Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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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.

Explore more

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

In other news, I recently spoke with James Pruch about gender in Genesis 1-2. You can listen to our hour-long conversation here. Our second conversation on Ephesians 5 is here.

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39 thoughts on “The Biblical Basis of Egalitarianism in 500 Words

  1. Most excellent!

    1. Thanks, Don! 🙂

  2. Thank you for a concise, Biblical explanation! Very helpful!

  3. That’s brilliant and a great one to keep handy! Thanks Marg

  4. 500 word defense. Not possible, I thought. But you rose to the challenge and did it. Well done!

    1. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But I accepted the challenge.

  5. I SO appreciate your work, Marg.
    A difficult assignment (500 words!), very well executed.
    I am grieving the loss of women preachers in our church and am grateful for voices like yours bringing truth.

    1. Thanks, Hashim!

  6. Thanx Marg, I love ur stuff , u have a great knowledge and understanding, ur giving some people short cuts who maybe haven’t got the time to search for the truth as the truth is meant to be hard to find, I guess is cause many people would abuse it, however it is very good news for everybody if interpreted correctly, it helps when people converse with other bible students/truth seekers, they should remember God is a loving forgiving God but no use asking a priest for forgiveness, they have to ask personally through prayer or other person & or people praying for them, helps with healing also, thanx again

  7. Uplifting, scholarly and erudite – as always. I so admire and appreciate your writing; you are always cogent and excellently referenced. You are doing so much to address the patriarchy which has been so oppressive and counter to Biblical truth, for so very long. Thank you for this piece – quite an achievement, Marg! And thank you for the great work you are doing to counter injustice in the Church.

    1. Thanks, Therese. 🙂

  8. Thanks again for this Marg. I find it readable and reasonable and something I’ve shared in a newsletter to my family – only 28 people I know but I resonated with it.

    PLus some of those people, including my kids who are all members of faith communities, have a more conservative view of gender than I do and so I see it as a simple outline that explains where I am coming from.

    My newsletter tends to talk about my comings and goings but I also put things like this in the P.S. I put stuff here which reflects viewpoints I know differ from other people.

    But again thankyou for your ministry as a communicator or these sorts of things. I am encouraged.

    1. I’m glad it resonated with you, George. I hope it’s helpful to the 28 people you shared it with.

  9. Was a pleasure to record that conversation, Marg! I look forward to the next time!!

    1. I’m looking forward to it too!

  10. I don’t know how you did all that in just 500 words but kudos! Will share liberally.

    1. Thanks, Dorothy. 🙂

  11. I listen to podcasts all the time so I was thrilled about this one you did with James Pruch! That was a great conversation. I hope you do more podcasts or videos!

    1. I really enjoyed speaking with James! I’ve been a guest on a few podcasts, but this one is my favourite so far.

    2. I’m a comment reader, so thank you for posting this. I just finished listening to the podcast with Marg and James. I paused it several times to take notes and write down my thoughts. It was excellent and such an encouragement!

      1. I’m so glad to hear this, Regina!

  12. Brilliant explanation, Marg!
    Thank you for your work!

  13. Marg, have you considered developing some of your research for publication in academic journals? There are pros and cons of doing so. It is an arduous process, but peer reviewed journals would benefit from your insights and unpretentious, clear, writing style.

    1. Hi Richard, it’s something I’ve thought about. Every now and then an academic author contacts me and asks if I’ve had any journal articles published. They ask because they prefer to cite journal articles rather than blog posts. But I’m much more motivated to write blog posts than journal articles. Most blog posts often start off as replies to conversations with people, and I find conversations motivating.

      It’s too early to say more, but I’m hoping a book proposal with IVP where I’ll be a contributor is accepted. If that happens, I’ll be able to get most of my views published about a certain New Testament passage.

      1. I share your enthusiasm for conversations. Blogs can provide a venue for discussion that allows progress to be made much more quickly than journal articles. Good luck with the IVP proposal.

