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Male/Female Equality: A Plea for Honesty

Tonight I was perusing Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.? Its a 500+ page volume, and my copy is personally signed by Wayne, To Ruth, with appreciation for your friendship.

I have debated the issues of biblical equality with Wayne and many others for most of two decades. Its often a matter of going at each other with our swords our biblical proof-texts.? That is not my purpose here.

Here I am focusing on the words equal and equality. In the Preface of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper writes:

We hope that thousands of Christian women who read this book. . . will feel fully equal to men in status before God, and in importance to the family and the church.? We pray that, at the same time, this vision of equality and complementarity will enable Christian women to give wholehearted affirmation to Biblically balanced male leadership in the home and in the church.

Similarly, we desire that every Christian man who reads this book will come away feeling in his heart that women are indeed fully equal to men in personhood, in importance, and in status before God. . . . (p. xiv)

That women are equal in dignity and personhood is, in a nutshell, what is called the Complementarian view of women a position held by many Evangelicals who restrict women in roles in the church and home. Women may not be ordained ministers or elders or teach men, and they must defer to their husbands if they are married.

The opposing view is referred to as the Egalitarian position, which is most clearly enunciated by CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality). I quote the following from the CBE website:

What is biblical equality It is the belief that all people are equal before God and in Christ. All have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God. God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race. We believe this because the Bible and Jesus Christ teach it to us. That is biblical equality.

That statement is straightforward. There is no discrimination regarding class, gender, or race. The use of the term equality is easily understood?that of equal opportunity.? It is a standard definition that is universally accepted in everyday life.

As a member of CBE, I hold an egalitarian position, but as stated above, I’m not seeking to defend that side on this post whether or not the husband is the head of the home or whether or not women can be ordained for ministry. There are many web sites that focus specifically on that debate.

My topic here is the definition of the word equality and how that word is used by those who call themselves Complementarians.

To argue that women are fully equal to men in status before God, and in importance to the family and the church, as Piper does, is to hijack a perfectly straightforward term and infuse it with its opposite meaning.

Equality by no definition means sameness. Equality, for example, does not mean equal intelligence or equal strength or equal appearance. The common usage understood in western culture is equality of opportunity. Thus, a man in a wheelchair and a woman track star have equal opportunity to seek a university coaching position. An African-American janitor and an Anglo-American corporate CEO have equal opportunity to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

To tell a black man that he is fully equal to a white man before God and in importance in the church but he cannot serve as an elder simply doesn’t wash. The word is not equality, rather discrimination or inequality. I have heard many times the Complementarian differentiation between race and gender on this topic and that?s not what this post is about. It is about using the term equality. Why must Complementarians bow to political correctness Yes, of course it would be politically incorrect to say that they do not affirm the equality of women. But that would be truthful. If you’re a Complementarian, I am pleading for honesty. Stand up like a man, and say it: The Bible does not teach that men and women are equal.

12 Responses to “Male/Female Equality: A Plea for Honesty”

  1. Ruth, I had never heard of CBE, but based on what you have written above, I would say I agree with their Egalitarian position. I believe that is how Jesus views women and all people.

    In Paul’s letters, he often sends greetings to some women of the church who appear to be leaders. How I wish I knew more about those women! I also wish we knew more about the various Marys in the New Testament: Jesus’ mother, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magdala, and also Jesus’ sister or sisters. What were their lives like? What learning were they afforded? I even think there had to be at least one woman involved in the writing of some part of the Gospels. For us to be left with the tender way in which Jesus treated women causes me to believes that a woman’s touch was involved with the recording of those happenings. Surely I could be wrong, but it does no harm that I know of for me to believe this.

    I do not agree with everything that I read at this site. I am more of an “inclusivist” I think Michael called it. In fact, various folks may wish to “take me to task” on the VERY inclusivist positions taken at http://explorefaith.org/ but I find myself resonating with the teachings there. But I still enjoy reading the things posted at this blog and I appreciate the scholarship involved by the teachers at this site. Thank you for tolerating my slightly “non-conforming” stance among this group.

    Peace to you all.

    Joanie

  2. Ruth,

    That’s an interesting argument. But what a distinction in roles? It appears your argument is too simplistic.

    I’m wondering how you deal with the submission of the Son to the Father. 1 Cor 15:24-28 is quite explicit:

    “24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God[a] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”(ESV)

    Does this then mean that the Son is not equal to the Father? Your definition of equality seems to demand that the Son cannot therefore be equal to the Father.

