Theological Reflection on Male-Female Complementarity

At the recent Festival of Theology, we heard eight fascinating presentations on a range of subjects. I have previously posted John Allister on drawing on secular insights in ministry, and Alistair Roberts on virtue ethics in an age of social media. This is a revised version of David Shepherd’s presentation on theological perspectives on male-female complementarity—in which he reaches some surprising conclusions.

In her Chicago University Law School paper, The role of the popes in the invention of complementarity, Professor Mary Ann Case makes this bold assertion: ‘I can find no trace of sexual complementarity in the Gospels.’ Her claim which would resonate with many ardent feminists and same-sex marriage supporters both within and outside of the Church of England. For they believe that the concept of complementarity is patriarchal, oppressive and a recent amendment to the trajectory towards greater equality in Christian tradition. In addition to this assertion, Tobias Haller (the author of Reasonable and Holy, which has become a significant theological sourcebook for those who affirm same-sex sexual relationships) challenged me on complementarity in an exchange on the Thinking Anglicans blog:

You are mistaken on complementarity…Something is complementary when it goes to make up for what is lacking in some other thing.

In testing their claims, the dictionary definition of complementarity yields the following descriptions:

  1. A relationship or situation in which two or more different things improve or emphasize each other’s qualities
  2. the concept of contrasting characteristics which together account for a phenomenon in a way that each cannot define separately.

As an example of the latter, we know that light exhibits a form of complementarity, known as wave-particle duality. Wave and particle characteristics are both contributory and integral to our understanding of light. So, in terms of this integral complementarity, a physicist would never suggest that the behaviour of light as a particle makes up for its deficiency in wave properties. Therefore, to believe in male-female complementarity, as a Christian, is to believe that God has imparted differences between the sexes:

  1. To enhance each other in the mission of founding bonds of natural kinship;
  2. To emulate that mission, where appropriate, in the wider community (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:1,2).

This is not the same as believing that God created static and stereotypical differences between the sexes. What are the issues arising from the question of male-female complementarity in dominical, apostolic and patristic teaching?

Dominical teaching

Further on in her paper, Mary Ann Case also suggests that the argument from complementarity originated with Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), but was developed in the 20th century by Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein. However, in reflecting on the NT, this view dismisses the most significant scriptural locus of debates over male-female complementarity, which is Jesus’ own teaching from the Genesis narrative.

Curiously, in the Theology of Marriage report prepared by the Scottish Episcopal Church’s (SEC) Doctrine Committee, Gen. 1 is mentioned once to highlight a conclusion favouring the orthodox position from Church of Wales report. Paragraph 96 of the SEC report reads:

Opposition as expressed in the quotation from the Church in Wales Report (para. 59) is becoming circular. Clearly, if marriage is defined as an exclusive lifelong relationship between one and one woman, same-sex partnerships will not count as marriage. But the matter under consideration is whether we are bound to that definition, or whether there is benefit in expanding it.

Now, this allegation of question-begging might be valid, if Gen 1:28 was merely invoked in response to the much broader question: ‘is non-heterosexual marriage immoral?’ And Jesus might have courted similar criticism, if his reply was in response to the question: ‘is divorce without a cause immoral?’ Instead, we know that Jesus was asked, ‘Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?’, i.e. ‘By what authority should a man be allowed to/prevented from divorcing his wife for any cause?’ His response grounded in the Genesis narrative was ‘it was not so from the beginning’. Supporters of marriage orthodoxy are not question-begging, but echoing Christ’s reply to a similarly framed question: ‘By what (scriptural) authority should a marriage be solely male-female?’.

So, in Matt. 19, Jesus unites the Priestly (Gen. 1) and Yahwist (Gen. 2) narratives to present the God-given archetype (pattern) of marriage:

  • Male-female
  • Primary organic kinship (‘Flesh of my flesh…’)
  • Monogamy (‘What God has joined together…’)

Despite this, we should remember that the gospels record Jesus as challenging patriarchal notions of fractional complementarity. For instance, Mary’s faith gave her precedence in being first to see the risen Christ.

Apostolic Teaching

In 1 Cor. 11:11,12, St. Paul explains that:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.

So, when complementarity is biblically defined, it should be explained as mutual male-female interdependence. In describing male-female polarisation as the result of the Fall, Pope John Paul II wrote of Gen. 3:16:

This ‘domination’ indicates the disturbance and loss of the stability of that fundamental equality which the man and the woman possess in the ‘unity of the two’: and this is especially to the disadvantage of the woman” (MD, 10)

Apostolic writings, especially Paul, establish our fundamental equality (1 Cor. 11:11,12; 1 Cor. 7:4-6), but with differing emphases for husbands, wives and children. These are attributable to missional differences which fulfil differing kinship responsibilities, rather than ontological differences. The mission of spouses is to found and sustain caring bonds of loving natural kinship, whether affinal (Eph. 5:25-27), or lineal (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).

A good alternative example of complementarity is the Church’s purpose and mission, described in Eph. 4:13. The respective gifts and ministries bestowed upon members of the Church are describedas complementary to each other (1 Cor. 12:21). This is what I call missional or vocational complementarity.

We also need to distinguish complementarity from compatibility. Andrew Davison (author of Amazing Love and member of the 2020 Teaching Document working party) wrote the following in a piece entitled: ‘Gender what difference does it really make’ (Church Times 4/04/2017):

If opposite-sex partners are not automatically complementary, then the only way to judge whether they are is to see whether their relationship works in practice. Such a shift towards the empirical is perilous for opponents of same-sex relationships, since it is plain that some same-sex couples are complementary, are compatible. The two people work together, which is why their relationship lasts.

Yet, this argument conflates complementarity with the ‘straw man’ of compatibility. Complementary and compatible are not synonymous.

Church Fathers

The era of the Church Fathers spanned from c. AD 100 – 451. Several writings (Clement of Alexandria; John Chrysostom; Tertullian) contain celebrations of both the virtue of Christian marriage and consecrated virginity. Consequently, they opposed Gnostic contempt for God-given material embodiment and marriage.

In debating the Valentinians, St. Clement wrote:

But they who approve of marriage say, nature has adapted us for marriage, as is evident from the structure of our bodies, which are male and female.

In refuting Julius Cassinus, Clement cites Gal. 3:28 as a statement that unity in Christ involves abandoning, not embracing desire:

But when a man gives in neither to wrath nor to desire, both of which increase in consequence of evil habit and upbringing so as to cloud and obscure rational thought, but puts off from him the darkness they cause with penitence and shame, uniting spirit and soul in obedience to the Word, then, as Paul also says, “there is among you neither male nor female.” (Stromata 3.13)

In her afore-mentioned paper, Professor Case invokes St. Paul’s authority on the matter, writing: ‘When he speaks of equality, it is equality in non-differentiation’. Despite this, those who support the church affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships are wont to assert that this scripture is inclusive of sexual desire and is the scriptural basis for abolishing male-female complementarity from every aspect of human endeavour, including and especially marriage.

Others have asserted that, in Gen. 2, it is not difference, but likeness, by which Adam is drawn to Eve through the God-given impetus for marriage. So, in the Church Times, Andrew Davison wrote:

Adam’s first response to Eve was to her similarity with him – “this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’—not to her difference.” Yet, in the Good of Marriage, Augustine states:

God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind (generis), but also by bond of kindred (cognationis vinculo tenerentu).

