Role, Value, and Egalitarianism

I highly recommend this book for a wonderfully detailed, careful, scholarly, and convincing interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. I am in the midst of re-writing my paper on this passage. I hope to submit it for publication within the month.

It is one of the most “established” dictums of egalitarian theology that any difference in role implies a difference in value. So, if women have a different role from men in life, then they are automatically said to be inferior. Thus, Galatians 3:28 is (ab)used to “trump” 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and similar passages. I argue that this view of role and value is deeply flawed.

In the army, for instance, take the ranks of 4-star general and 3-star general. Is the 3-star general inferior in value to the 4-star general, just because he reports to his commanding officer? What about the 4-star general to the Army Chief of Staff? What about the Army Chief of Staff to the President? Is the President of the United States worth one iota more than anyone in the United States, just because he is the President? What then happens when he ceases to be acting President of the United States? Does his value go down? Just this example shows how deeply flawed and illogical this view of role and value is.

But the ace in the hole against this view of role and value is the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have different roles, though each is fully God. There is no gradation in value, unless we want to be Arians. It is quite blasphemous to state that the Father is worth more than the Son, because the Father commands and the Son obeys. The Father does command, and the Son does obey. But that implies nothing about their respective inherent worth. It is no accident that egalitarian theologians find modalism to be seriously tempting (see Moltmann, for instance). Modalism allows egalitarians a way out of the plain implications of the role/value debate. Unfortunately for them, modalism is also a way out of Christianity.  

In short, the role/value view of egalitarians is a cultural shift, not a biblical principle. Galatians 3:28 is not talking about the respective roles of men and women, but rather about their standing before God with regard to salvation. This is crystal clear from the context. Faith is the context (vs. 26). Putting on Christ is in the context (vs 27). It is a oneness in Christ Jesus. But God also gave some to be teachers, some to be apostles, some were given the gift of hospitality, etc. 1 Corinthians 12 (all by itself) ought to have axed the egalitarian interpretation of Galatians 3:28. But it is evident that egalitarian interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, in particular, are influenced by today’s culture far more than they are influenced by first century Christian thought. The egalitarian interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 did not even arise before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. We must beware of interpreting the Bible according to worldly principles. That is a train wreck.


  1. Seth McBee said,

    April 5, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    i still am amazed everytime someone uses that Galatians 3 passage for egalitarian usage.

  2. Andrew C said,

    April 6, 2007 at 12:51 am

    The Trinity seems to be a real crux for egalitarians. I believe it was Wayne Grudem who recounted speaking before a body in England about “submitting to one another” from Eph 5.21. When he tried to make the parallel with the Trinity by asking whether the Father Submitted to the Son, his listeners all said – “Of course!” Argh!!!

    It stinks when people are botching up the Trinity in their efforts to affirm egalitarianism. After all, that’s one of those doctrines that we nailed down early on! In both the Trinity and in gender roles, persons can have essential ontological equality while at the same time having economic complimentarity.

    Also, regarding Galatians 3, Richard Hove’s book, “Equality in Christ?: Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute” (a Th.M. thesis from TEDS turned into short book) is a strong summary of the discussion surrounding this text. He deals with the syntax of 3.28, and compares it with other extant Greek literature, using the comparison to argue for a complementarian interpretation of the verse. I found it pretty helpful

  3. Stenides said,

    April 7, 2007 at 2:32 am

    “It is one of the most “established” dictums of egalitarian theology that any difference in role implies a difference in value.”

    You may have to do a bit more reading up on the dictums of egalitarianism. I can’t speak for them, but I’m pretty sure this statement is a simplistic misrepresentation of their viewpoint.

    “So, if women have a different role from men in life, then they are automatically said to be inferior. Thus, Galatians 3:28 is (ab)used to “trump” 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and similar passages. I argue that this view of role and value is deeply flawed.”

