Thursday, 26 November 2009

Out of the theological closet: I am (for want of a better word) Egalitarian.

"Jesus is lord" proclaims the new woman Vicar to the congregation. Immediately cries come from the congregation, "Heretic! A woman preaching to men, despicable." In this post we're going to do what I did: look at the few passages that even mention the concept of women preaching to, and having authority over men and see what they say. It is only women preaching to and having authority men mentioned as both sides agree that women can have authority over and preach to women and children (Titus 2:3-5; Prov 6:20). Obviously we haven't got space to do an in-depth study of each but rather shall be a few comments from which you can see how I came to this conclusion and hopefully from which you can go and look for yourself.

As per usual, disclaimers: Firstly, I obviously use this in the Christian sense. Secondly, Egalitarianism has certain connotations to it. Generally it is seen as being held by militant feminists who are convinced that they are as good as men. Strictly meaning it comes from the French, égal, meaning equal. It is the belief that we are all equal in God's sight and are all called to use our gifts to his service. Now I know that the majority of Complimentarians today would argue this to be true also: Men and women are indeed equal and both must use their gifts to the glory of God and respond to any true calling they have from God. They however would argue that women will not be called to minister to men. Thirdly, much thanks must go to Rev. Simon Woodman of South Wales Baptist College who taught me regularly at Cardiff University, who helped me via e-mail on this subject even after I graduated, and (before he does me for plagiarism, of which there is a lot) of who's essay, 'A Biblical Basis for Affirming Women in Ministry' I have borrow extensively from and based much of this post on. Thank you Very much Simon. So then, what position do I hold?

The sense I am using it in doesn't fit with either position really. What I mean by it is this: Women and men are equal in status and in the eyes of God, but that doesn't mean they are the same. I am not arguing for a Gnostic position of androgyny! I don't think that any Christian would argue that it is either what is true, nor what they would want; rather the Bible celebrates both men and women! I shall not get into what these roles are now however as it is rather complicated, as I'm sure you are all aware. What I am saying though is that there are no distinctions in Ministerial roles between the sexes. I.e. Women are allowed to teach and have authority over everyone, including men. It is also worth noting that I was a Complimentarian throughout most of my adult life, and only became 'Egalitarian' once I left university.

There are various places people go to defend their position, which often involves looking at Biblical female character and their calling, including Deborah (Judges 4:4-10) , Junia (Rom 16:7) and Prisca (Rom 16:3) among various others. These however tend to depend on ones views. For example, was Junia even a women and if so was she an Apostle, or just known to them? What we will do now instead then is look at the 3 passages which tend to be used as the major defence of the Complimentarian position: 1 Cor 11:2-16, 1 Cor 13: 33b-36 and 2 Tim 2: 8-15.

1 Cor 11:2-16
The key part to our debate here is verse 3, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."(All references from ESV.) If man is the head of woman, in the same way Christ is the head of man then surely women cannot have authority over men, right? I will be honest here and say that of the 3 passages that this is the only one of which I am unsure of, however evidence leads me to conclude that the interpretation mentioned above is incorrect. Those who have looked at this passage before are likely to come across the debate on whether 'kephale', head, is to be translated authority or source. I would argue that the traditional translation of authority is incorrect; however it is not as clear cut as some make out. One must then understand what Paul means by this analogy. We understand head to mean 'authority', however at the time it meant source. The head was the place where nourishment entered the body. See for example Eph 4:14-16 and Col 2: 19 where Paul uses headship in this way. It is also worth noting that it may also mean, 'the head of the wife is her husband', and is indeed what some translations go for. This would make some difference but is not enough to bother too much about here. What Paul is getting at here is the interdependence of everyone. This is back up later in Vs 11-12 when Paul states, 'Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.’ It is also worth being aware of the fact that the orthodox position is that the father and the son are co-equal, and not that Christ is subordinate. (See John 1:1-3; 10:30; 14:9, 11; 16:15; 17:11, 21.) In fact John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople AD 398-404) used the word ‘heretic’ to describe those who would seek to understand ‘head’ in terms of authority, preferring instead to see headship as denoting origin and source. (Kroeger, Head, 1993, 377.)

