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Topic: Complementarianism

A Biblical Vision of the Sexes: Harmonious Asymmetry

June 10, 2024
By Doug Ponder

Editor’s Note: The following article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon.

Complementarians believe that men and women are “equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.”[1] Or, as John Piper and Wayne Grudem put it, complementarians believe the Scriptures assert the reality of “both equality and beneficial differences between men and women.”[2] Similarly, Denny Burk has written that the “Danvers [Statement] envisions an equality between male and female that cannot be reduced to undifferentiated sameness.”[3] Each of these statements highlights an indispensable element of complementarianism, namely, the affirmation of both the equality and asymmetry of the sexes.

Yet affirmation is not the same as emphasis. And while the Scriptures certainly teach both truths, sexual equality is generally assumed by the biblical authors, while sexual asymmetry is often emphasized. Furthermore, there are significant theological reasons for the scriptural focus on sexual asymmetry, which means there are deleterious consequences for getting the matter wrong — not only by way of denial, as egalitarians do, but also by way of de-emphasis, as many complementarians increasingly are doing.[4] In view of all this, my goal in this article is to connect the fact of mankind’s sexual asymmetry to the meaning that the biblical authors ascribe to the same. More specifically, I aim to demonstrate that the asymmetry of the sexes is not only a biblical teaching but also a biblical emphasis that should be embraced in accordance with its significance.[5]

In the following essay, I first highlight where the asymmetry of the sexes — which is a fact of nature — is clearly taught in Scripture. Second, I show that the biblical authors employ this asymmetry in the service of their theological agenda(s). Finally, I sketch some of the places where a failure to embrace and uphold mankind’s sexual asymmetry adversely affects Christian life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). In other words, my argument can be summarized in three parts:

  1. Sexual asymmetry is a fact of nature and a clear teaching in Scripture.
  2. The Biblical authors assign significance to mankind’s sexual asymmetry.
  3. Thus, the failure to embrace sexual asymmetry is harmful to life and doctrine.

The Fact of Sexual Asymmetry

Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “I think everyone, educated and uneducated, can tell the difference between the masculine and feminine genders.”[6] Less prestigiously, but no less accurately, the 1990 film Kindergarten Cop features a scene where a young boy gives Arnold Schwarzenegger a lesson in basic sexual anatomy after a fidgety girl asks to use the restroom. The children erupt with laughter. I recall that the film’s viewers laughed, too — not because of some arrested development in them, but because of the real humor in a child explaining the obvious to an adult.

Unfortunately, what was obvious to previous generations is no longer so today. Instead, the modern moment is a tragic fulfillment of G. K. Chesterton’s century-old warning about a world stripped of self-evident truths by the acids of secular modernity.[7] In that same place Chesterton observes, “So far from it being self-evident to the modern [person] that men are created equal, it is not self-evident that men are created, or even that men are men.”[8]

Circumstances like these are precisely why George Orwell said, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”[9]Let us return therefore, to what was once humorously self-evident, to what everyone, educated and uneducated, could plainly see and easily understand: men and women are different. To be sure, men and women are not different beings, as if one were more human than the other. Yet men and women are different expressions of humanity, complementary modes of human existence who exhibit significant differences in various areas.

Most obviously, men and women are different biologically. Human life could not continue to exist without differences in reproductive anatomy, and those who deny the binary nature of human sexuality are tugging at a thread with the potential to unravel the God-given foundation of the family and society, which is organized around the family.[10] Beyond mere anatomy, studies of the human body also show that the average man has about 90% more upper-body strength and about 65% greater lower-body strength than the average woman.[11] In terms of distribution, this places the average man in the 99.9th percentile of women (i.e., the average man is stronger than all but one-in-a-thousand women).[12]

Male and female brains are different, too. From the thickness of the cortex to ratios of gray and white matter, from the interconnectedness of the brain’s hemispheres to the size of cerebral parts that mediate emotions, cognition, aggression, and nurturing behavior, male and female brains differ significantly.[13] And given the role that the brain plays in human behavior, these differences are more than biological (highlighting another dimension of human sexual asymmetry). Women tend to be more generous and altruistic than men, exhibiting comparatively greater prosocial behavior.[14] Similarly, research has shown that mothers and fathers differ in how they raise their young: mothers tend to emphasize safety, while fathers tend to encourage beneficial risks.[15]

Importantly, these differences are not byproducts of environmental conditioning. As scientist Doreen Kimura explains, the differences in male and female brains present “so early in life that from the start the environment is acting on differently wired brains in boys and girls.”[16] That is why similar expressions of sexual differentiation are found across vast stretches of time and geographical distance, further challenging any notion that male-female differences are the result of social customs or norms.[17]

To sum up this little survey of sexual asymmetry, we can say that sexual asymmetry is “hardwired” into every man and woman, forming a significant facet of their identities.[18] Indeed, every cell in the human body is sexually typed.[19] It did not have to be this way, of course. No one forced God’s hand to make squamous epithelial cells have male or female markers. It would seem, then, the Lord wanted every part — even the smallest parts — of our bodies to reflect one of the first facts the Scriptures give about our human nature: “Male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

