What Kind of Equality Does the Bible Teach? Part 1
By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim , PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries , Michigan Conference
Author, Must We Be Silent? and Receiving the Word
Regardless of one's position on the campaign for new leadership roles for women to serve as elders and pastors, this one fact is incontrovertible: Ordaining women as elders or pastors is new light which the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church is being urged to embrace.2 Crucial in the push for these new leadership roles for women is feminism's concept of equality.
Though many are not aware of it, the most powerful ideology driving the campaign for women's ordination is feminism. This ideology is very seductive because it is rooted in the pervasive thinking of egalitarianism, which holds that full equality between men and women can be achieved by eliminating gender role distinctions in the home and in the church.
Proponents of women's ordination who have embraced feminism's mindset often cite the apostle Paul's statement in Galatians 3:28—"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus"—as the key proof text to justify their claim that the Bible teaches full equality between men and women.
In this article, I will briefly discuss feminism, showing how its belief in "full equality" negatively impacts some fundamental teachings of the Bible. I will also examine the concept of equality, arguing that unqualified statements about the equality of men and women are dangerously imprecise, potentially misleading, and grossly distort Paul's statement in Galatians 3:28. Then, I will take a look at a statement from the writings of Ellen G. White that women's ordination advocates often misinterpret to justify feminism's view of equality. I will conclude by stating why feminism's cardinal dogma of full equality poses a direct challenge to our Biblical faith.
The Feminist Ideology
The feminist movement or the so-called women's lib movement is a crusade for freedom, equality, and justice. Although Bible-believing Christians have good reasons to distance themselves from the feminist ideology, they share the legitimate concerns of the movement in standing up against any form of injustice, unfairness, and discrimination.
At the heart of the feminist movement are issues concerning unsatisfied and hurt women. Women have all too often been treated unfairly and as second-class citizens in the world. They have been hurt in the home as well, where they have to live with inadequate male leadership. Many are experiencing frustrating marriages as they suffer from abusive, neglectful, and domineering husbands. When they attempt to challenge these injustices, many women feel that society is on the side of the men who have abused them.
Though not a feminist or a believer in women's ordination, one Christian woman has aptly captured the experiences of many hurt women:
I am a woman. I have experienced the scorn and prideful superiority with which men have, at times, treated me. I have listened to insults against my capabilities, my intelligence, and my body. I have burned with anger as I have wiped the blood from a battered woman's face. I have wept with women who have been forcefully, brutally raped—violated to the very core of their being. I have been sickened at the perverted sexual abuse of little girls. I have boycotted stores which sell pornographic pictures of women. I have challenged men who sarcastically demean women with their "humor." And I have walked out of church services where pastors carelessly malign those whom God has called holy. I am often hurt and angered by sexist, yes, SEXIST demeaning attitudes and actions. And I grieve deeply at the distortion of the relationship that God created as harmonious and good. As a woman I feel the battle. I feel the sin. Feminism identifies real problems which demand real answers. 3
Indeed, feminism identifies these legitimate issues of women's hurt and unfair treatment. But in seeking to address them, feminists resort to inadequate and un-Biblical solutions. The following are some of the worrisome aspects of the feminist ideology.
1. Obliteration of Gender Roles . Feminists reason that the role differentiation God established at Creation to govern the complementary relationship of male and female makes men superior and women inferior. Believing themselves deprived of their true womanly dignity, some seek self-fulfillment, full equality, and human justice by trying to be like men or by attempting to reject all role distinctions in the home and in the church.
In order to be free from the supposed second-class status resulting from gender role differentiation, some radical feminists have fought against the marriage institution and child rearing, which they believe confine them to certain roles. Others have taken issue with organized religion, notably Islam and Judeo-Christian religions, whose teachings of male leadership or headship they interpret to mean that women are slaves to men through submission and obedience.
