Doug Wilson Is a Complementarian Masquerading as a Biblical Patriarchist

The unfortunate reality is that there are many Christian teachers out there who claim to embrace Biblical patriarchy, when in fact they are simply complementarians in sheep’s clothing.   Doug Wilson is one of those teachers who claims to be a believer in Biblical Patriarchy but essentially, he is a Complementarian when it comes to marriage. I am not saying complementarians are evil people. I used to be one. And I am not saying Doug Wilson is a bad person, or even questioning whether he is a genuine Bible believing Christian – because I believe he is a good Christian man. But what I am saying is this. If you want to learn about the true and historic Christian views of biblical gender roles which are encapsulated in Biblical Patriarchy – do not use the writings of Doug Wilson as your source of what true Biblical Patriarchists believe.

But before I get into why I believe Doug Wilson is a counterfeit Biblical Patriarchist, I first want to review with you the three systems of Biblical interpretation we see in Christianity today as it relates to gender roles.

Biblical Patriarchy is a belief system which reflects the historic Christian view of biblical teachings regarding gender roles.  Is derived from a natural and literal reading of the Biblical texts of both the Old and New Testaments.  This natural and literal reading reveals that God has designed the family unit as a patriarchy or literally “father ruled” institution.  The children obey their parents, and the wife obeys her husband as her earthly lord as the church obeys Christ.   Also, Biblical Patriarchy accepts the Biblical teachings that men are to rule over women not just in the home, but also in the church and civil society. 

Egalitarianism (otherwise known as Christian Feminism) is a philosophy which fully embraces everything secular humanism teaches, minus the atheism.  Because of this, Egalitarians reject much of the Bible’s teachings on patriarchal order and they claim that Christ came to redeem us from the “evils of patriarchy”.   Many Christian Egalitarians are honest in the fact that they reject the concept of Biblical inerrancy knowing their belief system is incompatible with a belief in Biblical inerrancy.  Some attempt to say they still believe in Biblical inerrancy, but to do so they have to utterly mangle many texts in the Bible from their clear and natural readings.

Egalitarians believe women should have equal rights with men, that that they should be able to be pastors and teachers of men in churches and that they should be able to hold authority over men in civil offices.  They believe that marriage is an equal partnership between a man and woman, not a patriarchy.

In my previous article, “The Complementarian Counterfeit”, I stated the following about Complementarianism:

“Complementarianism was started as a reaction to the false teachings of egalitarianism.  The term “Complementarian” was coined by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in 1988…

John Piper explains that complementarianism was designed to take the “middle ground” between what he and other Christian leaders saw as “two kinds of errors” in the churches…

In the complementarian view, a husband may only lead his wife by example or suggestions to her, but he may never lead her by commanding her or seeking to control her through coercive methods.  And it is precisely because of the denial that male domination of woman is God’s command, that complementarianism teaches a hollow and weak form of male headship and female submission in the home.

When it comes to the doctrines of the Bible concerning gender roles, there is no “middle ground” and no room for compromise with egalitarianism.   Complementarianism is a counterfeit doctrine of male headship and female submission.”

The “two errors” which pastors like John Piper meant to address with their new “Complementarian” approach to the Scriptures were Egalitarianism and Biblical Patriarchy.  In other words, John Piper and many conservative Bible preaching pastors had come to the position that the historic Christian view of gender roles which Biblical Patriarchy espoused, was in error.  That Christians had misunderstood the Bible’s teachings on gender roles for 2000 years and Complementarians finally got it right in 1988.

But the truth is that Complementarianism was simply a new way of interpreting the Bible to make it better placate our post-feminist society without fully going over to Egalitarianism.  Oh, for sure Piper and many other big complementarian evangelical preachers will claim that they oppose feminism.  But when you really drill down into it, they embrace a great deal of feminist values.  And the truth is they believe they had to.  For them to stay faithful to what the Bible actually teaches and what Biblical patriarchy espouses would have cost them dearly in terms of the membership and offerings.

And now that I have shown you the distinctions between egalitarianism, complementarianism and Biblical patriarchy I can now get to the heart of the matter regarding Doug Wilson.

Why Doug Wilson is a Counterfeit Biblical Patriarchist

In the Scriptures, God has established three main spheres of human authority and those are the family, the church and civil government.  And God has granted the authorities in each of these spheres the power and responsibility to discipline those under their authority.  

The methods of discipline which God allows are different for each sphere of authority.  God grants civil government the power to not only use corporal punishment, but also the power to use capital punishment (Deuteronomy 25:1-3, Romans 13:4).  God does not grant the power of corporal punishment or capital punishment to the church, but rather the church has the power of excommunication (1 Corinthians 5).  God does not grant the power of capital punishment to the family, but he does allow corporal punishment within the family sphere of authority.

