A Complementarian Vision? : Kevin DeYoung on Men and Women in the Church

How are men and women to relate to one another, in the church and in the family?

When we read the Bible, we find various statements about men and women that seem to be at odds with one another. Galatians 3:28 sees no distinction between male and female, whereas 1 Timothy 2:12 seems to place a restriction on women that men do not have, when serving in the church. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 has Paul saying that husbands and wife share mutual rights with one another, whereas Ephesians 5:22-33 suggests some type of priority husbands have in relation to their wives, in terms of who submits to whom.

What is a biblically faithful Christian to do with this?  Select a certain group of texts has having priority over others, thus having a “canon within the canon” approach to Scripture, …. or find a way of integrating the whole of the Scriptural material?

A debate rages among evangelical Christians as to how to resolve the tensions that various Scriptural passages like these present to us. On the one side are the egalitarians, who sense a profound embarrassment over anything in the Bible that appears to be misogynistic, and thus emphasize the equality between men and women. For egalitarians, the liberating message of Jesus for women takes center stage. On the other side are the complementarians, who recognize gender equality, but who refuse to shy away from those passages that might suggest otherwise. Complementarians instead see such difficult passages as offering clues into the complementary relationship between male and female. Instead of embarrassment, complementarians see a beauty being expressed in the gender complementarity of the Bible.

It is important to say at the outset that Christians of good faith, can and indeed do disagree on these matters. Nevertheless, the positions we do take on how male and female relate to one another do have an impact on both marriages and the structure of a local church, and in how we think about gender more generally.


The Basics of Complementarian Theology

Indeed the question of beauty, is often left out of discussions concerning the relationship between male and female, as humans created in God’s image. This discussion either gets reduced to a purely chain-of-command type of functional social arrangement on the one hand, or else an appeal to competency on the other, as though the sum of what it means to be a man or a woman is simply about one’s capabilities, regardless of any distinctive with respect to gender. To address these issues, Kevin DeYoung, an elder in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), and leading figure in the The Gospel Coalition movement, has written an attempt to make a winsome appeal to complementarian theology, through his Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction.

This year, I made it a goal to read two books on the topic of being male and female. I was spurred on by YouTube apologist Mike Winger’s extensive video series on the topic (that I will address later below). I first read an egalitarian view, by Lucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, reviewed recently here on Veracity. I then read Kevin DeYoung’s book, in order to get a different, complementarian perspective. At the outset, DeYoung explains his objective:

“My overriding desire is to put into the hands of churches, leaders, and curious Christians a work that is intelligent and readable” (p. 22).

Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction avoids fancy jargon, and it reads very smoothly, but it is the content that matters most. In the final chapter, DeYoung spelled out what he was hoping to accomplish:

“If the vision of sexual complementarity laid out in this book is to have any persuasive power in the years ahead, it must be marked by several characteristics. It must be tender, winsome, and warm. It must be grounded in Scripture and sensitive to people. It must be tough but never triumphalistic. It must be convictional, not merely traditional. It must be attuned to the mood of the culture and resolutely unwilling to give in to the culture’s demands” (p. 131).

Elsewhere DeYoung challenges the reader:

“If complementarity means anything, then surely it is about, at least in part, the inherent goodness in the divinely designed difference between the sexes. If we don’t say anything about that difference—and how it’s wonderfully true and beautiful and promotes the flourishing of men and women and children and families and churches and society—then we are neglecting the uniquely good news of this thing we call complementarianism” (p. 118).

At the most basic level, complementarianism simply means that men and women complement one another. There are certain things that men can offer to women, that women themselves can not, and likewise, women can offer some things to men, that men themselves can not. Male and female are equal, but they are not the same. They are not interchangeable. Yet this complementarity does ascribe a type of order to male/female relations. Though not all complementarians believe exactly the same, two common features are often generally observed:  A complementarian vision for men and women envisions the husband as the spiritual leader in the marriage, as well as qualified men serving as spiritual leaders, as elders, in the local church. And yet, DeYoung adds a wise caution:

“The truest form of biblical complementarity calls on men to protect women, honor women, speak kindly and thoughtfully to women, and to find every appropriate way to learn from them and include them in life and ministry—in the home and in the church” (p. 17).

DeYoung also offers an important challenge for men:

‘So, guys, let’s not make the heartbeat of our message, “Women, sit down,” when it should be, “Men, stand up.” ‘ (p. 100).

So, does Kevin DeYoung craft a compelling vision of beauty for what it means to be male and female, in the family and in the church?  In certain ways, yes, but it other ways, no, as I intend to show in this book review.

Exegetical Background for a Complementarian Theology of the Sexes

Kevin DeYoung frames the discussion around the beginning chapters of Genesis, as well as other pertinent New Testament passages, particularly with an exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which discusses the New Testament teaching on male headship, and its relationship with head coverings. I will not address the 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 passage here, as it is a difficult passage for both complementarians and egalitarians to work through, so I will save that for a later blog post.

Complementarians will often focus on the order between male and female, as envisioned in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, whereas egalitarians will focus on the equality between male and female. Genesis 1 has the most egalitarian feel to it, as both men and women are created in the image of God, and both man and woman are called upon to be co-rulers of God’s good creation. The woman is not off making coffee while the man gets to do the more “important” things of governing. Both male and female partner together in managing the created order.

Yet, it is difficult to ignore what we see in Genesis 2, the principle that Adam came first, prior to Eve, which suggests that somehow the man stands at the beginning of a line, with the woman following him. This understanding of husband as the “head” of the wife, as Paul addresses it several times in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:23), suggests a sense of “preeminence,” that the man has in relation to the woman.

