Introduction, by Jeff Miller
This third edition of Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE), which gathers over thirty essays, is positioned to contribute significantly to the fortifying and flourishing of evangelical gender egalitarianism. Several of its endorsements affirm the earlier editions of DBE and go on to express optimism about this edition as well.1
Several chapters are wholly new (e.g., “Mutuality in Marriage and Singleness: 1 Corinthians 7:1-40” by Ronald W. Pierce and Elizabeth A. Kay, “Gender Equality and the Analogy of Slavery” by Stanley E. Porter, “Human Flourishing: Global Perspectives” by CBE President Mimi Haddad). Certain other essays have been updated (e.g., those by Linda L. Belleville and Aída Besançon Spencer). A few essays remain unchanged, or largely so, from the previous edition. Key examples of unchanged contributions are “‘Equal in Being, Unequal in Role’: Challenging the Logic of Women’s Subordination” by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (1954 – 2018) and two articles by Gordon D. Fee (“Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16” and “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry”).2 It should be noted that the second edition still has value, for some of its essays have not been retained (e.g., Richard Hess covered Gen 1-3 in the second edition, but Mary L. Conway shoulders that responsibility in the third; I. Howard Marshall [1934 – 2015] originally addressed Eph 5 and Col 3, but Lynn H. Cohick does so in the third edition).
The editors have written an introduction and a conclusion. After the conclusion is a list of the twenty-seven contributors (sixteen women and eleven men). Their paragraph-length bios can be especially helpful since most of the authors have written much more on the topic(s) of their respective chapter(s) than this essay collection has space to include. The book ends with name, subject, and Scripture indices.
The opening chapter stands outside the book’s four major sections, which are each reviewed below by different scholars. This chapter, “History Matters” by Haddad, asks “Who represents evangelicals?” It begins with a critique of the recent lack of appreciation for women’s scholarship and leadership in certain evangelical sectors.3 It then gifts the reader with a sweeping overview of women throughout church history. Thus, the tone is set for over 600 more pages of scholarly investigation of the foundations and ramifications of egalitarianism.
Part One, Looking to Scripture: The Biblical Texts
Reviewed by Karen Strand Winslow
Conway’s chapter, “Gender in Creation and Fall,” opens Part One, “Looking to Scripture, the Biblical Texts.” Viewing Gen 1-2 as the ideal theological foundation for relationships between women and men, she finds “mutuality, equality, harmony between men and women” (52) and no biblical grounds for gender hierarchy or the patriarchy that is entrenched in so many cultures.
Conway’s contribution has much to commend it. She emphasizes that “humanity” should be used to translate adam, except when it becomes the proper name for the male, man, and husband referred to in Gen 4:25—5:3 (see the NRSV translation of these chapters). In Gen 1:28, humanity, defined as male and female, are equally tasked with multiplying and ruling other creatures God had made before them. Conway rightly claims that Yahweh’s original intention for humanity included no distinction of authority or roles—male and female, united and made in the image of God, are to reproduce and rule other created creatures.
Nonetheless, Conway’s use of the term Yahweh here betrays her tendency to collapse Gen 1 and Gen 2, even while admitting that the first and second creation stories have “differing focuses, genres, and functions” (35). But Yahweh (typically rendered “Lord”) is not used for God in Gen 1; only Elohim (“God”) is. Yahweh Elohim is used for the creator of both the Garden and the couple in Gen 2-3, and is one example of the many differences between these stories which include setting, vocabulary, order, scope, and purpose.4 Furthermore, she names her discussion of the Garden story, “Genesis 2:4-25: A Detailed View of the Creation of Humanity,” and reads it as an expansion of Day 6 of Gen 1. She says the second story “overlaps the first, extends it, and unpacks events in more detail, especially in regard to the creation of humanity” (39, italics added).5
However, we cannot read the Gen 2 story of marriage and farming through the lens of Gen 1. With Gen 1 and 2 we have two creation stories that support the unity, correspondence, intimacy, and fit of the two sexes: male and female in Gen 1, husband and wife in Gen 2. In Gen 2, the man was formed to till the soil (Gen 2:5-8); the woman was made because it was not good for man to be alone (not to reproduce, as Conway claims [41, 43]). The reason animals were made—after the man—was to find one that would match the man. God realized that man’s ezer kenegdo, his perfect (but not identical) match, must come from his own body. Conway is clear and correct that nothing in this process indicates the man/husband is superior to the woman/wife, who was formed so that he would not be alone.