In other words, sexual asymmetry is real. It is a fact of nature. Yet nature alone cannot explain what these differences mean; it can only show us that these differences exist to such an extent that they require an explanation. For that we must turn to the Scriptures. There we see from the beginning that the biblical authors are not only aware of male-female differences but take pains to emphasize their asymmetry. For example, consider the differences on display in the way Moses describes the creation of the first man and woman:

  1. The man was “formed” (יָצַר) (Gen. 2:7), whereas the woman was “made” or “built” (בָּנָה, Gen. 2:22).
  2. The man’s substance is taken from the ground (Gen. 2:7; 3:19), whereas the woman is taken from the man (Gen. 2:22).
  3. The man is created outside the Garden (Gen. 2:7), whereas the woman is created within the Garden (Gen. 2:22–23).
  4. The man explicitly receives the priestly commission to “work” and “keep” the Garden (Gen. 2:15; 3:19), whereas the woman is not alive when this commission is given.
  5. The man directly receives the Lord’s prohibition not to eat from the tree of life (Gen. 2:16–17), whereas the woman was not alive when that word was spoken.
  6. The woman is introduced as the man’s “helper” (עֵזֶר) (Gen. 2:18), whereas the man is not called her “helper” in return.[20]
  7. The man names the woman, twice (Gen. 2:23; 3:20), just as he had named the animals before her (Gen. 2:19), whereas the woman does not name the man.
  8. The man’s name (אָדָם) corresponds to the ground (אֲדָמָה), recalling his origin (Gen. 2:7) and sphere of vocation (Gen. 2:15; 3:19, 23), whereas the woman’s first name (אִשָּׁה) forms a wordplay with her origin from man (אִישׁ, Gen. 2:23), even as her second name highlights her vocational sphere as “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).
  9. In marriage the man is said to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife (Gen. 2:24), whereas the woman is not symmetrically said to do the same.
  10. When the woman ate from the tree of knowledge, nothing immediately happened (Gen. 3:6), but when the man ate from the tree, “the eyes of both were opened” (Gen. 3:7). This shows that their relationship is not perfectly symmetrical (cf. Lev. 4:3).
  11. Though Eve ate first, the Lord addresses Adam first (Gen. 3:9) and holds him responsible for the fall (Gen. 3:17; cf. Rom. 5:12).[21] This shows that the man and woman had asymmetrical roles and/or responsibilities.[22]
  12. Only the man is exiled from the Garden,[23] whereas the woman is not explicitly mentioned in that judgment. Thus, even though the woman is included in God’s judgment on the man (1 Cor. 15:22), it is significant that the Lord is able to deal with both by exiling the man alone.

I suspect some might argue that these details of mankind’s sexual asymmetry are not particularly significant, but Moses has not left that option open to us. For one thing, his words in Genesis 2:24 explicitly cast Adam and Eve not just as the first man and woman, but as the model man and woman for all who follow after them. Each of us is a son of Adam or daughter of Eve. Moreover, the paradigmatic nature of the man and woman in Genesis 1–3 fits the character of these chapters, which also establish far-reaching types and patterns of various kinds: the Sabbath (Gen. 2:1–4; Exod. 20:8–11), the institution of marriage (Gen. 2:24; Exod. 20:14; Lev. 20:11–20; cf. Matt. 19:3–5), the temple-like nature of Eden (Gen. 3:8; Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:14; cf. Gen. 2:15; Num. 3:7–8), the sovereignty of the Lord (Gen. 2:16–17; Exod. 20:3–5, 7, 10, 13–17), the deadly consequences of siding with Satan in rebellion (Gen. 3:23–24; Deut. 28:15–24), and the Lord’s gracious intervention to deal with his people’s sin (Gen. 3:21; Gen. 4:4; 22:8; Exod. 12; Lev. 16).

Therefore, in view of the many enduring biblical-theological types and patterns established in Genesis 1–3, there can be little doubt that the details of the creation of humanity are also meant to serve as a paradigm for understanding God’s design for men and women.[24] Indeed, the burden of proof rests on anyone who wishes to maintain that the male and female elements of the creation narrative are somehow excluded from having the same paradigmatic character of the narrative of which they form an integral part.

The Meaning of Sexual Asymmetry

It is one thing to show that men and women are different and that the biblical authors emphasize these differences. It is quite another thing to explain why these differences exist. Happily, the Lord has not left us to figure this out for ourselves. Moses’ account of the creation of man and woman focuses not on their equality but on their beneficial asymmetry. That is to say, the creation account highlights the asymmetry of the sexes as a central facet of the goodness of God’s design (Gen. 1:31). We see this most clearly in the situation that gives rise to woman’s existence, which is marked by a direct word from the Lord: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18).

