Egalitarians agreeing with complementarians

Egalitarians Divided

The following quotations are taken from notable supporters of the egalitarian case for the role of women in the ecclesia;[1] note that even these supporters of the egalitarian case acknowledge it is not taught in the Bible.

Charles Cosgrove

Cosgrove acknowledges that despite the extremely favourable treatment of women by Jesus and Paul, neither issued any commandment for a revision of the roles of men and women.[2] [3]

Richard Hays

Hays insists readers of Paul’s words must acknowledge Paul’s theological views concerning the role of women in the ecclesia are not in harmony with the egalitarian case, and cannot be made to fit.[4] [5] [6]

Clark Pinnock

Pinnock acknowledges the challenge egalitarians face.[7] [8] He describes how other egalitarians deal with the Biblical texts by rejecting them in some way,[9] expressing his lack of confidence in the egalitarian case.[10] [11]

Judith Gundry-Volf

Gundry-Volf agrees with complementarians that although gender equality in the sense of equal value is promoted by Paul, gender distinctions (in the form of specific gender roles, behavior, and hierarchy within the ecclesia), are upheld and reinforced.[12] [13] [14]

Kenton Sparks

Sparks repeatedly acknowledges the strength of the complementarian case.[15] [16] [17] [18]

Ed L. Miller

Miller believes egalitarianism can at best only be extrapolated from Paul’s teachings,[19] and that Christians must acknowledge Paul did not have an egalitarian aim.[20] Rejecting the egalitarian interpretation of Galatians 3:28, he accepts the complementarian view.[21]

Cullen Murphy

Murphy speaks of Galatians 3:28 as an egalitarian formula,[22] but her interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 agrees with complementarians.[23]

John Elliott

Elliott recognizes that women had some leadership positions, but rejects typical egalitarian claims.[24] [25] [26]


[1] All of them are individuals who believe the Bible is inspired, do not believe the Bible is the misogynistic product of a patriarchal society, and believe on the contrary that the Bible is highly liberating of women; they are not ‘anti-Bible’ nor are they ‘feminist’ in the secular meaning of the term.

[2]Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels treats women in ways that go against the status quo; his practice transgresses the cultural norms and boundaries that define gender relations and women’s proper roles in society. Likewise, Paul counts women as his partners, as patrons, as prophets, and apostles; and he teaches his churches that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Nevertheless, there are no direct prophetic admonitions or arguments in the Gospels or Paul’s letters calling for new social relations between men and women. Apart from Gospel stories that might be taken as exemplary for Christians (e.g., Jesus with Martha and Mary), instructions on discipleship and community life do not include calls for egalitarian gender practice.’, Cosgrove, ‘Appealing to Scripture in Moral Debate: Five Hermeneutical Rules‘, p. 187 (2002).

[3] ‘Moreover, where gender relations are directly addressed, the instructions for specific behaviours reinforce the cultural status quo (1 Tim. 2:11-15 being the most notable example). Thus, the New Testament writers, to the extent that they have a vision of gender equality in Christ, do not translate that vision into direct paraenesis, exhortation, or instruction for community formation.’, ibid., p. 187.

[4] ‘Regardless of our judgment concerning the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, we must recognize a certain built-in tension concerning the role of women in Paul’s symbolic world.’, Hays, ‘The Moral Vision of the New Testament:  A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics‘, p. 55 (1996).

[5] ‘In his missionary work he joyfully acknowledges the contributions of female colleagues, fellow “workers in the Lord.”  Yet in some passages, such as 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, he insists — with labored and unpersuasive theological arguments — on the maintenance of traditional markers of sexual distinction; despite the ingenious efforts of exegetes at the end of the twentieth century, it is impossible to deny the hierarchical implications of such symbolic markers.’, ibid., p. 55.

[6] ‘Indeed, Paul seems to have found the Corinthian church’s experiments in gender equality somewhat unsettling; consequently, he sought to constrain what he saw as excess.’, ibid., p. 55.

[7]An enormous obstacle confronts biblical feminists in the area of hermeneutics. Some scholars, both on the feminist side and on the nonfeminist sides, agree that the Bible as presently constituted does not teach a feminist position.’, Pinnock, ‘Biblical Authority & The Issues In Question’, in Mickelson (ed.), ‘Women, Authority, And the Bible’, p. 52 (1986); by ‘biblical feminists’ Pinnock means egalitarians.

[8] ‘The situation is not made easier by the apparent fact that biblical feminists have not yet produced many works that can stand on a level with these four books and show where they are mistaken. Biblical feminists say it can be done, but has it been done?  When may we expect it to be done?‘, ibid., p. 52.

[9] ‘Evangelicals such as Jewett and Mollenkott, on a more modest scale, perform the same kind of content criticism. Perhaps it is necessary to reject parts of the Bible in order to come up with the feminist belief. If it were not, why would these two engage in it?’, ibid., pp. 54-55.

[10] ‘Based on my reading for this report, I have come to believe that a case for feminism that appeals to the canon of Scripture as it stands can only hesitantly be made and that a communication of it to evangelicals at large is unlikely to be very effective.’, ibid., p. 57.

