Review: Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood


Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood
Edited by Wayne Grudem
Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2002, 304pp

Perhaps because my reading coincided with the recent debates in the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Uniting Church of Australia about homosexual and lesbian clergy, or perhaps because I am a Christian woman living in a feminist (or post-feminist) society, I found Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood one of the most rewarding books I have read for a while...

It functions as something of a sequel to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,[1] which contained essays on all the relevant Bible texts, together with essays on related topics including church history, theology, psychology, sociology and testimonies. Its aim was to provide a thorough response to what is known as biblical/evangelical feminism or egalitarianism, which for various reasons rejects many or all role distinctions between men and women in the family and/or church. Instead it upheld the biblical (complementarian) picture of ‘equality’ within ordered relationships of loving male leadership and intelligent submission by women.

A decade and an avalanche of books and articles later, the debate about the nature of male and female relationships and our respective responsibilities in the church and family has crystalised around a few familiar hubs. This is because, as Grudem states in his introductory essay to this new volume, there is little new evidence that those opposed to the traditional understanding of ordered and complementary relationships have produced.

It is these hubs that this collection of essays addresses, particularly as they relate to relationships in the family. The essays originate from a 2000 conference, ‘Building Strong Families in your Church’, that was co-sponsored by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and FamilyLife, and which spawned four popular books and this volume of more scholarly essays.

This family focus takes the gender debate away from the usual territory of ‘women’s ministry’, which is refreshing, as it works out the Bible’s teaching primarily in relationships we are all familiar with, including a section on singleness (pp. 90-92). The result is a collection of essays that is academically thorough and yet personal, even including a poem written by John Piper for his son on his wedding day, and reflections from some contributors about their own marriages.

Wayne Grudem’s opening essay, ‘The Key Issues in the Manhood-Womanhood Controversy, and the Way Forward’, highlights the importance of a right understanding in male and female relationships and concludes with a chart mapping the consequences of the various positions. Whilst, as he admits, this chart deals with generalisations and therefore cannot be applied too rigidly, it is helpful to see how our understanding of personhood and gender impacts on broader issues like homosexuality, childrearing and the value of children. The chart clearly differentiates the biblical complementarian understanding from the alternative ‘milder’ aberrations of egalitarianism and male dominance, and the extreme aberrations of the ‘effeminate left’ and the ‘violent right.’

In ‘Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God’, Bruce Ware examines the foundational texts of Genesis 1, 2 and 3 and their implications in the New Testament texts of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Colossians 3, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, Titus 2 and 1 Peter 3. His careful treatment balances the ‘equality’ and ‘differentiation’ of male and female and, unlike many contemporary authors on both sides of the debate, does not baulk at the clear teaching of these passages. It is well argued and (I must say) brave.

Ware’s second essay, ‘Tampering with the Trinity: Does the Son Submit to His Father?’, remarks that some readers might be surprised to find the historic doctrine of the Trinity under attack on two fronts in the gender debate. First there is the rejection of masculine God-language in preference by radical feminists for feminine God-language, or by ‘mainline’ churches for a balance (e.g. God as Father and Mother) or for gender neutral language (e.g. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer instead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Many of us whilst familiar with such innovations might not be aware of the theological ramifications of changing our God-language, which Ware argues amounts to a rewriting of the eternal nature of the Trinity.

Second, in recent years egalitarians have rejected or revised the traditional understanding of eternal functional subordination within the Trinity. That is, many claim that the historic understanding of an eternal hierarchy within the Trinity necessarily infers inferiority on the Son and the Spirit (viz. Arianism) and must be rejected. Instead, they argue that the Son only submits to the Father within the incarnational mission of the Son, and that before and after that mission there is no order in the relationships within the Godhead.[2] Ware finds both biblical and historical support for their view wanting and that they have confused the biblical meaning of ‘subordination’ with the Arian heresy of subordinationism.

Grudem also addresses this historical revisionism in relation to the Greek word for ‘head’ (kephale) in his essay ‘The Meaning of kephale (“Head”): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged.’ Following his definitive studies,[3] which established that kephale (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23) meant ‘authority over’ and not ‘source’ (as argued by egalitarians), he offers a gracious but devasting exposure of Catherine Kroeger’s article ‘Head’ in the popular Dictionary of Paul and his Letters.[4] This is the most lengthy and technical essay in the volume, with extensive citation of extra-biblical Greek sources and a detailed critique of Kroeger’s conclusions and documentation of those sources. Even then, it repays reading.

