Friday, January 18, 2019

Annual Women in Ministry post

About once every year, I make a post here supporting women in ministry and/or egalitarianism. Here is this year's post.

1. Adam and Eve were made with complete equality in the beginning.
  • "Let us make humankind in our image. In the image of God he created humanity, male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).
  • "Helper" (2:20) does not imply subordination (e.g., Ps. 54:4).
2. Subordination is a consequence of the fall in Genesis 3:16, not a consequence of the creation.

3. Nevertheless, God uses women in the Old Testament in the highest political and spiritual roles, even though it is less common.
  • Deborah--the highest leader in all of Israel both spiritually and politically (Judg. 4:4, 8)
  • Huldah--a higher spiritual authority with greater spiritual insight than the high priest of Israel (2 Kings 22:14-20)
4. Jesus elevated women in his ministry above their default level and role in the culture of that day.
  • Matthew 1 elevates women in the genealogy of Jesus.
  • Elizabeth and Mary are given atypical attention for that culture in the story of Jesus birth in Luke 1-2. Luke in general pays a lot of attention to the role women played in the gospel story--this would have been striking to an ancient reader.
  • Luke mentions that wealthy women provided for Jesus and his male disciples as they traveled (8:3).
  • The names of the twelve vary some. The choice of twelve men fits the patriarchal culture. His women disciples were there too in the mix (cf. Acts 1:14).
  • But Jesus did not appear first to a man but to Mary Magdalene (John 21:11-18). And women were the first witnesses to the resurrection, in a sense making them the first apostles (Matt. 28:5-10).
5. The Day of Pentecost brings the Holy Spirit, the great equalizer.
  • A sign of the new covenant and the new age is that sons and daughters will prophesy. Of course, because the Holy Spirit fills them both equally (Acts 2:17).
  • "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is not 'male and female.'" (Gal. 3:28). This is what we would expect as God reorients identity to the spiritual dimension, above the earthly and physical and tribal.
  • Note the slightly different wording for male and female in Galatians 3. It may echo Genesis 1:27 where God creates them "male and female." Perhaps not any more in the new creation.
  • We are thus not surprised to find women ministering in Acts. Lydia hosts the church at Philippi. I suspect this implies she was an elder in the church at Philippi.
  • Priscilla is mentioned before her husband in the discipleship of Apollos in Acts 18:19, 26.
6. Paul's letters also witness to the ministry of women in his churches.
  • The purpose of 1 Corinthians 11 is to continue the equality of the spirit for wives to prophesy in public worship without shaming their husbands culturally. The veil is the solution. Women will be able to prophesy to men and women in the Spirit if they will veil their heads so as not to culturally dishonor their husbands while being in unusual proximity to other men and their wives (in a house church).
  • So the goal is to free up women to minister spiritually despite the husband-headship of the culture.
  • Paul seems to call Junia an apostle in Romans 16:7, indicating that Jesus appeared to her and her husband in an apostolic resurrection appearance and commissioned them both to go as witnesses to the resurrection. Some later manuscripts tried to change her name to a male name likely because the idea of a female apostle made them uncomfortable.
  • Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) is a deacon (diakonos) of the church at Cenchraea. In my opinion, these diakonoi were the closest parallel to what we call a minister in a local church today.
  • Priscilla is again mentioned first in Romans 16:3 as Paul's co-worker and as host of a church in her house, probably implying that she is an elder of that church or collection of churches.
  • Euodia and Syntyche were coworkers of Paul at Philippi alongside male coworkers like Clement (Phil. 4:2-3). Other female workers are mentioned (Mary in Rom. 16:6; Tryphena and Tryphosa in Rom. 16:12; he singles out Persis as a hard worker in the Lord in Rom. 16:12).
  • Paul mentions a church at Colossae that met in the house of a women named Nympha (Col. 4:15), making her the host and likely an elder in relation to those churches.
  • None of these passages make any point that these women only ministered to other women or that they were carefully subordinated to male lead pastors or that they only ministered under the direction of their husbands.
7. The curse is undone by the redemption of Christ.
  • Theologically speaking, if the subordination of women was a consequence of the Fall, then the redemption of Christ implies the re-equification of women in relation to men and their husbands.
  • Jesus points to such an equification of women in the kingdom when he says in Mark 12:25 that women will not "be given in marriage" in the kingdom. Since we live in a culture today that is open to such equality, contextualization suggests we should enact it now, even within marriage.
  • The idea that someone has to make the final decision seems like an excuse, especially if mutual submission is going on (Eph. 5:21). (By the way, the word submit is not actually present in the Greek of 5:22).
  • It is in Hebrews that the new covenant insight of the totality of Christ's atonement comes fully into view. That is to say, it is in Hebrews that we fully see the end of all need for further atonement in Christ. All sins--past, present, and future--are redeemed through Christ. This truth is not as clear in the rest of the New Testament (cf. Acts 21:24) and may have taken the destruction of the temple to be fully understood by the New Testament church
  • This may have implications elsewhere in the New Testament. Are there places in the rest of the New Testament where the implications of Christ's full atonement are not yet fully appropriated because of the cultural context of that day? E.g., 1 Tim. 2:15 speaks of childbearing playing some saving role. This is an odd statement given the full atonement provided through Christ!
