1 Corinthians 11:3: A Corrective to Distortions and Abuses of Male Headship -- By: Steven Tracy

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 08:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: 1 Corinthians 11:3: A Corrective to Distortions and Abuses of Male Headship
Author: Steven Tracy


1 Corinthians 11:3:
A Corrective to Distortions and Abuses of Male Headship

Steven Tracy

Vice President of Academic Affairs
Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics
Phoenix Seminary
Scottsdale, Arizona

In recent years, 1 Cor 11:3 has been used to buttress a complementarian model of sexuality (men and women are spiritual equals, but have different, complementary gender based roles). The relevance of this text to clarify gender role debates is patently clear. Paul gives us an instructional model for male leadership—the man is the head of the woman as God [the Father] is the head of Christ. The eternal functional headship or authority1 of the Father over the Son, often referred to as functional subordination within the Trinity, has been well developed by others.2 My concern is rather to build on this theological principle by teasing out some of the implications of functional subordination affirmed in 1 Cor 11:3 to correct misunderstandings and distortions of male headship.

It is often asserted that patriarchy, broadly defined as the legitimation of male authority over females, is the basis for most, if not all social pathologies. For instance, Russ Funk states

Patriarchy is a terrible, violent, vile system that destroys huge pieces of all of us—our individual humanness and humanness in general. Patriarchy creates men who choose to act oppressively and violently, who create huge systems of destruction…. Patriarchy is a death system. It is a system based on destruction, violence, and degradation.3

It might be tempting to casually dismiss such criticisms, especially given the theological and ethical views of many radical feminists who deny for example, the substitutionary atonement (calling it “divine child abuse”),4 reject historic Christian orthodoxy in favor of neo-paganism and goddess worship, and stridently promote lesbianism and abortion.5 At the same time, we must never soften our commitment to the truth, wherever it may lead us. If feminists have identified legitimate concerns, they must be fiercely addressed. Sadly, while biblical complementarians oppose the abuse of male leadership, they have been extremely slow to address specific issues of male abuse in a detailed fashion.6

While patriarchy is not the cause of all the w...

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