The belief that God has created men and women equal in all things. Men and women are ontologically and functionally equal. The way the sexes function in the church, society, and the family is determined by individual giftedness, not role distinctions according to the sexes. Therefore, each person should be judged individually when being placed in a particular position. We should exemplify this reality by overcoming the stereotypical placement that has traditionally been a part of societies in human history, thereby giving freedom to individuals to follow the path that God has uniquely created them for, whatever that may be. In doing so, we should no longer educate or indoctrinate according to any of the former stereotypes, including those of basic masculinity and femininity.


The belief that men and women have God given differences that are essential to their sex. Men and women are ontologically (in their essential nature) equal, but often, functionally, take subordinate roles (like the Trinity). These differences complete or “complement” each other. Due to these differences, there will be some things that women are predisposed and purposed to do more than men. As well, there will be some things that men are predisposed and purposed to do more than women. Therefore, there are ideal roles for both men and women that should be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society. To deny these differences is to deny the design of God and thwart his purpose.

Here is how I normally proceed with any egalitarian in a conversation about this subject. I ask three questions:

Question #1: Do you believe that there are essential differences, created by God, between men and women?

Please note: these differences are not merely stereotypical or cultural. As well, these cannot be simply limited to physicality and reproduction. Sub-questions would include: Are their ways that a woman is better suited to be a mother than a man? Are there ways that a man is better suited to be a father than a woman?

I have found that about 50% of Egalitarians I talk to are willing to concede here. The other 50%, I believe, let their ideology create a worldview that, outside of the context of this debate, would never be entertained. I have found that  most everyone, inductively and deductively, intuitively and empirically, when not discussing this issue, admits that there are differences between men and women that go beyond culture, reproduction, and physicality.

Question #2: If God-given differences exist, do these differences carry with them strengths and weaknesses for each sex?

In other words, does this normally predispose the member of one sex to perform certain tasks and exercise certain roles better than another? What does it mean to be better at being a mother? What does it mean to be better at being a father? Is there a way to train men to be better “men”? Is there a way to train women to be better “women”?

This is where the rest of the Egalitarians begin to depart. The problem here is not with the admittance of divine differences, but an unwillingness to say that these differences predispose one sex to be better at something than the other. However, this is hard to consistently maintain. Differences will produce inherent predispositions. For example a circle is different from a square. Among other things, this makes a circle better at fitting into a circular hole.

Differences are always going to bring with them strengths and weaknesses. However, some Egalitarians will admit this. Therefore we have the next question.

Question #3: Should these differences be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society?

This is the hardest hurdle for Egalitarians to overcome and often causes them to have to reevaluate their answers to the previous two questions in order to remain Egalitarians. The idea here is that if there are God-given differences, shouldn’t we celebrate and promote these differences. What does this celebration and promotion look like? This is the essence of complementarianism. This means that we educate the sexes to function to their maximum potential. We do not naturally kick back and hope that they fit into their “grooves”, whatever they may be, but we “train a child the way they should go.” The “way” they should go is based on divine design, not an assumption of neutrality. Men should be trained to be men and women should be trained to be women. If we don’t we passively attempt to neuter God’s design through non-recognition.

It is my opinion that Egalitarians cannot pass this point without becoming Complementarians to some degree. Of course they may be “Non-Hierarchal” Complementarians, (as some like to be called now) but, in my opinion, this position is not very consistent. Here is the issue: If we have already admitted that men and women are different by design, and this difference predisposes one sex to be better at certain things than the other, and that these predispositions should be actively promoted, could it be that these “differences” make one sex better at leading in certain situations than the other? Could it be that men are predisposed to be better leaders in certain roles and women are predisposed to be better leaders in certain roles? If so, then these leadership roles are godly and need to be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society.


You would think that I would have one more question that shows how the man is predisposed to be the leader in the church and family. I don’t. Not right now. The reason for this is that the true issue is spoiled once an agenda is smelled. These three questions are the heart of the matter. If done intentionally, you will find that people don’t mind concluding that one sex is better disposed toward certain roles (even leadership roles) than another. What gets people upset is when you present this case in such a way where one sex (normally always women) is discriminated against due to these assumptions of divine differences. 

Because of this, I have found that consistent Egalitarians must backtrack and deny the validity of all three of the points here. First, the celebration and promotion of these differences gets eliminated (since this is the heart of the matter). Once this happens, it is not long before the concession of strengths and weaknesses gets rescinded. One does not want to be found admitting that they believe that God designed the sexes with strengths and weaknesses, but unwilling to concede that this is a good thing for the church, family, and society. Finally, it is necessary to rescind the first. If there are not inherent strengths and weaknesses to each sex, then there cannot be differences at all. Differences will always imply a primacy in functionality of one sort of another.

So, you see how it works in my mind.

However, as always, I do feel it is necessary to say that there are many godly men (and women!) who do not agree with me here. This, to me, while an important issue, is certainly not a cardinal issue. In other words, we need to approach this with great humility, sensitivity, and respect for those with whom there is disagreement.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    66 replies to "Three Questions for Egalitarianism"

    • Don J

      1. From what I have read, there are 2 main changes when testosterone hits a fetus, (a) the gonads drop (which will form the testicles instead of ovaries) and (b) there is a massive die off of the connecting neurons between the 2 hemispheres of the brain. That is a female human is typically more has more connections between brain halves then a male. It seems plausible to me that this could lead to other differences, such as a male being able to focus on 1 item and ignoring the rest while a female is more connection oriented dealing with all items in view, but I am not sure of this. In any case, these are generalities with statistical variation.

      2. One gender might see something another finds harder to see, but again as a generality with statistical variation. A male usually has more muscle mass than a female, but there are some females that can outdo many males in some test of strength. Overlapping bell curves with females on the lesser end of the scale. But in any individual instance, what matters is the individuals aptitude.

      3. I am egal and I believe the genders complement each other, for example in marriage. So viva la difference’. But also not to make too much out of them and certainly not to decide on ministry based on physical traits, Scripture indicates ministry is based on being gifted for it. So I reverse the curse of male hierarchy presuppositions that came as a result of the fall.

