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Recovering the Communion of Persons: How Hebrew Anthropology Counters Aristotelian Thought Concerning Male and Female Roles

November 20, 2019


When Elizabeth Cady Stanton first published The Woman’s Bible in 1895, she attempted to remedy what she perceived to be a religiously justified inequity: the inferior role of women. The first-wave feminist matriarch lamented that, despite woman’s equal position and glory in Genesis 1, she was a mere “afterthought” in Genesis 2.[1] Stanton pronounced her verdict: “[T]he Bible in its teachings degrades Women from Genesis to Revelation.”[2] Thus began the effort to elevate women in society by unfettering them from religious — specifically biblical — constraints. Succeeding generations followed Stanton’s lead. They blamed the Bible (or at least how the Bible was interpreted and applied) for imprisoning women in a voiceless, powerless role. The emancipation of women was but a doctrinal novelty away.

Like their forebears, contemporary critics of the church’s historic interpretation of male headship in the family and the church claim that Scripture does not consign women to a lesser role. They’re right…to a point.

We need not speak at length of the contrived ceilings placed over women in the name of doctrine, of the Mary Astells who were forbidden to study theology,[3] or the Lucy Stones who were barred from academic debate because “St. Paul was invoked.”[4] But we do need to inspect the foundation on which these ceilings depend.

The belief that Scripture relegates women to a lesser role is not a mere misunderstanding of its teachings. Rather, it expresses a false equivalence, one that hinges on a categorically incongruent philosophy and misrepresents Scripture’s intent. An anthropology espousing that women are unequal and, consequently, relegated to an inferior position relates more directly to an Aristotelian conception of women than a Hebrew one. In what follows, I propose that our Christian discourse on gender recover its Hebrew roots, and that we examine the philosophical influences that have, at least to some degree, intermingled with our understanding of male and female as image-bearers of the divine.

But first, we must go back to the beginning.


The creation story in Genesis 1–2 grounds human identity and personhood in terms of relationship. Prior to all other social or political structures, humanity knew each other in face-to-face community, or what has been called an “I-Thou” way of relating.[5] Scripture’s first chapter describes humanity as male and female in a union of essential equality and distinct personhood. In Genesis 1:26–28, both male and female receive undifferentiated commands: to rule and reign over creation and to multiply and fill the earth. In its first words about humanity, Scripture depicts male and female as equal manifestations of the imago Dei: concerning activity, they are equal recipients of the divinely-given mission; concerning community, they are equal participants in a divinely created relationship; concerning status, they are equal stewards of a divinely-delegated authority over creation.[6]

Genesis 1 reveals humanity’s relationship to the creator, while Genesis 2 reveals humanity’s relationship to each other. Just as man recognizes himself in the woman’s shared substance, he comprehends himself through the woman’s corresponding difference. The very event of naming the woman confirms this: woman is both of man, yet not man; man is both equal to and responsible for woman (Gen. 2:18–25).

The very mode of woman’s creation portrays her comprehensive equality to the man. The Lord created the woman to mitigate the man’s solitude, to provide community in relationship. Rather than creating her out of the dust of the earth as He did the man, the Lord fashions her out of the man’s side. In Hebrew thought, this signified the man’s rational powers; woman shared in man’s capacity for comprehension, reason, and agency.[7] She is of the same substance as the man, in every way related and corresponding to him. Man could neither disparage her person nor dismiss her intellect without despising himself — and what man ever despised himself (Eph. 5:29)?

In his commentary on Genesis 1–3, Dietrich Bonhoeffer  suggests that the human relationship expresses the substance of the imago Dei.[8] Just as God is not alone in Himself, human beings image God by an analogia relationis (analogy of relation).[9] This relationship personified the imago Dei in a manner that individual man could not in isolation, what Karl Barth called, “being in encounter.”[10] Bonhoeffer explains: “Human beings exist in duality, and it is in this dependence on the other that their creatureliness exists” (emphasis added).[11]  The relational interdependence in which human beings exist is the analogia relationis. Thus, human beings cannot image God fully apart from an “in-dependence-upon-one-another” relationship.[12]

This relationship occurs only in a duality in which “I” and “Thou” face each other as equals.[13] The “I-Thou” connection — analogia relationis — is not mutually exclusive to what may be identified as “roles;” on the contrary, the I-Thou finds its expression in ways of relating that are particular to one’s personhood as male or female.[14]

The analogia relationis presupposes relational freedom. Because we are free to relate to God, we are free to relate to others.[15] We are not free from others, but rather free for others: “Freedom is a relation between two persons. Being free means ‘being-free-for-the-other,’ because I am bound to the other. Only by being in relation with the other I am free.”[16] Freedom and dependence — the paradox finds its resolution in relationship.