  14. The purpose of the Bible is simple tho it itself is deep and broad.
    The Old Testament prefigures the New. The Law , the Prophets the Psalms and Proverbs are divine pump priming.
    The New states and proves, Who is this man , Jesus Christ.
    That’s it.
    That’s all there is. And there ain’t no more.
    What it is not is settled science, a menu of desirable power accommodations. astrophysics, or a carrier of water for this or that shibboleth.
    Its means is to enchant your heart. If your heart isnt enchanted your Faith will die.
    You are so off base it cant even be called wrong

    1. Just catching up on my reading… Good job Marg!
      Thanks for the link to Megan’s article.

    2. Impressive display of flowery flatus leading up to that mean-spirited and unwarranted insult.

  15. Hi! Thanks so much for your excellent and scholarly work on this topic. You’ve answered so many questions I’ve had, and I really appreciate the way you discuss it in a logical way without making it emotionally charged (as so often happens on both sides of the debate.) I have one questions which I’m hoping maybe you can answer from a historical perspective. I’ve heard more than once that historically, the church always used Gen 3 to justify female submission, and that it’s only quite recently that complimentarians have claimed hierarchy is found in Gen 2. If this is the case, do you perhaps have the dates/sources as to when claims of hierarchy in Gen 2 first arose?

    I find this historical info very important, since complimentarians often act as if they are holding a longstanding historical position over against “modern” egalitarianism. But if Gen 2 hierarchy is really such a recent idea, then the claim that male leadership predated the fall is actually just as “modern” as egalitarianism. I’d love to have the dates/sources to cite as I’m in conversation with others on this subject.

    1. Hello Rachel, I discuss the new-ness of complementarianism, and the relatively recent phenomenon, with exception of Calvin and perhaps a few others, of reading a gender hierarchy into the creation order of man first and woman second Genesis 2, here:

      In the article, I provide a quotation from Epiphanius (300s), from Aelred of Rievaulx (1100s), and two from Bible commentators in the 1800s as examples of people who understood Genesis 2 as being about the similarity and even equality of the man and woman in Eden, and not about a hierarchy. I acknowledge that four quotations is not compelling evidence. These are just four I’ve happened to come across.

      I can’t give the date when a gender hierarchy on the basis of the created order first began to be read into Genesis 2. My observation is that the more widespread acceptance of this idea began in the 1970s with the advent of complementarianism.

  16. Wonderul, Marg…!!!

  17. […] The Biblical Basis of Egalitarianism in 500 Words […]


  19. […] The Biblical Basis of Egalitarianism in 500 Words […]

  20. Wonderfully pithy and biblical, Marg, thanks so much! I have heard many complementarians say, “Biblical egalitarians are just products of their culture; we are not; therefore they are wrong.” Just off the cuff I can find three errors in that reasoning!

    We need to lead off, not with “Well, our culture is different now”, but “Well, let’s look at the Bible and assume that we might be right or wrong or in-between.”


  21. […] The Biblical Basis of Egalitarianism in 500 Words […]

  22. Again you are so succinct in your articles. I can get the point and understand the message immediately!

    I would like to share the following…. i cannot remember where i read it but is from an Austrailian lady who researches bible topics among them egalitarianiasm who in writing in defense of her beliefs said something along the lines that if she was promoting egal teachings to gain power or other selfish interests she would drop it immediately but she is finding too much evidence that points to egal as being part of God’s plan.

    Like Martin Luther said when he presented his researched findings to the catholic church leaders that went against most of what the church leaders taught as dogma ……. “here I stand. I can do no more.” I guess by him saying that he put the ball in their court.

    and the same applies to egalitarianism. There is coming a time when a stand will have to be made. Right now the southern bapt church organization in the US is trying to pass a rule that immediately disfellowships any church with a female pastor.

    there is too much evidence out there against pat/comp teachings— even though pat/comp claims that women y capable of hearing from God and having a relationship with him they slap too many restrictions and rules governing that relationship (which thsoe rules do not apply to men.) Why didn’t they come out with a bible just for men and one just for women?

    Evidence against pat/ comp points to…..
    1-it allows for evil men whether they are wolves or narcissists to be in unquestioned and unchallenged power over others
    2-it gives abusive men bible verses to justify their leadership (abusiveness)
    3—too many examples throughout history and worldwide show how God has used women to spread the gospel.
    4—all the “biblical” myriad contradictory rules that apply to women that cover all aspects of their lives from limiting their options of service, education, personal life The few rules for men can be summed up to “lead and breed”.

    Someone told me that God will always have his remnant no matter how many wolves and narc get inito the workings of the church.

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