What Equality in Christ Means for Men

Bob Edwards

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What-Equality-in-Christ-Means-for-Men

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”           (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

As a man and a Christian, I’ve been given some heavy burdens. In a society characterized by a long history of male privilege, that may sound like a strange statement. Nevertheless, it’s true.

In the first church I attended, I learned that to be a man is to be a leader, a provider, and a protector. I learned that it was my responsibility in church to discern truth from error. It was my responsibility to accurately and effectively convey this truth. I was responsible to shepherd God’s people, and even to apply biblical discipline when needed. Evidently, something about being male made me a suitable candidate for these responsibilities.

Someday, God willing, I would be married. Maybe we would have children. My wife’s spiritual health would be my responsibility. Providing spiritual leadership would be my sole responsibility as the “head” of a Christian home. I would also be the bread-winner for our family, earning enough money to provide for all of our needs. I would have the deciding vote regarding all major life decisions, regardless of my level of knowledge or experience with a given issue.

Failure to shoulder this burden was referred to as shirking God’s call on my life to be a servant-leader to my family. The Bible and the commentaries I was reading seemed to confirm that these responsibilities were God-ordained. Though I accepted what I was taught as “the infallible word of God,” and believed that it was communicated to me by godly men that I could trust, I began to have questions.

The longer I was a Christian, and the more I thought about these issues, the more the questions multiplied:

-What is it about being a man that makes me uniquely qualified to discern spiritual truth from error?

Why was I asked to lead Bible study when I had only been a Christian for a few months, and some women in the group had known Christ for many years?

If I got married, wouldn’t my wife be responsible for her own spiritual health?

If I was responsible for everyone else’s spiritual development, how was I to ensure compliance with God’s will?

Will I find a job that meets all of our family’s needs in a society shaped around a dual-income household?

While I’m working all of those hours, how will I effectively provide godly leadership to my wife and children?

What does it mean to be a “protector”? Can I prevent harm from coming to those I love?

Thankfully, when I went to Bible college, I began to find answers to some of these questions. Most of the answers were in passages that had somehow been overlooked in my earlier discipleship.

I learned that Jesus alone is our Leader.
“Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10, NASB).

I learned that God is our Provider.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33, NIV).

I learned that God is our Protector.
“Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24, HCSB).

I learned that each person is responsible for his or her own spiritual health (with God’s help).
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV).

I learned that Christian men and women are meant to function as equal partners.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

What about all of those responsibilities I was taught are my duty as a Christian man? As much as I searched the Bible for commands that I was to be a leader, provider, and protector because I was male, I simply couldn’t find them. Someone had given me the job of being God!

This left me wondering, “What in the world does it mean to be a Christian man?”

I found the answer to this question in the words of Jesus: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

With the help of God—my leader, provider, and protector—I’m learning just how much I am loved; and I’m learning how to love others in this way.

His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. 

 

For more on how biblical equality impacts men check out these posts from the archives.

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45 Comments

  • Hi Mark,

    I appreciate your good intentions, and I hear that you believe my words imply ideas that you would consider overgeneralizations. Thank you for sharing your concerns.

    One of the statements you took to be an overgeneralization was my comment about the importance of allowing others to take responsibility for their own spiritual development, with the help of God.

    I understand how you could view this as a very general statement that could be taken in ways that are probably not accurate.

    What I’m trying to highlight is that the points you seem to take as generalizations have a context that I attempt to spell out earlier in the blog.

    The statement about shared responsibility, for example, is a response to my earlier comment, “Providing spiritual leadership would be my sole responsibility as the “head” of a Christian home.”

    In place of a worldview that sees men as “solely” responsible for providing spiritual leadership in a Christian family, I’m suggesting that it is in fact a “shared” responsibility.

    Our editing team also provided a link to another blog that explores this kind of shared responsibility further.

    Given your comments, I will certainly continue to reflect on how I can make the connections between my points and their context more overt. At the same time, it does seem that some of your inferences have overlooked contextual information that was supplied.

    Communication is a tricky thing that way, especially in text I find. So, thank you for the feedback, I will continue to work at connecting the dots more clearly and deliberately. Hopefully my feedback and clarifications to you have been equally helpful.

  • A further point of clarification regarding earlier comments on Ephesians 5:21-22:

    In a CBMW journal article entitled, “The Myth of Mutual Submission,” Wayne Grudem asks, “How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord”?