In her discussion of Gen 3, Conway uses the woman’s addition to the command forbidding their eating from one tree, “neither shall you touch it” (Gen 3:3), to insist that the woman was “inadequately taught” by the man. She assumes the man added this, and, on this basis, claims the woman’s later sin was inadvertent. However, she claims, the man sinned “defiantly” (44-46, 50, 52), so the woman is “less guilty” than the man. In Conway’s view, the woman’s theology was mistaken because she was inadequately taught by the man, who added, “neither shall you touch it.” However, Genesis is completely silent on whether God, the man, or the woman (in responding to the serpent) added “neither shall you touch it.” Thus, it cannot form the basis for Conway’s interpretation.
Conway’s discussion of this addition strains under the weight of her conclusion, which also controls her discussion of 1 Tim 2:11-14. Although the woman’s “do not touch” elaboration must be noted, it does not demonstrate the woman was less culpable than the man, or that he failed to teach her properly. This addition—even if it originated with Adam—does not weaken the command, but enhances it, putting “a fence around Torah” (a secondary regulation, in this case not touching the tree, intended to guard the core command, in this case not eating from the tree).
For Conway, the failure that led to the sinning (“the fall”) was the man’s because he told his wife not to touch the tree. This disrupted the mutuality and harmony between women and men and caused millennia of male domination in the church and in marriage (52). Sinning in the Garden, of course, disturbed their intimacy and led to alienation and struggle, but the disobedience in the Garden illustrates their equality in sinning, as well as in their creation. He was no more defiant than she was. Certainly, Conway’s concluding remark on 1 Tim 2 is sound. Men can no more teach without proper instruction than women; a person’s preparation, not gender, is the issue. “With appropriate teaching . . . both men and women can now be full participants in the ministry of the church” (52). But this is based on reason and not upon the assumption that sin came into the world because the woman was inadequately taught by the man.
The next chapter in this section is “The Treatment of Women under Mosaic Law,” by Conway and Pierce. It is an interpretive move from the notion that all biblical laws originated with God, so the secondary status of women the laws sometimes display must be divine. The authors recognize the patriarchal bias of Israel’s context—and therefore of some of the laws attributed to Moses—while noting the overall concern for justice and compassion for the marginalized. They discuss examples of laws focusing on women, while attending to the changing nature of law as the Bible demonstrates increasing emphasis on redemption and that law is one stage in that process (54).
Belleville, in “Women Leaders in the Bible,” details numerous examples of female heroes, paying particular attention to Deborah the judge, the prophet Huldah of King Josiah’s time (mid- to late-seventh century BC, when the prophet Jeremiah was also active), and to Junia, an apostle whom Paul mentions in Romans, while celebrating the fact that Paul always describes women and men coworkers equally (88). She cites recent research that demonstrates women held authority in Greco-Roman culture and were not cloistered in the household, although they are also often described as heads of households in the literature of this time. This chapter is extremely useful for providing biblical foundations for women in ministry.
Spencer’s chapter, “Jesus’ Treatment of Women in the Gospels,” appropriately emphasizes that Jesus sent Mary Magdalene as the first witness of his resurrection, and that other women followers fulfilled his commands to preach the gospel, which they had witnessed by being with Jesus. Thus, women are apostles in the true sense of the term. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit “equipped every believer to be a priest and proclaimer before God” (107). She concludes that if Jesus, the Bible, or the ecumenical councils did not in any way restrict leadership based on gender, why should we (106)?
Chapter 6, “Mutuality in Marriage and Singleness,” is an extensive treatment of 1 Cor 7:1-40, Paul’s call for mutuality in marriage, a study that earlier editions of DBE did not include. The authors lament its neglect by most evangelicals (although they cite the significant exceptions, 108-9) and demonstrate that this passage constructs a balanced theology of gender roles (117) and is a comprehensive statement of gender mutuality in marriage and society. It is the only passage that directly, explicitly addresses authority in marriage. Here Paul stresses “functional unity and mutual submission . . . in the bedroom” (113), which can serve as a paradigm for other marital concerns. This portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians also promotes mutuality in divorce (117-20) and is gender-inclusive regarding celibate singleness (122-23). Pierce and Kay successfully endorse 1 Cor 7:1-40 as a text that “shines the positive light of gender-inclusive mutuality on other statements in both contemporary and later gender texts in the Bible” (124).