    • Hodge

      “Scripture indicates ministry is based on being gifted for it. ”

      I really don’t want to debate this issue again, but this is not biblical in the sense that you’re using “ministry” here to take a teaching/leadership role over the congregation. Ministry in this sense is based on qualifications, not giftedness according to the Pastorals.

      • Truth Unites... and Divides

        “I really don’t want to debate this issue again

        But you’re so gifted for it, Hodge!

        Exercise your God-given gifts for polemics, Hodge!


      • Ryan Schatz

        “Ministry in this sense is based on qualifications, not giftedness according to the Pastorals.”

        Perhaps you are misreading the pastoral letters. We could also read it to say that elders are disqualified unless they are married and have children, disqualifying any unmarried men or those without children.

        • Hodge


          Perhaps we all are. Perhaps. But the issue is what the text says. There is no mention here of any gifts. If that were the case, then they would negate the qualifications. You could just become a pastor if you had a gift of teaching and were married to twenty-five women. The text, however, indicates that the qualifications for offices are based on character and ability. If one has godly character in marriage and family, he meets one qualification to become an elder; but being married and having family isn’t the qualification. The godly character within them is. This seems clear from the context. I also didn’t say that the list was exhaustive, literal, incomplete, or otherwise. Your objection seems to address a completely different point than the one I’m making. However, if you want to argue that the text is incomplete, you will have to show that more than character and ability are needed from the text itself. I can extrapolate that other character and abilities may be needed because character and abilities are mentioned in the context (although the elder seems to only need the one ability: to be able to teach); but I cannot extrapolate that gifts are also needed because none are mentioned as examples. Hence, I take lists as examples of kind rather than exhaustive, but I don’t add things of another kind that are not represented as examples within the text. The only reason one would do so is to feed an already held presupposition that it needs to be there, and then we’ve simply come to eisegeting the missing material in our minds.

        • Ryan Schatz

          “But the issue is what the text says. There is no mention here of any gifts.”

          Yes, we should be concerned about what the text says. But perhaps the list is to be treated more as an ‘if then’ disqualification. For example, ‘if a man is married, he must be married to one wife.’ Paul doesn’t mention the corresponding statement for women because it was not common for a woman to be married to more than one husband.

          “If one has godly character in marriage and family, he meets one qualification to become an elder; but being married and having family isn’t the qualification. The godly character within them is. “

          Precisely. How then can this be used to disqualify a able woman from being an elder?

          “…although the elder seems to only need the one ability: to be able to teach); but I cannot extrapolate that gifts are also needed because none are mentioned as examples.”

          Is not the ability to teach a gift?

        • Hodge


          Are you speaking to someone else? I said nothing about the limitations of qualifications in regard to the marriage relationship and how they disqualify the woman. The only thing that touches anything I said was the last statement, to which my answer to your question is, No, the ability to teach is not said to be a gift. That’s why it’s said to be an ability. The gift of teaching is not what qualifies a person to be an elder. Otherwise, again, one could simply claim that the Spirit wants him or her to be an elder because He gave him or her a gift to do so. That is not the case in Scripture. Even spiritually immature believers are given gifts, and I dare say even the gift of teaching. So one is not disqualified simply because the gift is not given. The emphasis is on whether someone has obtained the ability to teach by learning from other teachers. The emphasis of the qualifications then is on character and ability, not supernatural gifts.
          Now, if you want to argue how the qualifications limit the role to men, that is found in the interplay of the preceding statements in 2:11-15 with the following in chapter 3. So it is clear in Paul’s view that he limits the office to a man. Any conjecture that says, “Well, maybe he just didn’t mention woman for A or B, works against the context of what he said in the preceding pericope. Hence, it is to ignore context in order to eisegete a fabricated situation based purely on speculation and one’s own desire to have the text say something other than it does.

    • Rick

      I think you’re straining gnats a bit here. One problem is defining the terms so stringently, and on your playing field. I realize that you are trying to prove a point, and its a good one at that, but you literally are trying to fit a round peg argument in a square hole.

      And, I am not sure about this 50% sampling here, as all the egalitarians I know believe that there are fundamental differences between men and women on many levels… and I know a lot of egalitarians. Now if you want me to say that ultimately I am a complementarian…ok, if that fits your definition, then fine I am a complementarian. I really don’t like delineating and dividing labels anyway. So maybe I am not egalitarian, but I am for female leadership in the church, and I am for shared leadership of the family and mutual submission within a marriage. What is more, I can get there biblically and theologically without having to contradict myself anymore than a complementarian.

      Ultimately, the problem is in the terms and how they are used to define and divide us, when the issues are more complicated, and no one has an agreed upon definition of the terms.


      1. Yes

      2. God given differences exist. Before the fall, they were only strengths, and “complemented” each other in a way that made humanity fully, communally perfect. There were no weaknesses, and one day there will be no weaknesses, and men and women will live in perfect unity and harmony again. The weaknesses come from the fall. Ontologically men and women are equal, and through unity in diversity all can lead, work, do whatever, through their specific gifting and personality, and even gender to create a full and perfect community. The same is true eschatalogically, and in the present with the advent of the Kingdom of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Men and women are different, but not in the hierarchial roles they can play. They certainly have different roles to play, for instance mother and…

    • Rick


      Too long of a post. My apologies.

      Try to get back to it latter, when I have more time.


    • Don J


      I see the Bible teaching:

      Every believer is to have a ministry based on whatever gifts they have been given.

      SOME of those who minister have leadership ministries and are termed deacons/diakonos/servants when they meet the qualifications and are recognized as such by a congregation and SOME of those deacons/servants are recognized as elders/overseers/shephards when they are recognized as such by a congregation.

      The qualification are mostly character qualities, except an elder needs to be able to teach.

