Women in Ministry: Replies to Objections

Updated: Here are twenty-nine objections in a list that Complementarians raise. Replies are given to each one. Many important verses are discussed here, like Genesis 1-3, Galatians 2:28, Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Peter 3:1-7, 1 Corinthians 7, 11:2-16, and Acts 6:5.

Complementarians are those who restrict women’s full participation in church ministry, particularly in eldership and the pastorate. Complementarians call themselves by this term because they believe men and women complement each other but have unequal roles in the church and the home. Equal before Christ, unequal in church ministry and in the household. However, I prefer to call them “restrictionists” because the term “Complementarian” does not distinguish them from egalitarians who also believe in complementarity. “Restrictionist” is much more accurate.

Egalitarians are those who liberate women to participate in full ministry equal to men and see them as equal partners in the home and the equality of the two sexes before God and humanity and in their roles.

I use the NIV in this post, but readers are encouraged to go to biblegateway.com for many more translations.

Since this is a long post, please use the ctrl-f word search to find the name or biblical reference you need.

As usual, I write to learn for my own growth and understanding. On studying this issue in earlier posts, this summary post explains why I easily and gladly shifted my interpretation of Scripture towards Egalitarianism.

Let’s begin …

… With Genesis.

1.. In Genesis 1:26-27, Adam is a male name, and this speaks of his higher status over the woman.

In those verses, adam is the generic term for mankind and womankind.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

They were created equal.

2.. In Genesis 2:18 God created the female to be the helper of Adam. She is therefore subordinate.

The Hebrew word for “helper” is ‘ezer, and in all the other nineteen times it is used in the OT, it refers to offering help from the stronger person to someone in need, for example, from God, a king, an ally, or an army. In fifteen of the nineteen instances, the term refers to help that only God can provide. So the term does not refer to subordination.

But this does not mean female superiority, either. The female was created to help “in corresponding to” (kenegdō) to the man, which speaks of equality. She is his counterpart or partner.

3.. Genesis 2:19-20 says that Adam named the animals, which expresses his authority over them. Likewise, when Adam named the female “woman,” he had authority over her.

No, in that verse, after he named all the animals, he found no corresponding counterpart (kenegdō). The purpose of his naming them was to open his vision that he was alone, a status which was not good (2:18). Adam now knew that he needed an equal counterpart, and this need could only be filled by womankind, to relieve his aloneness.

4.. Genesis 2:21-22 says that God took woman from the “ribs” of man. Therefore woman is subordinate to man.

The Hebrew word for “rib”, the experts tell me, is tesla’, which is more architectural than anatomical. Example: In Exodus 26:26-27 the term indicates the sides of the tabernacle; in Exodus 25:14 the term denotes the sides of the ark. In Exodus 38:7 it means the sides of the altar. So it is better translated as “side,” which implies equality rather than subordination, side by side, not above (man) and below (woman).

5.. However, Genesis 2:23 says that the female was taken from the man, and he named her “woman.” She is therefore subordinate.

Yet the verse also says she is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, so one could just as easily interpret this phrase as expressing equality; they are made of the same and equal substance.

6.. Genesis 2:7-23 indicates that man was created first, before woman. And 1 Timothy 2:13 says that Adam was created first and then Eve. Therefore she is subordinate.

In Genesis 2, there is no clear teaching that man being created first puts him in the authoritative position over the woman. The male alone is “not good,” while the man + woman is “very good.” So if anything, man created first makes him incomplete and deficient.

1 Timothy 2:13 does not imply authority just because he was created first. Just ten verses later, Paul writes that someone who wants to be an elder should be tested first, and then he might be able to lead. Sequence, not hierarchy. Recall that Mary came first, and then Jesus, but he was the Lord, and Mary was not. Mark 10:31 says that the first will be last, and the last shall be first. So let’s be careful not to over-interpret “first … then.”

See my longer post on 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

7.. Genesis 3:16 says that after the Fall, woman’s desire shall be for the man, and he shall rule over her. She is clearly subordinate.

It is right to mention the Fall. But the Fall is not the ideal. The NT holds up the ideal of Gen. 1:27 (quoted above) and 2:23-24, before the Fall:

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen. 2:23-24)

Becoming one flesh speaks of unity or oneness, not hierarchy or twoness. Jesus referred to this ideal in Matt. 19:4-6 // Mark 10:6-8. Let’s quote from Matthew’s Gospel:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)

I see no reason to work so hard to restrict women from full participation in ministry or to subordinate her in marriage from such passages.

I prefer these next verses after the Fall, as if God again reminds us of mankind’s and womankind’s equal significance and roles before God and the descendants of humanity, from then to now:

[…] When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created. (Gen. 5:1b-2)

In v. 2, the NIV has a footnote which says “adam” (lower case). Some translators say the better translation is “humanity,” in the generic sense, encompassing both mankind and womankind–humankind. Those post-Fall verses serve as a corrective to over-interpreting the verse about “ruling over” womankind. Genesis 5:1a-3 looks forward and offers restoration between the two sexes, which will be fulfilled in the New Covenant, in Christ.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Gal. 2:26-28)

Later in this post (no. 27), we will learn that mankind’s and womankind’s ontology (their being) and their function (their roles) must be consistent; that is, it makes no sense to say that they are one and equal in Christ, yet two and unequal before Christ in their roles. Their ontology and function must be held together and united–in Christ and in his church.

8.. Then how would you summarize Genesis 1-3?

The ancient Near East was patriarchal, and the OT reflects this (in part). However, Genesis 1-3 and 5:1b-2 lifts womankind above the standard patriarchy of its day.

I let Professor Conway teach us:

I suggested above that the man (ha’adam) is unable to reproduce and that this is one reason it is not good for the man to be alone; he needs the help of Yahweh, who forms Eve from man’s side. That is, the man needs the woman to reproduce, in order that together they can become co-creators with God of all subsequent humanity, fulfilling the mandate to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion (Gen. 1:28). Marriage in Genesis 2:24 is described as the man (‘ish) and the woman (‘ishah) returning to one flesh again, a re-union and completion of their shared humanity after the separation of the woman from the man. It also emphasizes the similarity and equality between men and women. Indeed, that the man (ha’adam) calls the woman “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” Gen. 2:23) implies equality and similarity, not subordination or inferiority. (p. 43)

Equality and similarity, not subordination and inferiority. Perfect.

