Subjugating Women

Beginning a series on women in ministry, from an egalitarian perspective, I offer the following email that I was given permission to share. What is most significant is the question, Why do Reformers like John Knox hold to the views they so very staunchly argue and maintain? We cannot merely argue against the complementarian views of someone like Knox. We do ourselves and others a service by understanding why he thinks as he thinks. Correct the thinking and the error is corrected. Moreover, a corollary question is, Are the Reformers merely repeating a long-held erroneous tradition regarding women in ministry -- some, even regarding women by nature or virtue -- insisting that their collective view is "the biblical" view and that of God?

John Knox is hated in Scotland today by many for oppressively perpetuating the theology of Reformer John Calvin, and is deemed a misogynist, i.e., showing contempt for women, especially in leadership roles, for his "untimely treatise against female monarchs [contra Judges 5:1-31; cf. Exod. 15:1-18; 1 Sam. 2:1-10; Micah 6:4; Judith 13:6-8; 16:1-2] and for his unflinching stand before charming Mary [Stuart], Queen of Scots, denouncing her sins and calling her to repent."1 (emphasis added) Keep in mind that Knox, at age 50, marries a seventeen-year-old girl from the Stuart family, a relative of Mary Stuart. How convenient for him. What is Mary Stuart's sin? She is a woman in line for the throne. Why is this a sin? The author of the email writes the following:

"The Calvinist founder of the Scots Presbyterian denomination, John Knox, wrote a virulent pamphlet entitled, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Its cardinal thesis is this:
To promote a Woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation or city is Repugnant to nature, Contumely to GOD, a thing most contrary to His revealed will and approved ordinance, and finally the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.
"However, despite all that John Knox wrote and taught in that treatise, have you ever heard of Jeanne d'Albret? She was the highest ranking woman among the Calvinist French Huguenots [a key historical fact for all that follows]. She was the reigning queen of Navarre, and she inherited her throne by virtue of being the only child of her father the King of Navarre.

"If the Cardinal Thesis of John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women is the true and accurate teaching of the word of God, and a divine Moral Law of universal and perpetual obligation, then it follows ipso facto that Jeanne d'Albret is guilty of transgressing the Divine Law, and also all her friends and cronies are also guilty, for they did absolutely nothing to dissuade her from reigning. [Thus they are complicit in her alleged sin.] They said absolutely nothing by which she may be persuaded in her conscience that to 'promote a Woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation or city is Repugnant to nature, Contumely to GOD, a thing most contrary to His revealed will and approved ordinance, and finally the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice'!

"On the contrary, many of the highest ringleaders among the Huguenots swore loyalty and allegiance to her as queen of Navarre, and did absolutely nothing to preach and teach faithfully the same First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women John Knox preached so courageously in England and Scotland without batting an eye for fear of Mary Tudor and Mary of Guise and Mary Stuart! Yes, even John Calvin himself is a partaker of her transgressions, for he personally sent a letter of praise for her Ecclesiastical Ordinances she passed in Navarre instead of rebuking her for exercising authority and government over that realm.

"Therefore if the Cardinal Thesis of John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet . . . is the true and accurate teaching of the word of God [as well as to complementarianism itself as the Word of truth on the matter], and a divine Moral Law of universal and perpetual obligation, then it follows ipso facto that the Huguenot sect of the Protestant Reformation is guilty before God. There is an accursed thing in their camp (if not the Abomination of Desolation -- yet it ought not to remain standing at all), namely this Monstrous Regiment of Women in the form of the title, authority, and power of Jeanne d'Albret as reigning queen of Navarre!

"Except they cleanse themselves of that accursed thing, they are just as guilty in the sight of JEHOVAH as was Achan. The Curse of Achan is on their heads! The only way they can vindicate themselves from this very guilt is by a complete refutation of the Cardinal Thesis of John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women! I sincerely hope that this will give you some extra information about the bloodthirsty and treasonable deeds of the Calvinists, and especially of the Presbyterians, and abound to our mutual advantage." [End email.]


Well, as history records, the Calvinist complementarians are not the only ones who maintain their own "monstrous" ideas regarding a proscription against women in general -- meaning, women by nature or virtue -- and women in ministry. I find the complementarian views of John Knox -- who is called "the enfant terrible [the unruly child] of Calvinism"2 -- unbiblical, even anti-biblical and heretical, and entirely unwarranted in light of the scriptures. Any egalitarian worth her salt will agree. Not to worry: complementarians make similar claims regarding egalitarians and egalitarianism. Neither camp will ever agree on this issue.