      • Hodge


        My problem is that you’re blending two things: the general service of every believer in the employment of their gifts, and ministry positions which carry with them authority to govern the congregation and take care of its needs. These are official ministry positions that require qualification. There is no mention within these qualifications that an individual must possess gift A or gift B. Anyone can exercise their gifts without needing to be qualified in character and ability. Hence, the wayward Corinthians can exercise them without rebuke (unless they misuse them of course). This is not so for the offices that govern. In fact, there is no mention of needing any particular gift at all, but only the right character and ability. Failure to recognize this leads to the reasoning you are presenting in terms of the gifts (i.e., that if God gives women gifts, then they ought to be able to use them in the offices), and it is a reasoning not based upon the distinctions between gifts and offices within Scripture.

    • EMBG

      Would you be willing to interact with a few of my questions?

      1 – Who gets to decide what the essential & God-ordained differences (beyond culture, reproduction and physicality) between men and women are?

      2 – Given inherent differences (the “is”) how do you identify these general predispositions you speak of?

      3 – Even if you are able to accurately identify inherent differences and general predispositions, how do you biblical justify a move to prescriptive categories (the “ought”)?

      For the most part, I’d call myself a non-hierarchal complementarian. But labels aside, you seem to be making some big leaps – perhaps they are what you call consistent, but are they biblical?

      You see, I can generally agree with your first point. I think there are some general differences between most men and most women. As Don Johnson basically observed, the Bell Curves will overlap, but you’ll be able to tell which is the female curve and which is the male curve.

      Your second point is consistent with your first but you take it in a totally unnecessary – and, I believe, inaccurate direction. Your example seems to totally ignore the evidence, which prompts me to wonder whether your agenda is showing.

      You seem to argue that natural differences mean men are predisposed to be leaders and women predisposed to be followers. Yet only a small minority of men, like a small minority of women, will rise to top leadership positions within their fields. So, allow me to suggest a very different conclusion from the same evidence: men and women have certain essential differences, even in brain development, which lead to certain general predispositions, which means that certain men and women can be excellent leaders, however, we are likely to notice that these male and female leaders often have differing leadership styles and strengths and weaknesses, which they are wise to be aware of.

    • EMBG

      Of course, you make the biggest leap in logic in your third point, and then you argue that those who can’t make it with you are somehow “inconsistent.”

      To go from observing general patterns to prescribing and proscribing thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and roles based on those patterns is a leap indeed.

      Once you have decided what the essential differences are between men and women and what tendencies follow from their differences, you proceed to argue that the differences and tendencies you have identified ought to be “celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society.”

      So what does that do to the divine image bearers who aren’t in the middle of the bell curve for each sex? Doesn’t this communicate that they are outside of God’s plan for their sex and so ought to conform or bear the social shame of non-conformity? People who have abnormal strengths and abnormal weaknesses must not be celebrated, encouraged as examples and promoted in the church, family and society, then. Which means that atypical people can never be fully accepted in the Body of Christ because someone has decided that they don’t bear God’s image the way someone of their sex should. Is that the logical conclusion? or what do you do with those who aren’t in the middle of the bell curve?

      Perhaps, God made men and women in general to complement each other, with different primary strengths. Before the fall and in heaven, we won’t need to complement each other in weaknesses, but because of the fall, we do now. And, in marriage, perhaps God uniquely draws two people together who complement each other in specific ways. Sometimes those ways follow the pattern of men and women in general, and sometimes they reverse the pattern. Usually, these specific complementary relationships follow the general pattern in some ways but not in others. And each can, by grace, be beautiful.

      • EMBG

        So, I agree, in part, with your first and second observations (though not your examples), and I disagree with your the conclusion in your third point. I think I do so consistently. I don’t believe the differences and tendencies some people identify need to be “celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society.” Rather, Christ needs to be lifted up. Yes, the idolatry of “perfect masculinity” and “ideal femininity” needs to stop. It’s hurting church, family and society.

        Here’s what happens: when Christ is “celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society,” then men and women will each become the best image bearers each of them can be. Individuals may fit general patterns, but those who fit them less than others won’t be judged. If I am a woman following hard after Christ, I will become the woman I was created to be. If I am a man following hard after Christ, I will become the man I was created to be.

        As David Powlison says, men and women aren’t cookies, we are snowflakes. We are uniquely made in the image of God, however much or little we fit general patterns for our sex.

        BTW, I follow your blog on Google reader and very much enjoy your writing, so please know this is a most respectful dissent. 🙂

      • LM

        EMBG: Thanks so much for these thoughts: “So what does that do to the divine image bearers who aren’t in the middle of the bell curve for each sex? Doesn’t this communicate that they are outside of God’s plan for their sex and so ought to conform or bear the social shame of non-conformity? People who have abnormal strengths and abnormal weaknesses must not be celebrated, encouraged as examples and promoted in the church, family and society, then. Which means that atypical people can never be fully accepted in the Body of Christ because someone has decided that they don’t bear God’s image the way someone of their sex should. Is that the logical conclusion? or what do you do with those who aren’t in the middle of the bell curve?”

        I am one of those people who does not fit in the middle of the bell curve, and I have atypical characteristics. Comps will say that you can’t base your beliefs on the exceptions. Yet, what about these people who are exceptions?? I have often felt marginalized and like a second class citizen. Did God make me defective??? I have never felt accepted by the Body of Christ. Yet, I know that my Lord and Savior accepts me. Jesus seemed to attract and relate well to marginalized people. But “the church” seems to repel and turn off the marginalized. Sad. Thanks EMBG for all you shared!! Appreciated more than you know.

    • eric


      I have to shake my head after reading your blog! Why? It is obvious you are unable to see the “other side” and admit that the Egaliatarian can and do present equally strong points if not better.
      “What does it mean to be better at being a mother? What does it mean to be better at being a father?” Exactly ! What do you mean better at being a mother? You would admit that being a father– you and I : Are you a better father than I am? On what basis when you measure being a better father? Are you comparing between mother and father? Or one mother with another mother? Granted I have very little idea how to buy skirt, sports bra for my growing 11 year old not to mention other ‘girl’ things but guess what she and I have develop a stronger bond after her mom pass away.I have learn alot more and am a better father. So if your point is am I a mother I concede! Am I a better father I conded.
      I believe your point here is to show that male has been placed in position of authority and you have not done so by question 1.

