Golden Calves–Then and Now

October 12, 2020

This is a guest post by Becky Frazier who is the Missional Discipleship Minister for the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tennessee. She delivered this message over ZOOM for the All Saints Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee on October 10, 2020

Lectionary Texts: Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

I’d like to focus on our Exodus text today, and not just because I am a coward who doesn’t want to come anywhere near today’s Gospel text! I do think this story of the Golden Calf has something to teach us in this particular moment that we find ourselves in today. 

The text begins: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Did you catch that? When Moses delayed. They were waiting and in their waiting they became restless and unsure and anxious. So they took matters into their own hands. 

So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden[a] calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

It’s important to note that the people were not abandoning YHWH altogether. The text is clear that their feast is to YHWH, not just to the gods. In their waiting and anxiousness about what comes next, they created either something to worship alongside YHWH (to cover all their bases) or were creating an image of God that they could see and control and manipulate and make sure they didn’t lose sight of. 

Do you ever find yourself doing this? Waiting and growing anxious in the waiting. Waiting for the next phase of life. Waiting for something to be over. Waiting for something to start. I know I do. It feels like the last 10 years of my life have been one big lesson in waiting and somehow I still haven’t learned it well. The waiting is hard and we don’t know what comes next or what it will require of us or what to in the meantime. So we take something, something innocuous or even good and twist it and change it until it looks like what we think God might look like and then we slap a sticker on it claiming that this thing is our God. This thing is what has saved us and this thing is what will go before us. Maybe you’re waiting for a time when you don’t have to worry about money any more, and your bank account and your 401k and the promise of a safe and a secure future becomes your idol. Maybe you’re waiting for your marriage to get better, you turn your children into an idol, or your home, or someone else. Maybe in waiting for America to be Great Again or for America to be a more just place, you turn your political party or a certain candidate into something to be worshipped and call it god with a capital G. 

See, the thing is, their jewelry and gold earrings were not bad. Not in their proper context, but when removed from that context and twisted into something that they worshiped in place of God, they are toxic. But that’s what’s so insidious about the golden calves, right? They don’t seem like idols to us. They seem like the God who rescued us, or fixed the situation, or made this or that happen. We don’t think we are worshiping an idol, we think we are worshiping God. When in fact, it is simply a god of our own making, crafted and carved out of our fears and our pride and our need to control things. 

I wonder if that’s not what was going on in the Philippians text. It seems that two influential church leaders, Euodia and Syntyche were arguing about something and Paul writes urging them to put the gospel before their disagreements. My guess is that their argument was important, that it mattered to them and that it had implications for how they lived and worshiped and shared life together. And their side of the argument, their need to be right, became an idol to them, something that became more important than the Good News of the Risen Christ. 

It’s hard not to think of the North American church when I read these words, especially in the context of our Exodus passage. I hear folks on both sides of the aisle claiming that one cannot be a Christian if one votes a certain way. How can you vote for so and so, don’t you know that he supports—- fill in the blank. To be blunt, many of us have turned American politics into a golden calf- claiming that this is what has freed us and what has giving us life and life abundantly.  Friends, [pause] the gospel has never and will never be dependent on your candidate being in office. The church around the world has always found a way to participate with God in setting the captive free, in loving their enemies, in caring for the oppressed, in siding with the marginalized and in proclaiming thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Regardless of which Caesar was on the throne, regardless of which president was in the oval office, and regardless of which superpower was dominating the world. And one thing our Gospel for today text is  clear on, is that we aren’t the ones who get to decide who is on the guest list. It’s not our party and if we are showing up to it thinking that this celebration is about us or showing without having been changed into something new then we are at the wrong party. 

Please don’t hear me say that we shouldn’t vote or that we shouldn’t take action . We should – absolutely. We should work to make this world better for all those made in  the image of God, and that includes caring about how our systems treat others. We should vote. We should protest.  We should call the leaders of our country to be kind and decent. We should work to implement policies that end oppression. This is right and good. But when our side becomes the good side and the other the bad side. When our arguments and our surety that we are right comes before how we treat a sister and fellow laborer of the Gospel we have turned our earrings into a calf. We have made our politics our idol and looked at it and said, look, here is the image of God that has saved us. 

Many scholars think that the reason God was so adamant that God’s people not attempt to make graven images of God to worship is that God had already placed God’s image in the world. When we start worshipping idols of our own creation we forget that God’s image is in the eyes of the person right in front of you. When your idol is your political party or candidate of choice, you forget that God’s image is stamped on the hearts of those who vote differently, too. When your idol is the certainty that your way is right and everyone else is wrong, it gets harder to see the glimmer of divine dust in the ones you call “other.” When your idol is serenity, and safety, and comfort, then it justifies oppressing the image of God in the ones who have less so that you can have more. 

There is a group called Preemptive Love Coalition whose main goal is to unmake war. They know that what starts war is seeing another group as totally one dimensional. Your own group is all good and the other group is all bad. Thus this bad group is worthy of destruction and death. They also know that the way to unmake war is to love first. To love when it’s hard. To love those we disagree with. To seek to understand instead of seeking to argue. To listen to really hear instead of listening to formulate a rebuttal. And I think the only way that we can do this is to lay aside our golden calves and turn to the God who created us through love and for love.  

So friends, as we wait today. As we wonder where God might be in all of the pain and confusion and mess of right now, don’t settle for a golden calf when you can have the God of the Universe. Don’t cling so hard to your ideas and your need to be right that you lose sight of the Gospel. The gospel which proclaims freedom for the captive and sight to the blind and comfort to the brokenhearted and life eternal is a lot bigger than our little idols. The kingdom of God will far outlast the kingdoms of this world. 

So finally, brother and sisters, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7) Amen. 


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 5) of Women Serving God

September 12, 2020

Renew has recently published the fifth part of their series on the Bible, gender, and the church. This is my response.

Renew’s series, as a whole, responds to the publication of my book, Women Serving God. The following are links to the discussion between myself and Renew in the blogosphere.

  1. Renew’s Review (Part 1): Hermeneutics.
  2. My Response to Part 1.
  3. Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1. (I copied it into #4 below.)
  4. My Rejoinder to Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1.
  5. Renew’s Review (Part 2): 1 Corinthians 11.
  6. My Response to Part 2.
  7. Renew’s Review (Part 3): 1 Corinthians 14.
  8. My Response to Part 3.
  9. Renew’s Review (Part 4): 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
  10. My Response to Part 4.
  11. Renew’s Review (Part 5): Elders.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 5. Renew’s blog is over 7000 words. My response is brief–only 1500 words. Renew’s blog series (now in five parts) is now over 37,000 words and my responses are about 21,500.

As Renew turns its attention to the topic of church polity and the function of elders in the community of faith, it moves beyond the specific thesis and interest of my book, which Part 5 recognizes.

The purpose of my book is to explore the participation of women in the assembly. I make no sustained argument in the book that addresses the specific question of gender inclusion in the eldership. In fact, I explicitly defer that discussion to another book, which I hope to write.

Whether the eldership is gender inclusive or exclusive is materially irrelevant to the topic of whether women are invited to fully participate in the assemblies of the saints unless elders have some specific function or giftedness in the assembly that excludes all other believers. Among churches of Christ, other than a policy statement or something similar, there is no such function in our assemblies. In other words, whether it is leading worship, prayer, administration of the table, or preaching, none of these belong exclusively to elders—at least in the last one hundred years or so of the churches of Christ.

The topic of polity and gender exclusion/inclusion deserves careful attention and a close reading of Scripture as well as a coherent theological application of the story of God. I made the decision to defer that topic to another book rather than attempt to address it in this one.

Consequently, as Renew addresses the role of elders, it is no longer reviewing my book but offering a case for their own position, which has been their primary purpose (I surmise) from the beginning. Since their present blog offering (#5) moves beyond the purpose and arguments of my own book, I will defer any response to this specific topic until I have had opportunity to fully state what I think is the case and offer an extended rationale for my position (whatever my conclusion may be).

However, I will offer a few but brief observations on the points in the review that I think are relevant to the case I wanted to make in Women Serving God.

1. In part, the exclusion of women from serving as elders is grounded in material already covered earlier in the blogs or a future blog, according to Renew. I covered this material in my book or in earlier responses as well. This is the list Renew provides.

