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Short Answers to Tough Questions

Some people believe that 1 Corinthians 7 means that husbands are entitled to sex and wives have an obligation to supply it. But the text, properly interpreted, doesn't support that argument. In fact, it opposes it. Let's take a look: Now concerning the matters you wrote about: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman.'  But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his duty to the wife, and likewise the wife to the husband. The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but the husband, and likewise the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but the wife. Do not deprive each other, unless by mutual consent—for a time, so that you might have leisu... Read more
One of the main speakers at a conference I recently attended was a preacher from a complementarian church plant. In his sermon, he delivered a powerful call to social justice. Still, I couldn’t stomach the uneasy feeling that the message was tainted by his theology of gender. Questions ran through my head as he spoke: How did he view the women whom his social justice programs intended to help? Were there young women in his congregation longing but unable to answer God’s call to leadership? Why had he been invited to speak on social justice when he sustains and promotes an oppressive, unjust theology? Furious, I challenged the preacher after the service. For fifteen minutes, the conversation went round in circles. We achieved little with our anger, only fueling each other... Read more
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…” Since the fall, women have suffered enormously under patriarchy. In the church, in the world, and in the home, women have always been subordinate to men, and as a result, they have been abused, oppressed, and silenced. Some say gender hierarchy is God’s perfect design—a pristine plan for women and men’s good and flourishing. They point to Genesis, arguing that God clearly intended patriarchy from the start. But the text tells a different story. If we look closer, it becomes clear that patriarchy was never God’s plan for humanity. Is Patriarchy God’s Will or the Consequence of Sin? Genesis 3:16 says, “in pain you will be... Read more
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…” “The Bible says wives should submit to husbands, because men are the head of women.” Sigh. Some of us have heard this overly simplistic and frankly convenient interpretation of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:18-32. But are we taking the “household codes” seriously enough in their own context? Is there more to this passage than meets the eye? The Household Code and the Paterfamilias Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is often referred to simply as the “household code.” The household code was a literary form for rules about behavior in the household. They used very wealthy families as an idealized model. Everyone in these households... Read more
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…” 1 Timothy 2 is a tricky passage to interpret well. Verses 11-15 alone contain four biblical “buzz phrases” often employed by those who oppose women’s equality in the church. Paul writes:[1] 1. Women should learn in silence (2:11). 2. I do not permit a woman to teach or dominate a man (2:12). 3. The woman was deceived and became a sinner (2:14). 4. Women will be saved through childbearing (2:15). These troubling verses form, for many, the foundation of the case for women’s submission to men and against the legitimacy of women’s preaching and teaching in church and/or to men. Though it would appear those opposed to women... Read more
You’re at a holiday event and you mention that you’ve been asked to guest preach at your church. Your grandpa or your aunt or cousin brings up 1 Corinthians 14. In your college theology class, you mention that your pastor is a woman and a male student cites this troubling verse. You mentioned your egalitarian beliefs at Tuesday night Bible study and several of the members invite you to explain or defend your position. What do you say? How do you explain your egalitarian interpretation of this complex passage? Here’s a few ideas: The book of 1 Corinthians is all about how to be in a mature community of people who have the Spirit of God. Paul begins with a famous verse: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27). People do not... Read more
Editor's Note: This is one of our Top 15 CBE Writing Contest winners. Enjoy! Eight years ago, my family and I spent an afternoon on a beach in Barcelona. Aware that parts of the beach were “clothing optional,” we opted for the first crescent—the one deemed “safe for the whole family.” My husband, my three daughters, and I learned quickly that tops were optional everywhere. This was our first exposure to cultural norms in Spain and it was a bit of a shock. We saw a lot of women’s bodies, the five of us un-sun-kissed Americans. We saw families playing frisbee, couples swimming together, and women and men lying in the sun letting it do its golden sun thing. Do you know what we didn’t see? We didn’t see a single man on that beach assaultin... Read more
Does God prefer “debt-free virgins without tattoos”? A recent viral article claims that men do, and that women should avoid college, independence, career, and the world—lest they fall into debt and sexual failure and be unattractive to Christian men. Notably, tattoos, after the title, get precious little mention! And there's our first clue that the author doesn’t support her claims well. The article says nothing further about tattoos and also says little about biblical values regarding fiscal responsibility and sex. Despite the author’s well-intentioned desire to teach young women to live biblically, she promotes a culturally-influenced view of Christian womanhood. Fundamentally, this cultural view of women assumes they’re more susceptible to world... Read more
Many Christians, certainly most egalitarians, are familiar with Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (NIV). But as well-known as this passage is, it’s still common to wonder what mutual submission actually looks like in practice. Here’s my take on it: Isaac and Me A friend of mine, Isaac, and I recently went out for a meal together. Neither of us had an agenda. We ate our burgers and chatted for a while. Then we each paid for our own food and left. Isaac is the worship minister where I attend church and play in the band. At Wednesday evening rehearsals and on Sunday mornings, he’s my leader. His authority over me, of course, isn’t absolute. It also isn’t eternal. As a good leader, he has my best interests in min... Read more
Most evangelical egalitarians know that the Bible has words that mean “man/men” and words that mean “person/people, human(s).” Many egalitarians also know that some Bible translations use “man/men” to translate words which aren’t limited to men. This is especially common, for example, in the King James Version and the pre-2011 editions of the New International Version. But recognition of the distinction between “man” and “human” is growing. It has influenced modern translations such as the English Standard Version (Crossway, 2001) and the Christian Standard Bible (Holman, 2017). Though the translators of these Bibles tend to be strongly complementarian, and though I don't believe they’ve gone far enough to accurat... Read more

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