What the Bible really says about men and women: a ten point critique of complementarianism (11)

This is no. 10 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

10. Beyond Divisiveness?

Evangelical Christians differ on all sorts of things – church leadership structures, baptism, spiritual gifts, God’s sovereignty and human free will and so on. Most, if not all, of these revolve around issues of interpretation of Scripture, where, in good conscience and out of a sincere wrestling with the text, Christians come to different conclusions.

Women in ministry and leadership is such an issue.

Most evangelicals have lived with difference over baptism (for example) and cooperated in mission and witness without questioning each other’s commitment to Scripture and the gospel. This sort of big-tent inclusiveness goes right to the heart of what it means to be an evangelical beyond your own commitment to adiaphora – matters of theological ‘indifference’ to wider evangelical unity. This is despite baptism being an issue of deep theological sacramental and covenant significance that shapes church polity.

Why then I wonder is the issue of women in leadership continuing to be so divisive?

Carl Trueman recently asked this same questionI wonder if the answer lies in a challenge to power. Egalitarianism threatens both established leadership structures that give priority to men and a particular reading of the Bible that is used to endorse those structures. Regrettably, power is not given up easily, even when all Christian leadership is a call to ‘servant leadership’.

And I’m sure I’m biased, but it seems to me that this why some of the most divisive rhetoric is coming primarily from a complementarian-hierarchical perspective – Claire Smith’s book being an example.

She talks disparagingly of those who disagree with her as people who ‘call themselves evangelicals’. She wrongly claims those who disagree with her say texts like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 do ‘not apply today’. (See in contrast Howard Marshall’s list of ten ways 1 Timothy 2 applies today). Elsewhere she talks about ‘formerly trusted teachers’ who have presumably fallen away from the truth. Her description of objections to her view as ‘It is God’s word but …’ also attempts, in a rather backhanded way, to connect egalitarian views with a rejection of God’s word.

Such attitudes are unworthy of civil Christian debate and should be repented of. But they are far from solitary examples.

Wayne Grudem is one of the strongest voices here in his insistence that egalitarianism is the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ towards liberalism, acceptance of homosexuality and the undermining of the authority of Scripture (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 505). To disagree with the ‘complementarian’ interpretation is to disobey God.

[Of course, many many complementarians do not engage in such divisive rhetoric and happily can live with difference within a big-tent evangelicalism. And I’m sure that there are examples on the egalitarian side which are less than gracious, accusing the other side of misogyny or some such loaded pejorative label.]

I guess that this sort of aggressive-defensive reaction comes from a sense of losing ground. As the issues at stake have clarified, particularly over the last 3-4 decades, there is now a theologically coherent alternative, widely supported by a swathe of very significant evangelical scholars (Sarah Sumner, Rebecca Groothuis, Linda Belleville, Gordon Fee, Howard Marshall, John Stott [in favour of women’s ordination], F F Bruce, Scot McKnight, N T Wright, John Stackhouse, R T France, Craig Keener, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Steve Holmes etc) that is being increasingly successful in challenging questionable exegesis and hermeneutical assumptions within the older status quo.

I remember sitting in an ethics class back in the late 1980s where the lecturer was defending divinely ordained hierarchy between men and women in church and marriage. As a young guy, I hadn’t really thought about the issue much. What he said seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Looking back I can see why. As a man, it was a very comfortable thing to be told! I couldn’t quite ‘get’ why some women (and men) in the class were disagreeing strongly with what was being taught. It was only sustained study of the Bible over the years that shifted me from that place of comfort.

 So where now? Three questions:

First, some realism: Can there be a recognition that neither side are going to ‘obliterate’ the other’s arguments, however passionately they believe the other is wrong? The tone of some of the debate is characterised by this sort of vain hope. The reality is that either side ‘ain’t going away you know’.

Second, evangelicals have lived with other such areas of disagreement for centuries. As with baptism, can there be a willingness to work together in mission and witness and a refusal to let this issue become something that threatens unity around the gospel?

