Women in Ministry, Part 7 – Women as Leaders

This is my penultimate post in this series as we look at the allowable roles for women in the New Testament church to see if there are any restrictions on their ability to serve in church positions. As we saw in Part 6 (here), I concluded that there is not enough exegetical evidence to conclude that we should bar women from teaching in the local church and practically almost all churches function in this way. The discussion in this post may seem a bit similar, but there is a big distinction between teaching in church (to all kinds of people), and serving in one of the offices given to the church.

The offices that we find in the New Testament church are elder (which includes pastor & bishop) and deacon. We could probably fill quite a few books discussing these roles and their scope, but I will short circuit that discussion for the sake of brevity. Elders serve as the leaders of the church spiritually. We see Paul appointing elders to steward the churches that he planted, and their goal was to make sure the church stayed on the right spiritual track. Deacons are seen as lead servants, possibly functioning as ministry heads. There has been recent discussion that the deacon ministry included letter carriers (like Phoebe), and our idea of a hard fast “office” maybe malleable. I will stick to the traditional understanding of the roles for this post. The main passage we use for this assessment will come from I Timothy 3:1-13.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Should Women Be Deacons?

We will start with the easy one, and my answer is a resounding yes. I think the Scripture gives us examples of a female deacon (Phoebe) so our understanding of Paul’s  instruction in I Timothy 3:8-13 have to take that into an account. In the ESV above we see a bit of translation bias from the ESV as it renders “their wives” in verse 11. The Greek word is simply “women” and is rendered here as wives because the translators have concluded it cannot mean women deacons. The Greek lacks the personal pronoun that would be expected to support “deacons wives” as the translation, so a better rendering would be “female deacons.” There are a few transitions that give us some interpretative clues in this passage: likewise is used to transition between elders and deacons, and also to transition between general qualities for deacons and then specific qualities for the male and female deacons. Female deacons are instructed to guard their tongues, and male deacons are called to lead their families well. Paul is addressing the weakness of each group in the Ephesian context. The  principle we can discern here is that all types of deacons have weaknesses, and we have to be careful to not miss our blind spots. The division of men and women here is ancillary to the greater context.

Should Women Be Elders?

Hermeneutically and traditionally speaking, this question is by far the more difficult to answer. The reason why is squarely on verse 2 where elders are told to be “husbands of one wife.” Unlike the deacon passage that addresses wives, there is no real qualification that reveals a division for male elders. Titus 1:6 also reinforces this idea when it says the same thing, “husband of one wife.” Those who believe that women are restricted from serving as elders will point to this verse as the primary reason why. It is pretty clear that Paul has men in view in this statement, and the addition of Titus 1:6 elevates the teaching to a broader context then just Ephesus, universalizing this requirement. However, those who believe that women can be elders would say that Paul is addressing the situation in the context of Ephesus, where all the elders were likely men (because they were the qualified people), and also that men were the ones who were being unfaithful to their marital relations. In I Timothy 5:9 Paul required that women who were enrolled on the widows list had to have been faithful to their husbands showing that Paul wanted marital fidelity for both sides of the marriage relationship. The Ephesian context also made it clear that women were engaged in spreading false teaching and that was something an elder was to stand in opposition to. In addressing Titus 1:6, they would say that the same conclusion applies in Crete as it did in Ephesus: Paul was addressing the reality of the situation and not establishing a dogma to follow for all time. Exegetically speaking, both arguments are plausible.  The traditionalist will say that allowing women to be pastors by calling Paul’s requirements “cultural” is twisting scripture to make it fit cultural, while conveniently ignoring other clear teachings of Scripture as well (see post 6). Likewise, those who are more liberal in their application of truth will use the text in the same way.

In the end, I believe there is not enough evidence to conclude one way or the other on the topic of women elders, which leaves it up to the Spirit to guide and direct in each church body. I don’t find churches that have only male elders to be wantonly heretical, nor do I find churches that ordain men and women to be so either. Personally, I believe that we need to require qualified people to serve as elders, and that we have far too many people serving as elders who are unqualified. I would much rather we address refining the elders that we have in the church, instead of adding requirements to the list of elders that maybe suspect.

I will say that one of the corollaries to churches that ordain women is that they tend to be very liberal when it comes to other points of theology, discounting Scripture that is far clearer because they have a political or emotional agenda. I tend to think that colors our exegetical view of the arguments they make supporting women in ministry. I believe that there is a real need for conservative scholars to addressing this topic (primarily female elders) with an open mind while continuing to reject the abysmal exegesis that justifies God blessing homosexual marriage, etc… There is a tradition of conservative Biblical exegetes that have concluded women are not to be barred from any ministry in the church. It is not a liberal / conservative issue at its core but an exegetical and hermeneutical one.

In the last post in this series I want to wrap up the big picture of what I think the church can learn from examining the topic of women in ministry, and even if we don’t find that the Spirit is leading us to change our view to embrace a wider viewpoint, what we need to draw from the discussion to reform our positions to consistency to the Scripture.

I have included my doctoral project that much of this series has drawn on. I think this is a pre-final version, but it doesn’t include a lot of unnecessary information that I had to include in the final so I apologize for any typos.

