In a spirit of mutual edification, I present here an analysis of and a response to an important book: In The Spirit We’re Equal. In this book the author, Susan C. Hyatt, takes a “revival perspective” on what the Bible says about the role of women and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through women.
As her choice of title indicates, Mrs Hyatt teaches that God makes no gender-based distinctions in society, in the church, or in the family. In doing so she also presumes a relationship between the worth of a person and the role they fulfill. She defines a Biblical Egalitarian as one who accepts such a world view (p. 246), and she claims this is God’s perspective. She states her thesis in chapter 1: “The prevailing theology that men are to exercise authoritative headship while women are to submit graciously is problematic, unbiblical and destructive.” (p. 9)
I respond to Mrs Hyatt’s teaching, who I will hereafter refer to as the author, since I believe her conclusion is incorrect and quite harmful to the family and the church. I believe God commands men to lead their families, churches and communities with loving sacrificial concern, and I also believe that God commands women to respectfully submit to this leadership. My purpose is to explore the author’s work in detail and demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that her teaching is inconsistent with God’s Word, the Bible.
In this response I quote the Bible often. I encourage you to carefully read these quotes in full rather than skimming over them. The truth is more quickly discovered by reading the Bible very carefully and thinking humbly and prayerfully about what is actually written there.
I also quote and paraphrase the author as needed to represent her work, enclosing page references in parentheses. It may be helpful to have a copy of the author’s work available, but this should not be necessary to appreciate my response. I also make the following general assumptions:
- The AV Bible (KJV) is a fully reliable source of truth.
- Its words have meanings, generally evident from a good dictionary.
- The general rules of logic are valid.
In her opening paragraph the author states that she assumes the truth of Biblical Egalitarianism; she does not intend to demonstrate that her teaching is true: “This book … is not designed as an argument for biblical equality. It is, instead, an affirmation for men and women for whom this biblical truth is already a living reality.” (ix) The author does not pretend to be an unbiased, objective observer as she teaches this concept, she is merely presenting to readers who share her view what she presumes to be true. This is an important perspective to note. We should not expect a balanced treatment of the subject, where opposing views are presented and objectively evaluated.
As mentioned above, it is also important to recognize from the outset that the author makes an assumption which underpins her work: she assumes that there is a direct relationship between the role a person fulfills and their worth. This assumption is evident even in her choice of title. The author implicitly insists that a person who accepts a role involving submission or obedience also acknowledges that they are inferior and not as valuable or significant as those they serve. The author relies upon this assumption repeatedly to conclude that when God demonstrates equality of worth and significance between genders He must also discard all gender-based role distinctions. Further, anyone claiming that an authoritative role is given by God to males is thus inherently accused of devaluing females. I intend to show that this assumption contradicts the Bible.
It is also important to note the author’s progression in coming to her conclusion that Biblical Egalitarianism is true. She testifies in the Preface that she began this journey with an awareness that her experience with spiritual beings, which guide and affirm her, has consistently been inconsistent with the contrary. She believes these influences have been the Holy Spirit. She gives no indication how she has determined this.
We must consider her testimony is in light of the fact that God soberly warns us of the presence of counterfeit spirits that seek to deceive and destroy us by imitating the Holy Spirit. “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Co 11:4) God warns that in the last days, “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils .” (1 Tim 4:1)
Not all spiritual activity is holy, but most all spirit beings pretend to be holy when this is needful to carry out their purposes. Perhaps the author assumes immunity here, or perhaps she is in ignorance. She does not mention this concept anywhere in her work, though the integrity of the entire presentation depends explicitly upon it Admitting that one might be deceived is indeed a humbling thing, but ignoring the very possibility of it is extremely foolish.
In developing her theories, the author moved from this purely experiential perspective to a selective analysis of history, researching various historical movements that endorsed Biblical Egalitarianism in some measure. In doing so she evidently did not follow any guidelines as to what types of historical witness are valid expressions of truth, but apparently presumed that any recorded supernatural activity within Christendom is indeed activity of the Holy Spirit.
