I am a giant West Wing fan. I have seen all the episodes many times, and I like to think that many of the characters on the show would be my friends in real life. In one episode, the staff receives a report that 17 school girls died in a fire in Saudi Arabia. When a fire broke out in their school, they were not allowed out into the street because they were not dressed appropriately. Women in the strict Muslim nation couldn’t be seen in public dressed inappropriately, so they were allowed to burn and die instead. At the subsequent press briefing, when asked about this event, CJ was asked if she was horrified by this event. Her response was that she was barely even surprised. Her response was a bit shocking because it seemed dismissive in the face of this horrific tragedy, but her point was that treating women as less than human was so common in Saudi Arabia, that it had ceased to be horrifying. The horrific was normal.
That is my response in the wake of yet another school shooting, this time outside of Houston, TX. Of course I am broken hearted, and full of righteous anger for the kids and the families of this community; but I am no longer shocked by these events. It has become so frequent in our lives that while making us sick, school shootings are no longer shocking. Isn’t that the most damning indictment of our culture? We have become so used to the formerly unimaginable, that it barely moves the meter on outrage. I went to school when school shootings were not a thing, and while school was often annoying, I never feared for my life when walking through the doors. Now my kids have active shooter drills. My kids see this on the news – ALL. THE. TIME. They have walkouts because politicians cannot decide to put away their talking points and make the kids more important than their positions. Instead of being willing to try anything, we settle for doing nothing.
And nothing changes. Except the body count. That keeps changing.
I am thankful that we are free to have our own opinions and we can discuss our divergent views. But disagreement that leads to impotence in addressing this problem reveals an astounding leadership vacuum in our government. People buy the argument that gun regulation is the issue, but it doesn’t get done. People buy the idea that arming teachers will solve the problem, but nothing gets done. I even support the immediate action of putting metal detectors at every entrance to schools, but even something simple like that cannot get done. Maybe we think that doing something that won’t fix the entire problem isn’t worthwhile. Maybe we think that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our rights to protect our kids (though if memory serves, the same people screaming loudly about protecting gun rights were eager to sign their rights away in the name of Homeland Security after 9/11). Maybe we refuse to believe that guns can protect people from guns because its anathema to our presupposition that guns have to be bad (though we seem to have no issue with guns protecting our freedoms when carried by the military). So there is endless debate, nothing gets done, and the message we send to our kids is that they are less important than our Facebook flame wars.
I know I don’t know the answer, but I also know I am willing to try many different things that will protect my kids in school. Let’s try 50 different things and find out what works, instead of screaming about how right we are and how wrong the other people are, and allowing these events to continue. In reality, what is more important than protecting the safe spaces our kids should have? How many kids have to die until we care more about doing instead of arguing? When will those in charge be willing to be wrong for the sake of their lives? When will leaders emerge that will choose to put themselves aside and to act for the those who aren’t old enough to vote their asses out of office? The Apostle Paul said that true love was sacrificing oneself for another, but in our day we cannot even deign to be wrong for the lives of others.
Are you appalled Jim, that these things keep happening? I am barely even surprised because We The People are failing our kids by having to be right.
When Rachel and I lived in South Florida, we went to the same church for quite a long time. I remember the first time we had communion at this church (it was infrequent), and after we took the bread together, the pastor had us all stand up, raise up the cup and proclaim the risen Lord with a shout of joy. Up till that point in my life, I never realized how somber communion usually was. In a short moment our pastor had demonstrated the joy that is found in the resurrection, and we proclaimed it together by the sharing of the cup. I started thinking, from that time forward, that communion has become more like a funeral than a proclamation of the resurrected Savior.
Why do we do this? I think it has to do with a lack of contextual exegesis of I Corinthians 11:17-34. In this passage, St. Paul taught the Corinthians that they should take the Lord’s Supper in a “worthy manner” (vs 27), and that those who do not “heap judgement upon themselves” (vs 29). Paul goes on to say that many in the Corinthian church were sick because of their failure to take the Lord’s Supper correctly. What is Paul talking about? In the beginning of his instruction, Paul talked about the neglect of eating the Lord’s Supper together. We need to recognize that Paul tells us to proclaim the “Lord’s death until He comes” in unity: some get drunk, some go hungry; the church is DIVIDED. This is the issue Paul is addressing, and his caution (in context) is to not divide the assembly by showing preference to some over others. Remember, the believers in the 1st Century took communion in a much different manner than we do. It wasn’t a short, tacked on event in their “service,” but was more akin to a love feast: the people celebrated by remembering the death of their Savior. (Short read on this here, but scholarly research is available). When the love feast deviated from unity, Paul rebuked the ekklesia.
Often we are somber because we are “examining ourselves” (as Paul commanded) for SIN, not for unity. If we are dividing a church, hindering the fellowship, we should be on guard for judgement and not partake; however if we are in sin we NEED to remember the death of the Lord as Paul commanded. It was His death that provided deliverance, and Paul wanted that proclaimed.
There is one point I need to address about the celebration of the resurrection that I stated we should be doing, and that is found in verse 26 where Paul exhorts us to proclaim His death. Certainly that should be somber, right? Well what else does Paul tell us in that verse “proclaim his death until He comes.” We are to remember and CELEBRATE His death, because that is our deliverance. While we should never forget the suffering of our Savior, we cannot remain at the cross with Him crucified, but proceed to the Tomb where He was raised. Remember the suffering in light of the raising.
