The third edition of Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural, and Practical Perspectives is now available and this volume is stacked with scholars who affirm, without reservation, the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This is a “fresh, positive defense of gender equality [and] at once scholarly and practical, irenic yet spirited, up-to-date, and cognizant of opposing positions. In this edition, readers will find both revised essays and new essays on biblical equality in relation to several issues, including the image of God, the analogy of slavery, same-sex marriage, abortion, domestic abuse, race, and human flourishing.”

The issue of male and female roles in the church, the home, and the world continues to incite debate, disagreement, and division. It is my prayer and hope that those who remain committed to male-only leadership, known also as “complementarian”, will charitably and judiciously read this book.

Remembering my reading of the 1st edition some 20 years ago it was at that time I had officially changed my position from complementarian to egalitarian (By the way, given the secular baggage that accompanies the term, “egalitarian”, I prefer the term “mutualist”. I stick with the label here because it remains common parlance). I found the first edition to be a robust challenge to those commitments I held about male leadership and headship. And so, it is with keen interest that I consume this updated volume.

While I remain convinced an egalitarian reading makes the most sense out of the biblical data, I am open to having my mind changed. However, nothing I have read or encountered to date has moved me to consider a change of stance on this issue. My conviction remains that men and women are equally able to serve in the home, the church, and the world, given God’s calling and enablement. One should not be prevented nor prohibited from exercising their spiritual giftedness on the basis of gender. A fundamental commitment behind this belief is that truth is neither male nor female. Moreover, authority emerges from the truth, not from a male (or female) person. Consequently, truth and the concomitant authority are gender-agnostic. 

This post won’t venture a full on review, but instead provide select quotes (in no order of importance) from many of the chapters that struck me as highly significant. These selections are by no means intended to convince or persuade; they are, however, meant to pique reader interest.


Christa McKirland

“If human personhood is essentially male or female, then Jesus would necessarily have had male personhood. If this is true, it is unclear how women … would be fully redeemed, since their natures were not fully assumed by the incarnate Christ. While Piper and Grudem are explicit that women share in the same human nature as men … this is incompatible with their multiple claims about the absolute difference between male and female nature. One cannot have one’s ontological cake and eat it too.” (p 302)

Lynn H Cohick

In a strongly countercultural move, Paul commands that the husband love his wife, and he further explains this love by pointing to Christ’s self-giving love. The verb used for “to love,” agapeō, is never used elsewhere in Greco-Roman household codes, probably because the nature of this love upends the patriarchal construct of marriage. With this command to love his wife, Paul insists that husbands relinquish, even reject, the power and authority granted to them by the wider culture. It mandates that husbands accept the social shame that would come with a reversal of masculinity as understood in the ancient world. Instead of having his wife “die” for his honor, now the husband “dies” or lives self-sacrficially on behalf of his wife. This challenge to husbands is that laid before every believer, who is to love the other as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:2). (p 202)

Ronald W. Pierce

Our core identity in Christ needs to play a more central and practical role in our understanding of the many identities we use to characterize who we are, including our personal gender or sexual identities. This holds true whether it concerns the ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender oneness that we as believers share “in Christ” (Gal 3:26-29), or the nearly thirty aspects of being “in Christ” that Paul mentions in Ephesians 1-3 as the foundation for his references to “submit[ting] to one-another out of reverence for Christ” in Ephesians 5:21-32. As believers, this is who we are at our core, and as such must be related to the question of same-sex marriage. Sadly, this has been lacking in both affirming and non-affirming arguments …. Although there is not one explicitly prohibitive passage in Scripture against mutually shared leadership in a Christian marriage, there are five prohibitive texts against same-sex sexual intimacy. (pp 506, 507)

Ronald W. Pierce, Erin M. Heim

Jesus’ words, “How often I have longed to gather your children,” seem intentionally reminiscent of the prophet Isaiah’s words, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born?” (Is 49:15 NIV). Although the “how often” in Jesus’ lament seems otherwise out of place in Matthew’s narrative, when taken in accordance with John’s Gospel, it may imply that Jesus has visited Jerusalem several times previously. Or perhaps the Lord’s words reflect a theme so prominently displayed in Isaiah. In other words, the mother-love of God incarnate is a manifestation of Yahweh’s mother-love. His “how often” reaches back before the incarnation and connects with Yahweh’s motherly love for Israel. The resonances between the two passages are striking and powerful.

