Writings on Christianity

Egalitarian Theology: Repeating the Error of Korah’s Rebellion?

Egalitarian Theology: Repeating the Error of Korah’s Rebellion?

Terms before starting:
Egalitarian Theology: a theology that claims the Bible is open to both males and females being considered qualified elders or pastors of a local church.
Complementarian theology: a theology that claims the Bible restricts the role of elder and pastor to qualified males only (while at the same arguing that men and women are equal but have distinct God-given roles).

In a recent reading of Numbers 16 (the account of Korah’s Rebellion) I was struck by what I believe to be a reasonable analogy with the modern debate over Egalitarian theology. If you are not familiar with Numbers 16—a chapter that takes places during Israel’s wandering in the desert—here’s a brief summary:

A group of individuals, led by Korah, rebel against Moses and argue that the restriction of religious leadership (restricted to the sons of Aaron alone [based on Exodus 28]) was not fair or consistent with the principle that ‘all who are in Israel are holy’ (Num 16:3). [The claim that all in Israel are holy is true and found in Exodus 19:6). Korah wanted the positions of leadership to be open to everyone and claimed that to do otherwise would be self-exaltation and contrary to the fact that everyone in Israel is now holy. In other words, he argued that the universal theological principle that all are holy in Israel should lead to an obliteration of any restrictions regarding particular priestly leadership positions.

This claim–that the universal principle of everyone being made holy must result in the priestly office being made open to everyone–is eerily similar to the claims by modern day proponents of Egalitarian theology. Such individuals argue that Galatians 4:28 (“there is neither male nor female in Christ”) makes it clear that because we are all equal in Christ (male and female), everyone (males and females) should be able to fill the office/role of pastor or elder of a local church. They assert that the universal principle of Galatians 4:28 trumps any claims made elsewhere–like in 1 Tim 2:11-15.

But isn’t such an approach simply repeating the error of Korah’s Rebellion? In Korah’s time, God not only made the entire nation of Israel holy, He also chose particular individuals to fulfill certain religious leadership positions. Thus, there was a universal principle operating at the same as a limiting principle. The same is true today: God has destroyed any marks that should make us smug or self-righteous toward each other in Christ (we are all one in Christ [Gal 4:28]), but he has also chosen to limit the position of elders to qualified males only (1 Tim 2:11-3:7). [Note: the position isn’t even open to all men, but only qualified men who possess particular qualities, maturity and godliness].

In the end, Korah’s claims were shown to be rebellion against God’s Word (Num 16:32). God allowed there to be this tension: all of God’s people are holy, but only some are called to particular positions of leadership. Perhaps we would do well to learn from this example (Scripture calls us to learn from these examples [1 Cor 10:11]) and be comfortable with the tensions of Scripture we see in the New Testament: both and males and females are equal in Christ (Gal 4:28) but there is also a restricting principle in place which only opens the position of elder to qualified men (1 Tim 2:11-3:7).

[Note: after discovering this insight, I found a journal article by Ronald Pierce who argued the same thing over 25 years ago! His article is well worth the read and can be found here]

[Additional note: While I clearly believe that the complementarian position is most faithful to God’s revelation, I love and fellowship with other Christ-followers who take an egalitarian stance.]

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

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