Many egalitarians (though not all) bristle against the notion of husbandly “headship” as “preeminence,” particularly in view of Paul’s critique and reframing of the Roman “household codes,” in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, where Paul describes the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves. “Preeminence” is not the same as “authoritarian,” but it can come across to some as being that way. Such egalitarians will cite Paul’s first statement, that of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21) as justifying a completely mutualistic concept of husbands and wives, such that both husbands and wives are to “submit to one another” equally.

However, this is difficult to understand when paired with the parallel instructions regarding parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4). Are parents and children also called by God to “submit to one another?” What is that kind of “mutual submission” supposed to look like? Should a parent “submit” to the guidance of their teenage son or daughter? Well intended as it might be, this type of egalitarian reading of Scripture raises more questions than it answers.

As DeYoung colorfully admits, the discussion about “headship” has killed a lot of trees over the past few decades, as much has been written about it. Does “head” mean “authority?” Or does “head” mean “source?” The scholarly debate continues but a rough consensus is emerging that sees some type of middle ground, that of the man being “preeminent” with respect to the woman. This notion of “headship” does not in any way diminish the equality shared between man and woman. But it does indicate some understanding of order within marriage.1

How does the debate between Christian complementarians and egalitarians help us to understand a vision of Christian marriage?


Differences in Egalitarian and Complementarian Versions of Marriage and Church: An Analogy

I would put it like this: Consider the analogy of a married couple trapped in a burning building, where the only way out is through a narrow opening, where the smoke obscures the view on the other side. Both can not escape through that opening at the same time. Every second counts. So, who goes first? In complementarian thinking, it should be the husband, assuming that the wife does not have advanced firefighting skills that the husband does not in any way possess. God set the order in creation. Adam came before Eve. By default, the men take the higher risk. The issue is settled. We can then move onto the next challenge!

Women are meant to be protected, as they are equipped in a unique way to bring about new human life into the world, unlike men…. (well, some apparently would dispute that…. I mean, like, yeah….). Like the sinking of the Titanic, it was the women and children who went first on the lifeboats before the men were to be saved. Like the present war in the Ukraine, it is the men who have been required to stay and take up arms to defend their country, while the women and children are allowed to escape out of harms way. Detractors may see this as “toxic masculinity,” whereas complementarians see this as God’s good design.

In the burning building example, the case for an egalitarian marriage is way more complicated. Do you flip a coin to see who goes first? Do you cast lots? Whose turn was it last time to make a difficult decision? What was in the prenuptial agreement that addresses this situation? All the while the burning building is collapsing all around you.

This is really the primary shortcoming of an egalitarian approach to marriage, which emphasizes Adam and Eve’s equality in creation at the forefront. In an ideal marriage, both the husband and wife should strive for mutual consensus. Partnering together is essential for complementarity to be realized.

However, what happens when conflict comes, and no easy resolution is achieved? Perhaps some mutually agreeable solution as to how a marriage should be run can be designated ahead of time. Maybe. But then, maybe not.

What happens when the consensus can not be gained? Does this indicate that the marriage is a failure? Has either the husband, or the wife, failed somehow, if not both? Some may report that the husband and wife always eventually arrives at consensus, in an egalitarian marriage. This is surely commendable, if this is, in fact, true. However, the more common experience in marriage is that at some point, conflict in marriage is inevitable. The husband and wife can discuss the issue for hours, if not days, or even years, and still not come to a fully mutually agreeable resolution. Disagreement between husband and wife may then threaten unity in marriage. So, what do you do when this happens?

In a complementarian marriage, the burden of responsibility is placed on the husband to lead the family, to make the tough call and live with the consequences. Responsibility comes with the decision, when consensus is not attainable. The principle is straight-forward. But the principle could be stated more generally, when life-threatening or marriage threatening situations do not demand quick or studied response. Kevin DeYoung recalls a statement made by pastor John Piper. ‘The husband should be the one who most often says, “let’s.”…. “Honey, let’s go on a walk.” “Let’s pray together.” “Let’s get the kids ready for bed.” Take the initiative men‘ (p.59).

However, in an egalitarian marriage, the solution is not so clear-cut. Without an approach settled upon ahead of time, the chances of resolving the difficulty, where consensus is out of reach, after much work, can easily drive a married couple into despair. A complementarian marriage, on the other hand, avoids the procedural difficulties that only makes the present problem worse, by recognizing that God has established an order that keeps the couple from an unending cycle of misery.

One may object that a complementarian arrangement can easily lead to abuse, which is undoubtedly true. The #MeToo movement has made sure that we know that. But if one fully appreciates Paul’s teaching that the husband should love his wife, just as Christ loves the church, then one realizes that the husband is not really in such an enviable, leadership position:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25 ESV).

Note that this self-sacrificial demand that Paul makes upon the husband is not made upon the wife. There are husbands who shy away from such responsibility, and who insist on the wife to make the tough decisions. This will not do, as Paul’s command is a call to obedience.

Likewise, moving beyond the marriage context, egalitarian arrangements within a local church do not always work out so well. In fact, rarely do you ever find a purely egalitarian local church functioning, except perhaps, if you are with traditional Quakers. Traditional Quakers have no concept of elders, or ordination of any sort. Traditional Quakers generally sit in a round, for their meetings, waiting upon the Spirit to move anyone to speak what comes to them. There is no effective exercise of spiritual authority in such local church arrangements. Nevertheless, very few evangelical Protestants go to this egalitarian extreme. Instead, elders exercising their spiritual authority determine what is to be taught and not taught in their communities. I have rarely been in a typical evangelical Protestant worship service where the preacher is delivering the sermon, and someone is then given the freedom to interrupt the preacher to rebuke them, in front of the whole community.