    It appears the other side could well say …. “If you’re a Egalitarian, Stand up like a man, and say it: The Bible does not teach that Son and Father are equal.”

    peace,

    Bob

  3. I’ve been reading this blog for a while and finally registered, just so I could post a comment and say thank you, Ruth, for this post. :)

  4. Hello Bob,

    You raise a very good point relating to submission and equality–especially as it relates to God the Father and God the Son. Terms like submission and authority are often wrongly brought into the debate on equality when they have nothing to do with the issue. For example, a speeder must submit to a traffic officer in authority; he must pull off the road and show her his license. That in no way impinges on his equality with her. Likewise, a father submits to his daughter who is the guide on the narrow mountain pass. A defendant who shouts out in the courtroom does well to submit to the judge’s warning whatever the race or gender or age of the judge is. Equality has nothing to do with these cases.

    A related issue is that of time-restricted limitations on equality of opportunity. A fifteen-year-old boy is fully equal with his older sister but he does not have equality of opportunity (at his age) to drive a car or vote.

    Your response focusing on the Father-Son relationship could lead to a discussion of the father-child relationship in human affairs. I believe Bill Gothard teaches that a child must throughout life be in submission to his parents. I do not agree with that argument, and I think it is tangential to this discussion.

    I hope this is helpful.

  5. Thank you for your response, Ruth.

    Your original post argues that if one cannot ever hold the same position as another – then the two cannot be equal.

    I argue that the verse in 1 Cor 15:24-28 is certainly pertinent here as it quite clearly indicates the Father holds a position of authority the Son cannot. This understanding also explains the puzzling statement of Jesus in 1 John 14:28: “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

    Jesus gave clear evidence of his subordination to the Father when He said in Luke 22:42, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” and in John 5:30, “”I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

    So it seems quite clear from Scripture that the Father holds a position of authority that the Son can never hold. The Son’s authority is based on and originates from the authority of the Father.

    I argue there are only two possible conclusions with respect to your definition of equality:

    (1) the Son and the Father cannot be equal

    (2) your definition and understanding of the concept of equality is faulty

    I choose option 2.

    peace,

    Bob

  6. Ruth, I was reading the pages at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christians_for_Biblical_Equality
    and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Egalitarianism
    and it is difficult to see why anyone would disagree with the statements about egalitarianism you talk about.

    I like this scripture passage: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) That says a lot, doesn’t it!

    Are there any books you would recommend for reading in this area? What about this one:
    http://www.equalitydepot.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=187
    Good News for Women

    Or this one:
    http://www.equalitydepot.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=36
    All The Women of the Bible

    Thanks!

    (Michael, Ruth, and Richard…let’s hope THIS note gets posted. To those that don’t know, this is the third time I am trying to get this note posted. We don’t know what happened to the other two.)

  7. Ruth-

    Thanks for this post. I am a new TTP student and one of the things I have shared in the forum is that I struggle with this issue greatly.

    As one relatively new to Bible study, I have a hard time getting past Scripture like Bob shares above. Yet, at the same time, I have a hard time believing that men and women are not entirely equal before God. The problem for me is that although I feel that way – I have a hard time supporting it Biblically (not necessarily because it’s not Biblical – but because I have not adequately studied the issue in order to come to any real conclusion).

    I appreciate your perspective and your irenic spirit – and will utilize the resources you have shared to help me become more familiar with the argument on the whole.

    Blessings,
    Scott

  8. Hello again Bob,

    You say: “Your original post argues that if one cannot ever hold the same position as another – then the two cannot be equal.”

    I’m not sure that I said that or if I did that I meant it in all cases. Let me try to respond the best I can, and say to all who might read this that I submit posts primarily to raise issues–issues that I’m struggling with myself.

    You, Bob, can never hold a position that I hold—that of mother and grandmother. Yet, I believe you are equal with me. There are physical and mental and emotional impairments as well that might restrict an individual from holding a position.

    To introduce the matter of the equality of the Father and the Son is a theological matter that has been gone over a lot in recent years, and it’s not something I want to get into. For one thing, I’m not a theologian. I will say, however, that some well-known theologians have been challenged as to their orthodoxy for suggesting that in some way the Son is not fully equal to the Father. But I’ll let others hash that out.