Becoming fully convinced of the truth of Biblical Egalitarianism based upon her experience, and finding some evidence of this perspective in her historical research, the author completed her journey by looking for ways to re-interpret a number of biblical texts which appear to contradict her conclusion, accepting the fact that there should be no contradiction between the activity of the Holy Spirit and the Bible. Once satisfied that she could more or less address the Scriptures from her point of view, she began to publish her research.
One may conclude from this testimony that it was not a study of the written Word of God that brought the author to her conclusion, but rather her spiritual experience. After coming to her conclusion she found certain historical examples to lend support, as well as potential explanations accommodating the more glaring biblical contradictions.
I find the author’s methodology in arriving at her conclusion on such a controversial subject irrational and self-deceiving. I believe the ideal methodology for doing such a thing is quite the reverse of the author’s … not only in sequence but also in emphasis. Rather than approaching the Scripture last and picking and poking at a few scattered texts to garner some measly witness, I would begin by composing a list of every biblical reference related to my subject and explain in complete detail how each is consistent with my thesis. Then I would use the general experiences and thoughts of others (both historical and current as appropriate) to provide examples and context for the health of my teaching and its general reception in the actual Body of Christ (which is indeed not the same as “Christendom”). Finally, I would indicate how my own experience is consistent with my conclusions. This approach is quite the opposite of the author’s… and I am not aware of any proponent of Biblical Egalitarianism who has approached the subject in this manner. Even so, using such superficial “affirmation” methodology, though she has no intent to validate Biblical Egalitarianism, she does claim she has “precluded patriarchy’s right to rule.” (xii)
A final observation from the Preface concerns the author’s testimony of a woman who was publicly reproved for disagreeing with a presentation denying Biblical Egalitarianism. The author states that if Biblical Egalitarianism is not true, “it would shatter (the woman’s) self-esteem, her faith in the goodness of God, and her confidence in The Book she had studied and loved.” (9) Rather than expressing a willingness to conform her faith, self-value and confidence in the Bible to the truth — whatever the truth is — the author has evidently decided that women are only able to accept Biblical Egalitarianism. Yet when a person does not love truth above all convenience and pleasure they are poised to receive a lie… and the enemy will surely provide them a convincing one.
Introduction: It Is Important That We Get It Right
In her first biblical reference, while encouraging the reader to develop a proper sense of urgency concerning her topic in chapter 1, the author chooses Matthew 20:25-26, quoting Jesus saying with emphasis, “Don’t rule over one another!” (4)
This quote is striking, given that the text actually reads as follows, “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.”
Jesus does not actually forbid one person to rule over another, as the author claims, but rather indicates that true greatness does not retain a desire to rule over another (“…whosever will be great..”). Jesus is giving instruction in motive, not position: this is a completely different concept than the author proposes.
The author’s mis-quote violates the concept of biblical rulers in society, the church and in the family. God indicates that He has placed rulers in each of these contexts for our benefit. In society God says, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.” (Ro 13:3) Does the author suppose that such rulers cannot be Christians?
God has also placed rulers within the church: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (He 13:17) Consider also God’s design for the family: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1Ti 3:5)
God’s intention, stated in these last two texts (unmentioned by the author anywhere in her book), is for men to rule in the home and in the church in order to “take care of” families and saints. The author’s mis-quote of Jesus implies that anyone serving in this manner would violate His explicit command. However, a man may certainly accept responsibility humbly as a ruler without desiring to be lord of another, and others may submit to his rule obediently and voluntarily without violating any command of Christ.
In her second biblical reference, she quotes Jesus again from Matthew 23:1-12: “Don’t call one another by authority laden titles!” Below, again, is the actual text.
- Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
On careful examination, the author’s quote is evidently a gross approximation which both misrepresents and contradicts the immediate context. The author mis-quotes Jesus as vehemently denouncing the use of any title that acknowledges authority, yet Jesus is actually condemning the love of public status, expecially among religious leaders, as an ungodly disposition. He does not imply that it is wrong for us to use titles appropriate to duly appointed authority, but focuses on the ungodly love of such titles.
His only overt prohibition in addressing others is in verse 9, where He says we are not to refer to ourselves as the spiritual seed of a mortal man (“father”), seeing that all saints are begotten of a mutual spiritual Father. This “fatherhood” that Jesus addresses as an inappropriate relationship to claim with another man is a matter of spiritual conception, not a matter of authority. His injunction is perfectly consistent with the entire revelation of God. The author’s mis-quote is not.
It is appropriate to note that the entire context is one in which Jesus is addressing men as equals in value while some men retain a spiritual authority over others. While the author would have us believe that Jesus disapproves of anyone having authority over another in the spiritual realm, in this text Jesus acknowledges the authority of the Aaronic priesthood (vs 2) and bids all to obey those who function within it. (vs 3) (Incidentally, among such priests were only men, no women ever held such an office). In essence, while the author believes that the concept of having authority implies an inherent superiority/inferiority relationship, Jesus is saying that authority/submission and mutual equality are entirely independent concepts and that these concepts exist in harmony by His design.
The Response and Reaction of Women The author continues with possible responses from women when Biblical Egalitarianism is denied. She composes five possibilites, all of which are negative. She does not consider that a godly woman might find fulfillment in being under the benign authoritative headship of a loving husband, as did Sarah Edwards… the wife of Jonathan Edwards, whom God used as a spearhead in the first Great Awakening. Details of Sarah’s loving devotion to her husband and family, and the dramatic affects of her influence among 1400 of their descendants, are well known. Her children have arisen and called her blessed… indeed. This is not something I have commonly observed among feminists… “biblical” or otherwise.
Abuse – The Bad Fruit of Fallen Humanity… Among Christians? The author then considers in detail many sad and ungodly abuses of women in various cultures down through the ages… none of which have any real bearing on her thesis. The author apparently includes these sad details in order to lead us to associate any rejection of Biblical Egalitarianism with such vile abuse. It appears to be an emotional entanglement to discourage any negative response to her claims. This is a manipulative “guilt by association” tactic… the fact that wicked men who reject Biblical Egalitarianism have often abused women does not mean that Biblical Egalitarianism is good, even if this abuse is perpetrated by those who claim Christ. Attitudes of voluntary subjection in women toward men and male acceptance of responsibility for the welfare of women through benign leadership do not necessarily result in abuse.
Dealing with Our Procrustes The author concludes chapter 1 with a morbid illustration from Greek Mythology, picturing how destructive it is to insist on making a concept fit within pre-concieved and contradictory beliefs. The author evidently does not believe she is doing this, and that those who resist her teaching are.
In summary, the evidence for Biblical Egalitarianism given in this first chapter is: – One should seek greatness through service to others. – One should not seek prestigious titles or positions. – We should not call any man our spiritual father. – Many women don’t like to be submissive to men. – Men have often treated women badly.
I find nothing compelling here to persuade us that Biblical Egalitarianism is true.
Chapter 2: Jesus, Friend of Women
In the second chapter the author capitalizes on her assumption of a correlation between equality of worth and equality of role. Leveraging this assumption, the author tries to demonstrate that when Jesus Christ treated women consistently with their worth that He also discarded all gender-based distinctions. She provides as context nothing from the Scripture itself, but rather a number of ancient quotes which clearly degrade women and contradict the essence of the Word of God. These quotes do appear to be extreme, not representative of common ancient culture as revealed in the Gospel narratives. The author then attempts to show that Jesus’ confrontation of such ungodliness in His public ministry eradicated all gender-based role differences.