Many Christians, including Doug Wilson, would not disagree with parents disciplining their children, either through corporal punishment or other non-physical means.   In fact, Doug Wilson encourages parents to spank their children as long as it done in a loving manner.  In his article “Loving Little Ones 1” [Loving Little Ones 1 | Blog & Mablog (dougwils.com) ]Wilson writes:

“Discipline is corrective, and it is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and it is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it.

When you are spanking a child, you are either being selfish or you are being selfless—one or the other. You are doing it because you are exasperated, frustrated, beside yourself, and frazzled, or you are doing it as a fragrant offering to the God of your fathers.”

But then we come to an article written by Doug Wilson that was recently sent to me by one of my readers.  The article is entitled “And Now a Brief Word for the Wife Beaters”.  Below is an excerpt from that article:

“I am far from denying the biblical truth that a rod is for the back of fools (Prov. 26:3Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Nor do I deny that a woman could be numbered among such fools. But such a woman would be far gone in her folly, and the only fool bigger than that would be the guy who married her. So before we beat her for her uppity rebellions, I would suggest we flog him for being such an idiot. If he were to object that this is mean-spirited and unjust, I would reply that it sounds to me that he has been influenced by the spirit of egalitarianism. Must be one of those new softie men.

Since the difficulty was apparently found in my #11, let us discuss that for a moment.

The Bible does not teach husbands to enforce the requirement that was given to their wives. Since true submission is a matter of the heart, rendered by grace through faith, a husband does not have the capacity to make this happen. His first task is therefore to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He is to lead by example.”

The key words here are enforce and make. No mortal can force such a thing. It does not come from right-handed power.”

Wilson makes it clear in the article above that he is completely opposed to a husband disciplining his wife in any way, whether it be physically or non-physically.  He denies that a husband has the right to seek to compel his wife’s submission to him by any means and that he may only lead by example. 

He is teaching exactly what Complementarianism teaches, that the husband is a figure head leader to his wife.  As true believers in Biblical patriarchy, we would agree that husbands should lead by example.  But husbands are also compelled by God to lead by disciplining their wives as well. 

In Ephesians 5:25 the Bible commands husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church” and Christ said to his churches in Revelation 3:19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.    A man that does not rebuke and chasten his wife is not loving his wife as Christ loves his church.  That is clear teaching of the Scriptures.  And that is why Christian husbands who ascribed to the teachings of the Bible for centuries had disciplined their wives both physically and non-physically.  

The Bible may not mandate physical discipline for wives, but it does mandate that a husband use some form of discipline with his wife.  And no Biblical principle or command would disallow a husband from physically disciplining his wife.

We have clearly established from Doug Wilson’s own words that he believes husbands do not have the power to compel the obedience of their wives and that they may only lead by example.  A person who may only lead by example is not an authority at all, but rather they are just a figure head.  Therefore, Wilson has reduced husbands to mere figure head leaders of their wives and not real authorities over them.  And this teaching that a wife’s submission to her husband is voluntary, and may not be compelled from her husband, is a core tenant of complementarianism.  

The Scriptures tell us that wives are to regard their husbands as their earthly lords (1 Peter 3:5-6) and to submit to them “as unto the Lord…in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24).   There is no other human authority where God commands those under them to submit to them “as unto the Lord” except the husband.  The husband’s authority over his wife is far greater than that of a father’s authority over his children because the husband’s authority is lifelong and he also has sexual authority over his wife.   

The husband’s authority, unlike that of civil authorities and church authorities, is a very personal authority.  No other authority has such control over the personal day to day decisions of another human being.  No other authority has such control over another person’s body.   And that is why the true Biblical teaching of a husband’s authority over his wife is so threatening and scary to Americans and other Westerners who fully ascribe to individualism.

If you talk to Biblical Patriarchists online or in person you will find that a core doctrine they believe in is that of the husband’s responsibility to discipline his wife.  Some might not believe a husband has the God given authority to spank his wife, but they believe that husbands have the right and responsibility to discipline their wives in some form or fashion. 

Doug Wilson, and other complementarians, have taken the husband from being the greatest human authority God ever established (aside from Christ himself) to making the husband the weakest authority.  And in truth, the husband is not really an authority at all, but merely a figure head leader.

I am sure Doug Wilson is a good Christian man just like John Piper is.  But while he may be a good Christian man, Doug Wilson in fact a counterfeit Biblical Patriarchist.

