Neither Male Nor Female (Part 4)

Galatians 3.28After reading the Bible and realizing that God had a lot more to say about women in the church than just what I thought two said, I realized that many of the restrictions placed upon women by churches were wrong. I was convinced of this even more after realizing that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 were often lifted out of their context and used as proof-texts to say much more than what these two text actually say. Thus, I became what is commonly referred to as a soft-complimentarian and you can read of this journey in the three previous posts (see links below). But now I have come to hold an egalitarian view, which is another shift. Here is how that happened and why…

Reading the Bible

[Let’s talk about the way we should read the Bible. Every Christian reads the Bible but how we read the Bible is as important as reading the Bible.]

A lesson I learned from listening to Randy Harris, who teaches Bible at Abilene Christian University, is that we all tend to understand various issues through certain biblical texts. Traditionally, the issue of women in the church has been  read and understood through the two texts of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. However, the more I came to understand the Bible, the more I  realized that how we read the Bible matters. As a result, I have become very interested in the way the Bible is read (hermeneutics) and whether or not the way we read the Bible is faithful to the aim of the Bible.

What I’ve learned along the way is that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a narrative or story. Scripture tells the story of how God is redeeming creation in Jesus Christ and how the Spirit empowers the church, as participants in this story, to live as a portrayal of what this redemptive life looks like and will be for the world when Jesus returns. In other words, the story is centered in Christ and portrays the future redemption breaking into the present. This means that instead of scripture (esp. the New Testament) being read as a law book, it is read as a Christological story with an eschatological aim. So I came to the realization that reading the issue of women in the church through the two passages in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2:12 was wrong.

New Scripture Within the Story

I realized that there were two other passages that anticipated this redemptive goal in Christ as it pertains to women in the church. These two passages are found in Acts 2 and Galatians 3. We read in Acts 2:17-18, “And in the last days it will be, God says, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”And then in Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female − for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

What I came to realize is that the gospel vision is one of reconciliation where all people are equal, where things like ethnicity, social-status, and gender are of no consequence. The passages of scripture in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, which deal with specific prohibitions regarding women, are sort of like the different passages that give specific instructions about slaves. That is, they are temporal instructions given into a culture that is still awaiting to see the full embodiment of the gospel vision where all people are regarded as equal and therefore as equal participants in the mission of God. And that is how I came to embrace egalitarianism. That is, if the gospel vision is one of equality where differences no longer matter, then there are not any roles or ministries in the body of Christ that are restricted to men only except in temporary occasions where the gospel might be impeded by not restricting women. However, that’s not the case throughout much of our Western culture in North America. In fact, we might reasonably conclude that churches who continue to practice positions of male-hierarchy are actually impeding the gospel vision.

A Reflection

Well, there you have it. That’s the story of how God has led me from a naive position of male-hierarchy into soft-complimentarian view and now into an egalitarian view. This is why I don’t have any problems with women leading us in prayer, reading scripture, sharing a word as they lead us in the Lord’s Supper, or serving in the many other ways that God has gifted them with the power of his Spirit. It is why I didn’t have any problem with women entering seminary so that they might serve the Lord as a minister among his church (let’s pray for more churches to embrace God’s call upon their lives). And it’s why I won’t have any problems when Sarah Barton, who is a gifted preacher, speaks at this year’s upcoming Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

My aim with this series has first been to affirm the courageous steps that churches like the Columbia Church of Christ and other Churches of Christ have taken regarding the participation of women in the church. But I also want to challenge more consideration of the egalitarian vision regarding men and women in the church which I believe the Gospel points us toward. Where more conversation is necessary is the process by which churches discern this issue and implement change, and what Philippians 2:5-11 has to say about the way churches proceed on an issue where there is a lot of emotion and disagreement.

May God, by the power of his Spirit, give us the courage to live into the gospel vision that Jesus has brought about through his death and resurrection!


See also “Neither Male Nor Female” (Part 1), (Part 2), & (Part 3)

5 responses to “Neither Male Nor Female (Part 4)

  1. I guess one of my biggest problems with the use of passages like Galatians 3:27-28, is that many egalitarians complain about the lack of context when considering 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, then cite Galatians 3 completely out of context!

    Does anyone really think the problem the Galatians had was that they weren’t allowing women to participate in worship? Was their “fall from grace” related to a male hierarchy? How many people who quote that verse can even tell you what comes before, after, and in the rest of Galatians? Or has an explanation as to why gender was mentioned to the Galatians and not to the Colossians? (Answer: circumcision; this is about how you come to Jesus, not what roles you perform in worship)

    I probably fall into the “soft complementarian” category. I don’t find the egalitarian position fitting with the overall story of Scripture.

    But I do appreciate your willingness to search, to struggle, and to constantly reconsider your position on such issues. May we ever be “restoring” our understanding of God’s work in this world.

    • Yes… the context is about circumcision vs. faith or reliance upon the law vs. faith in Christ but in addressing this issue, Paul offers a bold declaration about the effect the gospel has upon the equality between Jew and gentile (which fits with the circumcision vs. faith problem) and then also mentions the equality between slave and free, male and female.

      Any ways, thanks for reading!

  2. The context isn’t about circumcision “vs” faith or reliance upon the law “vs” faith, but whether or not we need anything “plus” faith in order to be justified. It’s not faith in Christ against something else as much as it is if something else needs to be added to that faith in order to be found right with God. To that question, Paul says, “no”. In other words, anything plus+Christ is accursed.

    With that, Paul’s context in Galatians is not about some 21st-century subjectively used hermeneutical definition of “equality”, or anything even close to some eschatological reality of egalitarian roles in worship (or home, for that matter) that we’ve just now discovered in our amazingly advanced contemporary/evolutionary-granted intellect and understanding of application. The context is dealing with how one is justified before God. That’s it. How is a Jew justified? By faith in Christ (alone). How is a Gentile justified? By faith in Christ (alone). How is a male justified? By faith in Christ (alone). How is a woman justified? By faith in Christ (alone). How is a free person justified? By faith in Christ (alone). How is a slave justified? By faith in Christ (alone).

    The glory of the Gospel in Galatians! We are found right with God the same way Abraham was. By faith.

    Rex: You say in reply to Tim, “…but in addressing this issue…” Stop right there. — Paul. Is. Not. Addressing. This. Issue. (in Gal 3:28 anyway). And that’s the point. I don’t care what NT Wright says.

    By the way… I write this as one who actually supports women praying in assembly (as instructed in 1 Cor 11) and women as deacons. Go figure! But I don’t need to misapply Gal 3:28 to make those arguments.

    Grace be with you –

    • Jr.,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that in context, Galatians 3:28 is not speaking to the issue of egalitarianism per se in a historical-exegetical sense of what did the text meant then. Yet, in reading the text theologically as a word for us, the text has much to say on this issue as we as ask of the text “…what bearing these past happenings have on what needs to happen here and now” (Miroslav Volf, Captive To The Word of God, p. 16).

      Grace and Peace,


  3. Pingback: Testing the Gospel Among Us. | Kingdom Seeking

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