So, beyond just likeness of kind, marriage imparts this God-given organic kinship as a mutual bond wrought through sexual differentiation (1 Cor. 11:12). St. Paul returns to Genesis to explain male-female interdependence as the result of their reciprocal derivation from each other. It is this bond of kinship which prompted Adam’s declaration. Furthermore, St. Augustine describes marriage as ‘the first natural bond of human society is man and wife’. Therefore, significantly, instead this bond being based on similarity (Gen. 2:23), he highlights that Adam and Eve were joined by the bond of natural kinship (Gen. 2:24).

In the same teaching on marriage, Augustine also explained that, procreation aside, the enduring good of marriage is the natural alliance between the sexes (naturalem in diverso sexu societatem):

There is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex. Otherwise it would not any longer be called marriage in the case of old persons, especially if either they had lost sons, or had given birth to none.

In the Law of Obligations, Reinhard Zimmerman writes of Roman times that: ‘societas is not based primarily on an antagonism of interests; its essence is the pooling of resources such as money, property, or labour for a common purpose.’ Therefore, even if we agree that procreation is not essential to marriage, we cannot eliminate this gendered natural alliance of male-female difference (naturalem in diverso sexu societatem) from the enduring good of marriage without rejecting a key conclusion of the most significant treatise on marriage in patristic tradition.

How do these relate to the question of Gnostic dualism? Gnostic dualism contrasted the ethereal other-worldly goodness of spirit and light with the transient worthlessness of flesh and matter. Consequently, Gnostics held that anything which perpetuated our God-given physical embodiment (including marriage and procreation) was to be rejected as evil, or, at best, inconsequential by comparison with spiritual pursuits.

Fast forward to the 17th Century and Descartes’ mind-body dualism (‘I think, therefore I am’) gave precedence to the mind over the body, conceiving the former to be essential and indicative of the true person, whereas the latter is relatively inconsequential to who we really are. Modern-day Gnostics have quoted Gospel of Thomas 22, as an encouragement to explore their sexuality. In New Dawn magazine, Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller wrote in support of this:

It is generally understood that at the non-physical level, people are not limited to their bodily gender. Jesus declared in the Gnostic scriptures that he “came to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female.” [Gospel of Thomas Saying 22] We may take this to mean that in order to attain to the Wholeness of the Pleroma, all persons are striving toward a spiritual androgyny. In the hyletic phase of development this often manifests as polymorphous bisexuality, in the psychic phase as homosexuality, and in the pneumatic phase it moves increasingly into the area of a spiritually based androgyny. None of these are sinful or should be condemned in Gnostic thinking.

The idea of a “crime against nature” is meaningless to the Gnostic, for our nature is not merely physical nature, such as our gender, but our total nature within which all dualities exist. When asked about homosexuality, the great modern Gnostic C.G. Jung merely said:

Well, they are the only people who are trying doing something against over-population. The attraction of persons of the same gender toward each other meets with the most powerful taboos of the patriarchal-psychic phases of cultural development and is therefore encumbered by many unnecessary ideas and apprehensions.

Today, gnosticism also finds expression in identity essentialism, where the body is merely the vehicle and the over-painted canvas of self-identification.

In the SEC Doctrine Committee’s Theology of Marriage, this Gnostic precedence of the mind is continued:

It is the way people treat each other that counts, not the shape of the fleshly tools they use to express this. As we understand circumcision to be of the heart and not the penis, so the way in which we must treat each other sexually is dictated by the heart and the Spirit and not the genitals.

This is an anti-incarnational false dichotomy, which sets up a false distinction between how we should employ both mind and body in relationship to others. It is also Hellenistic virtue ethics, which presumes that evidence (read, any declaration) of a virtuous motivation (‘I ended her life out of compassion. I couldn’t wait for marriage because I was so in love.’) is a true bellwether of right and wrong, rather than the actions in themselves, or foreseeable consequences of them.

What are the dangers of male-female stereotypes and the problems with a complementary ‘essentialism’?When we compare the ongoing debates over LGBT inclusion, the Church affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships and women bishops, the common thread is the repeated dispute between essentialists and constructivists on both sides. As recently as last year, the Nashville Statement was issued as a confessional declaration of biological essentialism:

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

In 2012, the Church of England response to the Government’s SSM Consultation revealed similar essentialism:

Marriage has from the beginning of history been the way in which societies have worked out and handled issues of sexual difference. To remove from the definition of marriage this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.

In contrast, in Marie-Amélie George legal study, Expressive Ends: Understanding Conversion Therapy Bans, we read:

In short, whether sexual orientation is in fact immutable, many individuals experience it as such and it forms a constitutive part of their identity. Gays and lesbians consequently form a “quasi-ethnicity” based on a shared “fixed, natural essence, a self with same-sex desires,” which provides the basis for claims of status-based discrimination.

As one writer has explained:

At its core, essentialism assumes at minimum that a pure and perfect definition of a particular thing can be found…that some definition can be framed that is irreducible in the sense that it has all the necessary descriptors and no unnecessary ones, and that is constitutive in the sense that, something exists wherever the qualities described by those terms appear in a single thing.

In an exchange of comments on Dr. Mike Higton’s blog, I agreed with him that: ‘the map of sexual differences is not a map with two distinct territories: it is much messier than that’. However, I maintained: ‘yet we also simplify nationality, when we know it’s much more complex than our current legal/cultural models allow’.

The key danger of both male-female stereotypes and complementary ‘essentialism’ is that (as much as sexual identity essentialism) they beget unwarranted and exploitative generalisations about how men and women should interact, whereas St. Paul was specific in urging just husbands and wives to model their relationship on the mystery of Christ and His church. While the Church community should emulate these bonds of kinship, where appropriate, Pauline theology cannot be extended into a blanket demand for all male-female interactions to conform to this model.

These kinds of essentialism (whether biological gender or sexual identity variants) also have the potential to polarise any discussion into irreconcilable conflicts over the characteristics which should irreducibly define human personhood.

Does a ‘missional complementarity’ provide a better alternative to the current misuse of Trinitarian theology in this area?

Some have even predicated complementary essentialism upon the nature of God. So, Carrie Sandom explained the view of Reform that: ‘God’s word demands a complementarity of roles that has its roots in the Godhead itself’. Yet, this basis for complementarity has been strongly contested as based upon a heretical Eternal Subordination of the Son. So, we should re-iterate that: ‘The trinity is not our social program’!

In contrast, sexual identity essentialism seeks to reify the impossible. So, there are court cases in which same-sex couples demand that marriage law should be gender-neutralised to impart them with joint primary parental recognition, thereby extinguishing a child’s right to its known natural father. (e.g. Matter of Q.M. vs. B.C. (New York); In re: M.C. (California). The International Lesbian and Gay Association wants parenthood to be ‘regardless of genetic connection’.

Missional complementarity has its basis in scripture (Eph. 4:11,12; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:21) ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you.’ God’s mission can involve different callings to different segments of society. God’s calling can be:

  • Personal, e.g. the OT prophets, such as Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah; Peter and Paul – Gal 2:8; Barnabus and Paul – Acts 13:2
  • Corporate, e.g. Levites – Num. 1:47-54, Israel – Ex. 19:5,6; church – 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 3:1.
  • Complementary in emphases, e.g. wealth (James 2:5, 1 Tim. 6:18); marital status (1 Cor. 7:35, Deut. 24:5); widowhood (1 Tim. 5:9-12); age and sex (Titus 2)

These segments within the Church received various callings to complementary missions in the world, but all in pursuit of their united, common purpose in Christ. For the married, the scripture’s commands are gendered, reflecting their complementary contributions to the mission of kinship formation. In terms of the apostolic authority, St. Paul differentiates the mission of husband and wife as they emulate the mission of Christ and the Church: ‘Husbands love your wives; wives obey your husbands.’ It’s worth noting that, as some do today, Peter similarly questioned the mission which Christ gave him:

‘Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me! Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 12:17 – 22)

So, in place of implacable essentialism on all sides, I would suggest that it is the mission of founding and protecting natural kinship and its emulation, but only where appropriate, in society, which requires male-female complementarity. If we can accept a missional complementarity in ministry which is not fractional, but integral, then we can accept the same for marriage in its mission of founding and extending the bonds of natural kinship.