  • Adam’s primogeniture status and Eve’s role as a “strong helper.” Response: As I suggested in both my book and in my earlier response, this is a misreading of Paul’s point in 1 Timothy 2:13 as well as a failure to recognize “helper” (‘ezer) as a powerful ally (even rescuer) who shares the same nature, vocation, and identity as men (Genesis 1:26-28).
  • Priests were exclusively male and given a “special teaching role in Israel.”  Response: Teaching was not limited to priests; prophets taught as well, and women were prophets. Is the male Levitical priesthood of Israel a delimitation of female teaching under the priesthood of Jesus, who serves in a totally different order of priesthood (Melchizedek)?
  • “Jesus picked only men to be his 12 apostles.” Response: he picked only Jews as well to be his apostles. Does this exclude Gentiles from service as elders?
  • Husbands have a “Christ-like headship (authority) role as a servant leader,” which Renew will more fully articulate in a future Part 6. Response: this misunderstands the function of “head” in relation to Christ and the church as well as husbands and wife.
  • “In Christian gatherings, boundaries are established to uphold male headship in the church when women pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11) and during disruptions (1  Corinthians 14).” Response: male headship in 1 Corinthians 11 is not about male authority (as Renew understands headship) and the silencing of women in 1 Corinthians 14 is about communal disorder rather than male headship (see my responses to Parts 2 and 3).
  • “1 Timothy 2:11-15 teaches that in the gathered church, women are not to teach or exercise authority over men.” Response: each phrase in that statement is quite disputed and uncertain—it is not only about the “gathered church,” “teach” needs a narrow definition in order to make the point about elders, and “exercise authority” is about abusive and controlling activity rather than the authority of elders. The text more likely teaches that deceived women should not teach in such a way that they persuade men to follow their pathway into the hands of Satan (see my response to Part 4). By the way, it is important to note that nowhere in my chapter on 1 Timothy 2 nor in my response to Part 4 did I ever appeal to Galatians 3:28. My journey was an exegetical one with regard to 1 Timothy 2.

2. Hermeneutics is an important dimension of this discussion. At the same time, I see no evidence in our series of blogs that Renew and myself disagree, in principle, about the hermeneutical task (see my response to Part 1). We do disagree about the meaning and application of some (a few, actually) texts. But we both agree, at least, on these principles of “good hermeneutics”:

  • Scripture must have first place in our decision-making process and its norms guide us.
  • Our goal is to understand the teaching of Scripture so we might obey God.
  • We must discern where practices taught by Scripture function as applied theological principles in specific cultures and situations that no longer bind us (e.g., we no longer require head-covering, or forbid the wearing of gold and pearls, or require widows to be sixty before they are enrolled by the church, or follow Christ’s example of foot washing, etc.) and where practices are themselves part of the gospel norms (e.g., baptism, the Lord’s supper, etc.).
  • We seek a coherent theology of gender through a close reading of Scripture.

3. Concerning Galatians 3:28, I think the blog is too dismissive of the significance of this text. I offer my own perspective in Women Serving God, but it has not appeared materially in the blog series except for a brief mention in Part 1 in relation to hermeneutics.

  • The general context of Galatians 3:28 is “new creation” (deliverance from the present evil age in 1:4 to “new creation is everything” in 6:15–from beginning to the end of the letter), and the specific context of Galatians 3:28 is the inheritance (3:18, 29; 4:1, 7, 30; 5:21; the focused topic of this section of Galatians) believers have in Christ. This encompasses not only an initial inclusion in Christ (e.g., “who can be saved”) but also the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. That is a comprehensive context rather than a narrow one.
  • If the text says “there are no ethnic, social, economic, or gender hurdles” for “who can be saved” and salvation is much more than simply justification by faith or our entrance into the church, then it also entails “there are no ethnic, social, economic, or gender hurdles” for who can serve (gifts) in the church.
  • Would it be responsible to claim that Galatians 3:28 affirms Gentile elders and preachers or slave elders or preachers? What text authorizes slaves to become elders in the New Testament? Are they not under the authority of the household in which they live? Could a Christian slave be an elder in a congregation even while his Christian master is not an elder? Does Galatians 3:28 have implications for whether a Christian master should even own a Christian slave? The significance of Galatians 3:28 applies to ethnicity, economics, and gender as the story of new creation is lived out in the kingdom of God among communities upon whom God has poured the Spirit unless there is some explicit text that excludes Gentiles, slaves, or women.
  • This reading of Galatians 3:28 is not contrary to 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 11 when those texts are read in the ways I have suggested, and those ways are credible approaches to the texts that respect their context and meaning. There is, then, no contradiction, which is assumed in the blog because of the way Renew reads 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11.

There is much more to say, of course—especially about 1 Timothy 3, which is the main ground in the light of how 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is read. That is understandable, and it deserves focused attention as we seek to live out gospel norms and principles in contemporary communities of faith. In my third book in this series, I will take up the discussion of elders, gender, and 1 Timothy 3 as well as other texts. I hope that will be in the near future.

Peace to my friends at Renew.


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 3) of Women Serving God

August 27, 2020

This is getting a bit confusing. Responses to Reviews by Renew with further Rejoinders. Way too many “Rs”. So, I’ll identify the contributions to this series at the beginning of each of my responses.

Renew, unfortunately, does not link my responses to their reviews on their blog. This is particularly unfair given that the most recent Renew review (number 7 below) responds to my #6 in addition to my book, Women Serving God. Their readers are not necessarily aware of my responses even though Renew is responding to them. Renew readers have no way of knowing or checking whether they are representing me accurately or the potential to read my supporting points.

Here are the links to the exchanges in one place. I respectfully ask Renew to provide the full links as well in their future responses and add links to past responses. I would be grateful for the courtesy.

Of course, Renew’s series started as a response to the publication of my book, Women Serving God. From there, we have the following in the blogosphere.

  1. Renew’s Review (Part 1): Hermeneutics.
  2. My Response to Part 1.
  3. Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1. (I copied it into #4 below.)
  4. My Rejoinder to Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1.
  5. Renew’s Review (Part 2): 1 Corinthians 11.
  6. My Response to Part 2.
  7. Renew’s Review (Part 3): 1 Corinthians 14.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 3. Renew’s blog is almost 7,000 words. My response is about 3,500 words.

Some Brief Notes

1. A Plain Hermeneutic. I affirm a “plain reading hermeneutic,” as Bobby describes it. In fact, my book (pp. 165-166) explicitly says that the grand story of God is readily available in sermons, songs, wisdom, narrative, and letters as one reads the Bible. It is available to all readers. Everyone, no matter what their educational or social backgrounds, may respond to the gospel through reading or hearing Scripture read. I believe the Spirit works powerfully to transform people and conform them to the image of Christ through the hearing and/or reading of Scripture.

At the same time, not everything is equally available or readable. As Peter said, and Bobby acknowledges, Paul wrote some things that are difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Might 1 Corinthians 11, 14, and 1 Timothy 2 be examples of such difficult texts? Given the diversity of their interpretation in the history of the church, I think so. But this does not undermine the clarity of the gospel message about which Paul is so adamant throughout all his letters.

One example of this difficulty, and why the plain reading is not always the best reading, is the word head. When we read “head” in English, a dominant denotation is ruler, rank, boss, etc. However, this is not true in Greek. The semantic range is much broader, and the meaning of “ruler or rank” is not a dominant meaning or even part of the classical meaning of the term.  Consequently, an English reader may read “head” and take its meaning as plain, but while its English meaning is plain, the Greek range of meaning is obscured. Consequently, plain does not always work well in translation, particularly when the English does not maintain the ambiguity or the primary sense of the Greek.

2.  On Veils. To be clear, I did not say or imply Rick’s understanding of Roman head-coverings in Corinth was “some gloss or a fringe interpretation.” In fact, I acknowledged it had “merit” and noted Rick had “demonstrated” the significance of Roman head covering practices. In fact, I provided a link to Massey’s article in my own review (which Bobby quoted in Renew review #3). Rick has made a tremendous contribution to scholarship by noting the Roman practice. Both men and women covered their heads when they led worship practices in Roman religion. That is widely acknowledged.

At the same time, according to Rick, Paul differentiates between men and women in terms of authority and that the head-covering now represents male authority over the woman rather than the meaning of piety in Roman practices. In other words, Rick believes Paul changed both the meaning and practice of the Roman custom to conform to the “biblical idea of headship.” That is where the dispute lies. The Roman practice is not in question. Rather, the question is, why did Paul change the Roman practice (men uncovered rather than covered), what other cultural factors are in play at Corinth (why are women still covered?), and what is the theological meaning of the head-covering for Paul (male authority, sexual propriety, or other possible reasons)? That is much more disputed than the Roman practice itself.

3.  On Photius. My point, of course, in quoting Photius and other Nicene theologians in history is not to say this is an argument for understanding Paul’s meaning as a principle of exegesis. Rather, it was to illustrate that many theologians don’t see a problem with understanding God as the “source” of Christ, which Rick had dismissed in the earlier review. According to Nicene theology, the Father is the source of the Son, whether in terms of the immanent Trinity (through eternal generation of the Son) or in terms of the incarnation (the Father sends the Son and the Son comes from the Father). The idea that God is the “source” of Christ does not create Christological problems, whether in the biblical text or Nicene theology.

