A Biblical Examination of the Original Doctrinal Statement of the “Christians for Biblical Equality”
I wonder if it has ever occurred to the framers of the manifesto how arrogant and how dangerous it is to advocate the complete reconstruction of society’s fundamental and indispensable institutions! And this remodeling is to be based on an interpretation of Scripture which has no precedent before the nineteenth century, when the secular philosophers of the “enlightenment” began to advocate the revolutionary principle of egalitarianism! The “Christian Feminist” interpretation is sheer Modernism; and it is antithetical to the traditional and biblical way of life.
They offer us two statements on the family; the basic and most necessary institution in society. It is really astounding that people who claim to believe the Bible can have the hubris to monkey around with this sacred institution, ordained by God himself, in Paradise! What makes it worse is that they are not just fiddling around with a few things that they think need reform: they are striking at the very heart of marriage and the family!
I know I am repeating myself; but let’s review what the Scriptures actually teach about the biblical relationship of husbands and wives. We learned from 1 Cor 11:7-9 that man has a superior status to woman by order of creation, since he is the image and glory of God; but she is the image and glory of the man. [The words in italics are implied.] She derives the image of God through the man from which she was made. Man was not made to be her helper; but she was made to be Adam’s. She was made different from him in order that she might complement him. Her life is to center in her husband; and from him she is to receive her direction. She is subordinate by the order of creation.
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
This is supported by 1 Cor 14: 34-35 and by 1 Tim 2:11-13:
But the manifesto says otherwise.
Point 11. “The Bible teaches that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility.”
I cannot object to the first part of the statement; for it is literally what the Apostle Peter wrote. But it needs no mention, since it has nothing to do with the question under discussion. The second part, however, is radically unbiblical!
“…they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility.”
As I have observed before, the manifesto generally lacks clarity. The same is true here. The expression, “mutual submission” is not only unclear: I hold that it is nonsense. And it is not clear whether “mutual responsibility” is meant, or that we should read it – “in a relationship of …responsibility”? Probably the former is meant, but a statement of this kind ought to be written with more care.
Now, why do I say that “mutual submission” is nonsense? Because it is impossible for two people to submit to each other at the same time. If the relationship is defined by this principle, then it would seem to be a universal principle that governs the relationship at all times. If not, then what determines who is going to submit at any given time? Who is to decide?
Are they supposed to have an argument, and whoever wins gets to either submit or make the decision? Perhaps they could take turns submitting to each other. Or they could just be like the two very polite chipmunks in the cartoons, each insisting that the other go through the door first, until something happens that forces them to squeeze through together.
But, in another place in the manifesto, the answer to this question is explicit:
“In case of decisional deadlock they should seek resolution through biblical methods of conflict resolution rather than by one spouse imposing a decision upon the other.”
I can only assume that these biblical methods involve a third party in the business of the family whenever the wife chooses to disagree with her husband. Then, this rebellious wife is going to try to get another person or persons to side with her and persuade her husband!
No, submission means that one person makes the decision and the other submits. And the thing that determines who is to do the decision-making is the status of the persons. Any other arrangement is not only impossible: it tortures the meaning of the word “submission” in English, and the Greek word hupotasso. This word derives from the prefix hupo that means “under” and the word tasso, which means “to arrange”. In the passive voice, as here, it means “to subject oneself”.
As to the phrase, “mutual responsibility”, I can agree that both parties have a responsibility to each other. More, they are responsible to God to serve one another in love. He is to serve her by ruling her and the rest of the family well, in a way that is always considerate of her. She is to serve him by submitting to him in everything.
But if the expression means that their responsibilities to each other are the same, then I must reject it, as it implies that they are equal in status also.
As I said, it was not Christians, but the heathen, who first advocated the equality of the sexes. It did not come out of the prayerful study of the word of God. It was seized upon by people in the church who were already inclined to accept it. Accordingly, we should not be surprised that they can find no real support for their positions in Scripture. So they must pile up supposed proof-texts in order to impress the ignorant and vulnerable; as if the number of texts matters, when there is no support for their radicalism in any of them. Ten times zero is still zero!
Nevertheless, I promised at the outset to do a thorough job; not evading anything. So here we go again! The first text to consider is 1 Cor 7:3–5:
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
There is indeed an equality in marriage in this respect. One partner cannot deny the other that which is due by the nature of marriage. The traditional wedding vows for both the man and the woman include the words, “to have and to hold”. But this does not prove a generalized equality beyond this one sphere. The traditional wedding vows also require the woman to promise obedience to the man in the words,”to love, honor, and obey”.