Third, it is possible to imagine constructive and healthy debate on this issue for they are already happening (see here) where both ‘sides’ explore what they disagree about and affirm what they believe in common within a respectful dialogue. So can we please move on beyond the sort of divisiveness that thinks ‘If we can completely demolish their credibility we’ll win the argument once and for all’? Can we all repent of unchristian attitudes, forgive one another and commit speak well of one another in future as a sign of love?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critque of complementarianism (10)

This is no. 9 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

9.   Philosophically confused

What is to be made of the C-H argument that men and women are equal but have different ‘roles’?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we need to be clear that gender roles within C-H are not complementary, even if men and women are equals. Women are permanently and innately subordinate to men in the church where it is men who lead and preach. At home, wives are under the authority of their husbands. Regardless of who she is, her gifting, experience and ability, she is to follow, he is to lead.  In other words, there is nothing a women can do that a man cannot also do within the church, but there are specific roles only a man has the opportunity to do because he belongs to the right gender.

Sarah Sumner in her excellent book Men and Women in the Church, makes some telling and important points on this ‘equal but different roles’ philosophy.  Underneath this debate is an argument about what constitutes ‘proper order’. And behind this are different philosophies of order. She unpacks two different models of order at play in this debate.

A Scotist View:

God’s commands simply need to correlate to God’s will for God orders the world as he wills. We don’t have to understand it, we have to obey it.

A Thomist View:

There will be a correlation between God’s commands and reason. God does things for good reasons that are understandable. There will be a link between divine law and natural law, between God’s will and creation.

People like Wayne Grudem and Claire Smith insist that women are fully equal with men in terms of status, image, and significance – it is just that God has ordained that men take the lead in family and church life. Equality does not mean equality of opportunity, it means ‘difference of role’. The fact that many women are gifted to lead and preach etc is also irrelevant in this thinking – giftedness is not the last word above God’s revealed will.

Egalitarians who point out the lack of rationale, the inconsistencies and weaknesses in the C-H argument (like I’ve been attempting to do in these posts), tend to be ignored by complementarians because they are perceived to be diluting Scripture and using human reason or ‘feminist thought’ to question God’s ‘good design’.

Complementarian-hierarchialists also argue that their position is traditional in the church and egalitarians are trying to introduce novel ideas (feminist influence again).

Yet to talk of ‘full equality’ combined with a hierarchy of function (or different ‘roles’) within home and the church is itself, as Kevin Giles has argued, a fairly new idea in the history of the church. Until fairly recently, the most common reasons given for women’s secondary roles was that they were more prone to be deceived and/or they were created after the man are so are secondary in rank. Within much of church history women did not have equal roles because they were seen as inferior to men. This at least was consistent!

Here’s Sarah Sumner’s main point: complementarians have changed the premise of church tradition (from ‘women are inferior’ to ‘women are equal’) but have maintained the conclusion (‘women are subordinate’). This is confusing and illogical – hence the mixed messages and the bewildering mixture of subjective complementarian practice.

In philosophical terms, C-H is a therefore a confusing mixture of Scotist and Thomist thinking.

Take the example of people like Claire Smith, Wayne Grudem, John Piper and Thomas Schreiner.

– As Scotists, they say women as equals should assume subordinate roles simply because it is God’s will. It’s a ‘creation ordinance’ and we are not to argue with God’s ‘good design’ or look for reasons why.

– As Thomists, they try to find logical reasons for this permanent universal subordination.. Some say women are equal ‘before God’ but should assume subordinate roles based on a (bad) quasi-analogy with the Trinity (where the Son is equal but subordinate to the Father).

– As a Thomist, you have John Piper proposing that mature ‘femininity’ itself is a predisposition to be subject to the leadership of the man. Mature ‘masculinity’ is a predisposition to lead well. In his words ‘a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women.’ In other words, the identity of men and women does NOT have a shared essential quality. And this is a ‘reason’ for female subordination.

– As a Thomists some (increasingly scarce) C-H arguments still try to find reasons for female subordination in the idea that women are more easily deceived or are innately not suited to lead or preach etc. Whatever the precise proposal, it is a search for logical ‘reasons’ for female subordination.

Notice what is going on here. The mixture of Scotist and Thomist ideas are self-contradictory.

On the one hand, the Thomist arguments are finding reasons why women should be subordinate to men. Inevitably this leads towards hierarchy and superiority, however much this is denied.

On the other hand, the Scotist argument asserts that men and women are equal.

Whatever you may think of egalitarian arguments, they are at least philosophically consistent. Equal status is linked to equal roles (for those gifted and called, either men or women).

