Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality

Egalitarianism, within Christianity, is a movement based on the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society. It is sometimes referred to as biblical equality. Egalitarians understand the Bible as teaching the fundamental equality of women and men of all racial and ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. It should not be confused with secular political, economic, social egalitarianism.

Among evangelicals, particularly in the last few decades, two rather different paradigms concerning roles of men and women presented in Scripture have emerged.

  • One is Complementarianism which holds the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church.
  • The other view is Christian Egalitarianism which is presented in this article.

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Etymology

The term Egalitarian is derived from the French word égal, meaning "equal." Thus, it involves affirming, promoting, or believing in equal rights for all people. It is the hermeneutical hypothesis, based on interpretations of scripture, that men and women are designed by their Creator to have no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society. The egalitarian view is that there are no roles or responsibilities that uniquely fall to the male, no limitations of what functions the female can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society. According to this view, women as well as men can serve as pastors, elders, deacons, etc., in light of passages like Galatians 3:28.

The Egalitarian position

Egalitarians' interpretation of Scripture brings them to the conclusion that the manner and teachings of Jesus, affirmed by the Apostle Paul, abolished gender-specific roles in both the church and in marriage. Accordingly, this view teaches that God calls believers to roles and ministries in the church without regard to class, gender, or race,^[1]^ and all have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God, with no limitations or privileges according to gender. They conclude that male headship is not biblically-ordained either in the home or in the Church.

The Egalitarian position is usually characterized by:

  • Belief that the Bible teaches the full equality of men and women in Creation and in Redemption (Gen 1:26-28, 2:23, 5:1-2; 1 Cor 11:11-12; Gal 3:13, 28, 5:1). Both man and woman were created in God’s image, had a direct relationship with God, and shared jointly the responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order (Gen 1:26-28).
  • Belief that both woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer) used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18 refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g,. 1 Sam 7:12; Ps 121:1-2). Consequently, the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.
  • Belief that man and woman were co-participants in the Fall: Adam was no less culpable than Eve (Gen 3:6; Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:21-22).
  • Belief that husbands and wives are joint heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility (1 Cor 7:3-5; Eph 5:21; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Gen 21:12).
  • Belief that both mothers and fathers are to exercise leadership in the nurture, training, discipline and teaching of their children (Ex 20:12; Lev 19:3; Deut 6:6-9, 21:18-21, 27:16; Prov 1:8, 6:20; Eph 6:1-4; Col 3:20; 2 Tim 1:5; see also Luke 2:51).

According to Complementarian authors Piper and Grudem, the vast majority of evangelicals have not endorsed the evangelical Egalitarian position, "sensing that it does not really reflect the pattern of Biblical truth." Yet, they write that "most Christians will admit that selfishness, irresponsibility, passivity, and abuse have often contaminated 'traditional' patterns of how men and women relate to each other."^[2]^

While far from agreeing with Egalitarian positions, Piper and Grudem affirm the evangelical Christian commitment of the leading Egalitarian authors:

Christian egalitarian authors differ from secular feminists because they do not reject the Bible’s authority or truthfulness. They base their conclusions about egalitarianism using careful, but sometimes different, exegesis of the Bible. They may be called “evangelical feminists” because by personal commitment to Jesus Christ and by profession of belief in the total truthfulness of Scripture they still identify themselves very clearly with evangelicalism. Their arguments have been detailed, earnest, and persuasive to many Christians. {{#if:John Piper and Wayne Grudem^[2]^| – John Piper and Wayne Grudem^[2]^{{#if:|, {{{3}}}}}{{#if:|, {{{4}}}}}

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Egalitarians teach that roles in the church and home are to be gift-based rather than gender-based. They advocate for mutual submission within marriage as well as the ordination of women as pastors, elders, and other authoritative teaching positions within the body of Christ. Egalitarians deny that any differences related to gender call for strictly prescribed roles. They argue that such distinctions are best utilized by including both women and men at all levels of ministry leadership.

