Marg Mowczko

The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”

Complementarians are Christians who believe that God has instituted certain, specific ways of expressing masculinity and femininity.[1]  They narrowly define masculinity and femininity purely in terms of leadership and submission. Complementarians believe that leadership is an intrinsically masculine quality, and that God has ordained all men to be leaders; they believe that the women’s role is to be fundamentally submissive to all men.[2] (Piper 2006:ch1)

In support of their views, Complementarians place a great deal of importance on the creation narrative recorded in Genesis 2:4-25.[3] They believe that there is a divine mandate of male leadership implied in this passage of Scripture, especially in the creation order of Adam being created first, before Eve.  This article will refute the argument that the creation narrative in Genesis 2:4-25 signifies male authority and female submission.  In particular it will refute certain statements made by Complementarian, Mary Kassian,[4] in chapters one and two of her book, Women, Creation and the Fall. Chapter one of Kassian’s book is entitled, “The Created Order”.

The Act of Naming

In Genesis 2:19-20, prior to the creation of Eve, we read that Adam named the animals.  Kassian (1990:16-17) states that there is implicit authority in the act of naming something; and because Adam named the animals, this proves that he was ordained by God to be the leader.[5]  This is despite the fact that Eve had not yet been made.  There is no logical correlation between Adam naming the animals and Adam’s supposed authority over Eve!  Moreover, Genesis 1:27-28 says that both men and women were given authority over animals.

Kassian (1990:19) also states that Adam “recognized his God-given responsibility and authority by naming [the woman]”.  Without apparent logic, she adds, “If the woman and man were meant to have identical roles,[6] God would have named the woman, just as He had named the man.”  God in fact did name the woman just as he had named the man.  God named all human beings “adam”.

Genesis 5:1b-2 says that, “When God created man [human beings], he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man’ [adam].” (NIV, my emphasis.) Adam means a “human being” in Hebrew.[7]

The Bible simply does not say that God told Adam to name his wife.[8] Kassian’s assertion (1990:19) that Adam had a “God-given responsibility and authority” to name the woman and thus “a hierarchical relationship between Adam and the woman [was] established from the very outset”, is entirely without warrant.  Yet this is a firmly held tenet of Complementarianism.

The Creation of Eve

Genesis 2:4-25 is the only creation account that shows that Adam was created first.  It is clear from the other creation accounts, in Genesis 1:26-28 and 5:1-2, that God’s image is more fully expressed in both male and female human beings, rather than in just one male.[9] For this reason, it is hard to justify the very commonly held belief that the first human being was entirely male when he was initially formed.  It is more likely that this one person had both male and female characteristics.[10] This concept of a human with both male and female characteristics is shown to have scriptural validity because of the fact that Eve was quite literally “taken out” of Adam (2:23b).

In Genesis 2:21, we read that God put Adam into a deep sleep and performed surgery on him.  God took something out of Adam.  Traditionally this “something” has been referred to as Adam’s rib.  However the Hebrew word used here, tsalah, can refer to a “part” and not necessarily a rib.[11] When Adam woke from his deep sleep, something of his was missing.  Something had been taken out of him and had become an integral part in the making of the first woman.  Genesis 2:22 says that, “The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which he had taken from the man [human].” (NASB)  When Adam saw the woman for the first time, he exclaimed that “she was taken out of man!”

Equality or Heirarchy?

The creation account of Eve (2:21ff) is brief, enigmatic and, many believe, largely metaphorical.  The purpose of this account however, is surely to illustrate the equality, affinity and unity of the first man and woman.

“The whole purpose of the Creation of Eve narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 is to emphasise the equality of husband and wife.  To read it any other way is to miss the point and distort its meaning! . . . When Adam looked at his new partner he exclaimed that she was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”!  A profound expression of equality.  There is no hierarchy here! But to further emphasise the point, verse 24 says that when a husband and wife join in marriage they become one flesh – a point which Jesus also highlighted (Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-7).  Men and women together are made in God’s image.  God’s ideal at creation was that the husband and wife be completely equal and rule over nature together (Genesis 1:26-28).  Complete gender equality is the Godly ideal we should be aiming for.” (Margaret Mowczko, A Suitable Helper, 2009)

Complementarians have completely missed the point of the Creation of Eve narrative, and instead, have they have read hierarchical authority into it.  They believe that because Adam was created first, he was to be the leader; and because Eve was made second she was to be the submissive follower and helper (2:18,20).[12]  Mary Kassian is emphatic that the creation order reveals this  hierarchical paradigm of gender roles for all men and women.  She writes:

An understanding of creation is central to a correct understanding of male and female roles, as all Biblical teaching on roles is contingent on this historic event.[13] Gender roles are rooted in the created order, and apart from this context, cannot be understood. Therefore the Genesis account of creation is the underpinning for New Testament teaching[14] on the role of women. (Kassian 1990:13)

In the latter half of chapter one of her book, Kassian describes beautifully the unity of the first man and woman.  However she also remarks on their supposed, different roles: “Adam gave loving guidance to the relationship without domineering his wife.  Eve willingly and gladly submitted to Adam’s leadership . . .” (Kassian 1990:20)  This may sound lovely, (especially to those who romanticise wifely submission), but it is complete conjecture.  The scriptures just do not say that Adam led and Eve submitted.  Genesis 2 does not even hint at either leadership or submission between the first husband and wife, instead it portrays complete equality and unity.