The relational character of Hebrew anthropology pervades the Old Testament. In the Pentateuch, the Lord elects Israel to be His children, relating to them in the indissoluble bond of Fatherhood (Gen. 12:1–3; Ex. 4:22–23). In the Prophets, marriage is a relational metaphor portraying Israel and Yahweh (Jer. 3:14; Hos. 2:16); like the union between the Lord and His people, the marital union held a place of privilege among other family and social relationships. While fathers were the head of the home, mothers were the foundation of home,[17] creating and molding a body and soul who would fulfill God’s mandate for perfecting the world.[18]

It is noteworthy that the Hellenization of Jewish culture inflected Hebrew theology with Greek categories of male and female.[19] Among Hellenized Jews,[20] marriage centered on establishing a household and privileged the relationship between parents and child rather than husband and wife.[21] For Rabbinic interpreters, this shift made the relationship between God and Israel reflecting the intimacy of the marital union awkward, if not indecent.[22] Further, during the period of Hellenization, Jewish interpreters integrated the Greek view of women’s work into Hebrew marriage. The woman of Proverbs 31 had economic agency, while the Rabbinic woman required her husband’s management over her income-generating tasks. The Proverbs 31 woman created value from raw materials to sell for a profit (v. 24), and invested her earnings (v. 16); these tasks were among the ways she prioritized and cared for her family. The woman of Rabbinic Judaism, however, worked according to her husband’s instruction; the product of her labors was the property of her husband.[23]

The Hebrew community, and later the early Christian church, grounded a person’s value in how one related to God — particularly, as one reconciled through Christ; and universally, as one made in His image — as well as in how one related to other persons. The Hebrew emphasis on family identity extended to the New Testament community: Christians were spiritually related members of one family with one Father. They collectively comprised a household. They were members of one body.[24] This distinction is among the many reasons early Christianity attracted a disproportionate number of female converts.[25] Amidst the debauchery and exploitation of the Greco-Roman world, the church upheld the sacredness of a woman’s sexuality and defended her dignity. Further, women found a place of significant contribution in the church, despite their inferior social status and political exclusion. [26] In other words, the early church regarded women as persons.

Within this foundation, we may consider the creation-established pattern of male headship in terms of this face-to-face, “I-Thou” relationship. That the Lord created man first signifies his relationship to woman. The Western interpreter may miss the significance of this for a Hebrew audience. Whereas to the Western reader, being first typically implies superiority, either in nature or ability, to the Hebrew reader, being first entails relational accountability.[27] That man was made before woman indicates his greater obligation before the Lord. This principle neither reflects nor ascribes greater competence or worth.[28] Rather, “first” signifies relational responsibility.

The relational character of Hebrew personhood requires man and woman to know one another primarily as relational persons (Thou), not as static positions (It). This being-in-encounter relationship is distinct from, although not necessarily mutually exclusive to, the inhabiting of a role. This observation is not to dismiss the different ways of relating or relational responsibilities between male and female; Scripture’s pattern of male headship in nuclear and spiritual families is clear. Rather, this point considers the idea of male-female roles primarily in terms of personal relationship, not the other way around.


This relational character of Hebrew anthropology contrasts Aristotelian thought and its subsequent influence in theology. One cannot overstate the contribution of Aristotle’s philosophy to the Western world, particularly in academia. One must note, however, the influence of his fallacious theories which distorted the concept of woman for subsequent thinkers and theologians, an influence Prudence Allen calls a “wound in the academic body.”[29]

According to Aristotle, woman inhabited a socially inferior role because she was the product of an ontologically inferior nature.[30] Woman was a “mutilated” male, a defect, an aberration.[31] Her existence was the result of a comparatively cold womb which was unable to produce the intended offspring: a male.[32] The differences between male and female did not form a complementary harmony, but rather a polaric hostility: the birth of a girl signified that the father’s sperm was weak; a stronger male would have overpowered the female’s reproductive issue.[33] She is a failure of nature, a non-male.