2. Lesbianism. Believing that sexual intercourse with men enables males to exercise power over women, many feminists propose sexual encounters that are entirely independent from men. For some, lesbianism is one way women can be free from patriarchy or male leadership in order to know and experience their true inner self. One prominent feminist declares:
Women's liberation and homosexual liberation are both struggling towards a common goal: a society free from defining and categorizing people by virtue of gender and/or sexual preference. "Lesbianism" is a label used as a psychic weapon to keep women locked into their male-defined "feminine role." The essence of that role is that a woman is defined in terms of her relationship to men. 4
3.Witchcraft. Besides lesbianism, many feminists also see nothing wrong with witchcraft and mother goddess religions characteristic of ancient Canaanite fertility worship. Feminists insist that witches are spiritual women, not evil sorcerers. They point to the burning of witches in the Middle Ages, and argue that they were burned as witches "because they were women and because they possessed a power to heal that was unacceptable to the male establishment." 5
One feminist writer explains: "When the patriarchal, prophetic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) met the Middle Eastern Goddess practices, powerful interests came into conflict. Masculine self-control, social authority, and theological construction (a masculine God) were all bound to see Goddess Temple worship as extremely threatening. Since the patriarchal religions won the battle, their Scriptural and cultural authorities became ‘orthodoxy,' and the female-oriented fertility religion became foul deviance." 6
3. Redefinition of God . While feminists within Christianity may not go this far in their war against marriage and Judeo-Christian religion and in their embracement of lesbianism and witchcraft, some make the effort to redefine God along gender-neutral lines. They attempt to get rid of the alleged offensive (i.e., sexist, male-oriented, or patriarchal) language in the Bible and replace it with gender-inclusive terms that blur the male-female distinction. Accordingly, " Son of God" becomes " Child of God"; " Son of Man" becomes " Human One"; "Heavenly Father " becomes "Heavenly Parent "; and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is transformed into a mother goddess named Sophia. 7
One way by which feminism's "goddess religion" is spreading into major Christian denominations is through its systematic attempt to feminize God. For example, in the new service book of the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada , baptism is no longer required to be in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, one can now baptize in the name of the "Creator, Liberator, and Healer" or, alternatively, in the name of "God, Source of Love; in the name of Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate; and in the name of the Holy Spirit, Love's Power." In its first 100 pages there is only one reference to God as "Father"; instead, church members pray to "Mother and Father God" or more simply "Mother God." 8
Even in our own church some scholars are promoting the Holy Spirit as the female member of the Godhead, repeatedly referring to the Creator as "He/She." 9
4. Gender-inclusive Language. It is the same feminist ideology that undergirds much of the push for gender-inclusive language, as in various worship services and Bible translation endeavors. 10 While there may be a legitimate place for gender-inclusive language, it is a mistake to attempt to gender-neutralize what God sets aside as gender-specific.
An example of this occurred at the 1990 Indianapolis General Conference session when delegates (perhaps unknowingly) voted to revise the Church Manual statement on the office and duties of church elders along gender-neutral lines. 11
Another example is the recent practice at the Ellen G. White Estate to revise some of the writings of Ellen G. White along gender-inclusive lines. This is the case with the most recent devotional books and some newly issued titles. One can understand making minor changes to make her works readable and understandable. But we create a major theological problem when we introduce gender-inclusive language in her works in such a manner as to fundamentally change her teachings regarding role distinctions in the home or in the church. 12
Whether or not they realize it, those who teach unisex roles in the home or in the church are driven by the same feminist ideology. The most recent example of this is found in the much publicized pro-ordination book, Women in Ministry , in which some of our church scholars attempt to prove that there was at least one woman priest in the Old Testament and some women apostles and women ministers in the New. 13
Mary Kassian's eye-opening book, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism with the Church , 14 also shows convincingly that besides shaping contemporary discussions of male and female roles in the home and the church, feminist philosophy also finds expression in various denominations through their women's task forces, in colleges and universities through women's studies courses, and in seminaries through women's feminist theologies.
5. Questioning of the Bible's Inspiration and Authority. Feminists perceive the Bible as both a producer and product of female oppression. Maintaining that some parts of the inspired Scriptures are prejudiced against women's rights and aspirations, they suggest that there are degrees of inspiration in the Bible—the less inspired parts being allegedly tainted with male prejudices and errors. Thus they consider any passage of Scripture that does not uphold the principle of full equality—redefined to mean the absence of role differentiation within the complementary partnership of male and female relationship—as sexist and biased, and therefore not inspired.
One scholar has aptly summarized the view of feminist theologians:
The Bible was written in a patriarchal society by the people, mostly men, whom the system kept on top. It embodies the androcentric, that is, male-centered, presuppositions of that social world, and it legitimizes the patriarchal, that is male-dominant, social structures that held that world together. Its language is overwhelmingly male-oriented, both in its reference to God and in reference to people. In short, the Bible is a book written by men in order to tell their story for their advantage. As such, it confronts both women and justice-inspired men with an enormous problem. It is not at all certain that the Bible can survive this challenge, that it can retain the allegiance of people called to justice and freedom in a postmodern world. 15
Notice that since feminists hold that the Bible is the product of a patriarchal, male-dominated (androcentric) culture, and that some of its content is oppressive to women, they doubt whether the Bible "can retain the allegiance of people called to justice in a postmodern world."
6. Reinterpretation of Scripture. To declare gender distinctions as obsolete, feminists adopt an attitude which denies the full inspiration of the Bible and which utilizes higher critical methods in its interpretation. Consequently, feminist interpreters not only pick and choose from the Bible, but they are also suspicious of the Biblical text. Using the two principles of selectivity and skepticism, feminist interpreters insist that as they approach Scripture, "our ideology takes precedence over the ideology of the [Biblical] literature." 16
A classic example of liberal feminism's liberal interpretation of the Bible is found in The Welcome Table , a pro-ordination volume written by 14 Seventh-day Adventist thought leaders 17. In this work, some of the authors argue that Bible passages (like Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18, 19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 11, 12; 14:34, 35; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; 3:2; and Titus 1:6) that Adventists historically understood as having a bearing on male-female role relations in both the home and the church are the product of the Bible writers' faulty logic or mistaken rabbinic interpretations in vogue in their day. Reasoning along feminist and higher-critical lines, some of the writers maintain that the apostle Paul erred in his interpretation of Genesis 1-3 when he grounded his teaching of role distinctions between male and female in Creation and the Fall. They claim that the apostle Paul's statements were merely expressions of uninspired personal opinions—opinions that reflect his culture and hence do not apply to us. To these authors, Paul was "a man of his own time." He occasionally glimpsed the ideal that Jesus established during His time on Earth; yet he never fully arrived at "the Gospel ideal" of full equality or complete role interchangeability in both the home and the church. 18
7. Mutation of Women's Ministries. Historically, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has always encouraged women's active participation in the soulwinning ministry. Women do so without being ordained as elders or pastors. This is still the case, especially in the developing countries.