So, despite complementarian-hierarchialists’ affirmation of women’s ‘full equality before God’, it is logically impossible to affirm that a woman is at once spiritually and ontologically equal to a man and at the same time permanently, comprehensively, and necessarily subordinate within a faith that is innately ‘masculine’. The talk of full equality with ‘difference in function’ is an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Final word here to Sarah Sumner and it’s worth reading carefully I think,

No wonder conservative Christians are confused. We are given so many mixed messages. In one long breath, we are told that women are not inferior but that “the permanent facts of creation” reveal that women should assume subordinate roles; yet women are equal to men just as surely as the Son is equal to the Father, even though we don’s share the same status with men as the Son does with the Father; and men are not superior to women because both are created in the image of God, although men are uniquely designed (though not necessarily gifted) to be women’s leaders; and women are uniquely designed to nurture and affirm men’s leadership over them even if they themselves are more spiritually gifted than the men who oversee them. All this, we are told, to be honored – unless certain male leaders commission women to be exceptions.

By simultaneously adopting two theories of natural order that are mutually exclusive, some of us have promoted a lack of logic. It can’t be true that the only reason women are to assume inferior roles at church is because God said so, if indeed the permanent facts of nature also explain the reason why. I believe it’s unintentional, but many of us Christians in the evangelical community have unknowingly adopted a Scotist-Thomist view and called it biblical. With that, we have trumpeted a mixed-up view that says women, as equals, are allowed to speak and lead, but only unofficially as subordinates.  (293-295)

Comments, as ever, welcome

What the Bible really says about men and women in ministry: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (9)

This is no.8 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

8. Artificial and unpersuasive application of the ban

Picking up the conversation from the last post on ‘law’, once you get into the business of implementing law, you end up with artificial and unpersuasive distinctions of what constitutes teaching and how the ban is put into practice. C-H thinking leads to all sorts of inconsistencies as a supposed biblical ‘blueprint’ is applied in practice within church life (and marriage).

The biggest inconsistency is the attempt somehow to limit the universal subordination of women to men based on a ‘creation ordinance’ to a particular type of authoritative teaching in the local church and in marriage. Claire Smith’s reasons for doing so are based on an odd argument. Since only some men teach, it is only to some men, when they are teaching in church, to whom women are subordinate.

But if subordination of women is grounded in creation, then it applies in all contexts.

Other inconsistencies of application are numerous. Some complementarian-hierarchialists end up with detailed lists of what women can and cannot do. Marshall describes the complex dos and don’ts at the end of Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth as resembling Rabbinic Judaism.

– Some churches silence women altogether.

– Some have women who can preach occasionally (to do so regularly would confer too much ‘authority’ on her).

– Some women can teach and preach and plant churches – but as long as she is a missionary in a far-away place.

– Other churches insist on head-coverings for women.

– Some allow women elders as long as the ‘head pastor’ is male.

– Others have women on a leadership team but only male elders.

– Most allow women to teach impressionable boys (and girls) but draw the line at men.

– Anglicans have ordained women priests but many seem to have all sorts of problems with women bishops.

– Some don’t allow women to teach at mixed-gender theological colleges, others do.

– Some encourage women to write books full of teaching that are read by men, others prohibit all teaching by women to groups of men in various contexts.

Complementarian practice is a mess.

I haven’t got into complementarianism and marriage, and I may be wrong, but I suspect that many who are complementarians in theory don’t really put it into practice.

For what does it actually mean to say the husband should practice ‘headship’? For couples who love each other, listen to and respect each other, treat each other as equals, know that there are areas of life where the other will be more informed and ‘authoritative’. They are a team who work together in a truly complementary way. And this sits uneasily to say the least with the hierarchical idea of the husband as some sort of loving boss.

My hunch is most loving Christian marriages just get on with normal healthy give and take relationships. And therefore ‘headship’ is reduced to little more than the theoretical situation of the man being the ‘tie-breaker’ when there is disagreement or something like that. It’s revealing I think that even committed C-H advocates lament that it is not practiced as it should be.

Comments, as ever, welcome

What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (8)

This is no.7 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

7. Law

The overall direction of a complementarian-hierarchical concern to implement ‘law’ leads, in my opinion, towards a legalistic form of continual assessment and evaluation of when ‘headship’ is being usurped or properly acted upon.