No, such egalitarian arrangements, where such disruptions are permitted to happen, rarely if ever bode well for that community. Instead, the vast majority of evangelical Protestant function with some type of order in mind. The question then arises: What is the relationship between male and female in that ordered functionality in the local church? Among other concerns related to ensuring the promotion of good Scriptural doctrine, this is where the function of local church elders, exercising spiritual authority, becomes vital and relevant. If we expect good, healthy marriages to flourish, we must begin with local churches setting the example.

Quotes  to Remember in Support of Complementarity, Answers to Objections

Kevin DeYoung offers several quotes to buttress his argument on behalf of complementarianism. The great early church teacher, John Chrysostom, gave this challenging exhortation for husbands to lay down their lives for the their wives:

“Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever,—refuse it not. Though thou shouldest undergo all this, yet wilt thou not, no not even then, have done anything like Christ” (p. 71, from Chrysostom’s homilies on Ephesians).

DeYoung finds support from Dwight L. Moody as well:

“If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t ask his minister. I would go and ask his wife. . . . If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity” (p. 73, from Moody’s The Overcoming Life and Other Sermons, p. 13-14).

Kevin DeYoung wisely dismisses the arguments of some complementarians, who contend for some Eternal Subordination of the Son, within the life of the Triune God. Yet I am not entirely sure if I agree with Kevin DeYoung when he says: “We should not use the Trinity ‘as our model’ for the marriage relationship, both because it is not necessary for complementarianism to be true and because the metaphysical inner workings of the ineffable Trinity do not readily allow for easy lifestyle applications” (p. 52). But I wholeheartedly agree that “marriage [is] an outworking of Christ and the church.” Some believe that we should have complementarian relationships within marriage, but have egalitarian relationships in the church. But the Scriptural parallels between marriage, and Christ and his church, are hard to avoid, as DeYoung demonstrates in Men and Women in the Church.

DeYoung succinctly shows that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the all-male priesthood in ancient Israel and an all-male eldership in the New Testament. The discontinuity, briefly stated, is that the priesthood in the Old Testament served to perform sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people of Israel, whereas Jesus has eliminated that function in the New Testament, because Jesus himself became the once-for-all sacrifice for sin for the Christian. Here are DeYoung’s comments on the continuity:

‘I’ve heard it said, “Yes, yes, the priests in the Old Testament were all male, but that has no bearing on New Testament leadership models, because now we are all ‘a royal priesthood’ and ‘holy nation’” (see 1 Pet. 2:9). It is true that we—women as well as men—are a royal priesthood. But Peter’s New Testament description of the church was simply a reiteration of God’s word given to the people at Sinai when he declared, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).’….

“If an all-male priesthood was consistent with an every-person kingdom of priests in the Old Testament, there is no reason to think that an all-male eldership is inconsistent with the priesthood of believers in the New Testament” (p. 114)

Furthermore, Kevin DeYoung does a helpful, useful job addressing some of the most common objections to his complementarian thesis. He shows how Galatians 3:28 has been often misused to justify all sorts of attempts to silence other passages in the Bible. He dismantles attempts to somehow connect complementarian theology with Christian embarrassment over difficult passages regarding slavery. He also addresses strained attempts to inflate or otherwise distort the positions of some women in leadership mentioned in the Bible, such as the “Elect Lady” in 2 John, who is most probably not an individual person at all, as some have argued, but rather the church community as a whole, as the greater majority of Bible scholars, both conservative and liberal, and even some prominent evangelical egalitarian scholars readily admit.


Exegetical Missteps When Attempting to Defend Complementarianism

Yet despite many of the positive elements in Men and Women in the Church, there are a few places, particularly in DeYoung’s discussion about Genesis, that did made me think twice before offering a ringing endorsement. I mean, Kevin DeYoung does not come off as cringeworthy, but at various times, it did make me wonder if he could have done better.

Most significantly, DeYoung’s treatment of the woman as the “helper” for man is deeply problematic. DeYoung acknowledges from Genesis that the woman was created to be a “helper” for man. Yet while recognizing that God is several times described as the “help” or “helper” for humans (p. 28) , it would appear that DeYoung does not realize the importance of such theological statements. On several occasions, DeYoung openly states or approvingly quotes others as suggesting that this directly implies that the man has authority over the woman (p.33). But does it?

DeYoung should have paused more to consider where Scripture describes God as the “helper” for man. Psalm 54:4 states that God is the help for the psalmist. Elsewhere God is described as the helper of the one who submits to God (see Psalm 121:1-2; Isaiah 41:10, 13 ; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 118:7).

The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him (Psalm 37:40 ESV)

Yet to say that God is our helper in no way suggests that man has some kind of “authority” over God.  Not only is this ridiculous, it comes close to being blasphemous. Now, Kevin DeYoung would never say this. He is too mature enough of a theologian not to see this difficulty. Nevertheless, he leaves that space wide open for critique. In fact, an egalitarian critic can probably drive a truck right through it.2

Indeed, there are places in Scripture that do suggest that man has authority over woman, but the language of helper shows that this is not always the case, and might instead reveal just the opposite, in certain situations. A wife can “help” her husband by leading him in ways in which the husband is deficient, when compared to his wife. One must be cautious not to turn the notion of “helper” into a sign of permanent subordination. That would miss the point. Instead, a more mutualistic yet non-interchangeable vision of how male and female relate to one another is in view: Men and women need one another, but not in the exact same ways.