 

 

 

 

Women in Ministry, Part 6 – Women Should Be Silent

We have reached part six (part 5 is here), and we are closing in on the finish line. We have reached our Rubicon River, the place where once we cross we can never go back to our former lives. Well, not really, but we are hitting two of the most used, and some would say abused, verses regarding the roles of women in church. The question before us is, in what capacity women should be allowed to teach or preach in the church gathering? Those from a non-Christian background may find this question a bit ridiculous, but it is by no means so. There are verses that appear to limit the scope of a woman’s role in teaching, and for that matter speaking in the church assembly. How we understand these two verses that address this subject directly, will go a long way in determining what limitations we must impose on women teaching.
Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, 10 but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control. I Timothy 2:9-15.
the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. I Corinthians 14:34-35

These two verses are THE verses that shut the door to establishing women as teachers in the local church. We are going to look at them together because they basically say the same thing (I Corinthians 14 with a little more rhetorical flourish). What does Paul say in these passages: women should be silent, women should be submissive when learning, women should not have authority over men, women speaking is a disgrace in church, and that women are saved by childbirth. Now we know that Paul does not literally mean that having a child is the redemptive price of women (or kiss Ephesians 2:8-9 goodbye), so we have to keep that in mind in understanding the argument Paul is making in I Timothy 2:9-16, as it establishes the idea that he is arguing against local heresy and not teaching a timeless practice. We might say the same thing about I Corinthians where we see Paul instructing them in their aberrant practices of Christianity as well.

Does Paul actually call for women to be silent? We know that is not a universal command because Paul gave instruction on how women should pray and prophecy in the local assembly in I Corinthians 11:2-16. While some scholars suggest that Paul actually changed his mind between I Corinthians 11 and I Corinthians 14 (and didn’t go back and change it), we can conclude that absolute silence in church is not what Paul has in mind. If we look closer at I Timothy 2:11-13, we get a picture not of silence, but of a quiet spirit. Paul wants these women to learn without being proud, boastful, or spreading their poisonous heresy. This is why he adds the call to submissiveness. This doesn’t mean “doormat to men,” it means be submissive to the people who are teaching God’s truth, something they were not doing. The cure for bad doctrine is good doctrine, and Paul wants the women to learn it. In addition, we have to remember that women in this time period were not educated, and considered property. In most cases, they would be unqualified to teach, and that is probably one of the reasons they were led into the heresy they were promoting. That helps us understand I Timothy, but what about I Corinthians 14 which says it is disgraceful for a women to teach. I would argue that this very well might have been true in Corinth (especially after what we saw in I Corinthians 11:2-16), but it does not mean women speaking should be thought of as always disgraceful (or why give the instruction for them speaking in the same letter?). I would also say, there is a pretty convincing argument that I Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation, and not actually in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians making it non-authoratative for believers (see note at bottom).

Paul also says that women should not have any authority over men. The word translated as authority is extremely difficult to translate. The Greek word αὐθεντέω occurs only once in the Bible (this is called a hapax legomenon), and it is a very uncommon word in the extra biblical writing of the day, so establishing exactly what Paul meant is difficult. The best English rendering of this word is probably close to the KJV, which stated women should not usurp authority from men. Give the context, this makes sense. As women were spreading heresy, they were usurping authority they did not have. The were not qualified or designated to proclaim the truth of God’s word. Paul would not have them taking the authority away from the men in whom it rested to proclaim their false doctrine. In general, we should be very careful to conclude anything too rigid from an interpretation based largely on a hapax legomenon, especially when there is an equally valid interpretation that does not require a dogmatic conclusion. While this may yield some uncertainty, it prevents us from using a wrong conclusion that we like better.

What conclusions should we draw from these two passages then? Well the principles we can clearly derive without much debate are that those who are unqualified should not teach. A man that is a novice or not able to divide the Word properly should be barred from teaching, just as a woman in the same predicament should be. We also can conclude that anyone who teaches heretical or false doctrine should be barred from teaching: corrupting the Scripture is not allowed. There is an old adage that says if you find someone teaching something completely new and original from the Scripture run far away from that person. This applies to both men and women. I think we can also conclude that Paul wanted us to guard the teaching ministry and not allow those who were not willing to learn and be under others authority to hold sway over local assemblies. Beyond that, concluding that women are barred from all teaching is a stretch that we do not have to make based on the exegesis of these passages, and that if we do make could harm the church in its impact and influence.

In reality, Complementarians know this to be true. All we have to do is look at how many ways Complementarian church leaders disobey these commands. Have you ever been in a church where women were not allowed to speak? That talking or asking a question was seen as disgraceful? “Now Jim, you are being too rigid…Paul obviously thought women could say hello others!” That, unfortunately, is not a conclusion you get to draw from this passage if you believe we have to take it literally. If Complementarians believe that Paul meant women should not speak, THEY SHOULD NOT SPEAK AT ALL. The same can be said of teaching. I have yet to go to a church where a woman was not teaching in the children’s ministry, or leading women’s bible studies. If Complementarians believe that women should never teach, then it is gross sin to allow them to teach our most impressionable (children) and our must gullible (women by their conclusions, not mine). I have also been to many Complementarian churches that have women serving as “directors” of ministries that have men under their leadership. Another violation of this passage. In reality, Complementarians tell us they don’t believe these passages are as clear as they make them out to be by how they do ministry in their assembly. Jesus said that we will know them (false teachers, I am not calling Complementarians false teachers…I don’t believe that either side of this issue rises to the level of heresy, I believe they are inconsistent teachers) by their fruit, meaning we know what people really believe by what they do. If the passage was meant to bar all women for all time from teaching, then those who believed that would do it and not equivocate.