Jesus Demonstrates the Personhood of a Woman, John 8:3-11. In her first formal biblical reference in this book, the author claims that when Jesus spoke directly to the woman taken in adultery He “demonstrated an entirely different set of values” (15) than what He had initially defined in the Law. She makes a number of additional claims in her commentary on this story, yet gives no evidence for any of these claims. The entire biblical text is as follows.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
The author claims that the reason the Law required stoning the adulterous woman was that she was now “damaged goods” (15) due to her adulterous behavior and had brought disgrace on her husband. She offers no support for her claim.
The author claims the only reason an adulterous man was to be stoned was that he had “misused another man’s property.” (15) She offers no support for her claim.
The author also claims that cultural norms prohibited Jesus to speak with the woman at all (16), yet gives no support for this claim. She merely claims that rabbi’s often considered it beneath their dignity to speak with women in public (14), not that anyone was prohibited from so doing.
The author also claims that Jesus did not treat the adulterous woman as a man’s property, but that simply by speaking to her He denied that she belonged to her husband and was instead a person of great value, implying that property cannot be spoken to, have infinite value or be of human form. She gives no evidence to support her reasoning, which does contradict the Law: the Law indicates that a man can be owned as property and yet retain infinite worth and dignity. (“If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” Ex 21:1)
Further, it is unclear exactly how God’s merely speaking to someone validates them. He spoke to a tree, (“And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he… said unto it…” Mt 21:19) as well as to Satan. (“Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan…” Lk 4:8a)
Lastly the author claims that Jesus spoke to this adulterous woman with tenderness and compassion… yet this she merely presumes; such compassion is not evident in the story itself. As evidence to the contrary, Jesus refused to address or comfort this woman in any sense in the presence of her accusers but waited until they all departed before addressing her. During this period He gave proper order to her execution, admitting that she fully deserved to be fatally abused in a most horriffic manner; His only stipulation was entirely independent of her welfare, that those who initiated her destruction be sinless (therefore above governmental law, which forbade capital punishment carried out by citizenry: John 18:31). Further, He neither accepted nor condemned her when He did finally address her, He merely maintained neutrality by refusing to condemn her after admitting that she fully deserved to be destroyed. His parting words to her can hardly be considered tender: “Go, and sin no more.” (vs 11)
Mattew 9:20-22 In a second reference under this same point, the author claims that when Jesus allowed a ritually unclean woman to touch Him that Jesus discarded religious rules and rulers to help her. However, the author provides no evidence of any rules forbidding Jesus to allow such people to touch Him. All we know is that He might naturally have become ceremonially unclean when He permitted this (Le 5:2)… which was certainly within His prerogative and something He practiced without regard to gender. (Mk 1:41)
Jesus Shows Woman’s Equality in Marriage, Matthew 19:1-11. The author claims that Jesus rejected the portions of the Law which acknowledge a husband’s ownership of his wife and permit him to divorce her at will while not giving a wife these same rights. She says, “He clearly demonstrated that the man and the woman were to have the same rights and responsibilities in their relationships toward each other. This is mutuality.” (16) She references Matthew 19:3 and Mark 10:2-12. Both texts are quite similar and are given in full consequtively.
Matthew 19:1-11 1 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan; 2 And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there. 3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. 10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.
Mark 10:2-12 2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
It is unclear how the author finds either text in support of her claims. Neither text nullifies any principle of the Law; neither text mentions any rights or responsibilities of either husbands or wives. Jesus simply declares that divorce is not God’s original intent in marriage and that anyone breaking the marriage bond is guilty of adultery. This does not contradict the Law as the author claims; Jesus is simply placing the Law in context so that it will be properly applied rather than twisted into a license to sin, as the Pharisees had done.
Since God permits husbands to have multiple wives (Ex 21:10) any husband divorcing his wife in order to marry another, or for any other frivolous motive, evidences an adulterous spirit. This observation does not imply that husbands and wives have the same roles in marriage, only that they should both be fully committed to the marriage. Consider that polygamy is never forbidden by Jesus for men and never allowed for women.