9.. However, those verses in Genesis still teach us that the sexual differences place women in a subordinate position relative to men. The essence of mankind and womankind is tied to these sexual differences. God made mankind and womankind differently. Therefore, man is authoritative, while woman is submissive. It is his design. 

There are differences between the sexes. I do not advocate blurring the distinctions, but the essence of humankind is the rational soul, so say articles 32 and 37 of the Athanasian Creed (and other old-school theology and biblical philosophy). It is the soul that is being conformed to the image of Christ. It is the soul that is saved and born again. This has nothing to do with sex differences.

In terms of roles in the church, maturity, competence and gifting of the Spirit–the call of God–are what matter most. Being in Christ and being called to ministry are the right criteria and qualification, not an over-interpretation of Genesis 1-3. There is nothing in femaleness, as I read Genesis 1-3, that disqualifies her from leading in the church, if God has called her.

And I still like Prof. Conway’s long paragraph in the previous point. The earliest chapters in Genesis do not teach subordination, as if it were built into and describes the very nature of womankind and her sexual differences to mankind, before the Fall. Not subordination. Equality.

In the above challenges about Genesis, I borrowed heavily from Linda L. Belleville in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck, pp. 25-35; and Mary L. Conway, in Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural and Practical Perspectives, ed. Ronald W. Pierce et al., pp. 35-52.

10.. The elders in the OT (even the Sanhedrin during Jesus’s time) were all men (e.g. Exod. 3:16, 18; 24:1; Josh. 7:6 and many passages). This cultural fact of the OT must guide our interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-21; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5, all of which speak of elders in leadership. Men only, please.

This is a fair point, but it is not the full picture. Consider this passage which blends the Spirit, prophecy, the elders, and Moses’ wish. The elders just got filled with the Spirit and were prophesying. Then Joshua saw two elders who stood apart, prophesying:

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. (Num. 11:28-30, emphasis added)

So Moses yearned for all of God’s people to prophesy and receive the Spirit.

And now consider this passage in Acts, at Pentecost, which fulfills Joel’s prophecy (2:28-29) and Moses’ wish that all may prophesy:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; see Joel 2:28-29)

God’s Spirit opens the door for all of God’s people to be gifted to lead, particular prophets. They speak into the life of the church in leadership roles. And women may certainly prophesy in the church (Acts 21:9; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:5; 14:3-5; 31, 39).

Egalitarians believe that the New Covenant opens the door to universal gifting by the Spirit, a truth which therefore opens the door to leadership, even eldership.

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

11.. But the elders in Acts 15 were all men, at the Jerusalem Council. Women were excluded. Therefore, women are always subordinate and cannot occupy the role of elder, pastor, or overseer in the local church.

Judaism in Jerusalem was very conservative, and the earliest Christians residing in Jerusalem were influenced by this cultural environment. We will learn below (no. 15) that out in the provinces women were elders in the synagogues, within Judaism. No doubt Paul allowed for women to lead in this capacity in the churches he was establishing.

Further, older women–the basic meaning of “elder”–really did lead the church as pastors (shepherds), elders, and overseers. Check out the evidence here:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

12.. All the seven deacons or “practical servants” in Acts 6:5 were men, and Luke even names them, each one having male names.

We know that women worked as practical servants outside of Jerusalem (1 Tim. 3:11 and Rom. 16:1-2). So Jerusalem was very restrictive, and the earliest church fit in to this extra-conservative environment. Let’s not see this restrictive culture as the norm for earliest Christianity as it went out into the provinces.

13.. In Acts 20:17-38, Paul sent for the Ephesian elders to come to him in the city of Miletus. It seems they were men who went on the journey, Therefore only men were elders.

This challenge makes too much of indirect reasoning and evidence. Even if the traveling elders were only men (and I believe they probably were), this does not by itself prove that women were not elders in Ephesus. Also, the Greek language has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter, yet Greek uses the masculine gender to cover men and women (as do many languages with gendered nouns and pronouns). Women elders may have been present with the male elders. However, if they were not present, then consider this: women primarily occupied the domestic sphere, and it would have been inconvenient for them to travel. Further, even if men only went to Miletus, the evidence suggests, nonetheless, as laid out in all the previous points, that women were elders, pastors, and overseers.

Again see this post:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

14.. Levites and priests were all male, and this is God-ordained. We have to learn from this cultural fact. God carries it forward into male leadership roles in the New Covenant and the church.

It is true that Levites and priests were men, but consider that women may have been barred because of concerns about blood flow and child birth, in short, ceremonial uncleanness (Lev. 14:14; 15:19, 25). And perhaps having both men and women serving in the same closed space may prove distracting to the priests and priestesses, sexually speaking (which means mixed staff at church must also be careful). But women did indeed serve outside in the entrance of the tent of meeting (the tabernacle) (Exod. 38:8).

Also, most classes of men were excluded from this office, for not being Levites or priests. sexual uncleanness, or physical defects. So, let’s not over-interpret the biblical data about women.

Other roles show men and women ministering together in ancient Israel: Both furnished and decorated the tabernacle (Exod. 35:22-26; both played musical instruments in public processions (Ps. 68:25-26); both danced and sang at national festivals (Judg. 21:19-23); both sang at the temple choir (2 Chr. 35:25; Ezra 2:65; Neh. 7:67) (HT: Linda Belleville in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck, pp. 53-54).

Most importantly, in Christ, we–men and women–are all priests.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father […] (Rev. 1:5b-6)

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:10; see also 20:6)

Those quoted NT verses are foreshadowed by these in the OT, which are spoken to all Israelites:

[…] you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exod. 19:6)

And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast. (Is. 61:6)

Since Christ is the high priest forever (Heb. 4:14-16), he consecrates everyone in him to serve as priests. In the New Covenant, women too can approach the throne of grace, just like the high priest could approach the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies (Heb. 4:16). Women too, in addition to men, can offer sacrifices, but both men’s and women’s sacrifices are praise, not animals (Heb. 13:15). Women too, in addition to men, offer their bodies to God, and this offering is “holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1).

As noted, under the Old Sinai Covenant, women served at the entrance to the tent of meeting (Exod. 38:8). Under the New Covenant, they can serve inside the temple–which is now God’s people (e.g. Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8).

The Church Fulfills and Replaces Old Testament Temple

Therefore, in regards to male-only leadership in the church, I see no carry over from the old Sinai Covenant to the New Covenant in the OT’s male-only priesthood, except what was foreshadowed in Exod. 19:6 and Is. 61:6, for all Israelites. In Christ, the spiritual, royal priesthood is open to all believers, male and female.