In most cases, I believe that Complementarians restrict women from teaching based on these verses in an effort to be biblical. I think the idea that individuals want to suppress women is overstated, and in most cases is absolutely a sinful argument to make. I also believe that much of this belief system is based on traditional conclusions. These conclusions derive from practices from an era where qualified women would just not have existed. The culture was extremely patriarchal, and our practice in this area is one where context has been ignored. This has systematical denied women the ability to teach in the church. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this series to challenge us to hold true to the Reformation ideal of getting the text right, and practicing the principles we find in context.

I am as conservative as they come when it comes to Biblical interpretation, but I am also not a traditionalist. I try not carry the weight of traditional argumentation into my exegesis, and I try to be objective. I hope that you can see my love for the text of the Scripture in these posts.

In our penultimate post we are going to examine what restrictions we find for the two Biblical offices of the local church: elder and deacon. I am really thankful to those who read these and I am thankful that we can understand together, and can agree and disagree together in the Body of Christ!

Interpolations are not uncommon in the New Testament, but very often they are easy to spot and have been identified before the text is composed. There are a very small number that made their way into our bibles. You will often see bracketed sections in modern translations that indicate a passage that was not original to the author but added later on due to a variety of reasons. In many cases scribes knew about the dubious origins of these passages and marked them accordingly. I Corinthians 14:34-45 bears many similarities to other well accepted interpolations such as John 7:53-8:11, I John 5:7-8, and Mark 16:9-20. These two verses appear in different places in I Corinthians 14 (called wandering), which is a signal that the scribes copying the text were unsure where it was supposed to go. This usually happened because the text was written in a margin of the document they were copying, due to its similarity to I Timothy 2, these verses could very well be notes from another author intensifying Paul’s commands. The phrase “as the law says” is quite unlike Paul in his writings. Nowhere else does he appeal to the law for how Christians should function in the New Testament church, giving rise to the idea that he may not have written it. There are also copies of the text (codexes) which indicate the scribes thought these two verses may not be original. The copyists marked them so later scribes would understand that their provenance was in question, Codex Fuldensis for example. The argument is very interesting and I find it persuasive, but not required for my conclusions. I would recommend further reading on the subject if you are so inclined.

Women in Ministry, Part 5 – Headship

As we start into an analysis of some of the New Testament passages regarding women in ministry, I feel like Josiah Bartlett in season 6 of the West Wing. The President is negotiating a peace deal with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, but won’t address the only real issue that matters in the discussion till the end of the negotiations when the sides have made real progress. The issue, what to do about Jerusalem, was the most critical, and also the most difficult.

This is where we sit right now in our discussion of women in ministry after finishing our discussion of the prerequisites (Post 4 here). I have laid out a foundation for understanding the role of women without prejudice, and highlighted the unity of man and woman in the Garden, but if we are going to conclude that God wants women to have equal access to church leadership as men, our most difficult discussions are just starting. There are 3 key texts that we have to examine to see what God says about: headship, teaching, and eldership/deacon-hood which are the leadership offices found in the New Testament church.

Headship is the idea that God created man as the “head” or leader of his woman. Passages in I Corinthians 11:2-15 and I Timothy 2:11-15 are going to need to be dealt with to understand headship, if it is a thing, and what we can conclude about it. The role of women teaching/preaching in the church is addressed primarily in I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-15, and will be the second set of verses we look at. Lastly, I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 will need to be discussed in relation to eldership & deacon-hood and if they are allowable for women. These posts will probably longer than the others, and I will probably have to leave some areas uncovered or just gloss over  them due to the complexity of the issues. I am more than happy to discuss anything unclear.

The first question we will look at is the idea of my headship, is it really a thing? At the outset, let me say that I am not going to look at Ephesians 5:23 or I Peter 3:1 because those in context, are about husband and wife relationships. That is on the periphery of what we are talking about here, but lest anyone be concerned that I am dodging them, I am not. If there are any questions about how those tie in, I would be glad to address them in the future.

One of the most difficult genres to translate in the Bible is the epistle type (apocolyptic is the most difficult in my estimation). In addition to understanding all of the things we need to know for other types of literature (time, date, author, reason for writing, cultural understanding, language) there is also the variable of not knowing the exact situation or questions that the author is addressing. More often then not, the author assumes we know the immediate context of their writing, and doesn’t lay it out for the reader. The recipients knew the context but we do not, and much of that knowledge is lost to history. Understanding just what the author means becomes even more difficult in these cases, so again, deriving principles is more our goal than deriving direct practice. Much of what the early church did was due to their culture.

I Corinthians 11:2-16

Staring with I Corinthians 11:2-16 we see the Apostle Paul addressing the topic of proper “attire” at gatherings of the church, especially when women pray or prophesies. He says this to start his discussion: “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” There is more “For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God.” 

This is considered one of the most difficult passages to translate in all of Scripture because there are so many unknowns (what is this covering business, what is the type of cover because veil is not mentioned in this text, what in the world is a women’s authority especially if she to be under the leader of a man, etc…), and Paul’s argument is so complicated and difficult to understand in our modern context (below is a PDF with a detailed exegesis of the passage). We also do not really know the make up of people that Paul is writing to (Greek, Roman, Hebrew), which is critical to knowing just how “covering the head” would be viewed culturally. Much of that is ancillary to our concern here, but know that this passage is quite complex. The main argument in regards to women in ministry rests primarily in I Corinthians 11:2, 7-9, starting with verse 2: what does Paul mean by “man is the head of  woman” which is bracketed by “Christ is the head of man” and “God is head of Christ.” Paul uses the word “head” (Greek κεφαλή) in both literal and metaphorical senses in this passage, but in verse 2 Paul is obviously using κεφαλή metaphorically.  Now this answer is very easy in English and quite possibly in Hebrew thought: head means leader. However, this is not always (or mostly) true in Greek thought in this time period. It isn’t till much later that the semantic range (what a word can mean) included “leader” or “ruler” as the primary meaning of this word. In Greek, the metaphorical use of this word can mean (or possibly should mean in this time period) “source,” though it has been pointed out in recently scholarship that both meanings can be used faithfully in this text. This is where the uncertainty of knowing who Paul was writing to impacts our understanding of the timeless principle. If Paul is writing to Hebrews, he is more likely establish a creation order argument, if he is writing to Greeks he more likely means source.