But in certain places (notably, the industrialized regions of the world), women's ministries in these churches have been hijacked and transposed into feminist ministries to push the agenda of women's ordination. Then, in very subtle ways, proponents accuse those who justifiably oppose women's ordination as being against women's ministry. They try also to give credibility to their feminist agenda, when they equate their mutation of women's ministry with the legitimate one practiced in the developing countries. Thus, feminists take the term "women's ministries," empty it of its true meaning, and then inject it with a feminist meaning. In this way, unsuspecting church members do not readily see the difference.
One knowledgeable writer offers this succinct summary, contrasting today's feminist ministries and the women's ministries of the early Adventist pioneers:
Today, feminist ministries contrast sharply with the Women's Ministry back then. Whereas the spirituality of the Adventist sisters was the greatest burden of the first movement, it seems to be assumed in the second; whereas soulwinning was the whole purpose of the first, it does not always seem to be foremost in the second; whereas the first movement stressed the worth and influence of a woman on the domestic scene in the home, such a concept seems nigh repulsive to many in the second movement; whereas power was equated with the Holy Spirit in the first, one almost senses that it is equated with position in the second.
We can applaud Women's Ministries in developing countries where women are very active in soulwinning and sharing their faith. Praise the Lord for their faith and sacrificial work! The churches are growing because women have captured the spirit of the pioneers in their area. Let us [in the developed countries] be ashamed to tamper with their form of ministry and infect them with feminist strugglings. 19
Summary. Feminism's campaign for full equality lays the foundation for women's ordination. The ideology's fundamental opposition to Scripture's teaching on role distinctions between male and female in the church leads some feminists to embrace lesbianism and witchcraft, to redefine and feminize God, to indiscriminately push for gender-inclusive language, to question the Bible's inspiration and authority, to adopt higher criticism to reinterpret the Bible, and to transpose Women's Ministries into feminist ministries.
In spite of its worrisome aspects, the feminist movement continues to exert enormous influence on Christian churches in the campaign for the obliteration of gender role distinctions. The reason why this push has been quite successful is that feminism grows out of an even more widespread ideology called egalitarianism . Radical egalitarianism (or equalitarianism) holds that all human beings are equal, and therefore they ought to be made to be exactly the same in a whole host of spheres. 20 Consequently, God-ordained differences among people must be abolished.
Our contemporary culture has been greatly influenced by the egalitarian thinking that began with the rationalism and egalitarianism surrounding the French Revolution. Because the French Revolution dethroned the God of the Bible and enthroned Reason as goddess, the differences that God had ordained among people no longer seemed rational to the egalitarian mind.
Egalitarianism rightly protests exploitation resulting from differences among people, such as rich and poor, male and female, black and white, educated and uneducated, etc. But its attempt to rectify the abuse of differences goes too far when it proposes to abolish all distinctions and when it suggests that full equality means equality in every sense.
According to radical egalitarianism, it is unfair for anyone to have authority over another, or to have more power, or money, or influence. Taken to its logical conclusion, egalitarianism would argue that those who stand out and excel should somehow be pulled down and made to fit in with the crowd, lest someone feel inferior.
Thus, communism (or Marxism) embraces this radical ideology when it attempts to make the poor equal to the rich. Feminism also drinks from the egalitarian fountain when it seeks to make women equal to men in every respect. And just as feminists seek full equality by getting rid of gender or sex roles in marriage and the church, gay theology also seeks to bring about equality between homosexuals and heterosexuals by obliterating sexual identity .
Feminist Egalitarianism. Feminist egalitarianism is seductive because it builds on something close to Biblical truth and then proceeds to distort it. Equality of being and worth (ontological equality) is a clear Biblical teaching, affirming that all human beings—male and female—have equal standing before God as created beings, as sinners in need of salvation through Christ, and as people called to the same destiny. The Scriptural evidence for this equality is that (1) both "male and female" were created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6); (2) both have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, so that "in Christ" there is neither "male nor female" (Galatians 3:28); and (3) both are "joint heirs of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7, RSV).
Nowhere does the Bible relegate women to second-class status or make men superior and women inferior. To say otherwise is to misrepresent Biblical teaching and affront the loving character of the God Who created Eve to be Adam's "help meet for him," a partner "fitting" or "suitable" to him. Ellen White was unequivocal: "When God created Eve, He designed that she should possess neither inferiority nor superiority to the man, but that in all things she should be his equal" ( Testimonies for the Church , vol. 3, p. 484).
Thus, Biblical Christianity teaches equality of male and female before God. While feminist egalitarianism appeals to this truth, it does not acknowledge the complementary truth about human differences and gender role distinctions . As will become clear in subsequent chapters, Scripture is clear that within male-female equality, just as gender differences between men and women indicate that they were created to complement one another, so also this complementary nature indicates a functional distinction between them.
