28 than is actually there (276-77).  Closely examine Gal 3:28.  Paul is not commenting on family or church roles, he's saying that salvation is made available to all without discrimination because of social position, sex, or ethnicity.  The fact that Judaiziers are trying to seduce the Galatians into false beliefs about salvation lends weight to the argument that Paul's statements are really about salvation.


What Paul says about salvation would in no way mislead people about what their future role may or may not be with regard to their specific ministry, even if male-rulership were true.  We can't obligate Paul's words to cover more terrain than the context allows.  If Bilezikian wins his argument about no role distinctions between men and women, he'll have to do it with another passage.


Further, if Bilezikian can legitimately use this passage to say that Paul is saying that there are no role distinctions between men and women in the church or family, then what stops some homosexuals from using this same passage to prove that it's okay for people to have sex with others of the same sex?  "Homosexual Christians" do this countless times trying to prove their point.  The fact that Bilezikian concedes that male and female still remain male and female should end the discussion about this passage.  Otherwise, maybe we should argue that male and female restrooms discriminate against the equality of the sexes.  (Unfortunately, some crazy university people already argue this way.)


Ephesians 5:21-33

Bilezikian says that the word used for "submit" here usually means "to make oneself subordinate to the authority of a higher power, to be dependent for direction on the desires and orders of a superior in rank or position, to yield rulership...except where its meaning is deliberately changed by a modifier such as in verse 21..." (154).  Bilezikian continues, "By definition, mutual submission rules out hierarchical differences.  Being subject to one another is only possible among equals" (154).  Arguing against Hurley, Bilezikian states that Paul "commands children and slaves to 'obey' parents and masters, and that is something entirely different from mutual subjection" (288, n.31).


It's important for Bilezikian to show that "head" doesn't mean "authority" (157-62, 15-252).  For him, it has to mean source or fountainhead.  But Piper is on to something significant when he says, "So even if you give 'head' the meaning 'source,' the most natural interpretation of these verses is that husbands are called by God to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership and protection and provision in the home" (183).


Does the "nourishing" (5:29) aspect of the husband's responsibility give us any insight into the possibility that the man is a "head" that nourishes and protects the rest of the body, his wife?  And, can't the "one flesh" idea of verse 31 be in conjunction with leadership rather than against it?  The example given to us in the text is of Christ who is unified with his bride, the church.  Even if the example of Christ and the church is only exemplifying his servanthood, doesn't it still illustrate that Christ is the head, while at the same time being one with the church?


Bilezikian contends that, "Whenever an individual wields authority over another, we have a case of subjection, not of mutual subjection" (155).


He makes much of elders submitting to the congregation (155, 289-290).  He uses 1 Cor 14:29 to show that since the ministry of prophets was subject to the congregation, it shows that individual authority was not an inherent part of a church office, except maybe for apostles (289, n.32).  But if leaders are servants (Lk 22:26) as Bilezikian argues (289, n.32), is there a problem with one person being the leader in the local church or family?


Bilezikian says, "The principle of mutual submission does not exclude recourse to authority in the church.  However, such authority is charismatic, pluralistic, and pastoral rather than institutional, individualistic, and hierarchical" (290).  He then refers us to 1 Pet 5:1-5.  But doesn't 1 Pet 5:1-5 show that one can exercise oversight (as a leader who truly has authority) without doing it harshly?


According to Bilezikian, "masters provide a vivid illustration of mutual submission with their slaves" (290, n.33).  In this same discussion of Eph 6:7-9, he attempts to bolster his point by saying that the stronger word for "render service" (douleuo) is the same word used in Gal 5:13 without reference to sex or rank (290, n.33; see 156). 


Although Bilezikian can still argue his point about no sex roles, while avoiding the passage about slaves and masters, Eph 6:9 isn't obviously stating that masters must submit to slaves.  Maybe it's just saying that masters should be kind to their slaves, as Col 4:1 does.  Neither Col 4:1 or 1 Pet 2:18-20 suggests that the master should submit to his slave.


