The Kingdom is a beautiful, life-giving vision centered on Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. The gospel of the Kingdom is more than just about the salvation and transformation of individuals, but of all of creation. It is a good news about the reign of Jesus, inaugurated at His coming and transforming lives, relationships, communities and more in the world.
The core vision of the Kingdom Outpost is the facilitation of conversations about how Jesus’s Kingdom changes everything and how it has the potential to turn the world “upside-down” (Acts 17:6). A central belief is the separation of Kingdoms, that is, that Jesus’s Kingdom is different from and antithetical to the way the kingdoms of this world, particularly in the use of force and violence. We hold to the convictions of Christian nonviolence based on the example of Christ on the cross and on His words.
One topic that has emerged as an issue of controversy in the Christian world today is the subject of gender, the relationship between men and women. This is part of an ever-expanding written project that we have been working on and are blessed to share in multiple segments, addressing questions of Christ-like, “Kingdom” relationship dynamics and questions of authority, submission, headship, power, and control. This is because Kingdom relationships and indeed the “theopolitical” implications of Jesus’ reign extend far beyond “political” questions of government, statecraft, and war. In fact, Jesus’ politics consisted of loving one’s neighbour, washing His disciples feet, and taking the humiliated form of a bondservant. In His death on the cross, He challenged every value of the Roman world concerning power, status and dignitas. Jesus as King meant something that directly commented on Caesar as Emperor.
Here at the Kingdom Outpost, we are committed to exploring the full implication of Christ’s Kingdom as transformative leaven in the societies and communities in which we live. For the past twelve months, we have been working through discussions and beliefs about gender in the Kingdom of God – reading, communicating, discerning, and discussing with our brothers and sisters. A range of views have been expressed, particularly surrounding the gender-related controversies in the Christian world and in larger society that has plagued gender theology particularly in the 20th century. We want to articulate a Christ-centered, Kingdom view pertinent to these controversies.
Our broader aims are as such:
- To articulate a Kingdom perspective that is rooted in Christ rather than reactionary, but that also responds to the conversations about gender in the church today.
- To unite rather than divide the Christian community and find common ground that thoroughly addresses a range of concerns raised about the misuse of gender teachings.
- To use a plain, simple interpretation that takes every word of Scripture about men and women seriously but that centralizes Christ’s words and distinct Kingdom from that of the world, resulting in a distinctly “upside-down” approach from that of the world’s kingdoms and societies as well as the theologies of Christendom that harmfully confuse church and state, that which is of Christ and that which is of the world.
What a “Kingdom-centred” view of men and women implies is something we want to embody, practically, in a way that glorifies God. As a community of discernment with roots in Biblical and Anabaptist interpretation, our Statement of Belief reflects these convictions surrounding mutual and complementary gender differences as applied in practices such as headcovering. We hope that this resource, a work in progress, will engage with contemporary conversations surrounding equality and difference, egalitarianism and complementarianism in the larger theological world.
The Kingdom Outpost Team
1. Why the term, “Cruciform Complementarity”?
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:3)
“I present the so-called evangelicals and their teachers and preachers no other alternative than the crucified, patient, and loving Christ.” (Pilgram Marpeck).
The question at the heart of the debate in gender theology is whether Christians should be “complementarian” or “egalitarian”. However, it is inarguable that the central mission of the church is to be cruciform, to be like Christ as demonstrated to us on the cross and to be transformed into His image. Ephesians 5:1-2 describes how we are to be
- Imitators of God
- God’s children (born of God, in His likeness)
- Walk in the way of Christ’s love demonstrated to us when He “gave Himself up for us.”
Similarly, Philippians 2:1-11 describes how Christ
- Made Himself nothing
- Took the form of a bondservant (lowest-ranking person in Greco-Roman society)
- Humbled Himself and was obedient in His death on the cross.
Gorman (2004) describes cruciformity as the center of Paul’s theology, and we know discipleship, carrying the cross and following Jesus are central to the Christian faith. Paul wrote that he only wanted to see one thing manifested in the Corinthian church (and indeed all churches): Jesus Christ and Him crucified. From the above passages, cruciformity can be defined as:
- Self-giving action
- Humility and servanthood
One further piece of the puzzle can be added to this picture: it is far too easy to have a picture of a cross that solely about self-denial and suffering. What is necessary and central, and often missing, is a glorious picture of the cross. It is in fact a picture of the wisdom and power of God when seen from a Kingdom perspective. Cruciformity in the church is a beautiful, whole, vision for the creation God is making anew in the body.
Any theology and any teaching should be conformed to this holistic and life-giving picture of God’s Kingdom centered on this concept of cruciformity. Our interactions with one another and the way we encompass a Christian body should be cruciform, so much so that we will bring praise to God when our love and good works are seen by others (Matthew 5:16; John 13:35). The radiant light of Christ’s love among us as His body is our primary testimony. Interactions between men and women, people of different ethnicities, and people of different social backgrounds should manifested Christ and Him crucified.
There is no violence in a crucified body. There is no hatred, division, selfishness or pride. Instead, we manifest among us the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23)) as well as the wisdom from above that is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit (James 3:17-18).
We are in the process of being transformed to be conformed to Christ. Anything that falls short of cruciformity is not Christian nor is it of Christ. Anything that does not bear good fruit is not of Christ. A theology of cruciformity means that abuse and violence, for example, are so outside and removed from Christ that they cannot remotely be considered an expression of Biblical marriage teachings.
Why the term of complementarity? Complementarity is the acknowledgement that, from creation, male and female humans were distinct. Sex is a scientific term referring to biological sexual differentiation related to reproduction: In the beginning God made them male and female. Gender is also a scientific term, referring to social expressions of maleness and femaleness. In simple terms, sex is the biology of a person and gender is the person’s being – their identity and expressions of self.
Both egalitarian and complementarian Christians believe in complementarity between male and female, man and woman. Complementarity can be described as mutuality, reciprocity, teamwork, and coexistence. It is important to note that complementarity is a widely-accepted concept even for egalitarians. Giles (2015) notes that “Egalitarians unequivocally affirm male-female differentiation”, citing Jewett (1975), Giles (1977; 1986), Evans (1983), Storkey (1985) and Pierce and Groothuis (2004) as egalitarian scholars who explicitly used the terms “complementary” or “complementarity”. Complementarianism is a specfic position articulated by the Danvers Statement (1987) and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Giles argues that the difference between different interpretations of male-female complementarity are at the heart of the “egalitarian vs. complementarian” debate.
Cruciform Complementarity is an attempt to argue for a position that is not “middle-road” or “centrist” in any way, but that derives from Anabaptist hermeneutics an understanding about gender complementarity, headship, and leadership or power. Further articles will potentially take an apologetics approach in exploring the other theologies of gender complementarity. The three central ideas of the hermeneutics used are as such:
- Christ has delivered us from the power of darkness/Satan into His Kingdom of light (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13). There are two kingdoms, one of Satan and one of God, that are separate. Those of Christ’s Kingdom reject the offices and means of power in this world.
- The central aim of the Christian life is discipleship, the imitation of Christ (Bender, 1941).
- Discipleship means the primacy of Christ, His teachings and His example. Our purpose is to obey Him single-mindedly. This means that Christ’s teachings on enemy love and nonviolence are to the taken as definitive and “plain”.
