Soft Complementarianism Among Churches of Christ: A Piece of History

March 1, 2021

Abigail M. (Rickoff) Mathes, “Woman’s Work in the Church of Christ” (1878).

Some congregations of the churches of Christ practiced and a number of conservative leaders advocated for the visible and audible participation of women as leaders in worshipping assemblies. Abigail was one of them.

Abigail was a school teacher and wrote for various periodicals. She was the second wife of James M. Mathes (1808-1892).

She offers a middle path between what she called two extremes. She did not think women should have public authority in either society (including voting) or church but did not think women should be silenced in worshipping assemblies or have no voice on social and political questions. This is a version of what is today known as “soft complementarianism,” though her version applies 1 Tim 2:12 to all of life and not just to the church.

“Some women and men have gone to the extreme of placing woman upon an exact equality with man in every department of Church work, and even demanding for her political equality with the elective franchise and the right to hold office, and to exercise authority in the Church as Elders and Preachers of the Gospel. Another class, going off to another extreme and denying to her all religious, political and social equality with man, and condemning her to absolute silence in the Church, not even allowing her the privilege of praying or exhorting in the social prayer meeting…making her a religious nobody graciously permitted to be a member of the Church, but mute and inactive in all the public and social duties of membership.” p. 4

“We doubt the propriety of women taking the pulpit as pastors and evangelists, because it seems to take her out her proper sphere, and place her in a position from which her modest nature would seem to shrink, as unsuited to the true position of woman, as the assistant and help-mate of man. But I would not be understood as saying that women have no right to teach, exhort, sing and pray in the congregation. Very far from it. For I believe that she has the scriptural right to do all these things, and more.” pp. 10

“May the sisters exhort, teach, sing, and pray in the worshipping assembly without violating the law of Christ? We answer in the affirmative. . . .We are aware that in some communities there is s sort of prejudice, as we think, growing out of ignorance, against the sisters taking any part in the social worship beyond the singing. They would make Paul’s prohibition general and universal [1 Cor 14:34-35] and condemn all women to absolute silence in the worshipping assembly.” pp. 12-13.

James M Mathes (1808-1892) was a close friend and ally of Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878), Together, they led a conservative element north of the Ohio in the mid-19th century (e.g., they opposed instrumental music in the assembly). Franklin held the same view as Abigail Mathes. Franklin was convinced that there were “two extremes–the one not permitting women to open their lips in any worshipping assembly, and the other making them public preachers and teachers” (American Christian Review 10 [2 July 1867] 213).


Three Early African American Leaders Among Nashville Churches of Christ

February 28, 2021

Peter Lowery (1810-1888).

Peter Lowery (1810-1888), married to a free Cherokee named Ruth Mitchell, (1) became a member of the Nashville Christian Church in 1835, (2) purchased his own freedom in 1839 and eventually freed his mother, three brothers, and two sisters, (3) worked at Franklin College and was mentored by Tolbert Fanning in the 1840s, (4) began preaching in 1848, (5) owned businesses worth $40,000 which he lost in the Civil War, (6) planted the first black congregation in the Restoration Movement in Nashville (eventually known as the Second Colored Christian Church) in 1855, (7) stayed in Nashville despite harassment and potential exclusion of all free blacks from TN by the legislature, (8) participated in the political pursuit of rights for Freedmen after the war, and (9) founded Tennessee Manual Labor school near Murfreesboro, TN in 1866 (185 students enrolled in 1869) though the project was abandoned in 1874 and property sold in 1876.

David Lipscomb recommended that his readers support the school: “Elder P. Lowery was long an approved teacher of the Gospel by the Church of Christ in Nashville. He has long been a free man; has, by industry and economy in days past, gained property; and so demenned [sic] himself as to command the respect and esteem of the community in Nashville, as his letters of endorsement attest. It would probably be difficult to find one of his race more competent to cary his proposed school into successful operation.” Gospel Advocate 10, no. 11 (12 March 1868) 256.

J. P. Grigg wrote his obituary in the Gospel Advocate (Feb 15, 1888, p. 10): “Bro. Lowery obeyed the gospel in his young days and had been a proclaimer of the gospel for 40 years. He was a good neighbor and devoted Christian. He lived a devoted member of the church from the day of his obedience until the day of his death. He died in a bright hope of a blessed immortality. I never saw any one who seemed to be more devoted to the Christian life than he. He was always found at church on Lord’s day when he was able. I do not remember of ever meeting him that he did not ask me how I was getting along spiritually and express his hopes of a brighter and better world than this.”

Peter Lowery (1810-1888), an enslaved black man who purchased his own freedom, owned businesses in Nashville, and planted the first black congregation in Nashville associated with the Restoration Movement in 1855, petitioned the city council of Nashville for permission to hold night church services in 1857. This was their response. May God have mercy.

“Ald. Fogg said he did not believe any good resulted from negro preaching. If negroes desired religious instructions, the churches in the city were all open to them. Negro preachers could not explain the fundamental principles of Christianity; they were not competent. There were many things connected with the night meetings which were objectionable and demoralizing. He moved its rejection. The motion prevailed unanimously.”“City Council,” Republican Banner (May 29, 1857) 3.

David Lipscomb held a different view: “Elder P. Lowery was long an approved teacher of the Gospel by the Church of Christ in Nashville” (Gospel Advocate, March 12, 1866, p. 256).

Samuel Lowery (1830-1900)

Samuel Lowery (1830-1900), the son of Peter Lowery and educated by Tolbert Fanning at Franklin College (whom he always highly regarded), became a school teacher in 1846 (yes, at 16!; schools for free blacks had existed in Nashville since 1833) and a preacher in 1849.

He left Nashville for Cincinnati, Ohio, due to the closure of black schools and violent threats against free blacks in 1856. It seems he founded the Harrison Street Christian Church (“colored”) in Cincinnati in 1857. From 1859-1862 he served as an evangelist and church planter in Chatham, Canada West, sent by the American Missionary Society.

He later returned to Nashville as a chaplain in the Union army (9th US Heavy Artillery US Colored Troops) during the Union occupation. He also conducted school for soldiers in Union regiments while in Nashville. Between 1865-1875 he was deeply involved in State Colored Men’s Conventions and the Tennessee State Equal Rights League.

He raised funds for and taught at the Tennessee Manual Labor University near Murfreesboro, TN (five of his seven children attended the school). The school’s demise was due, in part, to accusations about the mishandling of funds by Samuel, though it is uncertain whether this was ever the case. After studying law with a white mentor near Murfreesboro, TN, he began to practice law in Nashville.

In 1875, he moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to practice law and founded the Lowery Industrial Academy (which won first prize for its silk at the 1884 World’s Fair), edited the National Freeman, and was the first African American to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court. He ultimately became disenchanted with politics and focused on his silk business. He became an ally of the educator Booker T. Washington.

The Gospel Advocate (1880, p. 203) noted his achievement: “Samuel R. Lowery, a colored man, was recently admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.”

Daniel Wadkins (1818-1883)

Elder Daniel Wadkins (1818-1883), biracial and born free, was a member of the Nashville Christian Church on Church Street (probably since 1844). Originally a farm laborer, he became a teacher’s assistant in 1833 when the first school for free blacks in Nashville was started. He began his own school in 1839.