The Forbidden Fruit

Genesis 2:8ff tells us that God planted a garden full of beautiful trees and that he placed Adam in the garden, before Eve was made.  In 2:16-17, we read God’s careful warning to Adam not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Failure to obey this simple instruction will result in certain death. Despite the warning, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit.

Many Complementarians assume that Eve took the fruit because she was ignorant of God’s command, and that Adam had failed in his supposed “leadership task” of teaching Eve about the command.  While we know that God told Adam the command, there is no reason to assume that God did not also tell Eve at some point.  Perhaps God reiterated his warning daily?  Eve’s reply to the serpent indicates that, in fact, she did know that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was prohibited (2:2-3).

There are many theories as to why the serpent spoke to the woman and not to the man in Genesis 3:1ff; but any attempt to answer this question must be speculative as the Scriptures do not give a reason.  However, if the man had been the evident leader, it makes more sense that the serpent would have spoken to Adam rather than Eve.  Moreover Adam’s readiness to eat the fruit that Eve gave to him, suggests that there was a trusting, mutual relationship between the man and the woman and not a leader-follower relationship.

The Fall

Kassian (1990:23) states that, “The results of sin were instant. The created order had been violated”.  However she does not explain how eating the forbidden fruit violated the “created order”.[15]  Moreover she says that, “The sin of woman and man was not that they desired knowledge, but that they misused and violated God’s created order.” (Kassian 1990:28) Kassian does not explain her reasons for making this statement.  Mary Kassian actually makes numerous, unfounded assertions in her book without revealing her logic or reasoning behind them.

Both Adam and Eve are confronted and questioned by God about their disobedience (3:7-13,16-19).  Adam tries to shift the blame, whereas Eve gives a candid, straightforward account.  Both Adam and Eve are punished with physical and spiritual death, with consequent curses.  Adam and Eve at this point in time still appear to be completely equal – equally culpable.

The Curse

Chapter two of Kassian’s book is cheerily entitled, “Born Cursed.”  Here Kassian (1990:29) writes that, “The entrance of sin into the world changed man and woman’s relationship to God, to creation, and to her/his fellow human beings. No longer do women and men walk in harmony with God. The unity and equality present in the first relationship has disintegrated.”[16]    While this is no doubt true, Jesus Christ came into the world precisely to deal with this situation!

Kassian (1990:30) acknowledges that Christ came into the world “to destroy the power of the curse” of male dominance and painful childbirth (3:29); however she is waiting for Christ’s second coming for the curses to be completely removed.  In the meantime she seems content to live with “the curse” and speciously claims that the only way women can be “truly liberated [is] to fulfil their God-given role” which means “adopting a Biblical [i.e. Complementarian] perspective on male and female roles.”  (Kassian 1990:30)

Freedom from the Curse

When Jesus walked on earth as a human being two thousand years ago, he continually taught and demonstrated to his followers how to live as Kingdom of God people.  Jesus did not just teach and show a better, more benevolent way of living, he taught a social and cultural revolution.  Jesus taught against the notions of hierarchy and primacy.[17] At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the message of complete equality of all human beings regardless of race, social status or gender, etc; a message that, on the whole, the church has resisted.

At this present time, as believers, we are already part of God’s Kingdom.  We have been re-born into a new life of freedom and mercy.  We are empowered to live out and demonstrate kingdom principles as Christ’s ambassadors.  Even though we may be hindered by the affects of “the kingdom of Satan” (Kassian 1990:30), and our efforts may be imperfect, we should not merely wait for the future fulfilment.  We should be living as Kingdom agents now; bringing peace, hope, justice and unity wherever we can.  We should be trying to alleviate the pain and discrimination caused by the curse.

Kassian’s Claims

Mary Kassian makes numerous claims in her book without explaining her logic or reasoning behind these claims.   Her strong statements regarding gender roles, which she believes hinges on male authority and female submission, actually have no definitive scriptural basis in Genesis 2:4-25.

Despite the lack of logic in her arguments, and despite the lack of valid scriptural support, Kassian is relentless in her theme, and she continues to make baseless claims throughout her book which promote Complementarian principles.  Kassian continues with her theme and begins chapter three with: “Two basic concepts are inherent in the hierarchy of the created order — authority and submission.”[18] (Kassian 1990:31)



[1] An article which explains Christian Complementarianism, here.

People who hold to Complementarian ideology include Mark Driscoll, John Piper, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Wayne Grudems and many Sydney Anglicans.

