Three Reasons I Believe Men and Women are Equal Co-laborers in God’s Kingdom

Dave Johnson

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CoLaborers in the Kingdom

I believe that the bible and church history affirm the role of women in church leadership.

Although women have made great social and political strides over the years, the church has moved at a slower pace. Yet women in scripture were clearly more than the “helpmate” that my complementarian brothers and sisters describe. A close reading of Genesis 1-3 supports the mutuality of leadership between husband and wife and contradicts the notion of male “headship” (or the unilateral subordination of a wife). Many women in the Bible were bold dynamic leaders (Deborah, Esther, Mary, the Samaritan woman, etc.). Here are three reasons I am in favor of men and women serving as equal co-laborers:

Women in Leadership is Biblical

I can see where a simplistic surface level reading of the text could lend someone toward complementarian thinking. However, solid biblical exegesis leads me back to the fact that men and women can and should be full partners in ministry. Supporting women in ministry leadership actually takes a deeper reading of scripture. Here are just a few examples that support this position:

-Men and women are both created to be God’s image bearers: Genesis 1:27;31, 5:1-2

-Jesus leveled the playing field when it comes to ethnicity, gender, and social class: Galatians 3:26-28

-Women were apostles and leaders in the early church: Romans 1

Women in Leadership are Strategically Important

This question has rocked me lately, “If the great commission were to be fulfilled in two years, what would have to happen?” When you start thinking about the ramifications of this question, the first thing is that we need more people who are on mission with Jesus. We need men and women to lead churches and to disciple others. If the Great Commission were to be accomplished in the next two years, the church would need to at least double its output of leaders. This means my complementarian friends would have to release some women to lead churches and preach the gospel.

Women in Leadership Makes an “Acts 2” Church

Everyone wants to have the “Acts 2” type of church. Usually when this is mentioned we are thinking of Acts 2:42-47. This is a terrific vision of what the church ought to look like and be, but we can’t get to Acts 2:42-47 without first reading verses 17-18:

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. 

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 

Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

It is difficult to live in opposition to what the bible so clearly affirms.

Male pastors and leaders have to join this movement to speak powerfully for women in church leadership. What kind of impact could be made for the Kingdom of God if we enlightened our sons and empowered our daughters to step fully into the priesthood of all believers?

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…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

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22 Comments

  • Very pertinent and well reasoned article. Your comment about churches ‘releasing women’ made me sit up and take notice, that it needs to even be considered that women aren’t free to serve equally makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable. Must be very difficult for those subjugated in their Christian and daily walk to be fulfilled amd happy, and used as God would want.

    • Bev, thanks for sharing the post with your Kyria readers!

  • Dave,
    How might your reply to those who would say, “Your defense for egalitarian views, are the same or at least in the same reasoning as those who hold the view that monogamous homosexual relationships are not sinful” Therefore they conclude that your views are contrary to the truth of Scripture… my question is… Is an egalitarian view point a slippy slope to same gender relationships being viewed as equal to heterosexual marriage?

    • I’ll jump in here as that is a question that frustrates me to no end when it comes up! Christans for Biblical Equality is a good resource for this topic, see this article for starters: https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/egalitarianism-slippery-slope. I think Scot McKnight has also addressed this on his blog on the Patheos website. The argument falls short on several accounts, including logic and church tradition. For example, there are more than 20 conservative denominations that hold an egalitarian view on women but are conservative on gay marriage. Hope that helps!

    • Hi Casey,
      I have heard this question get tossed around in the past. The thought seems to go like this, since egalitarians use the same terms such as equality, and since we stress the importance of interpreting the scriptures in light of the original scriptural context than, isn’t that what the Christians who affirm LGBTQ community does all the time? To some it seems like a slippery slope to fully partner and celebrate women in ministry, as if that will lead to the acceptance of gay marriage by Christians. But we have to remember that a slippery slope argument is by its very definition a fallacy.
      My response is that the egalitarian position actually strengthens the view of traditional marriage. To make this point I think we need to agree on a few basic bible verses, I hope you don’t mind if I do this in outline form, it is easier for me.
      1. “So God created mankind in his own image,
      in the image of God he created them;
      male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
      a. So before the differentiation of gender in Genesis 1:27, the bible classifies them both as “mankind.” Having equal standing to God and to each other.
      b. The woman and the man are created with God’s image
      2. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:24 So God is by Jesus’ definition beyond a gender classification, although the Bible refers to God as He, Father, Him and primarily in the masculine.
      a. Personhood not the sexuality of God is the central point here. That means that the God of Israel is more than any sexual appellation or image that must be used.
      b. Male and female then are needed to fully reveal the nature of God and reflect His image
      c. At creation, male and female form a unity (Gen 2:24) and it is that unity which mirror’s God’s likeness.
      3. Genesis 5:1-2 says this…This is the written account of Adam’s family line.
      When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.
      a. We tend to forget that Adam means “human being”
      b. Therefore there is no distinction or hierarchy put in place in the original creation narrative. There isn’t even role distinction, when you think about it the command to be fruitful and multiply even had implications that both parents would share the parenting responsibility.

