Church Views · Her Views · On Being Christian

women’s roles: Paul’s words vs Christ’s example

I recently received another great article in a newsletter from Christians for Biblical Equality, posted in its entirety here, underscoring the inherent equality of women portrayed in the New Testament.

The article considers whether Paul’s words of instruction about submission, keeping silent, authority, etc., which are always held up as irrefutable evidence of male authority, are in fact compatible with Jesus’ words and actions. We believe in the absolute harmony of Scripture, so there can be no contradiction between the two. And certainly we would not hold Paul’s words as higher than Christ’s example… correct?

Let’s look at some of Jesus’ actions involving women. Jesus did not ask the woman at the well to go home and learn quietly and in submission. In fact, my favorite part of that story is that he sends the disciples out to get dinner, then sits alone with her (a completely unacceptable situation) to discuss theology. She then evangelizes her entire town, literally bringing them to Christ.

Jesus did not ask the woman caught in adultery to submit. I hardly know what else to say about it – we so clearly miss one of the most profound points of the story. He reminds her accusers – men – of their own sinfulness, placing the woman on equal footing with them and restoring her dignity.

Jesus accepts and answers the challenges of women, rather than requiring submission. The Canaanite woman is one example, arguing for crumbs from the table for the healing of her daughter. She receives it. Another is Martha in Luke 11 saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” That’s a straight-up accusation. Yet Jesus responds to her faith.

As the writer states, “If Paul’s words are not situational, but universal as many claim, they are in conflict with, or held up as a higher authority than Jesus’ words and actions.” For the sake of the harmony of Scripture, it seems far more likely that Paul’s teaching on this subject is situational and contextual.

7 thoughts on “women’s roles: Paul’s words vs Christ’s example

  1. I believe
    that the idea that women should have equality in the church, including pastoral roles, is Biblically sound. The article you mention sounds interesting, and, according to your summary, poses an argument for that position. But it is also true that Jesus selected only males as his twelve apostles.


    1. Thanks Martin, I think we share the same view. Interestingly, the 12 apostles were also all exclusively Jewish, but we don’t choose to carry that forward as a requirement in the new Kingdom.


  2. I never understand the focus on the New Testament for the role of women. The old testament is full of wonderful strong female role models. God himself never changes, so if he previously called on women like Esther and Deborah to be strong leaders, why wouldn’t he continue to do so?


    1. I absolutely agree, and thanks for the reminder. I think some complementarians hold so tightly (and selectively) to those few verses Paul writes, that they sometimes appears to be given more weight than either the O.T. or the New!


      1. That’s really interesting, Bonnie, thanks for writing about that. I also like your “sensible collaboration” comment. I think that’s exactly what God had in mind when he created Eve for Adam – a help that corresponded to him. A matched collaboration. Great insights…


  3. You know, I’ve been reading a bit lately about the history of Iroquois society and the roles of men and women in it. There were pretty clear gender roles, but these sort of acted as checks-and-balances at “worst,” and as a wonderfully collaborative system at best. Actually, their system made a whole lot of sense! But it was definitely not patriarchal, nor matriarchal. It was matrilineal, which puts a different emphasis on the significance of producing the next generation, yet, when you think about it, really just acknowledges, openly, what we all know pretty much happens in the basic natural-law raising of families, managing of households, and running of society. And it struck me, this is what (or rather, one of the things 😉 ) that has bothered me about the complementarian movement: much of it seems to undermine a sensible collaboration of the sexes, and construct an artificial social model in which men are merely “leaders” and women, “followers.”

    So I was wondering, would this Iroquois model be compatible with Scripture? Hmmm….well, it’s hard to say, since the Iroquois didn’t gather in Christian worship. But I can’t see that their social structure directly contradicts Scripture, unless I’m forgetting something. Men were still tribal leaders and held places of honor–as long as they deserved them! (Although I’m sure, as with any model, there were abuses.) But the implications of this are just so interesting…


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