Why I’m an Advocate for Women’s Equality

I grew up in a home where male authority was the norm. My father learned from his father that men are supposed to be “leaders.” The denomination my father was raised in also taught that men alone should teach and lead in the church. When I first embraced Christianity, I faithfully attended a “complementarian” church. Like my father, they taught me that men should be leaders, and that women should submit to this leadership. They not only taught this verbally, they lived it every Sunday. Only men could teach and preach from the pulpit. Only men could be elders. Only men could be ushers. Only men served communion. I was asked to lead Bible studies; not because I knew the Bible (I didn’t), but because I was male. I was also encouraged to pursue a career in “ministry.”

I was taught that men are supposed to be “servant-leaders.” Feminists, I was told, simply didn’t understand that men were actually serving women by providing them with godly leadership. In a strange kind of way, this seemed to make sense. I was encouraged to guard my faith against the “sinful ways of the world;” namely, “women’s liberation.”

So why in the world do I now advocate the equality of women in the Christian faith?

It all started at a leadership conference I attended with representatives from churches all across Canada and the United States. It was big. One of the speakers challenged us to respond in faith and obedience if we believed God was calling us to full-time ministry as pastors. Many young men went to the front of the auditorium to answer this call—along with one young woman.

What I saw that day made an impact. The young men at the front actually began yelling at her. She was accused of heresy and rebellion for daring to think that God would call a woman to be a pastor. In her defense, she mentioned something about a verse in Galatians that said there is neither male nor female in Christ. She was asked to provide the exact chapter and verse number, and when she could not, she was mocked for her lack of Bible knowledge. She left the conference in tears, and I never saw her again.

What in the world was I witnessing? I couldn’t help thinking of a Bible story concerning a woman caught in adultery and the crowd of religious men who wanted to stone her to death. The woman at the conference, however, simply wanted to obey God and preach the gospel! The religious men in the Bible story were rebuked by Jesus. What would he say to my male friends and colleagues who shouted accusations at this women, mocked her, and drove her from our meeting? I began to wonder.

Shortly after this troubling experience, I went to Bible College. Here I met dozens of women who claimed that they had received a call from God to lead and/or teach in the church. Some women felt called to be pastors; one felt called to be a priest. They shared their stories and pointed out passages in the Bible where women were clearly depicted as prophets, teachers or leaders. One of these women explained to me that a woman named Junia was even an apostle! She further explained that hundreds of years after the New Testament was written, translators began to change this female apostle’s name to a man’s. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it. My church taught me that the inerrancy of our English Bible had been providentially preserved by the sovereignty of God. My church certainly wouldn’t lie about something that important; and they couldn’t possibly be mistaken, could they?

I became troubled. Firmly believing that we should bring our troubles to God in prayer and ask him for guidance, I did just that. I told God that I was bothered by what I was seeing and hearing. I asked him to help me understand his heart for women, and sort through the conflicting messages I was getting from other Christians.

In answer to this prayer, I believe God responded. At first, it seemed that he asked me if I really wanted to know the answers to my questions. He seemed to be saying that I would find the answers difficult. Not knowing what to expect, and truly wanting to learn, I said, “Yes Lord, please teach me.”

There are two large universities close to my home. Each has a number of church colleges and/or a seminary on campus. I felt compelled to access the library resources there concerning the Bible, church history and women.

I’ll never forget what I found, or how I felt when I first discovered it. It began with a review of what the early church fathers said about women:

”For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” (Origen, 258 A.D., Fragments on First Corinthians)

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” (Saint Augustine, 354 – 430 A.D., De genesi ad litteram)

I then read similar comments from Protestant Reformers, who were strongly influenced by the church fathers who came before them:

“[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach.” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12).

“The word and works of God are quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” (Martin Luther, Works)

Then I came across a historical book that continues to haunt me. It contained court transcripts of all of the women killed by men, acting on the authority of the church, during the Inquisition. It had their names, and the charges against them. Many of the women were found guilty of “witchcraft;” specifically, something called “love magic.” This meant that a man had allegedly been so bewitched by a woman that he couldn’t help committing adultery with her, or perhaps even raping her. Sexual sins committed by men were blamed exclusively on their female partners or victims. I read hundreds of names, maybe thousands. I lost count. I became dizzy. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had stopped breathing. I felt like I was going to die. Something inside me broke.

This notion that women must be subject to men had nothing to do with God, the gospel, servant-leadership, or the love of Jesus Christ. It was born of fear, hatred, and a felt “need” for control. It was prejudice, and it had led to subjugation, oppression and even mass murder.

“Now do you understand?” I felt the Spirit of God say to me. I was speechless. “Teach what you have learned.”