15.. The early church service comes from the synagogue, and this gathering was very man-centered. Men and women sat in separate sections. Let’s learn from this cultural fact, namely, that since men alone led the synagogue, men alone should lead the church.

I learned this common assessment about the synagogue years ago, in Bible college. However, I now agree with Keener who writes that the sexes were probably not segregated in the synagogue:

“This proposal fails on two counts. First, synagogues were probably not segregated in this period [when the NT was written]. Second, although the Corinthian church started in a synagogue (Acts 18:4), it now met in homes (Acts 18:7)–which would hardly afford space for such gender segregation” (Keener, in Pierce [ed.], Discovering Biblical Equality, p. 147).

Further, female synagogue rulers were found in Asia Minor (modern western Turkey), Greece, and Crete. Seven tomb inscriptions in which women bear the title Elder in the synagogue have been found (so far) in Crete, Malta, Thrace, North Africa, and Italy, (Linda L. Belleville in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck, pp. 45-46).

Recall that Paul visited synagogues first to proclaim the Messiah. It is not outlandish to believe that he saw these cultural facts during his missionary journeys and allowed women to take the lead in the church, as elders.

Once again, go here for the biblical evidence:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

16.. If Jesus intended to make leadership perfectly equal between men and women, he would have chosen six men and six women to make up the twelve. Instead, he chose twelve men to teach us that men are the ultimate leaders and have the final say in the church.

Jesus was a radical by the standards of his Jewish context, but he was not a fanatic. Even though he said humankind stands on top of the Sabbath, and the Sabbath does not hang over their heads like a sword, so to speak (Mark 2:27), and the kosher food laws were unimportant (Mark 7:19), he did not walk through Jerusalem carrying wood on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36) and eating pork (Lev. 11:7-8). This would have been needlessly provocative, and his witness for the bigger picture–his Messiahship–would have been lost.

Likewise, in his cultural context, the only way he could change it was to raise up twelve men who could speak the truth in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. The majority of men outside his new kingdom would have laughed the six women out of court or dragged them back home to their fathers or husbands, or maybe even stoned them for stepping much too far outside Jewish tradition which restricted women, particularly when they were preaching the Gospel. Recall that Paul was stoned for doing this (Acts 14:19).

Also, Jesus called twelve men in order to correspond to the twelve tribes or patriarchs of Israel, whose elders were leaders of the nation. As it will turn out, the twelve apostles were about to lead the way in allowing Gentiles to join the people of God by putting their faith in the Messiah, as distinct from law-keeping or circumcision or kosher diets.

And as time moved on in the widespread growth of the Christian Movement, the circle of apostles grew much more broadly than just the twelve, particularly as Paul defined the term. This circle expanded to include men like Timothy (half-Jew and half Gentile) and Titus (Gentile).

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

Do NT Apostles Exist Today?

Finally, it would have been unsafe for women to travel extensively and widely by themselves, not to mention scandalous, though some Bible interpreters (myself included) believe that some women, like Joanna, may have gone out on a short-term mission trip, as part of the seventy-two (Luke 10:1-20).

17.. But according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the elders have to be men because v. 6 says that they must be a husband of one wife–not a wife of one husband. Titus 1:5-7 (see v. 6) says the same.

Paul probably had men in mind when he wrote those verses in 1 Timothy and Titus. Of course he would mention the qualifications of male elders. They were leaders in the church. He would have been negligent to omit these requirements. No problem so far.

However, he was not emphatic or exclusive, particularly when older women stepped up and actually did the work of pastor, elder, and overseer (see the link below in this objection and reply). Greek has pronouns for “he” (autos) and “she” (autē). In Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-20, Paul does not use the masculine pronoun and begins 1 Timothy 3:1 with the generic pronoun “anyone” (if anyone desires to be an elder). It is true that the participles and other indicators are masculine, but in Greek, which has three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) the masculine nouns can encompass men and women. In Spanish, for example, if one man and several women form a group, one says of them ellos. In French it is ils or eux. These pronouns are masculine plural, but they include the women. And so it is with Greek. If Paul wanted to be emphatic in excluding women, he would have used autos to do so. (Greek often uses this pronoun for emphasis anyway.) But he does not use it.

As for “the husband of one wife,” this requirement also applies to women serving ministerially. Note that the widows who were over sixty years old had to be the wife of one husband (1 Timothy 5:9), and these women worked as elders, pastors, and overseers of the flock of God throughout their redeemed lives and throughout their widowhood.

Further, as to Greek culture at the time, particularly in Western Asia Minor, Linda L. Belleville informs us, as follows: “Greek married women were simply not prone to multiple marriages or illicit unions, while Greek men were. In fact, extra-marital affairs were par for the Greek male but not tolerated for Greek women (because of the concern for legitimate sons). Also the divorce rate among Greek men rivaled ours today.”

Prof. Belleville continues: “So the fact that Paul includes this qualification [husband of one wife] for male deacons (1 Tim. 3:12) and omits it for female deacons is exactly what one would expect” (Belleville in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck, p. 63).

In other words, after a careful look at all the data and the original context, those texts that seem to clearly restrict and exclude women from leading as elders do not actually restrict them, after all. And in 1 Timothy 5:9 says that widows who were a one-husband wife enjoyed special status.

Once again:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

18.. In Acts 16:15 Lydia invited Paul and Silas to her home. This is the beginnings of a house church in Philippi. Yet we read in Phil. 1:1 that Paul addresses the overseers and deacons. Therefore, Lydia and her team were excluded from those leadership functions.

That is quite a leap. It assumes that women could not be overseers or deacons. We know that they could be deacons or ministers of the word as seen in the life of Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2).

Romans 16

At that link, scroll down to vv. 1-2.

Women really did function in those leadership gifts. I see no reason to exclude Lydia and other female members of her household from functioning in those ministry roles. It’s time to take off our “male-only” lenses when we read of unnamed leaders in the church. And when women are named, they take the lead and minister.

