What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women

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Kevin Giles
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , October
     282 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women by Kevin Giles seeks to answer questions concerning God's place for women by deconstructing the misguided theology of those who feel women are designed for the subordination of men—a theology known as complementarianism. In what the author suggests is his last book (xi), he meticulously confronts controversial scriptures and misguided interpretations, the misused words of Paul, and potential reasons for men’s continual insistence of women's subordination, in a way that offers lay readers an informed and educated counterargument on this topic.

Throughout the book, the author is in dialogue with biblical complementarian theology, which he defines as "a human construct generated to provide a way to read the Bible so that it consistently speaks of the creation-given subordination of women and its counterpart, ‘the headship’ of men, in a way acceptable to the modern ear .” (1) He approaches this argument by placing himself in an exclusive conversation with one book, God's Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey by Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger (Crossway, 2014). Giles cites his reason for using this book as being "because they give the most informed and best-argued presentation of the complementarian case as it stood in 2014 when they wrote" (2). Throughout the book, the author outlines the areas where he and the Kostenbergers agree and disagree, careful not only to refute their claims but also to showcase areas of agreement.

The author’s thesis is that "today, we Christians live in a world where the substantial equality of the sexes is accepted and affirmed" (168). The entire book focuses on the fact that God's original plan for women does not include their perpetual subordination to men. Giles establishes his point by delving into the theological understandings and differences between egalitarian and complementarian Christians, of which he is the former.

The author establishes that first, subordination was not God's original intent for women. In order to establish the fact that “there is no middle ground between believing that men and women are substantially and essentially equal in dignity, status, and leadership potential…”(5), Giles contends that the God-mandated subordination claim laid out in Genesis 1–3 given by complementarians is misleading and false. Rather, Christians should see God's plan for women as equal to men in these opening scriptures of Genesis. Most theologians reject the practice of using one scriptural text to build an argument and opt instead to incorporate the Bible as a whole. "They are agreed that the primary rule in appealing to Scripture to establish doctrinal norms is that the mind of God is revealed in the whole of Scripture" (131). Thus, the practice of building an argument on a few scriptures to justify an ideal instead of looking into the entire scope of the biblical text is dangerous and misleading. This is exactly what complementarians do with several biblical scriptures, including Paul’s writings, according to Giles. Paul did not, however, advocate for this subordination, and we should study his countercultural and careful approach to this topic and situate his writings in the context of the 1st century to understand Paul’s true position concerning women.

In the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as engaging in countercultural treatment of women. For example, Giles asserts that "what Jesus did was subvert the prevailing view of women held by Jewish leaders of his day" (77)[JM1]. Some NT scholars have widely criticized this idea, and it is not a new argument supporting women's equality. Still, Giles cites Jesus' seemingly counter-cultural interaction with women, among many other key points and illustrations, supporting women's equality.   

Further, he writes: "we should not set Jesus and Paul in conflict, but if we find tensions between Jesus and Paul, we should read Paul in the light of what Jesus said" (76). This mindful approach should lead to women's equitable treatment since, according to scripture, Jesus' ministry uplifted women.

Another concerning point is that the subordination of women often leads to their abuse, in both third worlds and developed countries (208). In other words, teaching that men are the rulers or headship teaching, creates an environment for abuse towards women to go unchecked since, headship can often be convoluted to mean unquestioned. In 2017, the complementarian denial of abuse ended when the #metoo and #churchtoo movements took society by storm (209). To be clear, the author clarifies that "headship teaching does not make Christian men abusive of their wives, let alone violent; the problem is that it encourages and legitimizes abuse and violence in needy, controlling men who are found in all churches and among all clergy." (211)

Additionally, the modern argument for women's continued subordination can be equated to the slavery and apartheid arguments of the past. Giles asserts that "the closets parallels, however, to the contemporary change in thinking on what the Bible teaches on women are seen in the slavery and apartheid debates" (43). Both evangelical Christians of the 19th century and the South African Dutch Christians of the 20th century thought they were correct concerning Africans' subordination in America and South Africa. However, both groups were wrong. Further, the biblical argument for holding slaves is misguided and built on a few passages of scripture for justification. The author goes on to argue that the problem is that humans resist giving up power, and "this fact is illustrated in the conflict over slavery and apartheid" (224). He summarizes the justification of these heinous acts as "white Christian men, quoting the Bible in support, bitterly opposed relinquishing their power"(224). It is with these critical facts that Giles calls for the full examination and application of the Bible to know God's roles and purposes concerning women. 

According to Giles, complementarians resist releasing their position for two crucial reasons: First, "they recognize it to be a call to men to give up power, and as such, it is resisted vehemently" (224). Furthermore, although never acknowledged and harder to detect, complementarians live in a world that affirms this worldview. To go against this view would cost them their acceptance (225). According to Giles, "the Bible makes the substantial or essential equality of the sexes the God-given ideal" (168). As a modern-day Christian, I agree that we should honor God's intended purpose for women by adhering to this “God given ideal.” The author does a thorough job of outlining and proving the need for complementarians to reconsider their position on women’s continued subordination in the 21st century.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kimberly L. Carter is a doctoral student in the women’s spirituality & philosophy program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Date of Review: 
March 30, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kevin Giles is an Australian Anglican minister who was in parish ministry for over forty years. He is the author of, The Trinity and Subordinationism (2002); Jesus and the Father (2006), and, The Eternal Generation of the Son (2012).


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