Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Close this search box.

My friend Retha Faurie recently wrote a blog post about 50 Crucial Questions, a booklet which was written by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. According to the blurb which accompanies the e-book, these questions reflect central concerns and “objections raised against the complementarian view that God created men and women equal in value but [supposedly] distinct in role.”

Retha suggests the authors—and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who have published Questions on their website—don’t have a good understanding of the gospel. After reading question and answer 48 (in reference to Ephesians 5:32), I can see why she would say that.

Here’s the question: “How can a Christian single woman enter into the mystery of Christ and the church if she never experiences marriage?

What is telling is that this question singles out single women; there is no similar question for single men. And the male authors, who answer the forty-nine other questions, don’t answer this question themselves but quote from an article written by a woman. They quote from Elisabeth Elliot’s article on the topic of “virginity” as though question 48 is especially a woman’s concern. (The answer, in my opinion, is unhelpful and has nothing to do with Ephesians 5:32.)

The implication of question and answer 48 is that single virgin women, but not single virgin men, may have difficulty experiencing “the mystery of Christ and church.”

Is a single woman a lesser member of Christ’s church? Is she any less of a follower of Jesus than a single man or than married men and women? Is she less than a widowed or divorced person?

And is the “mystery of Christ and the church” even something that we, regardless of our sex or marital status, can experience as individuals? Surely, if this mystery is something we can actually experience, we do this corporately as a congregation in communion with Jesus.

Even though complementarians continually say that Christian men and women are equal in value, their actual beliefs reveal a gender hierarchy with women, especially single women (and childless, married women) being on lower rungs. Behind complementarianism is the idea that not all Christians are equal. On the other hand, the New Testament teaches that men and women are equal in Christ and in his church.

More about 50 Crucial Questions here.
The questions and answers can be viewed for free here.
Retha’s blog post is here.

Related Articles

What must a woman do to be saved? (1 Timothy 2:15)
Is Motherhood the Highest Calling for Women?
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
Wayne Grudem on what Women should do in the Church
A shepherd who only feeds the male sheep in his flock?

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month.
Become a Patron!

32 thoughts on “Complementarians Single Out Single Women

  1. Even Paul himself advocated for the choice to be single. He said that virgins would be happier that way, in his opinion (1st Corinthians). Why would Paul say that if singleness would somehow diminish a person’s experience with Christ? On the contrary, Paul thought single-minded devotion to Christ was more likely without the concerns of marriage.

    1. Exactly. How can virginity and/or singleness be a disadvantage when it comes to knowing and serving Jesus? Question and answer 48 is odd.

      1. Yes, I agree, the question and the answer is too strange. It makes no biblical sense at all. The reason, I believe, is because the premise of their question and answer is not biblical. I have read many of their writings in an attempt to grasp and understand their views of the Bible. What I have come to realize by talking to many Christians with such views is that most often then not the Bible has not been read in its entirety and the Word has been mishandled, causing incorrect damaging doctrines to evolve.

        And then, it is brought to my mind what we are dealing with, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph.6:13).

        What does make sense is the devil is using this very doctrine to try and disable (approx.) 75% of the Christian population, which happen to be women. Remove from women the desire and opportunities to proclaim the Gospel with power and authority and you have a weaker church. Leading women to believe they are inferior to men and incapable of teaching and preaching the Word to “all” is what the devil is trying to achieve. What a crafty way to twist the Bible to keep young up-coming strong women from God. Many women are leaving the church especially young women leaders from the work force. They see the glass ceiling in the church environment and want nothing to do with complementarianism.
        I believe Jesus was an egalitarian. He encouraged women. So did Paul, actually, and it is seen clearly when the Bible is read in its entirety.

        1. Thanks for the reminder. Our fight is not with “flesh and blood”; it’s not with people.

  2. Read it. The statement about single women contradict what they say about married people.

    Equal worth? Bah humbug! Comparison: The US dollar and a Euro are pretty much of equal worth. But, if I drive down to a US Walmart, gather what I intend to purchase, and then try to pay in Euros…… What do you think is going to happen?

    In the world of Piper and Grudem, women are like Euros in a US dollar world.

    1. Nice analogy. Complementarianism does have the ability to make valuable women feel worthless. If a woman’s gift or ability is one that complementarians do not allow her to use, it has no currency.

  3. It’s this type of ham-handed reasoning that lies beneath a lot of bad doctrine. Single men don’t have to worry about missing out on the benefits of being married because in Piper’s and Grudem’s view men inherently have so much more in Christ than women do.

    1. “Ham-handed reasoning” is very apt and putting it nicely.

  4. Hello Marg, I take the opportunity to, for once, comment early on one of your posts. I read the complementarian question/answer as well as Retha’s post. There were so many things I reacted to.