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70 thoughts on “Theological Reflection on Male-Female Complementarity”

  1. Hi David

    Thanks for this – very interesting.

    How do you think this relates to submission of wives to husbands?

    I note that Augustine’s conception of the ‘natural society itself in a difference of sex’ he connects explicitly to ‘a certain friendly and true union of the one ruling, and the other obeying’. Do you think this asymmetry of authority in marriage, which appears to be present in the NT (Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, 1 Pet 3:1), is intrinsic to complementarity, or something which Christians should now move away from in favour of more egalitarian forms of ‘mutual submission’?

    • Hi Will,

      Thanks for your question. I do think that, based on scripture, tradition and experience, marriage encompasses dimensions of emotional intimacy which include are far broader than either ‘assymetry of authority’ or ‘mutual submission’ can describe.

      The backdrop to this is that, given the widespread experience of authority as domination and numerous instances of spousal abuse (mostly, but not solely perpetrated by men), the mere mention of ‘assymetry of authority’ has become anathematised.

      If, as is true of most of his epistles, Paul’s instructions respond to information he received about specific situations, we should reason that:
      1. Eph. 5:21 addressed the wider issue of maintaining harmonious and beneficent relationships throughout the church by encouraging mutual respect, mutual deference and emotional sensitivity (cf. Epn. 4:31,32)

      2. In this context of mutual deference, Eph. 5.22 – 23 here addresses the issue of sustaining marital harmony with instructions which involve gendered assymetry of sacrifice, protection and deference.

      3. Christian leadership is principally exercised through exemplary behaviour and persuasion (Titus 2:3-8, 2 Cor. 6:11-13) rather than the overbearing imposition of authority (Matt. 20:25; 1 Pet. 5:3)

      Yes, you’ve quoted Augustine accurately, but. I would stress that the context of this assymetry is societas, as described above.

      So, we can’t separate ‘assymetry of authority’ from ‘assymetry of sacrifice’, since they are the two gendered complementary dimensions of mutual submission n marriage.

      I’m particularly reminded of how Jesus turned the exercise of authority on its head (Luke 17:7-10; John 14:12-14)

      As part of my Lenten reflection, I ask myself two questions:
      1. ‘How should I, as a Christian husband, show initiative in sacrificing myself (including our personal career ambitions, time-consuming pastimes, distractions and preoccupations, etc.) for the benefit of my wife?’

      2. ‘How might want of sacrifice in this way hamper a wfe’s ability to play their part of the shared mission in marriage to build a strong and lasting foundation for family kinship?’

      As so many others do, I know that I continue to press on towards Tertullian’s ideal of marital harmony:
      “How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice . . . Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit . . . They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake God’s banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts . . . Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.” (Ad uxorem)

      • Thanks, David.

        Do you think there is any theological significance in the general differences between the sexes – I’m thinking of things like men being on average stronger, larger, taller, deeper voiced, and more emotionally resilient?

        Also, do you think men owe women protection and provision on account of their relative weakness and status as childbearers? What about women owing men respect on account of their relative strength?

        These aren’t leading questions. I’m just interested in your answers, as someone who has thought very deeply about sexual complementarity.

        • I think those questions teeter on the verge of reducing spiritual authority to physical power. In many cases of domestic abuse, the characteristics you outline are used to dominate or oppress a partner. It is not the particular characteristics that one possesses which gives the authority or ability for headship, but how they are used in a relationship, to love, serve, build up, in headship or submission. If a woman happens to be larger, stronger, and/or more emotionally resilient than her husband, then is it the ‘average’ characteristics of each sex that dictate how those strengths are used? Is it possible for that wife to use her physical and emotional strength without undermining her husband? I have observed and experienced marriage go through seasons where one partner has supported the other when they have been physically or emotionally vulnerable and this has blessed the marriage and strengthened each partner in their role of husband and wife regardless of who has been vulnerable at that time.
          In the church and in our relationships, should we not all be bringing our gifts and strengths as an offering for the building up of the whole body? This is not to deny that there are differences between the sexes, but to move away from the focus on the flesh as the authority we have been given as spirit-filled believers.

          • Thanks, Al.

            So do you think that the general/average differences between men and women (strength, size, height, voice, resilience etc.) are intended to communicate anything to us of God’s intention of how men and women (husbands and wives) are supposed to behave and relate to one another? Do they tell us anything about God’s design for ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’? Does God want us to relate to one another simply as individuals, and give no heed to the apparent norms of our sex?

            Again, these may seem like leading questions but I really am just trying to tease out what people think as part of working through the logic of the positions. I have no settled view of my own.

          • Hi Will,

            It’s true that husbands and wives may be predisposed to coordinate their behaviour in accordance with their sexual differences.

            However, I would ask whether such general/average differences as you describe (weight, size, etc.) are merely vestiges of adaptation from the primitive ‘hunter-gatherer’ era of human development, rather than providing a general indication of how God wants men and women to relate to each other.

          • Thanks David.

            Do you think God wants men to be ‘masculine’ and women to be ‘feminine’?

            What do you make of 1 Pet 3:7’s reference to men honouring their wives as the ‘weaker sex’?

          • On the hunter-gatherer point, if we are going down that road, it may well be that males and females actually are different entities depending on the large-scale chronological era they inhabit, which removes any essence from them at all.

            Myself, I think the essence must be there.

        • Will,

          I hope you’ll excuse me butting in here, but what you say highlights the delicacy now needed to question a current trend which is fast becoming the norm: a lofty dismissal of reality (not least irrefutable physical or biological reality) if it happens to conflict with trends in supposedly enlightened socio-political thinking. When this happens among Christians it amounts to a challenge to the Creator whose mind is expressed, not least, through the way he designed our physical world.

          Surely Christians, above all others, should share in God’s delight with his physical creation just as much as we deeply regret the fall which has rendered it less than its first intention. And a part of this is indeed a respect and acceptance of the way God intended (and intends) things to be, both before and after the fall. So it is worrying when some Christians appear more ready to take on board the ‘enlightenment’ of fallen men and women than to accept what God has ordained.

          Of course we need to bring to bear all that our Bibles teach us about how we should love and respect one another in our human dealings one with another; these can be challenging lessons for all of us. And thinking through complementarity, as in David’s excellent presentation here, is a necessary exercise in today’s situation. But we simply cannot look upon the physical differences between men and women, and say ‘well that was all in a past primitive era before our technology and our superior intellects made them (thankfully) redundant’. Such thinking, apart from being hubristic, is a departure from reality which has serious and unhappy implications both for individuals and societies as a whole. God’s design is not ours to modify with impunity.

          • Anyway, how do people with that claimed perspective ‘do’ romance? it doesn’t sound very appetising. Any romance they ‘do’ is against a backdrop of emphasising that they are not notably different from members of the other gender? How then would sexual attraction take place in the first place? There is a lot of denial going on here IMHO.

          • Hi Don

            I’ll be honest I don’t really know what I think in these things. I’m asking questions but really to probe David’s (and others’) views rather than to dispute them.