The issue of women's ordination is, therefore, not a question of whether women and men are equal. The Bible, confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy, has already settled that issue. Women and men are equal; neither is inferior to the other. The real issue in the debate is whether the equality of male and female does away with role differences . While maintaining equality of being, has the Bible assigned a headship/leadership role to the man, and a supportive role to the woman?
Obsession With Equality. Many have uncritically embraced women's ordination because they have bought into egalitarian feminism's campaign for full equality, without seriously understanding the precise nature of the equality between men and women.
One perceptive evangelical scholar calls America 's obsession with equality as "the great levelling instinct" that "is grounded in the radical egalitarianism which has taken residence deep in her [the evangelical church's] heart." Expounding upon the words of Alexis de Tocqueville that "Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom," he points to the inconsistency of those who have embraced the ideology of egalitarianism. He writes:
"I've often observed that, in the midst of the egalitarian fervor which has taken the church, seeking to establish ‘full equality' between the sexes, we hear no parallel cries for full equality between professors and their students or parents and their children." He continues: "Somehow those mothers who are levellers in marriage have yet to become levellers in parenthood; rather, mothers fighting for the right to say ‘no' to their husbands continue to expect their sons and daughters to say ‘yes' to them, and to snap to it clearing off the table, mowing the lawn, and taking out the trash. Similarly, professors who deny the authority of husbands over their wives have yet to initiate a reform movement in the academy, stripping themselves of the perquisites of their PhD or full professorship. Seemingly blind to the whole cloth of various forms of authority, they blithely carry on, grading their students' papers and processing to commencement exercises in full academic regalia." 21
The above observation confirms that advocates of egalitarianism do not fully understand the true nature of equality. Let me illustrate:
The True Nature of Equality. The U.S. Declaration of Independence states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." This profound statement on equality is both true and false, depending on what we mean by "equal." Does equality mean equal in all respects? Does the Declaration statement mean, for example, that all people can play basketball like Michael Jordan, preach like C.D. Brooks, or write like Arthur S. Maxwell? What exactly does it mean for two entities to be equal?
One illustration will clarify the point. 22 Suppose a seven-year-old asks his father, "Does a cup of sugar equal a cup of flour?" The father faces a dilemma. If his son's question means, "Is a cup of one granular material (sugar) the same volume as a cup of another granular material (flour)? The answer is yes. If, however, the child is asking, "Can I put a cup of sugar in this recipe for a cup of flour, since they are equal?" the answer is no. A cup of sugar and a cup of flour are equal in some respects, but not in all respects. In other words, the statement, "A cup of sugar and a cup of flour are equal," is valid and true, provided one understands the manner in which the two entities are equal.
In his excellent work, Speaking of Equality: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Force of "Equality" in Moral and Legal Discourse , Peter Westen points out that in order to call two things equal, one must at least have: (1) two distinct entities, (2) a means of measurement, and (3) a common standard. 23
Westen's basic definition of descriptive equality is worth quoting:
Descriptive equality is the relationship that obtains among two or more distinct things that have been jointly measured by a common standard and found to be indistinguishable, or identical, as measured by that standard. Things that are equal by one standard of comparison are inevitably unequal by other standards, and vice versa. It therefore follows that the things of this world that we are capable of measuring are not either equal or unequal. They are both equal and unequal. 24
Concerning the examples above, we may conclude that if the common standard employed in the cup of sugar/flour illustration is volume, the two cups are equal. On the other hand, if the common standard is substance, then they are not equal. Similarly, if the common standard in the Declaration of Independence is artistic, athletic, and oratory ability, then all people are not created equal. If, however, the standard is certain rights before God, then all people are created equal.
In fact, to avoid confusion, the U.S. Declaration clarifies the meaning of the term equal by inserting a series of dependent clauses: "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Equality, as used by the writers of the Declaration, simply means that all people have certain inalienable, God-given rights.
The point is that, before we declare two items as equal, it is crucial that we clarify the common standard of comparison. Even two distinct one-dollar bills are equal by one standard of comparison (worth) and unequal in other standards (e.g., age or color). As Westen notes in his definition above, things in life are not equal or unequal, but both equal and unequal, depending on the standard of comparison. It is therefore confusing to call two items equal without clearly delineating the standard of comparison.
Therefore, feminist egalitarianism's rhetoric of full equality as it eliminates all gender role distinctions fails to see the wisdom of Aristotle's words, "The worst form of equality is to try to make unequal things equal." This is precisely what proponents of women's ordination have attempted to do in their forced interpretation of Galatians 3:28.
Galatians 3:28: Feminism's Missing Link
As we noted at the beginning of the chapter, the concept of equality has become crucial in the debate over women's ordination. Within and without our church, proponents of women's ordination who have embraced feminism's egalitarian mindset often cite the apostle Paul's statement in Galatians 3:28—"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus"—as the key proof text to justify their claim that the Bible teaches full equality between men and women.
This passage has become the missing link for those attempting to import feminist egalitarianism into the church. But does Galatians 3:28 really teach full equality, or the obliteration of roles between male and female?