    He then goes on to explain what he sees as the significance of Paul’s specific command to wives:

    “For a wife to be submissive to her husband will probably not often involve obeying actual commands or directives (though it will sometimes include this), for a husband may rather give requests and seek advice and discussion about the course of action to be followed (compare Phlm. 8-9). This is probably why Paul used the broader term “be subject to” when speaking to wives…”

    Since I’m aware that Grudem speaks for many complementarians, I like to highlight that Paul never did actually write a separate command to wives, telling them to “be subject to” their husbands. Scribes and translators have supplied this additional command. Grudem wrongly attributes it to Paul and attaches great significance to it.

    Simply put, Paul commands all Christians (including husbands and wives) to “be submissive one to another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This is the only occurence of the verb “submit” in Ephesians 5:21 and 22.

    In verse 22, we have only the words, “wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” There is no additional imperative verb here. There is only one command addressed to all believers found in verse 21. “Wives to your husbands” is simply one example of this form of submission. Later in the chapter, Paul encourages husbands to follow the example set by Jesus when he took upon himself the form of a servant and died on the cross for our sins. “Be submissive one to another.”

    Grudem is so bent on commanding wives to “be subject” to husbands that he even redefines Ephesians 5:21 in light of the non-existent command in verse 22. Instead of translating the passage, “Be submissive to one another,” he insists that it should be read, “be subject, some to others.” Who is supposed to be subject? Wives, and wives alone.

    So, “How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, ‘Wives be subject to your husbands?” My answer to Wayne Grudem would be, “The Greek New Testament I have open before me right now does not in fact include the separate command, “Wives be subject to your husbands.” It also clearly reads, “Be submissive one to another out of reverence for Christ” in the preceding verse.

    I think it’s about time Grudem and others stopped adding commands to God’s Word, and reinterpreting the surrounding verses in light of what translators have supplied.

    I hope that context will clarify some of my earlier thoughts on submission.

  • Great job, Bob, and the comments back and forth have been outstanding too. The only thing I’d add is on the term “servant leader”. I hear that from speakers and preachers, but from what I’ve read of Jesus’ own words he’s telling us to be servant servants.

    • I agree Tim. The disciples were thinking of greatness in terms of being leaders, occupying places of authority and honour. Jesus corrected them, saying that to be great in the kingdom of God is to be a servant, period. There is no mention in these passages of being a “servant-leader.” “Servant servants,” I like that. Well said!

  • Gail said, “For me the issue here is that adding the word “submit” to verse 22 does give an unnecessary emphasis to unilateral submission. I wonder if Paul might have been making a segue into the verses that follow, with his “re-defining”, so to speak, of the household codes…”

    Yes, we’re saying essentially the same thing.

    At the same time, I have had complementarians say to me, “How do you justify teaching egalitarian marriage, when the Bible says right here (Eph. 5:22) in black and white, “Wives be subject to your husbands”? In other words, Ephesians 5:22 is used as a proof text for male authority over women in the home.

    My answer to that, honestly and accurately, is that this statement as a unilateral command to wives does not exist in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament.

    The addition of the second instance of “submit” is used, by some, as a command directed at wives that is separate from “submit one to another out of reverence for Christ.”

    My hope is to highlight that there are not two separate commands here. There is one, and it is directed to both husbands and wives. Verse 22’s “wives to your husbands” is simply the first example of the mutual submission commanded in verse 21.

    Wives did indeed submit to husbands in the first century, in Greek culture, Jewish culture, Roman culture and the church. What is distinct about the church, however, is that husbands were also commanded to submit. Later in Ephesians chapter 5, for example, husbands are told to follow the example of Jesus, who laid aside his divine authority and took upon himself the form of a servant, being obedient to the point of death.

    This is an incredible contrast to the Greco-Roman household codes of the first century.

    I have a separate blog on that particular topic here: http://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/husbands-lead-your-wives-as-christ-led-the-church/

    Also, regarding a question about headings, Gail is correct in highlighting that they do not have a verse reference. They appear between the numbered verses of our translations, and they tend to be in a bolder font. Typically they are added at the date of printing of that particular translation, by the translation committee.

    One of my English translations, for example, has the heading “Roles in the Church” over Ephesians 5:21. It then has the heading “Roles in the Home” over Ephesians 5:22. These particular non-biblical headings have been used by some to support the view that women and men submit to each other in church, but wives must submit to husbands unilaterally at home. Again, it is the addition of a second command to submit along with the headings that create this impression.

    It’s time, I think, to do our utmost to identify when these additions to the Bible actually change the meaning of the text, and this seems to happen often regarding the role of women. Perhaps one day I’ll do a post highlighting the most significant additions, and how significantly they change what the Bible appears to be saying.

  • Thanks again, Bob, for consistently coming up with cogent thoughts on issues churches struggle with. Your capacity to put innate prejudices aside and follow through on what the Word actually says, is fantastic. I’m sending this to a guy who has asked for more info on these issues and how to stand as a Christian male to support egalitarianism.