2. Man, Woman, and the Image of God
We believe that in Creation, God made male and female and gave them a commission which can only be fulfilled in a state of complementary interdependence and partnership, “to be fruitful and multiply”. The implication of this is that the dominion and authority over creation that God gave together with this command was to both Adam and Eve jointly. Jesus affirmed God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, as well as the intention that husbands and wives become “one flesh”. Thus, there is a clear distinction of biological sex.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “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.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
There arises the questions of distinctions between the gender of male and female. These are often related to identity (“Who am I as a man/woman”?) and shared cultural beliefs about gender differences.
Here is the central consideration for Christians: “Male and female” are an expression of the image of God. Thus, there must be a deep seriousness and reverence regarding how we discuss, define, and practice the question of gender. We must be carefully rooted in Christ, and not ina any fallen human ideals. We should not dare to even venture to define gender according to ideals not found in the Scriptures, that are of our own making, or that are drawn from or in reaction to the ever-changing winds and tides of the world. Gender as a “social construct” is a collection of man-made assumptions, but gender (differences between men and women that encompass other aspects of being apart from biology) as a reflection of God is not.
A simple Scriptural principle is that we should not base our understanding of who God is on humans and human expressions of male and female. Instead, we should base our understanding who we as humans should be on God who is. We should not create idols and gods in our image.
It is worthwhile to note that we were created by, through, and for Christ and that includes our gender. Through Christ we were made male and female.
- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
- The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-16)
It is significant that men and women were made in the image of God, and now in the Kingdom, having been born again into Christ, we are to “put on Christ” (Romans 13:14).
- For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10)
- For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
- And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1 Corinthians 15:49-50)
- who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:21)
- and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Colossians 3:10)
- Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
Since death came to the world through the sin of the first man, Christ inaugurates a “new creation” that supersedes the old. Where men and women, and the distinctions of sex and gender, were reflections of the image of God, we shall be fully incorporated into the body of Christ, in whom dwells all of the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
This is perhaps a simplification of a hard-to-define truth, but while we bore the image of God in part, from creation, as men and women, that part of us (including our sex and gender) will find even greater fullness in the New Creation. In this sense, Galatians 3:26-29 does not reflect a “cancellation” of gender and sex distinction but a transcendent completion of it. We will no longer bear the image of God in a limited capacity, but completely; not merely individually, but as one body in Christ.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
This means that the part of God’s image reflected in our gender points towards our eternal destiny in union with Christ. We were not created to be an “ideal man” or “ideal woman”, but to be the body of Christ and rule and reign with Him eternally (2 Timothy 2:12; Ephesians 2:6; Revelations 1;6) . The image of God is our only archetype, our ultimate destiny. To focus on “manhood and womanhood” without bearing this in mind will result in pursuing anything but Christlikeness and, from observation, has the danger of turning aside from the path of discipleship in search of another model or ideal. Syncretism between Scripture and culture result in poorly grounded teachings about men, women, and marriage. This is why cruciformity is the essential core of “gender theology”.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
In the New Testament, apostolic teaching and the words of Jesus constantly remind us that at the end of the day, our biological bodies, whether male or female, should serve as dwelling places of God in the spirit and physical bearers of the crucifixion (Galatians 6:17). We are ultimately are called to be vessels of honor “sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21)
3. Women as Disciples and Inheritors of the Kingdom
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48)
Jesus, in pointing to His disciples, called them His mothers, brothers, and sisters who do His will. This is significant, considering that women were not often numbered or spoken to in mixed context, as well as that women were not disciples of Rabbis during the Second Temple Period. Yet Jesus clearly refers to women as His disciples, and women followed Him (Luke 8:1-3) and sat at His feet to learn from Him (Luke 10:39) and called Him teacher (didaskalos – John 11:28), indicating they were His disciples. Many women had followed Him to Jerusalem and were present at His crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41) and were among the believers in the upper room who received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14; Acts 2). Furthermore, the word disciple is used in female form for Dorcas in Acts 9.
We thus believe that every word and command of Jesus, whether to take up our cross, go into all the world and preach the Gospel, or to imitate Him apply to both men and women. Discipleship is the calling incumbent upon men and women.
- The Holy Spirit is poured out on both men and women (Acts 2)
- The Holy Spirit is given that we may be witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8-9), thereby fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28)
- The Holy Spirit gives gifts to all who are baptized into Christ’s body for the edification of the body (1 Corinthians 12)
- The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, discernment, and the knowledge of Christ. This does not come from our natural (inherited, genetic) abilities but through the spirit.
- But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 1:20)
- As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27-28)
- What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).
- But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, NKJV).
It is also significant that in the Kingdom of God, women are among primary inheritors. Under the old covenant, inheritance (such as property, covenantal relationship with God and priestly roles) were passed from father to son through male lineage from Abraham and, for priests, from Levi and Aaron.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29).
with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelations 5:9b-10)
Now in the Kingdom of God, women are considered full inheritors, heirs, and priests. Regardless of gender or lineage, we shared one identidy and one inheritance. There are no divisions based on ethnic, social or gender identities. In fact, physical birth does not determine who we are or what we inherit in the Kingdom.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. (John 3:3)
As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:48-50)
For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:11-15)
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)
Scripture is breathtakingly clear that spiritual birth comes from god alone. It is He who makes us His children, not any human decision. Jesus speaking to Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish leader in John 3:3, told Nicodemus that he could not expect to enter the Kingdom of God. Now Nicodemus would have been raised to believe the Kingdom of God was his birthright, something that was his inheritance as a Jewish person. Yet here Jesus was, saying his lineage and physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee him any special rights. Nicodemus had to be born into a new, spiritual lineage. Similarly Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 hammered home the message: it is not by flesh or blood that you get to inherit God’s Kingdom. Everyone is on the same level, everyone has to be birthed into the Kingdom by the will of God alone.
4. Headship and Authority According to Christ
The passages regarding headship and marriage are often interpreted apart from an understanding of Christ’s Kingdom. Subtle shifts and additions deviate from the plain, explicit message of the New Testament. A neglect of core principles of Christ’s life and example can cause a confusion between Christ’s system and the world’s system. This is why cruciformity in gender complementarity is essential.
Many Protestant teachings today base an understanding of marriage and the home on Luther’s “three estates” or “three hierarchies”, wherein God’s authority is reflected in political government (politia), church government (ecclesia), and the government of the home (oeconomia). No distinction is made between the way these different institutions or estates are ordered. It is important to understand that Protestant theologies of headship in marriage are based on this fundamental assumption, that authority in Kingdom relationships and authority in the world’s governments are both of the same model, which they ascribe to God. While the Anabaptists embraced a theology of “gewaltlosigkeit”, the rejection of force and violence, Martin Luther used the word “gewalt” with the cognate meanings of “power, violence and force” (Hopfl, 1991, pp.xxxvii-xxxviii). Rather than a complete rejection of coercive power and violence in Protestantism, there is ambiguity, indeed “blurred distinctions” between God’s authority and the world’s exercise of violence, opening the door for structures of worldly power to enter Christian relationships.
