Jory Micah has kindly taken up the challenge presented by my recent post on Love and Respect over at Desiring God. I would like to return the compliment, making me a complimentarian, and I would like to return the compliment with all my heart, making me an extreme complimentarian.
I begin this way because Jory introduced me thus: “Recently, extreme complementarian pastor, Douglas Wilson, wrote an article . . .” What does this mean? That I am an extreme pastor, who happens to be complementarian? Or perhaps it means that it is my complementarianism that is extreme, meaning that I believe that men and women really go together. Or maybe it is because, unlike a lot of complementarians, I actually mean it.
She begins by saying that my position is not to be found in Scripture.
“Both Wilson and Eggerichs argue that men need respect more than love and women need love more than respect. The greatest issue with this stance is that there is virtually no biblical evidence to back it up. Ephesians five’s marriage passage is not sufficient proof for this argument.”
But this is not how arguments work. You can’t just say that “my opponent appeals to Eph. 5 to support his views. My counter argument is that Eph. 5 doesn’t say that.” That’s not a counter argument — that is simply a counter-conclusion. It is the equivalent of “nuh uh.” “Yeah, huh!” “No way!” “Yes, way!”
But my argument from that text was pretty straightforward. When the Bible says to feed the sheep, we can infer that sheep need food. When the Bible says that children should receive nurture and admonition, we can infer that children need nurture and admonition. When the Bible says to render justice to the poor, we can infer that the poor need justice. Women are told to respect their husbands. Husbands are told to love their wives. Why is it stated like this? If Jory wants to say that it just as easily could have gone the other way, and that Paul was just looking for any old verb for filler, an argument for this odd view should be offered.
Secondly, she says that I have blurried-up the difference between submission and respect.
“One can certainly respect someone without submitting to their will and one can certainly submit to someone’s will without respecting them in the least.”
Now it is quite right that these words can be detached, and made to function differently. I can submit to a mugger with a gun, and I can highly esteem my best friend. In such a case, the words are operating in two different realms. But it is also true that in the case of a Christian wife relating to her Christian husband, the apostles of Jesus Christ require both words to operate together harmoniously. The two words inform each other.
Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22,24; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1,5; Tit. 2:5), and they are to do so in a way that respects and honors them (1 Pet. 3:2; Eph. 5:33). This means that wives should never be put into the position where they are simply submitting to a superior force. That is not the biblical vision for marriage.
In short, through the long stretch of Ephesians 5, Paul teaches that husbands should love their wives and wives should submit to their own husbands. And then, when he comes to summarize his point in v. 33, he does it by repeating that men should love their wives, and also saying that wives should respect their husbands. I take from this the fact that when a woman respects her man as she should, the result is the kind of marital submission that God requires.
Jory’s third point in responding to me has to do with Paul’s requirement of mutual submission.
“The Apostle Paul begins this passage with the heart of the message which is that wives and husbands are to yield equally to the will of one another. Paul goes on to charge husbands with sacrificial love and wives with sacrificial submission, as this was the cultural understanding of ‘household structure’ in Paul’s day.”
There are two points to make in response to this. First, the imperative in this passage is to be found up in v. 18 when Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit. The command is followed by a series of participles that describe what should accompany this Spirit-filling. He says we are to be filled, and it looks like singing, thanking, submitting, etc. That extended thought continues down into his teaching on marriage. And so my point here is that Micah is quite right about the grammatical point, but that it is entirely beside the theological point.
I quite agree that in the body of Christ, all believers everywhere are to submit themselves one to another. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). The men are not exempted from the requirement to do nothing through vainglory. Christian husbands are required to esteem their wives as “better than themselves” and they are to do this in exactly the same way that the Lord Jesus did this very same thing for His bride. And so of course the filling of the Spirit is going to lead to a spirit of mutual submission.
But what does that mean? How does it look? How does it translate? We can tell if God’s people are filled with the Spirit. We will see it in the fact that they are singing, thanking God for everything, and submitting to one another — and then we should let Paul finish his thought. He says that this should happen with the wives paying particular attention to have this spirit of mutual submission work out into a submission to their own husbands. He adds that the husbands should pay particular attention to having this spirit of mutual submission work out into their Christ-like love for their own wives. That is kind of what it says.
And this leads to the second point. Jory summarily dismisses Paul’s specific application as culturally conditioned. But note what this requires — we are to be filled with the Spirit, and four Spirit-filled participles follow, but the participle after that is a special kind of Greco-Roman-milieu participle.
“Paul goes on to charge husbands with sacrificial love and wives with sacrificial submission, as this was the cultural understanding of ‘household structure’ in Paul’s day.”
The problems pile-up here like a multiple vehicle accident on the interstate, the kind that involve at least three eighteen-wheelers. Sacrificial love and sacrificial submission was the “cultural understanding” of that day? Which culture? Greek? Roman? That would fall in the problematic category of “not true.” Jewish? That would make that particular cultural understanding as something that was grounded in the Old Testament. This is true enough, but difficult for Jory’s larger project.
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law” (1 Cor. 14:34).
Paul says that certain things are done in the churches as part of their culture (1 Cor. 11:16), but all of this also lines up with what it says “in the law.” So how can we dismiss it with just a wave of the hand? The Old Testament is not the Word of God emeritus.
Another part of the pile-up is that we have a facile tendency to assume that Paul was blinkered and stuck in the categories of his culture, whatever it was, while we — enlightened as we are — simply say things because they are self-evident. We are supposedly not in thrall to any cultural influences at all. The problem with this is that if we made a short list of people in human history who most demonstrated a willingness to fly in the face of their education, upbringing, social pressures, cultural expectations, etc., that list would have to include the apostle Paul. And for evangelical feminists, who are wind-surfing white caps driven by zeitgeist zephyrs, to look down on the “cultural blinkers” of the apostle Paul is something that I find, let us be frank, kind of funny.