The debate over women’s roles in the home and in the church rages on. A large part of the debate has focused upon the Bible verses that either side raises in defense of their view. Little of the debate has focused on the philosophical implications of either position. Rebecca Groothuis’ Good News for Women offers a different approach. Groothuis integrates extensive philosophical arguments into her Biblical case for the egalitarian position.
Groothuis first turns to a Biblical case for the equality of men and women. She bases this notion on several Biblical texts. She refers to God’s creation of both male and female in the image/likeness of God (21ff). Her argument also goes into Galatians 3:26-28 and notes how it again draws out the equality between male and female. Regarding the discussions of women’s silence in the churches, Groothuis parallels these passages to those about slaves submitting to their masters:
[T]he strategy of the New Testament church was to tolerate the social subordination of slaves and women so as not to risk alienating non-Christians from the gospel, and yet to modulate and moderate these customs, and ultimately to point beyond them to God’s original intention for human relations. Today, however, when non-Christians are not likely to be offended by an equalitarian gospel, but are likely to find a hierarchical gospel offensive, we have no reason to perpetuate the cultural practices that were intially intended for Christians living in patriarchal societies (25).
Groothuis concludes that throughout the Bible, there is a pattern in which male and female are equal in being. They are, in other words, ontologically equal. Neither is more valuable than the other.
It should be noted that most complementarians today are willing to grant this case. They agree that women and men are indeed created equal and should have equal rights. Groothuis then turns to a series of philosophical arguments which seek to demonstrate that the complementarian position cannot consistently hold that women are equal to men while holding that they are excluded from the ministry. Her argument, therefore, goes deeper than an exegetical challenge. Instead, her argument undermines the theological core groundings of complementarianism.
The very core of Groothuis’ argument is that complementarianism is grounded upon an ontological difference between male and female. The reason she holds that complementarinism must hold this position is “[b]ecause a woman’s traditionally inferior status follows necessarily from the single fact of her essential, female nature, her status is itself a function of her ‘being’ [ontology]; it is determined by what she is, not by what she can do” (53). Complementarians hold that women cannot hold certain offices of the church due only to the fact of her femininity. It is not based upon a functional subordination in which the female chooses to take up a role that is subordinate (62ff); instead, it must be grounded upon the female’s nature as a female. There is nothing about the female which limits her from being a pastor, on most contemporary complementarian positions (that is, those which no longer hold that women are excluded from the ministry simply because she is not as smart or gifted as men in general). Instead, it is exclusively her feminine nature which determines her role as subordinate. Therefore, it is part of her essential nature. I have argued this point myself elsewhere: “Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails.”
Grothuis continues with extensive argument to rebut the notion of servant leadership (78ff). She also deals with various analogies complementarians use to attempt to ground equality and hierarchy, such as the Trinity (55ff–it should be noted that grounding subordination in the Trinity undermines the doctrine of the Godhead). It should become immediately apparent as to how this leads to a problem for complementarians. Biblically, they are forced to concede that women and men are, in fact, equal. However, their position undermines this Biblical position of the equality of men and women. Therefore, it seems their position fails.