A New Light? Galatians 3:28 has become a lightening rod in the debate over women's ordination because feminist egalitarians trumpet this text as the "new light" that now allows men and women to have interchangeable roles in the church. They argue that even though the arrival of Christ brought about the theological justification for the full equality of Jew/Gentile, free/slave, and male/female, the concomitant sociological changes were manifested gradually over a period of time.
In the rhetoric of feminist egalitarianism, the long-range plan for the Gospel's transformation of society was laid out by the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28. In this view, the barrier between Jew and Gentile was the first in line to be broken down; this allegedly occurred in the first century. Later, slavery was overthrown in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With the eradication of slavery, feminists argue that it is now time for the church to eliminate gender roles in the home and church.
One Adventist scholar articulates the above view in Women in Ministry , the volume produced by pro-ordination scholars at Andrews University :
The revelation of God's character and our understanding of that character is progressive. What is deemed permissible at one time may eventually come to be understood as not in God's ideal for His children. For example, polygamy, though not in God's original design, was permitted in the Old Testament. By New Testament times "the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2). . . .
The same is true of human slavery. Though New Testament writers did not call for its abolition, Paul laid out a long-range plan for Gospel transformation . . . [citing Galatians 3:28]. Here he set down the principle that the Gospel, in its own time, transforms all human relationships.
Much of the New Testament period was devoted to breaking down the barriers between Jew and Gentile. In this struggle God's character was enhanced. Other barriers, such as slavery and gender were to tumble later. . . .
To our modern minds the right and fair course would have been to free those slaves. But Christianity proclaimed its message within its social context then and still does. The time for such a bold advance of justice was not yet, for such concepts of equity were not generally recognized. Still, in the just and fair character of God resided the seeds of the destruction of slavery. . . .
When centuries later the time was ripe for this new revelation of Christian fairness and justice, God had prepared a prophet with His message: "Exact and impartial justice is to be shown to the Negro race," Ellen White wrote. "The religion of the Bible recognizes no caste or color. It ignores rank, wealth, worldly honor. . . ."
Gender might also constitute a caste system. . . . It is generally acknowledged that throughout much of human history women were placed in a position subservient to men simply because they were born female. How would a just God regard a gender caste system? 25
The rhetoric of the above argument may sound good. But very few may realize that inherent in the above statement are two fatally flawed assumptions. First, the assertion assumes that the religion of the Old and New Testaments ever "deemed permissible" or accommodated the nonideal practices and injustices of polygamy, Jew/Gentile racism, slavery, and women's subjugation—practices later allegedly corrected by the "new revelation of Christian fairness and justice." This claim is a scholarly myth that responsible Bible scholars have invalidated. 26
Second, though not explicitly stated, the above assertion assumes that the failure of the church to ordain women is a discriminatory practice characteristic of "a gender caste system." This belief also grows out of another commonly accepted paradigm (based on select texts from rabbinic literature) that women were second-class, unjustly oppressed people in Old and New Testament times, and are now (on the basis of Galatians 3:28) to be accorded the same roles as men. This assumption is also highly questionable. 27
In fact, the second assumption would be valid if one believes the correctness of the claim that Galatians 3:28 teaches full equality, understood by feminist egalitarians to mean the complete interchangeability of male-female roles in the church, if not the home. This egalitarian ideology, and not the Galatians passage, is the new revelation that is to eradicate the gender caste discrimination in the church. As we shall see in the next paragraphs, Galatians 3:28 does not support egalitarian feminism's claim that men and women have interchangeable roles in the church.
The Magna Charta of True Biblical Equality? In the opinion of one New Testament scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary, Galatians 3:28 is "the fundamental Pauline theological basis for the inclusion of women and men as equal and mutual partners in all of the ministries of the church." 28 Similarly, the author of Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality , writes: "Of all the texts that support Biblical equality, Galatians 3:26-28 is probably the most important." 29
Even in our church, virtually every major work endorsing women's ordination has appealed to Galatians 3:28 as a text that removes the theological barriers erected against women serving as elders or pastors. For example, one of the principal authors of Women in Ministry considers the text as "the Magna Charta of true Biblical equality." Explaining why this passage "upholds the equality of men and women in the church," he argues: "This [Galatians 3:28 text] is not merely a statement on equal access to salvation (cf. Galatians 2:11-15; Ephesians 2:14, 15). Rather it specifically singles out those three relationships in which God's original plan in Eden had been perverted by making one group unequal to another: (1) Jew-Gentile, (2) slave-free, and (3) male-female." 30
In another pro-ordination volume, The Welcome Table: Setting a Place for Ordained Women , an Adventist New Testament scholar explains why the Galatians passage is "the Bill of Christian Rights":
Humankind is broken. And it will remain broken as long as men hold dominance over women. For their own good, as well as the good of women, men ought to recognize the need for women to find full equality. Humankind will not be whole until we attain full equality—with equal rights, equal privileges, and equal opportunities for all. And that means, given the Bible of Christian Rights [Galatians 3:26-28], full racial, socioeconomic, and gender equality. 31
