What is the Role of a Biblical Woman — Egalitarian or Complementarian?

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“We know that men and women are equally valued in the eyes of God. Yet God has given men and women different roles in the church and in the home because that’s how He designed us.”

REAGAN ESCUDÉ SCOTT

One of the biggest controversies in the church today is a proper understanding of women’s roles, a struggle that has existed since the Garden when God cursed Eve with the desire to be contrary to her husband.

There is a wide array of scriptures interpreted by both complementarians and egalitarians to defend their positions, but if the Word of God is breathed out by God and without error, then it contains only one correct interpretation. He is not a God of confusion, and He certainly doesn’t leave us free to determine for ourselves what His intended role is for us. As believers, it is our job to be Bereans — to search the scriptures and to let the text interpret itself so that it is read as the Author intended it to be.

Of course, we won’t get everything right, and there is continued debate on a plethora of issues among believers. But one thing that scripture is clear about — a subject that hasn’t been widely debated within the church until recent years — is the role of a godly woman.

Two Divergent Views

Egalitarianism is the view that women and men are equal in the eyes of Christ, and therefore, God intends that there be no distinction in their roles. Egalitarians believe that there are no gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church or in the household. Simply put, men and women have equal and interchangeable roles.

Complementarianism, on the other hand, is the view that gender roles are distinct and purposeful and it is ordained by God that men and women should complement one another. Complementarians believe that God restricts women from serving in leadership roles and instead calls them to serve in equally important, complementary roles in society, the church, and the home.

There are two passages of scripture in defense of complementarianism that are often ignored or overlooked by those who hold an egalitarian view. The first is 1 Timothy 2:11-14, which says, 

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” 

And the second is 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, which says,

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.”

It is important to note that 1 and 2 Timothy and the book of Titus are pastoral epistles, meaning they are God’s instructions written through Paul to Timothy and Titus and to every pastor following about how the church is to be run. While feminists might be offended by these passages, these scriptures draw a clear, irrefutable picture for us: Women are permitted to neither hold authority over a man nor to teach him, but rather to be submissive.

If those scriptures alone did not obliterate any egalitarian argument in favor of female “pastors,” one must consider that even the biblical qualifications for a pastor found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are immediately disqualifying to women.

One passage frequently referenced by egalitarians is Galatians 3:28, which says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

According to the egalitarian interpretation of this passage, gender distinctions have been removed because we are in Christ. But this interpretation actually strips away the context of this verse and misses the gospel entirely. (Remember, while there are multiple interpretations of scripture, only one is correct, and we must let scripture interpret itself.)

If we go backwards in Galatians a bit to chapter 2, verses 15-16, we read:

“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Here, Paul is demonstrating that we are justified by faith alone — not by works.

Fast-forward to Galatians 3:28-29:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

We know from the Old Testament that Abraham’s offspring were God’s chosen people, or the Jewish people of Israel. In the first century, women were viewed by society to have very low status, merely existing to bear children, forbidden to learn and deemed unworthy of participating in religious life.

But here in Galatians 3, Paul beautifully states that ALL who are in Christ, both the Jew and the Gentile, the slave and the free, the man and the woman, have been grafted into Abraham’s offspring as heirs to God’s promise of salvation.

This passage has NOTHING to do with roles in the church and EVERYTHING to do with the salvation freely given to us irrespective of our ethnicity, socio-economic status, or gender.

A difference in roles does not mean women are inferior to men or seen as less important or valued. Because of Galatians 3, we know that men and women are equally valued in the eyes of God. Yet God has given men and women different roles in the church and in the home because that’s how He designed us.

The Trinity is the best example to illustrate this. While the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are coequal, they have very distinct and specific roles. The Father decrees and ordains the way to salvation, the Son accomplishes and achieves the way to salvation, and the Holy Spirit applies salvation to believers. Functionally, the Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. All three Persons are equally God, yet they serve different purposes.

In the same way, men and women are equal as human beings, both made in the image of God, yet they were inherently created to have different God-ordained roles. It is a joy as a woman to be given a specific role that honors and glorifies God in a way that men cannot. We can find solace in that. There is no need to step outside of God’s grand and perfect design to prove that we can be like men.

What a Privilege to Rest in This:

As we sit under the headship of our male pastors and our husbands, we can use the gifts that God intentionally gave us to teach other women and children, to serve our husbands, and steward our homes well. We can find no greater joy, satisfaction, peace, or fulfillment than through a complementarian model that does not degrade our femininity, but actually elevates it to bring Him glory.


Follow Reagan on Twitter! @thereaganscott