            It does seem that there is divine design in the differences between the human male and female, as though God has intentionally made women to be child-bearers and men to be stronger, taller, more deep of voice and emotionally resilient (with all the differences in psychology those entail). And it would seem that God would want men to identity as men and be ‘masculine’ and women to identify as women and be ‘feminine’. And scripture seems to support those kinds of ideas. But on the other hand, it has become a highly controversial issue, including among bible-believing evangelicals, with many arguing that the gospel rather wants us to think in terms of individuals rather than sexes. So I’m withholding judgement and trying to understand all the nuances and implications of the positions.

          • Thanks Will and Christopher,

            Isn’t the fear of categorising or ‘stereotyping’ anybody or any group simply a denial of reality based on the myth that to do so immediately lays down inviolable and detailed rules about exactly what a person in such a group can and cannot do?

            And I wonder if it is the prescriptive mindset of those whose intention is to engineer society towards their own preferred design that makes them disinclined to leave individuals free to work out the details for themselves within an empirically or pragmatically successful general framework. While decrying God’s restrictions, one cannot avoid observing that their own route to giving people ‘freedoms’ involves such a myriad of limitations (often incoherent) that, in comparison, God comes out as a champion of light touch regulation!

            ‘Complementarity’ in the context of marriage is only a word describing a way of living to mutual benefit; God’s non PC “he shall rule over you” is never expanded into a specific set of rules – where’s the real-life male tyranny over the female ever suggested or endorsed? Within any marriage, not least a marriage of two Christians, there will be an infinite variation in the minutiae of who does what and who makes which decisions and where any boundaries may be set. I’m sure that our God, who wrote vast variation into creation, never intended or intends marriage to be an inviolable set of rules beyond the broad framework which offers the best possibility for mutual flourishing (now there’s a phrase) for the happy couple.

            I’d suggest that, at the heart of all this, is the same old falsehood as depicted in the Garden of Eden: ‘your freedom is being restricted unnecessarily by God; you can break free; go on; you know you want to…’ And of course we do want to. And it’s the losing fight between our earthy wants and our eternal best interest that fools us into closing our minds to reality even when, as Christopher regularly points out, there is a compelling body of evidence for the misery that accompanies the supposed freedoms that we think we want.

          • ‘He shall rule over you’ is part of the non-ideal post-Fall conditions of course. But to say it has been abrogated is equivalent to saying that childbirth pain has been abrogated. Both are painful reminders, perhaps.

        • Hi Will,

          When you write ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, I assume that you’re referring to those qualities or appearances traditionally associated with men and women respectively.

          My position is that some qualities are required and should be encouraged for men and women to fulfil their respective, complementary vocations in marriage and extending family kinship. For the nurture of children, the difference between male and female parental vocations is particularly recognised by the provision for female employees to take up to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave, while men are allowed just 2 weeks of paternity leave.

          Nevertheless, I still wonder about which sexual differences are both relevant to modern life and statistically significant.

          Also, given the considerable statistical overlap of male and female abilities and aptitudes, the fact that men are on average stronger than women doesn’t mean that, for instance, there’s a divine imperative for husbands to assume the role of performing all domestic tasks which require brawn.

          Concerning 1 Pet 3:7, the word ‘vessel’ is indicative of a simile. So, ‘as unto the weaker vessel’ compares a husband’s delicate treatment of his wife to the care that is taken when handling a delicate vessel. This is the exact opposite of the bilious spousal hostility which Paul exhorts husbands to forsake. (cf. Col. 3:19)

          The idioms, ‘handle with care’ and ‘treat with kid gloves’ come to mind.

          So, we might paraphrase Peter’s exhortation: ‘Husbands, live with your wives insightfully (kata gnosin), prizing (aponemontes timen) her as you would a delicate (asthenestero) vessel, and as your co-partner in the generous gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers’.

          A man can and should always treat his wife in this way, whether she’s petite and elfin, or has the superior strength of an Olympic weightlifting champion.

          • Hi David

            Much wisdom there.

            By masculine and feminine I mean the typical distinguishing characteristics of the human male and female as shown in statistical distributions, and the social forms deriving from them. So masculine would be things like being tall, strong, deep of voice, emotionally resilient, bold, brave etc. Feminine would be things like being elegant, graceful, beautiful, emotionally affected, and of course motherhood.

            I can see that looking at male and female functionally the relevance of sexual differences will change depending on technology and social structure and cultural norms – though as Camille Paglia argues (quoted below), are we in danger of overstating the novelty of modernity here?

            But in any case, I was thinking more about identity than functionality (I think this may correspond in some way to your essentialist/missional distinction). Is it part of the Creator’s intention that males should identify as men and aspire in some way towards the masculine, and females identify as women and aspire in some way towards the feminine – simply in order to be who they are?

            Yes, for the sake of function, such as child rearing. And also to respond to deep instincts of erotic and emotional attraction in the other. But also for the sake of identity – to know who (and what) I am and to be so more fully?

          • Hi Will,

            Perhaps, as much by commandment as through prohibition, scipture reveals the importance assigned by God to the cultural cues and markers which reinforce awareness of male-female difference.

            So, in the OT, transvestism is prohibited (Deut. 22:5). In the NT, far from treating gender as a personally malleable cultural elaboration, St. Paul used the metonymy of malakos to condemn the effeminate simulation of androgyny among ‘call boys’. Furthermore, 1 Cor. 11:13 – 15 highlights nature as reinforcing our awareness of even secondary male-female differences, such as hair length.

            That said, I am just reluctant to adopt Pope John Paul II’s ontological distinction between men and women and his ‘feminine genius’ phrasing:
            When the Book of Genesis speaks of “help”, it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the “masculine” and the “feminine” that the “human” finds full realization.

            In Mulieris dignitatem I highlighted one aspect of feminine genius, that I would like to stress today: woman is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in his concrete form (cf. N. 18).

            Even this singular feature which prepares her for motherhood, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually, is inherent in the plan of God who entrusted the human being to woman in an altogether special way (cf. Ibid., n. 30).

            So, that’s why I opt for missional complementarity. Absent its purpose in the mission of founding and sustaining natural kinship and its emulation in society, as yet, I have not seen a strong enough argument for an ontological feminine (or masculine) genius.

  2. My experience in January 2016

    At the book launch for Catholic Women Speak at Roehampton, I noticed from the book that complementarity was not flavour of the month among the contributors.

    Complementarity is foundational to both biology and romance, 2 very important areas (are any more important in this connection?) – so I asked how the contributors saw that.

    I must explain that this was a sort of Tony Blair question-session, when 5 questions were taken at once. However, all the other 4 questioners were ignored as the idea of complementarity was given the treatment.

    Not that I like single-sex panels much anyway (complementarity is a wonderful thing). Afterwards I was called ‘the complementarity man’ (as in: the only one?), so my left-field ideas on biology and romance are probably destined for Barnum’s circus. It is good that I’m a veteran of this sort of thing, our family having attended a Trafalgar Square rally where people were excitedly brandishing posters with the legend ‘man + woman = child’ (yeah and Nobel Prize for Innovation awaits).

    • Hi Christopher,

      Yeah, complementarity gets a bad rap and probably because it’s understood and explained as the assignment of stereotypical roles to men and women.

      If there is such a groundswell of opposition to missional complementarity, then I’d like to know why. This comment thread provides a perfect opportunity to listen to those who differ.