Jesus Shows Woman’s Equal Social Status John 4:1-26, 39-42. The author, referring to the interaction between Christ and the woman at Jacob’s well, claims that women are to receive honor equal to that afforded men since Jesus spoke to this woman, treated her with respect and dignity and gave her profound revelation concerning Himself. While it is evidently true that all people are to be treated thusly, this does not in fact imply that all people are to function in equivalent roles, which appears to be the author’s implication and is an evidence of her implicit assumption concerning role and worth. All that one may conclude from this interaction is that it is appropriate for women to be spoken to and taught by men and that women are to be treated with respect. Jesus also treats children similarly (Matt 19:14), but never implies that children are not to obey their parents. Treating one another with respect and dignity is not inconsistent with benign headship and voluntary submission; it does not imply what the author claims.
Jesus Projects God in the Image of Woman, Luke 15:8-10. The author believes that Jesus’ parable about a woman rejoicing over a lost dowry indicates that God is as much female as He is male. The text is: “Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
On close inspection, the text does not support the author’s claim, but merely states that there is joy in the presence of the angels when a sinner repents. There are, in fact, others in the presence of the angels than God Himself… Enoch, Moses and Elijah were apparently in heaven among the angels when Jesus spoke this. (Ge 5:24, Mt 17:3) Even if this were not the case, to claim that God is as much female as male, in light of such massive evidence to the contrary, simply because His joy is comparable to the joy of a woman finding something precious to her is… to me… absurd.
It is interesting to observe here that the notion of female deity was not at all strange to ancient culture: most pagan religion sought to seduce God’s people through this concept. Many references to the “queen of heaven” in Jeremiah indicate that this deception often plagued Israel. The fact that God never reveals Himself as female was not because the idea was so intrinsically offensive to ancient patriarchal culture. In fact, to propose such an idea that God would deliberately present a distorted or imbalanced revelation of Himself to accomodate any cultural prejudice — which is easily implied from the author’s comments — violates His nature: He does not accommodate wickedness in the essence of His revelation. To do so would be to condone and perpetuate this wickedness. God’s motive is always to promote wholesomeness, purity and light… never to reinforce instistutionalized sin as a compromise to make His revelation more acceptable.
Jesus Rejects the Notion of “ Woman’s Role” Luke 8:19-21. In light of Jesus disassociation from His earthly family when He acknowledged that His disciplies were His true family, the author states, “Jesus demolishes… the notion of gender-restricted roles; that is, that women have their place and it is only a rebellious woman who would resist or override this role…. By His behavior He also indicates that the honor due mother and brothers is an honor to be extended equally to everyone.” (17-18)
The text reads as follows: “Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”
Jesus says nothing about honor in this text and implies nothing about honor. He is simply saying that only those who are obedient to God have intimate relationship with Him. I agree that obedient women are as much a part of God’s family as obedient men, but this only “demolishes the notion of gender-restricted roles” if the existence of such roles implies that subordinate people cannot be full-fledged members of God’s family. This is, again, evidence of the author’s assumption of the relationship of role and worth, but the text itself implies no such thing.
Luke 10:38-42 The author claims that Jesus reflects His rejection of “woman’s role” when He encourages Mary to continue to focus on His teaching rather than being “cumbered about much serving,” like her sister.
38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
The author also makes much of the fact that Jesus actually taught Mary, as further indication that He hated gender-based role distinctions. She sites two scholars to support her conclusions, agreeing that Jesus’ love for women and His willingness to teach them violates the concept that women should fulfill any subordinate role.
However, women attended synagogues, were commonly spoken to in public and were commonly taught by all religious rulers of that day. Consider Luke 13:10-17:
10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. 13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him
In this account we find Jesus teaching in mixed company, calling a woman to the front of the meeting and speaking to her, placing His hands on her, healing her, and calling her a “daughter of Abraham.” The woman also spoke openly in this public meeting and glorified God. This was evidently within common cultural norms, as there is no evidence that the religious rulers or the common people ever found fault with any of this behavior. In fact, all the people… not just the women… rejoiced in His ways.
