Biblical Patriarchy vs. Complementarianism: a Quick Look at their Distinctions

by Dale Partridge

When the results are bad, it’s time to examine the methods. For the past 35 years, the church has widely adopted what is called complementarianism.1 This is a theological view that holds men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and civil government. This perspective argues that while men and women are equal in value and dignity, they have distinct roles, with men typically serving as leaders in the home and church and women typically fulfilling supportive and nurturing roles.

On the surface, it appears there are no mistakes. Aren’t women and men meant to complement each other? Don’t both genders play unique roles while being equal in worth? I concur with all these points. However, we still must deal with the facts. Under the helm of complementarian theology, there has been a noticeable degradation of clarity regarding biblical masculinity and feminity (in both society and the church). Men are displaying more traditionally feminine traits, while women are adopting more masculine ones. In the church, this trend reflects a kind of “clean feminism” infiltrating the God’s people, evidenced by the increasing number of women pastors—a development so significant that the Southern Baptist Convention held a national vote on the matter. Additionally, women are more frequently taking on roles as worship leaders, directing congregational doctrine through music. I garnered some attention on this topic when I addressed it last year on Twitter. Moreover, numerous pastors have shifted towards a more gentle and non-confrontational form of Christianity, focusing on topics that are more appealing to women, while leaving men feeling unfulfilled. Furthermore, pastors have significantly reduced their efforts to correct women, hindered by the worry that their attempts to discuss issues specific to women could be labeled as “mansplaining.” This issue arises from a modern psychotherapeutic notion that people cannot provide meaningful advice on situations they haven’t personally experienced. As a result, in numerous congregations, personal experience has overtaken Scripture as the primary source of authority for pastoral shepherding. This shift means men are increasingly seen as unfit to discuss matters related to women solely based on their sex. In a more contentious point, I’ve detailed extensively in my book, “A Cover for Glory,” the practice of wearing headcoverings, which biblically and historically were visual signs of authority and submission between men and women and has now nearly disappeared. The elimination of these visual symbols of authority has lead to a gradual forgetting of the realities they represent.

Ultimately, it’s evident that the church has not added more clarity to the distinctions between male and female roles. Instead, there’s been a blending of the sexes, leading to blurred distinctions that have spread into the broader society. This trend is visible in sectors like the workplace, military, and law enforcement, where women are increasingly adopting roles traditionally held by men. This shift towards an egalitarian society means that any situation where one sex excels over the other is seen as problematic and something to be eradicated.

It’s tempting to attribute this confusion of the sexes to external cultural influences. Third-wave feminism, in particular, has acted like the last force of a multi-set tsunami wave, sweeping away any remaining strongholds of biblical gender. However, if the church cannot be held accountable for these outcomes, then who should be? Are we to expect the world to address this problem? This brings to mind a relevant quote from Francis Schaeffer, who addressed a different yet related matter. He said, “Every abortion clinic should have a sign in front of it saying, “Open by the permission of the church of Jesus Christ.”2 What Schaeffer understands is that the church leads the culture. The responsibility of reinstating a correct understanding of male and female roles falls exclusively on God’s people. Specifically, this duty rests on pastors, who are tasked with conveying God’s teachings on creation, being, biology, authority, and the respective responsibilities of men and women.

I firmly believe that to reconstruct society according to God’s design, pastors must move away from the principles of complementarianism and embrace the biblical model of patriarchy. Like any concept in this world, we must navigate through distortions and imitations. I’m aware that ‘patriarchy’ has negative connotations. Similarly, ‘homophobia’ and ‘Christian Nationalism’ are terms that, despite their controversial reputation, can be valuable if understood in their correct context. In other words, I’m not fighting for ‘patriarchy,’ I’m fighting for biblical patriarchy.

Key Differences

The concept of Biblical Patriarchy centers around the principle of “rule by the father,” endorsing the divine mandate for men to lead families, churches, and communities. This belief is firmly anchored in the consistent narratives and directives found in both the Old and New Testaments, particularly the creation narrative in Genesis 1-3. It emphasizes the roles of patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings as exclusively male in the Old Testament and apostles, scribes, and church elders as male in the New Testament. Unlike the complementarian view, which confines male leadership to the familial and ecclesiastical domains, biblical patriarchy is consistent by extending male authority to all societal aspects, including civil governance and social life.

The inherent contradiction of complementarianism lies in its selective application of male leadership. It permits women to assume leadership in secular realms like politics, law enforcement, and corporate settings, raising a logical paradox: if women are deemed unfit to lead in the church or home, how can they be delegated with the governance of cities or nations, which encompass numerous churches and households? Isaiah 3:12 criticizes the leadership crisis in Israel, marking the rule of women and youths as a sign of societal decay. This critique mirrors my modern concern, where progressive and feminist ideologies have similarly elevated youth and women to positions of influence, echoing ancient Israel’s leadership curse.

Ultimately, complementarianism focuses on differentiating men and women by their roles, while biblical patriarchy emphasizes differences in their very being.