Commenting on Genesis 2:18, Alastair Roberts notes, “What makes the woman unique is her capacity for complementing labour [sic] in profound union with the man. The animals are also helpers, but only the woman is a suitable counterpart for the adam [i.e., man] in his vocation and spouse with whom he can become one flesh. The differences between men and women are precisely features that make them fitting for each other.”[25] In other words, God made men and women both different from and different for each other. [26] This is why, even in texts where the equality of the sexes is undeniably taught (e.g., Gen. 1:26–28; 1 Pet. 3:7b), the kind of equality in view is not one that eviscerates distinctions between the sexes but one that finds its fullest significance in their beneficial asymmetry (cf. Gen. 2:18; 1 Pet. 3:7a).[27]

Subsequent biblical authors recognize Moses’ paradigm for the sexes and repeat, develop, and apply it across the biblical canon. For example, the pattern of male headship and male initiative in Genesis 2:24 — where a family is formed by the man’s leaving and cleaving — is reinforced throughout the Scriptures, which routinely describe marriage in terms of men “taking” a wife but never in terms of a woman “taking” a husband.[28] Correspondingly, just as wives are “taken” by husbands, so also daughters — but never sons — are “given” by fathers in marriage (hence the traditional wedding custom of a father “giving away” the bride).[29]

Sexual intercourse is also described in asymmetrical ways. For example, while both men and women may “know” each other sexually,[30] in every instance of a named subject, it is always the husband knowing his wife (Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 1 Sam. 1:19; Matt. 1:25) and never the other way around. Similarly, the Hebrew word translated “went in to” (בּוֹא) is not always sexual (cf. Gen. 23:2; Exod. 10:3; Num. 8:22), but when used as an idiom for sex, it is always the man who “goes in to” the woman (cf. Gen. 16:4; 29:23, 30; 30:4; 38:2, 9, 18; Judg. 16:1; Ruth 4:13; 2 Sam. 12:24; 2 Sam. 16:22; 1 Chr. 2:21, 24; 7:23; Ezek. 23:44). In this regard, the biblical language appears to be an intentional reflection of the anatomical realities involved in sexual intercourse.[31]

There are also asymmetries in scriptural commands directed toward men and women. For example, there is an enforced asymmetry in male and female adornment (Deut. 22:5; 1 Cor. 11:2–16), including metaphorical adornment.[32] The biblical authors also show sophistication in their directives, explicitly warning men against lust (Matt. 5:28; cf. Exod. 20:17) and wrathful aggression (1 Tim. 2:8; cf. 1 Pet. 3:7), while explicitly warning women against nagging (Prov. 19:13; 21:9; 27:15) and showy attention-seeking displays (1 Tim. 2:9–10; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3–4). Asymmetrical commands like these abound in the Scriptures, and they are further illuminated by biblical narratives as well.[33]

In view of all this, we see one reason the biblical authors frequently issue asymmetrical commands is that they are applying the beneficial asymmetry of the sexes in God’s design. They did not need knowledge of testosterone or the Y-chromosome to observe that men and women exhibit differing traits and tendencies, including tendencies to sin differently. Nor were they forced to guess why sexual differentiation exists, for Moses had already established its beneficial purposes in Genesis 1–3. In other words, the biblical authors issue asymmetrical commands from God to reinforce the asymmetrical design of God. In this way God’s commands are shown to fit God’s creation,[34] pointing back to the way things ought to be and pointing forward to the way things will be when Christ renews all things (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5; Rev. 21:5).

Yet there is a second significance the biblical authors assign to sexual asymmetry, which goes beyond its import for our life and godliness, namely, marriage as a metaphor for salvation. Following Moses’ use of covenantal terms to describe the first marriage in Scripture,[35] the prophets repeatedly describe the Lord’s covenant with Israel as a marriage (e.g., Isa. 54:5; 62:5; Jer. 31:31–32; Hos. 2:2–3, 13, 16, 19).

Here it is significant that the Lord is always typed as Israel’s husband and never as Israel’s wife.[36] One reason is male headship (1 Cor. 15:22), patterned after the fatherhood of God, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:15). In addition to this, there is also the pattern of male initiative Moses establishes in Genesis 2:24, where a son leaves father and mother to cleave to his wife and form a one-flesh union. The whole book of Proverbs appears to be structured on this pattern, opening with a son who is poised to leave his father and mother in the hopes of cleaving to a wife (Prov. 1:8ff). He soon encounters a choice between two women: the forbidden adulteress (Prov. 2:16) and the woman whose worth is “more precious than jewels” (Prov. 3:15), and who is “a tree of life [!] to those who lay hold of her” (Prov. 3:18). By the end of the book, the son has chosen well. He has left his father and mother without forsaking their teaching (Prov. 31:1), and he has found his “excellent wife” (Prov. 31:10a), whose worth is “more precious than jewels” (Prov. 31:10b).