If Paul means “source” the argument changes from the idea of creation order, to one of interdependence based on sexual compatibility. I won’t cover the progression here (see the PDF) because its a bit complicated; but there is enough evidence in the exegesis to throw significant doubt on the idea that Paul wants man to consider himself the ruler of woman.

I Timothy 2:11-16

We will deal with this passage more fully when we get to the discussion of women teaching or preaching in the local church, but Paul also appeals to Genesis 2 and 3 when he discusses Adam and Eve to buttress his point about women teaching in Ephesus (where Timothy was). Paul said “For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression.” This again appears to appeal to creation order at the outset of our analysis. The problem is that concluding that without properly understanding the purpose and situation in Ephesus is problematic. Paul stated his purpose in writing this letter to Timothy 1:3-7: he wrote to combat false teaching. It seems that women were the ones spreading the false teaching (4:3, 5:11-15), and that the false teaching was centered around the idea that woman was created first and having children was no longer necessary. Studies of Ephesus push this Gnostic idea pretty close to the time of writing (but not quite to the time of writing), make it a real possibility that Paul wrote this section specifically to address this heresy. In that case, the argument Paul makes is not necessarily arguing for creation order, but for a proper understanding of God’s creation and the necessity of reproduction. Man was created first, woman was created second. Men and women should continue to have children because it is not sinful. Paul uses Eve to illustrate exactly what the Ephesian women are doing – they were deceived and are deceiving others. This idea is how we can make some sense of 2:15 which is quite difficult to understand in context otherwise (no Complementarian believes women are saved by having kids). While this can not be proven (yet – if archeology and cultural study of Ephesus may yet yield this information conclusively), it is a very real possibility that takes into account the cultural, context, and addresses all the context issues the best. It isn’t perfect, but no exegesis of this passage is.

Conclusion

When we originally looked at Genesis 1-3, I said that we couldn’t derive headship from the immediate context and we had to reserve judgement until we looked at some relevant New Testament passages. After looking at these passages I believe that there is no way to conclude with certainty that Paul is interpreting Genesis to impose headship. I also think it is impossible to rule that conclusion out. This means to me that we are left to take headship as a gray area, where there is no biblical mandate requiring us to believe it. My conclusion is that headship is not in line with the idea of Genesis 1:27 – man and woman were made in the image of God, both sexes carry that image. Neither sex is intrinsically superior in leadership (there are great male and female leaders, deal with it), or designed to rule. While earlier cultures have been highly patriarchal, that tradition should not impact our application of God’s Word. One text that is usually used to highlight this truth is Galatians 3:28, Paul tells his readers that there are no longer distinctions between groups (slave/free, Jew/Greek, and man/woman). In context, this discussion about salvation, all people are equal in the site of God at the foot of the cross. It is disingenuous not to apply that same principle of equality in all areas of life if in the most important topic of human experience, we are all the same. If there was clear reasons (and not presuppositions) to see an established rule of men over women, that would be a different story, however; that is not what we have.

This is just one piece of the women in ministry puzzle, and possibly the least important for our systematic theology of the role of women in ministry. While I believe Complementarians have to hold to headship, I do not believe they do so because of the idea of the superiority of men (though I am sure there are misogynists among them). I believe they hold to it because it is the key point that buttresses their conclusion on the next topic we will look at. Without it, the restrictive Complementarian argument has very little support in application.  Next time we are going to examine whether women should be allowed to teach and preach in the local church, and if so, what restrictions should be placed on them.

As always, I am open to questions or further discussions!

ICorinthians11_2_16_Exegesis

Women in Ministry, Part 4 – The Testimony of the Early Church

This is part 4 in a series surveying the role of women in ministry (part 3 here). In case you didn’t know there were many female servants in the early church. Unfortunately, the female servants do not get a whole lot of pub. While most of us probably cannot name all 12 apostles, we can probably struggle through half of them or more if we have been in church for awhile. Comparatively, I am not sure most of us could name more than one or two influential female leaders in the early church (Mary doesn’t count), and many of us maybe shocked that there were any at all.

There is sufficient evidence in the New Testament to show that this new Christian faith was to be an inclusive faith, eschewing arbitrary distinctions like gender and race in a lot of ways. That was later forgotten or obscured by the institutional church that coalesced at Nicea (and after), but the first Christians were not shy about using women to further the mission of God. Before Jesus died, it has been argued by many that the women we see in the Gospels helped “bankroll” his ministry. We do know that these women were loved by Jesus, and ministered to Him.