For more on the Biblical case for and historic precedent of wife spanking (aka Domestic Discipline) I would encourage you to read these articles I wrote on the subject:

The Biblical Case for Domestic Discipline

A 19th Century Suffragette View of Domestic Discipline

19th Century Judicial Precedents Regarding Domestic Discipline

The Complementarian Counterfeit

Complementarianism is a counterfeit doctrine, an unbiblical compromise between the false doctrine of egalitarianism and the true doctrine of Biblical patriarchy.  The sad truth is that in many ways’ complementarianism is more dangerous than egalitarianism, because complementarianism proports to uphold the biblical doctrines of male headship and woman’s submission where egalitarianism unequivocally denies these doctrines.

You have to look very close at the teachings of complementarianism and biblical patriarchy, like two bills, to really see the differences between the two teachings. 

Origins of Complementarianism

Complementarianism was started as a reaction to the false teachings of egalitarianism.  The term “Complementarian” was coined by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in 1988. 

According to John Piper, who was one of the council’s founding members, complementarianism was born out of an effort to address the error of “the negation of gender differences” by egalitarians.   

Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), an egalitarian organization, lists these egalitarian principles on their website:

“We believe that women and men are equally created in God’s image and given equal authority and stewardship of God’s creation.

Patriarchy (male dominance) is not a biblical ideal but a result of sin.

Patriarchy is an abuse of power, taking from females what God has given them: their dignity, and freedom, their leadership, and often their very lives.

While the Bible reflects patriarchal culture, the Bible does not teach patriarchy in human relationships.

Christ’s redemptive work frees all people from patriarchy, calling women and men to share authority equally in service and leadership.

The unrestricted use of women’s gifts is integral to the work of the Holy Spirit and essential for the advancement of the gospel in the world.

Followers of Christ are to oppose injustice and patriarchal teachings and practices that marginalize and abuse females and males.”

So, as you can clearly see from the list of egalitarian doctrines above, egalitarianism was an all-out assault on the biblical practice and doctrines of patriarchy. Christian egalitarianism was simply a rebranding of feminism for Christian consumption.

While the CBE helped to organize and codify their doctrines in the late 80’s, these doctrines had already been spreading within churches long before that time and this is what prompted the formation of the CBMW.

The CBMW issued the famous “Danvers Statement” in 1987 which included the following key statements below in response to egalitarianism:

“Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).

Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin (Gen 2:16-18, 21-24, 3:1-13; 1 Cor 11:7-9).

The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).

    In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.

    In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.”

So, if you look at the two statements above, it is very easy to see two primary differences between egalitarianism and complementarianism. 

Egalitarianism completely denies the biblical concept of gender roles, while complementarianism appears to affirm it.

Egalitarianism completely denies the biblical concept of male headship while complementarianism appears to affirm it.

But while complementarianism proports to be the genuine article when it comes to the biblical view of gender roles, upon closer examination we will find that complementarianism is actually a counterfeit doctrine of biblical gender roles.

The Complementarian Abandonment of Patriarchy

Egalitarianism was not the only reason complementarianism was formed. In an article entitled “God Created Man Male and Female – What Does It Mean to Be Complementarian?”,  John Piper explains that complementarianism was designed to take the “middle ground” between what he and other Christian leaders saw as “two kinds of errors” in the churches.  The first error which we have already addressed was egalitarianism.

But then there was a second error that complementarianism was designed to address.  And that error, from their point of view, was male domination of women in society, the church and the home.  They believed the terms “traditional” and “patriarchy” were linked with male domination and “the history of abuses of women personally and systemically”.  And it was because of this, that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood decided that a new term must be coined to replace “traditional” and “patriarchy” in regard to the discussion of gender roles.  So, they coined the term “complementarian”.

Complementarians Limit Male Headship to the Home and the Church

If you look closely at the Danvers Statement from the CBMW, you will notice that they only speak of “headship” in the home and “limitations” on women’s roles in the church.  In other words, the Danvers Statement only recognizes male headship in the spheres of the home and the church but it does not recognize male headship in society.

In 2008, when John McCain was running for President with Sarah Palin as his running mate, John Piper tried to fill in this large void left by the Danvers Statement.  In his article entitled “Why a Woman Shouldn’t Run for Vice President, but Wise People May Still Vote for Her”, Piper wrote the following:

“My convictions about the implications of manhood and womanhood for political life are nuanced and rooted in Scripture. They are also complex and controversial. So they don’t fit blogs well. But I’ll try. The gist is this:

I think that the Bible summons men to bear the burden of primary leadership, provision, and protection in the home (Ephesians 5:21–33) and in the church (1 Timothy 2:8–15). Add to this that these texts (and others, like Genesis 1–3) build their case not on the basis of culture (which changes) but on the basis of God’s design in creation (which does not change).