Is this not the same pattern followed by our Lord himself, who left his heavenly Father (John 1:14, 18) and his earthly mother (John 19:25–27) to cleave to his bride? The Apostle Paul thought so.[37] He cites Genesis 2:24 in his discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5:22–33, weaving together commands rooted in the asymmetry of the sexes[38] with a typology of salvation rooted in the same (Eph. 5:31–32). In other words, the asymmetry of the sexes is central to Paul’s argument. For if man and woman are equal in any sense that renders them interchangeable — in their being, their roles, or even their behavior — then the asymmetrical commands are arbitrary and the typological symbolism of Christ’s work for the church is destroyed.

The Import of Sexual Asymmetry

I began by noting that sexual asymmetry is a fact of nature and a clear teaching in Scripture. I have also shown that the biblical authors emphasize mankind’s sexual asymmetry for both practical and typological purposes. Missing the biblical emphasis on sexual asymmetry therefore negatively affects Christian life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16).

In the first place, the failure to align with the biblical emphasis on the asymmetry of the sexes hinders (if not totally removes) the ability to appreciate the blessing of God’s design (Gen. 2:18). Thus, instead of celebrating what makes men and women different for the good of all, individual men and women, as well as any confused cultures they inhabit, tend to exalt one set of sexual traits and tendencies to the neglect or disparagement of the other. The sexes begin to conceive of their differences not in terms of mutual benefit but in terms of competition — a battle of the sexes.

That battle is what lies behind statements like, “A woman can do anything a man can do,” or, “Anything a man can do, a woman can do better.” This sentiment now dominates popular works of fiction, which increasingly feel like little more than vehicles for promoting egalitarian wish-dreams on the silver screen.[39] The downstream consequences of this way of thinking are far more insidious than silly stories. The fantasy of sexual interchangeability compels societies to permit (or even require) women to serve in the frontlines of war, not only in contradiction to the pattern found in the Scriptures,[40] but also without due concern for the brutalities invariably committed against captured female soldiers.

Another consequence of the failure to appreciate the goodness of God’s design is seen when women are incentivized to act more like men, which robs the world of their feminine strengths and quite often multiplies masculine weaknesses. This is what Catholic neurologist and sociologist Karl Stern calls “the flight from woman.”[41] Commenting on that societal “flight” from feminine strengths, Alice von Hildebrand and Peter Kreeft write,

It is the modern feminists who are the real male chauvinists, lusting for reproductive freedom (sexual irresponsibility) like playboys and demanding empowerment, that is, envying and imitating not only males, but male fools, judging inner worth by outer performance, sacrificing being for doing, finding their identity in their worldly careers, not in their inner essence, in their physical and spiritual wombs and motherhoods. . . . It is a strange and sad phenomenon. Genuinely hurt women often become radical feminists, hating their own femininity and hating ordinary women who love and enjoy their ordinary femininity. How often have you heard radical feminists praise midwestern housewives?[42]

Similarly, Colin Smothers points out that once a society has severed the connection between form (the asymmetrical traits and tendencies of God’s design) and function (the corresponding “rules and roles” in God’s Word), nothing remains to stop from men and women from being interchangeable in all areas. As Smothers observes, “If a woman can do anything a man can do in the home, why the need for a man in the home at all? Would not two women suffice? Would not two men?”[43] In other words, if men and women are not (formally) different, they are (functionally) interchangeable in all respects; and if they are interchangeable, then there is no difference between a son and a daughter, a brother and a sister, a husband and a wife, a father and a mother. This absurdity has the potential to destroy societies.

It also has the potential to destroy churches. The essence of the egalitarian argument is that ministerial positions (e.g., the office of elder/pastor/overseer) are a matter of spiritual gifting, with no sexual restrictions of any kind. Such an approach to the pastorate overlooks the nature of the office, which is connected to the reason why God calls only (qualified) men to the pastorate. As Alastair Roberts notes, “The great priestly leaders of the people of God were marked out by their preparedness to employ sacred violence without pity in the service of God’s holiness.”[44] For example, the Levites were set apart for priestly service immediately after slaying 3,000 of their own brothers following the golden calf incident (Exod. 32:27–29). Similarly, Phineas the priest ended the unholy union of a couple with the tip of his spear (Num. 25:7–8). Samuel, the priestly prophet (1 Sam. 2:12–18), “hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:33) after Saul spared his life in disobedience to God’s command (1 Sam. 15:9).