The schools were typically clandestine and often violently opposed. In December 1856, twelve white men threateningly entered his school and closed it. It remained closed until 1862 when it reopened with 159 students during Union occupation. However, by 1865, Wadkins’s school closed due to free education offered by white churches/missionaries in Nashville.

In 1866, Wadkins, like Samuel Lowery, was commissioned to raise money for the Tennessee Manual Labor University. Wadkins received a letter of commendation from Frederick Douglass. Though accused of mishandling funds, an investigation by the Nashville Christian Church, led by P. S. Fall, acquitted him of any wrongdoing and affirmed his integrity (Gospel Advocate, October 27, 1870, p. 397).

In the 1860s, Wadkins was also involved in city politics as well as Freedmen associations and conventions. In 1867, he was elected to the city council but was replaced by a white Republican before the council went into session. He lost his next election bid in 1868. When Andrew Johnson (former military governor of TN and President of the US) ran for Senate in 1869 in TN, Wadkins led Republican freedmen in questioning Johnson’s views: Did he support black civil and political equality with whites? Did the Tennessee government represent blacks as well as whites? Wadkins’s letter to Johnson was published in the Nashville Daily Press and Times (April 15, 1869). Johnson never responded. Wadkins argued in various political meetings that “there was not now any disposition on the part of the whites to oppress the colored people” and noted the legislature to that point had not passed “any law restricting their rights” (Republican Banner, November 12, 1869, p. 1).

When a new constitution was written in early 1870 and a new governor installed (John Calvin Brown, a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member), Tennessee’s Reconstruction era came to an end. Wadkins was disappointed and disillusioned. He turned his primary attention to preaching.

In the 1870s, Wadkins served as an evangelist supported by various congregations. He preached and planted churches in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. His audiences sometimes included white as well as black attendees, and sometimes he was refused use of buildings where white congregations met. He was also a leader in the annual conventions of the “colored Christian church” in Tennessee (e.g., Gospel Advocate, November 20, 1873, p. 1119).

In support of his ministry, the First Christian Church in Nashville (his home congregation) commended him with this letter: “This shall certify that Bro. Daniel Wadkins (colored) has been for thirty years a member of this congregation, and is in regular standing as such. He has been long engaged in preaching the word, and is hereby authorized to do so wherever, in the providence of God, an opportunity may offer. He is commended, as a disciple of Christ and as a Christian Teacher to the attention of the brotherhood. In behalf of the elders and deacons of the said congregation, and by their order, Lord’s Day, March 29, 1874. P. S. Fall.” (Gospel Advocate, May 7, 1874, pp. 447-8).

In 1881, Wadkins, commissioned by Governor Alvin Hawkins, became a Chaplain in the State Penitentiary. (Gospel Advocate, March 31, 1881, p. 203.)

Wadkins died on May 10, 1883 in Nashville. “His funeral was preached by Bros. D[avid]. L[ipscomb]., and R. Lin Cave, assisted by Rev. Nelson Merry, in the First Baptist Church, a large audience being in attendance. Bro. W. was a man of remarkably strong and vigorous mind, and superior talents.” (Gospel Advocate, May 16, 1883, p. 315.)

Wadkins, a leading black evangelist who traveled in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky preaching and planting churches (see my post earlier this morning), became the center of a controversy in 1874 that signaled the direction many churches would take during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras.

In 1874, Watkins asked Lipscomb to publish his request for the use of “meeting-houses” so that he might teach Christianity to “the more destitute of my people” that “are willing to hear.” Unfortunately, to the dismay of Lipscomb, “white brethren in some places refused the use of their houses at times when unoccupied by themselves.” “We do not hesitate to say,” Lipscomb added, “that such a foolish and unchristian prejudice should be vigorously and eagerly trampled under foot, and all persons who are driven from the church because the house is used by the humblest of God’s creatures, in teaching and learning the Christian religion would bless the church by leaving it.” Further, “if the houses are too fine for this, they are entirely too fine for Christian purposes.” (Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, March 19, 1874, pp. 281-83.)

On October 9, 1874, a “consultation meeting” of more than thirty ministers and elders was held by disciples in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Daniel Wadkins was present, and he was commended “to his people as one being qualified to preach the word, and plant and build up churches among them.” On the morning of October 12, the “ordination” committee proposed this resolution: “Resolved, that we recommend to our colored brethren who have membership with whites, whenever practicable to withdraw themselves and form congregations of their own, believing that by so doing they will advance the cause of Christ among themselves, and when it not practicable so to do, that they receive the attention of their various congregations.” (Gospel Advocate, October 29, 1874, 1017-18.)

David Lipscomb took exception to the segregationist resolution. “The resolution in reference to colored brethren forming separate congregations we believe plainly contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures. The Jews and Gentiles had as strong antipathies as the whites and blacks. They were never recommended to form distinct organizations. The course we believe to be hurtful to both races and destructive to the Spirit of Christ.” (Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, October 29, 1874, 1020.)

Wadkins himself had stayed with the mother Nashville congregation when a black congregation was planted in the city by Peter Lowery. Lipscomb believed the church should be the place where black and white serve and worship together in contrast to segregated society. But Reconstruction and the emergence of the Jim Crow South dramatically shaped the story of black and white churches in the South.

However, it is understandable that some freed people sought their own space because of the paternalistic and assimilationist attitudes on the part of many white churches where power was not shared or expectations were not equitable.

May God have mercy.


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 9) of Women Serving God

January 11, 2021

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

However, attention to my book is only minimal. Consequently, I will only respond to places that explicitly address my own particular thoughts.

I found this article problematic in many ways. I think there are too many assumptions and projections rather than helpful interactions with the claims of evangelical or biblically-based egalitarians. But I will not take the time to note this. I will only address what explicitly overlaps with my own book, Women Serving God.

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.
  12. My Response to Part 5.
  13. Renew’s Review (Part 6): Marriage.
  14. My Response to Part 6.
  15. Renew’s Review (Part 9): Where Does Egalitarianism Lead?

I will begin by quoting the first set of paragraphs from Renew’s article (Part 9) that address my book.

“For example, a careful reading of John Mark Hick’s Women Serving God shows an advocacy for men and women achieving egalitarian ideals: equal status, equal power, equal opportunities in all that is done in the gathered church—but in a way that rejects biblical hierarchies as something distasteful.

Servanthood seems somehow antithetical to clerical authority and hierarchy.[2]

In fact, Hicks infuses secular ideals, without acknowledging their source, with Jesus’ teachings on service, humility, and the importance of using one’s giftedness.

Infusing secular ideals with Jesus’ teachings seems like a smooth mix appropriate for this cultural moment. But is it scriptural? And where does an unchecked egalitarianism lead?

Bizarrely, the egalitarian and individualistic ideals in Western civilization are in the midst of working themselves out and are now being mixed into Critical Theory and the new cultural Marxism. These ideals continue to evolve and merge, being fueled by the new focus on human emancipation from all perceived forms of systemic oppression. Critical Theory derives its ideas of power, justice, and equality from postmodernism and soft forms of Carl [Karl, JMH] Marx’s ideas. Critical theorists place the blame for all that’s wrong in the world at the feet of unjust social structures and systems. According to Critical Theory, these systems maintain power by truth claims.”

My response.