    My original point was not focused on theology but rather terminology. The issue is: are women equal by the standard usage of the term equal. If no woman living in the USA could vote or hold political office (as was true generations ago), it would be generally agreed on, by our understanding of equality, that women in the USA do not have equality with men. If women were permitted to be employees at McDonalds but were barred from being managers, that would not be regarded equality. So also the church. Go ahead and argue that the Bible does not permit women to be ordained ministers, but just don’t call it equality. Again, I’m talking about human beings (not God) in North American Today. To bring in theological matters of the Trinity is making this issue far more complex that it actually is. You know and I know that those who claim to fully understand the Trinity are deceiving themselves.

    I hope this helps to bring the debate back on track.

    Ruth

  9. Joan,

    You asked about good books on matters of biblical equality. This
    will sound shamelessly self-serving, but let me suggest my own book:
    “Women in the Maze: Questions and Answers on Biblical Equality.” It was published more than a decade ago, but it’s as up-to-date today as it was when I wrote it.. You can purchase it through Amazon on this site.

    Ruth

  10. Thanks, Ruth. That sounds good.

    Joanie

  11. Dr. Tucker-

    Thank you getting the discussion back on track. I think for the purposes of your topic discussing the equality of the Father & Son is a bit like discussing which came first the chicken or the egg. (Pause) The answer is KFC, but that’s for another day.

    Here’s the issue that I have with the objection. Ok, there’s a couple. First, the tricky part of Piper’s statement doesn’t appear to be “fully equal to men in status before God”. That seems pretty cool I think. Rather, the idea of “wholehearted affirmation to Biblically balanced male leadership in the home and the church,” is where the objection comes from. In our egalitarian society, the notion that someone does not have the same opportunities as another goes against the principles of our social-democratic founding fathers. *BRIEF ASIDE-I am not even going to attempt to throw my hat into the ring regarding women as leaders in the church. You made it clear that that is not your point in the post and I absolutely respect that. Thank you*

    So why do the authors make the distinction? It becomes an issue of how we view the world. Romans 8:20 says,”For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope…” Romans 1:18-32 goes to great lengths to show that God’s wrath is revealed, not through calamity, but by merely giving people over to whatever desire they put above God. As I pondered your blog I looked to Genesis to see what God said to Eve after the fall. He says, “…Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” It is not a royal proclamation of punishment. It is a statement of condition. It lists no specific criteria of what that rule should look like. It is a consequence of disobedience.

    So, as a believer, what does all of this mean to me? Joanie quoted Galatians and I believe that to be a true statement. I also believe that I am a new creature in Christ. I’m told that I’m free…justified. And yet, how is it that my EXPERIENCE tells me I am not free from “the body of this death”? Why am I not instantly healed of my sin nature and made Christ-like when the Holy Spirit indwells me? Because I am still subject to the futility of this world. We can sign 100,000 documents affirming the equality of women but we still see hateful individuals (christian and non-christian men alike) commiting acts of violence and ignorance against women. My mother just told me about a couple she knows that refuse to go to a church in their neighborhood because the elders told their daughter she wasn’t submitting properly to her husband. If she submitted properly her husband wouldn’t have to subject her to daily, severe physical abuse. I’m sure being told that she is “fully equal in the sight of God” is cold comfort to a woman who gets beat up on a daily basis. Piper and Grudem make the distinction because women will never be treated equally in this life, in this fallen world. Is it right? That question leads to the fairness of God and is not the point of this post.

    I hope all is well with you. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. All the best.

    B.A. Hill

  12. Sound doctrine….sound comes from a Greek word meaning true AND healthy. If a particular interpretation has unhealthy results, than more than likely, that particular interpretation can be considered as false doctrine. If a statement is not true, in that it does not line up with Scripture, then it is false doctrine.

    Traditional interpretations of Paul’s statements have been used against women for too long.
    Misrepresenting the Apostle Paul as being against women isn’t right either.

    Paul was confronting the false teaching coming from Greek pagan women. His statements do not apply to all women for all time. Since Priscilla was sound in the faith, he never told Priscilla to keep silence in the church.

    Catherine Clark Kroeger holds a high view of Scripture. Her scholarship has been very helpful to me as a Christian woman stuggling to overcome my own fundamentalist background.
    I highly recommend her writing for anyone else who seeks more clarification concerning the role of women in Christian churches of today.

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