To cite two examples, in Philippians 4:2-3, these women showed themselves to be important leaders:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:2-3)

Euodia and Syntyche “contended” or “co-struggled” (literally) with Paul for the gospel.  He also used the noun “coworker” of Priscila and Aquila in Romans 16:3-5. In Greek this noun is synergos (syn– = “co” and ergos = “worker” or “laborer”). This means that Priscilla and Aquila evangelized, taught, hosted, and led a church, their house church. This is clearly the same function as pastor or elder or overseer:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

The same is true of Euodia and Syntyche. They too worked hard in a similar way that Priscilla did.  Also, they were so important to the community at Philippi that their strife was on the verge of hindering the spread of the gospel. Paul urged an unnamed co-worker to help them reconcile.

Nympha hosted a house church in Colossae (Col. 4:15). No one should expect her not to care for people as a shepherd, a teacher, and an elder or overseer in her own house. The ministry of Phoebe and Prisca demonstrate that she probably did.

19.. However, 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 says that women are not allowed to speak but must be silent in church. This is clear and prescriptive.

I already covered those verses at this link:

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

At that link, after researching the original context, I reached this conclusion:

And so to judge from the context of the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 and 11:5, the wives / women must have been asking questions about the prophecies or tongues or the teachings or revelations that were free-flowing. They were asking questions at the wrong time. They may have adopted a prosecutorial tone and demeanor, even when their husbands were prophesying. Since they were less educated than men, generally,  their questions were natural but also out of order. They had to wait until they got home, so they did not interrupt the flow of the service. […]

All of this implies that when the Corinthian church comes back into order, women can speak up at the right time, as they operated in the gifts of the Spirit, listed in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 and 12:28. (This latter verse includes apostles, prophets, and teachers.) The prohibitions in 14:34-36 were not absolute and universal. Therefore, women in all ages and cultures can speak up when order and decorum reigns in the church service and house churches.

Therefore, it is best to read those verses as if they were not written two weeks ago, but in their original cultural and textual context, two thousand years ago. Yet order and decorum are universal and must be maintained at every time and in every place.

20.. Yet Ephesians 5:22-24 say, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” This is very clear and prescriptive. The husband is seen as symbolically representing Christ and the wife as symbolically representing the church. Again, subordination for wives and women.

Firstly, let’s not over-interpret those verses and rip them out of context. If we do, it would seem as though the man is the Lord over everything as the Jesus is the Lord over everything. Yet how does this work if the wife is compared to the church, and she is called to conform to the image of Christ? In Paul’s metaphorical image, the husband is as Christ so his lifelong process to conform to the image of Christ is secure, while her process is not. No, this interpretation goes too far. Something has gone wrong.

Secondly, in v. 22 the Greek is a participle, keying off church unity in vv. 19-20. so the NIV is off-kilter when it says, “submit to one another,” as if it is a command. It is not. Instead, it should read, “submitting to one another in the reverence for Christ.” And the next clause does not have a verb in Greek but simply reads: “wives to their own husbands, as to the Lord,” keying off the previous participle in the previous verse. There is no command or imperative. (However, I concede that Paul is elliptical in his writing, so the omission of the verb means we should carry over the previous verb.)

Thirdly, so how does she submit? She submits “as to the Lord” (v. 23). She first submits to the Lord. Jesus is her Lord, first. Her submission to her husband is not absolute. If Paul had intended an absolute submission, he could have drawn from the master-slave relationship, because that is what he will cover in Ephesian 6:5-9. Instead, Paul writes that Christ took the path of humility and gave himself for his church. He is not lording it over her as a Roman ruler or an ordinary Roman male head of household did.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Matt. 20:25)

Fourthly, the submission is not absolute because Paul says we must “walk in the way of love” (5:2). Any command that breaks with love and the ethical commands in all the previous and subsequent verses in Ephesians 4-6 should not be obeyed. So Paul’s tag line “in everything” at the end of v. 24 must be interpreted in the larger context. He writes the phrase to indicate a willingness of the heart, and often in Greek “all” or “everything” is a catch-all word or generalization that must not be interpreted literally in every case.

Fifthly, and most importantly, these next verses balance out the “submission” verses: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her […] In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:25, 28). See also v. 33 which repeats the same counsel.

It is better if the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, instead of demanding absolute submission from her. He should focus on his mission (love), not her submissiveness.

Sixthly, in v. 24, the verb “submits” is in the middle / passive voice, which is most accurately translated in the middle voice as the church “submits herself to Christ” (the passive does not work here). The middle voice implies the church’s willingness. There is no coercion. The church submits herself willingly to Christ because he loves her first and gave himself for her. To apply this to womankind in the household, her will to submit is not because she is subordinate in her being or essence, as many Complementarians / restrictionists argue, but in her will, as she responds to her husband’s Christlike love. That is, she is not designed to be subordinate because she is female, as if subordination or submission is in her very nature and is built in by God himself. Instead, she voluntarily submits, even though she is equal in being or nature or essence to her husband. Christ’s love flowing through the husband draws her. So both the husband self-sacrifices and the wife self-sacrifices as Christ did when he gave himself for the church.

Seventhly, it is better to submit to truth: “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If the wife has the truth in an important matter, then the husband would be foolish to ignore it just because he (wrongly) believes that her submission is absolute. But if he has the truth, she would likewise be foolish to disregard it.

Since we are dealing with a household setting, let’s apply a scenario in our world today on speaking the truth in love.

Let’s say your grown daughter is still living at home because she is transitioning from college to the workforce. She hears you and your spouse (her parents) quarreling over an important issue. Round and round you go. Finally, she intervenes: “Would you two please stop fighting. You’re getting nowhere. You need to spend a few days in prayer, and let God lead you. Let him speak.” You know in your hearts that she spoke the truth. How do you respond? Are you arrogant or teachable? If you’re teachable, you take her wise advice. If one or both are arrogant, then you ignore her or, worse, scold her. I urge you to be teachable and surrender to the truth, no matter who speaks it.

Eighthly, Paul teaches us about the married man and woman or the single man or woman in these verses from 1 Corinthians 7. Note how the clauses in each verse or verses parallel each other, often verbatim, denoting equality of roles:

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (v. 2)

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. (v. 3)

The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (v. 4)

 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (v. 5)

10  […] A wife must not separate from her husband. […] And a husband must not divorce his wife. (vv. 10-11) Note: separate” and “divorce” in Greek has the same meaning.

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  (vv. 12-13)

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. (v. 14)

But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances […] (v. 15)

How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (v. 16)

But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. (v. 28)

[…] An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. […] An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. (vv. 32, 34a)

But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife […] But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. (vv. 33, 34b)

Those above verses strike an egalitarian note. “It is difficult to imagine how revolutionary it was for Paul to write in 7:4, ‘the husband does not have authority over his own body but his wife does” (Payne, p. 107). So what about authority in the home? Verse 14 says that a believing wife may sanctify her unbelieving husband. So the man’s authority is not automatic by virtue of being a male. The notion that man’s authority is “God’s design” needs serious revision.