Since those early days, I have learned that many of the church’s most influential theologians had a profound prejudice against women. It shows itself in their commentary work, and even in their Bible translation. Old Testament passages have been changed by the addition of vowel marks. Verses that once condemned excessive taxation now criticize the leadership of women (c.f. Isaiah 3:12, LXX vs. Masoretic Text). Greek words used to prohibit violence or murder now prohibit women from “exercising authority” (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:12, “authentein” in New Testament Manuscripts & “authentas” in the LXX vs. English translations). Phoebe, a woman who was a “leader” in the early church (prostatis), is now referred to as “a good friend” (Romans 16:2, Good News for Modern Man). “Junia” the apostle, or “Julia” according to the earliest Greek manuscript, became Junias—a man. Commands such as, “Wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22), are not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. They are only found in later manuscripts and today’s English translations. In the earliest manuscripts the only command in this passage is addressed to all Christians, regardless of their sex: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

Today’s complementarian theology is built on a legacy of fear, control and prejudice. Terms like “servant-leadership” have a pleasant sound to them, but Jesus did not use them. Rather, he told all of his followers, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

The young woman at the leadership conference, who said “yes” to the Lord’s call to be a pastor, was right: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

My male friends, who mocked and shouted at her, were wrong. More to the point, I was wrong. I had unknowingly been influenced by the patriarchal norms of a prejudiced and fallen world. These norms had found their way into my home as a child, into our society, and yes even into the church. Paul wrote to the church in Rome concerning this very influence: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

Why do I advocate women’s equality? The love of Christ compels me.

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Plato’s Spectacles: How Greek Philosophy has Distorted our View of Women in the Bible

The following presentation was shared at Emmanuel Bible College on March 3, 2015:

Plato’s Spectacles

To view the presentation, please click on the link above.  You will need Powerpoint (or a compatible program) installed on your computer to view the file.

If you would like Bob to share this or similar information at your church, group or organization, please feel free to send him a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bob.edwards.letmypeoplego.

May God use this information to enlighten and encourage!

P.S. For those who do not have Powerpoint, I have added this PDF version of the presentation.  You can view it using Acrobat reader.  Hope that helps!

Plato’s Spectacles

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Confusing “Equality” with “Sameness”: Clearing up a Complementarian Misconception

Time after time, I’ve read complementarian literature that seems to misunderstand what is meant by biblical equality for women and men. The heart of the misunderstanding appears to be a misperception of what is meant by the term “equality.” Very often, the complementarian literature I’m familiar with assumes that egalitarians are advocating for the “sameness” of men and women in the church, rather than their equality. For example, in her book entitled, “The Feminist Mistake,” Mary A. Kassian uses the terms “equality” and “sameness” interchangeably (p. 37). She also assumes, wrongly, that Christian egalitarians want women to be “just like men” (p. 38).

Sameness suggests that there are really no differences between men and women. Numerous complementarian books, journal articles and blogs expend vast amounts of time and energy refuting this notion of “sameness.” They believe they are refuting biblical equality, but they are wrong.

Equality is not blind to the rather obvious biological differences between men and women. Equality, however, does not view biological differentiation as a basis for subjection. In other words, it does not believe that authority in human relationships should be designated solely on the basis of a person’s sex at birth.

Theologically, the association of “maleness” with leadership characteristics has a long history. For example, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.) declared, “Man is stronger and purer since his is uncastrated and has a beard. Women are weak, passive, castrated and immature… His beard, then is the badge of a man and shows him unmistakably to be a man. It is older than Eve and is a symbol of the stronger nature. By God’s decree, hairiness is one of man’s conspicuous qualities, and, at that, is distributed over his whole body. For what is hairy is by nature drier and warmer than what is bare; therefore, the male is hairier and more warm-blooded than the female; the uncastrated, than the castrated; the mature, than the immature” (Trombley, 2003, Who Said Women Can’t Teach, p. 234).

Clement argues that beards, penises and body hair are a sign of maturity, strength and purity. Theologians throughout church history have concluded that these qualities make men—and not women—fit candidates for leadership. Clement’s notion that beards, body hair and male genitalia relate to maturity demonstrates a profoundly androcentric and erroneous worldview. He wrongly evaluates a woman’s maturity in terms of issues related to male puberty.

Is it really true that men are more intellectually, emotionally or spiritually mature than women? If you asked St. Augustine, the influential 4th century Roman Catholic Bishop, he would have answered, “yes.” He believed that women must be subject to men because “the weaker brain must serve the stronger” (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153).

After immersing himself in Augustine’s commentaries, prominent Protestant reformer John Calvin came to similar conclusions about a woman’s “nature” and how it rendered her unfit for leadership: “[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach” (Commentary on Timothy, Titus and Philemon). In the eyes of Calvin, women were created to “obey” not lead. He also viewed obedience and teaching as mutually exclusive activities.  In his commentary on Genesis, he referred to female subordination as “the order of nature.”

