It’s become known on social media as the Mansplaining Statue. At the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, a man stands with one foot on a bench, addressing a silently listening, seated woman. The sculptor unintentionally captured what’s meant by “mansplaining.” Mansplaining isn’t man-explaining-something-to-woman (which is surely better than man-refusing-to-explain). Mansplaining is when a man, acting on the assumption that women are somehow deficient, explains in a patronizing way.
It’s easy to see how complementarian churches could be accused of mansplaining. Generally speaking, complementarians seek to obey the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, which forbids a woman from teaching a man in the context of congregational worship. At first glance, that may seem like biblical permission to bring the Mansplaining Statue to life in church every Sunday. But a closer look reveals the command doesn’t imply any deficiency in women at all.
Paul bases the command, first, on the creational order (v. 13) and, second, on the observation that Eve was deceived rather than Adam (v. 14). Neither point means women are inherently inferior. Let’s consider each in turn.
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13).
Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 11:8: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.” Both verses treat the order in which the first humans were created as determinative for certain roles. That may seem strange to modern ears, but it won’t be the only time God calls us to lean not on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5). We are God’s guests in his reality.
It ought to be self-evident that the creational order doesn’t give men a superior nature to women: it’s about sequence rather than substance. What’s more, Adam’s first words to Eve stress the equality of their attributes: “This at last is bone of my bones / and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23).
It ought to be self-evident that the creational order doesn’t give men a superior nature to women: it’s about sequence rather than substance.
Any remaining doubt should be settled by 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Paul draws a parallel between creation-derived male headship and the Father’s headship: “the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Christ’s divine nature is equal in every way to that of the Father, and yet the Father has headship over him in the incarnation. Similarly, male headship within marriage and the church is compatible with men and women’s equality of nature.
Deception of Eve
“Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Tim. 2:14)
It’s sometimes said 1 Timothy 2:14 teaches that women are by nature more deceivable than men. But that interpretation is an example of eisegesis—reading something into the text that isn’t actually there. When we instead do exegesis by drawing out from Paul’s words what is there, we find him presenting Eve’s deception as a fact with ongoing relevance for the prohibition he’s just issued. But why is that past fact still relevant?
Paul has just reminded Timothy of the creational order. Now, in verse 14, he turns to biblical history to illustrate the danger of ignoring that order. If Adam, who wasn’t deceived, had only stayed true to his calling as the head of his wife, Eve would never have become a transgressor! But Adam neglected his God-given leadership role, with devastating consequences for him, Eve, and their descendants (see Rom. 5:12–21). Paul is telling us we ignore the creational order and its associated roles at our peril—just look at what happened in the Garden.
It makes sense that disregarding God’s creational order is dangerous. If we fail to honor his will for gender roles, we’ll be more likely to defy his will in other ways too. As soon as God’s authority is rejected in one area, his Word becomes something to pick and choose from instead of something to tremble at (Isa. 66:2).
In sum, complementarianism doesn’t bake mansplaining into church life. Men have been given the role of teaching in congregational worship not because of any superior capability but because of their place in the creational order. If a preacher is patronizing toward the women present, it’s not the fault of biblical complementarianism; it’s the fault of the preacher.
How to Avoid Mansplaining
Complementarians believe, of course, that there are contexts outside of congregational worship where it’s right and good for women to teach the Bible. If you’re a male preacher, how do you process the idea that some of those women may be better Bible teachers than you? If you’re resistant to that notion, you’re evidently under the illusion that maleness gives you superior spiritual attributes.
Paul is telling us we ignore the creational order and its associated roles at our peril—just look at what happened in the Garden!
When a preacher operates with that false assumption, mansplaining will likely spill out—“for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). The treatment for mansplaining begins in the heart. Once we’ve truly grasped that men and women are equal in nature and coheirs of the gift of eternal life (1 Pet. 3:7), our speech will reflect that conviction.
Complementarianism springs from a desire to be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore complementarian preachers should adopt the Bible’s view of the pulpit: it’s not a venue for self-aggrandizement but a place of testing (see James 3:1 and 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Preaching is arduous work requiring careful engagement with the biblical text and time-consuming preparation. Complementarian preachers who strain to fulfill that calling, seeking honest feedback along the way, will learn to eradicate condescending speech that alienates 50 percent of the flock for whom Christ died (Acts 20:28).
According to Jesus, “Wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:35, NIV). The wisdom of biblical complementarianism should be proved right by everything that results from its implementation—including the preaching in complementarian churches. Our preaching should cause women to experience the goodness of complementarianism, rather than question it.
- Can Women Be Pastors? (booklet)
- What Exactly Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Teach? (article)
- Beautiful Difference: The (Whole-Bible) Complementarity of Male and Female (article)
- 4 Dangers for Complementarians (article)
- What Did Paul Mean by “I Do Not Permit a Woman to Teach”? (video)
- Why Is TGC Complementarian? (video)