Women in the Church: Part 8

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 8: Reading Scripture as an Egalitarian

Small-GroupIn future posts, I would like to start addressing how egalitarians read difficult passages of Scripture, including the parts of Scripture that seemingly place limitations on the full equality of women in the church and in the home (and, in particular, certain sections in Paul’s letters).

That’s where we’re headed in future weeks. But before that, I thought it would be helpful to include a summary statement of how I, as an egalitarian, understand the big-picture message of the Bible with respect to the equality of men and women. What follows are 10 points that offer a snapshot of this. These are not comprehensive arguments; that is not my intention here. Arguments for each of these points can be found in the books that I recommend in the final post of this series (click here for the link). This is just meant to be a quick summary of what I, as an egalitarian, understand to be the teaching of Scripture, interpreted in the light of tradition, reason, and experience of God.

  1. Genesis 1–2 teaches that men and women were created to be equal. Both were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–28) and were included in the vocational mandate given to all human beings to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over all that God has made. Genesis 2 teaches that the man is incomplete without the woman and cannot fulfill the divine command without an appropriate or ‘suitable’ counterpart. The word ‘suitable’ (Hebrew kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy. Thus, God created women as man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of being his counterpart and partner, not in the sense of being a subordinate (the term ‘helper’ used in Gen. 2:18 – Hebrew ezer – is not a term of subordination or inferiority; most of the time in the OT it refers to God who is Israel’s helper). The forming of the woman from the man’s side indicates the unity and equality God intended for all human beings, male and female.
  2. Genesis 3 teaches that men and women are co-participants in the Fall and that gender inequality is a result of sin, not part of God’s creative intent for men and women. The curse in Genesis 3 is descriptive (describing the result of sin) not prescriptive (prescribing God’s plan for men and women).
  3. Christian life is properly oriented to and directed by the new creation (inaugurated “in Christ” by the Spirit), not the fallen creation (“in Adam”). In the new creation, people are not subject to present confines. In Matt. 22:30, Jesus says that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” Though somewhat cryptic, this passage seems to indicate that present gender roles are, at least to some extent, temporary. We are on a trajectory moving toward gender equality, a full reversal of the Fall in this regard. Therefore, there is an eschatological qualification on present gender roles (many of the gender roles we presently embrace are provisional).
  4. Spirit gifting is the primary criterion for ministry and leadership in the NT church (see post 3). The Spirit is poured out on both men and women (Joel 2; Acts 2) and sovereignly gifts and calls both to serve in ministry and leadership capacities. All minister on the basis of their spiritual union with Christ, who alone is the High Priest and true minister. By the Spirit, both men and women participate in Christ’s ministry in ways that they have been individually gifted and called.
  5. We observe “redemptive movement” within Scripture concerning its treatment of women (see post 7). This redemptive movement accommodates an egalitarian perspective. It helps to create a convincing framework that integrates Scripture’s teaching on women in ministry and leadership and explains counter texts or anomalies sufficiently. Scripture has both egalitarian and patriarchal impulses; the egalitarian position integrates these more effectively into a coherent whole (see post 6).
  6. There are many examples of women serving in ministry and leadership in the Bible (see post 4 and post 5). Women were even instrumental in writing the Bible. Think about that for a second: yhey were not just preaching it, but were instrumental in its production! (E.g., Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 was the first Christian exposition of Scripture; God also revealed other parts of Scripture through inspired women, such as Exod. 15:21; Judges 5:2-31; 1 Sam. 2:1-10; 25:24-31; Luke 1:25).* The egalitarian position sits well with these examples, whereas strong forms of complementarianism fail to take their full significance into account.
  7. Jesus’s treatment of women was radically subversive of his culture’s patriarchy. Good examples include his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, his treatment of Mary (who sits at his feet as a disciple sits before a rabbi), and the prominence given to women in the gospel accounts (e.g., women are positively portrayed as accepting Jesus’ message and supporting him, rather than doubting him or expecting him to serve an alternate agenda as the disciples and Pharisees often do; women were the first witnesses of the resurrection; etc.).
  8. Paul’s treatment of women was radically subversive of his culture’s patriarchy. This is not obvious to the casual reader, but to one who reads his letters in context and knows about the ancient world it is quick shocking! More on this to come in future posts.
  9. With respect to husbands and wives, the NT teaches mutual submission out of reverence for and in common service to Christ (1 Cor. 7:3–5; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Gen. 21:12). Concerning the husband’s function as ‘head’, the husband is to offer himself to his wife in self-giving love and service within this relationship of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21–33; Coo. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7).
  10. The New Testament envisions and sets in motion radical social transformation with respect to gender roles (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5; Acts 2). This is not just about equality in the gospel or in salvation, but in how that gospel and salvation are lived out.

Note: Points 1, 2, and 9 draw on the CBE’s document “Men, Women, and Biblical Equality,” which is posted at: http://www.cbeinternational.org/sites/default/files/english_0.pdf

* See Philip B. Payne, “Examining Twelve Biblical Pillars of Male Hierarchy,” p. 5, published online by the CBE here.

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2 Responses to Women in the Church: Part 8

  1. e_janet_warren@yahoo.ca says:

    Patrick – I’ve appreciated this series of posts. One thing that has concerned me is the ‘egalitarian/complementarian’ terminology: first, these are not biblical terms; second, men and women can function in a complementary manner at times while still having their gifting affirmed equally (i.e. the terms are not necessarily mutually exclusive); third, who do we allow to set the agenda for the discussion? (i.e. we should not need to be ‘defensive.’) So – any suggestions for alternate ways to phrase the discussion?!

    • Hello Janet. Thanks for your important comment. Actually, I was just planning a post in which I could comment on clarifying terms . . . so you’ve anticipated that. For now, I’ll just say that I agree with you. Terminology is tricky. When I wrote an article for Priscilla Papers, they had me use the terms “patriarchal” or “hierarchical” when referring to the so-called complementarian position. In some ways, those terms are more accurate, but they carry their own baggage. I like the subtitle to the book Discovering Biblical Equality, which is Complementarity Without Hierarchy. I would actually even specify further: complementarity without arbitrary hierarchy. I’ll flesh this out in a future post. On your third question, I think the Spirit of God needs to set the agenda. I don’t mean this in a fluffy subjective sense. See my post #2.

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