4.  The Submission of the Messiah (Christ) to the Father for Eternity. I understand Rick to describe the relationship between the human Messiah, the incarnate Logos (to use John’s language, John 1:1, 14) and the Creator God the Father. The language of “son” in this context, as Rick describes it, is Davidic royalty; it is Messianic language. In terms of the incarnation, we are agreed. This is the case for Psalm 110 and Psalm 2, to be sure, as it is applied in 1 Corinthians 15. I have no qualms with that point. Jesus is resurrected as the new human of new creation and exalted to the throne of David. At the end, the Messiah will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. The Davidic king—the incarnate Messiah who is descended from David as a human being and now reigns in resurrected human form—will turn the kingdom over to the Father. The Davidic king, as the human representative of all humanity, will turn the kingdom over to the Father. There is no disagreement that the incarnate Messiah was submissive to the Father and, as human, will reign in the kingdom of God in a subordinate position to God.

If 1 Corinthians 11:3 means that God is the head of the Messiah (Christ) in the sense that the Messiah is submissive to God and God has authority (rank, power, rule) over the Messiah, then we are talking about the incarnate Christ rather than the eternal Logos. But note this “headship” (and its attendant submission) entails an ontological difference. God has authority over the incarnate Messiah. That authority, then, is ontological in character because God has authority over the human Davidic king. I don’t think we want to say that male headship over women is analogous to that kind of authority, or is that what complementarianism entails?

The idea that Christ submits to the Father as the incarnate Messiah is true, and this assumes an ontological inequality because the incarnate, human Messiah submits to the divine Father.  If we proceed on that basis, then a strict analogy with men and women (“man is the head of woman”) entails that there is an ontological difference between men and women and that women must show the same kind of submission to men that the incarnate Jesus shows to God the Creator. But Paul says men and women have mutual authority (1 Corinthians 7:4). The analogy of authority does not hold.

If, however, one believes 1 Corinthians 11:3 is about the immanent Trinity, then it describes the relationship between God and Christ (Logos, the divine one through whom the world was created) before the creation. To say that the Creator has an eternal authority (power, rank) over the divine Logos within the one being of God is to introduce an ontological inequality into the being of the one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Reading kephalē as “authority/rank/power” creates a problem for understanding the ontological equality of the immanent Trinity.

These difficulties are one of the reasons—and I gave other reasons in my previous response—that I prefer “source/origin of life, kinship, head-body oneness” for the meaning of kephalē. It seems to me, this is the analogy Paul is drawing in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and Paul is quite explicit about the idea of source in 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 (woman from man and men now come through women).

At bottom, Nicene theology has affirmed taxis (order) within the immanent Trinity, and this order is one of relation for the sake of differentiation within the one being of God. That eternal differentiation is not about authority because they are equal in power (authority), glory, and honor because there is only one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. The differentiation between Father, Son, and Spirit is about relation, origin, or source (eternal generation and eternal procession) rather than authority, glory, and honor.

5. On Torah. Rick rightly points out that the Greek word nomos (law) may refer to any part of the Hebrew Bible. I had no intention of saying otherwise. In fact, in the same chapter, Paul described his quotation from Isaiah as something written in the law (nomos; 1 Corinthians 14:21). I agree with Rick that Paul’s use of “law”may refer to Genesis 1-2.

Common Ground on 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

1. We agree that 1 Corinthians 11-14 is describing activities in the regular assemblies of the Corinthian church. Therefore, we must account for the fact that women prayed and prophesied in the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11:5 when we seek to understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

2. We agree that 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is about the orderly exercise of gifts in the assembly. Paul silences three disorderly groups: tongue-speakers, prophets, and women. None of the groups are totally silenced, but each are silenced with regard to their specific disorderliness, or, as Rick put it in the case of the women (wives), “vocal disruptions.” Renew, quoting the White Station document, identifies these as women who are “asking interrupting questions.” That is the interpretation I offered in my book.

3.  Whatever male headship means, there is no indication in 1 Corinthians that the exercise of any gifts were limited to men alone. In fact, “all” are invited to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:31), and “each one” brings their gift to the assembly, including hymns, revelations, and teachings (1 Corinthians 14:26). Even if wives submit to their husbands by abstaining from disorderly conduct, the silence is relative to disorderliness and not because the headship principle itself demands silence. As I have heard Rick note on several occasions (including his commentary on 1 Corinthians), the law asks for submission, not silence.

These are significant and important agreements. It is the common ground of “limited” and “full” participation perspectives. In 1 Corinthians, only disorderly women are silenced, but they are not silenced from praying and prophesying in the assemblies of God.

The Disagreement

Rick says, “Paul is saying that male headship is being dishonored by the way some of the women are interacting with some of the men.” If Rick means that woman ought to honor their heads in the sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, I can see that. However, Rick understands “head” to include a notion of male authority over women and concomitant submission. I don’t think male headship entails such, as I suggested in my response to Review #2. Paul does not actually use the language of headship in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and he does not use the word submission in 1 Corinthians 11.

In essence, we disagree about the meaning of submission in 1 Corinthians 14. In essence, this is the only disagreement Rick and I have about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

Renew suggests submission evokes “the biblical doctrine of headship,” even though “submission” is not used in 1 Corinthians 11 and principle of headship is not explicit in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul’s reference to the law in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is understood as a reference to the creation story in Genesis 2, which coheres with Paul’s use of the creation story in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 (if Paul means for the creation story to teach female submission to males).

This is the heart of our disagreement regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I don’t think Renew’s understanding is as clear, plain, or certain as Renew seems to think it is.

1. A Reinterpretation. (Remember in the first Renew review, I was charged with reinterpreting texts to fit my agenda.) The historic understanding of the church from the 2nd century into the 20th century was that the “law” to which Paul referred was Genesis 3:16, which is the only Hebrew text that explicitly describes how men “rule” over women. Consequently, Renew and Rick reinterpret the meaning of “law” as a reference to Genesis 2 rather than 3:16.

Further, they also reinterpret the meaning of silence since the historic position of the church required absolute, total silence in the assembly. In other words, if Rick and Renew are correct, this text has never been clear or plain to the church throughout its history. This is even more the case if one thinks the prohibition only refers to the evaluation the prophetic message. That reinterpretation is of quite recent origin.

Bobby recognizes some complementarians argue 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 only forbids the participation of women in the judging (evaluation) of prophetic revelation, which—it is suggested–is the function of an authority figure in the congregation. [This is the position Reneé takes in her book, On Gender.] But why did not Paul use the specific word (judge) for the prohibition if he had that specific action in mind? Paul’s language is more general (speak). Moreover, Paul says, “let the others weigh what is said.” Who are the “others”? Most likely, it is other prophets, including female prophets. The others includes “all” who might prophesy and not a particular class of people who have special authority. In other words, the prophets (or perhaps even the whole congregation) evaluate the prophecy. Nothing suggests an authority figure evaluates the prophecy distinct from the prophets themselves.

These reinterpretations suggest that the historic, even plain, reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is inadequate and misunderstands Paul’s point. A plain reading, as Bobby recognizes, must pay attention to context, language, and canonical theology. On this, we agree.

2.  Since the activities of the women are disruptive and shameful, they need to stop, at the very least, out of a sense of respect or deference (appropriate meanings of the term “submit” [hupotassō]). If this means wives (women) must submit to husbands or men in the church (which Paul does not explicitly say which or either), it does not necessarily imply any male authority over wives (women). Since husbands and wives share mutual authority over each other’s lives (1 Corinthians 7:4), this mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) entails mutual respect and deference. As a result, if submission to husbands or men is the correct way to read this text (which is not certain), women should respect their husbands/men by not creating a disorderly disturbance within the assembly. Authority is not necessarily involved. It would also be shameful and disorderly if men interrupted and talked over others, including female prophets. They, too, would need to submit out of respect as well.

3.  One might respond that since “authority” has already been introduced in 1 Corinthians 11 through the idea of “head,” then submission in 1 Corinthians 14:34 must refer to a woman’s submission to her head (husband or males in the assembly).  As I noted in a previous blog, (1) the word head does not necessarily entail authority, (2) the only authority mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11 is the authority a woman possesses in her own person before God—she has authority over her own head (11:10), and (3) authority between men and women is mutual rather than hierarchical, according to 1 Corinthians 7:4. Further, Paul never uses the word “submit” or “submission” in 1 Corinthians 11. He does refer to “honor,” but honor does not necessarily entail authority.  In fact, according to 1 Corinthians 12:23-24, every part of the body is to honor every other part of the body. Honor is mutual. “Honor” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 refers to acknowledging the source of one’s life, just as each member of the body is to show honor to every other member of the body. Honor belongs to the whole body and is mutual.