Let’s skip to the very early church. What kinds of things do we see women doing in the infantile stage of the church? Let’s look first at Priscilla. She and her husband Acquila worked with Paul in several places in the New Testament. What is a bit shocking for the New Testament, is that Priscilla is most frequently mentioned before her husband. This would be very uncommon because usually the more influential person would be mentioned first, and that would always be the husband. In this case, however; Paul frequently placed Priscilla at the beginning of his greeting. What did she do in ministry? Many things, but maybe the most striking was that she (primarily it seems) and her husband helped train one of the most gifted speakers of their time Apollos in the fullness of the Gospel. Not only that, she lived on mission, serving the Lord with Paul and her husband. Paul evidently thought very highly of her and her husband, as they traveled with him, labored with him, and were greeted many times by him. In the early church, women were allowed to communicate the Gospel to all. (As an aside, often people will say that we have no evidence she did this in “church,” but we also do not have evidence to the contrary. It should be be remembered that church was like it is today, see Acts 2:42-47. They met often, and they taught often)

Then we have Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2. We aren’t exactly sure what Phoebe did, or what her role in the church at Cenchrea was. We do know that she was called a διάκονος. This word is the same word translated as deacon. There was no female form of this word till later in the church’s development, so Phoebe is called the same thing as a male deacon would be. What is interesting is that she is also called προστάτις. The root word means one who is set over others or leads others, but it is here in a feminine form because Phoebe was a woman. Many will argue that the change in gender indicates a lesser role for Phoebe than a “real” deacon, but there is really no exegetical reason to conclude that. While it isn’t clear what Phoebe was in charge of, it is clear she held a place of authority. The act of carrying Paul’s letter to Rome was a supremely important task, especially when we consider just how important this letter was to Christian Systematic Theology. It is very likely that letter carriers served as interpreters of the letters they carried. They would be charged with explaining exactly what the author meant to their audience. That would have Phoebe instructing the Roman Christians about Paul’s doctrine (similar to what Pastors due today), including men.

As we read further in Romans 16, we see many women mentioned, but maybe no one more quixotic than Junia in verse 7. For many years a debate has raged as to whether Paul was addressing a man or woman. That is why we see this name translated as Junias in different English translations. After many years of studying the culture and texts, most scholars agree that this was a woman called Junia. Greeting her was nothing surprising, but what Paul said about her was. In the NASB it says that she (and Andronicus) were outstanding among the apostles. There is a bit of controversy here as that phrase could be translated as “known to the apostles.” Neither translation is “better.” If Junia is just known by the Apostles our understanding of women’s roles in the church is not much changed from the traditional understanding. If, however; Junia was an apostle, it radically shifts our understanding of the role of women in the New Testament. As an apostle, she would be elevated to a role of authority we have previously thought was only occupied by men. There would then be no reason to exclude women from any role in the church.

While there is no exegetical reason to conclude that Junia was not an apostle, it is also difficult to conclude that she was on the apostolic level. Unfortunately, there is just no way to know for sure what Paul meant; so while we cannot take a mandate from this verse either way, we must leave open the possibility that she was indeed an apostle.

There are many other women we see doing great things in the New Testament, from Chloe who seems like she hosted a church in her home, to Lydia who was the first convert in Macedonia and may have also had a church in her home, to Timothy’s mother and grandmother. We see that women impacted the Early Church in many ways.

I put this overview before we start examining the specific passages to make sure that we have a level-set on the types of things women did in the very early church. As the church developed and became more sacerdotal (led by priest-types), women were marginalized. This colors how we view the texts we will see later on, so know that God used women greatly to impact the early church. Indeed, because of church culture, we need to be reminded often of how valuable women were in all facets of ministry in the early church. Remember: the New Testament was not written as a handbook on how to do church, but recorded what the people did from which we derive principles. If this was their practice of ministry (women serving in many ways, even authoritatively) we should be careful not to view their practices anachronistically. This allows us to invent our own view of their model to mirror our traditions and prejudices, and then apply a fallacious basis of practice forward to our day. The principle is clear: women were servants, held authoritative positions, and were invaluable to the spread of the Gospel.

In our next post we are going to start addressing in detail the passages that would appear to limit the scope and roles of women in ministry. It’s likely that we will see our presuppositions challenged most in these next few posts. Hang with me, and I pray that what we have done so far has been helpful!

Women in Ministry, Part 3, Creation’s Purpose

This is part 3 of a series discussing the role of women in ministry, and trying to decide what the Bible teaches on this controversial subject. You can find Part 2 here. The first Biblical point I want to address is to answer this question: What was God’s purpose in creation?  Let me begin by stating that I believe God created humanity out of nothing, and that Theistic Evolution is bogus and not a truth taught in the bible. This is important because it means that God created humanity with purpose. Genesis 1:27 is the great statement on God’s design of man and woman: He created man in His image, male and female He created them. This is where God breathed life into humanity and men and women became image bearers. We each carry the Imago Dei, with the capacity for reason, worship, ministry, and fellowship. Now before some of my Complementarian friends say “see He created MAN in His image…” no serious scholar believes that the “man” here is meant to be anything other than a representation of humanity. Hebrew has two words for man אָדָם (‘adam) and אִישׁ (‘iysh), and אָדָם most commonly refers to mankind/humanity. Hence Adam’s name (also אָדָם, but with the הָֽ indicating a specific אָדָם) isn’t just man, but carries with it the idea of him being the beginning of humanity. If you will allow me to paraphrase, verse 27 would say: God created humanity in His image; He created them male and female. Male and female are properties of humans. God included both in this statement to show that all humanity was in his image regardless of gender. As the narrative is recapitulated in Genesis 2, we also see the אָדָם used everywhere we see “man” up until Genesis 2:23 when both man and woman were created.