But does Galatians 3:28 teach full equality? Does this so-called "Magna Charta of true Biblical equality" or "the Bill of Christian Rights" really remove role distinctions between male and female? Is the apostle speaking about unity or equality? In short, can our scholars legitimately employ Paul's "neither male nor female" statement to argue for women's ordination? 32
Unity or Equality? It is important to note that when the apostle Paul stated that "there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ," the word "one" (Greek, eis ), never means "equal." 33 Correspondingly, the lexical options for "you are one" do not include "you are equal." 34
In what is, perhaps, the most definitive discussion on Galatians 3:28, the author concludes his extensive study in this way: "A study of every parallel use of the phrase ‘we/you/they are one' in the 300 years surrounding the New Testament reveals that this expression fails to express the concept of unqualified equality. In fact, ‘you are all one' is used of diverse objects to denote one element they share in common; it is not used of similar objects to denote that they are the same." 35
Furthermore, while the expression "you are all one," points to a shared element, it "nevertheless assumes differences between the individual entities. The New Testament examples of ‘we/you/they are one,' where a plurality of people are called one, are the planter and waterer (1 Corinthians 3:8); Father and Son (John 10:30; 17:11, 21, 22 [two instances], 23; husband and wife (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:8); and different believers with different gifts (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17). In every instance the groups of people in these pairs have different roles. " 36
In other words, "you are all one in Christ" emphasizes unity in Christ, not full equality . But even if egalitarians are right when they insist that "you are all one in Christ" means "you are all equal in Christ," it still does not follow that men and women have the same roles, because the New Testament passage does not assume that "equality in the sight of God implies . . . role interchangeability among all Christians." 37
Equality in What Sense? We must ask proponents of women's ordination what standard of comparison they employ in Galatians 3:28 when they argue for the full equality of male and female. In what sense are they equal? Equal value? Equal abilities? Equal roles? Equal gifts? Equal inheritance in Christ?
As one scholar has correctly noted, "Any meaningful statement on the relationship between equality and Galatians 3:28 must clearly state a common standard of comparison. Hence unqualified statements such as ‘Galatians 3:28 teaches the equality of men and women' are both dangerously imprecise and potentially misleading." 38
Contrary to claims of feminist egalitarians, Galatians 3:28 does not teach full equality, in the sense of obliteration of gender role distinctions. Instead, the context makes it very clear that men and women are equal only in the sense that they are both "equally justified by faith (v. 24), equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25), equally children of God (v. 26), equally clothed with Christ (v. 27), equally possessed by Christ (v. 29), and equally heirs of the promises to Abraham (v. 29). . . . Galatians 3:28 does not abolish gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ." 39
Thus, there is a certain notion of equality taught in Galatians 3:28. But the context clearly explains the true nature of this equality. Men and women are "equal members" in Christ, but it does not follow that men and women have equal opportunities. As we have indicated earlier, simply because two entities are equal in one respect does not follow that they are equal in other respects as well. For example, the twelve tribes were equal members of Israel and were equal heirs of the promised inheritance. But each tribe did not have equal (the same) opportunities or perform the same roles:
While each tribe has equal honor , and each is treated the same way when it comes to fighting battles or settling land, not all the tribes have the same roles (e.g., Genesis 49:10, "the scepter will not depart from Judah," and Numbers 3, which details the unique role of the tribe of Levi). Surely all the tribes are equal—in one sense—and surely, as a result of this joint heritage they should work together to do good to one another. But the inheritance, which belongs to each tribe as a result of being part of a whole, does not negate the uniqueness of each tribe. 40
The Meaning of Galatians 3:28. Paul's "neither male nor female" expression does not negate the existence of a distinction between male and female. Also, contrary to the egalitarian interpretation, the passage does not obliterate gender role distinctions. He is simply affirming that all believers, regardless of their gender, are one in Christ.
Each of the polar opposites (or couplets)—Jews/Greeks, slaves/free, males/females—is designed to convey the idea of totality or universality. The couplets capture three fundamental ways of viewing the totality of human beings during New Testament times.
The first couplet, "neither Jew nor Greek," captures the totality of humanity from a salvation-historical perspective. Since Scripture describes the Gospel promise as coming first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, from the religious perspective of the Jew, all the world can be divided into two parts, Jew and Gentile. 41 The second couplet, "neither slave nor free," was the primary legal distinction for dividing all people. From a Roman perspective, all men were either free or slaves. 42 And the third couplet, "neither male nor female," divides humanity according to their basic sexual identity given them at Creation. Accordingly, from a Creation perspective, all humanity can be divided into two groups—male and female. 43
Thus, according to the apostle Paul, all of God's people, regardless of how we view them—whether from the salvation-historical perspective of the Jew, or from the legal perspective of the Roman, or from the Creation perspective of God—share in the same privilege of union with Christ. It is in this sense that male and female are equal.
But this equal privilege does not suggest that men and women have equal (interchangeable) roles in the home or in church. Therefore, the attempt by proponents of women's ordination to appeal to Galatians 3:28 as evidence that the Bible teaches full equality is indefensible, if not dangerously misleading. Full equality can only be sustained by importing it into the text from the ideological warehouse of egalitarian feminism.