Within Aristotelian anthropology, woman suffers from a two-fold, cyclical disadvantage. Socially, she was ineligible from the public life of the polis, and instead was confined to the relative deficiency of private domesticity. Since man is inherently rational, however, he is fit for the polis. According to Aristotle, man is primarily a political animal; thus, the private life of the oikos serves the public life of the polis. [34] That the private woman is ruled by the public man is itself an indictment against her capacity. Aristotle reasons that her lack of power implied her lack of goodness; were she capable of man’s reason and goodness, man would not rule over her.[35]

As a “deformed male,” woman lacked the capacity for true knowledge and, consequently, wisdom. Unlike man, she could not rule over her own irrational thought. Although capable of expressing opinions, she was incapable of speaking with rational authority.[36] Since she was incapable of rational authority, she was disqualified from participating in philosophy, which to the Greek was among humanity’s highest glories. Man’s input was inherently wise and valuable; woman’s input was vacuous and of little value. Man’s intellect inclined him toward every good; woman’s emotion, toward every evil.[37] Her limited judgment necessitated her limited influence. While she could teach individuals or small groups, teaching a universal audience was beyond her ontological depth.[38] Men could speak publicly, women were to remain silent.[39]

Even woman’s contribution in reproduction was inferior to man’s. Reflecting Greek philosophy’s body/soul dualism, Aristotle denied that male sperm contributed any physical component in reproduction.[40] The father provided the substance, endowing the fetus with a soul as well as reason, i.e. humanity’s higher properties. The mother provided merely the physical matter, i.e. humanity’s lower properties. While the mother was necessary for the offspring’s maturation, she contributed only the raw materials with which the father could implant and create a human being.[41] She was a vessel, an incubator who gave nothing essential to, or determinative of, human life.[42]

Marriage was an aristocracy in Aristotelian thought.[43] Within this aristocracy, woman’s inferiority inferred that marriage could never be a union of equals. Of the three types of friendship Aristotle describes, a woman could provide the friendship of utility (to produce offspring) or the friendship of pleasure (companionship, sexual satisfaction), but was powerless to offer a friendship of virtue.[44] This is because a friendship of virtue — in which two people value one another’s character and seek what is good — could occur only between equals. This aristocratic nature of marriage framed the marital relationship as a balance of power. As the politically inferior being, the wife could offer more love to her husband to offset her deficiency; the husband — a politically superior being — was not compelled to offer the same degree of love to his ontologically lesser wife. [45]

Despite these inequalities, marriage was indispensable to woman’s wellbeing. Apart from a husband’s rule, she could not quell the effects of her deficiencies: “Marital rule…enables a woman’s virtue not by supplementing any rational defect on her part, but by inhibiting the non-rational obstacles to the effective employment of her deliberative capabilities.”[46] For Aristotle, woman was incapable of personal or moral agency; her inferiority limited her ability to make productive decisions. Woman needed man’s higher moral agency to form her decisions.[47] She needed a man to manage her. She required rule. There was one marital concession Aristotle commended, however. Although a wife had no natural authority, a husband could delegate to his wife a measure of authority under his supervision, a domain that she could manage under his rule: the home.[48] Within Aristotelean thought, domestic life was the only appropriate sphere for a woman’s weakness; like woman herself, domesticity is necessary for continuing political life. Hers is a utilitarian existence, a “functional prerequisite for the realm of freedom [for men].”[49]

Within this aristocracy, the function of its members prescribed the virtue of its members. As a lesser being, woman attained virtue by following a man, whose higher power of rationality made him the greater being. Due to her weakness, woman could not achieve the same level of excellence as man.[50] Further, the specific virtues she ought to acquire mirrored her ontological subordination. As one excluded from the polis, she required virtues that reflected her societal sphere and her inferior nature.[51] Since a woman would never rule, she had little need for courage.[52] However, she would need the silence and modesty befitting one who obeys a superior being.[53] This division of virtue was integral to the aristocratic rule within marriage: a wife could enjoy the practical wisdom belonging to her husband, but she could not possess such wisdom without threatening the government and virtue of marriage altogether.[54]

Within Aristotelian anthropology, a woman’s social and familial role mirrored her functional utility and ontological status as a deformed male. Her political function and social role was prior to, even determinative of, her person. Her identity was not as a “Thou,” but rather an “It,” a level on a hierarchical chain of command.


