Why I’m for Women in Leadership

An overview article I wrote a wee while ago. Some resources at the end. Comments welcome:

Why I’m for Women in Leadership

The debate about ‘women in leadership’ revolves around interpretation of texts like1Timothy 2:12-13; 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, 14:33-35; Ephesians 5:22-23 and some others. A key question is whether the Bible contains fixed hierarchical gender roles based on a ‘creation-order’ blueprint. With limited space I can’t begin to discuss the details and so I’ve included a list of representative resources on both sides at the end of this article if you’d like to read around it yourself.

‘Egalitarians’ and ‘complementarians’ (more on those words in a moment) can agree on quite a bit: 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. So while I’m disagreeing strongly with ‘complementarian’ views here, I do want first to emphasise that we are brothers and sisters in the Lord who are sincerely wanting to submit to and obey the teaching of Scripture. I also hope we can have an ongoing and civil discussion.

Clarity over words

Words are important in this debate. ‘Women in Leadership’ is more accurate than ‘Women in Ministry’ because the questions revolve around if and how can women lead. I prefer the word ‘mutualist’ to ‘egalitarian’, the latter being a word that implies competing rights being bargained over. ‘Complementarian’ is both a mouthful and misleading in the sense that it is a one-sided view where particular leadership roles are only open to men. There are no corresponding complementary ‘roles’ that are only open to women. So it is more historically and theologically accurate to call ‘complementarianism’ what it is; a recent word for a hierarchical view of men and women in leadership and in marriage.

‘The Spirit gives gifts to each one, just as he determines’

Egalitarians argue that hierarchy is part of the curse of Genesis 3, not a normative good pattern to follow. The overall thrust of Scripture is towards transcending patriarchy and effecting a restoration of unity and equality within the body of Christ; from creation and Fall to New Creation. Rather than perpetuate this fallen condition, the church should be reflecting the future hope of the New Creation in how men and women relate in the here and now.

You see this happening in the radically counter-cultural way that Jesus not only related to women but included them within the kingdom of God and called them to be his travelling disciples during his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). This was unprecedented.

You see it in Luke-Acts and the remarkable outpouring of the long-awaited Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). No-where is there a hint that gifts are given according to gender, either in Luke or in Paul or Peter. The language is overwhelmingly inclusive to all the church, male and female.

Peter mentions the gift of ‘speaking the oracles of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). In Paul, the gifts in Ephesians 4:11 of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers and in Romans 12:3-8 which includes prophecy, teaching, exhortation and ruling are for everyone.

Similarly in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 the gifts include apostles, prophecy and teaching. This fits with the fact that Romans 16:7 says (despite extraordinary attempts to deny this) that Paul had at least one female apostle (Junia) who is outstanding as an apostle, not as a woman. Priscilla is a Bible teacher to a man; she is called Paul’s co-worker – a term used for those partnering with him in the ministry of the gospel which included proclamation and teaching (and included other women as well). Phoebe is a diakonos (probably ‘minister’) and prostatis (‘leader’ is more accurate than ‘helper’) in the church (Rom. 16:1-2).

Paul is a liberationist in the Spirit, but he is also a wise missionary. The texts in 1 Corinthians and in 1 Timothy are best understood as correcting local problems in worship and church order where women’s inappropriate behaviour had the potential to discredit the gospel. In other words, Paul adapts his instructions to the patriarchal culture of the Graeco-Roman world; he does not enforce permanent hierarchical male-female relationships within the new community of the Spirit, the body of Christ.

Problems with Complementarian practice

Just as Paul engaged with this question in cultural and missiological terms, so must Christians today. To enforce patriarchal hierarchy within the church in our Western culture is not only unnecessary, it misconstrues the liberating arc of the biblical narrative, has marginalised the God-given gifts of countless women causing much angst in the process, and damages the church’s witness to the inclusive nature of the gospel in the process.

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. The tragedy of ‘complementarianism’ is its focus on imposing universal law and artificial restrictions within the body of Christ. Near the end of his life Bruce commented that “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah” (from Scot McKnight in the Blue Parakeet).

For example, I was talking with a woman recently who told me of her coming to faith as an adult. She’d had significant experience in business and held responsible leadership positions. She began attending a local evangelical church, full of enthusiasm to serve and thirsty to learn more of God and his Word. But after some time she found herself increasingly bewildered and surprised to be told she would never be able to do certain things since they were only open to men. Her confusion arose from a profound mismatch between her experience of the inclusive gospel followed by marginalisation and restrictions simply because of her gender. Outside the church she had freedom to use her abilities and gifts as a person regardless of gender. Inside the church, her gender became a barrier and obstacle to using her gifts and being herself.

