Some Christians hold to an interpretation of a few scriptures that is used to keep women in a lower, subordinate role to men. Recently, I even heard someone openly state that men are superior to women, and he used a faulty interpretation of Genesis 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 to back his claim. But the idea that women are subordinate and men are superior does not take into consideration what Paul says about the status of all people who are in Christ.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus …” Galatians 3:26
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you … have received a spirit of adoption as sons … [and are] heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ …” Romans 8:14–17
Just like our brothers, women and girls who follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour have been adopted by God as his beloved sons. This means all of us have “a right to all the privileges of the sons of God” including being co-heirs of the kingdom with Jesus. (Westminster Shorter Confession, Question 34)
Some women may baulk at being called a “son of God” rather than a “daughter of God,” but we need to keep the following in mind.
“Paul was writing to a patriarchal society, and sons specifically carried a certain status—they received the inheritance and carried on the family name. So when Paul says that we are all adopted as sons, it gives additional weight to women, an entire class of the society that had previously been excluded! It breaks down a traditional cultural norm and makes it new! If Paul were to say that we are all adopted as sons and daughters it would not communicate the incredible news that we are all adopted in Christ in a way that was only given to sons in that traditional society. Does this take more work to tease out and more effort to communicate to our daughters? Absolutely. But because it’s God’s Word and we aren’t trying to change His Word to suit ourselves, it ends up carrying more weight and gives more value to women …”
Mark Christensen (as posted here.)
After Paul had declared, “You are all sons of God,” he went on to state,
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27–28
Paul’s words here are more than just a wonderful theological statement concerning our status, they are also a powerful sociological statement.
Galatians 3:26–28 is about our status as people, as humans, in Christ and about our status in the community of Jesus’ followers. If our identity is in Jesus Christ, there can be no place for racism, sexism, or any kind of favouritism (James 2:1ff), especially as Jesus taught that when we live out his kingdom values the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, and the last are first. In other words, equality.
In God’s Kingdom, all people, women and men, girls and boys, have exactly the same status—we are all sons of God. We need to live out this truth (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16–17).
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Postscript: A Note on Adoption in the First Century
Some English translations (CEB, CSB, KJV, NRSV, etc) translate the Greek word huiothesia simply as “adoption” or “adoption of/ as children” in Romans 8:15, 8:23, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5 (cf. Rom. 9:4). Other translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, etc), however, include the words “sonship” or “sons” in some or all of these verses.
In the first-century Greco-Roman world, fathers typically adopted sons if they did not have a son of their own, or a capable son, and they wanted an heir. These fathers adopted their would-be heirs as adults, not as small children. Adoption in the Roman world of New Testament times was not like it is today.
By way of example, most of the Roman emperors in and around the first century AD adopted a son as their heir and successor. Vespasian and Marcus Aurelius were the only emperors who were succeeded by natural sons in the Early Imperial period. (Jesus was effectively adopted by Joseph and became part of Joseph’s lineage.)
Perhaps “adoption as sons” should be interpreted as “adopted as heirs” in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians to better convey the intended sense to a modern audience. However, I don’t have a problem with the words “sonship” or “sons” provided it is understood that redeemed women are every bit as included as their brothers.
For still more on the subject of our identity as sons of God, I recommend The Full Rights of Sons by Kathryn E. Stegall.
This is the recommendation I wrote for Kathryn’s inspiring book:
Kathryn’s book starts with the basic premise that if anyone is in Christ that person is a New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The reality of this new life must have profound implications on our ethics, values and relationships. I was personally inspired by what Kathryn had to say about our new life in Christ. Despite her thoroughness, Kathryn’s style is conversational rather than technical, and her writing is accessible to a wide audience. Kathryn’s statements are steeped in Scripture. Her high view of Scripture and her devotion to God are evident. Her discussions are thought-provoking, compelling and logical, as well as being presented in a warm, personal manner. As someone who has read many books on the topic of women in ministry, there were new ideas here for me to think about. …
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel
Gender Division Divides the Church
Marvellous Descriptions of God’s People – 1 Peter 2:4-10
Articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here
Articles on Genesis chapter 2 here
Other articles in the In a Nutshell Series