 

In Matthew 23:38-39, Jesus’ motherly lament over Jerusalem is also coupled with Psalm 118:26, a song of praise turned into the prediction: “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'” (NIV). This statement marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He has pronounced judgment on Israel’s failed religious leaders, leading to the Olivet discourse, regarding the signs of Christ’s coming (Mt 24). In short, the Messiah’s lament over Jerusalem is the beginning of the end. Immanuel, in whom the motherly love of Yahweh has been brought down and given flesh, carries this love to its fullest expression in the cross. (p 385)

Jeffrey D. Miller

Forms of anēr (“man,” “husband”) occur 216 times in the [Greek] New Testament. In contrast, however, forms of man and husband occur 1,343 times in the KJV New Testament—an addition of 1,127! …. Masculine plurals describe groups of men and women, [and this rule] challenges the oft-heard claim that elders in the New Testament were always men. However, neither Paul nor Acts mentions any individual elder. Instead, we read of elders in the plural and in the abstract. On the basis of grammar, therefore, we cannot say whether these plural references include women elders … In contrast, when feminine plural expressions refer to people, the reference is indeed to women only. (pp 474, 480, 481)

Mimi Haddad

Richard Hayes observes, “the New Testament calls those with power and privilege to surrender it for the sake of the weak …. It is husbands (not wives) who are called to emulate Christ’s example of giving themselves up in obedience for the sake of the other (Eph. 5:25) …. [Interpreting this] as though it somehow warranted a husband’s domination or physical abuse of his wife can only be regarded as a bizzarre—indeed, blasphemous—misreading. . . . The followers of Jesus—men and women alike—must read the New Testament as a call to renounce violence and coercion.” (p 32)

Peter H. Davids

Having addressed the issue of submission to “governing structures” in general (1 Peter 2:13-17), Peter turns to two special cases … In the first (1 Peter 2:18-25), believing slaves are to submit to their (pagan) masters in imitation of the suffering of Christ … There is no admission that their master is just or is exercising his rights. The point is that Christ did indeed die unjustly ( 1 Peter 2:22). Because of this, one who is suffering unjustly need not resist verbally or physically but can choose to identify with Christ and his silent acceptance of injustice. This is not a slave’s legitimizing the rights of their earthly master but a slave’s identifying with their true master …. The second special situation is that of a believing woman married to a pagan householder. Although, in contrast to slavery, the Bible clearly sanctions marriage, it is nonetheless also a temporal, human institution — that is, it belongs to this age, not the age to come. Thus it is introduced here with “likewise” or “in the same way,” as an intentional parallel with slavery. Also parallel with slavery is the way the authority of the master is underminded even as it is affirmed. To be sure, the woman accepts her husband’s authority, but not because she recognizes it as intrinsic … or as a universal divine structure … rather, she does so in order to evangelize him and to keep Christian teaching in good repute (1 Peter 2:16) …. Yet what she is to do is also, in a sense, subversive … she is to show appropriate “female virtue,” for like the slave’s quiet acceptance of unjust treatment, these both express Christian values and undermine criticism of Christianity. (pp 232-234)

Craig S. Keener

Two things are absolutely central to a proper understanding of [1 Corinthians 14:34-35]. First, and most important, our verses themselves specify only one particular kind of speech that we can be certain Paul addresses here. Unless Paul changes the subject from women’s submissive silence (1 Cor 14:34) to asking questions privately (1 Cor 14:35a) and back again to silence (1 Cor 14:35b), asking questions is at least a primary example of the sort of speech he seeks to forbid … Second, and related to the first, Paul explicitly ties the women’s speech in this case to shame. And since honor and shame are areas in which cultures differ considerably, it is worth our while to determine the source of shame in this particular instance …. Because women’s public speech was sometimes shameful in Corinth, one cannot simply assume that Paul’s claim that it is shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly is meant to be transcultural, anymore than his earlier injunction to cover their heads (related to shame in 1 Cor 11:5-6) or his later one to greet with a holy kiss. (pp 150-151, 153)