Bilezikian argues that "headship" in the NT doesn't mean authority but fountainhead or servant-provider (157-162, 215-252).  According to him, Col 2:10 provides the proof that "head" means source and not authority (292, n.35).  But all this shows is that Col 2:10 provides the proof that "head" means source and not authority in Col 2:10.


According to Bilezikian, "A wife's submission to the Lord, like any other believer's, is the response of love to the Savior, the fountainhead of the life of the church and, therefore, of every believer (v. 23)" (165-66).  He says, "Wives are never commanded to obey their husbands or to submit to the authority of their husbands, and no threat ever accompanies the injunction for wives to submit to their husbands" (168).


He continues, "Because submission to authority involves this dimension of coercion [see his examples], it cannot characterize the marital relationship... There is no merit in submission to authority.  Pagans do it all the time"" (294, n.39).  But perhaps 1 Pet 2:13-20 teaches that there is merit in submitting to authority, even if these structural systems belong among the pagans (109).


Speaking to the whole issue of how to render "head" in Eph 5, Bilezikian says, "Had hierarchical considerations been Paul's concern in this development, they would have provided him with a golden opportunity to state: 'For the husband is the head over his wife as Christ is the head over the church'" (294-95, n.40).  But do we know what Paul would have said?  Besides, even if Paul had said it, Bilezikian would have an explanation for why it means something else.


From pages 168-171, Bilezikian explains what it means for husbands to submit to their wives.  He makes some good points.  I like what he says when commenting on verses 29-30, "To deprecate, to humiliate, or to dominate one's wife is a denial of the principle of mutual submission.  Therefore, a man should view his wife as he views himself, as an equal" (170).  Is this idea necessarily anti-rulership?


Ephesians 6:1-4

"In the New Testament, the command to 'obey' is given to children and slaves (Eph 6:5; Col 3:20, 22), never to husbands or wives.  Obviously, the word obey does not belong in the dynamics of mutual subjection.  To be mutually obedient to each other is a logical absurdity" (171).  Bilezikian makes a good point by showing that Paul didn't tell the children and the wives to obey the father/husband (172).  Instead, children are accountable to both parents.  But does the hierarchal structure between children and parents contradict Bilezikian's previous statements about hierarchal structures being pagan (108)?  Sometimes it seems that Bilezikian wants to swim without getting wet.  He plays down authority and leadership, yet knows he can't explain it away totally.  At times, it seems he wants to do away with authority structures altogether, while still keeping them.


Bilezikian does make some good points though when he says, "...Hurley never explains how the consistent imposition of a husband's preferences over and against the will of his wife can be viewed as a sacrifice on his part" (295, n.41; see 171).  In this same context, Bilezikian says that husbands are asked to do more than merely submit to their wives.


1 Timothy 2:11-15 [See www.neednotfret.com/content/view/63/63/]

Paul says in verse 12, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."  Bilezikian gives Paul's statement full apostolic authority (173).  To summarize, Bilezikian concludes that this passage teaches that people who are not yet discipled should not be teaching others (297, n."d," "f"; 298, n."j").  In particular, the Ephesian church was having trouble with false teachers (181).  Therefore, according to Bilezikian, Paul was trying to deal with this by saying that people, and especially the women there, should be properly trained before teaching others.


Bilezikian comments, "In light of Paul's track record on female-role issues, this prohibition sounds oddly discordant with the rest of his teaching" (175).  Bilezikian continues, "If the prohibition needs to be mentioned in one Epistle, it is worth being repeated in several others, especially in those Epistles that deal with matters of propriety in the exercise of ministries in the churches" (175).  He says, "The gifts of the Spirit to the church are never differentiated on the basis of sex in the New Testament, except in this one sentence of eight Greek words" (175). 


Is it fair not to allow this passage to have a full voice, maybe even to shed light on other passages?  And, regardless of how one comes down on the male-rulership issue, saying that gifts aren't gender related means little.  One could believe that a woman has the gift of teaching or pastoring and still believe that it should only be used among other women or children.  That spiritual gifts aren't gender specific doesn't tell us the proper context to use them.