I found this rather strange. I never use the term egalitarian in my book. I do make a biblical case for the full participation of women in the “gathered church” (assembly). This is based upon the giftedness of women and that God distributes these gifts to both male and female for the common good of the assembly.

With respect to the assembly, Renew actually agrees with me in this regard with the one exception of preaching or “authoritative teaching” (as is claimed in earlier blogs). So, because I affirm the privilege of women to preach in the assembly or teach authoritatively, I have now “infuse[d] secular ideals . . . with Jesus’ teaching.” Moreover, I am, in some way, indebted to or profoundly influenced by Critical Theory and the new cultural Marxism.

I wonder how many people actually see cultural Marxism in Women Serving God. I don’t think it is there at all. I think I would need a bit more evidence from Renew that I have been shaped by such thinking and utilized it “without,” Renew charges, “acknowledging” the source of those ideas. I affirm the source of my ideas in the book. I get them from the Bible.

It seems, as I read Renew, it is cloaked under this assertion: “Servanthood seems somehow antithetical to clerical authority and hierarchy.”

The footnote to that statement refers to a section entitled “At Table with Jesus” (pp. 145-146).

Renew actually quotes part of a paragraph later in the blog. Here is the paragraph they quote.

“The table of Jesus is not about power and control. It is not about clerical authority. It is not about prerogatives and status. It is not about hierarchy. It is about mutual service and ministry. The table is where we serve each other.…unfortunately, the table—like leadership in the worship assembly—has become the place for hierarchical positioning.”

Renew characterizes “hierarchy” as a “human structure in which some people have more authority or power than others who are in submission to them.”

Renew affirms the “hierarchies” of “male headship in marriage (Eph. 5:3), a dad’s leadership in families (Eph. 6:4), and elderships in churches (1 Tim. 3:1ff).”

My “distaste toward hierarchy,” as Renew calls it, does not entail a distaste for spiritual authority and submission as Renew claims. I affirm that the Spirit’s gifts to the body carry authority with them and the response of others is to submit. At the same time, this does not institute a hierarchy that stratifies a community on the basis of race [Jew/Gentile], gender [male/female], economics [enslaved/free], ecclesiastical status [clerics] and cultural status [e.g., political or celebrity figures], but a community of mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). Rather, the distributed gifts function within the community as expressions of spiritual authority and submission.

The question, then, is not whether there is authority and submission but rather the nature of that authority and submission. I contend it is not a matter of gender or clerical hierarchialism.

More specifically, my discussion of the table is directed at power, control, and clericalism that institute a status that ranks the participants at the Lord’s table in some way. I am describing what happens at Eucharist or at the Lord’s Supper. We are at the table together as mutual servants, not as ranked agents of power.

Is there gender hierarchy, much less clerical hierarchy, at the table of the Lord? May only men serve the table of the Lord? May only men officiate at the table of the Lord and speak the gospel at the table? May only clerics officiate at the table of the Lord?

I suggest that one of the great contributions of the Restoration Movement is the subversion of sacerdotal or clerical authority and the practice of the priesthood of believers (though only male in the assembly for much of the Restoration Movement). Alexander Campbell debated this point with N. L. Rice. Campbell (Campbell-Rice Debate, p.583). Of course, Campbell maintained the gender hierarchy (p. 584: “We never, by word or action, sanctioned either female or minors as baptists”). I assume–I would be happy to know for certain–Renew encourages women who disciple others to baptize them (which is a revision of the historic Christian position).

The gathered community comes together as a priesthood of believers without clerical distinctions. There is no hierarchy at the table of the Lord, either clerical or gendered. We sit at the table as fellow-servants, priests of God, members of the body of Christ, and without unique rank, status, or prerogatives.

When we turn the table of the Lord or the assembled gathering into a clerical and/or gendered expression of hierarchical stratification, then we undermine the meaning of the table and the quench the Spirit’s distribution of gifts within the body.

This is not Critical Theory or a new Marxism. It is a biblical theology of giftedness and the priesthood of all believers. As to specifics of male headship and elders as an expression of male hierarchy, I encourage readers to read the interactions in the previous blogs for a discussion of the texts and particulars.

To end, I am disturbed by the rhetoric present in the blog. “It requires scholars (like John Mark Hicks and Scot McKnight) and church leaders to re-interpret or explain away at least 8 male authority roles in Scripture…” Renew apparently thinks it is the “university elites, cultural influencers, and evangelical scholars like Hicks and McKnight” that come to conclusions that women may fully participate in the assemblies of God. This sets up the potential for a kind anti-intellectualism, which I know Renew does not want to cultivate. It does, it seems to me, play to a base with whom such rhetoric will resonate and create an automatic suspicion without hearing the evidence. In the same way, using the buzz words “Critical Theory” or “Marxism” functions as a kind of red flag (even red meat) that creates even more suspicion without hearing the evidence of the book.

More to the point, it is inaccurate. There are examples of such advocates who came to their own conclusion without university elites or scholars. For example, the early 19th century African American Jarena Lee (d. 1864) was the first female AME preacher. I could name more, such as Phoebe Palmer among others. In any event, such characterizations as “elites” is ad hominem; it is a rhetorical appeal to a base that mistrusts “university elites.” I think that unworthy of the history of our dialogue through these blogs. It participates more in the political partisan rhetoric of our time than it does in a biblical and theological discussion among people who both affirm the authority of Scripture.

Moreover, the charge that I have re-interpreted and explained away texts equally applies to Renew’s position. The soft complementarianism Renew affirms has to reinterpret 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 so as to permit women praying and prophesying in the public assembly, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as only applying to disorderly women or the function of weighing the speech of other prophets, and 1 Timothy 2:12 as only applying to the authority of elders (and perhaps preachers). Each of those is a re-interpretation of the historic position of the church which explains away the dimensions of the text that are inconsistent with a soft complementarianism–which is a new position in the history of the church, just as much as egalitarianism is.

Further, the charge that one needs a 1,000 page book to understand the Scriptures in order to be an egalitarian instead of reading the plain text of Scripture is equally true for the soft complementarian who has re-read Scripture through the explanation of books, articles, and blogs in order to maintain a soft complementarianism. One needs a 1,000 page book to defend such re-reading and explanations as well.

I trust readers who have ingested Renew’s blog will give a fair hearing to my book. If so, I have no ill will toward those who disagree with me.

Peace to my friends at Renew.


Three Video Courses Available

September 23, 2020

The video Course “Anchors for the Soul: Trusting God in the Storms of Life” is available through RightNow Media as well as at HIM Publications (DVD or digital access for $19.95). It contains eight 10-15 minute videos plus an introduction and conclusion. The videos are based on the book by the same title. The series offers some anchors for living through loss, grief, and struggles as well as suggestions for how to help those who are struggling. The anchors are: God loves, God listens, God understands, God reigns, and God wins.

Tokens, a ministry led by Lee C. Camp, has produced a video course based upon my book Searching for the Pattern. There are six videos that address patternism, reading the Bible like Jesus and Paul, and finding our lens for reading the pattern in the Bible. A study guide for the course is available.

Praise and Harmony TV, a ministry led by Keith Lancaster, has produced eight videos based on my book Come to the Table. Topics range from the table in Israel to the table in the ministry of Jesus to the table in the church. This series offers a theological and practical understanding of the Lord’s Supper for the contemporary church. This is a link to the first video. A study guide is available for the course.