    • “Your capacity to put innate prejudices aside and follow through on what the Word actually says, is fantastic.”

      Honestly Bev, I still remember where I was standing when the evidence I was considering reached a tipping point. The shocking reality of what has been done to women for centuries in the name of Jesus Christ broke through my own gender-socialization. I couldn’t breath and thought I was having a heart attack. I truly understand how difficult it is for some to lower their defenses and honestly consider the implications of what I’m sharing.

  • Bob,

    I really appreciate what you have to say here. I, too, have grown weary of the chest-thumping masculinity that so much of the church pretends is biblical. I too cringe at most men’s conferences.

    I can also tell, from your comments, that you have thought deeply about these issues, and carefully examined the whole Bible to come to your conclusions, as I have.

    My caution is that you did not give that impression in your post itself. I expect it was written the way it was to be somewhat lyrical, but in the process you made a couple of statements that I think were incorrect, and a couple of others that were misleading… and you spoke as if the Biblical discussion was more simplistic than it is (and, from your other comments on the post, you obviously agree).

    For example: “Jesus alone is our leader”. I think I understand what you’re getting at by that statement, but it isn’t actually true. The Bible sets up a number of hierarchical systems. They may not be gender-specific, but they are real.

    God is our Provider and Protector, yes… but that doesn’t mean we can’t have the responsibility to provide and protect as well. Those statements are true, but I don’t think they carry the interpretive weight that you are giving them here. God can be our provider, and we can also have a responsibility to provide at the same time (think, for example, of Paul’s statements about caring for our family members that are in need).

    “Each person is responsible for their own spiritual health”. That is true, and important. But it doesn’t necessarily exclude the complementarian position. One person’s responsibility doesn’t absolve anyone else of their responsibility. Teachers, the Bible makes clear, have a responsibility for how their false teachings hurt others.

    “Christian men and women are to function as equal partners”.
    “As much as I searched the Bible for commands that I was to be a leader, provider, and protector because I was male, I simply couldn’t find them.”

    I agree with you, and many others do, too. But the Bible doesn’t give a simplistically unanimous message here, as you obviously understand. Maybe you could provide a link to a fuller discussion of the complicated interpretive work that must be done to understand the various passages involved? Because I think it goes without saying that there are various Bible passages that, taken at face value, would lead someone to believe that husbands or fathers are to take on those roles. You and I may have a fuller understanding that allows us to see those statements in a larger theological and cultural context, but that doesn’t mean that the passages aren’t there any more.

    Obviously you can’t give a full exegesis of the relevant passages in a short post like this. Maybe a link, though? Or a book recommendation? Something that would help an inquiring mind to see the fuller biblical arguments, and follow the same path you have followed? I think something like that would really enhance what you have written here.

    Thanks for what you had to say. I hope this message takes deep root in the church. We certainly need to hear it.

    Mark

    • Mark, I so appreciate your comment about the need to make sure that we take care not to over-simplify what really is a complex issue. I think Bob’s point had to do with the sense of freedom he came to know as represented in the verses he shared, but you are exactly right that coming to those conclusions required some serious interpretive work. This was a good reminder to me for my own writing not to make generalizations without also providing the background behind those conclusions. Those of us involved in the writing and editing process here at The Junia Project will take your suggestions to heart for future posts.

      I think we should all consider closely your comments about some of these specific areas. You’re right – God is our ultimate leader, protector, provider, etc. But as family, we do have responsibilities to each other that crossover into some of these areas. How do we make sure we are carrying out those responsibilities in ways that are God-honoring without devaluing others? For example, I see men who bully their wives in the name of leadership, and I see women who are territorial with child-rearing to the point that fathers feel incompetent. Perhaps the key is keeping our focus on Ephesians 5:21 – submit to one another.

    • Hi Mark,

      I’ll try my best to respond to some of your comments and questions here, focusing on those that give me an opportunity to clarify my thinking, in what I hope is a helpful manner.

      Your comment:
      For example: “Jesus alone is our leader”. I think I understand what you’re getting at by that statement, but it isn’t actually true.

      Response:
      Honestly Mark, I think it is true. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10, NASB).

      How I’m understanding this is that we really have only one leader/teacher. We are all disciples, students, followers.

      Throughout church history, men have been portrayed by patriarchal tradition as being more capable of accurately discerning spiritual truth than women. They have therefore been given the positions–and titles–of leaders and teachers. Women have been barred from these roles. I think this trend runs counter to exactly what Jesus is saying here.

