Best of Bweinh! — Women In Ministry

May 6, 2008, 11:30 am; posted by
Filed under David, Debate, Steve  | 2 Comments

In this corner, arguing for different ministry roles for men and women, is David!

And in this corner, supporting the ordination and public ministry of women, is Steve!

“I don’t hate women. . . my mother was a woman!” — Mike Tyson

It would be wrong to suppose, just because I am on the opposing side of this issue, that I favor a ban on women in ministry. My first two pastors were women and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the role they played in my early development as a Christian.

I simply think there are unavoidable Biblical statements that must be incorporated into our understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate for how women function in the body of Christ.

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 we find, to me, the most formidable barrier to a carte blanche approach to women in ministry. Paul mentions subjection, authority and Eve’s role in the Fall of man as all playing a role here. Unless we reject Paul’s words as Scripture, which Peter specifically warned us not to do in 2 Peter 3:15-16, calling them Scripture, I don’t see how we can ignore his statements.

He uses the word subjection (hupostassas), which is also noted in the relationship of men and women in Ephesians, 1 Peter and Colossians, and mainly connotes order as opposed to chaos within an organization. Any attempt to define the separate roles of men and women in the church and family has to take these Scriptures into account.

Is the woman less of a Christian? No. Does she have a different role to play in the church and family? Yes. A role that carries with it submission to male authority? Yes.

In this section Paul says, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over a man.” In the Greek the phrase “to teach” is not constructed as a one-time action; it refers to holding the position of “teacher.” The word “teacher” is interpreted elsewhere as “master” (rabboni), and refers to the person who ruled on doctrinal matters in the synagogue and was recognized as its final authority. Paul was not forbidding a women to preach or teach in his assemblies, in my opinion, but rather forbade them from holding that place of authority.

He links this, however uncomfortable it makes us, with the Fall, Adam being “first formed” and Eve being “deceived.” If we need further proof Paul believed there was a lingering judgment on Eve’s descendants, we need only read through verse 15, where he makes the statement, “Nevertheless she shall be saved in childbearing.” What was the punishment bestowed upon Eve for her place in the fall? Pain in childbirth. Paul notes that though there is a lingering judgment that has placed her in subjection to man, judgment will not overcome her. But the judgment still remains.

Paul also told the Galatians, “In Christ there is no male and female,” and this statement is not a contradiction. Man has no favor with God that woman does not have, no special gifts or perks. We just serve in different roles. My boss is not inherently better than me, but he is over me in authority, and I must respect that.

What should a woman do if she is called to preach? Preach with all her heart! Teach? Teach with all her heart! Sing? Sing with all her heart!

But should she be ordained? I do not believe so — but I willingly acknowledge another thread that runs through the Bible. God rejects those who reject him, and uses whomever is faithful, whether or not they meet the requirements of His own scriptural statements.

The culture of Christ’s day treated women as second-class citizens. Jews of that time were known to thank God for not making them “a dog, a Gentile, or a woman,” and almost all ancient men treated their wives, daughters and sisters as mere possessions. The famous trick question of the Sadducees, meant to attack the resurrection, was built on the concept that a woman’s existence — even in Heaven — was primarily defined by which man owned her.

And into that world came Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, who never treated women this way. He spoke, alone, to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4), He visited Mary and Martha at their home, He allowed women to support Him financially (Lk 8), He was lavishly anointed by a woman at dinner (Lk 7). He did not allow a woman caught in adultery to be condemned while her male compatriot got off scot-free (Jn 8); when His disciples fled, the women in His life anointed Him for burial (Lk 23) and first witnessed His resurrection (Mt 28).

Similarly, throughout the Bible, women served in leadership and ministry roles. Deborah led the nation of Israel (Jdg 4-5). Miriam, for all her faults, was a prophetess (Ex 15:20). Priscilla taught and preached with her husband (Ac 18:26), and in Romans 16, Paul sent greetings to many women in the ministry, including deaconess Phoebe and apostle Junia.

Against this powerful model of Christ’s behavior and the normative example of Biblical ministry by women, we have — what? A passage in I Corinthians that, on its face, seems to demand absolute silence from the same women who were just given instructions on proper public prayer, and a passage in I Timothy written to those in Ephesus, a city known for false teachers and the female-dominated Artemis cult.

It is not that these passages are unscriptural, or somehow less important than any of the rest of the Bible. It’s precisely because none of these texts can be ignored that, one way or the other, we must reconcile the contradiction between the repeated use of women in public ministry throughout the Old and New Testaments, and the apparent stark prohibition of such behavior here.

Is it simply that God used women when men were not available? Not so of Miriam, who served with her brother, or Deborah, who ruled Israel alone, while married. It’s not true of the women Paul greeted in Romans, and there’s no suggestion of a divine or universal command in those churches to limit their ministry to certain roles, or to avoid making women the ultimate ‘teacher.’ The only places this is mentioned are Corinth and Ephesus.

Let’s look at those churches. Much of I Corinthians was devoted to order during worship, which (from context) likely had to do with largely uneducated women dressing provocatively and blabbing during church. And like I said, in Ephesus, local women were quite ‘liberated’ in their form of worship. Weighing the evidence from other churches against the history of these two, doesn’t it make more sense that Paul’s words were guidelines for specific situations, rather than universal, normative commands?

I do believe that in general, men and women are called to different roles in the family and church. But God has made us all unique, with different gifts. Not all women have the gift to encourage; not every man can teach. It would be improvident to suggest, based on two passages and the Fall, that we should limit the use — or even the context of the use — of some of God’s gifts to half of His people.



2 Comments to “Best of Bweinh! — Women In Ministry”

  1. Mike J on May 7th, 2008 11:23 am

    Three guesses on my perspective on this issue? :)

    I will say, David, that you are right, that 1 Timothy passage is the most formidable barrier to an egalitarian view of women in ministry, because Paul roots his arguments in the created order: in essence, this is how things naturally are. And yet as Steve has pointed out, there are other points in Scripture where Paul assumes women did teach and lead and gives them direction on how to do it.

    You have two choices: either read this passage as a universal, or as particularly applicable in Ephesus. I think there are good reasons to choose the latter: the unique nature of the heresy in Timothy’s church, which women were particularly “helpful” in spreading (2 Tim 3:6-7, 1 Tim 5:11-15). Beyond this, though, if you do want to treat this passage as a universal, you can’t stop at women merely be ineligible for ordination: they would have to be full-fledged inferior creatures, due to their unique sinfulness, and saved not through the pain and death of Jesus but through their own pain….

  2. Dsweetgoober on May 7th, 2008 3:50 pm

    You make a good point, but it isn’t a woman being “saved through childbirth” in the sense that her pain becomes her sacrifice for sin. There is no sacrifice acceptable to God except the blood of his Son. it”s being “saved in childbirth” which is akin to saying “nevertheless this judgment will not destroy you. You’ll live”.

    I know some people struggle with the idea that there could still be a “lingering judgment” on our lives for sin that Jesus already paid for but if the curse is lifted in full, instead of in part with the rest promised upon his return, then why can’t we go naked and quit our jobs? That was Adams Judgment, to earn a living by the sweat of his brow and to be covered along with Eve. If we can work out this naked and jobless thing without it being a sin sign me up.

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