[11] ‘My own experience in preparing for this panel has been a slight loss of confidence that Biblical feminism can make its case or be able to sell it effectively among evangelicals.’, ibid., p. 58.

[12] ‘Further, in Gal 3:28 he affirms gender equality (“there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ”) and in 1 Cor 11:2-16 he expects women to pray and prophesy just as men do in public worship. Yet there also he insists on distinct headdress for men and women in worship, which symbolized traditional gender boundaries and had hierarchical implications.’, Gundry-Volf, ‘Putting the Moral Vision of the New Testament into Focus: A Review’, Bulletin for Biblical Research (9.278), (1999).

[13]Sexual distinctions are not erased (as implied in Paul’s statements about marriage, sex, and gender-specific headdress).’, ibid., p. 281.

[14]It would be wrong to claim that Paul rejects all conventional, patriarchal interpretations of sexual difference and their corresponding expressions in cultural and religious practice.’, ibid., pp. 281-282.

[15]Thoughtful egalitarians will admit what every complementarian is quick to point out:  that the Bible contains numerous texts that are patriarchal in orientation.’, Sparks, ‘God’s Word In Human Words’, p. 339 (2008).

[16] ‘The biblical evidence in support of the traditional viewpoint spans the canon from the creation to the General Epistles, and the resulting perspective is remarkably consistent.’, ibid., p. 344.

[17] ‘Moreover, we have seen already that many biblical texts either assert or imply male headship in the home and church, even in the New Testament.’, ibid., p.348.

[18] ‘So, while to say that “this is the lone New Testament reference to Adam’s seniority”, good theology requires that this text be read in light of the many other biblical texts that highlight male authority in the home and church. Belleville’s egalitarian treatment of this very important text from 1 Timothy is far inferior to that offered by a cadre of complementarian scholars, who have recently thrown their support behind a more patriarchal interpretation of the text. A considerable mass of convincing exegetical, theological, and historical evidence supports this traditional reading, as is admitted even by egalitarians like William Webb. Webb can admit this because, unlike Belleville, he feels no compulsion to make 1 Timothy say something that it clearly does not say.’, ibid., p. 349.

[19] ‘My own view is that Paul was inclined, as it were, in the direction of social egalitarianism in the case of Gentiles, slaves, and women, and we are all aware of the oft-cited texts containing the germs of such a teaching.’, Miller, ‘Is Galatians 3:28 the Great Egalitarian Text?’, The Expository Times (114.9.11), (2002).

[20] ‘That is not to say that we today, as others before us, cannot work that out and draw the implication on Paul’s behalf. But it seems not to have been done in the Pauline texts themselves, and certainly not the one before us. [Galatians 3:28] We have to try to be honest about that.’, ibid., p.11.

[21] ‘It must be admitted, though, for better or for worse, that this view of Galatians 3:28 coheres both with its immediate context and with the rest of what we know of Paul. This includes his notion of the priority of the true Israel over Gentile Christians who are merely grafted on to it, his implicit condoning of slavery, and his hierarchical view of husband-wife relations.’, ibid., p.11.

[22] ‘In the epistle to the Galatians, he not only embraces an egalitarian formula but grounds it in the very essence of Christianity.’, Murphy, ‘The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own’, p. 219 (1999).

[23]Paul may have expressed sentiments in Galatians that an egalitarian would hail — and perhaps those sentiments are the most important ones for women in the Pauline corpus — but in 1 Corinthians he showed himself to be clearly disturbed by the powerful and inde­pendent women in the Christian community at Corinth. He did not forbid the Corinthian women to prophesy, but he demanded that they cover their heads when they prayed in public, and in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 he added a statement — “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” — that uses Genesis, a sacred text, to define women as subordi­nate to men. Later, in 1 Corinthians 14, he employed a reprise of the same argument to single out women and insist that they should keep silent in church.’, ibid., p. 225; the motives she ascribes to Paul are disputable.

[24]With every fibre of my egalitarian being I wish it were demonstrable that the Jesus movement had been egalitarian, at least at some point in its early history.’, Elliott, ‘The Jesus Movement Was Not Egalitarian but Family-Oriented’, Biblical Interpretation, p. 204  (11. 2.2003).

[25] ‘That women were prophets is no indication of an egalitarian revolution (against Schüssler Fiorenza 1983:235), since women prophets existed in the patriarchal world prior to the Jesus movement (Luke 2:36-38).  That women assumed leadership roles in the Jesus movement likewise can be attributed to their prior social status rather than to the egalitarian revolution imagined by Schüssler Fiorenza (1983: 235).’, ibid, p. 184.

[26] ‘The claim that the Jesus movement was egalitarian involves flawed reasoning and an anachronistic, ethnocentric, and ideologically-driven reading of the New Testament. Feminist scholars including Mary Rose D’Angelo (1992), Amy-Jill Levine (1994), and Kathleen E. Corley (1998), are likewise rejecting the egalitarian theory, objecting, inter alia, to its lack of historical support and its isolation of Jesus from his Israelite matrix.’, Elliott, ‘Jesus Was Not an Egalitarian. A Critique of an Anachronistic and Idealist Theory’, Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology, p. 90 (32.2.2002).

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