    I believe that the «mystery» of Ephesians 5:32 is not about the here and now. Paul talks about «mystery» as something that God keeps secret for a time, but then reveals. In Ephesians 3:4, for example, he talks about a «mystery» that HAS been revealed: that Gentiles share equally with Jews in the promise of Christ. The «mystery» of Ephesians 5:32, on the other hand, is about the oneness between Christ and the church, and is something that we will see happen only in the next life. Only then will it be «revealed».

    And as you say, Marg, this oneness is not between Christ and individual Christians, as the complementarian answer seems to indicate, but between Christ and the church as a whole, a church consisting of both men and women.

    On the other hand, if what one is thinking of is having a relationship with Christ in this life, then, as Retha says, it happens by «inviting Jesus into your heart», and has nothing to do with one’s marriage or celibacy or gender. What a mess these complementarians are able to make of things!

    You point out, Marg, that complementarians «continually say that Christian men and women are equal». While I admit to not having studied very closely what they say, my impression is that they talk about equality in value and dignity. What they don’t seem to mention is equality in capabilities. The latter is also a somewhat more difficult concept, since any two persons, irrespective of gender, must be expected to have different capabilities. The point, I think, must be that if you have an arbitrary woman and an arbitrary man, then you cannot say just based on their gender which one of them have the better capabilities in a certain area. They will most likely be different, but one cannot tell at the outset which way the difference will go. And it is here, I believe, that at least some complementarians would disagree. I suspect that some complementarians actually think that women’s capabilities are, for the most part at least, inferior to men’s. They seldom say this aloud, though.

    1. Sounds like one of my speeches, so of course, it was perfect!!!!! I have said over and over that the differences among women are as great as the differences between women and men. How these culture dependent “roles” have become part of Christianity is a “mystery,” as it sure isn’t in the Bible!! As an old married lady, we know that they are times when we carry each other. Some days one of us needs more support for the other. We live in a relationship, not in a play.

      Thanks for some well stated points!

    2. Hi Knut AK,

      Yes, you’re quite right. Complementarians say that men and women are equal in value, but not necessarily equal in other regards.

      However, many complementarians also say that men and women are equal in regards to salvation. If this is true, then experiences directly associated with salvation and “being in Christ” are not dependent on a person’s sex.

      I’ve avoided explaining how the unity, communion, and nurture of Jesus towards his beloved church is experienced. And I certainly don’t think Paul mentioned this “mystery” as something that only married people experience, despite the juxtaposition of Ephesians 5:31 and 32.

      Importantly, marriage does not illustrate the relationship of Jesus and the church; the example of Jesus and the church illustrates the marriage relationship. There’s messiness and weirdness when we get this the wrong way round. (Not that you do that.)

      I believe as you do that, deep down, at least some (perhaps many) complementarians actually think that women (generically and as a group) are less able and less important than men (generically and as a group). If this is true, then, in their eyes, women do not have an equal value or dignity as men.

      1. Really appreciate your thoughtful articles here, Marg! I’m just getting acquainted with your site and finding so much good food for thought 🙂

        You say in the above comment that the relationship between Christ and the church illustrates marriage, not marriage the Christ-church relationship. I can see how this would potentially clear up some of the twisted thinking you address in your article, but I am not sure the statement is accurate since one relationship is eternal and the other is clearly temporary (as Christ told the Sadducees). It seems to me that marriage is a shadow of things to come, albeit a shadow that has a longer term than the Law and Temple did.
        And I have come to think that if marriage is the shadow, then as a single woman I am fully participating in the reality, even though I may only get to participate in the shadow through watching the married couples around me.

        I would also like to point out that not all married couples choose to participate in marriage in a way that follows Christ’s example–sexual intimacy, or even the act of having a wife, is not automatically the same thing as laying down one’s life for one’s wife. And on the other side of the same coin, a couple who does choose to follow Christ’s example in this way, draws others into their experience in a uniquely participatory way: no one who comes in contact with this couple can help being affected, least of all their children and their close friends (single or married, it makes no difference). Moreover, they affect the entire body of Christ by way of member connectedness (as Paul describes in Romans and 1 Corinthians).

        1. Hi Joy,

          Most illustrations are limited and cannot be taken too far. I agree that the relationship between Jesus and the church is eternal while marriage is not. And I also agree that very few marriages fully follow the example of Jesus and the church. Too many marriages don’t come close to the example Paul provides in Ephesians 5.

          Also, history has shown that the example of the church submitting to Christ is actually a low bar. The church has consistently failed to submit to Jesus and his teachings.

  5. Just letting you know I shared excerpts from this post on my blog.

    I have discussed this topic, and ones similar to it, for the last few years on my blog.

    I’m a celibate single woman who is over the age of 40. I have never been married.

    I was raised in gender complementarian churches and by Christian parents who believed in and espoused much of the same stuff complementarians promote.

    Not only do many Christians (the complementarians particularly) make it sound as though never-married, childless women (such as me) are not quite human or as Christian as everyone else, but some of them also teach that having sexual relations is necessary to know God, and/or to fully experience God.

    I am not joking. I wish I were. I am surprised that more Christians have not picked up on this subject.