4. We do have another place in 1 Corinthians that refers to submission. It is not chapter 11, but chapter 14. I think that is quite significant. The only places where Paul uses the verb “submit” in the context of the Corinthian assemblies (1 Corinthians 11-14) are within two verses of each other (verses 32 and 34). They occur in the same immediate context of disorder (14:26-40).

Just as the prophets should submit themselves to order within the assembly, so disorderly women should submit themselves to order within the assembly. The disruption is disorder, and the submission is to order. The facts are that Paul does not say (1) to whom the women are to submit and (2) where the law says women should submit. These two points are ambiguous and unstated.

There are clues in the immediate context, however.  First, Paul uses a middle/passive form of hupotassō (submit) in 14:32. The prophets must control themselves, that is, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” Second, Paul grounds this call to submission in God’s own identity. “Because” (gar), Paul writes, “God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.”

This parallels Paul’s language in 14:34.  First, Paul uses a middle/passive form of hupotassō (submit). The women are to control themselves; they submit themselves. Second, Paul grounds this call to submission in the law. “Because” (gar), Paul writes, “the law also says.”

  • The prophets must submit themselves because God is the God of peace rather than disorder or confusion.
  • The women must submit themselves because of what the law says.

The parallelism suggests Paul is probably referring to something general in the law parallel to the principle that “God is not the God of disorder but peace” rather than a specific text. The Hebrew Bible is replete with the theological idea that God brings order and battles chaos, which is the point of Genesis 1 itself. That God is the God of peace rather than confusion is something the law teaches. Everywhere else in 1 Corinthians when Paul refers to what is said or written in the law (1 Corinthians 9:8-9; 14:21), he explicitly quotes the text except here. He expects everyone who is disruptive to submit to order in the assembly and practice self-giving and humility rather than boisterous, talkative, or disruptive speech.

Consequently, I believe Paul is silencing the women on the same basis as he silences the prophets: the law teaches that God is the God of order and peace rather than confusion. The law teaches submission to that principle.

It seems to me, at the very least, it is good to acknowledge that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a difficult and unclear text in many respects. It does not have a plain meaning unless one simply absolutizes the language and demands total silence on the part of women in the assembly. Consequently, the text has significant ambiguities and thus is a precarious basis upon which to build a theology of gender in relation to the assembly.

Leadership and Headship

This brings us to the bottom line of our disagreement, which I suspect will emerge even more clearly in the next posting by Renew.

  • We both agree women are gifted to actually lead (including speaking—such as prayer and prophecy) in the assembly in many diverse ways with diverse gifts.

Renew, however, believes there are functions, roles, or gifts pertaining to the assembly that belong only to men. These functions are, in Renew’s language, expressions of “the biblical idea of headship.” If a function, role, or gift in the assembly of God embodies the principle of headship, then it is reserved only for men.

  • The critical questions, then, are (1) what roles, gifts, or functions belong to headship in the assembly, and (2) how do we discern which roles, gifts or functions belong to headship in the assembly?

Or, to put it another way: what precisely is the difference between a leadership function and a headship function? What plain reading of what text identifies that distinction? This is the crux, it seems to me.

Renew believes women may not “serve in the role of the lead teacher/preacher” in the assembly. That language, however, is not found in the New Testament. But there is only one text in the New Testament that might even approximate that answer to the question. It is the one to which Rick and Renew point us. It is 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

In other words, the whole case for soft complementarianism—in terms of identifying what specific roles, gifts, or functions belong only to males in the assembly (which is the burden of my book)—boils down to a particular understanding of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which is–in fact–their own reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2. The historic interpretation of this text excludes women from much more than the “lead teacher/preacher” role in the assembly.

I welcome the discussion of 1 Timothy 2 that is coming in the next Renew review.

Peace upon my friends at Renew!


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 2) of “Women Serving God”

August 16, 2020

I am delighted to continue the conversation Renew began when they started a multi-blog review of my book Women Serving God. Their first offering focused on hermeneutics (my response is here), and this second part focuses on 1 Corinthians 11. The review is almost 7000 words long (mine about 5000). Rick Oster and a document created by Rick and others (including Rodney Plunket, also a friend over many years) for the White Station Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee, are the primary resources for this installment.

Rick and I have been colleagues, co-workers, co-teachers in Europe, and friends for almost thirty years. I deeply value and appreciate our friendship. I also appreciate the detailed attention he gives to 1 Corinthians 11, especially the function of head coverings in ancient Roman culture. There are few exegetes I trust more than Rick, and whatever he says deserves careful consideration.

Rick and I were fellow faculty members at Harding Graduate School of Religion (now Harding School of Theology) from 1991-2000. I audited his course on 1 Corinthians and devoured his commentary on 1 Corinthians in the College Press Series. I am quite familiar with his perspectives on 1 Corinthians 11 & 14 from the commentary, his ground-breaking 1988 New Testament Studies article about Roman head coverings, and conversations as well as classroom discussions. I cherish those experiences and our friendship.

I am surprised to hear, however, that 1 Corinthians 11 is not a difficult text. I understand that Rick has a settled conviction about it, but it has been difficult since the second century with divergent understandings about whether it is hair or artificial coverings, the meaning of kephalē (head), and—in contrast to Rick and myself—how the church practiced this text by forbidding women to participate in assemblies. Church history, including the last 100 years, tells us this is a difficult text (see Brown’s paper for a brief history of interpretation).

Summary

Where we agree . . .

  • Whatever headship means, women audibly and visibly prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian assembly described in 1 Corinthians 11-14, which supports, at the very least, a “limited participation” perspective or Renew’s soft complementarianism.
  • Paul roots his understanding in the theological reality of headship, which coheres with God’s creation of man and woman in Genesis 1-2.

Where we differ . . .

  • Renew understands headship as a function of male authority (which the covering supposedly symbolizes) while I think “headship” is more related to source of life, origin, kinship, and intimate connection or relation while tentatively recognizing the covering as a matter of sexual propriety and the honor of women as well as their “heads.” (Even if the covering symbolizes male authority, 1 Corinthians 11 does not exclude women from leading in prayer and prophecy in the assembly on that basis.)
  • Renew believes there are headship functions in the assembly that exclude the participation of women while I don’t see any evidence for that exclusion, especially in 1 Corinthians 11 (which is the chapter under review).

What is irrelevant to the purposes of my book . . .

  • The precise nature of the covering—whether hair or artificial, whether more Roman, Greek, Jewish, or otherwise—is irrelevant to how this text fundamentally supports, at the very least, the “limited participation” of women in Christian assemblies.

A Misunderstanding

Everything is cultural. I affirm that in my book, which is part of the point in saying there are no contextless, timeless propositions in Scripture. Every text is situated, and, especially in the case of the epistles (as Rick rightly notes), occasional.  I’m not sure where I say in the book (my book is being reviewed, the statement is put in quotation marks, and the heading names my understanding as something with which Rick disagrees), “Well, this is just something that’s temporal and cultural, and this over here is eternal because it’s not connected to anything situational in the letter.” I am truly scratching my head. This is not my view. I can’t identify anything in my book that would even approximate such a statement.

The counter to the above statement placed in quotes is that we must read the text closely, seek valid “historical reconstructions,” and interpret the meaning of the text. I totally agree, and Rick’s example of the “holy kiss” is a good one.

I think historical reconstructions are important tools. They are quite credible at times, and they help make sense of a text. Rick is a trustworthy guide in these reconstructions. At the same time, they are reconstructions. This entails a collection of archaeological artifacts and ancient texts being construed (interpreted) in a particular way in order to provide the basis for a reconstruction of an event or a ritual that is not fully or explicitly described in the text itself. There is significant room for missteps in such historical reasoning. While I highly value reconstructions because they often provide tremendously helpful insights, they themselves necessarily involve several levels of complex interpretation. It is not a firm place to stand if the reconstruction is the explicit ground upon which a theological point is made or understood. Nevertheless, I am an advocate for the sort of historical work Rick does, and I have learned much from him over the years.

On Veils

Much of Rick’s response explains his understanding of Roman head-coverings in Roman cultic worship. In my book, I make no sustained argument about whether Paul is describing artificial coverings or hair. Both views, even from the earliest centuries, have been defended by various authors. To me, it is immaterial for my advocation of, at least, “limited participation” by women at Corinth. Whether it is an artificial covering or the hair does not affect the conclusion that women participated audibly and visibly in the Corinthian assemblies.

I realize it is important for Rick for at least two reasons.  First, the Roman practice is about leadership. Those who led Roman cultic worship covered their heads, both men and women. As Rick has demonstrated and others have seconded (Massey, “Veiling Among Men in Roman Corinth,” Journal of Biblical Literature [2018] 501-517), Roman men (and women) covered their heads when they led their cultic worship.