But the following question, in light of such a strong complementarian view of Knox (and others), is begging to be asked: Was God, perhaps, contumely against God when He called forth women to lead in various respects throughout history -- a history, according to a consistent Calvinistic view of the economy of God, that God Himself decreed and brought to pass? What of Miriam, Deborah, Jael, and Judith? What of mighty women in deed and word, like Jochebed, Zipporah, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, Hannah, Abigail, the Queen of Sheba, the notable Shulamite woman, and Suzanna, whose story is found in the apocryphal account which bears her name? Did God make a mistake? Does He not know what He is doing gifting women to such prominent roles?

Complementarians, in my view, have no biblical support to stifle and quench the gifts of the Spirit to God's mighty women, historical and at present, and in fact cannot tame and control women by their egos, machoism, or misrepresentations of the scriptures. Moreover, an irony exists even within complementarian circles: everyone knows that if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Women play a central role even in complementarian marriages, families, and the church. To think otherwise is utter self-deception. A line from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding is appropriate here regarding women in complementarian contexts:
Toula Portokalos: Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. "Ah, the man is the head of the house!"
Maria Portokalos: Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants. (link)
Even within the Greek Orthodox complementarian context of the fictional Portokalos family, women maintain far more persuasion, or influence in decision-making, than what most men will allow themselves to confess -- even if those roles are passive-aggressively enacted. (The same can be said of many complementarian households.) In essence, then, many "complementarian" families are egalitarian in function though not in creed. Still, actions speak louder than words.

So, at the beginning of this series on women in ministry, I will make three provocative statements: 1) Complementarians are perpetuating an erroneous understanding or interpretation of the scriptures based on a faulty hermeneutic (which is what they confess of us); 2) Any self-respecting Arminian will be an egalitarian (über provocative, eh?); and 3) Calvinists, either hard or soft determinist Calvinists, carry no valid argument against egalitarianism while they insist that God decrees our thoughts, words, and actions.3

I understand quite naturally why Knox is so very hated: the reason(s) lay not in the alleged "hard biblical truths" which he proclaims, as is touted by many Calvinists, but in the obnoxious, cage-stage-Calvinistic manner in which they are proclaimed. Even in modern-day complementarian Calvinists like R.C. Sproul we find a calm repose as he outlines and conveys his views -- void of rhetoric, absent of a misplaced passion, and without a seeming dismay for women in general. As we will tragically witness, in the following, Knox is not alone in his women-haters club:

  • Do you [women] not know that you are [each] an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him [Adam] whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. On account of your desert -- that is, death -- even the Son of God had to die. -- Tertullian
  • Woman was from the beginnings, a gate of death, a disciple of the servant, the devil's accomplice, a fount of deception, a dogstart to godly labours, rust corrupting the saints; whose perilous face hath overgrown such as had already become almost angels. Lo, woman is the head of sin, a weapon of the devil, expulsion from Paradise, mother of guilt, corruption of the ancient law. -- From a collection of views on women compiled by Salimbene, a thirteenth-century Franciscan monk (1221-1288)
  • [A woman] is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman [which, if true, though not true, would be God's fault, not hers], since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in contrary direction of a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives. . . . Since [women] are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come under the spell of witchcraft. -- Domincan Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger in a 1486 tract in which hey argued that women are the source of all witchcraft4

Here we discover an appalling view of women by nature, by virtue, an almost disgust of women as vile and the seed of all evil. Sadly, this is but a meager sampling of comments from the women-haters club among complementarian writings. More shall be quoted in the following post. What we shall discover is a gross misunderstanding of the words of St Paul to a young pastor Timothy, and a neglect to consider historical context when engaging the historical text of 1 Timothy 2. The three primary rules of interpretation are: 1) context; 2) context; and 3) context. This includes the historical context in which an author writes.


1 Douglas Bond, The Mighty Weakness of John Knox (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2011), xix.

2 Ibid., 79-88. Cf. Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, eds., The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989), 365.

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), I.18.1. See also Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30; Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

4 J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2006), 128.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.