Today, complementarians continue to associate “masculinity” with “leadership” and “femininity” with “submission.” One of the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, for example, said that women may not exercise authority because of their “characteristic weaknesses” (Piper, desiringgod.org, “affirming the goodness of manhood and womanhood in all of life”). Another complementarian leader expressed this viewpoint more bluntly, stating simply that women are more gullible and more easily deceived than men (Driscoll, as cited at the wartburgwatch.com, “danger flee churches which teach that women are easily deceived”).

Is it accurate to equate masculinity with leadership? No, I don’t believe so. This is really just a mental association resulting from gender-socialization. I don’t believe this particular association is evidence-based, though it has a long history in church tradition.

Do many women want to share decision-making authority in their churches and homes? Yes. Some of these women are also gifted to teach the Bible and/or preach the gospel of salvation. Does this mean that they want to be “just like men?” Only if we assume that maturity, leadership, teaching and preaching are distinctly “male” characteristics…and they are not. Equality is not sameness. Women can be distinctly female and–of course–spiritually mature; they can share decision-making authority with men, teach the Bible and preach the gospel: beards, body hair and male genitals are not required.

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Ephesians 5: a mandate for male authority?

To answer this question, I’d like to share a portion of chapter 5 of my new book entitled, “A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs”:

Reading the Bible through the lenses of Plato’s philosophy, St. Augustine came to believe that his mind (or spirit) must be completely in control of his body (or flesh) and its emotional responses. Understandably, he found this goal difficult to achieve. As we’ve seen (in chapter 4), he was especially troubled when his body would respond to a woman he found sexually attractive. Rather than learning to accept and regulate his emotions, he believed that hierarchical control of his environment was the solution to his problem. He concluded that women should not be allowed to stimulate “sinful concupiscence” in men.[1]  To prevent this from occurring, men needed to exercise absolute control over women. Augustine did not find this teaching explicitly stated in the Bible. Rather, he inferred it from passages in the book of Genesis that were cited by the apostle Paul:

The apostle puts flesh for woman; because, when she was made of his rib, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” And the apostle saith, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh.” Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves. (Augustine, On John Tractate 2, § 14)[2]

The passages of the Bible that St. Augustine is referring to are Genesis chapter 2 and Ephesians chapter 5. I believe it is important to note that in neither of these chapters (nor anywhere else in the Bible) is a husband, or a man, compared to “the spirit.” In fact, the biblical authors are not discussing the importance of a mind over body hierarchy at all. Further, they are not projecting this hierarchical paradigm onto the manner in which men and women should relate to one another. The notion that women (representing the lower part of human nature) must be ruled over by men (representing the higher part of human nature) does not have its origin in the Bible. This dualistic, hierarchical and sexist paradigm can, however, be found in Plato’s work of philosophy entitled, “The Republic”:

Let me further note that the manifold and complex pleasures and desires and pains are generally found in children and women and servants…. Whereas the simple and moderate desires which follow reason, and are under the guidance of the mind and true opinion, are to be found only in a few [all of them men], and those the best born and best educated…[3]

Very true. These two, as you may perceive, have a place in our State; and the meaner desires of the [many] are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few…

Seeing then, I said, that there are…distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing? This then is injustice…[4]

You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex….”[5]

In Plato’s Republic, a dialogue between two philosophers (above) is used to express the notion that women are governed by emotion, whereas men are governed by reason. In light of this assumption, both conclude that men must rule over women. The so-called “meaner desires” of the many (women, children and slaves), must be “held down” by the “virtuous desires and wisdom of the few” (the allegedly best born and best educated men). I believe it is important to notice how Plato defines the term “injustice” here. In his mind, violating a male-dominated social hierarchy was the definition of “injustice.” It was referred to as “evil-doing,” and was regarded as a great threat to the well-being of the State.

When Augustine teaches the importance of male authority and female submission, he uses concepts and language derived from Plato:

It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power. (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153)[6]

In the eyes of Augustine, “justice” consisted of so-called lower classes (women, slaves and children) being subject to the authority of a higher class; specifically, men. He viewed this class-based, hierarchical society as the “natural order” of things.

Intentionally following in the philosophical footsteps of St. Augustine, John Calvin also inferred a doctrine of male authority from language used by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:

[Regarding Ephesians 5:22] Wives, submit yourselves. He [the apostle] comes now to the various conditions of life; for, besides the universal bond of subjection, some are more closely bound to each other, according to their respective callings. The community at large is divided, as it were, into so many yokes, out of which arises mutual obligation. There is, first, the yoke of marriage between husband and wife; secondly, the yoke which binds parents and children; and, thirdly, the yoke which connects masters and servants. By this arrangement there are six different classes, for each of whom Paul lays down peculiar duties. He begins with wives, whom he enjoins to be subject to their husbands, in the same manner as to Christ — as to the Lord. Not that the authority is equal, but wives cannot obey Christ without yielding obedience to their husbands.