Next we have Eph 5:21 “…Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
Talk about taking verses out of context! The very next verse reads: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Now, I think that any reasonable person would agree that, whatever verse 21 means, it cannot contradict the very next verse. So what we have here is a case of “cherry picking”. There is a rule in hermeneutics that says we should interpret the obscure in the light of the clear. I do not admit that there is anything obscure in verse 21, once we take everything into account (of which more later); but I claim that there is not a verse in the Bible whose meaning is more clear than v. 22: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”
But what the manifesto asserts is the exact opposite of this command to wives. Whereas this verse says that there is a one-way kind of submission – that of the wife to the husband – the manifesto says that the submission goes both ways. But this verse says that she is to submit to her husband as to the Lord, that is, once again in a one-way kind of submission; for who would ever suggest that the Lord is to submit to her as well! Isn’t this reminiscent of 1 Cor 11:3, which says that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man?
What, then, does Eph 5:21 mean? It seems to me that it is an introductory remark related to the following passage, 5:21 to 6:9, which prescribes duties to all classes of men. Several of these duties involve submission to authority: in particular that of wives to husbands, verse 5:22-24, 33; children to their parents, 6:1-3; bond-servants to masters, 6:5-8. In each of these cases, one group is commanded to submit; and the other group is then commanded to rule over the subordinate persons in Christian love – not abusing their authority. Notice that, in each case, the command to submit is placed first, in the emphatic position; while the cautions against the abuse of power are treated second. This may be because submission is the hardest thing in all the world for a sinner to do.
Taking account the emphasis on submission throughout this passage, I suggest that the meaning of verse 21 is something like this: “In the following duties that require the submission of one to another, let the fear of God motivate you.” This is an interpretation that is in harmony with verses 22 and following, and which emphasizes the last clause of verse 21, that submission is to be “in the fear of God”.
Lest anyone think that this view is novel, or that it originated with me; here is Albert Barnes’ commentary, written in the 19th century:
“Submitting yourselves one to another – Maintaining due subordination in the various relations of life. This general principle of religion, the apostle proceeds now to illustrate in reference to wives Eph 5:22-24; to children Eph 6:1-3; and to servants, Eph 6:5-8. At the same time that he enforces this duty of submission, however, he enjoins on others to use their authority in a proper manner, and gives solemn injunctions that there should be no abuse of power. Particularly he enjoins on husbands the duty of loving their wives with all tenderness Eph 5:25-33; on fathers, the duty of treating their children so that they might easily obey them Eph 6:4; and on masters, the duty of treating their servants with kindness, remembering that they have a Master also in heaven; Eph 6:9. The general meaning here is, that Christianity does not break up the relations of life, and produce disorder, lawlessness, and insubordination; but that it will confirm every proper authority, and make every just yoke lighter. Infidelity is always disorganizing; Christianity, never.”
Next we come to 1 Peter 3:1–7:
1″Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. 7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
I admit that I’m puzzled by this. Perhaps the reference contained a typo. This could not possibly be a proof-text for Feminism, could it? Verses 1-2, 4, and 5-6 are explicitly in favor of the traditional teaching. That’s 5 out of 7. Verse 3 is not directly relevant. That leaves verse 7, which tells husbands how they must treat their wives, who, being the weaker vessel, need special consideration and understanding. No one disagrees with that. So I’m left scratching my head.
And finally we come to Gen 21:12.
“And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
This one is a really a reach: it’s grasping at straws! What could better show the weakness of their position?
For what does the text say? “God said… hearken to her voice”, “her” being Sarah his wife. So this was the normal relationship that they had? Or was the norm what Peter says it was: “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”
But what else does the text say? There is a lot of biblical background to this; so I will try to be selective and as brief as possible. At the time of his call, Abraham was given a promise that he would become a great nation (Gen 12:1-3). But he was old, and so was his wife. It seemed to both of them that what was promised was impossible. Chapter 16 records Sarah’s decision to help Abraham beget a son, so that God could fulfill His promise, that Abraham would become a great nation through the promised seed. Since Sarah was past the time of child-bearing, she gave her bond-maid, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine (a sort of legal “wife” without all the rights of a wife).
A son was born of that union, who was named Ishmael. Abraham hoped that this would be the one through whom the promise would be fulfilled. But when Abraham was ninety-nine and the boy thirteen, Abraham was explicitly told that Ishmael would not be his heir, or the one through whom the promise would be fulfilled. He was promised that he would have a son by Sarah, whose name would be Isaac, and that this would be the heir. (Gen 17:18-21).
Now, when Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a feast in his honor. On this special occasion, Ishmael mocked the child; which greatly displeased Sarah, who now understood that Isaac, and Isaac only, was the one that God had chosen to be the heir.
It is only with this history in mind that the proof-text can be understood. Here is the text in its immediate context:
“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. 10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. 12 and God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. 13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” (Gen 21:9-14)
Now, we see that this occasion of Sarah’s apparent insubordination was occasioned by her faith in the promises of God at a time when Abraham was more concerned about his first son than the covenant and promise of the Lord. She was quite right in insisting that the two boys would not be co-heirs. In this, she was faithfully reminding her husband of the word of God, which she had personally heard the Lord speak shortly before Isaac was born (Gen 18:9-14).