HT for the list of verses: Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 105-06. This book is excellent and exegetically mature and deep. Highly recommended.

Ninthly, the goal in our life in Christ is to die daily (Luke 9:23). It is to “live” the crucified life.


Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24)


 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

When each person in the marriage dies to his or her own limited opinion and his or her obstinacy and selfishness, then God’s voice and leadership can shine forth and lead the couple to go in the right direction and come to the right decision, whether the husband or wife. Then the other one must submit to the truth that comes from God.

Finally, despite the context which clarifies the verses, I’m not an egalitarian absolutist. Paul does ask the wife to submit, in the final analysis. There is no denying it. And so each household will have to work out the balance between the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife submitting to him as the church does to her loving, self-sacrificial Lord. But I say the way of the cross holds the answer for all households.

But let’s not over-interpret vv. 22-24 and rip the verses out of context. That has been my main point under this objection and reply.

21.. But 1 Peter 3:1-7 clearly teaches that women should submit to their own husbands. Again, subordination.

There is no command in Greek, but it is a participle in the middle passive voice, so the participle could be translated as “submitting herself”; but whether an imperative (command) or participle, submission is enjoined. So my reply is about the same as the previous one on Eph. 5:22-24. It is about the cross. Husbands and wives must submit to it and the truth. And v. 7 in 1 Peter 3 says that husbands should respect their wives.

Then we must read those verses within their own historical, cultural context. In his chapter in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck (pp. 228-46), Peter H. Davids has an excellent discussion of the cultural Greco-Roman households. Pagan husbands ruled over it and did not permit superstitions (e.g. Judaism or Christianity). So Peter counsels the wives to keep quiet and remain calm about their new religion (Christianity). Their husband may believe that his wife is too radical and drifting away from the household with divided allegiance. If she keeps talking about it, the authoritarian husband may stop the household disunity and thus hinder his wife’s faith in Christ.

Davids continues. Jewish writings roughly contemporaneous with Peter’s epistle show that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” This is how women were to show respect two thousand years ago (and the Victorian Age, in some cases). But do we want to coerce women to call their husbands “lord” today? Not even the most absolute restrictionists  / Complementarians require this of their wives (I hope). So the fact that they do not require this indicates that they too read v. 6 in its cultural context. They must conclude, “This is not for us today.”

Davids writes:

Peter’s strategy was to advise wives not to talk about their religion but to model culturally appropriate behavior that was also universal Christian virtue. This dictated that they not be sexually provocative outside the home, that their words be few, that they show gentleness and they not foment revolution within the household. (p. 240)

So in other words, we must read those inspired and infallible verses in 1 Peter 3 in their original cultural context. Then we have clarity on how we interpret them for women in the household today. Sometimes the culture assumed in biblical verses are not carried forward, but virtues and respect from everyone, both men and women, are universal–for all times and all places.

And this is why I’m convinced that when we read the verses in their original cultural context–the Greco-Roman household–we have clarity.

22.. But 1 Corinthians 11:3 says that the man is the head of the woman, and 11:7 says that the woman is the glory of the man, and 11:10 says she must have authority over her head. Therefore, womankind is subordinate.

It is impossible to exaggerate how disputed 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is–all of the verses. I thought about placing it in a separate (long) post, but let me instead reply in this one.

Firstly, the word “head” is much disputed in those verses. In 1985, systematic theologian Wayne Gruden looked at 2336 instances of the word throughout ancient Greek literature and concluded that it never means “source” but always “head,” implying that men lead women. The number 2336 seems sensationalistic (though I have no doubt he looked them up in the TLG Greek database). Also, one can know a priori (before investigation) that his conclusion is suspect, for words are not quite so fixed as he claims. And sure enough, other scholars have challenged his findings. See Craig Keener’s summary of the challenges in his book Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Hendrickson, 1992) pp. 34-35 and 56, notes 118 and 119. Especially see Payne, pp. 117-37. On p. 122 he accuses Thomas Schreiner and Wayne Grudem in their respective works of making “blatantly false statements” about “head” meaning “authority,” when it does not; it means “source.”

In his commentary The First Epistle to the Corinthians, rev. ed., The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2014), NT scholar Gordon Fee does the manual labor in refuting the systematic theologian’s evidence (p. 554-55, lengthy notes 43 and 46). Fee: “But he [Grudem] is quite wrong to assert that the idea of ‘source’ or ‘origin’ is not to be found” (p. 555, note 43). In other words, “head” can mean the “source” of an item or person without implying subordination. God is the head of Christ (v. 3), and subordinationism is considered unorthodox by most Trinitarian theologians. So we must be careful not to over-interpret “head” in this context as meaning subordination.

But the culminating point is vv. 11-12, which clarifies Paul’s meaning. See the fifth point in this objection.

Secondly, yes, the woman is considered the glory of the man, but glory does not require subordination. Paul’s point is that the woman wearing her head covering brings glory to her husband, the opposite of shame. Honor (glory) and shame were important in the eastern Mediterranean of this time (Keener, p. 33).

Thirdly, speaking of head coverings, most scholars–the ones I have read–conclude that this is a cultural issue, back in the Greco-Roman world. Or more specifically, evidence for a head covering in Greek life is sparse, yet in the Roman west, both men and women wore head coverings while praying in a temple or at a shrine at home. (Keener, pp. 27-28). In fact, in prayer, Greek women were expected not to wear a head covering (Keener, p. 28). However, since Corinth was a Roman colony, there may been some confusion about the custom. A third cultural factor: Jewish custom says men and women must be covered in prayer. This probably explains Paul’s closing statement on the issue in v. 16: “If anyone is minded to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (my translation, though Payne suggests, “we, the churches of God, have no such custom,” because of Paul’s use of the negative oude, “neither” or “nor”). So Paul is simply temporarily accepting Corinthian cultural assumptions and arguing for honor and modesty within their cultural custom. See the sixth point.