[Regarding Ephesians 5:23] For the husband is the head of the wife. This is the reason assigned why wives should be obedient. Christ has appointed the same relation to exist between a husband and a wife, as between himself and his church. This comparison ought to produce a stronger impression on their minds, than the mere declaration that such is the appointment of God. Two things are here stated. God has given to the husband authority over the wife; and a resemblance of this authority is found in Christ, who is the head of the church, as the husband is of the wife.

And he is the savior of the body. The pronoun HE (αὐτός) is supposed by some to refer to Christ; and, by others, to the husband. It applies more naturally, in my opinion, to Christ, but still with a view to the present subject. In this point, as well as in others, the resemblance ought to hold. As Christ rules over his church for her salvation, so nothing yields more advantage or comfort to the wife than to be subject to her husband. To refuse that subjection, by means of which they might be saved, is to choose destruction.[7]

When John Calvin read the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he believed he “saw” a class-based society, with a higher class (men) ruling over a lower class (women). He believed that wives—because they are women—were obligated to “obey” their husbands, just as the church is obligated to “obey” the Lord. Speaking of the importance of obedience, for the church and for wives, Calvin issues the following warning: “To refuse that subjection…is to choose destruction.”

It is not difficult to see the influence of Augustine’s dualistic, hierarchical and sexist philosophy on John Calvin’s commentary. The notion of classes is present, as is the emphasis on the alleged importance of male authority and female obedience. Both Augustine’s and Calvin’s interpretations of the same portion of the New Testament are thoroughly Platonic. What they may not be, however, is an accurate reflection of the Bible’s intended message.

Just as the apostle Paul nowhere refers to husbands in Ephesians chapter 5 as “the spirit” (St. Augustine’s inference), he also nowhere commands that wives must “obey” their husbands.[8]  The idea that women must “obey” men in Christian marriage is an inference that is supplied by John Calvin.

The apostle Paul does write about “submission,” but he by no means directs these comments to wives (or to women) alone. He tells all Christians, male and female, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV). In John Calvin’s commentary, he cites Ephesians 5:22 as supplying an additional command: “Wives submit yourselves [to your husbands].” In the oldest Greek manuscripts available to us today (P46 and Codex Vaticanus), the additional imperative verb “submit,” directed exclusively to wives, is not present.[9]  The only command, “submit to one another,” is directed to all Christians, regardless of their sex.

John Calvin was not, however, reading Greek manuscripts of the New Testament written in the 3rd or 4th centuries A.D.. He was citing the 16th Century Greek/Latin Bible compiled by a scholar named Erasmus. Erasmus’ Bible was compiled using only a few Greek manuscripts written in the 12th century A.D. or later. Erasmus also made use of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, sometimes translating from the Latin back to the Greek. As a result of this unique process, the Greek edition of Erasmus’ Bible has words and sentence structures that cannot be found in any Greek manuscripts of the New Testament whatsoever.[10]

Contrary to the commentary work of John Calvin, the apostle Paul nowhere instructs husbands to rule over their wives, either in his letter to the Ephesians or anywhere else in the New Testament. In fact, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, he emphasizes Christ’s suffering and sacrificial service as an expression of love. He then commands that husbands love their wives in the same manner: “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV).

Paul provides the same instructions to all Christians, regardless of their sex or marital status, in his letter to the Philippians:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (2:5-8, NIV)

Jesus similarly describes his earthly ministry as one of sacrificial service:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45, NIV)

When the apostle Paul tells husbands to emulate the sacrificial love of Jesus in his letter to the Ephesians, is he truly establishing a mandate for male authority? No, I don’t believe he is.

References:
[1]R.R. Reuther, “Augustine: Sexuality, Gender and Women,” Feminist Interpretations of Augustine, ed. J.C. Stark, (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007) 56.

[2]Augustine, On John Tractate 2 § 14, ed. John Wijngaards, http://www.womenpriests.org.

[3]Plato, The Republic, 117.

[4]Plato, 120.

[5]Plato, 138.

[6]Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I § 153, ed. John Wijngaards, ww.womenpriests.org.

[7]John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle, 1 June 2005, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 19 August 2014, <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom41.iv.vi.v.html&gt;

[8]The Greek New Testament: Third Edition (Corrected), eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger and Allen Wikgren, (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies) 676-677.

[9]Harold H. Buls, “Ephesians 5:21-31,” Pericope.org, 19 August 2014, <http://pericope.org/buls-notes/ephesians/ephesians_5_21_31.htm&gt;.
John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians and Ephesians.

[10]Bruce Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (4th Edition), (New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.) 142-145.

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