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J. K. Gayle

You rightly shoot us straight to Sumner’s 4 “bullets.” And I want to add that if we take her seriously, then each of her four suggestions may actually help us all get over and around something else.

That something else is the problem of epistemology. Unfortunately, the whole notion of “the church’s faithfulness to the Gospel” as the “test” is problematic. I think you’ve paraphrased Sumner there in a way that captures for us what she means.

May I quote her directly? Just before those 4 wonderful proposals, Sumner says this:

“[T]here are very important differences between these three things: opinions, interpretations of Scripture and biblical truth itself.

Opinions are subjective: whenever an opinion is a wrong one, it typically defies the rules of logic; if an opinion is right, then in the realm of theology, it is regarded as orthodox. (The word orthodoxy literally means “right opinion.”) By contrast, interpretations of Scripture are potentially less subjective insofar as they are guided—and guarded—by the tools of historical and literary analysis. And yet, as with opinions, interpretations can either be right or wrong, or a least better or worse. A wrong interpretation is a misunderstanding of the text. A right interpretation is an accurate understanding of the text. (Thus, as it turns out, having a right interpretation appears to be the same as having knowledge of the text.) Although right interpretations of Scripture are not themselves inspired, they are nonetheless Spirit-led insofar as God alone can unveil the interpreter’s mind (S Cor 4:3). I would, however, emphatically add that right interpretations of Scripture do not, and cannot, contradict biblical truth which, of course, is inherently reliable and inherently authoritative since it is inspired by God.”

This and “a test” of “the church’s faithness to the Gospel” is an epistemology itself. Really, Sumner sounds like Aristotle in her distinguishing “very important differences between” opinions, interpretations, and truth itself.” She takes the next step with her binary definitions to “classify” a hierarchy of epistemologies. With at the top: “biblical truth . . . , of course, [as] inherently reliable and inherently authoritative since it is inspired by God.” The implication is that God washes out all opinion and interpretation of the text’s human authors then and all readers with and after them. I think Jesus, who is arguably a very clear egalitarian, would also have a problem with this reductive epistemology. He might say Sumner sounds like the legalists (i.e., the Mosaic law guardians who both dismissed women and also called themselves scribes and Pharisees).

Let’s shoot past such problematic means of knowing on to those great proposals. Each of Sumner’s wonderful suggestions endorses the Bible with and as not only our human opinions but also with and as our interpretations.


Hi Kurk,

thanks for your insights. I think the distinction between truth and opinion (even if it is the case - as it is ours, that we desire to have an ortho opinion) is important to keep in mind out of a sense that this issue is one on which reasonable people may differ.

In another essay in the same book, Timothy George quotes the staunchly conservative Roger Nicole - who is also an egalitarian - as saying that for true dialogue to take place, we must be able to pose the following question sincerely:

What can I learn from those who differ from me?

I concur with this principle.


Can someone please explain what middle ground exists between those who believe the Biblical new covenant teaches an adult male is to be over an adult female in church and home and those who deny this, teaching that leadership is based on giftedness and both men and women can be leaders in church and the spouses are to be partners in the home.

I do not see any middle ground, so I do not see what ground Sumner is trying to stand on. What am I missing?



Perhaps the best answer to your question is: read more than my own summaries of Sarah's positions. She is a clear writer and has published much already in this regard.

I think you risk skewing the discussion from the outset by summarizing matters in terms of one gender being "over" another within so-called patriarchal frameworks. Societal hierarchies - and our own society is full of hierarchy, in the workplace, the home, in politics, in religion, in the armed forces, both in the good and the bad senses of that word - are misunderstood if they are thought of primarily or only in terms of one piece of the equation being "over" the other. It's not just Christian moralists in patriarchal cultures that express themselves with more nuance and less one-sidedly than that. Moralists in general do (see Andrew Lincoln's work on the NT household codes for references). I say "so-called" patriarchy because it has been shown that patriarchy in the sense of generalized male dominance is not an accurate description of even famously patriarchal cultures like that of antique Rome.

I am more familiar with the status questionis in my field, that of ancient Israel, on which see the nuanced research of Carol Myers introduced elsewhere on this blog.



I also wish to ask, now that I see that you are an administrator of Equality Central Forum (at least I think that deduction is correct) on which another administrators claims that I misrepresent egal beliefs, that examples thereof be offered, so that I can make the necessary corrections.


I have read Sumner's book with limited success. Being able to dink the proponent's of both sides does not mean one is on a middle ground. I am an equal opportunity dinker also but am egal.

On Comp-egal, it might be due to lack of quote marks that is causing some confusion.

On Eq Central, what is the post? I will check. You have my email I assume as this is your blog.




The guy goes by TL as in the byline to his comment in which he accuses both Sarah Sumner and yours truly of various high crimes and misdemeanors:

Today at 02:34:36 PM by TL

Thanks for looking into this. I am open to correction, but I need "chapter and verse" to be cited.


I have told her you want to discuss what she meant. Since she wrote it, I am not sure.


Thanks, Don. That's very helpful.


is the website and you can send her a private message.


Thank you for the question John. One thing that is going to hamper this, is that apparently you have deleted many comments on the Sarah Sumner discussion posts on this forum. So now I will have to find the posts on the CBE Scroll which I thought were troublesome, and that may take more time.

