WHICH EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES? A Response to Greg Hahn’s Attack on Complementarianism

 

©2015, by John Tors.  All Rights Reserved.

INTRODUCTION

“Male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27b)

In the beginning, God could have created one generic type of human being, but instead He chose to make males and females.  Males and females are different in form, in appearance, and in psychology.  They are not carbon copies of each other, but were designed to complement each other, and that means differences in roles.  And the differences in roles includes male headship in both the home and church.

There are numerous passages teaching both of these.  Male headship in the home is commanded in 1 Peter 3:1-6, Colossians 3:18-20, and Ephesians 5:22-24.  Male leadership in the church is linked to this, as ruling one’s household well is a requirement to be an ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos = overseer, leader) in the church (1 Timothy 3:4-5).  According to 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6,[1] to be a leader one must be married to a wife, and that rules out women.  This is underscored in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression”) and also in 1 Corinthians 14:34, where women are to have no say whatsoever in judging prophecies.

A LOOK AT HAHN’S ARGUMENT

Despite the clarity of these passages, occasionally (and with increasing frequency) one encounters those who reject this complementarian view and argue for what they call “egalitarianism,” the idea that there is no gender-based headship in the home or church, and that all leadership positions in church are open to women.  One such is Greg Hahn, who has advanced an argument against complementarianism in a blog post entitled “The Complementarian Emperor is Shamefully Underdressed.”[2]

This is a strange little piece, in that it does not interact with, or even mention, any of the relevant verses, such the ones we listed earlier, and it is not difficult to see why some would think that such an article cannot be taken seriously.  Nevertheless, let us examine Hahn’s arguments and see whether he has indeed found something worthwhile to contribute to the discussion.  We will bypass for now his opening diatribe against complementarians and go straight to the heart of his argument.

Hahn begins by asking, “if Paul and Peter are teaching gender hierarchy … Where did they get it? Where did it come from?”[3] and answers that there are only two options: “they either started it as a new thing, or they got it from someplace else.”  He rejects the first possibility, arguing that “nobody would believe” such a new teaching and that teaching such a new thing “doesn’t fit the teaching style of either apostle. The apostles were careful to build on the established foundation.”  In other words, only the second option is viable.

But if they were building on an earlier foundation, “where is that foundation?” asks Hahn.  It didn’t come directly from Jesus, says Hahn, but “that’s not necessarily a big deal. Jesus didn’t address every possible topic.”

The problem, according to Hahn, is what the “gender hierarchists” appeal to as a foundation; here, he say, they “go embarrasingly astray” by turning to the creation story.  Now, Hahn avers that “Every important biblical concept begins with the foundations laid in the first few chapters of Genesis,” and here is where he sees the problem: there are “many clear and unambiguous statements in Genesis 1-2,” but none of them involve gender hierarchy.  There is no clear and unambiguous statement in these chapters that “God set up specific ‘gender roles’ in which man would rule over woman in a hierarchical relationship with man as the leader – and if this were actually God’s design, there would be a clear and unambiguous statement to this effect.

To be sure, Hahn concedes that there are “evidences … ‘A series of more or less obvious hints,’” but he insists that this is not good enough: “You don’t establish major doctrine like that on ‘a series of more or less obvious hints.’ You need an unequivocal statement of fact- especially in a foundational passage that is literally filled with such factual statements.”

Hahn says there actually is such an unequivocal statement in Genesis 3:16 but complementarians “can’t use it because it’s clearly connected to the fallen condition of mankind, not the blissful state in Eden.  (He opines that this “must cause [the complementarians] unbearable anguish.”)

Hahn goes on to claim that complementarianism is not found elsewhere in the OT.  He avows that “Surely God would have told Moses to put something about it in the law, since it’s such an important part of God’s wonderful plan,” but there is nothing there, nor is there in Job, the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, or Isaiah, or anywhere in the Old Testament.  There is nothing, he says, except “some ‘more or less obvious hints’ dropped 1500 years and 1070 chapters” between Genesis and the letters of Paul and Peter.

