This is the first of Stephanie Judd’s two-part contribution to the discussion surrounding the “Fall of Mars Hill” podcast. See part 2 here.

When I was 17 years old, my friend Sophie gave me a New Testament. I had grown up in the Roman Catholic church and I was fond of Jesus and the Christian faith but had never read the Bible on my own. Without realising it, I was hungry for answers. I wanted to understand who God is and how He is at work in my life and in the world.

Nothing like a bit of apostle Paul for romance. I was shocked.

I picked up the New Testament that Sophie had given me, and started to read. In the front section was an index with different topics. I made my way through teaching on heaven and hell, angels and demons, and then saw a topic listed in the index: ‘marriage’. I had always been a romantic at heart and so I eagerly flicked through to the apostle Paul’s teaching on marriage in Ephesians chapter 5.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Nothing like a bit of apostle Paul for romance. I was shocked, and shortly after, horrified. Here was teaching that was fundamentally opposed to my own values and convictions about what it meant to be a woman in the world.

Years later, while training to be a minister at theological college, I had many sleepless nights wrestling with God’s Word and what He has to say about women and their role in the church. I knew that wherever I landed on this issue was to shape my life and ministry in significant ways.

Everywhere I go someone has a view on what I do.

Even today, it seems everywhere I go someone has a view on what I do. Some people are offended when I’m not speaking in a certain ministry setting, others are offended when I am. Some people think I shouldn’t be in certain rooms, others feel I should.

The biblical vision of the relationship of men and women in Jesus’ mission—in particular, the practical outworking of that vision in the context of the home and in the church—is one of the most complicated theological, ethical, practical, and pastoral issues I have ever faced. But amidst the complexity, I have come to believe that biblical complementarity is a vision worth pursuing. The Bible’s vision of man and woman as equal and distinct, together serving God’s mission in unity, partnership, and in love, is for flourishing of the church, for the good of our world, and for the glory of Christ.

And so, I was pained when I listened to episode 5 of ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’. I was pained to hear Driscoll pushing the Bible into places and spaces it does not go, destroying lives and faith in the process. I was pained to hear something which is beautiful and good—biblical complementarity—turned into a cover for the objectification of women. I was pained to learn about the destructive impact of a culture which distorts and destroys the truth.

If Driscoll’s version of complementarianism were the only version on offer, then it would make sense to run as far from the complementarian position as one can. Is it a choice between Discroll’s oppressive and abusive teaching on gender, or a rejection of gender distinction all together? Or is there another way? What does the Bible have to say about women and men?

Women and Men as Equal

As we consider the identity of women and men in the Bible, it’s helpful to head back to our origin story, to the very beginning of the Bible: the book of Genesis:

In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, NIV)

Into a void of raw nothingness and chaos, God speaks, and, increment-by-increment, the world and all that is in it, comes into formation according to his design.

He makes light, and it’s good.

He makes land and seas, and it’s good. He makes plants, the stars and the moon, and it’s good.

He makes fish and birds, and it’s good.

All of this is building to the pinnacle of his creation, the high point of all of creation: man and woman:

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness … (Genesis 1:26)

According to the Bible, man and woman, at the core of their design, are image-bearers of their Creator. It is incredible to consider what this communicates about our identity. From the Bible we see God is a holy God—completely other; separate from all he has made. He is mighty in power, rich in love, generous in mercy, just and good, faithful, and righteous in all his ways.

In the same way the moon reflects the light of the sun, so you were made to reflect the beauty, goodness, and identity of God.

Here is a question to consider: How does God choose to make this holiness known to the world? By dialling down the splendour of his creation? By depriving his creation of God-like qualities to ensure the focus is on him? No. Instead, he draws us—man and woman—into his holiness. He gives man and woman the dignity of reflecting him to the rest of the world. This is not to say we have become God, but we have been made like God. In the same way the moon reflects the light of the sun, so you were made to reflect the beauty, goodness, and identity of God.

And when it comes to imaging God, notice that man alone won’t cut it. In chapter 2 of Genesis we read:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

The Lord puts the man into a sleep, takes one of his ribs, closes up the flesh, makes the woman from the very same stuff as man, brings him to the man, and in celebration the man sings a love song before this woman:

This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman” because she was taken out of man.
(Genesis 2:23)

Finally, the man has someone else made of the same “stuff”—of his own substance. Someone equal to him in essence.

It is important to note that it is this equality which marks Eve out as a suitable partner in God’s mission. The problem here is not so much that Adam was lonely. After all, he was with God in the garden. The problem is that he was unable to fulfill God’s mission and mandate alone. God’s mission to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

How’s that for a position description? Make lots more image-bearers and rule creation together! This must be a team effort. A co-partnership between man and woman under the reign and rule of God.

And this is so significant when it comes to the way that we view men and women in all aspects of society today. That God has made man and woman together in his image and called them to work together; to exercise authority over the world. They must not be a divided people with different agendas fighting for their own leg up. They are created as a united people with a common mission; the same ultimate call; the same responsibility; made of the same stuff; called to the same purpose.