That said…. This excerpt is from the post “The Comp Egal Debate: What does it mean that “the husband is the head of his wife”?”
1. “Another way of putting what I'm trying to say: I think that you, as an egal, may not be critical enough of your framework of choice. It too stands under the judgment of God in specific ways both in theory and in practice.” ... A comment to Don

It seems this general thought that egals are sloppy scholars (I know you didn’t say that precisely here, but to my recollection you have suggested such at different times) came up from you also on the CBE Scroll a few times. I think what you are missing in this thinking is that most all Christians who believe in Biblical Equality have come to this belief through much double, quadruple and more checking and rechecking of their thinking with Scripture, commentaries, Biblical scholars, pastors, friends, and numerous studies coupled with abundant prayer. One does not generally join the team of the less respected unless he really thinks they are right.

As for myself, I argued with God. I wanted to be pleasing to men and approved by authorities. But when God showed me that Biblical equality was the truth, then I could not fight that truth. My only question was what to do about it.



Thanks for asking me to qualify statements I have made in the past that cause you to question my even-handedness or objectivity.

I stand by my statement to Don, but you're right, if I had intended to suggest that your journey or anyone else's into biblical egalism was anything less than genuine, anything less than a response to God's call on your life as you understand it, I would have been in the wrong, big time.

I have not deleted any comments to my posts regarding Sarah Sumner, nor to my follow-up post to the CBE thread on Sarah and Jim Sumner's book, which has now appeared. You will find some heated comments on my part in those two threads. At the time, I was exasperated by the way what was meant as a discussion of my series on the Sumner book became an exercise in labeling Sarah Sumner in disregard of her habits of self-identification, an airing of pet peeves and pet hypotheses (excuse my bluntness) unrelated to my series, etc.

In retrospect, I regret my exasperation, but perhaps you, too, have felt bad when what could have been an amicable and charitable discussion of the review of a work you consider valuable - in my case the Sumners' approach to a difficult topic - degenerates into a series of belligerent attacks. Perhaps I am exaggerating, but that is how it felt at the time.

I can certainly understand those feelings John. Felt the same myself at times.

But seems I recollect there was some post you had over a hundred responses to, in which you shut down the comments. Which one was that.


FWIIW, I am egal, so Martin may be thinking of another Don. I put Lincoln's book on my Amazon want list due to your recommendation, thanks.


I have not deleted any comments to my posts regarding Sarah Sumner,


I have saved the deleted comments, both mine and yours. Would you like them resurrected?

I did not label Sumners or say anything negative about her at all. I did write on the CBE scroll,

I do not feel that Sumners interacts with the fact that kephale in Greek at that time did not have the meaning “authority over.”

I also wrote,

I think Sumner’s fails in limiting the wife’s refusal to submit only to things that are morally wrong or physical abuse.

This was a very careful and restrained response to Sumners article, in which she says some very negative things about egals. She writes,

Egalitarians would do well to rededicate themselves to careful exegesis ...

Where is her evidence?

I won't include a link but this can all be found in the first few comments on the post about John on the CBE scroll.

Frankly on rereading her article, I am not surprised that egalitarians have been upset.



That would be the post entitled:

The Comp Egal Debate and the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle

You can easily find the post through googling. But have no fear! I promised to reopen that debate some day, and I plan to do so this Fall. I miss Tiro3 and Wyn who are excellent debaters.

BTW, I do not usually accept anonymous posts. Please give your usual web moniker and/or blog link in the future.


Andrew Lincoln's commentary is indeed excellent. I trust it will continue to sell well.


Welcome back. I forgot that the comments I deleted that time were on a Sarah Sumner thread. It seems to me that you posted them on your blog - which is your right: you are free to provide the link.

For my part, I will continue to argue that the general response by egals on the CBE thread dedicated to Sarah Sumner's attempt to forge a middle way was disappointing. That applies to your response as well.

It's not only what you do say. It's what you don't say.

Charity on your part might have led you to say something like this, "I don't agree with every detail in Sarah and Jim Sumner's approach on matters of interest in the comp-egal debate, but in my view the approach represents a vast improvement over that of Sarah's doctoral advisor, Wayne Grudem."

But you never did, though I think such a statement would have been natural from your side.

In general, you have no patience with those on the non-comp part of the comp-egal spectrum who point out weaknesses and shortcomings in egal theory and practice. You seem to regard this as treason. With all due respect, that is not necessarily the case.

It is also wrong to suggest that Sarah Sumner does not back up her statement that egalitarian exegesis sometimes involves special pleading. She does so, however, according to a common practice among scholars. Rather than take issue directly with that exegesis, she presents her own. It is my considered conclusion that her exegesis is careful and balanced. If so, a great deal of evangelical-style egalitarian exegesis needs qualification.

If the exegetical debate interests you, we can pick up where we left off on previous threads. In that case, I might take what I've previously written on NT household codes, the kephale-soma metaphor, and so on, in comments and other posts, and reshape it into a new post. Then you and anyone else will be free to comment away.

Indeed, I will do that whether you think much of the idea or not, but probably not until mid-Fall.


"I won't include a link but this can all be found in the first few comments on the post about John on the CBE scroll."

Where is that post on CBE. Do you have a link.... or even the month it was originally posted?



I can answer your question as well. The post on CBE is dated July 3, 2008.

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