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Fresh Light or Less Light? A Review Article of Andrew Bartlett’s 𝘔𝘦𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘞𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘯 𝘪𝘯 𝘊𝘩𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘵

June 10, 2020
By Sharon James

Editor’s Note: The following book review appears in the Spring 2020 issue of Eikon.

Andrew Bartlett. Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019.


For the last forty years, the evangelical world has been divided on the issue of women in ministry. Andrew Bartlett laments this ‘needless schism’ (1), and aims to bridge the divide with a “fresh perspective” that will “prove to be a blessing to the warring houses and bring them closer together” (15).[1] He has worked as both a barrister and advocate (arguing for one side), and as a judge and international arbitrator (judging dispassionately between two sides). He has applied the latter approach to this controversy:

Someone new to my church asked me for recommendations for things to read on each side of the debate. Her reaction to what I sent her was: ‘But they are so partisan — isn’t there something more balanced which I could read?’ So I decided to have a go at writing something which would help her, and others like her. As I am not in church leadership, or in a seminary with a particular ethos, I was not committed to supporting a particular viewpoint. I was free to try to be impartial and see where I ended up.[2]

Bartlett set out to investigate the biblical evidence, engaging along the way with a selection of the (considerable body) of contemporary literature on the complementarian/egalitarian debate. He focused on the work of Wayne Grudem (representing complementarianism) and Phil Payne (representing egalitarianism). He commenced the project “from a position of uncertainty” (15), vis a vis his conclusions, although he seemed confident that with his legal training and experience in adjudication he would be able to move this intra-evangelical division towards resolution. The major arguments will be presented in the author’s own words, before we turn to a critical evaluation.


The introductory chapter summarises Bartlett’s evaluation of the current evangelical “state of play” regarding the biblical teaching about men and women:

The traditional interpretation of the Bible, to the effect that women are innately inferior to men, has rightly been rejected as being based more on patriarchal culture than on the actual text. Both egalitarians and complementarians now regard women and men as inherently equal and now affirm that women may be leaders in wider society. But complementarians insist on male leadership in the church and in marriage (16, emphasis mine).

He then outlines the interpretative principles he will adopt:

Faithful interpretation of the Bible gives Scripture priority over tradition, pays attention to culture, goes back to the source language in context, looks for coherence and takes a Christ-centred canonical approach; and it does this with spiritual openness and practical wisdom (16).[3]

Bartlett deals, firstly, with the question of male leadership in marriage (chapters 2-6). Present day complementarians do not argue for “female inferiority,” so, Bartlett concludes, “they rely on the detailed contents of particular texts” (Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Peter 3:1–7; 1 Cor. 11:3) and “a hierarchical reading of Genesis 2-3” (17). He criticises their relative neglect of 1 Corinthians 7 (despite it containing the longest discussion of marriage in the New Testament). He therefore begins with an examination of this chapter, arguing:

According to Paul in verses 3–5, husband and wife have equal authority . . . [and as far as can be determined from the rest of the chapter] . . . Paul envisages complete equality of personal relations between men and women. If Paul believed in a hierarchical, unilateral authority of husband over wife, it appears inexplicable that he wrote these words (29-30, emphasis mine).

The next chapter examines Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5:

Does Paul teach in these letters that marriage is a hierarchical relationship in which the husband is in a position of unilateral authority over the wife? . . . Is the wife’s submission a one-way submission to a higher authority or does Paul envisage mutual submission of husbands and wives as in 1 Corinthians 7:3–5? Does Paul teach a complementarian view of marriage in which husbands and wives have differentiated responsibilities, or is his view fully egalitarian with no such distinction (31–32, emphasis mine)?

Bartlett concludes that the Colossians passage alone does not resolve these questions, so he offers a further chapter on Ephesians 5. He argues that the “head” metaphor refers to Christ as Saviour rather than Christ as Lord (67). Husbands are not called to rule their wives. There should be mutual submission between husbands and wives (and joint leadership in the home), but there is a measure of asymmetry in the relationship. Husbands are to lead in terms of willing self-sacrifice; wives are called to submit to their husbands, in order to imitate the humility of Christ.

