A Biblical Examination of the Original Doctrinal Statement of the “Christians for Biblical Equality”
We have hitherto addressed issues raised within the document’s preamble. The next section is called “Biblical Truths”, and contains 12 points arranged under 4 heads as follows:
Creation – Points 1-5
Redemption – Point 6
Community – Points 7-10
Family – Points 11-12
I shall direct my remarks this time to the 5 points under the first of these heads. The overall picture is clear. According to this statement, the universally accepted understanding of “sex roles” by the Christian church, from earliest times until now, was wrong. Adam and Eve were created as equals in every respect, and Eve was only placed under Adam’s authority after the fall. From there, it is but a short step to affirming that redemption has undone this result of the fall, making the Christian woman fully equal again; and therefore as fully qualified for every function and office in church and state as men are. In order to reach the desired conclusion, the Scriptural data must be stretched in some places, trimmed in others, and much of it ignored altogether. This part of the statement attempts then, to reconcile feminism with the Bible.
Point 1. “The Bible teaches that both man and woman were created in God’s image, had a direct relationship with God, and shared jointly the responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order (Gen 1:26-28).”
We begin with the truism that man and woman both were created in the image of God, citing Genesis 1:26-28. Now this would pass well enough as a general statement, but it is not what the Bible actually says. It needs considerable qualification if proper balance is to be given to all aspects of the truth. For what the Bible really says is that God created “the man” (ho adom) in God’s image – not the woman. The woman was made from man, and is his image and glory, as man is God’s (I Cor 11:7). She bears God’s image – it is true – but in a derivative and secondary sense. She is like to man, yet unlike. She is not his equal, but a subordinate, created to assist him in his calling.
Next, we must consider the assertion that man and woman both at first had “a direct relationship with God”. Where is the evidence for this? Adam was made first, and given the prohibition regarding the tree before Eve was created. He must then have communicated this crucial information to Eve. He was therefore to that extent a mediator between God and the woman. He names her, acting as God’s agent. Once again, the man stands in a direct relation to God, and the woman receives instructions from him that have divine authority for her. The assertion of equality is false.
I have often called attention in my writings to the fact that the so-called “creation mandate” is not a mandate, but a benediction. As such, it has nothing to say about the specific responsibilities of the man or the woman, or the division of responsibilities between them, because it is not about responsibility, but about the blessing of fruitfulness and the successful propagation of the human family until the earth is filled with men. God is to be seen here as granting their natural desire to have a numerous and prosperous offspring, rather than as imposing responsibilities upon them. But after all, even if we grant the premise that God was laying a task upon them for which they would be jointly responsible, it would not demonstrate an equality of gifting, of functions, or of rank between them. For the members of a military unit, consisting of a hierarchy or chain of command, all share in the responsibility to complete their mission, but not equally.
Point 2. “The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer), used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18, refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g. 1 Sam 7:12; Ps 121:1-2). Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.”
The next point is the bare assertion of “full equality”, followed by an argument that falls short of proving it. For the fact that ezer does not always imply subordination does not settle the matter in question. The argument would have substance only if it could be proved that an ezer is never a subordinate. As any interpreter knows, it does not matter how a word is used most commonly; but only how it is used in each particular context that counts. However often God may be said to be one’s helper, it does not change the fact that He does not descend to equality with man in so doing.
However, the case of Eve is very different. Genesis 2:18 reads as follows in the A.V.:
“And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”
I am not a Hebraist; but I can make use of the language tools that are accessible to all. From this I learn that there are three Hebrew words in the last clause of verse 18: aw-saw'(I will make), e’zer (him an help) and neh’ghed (meet for him).
God here states that the reason for making the woman was entirely for the benefit of the man; and that the role which she had been designed to play was to be not an e’zer merely, but an e’zer neh’ghed. Her life was to be defined in terms of relationship to him – not as his equal; but as a helper created to be subordinate to him and his needs.
Paul says the same thing: “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.” (1Cor 11:7-9)
So when Eve is called a helper for man, her subordination is implied. For God does not exist for the purpose of helping anyone; whereas Eve was made for the stated purpose of being Adam’s helper. In other words, God is not defined by the term, helper; but Eve is thereby defined.