But even then, Abraham was not able to act against his natural affection for Ishmael (v. 11). So God intervened and told Abraham that his wife was right; and he would have to reconcile himself to the fact that Ishmael had a different destiny from Isaac. Accordingly, Abraham acknowledged that his wife was right, and obeyed the command of the Lord. But even then — please note this — Abraham was the one who (under God) made the decision, not Sarah.
It should be clear, then, that this was an exceptional case, in a matter of great significance, rather than the usual way that their relationship operated. This is the only time in the somewhat detailed account that Scripture gives of the life of Abraham when she even seemed to set herself on a level with her husband. This text is, therefore, in no respect proof of the so-called “relationship of mutual submission and responsibility” of which the manifesto speaks.
Point 12. “The Bible teaches that both mothers and fathers are to exercise leadership in the nurture, training, discipline and teaching of their children.”
What does this mean, and why is it important? First let’s consider what it means to the CBE. It means that both parents are equal in the realm of child-rearing. This is one of the tenets already stated, and which they are aiming to prove. “The phrase “exercise leadership” is used to disguise the fact that there is no final authority in their version of the family.
It says that “both mothers and fathers are to exercise leadership in the nurture, training, discipline and teaching of their children.” Now, leadership means nothing if not the making of decisions. And the one making the decisions is in control, at least, if he can persuade someone to follow him. A casual reader would assume that the leadership (control) involved was simply leadership (control) of the children; but this is not what it says.
It says “leadership in” [the process of ] “nurture, training, discipline and teaching”. But if both parents can make decisions about the same thing independently, is this not a design for confusion and strife? On the other hand, if they make decisions together; but every time there is a disagreement they must appeal to an outside authority, then the family is effectively under the authority of whatever outside agent they appeal to at any given time. Thus we see that the tenet of equality in marriage is not only unnatural and unbiblical, but illogical as well.
If this point were granted, however, then it would follow that the parents must be equal in every other respect; for the decisions relative to child-rearing are among the most important that must be made on a daily basis. But this is unworkable. If the man has no final word, and the woman has veto power, then will this not lead to strife, as each parent attempts to win out over the other? And if, as this document elsewhere states, whenever a deadlock is reached, counsel must be sought outside the home, then both will come to the advisor(s) as adversaries, if not enemies. Then what becomes of marital harmony?
But the authors of this document want us to believe that this is all biblical. Here are the proof-texts they offer.
Ex 20:12 “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
Here we have a commandment to honor both parents and nothing more. I do not know of anyone who would disagree with this. But what it contributes to the discussion is obscure to me. Father and mother are both worthy of honor; but this verse says nothing at all about the point in question.
Lev 19:3 “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
This is to the same effect as the first; and one wonders why the obvious would need repeating.
Deut 6:6–9 “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
These words require all Israelites to know and constantly remind themselves and others of the law of God. They were to teach them to their children. Again, nothing here is involved in the controversy. No doubt women were also obligated to keep the law; and to share in the teaching of the children, especially when they were small. But it says nothing for or against the supervisory role of the father, which extended to all things in the household. (Eph 5:24)
Deut 21:18–21 “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”
Granted, both of the parents complain to the magistrates that their son would not obey their voice. So mothers as well as fathers have authority over their son. The question is – does the father exercise authority over the wife in such matters as instruction and discipline? I maintain that the woman exercises authority in the absence of her husband according to the rules laid down by the husband. And in his presence, she has nothing to say; for her superior will take over.
Moreover, this law teaches us that parents are always to take God’s side, even if it means bad consequences for their own flesh and blood (Deut 13:6-10). In this case, a son who is incorrigible, must be brought to justice – in this case, death. No one could be put to death without two or three witnesses. The parents would be the last persons to accuse their own son falsely, so they would be the most reliable witnesses against him. The mere knowledge that his parents held his life in their hands should have been a strong deterrent to his vicious ways. But he still went on in his wickedness, and was cut off. The mere fact that both parents gave witness against him proves nothing to the point.
27:16 “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.”
Presumably, there is supposed to be some significance in the fact that “all the people” (including women) are to say, Amen. But the traditional interpretation does not conflict with this biblical fact. There is no suggestion that because they join in a liturgy, they are therefore equal, in the respect that I am defending. It shows how weak their case is, when they have to cite all these irrelevant Scriptures in defense of it. But then, most people are not going to bother to check them.
Prov 1:8 “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:”
Prov 6:20 “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:”
Eph 6:1–4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Col 3:20 “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
2 Tim 1:5 “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”
I will not bother commenting on these last five, because not a one of them proves the equality of husband and wife in marriage or even in child-rearing. In fact, I should probably not have commented on any of them; for not one of all these texts prove anything against the traditional view or for the egalitarian view. As I have said before, the Feminists are reading their own doctrines into these texts, and making them say what they were never meant to say.
This concludes the part of the manifesto that purports to teach us “biblical truths” of which we had not before been cognizant.
Howard Douglas King
January 31, 2020