Chapter 5 examines Genesis 1–3. Bartlett concludes that there is no explicit support here for an ongoing principle of male leadership or authority, and that complementarian arguments depend on inference. God created male and female as differentiated beings (Gen. 2), but this differentiation is not explicitly defined. The woman is to be the man’s “powerful ally.” The only explicit statement in the Bible about the “rule” of man over woman is in Genesis 3:16 (judgement as a consequence of the fall). New Testament teaching that Adam was the representative head of the human race (Bartlett maintains) does not infer “rule” or “authority” any more than a representative ambassador has governing “authority.” (Even if some of the complementarian inferences from Genesis 1–3 were correct, he argues, redemption carries the believer forward into new creation, not backwards to life before the fall). A final section briefly looks at Old Testament examples of female leaders (such as Deborah), and prophets (such as Huldah). The final chapter on marriage examines 1 Peter 3, finding there a call to mutual submission, with no mandate for the husband to exercise authority over his wife.

Bartlett concludes that he cannot fully accept the egalitarian position. There is asymmetry in the husband-wife relationship, mirroring the non-reversible relationship of Christ and the church. He cannot accept the complementarian position either, as this relationship is not one of “unilateral authority” (his phrase), rather the husband’s calling is to sacrificial service.

Bartlett turns, secondly, to the question of how men and women relate in the church (chapters 7–15). Beginning with 1 Corinthians 11:3–16,[4] he argues that kephale here has to do with “sources.” Men and women are interdependent, but in all they do they should honour God, who is the source of creation and redemption. When engaged in prayer and prophecy, neither men nor women should present themselves in a way that dishonours God’s creation purpose (man-woman marriage).

Paul says nothing in this chapter about male authority over women. Nor does he say anything about reserving some governing and teaching roles within the church to men (159).

Turning to 1 Corinthians 14. Bartlett argues that verses 34 and 35 are “in severe conflict with the surrounding context” (179). He concludes that they probably are not an authentic part of the text (204).

Finally, considering 1 Timothy 2, Bartlett argues that the prohibition of verse 12 has a strictly local application. Paul has nowhere rescinded the permission given to female prophecy in 1 Corinthians 11. In context, this chapter is not focussed on the public assembly of the church.

First Timothy 2 does not justify a general ban on teaching by women in the church, or on the exercise of authority by women in the church (286).

Rather, Bartlett argues that Paul is saying:

I am not permitting a woman false teacher with expensive and immodest dress, lacking decency and self-control, to teach and overpower a man: she is to be quiet and reverent and learn how to behave in accordance with the truth, in full submission to God (285).

Summing up this section: are women prohibited from leadership positions in the church? “No!” concludes Bartlett. Men and women are equally united with Christ. Qualifications for ministry are gift-based not gender-based (310, Rom.12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12:1–30; Eph. 4:11–13; 1 Peter 4:10–11). Even if Paul did consider that Genesis 2 included a creation principle of male leadership, then it would be inconsistent to apply that only in family and church (as, he claims, most complementarians do). It would have to apply across the whole of society.

A final chapter deals with broader themes: the paradox of equality and humility; creation and new creation; what it means to be male or female; our expectations of Scripture; the importance of unity, and obstacles to that unity.

Summing up, Bartlett writes:

After it became clear that the traditional view of women’s innate inferiority was out of step with Scripture, there began a reformation in the Christian understanding of what the Bible teaches about men and women. New interpretations have been advanced . . . Complementarian interpretations have not taken the reformation far enough, because they still retain unjustified restrictions on women’s ministry in the church, and some still depict marriage as a hierarchical relationship. Egalitarian interpretations of Christian marriage seem to have taken the reformation too far, since they deny any definite differentiation of responsibilities of husband and wife beyond the biological (338, emphasis mine).

Critical Interaction

Bartlett’s motivation is worthy. It is a beautiful thing when Christians enjoy unity. Bartlett has worked diligently to provide background information about the context of some of the New Testament writings (e.g. 1 Tim. 3 and 5). His effort to investigate the meaning of individual texts (e.g. 1 Cor. 11) is commendable. We should humbly rejoice that when God’s Word is carefully studied, fresh light may shine. Until Christ’s return, no generation of God’s people can claim infallible certainty about our interpretation of Scripture. The book rightly highlights some instances where Bible translation has been distorted by cultural assumptions about women.