Therefore, I am not able to say that God only speaks to the role of men and women in home and church. If our roles are rooted in the way God created us as male and female, then these differences shape the way we live everywhere and all the time…

These and other teachings in Scripture incline me to believe that manhood and womanhood are not mere social constructs. They are rooted in God’s design for creation. They are meant to shape culture, not merely be shaped by culture…

And I certainly do not think all of my conclusions should be codified in law. It should not be illegal, in this fallen age, for a woman to be President of the United States. Christ does not implement his revealed will in this age with guns and fines. But all human government (rightly) enforces its laws with guns and fines. So law is not the way to deal with this issue. Christians should not crusade in this fallen age to pass laws to forbid women from the Presidency.”

As you can see from the statement above, complementarians while holding strong to the fact that male headship is God’s design for the home and the church, tend to get a lot more wishy-washy about male headship outside the home and the church.

Look at the way Piper couches his language as if he is sorry that it appears that God’s design might prohibit a woman from becoming President or Vice President.  But then of course he quickly states that he does not believe God’s design of gender roles should be “codified in law”. 

Complementarians Dismiss Patriarchy as a Cultural Rather than Biblical Concept

In the Numbers 30:3-5 we read the following:

“3 If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth;

4 And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.

5 But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”

Complementarians deny God’s design of the social classes of men, women and children and instead embrace the false humanist social classes of “adult” and “minor” that were invented by John Locke in the 17th century.   They believe that once young women reach adulthood, they have the same autonomy as men to determine the course of their lives and that fathers have no right to override the decisions of their daughters once they reach the social class of “adult”.

Complementarians dismiss Numbers chapter 30 and its prescriptions regarding Patriarchal order with fathers being able to override their daughter’s life decisions and husbands being able to override their wife’s life decisions.   They see the commands of Numbers 30 as well as other examples of Patriarchal order in the Old Testament as temporary and “cultural” and only specifically apply to the theocracy of Israel.

Complementarians Fail to See the Moral Law of God in the Civil Laws of Israel

Exodus 22:16-17 provides a good example of the blindness of complementarians to the moral law of God found in the civil laws of Israel.

Complementarians deny that the right given to a father in Exodus 22:16-17 to allow or refuse his daughter’s hand in marriage to a man was lasting moral law, but rather they teach that it was temporary civil law which was done away with in the New Covenant.

The reason their interpretation of this passage is flawed is because they fail to see that many civil laws in Israel also contained the moral law of God.  In other words, many civil laws of Israel handled the punishment or reparations to be made for violating God’s moral law.

Below is a breakdown of the moral law and then civil reparations to be made for breaking God’s moral law in Exodus 22:16-17:

God’s Moral Law: “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her”

God’s Civil Reparation for the theocracy of Israel: “he shall surely endow her to be his wife”

God’s Moral Law: “If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him”

God’s Civil Reparation for the theocracy of Israel: “he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins”

So, if we separate the moral law from the civil reparation for breaking that moral law, we can see there are two moral laws presented by God in Exodus 22:16-17. 

The first moral law presented is that God does not allow sex outside of the covenant of marriage. 

The second moral law we see in Exodus 22:16-17 is that of a father’s right to allow or refuse his daughter’s hand in marriage. When a man and woman have premarital sex, they have both sinned not just against God, but also against the woman’s father.  The woman has sinned against her father by giving away that which was not hers to give and the man as well has sinned against her father by taking that which was not his to take.

Complementarians Teach That Male Domination Was A Result of the Fall

Complementarians actually agree with Egalitarians in their belief that male domination was a result of the fall.  In his article “Manhood and Womanhood: Conflict and Confusion After the Fall” , John Piper wrote “And when sin has the upper hand in man, he will respond in like manner and with his strength subdue her, or rule over her”.  And in another article entitled “Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head, Part 1“, Piper stated that a husband’s “headship is not a right to control” and a wife’s submission to her husband should not be “coerced” but that it must only be submission that is “free and willing”.

Complementarians and egalitarians say that the word “shall” in the phrase “he shall rule over thee” is not God’s command for husbands to rule over their wives, but rather God predicting that sin would cause men to dominate their wives.

But the complementarian position fails to take into account God’s command to Cain in Genesis 4:7:

“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”

The parallels between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 cannot be denied.  In both instances God commands that the person should rule over the other person who is trying to control them.  In the case of Cain, God personifies his sin nature as a man that is trying to control Cain.  But God commands that Cain should rule over that man.  And in the same way God says in Genesis 3:16 because of the corruption sin wives would try to control their husbands, but that husbands must rule over their wives.

Complementarianism Teaches a Limited form of Submission for Women

In his article entitled “Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head, Part 1“, Piper states the following:

submission is not slavish or coerced or cowering. That’s not the way Christ wants the church to respond to his leadership and protection and provision. He wants the submission of the church to be free and willing and glad and refining and strengthening”

Piper uses three key words which he says are the opposite of Biblical submission and those are “slavish”, “coerced” and “cowering”.  So, let’s look at each one.