“Gewalt erodes the distinction between ‘power’ and ‘authority’. This is hardly surprising, given Luther’s 1523 view of the proper function of government as repressive and punitive… Sometimes Luther uses Gewalt in the sense of mere ‘force’ or ‘violence’, sometimes neutrally, like the English word ‘power’… and often as a synonym for ‘authority’, ‘those in power’, or ‘the authorities’, ‘government’, ‘superiority'”. (Hopfl, 1991)
One explanation of the Protestant and Magisterial view of power is that God’s authority is like the sun in our solar system, the gravitational force that keeps all in order. Political governments, the church, and the home all operate following the same model.
The Anabaptist view has always been that the Kingdom of Christ and that of the world, under the power of Satan, are “at variance” and ordered completely differently. The Kingdom view, in contrast, is that Christ came and established something contrary to the world’s exercise of power. He came and established an “upside-down” Kingdom. While the world and its systems are under the principalities and powers of darkness, operating according to Satan, the Kingdom of God is antithetical.
- For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
- to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:18)
- As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1-2).
As described by early Anabaptist Hans Schnell:
- The people in the kingdom of this world are born of the flesh, are earthly and carnally minded. The people in the kingdom of Christ are reborn of the Holy Spirit, live according to the Spirit, and are spiritually minded. The people in the kingdom of the world are equipped for fighting with carnal weapons—spear, sword, armor, guns and powder. The people in Christ’s kingdom are equipped with spiritual weapons—the armor of God, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit to fight against the devil, the world, and their own flesh, together with all that arises against God and his Word.
- Christ made these two kingdoms at variance with each other and separated. There will therefore be no peace between them. In the end, however, Christ will crush and destroy all the other kingdoms with his power and eternal kingdom. But his will remain eternally.
- Concerning this power of the sword Paul teaches us, saying: “The powers that be are of God … For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil.” Also: “He beareth not the sword in vain, for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”…The power of the sword in the kingdom of this world is ordained and commanded by God, and whoever resists the ruler, unless he orders what is against God, resists God’s order. But if the authorities command something that is against God, I say with Peter and John: “It is better to obey God than men.” Likewise the three men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den. Paul’s words cited above prove that the vocation of government and the vocation of the Christian are diametrically opposed to each other, like light and darkness.
- But Christ has given those in his kingdom a very different calling and office. “Recompense to no man evil for evil.” Also: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather give place unto wrath. For it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.’ ” Further: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
- Christ said: “They which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them: and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever among you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For the Son of man came not to be ministered unto.” This proves that in Christ’s kingdom here on earth none should consider himself higher than another. For that reason Christ set us an example by washing feet. Believers are of one family and of equal rank. Much rather each shall esteem the other higher than himself.
Jesus’s words set a blueprint for relationships in His Kingdom, particularly in Matthew 20 and the parallel passage in Luke 22 and Matthew 23.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Here in this passage, James and John’s mother asks for positions of prominence and authority for her sons in the Kingdom – at Jesus’s right and left. Jesus’ response essentially defines cruciformity: that servanthood is a prerequisite for greatness in His Kingdom. This is parallel to Philippians 2, where we are told to have the mind of Christ who took on the very nature of a servant (v. 5) and humbled Himself (v. 8).
The way of the world is to seek prominence to lord it over others, the way of the cross is to lower and subject yourself and esteem others above yourself.
In fact, Jesus deliberately contrasted the controlling and oppressive religious authorities of his day, who exalt themselves by imposing rules on others they themselves did not keep, with brotherhood, servanthood and humility. He equated pride and self-exaltation with those who used religious authority to place themselves above others, while calling Christians to simply, humbly, serve. The word “kathégétés”, translated sometimes as “instructors” and at other times, “masters”, means to place yourself in a position of leading, guiding and instructing others. Jesus uses this word in a passage condemning the self-righteous religionists of his day, discouraging the aggrandizing of oneself in violation of discipleship and brotherhood.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:5-12)
To put it simply, Jesus never describes any relationship in His church as archontes or archein, that is, in the same vein as worldly rulers (archontes) who lord it over (exousiazontes). His authority in the church is never described using these words either, but He is described as the head and arche (beginning). This shows a clear distinction of Kingdoms in the very Greek text of the New Testament, particularly in Colossians 1. To lead in the Kingdom is to originate, to set a clear path and example in contrast to that of the world, one that calls others to follow.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:17-20)
In the above passage, the word translated supremacy is to be chief or first, “próteuó” – it does not mean ominance. The word beginning is “arche” in Greek. “Arche” and “próteuó” are used together with “kephale”, head, and define for us what Christ’s headship is to the church: He is the originator, the beginning, the one who sets the pattern that we may follow.
The word kephale is used primarily to mean a literal head in the New Testament. It never refers to any authority except that of God’s, Christ’s, and of husbands in reflection of Christ. It is never used of governments or chiefs, or rulers of any kind. This shows that headship is a novel and unique Kingdom concept that can only be defined in terms of Kingdom relationships and bears no resemblance to any other authority or power structure in existence. In Greek, the primary meaning of the word is literal as well i.e. the skull of an animal, the head of a river, or a head of garlic (κεφαλή – Thesaurus Lingae Graecae).
Here are some notes regarding the words used to describe leadership in the New Testament.
- There are titles that describe Jesus and God in parallel to empires and Kingdoms of the world such as “King” and “Master” (i.e. of slaves), but these serve primarily to (1) establish a metaphor i.e. “Shepherd” that describes God in ways humans can relate to and (2) articulate the genius of the New Covenant and Kingdom. Jesus is a very different kind of King than Caesar, and a very different kind of Master. However, none of these words describe church leadership.
- Hegeomai, a title deriving from the root word to literally “bring” someone from one place to another, is used of earthly rulers but is specifically re-defined and subverted by Jesus and the apostles in brotherhood contexts as imitative discipleship. It is specifically used to counter the hierarchical/dominating ways of the world with the humility and servanthood of the Kingdom.
- Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)
- “…in humility value (hēgoumenoi) others above yourselves (Philippians 2:6)
- “…the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules (hēgoumenos) like the one who serves.”
- The words that describe and articulate functions of leadership in the body are nothing like the words used in Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42 and Luke 22:25 when Jesus referred to the rulers of the world.
- Christians are commanded never to be archontes, archein, megaloi or exousiazontes. They are not to exercise lordship (katakyrieuousin/kyrieuousin) or authority (katexousiazousin, euergetai). These words are never used to describe or prescribe relationships in the church and within the Kingdom of God – in fact the opposite, for Paul and Peter specifically condemn dominating leadership (2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Peter 5:2).
- Two key words describing leadership in the church, such as shepherding (poimen) and leading (proistemi) are conversely never used of the world’s leadership in the New Testament. There is a Kingdom reconceptualisation of these concepts.
- Romans 12:8 describes the gift of leading (proistemi), a word that means “set before” and has a wide range of meanings in Ancient Greek including governing/directing and help/care/succour (Thesaurus Lingae Graecae). HELPs Word Studies describe proistemi as “”pre-standing,” referring to a pre-set (well-established) character which provides the needed model to direct others, i.e. to positively impact them by example.” Paul uses a derivative of the word to describe Phoebe the diakonos as his guardian and succour (Romans 16:1). 1 Timothy 3 refers to church leadership as caring and managing for one’s household. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 brings out the idea that proistemi in the body functions as care.
- Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. (1 Thessalonians 5:12)
- Romans 12:8 describes the gift of leading (proistemi), a word that means “set before” and has a wide range of meanings in Ancient Greek including governing/directing and help/care/succour (Thesaurus Lingae Graecae). HELPs Word Studies describe proistemi as “”pre-standing,” referring to a pre-set (well-established) character which provides the needed model to direct others, i.e. to positively impact them by example.” Paul uses a derivative of the word to describe Phoebe the diakonos as his guardian and succour (Romans 16:1). 1 Timothy 3 refers to church leadership as caring and managing for one’s household. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 brings out the idea that proistemi in the body functions as care.
It would seem evident across the New Testament that Kingdom leadership is not commanding and dictating as the Pharisees did or as the rulers of the world did, but forging a path of Christlikeness. Paul intentionally used “lowly” language of labouring, worker, serving, even slavery to describe leadership in the Kingdom and he encouraged to submit to all who labour and work in the gospel, which can be taken to be to order and pattern yourself after a person who sets an example of Christ. Similarly, Peter enjoined elders to be shepherds, servants and examples rather than self-serving or controlling overlords (1 Peter 5:1-5). He enjoined all Christians to be clothed in humility towards one another, to be submissive – as did Paul (Ephesians 5:21).
- You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. (1 Corinthians 16:15-16)
- To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:1-5)
- Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Philippians 3:17)
- In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)
- We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. (2 Thessalonians 3:9)
- You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)
The primary form of submission in the church is thus imitating the faithful example that is set for us. Which is more reflective of being in submission to Christ – becoming who He is, or doing what He tells us to do? Similarly, submissiveness towards one another in the church speaks into the kind of discipleship that occurs in a community where Christians teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:14) and are given different gifts and functions to build up (oikodomeo) the Body ultimately in conformity to the Head.
This model of leadership in the Kingdom finds its archetype in the cross, in Christ being the first to lay down His life. To submit to follow in the same path of cruciformity and servanthood and to be joined in oneness with Him.
The difference between the Kingdom and the world is the originator and model at its helm. As Satan sets a model of domination and subjection, violence, force, oppression and so forth, those who imitate him imitate the exploitative ways of the world. Those who have power “lord it over” those “beneath” them, and those “beneath” lord it over whoever they can assume power over as well. All seek to empower themselves in order to assert power over others.
Christ, instead, washes our feet and calls us to do the same for one another, to set the pattern for the Kingdom in a way of suffering love.
5. Cruciformity and Headship in Marriage
The two key New Testament passages that describe husband and wife relationships are contextualized within the context of discipleship and cruciformity. For example, just before the 1 Peter 3 passage to wives and husbands, Peter describes Christ’s example and suffering for us and calls us to follow in His steps. Similarly, in Ephesians 5, Paul calls all Christians to,
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1).
This follows in the vein of the words of Jesus:
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)
Sacrificial love is how we express submission to Christ, which is to become what He was to us and express that towards one another. All Christians are called to this. So what does it mean for a husband to be the head? Ephesians 5 describes the following:
- Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
- 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 Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
- Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
In view of the Kingdom, what this passage teaches is that husbands set the example of Christ. They have a specific and unique responsibility to do so, to embody the cruciform body and servanthood of our Lord. They are to be the prototype of what it means to be of the Kingdom of God. To submit as the church submits to Christ, on the wife’s part, is to also fully imitate the cruciform nature and body of our Lord. The elements that are complementary are that which are cruciform.
It is interesting to note the words that are not used to refer to marital relationships, which includes all the words in the previous section describing ruling in the world and even caring/leading in the church. A husband is never described in the New Testament text as the spiritual shepherd (poimen) of his wife. A father is described as managing and caring for his children and household, but not his wife (1 Timothy 3:14; 12). He is never hegeomai (leader) and certainly never ruler (archon). A husband’s relationship with his wife is never described as exousia (authority) except in 1 Corinthians 7:3, which refers to his wife’s exousia over his body as well. The only word used is kephale, head, a word which primarily refers to Christ. Note that church leaders are never described as kephale either. Church leadership and marital headship are lexicographically distinct concepts.
Another conceptual distinction in the New Testament comes from the parallels made between parenting and shepherding/discipling. The discipleship of new believers is compared to the nourishing of young children (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:2) while church leaders are seen as performing similar responsibilities as parents of children (1 Timothy 3), while some congregations have its own “mothers” (3 John 1) and “fathers” (1 John 2:13;14). Yet, all spiritual children are expected to grow into maturity. Prolonged child-likeness that prevents a disciple from progressing into a teacher is shameful (Hebrews 5:14). Spiritual parenthood does involve guidance and shepherding, but is not intended to be a permanent state. Thus, such “leadership” does not apply to a Kingdom marriage, where the relationship between husband and wife are not a dualism of parent and child, maturity and immaturity. Marriage is also a “permanent” rather than a progressive relationship like that of parent and child (proistemi, not archó) ; there is nothing to suggest there is any overlap between parenting/discipling and marriage.
1 Peter 3 describes how the wife can be an example of Christ to her unbelieving husband. Again, she imitates Christ, and she also has tremendous potential and an impact if she follows and models the way of the cross. If he is not the prototype of the Kingdom, she can well be. If he fails in his calling in any way, she is still to cut a straight path of discipleship, steadfastly following in Jesus’s steps and not being swayed to the right or to the left. This definitely does not entail being passively led into sin or harm.
And all of this, the complex nature of a head-and-body relationship, of love and submission, is a profound, divine mystery. This relates back to Creation, and is somehow a reflection of the image of God.
This is “equality” in the sense that, essentially, husbands and wives in their complementary parts of the marriage relationship are called to the same essential thing: to imitate Christ, to be transformed into His likeness, and to demonstrate His love.
In fact, when we come to the submission of Christ to the Father, the same principle is true.
- But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
- For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:18-19)
The headship of a husband emanates from Christ, which emanates from God. Anything, therefore, that does not reflect Christ, is not a legitimate expression of Biblical headship. Headship is not an unconditional right, but a calling and a responsibility. It is a role to be fulfilled, but it cannot be misused because where it is supposedly misused, it is completely outside of Christ, does not bear good fruit, and does not bear the marks of the cross.
True headship and submission results in a state of divine oneness, like Christ and the Father, and the church and Christ. This is not a state of conflict, with power struggles and competition for dominance, but a state of divine perfection and shalom. Again, it is such a great mystery that there is nothing comparable to it in human societies and their structures.
- that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21-23)
- I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)
Neither husband or wife should have to bear the crushing weight of condemnation or sole responsibility. Marriage should be complementary in that both have essential roles to play.
The question many faithful Christians ask is not, “How may I avoid submission so that I can live selfishly?” but rather, “How do I practice Scriptural submission in a Christ-honoring way, that brings glory to God and reflects His love?” The answer is perhaps to emphasize at the larger call of the body of Christ to cruciformity, with cruciform love a necessary witness to the world. This is perhaps why Peter ends his instructions to husbands and wives by saying,
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. (1 Peter 3:8 NLT)
6. Headship as Cruciform Separation from the World
There is a clear distinction between cruciform headship as a glorious reflection of the divine, and worldly authority and power as Jesus made abundantly clear. A quick glance at the world, especially during New Testament times, confirms why headship is tremendously impactful, in fact precisely because it subverts and overthrows the world’s exercise of violence and dominating power. Imagine the impact in the church and the world if men embraced this calling and overturned the ways of empire.