    If someone always gets a subordinate or submissive role by reason of an immutable physical quality, such as their race or gender, then it follows in the world of practical thinking, that they are inferior to those who are entitled to the dominant or superior role because of an immutable physical quality.

    Complementarianism sets up the insane argument that women can be assigned permanently subordinate roles at birth as a result of their gender and yet be viewed as entirely equal in worth to men.

    “In the army, for instance, take the ranks of 4-star general and 3-star general. Is the 3-star general inferior in value to the 4-star general, just because he reports to his commanding officer? What about the 4-star general to the Army Chief of Staff? …”

    A three star general is a free person, who may attempt to change his subordinate status by either 1) Retiring from military service and opening a friendship bracelet factory, or 2) Attempting to rise in position. Creative options like killing his commanding officer and taking the position in an armed coup are also a possibility. Additionally, the general’s problem would have been entirely avoidable if he had chosen self-employment instead of the military.

    A woman in the complementarian scheme is not a free person. She cannot change her subordinate status by retiring from being a woman or changing herself into a man. Unlike the three star general, she did not chose to be a woman and her subordination is not a result of personal employment choices.

    Therefore, your examples are not analogous to the status of women under complementarianism.

    “The Father does command, and the Son does obey. But that implies nothing about their respective inherent worth.”

    The Father and Son cannot disagree with each other, as they are the same being. Nor can they conceive of intentions separately, but exist in perfect agreement. In this regard, any submission of the Son to the Father is entirely distinct from human submission to another human or to God.

    Having determined this overarching point, and therefore disengaging the Trinity from the gender argument, you are entitled to believe whatever you want about relationships within the Trinity. Just be aware that, whatever you believe, you cannot use it as an argument for complementarianism.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Stenides, welcome to my blog, and thanks for the thoughtful interaction.

    As to the first point, I have seen it an about a dozen different feminist sources. There are always exceptions to a general rule. However, I have not yet seen a feminist who would *not* use this argumentation.

    As to the second point, you didn’t actually offer any argumentation. You simply asserted the position that I set up detailed argumentation to refute. Your attempts at deconstructing my argumentation don’t work, because my point in the “3-star general” analogy is much narrower than the points you are bringing in. The point of the analogy is that a difference in rank does not imply inferiority of value. As a matter of fact, the 3-star general may be *more* talented than the 4-star general. The other points about the 3-star general are irrelevant to the point at issue, which is that difference in rank does not imply inequality in value. Freedom has nothing to do with this point whatsoever.

    Again, the point about the Trinity is much narrower than your criticism assumes. The point is that there is an order (taxis, to use the Greek word) among the Trinity. And yet, one person is not inferior in value to the others. For your criticism to work, you have to assume that the analogy depends on a great deal more, such as being separate entities entirely (which, of course, I would deny). The persons are eternally distinct, however inseparable they are. Therefore, the argument holds.

  5. jedidiah said,

    April 9, 2007 at 10:29 am

    I think the difficulty for egalitarians is not in an inability to understand role/value distinctions. Their struggle is based on an understandable search for a rationale behind roles being assigned to men and or women exclusively. The rationale provided by Paul on why women are restricted from offices of authority over men, for instance, is one that complementarians tend to soften because it is frankly hard to swallow. We can say that there is no difference of worth or value between ranks which is true to an extent, but that doesn’t make the biblical position any more palatable for a brilliant modern woman who loves the Church and wonders why?

  6. greenbaggins said,

    April 9, 2007 at 10:38 am

    You could be right there. I have, however, seen many egalitarians who do not understand (or do not acknowledge) the role/value distinction. Many have said that if there is *any* role difference, then there is automatic heirarchy of value.

    That being said, you are perfectly correct that we need to explain the rationale. As I see it, the rationale involves Christ’s relationship with the church. He wants marriage to mirror that relationship. He also wants the church itself to mirror that relationship within itself. This is why I ask feminists this question, “does the church feel cheapened in any way by having to submit to Christ?” It seems to me that it is the church’s greatest crown to submit to her Lord.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    April 11, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    The slavery argument won’t wash, since the drift of Scripture is against slavery (see Philemon, for instance). So, you extended my argument beyond its scope in order to refute it. Not logical.