    • ScottL

      I answer as an ‘egalitarian’, though I am not sure the term is always the best since it carries a bit of baggage.

      Question #1: Do you believe that there are essential differences, created by God, between men and women?

      Yes. No doubt. The physical differences becomes the easiest to consider.

      Question #2: If God-given differences exist, do these differences carry with them strengths and weaknesses for each sex?

      Yes. But that doesn’t necessarily identify one sex (female) as ultimately weaker than the other (male). Does it? There is something about the woman that reflects the image of God that man cannot do. There is something unique about the woman in which man cannot be unique. Both are created in the image of God.

      Question #3: Should these differences be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society?

      Yes, they should be celebrated. I am so thankful my wife is stronger in areas that I am not. I am thankful that women carry an imprint of God in them that men cannot.

      I add Question #4: Do complementarians hold to any measure of trajectory theology?

    • TL

      ”Men and women are ontologically (in their essential nature) equal, but often, functionally, take subordinate roles (like the Trinity)”

      I’ve some questions about this. Some translations say that Jesus learned obedience by being the Messiah and taking on human form. That makes sense. In the Trinity, they are an echad one, a perfect harmonious unity. After Christ came to earth clothed in human form, He would have to learn to live amongst humans in ways that differed how the Trinity functioned.

      What I don’t understand is how do you see Jesus as subordinate in a way that women are supposed to be to men. Jesus did everything. He was head over all authority, He sacrificed His life and suffered being tempted in all things giving in to no evil. What was it that the Father did that Jesus didn’t do. It appears to be that the mission that the Trinity sent The Son to do was to do everything that needed to be done in order to make a bridge for humanity to be able to approach the holiness of God. I don’t see that Jesus left anything undone or that The Father had any part in it other than His support and the Holy Spirit’s empowering of Christ as Human.

      Where do men send out women to hold all authority and support them in it empowering them to do the important work of salvation of humanity? And where do men think they would have such an authority to give anyway. I don’t get it.

      • Hodge


        The problem is that you’re taking everything the Father and Son do, and who they are, and then saying that we can’t be like them. Hence, any command that tells us to model something based upon their relationship is bogus. But this is absurd. Paul tells us to be imitators of God. Using your line of reasoning, I could simply say, “You’re wrong, Paul. God is omnipotent and omniscient. We’re not. Hence, I don’t see how we can imitate Him. I therefore reject your command.” But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of analogies. An analogy is simply between ASPECTS of two things. We are to imitate God in His moral character, as the rest of the context of Ephesians suggests, not in all of His attributes and works of salvation in the world. The same goes for the sacrificially-authoritative/subordinate relationship between Christ and the Church and the husband and wife. It’s in the one aspect of loving/sacrificial authority and submission, not all aspects of Christ’s work with the Church. That, of course, would be absurd.

    • Craig Bennett

      I really disagree with any Trinitarian thought that insists on the marriage or even gender being modelled on the Trinitarian relationship.

      I would firstly argue that its the church that is to model the Trinitarian mode of relationship; in the way that Paul says to consider all better than yourself.

      Therefore all relationships; male / male – female / female – male / female are within the congregation to be modelled within the Trinitarian model of relationship…. and then and only then can we expect the marriage to follow suit.

      Within this functioning of relationship we can then work through the area of gifting. God / Holy Spirit gifts all with his gifts….we can then likewise say that the Spirit of God has equipped some to give birth and some not to give birth.. in a gender role and all that means for the nurturing of babies.

      This is a God given biological difference. Yet within the Trinitarian relationship the church is to practice mutual submission; which I would suggest is the better way to consider the Trinitarian relationship… and therefore to submit to the various gifts that God grants his congregation to be used within the congregation as He wills them to be used.

      • Hodge


        Do you reject Paul’s use of the Trinitarian relationship as an example of male headship and female submission in 1 Cor 11? Even if you don’t agree with the interpretation, he does in fact seem to be using God the Father and God the Son in a delineation that then includes males and females.

        I would also reject the idea that the Trinitarian relationship is one of mutual submission. The Bible never presents the Father in submission to the Son or Spirit. To suggest otherwise is to read an egalitarian/liberation theology back into Scripture where it does not exist.

        • Craig Bennett

          Hodge; for me to engage with what your saying 1 Cor 11 says; I need to know what you believe the context of what Paul is saying is.

          There are many examples of Scripture where God does what Jesus asks; God does what the Spirit asks; the Spirit does what Jesus asks; Jesus does what the Spirit asks, Jesus does what the Father asks…

          Therefore I would argue that Scripture does say that the Trinity is one of mutual and not subordinate submission… otherwise you are saying that some of the trinity are not equally or fully God.

        • Craig Bennett

          I would also argue that the father subordinates himself to Jesus through our prayers in Jesus name…..

        • Hodge


          I think the problem is that “subordination” the way you are defining it is to do what someone requests of you. That is not the biblical notion of submission. A king is not subordinate to his subjects or God to His people by answering requests. Hence, your examples of the Spirit or Son requesting something of the Father, and the Father doing what they ask, is apples and oranges to the question of subordination.
          Second to this, the idea that all must be equal in role in order to remain equally God, means that they all must be equal at all times. Yet, if equal in role at all times, then no one can submit to the other, since no one can be in authority over the other. Hence, there would be no such thing as subordination or authority for that matter. Yet, this is absurd, as we’re just playing with semantics at this point if we deny that this relationship can exist at all. Obviously, the Son submits to the Father and the Father is “greater” than the Son (a term of authority and picture of their roles). The Son is never said to be greater than the Father, nor do we ever see the Father in submission to the Son or Spirit. By your logic, we’re all equal to God when God answers our prayers. Again, this is simply an absurd redefinition of what it means to be subordinate to an authority.

        • Craig Bennett


          What I am saying is that the Trinitarian relationship is equally and mutually submissive. All 3 members are equally God.

          That is they all do what is best for the God head. We have a mystery within the God head that God is three in one. Part of this same mystery is that all 3 are equally subservient to one another. That is they are subservient to and within themselves.