The word head is a unique expression of the Kingdom genius. This is because it has no connotations to worldly power or authority in Greek, but was a concept that Paul used to describe something very unique in the Kingdom that he could not otherwise describe. It is not, in fact, a metaphor like the word “king” is used uniquely of Jesus, or “master” is used of God. It is an expression of the idea that we become one body with our head, of the same flesh. There is (a unique form of) authority and there is complete, transcendent oneness.
The calling for husbands to be the head is a call to overturn the world’s broken systems of dominance and subjugation, overcoming the way of Satan with the way of Jesus, the suffering servant, upon the cross. While the cross to the Romans represented their imperial might and dominance, Jesus’ embrace of everything the world considered shameful, foolish and lowly inaugurated something that turned the world upside-down. Similarly, men are called to be a powerful demonstration of Jesus’s love to a world steeped in oppression by being the very antithesis of a controlling, exploitative and violent authoritarian culture. The cross instead calls us to a wisdom from above that is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruit, a love that leads by example and shines like a beacon of hope, a light in the darkness. It does not compel or coerce by force, it does not pull rank or lord over, but it challenges everything Empire stands for and beckons us to enter the Kingdom. It honors, it considers, it sacrifices, it serves.
It is not that the role of women is not insignificant. Paul is clear that men are dependent on women, and women on men (1 Corinthians 11). Women were created by God to be divine sources of help (ezer), the way God is our helper. Just as to be kephale is to reflect something sacred and divine, so it is to be ezer. Cultural blinders sometimes render us unable to recognize the incredible bravery of the women God used throughout the Bible, many of whom risked their lives to save the nation. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a seemingly insignificant and helpless young woman, and yet risked her life to be the instrument of God’s redemption of humanity. However, women cannot by themselves overturn the ways of the empire. Men in the church are also a necessary part of this body, this movement, this Kingdom (1 Corinthians 11:11).
Let us consider a few points from Roman history as instructive of how the “rulers of the Gentiles” exercise power, drawn from Brown (1992), Dossey (2008), Ripley, (2015), Stewart (2016), Nguyen (2016). Berg (2020), and Lleweyllyn (2020),
- Caesar established his dominion by conquering and ruling over his subjects.
- Caesar was considered the father of the Empire, an example of ultimate manliness and machismo in his military victories and imperial power. Imperialism is a concept we get from the Romans.
- “As the “father of the fatherland,” the emperor held the ultimate and absolute power of the “household” of the Roman Empire. Whether at home, at war, or in politics, one’s position on the hierarchy of manliness was determined by one’s autonomy and power over others, especially the power to penetrate, subjugate and kill.” (Ripley, 2015).
- The Romans expressed dominance through violence: crucifixion and other forms of terror such as the whipping and stripping of slaves and subjects.
- To be explicit, the Roman male expressed his masculine power by taking into sexual subjection captives of war, slaves, women, and even enslaved children. This was known as dominus in contexts of enslavement.
- Dominus was not emphasized in the literature of the day, but the role of paterfamilias was. This title of the Roman patriarch originated as a way to describe a benevolent master-slave relationship, because the Romans did not like to think of themselves merely as dominating rulers, but also as benefactors (Jesus makes reference to this attitude in Luke 22, where the rulers of the Gentiles call themselves “benefactors”).
“We could say that, in the process of institutionalisation, the human element of the Church became more and more visible, at times even overshadowing its divine origin. The Church uncritically absorbed certain cultural characteristics and made them its own, becoming with time more a reflection of the influence of pre-modern society and its characteristics than of Jesus Christ’s revolutionary new kerygma… Under Constantine the Church adopted the patriarchal form of rule and order of the Roman culture of the time, and thereby also the main principle of Roman law – pater familias.” (Furlan, 2009)
“The original classical Roman definition of familia referred to “a body of slaves,” and did not refer to wives and children. The classical legal concept of pater familias as “head of household” derived from this early conception of familia and, thus, from the legal relationship between slaveowners and their enslaved laborers rather than that between fathers and children. Since the early classical period, Roman writers and jurists have interpreted ancient writers’ invocation of pater familias as the basis of the concept of “head of household”—over the alternative Latin word for slaveowner, dominus—as a purposeful choice, intended to mitigate the harsh connotations that the act of slaveholding conferred onto heads of households and expanding the applicability of the term to non-enslaved members of the household. As a semantic term, pater familias thus connoted heads of household who were thought to combine the affective tenderness of a father with the stern coercion of a slaveowner in ordering their households.” (Saller, 1992)
Behind the justification for slavery has always been the argument that slavery is benevolent and beneficial, that the inequality and exploitation is loving in nature, and that the submission of the enslaved towards enslavers who treat them kindly render the relationship, if not equal, moral and good. Charles Chestnut, a Black American author, described enslavers as believing that the institution of slavery in the south was a “blissful relationship of kindly protection on the one hand, of wise subordination and loyal dependence on the other” (Chestnut, 2008, p.159). In a commentary on Chestnut’s work, Cutter (2010) writes,
“In the post–Civil War southern plantation school of writing, slavery was portrayed as a “benevolent” patriarchal institution, and slaves were depicted as happy and content.” (Cutter, 2010, p.44).
This is almost exactly the same as the “benevolent hierarchy” view of apartheid described by Nicholas Wolterstorff (Hall, 2019).
In a dialogue between Afrikaners and blacks and coloreds, the blacks and coloreds spoke of their experiences of being humiliated and demeaned, and asked for justice. In response, the Afrikaners did not argue that apartheid was just. Instead, they insisted that justice was not relevant to the discussion; that the relevant category was love, charity, benevolence. They saw their actions as being characterized by charity and by protection of the blacks and coloreds in their country, and were puzzled when the expected gratitude was not forthcoming.
Part of the insidious deception of sin is that it is something pleasurable or beneficial to us when really it is a form of enslavement. The way of empire and the world, thus, involves cloaking the most reprehensible of acts and obvious forms of oppression with whitewash – mere sentiments. Even genocide, historically, can be labelled as somehow a benevolent act of service, such as in the Belgian Congo where the motto was “dominer pour servir” (dominate in order to serve). This is precisely the ideology of the “umbrella of authority” model, whose proponents advocate total subjection and obedience and adherence to “God’s” hierarchy as the way in which we are protected, blessed and provided for. It is perhaps a subtle shift, but one that is essentially more reflective of imperialism and slavery than it is the way of Christ. Terms like “servant leadership” are misused to add a veneer of kindliness and sanctimony to controlling and abusive leadership.
Let us now consider the expression of Roman dominus in the crucifixion of Jesus. Figuera and Tombs (2020) and Tombs (2019) have done some breakthrough work exploring the humiliation and sexual degradation in Roman torture.
- Crucifixion was not merely execution, but a form of torture and terrorism rarely inflicted on Roman citizens
- Victims of crucifixion were usually naked
- Crucifixion was used to threaten and humiliate the “other”, the subjects of Roman imperial dominion.
We know that Roman soldiers could compel Jewish subjects to carry their packs for them one mile. They often inflicted sexual violence on women – Josephus suggests that this was done to Mary and that people during that time believed Jesus to be the son of a Roman soldier. Roman subjects like those of Judea and Galilee had no agency, no voice. They had no ability to hold Roman soldiers accountable for abuse or violence. Rome ruled by subjection, by instilling fear.
