Equality, Submission, And The Role Of Women

By Allan Turner

The Bible teaches that both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), that is, both men and women are equal bearers of the divine image. This means that both men and women are equally human beings. Consequently, women are not inferior members of the human race and are not to be counted as second-class citizens.

Furthermore, women are not second-class citizens of the kingdom of God either (Galatians 3:28). They are full members of the church of Christ (viz., the universal body of the saved) with access to all the spiritual rights and benefits of such membership. In other words, one cannot be kept from the saving blood of Jesus Christ by his or her nationality (“neither Jew nor Gentile”), status in society (“neither slave nor free”), or gender (“neither male nor female”). All human beings are equal in that they can become “children” and “heirs of God” through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 4:7). Consequently, the context of Galatians 3:28 deals with who can become a Christian and on what basis, not with male/female roles.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that so-called “Biblical feminists” have pounced on Galatians 3:28 as the crux around which all Scripture must be interpreted. Some have even called this passage the “Magna Carta” of all humanity. They have claimed it teaches that it is God's desire to see all sex roles completely obliterated in the family, church, and society. Equality, they have falsely reasoned, means getting rid of all role distinctions. “Equality and subordination are contradictions!,” they claim. They feel that “true egalitarianism (equality) must be characterized by what sociologists call role-interchangeability.” They argue that any subordination is “psychologically unhealthy” and “carnal.”

These “Biblical feminists” have bought into the feminist argument that true equality means monolithic, undifferentiated role-interchangeability. Any Bible passage that does not square with their predetermined feminist definition must be either rejected as un-Biblical or explained away. Mostly, passages that teach a woman's role is to be one of subjection (e.g., I Corinthians 11:3; 14:34; I Timothy 2:11; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; I Peter 3:1) are interpreted as culturally mandated and not meant for all time. It is the teaching of those who hold this belief that the cultural submission of women taught in the aforementioned passages would eventually evolve into the total gender equality and role-interchangeability that they have erroneously thought Galatians 3:28 teaches. (Incidentally, I have talked to Christian women who have made this same argument.)

Equality And Subordination Are Not Contradictions

The “Biblical feminists” are wrong! Equality and subordination are not contradictions. The Bible teaches that, as image-bearers of the divine nature, the female and male are totally equal. It teaches, therefore, that she is totally equal with the male in her humanity. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that the female is not a second-class citizen of the kingdom of God. It teaches, in fact, that she is totally equal in her access to the salvation that takes place in Christ. Nevertheless, the Bible emphatically teaches that the female role is to be one of submission. Unless one is willing to charge the Holy Spirit with being inconsistent and contradictory (and what true Bible believer would ever think of doing such a thing?), then one is forced to conclude that subordination and equality are not contradictory.

An irrefutable example that equality and subordination are not contradictory is the Son of God's submission to His Heavenly Father (I Corinthians 11:3; 15:28). The Bible teaches that there never was a time when the Son of God ever ceased to be fully God (Colossians 2:9). Ontologically (i.e., having to do with His nature and being), the second person of the Godhead was equal with His Father (Philippians 2:6). Even so, whenever the Bible says that God the Father sent His Son into the world (e.g., John 3:17), it is understood that the Son's role was one of subordination: the Father commands and sends; the Son obeys and comes. Only the heretic would be so bold as to suggest that the Son is a lesser God because it is His role to be submissive to His Father. Furthermore, the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit was sent by both the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). Does this mean that He was even a lesser God than the Son who was already a lesser God than His Father? Again, none but a heretic would so teach!

If Christ's subjection to His Father does not suggest inferiority, then the woman's subjection to the male certainly does not imply her inferiority, as feminists so wrongly insist. The difference between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a functional one, not an essential one. They differ not in their essence or nature, but in the different roles they carry out in the Godhead. Similarly, men and women do not differ in their humanness, only in the roles they have been assigned by their Creator. Neither the natural equality that men and women enjoy as creatures made in the image of God nor their covenant equality in the kingdom of God is abrogated by the Biblical assignment of masculine and feminine roles.