Bilezikian makes an excellent point that in Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, and Eph 4 prophecy is ranked higher than teaching.  If women could prophesy to men, why couldn't they teach men (177-79)?  Also, Bilezikian's probably right when he says that there is no distinction between "the function of a prophet and the exercise of the gift of prophecy" (280).


He comments, "The silence twice enjoined here [1 Tim 2] is not the mute passivity of women in the synagogue (required of Corinthian women by the Judaizers in 1 Corinthians 14:34, where in the Greek text a stronger word is used for 'silence').  It is the silence of the docile disciple who receives instruction eagerly and without contradiction or self-assertion (the word for 'silence' is the same in 1 Timothy 2:2, where it denotes 'quietness').  Such persons who were still in the learning stages could obviously not be permitted to become teachers.  They first had to earn their credentials" (179).  But according to what Bilezikian has said elsewhere (155, 289-290), doesn't their teacher also have to submit to them?


Verse 11 uses "be quiet" (hesuchia).  According to John Bristow (71), the word denotes quietness and stillness (see 2:2, Acts 21:40, 22:2).  "But he [Paul] instructed women to do so [be quiet] when they are studying.  Paul did not use this word regarding women when they are worshiping" (Bristow, 62).  And concerning verse 12, Bristow suggests that "usurp authority over" (authentes) means domineer (72).  In other words, according to Bristow, Paul wasn't telling these women that they couldn't teach, but not to teach in this wrong manner, domineering over their students.


According to Bilezikian, Eve's mistake was not that she exercised authority over Adam, but to have done so when not properly prepared (180).


But why does Paul say these things just to women?  Bilezikian would point out that the male version of this is given in 1 Tim 3:7 (181).  However, if 1 Tim 2 is about those not ready to teach, the passage doesn't explicitly say this.  And, since Bilezikian is so tough on Hurley when he makes these kinds of deductions (283, n.24-25), shouldn't Bilezikian also have to play by the same rules? The fact that Paul doesn't use the common word for "authority" could be significant enough for us to pause before making this a universal teaching, as Bilezikian says (174).  But does the ambiguity over "authority" justify the sort of deduction Bilezikian makes?


Bilezikian explains verse 15-just as Eve stepped out of line and created trouble, so Christ came through her (183).  In other words, women should know that not only did sin come into the world through a woman, but salvation also came through her.


Bilezikian wrongly claims that our lack of understanding about 1 Tim 2:15 causes us difficulty in understanding the preceding verses (178).


He goes on to say, "The chronological difference was used by Paul to woman's advantage, not restrictively" (297, n."b").  That Adam arrived on the earth-scene first means he would have been more knowledgeable not more righteous (297, n."e").


Bilezikian makes another good point by saying, "If a ban on teaching is to be interpreted as retribution for the fall, Paul's view of Adam's responsibility for the fall would require that men be punished more severely than women..." (297 n."g").  And, why a ban on teaching instead of a ban on a more authoritative gift like prophecy (298, n."i")?  I suggest because Eve was never meant to be in a lead role to begin with.


Regarding Eve's deception, 2 Cor 11:3 says, "I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."  This passage supports Bilezikian point that the discussion in 1 Tim 2 regarding Eve is that she was deceived, not that women are somehow especially susceptible to deception (298, n."j").  However, it should be noted that 2 Cor 11:3 also in no way contradicts a complementarian view, which sees 1 Tim 2 as placing some restrictions on the teaching ministry of women.


Bilezikian states, "Paul's prohibition in 1 Tim 2 does not suddenly absolve Adam of responsibility for the fall to place it upon Eve, nor does it exclude qualified women from holding positions of leadership that are authority-intensive.  The prohibition establishes the principle of entrusting such positions to trained personnel only" (298, n."j").  He then refers us to 1 Tim 5:22.