Complementarian thinking also leads to all sorts of inconsistencies and distortions as a supposed biblical ‘blueprint’ is applied in practice within church life (and marriage). Some say we can’t really understand why God wants it this way but that’s just the way it is. Even though they admit the obvious fact that many women are outstanding Bible teachers and are gifted for leadership, they can’t exercise those gifts because God says so.

Claire Smith pretty well says this in a new complementarian book called God’s God Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women. She says ‘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 does not mean she should preach. This begs all sorts of questions. Is she gifted by the Spirit of God or not? If she is, is she only allowed to preach to women or is this not actually preaching? (Smith does not say). Neither does she say why this restriction should apply apart from it is what God’s word says. She 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”. You can see the problem here. Despite complementarians 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 eternally subordinate within a faith that is innately ‘masculine’. It is more consistent to argue, as Augustine and some other Church Fathers did, that women have inferior roles because they are inferior!

Other inconsistencies of application are numerous. Some complementarians end up with detailed lists of what women can and cannot do. Professor Howard 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 and some (Susan Foh) argue for the church to regulate women’s length of hair! 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 (like Claire Smith) 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.

Why I’m for women in leadership

Egalitarianism can be summed up as being ‘for whatever God’s Spirit grants women gifts to do.’  They believe that the biblical texts point to the equal place of women in all aspects of the new covenant community of the people of God. People, men or woman, are to be recognised by the church to positions of leadership according to giftedness bestowed by the Spirit who gives gifts to whosoever he chooses – men and women alike.

There are a number of reasons I’m on the egalitarian side of this issue.

The first is that I’m far more convinced by the biblical arguments around the relevant texts.

The second is the large numbers of serious evangelical Bible scholars and thinkers who are making good arguments for egalitarianism. I see this and give thanks as an example of semper reformanda – the ongoing reform and renewal of the church by the Spirit of God.

The third is that I believe the church and its mission is desperately impoverished without both male and female leadership.

The fourth comes from experience. It is incontestable that many Christian women are just as intelligent, gifted, godly, and mature as many Christian male leaders. I’ve lost count of the number of women students who have had all the necessary qualities for leadership and yet have had no encouragement or opportunity to express those gifts. There is something badly wrong with this situation.

It’s appropriate to give the last word to a woman, Cherith Fee Nordling,

Our human dignity, value, and status are no longer based on these distinctions and their privileged status in the old order … because in Christ these distinctions do not define human personhood or position. Privilege is given and exercised for the building up of the whole community, whether by men or by women. This does not entitle women to roles any more than it takes them away from men. All service is cruciform, all service is a gift to be given. (from The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology)

Patrick Mitchel

Some Resources

Lis Goddard & Clare Hendry, The Gender Agenda: discovering God’s plan for church leadership. IVP, 2010. This takes the form of an exchange of emails between two women debating either side of the argument. A readable ‘way in’ to the issues.

Sarah Sumner, Men and Women in the Church. IVP USA, 2003. A very well written and researched book:  an egalitarian who agrees that the husband is head of his wife. Searching analysis and critique of Piper and Grudem.

Alan F Johnson (ed.), How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: compelling stories by prominent evangelicals. Zondervan, 2010. Personal stories of ‘conversion’ to an egalitarian perspective by people like John Stackhouse, Howard Marshall and many others.

Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen (eds), Women, Ministry and the Gospel: exploring new paradigms. IVP Academic, 2007. Academic. Mixed views on a range of topics including a detailed egalitarian interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 by Howard Marshall and an interesting chapter by Henri Blocher on a way forward.

Claire Smith, God’s God Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women, Matthias Media, 2012. A series of Bible study chapters on key texts from a complementarian perspective.

Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, Crossway, 2002. An exhaustive summary of strongly held complementarian arguments updating his and John Piper’s earlier book.

James Beck and Craig Blomberg, Two Views of Women in Ministry. Zondervan, 2001. Answer and response format between 4 contributors. Quite technical.

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Zondervan, 2010. A popular retelling of how to read the Bible through an egalitarian lens.

R T France, Women in the Church’s Ministry: a test-case for biblical hermeneutics. Paternoster, 1995. A thoughtful and wise exegetical study by an outstanding NT scholar and gracious Christian, recently gone to be with the Lord (and a former teacher of mine).

Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: an exegetical and theological study of Paul’s letters. Zondervan, 2009. The fruit of a lifetime’s work. An indispensable textbook. Egalitarian.

Craig Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: marriage and Women’s ministry in the letters of Paul. Hendrikson, 1992. Lively, readable and egalitarian from a well-known NT evangelical scholar.

For a host of resources on the Web see:

Christians for Biblical Equality http://www.cbeinternational.org/

Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood http://www.cbmw.org/

For a nice example of civil debate see these two self-critical pieces by Sarah Sumner and John Koessler criticising the weaknesses in their own side: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/june/27.40.html  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/june/28.41.html?paging=off

And if all this reading is too much like hard work, have a look at these short videos on women and the family and then women and the church by NT scholar Ben Witherington who has written and spoken extensively on this topic from an egalitarian perspective.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2M6HswlH3A

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5VQe_nuNJg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGVcAa9GwxA&feature=related

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 (7)

This is 6/10 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.

6. Women, men and the Spirit

A further reason to affirm an egalitarian view of women in ministry is that this seems to be the approach of the Spirit of God who gives his gifts generously to men and women alike.

You see this in Luke-Acts and the remarkable outpouring of the long-awaited Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). No-where is there a hint that gifts are given according to gender, either in Luke or in Paul or Peter. The language is overwhelmingly inclusive to all the church, male and female.

Peter mentions the gift of ‘speaking the oracles of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). In Paul, the gifts in Ephesians 4:11 of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers and in Romans 12:3-8 which includes prophecy, teaching, exhortation and ruling are for everyone. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 the gifts include apostles, prophecy and teaching.

Priscilla (pictured) is a Bible teacher to a man; she is called Paul’s co-worker – a term used for those partnering with him in the ministry of the gospel which included proclamation and teaching (and included other women as well).

Phoebe is a diakonos (probably ‘minister’) and prostatis (‘leader’ is more accurate than ‘helper’) in the church (Rom. 16:1-2).

Egalitarianism can be summed up as being ‘for whatever God’s Spirit grants women gifts to do.’  This is an argument that the biblical texts point to the equal place of women in all aspects of the new covenant community of the people of God. People, men or woman, are to be recognised by the church to positions of leadership according to giftedness bestowed by the Spirit who gives gifts to whosoever he chooses – men and women alike.

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 (2)

A sketch of what Claire Smith says, without editorial comment: I’ve tried to be accurate and concise.

I’ll leave it up to you dear readers to do the commenting. I’ll sketch Howard Marshall as an example of an alternative take on this passage and then have some editorial to add to sort out this issue once and for all and forever 😉

General Points

– Paul writing to Timothy with the house churches of Ephesus in mind, but of universal relevance to the wider church ‘in every place’. The context is resisting false teaching

– Verses 11-12 are ‘relatively uncomplicated’ and unambiguous and should be read plainly. The following interpretation consists of this plain reading.

– men lifting holy hands in prayer is not so much a rule about lifting hands but a universally valid principle that male aggression and self-promotion are not to hinder prayer

– women are addressed: they are not to be vain or showy, but in dress and behaviour to show modesty and self-restraint and be proactive in doing good.

–  women are to be part of the learning process (‘let a woman learn’). There are to learn quietly in all submissiveness. They are NOT ‘to challenge or dispute what is taught.’

– They are also not to teach or ‘exercise authority over a man’.

– Teaching in the church gathering is not their responsibility. They are commended elsewhere to teach in other circumstances.

And she unpacks this with a focus on a couple of key concepts:

1. Submissiveness

Submissiveness is ‘a voluntary and willing acceptance of the leadership and responsibility of another.’

The key idea here is ‘learn’ is paired opposite to ‘teach’ and all submissiveness’ is paired opposite to ‘exercise authority over’.

Since not all men teach, Paul is not saying all women should submit to all men all the time, but ‘women should be submissive in church, when teaching is happening , to what is taught and those men who are teaching it.’

Such quiet and submissive learning is appropriate for women who are not to be authoritative teachers.

“They are to learn with quiet, willing and voluntary submissiveness, accepting what is taught and the authority of those teaching it …. conduct fitting for women who profess godliness.” (35)

2. Adam and Eve

There are two reasons why Paul refers to Adam and Eve.