Second, Paul wants to make a gender distinction based on “biblical doctrine of headship.” In other words, men pray and prophesy uncovered (contrary to Roman practice) and women pray and prophesy covered (in conformity to Roman practice) in order to symbolize a gender distinction that is rooted in male authority (male headship). Symbolizing male authority is not part of the Roman practice, but Paul—if I understand Rick correctly—is adjusting the meaning of the covering so that gender distinctions are evident in accordance with a “biblical doctrine of headship.” Consequently, the woman’s covering serves “to express submission to men just as Christ does to God.”

Rick’s precise historical reconstruction is a minority view in scholarship, though he has illuminated the Roman practices that many now acknowledge. Yet, most see a wider cultural backdrop for 1 Corinthians 11 than Rick does. I think his application of Roman practices has merit myself, and that is why I mentioned Rick’s understanding of the covering as a sign of piety in my book (though I did not go on to say, as I should have, that Rick also believes it is, for Paul, a symbol of male authority—my apologies, dear friend).

Rick is clearly committed to this historical reconstruction, and he has substantial reasons for that commitment. However, there is a significant amount of scholarship that places this in a wider frame. The covering is not simply about Roman worship practices, although those Roman practices are part of the equation in some way. Rather, it was generally understood within Greco-Roman culture that uncovered long flowing hair that was not put up on the head signaled sexual availability, impropriety, or impiety. I reference the sources in the book, particularly Winter (Roman Wives, Roman Women) among others. For example, Winter—based on texts and archaeological evidence—wrote (Kindle location 968): “Therefore, it can be confidently concluded that the veiled head was the symbol of the modesty and chastity expected of a married woman.”

The fact that Roman men wore a covering in their cultic activities reflects their piety at pagan altars; it was not about sexual impropriety. Roman woman also covered their heads, when they led, at Roman altars, which was also about piety. However, as Westfall (Paul and Gender) demonstrates, the wearing of coverings by women in other cultures was a matter of sexual protection and integrity. Rick assumes the Corinthian assembly is only concerned with Roman practices because, in part, it was a Roman colony and Paul is explicitly describing leadership functions in the assembly. That may be, but I don’t think anyone knows that with any certainty and the practices of other cultures, as Rick notes, were diverse. There is little reason to think that the practices of other cultures were not in the mix as well. I don’t think we can assume that the Corinthian assembly was thoroughly and exclusively an arena for Roman practices. There is too much mix in the culture to restrict this to Roman practices only. It may be that Paul is seeking to sort out a complex mix of cultural practices gathered in the Corinthian assemblies. And, as Rick argues, Paul sorts it out in a way that is not Roman and introduces (for Romans, at least) gender distinctions not present in their own worship practices.

It is difficult, it seems to me, to assess what Paul is saying about the covering, its cultural setting, and its meaning. I lean toward the certainty that there is no certainty about the practice, meaning, and implications of the covering in 1 Corinthians, given the mix of Roman, Greek, Jewish and other cultures in Corinth. The situation is complex, and we only have these few words from Paul to clarify it for us. Clarity, it seems to me, is elusive.

In any event, and this is the most important point in this section, the precise nature of the head covering is ultimately immaterial to the point in my book, which focuses on the participation of women in the Corinthian assembly. On that point, there is common ground between Renew and myself.

Common Ground

Our common ground is quite significant. In substance, we agree.

Renew, Rick, and I agree that women audibly and visibly prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian assemblies. They served as leaders (Renew affirms this language in their conclusion) in the assembly while at the same time honoring their heads (whatever that may mean). Rick is quite explicit about this leadership because these are the women who covered their heads in the Roman cults, and Paul wants to continue that practice for women who lead in prayer and prophecy. This is why I moved from “no participation” to “limited participation” in my own journey. When I got to know Rick and came to some understanding of his position, my advocacy for “limited participation” was confirmed.  I thank Rick for the way he contributed to my own story

We also agree that Paul is talking about men and women in general rather than specifically husbands and wives. I did not make a sustained argument about that as Rick does in the review, but I agree with him. At the same time, this is part of the difficulty of the text—there are legitimate reasons for thinking Paul is only talking about husbands and wives. I don’t think we can say definitively. Nevertheless, I agree with Rick on this one.

We also agree that the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is the same as the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In fact, we agree that 1 Corinthians 11-14 as a whole is discussing the practices of the same Corinthian assembly.

On Headship

Rick believes a “straightforward reading of the text” reveals that kephalē (head) “means authority.” According to Rick, Paul intentionally changed the Roman practice to conform to what Rick calls “a biblical doctrine of headship,” which entails some kind of gender distinction. For Rick, this gender distinction is about authority because in 1 Corinthians 11:3 “head” means “authority.” Yet, it is possible this gender distinction is about something else if “head” does not mean “authority.”

I make no sustained argument in the book about the meaning of kephalē. My point is, and I say this several times, that even if “head” means “authority,” women still participated in ways that led the assembly in Corinth. That is my major interest in Part 3, and it is a point upon which Renew, Rick, and I agree. Whatever kephalē means (even if it means authority or rank), it does not prohibit the audible and visible leadership of women through praying and prophesying in the assembly. In fact, women, when covered, actually honor their heads as they pray and prophesy in the assembly. Renew agrees.

Nevertheless, because the review stresses that male authority is rooted in a proper understanding of kephalē and suggests this is the main reason Paul institutes gender distinctions for the head-covering contrary to Roman worship practices, I digress to say a few words beyond anything I said in the book.

The fundamental problem with the English translation of “head” is that it is a literal translation of kephalē. Typically, that is not a problem at all. However, in this case, Paul is using the word metaphorically. He is not referring to the literal “head” but is using a figure of speech to say something about the relationship one sustains to the other (God to Christ, Christ to man, man to woman, 1 Corinthians 11:3). Translating it literally is a problem because the English word “head” has prominent meanings that do not belong prominently to the Greek word kephalē. While “authority” is one of the potential metaphorical meanings of the word, it is not a dominant one in classical Greek. Consequently, the association English readers attach to the word “head” are not immediately appropriate for what kephalē potentially intends as a metaphor in Greek culture. Another metaphorical meaning for kephalē is “source of life” or “origin.”

Rick thinks translating kephalē as “source” (or origin/relation) creates a Christological problem. The Trinitarian theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries, however, did not think so. They read “head” here as source or origin/relation. Therefore, it is not some kind modern or agenda-laden “special pleading.” It is, in fact, classic Nicene Trinitarian theology.

Here is an example from Cyril of Alexandria (To Arcadia, 1.1.5.5; quoted by Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ, 136):  “The source [archē] of man is the Creator God. Thus we say that the kephalē of every man is Christ, because he was excellently made through him. And the kephalē of woman is man, because she was taken from his flesh. Likewise, the kephalē of Christ is God, because He is from Him according to nature.”

Another example is Ambrosiaster (probably from the late fourth century; cited by Payne, 137): “God is the head of Christ because he begat him; Christ is the head of the man because he created him, and the man is the head of the woman because she was taken from his side.”

Another example is Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the leader of the Greek Church (from Payne, 137): “For Christ is the head [kephalē] of us who of us who believe . . . But the head [kephalē] of Christ is the Father, as procreator [gennētēs] and progenitor [proboleus] and of like substance with him. And the head [kephalē] of the woman is the man because he is her procreator [gennētēs] and progenitor [proboleus] and of like substance with him.”

According to Nicene theology, the Father is the source of the Son through an eternal relationship. Ancient Trinitarian theologians called this “order” (taxis) within the immanent Trinity (more specifically, the eternal generation of the Son). In other words, the Son is begotten from the Father, shares the same nature (homoousia) with the Father, and this eternal relationship does not include submission or authority. There is order and thus differentiation but without hierarchy or eternal submission or subordination (see the chapter by Madison Pierce, “Trinity Without Taxis?, in Trinity Without Hierarchy).

Many complementarians reject the Trinity argument for complementarian gender relations, and many have recently abandoned that position. Even the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) discourages that argument. Denny Burk, the President of CBMW, now rejects the argument that subordination is part of the inner (immanent) life of the Trinity except as part of the decision to incarnate in the covenant of redemption. The works of the egalitarian Kevin Giles (Trinity and Subordinationism) and the complementarian Fred Sanders (The Triune God; see his blog piece here) have clarified this in contemporary gender discussions among Evangelicals (Giles and Sanders had a two hour discussion on this agreed point here). For a history of this discussion and the shifts or clarifications taking place within soft complementarianism, see Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity.

If, however, one reads “Christ” as the one who became flesh as a human being, “source” is still an appropriate meaning because the Father sends the Son (Christ) into the world to be born of woman. In this sense, as a human being representing all humanity, Christ (the resurrected one) is submissive to the Father, including the eschatological act of turning the kingdom over to the Father. The Nicene Trinitarians recognized this (e.g., Gregory of Nyssa among others). Moreover, it is important to remember the incarnate one is also God, and when Christ turns the kingdom over to the Father, it is so that “God may be all in all,” which includes the Son rather than excluding the Son as part of the divine, eternal reign.