      • It could be partly that people hear different things when they hear the word ‘complementarity’. A lot of people seem to hear: male in charge, woman useful only insofar as embellishes (or supplies lacks or needs of) male. There is a much more fundamental complementarity than that. In particular, the panellists I refer to were indignant that a woman could not be complete in herself; no need for a man, and anything a man can do a woman can do anyway. This way can never produce happiness, and is against nature (which is partly the problem). Such a stance is built on self-sufficiency (or bravado) and denial of vulnerability and need. So a Christian can’t approve of it.

        • Hi Christopher,
          ‘…the panellists I refer to were indignant that a woman could not be complete in herself…’ That reminded me of the expression some people use to refer to a spouse: ‘my other half’ – as though each spouse were only half a person! I don’t think any one of us is just ‘half a person’. but we are all interdependent – as spouses, children, parents, siblings,friends, neighbours, workers, consumers etc etc This is such a vast subject that if I say any more I probably won’t know when to stop, so I will leave it there for now. ‘No man is an island’ – no woman, either!

          • Mea culpa Christine 😉

            I confess, occasionally, to refer to my wife as my ‘other half’. In my defence it is in the sense that I would be incomplete without her. (Or ‘less’than our marriage has made us?). For one moment I dont think of her (or me) as ‘half a person’ and I doubt anyone else who uses the phrase does.

            Indeed, ‘no man is an island’… I’d not assumed that ‘man’ meant ‘Men’.

            The perils of what we say and what is heard…..

          • Hi Ian H – your comment made me smile I just checked the origins of ‘my other half’, – it intrigues me, but I’ll spare you the details! Yes ‘no man is an island’ does refer to mankind 🙂

          • I quite like ‘other half’ because it reminds us of the ‘one flesh’ truth – marriage brings into being a whole new composite.

        • Hi Christopher,

          You wrote: ’In particular, the panellists I refer to were indignant that a woman could not be complete in herself; no need for a man, and anything a man can do a woman can do anyway.

          I think that beyond the God-given mission of founding natural kinship (or where appropriate emulating this elsewhere), that’s true.

          I’m not sure what’s meant by ‘need for a man’, but I don’t think that we can extrapolate male-female interdependency in marriage into blanket dependency of women on men.

          That said, I may have misunderstood what you meant.

          • ‘No need for a man’. Isn’t this sometimes a slogan which has an anti-marriage (man/woman version…naturally 😉 ) theme?

          • I think that the marital model of men and women complementing and needing each other could only apply if it were more generally true (as indeed it is) that men and women in general do actually complement and need each other.

            However – being happy and secure in oneself as an interrelated individual (rather than ‘needy’) is necessary before one takes the step of marriage.

          • Hi Christopher,

            In an earlier comment, you related complementarity to biology and romance. So, three questions:

            Can something be true in the sense of being an observed and prevalent cultural phenomenon of male-female relationships in society without it being morally required of all such relationships?

            Also, do you see complementarity as ‘fractional’ or ‘integral’?

            Why would complementarity in marriage necessitate its extension to male-female interaction generally?

          • (1) Male/female biology is complementary by nature. That’s not cultural, that’s biological. If culture reflects biology it will be a healthy culture. If it does not, it will not be. Romance is one of the main ways in which the male role and the female role instinctively play out very differently and dovetail together – I see that as a matter of instinct not culture. Therefore culture does not enter into the picture.

            (2) I hope I understand the question. Complementarity is the healthy regime where integration of fractions successfully takes place; the unhealthy alternative would be for the fractions to remain fractions.

            (3) I think I already saw this the other way round. Male-female complementarity clearly exists in biology (and by extension in romance etc); and therefore because it exists wherever males and females are to be found, it will exist in a marriage context as well as in other male/female contexts.

          • Hi Christopher,

            Leaving aside male-female complementarity in marriage, please explain how biological differentiation between men and women impinge on platonic, or working relationships between the two sexes.

            In male-female interactions in which romance is not a factor, I can’t see why biology should make a difference.

            2. By fractional, I’m referring to the notion that it is God’s will that the responsibilities and roles in every aspect of society should be thoroughly differentiated and partitioned according to biological sex.

            3. Why would the mere existence of sexual differences between men and women imply that they are more significant than any other biological differences between people, such as race, to their platonic interactions?

          • (1) Because everything is interconnected. Biological difference does not just exist in itself: its interrelationships with everything else also exist, and affect everything else.

            Biology will make a difference because it is a central part of who people are. Interactions with person of biology type A cannot possibly be exactly the same as interactions with person of biology type B.

            (2) That sounds almost like there are no things that both genders can do. There are plenty of things that both genders can do. But otherwise we argue backwards as ever, by observing which societies are most healthy and seeing how those societies do male/female. Treating men and women as essentially the same is a sweeping generalisation (which is never good), and is dogmatic, and is not evidence-based. They are the same if studies and statistics show them to be the same on average – otherwise they are different. Unbelievably what one often gets is bald assertions that they ought to be the same, assertions made by people who have not studied the data. However, all of that is not a mistake that you yourself would make.

            (3) I wouldn’t and didn’t say they are *more* significant (relatively) but they are undoubtedly significant (absolutely). Sexual differences are more fundamental than race. Race is just pigmentation and pigmentation is just levels of sun exposure. Hence the idea ‘race does not exist’ (which needs unpacking, but one can se what people are getting at when they say that).

          • Nevertheless, Christopher, there are a myriad more biological variations than type A and B.

            So, it would be just as valid to assert that every kind of biological difference between individuals will affect their interactions.

            I was simply trying to make sense of why you appeared to be saying that male-female sexual differences imply a requirement for complementary male-female roles throughout society.

            You wrote: ‘Treating men and women as essentially the same is a sweeping generalisation (which is never good), and is dogmatic, and is not evidence-based. They are the same if studies and statistics show them to be the same on average – otherwise they are different.’

            Well, treating a particular gender as essentially the same (based on averages from studies and statistics) is equally a sweeping generalisation. It’s just as dogmatic as the assertion you reject and should not carry weight when we can obtain evidence which is specific to the individual.

  3. To add grist to the mill,the following is abstracted from Andrew Wilson’s blog – a review of, with quotations from, Camille Paglia’s “Free Women Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism. The review is entitled, “Saving Feminism from the Feminists: A Review of Camille Paglia’s Free Women Free Men ”

    “3. Paglia distinguishes sharply between “equity feminism,” that is the equality of the sexes before the law and in society, and “special protections for women,” which she regards as inherently infantilising. (This is not quite the same as the distinction between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome”, but it has a number of obvious similarities to it.) In a manner reminiscent of Jordan Peterson, whose recent book she blurbed, she is loath to assume that male-dominated environments are such because men are oppressive, and suggests that they may be such because men compete, whereas women expect special treatment. The title of one chapter, “Coddling Won’t Elect Women,” will give you an idea.

    4. She also gives such a trenchant critique of Women’s Studies that she makes Peterson look like an apologist for it. “Women’s studies is a comfy, chummy morass of unchallenged groupthink … Their politics are a trendy tissue of sentimental fantasy and unsupported verbal categories. Guilt over their own privilege has frozen their political discourse into a simplistic world melodrama of privilege versus deprivation.” There is only one modern classic to have emerged from half a century of feminist writing, and it is now over sixty years old (Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex). “Women’s studies is institutionalized sexism … “gender” is now a biased, prudish code word for social constructionism.” The women who work there are simply not like ordinary women, and do not represent them, either nationally or globally: “academic feminists think their nerdy bookworm husbands are the ideal model of human manhood.”