      God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ directly. While he was here, he frequently corrected the religious leaders of his day (all male) for confusing the traditions of men with the will of God. I think that still happens today, and I don’t think Jesus’ feelings on this have changed. Women do not need men to interpret the Word of God for them. We have one leader/teacher, that is Christ. The rest of us (men and women alike) are students; I think Jesus means exactly what he is saying, and I think historically–in the case of our patriarchal traditions–the church has missed the point.

      Your comment:
      “Each person is responsible for their own spiritual health”. That is true, and important. But it doesn’t necessarily exclude the complementarian position.

      Response:
      Too many times I’ve talked with complementarian men who view themselves as solely responsible for the spiritual health of their wives and children. This is what I’m addressing. Often they will cite a passage that tells them that they need to manage their households well. Sadly, they take this to mean that If their wives are depressed, or if their children have behavioral problems, they have somehow failed in their responsibility as Christian men. What I’m highlighting here is that while a husband and father certainly has an important role to play in relation to the welfare of his family, ultimately the burden is not his alone to shoulder. First of all, God himself is at work in the lives of our loved ones. That, I think, is good news. Second, they have a responsibility to respond to God’s calling. We may have a role to play, but it has limits. Our responsibility has an end-point where someone else’s begins. If we don’t recognize this, we’re apt to become enmeshed and co-dependent. It can only end in tears.

      Your comment regarding the roles of leader, provider and protector:
      “Because I think it goes without saying that there are various Bible passages that, taken at face value, would lead someone to believe that husbands or fathers are to take on those roles.”

      Response:
      I think I touched on this when I mentioned that my Bible and many commentaries seemed to be telling me this also. I then hoped to provide a synopsis of my journey to a different understanding (e.g. attending Bible College, becoming acquainted with verses I had previously overlooked). I didn’t expand further on this, but it took many years and involved learning New Testament Greek as well as studying the history and culture of the New Testament era, and its various influences. It was through this rather lengthy and involved process that I recognized the Bible does not supply some of the clear role descriptions for men and women that many seem to infer.

      In my experience, for example, people make a number of inferences about the head/body metaphors used by the apostle Paul. Conclusions that men must be leaders, providers and protectors do not typically reference the biblical text itself. Rather, they reference commentaries that interpret headship as a form of hierarchical leadership. Meanings seem to be read into the text rather than drawn directly from it.

      In my journey to a new understanding, I also studied the commentary work of Augustine and Calvin, and how they are currently interpreted by complementarian leaders. Since Augustine was admittedly a fan of Neo-Platonic philosophy, I also read the Enneads and Plato’s Republic. It became apparent to me that many of Augustine’s interpretations demonstrated a profound Platonic influence, including his views on the importance of a social hierarchy, led by the “best born” and “best educated” “men.”

      Calvin’s commentaries on various biblical passages mirror Augustine’s almost exactly, and Calvin does acknowledge the incredible significance of Augustine’s theology on his own work. Numerous authors of “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” cite Calvin’s commentary work as a main influence on their thinking.

      So, there’s a little bit of information on some of my thinking and some of my own influences. Hope it clarifies my intended message a bit better. Blogs, in my mind, really are a medium best-suited to “highlights” and bullet points designed to stimulate further thinking and research.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Bob.

        Regarding the leadership comment… you responded to me as if I had advocated patriarchy. I didn’t. My point was that you had over-simplified the biblical message. Yes, in a sense, Jesus is our only leader. However, the biblical messages about leadership are more complicated than that. The Bible does establish church and family hierarchies, even if not the patriarchal ones.

        Regarding the “responsibility for spiritual health” discussion, you replied:
        “Too many times I’ve talked with complementarian men who view themselves as solely responsible for the spiritual health of their wives and children. This is what I’m addressing.”

        It is tempting to respond to a wrong belief (“men are solely responsible for the spiritual health of their wives and children”) by implying the antithetical position (“nobody has any responsibility for the spiritual health of anyone else!”). It’s tempting… but ultimately not very helpful, since it’s a position you don’t truly believe. As you said here in your response:
        “while a husband and father certainly has an important role to play in relation to the welfare of his family, ultimately the burden is not his alone to shoulder”

        It is not his ALONE to shoulder. He has a responsibility, but not the sole or primary responsibility. And this is not just about fathers. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, siblings… we have important roles to play in each others’ lives, even shared responsibility for each other in a sense. The burden is real, but is not “his alone”.

        I guess my advocation to you is… as you communicate about this issue, be careful not to over-state your case trying to counteract the false arguments of the patriarchalists. Don’t imply that, in order to stop being a patriarchalist, you have to become an anarchist.

        Regarding your journey… thank you for all that extra detail. I saw that in the discussions you had in the comment section. I think your original post would have been improved if you had given some indication of that journey right up front.