Claims that Christianity suppresses women and confines them to a lesser role misapply the Hebrew Scriptures and relate more directly to Aristotle and his influence. Aristotelian anthropology established roles to justify an inequitable relationship between male and female; the philosophy systematized roles to impose a social structure. In other words, Aristotelean thought legislated behaviors and assigned spheres to create a male-female relationship that supported its ideal society. Further, whereas Aristotelian anthropology establishes one’s identity according to one’s relationship to the polis, the Bible establishes one’s identity in one’s relationship both to God, as one created in His image, and to humanity, as one created for fellowship. Jean Elshtain explains that Christianity “cheapened politics” by regarding every life as sacred and all human labor — no matter where the sphere — as dignified.[55]

Christianity is a distinctly relational faith. These relationships both inform and find their expression in one’s respective manner of relating. One’s relationship demands certain expectations, yet these are according to the law of love; the husband who responsibly leads in self-giving service and the wife who voluntarily submits in self-yielding service both fulfill the command to “submit to one another.”[56] As in all other aspects of one’s redeemed identity, however, the Christian does not look to imposed laws to produce a desired result. Rather, the Christian, compelled by the law of love, fulfills his relational responsibility in self-giving service to God and others.

In Theology of the Body, John Paul II describes the male-female relationship as the “nuptial meaning of the body.” To fulfill the body’s nuptial meaning, both mutually give themselves to comprise the “communion of persons.”[57] This communion is a dynamic relationship in which both male and female mutually realize the significance of their gendered bodies by becoming embodied gifts to each other. Man cannot comprehend his identity as a man apart from woman, and vice versa; both masculinity and femininity find their meaning in contradistinction to one another.[58] One cannot know the meaning of one’s gendered self apart from relationship: “Femininity is found in relation to masculinity and masculinity is confirmed in femininity. They depend on each other.” This “communion of persons” relates to the other as a living “Thou,” rather than a static “It.” Thus, within the male-female relationship, failure to relate to one another in a communion of persons produces a failure to comprehend fully the nature of one’s identity as male or female.

Considering this, an evangelical discourse preoccupied with prescribing specific roles may, however unwittingly, neglect the relational emphasis within Christian anthropology. A “role” is an extrinsic property; one may adopt or suspend a role like a task or a function. A relationship, however, is an identity. While we may describe the various roles we fulfill in terms of what we do, we comprehend our relationships in terms of who we are. To condense the relationship to terms of roles only reduces the complexity and comprehensiveness of the male-female relationship to fulfilling a function — to relating the other as a depersonalized “It.” But, to emphasize gender distinctions as respective ways of relating safeguards our theological discourse from devolving into a preoccupation with specific tasks, functions, or cultural expressions. By amplifying the communion of confrontation with a “Thou,” we represent the fellowship of Hebrew marriage described in Genesis 1–2.

To reiterate, this in no way eschews the biblically established pattern of male headship in the family and the church. Nor does this approach intend to dismiss the relationship of man as spiritual authority and woman as corresponding helper in marriage (Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:22–33). Rather, this distinction proposes that we present and discuss this pattern to reflect the relational nature of man as male and female prior to stipulating gendered expressions.

Grounding gender differences in relationship prior to roles also frees us from associating certain virtues with gender. A virtuous man will be meek, tender-hearted, and gentle. A virtuous woman will be resolute, bold, and steadfast. While the virtues themselves are not gendered characteristics, the expression of these virtues may correlate to the gender of the person who possesses them.[59] This point also frees us from assessing one’s manliness or womanliness by the degree to which they possess specific virtues relative to other persons[60] and, instead, relates all virtue as an expression of one’s relationship to God (2 Pet. 1:3–11).

