Friday, October 19, 2007

What’s the Difference part 2

The place to look for answers to the questions posed in the previous post is the scriptures, in particular Galatians 3:26-29.

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Emphasis added)

At this point it is important to understand that within Christendom in general and within local churches in specific, there exists a debate over gender roles. The opposing positions are the complementarian and the egalitarian view of gender roles in the home and the church. Those particular terms may not be used, but their positions are followed. Here are their definitions.

  • Complementarians believe that men and women are created in the image of God; equal in their essential dignity and personhood. By God's good and glorious design men and women have distinct, complementary roles in the home and the church. God has assigned to husbands self-sacrificial leadership in the home, and wives a joyful and respectful embrace of that leadership. God has also called qualified men to the burden and responsibility of self-denying leadership in the church, and the entire congregation to respect and submit to their leadership.
  • Egalitarians believe that God created men and women equal in all respects, and that no functional distinction exists, only physical distinctions. Male and female roles and functions are interchangeable both in the home and in the church. Male hierarchy in the home and church is a result of the Fall.

Basically egalitarians are Christian feminists. The most vocal proponents of egalitarianism cite Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus"; as the primary proof text for their position.

For instance, the web pages of Christians for Biblical Equality states that CBE is an organization of Christians "who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnicities and all economic classes, based on the teachings of scripture as reflected in Galatians 3:28." Rebecca Groothuis, in her 1997 book Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality, writes, "Of all the texts that support biblical equality, Galatians 3:26-28 is probably the most important." David Scholer, professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary has written that Galatians 3:28 is "the fundamental Pauline theological basis for the inclusion of women and men as equal and mutual partners in all of the ministries of the church."

Did Paul use Galatians 3:28 to teach the negation of gender specific roles? Is Paul teaching that there exists no distinct, functional difference between men and women?

The answer is "No!" The reason is simple. Galatians 3:28 is not a proverbial statement about gender roles. In fact, it is not about gender roles at all. This verse, as with all passages of scripture, must be interpreted in its context. The only way one can argue that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" is "the fundamental Pauline theological basis for the inclusion of women and men as equal and mutual partners in all of the ministries of the church" is by ripping it from its context!

The context of Galatians 3:28 makes abundantly clear that in Christ men and women are:

  • Equally justified by faith (v. 24)
  • Equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25)
  • Equally children of God (v. 26)
  • Equally clothed with Christ (v. 27)
  • Equally possessed by Christ (v. 29)
  • Equally heirs of the promise given to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ (v. 29)

All believers are justified and blessed with Abraham in Christ, and have become heirs of the promise of God in Christ by grace through faith; not law or works. Galatians 3:28 does not abolish gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ. The issue isn't even addressed!

Instead, the believer's identity and inheritance in Christ is addressed. Therefore, a believer will receive everything that Jesus receives, and that applies to Jews, Greeks, freemen, slaves, men, and women! This means that any sense of pride and superiority or jealousy and inferiority should not exist between these groups that viewed themselves as so distinct in the ancient world. Jews should no longer think themselves superior to Greeks, freemen should not think themselves superior to slaves, and men should no longer think themselves superior to women. They are all in Christ, and all share an equal value and dignity in Christ.

Truly, men and women are equal in essence. "There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ" does communicate that men and women are equally loved; equally valued; equally gifted; equally called to minister in and through the church. "There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ" does not mean that male or female no longer exists. It means they are united in Christ. It means that no Christian should ever be boastful or arrogant against others. It means that no Christian should feel inferior or without value in his or her respective churches and homes. The verse does not teach that men and women are the same, or that men and women serve the same roles and function in the home and in the church.

Now a Christian feminist would argue that for there to be equality there must also be interchangeability of roles and function. In other words, to say that men and women are "equal in Christ" while asserting that men have leadership in the home and women cannot serve as pastors is, according to an egalitarian, double-talk.

Rather than double-talk it is Bible-talk!

The Bible clearly and consistently teaches the distinction of roles along with the equality of essence. A key passage of this teaching is 1 Peter 3:7, "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." Peter teaches us that a man's wife is an heir with her husband, is equal with her husband in salvation. He also says that she is the weaker vessel for whom the husband is to protect and provide. In one verse the difference in roles but equality of worth is demonstrated.