I’m not saying that everyone holding to the hierarchial model is legalistic, for  Christians love should be the attitude that shapes all praxis. But the focus is on keeping watch that men and women keep to their divinely ordained ‘roles’. This comes through repeatedly in Claire Smith’s book. Men need to step up and women need to learn to be submissive.

It is worth stepping back a moment to notice the scope of what is being proposed: the imposition of a universal permanent grid of what is supposedly ‘God’s good design’ for female subordination within all marriages and in every church in all cultures globally.

This concern of limiting something good (gospel teaching) and saying something awfully dangerous and wrong is happening when a women expounds and teaches God’s word to the body of Christ sits badly with the liberating ministry of the Spirit.

Might an alternative be possible – that we might have got this deeply wrong? That ironically by insisting on the ban on women teaching and leading that the very thing Paul is most concerned about in his letter to Timothy – the credibility and witness of the gospel – is being damaged?

To use a title of one of the late and great New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce’s most famous books, Paul was an Apostle of the Free Spirit. Complementarianism’s focus on imposing universal law and artificial restrictions within the body of Christ caused Bruce, near the end of his life, to comment that “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah”.  (this is from a story Scot McKnight tells in The Blue Parakeet)

Comments, as ever, welcome

What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (6)

This is 5/10 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

5.     Teaching and prophecy

Claire Smith reiterates a standard complementarian-hierarchalist position that prophecy is of different order of authority from preaching and teaching. She claims that while preaching / teaching is not ‘under’ other people’s authority, prophecy in 1 Corinthians is “under the authority of other people.”

What does it mean that a man’s preaching is not under other’s authority anyway? Is not all preaching and teaching only authoritative as it conforms to God’s word?

The reason that this distinction is made in such an arbitrary way is because of the unambiguous evidence in 1 Corinthians that women were prophesying within the church gathering. Paul clearly sees prophecy as the most important ministry in corporate worship (1 Cor 14). It is set above teaching (1 Cor 12:28) and in Ephesians 2:20 he states that the church is founded on apostles and prophets, not teachers.

This is consistent with the crucial and high place prophecy has within the whole Bible, OT and NT. Jesus is a prophet and a teacher, as are the leaders of the church in Antioch in Acts 13:1.

The only reason C-H argues for a downplaying of the authoritative role of prophecy is a prior theological commitment to a ‘creation ordinance’, derived primarily from prioritising one text. This is another example of a faulty hermeneutic driving exegesis rather than the other way around.

It is made all the more untenable by Junia, the outstanding apostle (who Claire Smith pretty well ignores). The first apostles were ‘first’ in the church and the ones on whom the church was founded (Eph 2:20). They undoubtedly were teachers.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

What the Bible really says about men and women; a 10 point critique of complementarism (5)

This is 4/10 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

4. A faulty hermeneutic

1 Timothy 2:8-15 is the keystone of the ‘complementarian’ view. Without the interpretation of a ‘creation ordinance’ from this text, pretty well the entire argument for men-only preaching, leading and teaching loses coherence. Yes there are other texts of debate in 1 Corinthians (also with exceptionally difficult elements and disputed exegesis), but 1 Timothy is the most important. And this is precisely the problem. For it shows a hermeneutic at work that prioritises and absolutises this text ‘I do not permit a woman’ becomes the lens through which the rest of the NT teaching on women is viewed.

A larger biblical theology moves from Genesis, through the OT, is centered on Jesus and his radical attitudes to women, then on to Paul and the rest of the NT with its remarkable inclusion of women and with female teachers, leaders and at least one apostle (Junia, Roms 16:7), climaxing with the estchatological hope of a new creation and the perfect image of God in man and woman restored completely and the curse of the Fall overcome.

In contrast, a narrow and restrictive ban ill fits the liberating thrust of this overall narrative and lacks a coherent rationale. Prioritising a highly questionable exegesis from one exceptionally disputed text that has unusually difficult aspects (saved through childbirth for example) is not a reliable or safe hermeneutic.