        I agree that blogs are best suited to stimulate further thinking and research. That’s precisely my point! Your original post said, regarding parts of the Bible that taught male leadership or responsibility, “I simply couldn’t find them”. There was no indication (then) of a process of searching, research, original-language study, etc. You “simply” couldn’t find them. That type of statement does not lead a skeptic to further thinking and research. It leads a skeptic to write you off as an over-simplistic thinker who hasn’t given the issue appropriate consideration.

        Obviously, that’s not who you are. I suggest that your post (and future posts you write) would be improved by giving a small indication of the complexity of your journey, and some links or references to places that deal with the issue in more detail. That would encourage people to do the “further thinking and research” that you intend to stimulate.

        Thank you for providing that information here, in your response to me. I appreciate it.

        Mark

        • Hi Mark,

          It’s becoming apparent to me that messages I’m sending and the messages you are receiving, at times, are not the same thing.

          For instance, you say that I’m responding to you as if you are advocating for patriarchy. That’s not an accurate reflection of my thoughts or intentions.

          I’m not assuming you’re advocating for patriarchy at all. I was attempting to provide some context for my original post (the history of patriarchy in the church) and how I was interpreting Jesus’ comments on leadership in light of this. When Jesus tells us that he is our only leader, I truly believe him, and this does seem to contradict patriarchal structures in the church that put men (leaders) and women (not leaders) on different levels. As I see it, in light of Christ’s words, we are all on the same level as students. In this sense, he really is our only Leader.

          Regarding the temptation of taking an antithetical stance to something that is not true. I think I’m going to have to allow you to take some responsibility for your interpretations here.

          It is the belief that men are solely or perhaps even “primarily” responsible for the spiritual well-being of others that I am attempting to balance. I think it’s encouraging for men to know that this responsibility is shared, and that primary responsibility for spiritual growth is shared between God and each individual. This does not mean that husbands and fathers do not play a role. I simply state, that we should not confuse our roles and responsibilities with God’s. Sadly, I think patriarchal traditions blur those lines.

          Also, you are reminding me that there are authority structures in the church and in the home. Of course I agree with you. At the same time, I’m hoping to highlight that “being male” is not a helpful or scriptural criterion for good leadership. As I’ve said, I believe that leadership in the church requires spiritual gifting and a call from God. These views were shared in the context, you may recall, of me being asked to lead Bible studies, even though I was new to the faith, and many women in the group were experienced followers of Christ. Ironically, I was asked to mentor them, when they probably should have been mentoring me.

          If that serves to clear up our communication, I’m glad. If not, I may simply encourage you to reflect on my comments, and I will continue to reflect on yours. I need to take responsibility for my interpretations of your words also :). Thank you for your feedback.

          • I agree with you, Bob. I agree about patriarchalism, and your views, and your desires for the church.

            My caution has been, and continues to be, that you sometimes choose words and phrases that imply that the issue is more simplistic or obvious than it actually is. I think that’s important.

            But, I doubt there’s any benefit in pursuing it further right now. Thanks again for your thoughtful responses!

            Mark

    • Thank you kjgonzalez! I’m very glad you found it encouraging.

  • Thank you so much for these words! As we discern what it means for all of us to follow Christ, it is an encouragement to lift the burdens from one another’s shoulders and be reminded that God is the one to whom we ALL look for provision, protection, and security.

    • “God is the one to whom we ALL look for provision, protection, and security.”

      Amen! Great summary. Thank you Sarah Rose.

  • In your studies did thé family form of the Bible parallel the new testament church form of governing?

    • Hi Olive,

      Forms or patterns of governance for church and family, what an excellent question.

      My studies of the Greek New Testament and 1st Century culture certainly challenged my own preconceptions about church and family.

      Simply put, I discovered that the emphasis on a male-led, hierarchical form of governance is a later edition to the biblical record. What I mean is that although Paul references the household codes recorded by the likes of Aristotle and Josephus, he does not appear to condone them.

      Rather than reinforcing the cultural norm of the paterfamilias (rule of fathers), he encourages all believers (men, women, husbands and wives) to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

      The oldest known Pauline fragment of Ephesians, discovered in the 1930s, revealed to us that verses like “wives be subject to your husbands” are later additions to the text. That is incredibly significant. Similarly, headings like those found in the New King James, “Wives be Submissive to Your Husbands,” were added centuries after the New Testament books were first written.

      The church of the first century was not an institution governed by a board of male elders and presided over by a male priest. In fact, New Testament churches were held in people’s homes, and the Bible tells us that some of these homes belonged to women.