A Wife’s Submission is to Surpass that of a Slave

I have previously written an article entitled “8 Biblical Differences Between Wives and Slaves” which details the differences between the wives and slaves in the Bible.  The difference could be summed up as follows.

Biblically speaking, wives and slaves are both owned by masters (Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 22:22, 1 Peter 3:6).  Both slaves and wives are told to obey their masters in everything except if they are told to sin (Ephesians 5:24).  Wives are told that their bodies are for their husband’s sexual satisfaction and use (Proverbs 5:18-19, Romans 1:27).  A wife’s submission to her husband is to be even greater than that of slave to their master because her husband has the right to the sexual use of her body for his satisfaction.

So, if a wife’s submission to her husband as her master is to be greater than that of the typical master/slave relationship what is the difference between a wife and slave? The answer is found in the Biblical requirements for husbands in regard to the treatment of their wives.

A husband is required to love his wife as his own body, and to provide for her needs as he would his own body (Ephesians 5:28-29).   He is to be willing to lay down his life to save his wife (Ephesians 5::25).   A husband is responsible for the spiritual discipline and teaching of his wife. A husband is required to give his wife sexual access to his body (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).  A husband is required to allow his wife to enjoy the fruit of her labors (Proverbs 31:31).  None of these things were required of masters toward their slaves.

The Danvers Statement says a woman’s submission is not about “servility” and Piper said in the statement we are examining now that is not “slavish”.  And both of those statements are completely wrong.  Biblically speaking a wife’s submission to her husband is to surpass “slavish” or “servile” submission because unlike slaves, God has created wives to serve their husbands with their lives (1 Corinthians 11:9).

A Wife’s Submission Can Be in Response to Coercion

Piper’s assertion that a woman’s submission is to not come as a result of coercion from her husband is directly refuted by Christ’s statement to his churches in Revelation 3:19:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

While it is true that Christ wants his church to freely submit to him, the fact is that Christ will receive submission from his church based on him using coercive means just as God used coercive means with his wife Israel to compel her submission.

And since we know that a husband is to model his love for his wife off Christ’s love for his church and that the wife is to model her submission toward her husband off the church’s submission to Christ – we can rightly say that complementarianism again is absolutely wrong on this.  A wife’s submission can Biblically be coerced from her husband.

A Wife’s Submission is to be Cowering

Piper’s assertion that a wife’s submission does not involve cowering is again directly refuted by the Bible in 1 Peter 3:1-2:

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

Women should absolutely fear their husbands in both the sense of showing reverence toward them and also fearing discipline if they disobey.  Cowering is a Biblical aspect of a woman’s submission to her husband.

Conclusion

No one would argue that there were not abuses committed against women both by individual husbands as well as systematically by various cultures. And even in post-feminist cultures like America today, some men still abuse their wives.  But that does not mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater.  We can as Bible believing Christians uphold God’s order of patriarchy and at the same time call out the abuses of patriarchy where they occur both at the individual family level as well as the larger cultural systematic level.

In regard to the term “traditional” as it relates to gender roles.  We can uphold traditional and cultural values that do not conflict with the Word of God and especially those which match with the Bible and at the same time set aside some traditional values our culture may have that conflict with the Word of God.

Hebrews 9:1-10 shows us that only the civil prescriptions for punishments or reparations for breaking God’s moral law as well as the ceremonial laws are set aside in the New Covenant.  But the moral law of God remains.  That means we are still under the moral law found in both the Old and New Testaments.

And contrary to what complementarians and egalitarians teach, it is not a sin for a husband to dominate (rule over, control) his wife, but rather it is a sin for him NOT to dominate his wife. 

In the complementarian view, a husband may only lead his wife by example or suggestions to her, but he may never lead her by commanding her or seeking to control her through coercive methods.  And it is precisely because of the denial that male domination of woman is God’s command, that complementarianism teaches a hollow and weak form of male headship and female submission in the home.

When it comes to the doctrines of the Bible concerning gender roles, there is no “middle ground” and no room for compromise with egalitarianism.   Complementarianism is a counterfeit doctrine of male headship and female submission.

Why God’s Identification as Male Is the Key to Understanding Life’s Meaning

Is the only reason God is identified in the Bible by masculine titles such as Father, Husband, Son and King and not also as Mother, Wife, Daughter and Queen because of the “misogynist” and “patriarchal” times the Bible was written in? Many non-Christians and sadly even professing Christians today would have us belief this.

On the other hand, we have Bible believing conservative Christians who tell us that “Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of him… God is not male and God is not female… And yet God’s self-chosen titles matter”. So, these Bible believing Christians are basically saying God is not masculine or feminine and they don’t understand why he chooses masculine titles or even why he established male headship, just that he did and we must accept it. It is a mystery to them as to why God consistently reveals himself in the masculine sense.

