Posted in theology

Complementarianism: Or, Being the Help-meet

By Elizabeth Prata

Question from a reader: I’ve heard the word complementarianism talked about a lot, but I’m not sure I fully understand the biblical definition of what it means. I know there are implications for marriage. And what about in the church?

All relationships are in some way hierarchical. Players submit to Coach. Employees submit to Boss. Boss submits to Corporate. Students submit to Teacher. Children submit to Parents. Sailors submit to Captain…who submits to Admiral…who submits to President/Commander in Chief. The President submits to the Constitution, and ultimately, the Voters. Congregants submit to Leaders (Hebrews 13:17).

All relationships are hierarchical. They are hierarchical in some fashion so that order can be maintained, and so that all units operating within the relationship know their function and run smoothly.

Cogs, by Prata

We all know the adage, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” It’s defined as “Too many persons involved in managing an activity can ruin it.” The buck has to stop somewhere. And somewhere is the top, with someone at the top.

That’s not to say hierarchical relationships aren’t collegial. That’s not to say they aren’t mutual. But as a society we need order and in relationships we have order because in whatever sphere in which we operate (employee, sailor, football player, etc.,) we know our function within the relationship, like cogs in machines.

God set up relationships. He told the man to work the garden and keep it. (Genesis 2:15). He gave dominion over the garden (Genesis 1:26-28). He gave the woman to the man and said she was his helper. (Genesis 2:18).

Many feminists rebel against the term and the role of helper. But we should not reject the term and concept “helper.” It is a term and a ministry God takes upon Himself. John 14:26, John 15:26, Hebrews 13:6…etc. (HT the Women’s Hope podcast).

In Genesis 2:24 it is written that a man shall leave his mother and father and hold fast to his wife. There were no mothers and fathers on the earth yet. But God was saying that in future, man will come out from under the authority of his parents and establish his own home with him as authority. He will hold fast to his wife, produce children, his wife will help in the home. So, in orderly fashion, the relationships will continue. In this way, they reflect God and honor God and glorify God. The husband-wife roles were established as part of the creation order. (1 Corinthians 11:7-91 Timothy 2:12-14).

Further, we see that woman was taken from man, not created separate from man at the same time as man.

The man was created first.

The woman was created from the man.

The woman was created specifically to be a helper to the man.

Barnes Notes on 1 Corinthians 11:9– “Not to be a slave, but a help-meet; not to be the minister of his pleasures, but to be his aid and comforter in life; not to be regarded as of inferior nature and rank, but to be his friend, to divide his sorrows, and to multiply and extend his joys; yet still to be in a station subordinate to him. He is to be the head: the ruler; the presider in the family circle; and she was created to aid him in his duties, to comfort him in his afflictions, to partake with him of his pleasures. Her rank is therefore honorable, though it is subordinate. It is, in some respects, the more honorable because it is subordinate and as her happiness is dependent on him, she has the higher claim to his protection and his tender care.”

But all that relational orderliness came to a screeching halt when Eve disobeyed and ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Her eyes were opened and she was ashamed of her nakedness. Adam too. As a consequence, God instilled a permanent tendency of usurpation in the woman, and a permanent tendency for the man to rule instead of lead. Since they had corrupted themselves with sin, their relationship with each other and with God would forever be corrupted. (Genesis 3:16b). The once orderly helper-leader relationship was now fraught with conflict.

Feminists have polluted the Godly view marital relationship. Suddenly, though in every other relationship we submit to an authority, Feminists have persistently said that it is beneath women/wives to submit to the man/husband. “Submit” is a dirty word to feminists and to a great portion of the world.

Suddenly, we are told that the complementary role of helper isn’t good enough. Remember that Jesus submitted to the father in everything, and husbands submit to Jesus. Children submit to parents. Submission is proper, except, apparently, for women.

Satan capitalizes on the usurpation tendency in women to want to rebel against the orderly hierarchy of relationships. As a result, society suffers. The cogs are grinding against each other, in many cases, freezing up and won’t work at all. The marriage failure rate is 50%. We are told that complementary relationships are beneath us, and that instead the relationship should be egalitarian, or equal. These terms are defined well in the resources below.