Despite the author’s worthy intentions and hard work, however, I believe that this book is fundamentally flawed. Bartlett selects his starting point, a passage focusing on mutuality (1 Cor. 7:3–5), and effectively filters the rest of the Scriptures addressed through that lens. No surprise then that he judges 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 to be inauthentic (despite the fact that it is found in all the ancient manuscripts, albeit in two variant positions in the different MSS).

The rest of this article will consider three methodological fault-lines running through the book which undermine the credibility of Bartlett’s individual exegetical conclusions:

  1. The Illusion of Neutrality
  2. Failure to use an Overarching Framework of Interpretation
  3. Little Sensitivity to Historical Perspective

1. The Illusion of Neutrality

Andrew Bartlett believed that with his professional training as an international arbitrator, his undoubted powers of analysis, and sheer hard work on the text, he could break through this stubborn dispute. Many today elevate individual experience over Scripture. Bartlett placed confidence in reason: his neutral standpoint, his legal approach of lining up the texts, weighing up the various interpretations, and coming to a logical conclusion.

He argues that pre-twentieth century biblical interpretation was tainted by “patriarchal culture.” Only now, free from those preconceptions, can we go back to the “naked text” and see what the authors intended in their own context. He argues:

. . . cultural ideas and traditions in Bible translation have had powerful impacts upon verses bearing on a woman’s place, and therefore require special attention to guard against them (392).

But is Bartlett really so impartial? His wholesale rejection of the pre-twentieth century tradition is shaped by the assumptions of gender feminism and identity politics. It would seem, then, that he is blind to his own blind spots. His use of vocabulary (“patriarchal,” “inferior,” “unilateral”) reveals his presuppositions: equality must mean sameness, difference of roles means ontological inferiority of status, authority must be coerced. In the quotations above, I used bold font to highlight key words recurring through the book. What does his use of terminology reveal?

(i) The claim that Christians until the twentieth century assumed the “inferiorityof women (e.g. 4, 7, 8, 10, 14, 16, 17, 22) ignores the distinction between function and ontology. Respect for the inherent dignity of the human individual is based on the biblical teaching that human-kind, male and female, is created in the image of God. Ontological equality exists with variations in role. Until relatively recently it was accepted that the word “inferior” could be used of people (not just women!) with respect to variations in degree or status.[5] The implication that the ontological equality of women only began to be respected in the twentieth century buys into the radical feminist equation of “equality” with “equal outcomes.” It borders on slander toward the testimony of the body of Christ through the past two millennia, and, more broadly, is a caricature of history.[6]

(ii) What about the term “patriarchy? Throughout his book, Bartlett uses “patriarchy” (or “patriarchal”) as a smear word without defining it (cf. 4, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16, 24, 26, 27, 48, 54, 111,195, 386, 392). He demonstrates no awareness that the concept of “patriarchy” was framed by those who aimed for the overthrow of the oppressive system of heteronormativity.[7] Perhaps we need a quick reminder of the provenance of the current demonisation of patriarchy.

A brilliant, but deeply troubled young American graduate student decided in 1970 that she had discovered that the real problem for women through the ages was patriarchy (from the Greek words pater for father, and arche for rule). In Sexual Politics, Kate Millet used the term to describe societies where men rule over women. She argued that the means by which men rule is the traditional, heterosexual, married family. She rallied women to resist patriarchy, aka the heterosexual family. Radical feminists viewed Christianity as a dangerous male cultural projection, a myth constructed in order to legitimize a patriarchal world; for they recognised that the Bible is stubbornly “patriarchal.” Adam is the leader of the human race. Abraham is chosen to be the father of the faithful. The line of descent running from Abraham to the Messiah is reckoned through the males. If reckoning descent through the male line is considered unjust and discriminatory, then God is unjust and discriminatory. And radical feminists demanded the rewriting of history (better, “her-story”) to take account of the “fact” that throughout, women had been “victims of patriarchy.”