      I recently read a blog article written by a complementarian professor who explained the meaning of the verb proistemi. He explained that this verb likely applied to the act of providing spiritual leadership to house-churches in the first century. Curiously, he omitted the fact that Phoebe, a woman, was referred to by Paul as a prostatis–the noun form of the verb he was discussing. I emailed him, and he confirmed that he does not believe women can be leaders in the church–hence the omission of Phoebe from his analysis.

      Also, an emphasis on external governance to keep the church from error is not a New Testament idea. Male governance in particular is not a principle of the Kingdom culture Jesus’ preached.

      External supervision, governance, discipline, structure etc. are not what keep us from yielding to the “lusts of the flesh” according to Paul. No, it is an internal transformation of the heart and mind accomplished only by the Holy Spirit of God that can make us righteous and keep us from error. The job of the law, as an external influence, was never to make us righteous. It was to reveal to us our need for a Saviour and inward transformation.

      This all changed, tragically, when the church became an institution of Rome, near the end of the 3rd century. The gospel of Jesus was eventually obscured from the general population and kept by a priesthood of men who claimed the exclusive ability and right to interpret the word of God. The emergence of a patriarchal bias in biblical translation and commentary can be traced to this era.

      In contrast to this emerging structure, the New Testament portrays “church” as men and women, meeting together initially in one another’s homes, each serving one another in love and sharing the gospel as they were led and enabled by the Spirit. Organizational roles focused on gifting, not gender. “Administration,” “apostleship,” “teaching” are all spiritual gifts, dispensed according to the will of God, we’re told, not according to gender stereotypes.

      Structures can be helpful, if they do not take the place of God in our lives and our worship. Leadership can also be helpful, if those in such positions actually have been called and gifted by God to function in those roles.

      I think it’s important to recognize that the paradigms often used to make sense of the New Testament regarding church and families are lenses that do not align with the kingdom culture modeled and taught by Jesus and the apostles. We need to put those lenses aside.

      A long answer–I realize–but I felt your question deserved it :).

      • I wish this comment was a blog post on itd own…I would love to share it…

      • Bob, your statement: “Similarly, headings like those found in the New King James, ‘Wives be Submissive to Your Husbands,’ were added centuries after the New Testament books were first written.” This would infer that the Apostle Paul did not write this thought about women submitting to their husbands, but was added later by another writer. Is this what your thought is? Who added to his writing? How can we depend upon the accuracy of Scripture if there was a based addition to it by men?

        • Lizzie, just going to jump in to point out that I’m not sure Bob is saying that Paul didn’t write Ephesians 5:22. From what I’ve read, it is the headings and chapter markings that were added. These put an undue emphasis on the submission of wives, when the whole point of the passage is mutual submission. Bob, please weigh in, as I have not heard that Paul may not have written this – I have heard that about 1 Cor 14: 34, 35. But I think we should assume that Paul is writing here in Ephesians.

          • I agree with you and have understood the “submitting one to another . . .” as Jesus emphasis. How can we know which verses or phrases are headings? And, what is the body of the passage? I grew up with King James; verse 22 of Eph 5 is: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

          • Lizzie, here is a link to a Greek analysis of Ephesians 5:22.

            Wives, to their own husbands, as to the Lord http://biblehub.com/text/ephesians/5-22.htm

            Headings are different from Bible to Bible, but they don’t have a chapter or verse designation and are usually in boldface type.

            Hope that helps!

          • Hi Gail and Lizzie,

            What I’m highlighting is that Ephesians 5:22 in the oldest known Greek manuscript of this letter does not include the command, “Wives submit to your husands.”

            The only time the verb translated “submit” or “be subject” (NASB) is used in this sentence is found in Ephesians 5:21. (Ephesians 5:21 and 22 actually appear to be one sentence in the Greek, rather than two separate commands.) The only actual command (in 5:21) applies equally to all followers of Christ, regardless of gender. It applies to men and women, husbands and wives.

            The addition of another verb, directed exclusively to wives, actually changes the meaning of the text. It appears to establish a hierarchical form of what has been called “wifely submission” to men.

            Additionally, some English translations (NKJV) insert a non-biblical heading between Ephesians 5:21 and 5:22. This heading also includes a command directed exclusively towards wives: “Wives Submit to Your Husbands.”

            In summary, one command regarding mutual submission has been wrongly translated into two separate commands; one directed only to wives. The addition of the heading repeats the non-biblical command, and artificially breaks up one sentence into two distinct verses.

            This is one of the clearest examples of a patriarchal bias in Bible translation.

            Does that clarify?