  1. Adam being formed first indicates special responsibilities with being the firstborn. This is the way things are meant to be.
  2. Adam and Eve sinned in different ways. She was deceived, he disobeyed. He ‘abdicated his responsibility of leadership to his wife’. This establishes a pattern of male leadership and female submission. Paul roots in commands in Timothy to these timeless and ‘transcultural’ principles.

So Christian women today are not to ‘usurp male leadership’.

This is the way it is according to God’s ‘good design’. It is NOT that women are less able or gifted or more likely to be deceived – it is a ‘creation order’.

“This is not because women are less intelligent, less gifted, less useful, more gullible or somehow inferior. They are not – and these are not the reasons given for the commands. Paul here says nothing about women’s capabilities, and it is clear elsewhere that he recognizes the valuable and God-given gifting and contribution of women in the progress of the gospel and the life of the church.

Nevertheless, because of God’s creation purposes for men and women, and because of the events of the Fall, the participation and contribution of women in the Christian assembly is to be different from those of men …

The battle for women in our day is to accept God’s wisdom in this and be content in it, when our entire culture has taught us not to be. The battle for men, as in Genesis 3, is to step up to the sort of leadership Paul has in mind, when our entire culture insists that women are the real ‘go-to’ men, and that men and boys have little to contribute beyond being the butt of jokes.” (37)

3. Saved through childbirth

Claire Smith gives some options for interpreting verse 15.

The one she prefers is this: Childbirth is not a means of salvation, but is about “Christian women being spiritually preserved or saved from the temptations and fate of Eve and the dangers of false teaching, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control. And childbearing is part of that.” It’s a way of referring to the responsibilities that are the domain of women. In other words, “women are to be content with the roles and responsibilities that God has ordained for them.”

And whatever you decide about this verse does not alter the substance of the passage that women should not teach or exercise authority over men.

4. Reasons why the plain reading is not accepted. Smith calls these ‘It is God’s word but …’ objections.

She mentions those who reject 1 Timothy as God’s word or that Paul wrote it and was mistaken.

She also talks about those who reject it because it does not seem fair or it conflicts with a woman’s perceived call to ministry. To this she says that feelings are not to decide the matter,

“whatever we make of subjective ‘calls’, the objective written word of God must always be our guide no matter  how strongly we feel in our hearts. If there is a conflict, even though we may not like it or even understand it, we must submit to the word of our heavenly Father … A personal conviction, however strong and however well intentioned, should never override the plain sense of Scripture.’

She also talks about “some who call themselves evangelicals” who say the text “does not apply today.”

– Galatians 3:28 does not cancel out 1 Timothy 2. The former is talking about unity in salvation, not roles in ministry

– She rejects the local problem with women in Ephesus argument. No, Paul lays down creation order principles from Genesis. This is more than correcting a local aberration. There are permanent principles here to be applied today.

– She talks of a “very dubious (and widely discredited) translation of the Greek word to exercise authority over (authenteō). (She does not give the details) that underpins the local problem view.

– She sees preaching and teaching here as NOT being under other people’s authority. This is true of prophecy in 1 Corinthians which is “under the authority of other people.”

– She rejects the idea that Paul wrote these commands to accommodate prevailing culture (patriarchy?) and that this is transcended now in light of Galatians 3:28. Back to creation order here to reject this view.

– She rejects the idea that since women did teach (Priscilla & Aquilla teaching Apollos etc) – but no examples are of women “teaching men in the authoritative instruction” of the church assembly.

– She rejects the idea that women prophesying means that women exercised authority in that context. Prophecy and teaching are distinct.

– She rejects the idea that the issue is to do with married women – it is men and women more generally that is in view since Adam and Eve were representative.

5.  What about other contexts outside church?

Scripture shows women can teach “young and old, male and female” outside the restrictions of 1 Timothy 2. These do not “involve the ongoing, authoritative doctrinal instruction of the church gathering, through the exposition and proclamation of Scripture and the apostolic message.” They are private situations, family situations, instances of prophecy, prayer or singing, or the focused instruction of women.

Smith sees a place for women to contribute to academic discussion. The distinction here is her views are weighed and evaluated in the world of scholarship and not in the familial local gathering. So women can write books as Claire Smith has done, which are read by men and contain teaching, but the reader can weigh and evaluate her words and agree or disagree in a private way. This is different from teaching in the local church gathering.

6. To Conclude

The passage is “not that complicated, although admittedly it is rather confronting and countercultural.” (52)