Mary L. Conway

The link to Genesis 3 in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 is relevant to the argument here because the issue in Genesis was that Eve was also inadequately informed and had mistaken theology … Her apparently confused understanding of God’s instructions, passed on to her by Adam, resulted in her being deceived by the false — but appealing — teaching of the serpent. She passed the fruit on to her husband, and Adam — who is also there listening to the serpent’s argument — ate, although he did not have the same excuse. He had heard the instructions directly from Yahweh himself, but did not even interrupt with a question, let alone a challenge or correction …. The issue here is not whether someone is a man or a woman, but inadequate teaching. The point is not that women should be excluded from teaching or having authority, but that anyone who is inadequately taught and is inappropriately usurping authority over those who have had a better education and possess better understanding should not teach others, at least temporarily until their understanding has improved. In Paul’s day, in Ephesus, it was primarily women who were in this situation, but in our culture it may be equally men or women, and men and women may be equally educated. Therefore, there is no longer any reason to deny women the full role of teaching and preaching in the church. The following statement that the woman “will be preserved through childbearing” does not mean that having children will result in the salvation of women’s souls. It may well, however, indicate a corrective of the women’s reliance on Artemis, a goddess associated with midwifery, for protection during childbirth — part of their false understanding. (pp 50, 51)


Read Mimi Haddad’s essay “History Matters: Evangelicals and Women” here.

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction (Ronald W. Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland)
1. History Matters: Evangelicals and Women (Mimi Haddad)

Part I: Looking to Scripture: The Biblical Texts
2. Gender in Creation and Fall: Genesis 1–3 (Mary L. Conway)
3. The Treatment of Women Under the Mosaic Law (Ronald W. Pierce and Mary L. Conway)
4. Women Leaders in the Bible (Linda L. Belleville)
5. Jesus’ Treatment of Women in the Gospels (Aída Besançon Spencer)
6. Mutuality in Marriage and Singleness: 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 (Ronald W. Pierce and Elizabeth A. Kay)
7. Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Gordon D. Fee)
8. Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (Craig S. Keener)
9. Male and Female, One in Christ: Galatians 3:26-29 (Cynthia Long Westfall)
10. Loving and Submitting to One Another in Marriage: Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19 (Lynn H. Cohick)
11. Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (Linda L. Belleville)
12. A Silent Witness in Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1-7 (Peter H. Davids)

Part II: Thinking It Through: Theological and Logical Perspectives
13. The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry (Gordon D. Fee)
14. The Nature of Authority in the New Testament (Walter L. Liefeld)
15. Image of God and Divine Presence: A Critique of Gender Essentialism (Christa L. McKirland)
16. Biblical Priesthood and Women in Ministry (Stanley J. Grenz)
17. Gender Equality and the Analogy of Slavery (Stanley E. Porter)
18. The Trinity Argument for Women’s Subordination: The Story of Its Rise, Ascendancy, and Fall (Kevin Giles)
19. Biblical Images of God as Mother and Spiritual Formation (Ronald W. Pierce and Erin M. Heim)
20. “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role”: Challenging the Logic of Women’s Subordination (Rebecca Merrill Groothuis)

Part III: Addressing the Issues: Interpretive and Cultural Perspectives
21. Interpretive Methods and the Gender Debate (Cynthia Long Westfall)
22. Gender Differences and Biblical Interpretation: A View from the Social Sciences (M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall)
23. A Defense of Gender-Accurate Bible Translation (Jeffrey D. Miller)
24. Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage (Ronald W. Pierce)
25. Gender Equality and the Sanctity of Life (Heidi R. Unruh and Ronald J. Sider)

Part IV: Living It Out: Practical Applications
26. Helping the Church Understand Biblical Gender Equality (Mimi Haddad)
27. Marriage as a Partnership of Equals (Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick)
28. Complementarianism and Domestic Abuse: A Social Science Perspective on Whether “Equal but Different” Is Really Equal at All (Kylie Maddox Pidgeon)
29. When We Were Not Women: Race and Discourses on Womanhood (Juliany González Nieves)
30. Human Flourishing: Global Perspectives (Mimi Haddad)
31. Toward Reconciliation: Healing the Schism (Alice P. Mathews)
Conclusion (Ronald W. Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland)

List of Contributors
Name Index
Subject Index
Scripture Index

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