Video Course: Searching for the Pattern

July 23, 2020

Designed for small groups, Bible classes, or even personal use, these six videos introduce interested learners to the basic principles of my recent book.

The Tokens Show, led by Lee C. Camp, has released a video course based on Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Understanding the Bible.

There are six videos. Each is accompanied by discussion questions, transcripts, and other materials. The topics cover:

  1. Looking for the Pattern
  2. How Did Paul Read the Bible?
  3. Finding our Lens for Reading the Bible
  4. The New Testament: Rule for Faith & Practice
  5. How Did Jesus Read the Bible
  6. How Do We Read the Table?

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.


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 Gardner’s Review of Women Serving God

October 1, 2020

I am grateful for Steve Gardner’s 7000 word review of my book, Women Serving God. I appreciate the careful reading and attention he has given to it. This response is almost 3500 words.

Steve himself, as readers of his blog Authentic Theology know, has devoted significant biblical and historical attention to the question my book addresses. His blogs also address larger considerations related to this topic that I don’t address in my book. I encourage everyone to read his blog.

My book is intended for leaders, ministers, and elders among churches of Christ. Steve recognizes this, though he thinks parts of it might be useful in an academic setting and perhaps overly technical for some readers in my target audience. He is probably right. I attempted to communicate without too many textbook technicalities. Nevertheless, some technical details demand attention.

Thank you, Steve, for the helpful summary of the book and its strengths.

The majority of Steve’s review is focused on weaknesses in the book. Every book has weaknesses; mine is no exception. He identifies three weaknesses in two paragraphs (#words) and then focuses on what he considers the book’s major weakness for ten printed pages (#words).

The first weakness is what appears to be an implication that “changing’s one hermeneutic is needed to reach a conclusion of ‘full participation’.” That critique makes sense to me, though it is not the nature of my own journey. Can one come to a full participation perspective through a blueprint hermeneutic? I think they can. If one understands 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 the way I suggest in the book, potentially one can still hold a blueprint hermeneutic and affirm full participation. Perhaps I should have made that clearer. In fact, my book, hermeneutically, is much more exegetical than theological.

At the same time, there are some expectations and processes embedded in the blueprint hermeneutic (as I have described it in Searching for the Pattern as well as in Women Serving God) that create unnecessary (though perhaps not insurmountable) hindrances to the full participation of women in the assembly. For example, the search for a specific authorization for assembly practices rather than a theology of giftedness may entail the exclusion of women even if 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 are understood as I have argued in the book. The blueprint hermeneutic expects that God has fully regulated the assembly, and where we lack examples, commands, and necessary inferences to specifically and explicitly identify a practice, it is–as I note below–safer to exclude rather than include.

The second weakness is that I did not “meaningfully address centuries-long” interpretations that demeaned women as ontologically inferior, uniquely blameworthy for the human condition, and inherently weak and unfit for public leadership. That is fair. I did not focus on these points. I did, however, identify some of these perspectives when I wrote about Lipscomb, Harding, Sewell, and Bell or the church’s opposition to suffrage and the “New Woman Movement.” My narrow focus on my own journey and how the history of churches of Christ illuminated that for me did not push me to call attention to this larger story.

I acknowledge Steve’s point. This larger story needs to come into play when one fully and systematically assesses gender in the history of churches of Christ. My third volume will address this point. I will locate the exclusion of women from leadership in the larger story of Christian tradition, especially as I address more specifically and more fully the question of “male headship.” I recognize the legitimacy of Steve’s point.

The third weakness is my use of “giftedness” in lieu of “calling.” I don’t find this compelling because I see “giftedness” as assuming a call to use one’s gifts. Moreover, I did not emphasize the “calling” dimension because I focused on specific language in Scripture related to the exercise of gifts, God giving gifts, etc. My intended audience is best addressed, in my estimation, with the biblical language of gifting rather than calling. However, I acknowledge “calling” as a legitimate and important dimension of the discussion. As Steve noted, my responders in the book appealed to “calling” more than I did, though they also spoke of giftedness as an important aspect of their own stories.

The primary weakness Steve identifies is my historical interpretation of the participation of women in assemblies of Restoration Movement congregations in the mid-19th century. Steve spends ten pages (#words) responding to two pages in my book (pp. 48-49; about 700 words).

My purpose in sharing this historical perspective was to lay some brief groundwork about the 1830s-1880s (pp. 48-49) for the major discussion of the 1880s-1930s (pp. 50-62). The claim that the audible and visible participation of women in some assemblies was not “uncommon” and was part of “many” congregations is not a claim that it was dominant or the majority. Rather, it is a recognition that such participation was not totally excluded from the experience of churches in that period and it was not rare. “Some” would have probably been better than “many” in my claim. “Many” may leave the impression that it was far more common than I actually think it was, though how widespread particular practices were is ultimately unknown (perhaps even inaccessible to contemporary historians).

I think the evidence I provide sufficiently demonstrates my basic claim, but perhaps I should have provided more evidence and greater detail. However, considerations of space and the relatively minor function this section played in my book did not merit a fuller treatment for my purposes.

While Steve thinks my assessment is not consistent with Bill Grasham’s outstanding article in the 1999 Restoration Quarterly, I think the two are complementary and essentially agree. He has details I don’t have and vice versa. The reader can decide for himself. Here is a link to Grasham’s piece. His opening sentence is: “There has never been a completely uniform view of the role of women in the work and worship of the church in the Restoration Movement, and this was particularly true in America at the turn of the 19th century.” By the mid-20th century, churches of Christ did establish a broad uniformity: women were totally excluded from audible and visible leadership in the assembly.

I understand Steve’s concern is that (1) I may have conflated churches of Christ and the Christian Church with some of the sources I used, and (2) if my reading of the evidence is skewed, as he claims, then the larger problem is I fail to acknowledge how indebted churches of Christ are to the historic traditions of the Christian faith regarding women. These are two legitimate concerns.

On the first, I was careful in my section on the 1880s-1930s to use sources who were associated with churches of Christ and the conservative regions of the Restoration Movement. For example, Daniel Sommerwho defended the privilege of limited participation in the assembly—was, according to Leroy Garrett, in some sense the founder of churches of Christ through the Sand Creek 1889 Address and Declaration. The Christian Leader & Way, which was conservative-leaning (James A. Harding was co-editor), published many articles defending the limited participation of women (see some citations here). Moreover, Benjamin Franklin was a conservative leader in the Restoration Movement, the spiritual ancestor of Daniel Sommer. Earl West’s biography of Franklin, Elder Benjamin Franklin: The Eye of the Storm, demonstrates this. Certainly Franklin believed that women should not participate in assemblies gathered for official business and decision-making, but he defended their participation in limited ways through prayer and exhortation. Both Sommer and Franklin, along with others in their tradition among churches of Christ, advocate a wider expression of female voices than typical among churches of Christ in the 1940s-1950s.

Nevertheless, Steve’s point is important to consider, and if my narration conflates the practices of the churches of Christ with the Christian Church (as that distinction emerged in the 1900-1920s), then it needs revision. However, I was careful to pay attention to such, and I don’t think I did conflate them. Nevertheless, I am could have overlooked something in my sources and interpretation. It bears checking.