Finally, grounding gender differences in relationship prior to roles allows us to maintain male headship as a relational responsibility by which one bears greater accountability, rather than a superior role with which one wields greater control. This permits the possibility of a marriage that both fulfills Scripture’s relational pattern and varies in social roles.[61] In contrast, to ascribe approval or disapproval of a marital relationship according to whether it conforms to culturally dominant norms of gender expression reflects a paradigm in which male and female fulfill a role rather than express a relationship.

Recovering the Hebrew roots in our theology of the male-female relationship shifts theological discourse from discussing points on the spectrum of specific functions and toward expressing dynamic and holistic relationships of responsibility, both to God and to others. This emphasis would transpose our assessment of one’s masculinity or femininity. Rather than measuring the degree to which one quantitatively inhabits a role, we would note the way one qualitatively relates to other persons according to one’s maleness or femaleness. Therefore, establishing the communion of persons as the defining property of the male-female relationship represents the relational nature of Genesis 1–2. Moreover, this emphasis guards our theological method from amalgamating Aristotelian categories into our understanding of differentiation within unity between male and female.

Within this framework, both male and female express a way of relating according to their responsibility, whether one is responsible to lead or to align voluntarily with the one who leads. This requires our gender discourse to consider ways of relating as the foundation for defining personhood and consequent ways of relating. To the degree that we neglect to describe the male-female relationship as a communion of persons that is prior or disproportionate to gender roles, we perpetuate the misconception that Scripture confines women to an inferior status.

Katie McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


[1]Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible: Part I. Comments on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Part II. Comments on the Old and New Testaments from Joshua to Revelation (iBooks: The Project Gutenberg, 2003), 45.

[2]Ibid., 443.

[3]Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002).

[4]Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Woman’s Rights (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001), 58-61.

[5]Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, translated by G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), 185. “The analogy between God and man [imago Dei] is simply the existence of the I and the Thou in confrontation.” The I-Thou motif originates with Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1970).

[6]The manner in which male and female express their authority over creation is intrinsic to their relationship to each other. While the man and the woman had equal authority over creation in Genesis 1–2, this does not imply that they had identical relational authority over each other.

[7]Earle Bennett Cross, The Hebrew Family: A Study in Historical Sociology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1927), 42). Within Hebrew thought, emotional affections were located in the bowels.

[8]The relational aspect of the imago Dei is one of several approaches to defining this doctrine. For the present discussion, I have limited my argument to the necessity of the relational approach in gender discourse. Just as each human being expresses the imago Dei autonomously, he/she expresses the imago Dei relationally. Perhaps the absence of one definition in Scripture underscores the nuanced and intricate nature of this doctrine.

[9]Dietrich Bonhoffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, John W. deGruchy, ed., Douglas Stephen Bax, trans. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 65. Bonhoeffer contrasts this with an analogia entis (analogy of being). The “freedom” of God that human beings image reflects God’s ability to be free for another: “The creature is free in that one creature exists in relation to another creature, in that one being is free for another human being” (66).

[10]“The analogy between God and man [imago Dei] is simply the existence of the I and the Thou in confrontation.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1. Translated by G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), 185. “Hence humanity is the determination of our being as a being in encounter with the other man.” Barth, CD III/2, 248. “The only real differentiation and relationship is that of man to man, and in its original and mot concrete form of man to woman and woman to man. Man is no more solitary than God. But as God is One, and He alone is God, so man as man is one and alone, and two only in the duality of his kind, i.e., in the duality of man and woman. In this way he is a copy and imitation of God. In this way he repeats in his confrontation of God and himself the confrontation in God” (186). This is not to say that individual humanity does not fully image God. The image of God is not contingent upon relationship, but it is manifested in relationship.

[11]Bonhoffer, Creation and Fall. Italics original.

[12]Ibid, 64.

[13]Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. III: Doctrine of Creation, Part 2, ed. G.W. Bromily and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1960), 250. This relationship is the “root formation” for all humanity, and “can only take place in duality as I and Thou look one another in the eye,” (252).

[14]Ibid., 297, 310–11. Within this mutuality, Barth explains the analogical relationship between God and Israel, Christ and the church: “This basic order of the human established by God’s creation is not accidental or contingent.”

[15]Bonhoeffer, 63.


[17]Quoted in The Biala Rebbe, Mevaser Tov: The Merit of the Righteous Woman, trans. Daniel Worenklein and Reuven Mathieson (Jerusalem: Megamah Publishing, Adar 5763 [2002]), 90.