In truth, we have no indication in the Bible itself that women were not valued as human beings, treated with respect and dignity, and taught the truth right along side men in Jewish culture. When studying the Scripture, we do find much evidence that they were in fact deeply valued and treated as equal in worth to men. One cannot come to the conclusions that the author has proposed about the common disregard for women from a study of the Word itself, and it is important to note that she does not ever reference the Scripture when positioning this context for us.
Though it is evident that women were valued as equals to men in ancient Jewish culture, they did not ever occupy positions of leadership either in Jewish culture or in Jesus’s ministry: none of the twelve disciples were women. If Jesus really hated gender-based distinctives, we may be sure that He would have expressed it in the selection of the twelve.
Jesus Rejects the Cultural Perception of Womanhood Luke 11:27-8. This is an account of a woman who, in the midst of the public teaching of Jesus, proclaimed that Mary was blessed to be the mother of Jesus. “And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
The author quotes Jesus contradicting the proclamation rather than agreeing with it: “He says, ‘Nay, rather…’ ” She depends upon this supposed contradiction in order to make her point, but we do not actually see a contradiction when we look at the text itself. The reason for this is that the Greek word behind the translation, menounge, implies an intensity of comparison (“indeed”) and may be translated either way depending on the context.
The author apparently prefers a contradiction since that suits her purpose, but this simply denies the fact that Mary was indeed blessed to be the mother of Christ: “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28) The author’s translation of the text violates this concept and is therefore incorrect.
The entire context, taken fairly, does not diminish the beautiful quality of women who are mothers and nuturers by God’s design. Jesus is simply saying that even the privilege of being chosen as His own earthly mother does not compare to that of being chosen to walk in spiritual revelation and obedience. Both are conditions of blessing, but the eternal is infinitely better.
The Risen Christ Commissions the First Apostle John 20:10-18, Matt 28:1-10 Both texts concern the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, who was evidently the first person to view and converse with the risen Christ. The author finds this “first” to be extremely significant, in light of the very dark portrait she has managed to paint of Jewish culture at the time. In light of this dark backdrop, the author wishes to show that Jesus was clearly making a loud statement concerning the role of women in the church and was instigating a great change in the way women were to be viewed and treated.
However, if one discards the author’s extra-biblical references that suggest women were commonly treated as sub-human throughout Jewish culture, this event is not quite so significant. It is very difficult to read passages such as Proverbs 31, which according to long-standing Jewish tradition is spoken by a husband over his wife every sabbath eve, and retain a notion that there was simply a common disdain for women that permeated all of ancient Jewish culture. In fact, for example, one might note the ministry of Anna the prophetess recorded in Luke 2:
36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
The testimony of women has always been a vital part of the life of the spiritual community, and the tesimony of Anna was no exception at the time of Christ’s birth. As God encouraged a woman to proclaim the news of His resurrection to the apostles, so He also encouraged a woman to announce His birth throughout the spiritual community of Jerusalem… including all its godly leadership.
This dear Anna was evidently well known and well respected by all of spiritual insight in her community, and there is no indication that her widespread public testimony violated cultural norms or that it was discounted because she was a woman. God does encourage all human beings to testify of their experience in heavenly things without regard to gender, race or age and the godly have never been troubled by it, but this does not imply an anihilation of gender-based roles.
Christ’s instruction to Mary to give public testimony of His resurrection to the eleven disciples does imply that it is appropriate for women to offer testimonials in both public and private settings. It implies further that significant spiritual revelation is given to women that is needed by the church and that significant benefit is to be derived from receiving this revelation.