Even in the gospel age of the New Testament we find that such patterns continued. As Alastair Roberts notes:

Paul, Peter, James, and John all seem to have been men characterized by a sort of avenging zeal, zeal which was broken and harnessed for God’s service. Peter, the one who cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear, later became the one proclaiming the divine death sentence on Ananias and Sapphira. Paul was the former persecutor of the Church, who called for the ecclesiastical death sentence of excommunication to be applied without pity or pause in the case of continued sexual immorality (note the allusion to the OT death penalty in 1 Corinthians 5:13).[45]

It would seem that these tendencies and traits are purposeful features of God’s design, not only of men but also of the ecclesial offices restricted to men. In other words, there is congruence between male and female constitutions and their respective callings in God’s economy. The more nurturing sex is the one who uniquely is capable of conceiving, bearing, and sustaining children. Similarly, the more aggressive sex (1 Tim. 2:18) has been gifted with the strengths necessary to fulfill the priestly character of the pastoral office with the firmness and resoluteness it requires (Titus 1:9; Acts 4:13).[46]

To ignore the congruence between the asymmetry of the sexes and the particular callings the Lord has given to each is therefore not simply a matter of violating God’s will, as if it were an arbitrary imposition, but is a matter of violating God’s design. The former would be bad enough; the latter is disastrous, for it goes against both the revealed Word of God and the divine wisdom of God’s reasons behind the “rules.” In this way, the household of God comes to be filled with leaders who lack the sexually asymmetrical traits and tendencies given by the Lord for the good of his people.

This dynamic explains why denominations that have embraced egalitarianism almost invariably slide into other anthropological errors, like the affirmation of homosexuality.[47] Such a course is more than a consequence of (poor) hermeneutics. It is also a consequence of misplaced feminine strengths. As Calvin Robinson explains:

Generally speaking, men tend to be more theologically rigid, whereas women tend to be more theologically flexible. That is because men do not have the emotional intelligence of women. We are more black and white, meaning we tend to be logic-based when it comes to problem solving. Women tend to be more inclusive. They are more empathetic and tend to be more emotion-based when solving problems. You can see how that might be a problem when a group is claiming to be an oppressed minority, and the thing preventing them from attending Church is the cruel doctrines and the regressive scriptures we follow. Which empath wouldn’t want to compromise in order to make a so-called oppressed minority feel included?[48]

In other words, the feminine proclivity for pity and inclusiveness, which is good and necessary within the home, is ripe for demonic abuse within the leadership of the church, where doctrine is not a matter of compassion but of truth.

Finally, as I noted above, Paul sees in our sexual asymmetry something vitally connected to the symbolism of the gospel. To be sure, sexual asymmetry is not the gospel. Yet given the prominence of marriage as a metaphor for our salvation (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31–32; Rev. 21:2; 22:17), it is appropriate to say that any view of the sexes that diminishes or denies the asymmetry of God’s design confuses or obscures something of the gospel’s meaning.

David Murray helps us see the connection when he asks, “Why did our Redeemer go to such lengths to provide us with such a varied and diverse world? Partly the reason was that He had an eye to using these things, animals, materials, and so on to teach sinners the way of salvation. He was preparing visual aids for future use.”[49] Murray goes on to explain that this means “[God] created sheep so He could teach sinners about how He is the Good Shepherd. He created birds to help His redeemed people live less anxious lives. . . . He created lilies and roses so He could compare Himself with them. He created water to explain how He refreshes and revives the thirsty.”[50] And with a little help from William and Barbara Mouser, I would also add that “When God created man and woman, what God had in mind was Christ and His Church.”[51]

Conclusion: Male and Female He Created Them

Debates about the nature of the sexes, their relation to each other, and the ways in which members of either sex should inhabit the world are all part of the frontlines of ministry in virtually every local church in the West. This calls for careful thinking about the total witness of the Scriptures to the nature of the sexes in God’s design. But also, given the significance of the sexes and the destructive consequences of contravening God’s design, our cultural moment calls for the kind of courage that “cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20), including what we have seen and heard about the asymmetry of the sexes. For “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), and “Behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Doug Ponder is the Dean of Faculty and Professor of Biblical Studies at Grimké Seminary. He is also a teaching elder at Remnant Church in Richmond, VA. He has contributed to several works as an author, editor, and researcher.

[1] “The Danvers Statement,” The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, November 1988,

[2] John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds.), Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), xv.

[3] Denny Burk, “Mere Complementarianism,” Eikon 1, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 30.

[4] See Bryan Laughlin and Doug Ponder, “Complementarians and the Rise of Second-Wave Evangelical Feminism,” Sola Ecclesia, February 26, 2024,

[5] Against the objection that all of the Bible’s teaching is significant, consider two points. First, while Matthew 15:21 and Mark 10:45 are equally scriptural (thus equally true), they are not equally significant. For is it not as important to know that “Jesus withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon” (Matt 15:21) as it is to know that the Son of man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Second, the Bible explicitly endorses a hierarchy of significance in various places. For example, Paul speaks of the gospel as being of “first importance” (1 Cor 15:3), and Christ speaks of “the weightier matters of the law” in his rebuke of the Pharisees for straining gnats and swallowing camels (Matt 23:23–24). There are, then, two errors we must avoid: the first sees all truths as equally significant, when they are not; the second error regards one truth (e.g., the gospel) as being of mono-significance, while acting as if no other truths matter.