          To say one is more dominant than the other is to say then that they are not equal. This then puts you on rocky ground as to your understanding of God.

          You miss my point about prayer. If God answers our prayers; its because we ask in Jesus name and its Jesus that the Father is submitting to; not us.

          While you say the Father is greater than the son; in other aspects the son is greater than the father; for the son intercedes for us; which the father doesn’t. Yet else where Jesus says that he and the father are one and in doing so makes himself equal to God.

          So a mutually submissive Trinity means that there are various times when the Godhead will be submissive to each other. Take Jesus for example who was also submissive to the Holy Spirit.

    • […] on the Parchment and Pen blog, Michael Patton asks Egalitarians three […]

    • Dinah

      “Question #1: Do you believe that there are essential differences, created by God, between men and women? ”

      Answer: Yes … as in one is a man and the other is a woman … a biological necessity for “go forth and multiply” …. Also from Genesis 1 there seems to be an implication that it is man and woman together that shows forth the image of God.

      Question #2: If God-given differences exist, do these differences carry with them strengths and weaknesses for each sex?

      Answer: A qualified ‘yes’ …. Which is the function of the different hormones which necessarily circulate in our bodies (see Q.1) …. But this must be balanced against the fact that all men and women are individuals, who each one has their strengths and weaknesses. …

      In your opinion, if a woman has no gifting in what you would call the “womanly arts” then she should be ‘trained’ in them. What if here you are trying to force a square peg into a round hole? I have heard this all my life …. why can’t you be more like “…..”,

      Question #3: Should these differences be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society?

      Answer : Vive la difference! (again see Q.1) …
      why do these differences have to be celebrated by putting one sex in permanent subordination to the other sex? A subordination which has nothing to do with any strengths and/or weaknesses that either one may have.
      Nor, and this is so very important, is any notice taken of the different gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is so obviously apparent, that the Holy Spirit does not gift only men with certain gifts and only women with certain other gifts.

      My understanding has come round to the opinion that it is so hard for a man to give up the notion that at some level, some God-given level, he is in control, he makes the final decisions, he has the final say …. because that is the way it has been for such a long time. But it is a position that was won in the first place…

    • Brian LePort

      Nothing that overly simplistic, misleading questions to really settle a matter, eh?

    • C. Michael Patton

      Naturally, you all have taken this to the next step. I understand why, but you all must understand how humble my task is with these three questions.

      I did not even say that these lead to a subordination of a woman to a man or that the next step is that men are always going to be better leaders. I could go there, but it might just as well go in the opposite direction depending on the celebrated strengths and weaknesses and the situation.

      The (understandable) knee jerk reaction here has produced exactly what it always does when these passions are involved: the inability to admit what we would concede in any other situation.

      The only thing that a yes to each of these three questions lead to is that because of the God-given differences between men and women, one sex is generally going to have greater abilities than the other in given situations. Because of this, we should maximize these differences by celebration and instilling them in the family culture and society.

      The next step would be to see where men function best and women function best. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

      • Craig Bennett

        Michael; in one breath you say don’t get ahead of where you are going and in the next you mention not allowing women to teach.

        I find that comment a little…actually no! Make it VERY disingenuous in that you said that if a Egalitarian answered yes to those questions then they are Complimentarian’s.

    • C. Michael Patton

      As well, I am not even saying that there won’t be exceptions, but to hide and watch rather than promote the stregths of each sex will lead to a neutering of society and a denial of the imago dei.

      Paul said “I do not allow a woman to teach” but this does not assume there there were not things he would not allow a man to do.

      • cherylu


        I’m sure you know that I generally enter these discussions as a complimentarian. So the reason that I am asking you this question is not that we are on the opposite side of understanding on this question.

        You made this statement in your last comment: Paul said “I do not allow a woman to teach” but this does not assume there there were not things he would not allow a man to do.

        My question is this: If it is true that there were things Paul didn’t allow a man to do, why are they not recorded somewhere? If it was so important to tell women what they can’t do, it would only seem logical that it was important to tell men what they can not do too, would it not? Or are you thinking of some Scripture that says something to that effect that I am not coming up with at the moment?

        If there are no such Scriptures that forbid men to do something, it seems to me that your statement here is a bit of a reach. Maybe I am missing something in your argument.

        • Hodge


          I would say that Paul forbids men to take upon the role of women, i.e., to be in a subordinate role to the woman instead of taking his role as the man. I would say that his statements here imply it, and his statements in 1 Cor 11 more directly indicate it as well. This is consistent with the law that forbids a man to dress like a woman.

    • Ed Kratz

      Craig, the last one was a comment to let u understand my general thoughts as background material for my perspective. In other words, all I was saying is that there are some things that I don’t think Paul would believe men could do.

      However, I understand how you might have taken it wrongly. Therefore just go with the previous comment.

      • Craig Bennett

        Thanks Michael. For the most part I believe that you act even even-handedly on your blog and believe you didn’t intend any slight of hand.

    • Hodge


      I understand fully what you’re saying. What I’m saying is 1) Your concept that the Persons within the Godhead must equally share the same roles due to a concept that sees these roles as a part of the essential nature of God is false and logically contradictory, since it would have to exist at all times equally, and if so, it would never exist (i.e., it’s self refuting); 2) Your concept that granting a request places the Person/person in a subordinate role to the one asking is false, since this would mean that Christ granting us prayer would be Him submitting to us; 3) the concepts you are proposing are nowhere in the Bible. You’re simply producing them out of your egalitarian philosophy, not from the Scripture. You have to make the granting of a request the taking on of a subordinate role in order to get to this, and as I said before, this is clearly a false way of seeing the granting of a request. A judge granting you a request doesn’t suddenly make you his superior, nor he your inferior in rank. He retains his authority over you, even in the granting of a request. Christ does the same with us when we ask Him for something in prayer.
      If the mutual submission really occurred within the Trinity, it would be in so many places, there would be no need to try and twist a granted request into an act of submission; but because it does not really exist, it’s all that you have to go on.
      Finally, it is your view of God that is in danger here, as if it is the case that roles the Persons of the Godhead take on are essential to God’s nature, then the Son taking upon himself a human role in the incarnation would cause Him to cease to be God while in that role that is not shared by the Father or Spirit. This is where I think comps have a stronger argument than egals, and understand that essence and role cannot be confused, or we end up with something heretical.