On the second concern, it is important to remember that revivalism in the 18th and 19th centuries included female exhorters and a wider participation of women within assemblies and in what came to be called “camp meetings.” This became even more the case in the Holiness Movement in the second half of the 19th century. The revivalist tradition included women in ways that was not true of earlier Christian traditions. This influenced some in the Restoration Movement, and this may account for some of the diversity present in the 19th and early 20th centuries (even in what we know as churches of Christ).

I appreciate the detailed attention Steve gives to my evidence on pages 48-49. I welcome his engagement here, and it was helpful as a fuller record. He addresses Faurot in the Millennial Harbinger, Benjamin Franklin from his American Christian Review, Krutsinger in the Gospel Advocate (accessible in the Gospel Advocate here) Charlotte Fanning (her biography by Emma Page [p. 16] and William Anderson’s [p. 370] comment in Franklin College and Its Influences), and Lipscomb in the 1876 Gospel Advocate. I don’t find the critique of Faurot, Franklin (as I mentioned above), Fanning, and Krutsinger compelling, but Steve does have a point, I believe, about Lipscomb.

Concerning Faurot, my point is the one Steve makes. Faurot only knows of “two churches outside of Bethany that completely prohibit women from all acts of worship, including exhortation and singing.” In other words, women typically participated in the assemblies and two congregations (that Faurot knew) completely silenced women. In other words, while women were silenced in Bethany (not totally, however, due to congregational singing), they were not silenced in most other congregations in Faurot’s experience.

Tolbert Fanning preached, and Charlotte Fanning led singing. Their summer vacations from teaching school were used to conduct Gospel meetings or revival meetings throughout the Mid-South, especially in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Page, writing in 1909, called it leading singing and paralleled it with Tolbert’s preaching. In the chapel of Franklin College, Charlotte “led singing” sitting down, to be sure (at least in Anderson’s memory ). That form of participation, however, is out of sync with most churches of Christ today as sitting praise teams are discouraged or forbidden in most congregations, in part, because they include women.

Clearly, Lipscomb and Harding disagreed with Krutsinger. I made that point in the ensuing pages in the book, though I did not call attention to it on p. 49. I would not expect his view to have any dominant or frequent place in the Gospel Advocate, though Lipscomb printed Silena Holman’s advocacy for a similar position in the 1880s-1910s. The years from the late 1880s to the 1920s were filled with articles about women, church, and society. A variety of views are represented in queries, articles, and responses. Lipscomb even once commented that he had received so many inquiries and so often that he could only occasionally comment on the subject since it had already been discussed so often in previous articles. For example, the “Woman Question” was a “difficult question to settle. It is repeated almost every week” (Gospel Advocate, January 19, 1911, p. 78). During those years, the editors and staff writers of the Gospel Advocate, as I make clear in the book, opposed the audible and visible leadership of women in the public assembly.

I think Steve’s critique has the most weight with respect to the interpretation of Lipscomb’s 1876 article in the Gospel Advocate. I remember mulling over that article for close to a whole day in my research. I thought about leaving it out totally and perhaps I should have. It is subject to diverse interpretation, though I think my understanding is a credible one. What struck me in the article, however, is that when Lipscomb refers to the worship and work of the church in which every member (inclusive of male and female) is to participate it included not only  ministering to the sick but also reading verses and not only reporting someone as needing teaching but also praying. At the same, as I note in the book, Lipscomb did not believe women should be official leaders in the church or speak authoritatively in the assembly. In my opinion, in 1876, Lipscomb was not fully convinced about the private/public distinction he would stress in the 1880s-1910s. But I may be wrong about that.

While Steve’s critique focused on pages 48-49, my main intent was to stress how the years from 1888 to 1938 reflected a turbulent time of discussion within churches of Christ. [I chose 1888 because that was Silena Holman’s first engagement on the topic and 1938 because of the publication of Nichol’s book in that year.] I make no claim that the majority of churches of Christ favored or practiced the limited participation of women in the assembly. However, I do make a case that a significant segment of churches of Christ did. This included Sommer’s circle of influence north of the Ohio where 10% of churches of Christ lived in 1906. There were also parts of Texas where it was not totally foreign for women to pray audibly and exhort in the assembly. There were scattered advocates throughout the south as well (including people like Silena Holman).

A series of articles by Mrs. H. L. Knight of Unity, Maine, illustrates how movement sometimes took place among some in the 1900-1910s. In 1907 her congregation hosted John T. Lewis (who returned several times to the area), and later they would host T. B. Larimore. She lived in the orbit of the Gospel Advocate and churches of Christ. She wrote six articles in the 1911 Gospel Advocate (July 20 & 27, August 3, 10, 17, & 24) describing her struggle with whether women have the privilege of “individual” speaking in the public assembly. She practiced and advocated “individual” speaking for several years, was “tossed” about for eight years, but adopted a different stance within the past “two” years with a peaceful conscience. In her fifth article she stated: “It is made evident that both sides have convincing arguments to sustain them, and a person might with reason be as honest in contending for one side as the other; the arguments on one side seem to be as firm a foundation upon which to stand as those on the other side, and one might perhaps find as secure a foundation in the arguments of one side as the other” (August 17, 1911, p. 899).

For herself, though she recognized the difficulty and struggle in thinking about the subject, she concluded women should only participate in “congregational speaking,” not “individual speaking,” in the assembly. But her larger concern was “Christian Unity” (cf. Gospel Advocate 30, 1909, 1660-1), and she applied it to this question. She decided unity is based on the “safe side” (August 24, 1911, 931) as we follow commands and examples in the New Testament. In other words, be safe and follow the blueprint. This approach to unity is what distinguished churches of Christ from denominational bodies, according to Knight.

This became a dominant argument for the exclusion of female voices from leadership in the assembly. When asked questions about women teaching, Bible classes, and “woman’s work in the church,” John T. Hinds, for example, in the 1930 Gospel Advocate (p. 1223), wrote, “it is always better to err on the side of safety.”

A brief exchange between John Straiton (Firm Foundation, Aug. 14), G. C. Brewer (Gospel Advocate, Oct. 25), and John T. Lewis (Gospel Advocate, Nov. 15) in 1934 illustrates the move toward a greater (perhaps more rigid) uniformity. Straiton noted Moses Lard’s advocacy of audible prayers by women in the January 1868 Lard’s Quarterly, which had been published by B. C. Goodpasture in the July 1934 issue of the Gospel Advocate. Brewer recalled how in his past experience, though not in his present, women prayed in sentence prayers and sometimes “shouted” in the assemblies, but Lewis said that was not his experience. Brewer suggested the church should be willing to “survey our ground and see if the churches have been educated in the wrong direction.” Lewis thought it was dangerous to do so when Scripture is so clear. This exchange reflects a dynamic toward uniformity but with some memory of diverse past practices. The uniformity, however, was fast congealing and some thought they had arrived at and were maintaining solid apostolic ground.

