Isn’t equality and submissiveness contradictory?
Following my column about how my worldview shapes my marriage, I received the following email, “I just finished reading your article in the Herald. Here are some quotes I found in the Bible on the subject. 1 Timothy 2:12 - I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. Titus 2:5 - Women must be discreet, chaste, home keepers, good, obedient to their husbands, so that the word of God be not blasphemed. 1 Peter 3:1 - Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands. If [your] worldview comes from scripture, how does a person wrap their mind around all the contradictions in the Bible?”
Upon further email correspondence, the reader explained that my article said that the Bible teaches that women are equal to men, but those verses, in his mind, clearly claim the opposite. He brought these verses up as standing in opposition to my column and wanted me to better explain myself.
I would encourage readers to go to our church’s website to listen to a sermon i preached on the text from 1 Timothy (https://goo.gl/nafeXA). I also preached on Ephesians 5, which is similar to 1 Peter 3, so feel free to search for that as well. I would encourage academically faithful readers to pursue truly understanding these verses in their complete context and not to toss the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
This is an excellent question to ask, and one that is a hot topic of conversation. The essence of the question surrounds how we define and view equality. Does equality mean that we are equal in everything (essence, value, role, etc) or can you be equal in essence and value while being distinct in role?
If the former is true, then the above passages are cultural at best and chauvinistic at worst. There is another view, however, which biblical scholars call complementarianism. Defined, complementarianism believes a very simple concept: God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Christ and the Church (his bride).
In the Trinity we see God, three in one, equal yet distinct. The Father is equal to the Son is equal to the Holy Spirit. They are mutually submissive to one another - honoring, obeying, serving, glorifying one another - yet still fully equal in essence and value. The Son, for example, died on a cross. The Father did not. The Holy Spirit illuminates the world concerning the Son’s validity and convicts of sin, the Son does not. Playing differing roles in the salvation narrative does not mean that one is the grunt while the other gets to point fingers and call the shots.
Practically speaking, we understand this concept as parents. We are equal in essence and value to our children, but we have differing roles to play. At times, especially to the teenager, these roles might seem constraining and even unfair, but the roles are good and healthy.
Manhood and womanhood, biblically defined, is similar. Men and women are fully equal in essence and value. They are both made in the image of God, both are precious to the Creator, both were ransomed at great cost (the blood of Christ). God loves men. God loves women.
That said, they are unique even though they are equal. Men cannot naturally carry children (unless you are thinking of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Junior). Varying roles, responsibilities assigned to men and women are uniquely designed by God.
Controversially, leadership in the home is biblically ascribed to the husband. This flies in the face of our culture, but this does not claim that women are someway sub-human because they have a different role in the relationship, the same way that Jesus is not sub-God compared to the Father.
Robert Quinn, a professor at University of Michigan, explained that leadership is technically defined as “Go forth and die.” That is the husband’s responsibility as the leader. Complementarianism is not a chauvinism, whereby I get to sit on the couch while my wife grabs me another beer. It is not some form of elitist hierarchy. It does not claim that we should return to 1950’s American culture, and it is most definitely not suggesting that there be societal oppression of women.
Complementarianism states that women and men are equal, yet distinct and unique within their God-given roles. Men are called to go forth and die as the leaders of their families. Women are called to follow their sacrificial leadership.
Why does God frame masculinity and femininity in this lens? Because it is by design supposed to point to the cross-bought relationship between Christ and the Church, his bride. This is why, when speaking of love, respect, submission and dignity, Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:32, “This mystery [e.g. marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Marriage, masculinity and femininity, all of this stuff we are talking about is actually about Jesus, the groom, going forth and dying in leadership for his bride, the church - the people of God.
Is this an exhaustive explanation of all of the above texts? Absolutely not, I cannot do that in such a short space, but I hope it explains why I do not think equality yet distinct roles in the home and in the church are contradictory to the Bible’s teaching. In short, no, I do not think that the Bible contradicts itself on this issue.