Fourthly, the phrase “because of the angels” (v. 10) does not imply a universal, transcultural, timeless command. Instead, Paul is temporarily using the Corinthian belief at the time that they were like angels when they spoke in tongues (13:1), and angels observed the weakness of the apostles (4:9), and the Corinthians (and all other believers) would judge angels in the future (6:2-3). So Paul is saying that they should be able to figure things out in matters as simple as a head covering. The authority over her head (v. 10) means that this authority belongs to her, not to anyone else. See the next point.

Who Were the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis?

At that link, scroll down to the eighth point, where I discuss the “because of the angels” phrase. I don’t deny that angels can become or have become evil, but I deny that they can sneak around and have sex with women.

Fifthly, the most important verses are vv. 11-12, which explain everything that has come before (and after). “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Corinthians 11:1-12). Payne suggests, “woman is not set apart from man, nor is man set apart from woman in the Lord.” Payne suggests this because of Paul’s use of the Greek preposition khōris (“apart” or “without”) and the context. Men and woman are created differently, but this does not imply authority / subordination because both are in the Lord and submitted to him. Next, the word “nevertheless” is a clear signal that Paul intends to be emphatic. In those two verses he is clarifying in summary form his ultimate stance. In the Lord, there is equality, because man and woman both come from God. Paul reminds his readers that there is no subordination of womankind to mankind in Christ. Those two verses are the great equalizers.

Sixthly, the main point of vv. 2-16 is gender distinctions and honoring and not shaming each other, particularly the husband and wife relationship in the household and men and women in the church setting (Keener, p. 33). If the Corinthians thought they were like angels while praying and, for example, therefore closer to being sexless (cf. 7:36-38), they should instead wear clothing that keeps up the distinctions, whatever the appropriate clothing may be in Corinth. Remember Paul’s closing statement in v. 16, quoted in the third point. Let’s not be contentious (about the specifics).

Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the universal truth is modesty and respect between men and women while praying and prophesying in the assembly and between husband and wife in the household. (The church and the household merged.) Whichever clothing brings modesty and respect and honor in the eyes of the Corinthians in their own cultural context and customs, then this modesty and respect and honor should be observed. And no one should be contentious about it.

So, once again, interpreting Scripture in its original context clarifies the issues for me. Now it was easy for me to conclude that Egalitarians have the stronger biblical evidence.

23.. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:14 that women are, by their very nature, more easily deceived. To prove this, he quotes the Old Testament story about Eve being deceived. The fact that he quotes the OT means that he applies it to all women in all times. It’s universal.

No, Paul does not say “by their very nature.” Genesis 3:6 clearly teaches that Adam was with the woman when the overly clever serpent dialogued with her. She took the fruit, ate it, and handed it to her husband who was with her. Why didn’t he object? For whatever reason, he refused to get involved in the serpent-woman dialogue. He was not forced to eat.

Also, we must be careful about universalizing the notion of deception being limited only to women. In this passage Paul writes of men and women:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (2 Cor. 11:3-4, NIV)

Paul often grabs a verse from the OT to prove his point in a specific context. Therefore quoting from the OT does not by itself prove universality.

Let’s say your best friend, a man, is prone to alcoholism. You quote a few verses from the Bible that warn against alcoholism. Does your quoting those verses mean that all men are prone to alcoholism or that other members of your friend’s family, by their very nature? No, of course not. Those verses are context-specific. Or it can be a warning to any man on the planet, if he were to become an alcoholic, but not all men will become one. Many men hate alcohol and do not touch it. Your quoting the Bible does not prove that the verses apply to everyone–just some.

In Corinth, both men and women were susceptible to deception because of the super-apostles. But if you wish to universalize susceptibility to deception because of false teachers, you may certainly do so; however, just be fair. Don’t claim women by themselves are ontologically (in their nature or being) more prone to deception than men are. Many men and women are not prone to deception but can figure things out (e.g. Paul himself) and warn the others.

Further, Paul refers to women and Eve in 1 Timothy 2:14 because the temple of Artemis in Ephesus was led, in part, by women. In his theology, paganism reflected (or caused) the death of humanity because of idolatry (Rom. 1:21-23). Eve offered the forbidden fruit to Adam, which brought death. When some of these Ephesian priestesses–or women who were not priestesses but belonged to the cult–converted to Christ, they had to be retrained to lead from the position of submission to the Lordship of Jesus. When this cultural problem was solved, it is implied that women could teach.

Click here for more on the cultural background in 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Click here for more on the cultural background in Corinth:

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

I like what Prof. Conway says:

There is some evidence that Eve was not fully aware of the consequences of her action–that she acted without full knowledge–although she did nevertheless sin. Adam, however, was fully informed by Yahweh himself about the ban on the tree and is without excuse. As 1 Timothy 2:14 states, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Some commentators read this as an exoneration of Adam, but it is actually a condemnation, since it does not offer Adam the extenuation that Eve is given. (p. 46)

24.. No, sorry, but 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, and other verses like them which put restrictions on women in the church, are very plain. No cultural background can overcome the plain and universal prescriptive passages in Scripture. The commands and restrictions of these prescriptive verses are universal and therefore apply to women today.

Some interpreters call the passages which describe women’s ministry being practiced “descriptive”  (e.g. Priscilla, Phoebe, Syntyche, Euodia, Nympha, Junia et al. See the references below). In contrast, the verses in the objection are often called “prescriptive passages.” They issue commands and instructions. How do we interpret the two kinds–descriptive and prescriptive?

One interpretation misses things: if we make the so-called prescriptive passages “smack down” the descriptive passages, then we make the women to be transgressors of the prescriptive passages in their active ministries. So something has gone wrong with the interpretation of the prescriptive passages. It is a sure thing that Paul would have laughed it out court because he observed those women in action. (Or if he could time-travel to right now, he may weep from discouragement at modern American, uptight interpretations of his verses.) Instead, the descriptive and prescriptive passages are mutually clarifying. Neither one trumps the other.

Women’s real-life ministries are found throughout the NT. Examples: named and unnamed women who followed Jesus to the very end of his life (Luke 8:2-3; 24:10); Priscilla taught the mighty Apollos (Acts 18); Euodia and Syntyche strove alongside Paul in the cause of the gospel (Phil. 4:2-3); Junia was a co-prisoner with Paul and was outstanding among the apostles (Rom. 16:7). Junia cannot have been passive and silent in ministry to land her in prison. Phoebe was a minister of the word (Rom. 16:1-2). Philipp’s daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9). A certain Mary worked hard for the Romans (Rom. 16:6). It is impossible to believe that she kept her mouth closed throughout her hard work.