However, the husband and wife relationship IS equal. Men and Women have equal standing before God. We are equally loved by Him. It’s just that we are given different roles.

“Identity, value, worth are not found in gender function. We believe in a personal Being beyond ourselves is where our identity comes from. That Being is Jesus Christ and our identity was bought with His blood. As women we don’t place our identity in our roles, we place it in Christ. We enjoy our roles because of what Christ has done for us.”

(Women’s Hope Podcast)

Can you imagine a United States Co-Presidency? As lauded as feminist Hillary Clinton was for being ambitious, tough, assertive, and all the man-things, when Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992 he’d often say “You’re getting two for the price of one.” This did not go down well with the American public. Despite the Feminists’ promotion of co-equal partnerships in marriage and everywhere else as normal, when it came down to it, America balked. The balking continued and deepened when Hillary famously said the following:

“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”

Contemporary Quotations

The feminists’ disdain of their God-given role as helpmeet at home is nowhere more in view than there, and Clinton’s quote remains embedded in the country’s consciousness almost 30 years later.

From the NY Times, this Republican analyst said at the time,

“There’s a certain familiar order of things, and the notion of a coequal couple in the White House is a little offensive to men and women.”

NY Times, 1992

And this from the same article, from Hillary’s supporters,

Even among women who are Mrs. Clinton’s natural constituents, there is criticism about what they call “the Hillary situation.” Some leading Democratic women privately worry that, while Mrs. Bush may be the last of the First Ladies who have never worked outside the home, the public is still skittish about the idea of a First Lady who is more involved in substance than ceremony.

NY Times, 1992

The phrase 2-for-1 eventually came to harm the campaign, so Hillary softened her hair, put in a hairband, and talked of motherhood and baking cookies. Jocular talk of co-equal Presidents ceased.

Because we all have the eternity of God set in our hearts, (Ecclesiastes 3:11) deep down, we know how relationships are supposed to be. The Feminists’ notion of egalitarian partnerships is not it.

Here are further resources that define and discuss the two competing and opposite views of womenly roles in marriage, complementarianism and egalitarianism. As far as roles in the church, it should be noted that wives submit to their own husbands. (Ephesians 5:22). We are not directed to submit to every husband. Our roles in the church are defined elsewhere in multiple verses.

Ladies, we are saved by Christ’s blood for good works in His name and to glorify Him. Nowhere is it more glorious to worship our Savior through obedience and enjoyment of the roles He has given us. Our roles and functions change as we grow from children, to single women, to married women, widows/older women, etc. Whatever sphere of life we are in, at all times we are to submit to the One who created us for good works. Submission is a glorious word when we practice it to the best of our ability as a model in marriage to the watching and wondering world.


Statement/Essay: Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions

Statement: The Danvers Statement, he Danvers Statement summarizes the need for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and serves as an overview of our core beliefs. This statement was prepared by several evangelical leaders at a CBMW meeting in Danvers, Massachusetts, in December of 1987. It was first published in final form by the CBMW in Wheaton, Illinois in November of 1988.

Book: Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, Ligon Duncan, Susan Hunt. Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan walk through the Scriptures to help readers better understand what it means to have an effective, biblical women’s ministry in the church. The benefits of women’s ministries are great: training and discipling, evangelizing, and reaching out to the poor and needy. This book, written by seasoned ministry leaders, provides many proven tools to help start a women’s ministry in your church.

Podcast: Women’s Hope: Join Dr. Shelbi Cullen and Kimberly Cummings as they bring hope and encouragement through 25 years of combined experience in biblical discipleship and counseling as ACBC counselors. Shelbi and Kimberly provide biblical and practical wisdom by coming alongside women with the teaching and resources necessary to grow in the grace and the knowledge of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Twitter: follow Complementarians Michelle Lesley, Allie Beth Stuckey, Rachel Jankovic, Summer Jaeger


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.