What is the point of all that information? God was not making אִישׁ (man) better or first as an order of rule. Someone had to be first, and it was Adam. The point of what is being communicated here is that man and woman form a unit. אִישׁ and אִשָּׁה (‘yishah, woman) were inextricably linked together in creation. In fact, the purpose of God in creation of humanity was for us to have fellowship with Him. I believe that is demonstrated in minuscule form in Genesis 3:8 when God comes looking for them and found them hiding in their shame. Their sin broke fellowship and the rest of Scripture is about restoring the relationship between God and humanity (this post contains some of my thoughts about that). The creation account is an account of God making humanity for fellowship, both man and woman. There is absolutely no reason to think these passages teach hierarchy or rule of men over women. God’s purpose in giving us this story was to show us that we need each other equally.

Now let me anticipate some of my Complementarian friends arguments for male headship at this point:

  • Man was created first, he is primarily the representative of God and His ruler of creation: not withstanding our Hebrew lesson above, this objection says that because God created man first, he is automatically the boss. God brought Adam the animals to name. God thought Adam needed a partner. The problem with this argument of creation order is that God saved His most important creation for last (humanity), and with that logic His most important creation would be woman, as she was the last thing created. Creation order will be a big part of the argument for male headship/leadership in the church, so this will be an argument we come back to.
  • Woman is described as a helper, this implies someone who is under another’s rule: First, remember God’s purpose in creating humanity was for fellowship and interdependence, not hierarchy; but more important than that is that Hebrew עֵזֶר (‘ezer) NEVER means or implies inferiority or subservience in the Scripture. It means helper (helper is not an indicator of hierarchy), one who succors (ministers to another, the same could be said of a Pastor), and one who stands in front of. In order to get this text to mean “one who is subordinate to,” we have to bring that conclusion into the text.
  • Jim just read Genesis 3:16! God said man will rule over woman – this is indeed what Genesis 3:16 says, but in context this statement is part of the curse given to humanity when they chose sin. Each part of the curse is something that humanity now has to fight against: bad ground when planting, pain in childbearing, and yes rule of man over woman. Isn’t this what we see as a giant problem in church culture today? Powerful men abusing women in the church? This is not a command but a curse we should fight against.
  • The New Testament tells us that creation order is a thing – as I said above, this is a very real argument that comes from the New Testament. We will be going through these passages later, so I will hold off on the discussion of this item till them.

So what can we conclude? Seeing that fellowship and interdependence of man and woman, and humanity and God are the primary topics; we can conclude that God made man and woman for each other. Without man there is no woman, and without woman there would be no more man (childbirth). We are intricately linked together and cannot be separated into factions. This may not help us to make a conclusion about the ultimate role of women in the church, but it does get us to see that God thinks and purposes about humanity holistically and not necessarily piecemeal. Divisiveness is common in humanity. We like to divide people by gender, age, color, and whatever else we can find. This seems to always be a precursor to sin and discrimination.

The next topic will be to analyze the early church and discover the types of ministry women were doing. This will give us some clues as to what the earliest Christians thought women should be engaged in.

Women in Ministry, Part 2: The Enemies of Understanding

This post is the second in a series evaluating the role of women in ministry (first post). Before we get into understanding and interpreting the relevant passages in relationship to women in ministry, we need to address two big enemies to us having an open mind to this topic, the first being tradition. Tradition can be an enemy to properly understanding what the Bible says because it tells us that the issue has been settled a long time ago. Indeed we may already think we know what the Bible says about the issue, because our church, parents, or leaders have told us what we should believe based on their traditions. Unfortunately, tradition is not necessarily biblically derived, and conclusions can often be based on faulty logic or cultural preferences.  This is why tradition can be difficult to wade through for us seeking to understand the Bible in context.

A second enemy to our study here will be that many of us are not trained in how to properly understand the Bible and apply it in the modern world. I don’t want to alarm anyone but we very rarely do direct application of practice in the New Testament church to ourselves. That is because one of the rules of proper biblical application is to understand what the basis of practice was described as in the New Testament, derive the principles that are present in these practices, and use the principles to guide our modern church practices. A proper analysis of a text has to take into account what the writer of the passage was trying to communicate (and what the people they were writing to understood them to mean), the location and customs of the recipients, the situation of the recipients and purpose of the writing, as well as any difficult to understand terms, and incorporated literary devices (yes, things like sarcasm existed in the Bible and we have to be able to recognize it without a sarcasm font). That may sound complex, but it gets even worse. Generally speaking, we don’t always know the answers to these questions. This is one of the reasons that we have wide varieties of understanding and application of “very clear” biblical texts. We as Biblical exegetes (and if we are to have an opinion on the Bible we better be exegetes) have to carefully study all these factors to engage in a meaningful way with the Biblical text. Misunderstanding context, culture, and meaning have led to more divisions and heresies than any other practice.

Defeating these enemies will not be easy for some. I would like to say that enemy number 2 will be the most difficult one to overcome, but for most of us it will be enemy number 1. I will attempt to walk us through the difficulties of interpretation and various understandings of the Biblical texts after having studied it quite a bit. That does not mean I will not be wrong, but hopefully through the exegesis you will see that and be able to draw your own conclusions. By contrast, I cannot do anything to change your pre-conceived notions about what church should be like, just like you cannot change mine. Tradition will be our biggest challenge as we seek Biblical understanding. For example, if we are not used to seeing women preach and teach, it may strike us very wrong (even if it isn’t); if we are used to it, and we find the Scripture to teach that it is wrong, we may not be willing to accept it. Tradition has consistently been the biggest problem to reforming failing and un-biblical practice in the church.