Do modern Complementarians / restrictionists really want women not to say one word in church? Those verses in the objection were not written two weeks ago in America (or another nation), but two thousand years ago. Scripture is not flat or one dimensional. It was not written to us, but it was written for us.

This objection sets up a needless dichotomy between the two types of Scripture. Paul wrote that we are supposed to learn even from the (descriptive) stories in the Old Testament:

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11, NIV)

To repeat and re-emphasize, we need both types of Scripture–descriptive and prescriptive–to explain each other. I see both types as essential and part of the inerrant, authoritative word of God. Both types are mutually explanatory and clarifying. Don’t pit one against the other, or else you will turn Priscilla and other women (e.g. in Rom. 16) into transgressors of the “prescriptive” commands of Paul. Bad idea.

Those verses, of necessity, have an original cultural background that must be explored, particularly in the role of women in the church. The background clarifies the “plain” meaning of the text, even more. It is very risky to ignore the cultural background because we can reach needlessly severe restrictions.

Culture, culture, culture! Context, context, context!

Once again, for more on the cultural background of those two passages in the objection, please click on these two articles:

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

25.. I agree that women can prophesy (Luke 2:36-38; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). I agree that women can be evangelists (Mary Magdalene and other women announced the resurrection to the men). But women apostles? No way!

Romans 16:7 says that Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were members of the apostolic community.

The only reason Romans 16:7 has become controversial is because the restrictionists / Complementarians have made it controversial. But the Greek is very straightforward and clear (en + dative plural). When the extra-conservative NET and ESV translate similar Greek constructions in other verses throughout the NT (en + dative plural), they go the normal route and translate it as “among,” which is right. This places the items or persons inside the large group (the basic meaning of the preposition en is “in”). Translating the phrase as “among such-and-such items or persons” is inclusive by definition. However, when the NET and ESV come across Romans 16:7, they make it seem like Andronicus and Junia stood outside the apostolic community: the couple was “well known to the apostles.” Their translations are inconsistent.

The restrictionists engage in this sort of inconsistency too often for my tastes. It wore me down. So it was easy for me to become an egalitarian. And the Scriptural evidence favors egalitarianism.

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

26.. I can agree that women can be prophets and evangelists and teachers of young women only, but pastors or elders? No way!

I already dealt with this issue in this post:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

At that link, after examining all the Scriptural evidence, I concluded (slightly edited):

Therefore, in 1 Timothy 5:9-10, the widows had been functioning as and were elders, pastors, overseers. They had been church leaders who shepherded and pastored and oversaw the people of God, throughout their redeemed lives. Their function (actually doing the work) tells us of their ontology (who they were): they were and did the work of elders, pastors, and overseers of God’s flock in Ephesus (and probably throughout the Christian communities, as in Crete, where Paul sent Titus).

I say that their doing and being “promotes” them to be part of church governance since they could offer much-needed insight from their experience of a lifetime of ministry. After all, they qualify to be registered on an official list precisely and only because of their shepherding and overseeing gifts. I can easily imagine a male elder asking these righteous widows for advice on a sensitive issue. In that case she is directing the affairs of the church. She is a leader, who guides the church. I see no high wall of separation between the male and female elders or pastors or overseers.

As for women being restricted to teaching only young women, please click on this link:

Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5

The biblical text in Titus 2:4 literally says “young women.” However, restrictionists bend the rules and allow older women to teach older women. Yet it literally says “young” women! So how far do we take the literalness? Evidently, restrictionists are willing to compromise somewhat, but not too much!

In any case, at that link, I reached this conclusion:

Women teachers existed in the New Testament. In Titus 2:3-5 Paul was writing from a cultural point of view. Women occupied their own household and had to manage it. And older women naturally taught young women how to manage their own household, to love their husbands, and children and develop the virtues, because young women also occupied the domestic sphere. But we must not over-read Paul’s words, when the church met in their households. It is easy to imagine that while the church service was going on, walls of separation between men and women sharing their faith, their songs, their revelations and their teachings collapsed.

Nothing in Scripture, properly interpreted, stands in women’s way to fulfilling their God-called ministry.

27.. But it is right to distinguish between role and being. In womankind’s being, she is equal to mankind before God. But in her role she is different–subordinate and unequal in the church roles, particularly governance, or in the household. “Equal in being, unequal in role,” as certain of our leading Complementarians say.

This sounds so reasonable, because men and women do have different roles in life; for example, men cannot give birth, but women can. Teachers lead, while students follow, but in their being, all of them have rational human souls.

However, there are fatal flaws in the equal-unequal theology.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (d. 2018) wrote a long chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality (3rd. ed)., edited by Ronald L. Pierce et al. It is superbly and exquisitely argued, but complex. Let me quote this passage:

It should also be noted that although role theology has become central to evangelical patriarchy, nowhere does Scripture use the term role or any synonym for it with reference to the responsibilities of believers toward God or one another. At no point do we read that God designed us–and requires us–to play a role. No, God’s concern is for each of us to be a righteous person and to use whatever gifts of the Spirit we have been given for the good of the church and the glory of God. The Bible’s focused exhortation is that we are all to be Christlike, to follow the example of Jesus’ earthly life–in humility, faithfulness, submission to God, and spiritual authority (in Christ’s name) over all the powers of evil. (pp. 413-14, emphasis original)

So biblically, take away the “equal in being, unequal in role” theology because the Bible does not support our role playing in Christ. There is no maleness that must be authoritative by his nature and femaleness that must be subordinate by her nature. In Christ everyone has authority and must submit to the Lord. Plus, we must all become conformed to the image of Christ. We are all called to be Christlike.

Then Merrill Groothuis insightfully adds the evangelical patriarchal version of role and being, which is inconsistent by their own standards and definitions in their writings (which Merrill Groothuis had quoted in her introduction):

It may sound plausible to insist that women’s subordination and man’s authority are merely roles assigned by God and so do not entail women’s personal inferiority. Roles, by definition, do not necessarily bespeak qualities of personal being. But [evangelical] patriarchal gender roles are not roles in accordance with the usual definition. These roles have a one-to-one correspondence with being. Where the being is, there the role is also. Female being corresponds precisely to a role of subordination to male authority. The word role is used in a way that renders its meaning basically synonymous or redundant with being.