What I do think is thoroughly important is the passage comes immediately before relating to not abusing our freedom in Christ to damage one another. That’s right people, context! Take particular note of 1 Cor 10: 31- 11:1, 'So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ'. It seems to me then that women were causing issues in the Corinthian church by eating meat sacrificed to idol (with the men) and causing a social raucous by whether they covered their head or not, whether they ordained their hair and whether they listened to the men in the church. Perhaps they thought that as they have freedom in Christ they no longer had to listen to men, but Paul tells them otherwise, 'whatever you it for Gods glory'! I would argue therefore that this passage, found in the section about orderly worship incl. head coverings and not abusing your freedoms, is about forfeiting your freedom for the good of the church and the glory of God. This passage cannot therefore be used to argue for a Complimentarian position.

11 Cor 14:33b-36
Again we find that this passage sit in the context of Paul talking about orderly worship, but this time in relation to prophecy and tongues. It has been argued that this passage was added in later since 1 Cor 14:26-33a and 36-40 are about prophecy and tongues, and yet 14:33b-36 is about women speaking. The shock may come here when I say I agree with Don Carson (a famous Evangelical Complimentarian) on this passage. (See his article, '"Silent in the Churches": On the Role of Women in
1 Corinthians 14:33B-36'
). He argues that it is original and is therefore in this context for a reason.

Immediately we are on the defensive as it seems to contradict 1 Cor 11:4-5 which reads, 'Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.' So is a woman allowed to speak in church or not? Carson argues in the article stated above that, 'Paul has just been requiring that the church in Corinth carefully weigh the prophecies presented to it. Women, of course, may participate in such prophesying; that was established in chapter 11. Paul's point here, however, is that they may not participate in the oral weighing of such prophecies.... In that connection, they are not allowed to speak---"as the law says."' He then goes on to argue that by 'the law' Paul is referring 'to the creation order in Genesis 2:20b-24,{45} for it is to that Scripture that Paul explicitly turns on two other occasions when he discusses female roles (1 Corinthians 11:8, 9; [1] Timothy 2:13).' I agree with Carson here and shall say no more on this matter except that I disagree with him on the implications of referring to the law. It is also worth noting that it seems as if it was common place for people to shout out and ask questions, as it was with men in synagogues; however this seems to have been interrupting the service. Perhaps this too was a reason why they weren't allowed to speak. Perhaps the two are connect: Women were falsely weighing prophecies, and asking why others were interpreting them as they were. This too then refers not to whether a woman may speak in church but rather that she must place the church and the glory of God first. With that said Paul lays down a way in which women may in future be able to weigh prophecies in V 35, 'If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church'.

1 Tim 2:8-15
This is the passage that kept me as a Complimentarian for so long. It seemed clear to me that this cannot be cultural as the reason that women must not 'teach or to exercise authority over a man' was set not in culture but in scripture, 'For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.' However, thanks to Simon Woodman (once again) I was challenged to ask myself '...whether Paul is saying that all women are inherently more easy to deceive than men, and that therefore no woman is ever fit to teach. Or whether Paul is using the story of Eve to illustrate the particular situation facing the women in the church in Ephesus' No, not even Complimentarians would argue, I think, I hope, that women are more easily deceived. Rather it makes more sense that Paul is using this passage analogously, as he does in 2 Cor 11:3, to make a point. If we wrote it today it may go something like this, "Just like eve was deceived in her ignorance and lead Adam into sin, don't let the women in your church lead you astray in their ignorance'. Of course Paul didn't leave it there but rather, as he did in 1 Cor 14, left a way for this to ignorance to change in V 11. This then too is not, as with the others, teaching that women cannot speak in church ever, but rather that they should not teach in their ignorance in case it leads to error and leads the church astray, thereby dishonouring God.

It seems clear to me then that the very passages that are used to teach Complimentarianism do in fact teach the opposite. Paul was arguing that women should be educated and should listen in church, as well as ask their husbands at home (something that the pagans weren't allowed, and which women to an extent weren't allowed to in synagogues either), but until such time as they are ready they should forfeit their new rights and not speak in church for the benefit of other believers and the glory of God. It would have, of course, discredited the church is they allowed women to teach in a culture where women were inferior to men and therefore stifled evangelism. Of course today Christian women are educated in both a worldly sense and in the Gospel, and it is acceptable, if not required, that women are allowed to teach and have authority. One may in fact argue the reverse then, that we are sinning by not allowing women who are called into their role and indeed stifling evangelism by saying that women are not allowed to teach in a society where it is almost expected. We should then judge women on the same criteria as men: Are they able and has God called them?