      • Craig Bennett

        Clearly Hodge you are missing the point of what I am saying about prayer… whether it is intentional or not; I am inclined to say that it is intentional for you didn’t reply to the above thread and have miss communicated what I said and hence made a straw man argument.

        We are talking about the Godhead. 3 in one. At various times we see the Godhead doing what the other asks it to do.

        1)We see Jesus and the Spirit doing what the Father asks.
        2.) We see the Father and the Spirit doing what Jesus asks.
        3.) We see the Father and Jesus doing what the Spirit asks.

        And because we see this; we see a mutual submissive relationship within the Trinity.

        Now the position in asking God to do something for us in Jesus name is because we understand we need Gods help and we are not asking on our own merit; but fully asking within the Trinitarian relationship for in Christ we ask; the spirit takes the prayer to God; God answers through Christ and the Spirit brings it to fruition.

        So within the context we see none of the Godhead operating on its own accord…rather each working within the Godhead mutually submitting to each other.

        • Hodge


          I’m sorry, but I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I understand that you think “doing what someone asks” equals submission. I read your blog as well. I get what you’re saying. My entire point is that “doing what someone asks” is not a matter of submission. Perhaps you think that you’re in a submissive relationship with your children because you grant requests to them, but that his not how the Bible presents authority to us. I can only assume that you are so entrenched in your belief that “granting requests” equals submission that you fail to understand that I in fact did deal with your argument. We see submission on the Son’s part because He calls the Father His God, says that the Father is greater than He is (why does He say this, Craig? Why not say they’re both equal if they’re both in mutual submission to one another? And if essential to the divine nature, how can the Son at any time be lesser and then at another time be greater?), etc. NEVER do we see the Father presented this way toward the Son. The Son gives all glory to the Father. God is said to be the head of Christ. You’re idea fails in that the relationship the Father and Son have is clearly given in Scripture, so that your “request equals submission” idea is a mere reach to try and establish an egalitarian idea within the Trinity. They are not in mutual submission. The Son is in submission to the Father, period. The Father is not in a mutually submissive relationship with the Son. There is no trade off. You’re putting within the Trinity something that is not presented to us in terms of the divine roles.
          Again, Christ also answers our prayers, not just the Father; so your idea that really the Father is only listening to us because He is listening to the Son in us doesn’t make much sense when it’s Christ who is listening to us. Why is He listening to us? In your view, because He’s listening and submitting to Himself?
          I think the lengths to which some egals will…

        • Craig Bennett

          You say it is only Jesus who hears and answers our prayers. Can you back this up with Scripture?

          Submission goes deeper then just granting requests. It is also submitting to each others authority. Take the instance where in a corporation you might have to vice presidents of the corporation.

          Both have equal authority. Both have equal status. If one asks the other to do something and they do it; he is submitting to the others authority.

          He is not submitting to his authority in that he is higher then him; instead because they both have equal authority; a mutual submission takes place because they have the interests of the company at stake.

          In the same way there is mutual submission within the Godhead between the Father, Son and Spirit; all have equal authority. All have equal status. All are God. All work for the interests of each other for together they are God.

        • Hodge


          I didn’t say that Jesus only hears our prayers. I said that there are prayers that we can request something of Jesus and He will do it (John 14:13-14). Nor does the Scripture indicate that the Father grants our requests only because Jesus is asking Him (John 16:26).

          Second to this, you’ve now moved on from Scripture, since that did not support your idea to contemporary analogies of authority, but they still don’t work. Submission to authority is not the same as equal authorities agreeing with one another. When one makes a request of another authority or one in authority over him or herself, one must convince that authority to see as he or she does. That authority is only doing what he or she wants to do. What he or she sees fit. He is not submitting to the other person at all. Now, he may decide to take a subservient role and step down from his position for the sake of the company, but that is an act of relinquishing his authority (which is what we see happening with the Lord Jesus [Phil 2:5-11]).
          But submission is a role one takes to do another person’s will, even if the one in submission is not convinced or see eye to eye with the one in authority. Since the Son is God, and His divine will in perfect unity with the Father, you may be confusing this; but we do see the Son’s human will in conflict with the Father’s, yet He submits to the Father’s will (Matt 26:39).
          Hence, our example, as Paul tells us in Phil is Christ’s submission to the Father. He himself uses the subordination of the Son to the Father as an example here; and he uses it as an example in 1 Cor 11.
          So your original statement, based upon a faulty view of authority and submission within the Godhead, is in error. There is no mutual submission within the Godhead according to Scripture, and granting requests or agreeing with one another to do something are not acts of mutual submission. Do you have a stronger argument than these?

        • Hodge

          to wipe away any remaining idea of hierarchy, even in roles, is something driven by pomo philosophy that sees absolute authoritative structures as somehow inherently evil. Hence, the idea of mutual submission is born; but these are mere redefinitions rather a change in substance. In the end, the idea you have presented, in the way you have presented it, is neither biblical nor logical.

        • Hodge

          “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3).

    • Matt O'Reilly

      Hi Michael,

      I am an egalitarian when it comes to women in ministry leadership (WML), and I would answer “yes” to each of your three questions. One can hold that there are differences between men and women and that those difference make one group better at some things and the other better at other things and that those differences ought to be promoted and celebrated in the church. But granting these does not mean that women should not hold leadership positions. I know some men that are different than others and thus better pastors, but this doesn’t mean that the man who is not better should not be a pastor. I don’t find your questions to be devastating to my position at all. As a pastor, I do find ways to celebrate the differences between the men and women in the church. I don’t however think that those differences extend to the WML issue.

      Respectfully submitted,
      Matt O’Reilly

      • Gary Simmons

        “Respectfully submitted.”

