Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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Over at Suzanne’s Bookshelf, I was reading a comment left by a blogger who goes by the name “Theophrastus”. Theophrastus pointed out that of the 95 theologians and scholars who contributed to the ESV Study Bible not one of them was a woman. Not one! They were all men!

Theophrastus quipped, “I just guess there aren’t any Reformed women qualified to write about the Bible.”

The list of contributors to the ESV Study Bible is easy to find online. When I looked at the list for myself, I found, with a few exceptions, a veritable who’s who of many of well-known hierarchical complementarians.[1] Hierarchical complementarians are Christians who believe God has ordained men to be the leaders and authority figures in the church and in the home, and that God has designed women to be submissive responders to male authority. Moreover, they believe that being in authority and being in submission are the defining roles for men and women respectively.

It is not only the contributors to the ESV Study Bible that are all male. The members of the ESV Oversight Committee, as well as the Review Scholars, are all, and only, male. Several of the Review Scholars, however, hold to a more egalitarian ethos.

Most English Bibles, including the ESV, are reliable and trustworthy in how they translate verses and passages that pertain to the doctrine of salvation.[2] The same cannot be said about how they translate verses that pertain to women in ministry. Some Bible readers are not aware that many women are mentioned in the New Testament as ministers and leading figures in their churches. This is because English translations have often obscured or downplayed the passages that mention these women. The English Standard Version (ESV) and the New Living Translation (NLT), in particular, are notorious for downplaying the ministries and roles of New Testament women in their translations.

I know that the message of Christian egalitarianism is not well understood or well received by some Christians, and I am usually patient as I continue to write and teach that Jesus’ act of redemption on the Cross and the outpouring of his Spirit at Pentecost has brought about the real possibility of harmony, affinity and equality between the sexes, but I am dismayed that not one female scholar was included in the ESV Bible’s men-only club.[3]

In response to some comments below, I have compiled a list of women Bible scholars who were (and are) involved in recent English translations, here.


[1] As well as well-known hierarchical complementarian scholars, there are also some more obscure scholars who contributed to the ESV Study Bible. Theophrastus sarcastically observes,

. . . it seems there is no Christian woman in the whole wide world more qualified than Rev. Andrew Stewart. Never heard of him? Well it seems he has an M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary. Also he is the co-pastor of a congregation in Geelong, Australia, with about 100 parishioners. I’m sure we can all agree that he is more qualified than every single woman living on the planet.

[2] Most English Bible versions are reliable in how they translate verses that apply to most major Christian doctrines but show some bias when it comes to verses about women in ministry. The CEB, CSB, NIV, NRSV and TNIV have aimed to be both gender-accurate and gender-inclusive in their translations, but the CSB holds back on a few verses related to women in ministry. (More on this here.)

[3] If the real reason there was no woman contributor was because no woman was as qualified as the men (which I strongly doubt), this is another cause for concern.

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Postscript: June 19, 2013
The ESV is Unapologetically Complementarian

I just found this article on the website of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) entitled Literary ESV is Unapologetically Complementarian. The CBMW’s brand of gender complementarity is hierarchical, with distinct gender roles of authority for men and subordination for women.

Postscript: August 23, 2017
Contributors to the ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible

The list of contributors to the ESV Study Bible is no longer accessible online. But the contributors to the new ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible is available. And guess what? All the contributors are male. You can check this here. As far as I can tell, the only ESV “study” Bible where women are contributors is the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible. I haven’t been able to find out if women scholars contributed to the ESV Children’s Bible.

Postscript: September 20, 2022
Priscilla and Aquila in the ESV Global Study Bible

Today on Facebook, someone named Tyler pointed me to the entry of Priscilla and Aquila in the ESV Global Study Bible which is online here. The not-so-subtle sexism of the ESV is evident in the title of this entry which puts the focus more on Aquila:  “Aquila and his wife, Priscilla.”

In the short entry, Priscilla’s name is first in this statement: “Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus to establish the church in that city.” But then they have Aquila’s name first when speaking about Romans 16:3f. However, Paul had Priscilla’s (Prisca’s) name first here. In fact, Prisca’s name is first in the list of 28 Roman Christians in Romans 16 who Paul asks to be greeted. First of 28 people! (More on this list here.)

Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned by name, and always as a couple, in six verses in the  Greek New Testament: Acts 18:2, 18:18, 18:26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Timothy 4:19. Priscilla’s name is first in four of these verses in the oldest Greek manuscripts.

The ESV has the names Priscilla/Prisca and Aquila in the correct order in their translation. (See here.) But when it comes to the title of their study note, I agree with Tyler’s observation, “It seems to me the ESV had their thumb on the scale in listing Aquila first.”

Postscript: September 22 2022
Contributors to the ESV Expository Commentary Series

The twelve-volume ESV Expository Commentary claims to be a series “designed to strengthen the global church” position. To this end, we are told that the editors “have gathered a team of experienced pastor-theologians to provide a new generation of pastors and other teachers of the Bible around the world with a globally minded commentary series rich in biblical theology and broadly Reformed doctrine …” (My italics.)

There are 40+ contributors to this commentary series. Despite their aim to strengthen the global church and provide for Bible teachers around the world, almost all the contributors are white men. Furthermore, most of these men are from the USA (30), with a few from Australia (5), Scotland (4), England (3), and Canada (3). There is one East Asian scholar teaching in Singapore, Jerry Hwang, who wrote the commentary on Jeremiah, and one female scholar, Mary Willson Hannah, who wrote the commentary on Ruth. (These statistics come from Jacob Randolph.) You can see the names of contributors to the various volumes on Amazon here.

Postscript: April 22, 2023
Dain Smith on 3 Problems with the ESV

In this 11-minute video, Dain Smith discusses a few issues with the ESV. I’m genuinely shocked that the ESV consistently, over 100 times,  translates ἐν τοῖς + dative noun as “among the …” (or, “in the …”) except for Romans 16:7 ESV, the Andronicus and Junia verse, and one other verse: 2 Corinthians 4:3 ESV (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15 ESV). This is telling! (I have more about whether Andronicus and Junia were well known among or to the apostles here.)

Explore more

Female Bible Translators
Women Bible Scholars and Translators in the Church
Which Bible translation is best?
Manhood and Masculinity in the ESV
Junia in Romans 16:7 (in the ESV)
A Critique of the ESV by Mark Strauss
A Critique of the ESV Study Bible notes on 1 Timothy 2:12
Gender Bias in the NLT

22 thoughts on “The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club

  1. My thoughts:

    1. To have a woman help with the translation or notes might violate the other translators’ or the ESV’s intended readership’s belief that women are not to teach men.

    2. Maybe the women scholars had too much respect for themselves, the Scriptures, and other women to want to be associated with a patriarchalist translation.


  2. Hi Marg,

    I share your concerns with some translation choices on gender verses.

    I try to maintain a distinction between the terms “gender accurate” and “gender inclusive”. The latter term came from the NIVI, which was only published in the UK as far as I know, the acronym stands for NIV Inclusive. In that case, there went too far to avoid making gender distinctions, as I see it, and provoked a reaction from the masculinists, which also went too far in the other direction, temptations being what they are. This in turn lead to the Colorado Springs Guidelines, CBMW and the ESV and HCSB which have a stated agenda to be a masculinist translation.

    The TNIV was advertised as trying to be gender accurate. But the masculinists had been spooked by the NIVI, so they claimed the TNIV was also gender neutral and that is the preferred term they use to disparage translations with which they have concerns.

    Now the ESV is using the word “Trusted” in its advertising, which I see is precisely because it is untrustworthy in the gender verses area, but they of course do not see it that way.

  3. Not one Reformed woman interested, qualified or allowed – that speaks volumes from every angle!

  4. Marg, thanks for bringing this issue to the attention of your readers.

  5. Wow. I thought the Hierarchical Complementarian position was that women could not “teach or exercise authority over a man” in public church settings. Apparently, practically speaking, they do not allow women even to contribute scholarship to Bible translation. I was unaware that this was a form of “teaching or exercising authority over a man.”

    By excluding women entirely, the ESV team has shown that their anti-woman bias extends far beyond what they would claim is her “biblical role.”

  6. Thank you very much for this post! Your saying, “how they translate,” may just be one of the most important things you’re pointing to. From how the ESV decisionmakers choose their translation team to the consequences of its hierarchically-complementarian male-only team, the effects from this cause are quite clear.