Rick’s two Christological objections against the meaning of source are not substantial and are out of sync with the history of Nicene Trinitarian theology.

Unfortunately, if Rick believes there is an “eternal order” of authority and submission between God and Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 11:3 (language used in one of the questions he was asked), I find this unfortunate because this claim stands outside the Trinitarian tradition of the Christian Faith. . Recently, this has been explicitly repudiated by quite a number of complementarian theologians as deeply problematic in substance (just as it was by Chrysostom and Theodoret among others in the fourth and fifth centuries).

Understanding kephalē as authority actually creates Christological problems. Eternal subordination, due to a headship ontology, entails the view that Christ is not equal in nature or essence to God. Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 3) put it this way, if “Paul had meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master” because, for Chrysostom, “rule and subjection” are not concreated but come after the Fall. According to Chysostom, “rule and subjection” are not present in Genesis 1-2.

Moreover, if we understand kephalē as “authority,” is this a claim that men have the same kind of authority over women that Christ has over men? Or, is it different in some way? Christ, it seems, has an ontological advantage over men in that Christ is divine. Do men have an ontological advantage over women that make them “heads” of women? In other words, if we read “head” as “authority over,” then this is rooted in ontology, nature, and essence. To put it another way, in this way male authority is grounded in some kind of ontological difference between men and women just as it is between Christ and man. I am convinced that the analogy of authority does not hold. Moreover, it does not fit the context of 1 Corinthians, as I will argue in a moment.

But we can agree on this. 1 Corinthians 11:3 is a theological statement, and the relationship between man and woman goes back to creation. The question at stake is the meaning of Paul’s appeal to creation and his use of kephalē.

Headship As Source of Life

As I see it, to see male authority in 1 Corinthians 11 depends on (1) the meaning of the covering, (2) the meaning of kephalē, and (3) a particular understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:10 (a passive reading of exousian echein in the sense of “have a sign of authority” when it literally says, “has authority”). I don’t include 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 because its point depends on the meaning of kephalē. More on that point in a moment.

(1) The meaning of the covering is highly disputed. The evidence for the covering as symbolic of male authority is minimal; it is not the dominant understanding in the Greco-Roman world. It is not the meaning of the Roman practice itself (as Rick notes), which is about piety (which is why men covered their heads while leading). Rather, the evidence in the broader culture—as Westfall, Winter, and Payne  (who thinks the covering is the hair) among many others describe—points to the covering of the hair or putting up the hair as a matter of sexual propriety. Married women were covered because they were not sexually available for other men than her husband. She wears the veil to honor her husband, which respects the husband-wife relationship. It is a signal that other men may not look upon her as an object of their predatorial sexual desires. The covering protects the woman. There is nothing explicit in 1 Corinthians 11 that describes the covering as a function of male authority or female submission.

(2) The meaning of kephalē is also highly disputed. The lexical meaning covers a broad range from authority/rank (Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth) to source/origin (Westfall) to prominence (Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians). [For a recent history of the lexical discussion, see Johnson’s article.] Complementarians now regularly acknowledge that “source” in the sense of kinship, origin, relation, or connection is a legitimate metaphorical meaning. (See, for example, the complementarian Clauch, “God is the Head of Christ,” in One God in Three Persons, edited by Ware).

In Paul, kephalē means source in Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 2:19 (as well other potential texts where the church is the body that receives nourishment and life from the head who is Christ). It also means authority in a sense synonymous with ruler (archēs) and lordship (kuriotētos) in Ephesians 1:21-22. The latter, however, is not Christ’s headship over the church, but over authorities and powers. Christ is the “head over all things to the church,” that is, for the sake of or for the benefit of the church.

Context, rather than lexical studies, determine the meaning of kephalē. It seems to me that 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, which provide the grounding for the meaning of kephalē, are statements about source or origin rather than authority. The sense of source is explicitly stated while the word authority is not present or any word that might give that sense. I think a “source of life” reading best fits what Paul is doing here, and the relation of “head” (God, Christ, man) to “body” (Christ, man, woman) is the relation of kinship, origin, connection, and relationship that reflects glory, respect, and honor. It is not “authority over” but deep connection; it is the sort of relation a head sustains to its body. That relation, in the Greco-Roman world, was one of nourishment and life, The head was not the ruling agent (the heart was). Rather, the head was the source of life (e.g., it was believed semen originated in the head).

(3) The meaning of “authority” (exousian) in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is significant. I address this in my book. I will only repeat the conclusion (which is shared by many exegetes), and I trust readers will take up the book to see the details. Paul says a woman “has authority.” This is the only time Paul uses the word authority in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul places that authority in the hands of women. Women “have authority.” This is not a “sign” of authority (as many render it); the word “sign” is not in the Greek text. The verb is active in voice: a woman ought to have authority over her own head. Everywhere in 1 Corinthians this phrase occurs (e.g., 9:4-5), it is active in meaning. It is the right or privilege of the one who possesses the authority. Consequently, the only explicit claim about authority in 1 Corinthians 11 is that women have authority. Nothing is explicitly said about male authority.

Paul is not thinking about male authority and grounding that authority in creation. Rather, it seems to me, Paul upholds the honor that is part of a relationship between a head to its body while recognizing and accentuating the interdependence (mutuality) that exists between head and body. One does not exist without the other, and the grounding Paul provides for male headship is found in the sense of source. Woman was created from man (there is kinship, relationality) and for the sake of man (to fill the void so that humanity might fulfill its vocation to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule it together—the shared task of men and women). Paul’s argument is a source argument rather than an authority argument. It coheres with the meaning of kephalē in this context as source or origin of life (kinship, relationship, mutuality). “Authority” is extraneous to the context in relation to men, and the only authority named in 1 Corinthians that characterizes the relationship between men and women is a shared authority in 1 Corinthians 7:4.

Further, the creation argument includes the fact that women are now the source of men by God’s procreative design. While the woman was sourced from the man, so now men are sourced from women. Women were created as the source of all men. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 clarifies that the idea of source between men and women is a mutual one. While a woman came from a man, now men come through women. This is practically a restatement of the mutual authority between husbands and wives identified in 1 Corinthians 7:4. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, which describes what is true “in the Lord,” reflects the mutual life of men and women in the Corinthian assembly where both men and women pray and prophesy in the assembly. This mutuality is grounded in creation, and there is no statement that grounds male authority in creation. The headship relationship is one of kinship, origin, life-source, and connection, which women honor by wearing a covering that protected women from sexual aggression and claimed sexuality integrity for themselves.

Teaching and Prophesying

According to Renew and Rick, even though women prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian assemblies, “the prohibited role is one of an authoritative teacher who guides the congregation in faith and practice” because that is a headship function. I do wonder where in Scripture that “authoritative teacher who guides the congregation in faith and practice” is identified as exclusively male because it is a headship function (however that is defined).

Of course, that is not evident in 1 Corinthians 11. No activity or gift in 1 Corinthians 11 is identified as something exclusively male. Consequently, to defend that position one has to step outside the context of 1 Corinthians. First, Renew connects us with the responsibility of the priests to teach the people. That, as far as I know, is uncontested. It is true that priests were only male in the Hebrew Bible and one of their significant functions was to teach. However, it is no longer true that priests are only male in Christ. I affirm the priesthood of all believers in the Lord.

Moreover, we might also remember that prophets taught Israel as well as priests. The writings of the prophets teach us, and they call us to obedience and we submit to what the Lord says through the prophets. That sounds like a headship-authority function to me. How does one define an authority-headship function and exclude prophets from it? This is especially true when the function of teaching is nowhere explicitly designated as a “headship” function.

Prophets are leaders in the New Testament. The prophets Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32) are called “leaders” (hegumenoi) in Acts 15:22 along with others. This is the same word that Renew notices in Hebrews 13:7, 17 that characterizes people whom the congregation follows and submits. Were not congregations to submit to prophet-leaders? Why is that not a headship-function, if “head” refers to authority?

Prophets teach when they prophesy because they strengthen, edify, console, and encourage in such a way that people learn and unbelievers are convicted (1 Corinthians 14:3, 24, 31). Many scholars recognize how prophecy and teaching “shade into each other” in the New Testament (for example, Boring, Sayings of the Risen Christ: Christian Prophecy in the Synoptic Tradition, 79).

Prophets and Teachers are identified as distinct gifts in the New Testament, to be sure. We see this in the lists of 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 (“first apostles, second prophets, third teachers”), Ephesians 4:11 (“apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”), and Romans 12:6-7. Interestingly, the prophetic gift is always listed first in the above texts, just after the apostles in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11. Prophets also offer an “exhortation” (1 Corinthians 14:3) which is exactly how Hebrews describes itself (Hebrews 13:22). Hebrews was a sermon of sorts (similar to what happened in the synagogue, Acts 13:15), and exhortation is what Scripture itself offers us (Romans 15:4). The hard distinction between teaching and prophesying is not sustainable.