In ch. 7, “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies,” we come to Fee’s interpretation of the difficult passage, 1 Cor 11:2-16. It discusses the meaning of “head coverings,” “head,” “authority,” and “because of the angels.” The chapter gives attention to first-century worship customs as well as honor and shame. Although interpreters tread through murky waters, Fee emphasizes that this text is clear that women were “praying and prophesying” in Paul’s churches, which helps us to assume that women were also teaching in the gathered assembly (133). Although Fee posits contextual (within 1 Corinthians) explanations for Paul’s reference to angels as a reason for veiling women in the assembly, it is puzzling that Fee does not include evidence that the residents of Qumran—and probably other Jews—assumed that angels joined them in worship and that veils were a mark of submission to these heavenly worshippers.
“Learning in the Assemblies” (ch. 8) focuses on 1 Cor 14:34-35, “. . . women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.” Craig Keener asks, “How silent must women be?” and explores various positions of other scholars. He recognizes these verses seem intrusive to Paul’s discussion on orderly prophesying, except they are also concerned with order in the assembly. Relying on his extensive research into Corinthian culture of antiquity, Keener dismisses those interpretations that try to make this a transcultural rule, recognizing that they could be a later scribal insertion, especially given clear references to women prophesying in this same letter. However, he notes that Paul also is known to digress and here addresses the problem of women asking questions in the assembly, advising them to ask their husbands at home (147-48). He stresses that such advice is limited to that particular context in which women—in general—were not as educated as men and it may have been considered shameful for women to question men in public (154). Keener cannot identify any biblical law that urges women to be silent (v. 34), because such a law does not exist, but recognizes Paul was concerned with social propriety and order, as well as learning before speaking (158).
In “Male and Female: One in Christ,” Cynthia Long Westfall treats the refreshing, equalizing, and redemptive passage, Gal 3:26-29, within its context as an address to the Galatian church, not to Greco-Roman political structures (160). Being clothed in Christ through baptism gives his followers the status of children of God equally, across racial, cultural, class, and sexual boundaries. This inclusive statement cannot be seen as any less than subsuming all differences under the identity of being “in Christ” (167). She stresses the significance of this Pauline affirmation for Gentiles becoming the people of God without circumcision; they are just as “in Christ” as Jews, and such is also the case for slaves, free, male, and female. Distinctions obviously exist, but they are not of primary importance and must not correspond to male authority and dominance (181). Being in Christ is the most “salient” identity (175, 180). Westfall convincingly concludes that this passage “sets an agenda for sweeping changes in racial, social, and gender relations in the church . . .” (182).
Chapter 10, “Loving and Submitting to One Another in Marriage” by Cohick, reminds all of us who receive the Bible as Scripture that, to understand and apply it, we must also fully recognize the significance of its particularity—it was written at and for a certain time in history, with social and cultural contexts that are different from our own. Nonetheless, today we have similar concerns about our place in the family, church, and world. In her study of marriage in Eph 5:21-23 and Col 3:18-19, she provides the background for these letters to new Christians, including Roman social codes and their view of virtue, which included social roles for modest women (188-91). Thus, Christian women, like Nympha (Col 4:15), who host churches in their homes were not breaking social norms. Yet the advice given in Ephesians and Colossians is counter-cultural in its attention to love and submission in marriage and equality in Christ for all in the household. She highlights the body as the primary metaphor here; differences among people must not be seen as hierarchical, but each person is like a body part, equally valuable in working together in unity, showing the wisdom of God and the hope of resurrection (204).
Belleville’s “Teaching and Usurping Authority” (ch. 11) is a thorough analysis of 1 Tim 2:11-15, the passage complementarians and their predecessors have most often used to restrict women from teaching, preaching, and leading in churches. She analyzes the historical and literary contexts, Greek terms like authentein (which is not used in the Bible outside of this passage), and essential practices for proper interpretation of this letter for the church in Ephesus. She does not address the Kroegers’ suggestion that the false teaching referred to throughout 1-2 Timothy may have been a notion similar to the Valentinian demiurgical creation account (found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt) that claims woman was created first and was wise to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge (gnosis) of Good and Evil. Thus, “I do not allow a woman to teach that she was the author or originator of man.”6 Nonetheless, Belleville’s translation/interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12, based on her careful study, is also compelling: “. . . I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in her demeanor” (227).