Figuera and Tombs write:
“In the Roman world, crucifixion was used to do more than just kill the victim. Crucifixions were intended to degrade and dehumanize the victim in the eyes of the wider society. Most references to crucifixions are for the execution of men, though there is evidence that women were also crucified (Josephus, Antiquities 18.3). For both male and female victims, crucifixion as a public spectacle with a naked victim was a form of sexual humiliation. This humiliation also served as a warning to the public about the terrible consequences of rebelling against those in power.”
“For both the Romans and the Jews, nakedness during execution was a sign of humiliation, vulnerability, and absolute powerlessness in which shame and dishonour were integral factors in the punishment. However, this element of Jesus’ mistreatment has been minimized in the artistic representations of the crucifixion. The inclusion of a loincloth in most images covers over the shame and humiliation that was intended by forced nakedness. In addition, the widespread but mistaken assumption that sexual abuse must be motivated by some form of sexual gratification prevents many people from seeing the sexual dimension of the stripping and forced naked exposure of Jesus. It is important to stress that sexual abuse, especially when it is part of torture, is often enacted because it is a highly effective way to humiliate and punish the victim. Torture does not need to be motivated by sexual attraction or erotic desire for it to take a sexual form.”
Tombs (2019, p.4) goes into more detail (it really is an article worth reading).
“The effectiveness and security of the Roman troops in Palestine was ultimately based on the legions in Syria and—if necessary—elsewhere in the Empire. The relatively small force in Palestine were able to maintain order because they were backed by an assurance of severe reprisals if serious rebellion broke out. The combination of moderate presence and massive threat was usually enough to preserve the so-called ‘peace’ of the pax Romana.”
“Roman crucifixion was more than the punishment of an individual. Crucifixions were instruments within state terror policies directed at a wider population in the ancient world. As acts of terror against potentially rebellious people, the Romans principally used crucifixions against slaves and other subjected peoples who might challenge Roman authority.”
The fact that Jesus was stripped and beaten as well was an intense statement of the Kingdom versus the power structures of the world. Jesus rejected everything of what “status” and
“dominion” was, and showed us that cruciformity means embracing what the world considers degrading and shameful. Similar, according to Saller (1995),
- “Whipping was not only a method of punishment. It was a conscious device to impress upon slaves that they were slaves.”
- “to the Romans the anguish was in significant measure a result of a cultural construct, an insult to dignitas… The notions of honor and insult underlie much of the legal writing about corporal punishment. “
- “The degradation and humiliation felt by a Roman who was struck by another may be illustrated with a few examples… Sejanus in his scheme to take the imperial throne chose to destroy Drusus first among members of the imperial family on account of Sejanus’ undiminished anger over an earlier episode in which Drusus had lost his temper and struck Sejanus on the face (os verberaverat). Because of the insult to his honor — recall Seneca’s freedman who preferred almost any punishment to being struck in the face – Sejanus set about revenging himself by cuckolding Drusus in the process of bringing his house to ruin.”
- “Considered in terms of violation of person, the Romans’ attitude toward corporal punishment becomes intelligible: it was the grossest form of invasion and hence a deep humiliation. Furthermore, aspects of the ritual of infliction were designed to exacerbate the degree of invasion and degradation.”
- “The special potency for Romans of the symbolic act of beating hinged on its association with slavery. One of the primary distinctions between the condition of a free man and a slave in the Roman mind was the vulnerability of the latter to corporal punishment, in particular lashings at another man’s private whim.”
Crucifixion was one of the many forms of “violence as domination” in the ancient world, though a note should be made here when we speak of imitating the “way of the cross”, it is more of what the cross represents in Christ’s laying down of His power and rejection of the world’s systems of power. This should not entail destructive and harmful glorification of violence and “neglect of the body” (Colossians 2:23) or any form of self-flagellatory pietism (previously addressed on the Kingdom Outpost here).
Now, let us consider the issue sexual relations in antiquity. According to Gnuse (2015),
“They believed that a powerful sexual male would have sex with both men and women, and animals too, if the situation arose. Thus, both in the Assyrian armies of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE and in the Roman armies of the New Testament era, the soldiers would routinely rape male prisoners from armies they had defeated in battle. This was a political statement of victory and total power over the defeated enemy (Johnson 2007: 163). These armies did not recruit only gay men. This was power rape, and it did not define a soldier as homosexual in our sense of the word.”
“Power rape” and rape as a both military and masculine dominance on the imperial front was similarly reflected in domestic structures of Roman households. According to Berg (2020),
“Furthermore, it is necessary to comment on the socially assumed role of women and slaves as being “penetrated” in contrast to the implicit role of men as “penetrator” (Dover 1989; Halperin 1990; Winkler 1990; Richlin 1992). Jonathan Walters adds an insightful complexity to this discussion in his fine distinction between “males” and “men,” arguing that “not all males are men, and therefore impenetrable” (1997:32). According to Walters, only vir, that is, a free Roman adult male, was deemed to be sexually impenetrable but able to penetrate. In fact, in ancient phallocentric society including the imperial Roman world, men or women could fulfil the passive role of being penetrated. However, custom and social stigma associated with passive sexuality limited who might perform the penetrating role to those who are inextricable from the phallus (Parker 1998:47). Some scholars (Winkler 1990) consider the “penetrator and the penetrated” relationship to be more or less “natural,” involving a more powerful individual exercising sexual power over a less powerful one such as the praetextatus (a pubescent male), slaves devoid of either social identity or gender, and women. This paradigm of the penetrator-penetrated, however, seemed to be intimately related to and culturally accentuated by the ancient Mediterranean gender ideology, the Roman history of slavery, and sexual violence expressed in war and rape. In these cases, women, likewise slaves, were subject to male sexual dominance which was nurtured within the broader pattern of the Roman social hierarchies.”
“Regardless of the gender of the penetrated, the role was considered to be feminine and this passive feminine role of being penetrated was largely taken up by females (Skinner 1997:7). The popular ancient Mediterranean androcentric gender ideology ascribes the unnegotiable roles of penetrator-penetrated to the male and the female in procreation. According to this view, the male alone engenders offspring in the creative role exclusively assigned to them while the female undertakes the compliant and unassertive role (Aristotle, De generatione animalium 716a5, 727b 19, 729a38–730b32, 737a; Physics 194b16–195a5; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 7.15.66–67; Philo, Quaestiones et solutiones in Genesin 3.47; De opificio mundi 132; Galen, De semine). In a nutshell, in the heterosexual act of procreation, the male penetrator should desire the female, who is always of dominated and penetrable status. Also, the Roman penetrator-penetrated binary is inherently linked to the Roman history, which is decorated with cases of sexual exploitation and violence (Moses 1993:50). The extended Roman history of war provides us with many classic examples of sexual exploitation and violence such as slavery and rape. We know all too well how slaves, regardless of gender, were sexually exploited at the free disposal of slave masters in the Roman world (Joshel 2010; Harper 2011). War-rape as an act of intimidation by invaders against the conquered was an integral aspect of Roman military conflicts with its subjugated civilians, mainly women, girls, and, at times, boys (Tacitus II. IV, “the revolt of Civilis and the Batavi”). Scholars note that Greek, Persian, and Roman troops employed rape as an adjunct to warfare and committed mass rape of women as a punitive measure (Phang: 253–254, 267–268; Gaca 2011:77–85). Even though there is no exact word in Latin equivalent to the nuance of the modern English word “rape” or “sexual violence” (Deacy & Pierce 1997), the Roman literary tradition shows that the act of rape and sexual violence against slaves and women were widely covered under a variety of legal terms (Nguyen 2006:75–112).”