In our next installment we are going to look at the big picture that God had in creation and try to derive His plan and purpose for it. We will begin to challenge some of the assumptions we have and start laying the groundwork for where we are going to go in the future. With that, let’s get Biblical (sung to the tune of Olivia Newton John)!

Women in Ministry – Grappling With Controversy and Truth, Part 1

I have been contemplating writing on this topic for some time. The catalyst for me really goes back about 25 years to a conversation my wife and I had when we were 18 and I was not a Christian. It was the first time I ever heard the view espoused that I would later learn was called Complementarianism. I was quite shocked and horrified that God would design an order in the relationship between a husband and a wife. Over time, that shock dissipated and became more of an “ok, that’s what the Bible clearly teaches” type of thing, and I acquiesced and became a Complementarian. Something always bugged me about it though. The idea of marital hierarchy was problematic with other things I read about God in my Bible. God’s nature didn’t seem to dictate that conclusion, but then I would study passages of Scripture like I Corinthians 11:2-16I Corinthians 14:34-46I Timothy 2:9-15Ephesians 5:22, and I Peter 3:1-7 and I would run back to my Complementarianism. As our church leaders would say: it was obviously exactly what the Bible taught, however; my wife didn’t cover her head with a veil, all the churches we were in allowed women to talk (and teach select groups), and none of them thought women were redeemed through having babies (though all were Complementarian). It was quite a conundrum, and a haphazard application of these same texts.

Now let me be very honest, I do not really care much about what other people think. If the Bible clearly taught Complementarian theology, I would be a proponent of it no matter what anyone thought. As I studied more and more theology, I became more thoroughly convinced of a Reformed understanding of theology, and women fully included in ministry was clearly not something endorsed as a Reformed Baptist. As I read and studied modern Reformed people, it became clear to me that most people I interacted with equated women ministers as an anathema, on par with the other favorite cultural punching bag of self-righteousness, homosexuality. These two issues are not related. Almost all of the arguments cited the above texts, without exegesis and interpretation, and declared victory.

That was not a viable alternative for me because women not serving festered (even though I didn’t really want it to). I knew so many great women that were amazing teachers, shepherds, and who had borne so much fruit for the kingdom, that their systematic exclusion bothered me. I thought of my wife and how her gifting, outside of our theological bent, was that of an Execute Pastor or a Youth Pastor, a strong teacher and leader; and I had a very hard time squaring the party line with my reality of experience.

I decided I wanted to tackle this topic seriously and apply the old adage ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda: the Church reformed, always reforming. This means that we should always study our methods and beliefs and compare them with what the Scripture teaches. As we make that comparison, we adjust to Scripture and not persist in error. I have found that most people I know have inherited their stance on this issue from their parents, tradition, or pastor, and very few have actually studied it. I purposed to study the issue and figure out exactly what the Bible taught and apply it to my practice of the faith. Fortuitously, I started taking some doctoral classes at a Baptist seminary. My first class gave me 3 options of research topics and one was Women in Ministry, so of course I jumped at it.

In this series of blog posts I want to share what my study led to, what conclusions I came to, and how I think this should practically impact the church. I have felt like I should share for some time, but have not really sat down to write. Part of the reason is it will take a while to properly flush all this out, part of it was an unwillingness to write on a divisive topic while I have been looking for a new pastorate. Ultimately, the shocking revelations of abuse emanating from the church in the past months motivated me to want to address the topic of “does our practice cause abuse, and is our practice Biblical?”

I know that some of you will disagree with what I conclude, which is fine. Disagreement between family is going to happen. The Bible may leave a topic unresolved (because its ultimate purpose is about redemption, not leadership), but I would ask that all of us have an open mind considering the topic. Let’s not lean on our previous understanding, traditions, and inherited bible interpretation; but let’s look afresh at what the Bible actually says. The charge to us is serious: keep reforming and to understand why we believe what we believe.

 

What Kind of Book is the Bible?

I was recently sitting in a doctoral class about combining theological beliefs with daily life practices, and the professor asked this question “if you had to pick the genre of the Bible, what would it be?” This struck me as an odd question, because we know that the Bible is made up of a bunch of different books, and they fall into different sub-genres. It is almost comical to think about 15 or so trained theologians discussing a question we apparently never thought to ask ourselves, one that seems surprisingly simple but profoundly important. It took us a hot minute to start throwing out ideas about the genre of the Bible. I almost immediately knew what my answer would be, but was a little embarrassed to offer it: romance. The professor asked me why I said that, and I was expecting no small amount of laughing, but I said “it’s because God is pictured as a man who loves a woman, and the woman consistently rejects Him.”

It’s almost a bad soap opera isn’t it? I used to watch Days of Our Lives when I was a kid. When I first started watching it, I was always amazed at how many “sure endings” were not so certain. People died…. they came back! Isn’t the Bible narrative like that? How many ways could the Israelites screw up the promise (inheriting that ability from Adam and Eve, which extends through to us)? Israel consistently failed her suitor. The disciples consistently failed their suitor. We consistently fail our suitor. It is only by God’s grace through Christ’s victory that the story has a happy ending. That’s why the metaphor of husband and wife (Christ and the church) is so powerful, it depicts this epic romance, one that all humanity has a part in.

When we think about the Bible, we cannot slide it into the self-help category, or the historical category, or any other category. The Bible has pieces of it that will fall into sub-genres, but the main theme that God revealed and spoke to humanity was the story of His love. When we approach the Scripture without recognizing its purpose we can quickly lose our way. I believe this is some of the reason that the social gospel, prosperity gospel, and Bible self-help gurus miss the mark. They believe things like “the Bible is the best investing plan in history,” though investing in the stock market wasn’t a thing for 1500 years after it was written. “The Bible says God wants you to be healthy, happy, and rich,” though God’s people in the Bible suffer greatly. These category errors lead people astray, and cause them to miss out on the message that God wants people to know.