On this basis, then, Hahn concludes that “Paul and Peter can’t be teaching hierarchy if it’s not supported elsewhere, and neither the Old Testament nor Jesus teach gender hierarchy to support such an interpretation.”  So according to Hahn Paul and Peter cannot be teaching gender hierarchy, and therefore they are not teaching it.  Here ends Hahn’s argument.

AN ANALYSIS OF HAHN’S ARGUMENT

It is difficult to see anyone with even a modicum of Biblical knowledge taking Hahn’s argument seriously.  Every single plank of it is not just wrong, but risibly wrong.

As we recall, Hahn started out by asking where Paul and Peter got their complementarian teachings and insisted that there were only two options, viz. they were either teaching something new or they were building upon an earlier foundation.

Hahn rejected the former option, saying first that had it been a new teaching, “nobody would believe” it.  He does not seem to realize that in saying this, he has already stultified himself, as there is no doubt about the fact that male headship was universally believed and accepted, a reality against which egalitarians constantly rail.

Hahn’s second line of argument against the option that Paul and Peter were bringing a new teaching in this matter is that this “doesn’t fit the teaching style of either apostle. The apostles were careful to build on the established foundation.”  This shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Bible; of course the Biblical writers were bringing new teachings; that was the purpose of more books of Scripture, because the earlier ones didn’t have everything in them.  Of course the apostles brought out new doctrines, as shown in, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:10-12:

Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.  But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.

In fact, that is what the Bible writers were supposed to do, as “hinted at” in Matthew 13:52:  “Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”  It is exceedingly difficult to understand how Hahn missed this.  Or does he seriously think that every important doctrine in the Bible is explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2, and the remaining 1,187 chapters of the Bible are simply rehashing or explicating these things?

Accordingly, then, the whole edifice upon which Hahn built his case is seen to be fatally flawed.  The idea that a doctrine can be true only if it is explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2 is arrant nonsense.  It is not difficult to demonstrate this.

  • – Is, for example, the priesthood an important concept in the Bible? Certainly; it is central to the Mosaic law, and it points forward to the great high priesthood of Christ.  Is anything about priesthood explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2?
  • – Is the concept of Messiah an important one in the Bible, the concept of one anointed by God for a special purpose who will ultimately save His people from their sins?   Is it explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2?  No.   Is it even hinted at?  No
  • – Is the concept of church an important one in the Bible, the body of His people indwelt by the Holy Spirit, with specific tasks to carry out and ways to live? Most assuredly.  Is it explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2?    Is it even hinted at?  No.
  • – Is Jesus important in the Bible? The answer to this one is axiomatic.  But is Jesus explicitly mentioned in Genesis 1-2?    Is He even hinted at?  Only in the most tangential way, if one sees the hints of plurality in the Godhead as pointing to Jesus.

We could continue, but there is no need; these examples are more than sufficient to knock the heart of Hahn’s argument into a cocked hat.  If important doctrines such as priesthood, the Messiah, and the church, and indeed Jesus Himself are not mentioned in Genesis 1-2, then any suggestion that male headship needed to be explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2 to be true is a non-starter.

Hahn’s thesis has been thoroughly debunked already, but we can add a few more points.  First, he argued that complementarians cannot use the statement in Genesis 3:16 “because it’s clearly connected to the fallen condition of mankind, not the blissful state in Eden.”  Hahn obviously doesn’t understand what is being said in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

What does “your desire shall be for your husband” mean?  We can elucidate this by comparing it to Genesis 4:6-7, the only other passage in which that expression is used, but which is clearer: “So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.’”

It is clear here that “its desire is for you” means a desire to rule you, and you must resist it.  The meaning of Genesis 3:16, then, is not that male headship is “connected to the fallen condition of mankind,” but that female resentment of male headship and an illegitimate desire to rule is a result of the fall.