  • As another example, the household codes with regard to slavery accommodate the societal structure of the day rather than enacting the firestorm that would have come from living out the kingdom trajectory of total abolition.
  • There is nothing uniquely Christian about the household codes of the NT when they subordinate wives to men. Aristotle structures the household in exactly the same way (Politics 1.1259a-b). It is pretty much what everyone thought. It is thus when the biblical texts move toward the equality of women with men that they are being distinctively Christian.
  • The trajectory of the kingdom is thus toward the non-subordination of women to men in any way. Since our culture is open to this position, it would be ironic for us to push for the earthly and cultural when God has opened up the way for the heavenly and eternal!
  • 1 Corinthians 11 shows that in Paul's day husband-headship was a distinct cultural issue from women engaging in prophetic ministry. Paul is finding a pathway to honor both in his cultural context. Most men with wives in ministry are fully supportive of that ministry... so wouldn't it violate husband-headship if that wife defied her husband and didn't obey her call? :-) And since Christ is the head of the man, who trumps the situation--a disobedient husband or the Lord of all? It is better to obey God rather than man. 
8. Misunderstood Passages
  • In the light of 1 Corinthians 11, the later verses in 14:34-35 cannot be talking about spiritual speech but about disruptive speech. Women are assumed in 1 Corinthians 11 to participate in the spiritual speech of the worship service. For this reason, these verses do not have any bearing on this question.
  • I might mention that a number of scholars do not think these verses were in the original copy of 1 Corinthians for several reasons. Such faith-filled scholars include Gordon Fee, Richard Hays, and Kenneth Schenck.
  • 1 Timothy 3 does seem to assume that elders and deacons will be men, and probably the majority were. But this chapter does not explicitly forbid women from being elders or deacons. This argument against women in ministry is thus an argument from the typical to the universal, an argument from silence.
  • That leaves us with only one verse in the entire Bible that even sounds like it could prohibit a woman from being the teacher of a man. You should never build a theology on one verse. 
  • Indeed this issue tends to reveal one's hermeneutic. Like those who used individual verses in the Bible to argue against abolition, those who argue against women and ministry argue from individual verses rather than the arch of Scripture as a whole. Did Christ redeem women from the sin of Eve or not?
9. 1 Timothy 2:12-15
  • The words woman and man here, used in such proximity, with Adam and Eve mentioned, suggest to me that 1 Timothy has husbands and wives in view. The words used here usually mean husband and wife when used in proximity to each other.
  • If so, then we have here another husband-wife passage and our discussion is at an end. Husband-wife relationships are a different discussion from women in ministry, as I have argued above.
  • These verses are unique in Paul's corpus. Nowhere else does Paul say anything of this sort. The uniqueness of the statement leads us to wonder if something is going on in the context of Ephesus leading to such a stark statement. (Scholars actually debate whether Paul wrote 1 Timothy) 
  • I've heard it suggested that the present tense of 1 Tim. 2:12 could be significant--"I am not (currently) allowing a wife to teach or be an autocrat over a husband."
  • The context of the Artemiseum at Ephesus is often mentioned, where women played dominant roles. The unusual strength of the word "dominate" or "usurp" in 1 Tim. 2:12 is often mentioned. I. Howard Marshall once suggested that Paul does not tell men that they can dominate their wives either.
  • The train of thought is difficult (never base a theology on an unclear and disputed passage). For example, although 2:13 mentions the creation order of Adam and Even, my friend David Ward has pointed out how limited such an argument is. After all, the plants and animals were made before Adam and he isn't subordinated to their authority!
  • 2:14 sounds like it refers to the deceivability of Eve. Certainly women were less educated at the time of Paul, but that isn't true today at all. That argument may have fit Paul's world and Ephesus, but it is not a timeless argument.
  • I've already mentioned how strange 2:15 is, given that Christ has saved all men and women from the shame of the fall. Wives are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ, not through childbearing!
  • In short, we tend to fixate on this verse today because a certain segment of the Christian community uses it as a proof text. But these verses are atypical of Paul. They are atypical of the whole of Scripture. They are often used to point in a different direction than the overarching story and trajectory of Scripture as a whole. They are often used to point in a different direction than the trajectory of the kingdom.
10. Common Sense
  • If those who have questions about women in ministry will allow this one idea, it will change everything...
  • Would you at least allow that there are exceptional circumstances where God might call a woman to minister. Deborah would seem to say so.
  • If so, then the question shifts to, "Is this specific woman called to a role in ministry?" 
  • And if you will let this be the question, then you will find that in this age of the Spirit, God is calling lots of women into ministry.
  • And let's be honest, if a plane is crashing, I want the best pilot to be in charge. That's the question that makes sense--is this person (male or female) the most gifted, graced, and called person to lead this church?
Women are being called by God into ministry. Woe to us if we put any stumbling block in front of them!


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for doing this again.

Natalie Gidney said...

Thank you for this! Confirmation yet again!