[6] Augustine, Sermon 46, “On the Shepherds,” in The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. 1: Sermons on the Old Testament, 20–50, ed. John E. Rotelle, trans. Edmund Hill (New York: New City Press, 1990), 287.

[7] Chesterton writes, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which furious party cries will be raised against anybody who says that cows have horns, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.” See G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, August 14, 1926, in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vol. 34 (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1991), 34:144–45.

[8] Chesterton, Collected Works, 34:144. Emphasis mine. In the original context, Chesterton means men in the sense of human beings, not men in the sense of males. It would seem Chesterton’s powers of prescience could not quite envision a world so bad off as ours, where the madness of the crowds has progressed to such a state that many can no longer say what a man or woman is. Furthermore, there is an important sense in which it is the dogmatic insistence that all persons are equal (in the sense of being interchangeable) that has directly contributed to the loss of our ability to distinguish men and women from one another. For if the sexes can be distinguished, then a crack is left open for the notion that either may excel in ways that highlight antecedent design which, in turn, entails suitableness for different roles.

[9] George Orwell, review of Russell’s Power: A New Social Analysis, Adelphi, January 1939, para. 1, accessed January 31, 2024,

[10] See Craig Carter, “The New Gender Gnostics,” Eikon 2, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 28–38.

[11] W. D. Lassek and S. J. C. Gaulin, “Costs and Benefits of Fat-Free Muscle Mass in Men: Relationship to Mating Success, Dietary Requirements, and Native Immunity,” Evolution and Human Behavior 30, no. 5 (2009): 322.

[12] Lassek and Gaulin, “Costs and Benefits,” 322..

[13] For these and other differences between men and female brains, see J. Budziszewski, On the Meaning of Sex (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012), 38–39. The point here is not that any one of these sexual traits is better than the other. (If anything, I would argue that God’s design for the family suggests both are essential.) Rather, the point is that these differences are observable and measurable because they are real facets of God’s design.

[14] See Alexander Soutchek et al. “The Dopaminergic Reward System Underpins Gender Differences in Social Preferences,” Nature Human Behaviour 1 (October 2017): 819–27.

[15] See Brad Wilcox, “The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad: How Fathers Contribute to Their Kids’ Lives,” The Atlantic, June 14, 2013. See also Anthony Esolen, “The Boy Genius: Finding Him Again Through the Patriarchal Group,” Touchstone Magazine, March/April 2019, accessed April 5, 2024,

[16] See Doreen Kimura, “Sex Differences in the Brain,” Scientific American, 267, no. 3 (1992): 119–25. Intriguingly, as early as 350 BC Aristotle had postulated that differences in men and women began in the earliest stages of embryonic development. See Aristotle’s History of Animals: In Ten Books, trans. Richard Cresswell (London: George Bell & Sons, 1887), especially Book VII.

[17] For example, Steve Stewart-Williams, drawing on the anthropological research of Laura Betzig, writes, “In all the ancient civilizations of the world — including those of the Aztecs, the Babylonians, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Incas, the peoples of the Indian subcontinent, and the Zulus — powerful men accumulated large harems of nubile young women. Equivalently powerful women, such as Cleopatra, did not accumulate large harems of nubile young men. They could have, but they didn’t.” Steve Stewart-Williams, The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve, rev. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2019), 82. See also Laura Betzig, Despotism and Differential Reproduction: A Darwinian View of History (Piscataway, NJ: Aldine, 1986).

[18] It hardly needs to be said that not every man and woman exhibits every characteristically male or female trait or tendency at all times or to the same degree. One must account for individual decisions (cf. Pss. 73:4; 109:24; 1 Cor. 9:27), as well as the corruptions of a fallen world, including biological and psychological distortions (Lev. 21:18; 22:25; Rom. 8:2). Even so, sexually differentiated tendencies and traits are scripturally affirmed (1 John 2:14b; 1 Pet. 3:7) and statistically significant. Indeed, the scientific literature supporting sexual differentiation is vast and widely accessible. See, for example, R. Croson and U. Gneezy, “Gender Differences in Preferences,” Journal of Economic Literature 47 (2009): 448–74; and D. G. Rand et al., “Social Heuristics and Social Roles: Intuition Favors Altruism for Women but Not for Men,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 145 (2016): 389–96.

[19] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? eds. Theresa M. Wizeman and Mary-Lou Pardue (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001), 4.

[20] Debates about the meaning of עֵזֶר obscure the fact that, regardless of its precise meaning in this context, the use of the term is asymmetrical. As Paul later says, “Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:9).

[21] The Hebrew words used in the Lord’s judgment employ second masculine singular endings, indicating without a doubt that the Lord held Adam — not Eve — ultimately responsible.

[22] There is a fascinating parallel to this asymmetrical relationship in Leviticus 4, where the Lord makes a distinction between the sins of the people and the sins of the anointed priest, whose sin brings guilt on the people (4:3) in a manner that is dissimilar to the sins of the people relative to the priest.