Bilezikian argues that because Paul didn't say "in every place" that what Paul says about women in 1 Tim 2 isn't universal (298-99, n.45).  But we don't have this phrase in 1 Tim 3 either?  How do we reconcile the limitedness of 1 Tim 2 with chapter three?  Is chapter three not universal regarding what it says about bishops and deacons?


And does the general language of verse 12 (i.e,. language not limited to the Ephesians), and Paul's mention of the creation and sin order (verses 13-14) make Bilezikian's point suspect?


Bilezikian says some noteworthy things when he says that, "...the role of teacher (either male or female) in our day has a significance entirely different from the ministry of teaching in apostolic times... With the formation of the New Testament canon, the locus of authority was displaced from the teacher to the teaching enscripturated in the New Testament.  As a result, a current-day teacher has no personal authority other than his or her competency... A teacher today is only a person sharing knowledge and insights from Scripture" (184).  But James 3:1 and 1 Tim 5:22 suggests that since there is more accountability with being a teacher that there is also God-appointed authority with that role.


1 Timothy 3:1-13

Regarding these verses, Bilezikian says, "They neither include consideration of single men and of women as elders and deacons, nor do they forbid it" (189).  As Bilezikian points out, if there's supposed to be a strict adherence to this passage, Jesus and Paul would not have qualified as elders because they were single.  In line with Bilezikian, it's hard to conceive that 1 Tim 3 was meant to tell us that people like Jesus and Paul wouldn't be qualified to serve as elders.  Possibly these verses hint that women weren't restricted from these offices anymore than single men such as Jesus and Paul, but that would only be an inference.


Concerning verse 11, "Paul is enunciating qualifications for women leaders, deaconesses now, and for elders when they will have learned sufficiently to become 'apt to teach'" (301, n.51).


Interestingly, 1 Tim 3:4-5, 12 says that an elder must manage his household well.  Verse 12 mentions that these men must be managers of their children, and then adds "and their own households."  Could this be a hint that the man (husband/father) had a leadership role?  He was to manage his children and his own household.


Titus 2:3

Bilezikian explains this verse as such-just because the older women were to teach younger women doesn't mean they couldn't teach men (176-77).  But again, the passage doesn't say she can (or can't) teach men.


Even though Bilezikian doesn't comment on Tit 2:5 where Paul says wives should be "workers at home," it tells us that a woman's basic responsibilities are in the home.  Also see 1 Tim 5:11-14.


1 Peter 3:1-8

The submission called for here regarding wives, according to Bilezikian, is the same "...servant submission that walks the extra mile and turns the other cheek" (190).  Bilezikian suggests that Peter is using Sarah's example of obedience with a bit of sarcasm, since when Sarah called Abraham 'lord' in Gen 18:12 it wasn't necessarily a compliment (191).  The point of Peter's example, according to Bilezikian, is that if Sarah obeyed her less-than-perfect husband when she had to, because she lived on the dark side of the covenant, then the least her female spiritual offspring can do is submit to their husbands out of love (191).


Bilezikian says, "Sarah obeyed Abraham, but Christian wives, her spiritual daughters, are never told to 'obey' their husbands neither here nor anywhere else in the Bible.  Instead, they are asked to 'do what is good.'  Sarah called Abraham 'lord,' but Christian wives are never told to call their husbands 'lord' anywhere in the Bible" (191).


He continues, "The paradoxical injunction to 'honor' the 'weaker sex' suggests that the weakness Peter is referring to is not a generic trait but a handicap inflicted through oppressive stigmatization" (301, n.53).  According to Bilezikian, 1 Pet 2:18 is important because it points out that servants (the subordinates) were to give respect to their masters (the superiors).  So, as Bilezikian says, Peter is making sure husbands understand that they are not to treat their wives as inferior. 


Despite what Bilezikian says, "weaker sex" could just refer to the fact that most men possess more physical strength than women.  But it's hard to see what men's physical strength has to do with men dwelling with their wives in understanding, unless it just means that because women are weaker physically, husbands should take care not to abuse them physically.  It also could refer to the fact that her body, during her period, has a weakness that men don't.  And many women require extra patience and understanding during this time.  (What an understatement!)  "Weaker sex" might mean something along the lines of "cherished," or "rare," or "prized item," much like a china plate.