            Other examples can be found here in this excellent article by Elizabeth A. McCabe: http://www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?ArticleId=830

          • Bob, I think we are saying the same thing. To clarify – the original manuscripts include the command to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) and then verse 22 simply adds, “wives to your husbands”, right? I think what you’re pointing out is that the verb “submit” is not there in the Greek. But as I see it, Paul is obviously talking about submission here. So I think it is misleading to say the command “wives submit to your husbands” is not there, though technically that is true grammatically. I don’t think we can separate it from the context of the passage.

            For me the issue here is that adding the word “submit” to verse 22 does give an unnecessary emphasis to unilateral submission. I wonder if Paul might have been making a segue into the verses that follow, with his “re-defining”, so to speak, of the household codes…

        • In Elizabeth McCabe’s piece on Phoebe as a deacon, she states, “What is more is that the title of Phoebe as a diakonos accounts for the “first recorded ‘deacon’ in the history of Christianity.” What is the historical word for the first seven deacons: all seven were men? I tend to think that there are male roles which I think of as Offices in the Church: i.e. Bishop, Elder (not sure about deacon, though a deacon should be “the husband of one wife . . .”). But, importantly, every gift of the Spirit is given to both women and men, as God sees it.

          Cannot it be good for women as well as men to have male leadership, taking the “blows” for difficulty? In war, men are able to perform the most difficult of roles. I’m also interested that Jesus chose twelve men as disciples. Women had gifted roles surrounding Jesus all His life (even before the gifts of the Spirit were spelled out).

          I am a strong believer in the equal roles of women and men because we are all “created in the image of God.” But as men have twice the muscle mass by normal body weight, which makes them unique from women, so do they have roles that are wonderfully amazing. As the baring of a child makes a woman unique from men, it certainly does not make her less than equal . . . her gifts of the Spirit are decided by God.

          Why did Jesus choose twelve men as disciples; and after his resurrection, the early Church chose seven men as deacons? Their leadership made them targets, and, I claim, gave women the freedom and opening to administer their gifts more freely.

          I really enjoy your Blog!

          • Lizzie, you give an interesting theory – that men were chosen as leaders to serve as targets and provide some type of shield for women. I don’t really see any support for that in the biblical texts, though. I think the fact that Jesus chose men as the first disciples and that the first deacons in the early church were men had more to do with the time and place than with anything related to gender. In both cases these positions were quickly opened to women. Lots of people have written on this topic – I especially like Marg’s take on the New life website.

            She writes in her conclusion: “The fact that the Twelve Apostles were all male cannot be used to bar women from leadership ministries for several reasons. Jesus called the Twelve before the New Covenant had been inaugurated and before the Holy Spirit had come on all believers. He chose the Twelve to help with his ministry to Israel within a certain cultural context. The fact that Judas was one of the Twelve means that Jesus must have chosen at least some of the Twelve for reasons other than church leadership. The “Male Apostle” argument cannot be taken to mean that woman cannot be pastors or evangelists, etc. It might be taken to mean that women cannot be apostles; however, the example of Junia as an apostle makes even this argument untenable. Moreover Jesus never stated that only men could be leaders. Jesus’ only instructions about church leadership are that those who lead in the Christian community should be servants not rulers.[7] The fact that Jesus’ Twelve Apostles were all male is not a valid premise to exclude godly and gifted women from any kind of ministry function or role in the Church.”

            You can read the rest of the article at this link.

          • Hi Lizzie,

            I’m glad you read Elizabeth’s article. I really found it informative.

            I especially noticed that the passage used by some to say that only a man should be a deacon (i.e. “husband of one wife”) does indeed use the very same word (diakonos) that is applied to Phoebe by the apostle Paul. Mind you in 1 Timothy 3:12 it is in the plural (diakonoi).

            Many scholars have pointed out that the passage is commanding monogamy and fidelity for deacons. It does not appear to be written with the intent of answering questions about women in leadership. You may note that it was more often men in ancient cultures, not women, that were more likely to have multiple partners (i.e. wives and concubines). Though some might like the passage to address women in leadership, I do not believe this is the issue the author had in mind.

            Similarly, when choosing his disciples, Jesus chose 12 Jewish men. Again, this does not seem to speak to the issue of women in leadership, just like it does not speak to the issue of Gentiles in leadership. After all, there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile in Christ; and no one I know uses these passages to bar Gentiles from the ministry.

            Regarding Jesus’ selection of the disciples, the Bible simply does not provide an explicit explanation. However, it is true that Jesus was sent first to the House of Israel. He began his preaching in the synagogues. According to the oral law of Jesus’ day, only men were allowed to actually speak in this setting. A woman’s testimony was considered invalid. Women were required to remain silent.