Another example of diversity is found in the Firm Foundation, though there was agreement on the silence of women in the formal Sunday public assembly. For example, in 1933-1934, J. Luther Dabney (Nov, 28, 1933 and January 30, 1934) and J. D. Malephurs (January 16 and April 10, 1934) exchanged several articles. While both agreed that when the whole church was gathered, women should be silent, Dabney believed women may teach and preach in other settings even with men present. His particular interest was in “young people’s meetings” where he encouraged girls to pray and make speeches as part of the gathering. “It is much better to train our girls to prophesy and pray than to do nothing at all with them” (Nov. 28, p. 5). Malephurs, however, thought the biblical restrictions applied to all settings where men and women prayed and worshipped together, which is the understanding I advocated in the 1970s. Malephurs concluded that it is “not safe to have girls do anything in a training class that they are forbidden to do before” the church. “My girls,” he wrote, “are not developed to lead prayers and make speeches before boys, for Paul forbids them to make use of such training in the church” (April 10, p. 5). This is an example of the sort of discussions that were happening in the 1930s.

C. R. Nichol’s 1938 God’s Woman, which defended limited participation, might have been the last gasp of limited participation among churches of Christ. His book reflects, however, practices in his own Texas world and a defense of them.

Nevertheless, women were effectively silenced by at least the 1940s. F. W. Smith, the respected long-term minister (36 years) of what is now the 4th Avenue congregation in Franklin, Tennessee and an esteemed writer for the Gospel Advocate, illustrates the sort of decision that was made (Gospel Advocate, 1929, 778-9; emphases are his).

“To what extent a Christian woman has the right to participate in public worship has never appeared as clear to me as I could wish, and for that reason I feel unable to deal with the question. . . I conclude, therefore, not dogmatically, but to be on the safe side, that since the word of God does not clearly and explicitly inform us that it would be Scriptural for a woman to lead the prayer in the assembly of the saints, it would be best to conform to the custom in this respect of the ‘loyal’ churches.”

Safe and loyal would become the watchwords of churches of Christ on this question as well as others. Smith reflects something of a transition in the making among conservatives. Sommer’s position, though largely forgotten, died the death of marginalization as southern churches of Christ (under the influence of the Gospel Advocate primarily) overwhelmed them in number, influence, and institutional power (e.g., colleges and papers).  In the context of the loss of frontier revivalism, the Christian Church division, opposition to cultural movements (suffrage, temperance, and “New Woman”), and the marginalization of the Sommer tradition, by the mid-20th century churches of Christ emerged as a prime example of a Christian tradition that excluded women from all audible and visible leadership in the assembly. Interestingly, they emerged as such at the same time other traditions were becoming more inclusive.

I am grateful for Steve’s work in the sources. His acquaintance with them and his intent to double-check my citations is highly commendable. Thanks, Steve. I appreciate the commendation of the book despite its weaknesses.

Peace, my friend.


Response to Renew’s Review (Part 6) of Women Serving God

September 30, 2020

Renew has recently published the sixth 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).
  12. My Response to Part 5.
  13. Renew’s Review (Part 6): Marriage.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 6. Renew’s blog is over 7000 words. My response is brief–only 500 words. Renew’s blog series (now in six parts) is over 44,000+ words and my responses are about 22,000+.

As Renew turns its attention to the topic of marriage, it moves beyond the specific thesis and interest of my book, which Part 6 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 marriage.

Whether husbands have authority over their wives in the home is materially irrelevant to the topic of whether women are invited to fully participate in the assemblies of the saints unless husbands as authorities in the home have some specific function or giftedness in the assembly that excludes women. Yet, no such exclusive function or gift is found in Scripture unless 1 Timothy 2:12 addresses it. I discussed 1 Timothy 2:12 in my book and in my review of Renew’s Part 4.

In other words, whatever “male headship” or submission means for marriage, there is no text in Scripture that denies the use of gifts by women in the assembly. In fact, the one text that describes any correlation between headship and the assembly–which is 1 Corinthian 11–describes the use of gifts by women in the assembly. When women use their God-given gifts, they do not subvert “male headship” (however that is defined) but honor it.

Since I am not quoted or referenced in the article other than in the second sentence of the article and my book does not address any of these texts in any detail or at all, I will forego any review of their article because it does not engage my purposes in my book.

I have written a blog on 1 Peter 3:1-7 if any are interested in how I address this text.

Peace to Reneé and Rick!


Women, Assemblies, and Churches of Christ

September 22, 2020

Several have asked for a briefer and more focused articulation of the topic of my book Women Serving God: My Journal in Understanding Their Story in the Bible that they could share with friends.

I have uploaded a PDF file entitled “Women, Assemblies, and Churches of Christ.” This essay offers a succinct case for the full participation of women in the assemblies gathered for prayer, praise, and mutual edification. I do not entertain the potential objections and alternative perspectives in this short piece. Women Serving God contains more detail and fuller argumentation for those who are interested.

This link will connect you with the study/teaching guide for the book, if someone is interested in more detail without purchasing the book.

Of course, one can only fully engage the argument through the book itself. But, hopefully, these two resources provide helps that are more accessible.

Peace upon the church of God.


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 4) of Women Serving God

September 4, 2020

Renew has recently published the fourth part of their review of my book, Women Serving God. This is my response.

Renew’s series 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.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 4. Renew’s blog is over 8000 words. My response is almost 7500 words.

Once again, there is not much interaction with McKnight’s book but almost wholly with mine. Given that the coming blogs by Renew will address elders and marriage, perhaps McKnight will become their focus because I do not attempt to make any sustained case one way or the other about either of those topics in my book (though I do touch on them in tangential ways when my interest in the assembly overlaps them).

Ten Points of Agreement

Despite a significant difference, particularly in application, Renew and myself share considerable common ground. I will explore this agreement in light of both the blog (Renew Review #4) and the White Station teaching document (SWS), which Renew has consistently quoted not only in this blog but in their previous blogs.

1.  Though 1 Timothy 2:8-15 “likely applies to the assembly” (SWS; emphasis mine), we agree the instructions are not limited to the assembly. In other words, men should always pray with holy hands (and women, too), women should always dress modestly (and men, too), women should be encouraged to learn in every circumstance (rather than simply in the assembly, though this statement “may be focused on the assembly” [SWS; emphasis mine]), and women are prohibited from teaching and authentein  (whatever those two verbs entail) in the assembly as well as in other spaces. Whatever Paul’s point is in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, it is not restricted to the assembly.

2.  We agree 1 Timothy 2:8 does not restrict leading prayer to men alone. As Renew (quoting SWS) says, “Paul’s instruction seeks to reestablish this witness, not by restricting prayer to men, but by addressing the specific issue with the prayers these men were offering alongside their quarreling.” The “purpose” of 1 Timothy 2 “is not to give instruction on who gets to pray and who does not.”

3.  We agree the term for “quietness” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 describes “a quietness of demeanor (a common meaning of the relevant Greek term in the NT) rather than silence.”

4.  We agree there is a significant problem or disturbance among some women in the Ephesian church. This includes some overlap between the women of 2:9-10 and the younger widows described in 5:13 who were going from house to house “saying things they should not say.” These women are associated in some way with false teachers (cf. 2 Timothy 3:7). As Renew (quoting SWS) states, “If these women are to mature in the faith, it is clear their posture must change to one more conducive to learning.”

