What Do Different Groups Believe About the Bible and Feminism

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from 40 Questions About Women in Ministry
by Sue Edwards & Kelley Mathews

On what basis do these different groups base their arguments? Do they appeal to culture, reason, tradition, history, or Scripture to make their points? You’ll see that, throughout this book, these scholars primarily use the Bible to attempt to persuade Christians that their arguments are the most “biblical.” Have any of them been so influenced by secular feminists that these Christians are acclimating to or reacting against what’s going on in society today? We don’t see valid evidence to make that accusation concerning either group.

The Bible

The websites of two organizations, one representing hierarchs, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and one representing heterarchs, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), contain statements of faith that affirm a high view of the Bible.

Hierarchs (CBMW) say: “We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inspired by God and inerrant in the original writings, and that they alone are of supreme and final authority in faith and life.”[1] Heterarchs (CBE) say: “We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.” CBE’s first core value reads: “Scripture is our authoritative guide for faith, life, and practice.”[2]

However, both accuse the other of misreading and misinterpreting Scripture. CBE’s home page reads, “Families and churches thrive when both women and men are free to use their gifts to lead and serve. All of us are gifted. Right now, women aren’t free to use their leadership gifts due to mis- reading Scripture.” CBE gives this as one of four reasons they believe their views are correct. The other reasons subtly leveled against hierarchs, but without naming them, are “strict gender roles, sexist religious beliefs, and Christian patriarchy.”

Wayne Grudem in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth accuses heterarchs by name (“egalitarians”)[3] of “incorrect interpretations of Scripture, reading into Scripture things that aren’t there, incorrect statements about the meanings of words in the Bible and methods of interpretation that reject the authority of Scripture and lead toward liberalism.”[4] He also says that heterarchs effectively “place personal experience higher than Scripture” and sup- press relevant information.[5]

Grudem makes some strong predictions about the direction that heterarchs will ultimately take Christianity should their views prevail. He bases these claims on “the hints we now have of the doctrinal direction in which evangelical feminism is moving.”[6] He predicts that heterarchs will destroy the idea of distinct masculinity, and they will create an androgynous Adam who isn’t male or female and a Jesus whose masculinity means nothing. He accuses them of moving toward the idea that God is both Father and Mother, and finally just Mother. He also insists that their methods of interpreting Scripture will ultimately be used by those who argue for homosexuality as morally right. He claims that all this will come about because heterarchs consistently undermine the authority of Scripture.[7]

As you can see, the battle is heated and based on accusations that the other group doesn’t hold the Bible in high esteem, yet both clearly and forcefully claim they themselves do. Who is right? Do both these groups believe that the Bible is true but simply interpret the text differently? Are both groups supported by the work of godly and respected biblical scholars? Do one or both groups sometimes read and interpret evangelistically? In the chapters ahead, you’ll need to evaluate the strengths and approaches of hierarchs and heterarchs to answer those questions for yourself.


Some words bring with them associated assumptions in the mind of the hearer. When I teach the Bible, I’m careful not to use words like that without thoroughly explaining them—for example, the word “submission.” To some women this word conjures up a picture in their mind’s eye of a doormat or a woman without a voice. These kinds of words might trigger strong gut reactions that color meaning and may easily distort what the speaker attempts to communicate.

Also, if I want to discredit a person or group, I might connect a trigger word with that person or group. When I do, I’ve automatically attached nuances of meaning that may further my cause. But I also risk skewing, instead of leveling, the playing field when I interact with those whom I disagree, and that usually breeds ill will and distrust.

Like “submission,” “feminism” is a trigger word. Why? Because although twelve different kinds of secular feminisms exist today,[8] most Christians don’t know that. They believe all feminists are “radical feminists.” The quote below from a secular book, Feminist Thought, summarizes the secular radical feminist platform.

They [radical feminists]claim that power, dominance, hierarchy, and competition characterize the patriarchal system. It cannot be reformed but only ripped out, root and branch. Radical feminists insist that it is not enough for us to overturn patriarchy’s legal and political structures on the way to women’s liberation; we must also thoroughly transform its social and cultural institutions (especially the family and organized religion).[9]

Understandably, when the radical feminist movement gained a powerful hold on culture in the 1960s, Christianity reacted with a backlash of extreme concern and fear. Since heterarchs, like secular feminists, seemed to be “for women,” it was easy to mistakenly think they were in the same camp, and some hierarchs continue to link them together today.