Throughout the Old Testament we see this lived out again and again as women take their part alongside men in advancing God’s purposes in the world. We see…

  • Deborah the prophetess who led and accompanied Barak the commander of the Israelite army in leading Israel to victory over the Canaanites;
  • Jael, who worked with Deborah and Barak in assassinating the enemy commander Sisera with a tent peg, giving victory to God’s people;
  • Rahab who protected and partnered with Caleb and the spies as they spied on the land that God had given to Israel;
  • Hannah whose prayer resulted in God’s provision of one of Israel’s great prophets;
  • Huldah, a female prophet who prophesied judgment on Judah, compelling King Josiah to begin his reforms;
  • Esther, who with Mordecai, saved the Jews from genocide.

This contribution of women alongside men in the advancement of God’s mission is then expressed in the New Testament— most powerfully in the life of Jesus. From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, we see Mary, singing of her blessedness on hearing that she will bear a child of the Holy Spirit. We see Anna, an elderly prophet who is on fire for God and who speaks about Jesus in the temple to all who were looking forward to Israel’s redemption.

Ever wondered how Jesus paid for a band of twelve men to quit their jobs and travel the world preaching? It was the women.

We often hear of Jesus’ ministry with the 12 disciples, who were all men. But in Luke chapter 8 we read that as Jesus travelled from one town and village to another it was not only the Twelve who travelled with him but also a significant group of women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and “many others”. These women, we are told, resourced Jesus’ ministry. Ever wondered how Jesus paid for a band of twelve men to quit their jobs and travel the world preaching? Three years of accommodation, food, travel, logistical expenses? It was the women.

There are also the women that Jesus holds up as examples of faith. In Luke chapter 7 we read of the “sinful woman”—likely a prostitute—who turns up in the middle of a religious dinner party throwing herself at Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair, kissing his feet, pouring perfume over them. Simon the Pharisee voices to himself his disgust at Jesus. Jesus, in response, shames Simon and points to her as an example of faith and forgives her sins.

It was women who were the first to witness and testify to Jesus’ resurrection. When the testimony of women wasn’t believed by two of the disciples, Jesus rebukes the men: ‘How foolish you are,’ Jesus comments, ‘and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ There is no doubt, when it comes to the person and ministry of Jesus, that women are valued, brought in, cared for, partnered-with, and lifted-up—counter-culturally so.

Personally, I am incredibly thankful for men I have worked with who have demonstrated this in their own partnership with and encouragement of me.

  • I think of Scott, my youth minister, who explained the gospel to me week after week; who drew me into leadership with a team of gifted and godly men and women; who was the first to invite me to run a Bible Study; who trained me in preaching, and who challenged me when I needed to be challenged.
  • I think of Nathan, Gavin and Mike who demonstrated what it looked like to live as a disciple of Jesus; who prepared me for the joys and challenges of ministry, and who pastored me as a single woman when I navigated the tricky terrain of dating and spoke words of encouragement into my life.
  • I think of Andrew, Peter, George and Andrew who taught me in theology; who entered into deep conversations with me in the lecture room, over coffee, in the morning tea area, to help me understand, communicate, and grow in the Word.
  • I think of my current boss, Guy, who serves as the Senior Pastor at City on a Hill, who not only gives me genuine responsibility, but regularly invites my input and contribution in areas of teaching and leadership, and with whom I enjoy a wonderful friendship with.
  • And of course, I think of my husband Andrew, who affirms my capabilities, who celebrates my leadership, who personally sacrifices to enable my work, who is a partner in all aspects of parenting, and who is an encourager in the faith.

Women and Men as Distinct

It’s important to recognise that in the Genesis account, within the framework of equality, there exists a distinction between men and women. While they are of the same stuff, they are not exactly the same. Commenting on Genesis, theologian Claire Smith states,

[Man’s] aloneness hasn’t been resolved with someone identical to him (another man), or with something foreign to him (an animal), but with someone essentially like him but opposite to him. His other half. His complement.[1]

Adam and Eve are physically distinct. Their physical differences enable them to procreate; to “be fruitful and increase in number.” Their distinctions also shape their distinct roles in God’s mission. The woman is given privileged title of ‘helper’ to the man in this mission—a title which is also used in Scripture to describe God in relation to Israel.

When it comes to Genesis, the particularities of this helper relationship are given little detail—and accordingly, we shouldn’t be overly prescriptive in applying it.

When it comes to the New Testament, however, woman’s role as helper, and man’s complementary role in God’s mission, is fleshed out a bit more—particularly with regard to:

  1. The ordering of relationships in the home, and
  2. The ordering of relationships in the gathered church of Jesus Christ.

These are the things I’ll try to talk about in my next post.

[1] Claire Smith, God’s Good Design (USA: Matthias Media, 2012), 170.