Second, Hahn claims that there is nothing about complementarianism in the Mosaic law.  He seems to have carelessly overlooked the fact that a system of religious authority was instituted in the Mosaic law, a system in which authority was in the hands of the priests and Levites – and only men could serve.  Hahn has missed yet another thing that is thoroughly obvious.

Finally, as we have mentioned before, Hahn tries to deal with this issue without interacting with or even looking at any of the relevant passages that explicitly address it.  He needs to look, for the passages clearly teach male headship in the home and church, and this cannot be ignored.

In the course of his argument, Hahn asserted that “The apostles were careful to build on the established foundation. But where is that foundation? … that is exactly where the gender hierarchists go embarrasingly astray.  The creation story is where they turn, naturally.”  The problem with this objection is plain to see: It is not “gender hierarchists” who turn to the creation story; it was the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul: “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12-13).  So it is the Holy Spirit who “turned to the creation story” even though there is no “explicit statement” about male headship in Genesis 1-2.  If Hahn doesn’t like this approach, his bone of contention is not with “gender hierarchists,” then, but with the Holy Spirit Himself.

Thus, Hahn’s insistence that “Paul and Peter can’t be teaching hierarchy if it’s not supported elsewhere” is contradicted by the Holy Spirit Himself.  It should be beyond dispute that what Paul and Peter taught is determined by what Paul and Peter taught explicitly in their letters, and not by what explicit statements may or may not be in Genesis 1-2.

CONCLUSIONS:

Hahn’s argument against complementarianism has been examined and found to be wanting in every conceivable way.  His statement that “Complementarianism is bankrupt because it has no coherent biblical foundation” has been shown to be fatuous.  The clear statements in the New Testament teaching male headship in the home and church continue to stand, and our only choice is whether to obey them or not; we cannot deny them.

Hahn’s diatribe against complementarians is therefore utterly wrong-headed.  He may not like the fact that complementarians maintain that “the Word of God is so clearly on their side of the gender issue that one must go to great lengths and keep one eye closed to miss the intended male over female hierarchy” or that they say that this issue is so important that denying male headship threatens Biblical authority, but they are certainly correct in this.  If Hahn finds it “difficult to be charitable in my judgment” because of this, that is truly neither here nor there.  What matters is that it is the egalitarian emperor who is not only shamefully underdressed but in fact is stark naked and devoid of any valid arguments in his favour.

[1] Titus applies the standard to elders, which are one type of overseer.

[2] Posted on March 18, 2015, at https://thisbrother.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/the-complementarian-emperor-is-shamefully-underdressed

[3] All quotes from Hahn are from the post listed by URL in footnote 2.

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4 Responses to WHICH EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES? A Response to Greg Hahn’s Attack on Complementarianism

  1. Greg Hahn says:

    Hi John,

    I enjoyed your response to my blog piece, but I notice you didn’t include a link to my original. Here it is for your readers to reference: https://goo.gl/Ccfwuj

    A couple of comments:

    First I find it interesting that you spend the majority of your time proving that Paul could, indeed, have been introducing a brand new doctrine. I agree! But I didn’t think I needed to point out the can of worms that would have opened for the complementarian side. Every complementarian argues that male over female hierarchy was present from the beginning as part of God’s good creation. If one wants to claim this is a new doctrine, then it wasn’t from the beginning. And if that’s the case, how important is it? Why wasn’t it important enough to mention it before Paul? And why is it important now?

    I also notice that you didn’t actually take a side… are you saying it WAS a new doctrine? I’m quite surprised if that is the case. But if not, why write so much to prove a point that you don’t believe applies?

    Second, I notice in all that you had to say about how wrong I am, you didn’t provide any Old Testament references in which male over female gender hierarchy is prescribed, other than Genesis 3:16, which proves my point all along.