Chapter 12, “A Silent Witness in Marriage” by Peter Davids, is slightly updated from the second edition of DBE. This final chapter in the “Looking to Scripture” section is a study of 1 Pet 3:1-7, which is directed to Christian wives of non-believing husbands in a mostly Gentile context (229). Thus, Davids also attends to the Greco-Roman world of the first century. The context of the passage shows concern to disprove that Christianity was subversive and disturbed the peace of the household (235). Thus, this passage is part of a strategy to “minimize the tension between Christians and surrounding society” (239). Davids does not address its immediately preceding context that explains “In the same way,” which refers to Jesus accepting the abuse of his torturers and killers. Unfortunately, Peter’s wording here has been used to advise women to endure abuse by their husbands. Davids concludes by insisting that 1 Peter urges those given power by their culture to humbly give it up like Christ did and for husbands of every era to follow the way of the cross and treat their wives as equals (244).
The chapters in the biblical section of DBE are by scholars whose primary research lies with the passages examined therein. It thus provides an excellent contribution to the body of literature that interprets the Scriptures as a foundation for women and men as equal servants of Christ in the church and the world.
Part Two, Thinking It Through: Theological and Logical Perspectives
Reviewed by Dorothy A. Lee
The eight essays in Part Two focus largely on theological issues that flow from the fundamental conviction that the equality of women and men in home and ministry is firmly grounded in Scripture. Each makes a significant contribution to the debate, often in disagreement with complementarians. The result is a diverse collection of articles that confirm, theologically, core biblical teaching on Christian anthropology as embodied in Jesus Christ.
Three of the articles belong together in the sense that they direct their attention to the nature of Christian ministry as revealed in the NT and practised in the contemporary church. Thus, I will group the essays rather than review them in chapter order. Fee argues, in “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry,” that gender is irrelevant in the Spirit’s granting of the needed gifts for ministry in the NT writings. The issue is not gender but rather how the Spirit works in the generous giving of gifts. Gender is thus no barrier to ministry, and women are in no way excluded from full participation in the work of the Spirit within the community of believers.
Likewise, Walter L. Liefeld’s “The Nature of Authority in the New Testament” argues for a fully inclusive presence of women and men in the work of ministry. For him, the priesthood of all believers is a vital theological principle, challenging hierarchical and exclusively male models of ministry that have moved far from Jesus’ servant leadership. The church is to be a new community that understands authority not as a fixed office but rather as a form of servanthood in radical opposition to Greco-Roman models of domination and authoritarianism.
Stanley J. Grenz is similarly concerned with the NT implications for ministry in ch. 16, “Biblical Priesthood and Women in Ministry.” In his view, the linking of pastoral leadership with the OT priesthood is a fundamental error of interpretation that leads to a hierarchical model of ministry from which women are excluded. Instead, the NT offers a vision of mutuality in love and care, in which the Spirit’s gifts have prominence for the church’s ministry. It is not, therefore, only a question of including women in ministry but also of developing a new and authentically biblical understanding of how ministry is to be exercised in the community of faith as the priesthood of all believers.
In addition, three further essays argue for women’s full participation in ministry, using different perspectives to confirm biblical teaching. Christa L. McKirland speaks cogently for the elimination of gender essentialism: the view that women and men have fixed, defined roles and traits to which they must adhere. On the contrary, she sees such essentialism as denied within the biblical text. Based on the imago Dei in Gen 1:28, McKirland argues that personhood in Christian understanding is determined first and foremost by Christ who is the true Image of God. Maleness and femaleness are secondary. In creation, human beings are formed to reflect the presence of God through the benign “dominion” granted them. Here they are formed to be royal priests to creation itself. The essay also takes note of the destructive effects of gender essentialism, not only on women and men, but also on those who are intersex and who are co-equally called to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Although not arising from an essentialist view of gender, Pierce and Erin M. Heim explore feminine imagery for God within the biblical text. These images, across both Testaments, connect to all three Persons of the Trinity and also to Christian leadership. Both God and Jesus are depicted with mothering symbols (as is Paul). These metaphors are substantial and have power to transform the reader spiritually. There is no intention here of introducing gender into the life of God. Instead, the images emphasise the tenderness of the divine maternal and paternal love, giving new insights into the nature of God and encouraging us to minister to others with the same compassion.