    Attempts to reconfigure the canon of Western literature have only succeeded in rendering it mediocre: “The claim has constantly been made that history was written by heterosexual white men and that, given the systematic suppression of women, there are unacknowledged female geniuses waiting to be rediscovered and restored to the canon. This premise of contemporary feminism has been a sentimental illusion from the start.” Gender Studies departments consist of a self-serving cartel that only exist because universities wanted to increase the number of female faculty members. “Authentic leftism doesn’t exist in our major universities”; bourgeois armchair academics are everywhere, and we have “the nursery school campus.” Judith Butler is “derivative and unlearned.” Foucault and Lacan are shockingly overrated, largely due to ignorance of history: “It’s sort of like ducks when they’re born—if they see a vacuum cleaner, they think it’s their mother. That’s what happened. Foucault is the vacuum cleaner that everyone followed.” Or, even less tactfully:

    Women’s studies is a jumble of vulgarians, bunglers, whiners, French faddicts, apparatchiks, doughface party-liners, pie-in-the-sky utopianists, and bullying, sanctimonious sermonizers. Reasonable, moderate feminists hang back and, like good Germans, keep silent in the face of fascism … Great women scholars like Jane Harrison and Gisela Richter were produced by the intellectual discipline of the masculine classical tradition, not by the wishy-washy sentimentalism of clingy, all-forgiving sisterhood, from which no first-rate book has yet emerged.

    (I know.)

    5. As if she wasn’t in enough trouble already, Paglia also defends, even celebrates, the existence of strong men. Playing fields can be flattened by a levelling-up (women competing openly and holding their own against men), or by a levelling-down (men holding back in open competition, and saying, in one memorable phrase, “Let the women make their own sandbox and play in it”); no prizes for guessing which option she prefers. Western civilization, she argues, was built by men, and continues to be sustained by men (and their physical strength in particular). Yet increasingly it is denigrating the strength of men at the same time, in a spectacular display of biting the hand that feeds it, not least because Western elites privilege bourgeois values and culture—office jobs, managerial skills, and the like—in which women can do anything men can do. The world has not always been like this, however, and nor will it be: “After the next inevitable apocalypse, men will be desperately needed again!” Nor, in fact, is it as free from the physical labour of men as the desk-bound classes consider it to be even now:

    It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscapes for housing developments … The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role—but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!

    This reality, she argues, can either be denied or celebrated. But celebrating it is better not just for men, but for women as well, for “when an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments.” ”

  4. I point out once more that the meaning of ‘kephale’ used by Paul with reference to the husband-wife relationship in Ephesians 5 and with reference to the man-woman relationship in 1 Corinthians 11 is determined by the context of its use in Ephesians 5:23-24:
    ‘But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything’. Ephesians 5:21 cannot possibly be understood in this context to mean mutual husband-wife subjection because in this context that would imply mutual Christ-church subjection. Attempts by Ian and especially by Alan Padgett (‘As Christ submits to the Church’) to show that in some sense Christ does submit to the Church don’t work.

    See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:
    which does not need to invoke any Eternal Subordination of the Son to make the case.

    Phil Almond

    • Thanks Phil. I think your comment about kephale is interesting for two reasons. First, the thrust of Paul’s concern in Eph 5 is that husbands learn to love their wives (that is the dominant focus of the section), presumably rather than lording it over them as would be culturally acceptable?

      And it is odd to think that Christ does not in some sense submit to ‘the church’ in the light of Jesus’ stark proclamation (in the context of disputes about power and leadership) ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’. This idea is picked up by Paul in Phil 2 as Jesus’ self-emptying. So the most natural way to read kephale in Eph 5 is that husbands need to learn what it means to empty themselves, and give themselves up for their wives, as Christ did for the church, isn’t it?

        • Phil, yes, I have, and I think you are mistaken on just about every point. Take this paragraph:

          In the Ephesians passage husbands are called upon to model their relationship with their wives on Christ; wives are called upon to model their relationship with their husbands on the church. These involve self-sacrifice, love, nourishment, cherishing by Christ towards the church and husbands towards their wives, and involve being subject to Christ by the church and being subject to their own husbands by wives. Because the Christ-church, husband-wife analogy is so closely coupled, and the notion of Christ’s authority in Paul’s thought is inescapable, the notion of the husband’s authority is likewise inescapable.

          This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy, since Christ is the saviour of the Church. In what sense is the husband the saviour of the wife? If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?

          Why is there in Greek and Roman thought the absence of the use of ‘head’ in reference to authority?

          And why is the only mention of authority in marriage in Paul (1 Cor 7.4) very precisely symmetric, with husband and wife exercising mutual authority and submission to one another?

        • Christine
          this is an extract from my essay

          “The examples Padgett gives of what he mistakenly calls Christ’s submission to the church are, which are also given in the Fulcrum disagreements, Mark 10:35-45, Philippians 2:1-11, John 13:3-17. In each of these, Jesus speaks of himself or is spoken of as a slave or servant. But by coming as a slave or servant, by drinking the cup which ‘my Father hath given me’, by becoming obedient unto death, even the death of a cross, Jesus was meeting our needs, doing for us that which was necessary to save us. He was not submitting to our authority. He was obeying his Father. And the exhortation in all three passages to followers of Christ is that they should meet the needs of others by being servant to all. In the John passage Jesus says, ‘Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord, and well ye say; for I am’. The disciples were not Jesus’ Teacher and Lord”.

          Phil Almond

    • Hi Philip,

      So, for you, the mutual subjection of Eph. 5:21 can be applied to all interactions between a married man and the church community, except his wife? Presumably, because, if a man deferred to his wife in this way, it would undermine the metaphor of Christ and the Church.

      Your logic only works if we interpret just on aspect of the metaphor in isolation. What are your views on other aspects of the metaphor, such as ‘assymetry of sacrifice’?

      Our submission to Christ includes worship, so, on what basis would you exclude this from the analogy.

      Presumably, it’s that God has revealed elsewhere that we shouldn’t.

  5. Let me just say that, despite my reflections providing what I believe is a robust theological rationale for maintaining the orthodox position that marriage should be male-female, I’m really surprised that the majority of comments focus so much on issues of headship and submission in marriage and ordained ministry.

    It would appear that returning to debates on women’s ordination holds more interest than the extinction of a child’s right to its natural identity through the joint primary parenthood conferred via same-sex marriage.

    • Hi David,
      I seem to have got the wrong end of more than one stick on this page! I agree with your theological rationale for maintaining the orthodox position that marriage should be male female. The only way a new human can be conceived naturally is via the union of a man and woman, and the experience of that union and the gestation of the unborn child are completely different for the woman from what it is for the man, but it is an experience that they share intimately.
      i still don’t know what to think about kephale.

      • Hi Christine,

        Your comments here are always intelligent and good-natured!

        My own comment wasn’t a ‘dig’ at anyone in particular, but, instead, a general observation about the prevalence of the headship/women’s ordination themes in most comments here.

        I’m not in favour of trynig to turn the clock back to 2012, but, in advance of the 2020 Teaching Document, we should be sure to promote the most robust theological arguments possible for retaining marriage orthodoxy.

    • I am amazed that arguments would be needed, robust or otherwise. Marriage is:
      -the only stable type of relationship (among its competitors)
      -absolutely streets ahead of the others in stability levels
      -something that, unlike the competitors, has shown its worth by being a stable default for centuries
      -something of which it is the case that it’s the otherwise wise people that approve it and the otherwise immature that rubbish it
      -something that had a rationale, whereas the sexual-revolution alternatives were just fallen into without thought because it became acceptable to act short term and according to animal instinct; any ‘justification’ came later
      -found disproportionately among the happy and stable societies
      -absent disproportionately among the unhappy and mixed-up subcultures
      -not only correlated with *both* health *and* happiness…
      -…but the thing *most* correlated of all (a finding repeatedly replicated) with both health and happiness, the only competitor of comparable strength being religious-involvement’s correlation with happiness.

