The Biblical Basis for Male-Female Equality

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This pamphlet was published (sometime in the early 1980s) and distributed by Galations 3:28 PRESS. Galations 3:28 Press was the publisher of the newsletter PERSPECTIVE and seller of books promoting male-female equality in Christ.


Dr. Mollenkott wants readers to know that in intervening years, she has learned that there was much more variety of gender attitudes in1st Century Judaism than she was aware of in the 1970's when this was written, and also that she had not yet learned about transgender realities.





The Biblical Basis for Male-Female Equality

The "battle of the sexes" is nothing to laugh at. Its cause is disobedience to the will of God as revealed in the Bible. Unfortunately, many churches have been guilty of following the secular culture instead of speaking the Biblical word of healing. Thus even Christian churches have encouraged men to be proud and dominant and women to be passive and irresponsible. Out of obedience to the Scriptures, it is high time to call both women and men to mutual submission and active discipleship.

The Bible teaches the full equality of males and females—in the home and in the church as well as in the general society—through mutual submission (concern, deference, and service; see, for example, Galatians 5:13 and Romans 12:10).

THE CREATION

The Genesis creation accounts show that both male and female were made in the image of God, and that both were given the mandate to fill and take responsibility for the rest of the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). Genesis 1 and 2 show humanity as the masterpiece of the creation. Genesis 1, using climactic order, emphasizes the chronology of creation, with the creation of Adam and Eve together on the sixth day as the zenith. Genesis 2, emphasizing relationship, makes the same point but in a different way. This account utilizes the "ring" technique, in which an author's strongest concern is made memorable by being placed in the first and final position. Thus Genesis 2 highlights the most important creation (the human race) by treating it both first and last: Adam is created first, then all the animals, and finally Eve.

To stress the uniqueness of human relating, Genesis 2 says that Adam viewed the females of all the animal species and found them wanting until he saw the human female. Woman is called the partner or helpmeet of man, using the Hebrew word ezer, which is used elsewhere for the help which God gives to human beings. There is no hint of subordination in either of the two creation accounts. There is only an emphasis on oneness and mutuality.

CREATION SPOILED BY SIN—AND THE NEW CREATION

Sin enters the human condition in Genesis 3. Only after Adam and Eve have substituted their will for God's will does the specter of male supremacy and female subordination enter the picture. Genesis 3:16 describes male-female relating under the law of sin and death.

By contrast, the Gospel brings us Good News, setting believers "free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). So the work of the twentieth-century church is not to perpetuate the sinful results of the fall, but rather to preach the Good News of liberation from the law of sin and death. In Christ the sinful condition of male primacy is overthrown.

GOD AS UNLIMITED BY HUMAN GENDER

The Bible pictures each person of the Holy Trinity, the One Godhead, in both masculine and feminine terms. For instance, Jesus referred to God as a female householder finding her lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), to himself as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37) and to the Spirit as a woman giving birth (John 3:5-6).

Futhermore, the New Testament authors refer to Jesus as anthropos, human, rather than as aner, male. To suppress the ministry of women on the basis of Christ's maleness is to go against the emphasis of the whole New Testament of Christ as the new Adam (a Hebrew word including both male and female). Christ is the embodiment and regenerator of the entire human race.

GOD IN HUMAN GENDER

To be incarnated in a normal human body, God had to take on human limitations, including the limitations of gender. Since nobody listened seriously to either women or slaves in first-century society, and since Jesus was coming to teach a whole new lifestyle, it is obvious that God would choose to be incarnated as a free male rather than a female or a slave. Had Christ been incarnated as a female or a slave, servitude would have been only the expected thing. It was essential that Christ be a free member of the dominant sex in order to demonstrate His own principle of self-giving, self-emptying love. Christ voluntarily chose servant-hood as an example to us all, male and female alike.

JESUS' FEMINIST BEHAVIOR

Leonard Swidler's Women in Judaism (1976) and Sarah Pomeroy's Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975) demonstrate that the status of women in the first century was dreadfully low. For instance, because all women were assumed to be nymphomaniacs, women were kept secluded in their homes, often being locked inside when their husbands went out. Yet Jesus habitually traveled with women (Luke 8:1-3).

Talking with a woman—even his own wife—was considered degrading to a Jewish man, especially in public. Yet Jesus talked freely with the Samaritan woman (John 4) and with other women who asked His help. And although women were considered too frivolous and untrustworthy to be witnesses in a court of law, Jesus commissioned women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. The more we learn about sexism in Jesus' time, the more we realize that Jesus really was a feminist (that is, a believer in human equality).

THE EARLY CHURCH

From Acts 2 we learn that when certain Jews thought those who were speaking in tongues were drunkards, Peter explained that the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 was being fulfilled. Since Joel said that both males and females would prophecy (preach), Peter was announcing that in the Christian church the Spirit of God would grant special gifts to God's people regardless of their sex.

We know from I Corinthians 11 that women did indeed pray and preach. We also know from I Corinthians 14 and from I Timothy 2 that conditions in certain local congregations led Paul to counsel women to learn in silence. We cannot be certain about what was happening in those congregations, but we do know from many other Biblical passages that Paul did not mean to say that women may never speak or have authority or take leadership roles in the church.

For example, in Romans 16 Paul sends his greetings to Phoebe, "a fellow-Christian who holds office in the congregation." He tells the Roman Christians to assist her in any way possible because she is a prostatis, a "presider over" the church. He speaks of Priscilla and her husband Aquilla as his "fellow-workers in Christ"; and he speaks of a woman named Junia as being "eminent among the apostles."

THE PRINCIPLE OF MUTUAL SUBMISSION

In order to keep the central focus on evangelism, the apostles had to accommodate somewhat to social conditions. So they told Christian slaves to be submissive to their masters and Christian wives to be submissive to their husbands. But they introduced the concept of full human personhood and mutual submission which (if obeyed) would have done away with slavery and male supremacy within one generation.

Ephesians 5:21 says "Be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ." If Christian slave masters had subjected themselves to their slaves and if Christian husbands had subjected themselves to their wives out of reverence to Christ, obviously there would have been no more slavery or male supremacy among Christians. To emphasize mutuality, Paul instructed husbands to give themselves up for their wives as Christ gave Himself up for the church, and to love their wives as they loved their own (male) bodies.

When Paul speaks of the husband as the head of the wife, the context indicates that he is speaking in terms of source. He apparently means that the submissive self-giving of the husband will be the source of the harmonious and grateful submission of the wife. Hence, mutual submission.

ONENESS IN THE SPIRIT

Within the Biblical doctrine of the church as the One Body of Christ, there is no different treatment of males and females. All are referred to as the sons of God; all are referred to as the “Bride of Christ.” All are instructed to give birth to the offspring of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). All are told to develop the spiritual gifts bestowed by the Spirit without regard for race or economic class (I Corinthians 12:13) or age or sex (Acts 2:16-18).

We are all in God's Son and God's Son is in us all (I John 5:20; Romans 8:9-11). Christ in a woman should not be subordinated to Christ in a man, or vice-versa, except in the fluid, voluntary, and individualized submission to an authority earned by the responsible use of spiritual gifts. Each of us, male or female, will sometimes lead and sometimes follow, always seeking the guidance of God who plays no favorites.

 

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