Furthermore, one must be careful not to read too much of Adam’s naming of Eve as a sure sign of authority over the woman, at every point, as DeYoung seems to indicate (p. 28). To “name” someone does not necessarily imply a hierarchy, in every situation, for to “name” someone could simply be a sign of affection, as when a married couple gives one another nicknames.

Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century C.E. (credit: Wikipedia). Many egalitarians find the presence of the Artemis cult in Ephesus as evidence for a radical feminism that informs our understanding of why Paul did not permit women to serve as elders in the Ephesian church. Others also link this to the Egyptian cult of Isis that made in-roads into Ephesus. Kevin DeYoung rejects this argument as entirely speculative, but he could have cited reasons why egalitarian scholars are attracted to their view.


Other Exegetical Missteps When Attempting to Defend Complementarianism

Thankfully, in the last one third of the book, Kevin DeYoung moves past some of these missteps that are found quite early in Men and Women in the Church. DeYoung offers some powerful points of application, that I am still chewing on.

“Yes, the cultural winds are blowing stiff and strong against the church on these issues. But the good news is that behind us lies a massive river of divine design in every human person. Ultimately, God’s created order cannot be reengineered by sinful human ingenuity. Manhood and womanhood will reassert themselves. The question is whether it will be healthy or unhealthy” (p. 130)

He offers sound, pastoral advice on how to encourage boys to grow up to become men, and girls to grow up and become women. These final two chapters alone are perhaps the best in the book, as they are sensitive, practical, and urgent for our day and age.

Unfortunately, in the middle chapters of the book, the exercise of DeYoung’s exegetical judgment is not always even. On the positive side, DeYoung mostly delivers good and fair, broad minded complementarian perspectives, in his analysis of Scriptural teachings. However, in the midst of this you will occasionally find exegetical arguments that are at times questionable, and even other moments where the arguments are barely defensible, if at all.

It would take too much to survey every single case, but one particular example stands out to illustrate this three-fold observation: of (a) what is good and fair, (b) what is questionable, and (c) what is barely defensible. On page 112, DeYoung writes about Romans 16:7 (NIV) showing that Andronicus and Junia were “outstanding among the apostles“:

Some Christians use this verse to argue that a woman can exercise authority over men because Junia (a woman) was an apostle. This is a thin argument for several reasons. First, it is likely that Junia (iounian in Greek) is a man, not a woman. Second, “outstanding among the apostles” suggests that Junia was held in esteem by the apostles, not that she was an apostle. Third, even if Junia was a woman and was an apostle, it is not clear that she was an apostle like the twelve. Apostle can be used in a less technical sense as a messenger or representative (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).

First, DeYoung claims that Junia was most likely a man. This assertion is most probably false, and thus barely defensible. DeYoung cites Esther Yue L. Ng as an authority on the matter, but this is an exceptional outlier, as even Esther Yue L. Ng admits! The vast majority of scholars today cite Junia as being a female name, which is why every modern Bible translation updated in the 21st century has Junia (a female name), and not Junias (a male name) expressed within the text.  Even the stalwart NASB in 2020 corrected the NASB 1995 in rendering Junia, in the feminine form, as opposed to the masculine form found in earlier revisions of the NASB, and the NASB is no “stealth” egalitarian Bible translation.

Secondly, DeYoung claims that Junia was only well regarded among the apostles and not an apostle herself. This conclusion that DeYoung makes is indeed a possibility, but it is widely debated among scholars, as evident in the variances you find among modern Bible translations today. John Chrysostom, whom DeYoung approvingly quotes elsewhere, accepted Junia as a female apostle, and Chrysostom was no egalitarian by today’s standards.

It is only DeYoung’s third point here that actually carries the greatest weight. DeYoung correctly cites the New Testament to show that an apostle may simply have the sense of a “messenger or representative,” fairly close to what a “church planter” would be in today’s parlance. We have no evidence whatsoever that would necessarily suggest that Junia was of the same stature of an apostle Paul or Peter, within the first century church. If DeYoung had simply cited his third point in his overall argument, and merely touched on the other two points as possibilities, he would have been far more effective in making his case for complementarianism.3

Other examples include the following: When commenting that Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, corrects some of the teaching of Apollos (Acts 18:18-28), DeYoung suggests that “this teaching was done in private” (p. 112). This is hardly a defensible position to take, considering that the early church primarily met in private homes. While there is no indication that Priscilla was designated as an “elder,” a point that DeYoung should have made, it would not make sense to say that Priscilla’s correction of Apollos was done in “private,” as opposed to implying that a house church meeting in a “private” home was somehow different.

DeYoung rightly points out “another understanding” of 1 Timothy 2:14, for explaining from creation as to why women are not to serve as local church elders, that indicates that “Paul is pointing to the difference between the two guilty persons: Adam sinned openly, but Eve was deceived” (p.85). If DeYoung had just stuck with that, then it would have been fine.

But in explaining DeYoung’s first “understanding” of 1 Timothy 2:14, he makes the suggestion that this might be teaching that women are more easily deceived than men. However, there is a major problem with this argument, namely that it is not in alignment with the rest of Paul’s thought. If we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, 2 Corinthians 11:3 brings up the deception of Eve, the only other time Paul does so in the New Testament. But here, Paul applies the deception of Eve as a warning for the whole church, men as well as women, that they should not be deceived. Men are not any less deceivable than women.