      So marriage is not something that needs to justify itself.

      But the alternatives that it would be justifying itself against have very bad track records anyway.

  6. Hi again David

    I am just getting the hang of the new layout, so hope you don’t mind if I reply at the end of the comments-thread.

    There are more biological differences than A (female) and B (male): yes, of course – but how, and with what precision, are you using the word ‘difference’? After all, everyone agrees that every individual is different. But types of difference are not all of the same weight or moment. The flaw, I think, in that perspective is to lump all ‘differences’ together. Some types of difference might be a thousand times more important and far-reaching than others.

    Sexual differences bring different bodies and brains on average, and impact across the board. Does that imply different ranges of roles? Undoubtedly. Will those ranges overlap? Undoubtedly.

    One thing I don’t do is treat all men as the same as all other men, or all women the same as all other women. One finds that among the unthinking or agenda-driven abortion lobby. ‘Trust women’ (but most opponents are female!). It is a given that that perspective is wrong. It is also a given that the range (of personality, ability, biology, attributes) found among men is significantly different to the range found among women.

  7. Tobias Haller’s comment does suggest that nothing at all is lacking in certain individuals (does he mean women in particular?).

    That is clearly wrong.

    -We all have many things lacking.
    -It does show pride to think otherwise.
    -Any given person will generally be able to supply at least one or two things that we do not ourselves have.

    Such a perspective also seems to underline the whole idea of teamwork. This is a further reason for classifying it as being opposed to the Christian perpective.

    • Hi Christopher,

      Tobias Haller frames his argument in theological terms. So, he wrote on his blog:
      ‘Moreover, I think that the best case in favor of committed same-sex relationships is better supported by strict adherence to orthodox theological doctrines, most importantly the Chalcedonian definition of the Incarnation, which clarifies that gender (or sex) is not essential to the human nature. Efforts by some to read theological or moral significance into the existence of the male and female in human beings runs aground on this great theological truth.

      So, his argument can be summarised that if Christ truly shares in the essence of all humanity in every way except sin, then difference of gender (or sex) cannot be essential to our humanity, since Jesus does not share this characteristic with all humanity.

      Of course, this is philosophical sleight of hand, since taking this position equally eliminates grounds for treating sexual orientation identity as an irreducible characteristic which is constitutive of our humanity.

      So, if, for Haller, gender (or sex) as non-essential and therefore dispensable, then so is sexual orientation identity.

  8. Just one thought about kephale, which has been mentioned a few times here. I gather that it can also mean ‘source’. It just occurred to me that Adam was the ‘source’ of Eve, because God created her from Adam’s bone. After that of course women, as childbearers, have been the ‘source’ of every male ever born …and yet the man is the source of the sperm which fertilizes the ovum. It seems to be much less complicated just to think of men having headship over their wives… but I am still not sure what to make of kephale.

  9. I would humbly a few thoughts on this. Firstly, I thank David (S) for his paper, and how it, to my mind, restores the word ‘complementarity’ from its association with the viewpoint that the essence of male-female relations seems to be the authority of men and the subordination of women. Seeing complementarity as close to interdependence seems to me to have a wider applicability than just male-female relations. Journeying from 1 Cor 11 to 1 Cor 12 we find the analogy of the body. In this picture there is no being excluded (v15) nor exclusion, no “I don’t need you” (v21). In the typical inversion found in the Kingdom, “the parts … that seem weaker are indispensible” (v22). The equality agenda makes difference irrelevant. But here we find that difference is actually necessary and vital.

    This is rooted in our nature as human beings. I heard this question first from Tom Wright, “are we embodied spirits, or are we animated bodies?” The first sees the self as rather disconnected from the physical. It may not have the negative view of the material which the Gnostics had, but the material is not seen as defining us. However, the second view accords better to Scripture: we are essentially physical, made from the dust, formed in our mother’s womb. Without a body, we are not. So, resurrection is physical. And at the present who we are is inextricably linked to our physical bodies. I believe that women are more aware of this than men.

    Therefore our differences are significantly expressed in our physical nature. I would assert that the most significant physical difference is that between a man and a woman. Recent news gives an illustration. It has been announced that using the latest, amazing tools for the analysis of DNA, it has been found that ‘Cheddar Man’, much to the consternation of some Daily Mail readers, had dark skin. This discovery was no easy task. However, as soon as the skeleton was discovered, it was clearly evident that it was that of a man and not a woman.

    Given this difference, I think this makes the uniting together as “one flesh” in the joining of a man and woman in marriage all the more significant and symbolic. That lack of this difference between two men or two women means that any same-sex joining lacks the symbolic force. The joining of the greatest difference within humanity is also a hint as to why marriage between man and woman bears a relation to the greater joining across the greatest divide between humankind and God.

    • Hi David

      I don’t find the phrase ‘animated body’ very appealing! Makes me think of zombies, though maybe that’s just my own peculiarities.

      I think human beings are the fusion of body and spirit. I agree that our bodies are integral to who we are, but I think we need to be careful not to take this too far and underplay the importance of spirit to human identity and personality.

      Consider the following verses, which show something of how the NT writers employ the concept of spirit:
      ‘For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?’ 1 Cor 2:11
      ‘For though absent in body, I am present in spirit… When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.’ 1 Cor 5:3-5
      ‘Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit…’ 2 Cor 7:1
      ‘For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit.’ Col 2:5
      ‘May your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1 Thes 5:23
      ‘Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?’ Heb 1:14
      ‘For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.’ James 2:26
      ‘The scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”.’ James 4:5

      Such passages appear to depict a spirit ‘dwelling in’ and giving life to the body, and being capable of being ‘present’ when the body is not, and being ‘saved’ in the day of the Lord.

  10. I am not convinced that spirit and body/matter should be treated as opposites or that the scriptures really mean to imply this. I am struck by CS Lewis suggesting that the resurrection body of Jesus can go through walls not because it is more ‘spirit’ and less substantial ‘matter’. It can go through walls because it is more solid reality not less.

    • That’s interesting, David.

      I do think there is a tendency among us Christians to be a bit sniffy about the physical (and therefore the biological) world. Yet it is our God who made it and there’s no reason to suppose He did so on a passing whim. If he thought that it was ‘good’, that should be more than enough for us to take it seriously too and not relegate it almost to a mistaken experiment from the past, which we have to tolerate for our present mortal existence, but for which we should waste little of our interest when things of the spirit are so much more important.

      Surely God has a view across both forms of existence (physical and spiritual) which we cannot comprehend in our present state, and so we fall into the usual human tendency to create a hierarchy in our minds rather than wait until the day when we will see the full picture?

      • Hi Don,

        To add to your point, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words:
        ‘He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

        When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.’ (Luke 24:38-43)

        Post-resurrection docetism is still docetism.

        • Surely Jesus could pass through walls because he was not bound in the same way by time and space?

          I note that the word ghost there is pneuma, so Jesus was saying he wasn’t a spirit since he had flesh and bones.

    • Hi David

      If not opposites they are certainly held in a kind of contrast. The spirit ‘dwells in’ the body and gives life to it and ‘knows’ the inner thoughts and can be ‘present’ when the body is not.

      I confess that I don’t quite understand C S Lewis’s analogy – solid things pass through fluids by displacing them, but there’s no indication that Jesus displaced walls in any way. It seems to be a physics analogy but I can’t see what aspect of physics it is appealing to.

