Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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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.[1] 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) 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.)

“Adoption as sons” should be interpreted as “adoption as heirs” in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians to better convey Paul’s intended sense to a modern audience. I don’t have a problem, however, with the words “sonship” or “sons” being included in the definition of huiothesia, provided it is understood that redeemed women are every bit as included as their brothers.

Further Reading

Full Rights of Sons

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. …

A third edition of Kathryn’s book has recently been published (late 2020) and is available on Amazon. And there is a separate study guide too. Kathryn’s Facebook page is here.

Explore more

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

In a Nutshell Series

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

36 thoughts on “The Status of Christian Women, in a Nutshell

  1. Wow, good points Marg and Kathryn! I had not thought about those verses before.

    1. I have little doubt that Paul wanted relationships in the church to reflect our New Creation status, and that the verses in his letters that appear to restrict women were done as concessions to culture. Some verses are Paul addressing problem behaviour and are not general teaching (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:8-15).

  2. At one time I attended a church that emphasized that both men and women had full rights of sons. As part of the visitor’s package they had a little booklet that explained that both men and women are sons of God. The church was very charismatic and this was over 25 years ago when I lived on the other side of the U.S.

    1. Was their ideology also expressed in practice?

  3. Querida Marg:

    Eres una bendición de la Esencia Divina, que buenos articulos de reflexión profunda, los que nos proporcionas.

    Gracias, Bendiciones llenas de Sabiduria, Paz y Amor.

    Olga Lucia

    1. Muchas gracias, Olga.

  4. Thanks so much, Marg! Your posts are always such an encouragement to me. I am so grateful to God for sisters/brothers like you and the work we do together.

  5. Our adoption in Christ is not what people generally think of as ‘being adopted’ in most western cultures. Every Jewish boy and girl is ‘adopted’ when they become of age (12 or 13) and there’s a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah to celebrate and acknowledge this fact. We are born into God’s family, not adopted into His family, and the adoption in Scripture refers to our given privileges, as Jewish children are given privilege as full family members by “adoption,” i.e. their coming of age. I’m not sure if I explained this very well, but I wanted to clarify that we are not adopted into God’s family; and that adoption in Scripture is not what we traditionally think of adoption to be.

  6. Dear Tricia:
    What a nice comment, I loved. So I felt I am the daughter of the family of God, not adopted, but with the privileges as such.

    Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome. Understanding Biblical adoption means we have to understand it from the Jewish viewpoint.
      What a blessing when we do, eh?

      1. Hi Tricia,

        My understanding–and I’m happy to be corrected–is that the custom of recognising and celebrating bar mitzvahs began during the Talmidic period and developed during the Middle Ages; and that recognising and celebrating bat mitzvahs was unheard of until relatively recently. Have you got a link to some good information on this, and the association with adoption? I’d like to learn more about what you’re saying.

        I like what Ben Witherington says about adoption in his commentary Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2004:217):

        “This language of adoption [in Romans 8:14-17] would be especially appropriate in Rome, where legal adoption was a means to a brighter future. This practice was very common, even in the imperial family. [Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus all became Emperors through adoption.] This language would, however, be surprising if Paul was speaking in a Jewish manner to a largely Jewish audience, because Jews basically did not practice adoption.”

  7. you say: “. . . Paul was writing to a patriarchal society,”
    why did God allow societies to be patriarchal … they always hurt women yet GOD allowed it …
    why is family line thru men? sperm are so plentiful, a guy makes billions or so. yet eggs, women are born with all they will ever have. furthermore the eggs grows in a woman and is as much as her body as her vital organs. after the miracle of pregnancy and birth, a baby is sustained outside a womans body because she can nurse. “formula” was invented in my Dad’s lifetime so before the 1940s a newborn would die without what a woman provided for a baby. yet it’s so opposite that it’s a male line when he has so little to do with a new life.
    did GOD invent male privilege?

    1. Hi Abigail,

      I appreciate your honest questions. God did not invent male privilege or the ideal of “the male line.” Patriarchy is the result of sin (Genesis 3:16).

      There are a lot of things going on in the world that hurt people, and I don’t understand why God allows it. But perhaps we should be asking why do Christians allow it? Jesus has given us his Spirit to act as his agents on earth to spread the gospel and live out his kingdom values. Why are we failing in our mission?

      You may like this article about how women are portrayed in the Bible. It may answer some of your questions.

      God loves his daughters. We are not his second best. We are made in his image, and we have been adopted by him into his family and given the full rights of sons.

    2. Hi Abigail,
      I hope you are still reading. One of the reasons for society to have taken many bad turns is that God has given humans a free will. We can choose. Many of the things humans choose are not what God would want us to choose. But God does not take back His gifts. However, He is available to help those who call on Him. And God did send His Son to give us not only help but power in this life and life everlasting in eternity.

  8. Thank you, Tricia, for this good perspective on adoption in the Jewish tradition. Very helpful comment. Yes, of course we are born into God’s family, born of the Spirit. (John 3:5–8; Gal. 4:28–29; 1 Pet. 1:23) That is a wonderful truth. And yes, our adoption is all about being mature heirs (Gal. 4:1-7) to all God has for us and receiving all the rights and privileges of sons.

  9. Interestingly enough, many complementarians that I read will admit that men and women are equal under God in worth and value as humans, and reject chauvinist teachings such as male superiority. Galatians 3:28 supports that we are all one in God’s Kingdom and that there is no room discrimination. Also 1 Peter 3:7 calls women joint-heirs in the grace of life. Great post once again.