    BOQ Complementarians play the game of practically devaluing women by assigning them subordinate roles, while rhetorically claiming their equal value. EOQ But this is not an argument. It is mere assertion.

    BOQ Most of the distinct roles assigned to women by complementarians involve expectations of submission, subordination and reduced influence.
    Complementarians are not assigning random roles to women. They are assigning to women exclusively roles of low authority and low visibility. EOQ

    On the contrary, the roles that God assigns (not complementarians!) to women will have the highest visibility on Judgment Day. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Many men who exercised authority, but were non-believers will be thrown into hell, and many women who faithfully, but quietly, exercised their authority within the home (ruling the house is not low authority but immensely high and important authority: she has *souls* in her hands) will be crowned with glory and honor on Judgment Day.

    Consider Sarah Edwards, wife to Jonathan Edwards. She raised children. She had spiritual authority over her children, which is not insignificant at all. A trace was made of her descendents. Many, many important people: senators, governors, lawyers, doctors, pastors, etc, etc. Now, that’s power! Not a power that one can always see right away. But with the eyes of faith, one can see the goal, which is immense. Egalitarians thus suffer from short-sightedness and lack of faith that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

  8. Eva said,

    April 27, 2007 at 10:00 am

    What are the positive reasons for giving men the role of the pastor?
    What abilities or natural powers do men yield that predestine them to be the only ones able to preach and teach?
    You seem to stress the apologetic side of the argument only – that is, why women should be denied a more visible role in the church.

    Also, would you say that in the Eschaton, women and men will still have essentially different roles?
    Should the church strive to live according to God’s revelation about fulfilled reality (as it is mentioned in Gal 3)? That is, should the church try to reflect the equality of all human beings before God?

    Maybe a look at Augustine’s De Trinitate would help to clear up the confusion about relations in the trinity. The opera ad extra should not be confused with the immanent relations of the Trinity. Also, Augustine stresses that the relations within the Trinity are not to be understood in a hierarchical way.
    In the last book of De Trinitate (XV), Augustine explicitly states that analogies between human relations and the nature of God are impossible.

    (I am a woman.)

  9. greenbaggins said,

    April 27, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Eva, thanks for your thoughtful questions.

    Firstly, the role of men as pastors has little or nothing to do with the gifts that God has given us. Just because we have gifts does not mean that we have to use them in a certain role. I am convinced (and I know many such women) that there are many women out there who are *more* qualified to be pastors than some men, in terms of giftedness. Many women can teach, counsel, exhort, etc., better than men. That is not the point, however. The point is that God has prescribed roles for men and women. The positive reason for men being pastors is several-fold: firstly, God has told us so in the Bible. And in one way this ought to be enough for us. However, since we do not naturally appreciate God telling us what we can and cannot do, there need to be further arguments. So, secondly, the family relationship of the husband being the head of the wife is reflected in the church (which is highly analogous to marriage via Ephesians 5) when men are the leaders of the church. Thirdly, and this is my own pet argument: since men naturally are lazy and want to abdicate responsibility, God tells them to transcend their natural tendencies when he tells them to take responsibility. Since women hate a vacuum of responsibility, their tendency is to want order, and therefore to take responsibility, and so God requires them to submit to men in the proper circumstances.

    Your argument from the Trinity falters on this one point: there is a taxis in the Trinity every bit as much as there is unity in essence. A taxis is an order. Read Robert Letham’s book on the Trinity, which addresses these very concerns, by the way. When Augustine said that human analogies fail, he was not referring to the taxis, but to the unity in essence. The “three-in-oneness” is impossible to explain by any human analogy.

  10. November 19, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    […] You can read the post online here. […]

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