      So what does this have to do with the argument about homosexual marriage? My response to this question is this: it is in the union of male and female that points to the fullest display of God’s image. (This is not to say that a single person doesn’t fully have God’s image…that is a separate topic) Homosexual marriage does not have the same level of unity scripturally. When Jesus was in a contemporary debate about the meaning of marriage and divorce he want back to the creation account (Matthew 19:4-6) which I have outline above. In my opinion this is what Paul was pointing to in Ephesians 5:31. Paul further points out that it is between a male and female marriage that our unity (which fully reflects God’s image) is really a display of how much Jesus loves the church. In other words a heterosexual marriage puts God’s image and gospel on display.

      While I cannot speak for all egalitarians, it is my opinion that the default position for egalitarianism should be the affirmation of traditional marriage because of what I outlined above….After all much of the Egalitarian theology is birthed in Genesis 1, 2 &5 :1-2, I’d challenge any theologian to come up with a theology of God blessing a homosexual marriage with the same verses.

      Much of this response is crafted from the work of C.S. Cowles, “A Woman’s Place; Leadership in the Church.” this book is an earlier egalitarian gem.

  • Hi, I’d like to see more about the Biblical reasons – whenever I’ve tried to make a case for egalitarianism from the Bible, my arguments get dismissed by complementarians.

      • Hi David,

        Where do I start?

        (1) The infamous 1 Tim 2:12 – I view this as Paul addressing a specific problem in the Ephesian church, resulting from female converts from the Diana cult trying to overthrow male church leaders. Complementarians see this verse as a principle for all time.

        (2) Suggesting that Junia was a apostle – the Greek is unclear.

        (3) The references to elders being the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:6) which complementarians take as requiring male leadership

        (4) Male headship and female submission in Ephesians 5:22-24

        Whenever I’ve tried to discuss any of the above with complementarians, my egalitarian arguments have been dismissed as poor exegesis. I probably shouldn’t have tried, but I always want these people to know that not all evangelicals agree with their interpretation of the Bible. Any help much appreciate.

        • 1. You have to check out the posts on this page called Defusing the 1 Timothy bomb, I think there are 2 posts on this. It is very good exegesis
          2. I admit that to say that Junia was an apostle is probably an assumption, however, it is one that is backed up by the greek and other literary examples of the time. It is one of those things that as a pastor I am confidant to say that even though we can’t know 100% it seems clear that Paul was in prison with a woman named Junia and her husband who were considered Apostles and were, “in christ before” Paul. If Junia doesn’t float your boat, then how about the connection with John 4 and Acts 8. How were the Samaritan’s prepared to accept that Jesus was the messiah? Could it have been a Samaritan women who met with Jesus, was emotionally healed and went back to her village and told everyone.
          3. I guess I have not heard this argument, and I would say it is a weak complementarian argument…but I haven’t heard the whole thing
          4. See my comments below to Jamie. The argument is that complementarians wrongly translate the word “head” in this passage. Most greek scholars agree that this word at the time meant source and paul was simply referencing Genesis 2. See Craig Keener’s book on Paul, women and Wives for a fuller discussion on this word (Ch1) The problem is in complementarian interpretation. They read “Leadership” into the word “head” when that was not what most scholars believe is the original intention.

          David. These are all great questions which you should pursue further than my reply. I became a christian by reading the bible on my own, trying to refute the claims of Christ. A few years after I started going to church, I realized this was an issue and was shocked because it didn’t match up with my understanding of what I had read in scripture. I wanted to honor God and men and women so I researched it while in seminary and for me, I landed on egalitarianism because I really believe it is better exegesis and it takes a higher view of scripture.

          God bless you in pursuing this subject…I hope this helps

        • David, I wanted to forward this link to some resources on Junia – I don’t think the Greek is all that unclear. That aside, it’s interesting that Junia’s apostolic status was apparently not questioned when people assumed she was a man! https://juniaproject.com/who-was-junia/

  • Dave, How would you respond to someone who says that the leadership in the church should echo leadership structure at home – which is male dominated. This person says that biblically male is the leader in the home and any other way in the church is not going to work. How would you respond? Thanks

    • Hi Jamie,
      I completely understand that question; I do get it from time to time.