This verse doesn't warrant saying, as Bilezikian does, that "weaker sex" suggests it wasn't generic.  Because Peter says, "dwell with her in understanding...since she is a woman," this passage could very well be saying that her weakness is inherent with her womanliness. 


Regardless of how we come down on what Peter's referring to by weakness, his point is that husbands should dwell in understanding with their wives and honor them.  In verse 7, Peter obviously elevates the status of women from the normal way they were viewed by men in the first century.



"The Bible places on men the onus for the rehabilitation of women in the new community as they are exhorted to 'bestow honor on the woman' (1 Pet 3:7).  Female efforts to obtain equal treatment meet with increased oppression unless men are sensitized to respond humanely.  It is the responsibility of Christian men to realize that women do not derive their identity from men but from having been created in God's image and from being new persons in Christ" (210-11).


He goes on to say, "The Scriptures repeatedly warn believers against the subtle danger of uncritically adopting prevalent cultural concepts and worldly practices" (207; also see 211).  Bilezikian aims this statement at those who believe in male-rulership.  But regardless of where people come down on the male-female issue, this statement is slanted.  After all, the view Bilezikian's expounding would be readily accepted by many secular feminists.  In many ways, his no-rulership ideas are palatable with modern Western ideas.


Nonetheless, Bilezikian makes some interesting points about resolving problems as a couple (212-14).  Let me summarize: 1. Defer to each other; 2. Exercise the spiritual gifts for the outcome of problematic decisions; 3. Compromise, seeking middle ground; 4. Define the biblical principles involved in the debated issue; 5. Pray together for guidance; 6. Allow God to provide guidance through circumstances; 7. Whenever a decision affects one spouse more than the other, the spouse most affected should have the most say; 8. Do joint research on debated issues; 9. Seek third-party advice; 10. Engage in role reversals to gain more understanding of each other.



1. Why can women prophecy where men are present but not teach where men are present if prophecy is ranked higher than teaching in 1 Cor 12:28 (177)?

2. First Corinthians 14:34-35 could be a quote that Paul disagrees with.

3. Why can't a church or family have two leaders?

4. Why do some think it's okay for a pastor to be single when a strict interpretation of 1 Tim 3 doesn't allow such?

5. Could the two commands, "wives submit to your husbands" and "husbands love your wives" essentially be the same thing?

6. Why are some men okay with reading a book written by a woman, in which she expounds on Scripture or says insightful things about God, but not okay with listening to her preach a sermon?

7. Is it possible that 1 Tim 2 only forbids untrained people from teaching, who in fact were mostly women at the time?

8. Why is 1 Tim 2:12 viewed as absolute, when 1 Tim 2:8 ("that men should pray with lifted hands") is not? 

9. Maybe husbands aren't the leaders since Scripture doesn't tell husbands to rule their wives. 



1. Why give so much weight to incidental things in Acts, like women prophesying, but give so little weight to things in Gen 1-2, like Adam being created first?  Can we be so sure that such details aren't clues about what God had in mind regarding the family structure?

2. If there are no role distinctions between men and women, why was this important truth not made clear or popularized until approximately the 20th century, if the apostolic church conformed to it as Bilezikian says (206)?

3. If mutual submission is what Bilezikian defines it as in Eph 5:21, then what becomes significant about a wife submitting to her own husband (Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, Tit 2:5, and 1 Pet 3:1, 5), as opposed to submitting to another man?  If Eph 5:21 means that every believer is to submit to every other believer, don't Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, Tit 2:5, and 1 Pet 3:1, 5 lose their meaning?  Why talk about submission in marriage at all, if all Eph 5:21 really meant was "husbands and wives submit to each other"?

4. The potential for male-headship to be misused doesn't make male-headship wrong.  Have there ever been cases in which men who rejected male-headship abused their wives?  And have there ever been cases in which men who accepted male-headship treated their wives with honor, love, and respect?