As we approach the study of Scripture, and the meaning of what we are looking at, I believe that we have to get ourselves in the right frame of mind. The Bible is not everything we can possibly know about God. What kind of God can be neatly summarized in a book? The Bible is not God’s strategy to successful living in the 21st Century. The Bible is not (just) a history book that tells the tales of the Israelites. The Bible communicates the greatest story ever told, and it’s a love story that includes us all. It begins with creation, survives the Fall through a special seed that is carried along through the Old Testament, despite floods, invasions, idolatry, and rebellion. The New Testament reveled God’s plan of redemption, and the culmination of His love for His people.

When we think of the Bible, I want us to think of this verse, John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book, but these are recorded, so that you might believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John didn’t record everything that Jesus did, but what he did record was for the purpose of knowing who God was, and having life in Him. That truth should extend to the entire Bible.

 

Do You Even Bible?

I have been contemplating what I should write my next series on for a little while, and I have really noticed some persistent negative trends in my world. While I don’t know if there is a great benefit to social media, it does expose us to lots of different people and points of view. I am in a lot of theology discussion groups, and my friends are largely in the Christian sphere, so I see quite a lot of posts that have at least a tangential relationship to the Bible. I read lots of people I agree with, and lots of people I disagree with, and my general conclusion is that most of us have no idea how to Bible.

For me the irritation of our general Biblical illiteracy usually begins with a post or meme applying a super awesome bible verse…completely out of context. People claiming promises that weren’t meant for them, believing that things are theirs that aren’t, or promoting an American-Zionist propaganda platform.I am looking squarely at you my friends who quote II Chronicles 7:14 in relation to the United States, like this meme here:

IIChron7-14

Don’t get me started on Jeremiah 29:11. Not that these verses shouldn’t be treasured and cherished for the wonderful things that they said, but the way they are leveraged into our daily lives shows that we can be truly ignorant of how to properly read the Scriptures. I do not think everyone needs to be a textual critical scholar, or fluent in Greek and Hebrew to understand the Bible, but I do believe that we have settled for the idea that the Bible is “life’s instruction manual” and read it like that. We find the places in the manual that instruct us in our situations or feelings, read them in isolation, and satiate our need for “God to speak to us.” There is just one problem with this, the Bible is not life’s instruction manual. Thinking about the Scripture this way has led, and will lead to more misunderstanding, misapplication, and misadventures in our endeavor to really know God’s revelation to us.

In this series I will address the following issues to hopefully give us some perspective on how we should be reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture. We are going to cover topics that deal with the major themes of Scripture (I said the Bible ISN’T life’s instruction manual, so what is it?), how we should approach the different genres in the Bible, how we get from reading something to understanding it, and ultimately to applying it in our lives. Along the way we will discuss common mistakes we make in our reading, and how to avoid things like proof-texting and eisegesis. This will be fun for me to write, so I hope it is informative to read!

Only Sith’s Deal in Absolutes

The Star Wars prequels were pretty bad. Not bad enough that I won’t watch them occasionally, but bad enough that I don’t know that I want to infect Alex with them, though he has seen Revenge of the Sith. As bad as they are, they contain one of my favorite quotes. As Obi-Wan confronts the now evil Anakin Skywalker, and Anakin tells him that he is now his enemy, Obi-Wan retorts “only Sith’s deal in absolutes.” Its an interesting rejoinder when its clear there are clearly things Obi-Wan thinks are absolutely right and wrong (killing younglings for example). I like to think that Obi-Wan is hitting on a deeper principle, one that we can take and apply to life: don’t draw hard divisions when none exist.

We see this a lot in the world we live in: someone disagrees with me so not only do we not agree, that person is evil and must be lambasted. This is why Twitter is such a treasure trove of hate and insults, and maybe why our “Sith” side is fed by reading the drivel there that passes for discourse. While sad, this is not unexpected because with the power of the pen (or keyboard as it were), people have always eviscerated their foes with relative safety (check out the politics of the early Republic, it makes our time look tame).

Where I hate seeing this is in the arena of theology. We have incorporated the coldness of society into our intellectual pursuits of God. Calvinists question the salvation of Arminians, and vice-versa. Covenant Theology adherents are certain that Dispensationalists cannot possibly take the Bible seriously, and vice-versa. It’s almost unconscionable to believe that Protestants and Catholics have the same Savior, but very different ideas of how church should operate, and how grace is obtained. And please lets not bring up what is the right way to baptize someone.

As I get older, I tend to want to yell at everyone “only Sith’s deal in absolutes!” Meaning of course, that while there is much that we need to maintain absolute purity on, most of what we end up yelling about is outside the hard lines that we should draw. Now I believe that there is a “right” understanding when it comes to most positions in Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, I just don’t feel like everyone who disagrees with me is hell bound. I don’t think I should deny communion to those who were sprinkled instead of dunked. I don’t feel comfortable condemning Roman Catholics to hell as a group. Our Sith nature tells us that we have to be right, and being right is more important than anything else, but Jesus said to deal with our brothers and sisters in love. In fact, John gave us a great assurance of salvation is the way we love fellow believers. Not how pure our doctrine is, or how many Facebook arguments we win. Sith’s deal in absolutes, let Christians deal in grace.