It is more likely to say that Paul’s reference to Eve’s deception in comparison to Adam sinning openly , in 1 Timothy 2:14, is meant to highlight the differences between Adam and Eve’s sin, as opposed to placing all women in a lower position in some sense. For what would be worse, receiving instruction from someone who was deceived (like Eve), or receiving instruction from someone who deliberately disobeys the command of God knowingly (like Adam)? Neither alternatively is particularly winsome. Rather, it is more likely to say the Paul is simply acknowledging the differences between male and female, and that how men and women are to conduct themselves in the life of the church necessarily demonstrate that male and female are not interchangeable social constructs.4

When commenting on the rather difficult 1 Timothy 2:15, regarding how women are to be saved through childbirth, DeYoung dismisses the stronger interpretation, that this verse is about “salvation” through Christ, through “the childbirth,” which is often missed in most English translations, where the definite article (“the”) in the original Greek is generally omitted. The offspring of Eve, as ultimately realized through the offspring of Mary, the “New Eve”, who gives birth to Jesus the Savior, actually makes the best sense of the passage. Nevertheless, DeYoung follows a weaker interpretation:

If we understand that “salvation” in the New Testament does not necessarily mean justification, we can make more sense of the verse. Most of us read “salvation” and think of giving our lives to Christ and getting saved. But salvation has a much broader scope in the New Testament, covering the entire life of the Christian, not just a single definitive moment of faith and repentance. Elsewhere, we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), not as meriting favor with God, but as a striving for Christian obedience. This is the sense of salvation Paul has in mind when he says that women will be saved through childbearing (p. 86).

While this is not to be wholly rejected, the evidence against it is significant. In 1 Timothy itself, salvation is only tangentially used by Paul to describe sanctification, “as a striving for Christian obedience,” as DeYoung suggests (such as 1 Timothy 1:15, 2:3, 2:4, 4:10, 4:16). Rather, the immediate context of Paul’s letter citing “God as Savior” emphasizes justification more. While DeYoung rightly acknowledges that some women tragically experience infertility, his interpretation surprisingly implies that the bearing of children is an act that somehow contributes to one’s sanctification.

A small point to be critiqued is DeYoung’s claim that the “three words—overseer, elder, pastor—refer to the same office” (p. 90). Actually, no. The term “pastor,” coming from the terminology of shepherding sheep, is almost always used in the New Testament as a verb, and only once as a noun when referring metaphorically to people other than Jesus. When it is used there as a noun in Ephesians 4:11-16, it is understood as a gift, and not as an office, as opposed to how Paul describes an overseer or elder, in 1 Timothy and Titus, as an office. Popular usage of the term “pastor” in contemporary evangelicalism today confuses this in assuming that the “pastor” is someone in charge, when that really should be understood as the office of the elders/overseers. Rightly understood, elders/overseers are to exercise the gift of pastoring, or shepherding their flock. There is no office of “pastor” in the New Testament.

Perhaps the most disappointing exegesis of Kevin DeYoung’s is his conclusion that women are not to serve as deacons in the local church, although it must be admitted that DeYoung hedges his bets here, and is not overly dogmatic. DeYoung regards Phoebe (Romans 16:1) as a “servant” and not necessarily as a “deacon,” though he does not rule out “deaconess”,  (p.112),  even though both terms “deacon/deaconess” and “servant” are synonymous.  DeYoung regards the “women” of 1 Timothy 3:11 as the “wives” of deacons, despite the fact that nothing is ever mentioned of the qualifications of the “wives” of overseers/elders, in the previous passage in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (p.92). The more sensible approach to 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is to observe that Paul speaks of male deacons in verses 8-10, then he shifts to female deacons in verse 11, and then back to male deacons in verses 12-13. The bottom line is that there is insufficient reason to exclude women from being deacons, unless someone wants to redefine “deacons” as being “junior elders” of some type.

DeYoung’s preference for not having women deacons flies in the face of church history. Whereas we have little if any evidence of women serving as elders/overseers in the early church, the evidence for women serving as deacons in the early centuries of the church is simply overwhelming. The practice of not having women serve as deacons only came about later, during the early medieval period.5

In a good and fair fashion, Kevin DeYoung challenges what is perhaps the most powerful critique to a traditional reading of 1 Timothy 2:12-15:

“Timothy’s location at Ephesus is thought by some to be highly significant. Some scholars claim that Ephesus was a hotbed for radical feminism, that the cult of the goddess Artemis typified the feminist principle that saturated first-century Ephesus. With this as the perceived background, it is then argued that the situation in 1 Timothy is unique and that Paul’s commands are limited to the extreme feminism rampant in the immediate culture…

…True, Ephesus was famous as the city of the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:35), and no doubt women participated in the cultic rituals along with men. But the description of Artemis of the Ephesians in Acts 19 tells us nothing that would make us think there was a proto-feminist ethos surrounding Timothy’s congregation (p. 75-76)”

DeYoung astutely notes the problematic notion of the cult of Artemis influence hypothesis. The best egalitarian scholars cite this as the primary reason why Paul does not permit women, specifically in Ephesus, to serve as elders in the local church, thus reducing 1 Timothy 2:12 to a descriptive element applicable only in the 1st century, and not prescriptive for all times and all places. However, it would have been helpful if he had gone into a little more as to why the hypothesis has gained so much traction among certain scholars. Just because the proto-feminist context argument is fairly weak, this does not rule out valuable insights into other, otherwise obscure features of 1 Timothy, that are often glossed over by readers. It would have been far more helpful if Kevin DeYoung was more generous with his critics with this argument.6

While DeYoung rightly connects 1 Timothy 2:12 with 1 Timothy 3:1-13, he does not connect them as strongly as he should. The controversial 1 Timothy 2:12, when cited in isolation, might suggest to some that women are never allowed to teach when men are present, under any circumstances, an extremely broad application. But there is no chapter division between the 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 3 found in the original Greek text, and it makes more sense to say that 1 Timothy 3 is giving the practical application of 1 Timothy 2:12, by showing that while men and women may indeed both serve as deacons, the office of elder/overseers is reserved for qualified men. But this does not imply that women are never to teach men.