Why is the role of the teacher a headship function but prophecy is not? This is the point to be demonstrated. One must demonstrate that prophecy is not a headship function while teaching is. Why is the headship function of teaching exclusively male? There is only one reason, it seems to me, to (1) make that distinction and (2) identify teaching as a headship function. This brings us back to 1 Timothy 2:12. The path of “limited participation” or soft complementarianism always ends up here. This is precisely where Renew’s position takes us—1 Timothy 2:12 is the sole text that excludes women from teaching as a function of headship. I’m fairly certain Renew will address this text more fully in a future installment.

Renew offers a new interpretation in the discussion of gender. They reinterpret the role of teacher as a headship function while the role of the prophet is not a headship function. For centuries within the history of the church, prophets were regarded as preachers, people who spoke the word of God, functioned authoritatively within the community of faith, and administered the Eucharist. The historic church regarded the function of prophecy as a form of preaching, and the distinction that “teachers” are authoritative preachers but “prophets” are only spontaneous speakers impressed by the Spirit in some way is a modern “reinterpretation” (to use the characterization with which I was charged in the first installment). It was primarily inaugurated by Grudem in order to explain the seeming contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:12.

Whatever the “Ministry of the Word” is (as named in the review), and the combination of texts and inferences present in the discussion of that task, it is a headship function whereas prophecy is not, according to Renew. Moreover, none of the texts referenced to the “Ministry of the Word” (unless Acts 6:4 only describes the apostles) exclude women except one . . . 1 Timothy 2:12. That text, above all others and perhaps no other text, ultimately defines what belongs solely to “headship” in the context of the assemblies of the saints when they gather for praise and prayer. But 1 Timothy 2:12 does not even explicitly appeal to “headship.”

1 Corinthians 11 does not identify what functions or gifts only belong to headship. We know praying and prophesying are not “headship” functions. Nowhere else does Paul ever use the language of headship in relation to the exercise of gifts in the assembly. I think that rather odd, if Renew is correct in its reading of the New Testament.

Conclusion

Women cover their heads, not because of male authority, but because they honor their relationship to their head (source of life). Kephalē does not refer to rank or authority but to the kinship relationship the head sustains to the body which is relational, intimate, mutual, and nourishing. The head is the source and origin of life to the body, according to the ancients.

Paul appeals to creation to ground this relationality, not authority. The woman was created from the man (thus, kinship and a sense of origin), and the woman was created because of the man (the man could not accomplish the divine mission alone; he needed a powerful ally to partner with him). The head cannot function without the body.

In the Lord, this mutuality is clear—one is not without the other. They are not only interdependent, but they share the same mission, the same flesh, and the same origin. They are both from God. They share a mutual authority. One does not have authority over the other in 1 Corinthians 11. Indeed, it is mutual authority in 1 Corinthians 7:4.

In fact, the woman has her own authority which she exercises in the assembly as one gifted by God just as men are also so gifted. She does not need the covering of male authority, but she honors her head as the source of her life. Men should also honor women as the means by which they come into the world. Their authority is mutual rather than hierarchical (1 Corinthians 7:4).

Women, therefore, have their own authority to audibly and visibly pray and prophesy in the assemblies of the saints gathered for prayer and praise. They do not need male permission or the covering of male authority. They do, however, appropriately honor the source of their life just as men honor the source of theirs.



Women Serving God: A Study Guide

July 10, 2020

Does God invite women to fully participate in the assemblies of God?

My new book, Women Serving God, addresses this question. It is now available on Amazon in both Kindle ebook ($9.99) and print ($14.95).

In addition, I have produced a teaching/discussion study guide for the book designed for small groups or Bible classes.

Among churches of Christ, the voices of women are typically silent and excluded from visible leadership in assemblies gathered for prayer and praise. In this book, I tell the story of my own journey to understand how women have served God throughout the unfolding drama of Scripture. I describe my movement from the exclusion of the voices of women and their leadership in the assembly to a limited inclusion, and finally to the full inclusion of those voices and their leadership. Along the way, I describe some of the history of churches of Christ as well as my own history but ultimately focus on the meaning of biblical texts and how they support the full participation of women in the assemblies of God.

Three women, Claire Davidson Frederick, Jantrice Johnson, and Lauren Smelser White, respond to and extend John Mark’s thoughts.

John Mark is detailed, fair, and vulnerable about his own journey and our collective journey in Churches of Christ. I recommend John Mark as a trustworthy guide. Dr. Sara G. Barton, University Chaplain, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA

Do we believe that the Holy Spirit equally equips both women and men to carry out Jesus’s message of reconciliation? Dr. Hicks is a trusted guide in navigating the depth of scripture and the complexity of our cultural moment. Drink deeply from this well! Dr. Joshua Graves, Otter Creek Church, Brentwood, Tennessee.

With characteristic depth, rigor, and generosity, Hicks offers his own journey toward embracing the inclusion of women’s voices in the assembly. Hicks writes with a familiarity of Restoration Movement history that few can boast, with an accompanying dedication to searching the scriptures. Amy McLaughlin-Sheasby, Instructor in the Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry, Abilene Christian University.

This book is a gift to twenty-first century Churches of Christ. Part autobiography, part history, part exegesis, and part biblical theology, Hicks’s exploration of the Bible’s teachings on the role of women in congregational gatherings offers several invaluable components. Dr. James L. Gorman, Associate Professor of History, Johnson University

JOHN MARK HICKS is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. He has taught for thirty-nine years in schools associated with the churches of Christ. He has authored or co-authored eighteen books, lectured in twenty-two countries and forty states, and is married to Jennifer. They share five living children and six grandchildren.


A New Garden in a New City on a New Earth

January 23, 2020

The new earth has a new garden in a new city.

In the next to last chapter of the Bible, John sees a “new heaven and new earth” where God’s new Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth. In other words, heaven comes down to earth. At that moment, the whole earth is filled with the glory of God.

There is no more chaos, which is represented by the absence of a sea. There is no more death, pain, or mourning because all of that has passed away and everything has become new. As God says, “I am making all things new.” God does not make new things, but God makes all things new. God renews what God made in the beginning. And this fulfills God’s promise to Abraham, and God invites the children of Abraham to “inherit these things.”

When heaven comes to earth, heaven and earth become one. That union of heaven and earth—the union of the dwelling of God with the dwelling of humanity within the creation—is the moment when the glory of God will fill the earth. Everything within it will be called holy and the earth will know the righteousness, justice, and peace of the fullness of the kingdom of God.

This was the hope of Israel. They yearned for a time of peace and justice, of righteousness and love. They hoped for a time when the wolf and the lamb would lie down together. They expected a time when all the nations would bow before their God and learn war no more. They trusted that God would reign fully in the earth. These are the promises and prophecies that will be fulfilled when God renews the heavens and the earth and comes to dwell with the heirs of the promise on the new earth.

The new earth has a new city, the new Jerusalem. This is the city where God dwells. There is no temple in this city because God dwells there. There is no night there because God is the light of the city. The whole earth has become the temple of God as the new Jerusalem fills the earth.

This new city also has a new garden which gives life to God’s people. The tree of life is there, and there is abundant provision for all peoples.

In this new city, with its new garden on a new earth, the people of God serve God day and night. I don’t know exactly what that means. In what ways will we serve God? Perhaps we will take up our original commission to reign with God over the creation, and this means we will continue to develop it and care for it.

Perhaps we might imagine that we continue to write new songs, create new art, make new history, build new buildings, and develop new relationships with people and diverse nations. Perhaps we will finally learn to enjoy the diversity of different cultures and peoples. To serve God is to continue in the ministry God gave humanity, to function as royal priests within the creation. We will lead the creation in the praise of God, and we will care for the creation and develop its potential even further.

Exactly what will that look like? I don’t know, and I hesitate to speculate. But I am confident of this: it will be a grand adventure that exceeds all that we might imagine and more than anything for which we might ask. It will be a great adventure, and the story of God will continue and blossom into eternity.


Communal Life

January 20, 2020

The goal of God for human life is transformation into the likeness of God and participation in the communal fellowship of the Triune God. When humanity fully participates in the circle of God’s loving fellowship, then the reign of God has fully arrived.

This does not entail a loss of finitude or creatureliness. When glorified in the new heaven and new earth with glorified bodies that conform to the glorious body of the resurrected Lord, we will not be saved from finitude but invited, as finite creatures, to share in the divine fellowship of the Triune God. We will not become omniscient or omnipotent because we will not participate in the divine essence; we will not become little gods. But we will become Godlike, that is, full participants in the divine love.