As originally created, the male and female were to complete each other as they enabled one another to fulfill the God-ordained purpose of procreating and subduing the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). Neither was to seek the other's position, but as half of a whole they were to complement each other. When sin entered into the world, their distinctive roles were blurred and their harmonious relationship distorted. Instead of working together in unity, they began to compete with each other. Instead of reflecting the glory of God, they began to mirror the corruption of sin. Their original “oneness” was replaced by a power struggle that has continued in society ever since. This struggle, although it does not always manifest itself overtly, does, nevertheless, lie just below the surface in even the best of marriages.

Unfortunately, many men, even Christians, “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), have engaged in the practice of “lording it over” their wives. While on the other hand, many women, even Christians, have become “silly women laden with sins” (II Timothy 3:6) and have not willingly submitted to the headship of their husbands. It is sad but true that many Christians, both male and female, instead of “prov[ing] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1), are actually being guided by current secular values. Of course, we, of all people, ought to know that the answer to this problem is not to be found in current secular thought or even in so-called traditional thinking. The answer, instead, is to be found in God's Word, the Bible. It is in this book that we will find the answer to our problem.

A part of the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that what was lost in the Garden of Eden can be restored in Christ. As faithful followers of the humble Galilean, the husband and wife can once again become the unit God intended them to be from the very beginning: the husband, the loving leader who “nourishes and cherishes” his wife as if she were his own body (Ephesians 5:28,29) and the wife, the suitable helper who willingly submits to her husband's guidance, “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Such a relationship must be characterized by selflessness, yet it is only in Christ that one learns to crucify Self. It is only in Christ that one exchanges the egotistical “I am” of sinful pride for the loving guidance of the Great I Am. It is only in Christ that two people will live in the estate of matrimony as God truly intended.

Does this mean that people who are not Christians are not married? No, of course not. Does it mean that a Christian cannot marry a non-Christian? Again, no. Well, then, what does it mean? What it means is that without the restoration that comes in Christ, marriage will never be, nor can it ever be, what the Lord created it to be; namely, a relationship of unity that supersedes every other earthly relationship and in a very wonderful way reflects the unity that exists between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This Bible truth is a part of that light that illuminates a lost and dying world (Matthew 5:14). And it is this truth that functions as some of the salt that preserves our decaying society (Matthew 5:13). If Christians are not living this truth out in their lives on a regular basis, then they are no good to themselves or anyone else.

In Titus 2:2, the Word of God informs us that the younger women are to be taught to be “keepers at home” (KJV) or “home-makers” (NKJV). As has been pointed out in previous articles, the Bible does not prohibit the wife from working outside the home, but it does teach that the home is to be her primary concern. It is, indeed, unfortunate that the idea of homemaker is being much maligned in our present day society. It is tragic that young women and men are being taught that a female cannot really be happy as a homemaker. It is sad that young girls are being told they cannot be fulfilled unless they have a career that takes them away from their homemaking and child-rearing responsibilities. What is even more tragic is that many Christians have begun to incorporate these secular values into their own life-styles.

As God's people, we cannot be negligent in our responsibility to edify ourselves concerning this important subject. We must realize that young Christians will not be taught their God-ordained roles, and the duties associated with them, by a secular system inundated by humanism. We owe it to our young people to pass on to them the richness of the husband and wife relationship as taught in God's Word. Furthermore, as husbands and wives, we have the responsibility to live out our God-ordained roles before our children. But this is not enough! These roles must be reinforced by Bible classes that teach the duties and responsibilities, as well as the benefits, of the husband and wife relationship. In truth, we have not done a very good job with this subject, and it has definitely begun to show. The divorce rate among Christians, although much lower than that reflected in the world, is still much higher than anyone would have predicted just thirty years ago. Are we going to wait until the divorce rate among us begins to match the world's before we do something about it? If not, then we had better get busy and lovingly teach on this extremely critical subject before we find ourselves overshadowed by the horror of darkness that is engulfing our society. Fellow Christians, we must let our lights shine.

The traditional family, as defined by secular society, has assumed the husband to be the superior ruler and the wife to be the inferior servant. This is far to the right of what God has ordained in His Word. On the other hand, the feminist movement has swung the pendulum far to the left in denying the family structure and roles God has given. Let us, therefore, as Christians, strive for that golden mean set forth in God's Word and let us “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s], that [we] may prove [to a lost and dying world] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

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