The Biblical Role of Men and Women

A biblical understanding of complementarianism

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Divine Design: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Download the PDF study guide version HERE

The Central Question

This week’s message addressed a central question: Does the Bible, in its clear and normative teaching, establish unique aspects of primary leadership in marriage and in the church that are restricted to biblically qualified men?

This question is not asking whether the Bible teaches that men are superior and women inferior to one another—the Bible clearly states men and women were created with equal value, standing, blessing and participation in the promises of God to Abraham (Gen. 1:27–28; Gal. 3:28) and are co-heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).

Nor is this question implying that somehow women are less qualified or equipped than men to participate in vocational or spiritual ministry.

This question is asking whether the Bible establishes and restricts certain aspects of primary leadership and spiritual authority to qualified men in marriage and in the church.

The Contrasting Views


Complementarians believe that primary responsibility and spiritual authority to lead in the marriage and home, and to teach authoritatively and spiritually govern the Church has been assigned and restricted to biblically qualified men.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is a flagship complementarian organization, and here is how they define their mission:

“The mission of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is to set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.”


Egalitarians believe that biblically qualified women can lead equally with biblically qualified men in the home and in the Church.

The Center for Biblical Equality is a flagship egalitarian organization, and here is how they define their mission:

“CBE exists to promote biblical justice and community by educating Christians that the Bible calls women and men to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church and world.”

So, when we look at Scripture, who has it right?

There are four primary terms in Scripture that help shed light on the Biblical answer to this debate.

Four Key Terms

“Helper”—Genesis 2:18

Help: To come alongside and supply what is lacking or what is missing that is necessary for the success of the mission.

“Then the Lord God said, ’It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (NASB)

“Submission”—1 Peter 3:1; Ephesians 5:21–24; Colossians 3:18–19

Submission means to arrange oneself properly toward others God has placed over me.

1 Peter 3:1—Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

 Ephesians 5:21–24—Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

 Colossians 3:18–19—Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

“Head”—Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:2–4

This does not mean “source” or “origin” as in the head of the Jordan River. In these contexts, it clearly means “leader,” as for instance Jesus is the leader of the Church.

Ephesians 5:23—For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (ESV)

1 Corinthians 11:2–4—Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.” (ESV)

“Authority”—1 Timothy 2:11–15

This is the authority to teach or preach God’s Word from on office or position that is binding on believers. It specifically has a church or religious instruction context.

…I do not permit a woman to teach [men] or to exercise authority over a man…” (ESV)


Throughout the Scriptures, God has always honored, valued and blessed the role of godly women. However, the clear and plain teaching of Scripture establishes and restricts certain aspects of leadership and responsibility in marriage and in God’s church to biblically qualified men. This restriction is not merely cultural accommodation necessary for a particular time and in a particular culture for the Gospel’s sake.

Neither did this restriction did come about as a consequence to the Fall—it was designed into the very creation of Adam and Eve. It was corrupted after the Fall—men would be tempted and oriented to leading women in harsh and tyrannical ways, and women would be tempted to usurp and resist the leadership and authority of their husband.

Jesus—the author, creator and sustainer of both old and new creations—affirmed, confirmed and restored the original created order so that, as His new creation, men are to lead by loving service and women are to joyfully support that leadership in their home and in the church.

Listen to Dr. Horn’s message on the biblical role of men and women:

Join us for chapel at 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday.


Sam Horn (BA, ’86; MA, ’88; PhD, ’95 from BJU) joined the executive team at Bob Jones University in January of 2015.

Sam has served in both academic and pastoral roles throughout his ministry. Sam desires to use his experience in pastoral ministry, teaching, and academic administration to recruit and train students for all disciplines and to embrace the mission of advancing the Gospel and serving the Church effectively.