    And this seems to be one of Theophrastus’s most important points, which he unfortunately only shares as a (perhaps-polite) parenthetical note. With more emphasis, I quote:

    “Certainly I am not aware of any Christian women’s study Bible that prints the text of the Bible in original languages. Little Jewish girls spend their hours after school from ages 3 to 12 learning Hebrew and preparing for their Bas Mitzvah ceremony. What do little Evangelical girls of those ages learn in Sunday School?”

    The ESV male-only Christian-only kyriarchical-bent methods of translating the appropriated Hebrew Bible not only silence women but it also perpetuate an unlearned or at least a less-learned class of Christians than either Evangelical males or Jewish females. And so no wonder contemporary feminists in general, who study the Bible, find methods and expertise among the women and their works to be found among the Jewish Women’s Archives: http://jwa.org/.

  7. Thanks for all your comments and adding humour and insight.

  8. “The ESV male-only Christian-only kyriarchical-bent methods of translating the appropriated Hebrew Bible not only silence women but it also perpetuate an unlearned or at least a less-learned class of Christians than either Evangelical males or Jewish females.”

    Indeed. In many churches, men’s meetings are about theological issues or intensive Scripture studies, while women’s meetings are about homemaking, childrearing, and being submissive. It’s as if the only Scriptures a woman needs to know are the ones used to keep her in her place.

  9. @K.R. Wordgazer.

    It’s difficult to determine exactly where hierarchical complementarians draw the line on a variety of issues.

    Their stance of denying women the opportunity to teach, either in a church setting or as Bible commentators, seems to indicate they do not believe that God has given any woman anything of spiritual or theological value to teach any man. Yet the insightful and prophetic words of several women are included in Holy Scripture.

    1. I always say, “Complementarians all agree that women can’t. However, they have a wide variety of stances on what, exactly, women can’t.”

  10. @K.R. Wordgazer.
    It’s difficult to determine exactly where hierarchical complementarians draw the line on a variety of issues.

    Well, I have good news for you, wonder no more, hierarchical complementarian Wayne Grudem finds it easy to determine where to draw the line. He will give you over 80 guidelines here, just follow them. He has it down to a science.

  11. Mabel, thanks very much for the link!


    This is some of what I found.

    Grudem lists 83 ministries in (according to him) decreasing order of the “authority” of the minister and ministry. In his second list (there are three lists in all), Grudem actually lists the ministries of writing a study Bible and writing a Bible commentary.

    According to Grudem, a minister who writes a study Bible for women does not need as much “authority” as someone who writes a study Bible for both general use. Is it just me, or is this view just plain insulting for women?

    Here’s an excerpt from Grudem’s second list, which is a list of decreasing authority in the area of Bible teaching:

    8. Bible teaching to an adult Sunday school class (both men and women members)

    9. Bible teaching at a home Bible study (both men and women members)

    10. Bible teaching to a college age Sunday school class

    11. Bible teaching to a high school Sunday school class

    12. Writing a book on Bible doctrines . . .

    13. Writing or editing a study Bible

    14. Writing a commentary on a book of the Bible

    15. Writing notes in a study Bible

    16. Writing or editing a study Bible intended primarily for women . . .

    I find these lists incredibly arbitrary! Oddly, Grudem has “Speaking to large groups of non-Christians (for example, an evangelistic rally on a college campus)” and “Working as an evangelistic missionary in other cultures” as numbers 21 and 22, just above “Moderating a discussion in a small group Bible study (men and women members)” and “Reading Scripture aloud on Sunday morning”, numbers 23 and 24. I would think that someone preaching the gospel at a rally or someone working as an evangelistic missionary in other cultures would need to be very sure of their calling and equipping in God and the authority that comes with that. I would think that a person reading Scripture aloud on a Sunday morning would need very little personal authority.

    It is unfortunate that Grudem attributes greater authority to Sunday church meetings as having (and/ or needing) ministers of greater authority than mid-week meetings. Is this scriptural? Do different congregational meetings have different levels of authority in God’s eyes? Grudem believes that a person teaching the Bible to a high school Sunday School class (number 11) needs more authority than someone teaching the Bible to a group of women during the week.