If you control language, you control the debate. Most Christians today are embarrassed by the term “patriarchy.” But we would do well to remember that all fatherhood in heaven and on earth ultimately derives its name from God (Eph. 3:14–15). The biblical picture of God as Father is tender, compassionate, faithful, and strong. He adopts wayward children, and is bound by covenant to care for them despite their rebellion (Ps. 103:13–14; Hos. 11:3). The gods of the surrounding nations were cruel and unpredictable, like irresponsible men who beget a child and walk away. The covenant keeping God of Israel does not abandon his children. Men made in his image are not intended to do so either.[8] The marriage union means that if children are born, the father is there for them. What is known as “patriarchy” actually binds men into family units. The sexual “freedom” demanded by radical feminists means that men now expect sexual satisfaction without taking responsibility for their children.

Yes, family life has been spoiled and corrupted by sin. But biblical patriarchy mirrors the faithful covenant love of God Himself. [9]

Far from being neutral, Bartlett brings to his task the current assumption that “patriarchy” is the enemy. But the war on “patriarchy” has been a war against the God-ordained natural family, and a war against biblical Christianity.

(iii) What about “unilateral authority”? When the question of whether husbands have authority is raised, “unilateral” is invariably added (10, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 38, 44, 45, 47, 58, 59, 61, 67, 70, 85, 86, 102, 103, 114, 292, 293, 339, 341, 346). Bartlett gives his working definition: “the authority is one-way only, the husband being in a superior position,” as opposed to “mutual submission” (x). But the phrase “unilateral authority” is not neutral. It carries the negative connotation of “involuntary.” One dictionary definition:

A unilateral decision or action is taken by only one of the groups, organizations, or countries that are involved in a particular situation, without the agreement of the others.[10]

Throughout, Bartlett alludes to the authority of husbands as “unilateral authority,” but this is emotive. He never alludes to God or Christ as having “unilateral authority.” God’s design for marriage is that it be free, not forced. I freely and gladly agree to submit to my husband — just as true conversion is free not forced.[11] The church freely and gladly submits to Christ. Earthly patterns of submission are never absolute; Jesus is Lord. But Bartlett seems to have no awareness, for example, of Abraham Kuyper’s careful teaching on sphere sovereignty and the way that the kingship of Christ places limits on all earthly authority.

Bartlett denies that Ephesians 5 teaches that husbands should “rule over their wives” (54). He sets up a choice between “voluntary and mutual submission” or “compulsory, as in a one-way hierarchy” (99).  This is the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.[12] He cites Wayne Grudem as advocating one-way authority for husbands (32). But twenty years ago, Wayne Grudem gave up his significant role at Trinity College, Deerfield, to move to a more obscure situation for the sake of his beloved wife’s health. She urged him to stay at Trinity; he insisted on moving for her sake. Their testimony is a shining example of Ephesians 5 in practice.[13] The biblical pattern of husbandly leadership is that authority is entrusted to him by God for the purpose of taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of his family.

2. Refusal to use an Overarching Framework of Interpretation

Approaching the task of reconciling opposing factions as a neutral arbitrator, Bartlett lays out two viewpoints and then sets about assembling the various pieces of evidence. Fundamental to his forensic and objective approach is his refusal to start with an overarching framework. He began with the parts, with no grand plan, and no conclusion in mind. He was willing to go where the evidence might lead. His determination to begin the task with a “blank slate” reflects the demand of many evangelicals today that we should confine our attention to “the bare biblical text.”

Bartlett professes to respect the “whole canon” approach to hermeneutics. But the assumption that we can go back and interpret individual texts free from an overarching framework buys into the post-Enlightenment assumptions of biblical criticism.[14] In practice, it means rejecting the understanding that because the Holy Spirit is the author of the whole biblical text, understanding of the parts has to be controlled by an accurate understanding of the whole. This requires the aid of systematic theology, which stands on the shoulders of (and respects) the historic orthodox stream of Trinitarian theology. Failing to respect this “great tradition” demonstrates dangerous hubris.