It is much better to interpret the difficult text against the larger witness of Scripture. For example, I am often struck in this whole debate by how the complementarian-hierarchical view minimises Jesus and the evidence from the Gospels. Claire Smith’s book is a good example. Jesus’ actions and words regarding women are hardly mentioned, despite the revolutionary way he includes, affirms, welcomes as disciples, and is even supported by, women. Much more could be said here, but the point is how a narrow interpretation of ‘law’ is then imposed on the wider whole. Any contradictory evidence within Scripture is downplayed or ignored (the remarkable attempts to ‘silence’ Junia for example).

A Specific Example: Women and Slaves

Kevin Giles illustrates this point with regard to women and slaves. How are Paul’s commands to women, slaves and children to be subordinate to apply today?

Egalitarians will argue that these commands must be interpreted within cultural norms of Greco-Roman culture. Paul is exhorting believers to fit within the culture, not to cause unnecessary offence, and to commend the gospel by their model behaviour. In other words, this is primarily missional advice, not permanently binding ‘law’ for all cultures and all times.

Paul’s advice to slaves to be subordinate is not an affirmation of slavery. Indeed, reading Paul more widely, the radical boundary breaking nature of the gospel fatally undermines slavery – and it was this sort of hermeneutic which led Christians like Wilberforce to fight and eventually overturn the idea that slavery was sanctioned by God and morally unproblematic.

Complementarian-hierarchialists are faced with a difficulty here. No-one wants to say God endorses slavery. The whole wider thrust of Scripture, from Genesis 1:27 to Galatians 3:28 and hundreds of places in between, speak of the unique value, dignity, equality and worth of every human life. Within the revolutionary makeup of the body of Christ, racial, sexual, economic and religious distinctions have no spiritual significance. While the NT does not outrightly condemn slavery, it undermines and confronts the injustice, inequality and exploitation of one person by another.

All this means that the ‘complementarian’ position on Paul’s commands for slaves to be subordinate pretty well mirrors that of egalitarians – they are wise words of advice in a specific cultural context and are not to be taken as supportive of ongoing subordination of slaves to their masters today.

You might think then that the same hermeneutic might apply to women, but no.

Within a complementarian hermeneutic governed by 1 Timothy, in complete contrast to the temporary words of missional advice to slaves, virtually identical words to women become permanent, unbreakable words of law for all women in all cultures for all time since they are based on the ‘creation ordinance’.

Exegetically there is no hint of such a contrast between the commands to slaves and to women in the texts. Galatians 3:28 explicitly parallels women and slaves. Giles concludes no-one has argued for such a contrast in the history of the church prior to about 1975.

Study of exhortations to members of the household in texts like Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Ephesians 5:22-6:9 show they fit within the cultural context of Greco-Roman ‘household codes’. Three paired groups appear: masters and slaves, husbands and wives, and fathers and children. None of these exhortations are based on a Creation Ordinance’  from Genesis. All make better sense read as Paul doing what he did best – being a flexible missionary who was ‘all things to all men’ while seeking not to be any obstacle in the way of the gospel.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (4)

This is number 3 of 10 reasons why I find the complementarian argument unconvincing – with particular dialogue with Claire Smith’s and Howard Marshall’s interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

And in outlining these objections, it’s worth repeating that I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

3. Lack of rationale

Complementarian-hierarchialism faces a major struggle in finding some sort of rationale for the position being espoused.

Some argue that women are innately not suited to leadership (Thomas Schreiner used to say this but changed his mind). Others like Claire Smith say this is just what the Bible says. She grants it is not an issue of giftedness or ability – that many women are just as smart and able and potential leaders as many men. We can’t really understand why God wants it this way but that’s just the way it is.

She goes further to say that ‘the ability to do something does not come with the right to do it.’ And so just because a woman is a gifted Bible teacher (presumably gifted by the Spirit of God) does not mean she should preach. Not allowing her to lead and preach and teach is somehow God’s ‘good design’. How and why this is ‘good’ is unclear.

Then for good measure, Smith adds that such a woman should not feel envious of others (men) who can use their gifts to preach and lead. So not only can she not preach (even though she is gifted), to want to do so puts her on the path to envy. No wonder woman are hurt and silenced by this sort of argument.