    After making his lists, Grudem goes on and writes:

    “I know I speak for the entire membership of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when I say that it is our sincere desire to “open the doors wide” to all the areas of ministry in the church that God intends for women to have.”

    Too many doors, however, are tightly shut because of the premise held by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that certain ministries and roles are not God’s intention for women. I, for one, do not agree with their premise; nor do I believe that the members of this council correctly understand, teach or portray genuine Biblical manhood or womanhood.

    Update: I’ve added to this and turned it into a blog post here: https://margmowczko.com/wayne-grudem-women-in-church/

  12. A very intriguing post, which gets me to thinking. How do the “gender accurate” (or choose the name you prefer) translations compare, when one pulls out the list of the scholars who contributed to them? I’m sure that male-dominance is still the norm, but are the more “inclusive” translations also inclusive when it comes to who’s on the translation committee?

  13. Hi Mark,

    Considering that the ESV is a relatively new English translation I think it speaks volumes that not a single woman has been involved in its translation or in the Study Bible.

    I’ve had a look at the committees of other translations and there are usually at least two women who have worked on the newer translations.

    The NIV 2011 translation committee, which consists of only 15 people, includes Jeannine Brown, plus Karen Jobes as secretary. (I’m pretty sure Karen did much more than take dictation and sharpen pencils. I love her commentary on 1 Peter.) http://www.niv-cbt.org/translators/

    The NRSV translation committee includes Phyllis Bird, J. Cheryl Exum and Katharine Sakenfeld. http://www.nrsv.net/about/faqs/

    The NLT (which I have major problems with) has Marianne Meye Thompson and Linda Belleville. Their list of translators can be found here: http://www.newlivingtranslation.com/05discoverthenlt/nltintro.asp
    My article about Gender bias in the NLT is here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/gender-bias-in-the-nlt/

    The HCSB have several women on their “Reviewers and English Stylists” list. http://hcsb.org/about.aspx

    I understand your question. There does not seem to a clear correlation between women working on translations and gender-accurate translations.

    My NT of choice is the gender-accurate Greek New Testament. 😉

  14. Re: NLT, I assume you mean Marianne Meye Thompson? (I work as a Faculty Assistant at Fuller Seminary, and Marianne is one of the professors I’ve worked for there, for over a decade now). If not, I’m impressed at the existence of another person with such a similar name, but certainly extend my apologies for the presumption.

    Either way, thanks for taking the time to answer the question so thoroughly. I don’t supposed you know who was on CEB (an even more recent version, admittedly, but I know Joel Green, another of the professors here at Fuller, was on that, and I’m told it does reasonably well on gender language)?

  15. Thanks Mark, I’ll correct the spelling.

    The CEB had 120 translators of which about 20 are women. http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Explore/AbouttheCEB/Translators/tabid/207/Default.aspx

    I have a friend who is a friend and former colleague of Joel Green who keeps recommending his work to me. She is a strong advocate of Christian egalitarianism.

  16. To my knowledge, Grant Osborne is a vocal egalitarian – at least as regards women in the church. I think he’s a complementarian in the home, but was moving away from that a few years ago. I could be wrong. My wife took a course with him at TEDS.

    1. Hi Nick,

      There are a few egalitarian men, or somewhat egalitarian men, on the committees including Gordon P. Hugenberger, Bruce Winter, the late Leon Morris, etc. Many, though, are staunch complementarians. I’m not sure how the more egalitarian-minded men got on with Wayne Grudem and the like during the translation process. Hopefully, they got on well.

      The fact remains, however, that the translators and reviewers were all men.

      There are some complementarians who translated the NIV 2011. Bill Mounce springs to mind.

      1. Hey Marg,

        I completely agree. I heard from Phil Payne that Hugenberger (and Winter I think) was a complementarian. Is there any source you could cite?

        In Christ,


        1. Hi Nick, I might be wrong. I thought Hugenberger was egal after reading his paper “Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8-15” JETS 35/3 (September 1992) 341-360. (A pdf of this article is here.)
          It’s been ages since I read the paper and I may have misconstrued something.
          I wrote this short post based on his paper: The (Im)propriety of Bible Women with Authority

  17. Just learnt about complementarianism last month and was comforted to know that there is a place for Christian egalitarianism. Stumbling upon your blog has been such a blessing for me. Thank you for all the hard work that goes into your posts!

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