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 (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.

Transforming the World? The Gospel and Social Responsibility (3)

A third ‘quotable quote’ from this book, Transforming the World?: the Gospel and Social Responsibility, edited by Dewi Hughes and Jamie Grant.

I’m trying to prepare a series of 10 guest posts or so for Jesus Creed in June. This is the conclusion of a chapter that there won’t be room to discuss there, by Howard Marshall called ‘Luke’s “Social” Gospel: the social theology of Luke-Acts’.

It highlights the impossibility of ‘disentangling’ the gospel from its social implications.

Luke has a theology of a God who is generous and compassionate and condemns the way in which the rich make themselves rich at the expense of the poor. His Son Jesus was conspicuously  poor and called his disciples to beware of wealth and its temptations, and to practise giving, regarding their property and income as being held in trust for the good of others as well as themselves. To this end the early Christians encouraged charity so that the church was a microcosm of a society in which all shared together, the rich helping the poor so that poverty was eradicated. The faithful proclamation of the gospel includes its element of judgment on the selfish rich and the call to share with the needy. It also includes the expression of God’s compassion in care of the sick and disabled and the calling of rulers and ‘the mighty’ to practise righteousness (which includes compassion). (emphasis added)

Comments, as ever, welcome.

I Howard Marshall on Women in Ministry

Scot McKnight draws attention to a summary of these remarks by  Howard Marshall at a recent panel discussion on the anguish caused to many women by a complementarian (hierarchical) view of women in ministry. The panel was reflecting on a book How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals.

Much anguish is felt by women whose God-given talents have been denied expression. This is due to:

1. The inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so.

2. The irrationality of the traditional position. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how the patriarchal/complementarian position glorifies God or fulfils his moral and spiritual purposes for his children.

3. The arbitrariness of the way in which the ruling is put into effect, with all the going beyond what Scripture actually says and the casuistry that is employed regarding the limits of what women may and may not do.

4. The lack of any positive remedy in terms of alternative types of behavior and action that can be taken up by women in the church, since no clear complementarian tasks that women should do but men should not do are proposed.

Is this anguish a legitimate stimulus for asking whether we have interpreted Scripture wrongly? Anguish itself is not necessarily a reason for change but an important symptom that something deeper may be needing attention for good theological and practical reasons.

Our problem is how to understand Scripture in the context of this anguish as people who place ourselves under its authority, and who are perplexed if being scriptural makes us not only unhappy but also irrational in terms of the godly use of our minds.

One partial way ahead is to ask positively what the teaching has to say to us if we extend its application. The teaching addressed to women can and should also be applied to men and vice versa. Men should also act modestly and women should not quarrel when they pray. Is there not a need for submissiveness in learning in all of us? Are male teachers allowed to domineer or act in authoritarian ways? Do husbands and fathers need to devote more attention to their families instead of spending undue time at church?

The biblical teaching was given in the context of a society that was patriarchal. Does not a literal application of the subjection passages produce effects which are rather different from what was originally intended, as when the wearing of a hat is a sign of being fashionable rather than honoring to a husband? What message does the silencing of women teachers and leaders convey?

But a warning may also be needed. All of us, men and women, need to beware lest we be motivated by a worldly desire for success and adulation rather than by a desire to be good servants of a Lord who will give us his ‘well done’. What we are to seek for is a way of living in the church and in marriage that glorifies the Lord and commends the gospel and helps to realize the kingdom of God in an anticipatory manner here in this world and specifically in the church.