[18]Lisa Aiken, To Be a Jewish Woman (Northvale: Jason Aronson Inc., 1992), 31. As Aiken explains, the task of maternity does not entail merely biological birth. Rather, it involves the personal and spiritual formation of one’s children for the continuance of the Jewish way of life: “From a Jewish perspective, should a woman choose to take on the challenge of having children, her job is not simply to be a ‘baby machine.’ Rather, it is to create and mold a Jewish body and soul who will carry on the mandate of perfecting the world in accordance with God’s will.”

[19]Eric M. Meyers, “The Challenge of Hellenism for Early Judaism and Christianity,” Biblical Archeologist, vol. 55, no. 2 (June 1992): 91. Meyers notes that Christianity has, throughout history, identified more with its Hellenic roots than its Semitic ones.

[20]George Holley Gilbert, “The Hellenization of Jews Between 334 BC and 70 AD,” The American Journal of Theology, vol. 13, no. 4 (Oct 1909): 540.

[21]Michael Satlow, “The Metaphor of Marriage in Early Judaism,” in Families and Family Relations as Represented in Early Judaisms and Early Christianities: Texts and Fictions, eds. Jan Willem van Henten and Athalya Brenner (Leiden: Deo Publishing, 2000), 22.

[22]Ibid., 23.

[23]Miriam Peskowitz, “Domesticity and the Spindle,” in Families and Family Relations as Represented in Early Judaisms and Early Christianities: Texts and Fictions, eds. Jan Willem van Henten and Athalya Brenner (Leiden: Deo Publishing, 2000).

[24]John 1:12; Rom. 12:4–5; 1 Cor. 8:6, 12:12–27; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 2:11–12; 1 John 3:1–2.

[25]Jean Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 61. In early Christianity, women found that their tasks and activities were celebrated, including “giving birth to and sustaining new life; an ethic of responsibility toward the helpless, the vulnerable, the weak, gentleness, mercy, and compassion.”

[26]Michael Kruger, “Was Christianity Hostile to Women?” Canon Fodder, April 18, 2016, available at See also Rodney Stark, “The Role of Woman in Christian Growth,” in The Rise of Christianity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) and Kyle Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), 15–16.

[27]E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Barriers to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2012), 13–14. This principle illuminates the Apostle Paul’s stipulation concerning leadership in the church. By invoking the principle of “first” (i.e. primogeniture), he connected the order of man’s creation with his greater responsibility incumbent upon men in the church to teach and exercise authority. Richards and O’Brien explain: “the firstborn child received a larger inheritance, and with it greater responsibility, than all other children — not because he or she was preferred or more deserving or better qualified in any way, but merely because she or he was firstborn . . . . In other words, Paul’s original readers may have understood him as saying that men should be pastors not because they are innately better qualified or more deserving but simply because they are the ‘firstborn.’”

[28]Contemporary egalitarian scholarship demonstrates this, with monographs centering on the ability or worthiness of a woman in the pastoral role. See Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:9–15 In Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992); Rebecca Groothuis, Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997); Alan F. Johnson, ed. How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).

[29]Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman, Volume 2: The Early Humanist Reformation, 1250–1500, Part 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 65.

[30]Aristotle, Generation of Animals (Aeterna Press, 2015), II.1.§732a.

[31]Ibid., II.3.§25–29.

[32]Ibid., IV.1.§15–26; IV.3. §5–24. The birth of a girl meant that the father’s sperm was too weak to overcome the woman’s catemenia, an embarrassment to a Greek man. This concept extended to whether a child looked like the mother. See also I.19.§726b30-727a2. See also Devin Henry, “How Sexist is Aristotle’s Developmental Biology?” Phronesis, 52 (2007): 6.

[33]Ibid., I.19.§726b30–727a2. and IV.3. §5–24.

[34]Aristotle, Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2013), I.2.§9, §12, §13. “Man is by nature a political animal . . . . The city is thus prior by nature to the household and to each of us. For the whole must of necessity be prior to the part.”

[35]Ibid., I.5.§6–7; I.1. §9–10. That one had the capacity for power over another automatically inferred greater goodness. “the superior in goodness ought to rule over…inferiors.” “A man could not become the slave of another were he not ‘capable’ of becoming another’s property and of ‘apprehending’ the full reason and goodness in his master which he himself lacked.