The current evangelical preoccupation with “bare biblicism” can, in practice, be used to justify any heresy to be found in church history.[15] And all too often it reflects an arrogant (or lazy) reluctance to learn from the past. The (ironic) “thought experiment” put forward by Bartlett at the end of the book (366–367) is itself a near-perfect example of the folly of approaching the “bare text” without the restraint of the disciplines of systematic and biblical theology.

As explained above, Bartlett justifies his “blank slate” approach by suggesting that all pre-modern interpretations were vitiated with the assumption of female inferiority. But rejecting an overall framework, and faced with a heap of evidence, Bartlett will choose himself what evidence to lead with, and how to frame the argument. The project is, therefore, driven forward by his own reason. He is confident of his own impartiality. But that confidence is revealed as misplaced when we look both at the order in which he arranges his texts, and his overall method.

The order of texts selected: Rather than beginning with creation, Bartlett begins with 1 Corinthians 7 and the teaching on mutuality within marriage. He then filters his understanding of other texts through that grid.

The method: Bartlett presupposes that there are two neatly divided areas of debate: the role of husbands/wives in marriage, and the question of women’s ministry in the church, which can be separately examined in the light of a few key texts. He also presupposes that the role of women in wider society is another discrete topic that has, in practice, been “decided” given that neither complementarians nor egalitarians argue for clear biblical prohibitions in this area.

Bartlett assumes too much of a dichotomy between family and church. The “big picture” starting point would point to the fact that if there is significance in the man/woman distinction in the family, there is cross-over relevance to the church family as well. While three important chapters of his book deal with 1 Timothy, he fails to engage with the central point that Timothy is being told how to organise and shepherd “God’s household” (1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Tim.2:20–12). Church families relate as father/mother/brother/sister, and there are parallels to the natural family in terms of order and responsibility.

If we begin with the “big picture” we know that the original creation of the man and woman was designed as a signpost to the eternal glory of Christ’s self-giving love for his bride, the church. Manhood and womanhood both mirror deeper realities within God himself. We see a glorious pattern of equal dignity, significant difference, and a divinely ordained synergy when the two work together (yes in marriage, but also the church and community) that is fruitful in blessing future generations and glorifying God.[16] There are implications for family and church and community. These areas cannot be clinically separated.

The fact that complementarians don’t demand “prohibitions” to apply in society is testimony to the reality that we believe that men and women are providentially equipped with varying capacities (seen not least in the fact that men throughout history have gone to war and died in their millions to protect their families). Let men and women freely follow their providential callings! We can welcome equal opportunities in education and employment (and Christians through history have been at the forefront of pushing for female education). We should encourage the differing gifts and aptitudes of all our children wherever those lead (our daughter is a mechanical engineer). But the reality is that Europe-wide, 80% of women want to put family ahead of career.[17] That’s not a “problem” to be ruthlessly eliminated by social engineering (though Western governments are doing their best to push women out of the home). It reflects God’s design.

Bartlett’s method is to treat the “problem” of disagreement over men and women as “two discrete issues” to be decided by several discrete texts, and he then presumes to say that this method is used by others! Present day complementarians, he tells us, do not argue for “female inferiority,” so:

. . .  they rely on the detailed contents of particular texts . . . Ephesians 5:22–33 (with the parallel passage in Col. 3:18–19) and Peter’s exposition in 1 Peter 3:1–7. These are buttressed by 1 Corinthians 11:3 and a hierarchical reading of Genesis 2–3 (17). 

No. The reality is that by starting with Genesis as the introduction to a “whole Bible” overview of the “big picture” of God ordained complementarity, complementarians then interpret particular texts within the controlling framework of systematic and biblical theology (making them less likely to be swayed by their own cultural presuppositions).

The Project of Deconstruction

Refusing to start with, or submit to, the “big picture” is symptomatic of the twentieth century project of deconstruction, or rejection of metanarratives.[18] The Bible is a metanarrative par excellence, and the complementarity of men and women is a golden theme running throughout. The biblical story of God’s redemption is “bookended” by marriage. The original man-woman marriage in the garden was eternally designed to point forward to the cosmic Christ-church marriage in the book of Revelation. At the heart of the Bible we find the Song of Songs, the glorious portrayal of Christ’s love for the church as mirrored in the love of husband and wife.[19] The big picture of the Bible portrays the glory of the incarnate God as both Saviour and Lord. In the analysis of Ephesians 5, Bartlett drives a wedge between the two (cf. 67). The Bible holds them together.