In a footnote in the preface of his book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Grudem writes, “Throughout this book I use egalitarian and evangelical feminist as synonyms.”[10] A synonym is a word with the same or similar meaning. Why might some people consider the partnering of these two groups, egalitarian and feminist, a sleight of hand? Because when most Christians think of feminists, they associate them with radical, bra-burning, male-hating women leading a crusade against God, the church, and the home. Do heterarchs share the same goals?

Similarly, if heterarchs label hierarchs using loaded terms like “sexist, power-mongering, male chauvinist woman-haters,” they’ll be guilty of the same kinds of rhetoric.

Are these word associations fair? Exhibiting these kinds of tactics or rhetoric, including name-calling, unjust labeling, and unfair association, is never helpful; nor is it wise to assume uncharitable motivation in those who disagree with us because we can’t know their inner thoughts and heart attitudes. These kinds of strategies don’t further the likelihood that Christians will promote the peace, charity, and unity that’s commanded among fellow believers in the Bible.


From our studies over the last three decades and our experience interacting with godly men and women from both camps, we don’t believe that either side rejects a high view of Scripture. However, some on both sides have been guilty of evangelastic interpretation, stretching the truth to fit their views.[11] We’ve also observed respected scholars representing both camps who contribute thoughtful, well-documented arguments to support their ideas.

Heterarchs are not secular radical feminists in disguise. Their ultimate goal isn’t to destroy the home and the church. They aren’t man-haters. Likewise, hierarchs’ priority of male authority in the church and in the home doesn’t mean they hate women and their views automatically lead to abuse. We don’t believe that either group has a corner on the truth.

[1] The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “Statement of Faith,” https://cbmw. org/about/statement-of-faith.

[2] CBE International, “CBE’s Mission and Values,” https://www.cbeinternational.org/content/ cbes-mission.

[3] Egalitarians are the group we call “heterarchs.” See Question 1 on terms for a further explanation of our reasoning.

[4] Grudem, EFBT, 527-28.

[5] Grudem, EFBT, 529.

[6] Grudem, EFBT, 517.

[7] Grudem, EFBT, 517.

[8] Rosemarie Tong and Tina Fernandes Botts, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, 5th ed. (New York: Westview, 2018).

[9] Tong and Botts, Feminist Thought, 2.

[10] Grudem, EFBT, 17n2.

[11] I (Sue) have used this word for many years to communicate stretching the meaning of the text to fit one’s view, although I believe I first heard it from a seminary friend, JoAnn Hummel.


This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Women in Ministry by Sue Edwards & Kelley Mathews. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

40 Questions About Women in Ministry charts a course for understanding differing views on the topic regarding the ministries of women. The accessible question-and-answer format guides readers to specific areas of confusion, and authors helpfully zero in on the foundations of varied beliefs and practices. Edwards and Mathews cover interpretive, theological, historical, and practical matters such as:

  • What did God mean by the woman as man’s “helper”?
  • How is it that Christians reach different conclusions about 1 Timothy 2:11-15?
  • How did Western culture influence the role of women in society and the church?

Combining a strong adherence to Scripture, vast academic and ministry experiences, and a commitment to Christ-honoring dialogue, 40 Questions About Women in Ministry is a valuable guide to pastors, ministry leaders, church groups, and seminarians.


Sue Edwards (MA, Dallas Theological Seminary; D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is associate professor of educational ministry and leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has more than twenty-five years of experience teaching, pastoring, and directing women’s ministries. In addition, Sue speaks at retreats, conferences, and seminars across the country, and is author of the Discover Together Bible Study Series. Visit www.discovertogetherseries.com for bible study videos, free leader’s guides and more!

Kelley Mathews (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) is a freelance writer and editor. A former women’s ministry leader, she is the coauthor of Women’s Retreats and New Doors in Ministry to Women. She lives with her husband, John, and her children in Texas. Find her blog at patheos.com/blogs/kelleymathews/.

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