    And again, you seem to want to defend the use of Genesis 3:16 without actually owning it. Is it your position that Genesis 3:16 is a good verse to use to prove your complementarian position?

    I actually think Genesis 3:16 is Complementarianism’s
    strongest case, and in fact that verse was used to prove the point for centuries. The downside of that is the need to embrace the effects of the curse and the fall as God’s best for mankind today, and that is why most Complementarians, including all the writers in RBMW, reject it. But again, you didn’t seem to take a side so I can’t know for sure if that is your position.

    All in all you’ve given an interesting reply. Thank you for engaging.

  2. John Tors says:

    Thank you for your feedback to my response. Unfortunately, as I read through it, I wonder whether you have missed the substance of my argument.

    It is the Christian’s duty to obey the commands we receive within the New Covenant, and, as I pointed out in my first two paragraphs, there are several passages in the New Testament that explicitly teach male headship in both home and church. Are these commands there? Yes. Do we have to obey them? Yes.

    Against this, you argued that there is no explicit statement (mere hints aren’t enough, you say) about male headship in Genesis 1-2, and any doctrine as important as male headship must be explicitly stated in these opening chapters of the Bible.

    Your argument, however, can stand only as long it can be maintained that such important doctrines must be explicitly stated in these opening chapters, so all that is required to debunk your argument is to show one suitably important doctrine that is not explicitly stated in Genesis 1-2. I showed four: the priesthood, the Messiah, the church, and Jesus Himself. With this, it is clear that your argument fails.

    Your points of inquiry, therefore, are somewhat peripheral. However, let us consider them. First, you “find it interesting that [I] spend the majority of [my] time proving that Paul could, indeed, have been introducing a brand new doctrine” (and wonder whether I actually think that was the case). Actually, I spent only 221 words (9.5% of the 2,323 words in my article) on that issue, so that is hardly a “majority” of my time. And the point I made was that new doctrines are revealed throughout the Bible (this is what is known as “progressive revelation”) and since the church was a new entity that did not exist prior to the NT, any doctrines about it, including its governance, are necessarily new. However, in the case of male headship, this new doctrine is based on old truth that goes back to creation. This is what the word of God says (1 Timothy 2:13), and the word of God trumps any cavil from twenty centuries later that one does not see this.

    Then you say that I “didn’t provide any Old Testament references in which male over female gender hierarchy is prescribed, other than Genesis 3:16.” You seem to have overlooked the tenth paragraph under “An Analysis of Hahn’s Argument,” in which I wrote, “a system of religious authority was instituted in the Mosaic law, a system in which authority was in the hands of the priests and Levites – and only men could serve.” To make this point more clear now, let me point out that the closest OT equivalent to church leaders were the priests and Levites, and they were all men. Only males of the tribe of Levi could serve, which meant that in the OT, religious authority was allowed only for qualified men, not women – the same as in the NT. So here is one clear “Old Testament reference” that I provided, and there are certainly other such references in the OT. The law, in fact, is suffused with this understanding (whether or not you consider them only “hints”).

    Finally, you say, “you seem to want to defend the use of Genesis 3:16 without actually owning it” and warn that to do so one would “need to embrace the effects of the curse and the fall as God’s best for mankind today.” Actually, I was not defending the use of Genesis 3:16 to prove male headship at all. If you will look carefully at paragraphs 7, 8, and 9 under “An Analysis of Hahn’s Argument,” you will see that I was showing the true meaning of this verse (by comparing it with Genesis 4:6-7), viz. that male headship is not an effect of the fall; female resentment of male headship and an illegitimate desire to rule, however, is a result of the fall. (It was necessary for me to show this in order to preclude the attempt to argue that Genesis 3:16 shows that male headship was simply a result of the fall, which is not correct and which flatly contradicts the word of God of 1 Timothy 2:13-14.)

    Again, thank you for your feedback. I hope these clarifications are helpful.

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