In ch. 20, Groothuis promotes full egalitarianism from a well-reasoned logical and theological perspective that is rooted in Scripture. She argues that contemporary complementarianism, in its desire to confirm both the equality of women and men and also their differentiated roles (e.g., the authority of men and the submission for women), is participating in a logical fallacy that goes against the teaching of Scripture. Belief in the subordination of women to male authority as an ontological aspect of female nature cannot be held alongside the conviction of women’s equality. Despite the superficial rhetoric of gender equality, modern complementarianism is simply ascribing female inferiority to men. This is contrary to the biblical witness and is also a logical fallacy that its proponents fail to perceive.
The two other essays in Part Two shed a significantly different light on the issue of biblical egalitarianism. Kevin Giles tackles head-on the complementarian view of subordination within the Trinity. Despite the biblical portrayal of Jesus as the co-equal Son, and later creedal confessions that argue strongly for equality of divinity within the divine Persons, earlier complementarianism saw the subordination of the Son to the Father mirrored in the subordination of women to men in church and home. For Giles, this view moves dangerously close to Arianism, declared heresy by the early church. However, as a consequence of the doctrinal work of theologians such as Giles himself, a number of complementarians have abandoned their trinitarian subordinationism—though not, ironically (and unfortunately, as Giles argues elsewhere7), their gender subordinationism.
Finally, in ch. 17, Porter carries out a singularly important service by examining slaves and slavery in the NT as an appropriate analogy to its presentation of gender. Porter examines the NT evidence carefully, particularly the writings of Paul, arguing that while there is no outright condemnation of slavery within the text, there is a powerful theological basis for its demise. Indeed, in many ways, slavery is already overcome within the fictive family of the church, the new covenant community which stands over against the power-laden values of the ancient world. Paul himself, Porter argues, does not condone slavery but looks for its elimination in the way he constructs community. The same applies to gender subordination. Like slavery, this too no longer has meaning within the life of the church. Sadly, it has taken the church a long time to implement the NT vision on issues of both slavery and gender, and in some places the battle is still not won.
These eight essays are all well worth reading and have a vital role to play in ongoing debates about women’s worth, gifts, and ministry. They argue from different angles for the full equality and mutuality of women and men in ministry, reminding us of the radical nature of the early Christian community in its approach to gender. In each essay, the perspective is grounded in Christology and in the conviction that Scripture has much to teach us in advocating for the full equality of women as made in the divine image and re-made in Christ.
Part Three, Addressing the Issues: Interpretive and Cultural Perspectives
Reviewed by Jamin A. Hübner
Part Three of DBE contains five chapters on the following topics: Paul and hermeneutics, gender and the social sciences, gender in translation, gay marriage, and abortion.
The first of these is “Interpretive Methods and the Gender Debate” by Westfall. She has published extensive scholarship in Pauline and NT studies throughout her career, and so she deftly navigates the issues in this chapter and concisely summarizes them for a popular audience. She provides some of the basic interpretive scaffolding for how one might both understand and apply biblical texts, particularly those in the NT. Given evangelical theological presuppositions, part of this means interpreting within a consistent and coherent framework. She ultimately concludes that “Paul did not share the Greco-Roman view of women that the church later adopted, nor did he teach or wield hierarchical authority and power within his churches that was comparable to the authoritative power structures that developed in Christian traditions” (450); and the interpretive methods about Paul within his socio-economic and cultural context need a “robust reworking.”
The next chapter, “Gender Differences and Biblical Interpretation” by M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall, looks at what contemporary social science offers to questions like, “what does it mean to be a man or woman?” The chapter is particularly interesting since it depends, more than many other chapters in this section, on the most up-to-date research. Indeed, much of it amounts to empirically debunking stereotypes. In examining the evidence, she says that “it is unwise to assume generalized differences between genders based on our own experience” (454). There are all kinds of caveats in both conducting and interpreting such social science as well. For example, “A gender difference in the brain in no way indicates that the difference is not learned; in fact, all learned behaviors will in some way change the brain. . . . brain studies are not explanations for gender differences and should not be used as such” (462)—though the “brain differences” end up being insignificant, anyway. (“There simply is no such thing as a male brain distinct from a female brain” .) Similarly, “men and women largely do not differ in their cognitive capacities” (465). Readers come away with far less certainties than traditional religious culture would imbibe—and using Martin Luther’s changing views on the subject as a case study, Hall suggests that this is a good thing.