It is only within that overarching framework that we can properly understand the glory of God’s design for men and women. God, the author of special revelation (the Word), and of general revelation (creation), has placed complementarity patterns throughout nature.[20] Patterns of order and submission run through the warp and woof of the cosmos and mirror deeper realities within the Triune God himself.[21]

“The art of imperious ignorance”

Bartlett concludes that it is illegitimate to come to either a complementarian or egalitarian position. He rules that both positions are flawed. He concludes that, contra the egalitarians, there is an asymmetry in the husband/wife relationship, in that the husband should be willing to sacrifice himself for his wife (mirroring Christ’s sacrifice for the church). He also concludes that, contra the complementarians, the husband should decline to “exercise ruling authority over his wife” and “a woman may do everything [in the church] that a man may do” (343). Like a school teacher separating naughty children fighting in the playground, he says that both sides should pull into the middle ground. And he says:

. . . it is time for complementarians to stop claiming that evangelical disagreement with complementarian interpretations threatens the authority of Scripture or the truth of the gospel (355).

But this conclusion is based on his own constructed argument, which rests on individual interpretations of individual texts (ordered by him), rather than submitting to the overarching biblical theme of the male/female relationship as designed to be a picture of the Christ/church relationship. To suggest that because he has not come to either a fully complementarian or fully egalitarian conclusion, it is illegitimate for anyone else to either, is an example of what Don Carson alludes to as the attempt to manipulate by means of “the art of imperious ignorance.”[22]

3. Little Sensitivity to Historical Perspective

Bartlett provides three pages of selective quotations (5–7) “proving” that until recent days Christians believed in the inferiority of women (17). But the foundational teaching in Genesis 1:26–28 that man and woman were created equally in the image of God has laid at the foundation of Western “human rights” teaching (as atheist Tom Holland argues in his recent best-selling Dominion).[23]

As already argued, the suggestion that Christians in a pre-feminist era believed in female “inferiority” owes more to radical feminist rhetoric than any understanding of church history. One of the greatest intellects of the twentieth century, Roger Scruton, described the “devil’s project” of deconstructing culture. Our entire Western heritage is seen by many academics as “a burden they have done well to discard” he wrote.[24] Rewriting history as a cartoon account of oppressors (men) trampling down the oppressed (women) has been a key part of that deconstruction.

We need to maintain perspective: Yes, women have been abused in history. Yes, women are still abused in the world today. This is a symptom of sin and the fall. The countries in the world where women are most abused are those which have had least exposure to biblical Christianity.[25] Many women until recently lacked certain “rights,” but in reality many men lacked “rights” too. I am glad I can vote. Women (over the age of thirty) were given the vote in the UK in 1918: the same year that men without property were given the vote (and men, unlike women, had to be willing to fight for their country in return for their vote). I am grateful I was able to study at Cambridge University. The first women attended Cambridge in 1869. But as a Baptist, whether male or female, I would not have been admitted to Cambridge until 1871, two years later. In various areas of life, what we regard as non-negotiable “equality” for vast numbers of both men and women is something that has appeared relatively recently. To judge previous generations of Christians as believing in “women’s inferiority” is historically insensitive. Consider Chrysostom’s tender counsel to husbands in the 4th century to honour and prefer their wives:

Yea, even if it is needful for you to give your life for her, and to be cut into ten thousand pieces, you should not refuse to endure any suffering for her.[26]

Among the English Puritans, the “poster” married couple were Richard and Margaret Baxter. The great theologian Richard Baxter cheerfully accepted that in some pastoral matters, his extraordinary wife Margaret displayed superior wisdom.[27] One of America’s greatest theologians, Jonathan Edwards, freely acknowledged that his wife’s religious experience served as a role model for his teaching on revival.[28] Ontological equality can coexist with functional difference in role. It was only with the advent of modern radical feminism that appreciation of this distinction was lost.