As we know, Acts 17:28 says, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Our ‘being’ is not non-binary or sexless. It’s male or female (Gen. 1:27). Under complementarianism, men and women are seen as humans with distinct sexual functions and roles, as outlined by the Bible. In contrast, Biblical patriarchy sees men and women as fundamentally different, possessing inherently masculine or feminine souls that correspond with their physical bodies.

Therefore, the argument isn’t that a woman should not lead a home, pastor a church, govern a state, engage in combat, or pursue a criminal in the streets—it’s that she inherently cannot. She is unsuited for these roles due to her very soul, nature, physique, and God-given authority. Similarly, it’s not about whether a man should avoid being a stay-at-home dad, running a daycare, make the nurturing of his children his primary concern, or following his wife’s lead; it’s that he lacks the inherent ‘being’ necessary for these tasks. While men and women can temporarily take on roles typically suited to the opposite gender—just as a table might be used as an ironing board in a pinch—the true solution is not to swap roles or use a makeshift approach. Instead, it’s about acting in harmony with one’s fundamental nature.

So, the focus must shift from roles which are fluid to nature which is fixed.

The reason a woman is not suited to preach is akin to why a chicken cannot fly: it’s not about willingness but intrinsic capability. While a woman can indeed stand on a stage and deliver Scripture, Scripture does not grant her the inherent authority as a female soul to do so. Her very design does not encompass the spiritual authority or strength that men are equipped for in pastoral oversight, theological battle, and doctrinal discernment. Ultimately, the drive for women to assume masculine roles can be seen as an extension of the biblical curse in Genesis 3, where women seek to dominate men. Although I seldom reference the New Living Translation (NLT), it effectively captures the essence of this curse, which states, “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).

The Way Back

Restoring confusion always requires getting back to fundamentals. Thankfully, we have thousands of years of history to guide us. A quick look into the past reveals that before World War II, there was very little confusion about being or gender: it was understood that women should not, and indeed could not, preach, have authority, or serve in combat. It was understood that men should not, and indeed could not, be the primary nurturer in the home or lead in domestic duties. These were activities that demanded realities outside of their being.

What’s needed today is for pastors worldwide to provide biblical and historical insights into the definitions of man, woman, and child, reminding us of the knowledge that was once universally accepted.

First, this will require prying the fingers of feminism off the church, which may feel like a step backward for many women who have overstepped into dimensions beyond their design, but returning to the truth should never be seen as regressive. Women should recognize the magnitude of motherhood, the wonder of being a helper, and the grandeur of domestic life as a way to protect themselves against the temptation to abandon the purpose of their nature as their ancestors did in recent decades.

Second, there’s a critical need to educate both boys and girls with a biblical understanding of gender, showcasing examples of masculine men and feminine women. This must occur in the home but should also be experienced in the local church. Furthermore, given the extent of our current estrangement from the Bible’s definitions on the matter, it might even be necessary to emphasize these traits to a greater degree than usual to correct the course.

Finally, it is crucial for men to unapologetically lead their families, churches, and communities with righteousness and wisdom. The challenge of overcoming passivity and the tendency to let women take the lead, especially in areas where men prefer to avoid responsibility, will persist until Christ returns. Nevertheless, we must see this sin of male abdication as rancid as theft or murder. Hence, our goal should be to rebuild a society where Christian men take charge effectively and without hesitation. This begins with helping their wives and daughters recognize and value the critical need for their joyful submission. Men must then extend this dominion to other areas, including the church, workforce, government, politics, and military. Such widespread involvement is necessary to counteract the godlessness of feminism and resolve the confusion surrounding the roles of men and women.


The contemporary confusion surrounding men and women, necessitates a fundamental reassessment and return to scriptural teaching. The adoption of complementarianism over the past few decades has led to a dilution of clear biblical masculinity and femininity. Its focus on ‘roles,’ which are susceptible to flexibility, was too easy for feminism to plunder. Its inconsistent application of gender roles in public life has led to increased confusion within the church, fostering an acceptance of egalitarian principles that blur the lines between secular and sacred domains.

As a result, we must switch to biblical patriarchy’s focus on ‘being,’ which is rooted in nature, less vulnerable to perversion, and consistent in all areas of life. Here, in God’s design, which is grounded in creation and backed by Scripture, we have the foundation to start the multi-generational task of restoring a society that adheres to God’s original plan for men and women.

For a detailed exploration of male and female roles, “A Cover for Glory” is available for reading, or you can listen to it as an audiobook or access it as an ebook through the Relearn App.

  1. “The term “complementarianism” was first used by the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988…” ↩︎ ↩︎
  2. ↩︎ ↩︎

Dale Partridge is the President of and holds a Graduate Certificate from Western Seminary. He is the author of several Christian books, including “The Manliness of Christ” and the bestselling children’s book “Jesus and My Gender.” He is also the host of the Real Christianity podcast and the lead pastor at King's Way Bible Church in Prescott, Arizona.

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