        Was that pun on purpose? Well done, either way.

    • Lee H

      I don’t know what it is I believe on this issue, but I can agree with all 3 of the questions yet also think women can be leaders.
      This is because leadership is no a natural gift itself, such as being extrovert/ introvert, more/less intelligent, but leadership is made up from nautral qualities.

      So men may have the tendency to have the qualities necessary for leadership, but even if that is so some women could have those qualities too.

      A square can fit into a circular hole is the hole is bigger.

    • John

      Issues like this can be like peeling an onion.

      You start with an onion, and peeling the layers off in order to get to know it better, you end up with nothing.

      A healthy onion is in part defined by its environment, soil, sunshine, a source of water, and a Gardener.

      You wouldn’t dissect a living man, to learn more about him.

      Leaders will be one in a thousand. Let them show themselves and lead. We will know them by their fruits. The church only needs to exert authority over that which is out of control, in darkness, enslaved by sin. That which is in light and is a source of reflecting light, that which is manifestly in self-control, that which is free from sin, needs no authority, no law, nor leader.

      Paul became a eunuch to preach the gospel, although he could have taken a wife. Perhaps somewhere a ‘Joan of Arc’ may be waiting to arise and lead. But such women will be one in a thousand, like men.

      The Bell curve above seems to have been misunderstood. Those in the ‘centre’ of the Bell curve are not the best in a given category, but the mediocre average. The best leaders will not be there either, they will be at the cutting upper edge, just like weight-lifters will be.

      We should not worry about where we appear on our own gender bell-curve, and it would be idle to ask where we appear on a bell-curve belonging to the opposing sex, since we don’t belong in that group. Apples and oranges.

      Again, our value does not consist in where we score on most ability charts, but where we stand in relation to God, based on a new Covenant, which can remedy sin.

      A Bell curve with Christ at the centre will not conform to male or female traits, or peripheral skills. It will be based upon Spiritual purity and centeredness, and we should stray neither to the left or right from the ideal Christ presented in the Gospels for us as a role-model.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Hodge: “I think the lengths to which some egals will go to wipe away any remaining idea of hierarchy, even in roles, is something driven by pomo philosophy that sees absolute authoritative structures as somehow inherently evil. Hence, the idea of mutual submission is born; but these are mere redefinitions rather a change in substance. In the end, the idea you have presented, in the way you have presented it, is neither biblical nor logical.”

      It’s rather hard to disagree with this diagnosis.

    • Ms. Jack

      #1: Do you believe that there are essential differences, created by God, between men and women?

      Yes, but excluding biology, I know of no God-given differences that are so immense that they would universally preclude men or women from exercising a single role.

      #2: If God-given differences exist, do these differences carry with them strengths and weaknesses for each sex?

      I would only describe our God-given attributes as differing strengths. I don’t see God as creating humanity with “complementary weaknesses.”

      #3: Should these differences be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society?

      Yes, and the best way to celebrate, exemplify, typify, and promote these complementary gender differences is to include both women and men at all levels of church leadership.

      Last year, an article in the Washington Post reported that businesses that include women in their top management are consistently doing better than businesses with all-male leadership. The article attributed the success of mixed-gender business leadership to complementary gender differences: women were more cautious and collaborative in their business decisions, which balanced out the aggression and competitiveness of their male peers.

      That is how complementary gender differences in egalitarianism work. We celebrate, promote, and exemplify our differences by including men and women at all levels of church service, not by sweeping men into the pastorates, boards of elders, and diaconates and women into the women’s and children’s ministries. It’s why egalitarianism is the only real complementarianism that there is.

      So, what part of those questions was supposed to make me backtrack and hem and haw?

      • JohnO

        @Ms Jack,
        Excellently put. To borrow from an earlier poster:
        “It’s rather hard to disagree with this diagnosis.”

      • EricW

        Ms. Jack says:

        It’s why egalitarianism is the only real complementarianism that there is.

        +1 😀

    • Rick

      A few questions for complementarians.

      1. Seeing that men and women complement each other, and that their unity is the ultimate and complete expression of humanity, then why would we not want women involved in teaching and leading? Would it not counterbalance some of the weaknesses that men bring to the positions?

      Having graduated from DTS, I can tell you that the “pastor world” often seems like a testosterone injected, overly competitive old boys network. It isn’t all that different than my fraternity at SMU. Nothing wrong with that, but we need to admit that that has its weaknesses.

      2. Ultimately, so what? What are the consequences? What do you do about the many churches that have women as pastors, leaders, and teachers and are focused on Christ, have outstanding theology, take the Bible serious, are engaged in evangelism and mission, and are making disciples? What do you with and how do you explain the many families that operate under an egalitarian framework, are solidly evangelical, love Jesus, raise great kids who go into ministry, and have loving and successful marriages?

    • EMBG

      Well said, Ms Jack

    • Daedelus

      I think Christians should have Christ as the only ideal. Trying to make ideal male and female gender roles to live up to, is a failure because you look at nature and in reality, there is no universal essence for male and femaleness. Cosmic complementarity is nonexistent.

      And with Jesus, he offers a powerful critique of a certain kind of masculinity based on patriarchal power. Due to sin, most people assosciate authority with lawful use of violence. For Jesus Christ, authority is sacrificial love – “he who would be greatest among you must be the slave of all”. If anything, Jesus equally embodies things like compassion and receptivity, things traditionally seen as feminine in western culture. And yet, some would have us belive that God somehow endorses relationships where men have a monopoly on “authority”, giving orders, one person speaking them another person listening and obeying, etc…. this is not the model Jesus presents of authority.

    • J Scott

      While I cannot reference a specific Biblical basis (as in a specific passage) for the following I do believe it to be true unless Biblicaly invalidated.

      I think the concept of “equality” in its original and truest form of use is more about intrinsic overall value rather than attributes, abilities or rights. Our constitution basis the foundation of human equality on the self evident concept that all men (and women) were created equal by God.

      Since it should also be self evident that we are all not equally gifted in specific area’s like sports, physical strength, coordination, eloquence, leadership skills, society’s current flavor of “good looks” or charisma etc then being created equal by God must refer not to specific abilities but rather personal intrinsic value in the mindset of God.