What if I were to tell you that God’s Identification as male in the Bible is not because of the “misogynist” and “patriarchal” times the Bible was written in nor is it a mystery we must just accept. What if I were to tell you that understanding why God identifies as male can actually answer the greatest question any man or woman could ask and that is “Why am I here?

Recently I received an email from one of my readers asking me to tackle this issue. She told me she had people throwing verses at her that seemed to present God in a feminine sense. The people who gave her these verses claimed these passages proved God was both male and female – or that God split the attributes of his nature into male and female human beings so only together do man and woman represent the nature of God.

While writing a response to her concerns I decided to look into a few other conservative Christian sites to see their response to this issue in comparison to my own. I found an article written by Tony Reinke on DesiringGod.org called “Our Mother Who Art In Heaven?”. In this article he was reviewing “The Shack” movie which came out in 2017.

I decided that I would answer this reader’s question by reviewing this “review”. The reason is that while Reinke was right in some of his condemnation of the gender fluid portrayal of God the father in “The Shack” the problem is he really did not go far enough in his explanation of why it was wrong. In fact he and John Piper are both wrong in their position on the nature of God as it relates to gender.

So, I think this will more than answer this reader’s questions and show that even in conservative Bible believing circles there is unfortunately a great degree of ignorance regarding the nature of God.

Reinke starts out his review with the following synopsis of “The Shack”:

“With the recent launch of The Shack movie, we are reminded of a whole mix of theological questions raised by the novel, and the problems of projecting the divine onto a screen. One of the lead characters in the book, for example, is a woman named Papa, who plays the role of God the Father, and her character reignites questions over divine identity and gender language.

I am neither male nor female,” Papa self-discloses in the novel, “even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”

So now let’s look at Reinke’s response to the issue of God’s nature in relation to gender. He starts off quoting the Words of Christ and then John Piper:

“It’s worth saying from the outset, in the words of Jesus, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). God is not a sexual being, nor is he a biological male. He is spirit. “From eternity,” says John Piper, “God has not had a physical body and, therefore, he doesn’t have male features: facial hair, musculature, male genitals, no Y chromosome, no male hormones. Male is a biological word, and God is not a biological being” (Ask Pastor John, episode 294).”

And here is the first mistake in theology which comes from John Piper and then is repeated by Tony Reinke. Male is not just a “biological word”. Male, in the sense of male human beings, describes a set of both physical and psychological characteristics that are common to men. Here is a list of psychological differences between the typical man and the typical woman:

  1. Men are systemizers and women are empathizers.
  2. Men are logical and duty driven and women are emotional and feelings driven.
  3. Men are physical and women are relational.
  4. Men are competitive and women are cooperative.
  5. Men are aggressive and women are gentle.

I could go on with many more comparisons, but the fact is there is more to male and female than just genitalia and chromosomes. And before the transgender and gender fluid folks say “ya that right!” let me help you here. In Genesis 1:27, the Scriptures tell us “male and female created he them” and God makes the following declaration in the book of Deuteronomy:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”
Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV)

What that means practically speaking is if you are born in a male “vessel” as the Bible refers to our bodies, then you are required by God to dress and act like a male. If you are born in a female vessel then are you are required by God to dress and act like a female.

In other words, being cisgender is not just “a privilege” as some call it today, but is in fact the command of God.

So, in this case, both sides are wrong. I know for sure that Reinke and Piper both oppose transgenderism but they are wrong in limiting male to simply a biological term. Male describes both biology and nature.

Reinke then goes on to list 26 passages where he says “God’s character and actions are revealed by feminine imagery”.

Let’s take a look at a few of these passages that he mentions:
“As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Isaiah. 66:13 (KJV)
“I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.”
Isaiah 42:14 (KJV)
“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”
Isaiah 49:15

What do all these passages have in common? They are metaphors for behavior, not titles for God. And Reinke acknowledges this when he states “But even taken together, the evidence does not warrant us praying to “our Mother who art in heaven” and then he gives his “three compelling reasons” why.

In his first point Reinke states:

“in Scripture we find many masculine titles for God: Lord, Father, King, Judge, Savior, Ruler, Warrior, Shepherd, Husband, and even a handful of metaphorical masculine titles like Rock, Fortress, and Shield. While feminine titles for God — Queen, Lady, Mother, and Daughter — are never used.”

And this is a point I have made several times on this blog. Every title for God in the Bible is a masculine title and never ever feminine title.

His second point is in my opinion is quite silly. He tries to show that with the incarnation of Christ in “biological maleness” that there is a “sharp drop-off with the feminine metaphors for God”. He seems to be saying God became more male after Christ took on a male biological form.