Jeffrey Miller, in “A Defense of Gender-Accurate Bible Translation,” then argues that English translations have actually amplified androcentric and patriarchal bias in Bible translations. In his words, “such translations are indeed more androcentric than the Greek text” (474). The essay contains meticulous research to defend this somewhat eye-opening thesis, especially as it reveals needless translational bias—sometimes in the extreme. For example, he concludes with a chart of masculine renderings in Rom 14. The CEB and NRSV have none, ESV has 22, HCSB has 26, and the KJV has a whopping 45. Reading such texts obviously instills patriarchy where there often isn’t any. Miller also looks at phenomena like “a mishandled feminine plural expression” in Luke 8:1-3. The phrase “many others” is feminine plural, so they are necessarily “many other women.” But virtually no English translation properly renders it as such. Having taught Greek, authored a Greek grammar, and (like Miller) published in The Bible Translator myself,8 I appreciate both the depth and originality of the study and re-affirmed my own preference for the CEB and NRSV.
Pierce then looks at “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” in ch. 24. He recapitulates the arguments and exegetical studies of affirming and non-affirming positions in a way similar to other books published in the last two decades and explains his non-affirming view. While there may not be much “new” information in that regard, Pierce’s tone and approach is marked by rare generosity, non-combativeness, and a thorough knowledge of the surrounding issues. Similar remarks can be made for ch. 25, Heidi R. Unruh and Ronald J. Sider’s “Gender Equality and the Sanctity of Life,” which recapitulates a pro-life position on abortion, complete with a framework of “full embrace of the sacredness of human life” (513). Among other issues, they show the various feminist and pro-woman strands of traditional pro-life positions. And again, their tone is marked by understanding and mutuality; “Advocacy should not depend on naming others as our enemy,” they write toward the conclusion. “We show love as we are willing to listen to one another’s stories and perspectives, not primarily to persuade but to seek to connect on a human level. We may grow in understanding and respect for the cry of another’s heart. We may even find common ground on shared values: respecting women’s bodies and minds, empowering women to flourish, enabling more control over the timing of pregnancies, offering adoption as a viable choice, dedication to parenting postbirth children well, compassion for women facing pregnancies in unimaginably difficult circumstances” (534).
All the essays are well-written, pertinent to the issues they address, and competent to speak to and help the intended audience. As with anything, I had a few comments, questions, and concerns here and there. To be brief: (1) Arguments for traditional marriage can be marked by an uncritical perspective when it comes to “God’s creational, male-female design for marriage” (503)—that is, not recognizing that this model/construct (as with sexuality in general—something recent works on both purity culture9 and evolutionary biology10 have indicated11) is, at least from a historical perspective, not as constant and unchanging as imagined even within biblical history. (2) If one enjoys Miller’s essay, they would do well to also read Samuel Perry’s “The Bible as a Product of Cultural Power: The Case of Gender Ideology in the English Standard Version.”12 (3) Given the decline of conservative White evangelicalism in the United States,13 I wonder if this volume will to speak to millennials and Gen Z in the US who do not identify as evangelical or do “normal church” or to Christians who are more committed to the spirit and teachings of Christ than to being “committed to the authority of the Bible” (434) and engaging in other debates coming out of the 1970-80s.14
In the meantime, evangelicals will be enlightened by this needed revision of a book that has helped many see gender debates in religion from an alternative perspective.
Part Four, Living It Out: Practical Applications
Reviewed by Dawn Gentry
Part Four emphasizes the importance of understanding theology in the context of lived experience. The editors recognize that biblical exegesis, historical and theological assumptions, and cultural and interpretive issues alone will not change how we embody women’s equality in our churches, communities, and relationships. It is not enough to get our theology and exegesis right. We must lean into right actions. In this section of the book, practical next steps are suggested in various life contexts.
In the first essay, “Helping the Church Understand Biblical Gender Equality,” Haddad examines how new ideas take hold in social settings and encourages church leaders to hold to Scripture’s truth while favoring “simple, direct, and rich” language rather than complexity (540). She notes how women’s equality improves lives and relates it to other shared core values like healthy families and the centrality of missions. Haddad uses gifts-based ministry as her starting point and offers several practical ways to model equality in churches. She suggests that gendered assumptions about specific tasks may limit opportunities for both men and women and negatively affect outcomes. Finally, she recognizes that women may first have opportunities in business or community leadership. When giftings are observed and recognized in those contexts, church leaders may see their assumptions challenged, recognize those gifts may benefit Christ’s mission, and finally invite women to serve the family of God.