Till Next Time!


  1. great post. I agree with your conclusions

  2. Thanks for posting Kevin. Always nice to hear ones not standing on their own.

  3. Yo Pedro,

    First a point of clarification: in the above article is its scope to intended to include just preaching or wider issues such as eldership and roles within marriage?

    On the 1st Timothy passage you create a false dichotomy between a greater inherent disposition to be deceived and the woman at the time were ignorant; I have an alternative: the reason Paul gives for the women to teach is that Adam was created first and then Eve, demonstrating the creation order of husbands being the head of the wife which is translated in some respects to Church order; so the point about Eve being deceived isn't that she's more liable to but that this is an empirical result of usurping the created order.

    Implied in your essay is a functional economic trinity rather than an ontological economic trinity which you use in support of your position- here's a brief case for the ontological version: in Genesis 1:26-27

    26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

    27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

    From here we get two things here: first that mankind has authority of creation and second that there's a diversity in God which isn't purely numerical since the reader would obviously know that men and women are different and it implies something similar in the nature of God.

    Now moving on to Genesis 2 it is Adam not Eve who names the animals, furthermore Adam himself names Eve thus showing his authority over both. To further buttress the point Adam is called to task post fall first rather than Eve. This shows a pre-fall order of differentiation of roles of the sexes and since the different sexes are related to the nature of God implies an ontological economy rather than a functional one since the redemption plan was not yet in action.

    For similar musings on men and women see this (although it's primarily an article on marriage)-

    Finally I do think the church has not supported women in their appropriate ministries in the past and also their role of prayer and of prophesy (I need to research more on what that actually is)

    I'm off to put my trousers on now.

    The Rambler

  4. I posted a response but it doesn't seem to count it on your main blog page.

    Oh well.


  5. Hi Swifty, thanks for posting. The counter is a bit odd but I get a notice in my mail when a comment is made so I will find them, worry not!

    Good clarification. I intend it to mean all roles within the institutional church, eg. preaching, ministerial, eldership. I would however hold back my opinion on marriage. It seems to me that the traditional roles of men and women are natural and would not usually be usurped. However that is not to say that that is not always the case. Honestly I am unsure whether this extends to marriage or not. However as I was once told "Marriage is a partnership, not a dictatorship".

    I am interested by your interpretation however I will stick to what I said. I believe that your interpretation is based solely on fitting into your Complimentarian view and is no way a natural reading of the text. I believe that one must interpret the text in its own right before one begins to compare them. If an interpretation cannot be gained, or at least be plausible, on the single text alone, the interpretation is to be abandoned as inconsistent.

    Re Trinity I am confused as to what you mean. From my understanding the terms are 'Economic Trinity' (how the trinity relate in history and function) or 'Ontological Trinity' (what the trinity is). I do not see this as incompatible but rather two ways of understanding the Trinity. As Kahl Rahner said "The 'economic' Trinity is the 'immanent' Trinity, and vice versa." However if I have misunderstood what you meant then please do correct me. For now however I shall try to work out what you mean.

    I think your implication from your interpretation of Genesis 1 goes a little too far. Certainly we are given 'authority' (for want as usual of a better word) over creation. Not a problem. You are indeed right that we can (at least to some extent) see a difference in the persons of Trinity but to use this to imply a Complimentarian position is not acceptable. All we know is there is a difference.

    As for Genesis 2 again I think you take this too far. Firstly there is a clear distinction made between 'eve' and the animal (v20b). Secondly the way he named her was different. He called her "'ishshah" (woman) in V23, which is a play on the word "'iysh" (man). She is the one who is from man. Of course this theme of woman being from man is then taken up again in V24. Man was one flesh, woman was taken from man, they will be joined together again thereby becoming one flesh once again. Also it is worth noting that she was made to be a companion, a helper: One who is suitable man. It is a whole other step to say that she therefore cannot teach man. Therefore I do not accept a Complimentarian position pre-fall. It is again a position which is place over a natural reading of the text.

    I would argue however that in some circumstances it would be inappropriate for a woman to be in a position of power e.g. in a culture where that isn't acceptable, or in a congregation where that would do more harm then good. I do agree however that the roles in which we agree on are undervalued and need to be supported.

    I've been wearing trousers for years, but they are functional and in no way are needed to prove my masculinity. An despite what Steven Anderson said, Jesus definitely did not wear trousers.