5. What if God really wants husbands to lead and wives to follow? 

6. If egalitarianism was found to be right at all points, it's important to still maintain some vital differences between men and women.  For instance, women are typically more nurturing than men.  Men and women still need to recognize their differences.  Women need not become masculine, and men need not become feminine.

7. Bilezikian's explanations (47-48, 297) for why Adam ultimately gets the blame for the fall (Rom 5:14 and 1 Cor 15:21-22) may be right, but it's not unreasonable to conclude that Adam got the rap for the fall because he was the God-ordained leader. 

8. Bilezikian's understanding of the Godhead passages are questionable (278-80).

9. Regarding prophecy being ranked higher than teaching in 1 Cor 12:28, some believe this is a chronological order not one of rank (Blomberg, 247).

10. If the NT writers really meant to abolish role distinctions between women and men in the church and the home, this would admittedly be a radical, culture-shaking teaching.  It would have turned the ancient culture on its head.  I imagine that it would have been as hard to accept as it was for many first-century Jewish believers to accept that Gentiles were also invited into God's family. This caused no small stir in the New Testament (Acts 15 and Gal 2).  If the NT writers were really turning things on their head in the church and family regarding the roles of women, isn't it curious that there's little to indicate this was happening?  Would the believers of the first century just have mildly accepted this, without any discussion?  Even Bilezikian says that Jesus' disciples rejected the women's testimony of Christ's resurrection (Lk 24:11) (273, n.13).  Bilezikian also admits that there was an "anti-female bias of the Judeo-Christian congregations" (302, n.55). 



Maybe Paul and other writers weren't turning things upside down at all; instead, maybe they were clarifying a system that already existed-male leadership. 


Paul's comments for men to love their wives and for father's not to frustrate their children could have been said because men, as the natural leaders of their homes, often tended to use their leadership heavy-handedly. Thus, they are encouraged to love.


One can fairly argue from Eph 5:21, Col 18, and 1 Pet 2:13 that the general idea of submission is laid down, and then, the verses that follow explain.  Every believer doesn't just submit to every other Christian randomly.  In fact, the order of Eph 5:21-6:9 and Col 3:18-4:1 is: wives to husbands, children to parents, slaves to masters.  The order of 1 Pet 2:13-3:9 is: citizens to governments, servants to masters, wives to husbands.  The part about husbands, in these three passages, explains that they are not to treat their wives heavy-handedly but with love and honor.  The fact that husbands aren't told to submit to their wives could be significant.  So maybe it's legitimate that we draw conclusions about the husband's headship from the fact that the wife is told to submit to him and not the reverse. 


If Scripture obviously commands husbands to submit to their wives, why is this never said?  It actually seems that such language is intentionally avoided.  Titus 2:4 tells the wife to love her husband (also see Eph 5:33), but the husband isn't explicitly told anywhere in Scripture to submit to his wife.  Was it just understood?  Why were wives told to love their husbands, but husbands not told to submit to their wives?  If culture was being flipped on its head, wouldn't it be more important to make sure that the men really understood that they should submit to their wives, rather than only repeating the cultural norm for wives to submit?


If Bilezikian makes such a big deal about the absence of Gen 1-2 giving a clear leadership role to husbands, it is odd that he doesn't make just as big of a deal about the absence of a clear word to husbands to submit to their wives.  Men aren't commanded to rule over their wives, but neither are they told to submit to them. 


Husbands and wives must live in a give-and-take world.  As Piper says, "She [the wife] should be disposed to yield to her husband's authority and should be inclined to follow his leadership."  Piper uses the words disposed and inclined because "no submission of one human being to another is absolute" (183).


If a husband is going to love his wife as Christ loved the church, then the husband won't always get his way.  Instead, he will give preference to his wife's desires.  But I don't see how that such give and take means that the man can't still be a leader, as Christ with his bride. 


