A Theology of Equality
When God made humankind, He made them male and female, both equally in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). According to Peter, this makes men and women co-heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). He chose to do so in a staggered fashion, however, creating the male first, followed by the female. In so doing, God created and exemplified an order: the man would be the spiritual leader (1 Timothy 2:12-13).
The Fall introduced depravity into the male-female relationship (Gen. 3:16), men dominating women through sheer strength, and women desiring to usurp men’s role of leadership. When in Christ, the abuses and enmity between the sexes can be erased, with both finding their fullest identity in Him (Gal. 3:28). By the grace of Christ, husbands can again be chivalrous, loving leaders, and women can be strong, supportive companions (Ephesians 5:22-33).
All ethnicities are ultimately one race: the human race (Acts 17:26). God allowed and even separated different nations as an act of simultaneous judgement and mercy (Gen. 11:6-9; Acts 17:26-27). The development of these different ethnic groupings both retarded the depravity and rebellion of the human race, and allowed the common grace of God to work separately in each (Acts 14:16-17; 17:27). To the degree that each ethnicity rebelled against the light given to them explains the relative distance of the resulting cultures from biblical norms and truths. Some were closer in morals and practices to biblical ideals, some were much further away (Rom. 1:18-32). Ethnicities that were exposed to the Gospel and responded positively to it had the privilege of shaping their norms and practices around revealed truth.
In Christ, ethnic hatred, pride, and partiality is a thing of the past (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11; Jas. 2:1-10). Though Israel retains its place as a chosen ethnicity for God’s own purposes (Rom. 9:5-6; 11:1-6), believers now partake of a new, shared identity as one new humanity in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). Just as male and female difference do not disappear in Christ, nor do ethnic idiosyncrasies and traits, which even Paul noted about the Cretans (Tis. 1:12-13). The point is, these will either be transformed by Christ, or become part of the glorious variety that makes up the redeemed (Rev. 5:9). Believers can no longer use ethnic differences as point of division or separation within the body of Christ.
When God made man, He instructed man to spread His glory throughout the Earth by subjugating it to intelligent and orderly design (Gen. 1:26-28). This would require a vast variety of abilities, gifts, and talents. Even after the Fall, this variety is not lost, with men specialising in agriculture (Gen. 4:20), music (4:21), and metallurgy (4:22). Men chose leaders, kings and priests as far back as we can tell. Systems of government and societal structure were, once again, as good or bad as they were close or distant from God’s truth. Brutal and inhumane systems emerge very early.
The stratification of society is not regarded as an evil, though. Israel’s law makes room for leaders, elders, judges, priests, and kings. It allows for indentured servanthood to pay off debts. It predicts that poor people will remain a fixture of society and calls for compassion and generosity for those poor willing to work. It predicts that some Israelites will be wealthy, and insists that their wealth is not to give them an advantage in the law courts. It does not penalise them for being wealthy, but it prevents their wealth from perverting justice.
In the New Testament, Paul accepts as a reality the fact that the church may be composed of the lower classes (1 Cor. 1:26-27). He tells the Corinthians that it is God’s plan to have a Body composed of members very different in function, ability, and presentability (12:11-27). He cautions them against coveting another’s position, denigrating their own, or being puffed up about themselves. But he does not call for uniformity in status or position. All are to be cherished and loved, but some are worthy of double honour (1 Tim. 5:17). Some are to be esteemed very highly in love for their work’s sake. Christian servants must work for their masters, even the cruel ones, with submissive, honest, zealous labour (1 Pet. 2:18-19). Believing masters must rule without harshness (Eph. 6:9). Paul does not call for the societal abolition of slavery, but tells Philemon to treat Onesimus like a brother, not a slave, thereby implicitly undermining the institution.
As we can see, a biblical theology of equality shows that equality is a word that cannot be used to mean the same thing in all contexts. Are humans equally in God’s image? Yes. Are humans equal? No: not in ability, intelligence, perceptiveness, appearance, or even opportunity. Some equality is good and should be fought for: equality before the law, and equal access to the Gospel. Some equality is impossible and is like chasing rainbows: equality of outcome for all, equal pay for all people, equal education for all aptitudes, equal roles for different sexes, ages, and abilities.
Some forms of equality are justice. Some forms of inequality require redress to obtain that justice.
Some forms of inequality are not unjust; they are simply the form of creation. Some forms of enforced equality are unjust and produce the very opposite of what they claimed to pursue.
About David de Bruyn
David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.