Groothuis then turns to a number of strategies that complementarians have used in order to try to tie the subordination of women in to patterns of the Godhead. Unfortunately, many of these strategies end up making God into a gendered creature rather than a transcendent Creator. Some complementarians, such as C.S. Lewis, actually go so far as to make God male (93). Groothuis points out that this gendering of God cannot be affirmed based upon the Bible. One difficulty is that both male and female language is used of God (93-94). Yet she insists that the debate must not become a simple adding up of verses on either side to see how God illustrates either gender. That would turn God into a “God who suffers from some gender identity confusion” (93). Instead:
The view that God is both masculine and feminine confuses and distorts the image of God in humanity. It requires that the divine image be divided between women and men, such that women image God’s feminine aspects and men image God’s masculine aspects. This sexualizing of spiritual attributes renders men and women spiritual ‘opposites,’ creating a need to compartmentalize aspects of spiritual life and ministry into separate masculine and feminine quarters. (98)
Groothuis also spends some time dealing with some of the odd–and frankly, pagan–ideas used by some complementarians. For example, some argue that God must act as a male in the creation event: one who gives so much, while the created world merely receives. To be blunt, they describe God’s creative act as a sexual act, with no Biblical support. Groothuis rightly points out that this idea is little more than paganism dressed up in theism, but goes on to note that “It seems a good deal of imagination and determination is required in order to characterize the strenuous effort required of a woman’s body in nourishing, growing, and delivering a child as ‘overwhelmingly passive,’ while depicting the male role of standing around watching it happen as ‘active’!” (95). Another abuse of gender in the Godhead involves some complementarians arguing that because Jesus was a man, only men can be priests (109ff). Groothuis points out that “If we are to regard maleness as essential to who Christ is as Christ, not only must we question whether Jesus Christ can represent women as fully as he can men… we must also view women as essentially inferior to men. Women lack the Christlike attribute of maleness that renders men best qualified to represent Christ…” (113). Interestingly, then, complementarians who utilize this argument essentially undermine the doctrine of the atonement: for Christ’s maleness is emphasized to the point that Jesus is not an adequate representation of humanity. He is essentially male.
The second half of Good News for Women focuses upon an evaluation of the texts used to support complementarianism. These texts are examined in light of the theological points already established. Namely, women and men are created equally as imagers/likenesses of God; and that any attempt to ground hierarchy ultimate fails because it undermines this Biblical concept of equality. A full presentation of Groothuis’ analysis of these texts would probably triple the length of this review, and I don’t see any way to sum up these arguments adequately in a few sentences, so I unfortunately must leave it to those interested to read the book to see these analyses.
Finally, it would be remiss to go without mentioning the outstanding contribution Groothuis gives to the discussion of egalitarian marriage. Groothuis discusses marriage in detail for over 40 pages of the book. What is astonishing is how lucidly she lays out the principles of egalitarian marriage. She illustrates the nature of marriage and how it is a give-and-take with both persons involved as opposed to one ruling over the other. She also discusses in detail how such an egalitarian system can work without having anyone to have a vote to “trump” the other’s vote. Frankly, the book is worth reading just for her discussion on marriage.
Groothuis’ most important contribution here is in the first part of her book, which establishes a strong theological and philosophical case for the equality of men and women in teaching roles in the Church and equal roles in marriage. However, there are numerous important insights throughout the text, both into specific verses and into overarching themes in the debate from both the complementarian and egalitarian positions. Groothuis’ discussion of egalitarian marriage provides a way forward for discussion on the roles of men and women in marriage and also helps to give insight into the Biblical view of marriage. Overall Good News for Women presents a strong philosophical critique of complementarianism which people on both sides of the debate must consider. I have read many articles and books on this topic, and frankly I have yet to find a book which goes into the ultimate philosophical and theological implications of complementarianism as thoroughly as this book. I recommend it extremely highly.
See my other writings on egalitarianism on my theology page (scroll to the bottom).
I argue that certain complementarian arguments undermine the Trinity.
I review a book which focuses entirely upon exegetical issues related to egalitarianism: Man and Woman: One in Christ.
Rebecca Groothuis, Good News for Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997).
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Philip Payne’s book Man and Woman, One in Christ (hereafter MWOC) is a monumental volume arguing for the equality of man and woman both in the church and in the home. At over 500 pages (including index and bibliography), it comprehensively covers the range of arguments and presents egalitarianism in a thoroughly Biblical manner.
Summary of Contents
Payne notes that Paul was taught by Gamaliel, who was far more egalitarian than his contemporaries. Given this background, it is implausible that Paul had a low view of women (37).
Those opposed to egalitarians (basically, egalitarians are people for women pastors, complementarians are those opposed to women pastors) often portray the position as having its only support in Galatians 3:28. Philip Payne does not base the egalitarian position on this verse alone, but he does argue that the passage provides a strong basis for the egalitarian position. Payne writes, “The natural implication of the equality of male and female in Paul’s teaching is that the gifts of women for ministry in the church should be recognized, welcomed and exercised in all areas of church life, including… church leadership” (104).