At the same time, our participation in the divine love—because it is experienced as finite creatures—is a journey into the heart of God, deeper into the fellowship of the divine persons. Every morning God will be new to us because as finite creatures the infinite God will always have more to share with us and we will experience that love more deeply. God is like a bottomless well from which we will drink—we will experience daily filling of joy and satisfaction, but there is always more to drink. God will give us more moment by moment throughout eternity.

As community, we will grow more intimate with each other. The relationships we begin now will continue into glory. More than that, they will grow deeper, wider, and more inclusive. Our relationships will not remain static but deepen and expand. We will know not only those with whom we have relationships now, but we will also initiate new relationships with people we have never known. The fullness of the kingdom of God as a community is an interactive web of relationships which will provide opportunity for growth in the new heaven and new earth.

Moreover, the glorified community is not a static accomplishment as if we attain “perfection” and thus there is no more work, no more loving, no more growing, no more knowing, or no more connecting to be done. Rather, the fullness of the kingdom of God involves a dynamic growth into the heart of God as well as a dynamic growth among the people of God. When God recreates, just as God created in the beginning, the Triune God will create a dynamic reality that invites the redeemed community to pursue growth, intimacy, fellowship, and relationship within the new creation.

The oneness of the people of God will emerge brightly upon the new earth, and the unity of the body of Christ will be recognized as a gift of God’s gracious work. But the oneness does not entail some kind of Stepford human beings who are all identical. Rather, the oneness, like the oneness of the original creation, includes a diversity and a dynamism that reflects the reality of God who is both three and loving while at the same time remaining one.

The fullness of the kingdom, then, is a communal reality created in the image of God’s Triune fellowship. It is the experience of intimacy without fear, love without suspicion, and trust without doubt. It is love because God is love. There are no more barriers, no more ethnic bigotry, no more snobbish class wars, and no more alienation or marginalization. The kingdom of God will experience community in a way that images the community of God’s own life and participate in the community of God’s life.



Divine Judgment

January 16, 2020

As we read the story of God in the Bible, we see over and over again where God purposes to set things right, does—in fact—set things right, and promises to ultimately set everything right. God will not let evil stand; God will not let evil go unchecked; and God will not let evil win.

When people filled the earth with violence, God renewed the earth with a flood. When Egypt would not let God’s people go, it suffered divine judgment. When Israel did not care for its poor and shed innocent blood, God sent them into exile. When the Messiah came to the temple, he turned over its tables of injustice and exploitation. When the powers killed the Messiah, God judged the powers through the resurrection of the Messiah and set the world right through the exaltation of the Messiah to God’s right hand.

God’s vindication of the Messiah, and its corresponding subversion of the powers, is the revelation of God’s final goal, which is: God will set things right.

This is the essence of divine judgment. God discerns between good and evil; God destroys evil; and God ensures the triumph of good. And this is how the story of God has played out throughout the theodrama, throughout Scripture.

At the same time, God does not act as quickly or as thoroughly as we like. We want it over now, and we pray for the full reign of God in the world now. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for God’s final discernment between good and evil, God’s final destruction of evil, and God’s final triumph over evil. We are praying that God will set things right. We are praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

There will come a day, a judgment day, when the distinction between good and evil will become clear. We will see evil in all its stark reality, and we will reject it and acknowledge its opposition to the life of God. God will purge all evil from the creation, and evil will be destroyed and eliminated from God’s creation so that there is no more curse, no more sea, and no more evil in God’s new creation (Revelation 21:1-6; 22:3).

Judgment is that process by which God separates evil from good and separates the sheep from the goats. This separation not only identifies and clarifies the reality of evil, but it also refines and purges people so that the people of God are perfected in the love of God. Judgment, then, is the moment where evil is identified, humanity is examined, the earth is purged of its evil, the people of God are fully sanctified, and the people of God are invited into the new creation to live upon a new earth where righteousness dwells.

It often seems like God does not care about evil because God permits it to exist in such quantity with such intensity. We sometimes doubt whether God is all that concerned about evil and the trauma it creates.

The story of God, however, assures us that God does care. God examines humanity, and God discerns the difference between good and evil. God will destroy evil, and good will triumph. We see this in the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. And that is our hope. God will judge evil and exalt the good. So, we continue to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


The Resurrection of Creation

January 13, 2020

Though often neglected, salvation also includes the liberation of the cosmos from its bondage to decay and destruction. The whole cosmos groans, along with humanity, for relief from the frustration to which the world has been subjected. God saves the cosmos by renewing it, by ushering in a new or renewed heaven and earth.

This hope is rooted in God’s promise to Abraham. The land, which includes the whole cosmos, according to Romans 4:13, is the inheritance of Israel. Abraham is the heir of the cosmos. The creation now belongs to a descendant of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God. As co-heirs with Jesus, we, too, are heirs of the cosmos.

Based on this promise to Abraham, according to Peter, “we wait for the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13). God promised Abraham an inheritance, and that inheritance is a new heaven and a new earth. The Christian hope includes a new earth.

Too often Christians have thought they must escape the creation and fly away in glory to some eternal celestial heaven. If we mean that we want to escape the “present evil age” or escape the decaying, destructive powers of death, then I understand that point. I, too, want to escape that. God will dissolve all the evil and destroy the powers that enslaved the creation. But the biblical story is not ultimately about escape but redemption. 

God redeemed the body of Jesus through raising him from the dead and transforming his death-bound body into an immortal body. This is our hope as well. One day God will redeem our bodies through raising us from the dead and transforming our death-bound bodies into immortal bodies. This is also the hope of the creation itself.

The creation groans to be “set free” or liberated from “its bondage to decay,” and it hopes to share in the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The resurrection of the creation is rooted in the resurrection of God’s people just as the resurrection of God’s people is rooted in the resurrection of God’s Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus, our own resurrection, and the resurrection of the creation are inextricably tied together. The resurrection of Jesus is the inauguration of new creation, our resurrection is our participation in the new creation, and the creation itself becomes new because it is the dwelling place of the resurrected people of God with their resurrected Messiah.

In this way, the creation is like a mother about to give birth to something new (Romans 8:22). The creation presently experiences something akin to labor pains as it groans in eager expectation for its liberation and transformation. The present creation will give birth to a new creation just as our bodies will give birth to new bodies in the resurrection.

The Abrahamic promise was first given to ethnic Israel but, by faith and because of the Messiah, it includes the nations as well. Perhaps on the new heaven and new earth the redeemed of ethnic Israel will dwell in Palestine—in the land between the rivers of Egypt and Babylon—and the rest of the earth will belong to the people of God among the nations as they again reign on the earth with God. The kingdom of God will fill the earth.

The earth is the inheritance of God’s people as Jesus promised: “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). One day the reign of God will fill it from the east to the west, from the north to the south. The whole earth, unlike its present condition, will be “Holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20).


The Resurrection of Humanity

January 9, 2020

The hope of the Christian faith is the transformation of human life from its present bondage to sin and death into a new humanity where the love of God is perfected in our souls and our bodies are equipped for living in the new heaven and new earth. Our future glorification is a transformation or metaphorsis into the likeness of Jesus the Messiah–the new human–in both body and soul. It is a passing from this present old way of living in the God’s good creation to a new way of living in God’s new heaven and new earth.

We are saved from death, and thus our bodies are resurrected and transformed. We are also saved from corruption, and thus our souls—our hearts—are fully transformed. Through our union with Christ, we become a recreated humanity as the image of God is renewed and glorified. This is our final state of glorification as we are united with the glorified Christ who is the new human, and he reigns over creation in a glorious, resurrected body.

This resurrected body is neither immaterial nor some kind of ethereal reality. Rather, it is material and Spiritual. What I mean is our bodies will have material substance. They will share in the materiality of the new heaven and new earth but animated by the Holy Spirit rather than by “flesh and blood.” The life of the immortal body is not sustained by food and blood as in the present Adamic world, but it is sustained by the life-giving Holy Spirit in the new creation conformed to the life of the New Adam who is the Lord Jesus. The hope of the Christian faith is not an immortal soul but the immortal body which is a part of the new creation in the new heaven and new earth. Our redemption—our salvation—includes the redemption of our bodies.

The soul—or, whatever we call our inner selves—is perfected in the new heaven and new earth. While the process of perfection began in the past and continues in the present, it is not complete until we fully participate in the life of Christ at our resurrection. Then we shall fully be as he is though we do not know what that is like because we only now experience a foretaste of that future. We, like Jesus, will experience transfiguration in the new creation. We will be permanently transfigured into the fullness of God’s image and thus become a new humanity in both body and soul.

We will be saved in the new creation to image God in the new heaven and new earth. We will be saved for eternal communion with God and to serve God as God’s image bearers in the new temple, the new creation. God will restore our original dignity and function, and God will glorify us by reinstating our dominion or reign over the creation. In this way, with transformed bodies and souls, we will co-rule with God in the renewed cosmos.