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Which Emperor Has No Clothes? A Response to Greg Hahn's Attack on Complementarianism


… 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, 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."

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?" 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 that, 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? No.

  • 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? Νο. 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 3:16b:

"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 embarrassingly 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.



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

2. All quotes from Hahn are from the post listed by URL in Footnote 2.

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