Kevin DeYoung writes a lot about the roles of men and women in the church and in the family. He might have done better by writing about dancing.


Analyzing Kevin DeYoung’s Argument Against a Softer Complementarianism

Given the missteps identified above, it is no surprise to find an appendix in Men and Women in the Church dedicated to refuting other complementarians, who believe that there is some place for women to “teach” in mixed settings of men and women, while still adhering to the principle of an all-male eldership overseeing the spiritual affairs of the local church. Titled “Should Complementarian Churches Allow a Woman to Give the Sunday Sermon?”, this appendix offers an extended critique of fellow complementarian John Dickson, an Australian apologist, who offers a defense of women preaching in complementarian churches, Hearing Her Voice: A Biblical Invitation for Women to Preach.

Much of the discussion centers around the definition of what it means to “teach,” and its relationship to what it means to “preach.” For Dickson, an all-male eldership can surely allow a woman to preach, even on a Sunday morning, but this is not the same thing as what biblical elders are entrusted with doing. Without getting down too much into the weeds, John Dickson defines the type of “teaching” described in 1 Timothy 2:12 as “preserving and laying down the tradition handed down by the apostles.”

Dickson contrasts this with what often passes for typical sermons in many evangelical churches today, that of providing a type of exhortation, not strictly limited to what elders as teachers perform. You might find such exhortation in a typical adult Bible class. This would then make sense of the New Testament observation of having women as prophetesses in the church. Such exercises of prophesy, or truth-telling, is not the same as making sure that the apostolic tradition is being properly handed down from generation to generation.

Admittedly, Dickson uses a rather strict definition of “teaching,” which is then associated with this handing down of apostolic tradition, unlike other forms of preaching. Frankly, this type of definition is a little confusing, and opens Dickson up to the type of critique that Kevin DeYoung makes against Dickson. In DeYoung’s words, Dickson’s “view of ancient teaching is too narrow, and his view of contemporary preaching is too thin” (p.142)

It is much better to think of it in the way that a London-based Bible teacher and complementarian, Andrew Wilson, puts it as the difference between “Big-T” teaching, associated with what is handed down from generation to generation regarding apostolic tradition, and “Little-t” teaching, associated with what men and women under the supervision of qualified male elders are empowered to do. Like John Dickson, Andrew Wilson would have both men and women teaching/preaching in certain contexts, like an adult Bible class, while the overall spiritual authority remains the particular special responsibility of local church, qualified male elders.7

In the end though, Kevin DeYoung’s critique of Dickson’s (and by way of analogy, Wilson’s) “softer” complementarianism still falls short. DeYoung appeals to the Didache, a late first century document that “has a lot to say about teachers“. Despite its positive influence in the early church, its welcome late first century testimony, and attempts by some to have it included in the New Testament canon, the Didache still had problems. It had no distinctive connection to the earliest apostolic tradition, and some thought of it as promoting a subtle legalism to a certain degree, which explains why the Didache was never included in the canon. In other words, there are things in the Didache that need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Attempts to nail down the New Testament concept of “teaching” in such a broad way as DeYoung does, as to be only performed by men, ignores the larger context of how and where “teaching” is to be applied in the New Testament. For example, the “teaching” as described in 1 Timothy 2:12 is associated with the task of elders/overseers, whereas the “teaching” described in Colossians 3:16 is made within the context of where elders/overseers are never mentioned in the text. The issue is not so much with what word is used for “teaching” in the New Testament is, but rather the theological context in which such “teaching” is performed. When the issue concerns “teaching,” where elders/overseers are not mentioned, such “teaching” can be easily included to encompass the activities of both men and women, submitting to proper church authority. But when it comes down to passing down the apostolic tradition from one generation to the next, as it is often expressed in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus), the more limited sense of the office of elder/overseer, who is directly responsible for authoritative teaching, is in view.

Distinguishing Different Types of “Teaching” Found in the Book of Acts

An example from the Book of Acts should suffice to show the difference between these two kinds of teaching. In Acts 6:1-7 we read that certain Christian widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. The apostles of the church, who effectively were the elders of the Jerusalem church, appointed what might be called the first deacons of the church, to assist the apostles, so that the apostles would be able to properly fulfill their presbyterial responsibilities to administer the Word of God to the people, and not be distracted by other affairs. These deacons, who were admittedly all male at this point, prior to what we know of Phoebe in Romans 16:1, were charged with more material oriented ministry, but this did not mean that they lacked spiritual influence.

In Acts 8:4-25, one of those early deacons, Philip went down to Samaria to preach. Philip’s teaching to the Samaritans was so effective that many of them came to be baptized. But apparently they had not received the Holy Spirit yet. It was not until Peter and John, the authorized spiritual leaders in Jerusalem, came down to Samaria, that these new followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit. There was nothing wrong with the “teaching” of Philip, but it was not like the exercise of spiritual authority possessed through the elders, Peter and John, through their “teaching.” In other words, Philip as a deacon was exercising a ministry of “teaching” in Samaria, but this ministry was not authorized by himself, but rather was authorized by Philip’s spiritual elders, Peter and John.