Now, to draw a conclusion from the occurrence of one word, interpreting it in a manner which does not meet the demands of the context must be due to either ignorance, carelessness, or an intent to deceive. In any case, it must not be allowed to go unchallenged.
Point 3. “The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings (Gen 2:21-23). In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy.”
Again we have the assertion that the Bible teaches something, but not a shred of proof that it does teach it. This argument could only persuade someone already predisposed to believe in the myth of equality. Here is the argument: “The forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings.” The citation of Genesis 2:21-23 adds nothing to the assertion, for it is only a reference to the account, which teaches no such thing. It is sufficient for my purpose to call attention to the fact that the inspired apostle drew from the same account the opposite conclusion (I Cor 11:7-9, I Timothy 2:11-13), arguing from that inequality that women should cover their heads and be subordinate to men. It is true that man and woman in marriage are one flesh, but they are one in a sense consistent with inequality.
As for the word neh’ghed, translated “meet for him” in the AV, the idea of similarity is included in it, but not equality. Literally, it means “before”, and the range of meanings is broad. The key idea is that of relationship. Eve was to be defined by her relationship to Adam as his counterpart. She is to be his reflected image. John Gill, reputed to be one of the greatest Hebrew scholars of his or any other time, discusses the meaning of the word in context:
“I will make him an help meet for him; one to help him in all the affairs of life, not only for the propagation of his species, but to provide things useful and comfortable for him; to dress his food, and take care of the affairs of the family; one “like himself” in nature, temper, and disposition, in form and shape; or one “as before him” that would be pleasing to his sight, and with whom he might delightfully converse, and be in all respects agreeable to him, and entirely answerable to his case and circumstances, his wants and wishes.”
Point 4. “The Bible teaches that man and woman were co-participants in the Fall: Adam was no less culpable than Eve (Gen 3:6; Rom 5:12-21; 1Cor 15:21-22).”
This is not only untrue, but irrelevant. Both Adam and Eve sinned, and both fell, but nothing could be more illustrative of the fundamental inequality of the sexes than the account of the fall. Satan concentrated on Eve, whom he knew to be the weaker vessel, and the more easily deceived (as much as Satan tries to persuade us that there are no significant differences between the sexes, he knows and makes use of his knowledge of those differences every day). She was seduced by being urged to take the initiative, independent of God’s authority and her husband’s. The fruit also appealed to her on a sensual level. Adam was tempted in a different way. He was not deceived, but he failed to accept responsibility for the decision, allowing his wife to get into trouble before acting, and then following her lead into sin with his eyes open.
It cannot be proved that they were equally culpable. Adam’s fall was more significant in the sense that the fate of the race was tied to his own. But Eve’s fall was prior, and the occasion of Adam’s, as Paul reminds us (I Timothy 2:14). Where does the Scripture say that they shared the blame equally? Nowhere. But what if it did? There is no necessary logical connection between equal culpability (if such a term has meaning) and equal status.
Point 5. “The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the effects of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.”
This point has a grain of truth in it: the words, “He shall rule over thee” do not describe “God’s ideal order”. But this is not a mere passive description of what would happen: it is a penalty – a part of the curse that fell on Eve for her disobedience – namely, that man would now abuse his rightful authority over woman. God intended that she would come to see that, by seducing her husband into sin, she had brought upon herself no end of trouble.
Upon reading the CBE statement, one feels like saying, “Is this all? Have they no better case than this?” He who defends a bad cause must use bad arguments. There are no good arguments for sexual equality. Everything in the Bible presupposes inequality. Hence, to abuse holy writ for the sake of defending a lie, as this document does, is irreverent, sacrilegious, and presumptuous.
We have here a classic case of Scripture-twisting: trying to make the Bible somehow say the opposite of what it explicitly teaches by appealing to verses out of context, or pouring modern assumptions into words that were never meant to bear them. To commit such outrages upon the holy word of God argues great stubbornness and hardness of heart. Such persons will never be won by mere reasoning from the Scriptures. A change of heart is needed, which only God can give.
Howard Douglas King
January 31, 2020