If Grudem is right, the evidence Kroeger cites from church history to deny a sense of hierarchy in the word ‘head’ is simply not there. Grudem’s essay demonstrates yet again that the meaning ‘source’ as opposed to ‘authority over’ just cannot be sustained lexically, exegetically or historically.

Two other chestnuts in the gender debate are the egalitarians’ claims that Galatians 3:28 overturns gender role differences, and that Ephesians 5:21-22 teaches ‘mutual submission’ rather than order within the marriage relationship.

The first of these is dealt with by Richard Hove in ‘Does Galatians 3:28 Negate Gender-Specific Roles?’ It is a brief summary of parts of his book on the same text.[5] By placing the text in its broader and immediate context, and through a discussion of both the phrase ‘for you are all one’ and the couplets of verse 28 (Jew/Greeks; slave/free; male/female), he demonstrates that the focus of the text is not on gender relations but on the universal availability of the blessings of Abraham in Christ. That is, in Christ we are all (Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women) sons of God and heirs according to the promise. If you’re studying or preaching on Galatians then this essay is a must-read.

The issue of ‘mutual submission’ in Ephesians 5 is answered in two essays, ‘The Historical Novelty of Egalitarian Interpretations of Ephesians 5:21-22’ by Daniel Doriani and ‘The Myth of Mutual Submission as an Interpretation of Ephesians 5:21’ by Wayne Grudem. These essays should be required reading for anybody preparing couples for marriage or preaching wedding sermons, and for any wife tempted to say “I’ll submit to my husband the day he submits to me!”

The two essays in the section ‘Standing Against the Culture’ focus more on the implications of society’s rejection of God and his intentions for human sexuality. Both essays are strangely prophetic given current church debates about homosexuality. In ‘Sexual Perversion: The Necessary Fruit of Neo-pagan Spirituality in the Culture at Large’, Peter Jones examines the beliefs of paganism and its effect on our society’s understanding of sexuality, and the way it undergirds the ideals of feminism, homosexuality and androgyny.

In ‘The Unchangeable Difference: Eternally Fixed Sexual Identity for an Age of Plastic Sexuality’, Daniel Heimbach looks at the way contemporary culture considers gender to be malleable and irrelevant for personal identity and relationships. He then outlines the alternative biblical evidence that sexual identity is essential to who we are and eternal (in some sense). These final essays offer both an alarming insight into our culture and a challenge for Christians to be counter-cultural in our understanding and expression of gender.

Apart from a few very minor quibbles, the only real problem with this book is that not enough people will read it! My guess is that many of us are tired of ‘the women’s issue’ and simply hope it will go away. Others are uncertain what to read and what to think since leaders and authors we otherwise respect cannot agree on what the Bible is saying and how it applies.

This volume gets right to the heart of those disagreements. For those familiar with the debate it will strengthen the conviction that God made men and women together in his image, equally loved and equally called to serve him, but that our service, both at home and in the church, will be shaped by our gender. We are not principally ‘persons’ but male persons and female persons, and our created differences are a blessing and joy. We ignore them at serious cost to ourselves, our relationships and our society.

For those unfamiliar or overwhelmed by the debate this book helpfully narrows the focus to those few central hubs. It answers the objections of the egalitarians and sets forth an inspiring ideal of men and women loving and serving each other as God intended, all to the glory of God.

As such it is essential reading and a much-needed corrective to many recent commentaries, articles and books. Having said that, for those who have not yet ventured into the waters of this debate there may be easier places to start;[6] but otherwise, buy it and start reading!


Claire Smith.jpg

Claire Smith is a member of the Equal but Different Steering Committee. She and her husband Rob attend St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney.



Postscript: Since writing this review, Claire has written God's Good Design: What the Bible really says about men and women (Matthias Media, Sydney, 2012). You may find this to be an easier introduction with which to familiarise yourself with the debate.   


[1] John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds), Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1991.

[2] A recent Australian book that argues along these lines is Kevin Giles’ The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate, IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2002.

[3] ‘Does kephale (“Head”) Mean “Source” or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples’, Trinity Journal, 6 NS, vol. 1, Spring 1985, pp. 38-59; ‘The Meaning of kephale (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies’, Trinity Journal, 11 NS, vol. 1, Spring 1990, pp. 3-72.

[4] GF Hawthorne, RP Martin, and DG Reid (eds), IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1993.

[5] RW Hove, Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1999.

[6] For example, Mary Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1990; or, as mentioned above, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1991.