As trusted scholars and marriage partners, Judith and Jack Balswick bring great experience to gender equality within marriage. In ch. 27, they offer three definitions of “authority” in marriage and relate these definitions to the use of power within each relationship. The Balswicks reflect on human tendencies that lead to domineering husbands or manipulative wives, recognizing these characteristics contrast with Jesus’ example described in Scripture. They highlight the value of interdependence, recognizing each spouse’s unique strengths that benefit the relationship (recall Haddad’s affirmation of “gifts-based leadership,” above). They offer practical suggestions for dual earner families and parents who partner in childrearing. While not every egalitarian will agree with all their views of sexual and emotional intimacy, their overall discussion of authority, power, and partnership is a helpful addition to this volume.
Complementarians would have us believe their focus on loving, servant leadership would eliminate abuse in Christian settings. In ch. 28, however, Kylie Maddox Pidgeon shares data indicating high similarity in statistics between churched and non-churched men’s abuse against women. While most pastors believe their churches are “safe havens” for those abused, stories from survivors suggest otherwise. Pidgeon asserts (and the World Health Organization agrees) that “gender inequality . . . is a primary foundation for domestic abuse” (573). She draws several correlations between the story of David and Bathsheba and complementarian theology, listing factors that either predict or drive levels of violence against women. These include victim blaming, limits to women’s agency, rigid gender roles, and disrespect toward women. Pidgeon also links power and violence, discusses various types of bias, and provides a helpful definition of “gender equality.” The visual of The Duluth Power and Control Wheel, a tool illustrating “varied ways that power and control can manifest in an abusive domestic relationship,” is extremely helpful (585-86); Pidgeon also suggests a practical and theologically based resource called SAFER, available at https://SaferResource.org.au (587-88).
While conversations about gender roles have abounded in the past century among the privileged class, Juliany González Nieves, in “When We Were Not Women: Race and Discourses on Womanhood,” asserts that Black and indigenous women’s experiences have been largely excluded from these discussions of “womanhood.” Modern complementarian assumptions have much in common with the “cult of true womanhood,” failing to account for singleness, poverty, or even women’s agency. González Nieves notes that egalitarians are also guilty of this bias, calling us to question race, class, and gender assumptions through a robust intersectionality. González Nieves shows how John Piper centers whiteness in his assessment of women’s bodies, demeanor, and virtuosity and she pointedly asks why men, often White men in the Reformed tradition, enjoy “the privilege and power to judge what is true, beautiful, and feminine, and what is not” (607). In contrast with most White, middle-class women, Black and enslaved women were often forced to work outside the home, including in the fields, and developed physical strength—characteristics counter to those assumed to be “feminine.” González Nieves encourages us to recenter our discussions of gender equality in the gospel, where all nations will be represented at Christ’s table when the kingdom is fully come.
In the next essay, “Human Flourishing: Global Perspectives,” Haddad notes that violence, poverty, illiteracy, and abuse disproportionately affect females. As gender equality becomes more intentional, data from humanitarians show how these social ills decline. In many nations, women lead the way on solving these problems, and Haddad shares examples of women across faith traditions empowering women toward education, self-sufficiency, and community leadership. Women are also most likely to serve in what Haddad calls the “second shift,” bearing the physical and mental load of running a household, managing children’s education and healthcare. The common power imbalance between men and women causes her to ask if complementarians can even address suffering without questioning this underlying status quo. Haddad also highlights Christian organizations that include women’s equality in social development initiatives, and notes that institutional barriers and economic disparity continue to be obstacles to women, even in the United States. Finally, she calls attention to the link between patriarchy, pornography use, and sex trafficking, urging readers to live into God’s ideal for the flourishing church.
Opposing views on the topic of gender equality have become so entrenched that healthy dialogue is less common than argumentative debate. When we tightly protect our vision of what is right theologically, we may fail to consider what is best spiritually. In the final essay, Alice P. Mathews calls us to listen to various perspectives and ask good questions to foster biblical reconciliation. Through what lens do we view Scripture? Do we assume the best of each other? Mathews notes that some have accused the other side of not valuing Scripture, or of using unclear language and false generalizations. These temptations cause us to substitute red herring arguments for the spiritual disciplines of prayerful listening and understanding. When we recognize that the gospel is central to our message and motive, with God’s kingdom as our priority, we will seek reconciliation with those who disagree with us in order “that the world may believe” (John 17:21).