I mean no disrespect to Reinke but this argument really is foolishness. The Trinity did not become more masculine because Christ took on a biological form, but rather Christ took on the form of a man because God ALWAYS had a masculine nature as we will show here in this article.

Now that I have been so hard on Reinke for his second point, I will give him some credit on his third point. For his third point as to why we should not refer to God as “Our Mother in Heaven” he states:

“Third, as theologian John Frame points out, it is not uncommon to see in Scripture feminine imagery intentionally applied to men (as in 2 Samuel 17:8). This makes sense to us, as we often speak of the feminine side of men today, meaning that men can (and should) display qualities often associated with women, like gentleness.

The apostle Paul’s anguish over the growth of his churches was for him like the pain of birthing a child (Galatians 4:19). And Paul’s apostolic gentleness was something like the kindness and patience of a nursing mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Obviously, Paul’s maleness is never brought into question by these female metaphors.”

That is a fantastic point about the Apostle Paul comparing himself to a mother in his behavior several times.

The point here is that just because I, the Apostle Paul or God himself uses a metaphor invoking the behavior of a woman does not mean we are saying we are both male and female. It has nothing to do with our identity as men.

But even on his third point Reinke makes this statement that needs correction – “we often speak of the feminine side of men today, meaning that men can (and should) display qualities often associated with women, like gentleness”. While I am not against men being gentle when a situation warrants it – one of the worst parts of our modern society is the teaching that men should be more like women. And sadly, this is even taught in many of our churches today.

Reinke concludes his review with the following statement from John Piper on this subject:

““Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of him,” stresses Piper. “Woman was not modeled after some other god. There is no other god. She was modeled after God. When the Bible says she and he were created in the image of God, it means she is also made after the model of her Creator. So, it is important to say that in his essential divine being, not referring to his incarnate union with humanity, but in his essential, divine essence, God is not male and God is not female. Maleness and femaleness are God’s creation, as biological bearers of masculinity and femininity, both of which are rooted in God” (Ask Pastor John, episode 294).”

There are many false statements made here by Piper and repeated by Reinke. But before I show why they are false I need to show you a passage of Scripture that is not mentioned in this review:
“7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
I Corinthians 11:7-9 (KJV)

The word “man” in I Corinthians 11:7 is a translation of the Greek word “Aner” which literally means “male human being” while woman is a translation of the word “gune” which literally means “female human being”. Throughout the New Testament aner is translated as “man, men or husband” depending on the context it is used in and gune is translated as “woman, women or wife” depending on the context it is used in.

What this passage is saying is that the male human being is the image and glory of God, but the female human being is the glory of the man. It is a clear comparison and contrasting statement.

In fact, the passage above gives the very reason for which God created man and woman. He created man to image him and thereby bring him glory and he created woman to be the glory of man. The Old Testament tells us that God created the woman for the man as a helper (Genesis 2:18) and it also tells us that a woman is to be her husband’s “crown” or glory (Proverbs 12:4). The New Testament goes further into man’s imaging duties telling us that “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). All of these Scriptures passages and many more confirm for us why God refers to himself in the masculine sense in the Scriptures. It is because the masculine human being is the one who is his image bearer.

John Piper even blatantly denies what I Corinthians 11:7 so clearly states for us in another article he wrote specifically on I Corinthians 11 entitled “Creation, Culture, and Corinthian Prophetesses”.

In that article Piper states:

“Verse 7 tells why a man should not have a sign of authority on his head: “He is the image and glory of God’ but woman is the glory of man.” This is parallel to verse 3 (NAS): “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman.”
These verses do not necessarily imply that Christ is not woman’s head nor that she is not the image and glory of God. Paul’s point is that man was created by God through Christ and woman was created by God through Christ through man. The point is not to lessen the intimacy of her relation to Christ (she is receiving prophetic revelation!), but to clarify and establish her relation to man.

Man is God’s glory in that he came from God through Christ without coming through woman, and so is to reflect Christ’s true nature as his divine head. Woman is man’s glory in that she came from God through Christ through man, and so is to reflect man’s true nature as her human head.”

Is there anything in this passage that states “Man is God’s glory in that he came from God through Christ without coming through woman”? Absolutely not. These verses do not just “imply” that “she is not the image and glory of God”, they EXPLICILTY state it!

This is why I always chuckle when people act like John Piper is this big traditional gender roles guy. He is NOT. Yes, he teaches male headship, but like most complementarians today he does not teach the REASON for male headship.

God did not just flip a coin and put men in charge of women. He put men in charge of women because the male human being “is the image and glory of God”. And because Piper and most Christian teachers refuse to acknowledge this truth that is staring them in the face – they cannot fully understand the purpose in why God placed men over women.

