By Kevin Giles
5 December 2021
Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Third Edition, edited by Ronald W Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, (IVP, 2021).
WOMEN’S liberation may have transformed society over the past six decades, but evangelicals remain divided on the role of women in the church, and in marriage.
Many Christians remain opposed to offering women equality of status and ministry opportunities in the church. They argue that the Bible teaches men should be in leadership, and women should accept their subordinate status.
However, those continuing to argue that the Bible gives “headship” to men have been losing ground over the years.
Every text or argument used to make “the biblical case” for male headship has been shown to be inconclusive at best. Excluding women from leadership in the church looks more unjust and unfair as every year passes.
It is a debate that must end because it implies that the good news of the Gospel found in Jesus Christ is bad news for women. Evangelicals are shooting themselves in the foot by making this argument.
In desperation, an international group of scholarly evangelicals decided to co-opt their most informed and able theologians to critically evaluate every appeal to the Bible to subordinate women.
The fruit of their work has just been published, titled Discovering Biblical Equality. It is a breathtaking work of scholarship.
Every appeal to the Bible is carefully considered and everyone is refuted so comprehensively it is hard to see how any serious reply could be made. It is a big book of 657 pages with 31 chapters. What it makes crystal clear is that when examined critically, the small number of proof-texts, supposedly excluding women from leadership, do not do so.
For example, it is true that in Genesis 2 woman is created second, but this does not infer women are second in order. In Genesis 1, man and woman are created last, yet rule supreme.
It is true that Genesis 2 says that woman is made to be man’s “helper”, but in every other instance where the Hebrew word ezer, translated “helper”, is found it is used of a superior helping an inferior. Several times God is said to be our “helper” – and he is not our subordinate!
It is true, the Twelve Apostles were all men, but they were also Jews. We hear no one arguing all church leaders should be Jewish. Yes Paul says the husband is “the head” of his wife (reflecting a patriarchal culture), but before saying this he says to husbands and wives “be subordinate to one another”. Immediately after he exhorts husbands to give their lives for their wife like Christ gave his life for the church (Ephesians 3:21-23). In other words, Paul turns male headship as this world knows it on its head!
I have said enough. If you honestly want to know what the Bible in fact teaches on women, this is the book to buy. It’s the last word on this topic. I could not recommend it more highly. It’s a tour de force. I was so thrilled to see this book appear that I want to let as many people as I could know about it.
The Rev. Dr Kevin Giles was in parish ministry for forty years. He has published widely on the biblical case for equality, church and ministry, and the Trinity. He is a contributor to Discovering Biblical Equality.