[23] The relevant texts read: “The Lord God sent him out from the garden” (Gen. 3:23) and “He drove out the man” (Gen. 3:24).

[24] That is, for male and female in general, as opposed to only the man (Adam) and the woman (Eve) in the creation narrative itself.

[25] Alastair Roberts, “The Music of Male and Female,” Primer 3 (October 2016): 13, emphasis mine.

[26] The language of “different from and different for” is my adaptation of Alastair Roberts, who prefers to speak only of “difference for” instead of “difference from.” I have elected to retain both in order to emphasize the fact of our difference before explaining the benefits of those differences. See Alastair Roberts, “The Music of Male and Female,” 13.

[27] It may sound odd to speak of a “kind” of equality, but such precision has become a necessity in the late modern world, where, increasingly, it is thought that equality denotes sameness or interchangeability. C. S. Lewis famously identified this problem in his response to Lady Nunburnholme regarding the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood. See Lewis, “Priestesses in the Church?,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 256–62.

[28] For some of the many examples of men taking wives (but not wives taking husbands), see Gen. 19:14; 24:3; 24:37–40; 24:51; 28:1–2, 9; 31:48–50; Exod. 20:1, 22; Lev. 20:13–14; Deut. 22:30; Judg. 14:3; 15:6; 1 Sam. 25:50; 2 Sam. 12:9; 12:10; 1 Kgs. 4:15; 2 Kgs. 4:1; Jer. 16:2; Hos. 1:2; Ezra 2:61: Neh. 6:18; Matt. 1:20; Mark 12:19; Luke 20:28.

[29] See Gen. 34:8–9, 16, 21; Josh. 15:16; Judg. 21:1, 7, 18; 1 Sam. 17:25; 18:17, 19, 27, 44; 2 Kgs. 14:9; Jer. 29:6; Ezra 9:12. Also note that the authority to “give” a daughter in marriage is implicit in the laws regulating vows in Number 30:1–16, where a husband is held accountable for the vow(s) of his wife, while a father is held accountable for the vow(s) of his (unmarried) daughter. The Scriptures also speak of a “dowry” (מֹהַר) for daughters given in marriage (Gen. 34:12; Exod. 22:16–17; 1 Sam. 18:25), yet there is no dowry for sons.

[30] For examples of men “knowing” women in a sexual sense of the term, see Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 24:16; 38:26; Judg. 19:25; 1 Kgs. 1:4; 1 Sam. 1:19; Matt. 1:25. For instances of women “knowing” men in a sexual sense of the term, see Gen. 19:8; Num. 31:17–18, 35; Judg. 11:39; 21:11–12.

[31] The same goes for the language of “conception” (Heb. הָרָה / Gk. ἐν γαστρί ἔχειν). Though people today may loosely speak of couples conceiving (or struggling to conceive) a child, the biblical authors follow Moses’ lead in using the term exclusively in reference to mothers conceiving (Gen. 4:1, 17; 16:4–5; 21:2; 25:21; 29:32–34; 30:5, 7, 17, 19, 23; 38:3–4, 18; Exod. 2:2; 1 Sam. 1:20; 2:21; 11:5; 2 Kgs. 4:17; 1 Chr. 4:17; 7:23; Job 3:3; Songs 3:4; Isa. 8:3; Hos. 1:3, 6, 8; 2:5; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:31; 21:23; 1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 12:2). The only time a man is said to “conceive” anything is the metaphorical use of the term, such as the conception of some wicked scheme (e.g., Ps. 7:14).

[32] For example, when Paul speaks to the appropriate conduct of men and women in the household of God, he mentions the kind of clothing or apparel “that women should adorn themselves with” (1 Tim. 2:9). Yet it is notable that Paul gives no apparel-related command to men in that context (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). Instead, he gives commands regarding male behavior that he does not give to women. Similarly, when speaking of the “good works” (1 Tim. 2:9) that display “good faith” and “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10), Paul gives asymmetrical instructions to each sex. Even when there is parity in the case of reciprocal commands (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:2–5, 8–9), we find that there is still sexual asymmetry centrally featured in the broader context (1 Cor. 7:1, 10–11; 25–28, 39–40).

[33] A somewhat amusing case is found in Judges 14 and 16. There we see men (Samson and the men of Timnah, then Samson and the men of Gaza) and women (Samson’s first wife and Delilah) respectively display the characteristically masculine behaviors of lust (Judg. 14:1–2; 16:1), violence (Judg. 14:15b; 16:2), and wrath (Judg. 14:19b), as well as characteristically feminine behaviors, like nagging, emotional manipulation (Judg. 14:16–17; 16:15–16), and seduction (Judg. 14:15a; 16:5).

[34] For more on the consonance between God’s creation and God’s commands, see Joe Rigney, “Indicatives, Imperatives, and Applications: Reflections on Natural, Biblical, and Cultural Complementarianism,” Eikon 4, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 32ff.