Although I think Bilezikian gives some good arguments for his view throughout his book, he's sometimes unwilling to fairly consider the complementarian view as legitimate.  Nonetheless, as a result of reading Bilezikian, I have seriously considered that I could be wrong about my view-that women aren't to teach or preach Scripture where men are present.  But after much thought and study have concluded that Bilezikian is wrong.


Even though I liked much of what Bilezikian had to say about the way husbands and wives should interact, I was not convinced by his arguments against male-headship.  Instead, a view worth further consideration is the approach of Lewis and Hendricks' in their book Marriage Roles.  They speak of responsibility not rank.  The husband's responsibility is to be a loving servant-leader who responds to his wife with praise.  The wife's responsibility is to be a nurturing helper-lover who responds to her husband with submission. 


According to Lewis and Hendricks, a wife's role "...is filled with all kinds of initiative and creativity.  ...Submission is not a role at all, not in the technical sense.  A better definition would be to describe it more as a response than a role" (136). 


Admonishing husbands, they go on to say, "You cannot demand that she 'submit' to you... Submission is her choice, her willful response, and frankly, her privilege" (140).  Husbands should place their wives beside themselves, equal in value and importance (143).  Husbands should also encourage their wives: "A woman not only needs constant love, she needs to be told she is loved constantly" (146).


According to Lewis and Hendricks, the husband serves and leads his wife by loving, providing for, and protecting her as Christ loves the church.  The wife helps and loves her husband by nurturing him and their children.  This of course isn't all that the husband or wife does, but it is at the core of their responsibility.  Husbands and wives are both supposed to respect and honor the other. 




The following quote is taken from Robert Lewis and William Hendricks', Marriage Roles, 25:


"Looking at the vast body of anthropological and sociological studies, Yale sociologist Stephen Clark reported a consistent arrangement among all known cultures:


Men bear primary responsibility for the larger community.  Women bear primary responsibility for domestic management and rearing of young children.  Every know society, past or present, assigns to the men a primary responsibility for the government of the larger groupings within a society, and assigns to the women a primary responsibility for the daily maintenance of the household unit and care of the younger children.  ...This general underlying pattern emerges universally.[1]


"Dr. Sherry Ortner, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, has spent years studying this issue.  Like Stephen Clark, Dr. Ortner found women universally subordinated to men:


The fact that it [female subordination] exists within every type of social and economic arrangement and in societies of every degree of complexity, indicates to me that we are up against something very profound, very stubborn, something we cannot rout out simply by rearranging a few tasks and roles in the social system, or even by reordering the whole economic structure. . . .


I would flatly assert that we find women subordinated to men in every known society.  The search for a genuinely egalitarian, let alone matriarchal, culture has proved fruitless.[2]


"A veritable 'horde' of archaeologists and social anthropologists has searched diligently into prehistoric cultures as well as into the present conditions of primitive societies around the world.  They have not uncovered a single undisputed case of cultural matriarchy."[3]




1 Stephen Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1980), pages 413-414.


2 Sherry B. Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" Woman, Culture, and Society, eds. Michelle Z. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974), pages 67, 70.


3 See Joan Bamberger, "The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primitive Society," Woman, Culture, and Society, page 266.




Primary Sources


Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says about a Woman's Place in

Church and Family. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985 12th printing, January 2001, 2nd



Blomberg, Craig. 1 Corinthians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1994.


Bristow, John. What Paul Really Said about Women.  Harper: San Francisco, 1988

paperback, 1991.


Hendricks, William and Robert Lewis. Marriage Roles. Colorado Springs: NavPress,



Piper, John. Desiring God. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1986 10th Anniv.

Expanded ed, 1996.


Secondary Sources


Clark, Stephen. Man and Woman in Christ. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1980.


Hurley, James. Men and Women in Biblical Perspective.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan,



Lamphere, Louise and Michelle Z. Rosaldo, eds. Woman, Culture, and Society. Stanford,

CA: Stanford University Press, 1974. Joan Bamberger, "The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primitive Society," and Sherry B. Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?"



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