These implications are in full keeping with Woman’s role as a helper and are not inconsistent with her choosing to serve Man in a subordinate position: the offering of testimony and insight is quite different than providing leadership, as can be seen in any subordinate relationship in business, military, education or government. God has provided Woman for Man for the purpose of assisting (“I will make him an help…” Gen 2:18) him, and this naturally includes being a recipient of insights and personal experience that she should share with him for his edification. Again, there is nothing about this that necessarily implies that women are to function in every societal role in the same way that men do.
In considering the author’s use of the word “apostle,” one is lead to believe that Mary Magdalene was given profound authority in the early church and that she functioned as a leader in the early Christian community. The fact is, that in all of the narrative and activity recorded in the rest of the New Testament, this dear sister is never mentioned again.
The author concludes the second chapter stating, “Jesus was a friend of women. He vigorously promoted the dignity and equality of women in terms of both value and function.” (20) I fully agree with this conclusion except for the last two words… which is nothing more than her constant appeal to her hidden assumption that subordination implies inferiority. The author has given absolutely no evidence to support this aspect of her conclusion, which is her entire thesis, but continually leverages her blending of equality of role and individual worth to encourage her reader in a false way. As error… it will lead to bondage and corruption, not to freedom and health.
In summary, the evidence for Biblical Egalitarianism given in this second chapter is:
- Some Jewish leaders believed women were evil and inferior to men.
- Jesus spoke with a woman in public.
- Jesus allowed a sick women to touch Him.
- Jesus encourages both husbands and wives to be faithful in marriage.
- Jesus taught a woman.
- There is rejoicing in God’s presence when a sinner repents.
- Jesus accepts those who obey Him as His family.
- Jesus encouraged a women to listen to Him.
- Those who hear and obey God are more blessed than Jesus’ mother.
- Jesus appeared first to a women after His rose from the dead.
- Jesus told this woman to testify to His disciples of His resurrection.
I find nothing here to persuade me of the truth of Biblical Egalitarianism.
Chapter 3: Evidences of Equality in Early Christianity
The author continues on through the book of Acts and into the epistles to build her case of Biblical Egalitarianism. She claims that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on women as well as men implied that God was empowering all of them to the same task, that of prophesy and public ministry, without regard to gender.
However, the empowerment of the Spirit is actually for the unique ministry that God gifts each individual saint to pursue, and He has not called all saints to be pastors and teachers in the church. He has set various giftings and offices within the church, and apparently has chosen to put men into the positions of leadership. This is true of the twelve apostles, and it is also true of the first seven deacons, or official “servants” of the church in Acts 5. When decisions needed to be made, when crowds were to be addressed, when church policy was formed… every single case recorded in the book of Acts was managed entirely by the men of the early church and not the women. The author conveniently overlooks this fact and instead pulls bits and pieces of the narrative to suit her purpose.
The author’s makes mention of the fact that women were present in the upper room prior to Pentecost and assumes that they were involved in decision making. She offers no support for her claim, but merely assumes it, ignoring the fact that it was a man, Peter, who formally lead the entire group into the selection of a replacement for Judas, that two men were positioned by the assembly for God to choose for the task, and that that only men were considered as possible candidates. (Ac 1:41) It was Peter that God had assigned the task of feeding His sheep (Jn 21:17), and his rise to a position of influence among the twelve even at this early stage appears natural. The author completely ignores the entire dynamic and waves her hand at it, presuming there was no gender-based distinction at all.
The author follows this with her first significant reference in the book of Acts in chapter 5, making note of God’s dealing with Annanias and Saphira, stating that “the Holy Spirit introduced another important precedent. He held women directly, personally and equally responsible with men to God. Numbers 30 had given fathers and husbands control over women, but God clearly set a new standard — and egalitarian standard when He dealt with Anannias and Saphira.” The author confuses the mercy God offered women through their husbands delivering them from foolish vows, with the idea that women were not held responsible for their general beliefs and actions. God has never been lenient with lies and hypocrisy. The fact that God held a woman responsible for partnering with her husband in open sin is not a new standard at all.
To be continued … last update 12/7/2013