[35] To describe the first marriage in Genesis 2:24, Moses employs two Hebrew words (ʿāzab̲ and dāb̲aq) that elsewhere refer to covenant making (Deut. 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; 30:20) and covenant fidelity (Gen. 28:13–15; Deut. 29:25; Neh. 9:32). Their use together in Genesis 2:24 clues us in to the fact that Adam and Eve’s marriage was, in fact, a covenant — as later biblical authors explicitly acknowledge (Mal. 2:14–15).

[36] This is intriguing, given that the Lord sometimes refers to himself with maternal imagery (Num. 11:12; Isa. 49:15; Ps. 22:8). Furthermore, Israel is frequently called God’s “son” (Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; Jer. 3:19; Hos. 11:1). These realities introduce the hypothetical potential for the Lord to call himself the “bride” of Israel (his son), yet no biblical author who employs marriage as a type ever does so. Instead, every biblical author who employs the marriage covenant as a type always describes the Lord as the “husband” with Israel in the role of his “wife.” For a discussion of why the occasional matronly metaphors are properly distinguished from the non-metaphorical (yet still analogical) language of God as “Father” (and other masculine terms), see Kyle D. Claunch, “On the Improper Use of Proper Speech: A Response to Ronald W. Pierce and Erin M. Heim, ‘Biblical Images of God as Mother and Spiritual Formation,’” Eikon 5, no. 1 (Fall 2023): 69–77.

[37] Paul was not wrong, of course. Moreover, he is not the only biblical author to draw such a connection. In one particularly striking parallel, the speaker in Isaiah 61 says the Lord “clothed me with the garments of salvation . . . as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isa. 61:10). Not only does this verse highlight differing dress for the bridegroom and the bride, but the verb used for “decking himself like a priest” (כָּהַן) is the same used with reference to the ministry of priests and the priestly office (Exod. 28:1–4, 41; 29:1, 44; 35:19; 40:13–15; Lev. 7:35; 16:32; Num. 3:3, 4; Deut. 10:6; 1 Chr. 6:10; 24:2; Ezek. 44:14; Hos. 4:6). This connects the man (i.e., the bridegroom) with the priestly office, while not doing the same for the woman. Instead, she is set forth as the bride, “adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2; cf. Jer. 2:32). In this way, Isaiah 61:10 not only looks back to the priestly bridegroom of Genesis 2, but also looks forward (with typological anticipation) to the ultimate Bridegroom (Matt. 9:15) who would deck himself as a Priest for the sake of his bride (Heb. 7:28). He is none other than the One who read from this chapter (Isaiah 61) at the start of his ministry and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

[38] Specifically, husbands are called to “love” their wives (Eph. 5:25, 28), while wives are called to “submit to” (Eph. 5:23) and “respect” (5:33) their husbands. This is why egalitarian attempts to read this passage through the lens of Ephesians 5:21, with its corporate call to mutual submission, fall utterly flat.

[39] For a critique of the folly inherent to this approach, see Alastair Roberts, “Why We Should Jettison the ‘Strong Female Character,’” Mere Orthodoxy (blog), April 18, 2016,

[40] For some of the biblical teaching on men in the military, see Num. 1:2–3; Deut. 3:18–30; Josh. 1:15–15; 2 Sam. 24:9; 2 Chr. 25:5; 1 Pet. 3:7; cf. Nah. 3:13.

[41] Karl Stern, Flight from Woman (1965; repr., New York: Paragon House, 1985).

[42] Alice von Hildebrand and Peter, Women and the Priesthood, cited in “Sexual Symbolism,” Peter Kreeft (blog), accessed April 8, 2024,, emphasis added.

[43] Colin Smothers, “The Fallacy of Interchangeability,” Eikon 1, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 12.

[44] Alastair Roberts, “Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women in Leadership.” Alastair’s Adversaria (blog), December 8, 2011,

[45] Roberts, “Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women in Leadership.”

[46] To be sure, there are times when pastors must be also “gentle” among their people, as Paul was when he compared himself to a nursing mother taking care of her children (1 Thess. 2:17). Yet it is telling that Paul did not say, “We were gentle among you, like a good father taking care of his own children.” In other words, some connection between gentleness and motherhood made the maternal metaphor more fitting.

[47] As Colin Smothers notes, barely a decade after its founding the first “evangelical feminist” organization, the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC), embraced homosexuality using the same hermeneutic that justified their egalitarianism. This led to the formation of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) in 1987. Colin Smothers, “Is the Slippery Slope Actually Slippery? Egalitarianism and the Open-and-Affirming Position,” 9Marks Journal, November 23, 2019,

[48] See Calvin Robinson, “Cancelled from Mere Anglicanism,” Fr Calvin Robinson (blog), January 20, 2024,

[49] David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville Thomas Nelson, 2013), 47.

[50] Murray, Jesus on Every Page, 47.

[51] William E. Mouser and Barbara K. Mouser, The Story of Sex in Scripture (Waxahachie, TX: International Council for Gender Studies, 2006), 71.

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