[37]Allen, The Concept of Woman, Volume 2, 177.

[38]Ibid., 176.

[39]Aristotle, Politics, I.13.§11. See also Allen, The Concept of Woman, Volume 2, 104, 176.

[40]Aristotle, Generation of Animals. I, 20.729a, § 6–11.

[41]Ibid., I.21.729b, §12–21; I.22.

[42]Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman, 44.

[43] “For the man’s rule in the area where it is right accords with the worth [of each], and he commits to the woman what is fitting for her.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 2nd ed., trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999): VIII.10.§5. See also David J. Riesbeck, “Aristotle on the Politics of Marriage: ‘Marital Rule’ in the Politics,The Classical Quarterly, Vol 65, no. 1 (May 2015): 148. “Though she rules in her own sphere, her husband retains a superior position: every household, Aristotle has it, is a monarchy, and the wife’s virtues are, after all, merely “Assisting” virtues.” See also Aristotle, Politics, 1.7, 1.13.

[44]Aristotle, Politics, I.2.§2.

[45]Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, VIII.7.§2: “In all the friendship that rest on superiority, the loving must also be proportional; for instance, the better person. . . must be loved more than he loves; for when the loving accords with the comparative worth of the friends, equality is achieved. . . “

[46]Aristotle, Politics, I.7.§1 and I.13.§7. Risbeck, “Aristotle on the Politics of Marriage,” 145.

[47]Maryanne Cline Horowitz, “Aristotle and Woman,” Journal of the History of Biology vol 9, no. 2 (Fall 1976): 206.

[48]Sister Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman, Volume 1: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C.–A.D.1250 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997), 15.

[49]Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman, 47.

[50]Aristotle, Politics, III.4.

[51]Ibid., I.13.§9–13.

[52]Riesbeck, The Classical Quarterly, 138. “While citizens mark their temporary differences of authority by conventional means, males, Aristotle thinks, are always marked out as by nature more suited for rule than females.”

[53]Aristotle, Politics, I.13.11; III.4. “The separate spheres of man and woman necessitate difference virtues. Man needs the courage of a ruler; woman needs the modesty and silence of one who obeys.”

[54]Maryanne Cline Horowitz, “Aristotle and Woman,” Journal of the History of Biology, volume 9, no. 2 (Fall 1976): 209. Although practical wisdom could not belong to the wife, but she could enjoy it in the higher rationality of her husband. This disparity protected the aristocratic balance within marriage: “If the wife also had practical wisdom, the hierarchy of the marital government and marital virtue would be overthrown.”

[55]Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman, 56.

[56]Eph. 5:22; See John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 50 Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992), 17–18.

[57]Pope John Paul, II, Theology of the Body in Simple Language (Philokalia Books, 2008), 19. John Paul II discusses at length how the celibate person also fulfills the nuptial meaning of the body by being “married” to God (168, 173).

[58]Ibid., 16.

[59]A woman is no less feminine because she is brave; she does suspend her femininity in displaying bravery. In the same way, a man does not suspend his masculinity by displaying kindness or nurture.

[60]More research and work is needed on the difference between complementarity and gender essentialism. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss, but I hope a curious mind will take on the philosophical question. Edith Stein describes the biblical paradigm between the male/female relationship as complementarity without polarity; the way of relating does not consist of opposite traits and characteristics to be divided and maintained. Rather, in relationship, both man and woman integrate character traits of the other gender, and in so doing, guard themselves from hyper-femininity or hyper-masculinity. In other words, in self-giving, self-revealing relationship, both male and female fulfill the meaning of their respective gender identities. See Edith Stein, Edith Stein Essays on Women (The Collected Works of Edith Stein, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications, 1996), 36–40.

[61]For instance, perhaps a couple chooses to invest in their children’s education through homeschooling. Both parents are vocationally capable of earning the income the family needs. But the father, a professional educator, is more qualified to direct his children’s education. So, both parents agree that the mother will work full-time so the father can invest in their children’s future academic success. Is the father abdicating his role to provide and lead, or this mother failing to make her family a priority by working outside the home? Perhaps the answer will depend on whether one understands headship as a relationship or a function.


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