1 Corinthians 7- the equal rights of men and women in marriage
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul explicitly parallels the obligations, rights, and conditions of men and women in marriage. Payne notes a large number of verses in which Paul uses the same language for both men and women (105-106). Not only that, but Paul specifically challenges the concept that men should be the spiritual leaders in the home in 1 Cor. 7:14 (107).
1 Corinthians 11
Payne’s book quickly turns to an extremely in-depth exegesis of the core verses related to the debate over women in church leadership. To put this into concrete terms, Payne’s analysis of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 covers eight chapters and 142 pages; 1 Corinthians 14 has nearly 50 pages dedicated to it, 1 Corinthians 11 is covered by over 100 pages. Payne does not set theology or exegesis to the side in favor of emotional appeals, as some complementarians tend to accuse egalitarians of doing. Rather, he centralizes the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and unswervingly demands that all sides conform to what the Bible teaches, no matter how difficult that teaching may be.
Regarding 1 Corinthians 11, Payne notes that the analogy regarding the “head” of woman does not imply authority, as complementarians must hold. Rather, “source” is a better exegetical and philological fit (113ff, see especially 131, 133). Payne further argues that the proper application of 1 Corinthians 11 would draw out the respect and honor men and women should have for each other as equals (214-215).
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Rather than mincing words, I’ll jump right to the point: Payne argues that these verses are an interpolation. I’ll cover my own thoughts in the section below “Analysis/Critique,” but for now, I’ll focus on Payne’s argument.
Payne notes that there are a number of ways offered to interpret the passage, but he argues that the only plausible interpretation of the text is that women must be silent, no matter what, in every circumstance. The reasoning is lengthy, but the primary rationale behind this interpretation as most plausible is the it reiterates the prohibition three times, which, in the 1st Century, would have been seen as an absolute prohibition (218-219). Complementarians who allow women to sing in worship, therefore, are inconsistent in their interpretation of this passage, because they add a qualification which is not in the text (221).
Payne, however, argues the text is an interpolation. The evidence is both internal and external. First, the external evidence. The movement of the text itself hints that it was an interpolation which was placed in different parts of 1 Corinthians depending on the textual lineage (227ff). There is also a distigme which is used elsewhere to mark interpolations that is in the last line of 14:33, the correct place to mark 14:34-35 as an interpolation (232ff). Bishop Victor, between AD 541-544, corrected the text to omit 14:34-35 as an interpolation (246ff). Victor’s acumen for detecting interpolations is noteworthy, because he also omits the Trinitarian interpolation in 1 John 5:7-8 (246). MS88 omits the text, likely because it was copied from a manuscript which lacked the interpolation (249). Clement reflects a text without the verses (250-251). He notes other evidence as well (251ff). Payne also notes 9 lines of internal evidence for the text being an interpolation (253ff).
1 Timothy 2:8-15
These verses occupy the largest treatment in MWOC. The key to properly interpreting this passage, argues Payne, is the context and the church situation to which it is addressed. Context is always important in properly interpreting the Bible, but with letters it is even more important. Payne approvingly quotes Raymond Collins on this point, “…it is the epistolary genre that is most conditioned by the coordinates of time and space, historical and relational circumstances… They are ad hoc compositions whose essential import relates immediately and directly only to the situation that dictated their composition” (291).
Payne asserts that scholars know the situation in Ephesus–there was a preponderance of false teaching (296ff). Because of this, it is important to read the letter as a letter designed to put a stop to these teachings. Paul’s prohibition of women’s teachings is tied directly to the fact that false teachers had been praying upon women (299ff). The phrase Paul uses, “I am not permitting” “indicat[es] a new, case-specific injunction in response to a problem in Ephesus that does not carry the weight of church tradition” (321).