In a similar way, there is a form of “teaching” (or “preaching”) that does not stand independently, but rather is in service to the elders, who exercise a different form of “teaching,” that operates in a different manner. In other words, non-elder men and women may both “teach” in the community, but they must only do so under the authority of elders, who are qualified men.

Kevin DeYoung’s objection against an understanding of “teaching,” which might permissibly include women, amounts to a type of slippery slope argument, often used by some complementarians to keep women well out of range of the office of elder. They create a hedge, keeping women out of other forms of legitimate Christian leadership, even though the Scriptural warrant for creating that hedge is slim. Kevin DeYoung’s exegesis of the relevant texts simply does not support the argument, and its broad application, that he is making.

The slippery slope argument could easily be applied in the other direction, by egalitarians, as though only having men serving as local church elders would effectively silence the voice of women in the church, and disenfranchise them. Actually, the situation should be very different. For if a male-only eldership is really doing their job, they would go out of their way to listen to the voices of women, instead of sidelining them. Elders need to be ready to lay down their lives for their flock, if required, and that would necessarily include listening to those members of that flock.

A Short, Concise Apologetic for Complementarianism (…. With Some Need for Improvement)

Other fans of Kevin DeYoung might wince at some of the critical comments made in this book review.  I do like Kevin DeYoung as well, as I have found him to be a very clear and winsome teacher, but when certain claims are made about certain teachings in the Bible that make complementarian theology sound more “authoritarian” than it needs to be, it is important to try to correct the imbalance.

Perhaps what is missing the most from Kevin DeYoung’s short treatise is a more fully fleshed out description of fatherhood, and how a spiritual expression of fatherhood is to be embodied in the office of local church elder. For an elder in a local church should not simply be about the passing on of information. Rather, there is a relational component connected to that authoritative teaching that makes eldership special. I can take a class or read a book from someone, who can change the way I think about something, but that person may or may not know my weekly ups and downs. Yet in a local church a spiritual father (or fathers) can do that. Perhaps they will need to delegate certain tasks to others, in a large church, to make sure that members of the flock are being cared for, but the point is that eldership should be more than just being on a “board of directors” for some corporate organization. The church should not be about merely copying the organization methods adopted by the latest darling of the Fortune 500.

There are reasons why a gifted female author like Aimee Byrd, who holds a view that supports the husband’s leadership in the home and only qualified men serving as elders in a local church, would write a book like Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, that laments how the gifts of women are not celebrated enough in many complementarian churches. Unfortunately, Kevin DeYoung does not seem to quite get that part, as much as he should.

To put it another way, Men and Women in the Church manages to describe a good bit of what complementarianism looks like. But DeYoung does so without ever mentioning the metaphor of dance to describe how men and women are to relate to one another. I know, because I searched for the word “dance” in my Kindle version of the book, and I never found it. Yet the metaphor of dance is perhaps the best way to describe how male and female are to relate to one another. In ballroom dance, the male is always the lead, and the female always responds appropriately. Nevertheless, both male and female partner together to display the beauty of dancing. After all, it takes “two to tango.” I would urge Kevin DeYoung to take his wife to a ballroom dance class, and then come back and see if he would rewrite his book in any different way. I think he would.

To his credit, DeYoung has made a start for articulating a genuine theology of the family in sketching out how biological fathers can help their sons grow up to be men, and how their daughters can grow up to become women, and how mothers in the family contribute to that as well. If DeYoung had done this with fathers and mothers of the church, it might have made up for some of the exegetical missteps made in Men and Women in the Church, and make for a more compelling vision for the beauty of complementarity.

Moreover, Kevin DeYoung’s book comes across as too pragmatic for its own good. Yes, governance structures in the family and the church are indeed important, but complementarianism, rightly understood, is more than that. Much more than that. It is about celebrating the mystery of what it means to be male and female. There simply is not enough about the mystery of gender in DeYoung’s book to capture the imagination. The language of authority overshadows the language of beauty in the book. The book is enough to irritate those drawn to an egalitarian vision of the world, but not enough to inspire them. Complementarianism is completely counter-cultural to Western society today. In fact, it is just plain weird. But it is the weird stuff about the Christian faith that makes the message of Jesus so compelling.

All in all, Kevin DeYoung has written a helpful book that sketches out the basics contours of a complementarian theology, for men and women in the family and in the church, in a wise and generous manner. In that overarching sense, DeYoung has done well with Men and Women in the Church. As the book is intended to be a short introduction, it would not be fair to judge DeYoung for not saying enough. However, the flaws in Men and Women in the Church are far too obvious to ignore. DeYoung argues for a “broad” complementarianism, as opposed to a “narrow” version of complementarianism, but it is actually DeYoung who comes across as overly narrow in several areas of application, based on numerous exegetical errors. There are enough places where DeYoung has said a bit too much, that will unnecessarily draw the ire of egalitarian sensitive readers, and detract from the beauty of complementarity that is in such need of restoration in the church today.


In my view, a far better approach to complementarianism can be found in some of apologist Mike Winger’s videos on the topic. In the spring of 2022, Mike Winger started this series, and even though the series is still in “process,” Winger is far more thorough than Kevin DeYoung, and even Lucy Peppiatt, whom I recently reviewed.  I will try to post updates to Mike Winger’s complementarian/egalitarian series here below. As you might expect, Winger ultimately lands as a moderate complementarian, in the middle of the continuum between Kevin DeYoung and Lucy Peppiatt on the other. Just a warning, these videos are long. But they cover just about every angle anyone can imagine….