Conclusion: No Positive Vision of What it is to be a Man or a Woman

Just as Freudianism polluted the understanding of an entire culture, in that sexual desire (or even perversion) is now read into the most innocent of encounters,[29] radical feminism has corrupted the reading of history and literature. All is read through the grid of the “oppression of women.” The historical reality of the Titanic disaster is that nine men died for every one woman.[30] They willingly laid down their lives (and not just husbands for their wives). But any expression of courtesy is now cynically interpreted as patriarchal oppression. Young people are brought up without a positive vision of manhood and womanhood, and “some things that should not have been forgotten [have been] lost.[31]

Bartlett writes:

Sometimes people extend the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture beyond its proper sphere, which makes them worry about using cultural knowledge to interpret the Bible. But there is really no way of avoiding this. The question is: which cultural knowledge are we using? Our own culture, or the cultures of the writer and of the original readers?[32]

Certainly this book provides some valuable work on understanding elements of the first century culture and context. But ironically, the author seems to be unaware of the extent to which his own methodology and understanding is shaped by the presuppositions of our own culture as shaped by the “Enlightenment” tradition (primacy of human reason) and current gender ideology (where “patriarchy” is a convenient form of dismissal and abuse).

Bartlett’s approach is fatally flawed. Beginning with individual texts with no reference to the overarching biblical framework is like providing a detailed analysis of individual leaves, while missing the shape of the tree; or examining the structure of individual bricks, but never seeing the overall structure of the building.

Men and Women In Christ is a 394-page work (excluding indices). The section on “What it means to be male or female” takes less than one page (343). This is because Bartlett does not really have anything to say here. There is no positive vision of the glory of the calling of women to be fruitful (both through spiritual motherhood, and, for many, biological motherhood); or the dignity of the calling of men (not just husbands) to take responsibility for the protection of women, which many non-Christians are still willing to accept. As one journalist wrote recently:

Times have changed; participation in war is not as inevitable as it once was. Still, though, I believe it’s our job as men to do the right and noble thing, rescue damsels in distress and fight off bad guys. More importantly, most of our women folk still believe this too.[33]

Scripture calls us to marvel at the reality that God chooses to reveal himself as Father, and to wonder at the condescension of the eternal Son of God stooping to become incarnate as a man, born of a woman. Our risen Lord Jesus Christ is still the God-Man, still recognisably man. Manhood and womanhood are eternal realities, and of eternal significance.[34] Bartlett rightly points out that earthly marriage and child-bearing ceases in the new heavens and earth, but he fails to see any eternal significance or glory in our embodied nature as male and female.

The Bible affirms and celebrates manhood and womanhood. General revelation also points to the mystery, the enchantment, the glory of embodied manhood and womanhood.

I close with a word of testimony. I was brought up in a godly home. As a young woman I loved the Lord and loved his Word. But my appreciation of the biblical truths of complementarity was dimmed because I was breathing in the toxic air of radical feminist presuppositions. I assented to biblical teaching about men and women, but did not rejoice in it. Over the years, as I studied theology, studied modern feminism, and especially as I saw the devastating effects of the outworking of feminist theory in society, the lights came on. I now see the glory of complementarity blazing out of Scripture, nature, society, history, family, and church. Yes, sin and abuse abound. But these only serve to magnify the glory of God’s intended design and his wonderful redemptive plan. The outpouring of God’s eternal Trinitarian love is beautifully pictured in His plan for men and women.

The unfolding of your words gives light (Ps.119:130). Bartlett believes that his work has provided the church with “fresh light” on the biblical text. Sadly, I am afraid his approach to Scripture only quenches the glory of that light.

Sharon James studied history at Cambridge University, theology at Toronto Baptist Seminary, and has a doctorate from the University of Wales. Sharon is the author of a number of books, most recently Gender Ideology: What do Christians Need to Know?

[1]    This comment is made in reference to the chapters on 1 Timothy 2, but the author’s desire to bring the different sides together is evident throughout.

[2]  “Looking for Fresh Light on Men and Women,” A guest post by Andrew Bartlett, (accessed 22 January 2020).