            Interestingly, after his victory over sin and its consequences was complete, the first witnesses charged with spreading the good news were all women. They were told to share the good news with the original disciples, who ironically did not believe the women’s report.

            Regarding muscle mass and leadership, honestly I don’t believe muscle mass has much to do with whether or not someone makes a good preacher, teacher or administrator in the church. All of these functions do not require body strength.

            Also, just today, I read how Saul–prior to his conversion–was bent on arresting the men and women who were spreading the gospel. It wasn’t just the men who were a threat. They did not function as shields for the women.

            Christians facing arrest and/or execution typically did not resist. They took Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek literally. Stephen, for instance, did not resist when he was stoned to death according to the book of Acts.

            I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I hope you find these thoughts encouraging as well :).

          • Yes, you are giving good answers. For sure, Scripture never teaches that a woman should not/can not lead, teach . . . indeed all of the gifts are to women and men. Just as the Bible never tells a husband how to “rule” his wife, so it does not tell the Church that a woman cannot serve in these important positions.

            Good things to think on. Thank you.

  • Bob, I found your questions to be strikingly similar to my own. Yet, those themes are exactly what just about every mens’ retreat, conference, breakfast, or prayer meeting is about. I feel like I come across as “anti-male” when I ask the questions you list.

    In my daily context, I teach in an elementary school alongside spectacular female colleagues. My principal is female, and is an incredible leader. Actually, in my grade level team, I am the only male among many females.

    Never to we ever consider certain tasks to be only appropriate for me to lead! Even the idea of me, as a male, being in any way more qualified to do our job, is outright offensive to the professionalism of our staff. Also, our students do not interact with me as if I can offer any greater leadership or wisdom.

    Instead, both children and adults recognize that each teacher has different personalities, styles of teaching, and classroom management philosophies. We view ourselves as a community, and within this community there is a necessity of diversity. All of us realize that gender stereotyping hurts both children and adults. So we don’t. It’s that simple.

    My school is a public school. I know! 🙂 How unholy! Yet, in this environment, labeled as “secular”, we practice what we preach.

    Loved this article Bob. Thanks for the sincerity and love within your words.

    • Gender stereotypes have been confused with “the gospel” for far too long. Jesus simply never taught them, and in many cases he contradicted them.

      When passing through Samaria, to whom did he reveal he was the Messiah? A Samaritan woman, who then shared the “good news” with her entire community.

      On Easter morning, to whom did Jesus first reveal himself as victor over sin and death? Mary, a woman, who then went to share the good news with the disciples–men, who did not believe her report.

      Now, allegedly in the name of Jesus, some men say that women may not preach, teach or share decision-making authority, simply because they are women. Yet all of Israel, men included, went to Deborah, a judge and leader of the nation for wisdom, and to hear from God.

      May God deliver his church from a deeply hurtful deception. I stopped attending “men’s” retreats years ago, because, as you say, they tend to reinforce hurtful stereotypes.

    • I consider it a privilege to be given the opportunity. Thank you for the feedback!

  • thank you Bob, and here’s my take on that in regards to a big and growing problem in the church…the statistics of men viewing and even addicted to pornography are staggering. Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe one reason is that these guys are cracking under the pressure? No one is ever supposrd to be in that god like position. Jesus alone is my high priest…for married women they are often told their husband is…it borderlines on blasphemy.
    I once heard a young husband make some disturbing comments in a group therapy session where his wife was suffering from extreme depression and anxiety. He was sincerely asking about how he was to spiritually discipline her when she was exhibiting some attitudes that were not like Christ. I thought to myself “wow! He is trying to be her Holy Spirit…not his job!” I also figured that was contributing to her mental health issues.
    So thank you again for being honest and voyageurs in speaking up.

    • correction… courageous* in speaking up
      #mustusecomputernexttime

    • You highlight an important point Valerie. Gender stereotypes encourage men to avoid their feelings and focus on work–to be good providers. We’re also told to “be strong” for everyone in the family as “good leaders and protectors.” This discourages men from identifying and meeting emotional needs in the context of healthy relationships. Unidentified and unmet emotional needs then tend to seek expression in unhealthy ways. It is indeed a problem in church culture that has taken on epidemic proportions. And we’re told that this unhealthy way of functioning is “biblical manhood.” It’s very sad.

  • Amen, Bob. Beautiful Truth. Being set free from the bondage of trying to protect, provide and lead – yourself, or your family, or anything else – is Freedom indeed, sweet realization of eternal reality already True. This is needed in the Body, male and female, but because of our culture and wrong teaching and belief, especially crucial for the Brothers – as you pointed out. Well done.

    • Thank you Brandon. I’m glad the message spoke to you 🙂

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