“The imperial Roman society venerated machismo. In this social milieu, a free Roman man should be ready, willing, and able to express his dominion over others, male or female, by means of sexual penetration (Williams 1978:18). Correspondingly, it was a taboo that a free Roman man allow anyone to penetrate him in any manner whatsoever as one’s corporeal freedom was intimately tied to one’s free and superior social status (Segal 1987:137–70; Saller 1991:153; Veyne 2002:61).”
Similarly, Walter (1997, cited in Berg, 2020), describes power and authority as expressed in sexual and physical violence, stating,
“while the bodies of freeborn Roman males were ideally meant to be exempt both from being sexually penetrated and being beaten (37–42), the bodies of women and slaves were traditionally susceptible to sexual penetration and physical violence.”
Now let’s look at 1 Corinthians 7. Knowing what we do of the ancient world, let’s look at how the Apostle Paul portrayed sex, and what this has to say about marital hierarchy.
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.(1 Corinthians 7:1-4)
The common response to this passage is, “Paul is only talking about sex, not marriage and certainly not marital hierarchy”. This is an anachronistic way of thinking, because according to Greco-Roman philosophy, sex was always about power, and there was no sexual act that was not hierarchical, or about the dominance of the penetrator over the penetrated.
The Apostle Paul’s words stand in stark contrast. In fact, his words are explicit in Greek. The Greek word for power and authority in the imperial sense and in the political sense was exousia. Thayers describes it as “the power of authority (influence) and of right” and “the power of rule or government”.
Here are some examples
- Jesus’s authority is described as exousia (Matthew 28:18; Luke 5:24). Jesus has the exousia to lay down His life and to take it up again (John 10:18).
- Jesus gives His disciples exousia over unclean spirits to command them (Matthew 10:1; Mark 2:14; Luke 9:1). It is the power to command.
- Satan offered Jesus all exousia over the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:6). Satan is the prince of the exousia of the air. Christians are freed from the exousia of Satan (dominion of Satan) to God. (Acts 16:18)
- Secular power like Herod’s was known as exousia (Luke 23:7; Romans 13:1-3). The Roman Centurion’s hierarchical power to command his soldiers was described as his being under exousia (Luke 7:8)
Finally, most poignantly, exousiazo as a verb is used in several key passages.
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26).
Exousiazo is an exercise of dominion forbidden in the Kingdom of God. The words of Jesus are plain, clear, and simple – they must therefore be obeyed..
So what does Paul mean? The word he uses is heavy. It refers to authority, governmental authority. He gives this to wives over their husbands and husbands over their wives.
The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:4)
Is this purely about the sexual act? No – in the ancient world, sex paralleled power. Sex paralleled authority. Sex paralleled dominance and subjugation. Paul was not isolating sex from the power dynamics of the ancient world, but describing sex, and thus marriage, under the “genius” of the New Covenant and Kingdom of God.
What is missing from this passage is the idea of penetrator-dominance and penetrated-subjection. Paul completely subverts this by describing sex as about mutual power and authority. Later, in verses 33 and 34, he describes how married men have the responsibility to please their wives and married women have the responsibility to please their husbands. The word used is aresko, to satisfy and to willingly serve, to “to accommodate one’s self to the opinions, desires and interests of others”.
1 Corinthians 7 and its unequivocal declaration of mutual authority and mutual pleasure in marriage is not in conflict with a similar understanding of 1 Peter 2 and Ephesians 5 – all of these are contextualized in the Kingdom of God, where mutual love and servanthood are not only the ideal, but the concrete embodiment of Jesus’s humility and servanthood in the incarnation (Philippians 2).
Where human beings subverted and perverted God’s original, glorious, and divine design for sexual relations between husband and wife, and turned it into an action of violence that extended outside of marriage, Christ’s Kingdom brings restoration, renewal, holiness and purity.
7. Headship, Headcovering, and Complementarity in 1 Corinthians 11
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 discusses biological sex and creation. There are references to physical and created differences, headcovering somehow representing the difference between biological males and females. Yet headcovering as a differentiated practice occurs when men and women are both doing something together: edifying one another in the body with prayer and prophecy. Thus, the second main concept in 1 Corinthians 11 is that biological difference exists alongside a shared spiritual reality. Thirdly, Paul ends the discussion by emphasizing the mutuality and interdependence of men and women. Men and women are: distinct, interdependent, and empowered.
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,[a] and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head,[b] since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
In the above passage, the passages in red indicate a reference to created difference. Firstly, verse 3 describes Woman, Man, Christ, and God. This speaks about the order of creation: the Word (Christ) proceeded forth from God. Through the Word, Man was created, and through Man, Women was created. In this particular passage, the word head can indicate a kind of source (like the head of a river) but also an order or progression. Yet these are not indicating categories, because Christ and God are one (John 10:30) and the Godhead is sovereign over all Creation. Similarly, God made Man and Woman to be one flesh, united (Genesis 2:24). Later on, verses 7 and 8 similarly deal with how woman was created from man, indicating once again that this is a Creation-narrative-related description and biological designation. What are the implications of this? How do we put this into practice? We need to look at cognate passages of Scripture to come to a full and living understanding. Paul does not dwell at length into the application of this except, which we shall come to in a moment, in the verses indicated in green about gender interdependence.
The key takeaway from this passage is that that men and women are created as biologically distinct. There is some deeper spiritual truth to this that relates to the very nature of the Godhead as well as the “image and glory” of God. There is something that relates to angels (if indeed verse 10 refers to spiritual and not physical messengers). There have been many attempts to rationalize and explain this, but we should accept the words of the text as written, and relate them to other passages in Genesis about both men and women being made in God’s image as well as Ephesians 5 and Colossians 1 about Christ as the beginning (originator) and firstborn of the New Covenant and head of the church.
The idea that a woman has authority (exousia) on her head, in my opinion, relates well to her spiritual inheritance, as expressed in prayer and prophecy. Christ described His exousia (authority) at the beginning of the Great Commission as well as the exousia (spiritual power) He gives His disciples to “overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19) and “to drive out demons” (Mark 3:15). Nowhere in Scripture does exousia refer to one-way authority-over in Kingdom relationships such as between men and women or shepherds and flock. In fact, Jesus prohibits this in the church (Matthew 20:25; Luke 22:25) and Paul established marriage as mutual exousia (1 Corinthians 7:3). He would not have clearly and unequivocally said that husbands and wives both have authority over the body of the other, which in Greco-Roman culture indicated authority over the entire person in every sense, if he did not believe it to be so, and instead believed in one-way exousia tied to the concept of kephale (head), which this passage and no other passage in Scripture does.
“I have given you authority [exousia] to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19).