Note: the historical reconstruction of the origin and precise nature of this disturbance (whether related to Artemis, some kind of proto-Gnosticism, household dysfunction, or “New Women” in Roman society) is uncertain. There are clues, as Rick notes. The women are associated with the upper class, for example. Renew suggests that “Hicks makes much of [Artemis] cult.” Actually, I don’t. I make some suggestions, offer some possibilities, but I don’t provide a precise historical reconstruction nor commit myself to one scenario alone but attempt to work with the explicit evidence in the letter. Whether these women are associated with Artemis or not, to what degree seduction is part of the problem, is interesting, perhaps illuminating, but ultimately uncertain. The primary point—Rick and I agree—is that the context and language of the letter are how we gain insight into the dysfunction present in the congregation among both its men and women. I don’t put much stock in any historical reconstruction (including Hoag), though we often gain helpful perspectives from attempts. Rather, we must work with the letter as we have it and connect it, as best we can, with humility, to the known culture of the first century.

Additional Note: Rick thinks I “painted these women in 1 Timothy to be the most sinister, evil women in the Ephesian church. I know he’s tried to liberate them in a sense, but his path to get there is overdone.” Rick also suggests that if the women were that bad, Paul would have been much more forceful in his condemnation and not nearly “as gentle” as he was. I think Rick underplays the problem here. “Some have already,” Paul wrote, “strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15). I think that says something about how seriously Paul took the danger these women represented. Paul had already turned Hymenaeus and Alexander “over to Satan” (1 Timothy 1:20), and now some of these women were following the path of Satan (much like Eve was deceived by the serpent).

5.  We agree that the invitation for women to learn is an astonishing one for a letter situated in Greco-Roman culture. This highlights a high view of women. Women are encouraged to learn in a submissive and quiet manner, that is, with a humble and peaceable demeanor, which is characteristic of all good learners (male and female).

6.  We agree women are called and gifted as teachers. As Renew (quoting SWS) says, “clearly women are to serve in some teaching responsibilities.” We also agree that 1 Timothy 2 does not prohibit girls from delivering a lesson in the presence of their fathers, women teaching baptized teenage males, or leading prayers. In other words, we agree that 1 Timothy 2 does not support what Reneé calls a “rigid complementarianism.”

7. We agree women were teaching false doctrine in the Ephesian church. Renew (quoting SWS) says, “Paul’s concerns here about women teaching men is not designed only to address a situation in which some women are teaching false doctrine” (emphasis mine). While Paul only names male false teachers who have already been excluded from the community (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18), some women were teaching false doctrine by “saying what they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Some women were teaching in some unacceptable form or else Paul would not have forbidden them to teach.

8.  We agree that whatever authentein means (the word behind “usurp authority” [KJV], “assume authority” [NIV 2011], “exercise authority” [ESV], or “have dominion” [ASV] in 1 Timothy 2:12), it describes the manner and/or content of teaching. This is why, it appears to me, Renew and SWS refer to “authoritative teacher” or “authoritative teaching,” that is, “teachers who determine or communicate the spiritual direction of the church.” We agree that the word authentein, in some way, modifies “teach.” It is a kind of teaching that authents a man. [As in my book, I transliterate the controversial verb authentein (1 Timothy 2:12) because its meaning is disputed.]

9.  We agree creation theology is relevant and contains normative principles. There is no dispute about that, though we do disagree about what use Paul is making of the creation (and fall) narrative in 1 Timothy 2:13-14.

10.  We agree that Paul’s epistles are occasional and the theology present in Paul’s occasional letters are applicable to the church across time. I affirm this in Searching for the Pattern as well as in Women Serving God. I am in full agreement with Reneé’s point that the “goal” is to understand “what Paul is saying in this particular historical and cultural context and how we can obey his teaching today.” I do not suggest—as Rick recognizes—there is an eternal truth that is disconnected from the situation addressed. One must seek to understand Paul’s theology through the situated context of the text. At the same time, everyone recognizes that some applications in Scripture are limited to the situation and not intended as universal, timeless commands. For example, we no longer wear veils, and we no longer prohibit the wearing of pearls and gold or braided hair.

Renew’s (and SWS) Uncertain Conclusion: What is Prohibited?

Reading Renew and SWS, I discovered how uncertain the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 was in their own presentation. In my own work, I recognized that I might be wrong due to the severe difficulty of the text. I think I offered a credible interpretation, but it may not be entirely correct. Renew seems more certain than I do, or do they?

At first, it seems they are rather certain. Renew (quoting SWS) says, “women must not tarnish their witness through authoritative teaching (2:11-15). 1 Tim. 2:12 clearly states, ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent’” (emphasis mine). This, however, is a rather curious descriptor: “clearly.” This is particularly confusing since Renew (quoting SWS) has already substituted “quiet” as a better translation than “silent.” So, it seems it is not exactly accurate to say “1 Timothy 2:12 clearly states” and then quote this particular translation. But that is rather minor. I think the following two points are much more substantial.

1.  Is “teach” so clear? Apparently not.

  • Renew has to sort through all the various uses of “teach” in the Pastorals, in Paul’s writings, and the rest of the New Testament to discern its particular understanding of “teach.” It infers that “teach” means something like an “authoritative teacher” that is responsible for guiding the church.
  • Renew must distinguish between the kind of teaching that is forbidden to women and the kind of teaching women are encouraged to do. “Clearly women are to serve in some teaching responsibility” because “they are gifted to do so” (emphasis mine).
  • Renew must discern how this instruction applies and to what settings it applies—only the assembly, or does it apply to small groups, Bible classes, house churches, and other sorts of meetings where disciples gather to pray and learn? How is “authoritative teaching” defined in terms of house church meetings, Bible classes, and small groups? Or, does it only apply to preaching in the assembly? When does teaching become “authoritative” and when is it not “authoritative”? What text of Scripture identifies that? Do prophets speak authoritatively? Do evangelists speak authoritatively? Do Bible class teachers speak authoritatively? How does one decide?
  • Renew (quoting SWS) understands “teach” as “a spiritual gift and office (see Eph. 4:11) for the expounding and applying of Scripture,” even though 1 Timothy 2:12 does not describe an office or the task of expounding or applying Scripture as belonging to only one, or even two, offices.
  • In other words, “teach” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not clear but has to be interpreted, restricted, and limited in some way. That involves several sorts of judgments about its meaning in the context of the New Testament and the Pastorals in particular. This move from “teach”(1 Timothy 2:12) to teach authoritatively as an elder, teaching pastor, or preacher-teacher is neither a plain reading of the text nor clear.