      I would say the question usually has its Biblical roots in Ephesians 5 or 1 Corinthians 11, and it is over the word “Head.”

      Now the question assumes that these passages, (1 Cor 11 & Eph 5) especially due to the use of the word “head” address leadership within the marriage relationship.

      The truth is that there is an American, 21st century usage of the word “head,” which would be understood as “leader.” However, what really matters is the first century usage of the word. Many scholars agree that this word is better understood as describing the source of woman, thus pointing back to creation. Therefore, we assume that Paul is addressing leadership issues when he is really pointing back to the order of creation in Genesis.

      So I would tell the person that you are referring to that Ephesians 5 calls the husband and wife to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Paul had the word “Obey” at his disposal but he chose to use it in the context of a parent/child relationship. I would say that the proper marriage relationship is mutual submission, and then if we were to use their logic then that would be the proper church leadership dynamic.

      I would ask this person what is their Biblical basis for saying men have to lead the church and men have to lead the family. I would respond by saying, I could give you a biblical basis for women leading in the church and in the family.

      I think the problem here is that our biblical interpretation is off. We look at verses that do not speak about “leadership” and we read leadership into them. Personally, for a while I bought into what many people were teaching about male headship but when I investigated the text more carefully, I found that I no longer believe in the argument of headship.

      Jamie, if you are personally receiving that pushback then I would simply tell you something you already know to be true, if you are in Christ, then you are Holy and set apart to be a Priest in His great and glorious kingdom.

      • So it’s head as in headwaters rather than head as in heading up an organization, right?

        • Hello Tim:

          I benefit by your brevity and focus, i.e., “The art of writing lay in thrift.”

          “headwaters” is not the same as “heading up.” What a watershed insight that is….

          But in arguments discussing other theological topics —the answers to which I am in agreement (see critical review of The Shack as heretical, by complementarian, Al Mohler) —I find one of his points, i.e., the relation of members of the Godhead to each other (an argument used over and over by male privilege advocates) —is always applied to gender —with woman arriving after man necessarily indicating subordination.

          But doesn’t headwater indicate ordination —line applied in an orderly manner? Isn’t order a quantitative property, not qualitative? I really don’t know. Complementarians have been in league since Augustine, or before. They’ve got the entire landscape determined so I don’t even get into discussion with them.

          Do you know if there are summaries of the presentations at the recent conference at Azusa? I can’t listen to audio but need good written data.

          I read somewhere else on Junia this morning that the problem is in the interpreter —not the interpretation. The problem is intrinsic to the mindset (presupposition) of the individual. But doesn’t presupposition have its place?

          I’m a few courses away from a MTS at a patriarchal institution. Please direct me to specific postings on Junia or other sources about ordinate, subordinate, etc. I want to more effectively interject argument in my last few courses.

          Thank you and Junia for your affirmation of the whole counsel of God.

          M.J. Greene

          • Hi, M.J.

            We have not tackled subordination of the Trinity on The Junia Project yet as we have only been blogging for about 18 months. Christians for Biblical Equality has addressed this very thoroughly, though, and hopefully this link will take you to my search results: http://www.cbeinternational.org/search/node/subordination%20in%20the%20trinity The bottom line for me is that it is inappropriate to try and make comparisons of human gender role to the Trinity as there is no support for this at all in scripture.

            Congratulations on being so close to finishing the MTS, especially in such an environment. Blessings on you as you speak up for women in that setting!

    • The one other thing I just thought of is that, work in the church is a calling. A calling which you will be held responsible for by God. So if you are called to lead, regardless of your gender, go and lead! God is calling you, live in obedience to God’s calling, you are responsible to Him!

  • Excellent post, Dave. Thanks so much! You hit the telling points squarely, and in a no nonsense way. Of course, I am prejudiced, being a commissioned pastor of a small congregational church in the Chicago suburbs.

    (I did receive an undergraduate degree from a complementarian Chicago-area bible college, however, several decades ago. But have since fully embraced egalitarianism and received an MDiv from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.)

    I offer the sermon I preached on Easter morning. I hadn’t intended it to be an “egalitarian” sermon. I hadn’t even thought about it until I read your article, just now! Here’s the Twitter post I tweeted: “I Have Seen the Lord!” Easter sermon #40acts @StLukesChurch2 #pastorpreacherprayer http://wp.me/p5Nfg4-v @chaplaineliza

  • Thank you! This article makes me clearly understand which could be a good topic for my studies and spiritual research!

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