Roles in marriage

Christian Egalitarians believe that full partnership in an equal marriage is the most biblical view. As persons, husband and wife are of equal value. There is no priority of one spouse over the other. In truth, they are one.^[3]^ Bible scholar Frank Stagg and Classicist Evelyn Stagg write that husband-wife equality produces the most intimate, wholesome and mutually fulfilling marriages. They conclude that the Apostle Paul's statement sometimes called the "Magna Carta of Humanity"^[4]^ and recorded in Galatians 3:28 applies to all Christian relationships, including Christian marriage: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus."^[5]^

Christian egalitarian theologians also find it significant that the "two becoming one" concept, first cited in Gen. 2:24, was quoted by Jesus in his teachings on marriage (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:7-9). In those passages he reemphasized the concept by adding to the Genesis passage these words: "So, they are no longer two, but one" (NIV). The Apostle Paul cited the Genesis 2:24 passage in Eph. 5:30-32.^[3]^

Roles in the Church

Egalitarians advocate ability-based, rather than gender-based, ministry of Christians of all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic classes.^[6]^ Egalitarians support the ordination of women, and are more conservative both theologically and morally than Christian feminists.

David Scholer, prominent New Testament scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary, affirms this view. He believes that Galatians 3:28 is “the fundamental Pauline theological basis for the inclusion of women and men as equal and mutual partners in all of the ministries of the church.”^[7]^ Galatians 3:28 represents "the summation of Paul's theological vision," according to Pamela Eisenbaum, professor at Iliff School of Theology, who is one of four Jewish New Testament scholars teaching in Christian theological schools.^[8]^^[9]^

Opposing view

The opposing view is Complementarianism, a theological view held by some Christians that differing, often non-overlapping roles between men and women are biblically required?in marriage, church leadership, and elsewhere. The Roman Catholic Church has formally opposed radical egalitarianism and has stated that the differences between men and women are not merely phenomenal, but are in fact ontological in nature.^[10]^

Biblical foundations

Christian Egalitarians' interpretation of scriptures and spiritual convictions bring them to the conclusion that the manner and teaching of Jesus abolished discrimination against racial minorities, slaves, and women, in both the church and marriage. They believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of believers of all racial and ethnic groups and all economic classes.^[11]^ They consider overarching principles of the Bible to be that men and women are equally created in God's image; equally responsible for sin; equally redeemed by Christ, and equally gifted by God's Spirit for service; and equally held responsible for using their God-given gifts.^[12]^

A scripture passage they consider key to the advocacy of full equality of responsibility and authority for both women and men is contained in a Pauline polemic containing three antitheses:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. {{#if:Galatians 3:28| – Galatians 3:28{{#if:|, {{{3}}}}}{{#if:|, {{{4}}}}}

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Ultimately, Christian egalitarianism holds that all people are equal in fundamental worth and moral status. A significant source of this trend of thought is the Christian notion that humankind were created in the living image of God (Imago Dei). This position has been articulated by several evangelical and reformed leaders in statement entitled "Men, Women and Biblical Equality."^[13]^ Their understanding of there being no biblical basis for gender-based roles or authority structure in marriage and in ministry is based on their interpretation of scriptures such as Gen 1:26-28, 2:18, 20, 2:21-23, 3:6, 5:1-2, 21:12; Matt 20:25-28, 23:8; Mark 10:42-45; John 1:12-13, 13:13-17; Acts 1:14, 2:1-21, 18:26, 21:9; Rom 5:12-21, 8:14-17, 16:1-7, 12-13, 15; Phil 4:2-3; Col 4:15; 1 Cor 11:2-16, 12:7, 11, 14:31, 15:21-22; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 3:13, 26-28, 5:1, 13; 1 Peter 2:9-10, 4:10-11, 5:2-3, 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:9-15; Rev 1:6, 5:10.

Jesus did not conform to a mentality unfavorable to women, but reacted against inequalities based on sexual differences. By calling women to follow him he showed that he went beyond the customs and outlook of his environment.^[3]^ Illustrative of efforts to institutionalize this notion are these excerpts from the organizational Statement of Faith of Christians for Biblical Equality, a major Christian Egalitarian organization:

  • We believe in the equality and essential dignity of men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and classes. We recognize that all persons are made in the image of God and are to reflect that image in the community of believers, in the home, and in society.
  • We believe that men and women are to diligently develop and use their God-given gifts for the good of the home, church and society.

