UK journalist Megan Cornwell recently wrote an article entitled “Is complementarianism theology abusive?” for Premier Christianity magazine. It was also published online at premierchristianity.com. You can read Megan’s article here.
Megan asked me to write a 500-word biblical defence of egalitarianism and she asked another person for a biblical defence of complementarianism. These appeared in sidebars in the magazine.
It was challenging to include all the major tenets of Christian egalitarianism, or mutualism, in 500 words. The following is more or less what I gave to Megan, but it’s a bit different from the edited version in the magazine.
The Biblical Basis of Egalitarianism
At the heart of Christian egalitarianism is the belief that our personal qualities and talents largely determine our activities in the home and church. Egalitarians do not place restrictions or disqualifications on people on the basis of gender, nor do we grant responsibilities or privileges on the basis of gender. Our belief is based on numerous Bible verses and the overall message of redemption.
Before the fall, male and female humans had the same status as God’s image-bearers with the same shared authority, responsibilities, and purpose (Gen. 1:26–28). There is differentiation of sex (male and female) in Genesis 1–2, but no differentiation of roles. The main message in Genesis 2:18–25 is that the woman was vital and similar to Adam who was alone and needed help.
It all goes wrong in Genesis 3, and male rule becomes one consequence of sin in the world (Gen. 3:16). But after Jesus’s death and resurrection, and after Pentecost, there is again the potential for pre-fall unity (Gen. 2:23–24) and mutuality (implicit in the Hebrew word kenegdo in Gen. 2:20) between the sexes.
In Galatians 3:28, Paul makes both a theological and sociological statement. Our identity as people baptised and clothed in Jesus has a direct influence on relationships within the community of believers, the church. Paul occasionally advises that concessions be made for first-century culture. However, within the church, he encouraged mutual interdependence between men and women (1 Cor. 11:11–12).
In the Greek New Testament, all verses that refer to ministry gifts, including teaching and leadership gifts, give no hint that some ministries are only for men: Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:7–11, 27–28; Ephesians 4:11–12; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Peter 4:9–11 (cf. Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16).
The few New Testament verses that limit women were given for specific reasons, about specific women in specific churches that were experiencing problems. In 1 Corinthians 14:26–40, Paul silenced three groups of speakers in Corinth, not just women who had questions that could keep for home. And he bookends this passage by encouraging orderly, edifying ministry without mentioning gender. In 1 Timothy 2:8–15, he addressed the poor behaviour of some Ephesian men and women. These two passages are not the apostle’s general teaching on ministry.
Paul did not silence edifying speech or sound teaching. Moreover, he valued women and used the same terms―coworker, diakonos (minister), apostle, and labour/labourer words―for his male and female ministry associates.
Egalitarians believe that a wife’s submission to her own husband is not a role, let alone her primary role. Rather, being submissive should be a trait of all Christian relationships, with mutual submission as the ideal (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV). Importantly, nowhere in the NT are husbands told to lead or unilaterally have authority over their wives. We believe families, congregations, and societies function best when men and women are partners who lead and share responsibilities together.
Finally, we believe Jesus is just as much the Saviour, authority, and role model for women as for men, and becoming conformed to his image is the ultimate goal for all Christians regardless of gender.
My Perspective of Christian Egalitarianism
How Christian Egalitarians Understand “Equality”
Common Misconceptions about Christian Egalitarianism
My articles on gender in Genesis 1-3 are here.
Galatian 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
The Means of Ministry: Grace, Gifts, Faith … Gender?
Paul’s Theology of Ministry
Old Testament Priests and New Covenant Ministers
My articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (14:26-40) are here.
My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 (2:8-15) are here.
Mutuality in the Garden: Podcast
Photo by Priscilla du Preez via Unsplash