DAWN GENTRY is Executive Director of Adult Ministries at Christ Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska. She has extensive ministerial and academic experience in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ and is a Consecrated Minister in the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination.
JAMIN A. HÜBNER writes on religion, economics, and their intersections. He is a faculty member and research fellow with LCC International University.
DOROTHY A. LEE teaches New Testament at Trinity College, University of Divinity, in Melbourne, Australia, and is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Melbourne.
JEFF MILLER is editor of Priscilla Papers and teaches biblical studies at Milligan University in eastern Tennessee.
KAREN STRAND WINSLOW, an Old Testament specialist, is chair of the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies and director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Azusa Pacific University in southern California.
1. Including Scot McKnight, Nijay Gupta, and Cherith Fee Nordling (pg. i).
2. Both Groothuis and Fee served as editors of previous editions of DBE. This third edition is dedicated to her (pg. v and footnote 1 on pg. 1). See the tribute to Groothuis in Priscilla Papers: Douglas Groothuis, “Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s Contribution to Biblical Equality: A Personal Testimony and Lament,” 29/3 (Summer 2015) 3-6. Fee announced his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis to the scholarly community in 2012.
3. See also Haddad’s more recent comments in “Come Let Us Reason Together: ETS 2021 Annual Meeting Recap,” posted on Dec 8, 2021, in CBE’s Mutuality blog and reprinted in this issue of Priscilla Papers.
4. Gen 2:4b-25 is the beginning of the “Yahwist” Garden story that concludes with 4:26, the end of the Cain story. Gen 5:1 picks up to follow Gen 1:1-2:4a (known as the Priestly version). To follow scholarly convention and call these chapters Priestly and Yahwist is not always necessary, but recognizing their distinctions is crucial.
5. Conway’s melding of the two accounts is especially apparent when she suggests that the reason it is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18) may be that the man is unable to reproduce alone—claiming that this is suggested by the call to be fruitful and multiply in Gen 1:28, thus regarding the stories in temporal sequence, even though she recognizes this is not strictly the case (39).
6. Catherine and Richard Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Baker, 1992). They point out that didaskein, “to teach,” elsewhere refers to the content of teaching, never the activity of teaching. Like Belleville, they stress that authentein, often translated “have authority over,” means to dominate or to claim authorship and ownership (185).
7. See especially Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity (Cascade, 2017).
8. Hübner, A Concise Greek Grammar and A Concise Greek Grammar Workbook (Hills Publishing Group, 2018); Hübner, “The Emphatic Hypernegation That Was(n’t): Revisiting οὐ μὴ and New Testament Translation in Light of Research and Contemporary Linguistics,” BT 72/1 (2021) 61-84; Miller, “The Long and Short of Lectio Brevior Potior,” BT 57/1 (2006) 282-88; Miller, “Breaking the Rules: Lectio Brevior Potior and New Testament Textual Criticism,” BT 70/1 (2019) 82-93.
9. See Tina Schermer Sellers, Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy (Routledge, 2017); Kay Linda Klein, Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free (Simon and Schuster, 2019); Matthias Roberts, Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms (Fortress, 2020).
10. See William Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith, eds., Evolution and the Fall (Eerdmans, 2017).
11. Kate Lister, A Curious History of Sex (Unbound, 2020); Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage (Penguin, 2006), in conjunction with Peter Gardella, Innocent Ecstasy: How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure (Oxford University Press, 1985).
12. Samuel Perry, “The Bible as a Product of Cultural Power: The Case of Gender Ideology in the English Standard Version,” Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review 81/1 (2020) 68–92.
13. Jamin Andreas Hübner, Deconstructing Evangelicalism (Hills Publishing Group, 2020) 15: “6,500 people who identify as ‘Christian’ stop identifying as such every 24 hours. Over 3,000 churches close their doors every year. The largest and fastest growing religious group in the United States is ‘non-religious.’ The bulk of this whole movement is in North America, and it mainly applies to the two dominant strands of institutional Christianity—Roman Catholicism and conservative evangelicalism. A recent article for the Washington Post noted that ‘About 26 percent of Americans 65 and older identify as white evangelical Protestants. Among those ages 18 to 29, the figure is 8 percent. . . . evangelical leaders are tidying up the kitchen while the house burns down around them.’ Wheaton College, or ‘evangelical Harvard,’ is having to hunt for students for the first time in decades.”
14. Would a trans person, for example, be helped by these paradigms of “biblical gender equality”? See Austin Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians (Westminster John Knox, 2018).