Paul doesn’t want us living in the shadow of His death, but in the certainty of His coming. Paul wants us to celebrate the forgiveness of our sin together as a local assembly. I think Paul wants us to have feasts of joy to the glory of God! I really hope we can move away from the idea of Communion as a Commun-eral, and to a place where we celebrate the joy of the risen King; maybe just once in awhile.
Rachel and I were having a discussion with a friend the other day about the idea of “privilege” and if it really exists. He said that on initial assessment of the idea it is really offensive, especially for those of us who grew up in poverty equal to that of many minorities. He also said that looking through that coloring of our own upbringing, we can see that privilege is not an economic problem, but one of social and cultural skewing against specific groups of people based on how society has been established. That’s a big idea and I wonder if it is even something we can understand tangibly if we don’t experience it. I also wonder if it’s something we just assume to be true because we experience hardship in our lives that is common amongst the human experience.
At times in my life I have been a believer and a denier of privilege, but in the past 10 years or so, I no longer believe that it’s something that can be denied. My belief in the pervasiveness of privilege began when Rachel and I began training to be foster and adoptive parents. The terrible stories of what kids had to experience, and the heartbreaking stories of their parents would rend anyone’s heart; but I learned about privilege when I was told that the waiting list for white kids was 10 times longer than for black kids, and 20 times longer than for mixed kids. Let that sink in for a minute: people would not want a child because of the color of their skin. Disgusting. If it was me I wouldn’t let people adopt who felt that way because they are missing the point! After having the pure joy of adopting a child of mixed race, I have noticed more and more areas of privilege in this world, and I am not ok with it, not for my son or any one else’s.
Privilege exists when those not in “power” are treated differently, with negative connotations, than those who are the dominant culture. It is because of our sinfulness and blindness that we don’t recognize it. Privilege exists in all sorts of organizations: from government to the Church, and it is always wrong. Privilege mutes the full voice of God’s people because it elevates ones group over another in direct contrast to God’s design.
Galatians 3:28 says that in Christ there are no longer racial, gender, or societal distinctions. Those of us in Christ are all equal. How is it that His people can be those who deny and refuse to see privilege and discrimination in our society? How can we not lead the charge against it? Too often we love our sinful distinctions of people over the truth of God’s word. Remember this, the adoption agency we worked with, the one where black and mixed children were not wanted at the same rate as white babies, was a Christian agency. It was primarily Christians who wanted to deny non-whites a loving home because of their color. I don’t think most people do this maliciously, but our vision is skewed by the privilege we view life through. I pray we begin to see the reality of the world, and respond like Jesus.
This post is the last is a series that focused on the proper role of women in ministry from a biblical perspective. (Part 7 is here). I wanted to take a few moments just to wrap up where we have been, and maybe more important, what my the larger point of this was.
We looked at several key passages that are commonly used to restrict women from leadership, as well as to establish a relational hierarchy. I specifically stayed away from texts that are used to promote unity in relationships (Ephesians 5:21 for example) because I wanted to look at the texts that Complementarians believe prove their point. While we didn’t do an exhaustive study, I think we can at least agree the conclusions that have been handed down for centuries have some aspect to them where their understanding is far from certain. While I certainly think its possible to study these texts openly and still come to a Complementarian mindset, I think its far from a certainty, which was one of my goals for this series. Lest we think that all conservative biblical scholars are de-facto against women in leadership, there are many who hold to Biblical inerrancy and conclude the opposite (Gordon Fee, F.F. Bruce, Philip Payne, etc…). My larger concern with this issue, is that while it is not central to the Gospel, we have made it a line of demarcation between good and bad theology. In an age where the church in the USA has folded up on divorce, those who hold that women can be pastors have been called heretics, or even disfellowshipped from certain denominations. I think that is a blatant overreaction in ignorance, and a perception that Egalitarian theology is automatically liberal. As I said before, there is that strain (I do believe Egalitarians trend liberal), but something being deemed a liberal issue doesn’t automatically make it wrong or anathema. Taking care of orphans and refugees is clearly Biblical and seems to be most seriously embraced by liberal Christians. If someone wants to call me a liberal for my exegesis I am perfectly comfortable with that, because I believe its on sound exegetical footing. I don’t believe many out there who take Complementarianism as Holy Writ have actually studied the relevant texts in context. I think tradition and patriarchial culture has cast a long shadow on the Church and we have ceased seeking truth on some issues we assume are settled plainly.
I think we mask chauvinism in the guise of being biblical. We mask racism as comfort. We mask idolatry as the American way. Religion seems to be a place where we declare sin sacrosanct, and then feel attacked when people don’t understand or agree with our conclusions. This, of course, was my larger point in reviewing this issue. It wasn’t that long ago (and unfortunately this isn’t eradicated) that black men wouldn’t be allowed to speak in a church like the ones I have gone to for 20 years. Where black people weren’t welcome in many churches in America. If it weren’t for some “liberal” theologians that might still be the case (or else God might have finally had enough of our sin and smote us). If we aren’t willing to challenge our (predominately) unstudied conclusions how are we ever going to be the Church that God wants us to be? I am not in favor of redefining historic truths of the Faith, or tweaking Biblical Orthodoxy, but I am for reforming unbiblical orthopraxy, or at the very least understanding that issues that are absolutely settled by Scripture are not always settled accurately.
Thanks to all those who read these, and I am open to any discussion. Now to figure out what to write about next to irritate some more people!
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. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 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. 9 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 be 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 than 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. Conservative and liberal scholars both derive conclusions in the same manner as either side of this argument without batting an eye. 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).
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 all levels of service 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.
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 abberant 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 were thought of as 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.
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. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9 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.
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!
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!
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 of 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.