    You can find more about that subject from the book “Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church” by Bonnie Field and C. Colon (they mention it in a chapter or two in their book), and in a blog post or two at ‘Under Much Grace’ blog.

    If it’s true that being married and/or having sexual relations is necessary to know God, or be saved, people like me who are virgins past the age of 40 are doomed, and I think it makes biblical passages from 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul says it’s better to stay single and celibate, utterly pointless.

    I do not know what complementarians are thinking when they promote such un-biblical positions.

    You can find one of the blog posts about this subject under the heading,

    “Tim Keller, Sex, and Eternal Submission Doctrine: Summing up the Sexualization of the Trinity with Shirley Taylor (the introductory post),” by Cynthia Kunsman
    – at “Under Much Grace” hosted by blog spot.

    I can try to give you a link to it, if you permit links in your comment section.

    1. I’m not sure if you permit links on your blog or not, but I’ll attempt to link you to the pertinent blog post at Kunsman’s blog here:

      “Tim Keller, Sex, and Eternal Submission Doctrine: Summing up the Sexualization of the Trinity with Shirley Taylor”

      Complementarians come up with some of the most bizarre stuff.

      1. I was wondering if I should tag you on Twitter. I’m glad you found the article.

        Some complementarians really do say some silly, baseless, and harmful stuff!

    2. I heard this at a catholic school once. Coming from none other than a priest. That people who don’t have sex “are not adults.” Um..excuse me???

  6. I was raised in a complementarian home, so you can imagine my mother’s dismay when I told her (at age 12) that I was never getting married, and I didn’t want children, and I might want to go to college.

    I was raised secluded, home schooled, hardly any friends, no tv, no church. No one ever told me I could be anything other than a submissive wife and a mother, and it didn’t occur to my mom that I would want to be anything else. When I told her that I didn’t want that life, she figured she had done something wrong in raising me.

    Not all people want children, and not all people should have children.
    My family is different now, but I know that other families are the same way we used to be, and it’s not a healthy environment to raise children. Kids need to be told that they have choices and futures.

    1. Some evangelical and all(?) fundamentalist churches seem to be overzealous in promoting marriage and having children as the ideal situation, but this was not at all the case in the early church.

      The early church was overzealous about virginity and chastity. Some even dissuaded married couples from having sex, especially if the husband was a presbyter or deacon. And a widow or widower remarrying was generally frowned upon. (This idea is already seen in the New Testament.)

      According to Paul, marriage is fine but singleness is better. 🙂

  7. I’m asexual and heteroromantic, so even though I want to get married, I don’t want to have sex. There’s a really good chance I may never find a husband who’s asexual, a Christian, and an egalitarian. I find it extremely stressful when people tell me I’m bibically required to get married and have children.

    1. Hi K.G.

      The obsession with marriage and children originated with the reformation. It was a backlash to the corruption among celibate (and not so celibate) clergy, including nuns and monks.

      But there’s no emphasis on marriage and children in the New Testament. The early church didn’t push this either. They admired lifelong virginity and celibacy.

      In short, there’s no requirement in New Testament for anyone, male or female to get married, and there’s no requirement for married people to have children. I’m sorry for the stress ignorant people are causing you and others.

  8. The response to that question by Elliott is sort of creepily focused on virginity, too.

    Newsflash, there are women who don’t fit into that category, for various reasons. Do they count at all?

    1. It is kind of creepy. And it does make it sound that single women don’t count, and that is NOT good. It does not tie in with the gospel.

      Surprisingly for the day, many women in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s letters, are not identified by their relationship to a man. We don’t know if Phoebe, Nympha, Euodia, Syntyche, Apphia and several other women were married or if they had children, because it didn’t matter as far as the gospel is concerned. In fact, being single helped women (and men) to minister.

  9. Sorry, what Elisabeth Elliot advice are you referencing specifically?

    1. Elisabeth Elliot answers question 48 of the 50 questions.

      1. To be fair on Elliot: Even though she is comp, she did not actually say those words in response to that question. The writers of “50 Questions” chose to use words from one of her books as an answer to one of their questions. The context in which she wrote the words may or may not be somewhat different from the context in which they quoted her.

        1. That’s a fair distinction, Retha.

  10. I believe Lea alluded to this, but it should be made clear that not all women have virginity to offer as a gift to either God or a husband. I would hate to think that these men would leave them out of the kingdom. Or, perhaps the lack of virginity brings them a step higher than the unmarried virgin? So confusing! Surely Jesus had more hope (and love) for women than Mr. Piper or Mr. Grudem would seem to offer.

    1. As more and more women are speaking out, it is apparent that the rate of sexual abuse of girls, and boys, is horrific. I think we need to stop glorifying virginity. The early church did it and it caused no end of problems. I don’t think God is at all interested in virginity as a gift.

      Having sex with someone who is not your spouse can lead to deep and lasting issues, but glorifying virginity is not the answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?