1. This article is an adapted version from the author's Must We Be Silent?: Issues Dividing Our Church ( Ann Arbor : Berean Books, 2001), pp. 137-159, 193-198.
2. Christians must always welcome new light from God's Word, as long as the proposed new light does not contradict an established Biblical truth. For a careful summary of what Ellen G. White taught about "new light," see P. Gerard Damsteegt, "New Light in the Last Days," Adventists Affirm 10/1 (Spring 1996): 5-13.
3. Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Good News, 1992), p. 242. This book is a must read for those who desire to understand what feminism is all about and how it is hypnotizing Christian churches.
4. The above statement is attributed to prominent feminist Kate Millet, and cited by Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel , p. 85.
5. So argues pagan witch Margot Adler, as cited by Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel , p. 78; cf. p. 219.
6. Denise Lardner Carmody, Women and World Religions (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), p. 32. Cf. Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel , p. 155.
7. See Elizabeth Achtemeier, "Why God Is Not Mother: A Response to Feminist God-talk in the Church," Christianity Today (August 16, 1993) :16-23. For a shocking account of how this feminist "reimagining" of God is being actively promoted in Christian churches, see James R. Edwards, "Earthquake in the Mainline," Christianity Today (November 14, 1994) :38-43.
8. See Elizabeth Achtemeier's review of United Church of Canada's An Inclusive Language Lectionary (3 vols.), in Interpretation 38 (1984) :64-66; cf. David Lyle Jeffrey, "Death of Father Language: Attacking the Heart of Christian Identity," Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 4/4 (Spring 2000) :1, 11-16.
9. Steve Daily, Adventism for a New Generation (Portland/Clackamas, Ore.: Better Living Publishers, 1993), pp. 88, 105, 113.
10. To date, the most detailed and compete discussion of gender-neutral Bible translations can be found in Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000).
11. C. Mervyn Maxwell has provided an insightful history, showing how church leaders' desire to enjoy United States tax law benefits to ministers led to questionable church policy revisions and Church Manual alterations allowing women to serve as elders. See his "A Very Surprising (and Interesting) History," in Mercedes H. Dyer, ed., Prove All Things: A Response to Women in Ministry ( Berrien Springs , Mich. : Adventists Affirm , 2000), pp. 225-230.
12. Appropriate minor changes may include breaking very long sentences into smaller ones that are more readable, or substituting for words or expressions that have become obsolete (or better yet, putting those substituted words in square brackets). These minor changes are understandable because they are not motivated by a feminist ideology. Rather, it is a genuine attempt to appeal to people who may not be familiar with 19th century English. It is my understanding that the White G. Estate will not change the language contained in books with familiar titles when these books are reprinted. However, when new and updated versions of, say, The Ministry of Healing are being introduced, another title would be given to it so that there would be no confusion as to which book is the real Ministry of Healing .
13. Refer to the articles by Jacques B. Doukhan, "Women Priests in Israel: A Case for Their Absence," and Robert M. Johnston, "Shapes of Ministry in the New Testament," in Women in Ministry, pp. 29-43, 45-58, respectively. I have offered a brief evaluation of these articles in Must We Be Silent? Those interested in reading a more detailed critique of the above works should consult Gerard Damsteegt's contribution in Prove All Things: A Response to Women in Ministry, pp. 123-153.
14. Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1992).
15. Sandra M. Schneiders, "Does the Bible Have a Postmodern Message?" in Frederic Burnham, ed., Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralistic World (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), p. 65.
16. Danna Nolan Fewell, "Feminist Reading of the Hebrew Bible: Affirmation, Resistance and Transformation," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 39 (1987) :78. While C. Raymond Holmes has provided a useful analysis and critique of feminist ideology (see The Tip of an Iceberg, pp. 87-132), it is of no less importance that the method feminist interpreters bring to Scripture, like that of other liberation theologians, is an aspect of the historical-critical method (ibid., pp. 31-48). For more on this method, see Gerhard F. Hasel, "Biblical Authority and Feminist Interpretation," Adventists Affirm (Fall 1989), pp. 12-23.
17. The Welcome Table: Setting a Place for Ordained Women, edited by Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart (Langley Park, Md.: TEAMPress, 1995). The "fourteen prominent SDA historians, theologians, and professionals" who contributed essays to the book are: Bert Haloviak, Kit Watts, Raymond F. Cottrell, Donna Jeane Haerich, David R. Larson, Fritz Guy, Edwin Zackrison, Halcyon Westphal Wilson, Sheryll Prinz-McMillan, Joyce Hanscom Lorntz, V. Norskov Olsen, Ralph Neall, Ginger Hanks Harwood, and Iris M. Yob.