{{#if:Christians for Biblical Equality^[14]^| – Christians for Biblical Equality^[14]^{{#if:|, {{{3}}}}}{{#if:|, {{{4}}}}}

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Egalitarians find support for their convictions throughout the Bible with regard to the doctrine of grace. For instance, the Psalms are seen as a good example of use of the concept of grace in the Hebrew Bible. The psalmist, traditionally seen to be King David, calls out to God to intercede in both his personal affairs and with the concerns of the nation. Other Hebrew concepts used to describe the grace of God include a group of words whose basic element is hen or hanam, which means the spontaneous gift of affection; and raham, which implies mercy and compassion, including the merciful restoration of a broken relationship. In the NT, most of Jesus' parables provide examples of grace in the sense of undeserved or unmerited favor or reward. A prime example is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Another is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:15-16).

In both the Tanakh and New Testament, repeated reference is made to the doctrine. Some scholars argue that the system of laws used in Ancient Israel outlined a basis for human rights that was egalitarian at its core: "Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike…" (Deut. 1:17), discussing the economy of grace by which God deals with his subjects. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter, in a post-resurrection appearance says, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism…" (Acts 10:34).

A straightforward reading of Matthew 20:25–26a, Mark 10:42, and Luke 22:25 suggests that Jesus even forbids any hierarchy in Christian relationships: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you!" While "lord it over" implies abusive leadership, his words "exercise authority" have no connotation of abuse of authority.^[15]^

  • Joel 2:28-29
  • Judges 4:4
  • Romans 16:7, TNIV

Gender equality

Gender equality refers to the biblically-based belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home. Egalitarianism affirms that God designed men and women to complement and benefit one another. It does not imply that women and men are identical or undifferentiated.^[16]^

Hermeneutic

Conservative theologian Roger Nicole, a Baptist considered an expert in Calvinism and regarded as one of the preeminent theologians in America, is a Christian Egalitarian and also a Biblical Inerrantist. He recognizes that biblical egalitarianism is still viewed by many as inconsistent with biblical inerrancy, although he disagrees. He writes that "the matter of the place of women in the home, in society, and in the church is not an issue that can be conclusively determined by a few apparently restrictive passages that are often advanced by those who think that subordination represents God’s will for women."^[17]^

I believe that most, if not all, of the restrictions on women in society have no basis in Scripture, and that those maintained in the Church are based on an inadequate interpretation of a few restrictive passages, which put them in contradiction with the manifest special concern and love of God for women articulated from Genesis to Revelation. {{#if:Roger Nicole, 2006| – Roger Nicole, 2006{{#if:|, {{{3}}}}}{{#if:|, {{{4}}}}}

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History

Egalitarians believe that their roots go back to ancient Israel and the earliest Christianity, pointing to biblical examples of women leading God's people as prophets,^[18]^ apostles,^[19]^ deacons,^[20]^ and house church leaders.^[21]^ They also cite extrabiblical documents and inscriptions from ancient Israel and the early church which named women as elders, priests, bishops, ministers, deacons^[22]^ and prophets.^[23]^ They argue that women were prominent as leaders in the early Christian church while it was a private, underground movement heavily dependent on house church hospitality, but when the church became a public, visible religion in the third and fourth centuries, it imposed on itself the gender roles favored by the predominant society and women's access to leadership subsequently died out.^[24]^

While the whole of Christian history contains sporadic examples of unusually prominent women in the church,^[25]^ most Christians did not begin to seriously consider the question of equality or the ordination of women until the Society of Friends (Quakers) in the early 1800s.^[26]^ Arguably every decade since the 1860s has seen a new denomination accept the ordination of women as pastors and elders.^[24]^

Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) takes a generally conservative stance on social issues and a firm stance against the ordination of homosexuals. It publishes two quarterly periodicals, a magazine known as Mutuality and the scholarly journal Priscilla Papers.

Criticism

From the distinction between roles and equality

Critics argue that egalitarians fail to draw a distinction between equality and the role of individuals. For instance, men and women are not unequal because they are called to different roles. Women are not superior to men because they are called to the role of bearing children. Likewise, men are not superior to women because they are called to the role of church leadership. Difference in roles does not imply difference in equality.

From the Trinity

Some feel that one's position on egalitarianism affects one's position on subordination within the Trinity. In other words, Jesus is the eternal Son and always does that which is pleasing to the Father (John 8:29), yet his (subordinate) role as the Son does not imply inequality. This relationship of equality with different roles fits the Complementarian view.