    1. I love how 1 Peter 3:7 says that husbands and wives are “co-heirs”.

  10. I’m coming late to the conversation, but I just wanted to say how beautifully and succinctly this shares the truth of our freedom in Jesus! Thank you 🙂

    1. Thanks LL. I thought Mark Christensen’s words were important, so I got his permission to share them here.

      The quibbling about “gender roles” seems so trivial and misguided when we take a step back and look at the big, awesome, picture of our new life in Jesus.

      1. It does seem pretty unimportant, doesn’t it!

  11. I loved the way the book of Job (42:13-15) ended with the three daughter’s as co-heirs with their brothers and their names were recorded!

    1. That fact is very cool.

  12. It is my understanding that in Hebrew, when there is a mixed group of men and women, the masculine plural is used. So the plural of daughter is “daughters,” the plural of son is “sons,” but a mixed group of sons and daughters is also called “sons.” Therefore, the phrase “sons of God” is not in any way excluding women.

    1. Hi TJ, Do you mean the Greek? (The New Testament was written in Greek.)

      In the Greek, grammatically masculine language is used for groups that include men and women. For instance, adelphoi, traditionally translated as “brethren”, can mean “siblings” or “brothers and sisters.” This gender-inclusive meaning occurs in the New Testament and in texts outside of the New Testament also.

      Yet, “sons” (huioi) is not just a grammatically masculine word, it usually (but not always) refers to male people. “Children” (tekna, etc) is the usual word when speaking about sons and daughters. This makes “sons” (huioi) more significant when speaking about the rights and the inheritance of men and women of God.

  13. So what about 2 Cor 6:18 where God says, “and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons AND daughters to me,” says the Lord Almighty”. How is 2 Cor 6:18 different from Galatians 3:26?

    1. Context is what is different.

      In Galatians 3:26ff, Paul is telling the Christians in Galatia about how inclusive being a son of God is; he ties this in with heritage and inheritance (cf. Gal. 3:16ff). (Sons in ancient Israel, especially the oldest son in each family, had a distinct advantage over their sisters in this regard.)

      In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Paul is telling the Christians in Corinth to be holy and not to be tainted by idolatry.
      “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2. Cor. 6:17-18).

      Here’s another great verse: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa. 43:6b-7).

      2 Corinthians 6:18 and Isaiah 43:6 are about leaving the past behind and joining the family of God which is a wonderful thing, but these verses don’t emphasis inclusivity, status, or being heirs.

  14. The link to Mark Christensen’s quote seems to direct me to the wrong article, and after a google search I cannot find the right one. Can you add the correct link?

    1. Hi Nichole, I just checked. The link is correct and is still working. The quotation is in the comments section of the article.

  15. Marg – Very good insights, I learned something new from Gal 3:26-28, though I’ve read it 1000 times for years. Your “re-look” is significant. All, including women, are privileged sons of God. In God’s kingdom, there is neither male nor female. All have the same status. Once again, thanks.

  16. […] Egalitarians believe all Christians, both men and women, are (and should be) equal in status in the home, in the church, and in society. The basis of this equality is that we are all made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–28) and, as his redeemed people, we have all been adopted as sons of God with all the rights, freedoms, and privileges that come with being a son of God. […]

  17. Becoming a “daughter of God” in the Greek world would have been bad news! It would mean that sooner or later you would be married off over your head in the cause of some political alliance or other and whether you liked it or not.
    As to Genesis 2:18 and 2:20, Eve is called “ezer”, and none! of the animals measure up to the demand. But “ezer” is also a term used 16 times over about one other person in the Bible: God! As “ezer” He is “deliverer from the sword”; “from enemies”; “rides in the heavens”; “sheild”; “deliverer”; “mighty”; “hope/expectation”. I lift up mine eyes to the hill, from whence cometh my “ezer”? (Psalm 121).
    Eve is created to be the “ezer”, – to fulfill the role of the Lord in the male’s life!
    So much for the noun; When we then look at the activity, the verb, we find it is almost always used of allies in a war! This is a far cry from merely washing his shirts! The ally helps in the battle. The lack of an ally can lead to defeat. Yet the male and female are not allies in “his” war. The male does not decide what the battle is, nor the task. It is God’s battle, not his, and they are to fight it, even though he may take a leading role.

  18. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us the Lord sees what He has made, and it was
    Good, Good, Good,
    Good, Good, Good,
    then: Very Good,
    This is 7 times Good, which is Hebrew code for “perfect”.

    But before that, it says was “NOT good” – that the male should be alone! Then God makes Eve and only afterwards does He look at All that He has made, and “behold: it was Very Good”.
    Only now does He say the universe is perfect. God kept the best til last; Womankind is the perfecting of the Universe.

  19. […] Paul tells his audience in Galatians 3:26–28 that when someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ they take on a new identity: they become a son of God. And when that person is clothed with Jesus Christ in baptism, their new identity overrides the social distinctions that pigeonhole and divide sectors of society. It is our new identity in Christ that unites us. So it is difficult to see how some Christians honestly believe that our new identity has no bearing on relationships and society (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16–17). It does. […]

  20. […] Being referred to as “our sister” is an acknowledgement that Phoebe is a member of the community of Jesus’ followers.[10] The kinship relationship of siblings, or “brothers” (adelphoi), is one of the primary paradigms for relationships among Jesus’ followers in New Testament churches. The idea behind this paradigm is that brothers and sisters are children of the same Father—God,[11] and that they have an equal status in the household of God. […]

  21. […] Paul may well have been familiar with the Jewish “blessing of identity,”[2] and chose to use the same three categories of humanity, in the same order, to highlight that these social distinctions are irrelevant if we are in Christ. Whatever our gender and whatever our race, we are all sons of God and we are all Abraham’s offspring and heirs (Gal. 3:26, 29). This is our true identity, and this truth should inform our worldview. […]

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