Others, like John Piper and Wayne Grudem, try to root women’s limited roles in the very nature of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Men (as a sex) are made by God to be more predisposed to lead. Women (as a sex) are made by God to be followers and submissive to men. It is in this sense that John Piper talked recently and controversially of Christianity having a “masculine feel”. Yet the Bible never talks in these terms.

What this actually feels like is subjective desperation to find some sort of rationale for male priority in preaching and teaching and leading. And if there is no rationale, what does this say about God? – who usually has very good reasons for what he does and what he commands his people to do. Might it be that the interpretation is askew?

Comments, as ever, welcome

What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (3)

This is number 2 of 10 reasons why I find the complementarian argument unconvincing – with particular dialogue with Claire Smith’s and Howard Marshall’s interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

And in outlining these objections, it’s worth repeating that I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

2. Authority

Complementarian-hierarchialism raises questions of what sort of models of authority lie behind such deep concerns over women in leadership. Smith (and others) do not say women can never teach men in all circumstances but only when teaching is linked to positions of ‘authority’ within the local church. Marshall asks, “Why should pastoral counselling and oversight be understood as an exercise of authority and so unacceptable?”

This links back to authentein as a negative and domineering use of authority seeking to control others. This is exactly the sort of authority that Jesus warns his followers NOT to practice (Mk 10:42-3); rather they are to serve.

Smith and others of her opinion seem to place an extraordinary amount of importance in the question of who can exercise authority over others – and locate that authority in the person and in his teaching. It seems to me that this is the wrong focus and the wrong question. The right question that the cross calls believers to is ‘How can we put aside a desire to exercise authority over others so that we can be freed to serve self-sacrificially?’

Authority for ministry in the NT is derived from God. It does not reside in the person – whether male or female. The apostles were Christ’s commissioned witnesses and representatives (cf. Mt. 10:40; Jn. 17:18; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20). Their authority was derived from Jesus. Junia was an outstanding apostle in her faithful service of the Lord (Roms 16:7). Her gender was irrelevant.

Similarly, every generation of Christians is called to submit its own faith and life to Scripture – which is a record of the Apostle’s authoritative teaching – which originates in Jesus. It is through Scripture that Christ-given apostolic authority over the church has been made a permanent reality.

As Scripture is faithfully taught, God speaks through his word by the power of the Spirit. There is therefore no theological rationale to say a woman should not preach and teach. Men are not somehow ‘more authoritative’ than women. We’ll come back to lack of rationale for complementarianism later.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

What the Bible really says about men and women (3)

Howard Marshall: Exegesis of 1 TIMOTHY 2:8-15

As a contrast to Claire Smith’s ‘plain reading’ of the text, below is what Prof Howard Marshall of Aberdeen University and well known and highly regarded evangelical scholar makes of the same passage. This is taken from ‘Women in Ministry’ in Husbands and Larsen, Women, Ministry and the Gospel: Exploring New Paradigms. IVP Academic, 2007, 53-78. Again this is a summary without editorial comment.

1. Context of contentious prayer by (some) men; attitude of (some) women acting in a showy way, perhaps sexually enticing.  Rather than this behaviour, proper adornment is good deeds. The link here is made to Bruce Winter’s study of ‘New Roman Women’ which provides important background support to what is happening in Ephesus.

2. The response is for women to learn in a quiet and submissive manner. Three things could be happening here:

i. Some kind of vocal reaction to the teaching which was unacceptable to in mixed company at that time. See 1 Timothy 1:10-14; 3:9-11; 2 Tim 14-16 for other examples of curbs being put on opinions that were causing dissensions.

ii.  acceptance of these dubious teachings by the women (2 Tim 3:6-7), a point probably seen in 2 Tim 2:15.

iii. in Corinth, women were told to ask their husbands at home. Evidence suggests women by and large much less educated than men; a higher level of illiteracy leading to a unhelpful contribution to the discussion. So they are encouraged to learn, but in an appropriate spirit.

3. What does it then mean that a woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man? Rather than see this as some sort of law against women’s participation in “official, authoritiative” teaching, Marshall sees the issue here as unacceptable behaviour in that social context.

– Despite ‘complementarians’ saying authentein simply means ‘exercising authority over’, Marshall argues this unique NT word has strong suggestions of an improper use of authority, a particular kind of teaching that is unacceptable in mixed company.