Payne also highlights the importance of the Greek word oude as conjoining the prohibitions Paul makes in this passage. The word is used throughout the Pauline corpus to “join together expressions that reinforce or make more specific a single idea” (338). Because of this, it is important to note that the word is used to conjoin the prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:12. The prohibitions are “to teach” and “to assume authority.” Thus the prohibition is not Paul saying women cannot teach or assume authority over man… rather it is “Women should not teach in conjunction with assumed authority” (348-356).
But does authenteo mean “assume authority”? Complementarians generally must argue that it means simply “have authority.” Payne destroys such arguments, citing etymological (363-365) and document (365-373) evidence to demonstrate the word means “assume authority [to oneself-385ff].” Payne also deconstructs the complementarian argument to the contrary, showing that Paul used other words to refer to authority in a basic sense (373-380).
Importantly, Payne draws out the implications of Paul’s exhortations to women to learn quietly. This was the proper position of students. Paul is not telling women they have no place in the church, he’s calling them to learn in a proper fashion before teaching (see 316-317 for an example of this argument).
Thus, Payne concludes that Paul is not prohibiting women from teaching in the church. In the face of the counter-evidence of Paul’s affirmation of women teachers (61-68), the specific context of 1 Timothy, and the proper translation of the Greek words, the text should be read as a temporal restriction on teaching by women in a church struggling with false teachings being spread by women.
I have not even begun to draw out all of Payne’s arguments in MWOC. There are many more lines of reasoning including Paul’s affirmation of women in positions of ministry, Paul’s theological axioms which imply equality of man and woman, “salvation through childbirth,” Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19 with husband-wife relationships, Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and the requirements for deacons and overseers, etc., etc. I cannot emphasize how broad Payne’s line of argument is, and how lucidly he explains his points. The book simply must be read by anyone interested in the topic.
There are so many points Payne makes in MWOC that it would be impossible to cover them all. I found Payne’s arguments largely persuasive. That said, I have a few minor notes.
First, I am not convinced that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation. I also think Payne dismisses the possible egalitarian readings of the passage too quickly (219ff). That said, Payne’s arguments are extremely powerful. I would have dismissed such arguments before reading this book, but now I’d say I’m very close to agreeing with Payne that these verses are an interpolation.
However, I wish that Payne had did a bit more work on the text to at least investigate the exegetical possibilities. I believe very few complementarians would be willing to accept that these verses are an interpolation, so if Payne had offered other possible interpretations, complementarians might find his case stronger. However, it is the case that complementarians who desire to use this passage to exclude women from the ministry now have the burden of proof upon them to demonstrate that it is not an interpolation, and they must do so with the same careful attention to the internal and external evidence which Payne utilized.
Initially I thought Payne might be overstating the case from Galatians 3:28, but he drew out enough parallel passages that it seems pretty convincing that egalitarians can interpret other passages in light of the Galatians verse (Payne does not use this method–he deals directly with the texts said to undermine egalitarianism… I’m merely suggesting that Payne’s work on Galatians 3:28 would allow egalitarians to be justified in utilizing it as a kind of “proof text” by which others must be judged).
Payne’s sustained positive argument for the equality of man and woman essentially convinced me of the egalitarian position over a year and a half ago. I have only recently finished the book, but when I first got it and skimmed through the arguments, I realized every argument I’d been using as a complementarian had an egalitarian answer. Not only that, but Payne’s critique of the complementarian position undermined the theological position which I’d held my entire life. I think it takes a great deal of intellectual integrity to read books which challenge one’s fundamental beliefs, and I have experienced it firsthand. I challenge readers on both sides of the issue to read this book.
Man and Woman, One in Christ provides an insurmountable challenge to the complementarian position. Any scholar working on the topic in the future must interact with this magnificent work. I simply must recommend it over and over again. I am thoroughly convinced that egalitarianism has a much stronger Scriptural and theological basis than the complementarian position, and MWOC is one of the works which lead me to that position. Payne’s thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the texts themselves demonstrates the Biblical accuracy of the egalitarian position. His work is one with which all must contend. The issue of women in the ministry is one we [the church] cannot get wrong. A thoughtful, open-minded approach to the Biblical issues is necessary. Let us make men and women one again.
Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.