…Also, at the very end of the video list below is a YouTube segment from conference panel held at The Gospel Coalition women’s conference in 2014, with Tim Keller, Kathy Keller, Kathleen Nielson, John Piper, and Don Carson, having a “Conversation about Complementarianism,” each explaining ultimately why each person came to hold the views that they share together, despite certain differences:

A Conversation about Complementarianism, with The Gospel Coalition (TGC). Kevin DeYoung is a leadership voice with TGC, though he does not participate in this video:


1. U.K. London pastor/teacher Andrew Wilson has an excellent concise writeup explaining the latest research regarding the meaning of the Greek kephale, most often translated as “head.” Andrew Perriman’s egalitarian argument against those like Wilson argues that “Paul’s language in [Ephesians 5:22ff] makes it clear enough that he regarded patriarchy and slave-owning not as divinely sanctioned norms but as social conditions that needed to be lived with. Fortunately, we don’t have to live with them any more.” The problem with Perriman’s view is that it assumes that Paul’s teaching is merely about sanding the rough edges off of Greco-Roman ethical standards, with respect to husband-wife relations, but that Paul was actually a full-blown egalitarian. What actual Scriptural evidence does Perriman have to make his case? The case of slavery is different in that several passages from Paul can be cited that show that Paul, at least implicitly, imagined that slavery need not exist. For an excellent perspective from a female complementarian on the notion of “male headship” I would recommend this short article by apologist Rebecca McLaughlin entitled “Confessions of a reluctant complementarian“. Here is a sample of what Rebecca writes:

Ephesians 5 sticks like a burr in our 21st century, western ears. But we must not misread it as justifying “traditional” gender roles, which have often amounted to wives orienting themselves around the needs of their husband. The text does not say that the husband is the head of the family and thus the one whose needs come first, whose career must be prioritized, whose comfort is paramount. In fact, Ephesians 5 is a withering critique of traditional gender roles. In the drama of marriage, the wife’s needs come first, and the husband’s drive to prioritize himself is cut down with the brutal axe of the gospel. This is no return to Victorian values or 1950s norms.”   

2. Lucy Peppiatt, a U.K. theologian, has assembled perhaps the best summary of research into egalitarian scholarship, that is readily accessible to the lay person. She addresses the topic of Eve as Adam’s “helper” in her book, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts, which is reviewed here on Veracity

3. A discussion on the New Testament roles of “apostle” can be found on a previous Veracity post. To summarize, an “Apostle” can be someone designated with authority by Jesus, to guard and pass on the teachings of Jesus, in the first generation church. Yet an “apostle” could simply mean a “sent out one,” like a church planter or missionary.  

4. An examination of common weak arguments given by both complementarians and egalitarians can be found in a previous Veracity blog post, including the mistaken notion that “women are more easily deceived than men,” as though Adam’s deliberate sin in the garden somehow makes him more qualified as a teacher.

5. For a more extensive argument affirming women serving as deacons, see this Veracity post.

6. See Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, as discussed in this previous book review.

7. See previous mulitpart blog post series, that addresses these arguments in more detail, particularly these three posts, #1, #2, #3 . John Dickson offers a rebuttal to Kevin DeYoung’s arguments on his own blog .

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

2 responses to “A Complementarian Vision? : Kevin DeYoung on Men and Women in the Church

  • Clarke Morledge

    Mike Winger’s video # 6 (The Neglected Scriptures) gave me more to think about. Two takeaways:

    (a) Being an elder is an office. Teaching is a gift. The two are not the same. Elders are required to teach. Teachers need not be elders. Teachers, in general, can be women. Teaching in the office of elder is a DIFFERENT context from teaching more generally in the church. This is a point that complementarians, like Kevin DeYoung, do not seem to realize.

    (b) Aside from Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:26 is another verse that explicitly says that all believers in the church, men AND women, are required to bring something like “a word of instruction” to the church gathering. If this is not an endorsement of women teaching, where both men and women are present, outside of the office of elder, I do not know what is!!

    In WInger’s Galatians 3:28 “Silver Bullet” video, #7, Mike brings out two points that stuck out to me:

    (a) Galatians 3:28 is about “sonship” status, where all persons, by faith, whether male or female, Jew or Gentile, and slave or free, have equal status before God. It is a leap in logic to extend this to being an elder. Everyone in Christ has this “sonship” status. But it does not mean that eldership is something that is for everyone. As a Christian, no one is in an “out-group”, where you are denied any privileges of being a Christian. But to not be an elder does NOT mean that you are in an “out-group”, in the sense that everyone is somehow entitled to be an elder. Galatians is not talking about qualifications for being elder. You have to go to other passages that talk about qualifications for eldership, instead of reading Galatians 3:28 into everything else Paul is teaching about.

    (b) A good test for how well you treat and honor Scripture is to ask a hypothetical: if Paul were to say that only Jews could serve as elders, could you live with that? If we really respect Scripture, then we should say, “I do not completely understand why Paul would prohibit Gentiles from serving as elders, but I will submit this restriction gladly.” Would we really be OK with that? ….. the episode #7 is probably the most challenging so far in this series.


  • Clarke Morledge

    Great video interview by Preston Sprinkle with Gerry Breshears with a complementarian view that I had never considered before. I am not totally convinced, because the church history argument does fully support it, but it is worth serious consideration:


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