Now let’s return to the final statement by Piper that Reinke uses in his conclusion. I will take several key statements comparing them with the Scriptures:

Piper states:

“Everything created in woman that sets her off from man comes from God and reflects something of him”

This is FALSE. There is not one Scripture passage that says everything that sets a woman apart from man reflects something of God’s nature. In fact, in I Corinthians 11:9 we are told this truth:
“Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”

That means that everything that “sets her off from man” was created in her FOR MAN, not to further reveal the nature of God.

Piper states:

“Woman was not modeled after some other god. There is no other god. She was modeled after God.”

This is what is called a strawman argument. Who said woman was modeled after some other god? The false argument Piper is pushing is woman must be modeled after a god, and therefore since we know there is only one God then woman must be equally modeled after God in the same way man is.
The fact is that woman is NOT modeled after God or man while she does share common attributes with man whom she was taken from and therefore God as well because man was made in the image of God.

I used to say in error “Man is the image of God, and woman is the image of man” but I realized that statement is also theologically incorrect. The Bible never states that woman is the image of God nor does it state she is the image of man. She shares a common human nature with man but she is not his image as her nature is still very different.

Woman was given her core human traits like self-awareness, creativity, the ability to feel emotions, the ability to appreciate beauty and the ability to learn to make her a “help meet” (Genesis 2:18) for man. Man was given these same core human traits and then addition traits of increased strength, competitiveness, aggressiveness and many other traits we understand as masculine for a different purpose.

Man was given his masculine human nature to image God and thereby bring him glory. Woman was given her feminine nature not to be God’s image bearer, but instead to be a HELP to his image bearer. This is the truth of the Word of God.

Piper states:

“When the Bible says she and he were created in the image of God, it means she is also made after the model of her Creator.”

This is FALSE. No passage of the Bible says “she and he were created in the image of God”. Piper like many Christian teachers attempts to build this false argument on the following verse from Genesis:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
Genesis 1:27 (KJV)

Does that passage say God created “she and he” or “male and female” in his image? It does not. It states two different things. First, it states that God created “him”, not “them” in his image. Secondly it states that he made “them” – male and female. Nothing here states that the female was made in his image as well. Many of tried to argue that the Hebrew word for man here “adam” means “mankind” and sometimes it does. But not when it is used with speech about a particular man. The Hebrew translated as “he him” literally means “this same man” and it is speaking of particularly of Adam the man.

We then learn from the Apostle Paul giving us divine commentary that it is all male human beings “aner” that are “the image and glory of God”. Mr. Reinke and Mr. Piper need only to accept the clear and explicit teaching of I Corinthians 11:7.

Piper states:

“So, it is important to say that in his essential divine being, not referring to his incarnate union with humanity, but in his essential, divine essence, God is not male and God is not female.”

Again, the statement that “God is not male and God is not female” directly contradicts the reading of I Corinthians 11:7 which Piper chooses to explain away and ignore:
“For a MAN (“aner” – the male human being”) indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he IS the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”
I Corinthians 11:7 (KJV)

If the male human being is “the image and glory of God” then we can we rightly say God IS male in the sense that the Trinity is imaged in the masculine human nature. Now does that mean God is biologically male? Yes and No. Christ is the God man, but God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are spirit as the Bible tells us:
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:24 (KJV)

Conclusion

God using feminine metaphors to picture his behavior or feelings no more makes him female in his nature than the Apostle Paul using female metaphors for his behavior made him female in his.

There is no conflict in saying that God is spirit and yet God has always possessed a masculine nature even before the incarnation of Christ. God did not become more masculine after Christ took on the form of a man, but rather Christ took on the form of a man because God was always masculine.

To women reading this. The truth that you were made for man and not to image God does not mean God loves you any less than man. The lie you are taught in America and Western civilization is that equality equals humanity.

We are told that if we embrace the truth of God’s Word that woman was not made in God’s image then we are saying women are less human than men, and less valuable to God. This is false. God loves men and women equally and men and women are equally saved by Christ and can both become part of the body of Christ as the Scriptures tell us:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28 (KJV)

“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
I Peter 3:7 (KJV)

The male and female, like marriage itself, is for this world and this time as the Scriptures tell us:
“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”
Matthew 22:30 (KJV)

But in this world and in this life, God has made “male and female”. If we are born in a male vessel than our life’s mission is to be the image bearer of God. We are to display his masculine attributes throughout our life. If we are born in a woman’s vessel, then we are called to find and dedicate our life to serving a person in a male vessel in marriage. This service of the female vessel to the male vessel was designed by God to picture the relationship between himself and his people.

And what I have just described answers the most important question that we as human beings can ever ask and that is “Why I am here?“. If we not only accept that God identifies as male, but accept why he identifies as male then we as men and woman, can know the meaning of life. But if we do as so much of the world today does and reject the fact that God identifies as male and why he identifies as male then we reject our very purpose for being here.