18. Although the book's introduction and back-cover recommendations state that The Welcome Table comprises "carefully thought-through expositions by some of our most competent writers" and "is a definitive collection of essays for our time from respected church leaders," others have observed that, regarding the key hermeneutical issues of women's ordination, this volume is more noteworthy for its breadth than for its depth. For example, Keith A. Burton, an Adventist New Testament scholar, has exposed the historical-critical assumptions underlying some of the essays in The Welcome Table . He concludes his insightful critique of this pro-ordination book: "The table around which we are warmly invited to sit is one that already accommodates those who have attacked the relevance of Biblical authority; those who wish to pretend that the gnostic image of the primeval and eschatological androgyne is the one toward which Adventists should be moving; those whose interest is in the acquisition of corporate power rather than the evangelization of a dying world; and finally, those who confuse the undiscriminating limitation of the familial and ecclesiastical roles that have been defined by the same Spirit." See Burton , "The Welcome Table: A Critical Evaluation" (unpublished manuscript, 1995), available at the Adventist Heritage Center , James White Library, Andrews University . In my earlier work Receiving the Word (pp. 119-129), I spotlighted a few of the troubling aspects of the arguments for women's ordination in The Welcome Table .
19. Laurel Damsteegt, "Shall Women Minister?" Adventists Affirm 9/1 (Spring 1995):14. For a discussion of how "Women's Ministry" was understood in early Seventh-day Adventism, see also Laurel Damsteegt's "S.M.I. Henry: Pioneer in Women's Ministry," Adventists Affirm 9/1 (Spring 1995) :17-19, 46; cf. Terri Saelee, "Women of the Spirit," Adventists Affirm 9/2 (Fall 1995) :60-63.
20. For the thoughts expressed here, I am indebted to the insights of Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000), pp. 139-142.
21. Timothy B. Bayly, "Shepherd's Pie: The Idol of Equality," Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 4/4 (Spring 2000) : 18, 19.
22. For the thoughts expressed in the following discussion, I am indebted to the excellent work by Richard Hove, Equality in Christ?: Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1999), pp. 110-116.
23. Peter Westen, Speaking of Equality: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Force of "Equality" in Moral and Legal Discourse (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990).
24. Ibid., p. 41 (emphasis his).
25. Roger L. Dudley, "The Ordination of Women in the Light of the Character of God," in Women in Ministry, pp. 408, 409.
26. The argument above is the same kind used to justify homosexuality. The truth, however, is that the Bible writers never once "deemed permissible" the nonideal practices of polygamy, Jew/Gentile racism, slavery, and the subjugation of women. Readers will benefit from the following works that challenge the above "accommodation" hypotheses: Ronald A.G. du Preez, Polygamy in the Bible (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventist Theological Society Publications, 1993); Theodore D. Weld, The Bible Against Slavery; or, An Inquiry into the Genius of the Mosaic System, and the Teachings of the Old Testament on the Subject of Human Rights (Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864). These two works offer compelling Biblical evidence showing that God at no time tolerated polygamy and slavery. Regarding the alleged issue of the subjugation of women or "patriarchy," George W. Knight III, Role Relationships of Men and Women: New Testament Teaching (Chicago: Moody, 1985), and Guenther Haas, "Patriarchy as an Evil That God Tolerated: Analysis and Implications for the Authority of Scripture," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society , September 1995, pp. 321-326, have challenged the notion that male headship (in the home and church) is an evil practice that God tolerated.
27. Based on selected texts from rabbinic literature, some have argued that the Old and New Testament eras were periods of gender inequality and injustice. However, Richard Hove, Equality in Christ?: Galatians 3:38 and the Gender Dispute, p. 104, n. 35, has cited other rabbinic works to counter the anti-women statements in the oft-quoted statements from that time. Dwight Pratt provides one of the best summaries of the role of women in Biblical history. Contrary to modern revisionist interpretations that claim that women in Bible times were reduced to little more than goods and chattel, he shows that the position of women among God's people in both the Old and New Testaments contrasted markedly with their status in the surrounding heathen nations. Whatever distorted view currently exists regarding women's place in society and ministry, is a departure from the religion of the Bible. See Dwight M. Pratt, "Woman," The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia , ed. James Orr, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986 reprint) vol. 4, pp. 3100-3104.
28. David M. Scholer, "Galatians 3:28 and the Ministry of Women in the Church," in Theology, News and Notes (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1998), p. 20 (italics his).
29. Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), p. 25.
30. Richard M. Davidson, "Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture," in Nancy Vyhmeister, ed., Women in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1998), p. 281.
31. Helen Ward Thompson, "Questions and Answers About Women's Ordination and the Seventh-day Adventist Church," in Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart, eds., The Welcome Table: Setting a Place for Ordained Women (Langley Park, Md.: TEAMPress, 1995), appendix 4, p. 318. Thompson attributes the above statement to James Cox, when the latter addressed the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in October 1988.
32. So argues William G. Johnsson, "Galatians 3:28, 29: Its Significance for the Role of Women in the Church," in a paper presented to the Commission on the Role of Women in the Church at Cohutta Springs , Georgia , July 1989. For an insightful analysis of Galatians 3:28 and other key New Testament texts bearing on the women's ordination issue, and for crucial methodological issues involved, see Gerhard F. Hasel, "Hermeneutical Issues Relating to the Ordination of Women: Methodological Reflections on Key Passages," an unpublished 56-page document, May 23, 1994, available at the Adventist Heritage Center, James White Library, Andrews University.
33. See Ann Coble, "The Lexical Horizon of ‘One in Christ': The Use of Galatians 3:28 in the Progressive-Historical Debate Over Women's Ordination" (ThM thesis, Covenant Theological Seminary, 1995).