Last month I was given the opportunity to take a course in Christian Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary under the direction of Dr. David Nelson. One of the course requirements was to complete a research paper on an area of interest within the field of the course. I chose a topic from a suggested list in the syllabus: Sex-Roles and the Plan of God. I wanted to explore the heated discussion of egalitarianism and complementarianism with a specific look at how this conversation applies to a women’s ministry within the home. Though a brief sketch in this debate, I urge women to journey with me this week through the paper. There are numerous practical implications for both sides of the debate.

I choose to write this paper primarily to become a better mother and wife. This topic plays out as much in theology as it does in the home. If you are not familiar with the terms complementarianism and egalitarianism- that is ok, it will be explained! Even if this paper is a little technical, it is just as applicable to a stay at home mom, or any other woman. Please take this opportunity to become a student of the Scriptures and learn more about what God has instructed for us in His word.

Please, feel free to leave a comment with questions, encouragements, or critiques. Please remember to be loving and Christlike should a differences of opinion occur in the comments.

Yesterday, we discussed, Part I. An introduction and overview of Egalitarianism.

Now presenting, Part II:

Numerous implications for marriage, family, and the church are deduced from the biblical overview espoused in the egalitarian position. The primary conclusion from this outlook of equality allows men and women to obtain any role in the home and church regardless of gender, only limited by their gifts, abilities, and preferences.[1] Egalitarians address the marital implications by referencing various New Testament passages. One example would be using Ephesians 5:21 to interpret that there should be a mutual submission in the husband and wife relationship. Thus, the husband is not gifted with any exclusive role of leadership that would not also be obtainable by the wife. In Ephesians 5:22-23 egalitarians argue that the Greek word, kephale,  usually translated to mean “head” or “person in authority” should instead be defined with the word “source” or “preeminent one” likewise dissembling any headship to husbands. One egalitarian, Nancy A. Hardesty, affirms the error of translating kephale as head. She states, “…to say that the Bible teaches that the husband is the head of the house (a common misreading of this passage) and that he is the leader, ordained by God to make all decisions for the family, is totally anachronistic, to say nothing of contrary to the rest of the New Testament teaching about how Christians are to behave with each other.”[2] Egalitarians argue that the context of the passage demonstrates Paul’s reasoning in commanding submission. In the New Testament context, a wife’s instruction towards submission[3] was for the propagation of the gospel and was appealing to unbelieving husbands in that culture. In today’s context, a wife’s submission would deter an unbelieving husband from salvation, which makes this command inactive. This re-translation of submission is also defended by citing Paul’s aim to avoid offending Roman officials in his context of writing. Grudem cites Egalitarian Craig Keener in his work, Paul, Women, and Wives, who clarifies their explanation by saying,

Paul, awaiting trial in Rome, would have been contemplating strategies to appeal to the powerbrokers in Rome whose decisions could set precedents for policies toward Christians elsewhere in the empire. His household codes may represent a long-range response to basic Roman cultural objections to the gospel. Stressing the wife’s submission would be important for evangelizing resistant elements in the Roman world and for resisting progressive cultural temptations for wives to affirm too much independence.[4]

Egalitarians reason that as we no longer live in a culture of Roman officials, likewise submission is no longer a necessary obligation.[5] The equality for women in marriage is also displayed within the roles of women in the church.

The egalitarian response to gender roles offers many results for female roles within the church.[6] In Romans 16:2, one woman, Phoebe, is identified as a leader[7] thus demonstrating a New Testament example of female leadership roles within the church. Romans 16:7 describes a female apostle named Junia. Egalitarians use conditional statements to form their conclusion: if a woman served in this high role of apostleship, then any women can obtain all other positions within the church.  1 Corinthians 11:5 affirms the prophecies and prayers of women. Likewise Egalitarians use this verse to affirm conditional reasoning: as women possess the ability to teach the Bible and so also can they be both pastors and elders. In a section entitled, The Redeemer and Gender Reconciliation, egalitarians demonstrate that Jesus redeemed the roles separated by gender. It states, “By contrast, Jesus insisted on monogamy and assigned the same rights and responsibilities to both husbands and wives.”[8] This female right transfers to positions within the church, allowing women to be both pastor and elder instead of submissive with a quiet spirit. Many egalitarians deny that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, a brief passage on female silence and submission, should be in the Bible, as it inserted later by a scribe.  This further affirms the liberty for women to serve in all roles of the church. A final result claims that Christians today carry the same weight of authority as leaders in the New Testament as those leaders did not have the full authority which rests in the completed canon.[9] If women have the Bible, the locus of authority, and ability to teach, then there is full liberty for them to do obtain this role of teacher/preacher. In summary, egalitarians’ biblical interpretation of gender roles enable women to acquire any role within the church as there is equality between sexes and examples of capable women who also held these roles within the New Testament. The examination of egalitarianism and its implications in the home and church now lead to the response of non-feminist Christians to this new wave of hermeneutic and theological scholarship.

Tomorrow will introduce an overview of complementarianism, Thanks for reading!


[1] Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 521. The thoughts and ideas of this paragraph will be taken from Grudem Chapter Six.

[2] Nancy A. Hardesty, Inclusive Language in the Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 86.

[3] See also 1 Peter 3:1.

[4] Grudem, 213.

[5] For an interesting egalitarian assessment of the family from a sociological scope, see Letha and John Scanzoni, Men and Women and Change: A Sociology of Marriage and Family (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co, 1976).

[6] The thoughts and ideas of this paragraph are taken from Grudem, Chapter 7.

[7] Though the Greek word protastis is commonly translated as “helper”, many egalitarians disagree with this translation. For more information see Grudem, 221.

[8]Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, ed. After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1993), 9.

[9] Egalitarian, Gilbert Bilezikian clarifies further by writing:

The role a teacher (either male or female) in our day has significance entirely different from the ministry of teaching in apostolic times. Prior to the writing and the canonization of the books of the New Testament, teachers were the dispensers of Christian truth. Their authority was absolute and normative, provided that they were duly trained and authorized. With the formation of the New Testament canon, the locus of authority was displaced from the teacher to the teaching enscripturated in the New Testament. As a result, a current day teacher has no personal authority other that his or her competency. The authority rests in the text of the Bible and not in the person teaching the Bible. A teacher today is only a person sharing knowledge and insights from scripture. A sexless teaching machine may do as much without making any authority claims. (Grudem, 272-273)

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