See also: 1 Corinthians 11:3

Some prominent Egalitarians

  • Belleville, Linda Author of Women Leaders and the Church (2000)
  • Bilezikian, Gilbert Author of Beyond Sex Roles (1985)
  • Christians for Biblical Equality
  • Evans, Mary J. Author of Woman in the Bible (1984) and co-editor of The IVP Women's Bible Commentary (2002)
  • Fee, Gordon. Contributing editor to Discovering Biblical Equality (2004)
  • Grenz, Stanley. Author of Women in the Church (1995)
  • Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill. Co-editor of Discovering Biblical Equality (2004); Author of Good News for Women (1996) and Women Caught in the Conflict (1997)
  • Hagin, Kenneth E. Author of The Woman Question (1967)
  • Huddleston, Trevor
  • Jewett, Paul King. Author of Man as Male and Female (1975) and The Ordination of Women (1980)
  • Keener, Craig S. Author of Paul, Women and Wives (1992)
  • Kroeger, Catherine Clark . Co-founder of CBE; co-editor of The IVP Women's Bible Commentary (2002); co-Author of Women, Abuse and the Bible (1996), I suffer not a Woman (1998)
  • Nicole, Roger. Emeritus Professor of Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida.
  • Pierce, Ronald W. Co-editor of Discovering Biblical Equality (2004)
  • Spencer, Aida Besançon. Author of Beyond the Curse—Women called to ministry (1985)
  • Tucker, Ruth A. Co-Author of Daughters of the Church (1987)
  • Webb, William J. Author of Slaves, Women and Homosexuals (2001)

Endnotes

  1. Padgett, Alan G. "What Is Biblical Equality?" Priscilla Papers, Summer 2002: 16:3 Padgett is professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN
  2. ↑ ^2.0^ ^2.1^ John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Crossway, 1991. ISBN 0-89107-586-0 Web: 22 Nov 2009
  3. ↑ ^3.0^ ^3.1^ ^3.2^ Stagg, Evelyn and Frank. Woman in the World of Jesus. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978. ISBN 0-664-24195-6
  4. Jewett, Paul K. Man As Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View. Eerdmans, 1990, p. 142. ISBN 978-0802815972
  5. See for example Christians for Biblical Equality
  6. http://www.cbeinternational.org Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE)
  7. Scholer, David M. “Galatians 3:28 and the Ministry of Women in the Church,” Theology, News and Notes. Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1998
  8. Eisenbaum, Pamela. "Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?" Cross Currents, Association for Religious and Intellectual Life. Winter 2000-2001, 50:4
  9. Iliff School of Theology http://www.iliff.edu/academics/faculty/profiles/peisenbaum/index.php
  10. National Catholic Reporter
  11. http://www.spiritrestoration.org/Church/ministry-profile-christians-for-biblical-equality.htm Christians for Biblical Equality
  12. <www.apologeticsindex.org/c114.html>. Apologetics Index.
  13. [www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/men-women-and-biblical-equality] Men, Women and Biblical Equality
  14.  
  15. Marsh, Clive, Steve Moyise. Jesus and the Gospels. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006. ISBN 0567040739
  16. Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill. "The Bible and Gender Equality." [www.cbeinternational.org Christians for Biblical Equality Web site]
  17. Nicole, Roger. "Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture." Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 2. Spring 2006
  18. Exodus 15:20 cf. Micah 6:4; Judges 4:4ff; 2 Kings 22:14-20; Luke 2:36-38
  19. Romans 16:7
  20. Romans 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:11
  21. Romans 16:3-5; 1 Co. 1:11; Col. 4:15; 2 John 1:13
  22. Karen Jo Torjesen, When Women Were Priests (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 9-10, 20.
  23. Linda L. Belleville, “Women Leaders in the Bible,” in Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Gordon D. Fee (eds.), Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 112.
  24. ↑ ^24.0^ ^24.1^ Torjesen, WWWP, 5-7.
  25. Ruth A. Tucker, “The Changing Roles of Women in Ministry: The Early Church Through the 18th Century,” in DBE, 23-38.
  26. Bruce A. Robinson, “Religious sexism: when faith groups started and stopped ordaining women,” Religious Tolerance, 24 October 2009, http://www.religioustolerance.org/femclrg13.htm.

See also

Resources

Favorable to egalitarianism

Neutral to egalitarianism

Critical of egalitarianism

External links

Favorable to egalitarianism

Neutral to egalitarianism

Critical of egalitarianism