The Galatians 3 argument
I have often seen Galatians 3: 28 offered as a counterpoint to the explicit passages regarding gender relations and roles. Here is the passage in question in the surrounding context.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:25-29)So isn’t Paul saying that there is no difference between men and women in Christ? Well yes and no. Paul is not speaking of gender at all, he is saying that in Christ salvation is for all. Just as he is not saying that when a slave becomes a Christian he is freed from this earthly master (in fact he says that servants should obey their masters in Ephesians 6: 5-8) or that a Greek who is saved becomes a Jew, he is likewise not saying anything about gender relations here.
This is another example of why context is so important. You cannot read Galatians 3:28 in a vacuum, you need to see the whole thing so you can understand what Paul is saying and why what he is saying here is not that in Christ there is no difference in function between men and women, it is that the saving message of the cross is universal and doesn’t apply only to the rich, the Jew, men, etc. but that salvation comes to all people. Galatians 3:28 is perfectly compatible with what Paul and Peter say elsewhere regarding gender.
The cultural argument
Another argument is made that the writings of Paul and Peter regarding gender are merely reflective of the prevailing culture of the time they were writing. The customs of ancient times don’t apply to us today, we have advanced beyond that. Just as we use email and cell phones instead of papyrus, we should likewise dump the anachronistic gender roles we see in the New Testament.
Here is the problem with that. There are actually a couple of big problems. First, when Paul especially speaks about gender roles and boundaries, he never appeals to the culture of the day and in fact he typically is speaking of universal principles. We see this most pointedly in his appeal to the creation order and the Fall. The realities of those events are timeless. The second is that you can make that same argument about all sorts of precepts in the Bible. Maybe women don’t need to dress modestly, maybe stealing isn’t all that bad, maybe loving our neighbors is outdated, maybe marriage is overrated? You can see the problem here. What the Bible is speaking of are universal and timeless truths. There is nothing in what Paul and Peter wrote regarding gender that would be tied to the culture of the day and therefore no longer be applicable. In fact I would suggest that egalitarianism more of a capitulation to the prevailing culture than complementarianism is a throwback to an ancient culture.
The denying the one who is equipped argument
But, some might say, my wife is a great leader! She is a wonderful teacher! Why would God equip her in that way and then deny her the ability to function with those talents? That doesn’t make any sense!
I get where that argument is coming from. My wife is a very good public speaker. She has spoken to much larger audiences than I ever have and is quite good at it. That really isn’t the point. The point has to do with obedience and calling, not perceived ability. Just because we think someone is “good at” something doesn’t override what Scripture teaches.
God has given people talents that can be used to accumulate a great deal of wealth. Does that mean that they should pursue monetary gain? God has given people the ability to lie convincingly. Does that mean they should lie to others? Of course not and likewise while some women have a gift when it comes to teaching and serving, that doesn’t mean their perceived abilities should trump Scriptural prohibitions. There is plenty of work to be done in discipling other women and raising and caring for children and that is just as important as teaching men. Perhaps we should ignore the culture around us that devalues women “just” raising children and focus on obedience as a sign of our love for Christ? I would go so far as to say that we have plenty of talented teachers in the church but what we really need are godly women who embrace raising their children and helping younger women learn how to also be good wives and mothers. All of the teaching and leadership in the church is not worth very much if the home and family are unsound.
The separate is inherently unequal argument, i.e. women are second class citizens in the church
This viewpoint makes an interesting point, one that is familiar in our culture. If men and women are relegated to certain roles, that is inherently discriminatory. They would argue that no matter how you slice it, different is unequal. Most of us recognize this principle in areas like racial segregation where “separate but equal” has been declared to be intrinsically discriminatory. It is an argument that resonates with us, especially in America with our history of racial discrimination.
Here is the big problem with this argument. You and I don’t get to decide what is “fair” or what is “equal”. What is truly “fair” is that we all spend an eternity in hell. For those who are saved, bought by the blood of Christ and adopted into the family of God, the Word of God is our standard. Not the culture. Not our personal opinions. Not what is fair or equitable. The Word.
The mindset that sees any barrier to how women serve and function in the home is ironically the same mindset that sees titles and functions as key to the church. If women can’t be pastors or elders they are being treated unfairly. Jesus taught over and over that the greatest among us are the humble servants, not the “leaders”. In many ways, a woman who graciously submits to the leadership of her husband is far more godly than the man who has a title like “Pastor” or “Doctor” in front of his name and a slew of initials after it. I think many Christians fall into the trap of equating “institutional church” with “complementarian gender roles” and chuck the good with the bad.
Examples of women that appear to be fulfilling male roles
There are a couple of places where we see examples of women allegedly fulfilling roles that I have argued are restricted to men. These can seem, at first blush, to be compelling arguments against the patriarchal position I have laid out. When you dig a little deeper and look at them in context, they are far less convincing. For example:
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. (Acts 21:8-9)This makes sense in light of the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 that speaks of women praying and prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5). Clearly women prophesied. I find it somewhat amusing that the same people who try to use this passage to support egalitarianism are often the same people who reject headcovering. But I digress. What else do we know about these women? Not a whole lot, this is the only mention of them although Joel prophesied about women prophesying on the day of Pentecost in Joel 2:28 when he wrote that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”. The question we need to raise here is not just what does Luke say about the daughters of Philip but also what does he not say. He doesn’t say when or how often these daughters prophesied. Was it in the gathering of the church? Maybe, maybe not. I am not convinced that prophesying (along with headcovering) is something restricted to the gathered church. We know that they were unmarried so they didn’t have husbands obviously. Who did they prophesy to and what did they prophesy about? We don’t know. Is this something normative or are these daughters unique? Again we don’t know but I am pretty sure I have not heard anyone, male or female, prophesying in the sense of a prophetic utterance. What we know about this event is pretty scarce and what we don’t know is quite vast. I cannot see that a brief blurb about unmarried daughters prophesying without a touch of context to explain it should override the multiple, lengthy and explicit New Testament passages that deal with gender relations in the church and home. I certainly don’t discount that God can and has used women as vehicles for prophesy but I likewise don’t see that contradicting what Paul and Peter taught.
Then there is this one:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24-26)
What do we know about this? We know that both Priscilla and her husband Aquila took Apollos aside and explained “the way of God more accurately”. That is about all we know. So doesn’t this seem to violate 1 Timothy 2:12? Not necessarily. First, we note that both Priscilla and her husband took Apollos aside. We also note that they corrected him after taking him apparently out of the public eye in the synagogue. So in this event was Priscilla somehow exercising authority over Apollos? We certainly cannot be sure since we are given neither the content of the conversation nor are we presented with this event with an accompanying judgment call as to its appropriateness. Any suggestion that this event trumps the explicit gender passages relies on mere conjecture and that is always a poor hermeneutic.
As I mentioned, this list is not and was not intended to be comprehensive. These are just some examples of the objections to patriarchy and headship I have run into. I would welcome the chance to interact with any other Scripturally based arguments against complementarianism.
My final post will be a summary of Biblical patriarchy, what it is and is not and with a quick word regarding the “patriarchy movement”.