      In the end times “a piece of bread will buy a bag of gold”. This would seem to predict a time of great economic distress where at that point in time one piece of bread is of equal value as a bag of gold.

      I am not saying it “incorrect” to apply the word equality to rights or abilities however these seem incorporate in some way and additional value; either the sense of fairness (with equal rights) or at least a significant level of subjectivity (in comparing abilities).

      That being said I think we can all find common ground that God created Men and Women of equal value. I do think it is fairly obvious the Bible describes different roles for men and women in marriage at the very least while also requiring mutual submission on many levels. Personally I believe these thing lend themselves better to complimentarianism.

      One other significant issue not specifically brought up is the importance of distinguishing absolutes from generalizations. Generalizations ironically get a bad rap because we turn them into believing them absolutely rather than remembering that generalizations are merely statistical observations that help us understand and organize the world around us.

      I think it is fairly obvious to most that women overall on a purely statistical basis tend to be a little more nurturing than men but of course this is not an absolute. My X-wife by her own admission had little to no natural nurturing instinct (there are family childhood reasons for this she would also admit). I on the other hand have always been very nurturing but I grew up in a very nurturing family and understood manhood by Jesus example had nothing to do with stoicism or a lack of feelings or emotional aloofness. She often commented we were “backwards” in our roles as she was very strong willed and strove to be non emotional and was not sentimental.

      In God’s view we were equal in value with unique giftings. Sometimes those differences bring you closer to your spouse and sometimes they tear you apart. I regret we did not fall into the former category but I suspect making it work had much more to do equal value and much less to do with equal rights or abilities.

    • I agree with Eric and EMBG and others. For what the author explicitly argues reflects the same type of misanthropy exemplified in the former segregation of my South! The differences are minor as far as outcomes ensue.
      That misogyny is an infirmed intuition that science finds. Intuitions based on previous truths can be fruitful but that one conflicts with our conservation of knowledge.
      Hillary’s biology is irrelevant to her being president. Would she be too hawkish? Look at Shrub: he, without reason, invaded Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands. Judgment rules. Did Golda Meir’s or Margaret Thatcher’s biology keep them from being effective?
      Complementarism = unjust discrimination.

    • newenglandsun

      Number 1) Yes. There are biological differences and these biological differences are primarily for reproduction.
      Number 2) It depends. There are girls that are way more fit and stronger than guys. I’ve known girls that can beat me up and I’m a guy. Additionally, not all guys are strong. It is a bad and improper assumption to make because egalitarians do acknowledge that not all men and women are the same. Something complementarians don’t seem to get.
      Number 3) How men are not all the same and how women are not all the same is what should be praised and glorified. I do believe that there are many women way more capable of leading and stronger than other guys. Differences in women are to be celebrated and differences in men should be celebrated but not differences inter-gender.

      • Ed Kratz

        Do you think the military and the militaries of world history support complementarianism? After all, generally speaking (like 99 percent of the time) men are the fighters.

    • newenglandsun

      For the most part historically, societies have been patriarchal. That a majority of people in the military are men right now does nothing to support complementarian thought. In fact, the fact that there are women in the military shatters complementarian thought.

    • […] Michael Patton has written a blog asking three questions for egalitarianism. When I was first reading it (and re-reading it), I […]

    • newenglandsun

      Let me put this through another way. Your argument in the first question starts by revealing the biological distinctions between the genders. From this, you argue that women make better mothers and that men make better fathers.

      Your second question focuses on how to make men better men and how to make women better women and that only complementarianism solves this.

      Finally, you reason that these differences between men and women should be celebrated.

      What you never do is define what you mean by “better man” and “better woman”. What does it mean by “better father” or “better mother”?

      “Sexism” is the establishment of stereotypical gender roles. This is what complementarianism thrives on. My main point is that “one size fits all” is a key characteristic of complementarianism that doesn’t work.

      You cannot expect all humans to wear men’s medium shirts. Nor can you expect members of all genders to live up the the stereotypical roles. Lacking in the complementarian argument is a definition of “man” and a definition of “woman”.

    • newenglandsun

      Dr. Patton,

      I was able to find these two additional sources for you on this subject. Note – gender roles have absolutely nothing to do with the biological differences between men and women.

    • Mary

      Another egalitarian weighing in…….

      1. No. Apart from physical/reproductive/culturally conditioned, no. as fast add non-physical differences like personality, etc- you can make slight statistical generalizations, but the likelihood of any random representative of a gender actually meeting the averages is nil, so short
      Answer- no.

      2. Nope. Physically, yes, in generalizations, but even those are not absolute apart from reproduction.

      3. Nope. We should celebrate and affirm and promote the differences between people, not genders. There is far more diversity, according to ask recent studies I’ve read, between individual members of the same gender than between average representatives of the opposite gender. While I think it is quite possible to be egalitarian without being gender essentialist, I am not. Then, too, are people with chromosomal anomalies which place them outside the gender binary. What are the poaching rules for hermaphrodites?

    • Mary

      Er…preaching, not poaching. Phones! anyway…. No, no, and no. imagine applying those questions to a different phenomena- race, say, or marital status. We can generalize about the behaviors of different groups within those categories, but does that translate to essential differences? Nope. I have tried, and failed, to the consistency in your gender argument.

    • Lora

      Tunnel Vision is a common occurrence among people who suffer from personality disorders. This is because people who suffer from personality disorders sometimes inappropriately go into “crisis mode” when there is no crisis present.

      I’m in the middle between complementarianism and egalitarianism and “teachers of theology” who are trying to put me in one box or the other is insulting me as an equal human being bearing the image of God.

      Since tunnel vision does indicate a personality disorder, I can see how it would really screw up someone’s theology……
      I highly recommend that C Michael Patton read the book of James and find some balance within himself.

    • Lora

      I don’t want to be guilty of plagarism, so here is the link for definition of tunnel vision…..

      I posted link on separate comment so that it can be deleted if deemed “necessary”

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