[3]    These principles further developed in appendix 1.

[4]    Bartlett argues that Paul’s subject matter is the hairstyles worn by those who pray and prophesy during assembled worship (not veils or other external head coverings).

[5]    “The past is a foreign country.” For a basic text book on the worldview that assumed order and hierarchy, see EMW Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (Penguin, 1943).

[6]    Sharon James, God’s Design for Women in an Age of Gender Confusion (Evangelical Press, 2019), chapter 1.

[7]    James, God’s Design for Women in an Age of Gender Confusion, 39–42, 61–63.

[8]    Russell Moore, “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians are Winning the Gender Debate” JETS, 49/3, (September 2006), 598–76.

[9]    James, God’s Design for Women in an Age of Gender Confusion, 58–61.

[10] (accessed 1 February, 2020).

[11]   I am not questioning the truth of God’s irresistible grace, but making the point that people should not be coerced into conversion by fellow human beings.

[12]   Certainly some have presented a “chain of command” model of marriage that is a parody of Ephesians 5, but over the past forty years complementarians have rejected that extreme.

[13]   Wayne Grudem, “Upon Leaving: Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry,” Trinity, Trinity International University, Summer 2001, (accessed 1 February, 2020).

[14]   His method, beginning with the disparate pieces rather than the whole, represents a departure from what Craig Carter describes as the “Great Tradition.” Craig Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis  (Baker Academic, 2018).

[15]   G. Shearer, “The Acid of Biblicism,”

(accessed 3 February 2020)

[16]   Pope Jean Paul II, The Theology of The Body.

[17]   Catherine Hakim, Work-Lifestyle choices in the 21st Century: Preference Theory (Oxford University Press, 2000.

[18]   Melvin Tinker, That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost (Evangelical Press, 2018).

[19]   William McLean, Royal Company: A Devotional on the Song of Solomon (Christian Focus, 2012). The preface provides an historical overview of the interpretation of the Song.

[20]   G.R. McDermott, Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality (Baker, 2018), chapter 8.

[21]   For a treatment of inter-Trinitarian relations, see Benedict Bird, “John Owen and the Question of the Eternal Submission of the Son within the Ontological Trinity,” Westminster Theological Journal, 80 (2018), 299-334.

[22]   Don Carson,  (accessed 1 February, 2020). Or, see page 288, under “Pillar 1,” Bartlett claims that no one has found an explanation for 1 Corinthians 14:34–35.  He seems to be saying that because he is not certain, no one else can be either.

[23]   Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little Brown, 2019). Also: A.D. Hertzke, and T.S. Shah,  eds. Christianity and Freedom: Volume I Historical Perspectives; Volume II Contemporary Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2016); Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (HarperCollins, 1997);  The Victory of Reason (Random House, 2006); The Triumph of Christianity (Bravo, 2012).

[24]   Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture (Duckworth, 1998), 130.

[25]   James, God’s Design for Women in an Age of Gender Confusion, chapter 1 outlines the positive impact on the dignity of women that Christianity has had through history.

[26]   David Robertson, “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Marriages,” Evangelicals Now, January, 2020, (accessed 24 January 2020).

[27]   Sharon James, In Trouble and in Joy (Evangelical Press,  2004), Section 1, Biography of Margaret Baxter.

[28]   James, In Trouble and in Joy, Section 2,  Biography of Sarah Edwards.

[29]   Roger Scruton, “An Unhappy Birthday to Sigmund the Fraud,” The Spectator, 18 May 2006, (accessed 4 February, 2020).

[30]   D. Phillips, “Titanic chivalry,” World Magazine, March 28 1998,

(accessed 8 August 2018).

[31]   J.R.R. Tolkein, Fellowship of the Ring, (quoting words of Lady Galadrial). The Canadian lecturer Jordan Peterson has achieved global popularity, not least because he recognises the deep hunger to affirm the realities of manhood and womanhood.

[32]   “Looking for Fresh Light on Men and Women,” A guest post by Andrew Bartlett, (accessed 22 January 2020).

[33]   James Delingpole, “How to be a Man,” The Spectator, 31 January 2020.

[34] (accessed 1 February, 2020).

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