Female subordination and male authority may be semantically reduced to roles or functions, but in reality they serve as modes of being–permanent personal identities, built into each one’s personal makeup by the Creator himself. Thus, when the man rules and the woman obeys, each is doing what each is inherently designed to do [according to evangelical patriarchy]. (p. 414)

Wow. What she says there is the main point of her long chapter. Evangelical restrictionists may say that role and being are different, but these proponents are inconsistent, for they also say that women’s subordination and man’s authority are designed by God, built into womankind’s and mankind’s very natures, by virtue of being male and female. The Complementarians / restrictionists want to separate role and being, but they cannot by their own wording in their own writings. And therefore their argument collapses under the weight of inconsistency and faulty definition of terms.

Yet Complementarians / restictionists still curtail women’s involvement and full participation in ministry and other roles equal to those of men’s in the church.

Thus I see, once again, that Egalitarians have better arguments, so it was easy for me to change from indifferent and mild restrictionism to an egalitarianism.

28.. Suppose I accept, just for the sake argument, that we Complementarians are being inconsistent. How does this work out in practical terms?

I alluded to it in the last two sentences in the previous challenge.

Again, this long excerpt in Ms. Merrill Groothuis’s long chapter moved me and clarified things for me. What if women were treated as truly equal? She answers:

It is difficult to image, but it seems certain that women would not be treated the way they are now. If women were truly regarded as no less than men in their intrinsic capacities and inbuilt resources for leadership, decision making, and spiritual understanding, then men in leadership would routinely utilize women’s abilities fully in such areas as financial and administrative management, ministry to both men and women, moral and theological reasoning, spiritual gifts and insights, and biblical exegesis and exposition. Women would not be consistently interrupted, dismissed, patronized or ignored when they speak up in classrooms or staff / faculty / board meetings of Christian organizations. Rather, men would listen to, respect, appreciate, and seek out women’s counsel and expertise in all the areas where gifted women stand to contribute the important task of shepherding God’s flock and sharing the gospel of Christ with the world at large. (p. 419)

Right now, women are virtually silent church-goers who are ignored, in major denominations. But when we see true equality in being and roles–the two cannot be logically separated by the Complementarians’ own definitions found in their writings–then women could have a beneficial voice and role in the church.

29.. Egalitarianism is nothing more than creeping, postmodern, Western hyper-feminism, which denies the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and advocates all sorts of unbiblical sexual ethics.

It is true that some individual egalitarians advocate those things, but this is not true of all of them. Egalitarians like me don’t do those things but have a basic point. The so-called prescriptive commands in Scripture (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, etc.) must be read in their cultural context. And when this is done, egalitarians conclude that these seemingly universal and strict prohibitions against women’s full involvement in ministry are just Paul speaking to his particular context. The prohibitions are not universal, after all. This further implies that when Paul’s cultural issues are addressed and solved, women back then (and today) can fully participate in various ministry functions and church governance, just as Phoebe, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, Priscilla, Mary of Rom. 16:6 (and others) actually did..

Personally, I speak out against this brand of creeping feminism and progressivism generally:

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Danger Signs

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Authority of Scripture

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Marriage and Sex

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Judgment Is Coming

Instead of advocating strange sexual ethics, like gay or lesbian pastors, I simply follow the Bible; and it allows all godly women who are called and gifted by God to participate fully in all of church ministry.


I was never into this issue of egalitarianism or restrictionism because I was never going into practical ministry. When I saw a woman up in front teaching, I did not have a problem with it, though when I heard she was a pastor, I felt the tiniest internal cringe. So maybe I was a restrictionist in a slight degree.

But I changed. How? By reading the Bible.

The interpretive key was to read the verses in their cultural context, particularly the Greco-Roman household, where the churches met. Scripture is not flat and one-dimensional. It was written for us, but not to us. Once I looked into the cultural assumptions which prevailed two thousand years ago, I was convinced the Egalitarians had the better evidence and arguments. The historical method is what the Reformers taught us long ago.

Another interpretive key was to do proper exegesis. In my examination of Scripture and the arguments, the egalitarians have the stronger case–by far. How many times did I see inconsistency in the exegesis of the restrictionists! Two examples are the translations of Romans 16:7 (see no. 25, above) or Grudem’s over-interpretation of the data on “head” (no. 22). I have never seen such hard work–for what? To restrict women? Why? The biblical verses can easily be interpreted to liberate women who are called of God. I simply could not wrap my mind around their efforts, their drive. They were troubling to me–and exhausting.

The links to the individual articles (below) will have to suffice for the rest of the exegetical evidence.

Some interpreters distinguish between prescriptive passages (e.g. 1 Timothy  2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36) and descriptive passages, which describe women’s ministry (e.g. Priscilla and Phoebe and Mary of Romans 16:6). They conclude that prescriptive ones “trump” the descriptive ones. No, they mutually clarify the other. I think it is a bad idea to turn those wonderful women of God, whom Paul knew in person and by name and who actually led the churches and men, into transgressors of the prescriptive verses.

So proper exegesis and looking into the culture of two thousand years ago gave me permission to turn the kaleidoscope just one notch, and things got much clearer.

The church must lead the world in the topic of sexuality and roles. We must instruct the world that men and women who have surrendered to the Lordship of Christ are one in him and one in ministerial roles and functions. Mankind’s and womankind’s ontology (their being) in Christ are equal, and so are their ministry roles (their doing) in Christ.

No, this point of view, interpreted in good faith and left untwisted, does not have to play into the hands of the current, dangerous belief that men can be women, and women can be men, thus blurring the sex differences related to biology. It is not anything goes. I denounce such postmodern confusion and destructive postmodernism generally.

Instead, the Scriptures teach consistency in mankind’s and womankind’s ontology and function–in Christ. Equality in their ontology and ministry practice in his church must be maintained so that we appear coherent and a good witness to the world–and maintain our conformity to Scripture above all. We must lead the world towards a godly equality that denies their postmodern confusion.

My prayer is that women will step into their full ministry, by God’s call on their life and the gift and empowerment of the Spirit.


Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11

Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

What 1 Corinthians 14 Really Teaches

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Women Teachers: New Translation and Reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2

Romans 16

Brief Overview of Divorce and Remarriage in New Testament


1. Postmodernism and the Bible: Introduction

2. The Origins of Postmodernism

3. Postmodern ‘Truth Soup’

4. Deconstruction: A Primer

5. The Deconstructed Jesus

6. The Reconstructed Jesus: What the Bible Actually Says

7. Interpreting the Bible and Finding the Truth

8. Postmodernism and the Bible: Conclusion


Works Cited


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