Verses 11 and 12 in green show that men and women were made to be interdependent and draw from each other. It is notable that Paul, having set the context as referring to the concept of headship, says that nevertheless, men are not independent of women and that men also come from women. This backs up the idea that, as in some uses of the Greek word for head, kephale, as a metaphor, the concept he referred to about Man being the head of Woman refers to the order of creation, women being created through man. Paul brings balance in the close of the passage by emphasizing that ultimately, neither are the source of the other’s creation as both come from God and thus are ultimately subject to God. Humankind is “lower than the angels” (Psalms 8:5; Hebrews 2:7). We need to remember to abide in the Lord and humbly recognize our place. It also requires humility to recognize that God made us to need one another, as different yet coexistent. This provides context for the earlier verses, especially as verse 3 can be taken out of context as if to describe the relationship between, for example, Christ and man, as being the same as Christ’s and God’s.
Verses 4, 5, and 10 in purple reference the spiritual inheritance men and women share in the Kingdom. Prayer and prophecy are something with which Christians are empowered to do by the Holÿ Spirit – both “sons and daughters” in the church assembly prophesy (Acts 2:17). Shortly after this passage, Paul in chapter 12 reminds the Corinthians church that the gifts of the Spirit, including prophecy, are given to each member “for the common good” (v.7), by the “one and the same Spirit” (v.11) to form one body by baptism (v.13). This united spiritual reality exists alongside biological difference, and we thus suggest that headcovering is a reminder of Woman’s inherent uniqueness, her side-by-side, interdependent partnership with Man under the power of Christ (Matthew 28:18), and the fullness of her spiritual inheritance.
8. Contrasting Headship in Ephesians 5 and Greco-Roman Gender Philosophies
9. Silence, Edification, and Women’s Role in the Church Body
10. Contrasting Christian Nonviolence and Contemporary Gender Ideology
- Gender is a reflection of the image and glory of God, not culture.
- Men and women are both called to be cruciform, conformed to the image and example of Christ, to be His disciples, to build His Kingdom and to be filled with the Spirit.
- Men and women are to embody the virtues Christ calls us to, such as meekness and strength, servanthood and submissiveness. There are divine virtues, not gendered.
- Every New Testament teaching regarding gender is within the context of Christ’s teaching about discipleship and His Kingdom. The way of the Kingdom is antithetical to the oppressive ways of Empire and its god, Satan. All follow the example of Jesus in laying down power over others to live redemptively and gloriously as His body in incarnational communities of the Kingdom.
- The role of men and women in marriage is unique, with husbands as head having significance in the context of Christ’s example in contrast to the values of the Roman world. Headship is not a rule of rule, but a calling to initiate an example of Christ.
There is much more to be discussed in the realm of gender theology, but this suffices to start. We start by defining the Kingdom as distinct and antithetical to Empire and the world. In doing so, we reject distinctions of gender based solely on power and authority over, that which is expressed in one party having authoritative and coercive control in a relationship, or one group/gender having authoritative and coercive control in the church. Such power dynamics rely on conflict and power struggles, something we do not believe is a reverent reflection of God’s divine design. Cruciformity is not “power-over”, but “power-under”, expressed in servanthood and in esteeming others above oneself. It is not merely a rejection of hierarchy but a transcendence of it and the establishing of another, completely different way. Both men and women are called to resist and overcome Empire and embody the Kingdom of God in their relationships in the church, in marriage, and throughout all of life.
Two additional notes can be made on the subject of Christian nonviolence:
- Nonviolence means more than simply abstaining from war and conquest, but opposing abuses of power such as the sexual abuse of children and domestic violence, establishing communities of the Kingdom that are radically distinct from the world in this regard.
- That ideologies of war and conquest, historically, were parallel with ideologies of gender that emphasized dominance and subjugation, such as in Nazi Germany. Many of the strongest proponents of power-based “complementarianism” today are advocates of just war, theocracy, Christian nationalism and the assertion of Christian domination over society through the “culture wars”. Even where explicit rejection of nonresistance is not present, there is a correlation of ideology and the allowing of subtle infiltration of ideas incompatible with nonviolence.
- “This is the way of Christian love and nonresistance where the egoisms of nation or race give way to brotherhood and human solidarity. To refuse participation in warfare demands that the Christian likewise rise above attitudes of condescension and practices of discrimination” (Hershberger, 1957). The same can be said of any egoisms and discrimination of gender, which equally violates nonresistance.
- Sometimes, by asking some members (the most vulnerable) to embody Christ’s nonviolence, we miss out on the fact that the entire church is to embody Him, and this significantly means those with power are to lay it down that we may ALL, TOGETHER, reflect the message of the cross.
It is possible that complementarian and egalitarian Christians who seemingly disagree, but who share a strong commitment to the pursuit of Christlikeness, actually can agree more than they disagree if the imitation of Christ becomes central. Egalitarians will agree that it is especially necessary that men in the church go against the power structures of the world, even if they do not express it using the same “headship” language and focus more on the contextual necessity vs. the “creation order”. Complementarians will agree that there is a unique calling in the role of “head”, though that needs to be shifted towards a full realization of cruciformity and the rejection of expressions of complementarity that draw from worldly dominus and define gender solely based on power dynamics.
Both leadership and submission are expressed through conformity to Christ’s example. The only legitimate expression of leadership in the kingdom is that which is found in Christ’s humility, subjection, and suffering. The church, unlike the Roman Empire, was not designed to be imbued with a masculine feel and be dripping with machismo modeled after Caesar’s imperial victories, but with the aroma of sacrificial love. The fact that physical violence and sexual abuse are rampant when “Christians” adopt the Imperial Roman model are likely not quirks, but integral features of the design of such systems. We believe that worldly power, both political and social, carries with it temptations of pride, exploitation, and abuse, and that Kingdom shepherding and leadership takes a proactive role in opposing worldly power dynamics and establishing a contrasting pattern.
For those who suggest that this is a cop-out, or perhaps “too easy”, we should ask, is there anything higher, more holy and more difficult than the path of the cross? Is there anything we need to add on to the example of Jesus in the Christian life? No. Let us have Jesus and Jesus alone, and nothing more. This was the Christology of cruciformity expressed, for example, by Pilgram Marpeck as he called for Christians to lay down their arms and reject the way of worldly power and restrict themselves to the example of the “the crucified, patient, and loving Christ.”
To conclude and to set the path for future discussions, we also suggest the following tenets of cruciform complementarity.
- Power dynamics manifested in silencing, control, sexualisation, negative stereotyping and exclusion have marginalized women in the church and are not reflective of cruciformity, unity and love Jesus calls the body too.
- Men and women are co-heirs, co-labourers, co-rulers, co-priests and co-workers in the Kingdom. They are called to function in the Body, to discern, to hold one another accountable and to love as brothers and sisters.
- The role of overseer/bishop (episkopos, presbyteros) in the early church was normatively considered to belong to qualified fathers according to 1 Timothy 3. Qualified women such as widows (presbutera) and deaconesses were also ordained in various positions to serve, edify, and shepherd the body according to their spiritual giftings and callings (1 Timothy 3; 1 Timothy 5; Romans 16). Men and women functioned in harmony in the early church and can today.
- Note: varying believings about the “power” and “authority” differentials between the positions ordained men and ordained women as opposed to these being positions of literal servanthood and faithful shepherding are subject to much debate, and need to be reexamined in the light of the Kingdom
- The church needs to regain a Christ-centered and Kingdom-focused understanding of complementarity and headship, one that stands apart from selfishness, abuse and violence within the church that results from adoption of the world’s values. Following Christ and centering Christ in our discussion and practice surrounding gender brings clarity into the confusion manifested around the world and throughout human history after the fall.