– the context is of a patriarchal society where women were subordinate to husbands. Improper behaviour of women within the church would have been an obstacle to evangelism, being interpreted as Christians “rejecting both Jewish and Hellenistic ideals regarding married life and the place of women.”

– false teaching is the issue, accompanied by domineering and argumentative women. This is a “wrong kind of authority that is being condemned rather than a proper use of authority.” (59)

4. Eve and Adam. The creation story is brought in as an appropriate illustration perfectly fitting the context of the problem in Ephesus. It is possible the women were basing their behaviour on the Fall story. The priority of Adam reminds the women that they are not superior. Eve was deceived, and this reminds them that they should be beware of similarly being deceived and thinking of themselves as superior to men.

5. The ‘saved through childbirth’ verse refers to the physical act of childbirth and probably the nurture and bringing up of children. ‘Saved’ refers to the full attainment of salvation. The emphasis here is to correct local behaviour and attitudes. The ‘new women’ were pursuing authority and teaching, perhaps at the same time rejecting childbearing. This fits with the rejection of marriage by some teachers in the congregation, which may have included sexual abstinence within marriage (1 Tim 4:1-3). Propriety serves as the overarching theme here. They are to act in a way fitting with their culture and as women. They are to show Christian characteristics of faith, love, holiness and self-control.

“Putting all this together, we must envisage a complicated background situation involving various factors that combined to necessitate a ban on women behaving in unseemly ways (including ostentatious dress and inappropriate forms of teaching activity). The overriding factor seems to be the social situation in with the Jewish and Hellenistic understanding of the place of women in society and marriage was being threatened by the activities of some of the women who were acting in a disruptive manner in the congregational meeting and teaching in a domineering manner. This was probably connected with a rejection of marriage and childbearing by ‘emancipated’ women. This went against the expectations of the time and was bring the gospel into discredit, just as Titus 2:5 clearly indicates in a related piece of teaching. It was this situation that motivated the prohibition here. And it was necessary to refute the wrong ideas that appear to have been drawn from Genesis by offering a different understanding of the creation and Fall narrative.” (60-1)

Howard Marshall then has a substantial section discussing the question of whether this local prohibition should be understood as rule for all circumstances and all time.

Are restrictions intended for 1st century contexts intended to last for good? No.

Limited evidence for women leaders of groups that included men is unsurprising. And the evidence decisively points the other way with the apostle Junia (Roms 16:7)

The real message here is for humble godly service as against positions of power and authority.

The 1st century has changed dramatically from Paul’s day regarding the status, education and opportunities afforded women. There is no longer (in our culture) an issue of propriety that a woman should not lead.

The underlying concern for Paul is the advance and good name of the gospel. How ironic then that the gospel is hindered by unnecessary and artificial prohibition on women’s ministry within the church. From outside the church, such prohibition is a now a barrier to the gospel.

The creation account is used negatively to counter misunderstanding. It is not used positively to assert hierarchy. There is no command of dominance of men over women or husband over wife – Paul would have just as vigorously opposed such dominance. A significant thrust of the NT is towards equality (Gal 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7, Eph. 5:21).

The use of the creation narrative is focused on Eve as a warning of deception, a call to humility – she was deceived before her husband. It is a temporary issue being addressed. There is positive mention of women teaching in 2 Timothy and Titus suggesting that the issue was later resolved.

He concludes this section remarking that the issues are primarily exegetical. It is not a matter of ignoring or minimising the text or that it ‘does not apply’ (as Claire Smith claims), it is a question of how the text is understood. He lists 10 applications and I’m summarising tightly:

  1. All people in church to behave with decorum and to avoid sinful behaviour that prevents prayer from being effective.
  2. The avoidance of all secular displays of wealth, of position, of immodest sexuality
  3. The need for sound doctrinal teaching, the need for people to teach it and for people to live by it
  4. The need for godliness and good deeds and Christian character
  5. An ethic of humility and courtesy
  6. It tells women not to domineer and men not to engage in anger and disputation
  7. It warns of the danger of not being deceived
  8. It warns against denigrating marriage, rearing children, family life in favour of other priorities. This includes fathers evading their parental responsibilities
  9. It begins and ends with an emphasis on cultivating Christian character
  10. The overarching purpose is not to put obstacles in the way of the gospel

 Comments, as ever, welcome.