      • Hi Will I have always liked it. I don’t know if Lewis had physics in mind. It is also poetic is it not?
        There is also the language of true and false self. What is true is also more ‘real’. Faith is based on something real and ‘solid’? I agree it is a way of think that goes is various directions.
        In his’ The Great Divorce’ Lewis imagines folk from the Shadowlands able to take a day trip to the foothills of heaven. Do you know it? They find themselves almost transparent there and even the grass is painful to walk on because everything is more real/solid than they are. Senses are overwhelmed. With the help of those who come to minister to (evangelise?) them, some slowly become more ‘real’ as they journey towards the mountains of heaven. Beautifully written.

        • Ah yes I had forgotten that, but I remember being very taken with the imagery at the time.

          From a physics points of view two bodies or substances pass through one another when they interact very weakly or not at all – thus light passes through transparent media with only a little refraction, reflection and absorption, and chargeless neutrinos pass through all of us all the time. So I guess another kind of matter held together with another kind of force could pass through matter held together by electrical forces (as we are and walls are). But Jesus could still interact with ordinary matter when he wanted to – eating food, breaking bread etc. So his resurrection body is strange indeed.

          One possibility is that he could transcend the limitations of space (e.g. make use of some additional spatial dimension) in order to go ‘through’ walls rather than actually pass through them as though his new body does not interact with matter (which it must do if he can eat). An analogy is this: if you go for a walk you move in two dimensions; if you encounter a wall you cannot go through it within those two dimensions, but you can go over it by moving into a third dimension (up and down). A mysterious fourth spatial dimension would enable a person with access to it to appear to move through solid objects by going round them in some way not accessible or perceivable to others bound by three dimensions. This may correspond in some way to the way Stephen saw the ‘heavens opened’.

          Another possibility is that Jesus really could choose when he did and not did not interact with ordinary matter – so food yes, walls no. Either way I don’t think we can just think of a ‘spiritual body’ as ‘more solid’ and therefore able to pass through ordinary matter. Also since Jesus insists that he is ‘not a spirit’ but has ‘flesh and bones’ we probably shouldn’t confuse Paul’s ‘spiritual body’ with spirit more generally.

  11. Ian
    These are my responses to your posts.

    “First, the thrust of Paul’s concern in Eph 5 is that husbands learn to love their wives (that is the dominant focus of the section), presumably rather than lording it over them as would be culturally acceptable?”

    Ephesians 5:21 to 6:9 is a connected line of exhortation about relationships, about marriage (5:21-5:33), about parents and children (6:1 to 6:4) about masters and slaves (6:5 to 6:9). We have to follow Paul’s whole line of thought in 5:21 to 5:33 to grasp what he is saying, not just assert what the dominant focus of the section is.

    “And it is odd to think that Christ does not in some sense submit to ‘the church’ in the light of Jesus’ stark proclamation (in the context of disputes about power and leadership) ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’. This idea is picked up by Paul in Phil 2 as Jesus’ self-emptying. So the most natural way to read kephale in Eph 5 is that husbands need to learn what it means to empty themselves, and give themselves up for their wives, as Christ did for the church, isn’t it?”

    I have responded to this in my post to Christine (February 10, 2018 at 9:17 pm). Also, we have to see what Paul says about the implications of kephale for both husbands and wives which I will now try to do as I comment on your

    “This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy, since Christ is the saviour of the Church. In what sense is the husband the saviour of the wife? If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?”

    I will assume it is common ground that in 5:23 ‘The wives to the(ir) own husbands as to the Lord’ (Nestle-Marshall literal) ‘be subject’ (‘The wives be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord’) is obviously implied from 5:22. I will also assume it is common ground that in 5:24 ‘so also the wives to the(ir) husbands in everything’ ‘be subject’ is implied.

    The exhortation to wives to be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord in 5:22 is ‘because a man is kephale of the woman’. ‘But as the church is subject to Christ…’ in 5:24 is clearly (implied) because ‘as also Christ is kephale of the church’. This implied link between kephale and subjection is supported by Ephesians 1:22 ‘and all things subjected under the feet of him, and gave him [to be] kephale to the church, which is the body of him, the fullness of the[one] filling all things with all things’.

    You assert, “This is clearly *not* a closely coupled analogy…”
    But I hope you would agree that it is the first part of an analogy: Christ is kephale of the church; because of this the church is subject to Christ. The husband is kephale of the wife; because of this the wife is subject to her husband.
    Now for the second part of the analogy.
    Christ is saviour of the body. The body, his body, is the church of which we are members. Christ loved (and loves) the church as described in 5:25-27. The husband and wife are one flesh. Husbands are exhorted to love their wives as also Christ loved the church and to love their wives as their own bodies. In loving his wife the husband loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it as also Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. Again, the analogy is there. Christ loved (loves), gave himself for, cherishes and nourishes the church, his body, to present the church to himself glorious, holy and unblemished. Husbands are exhorted to model themselves on Christ in how they behave towards their wives: loving them as their own flesh, their own bodies, cherishing them, nourishing them, and (usually metaphorically) dying for them – all for their wives physical, moral and spiritual well-being (the equivalent of ‘saviour of the wife’). What a challenge and rebuke to some husbands, including me. Note the analogical language: ‘as also’ (5:23), ‘so also’ (5:24), ‘as also’ (5:25), ‘so…also’ (5:28), ‘as also’ (5:29), ‘also…so’ (5:33). The whole analogy seems closely coupled to me.

    “If Christ exercises authority over the Church, and the Church is to be obedient to Christ, and there is an analogy in marriage, why does Paul conspicuously avoid ever using the language of authority and obedience of husband and wife, when that is the commonplace of Greek and Roman understandings?”

    Paul uses the same word ‘being subject’, ‘is subject’ for both the Christ-church and the husband –wife relationships. I point out in my essay that

    ‘In the New Testament there are 34 instances (various tenses etc.) of the verb ‘hupotasso’ which is the word translated ‘is subject’ in Ephesians 5:24. One is Ephesians 5:21, of which more later. 4 are about wives being subject to their husbands (the correct understanding of which is at the heart of the disagreement), 1 is about women learning ‘in all subjection’ and the context of the other 28 makes clear that ‘being subject’ involves the notion of authority and/or obeying or disobeying that authority’.

    ‘For so then indeed the holy women hoping in God adorned themselves, submitting (same word as in Ephesians) themselves to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord….’ (1 Peter 3:5-6)

    ‘Obey’ and ‘be subject to’ are not so far apart in conveying the idea of authority.

    “Why is there in Greek and Roman thought the absence of the use of ‘head’ in reference to authority?”

    I don’t know. But kephale is clearly linked to authority in Ephesians 1:22 and in the passage we are debating. The Biblical context is much more important than secular usage. Christ has authority and we are commanded to be subject to his authority.

    “And why is the only mention of authority in marriage in Paul (1 Cor 7.4) very precisely symmetric, with husband and wife exercising mutual authority and submission to one another?”

    As I say in the essay
    ‘Secondly our view of Ephesians 5 is challenged by appealing to 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. This clearly means that with respect to making love the husband-wife relationship is one of mutual submission. Does that, as some would see it, mean that the husband-wife relationship is symmetrical with respect to authority in all respects? No, because, as a Reform paper pointed out in the Awesome-Reform debate, this would imply contradiction between 1 Corinthians 7 on the one hand and Ephesians 5:22ff, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1ff. “Such a dissonant reading of Scripture is not to be preferred”.’

    And note the Colossians, Titus and 1 Peter references.

    Phil Almond

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