[2] John Piper qualifies the category of “all men” only by the adjective “worthy”. (Piper 2006:ch1)

I am personally alarmed that Complementarians assert that there is a divine mandate for all women to be submissive to all men.  The Greek New Testament specifies that the wife is to be submissive to her own husband, not to all men in general! (Eph 5:22, Titus 2:5 and 1 Pet 3:1.) Moreover, the New Testament ideal is mutual submission between all people (Eph 5:21).

[3] Many theologians regard the Genesis 2 creation account to be metaphorical rather than literal.  For the sake of the arguments against the Complementarian interpretation of Genesis 2, this essay will approach this account literally, as they do.

[4] Mary Kassian is the distinguished professor of Women’s Studies at Southern Baptist Seminary.

[5] Complementarians assert that the husband is to be the leader of the household/family.  As the supposed leader and authority figure in the family you would expect that it is the husband who names the children (assuming that the act of naming implies authority), and yet there are numerous Old Testament examples of women who named their children, including wives of prominent patriarchs. (See Gen 19:37-38; 29:32-35; 30:4-13, 17-21, 24; 35:18; 38:4-5, 27-30; Judges chapter 13; 1 Sam 1:20; 4:19-22; 2 Sam 12:24; 1 Chron 4:9; 7:16.)

[6] Kassian does not explain why she associates “identical roles” with God naming Adam.

[7] To translate adam as “man” conceals the fact that adam is a generic term (used frequently in the Old Testament) for a human being; and not necessarily a male person. It is very unclear whether the word adam should be translated as “person” or the proper noun “Adam” in parts of Genesis.

[8] While God had indeed called all humans adam, Adam (the first human) did name his wife.  When Adam first saw his wife, he simply called her ishshah-woman corresponding to ish-man (Genesis 2:23).  This was a designation and not a name. Later, however, he named his wife Eve-living (Genesis 3:20).  The Hebrew word for name-shem does not occur before Genesis 3.

[9] It is important to note that God is neither male nor female; he is a genderless spirit.

[10] I am aware how controversial this sounds.  However I believe that this concept worth thinking about.

[11] Tsalah is translated in a variety of ways in the Old Testament: side, quarter, corner, timber, plank, chamber, side chamber, leaf, rib, etc.  The NIV provides the alternate translations of “side part” and “part” in footnotes to Genesis 2:21 and 22.

[12] “It has been said by some that Eve was provided to help her husband, but not vice versa . . . this goes against everything we know from New Testament teaching on human relationships. (E.g. Eph 5:28-29.) Despite having no scripture that explicitly says that Adam was also to help his wife, we can safely assume that Adam and Eve were to be of mutual benefit to each other.” (Mowczko 2009)

Further, The Hebrew word for helper, used in Genesis 2:18 and 20, is always and only used in the Old Testament in the context of vital and powerful assistance.

[13] The degree of importance that Complementarians place on the “created order” and the primacy of Adam does not seem to be shared by Biblical authors.  It is never referred to again in the Old Testament, and only twice in the New Testament.

[14] Paul refers to the creation order of Adam first and then Eve in 1 Timothy 2:13-15, to correct a Gnostic heresy which gave Eve primacy over Adam.  A discussion on Paul’s meaning in 1Timothy 2:13-15 is beyond the scope of this paper.

Paul also alludes to the creation order in his enigmatic teaching about worship and head covering, in 1 Corinthians 11:2-12.  The considerable exegetical difficulties in this pericope have been widely acknowledged by theologians on both sides of the Women in Ministry and Biblical Equality debate.  Some theologians believe that the Corinthian church may have written the words in verses 7-10 in their letter to Paul, and that Paul quotes this before responding with his egalitarian teaching in verses 11-12.

[15] Complementarians assert that Eve violated “the Created Order” of male primacy and leadership, and female submission and responsiveness by offering a piece of fruit to her husband.  If this is the case, I violate “the Created Order” almost daily by offering fruit to my husband.

[16] Kassian acknowledges that the relationship between the first man and woman was one of “unity and equality” before the fall.  (Kassian 1990:29, my emphasis)

[17] See Mathew 19:30, 20:16, 25-26; Mark 9:35, 10:31,41-45; Luke 13:29-30, 14:11, 22:26; etc.

[18] Chapter three of Mary Kassian’s book is entitled, “Authority and Submission”.


Scripture marked (NIV) is taken from: Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Scripture marked (NASB) taken from: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Kassian, Mary A., Women, Creation and the Fall, Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 1990.  Available online at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Woman website here (accessed March-May 2010)

Mowczko, Margaret, A Suitable Helper, November 2009. (accessed April-May 2010)

Strong, James, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, McLean, Virginia: Macdonald Publishing Company, n.d.

Piper, John, and Wayne Grudems (editors), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 2006.  Available online here. (Accessed March-May 2010)

This article has been adapted from as assignment entitled “Refuting the Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”, submitted to the Australian College of Ministries on the 7th of May , 2010, for the BTh award.

© 7th of May, 2010; Margaret Mowczko