So what?! What does this mean for how one is to live? How does this impact one's family? What does this mean for the ministries of the church?"

When men and women live and work together in complentarity in the home and in the church, there is nothing more beautiful, satisfying, delightful, and God-glorifying. Equality of essence, distinction of roles and function, male headship in the home and church; these are truths to be lived and celebrated. These are not truths which should be ignored, nor are they truths for which one should apologize.

Biblical manhood and womanhood must be understood, taught, and practiced…

Because Men and Women are Different

"In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 5:1-2; cf. 1:26-27). God is one, yet He eternally exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one triune God is both equal and distinct. Without living out the God-given distinction of male and female, relating to one another as God intended, it is impossible to give adequate expression to this aspect of what it means to be created in God's image. God did not create androgynous beings, nor is anyone born with a mistaken gender identity. The differences between man and woman are intrinsic and God-designed. The differences are meant to be understood and embraced for the believer's good and God's glory.

There is much by way of Christian discipleship which is applicable to both men and women, but there is much that is unique. There is a reason why Paul instructed the mature women (not Titus) to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Pastors must recognize and account for this.

Because Scripture Speaks to this Issue Consistently & Clearly

Since the Bible consistently and clearly speaks about manhood and womanhood, so must the Lord's churches. It is important to remember, not only with this doctrine but with all doctrine, that teaching is done with clarity and charity. Teaching that is clear but uncharitable, is harmful to the gospel. Likewise, teaching that is charitable but not unclear or wrong is also harmful to the gospel. The God-given, Word-based requirement for healthy Christianity and church life is, not just related to but rooted in Biblical manhood and womanhood. This is not a peripheral issue!

Because when this Teaching is Denied, Altered, or Unpracticed the Results are Disastrous for Families and Churches

Many marriages suffer continual tension or disenchantment because the husband and wife have not had clear, consistent, charitable Biblical teaching and modeling of what marriage fundamentally is, and the appropriate role relationships within marriage. Male headship is strictly defined in Scripture as the opposite of a power grab. The headship of men in the church and home is rooted everywhere in Scripture in protection and provision. This is why the apostle Paul calls the man who will not provide for his family "worse than an infidel"
(1 Timothy 5:8). A man who would see headship as a warrant to abuse is not simply confused. He is a blasphemer who does not grasp the gospel itself. An abusive man does not represent biblical male headship. Male headship is not represented by violent men, but by men whose aggression is directed toward subduing their own fallen wills in order to protect and provide for their wife and children. This headship is not about raw sovereignty but covenant responsibility.

Because Biblical Authority is at Issue

Ultimately this issue is one of Biblical authority. Should the culture shape one's thinking and theology, or will the believer follow God's good and glorious design for men and women in the home and in the church? Churches are to engage and shape the culture, not disengage or ape it. "It is not the business of the church to conform Christ to men but men to Christ."

The issue of complementarianism and egalitarianism is increasingly acting as the watershed distinguishing those who will accommodate Scripture to culture, and those who will attempt to shape culture by Scripture. When the authority of Scripture is undermined, the gospel will not long be acknowledged.


Doug Groothuis said...

In order to take the egalitarian argument seriously, you need to address Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's argument in "Discovering Biblical Equality" against the "equal in being; unequal in function" argument used by traditionalists. The construct is illogical.

Moreover, egalitarians have good exegetical arguments for passages that supposedly forever subordinate women to men. You can get distilled versions of these arguments at

It is untrue that egalitarianism will destroy society. It is not anarchistic; it does not deny heterosexual monogamy as normative; it appeals to biblical principles for relationships, the upmost of which is love (1 Cor. 13). To equate egalitarianism with secular feminism is guilty by association. On that see Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's first book, "Women Caught in the Conflict."

Douglas Groothuis

Travis said...

Mr. Groothuis,
I never insinutaed that egalitarianism will "destroy society", and I am well aware that many - not all - egalitarians do not deny heterosexual monogamy as normative. However, the exegesis used by egalitarians to affirm their unbiblical view of functional equality against equality of essence is faulty and subversive to biblical authority. A fantastic new book on this is Wayne Grudem's Evangelical Feminism.