2.  Is the meaning of “have authority” clear? Apparently not.

  • Renew (quoting SWS) states, “we are not entirely sure how it [authentein] should be translated. It likely means that women should not be in a teaching role” (emphasis mine). Yes, you read that correctly. Renew says “likely” and confesses uncertainty about the translation of this term. Renew, however, provides no detailed discussion of its lexical meaning and the difficulties surrounding this hapax legomenon (only used once in the whole New Testament corpus).
  • Authentein, Renew (quoting SWS) says, “likely means that women should not be in a teaching role.” But “teaching role” has to be defined, and it is narrowed to preaching and/or elders ultimately or is there more or something else? How would we know without an official office of some kind? How does authentein give us this particular meaning?
  • The teaching prohibited women was the sort that was “like priests and rabbis” and involved them in “congregational leadership” (emphasis mine). From where does the comparison to priests and rabbis arise in the context of 1 Timothy 2? Is it only “like priests and rabbis”? How like are they? Were there distinct official (even professional) functions in the Ephesian church that operated the same as priests and rabbis in Israel? How do we know this? This equivalency is simply assumed in this review, and I addressed it previously in my review of #2. Moreover, it is strange to think that the prophets, judges, and queens (where women served in Israel) have no relation to this “authority” (if authentein has a positive or official meaning). Deborah had authority to prophesy, judge, and lead Israel (Judges 4:4-6), but apparently would not have authority to teach in the church today, according to Renew. Esther had authority to institute a new feast (not authorized in the Torah) and command Israel to keep it (Esther 9:29-32), but apparently would not have authority to teach in the church today, according to Renew. [I know Rick made a sharp distinction between prophecy and teaching in this review, but I covered that ground previously in my review of #2.]
  • Renew (quoting SWS) concludes, “In 1 Tim. 2:12, therefore, Paul is likely declaring that women cannot serve in that role” (emphasis mine). Yes, you read that correctly. Renew says “likely.”
  • The word “authority” or “dominion” has to be interpreted, restricted, and limited to the a specific positive function in the community of faith for it mean that Paul “likely” excludes women from the office of elder/pastor/lead minister or from preaching in the assembly. This is problematic because (1) authentein must be restricted to a positive meaning that is equivalent to that function even though there is no evidence that authentein had a positive meaning until centuries after Paul wrote, (2) Paul does not use his typical positive word for authority (exousia) or other similar characterizations in the Pastorals (e.g., Titus 2:15; 1 Timothy 3:4-5), and (3) Paul has a word for these offices or functions but does not use them here and thus does not identify the precise nature of the office or function (e.g., pastor-teacher in Ephesians 4:11) in 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul could have simply said, I don’t want a woman to be a bishop or evangelist [both terms occur in the Pastorals]. That would much clearer than “teach” if Paul intends to exclude women from authoritative functions in the community.

As a result of these uncertainties (among others I could name), Renew states (quoting SWS), “Likely [1 Timothy 2:12] means that Paul permits no woman to serve in the role of authoritative teacher” (emphasis mine). You read that correctly. Renew says “likely.”

I don’t begrudge the term “likely.”  I think it is judicious, though I believe my understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 is more probable and credible. What is important is to recognize that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as plain or clear as many suppose it is on first reading. In fact, the interpretative changes among complementarians over the past thirty years indicate how difficult this text is to understand and apply. 

Hūbner illustrates the notorious difficulty of 1 Timothy 2 in his 2016 essay. The text is far from clear or plain. One example from Hūbner illustrates this (his article has many more). While hapaxes (a word only used once in New Testament) appear once every eighty-three words (1.2%) in the New Testament as a whole, there are six hapaxes (including authentein) in eighty-two words in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (7.3%). That alone signals a level of difficulty that should give us some pause, humility, and circumspection about how we apply this text to the contemporary church.

Yet, according to Renew (SWS included), half of the church (half of the human race created in the image of God) is excluded from “authoritative” teaching among the people of God because it is “likely” this is what Paul means even though Renew (quoting SWS) is not “entirely sure” how to even translate authentein.

Likely” is a precarious and uncertain basis for excluding women from authoritative teaching.

Where we Disagree

While our agreements in reading this text are significant and we share a sense of “likelihood” about respective views, our differences identify the fork in the road between Renew’s perspective that the participation of women in the assembly is limited and my understanding that women are gifted to fully participate in the assembly (which is the thesis of my book).

1.  Prohibition: Authoritative Teacher

As noted above, Renew (and SWS) concluded that 1 Timothy 2:12 “means [a woman] should not be permitted to serve in the authoritative teacher role comparable to priests in the OT.” [Remind me, where does the text make this link to the priests of Israel in the context of church offices or functions? Were priests the only ones who taught Israel? Do women, as priests in the new creation, offer up spiritual sacrifices like the priests of Israel?]

The prohibition, according to Renew, does not rest on the fact that women were teaching false ideas alone, but on the fact that they are women, who ought to submit to God’s design for male headship in the church. In other words, Renew (quoting SWS) says, “Paul’s statement here is not about what a woman might teach; it is about the fact of her teaching at all.”

Rick says, “If these women were false teachers, if they were promoting pagan myths, Paul wouldn’t say don’t let them teach men. He would say don’t let these crazy, heretical women teach anybody.” Is that not the effect of saying, “I do not permit them to teach”? That is exactly what Paul says. The grammatical relation of “authentein over men” to this prohibition is debated. It may very well be that Paul is prohibiting these women (whom I believe are involved in false teaching) from teaching at all. Moreover, we might say that teaching men was exactly what these women were doing, and that is why Paul identifies it specifically (if we take “over men” as modifying “teach” as well as authentein). We don’t know what else they were doing, but they were targeting men (1 Timothy 5:11; see the fuller argument in my book).

But what does “authoritative teaching” or “authoritative teacher” mean? From where is the notion of “authority” derived? It is derived, in this context, from Paul’s use of authentein. Whatever authority is prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 is based on this word. But the word, as I noted above, does not carry a positive meaning. It carries the meaning of independence, self-assertion, or abuse. I provide some evidence for that reading in my book, which Renew does not engage in their review.

My point is confirmed by the contrast in the text itself:  “neither teach nor authentein a man, but she is to be quiet.” “Quiet” stands in contrast to teach and authentein. Since the verb authentein modifies “teach” in some way (as Renew and I agree), then, it characterizes the manner of the teaching because (1) authentein contrasts with quiet, and (2) the meaning of authentein is negative or pejorative (it is not peaceable or “quiet”). In fact, the uses of authentein in the century before and after the writing of 1 Timothy have negative meanings (demonstrated by Hūbner and Westfall). What Paul forbids is a style that is bossy or boisterous. In contrast to a gentle, mild, and peaceful demeanor, Paul prohibits a manner of teaching that is abusive and unruly. Or, as Bartlett suggests, it is an aggressive teaching that overcomes or persuades the other through abusive pressures, or the attempt to control, dominate, or gain the upper hand (Belleville). This is the manner in which the women of 2:9-10 were pressing their ungodliness upon men in the community of faith at Ephesus. Whatever word we might use to convey this negative meaning, it is how Eve treated Adam and he listened to her even though he knew better.

If we give a positive meaning to authentein (which I don’t concede), there is still the problem of identifying exactly what kind of authority this is and how it is exercised in the church. Complementarians can’t agree among themselves except that it excludes the function of an elder/bishop. As to what happens in the assembly, it is wide open for discussion. This indicates Paul is not as clear or plain as some think he is. Bobby thinks a woman may share the preaching stage but not preach solo. Some complementarians think a woman may preach to an assembly, serve on boards, vote, etc. Some complementarians exclude women from leading worship, speaking words at the table of the Lord, or even leading prayer. In other words, it is difficult to decide exactly who exercises authority, what the nature of the authority is, and what is the line that cannot be crossed in the assembly.

Moreover, even if I grant a positive meaning to authentein (which I don’t concede), the question still remains why Paul does not want women to assume this authority. Is it because of “male headship” or is it because these women have been deceived and are teaching false doctrine? Even if we assume a positive meaning, the prohibition may only mean something like: “I don’t permit these women who dress immodestly and promote ungodliness to teach and assume authoritative roles in the community because, like Eve, they have been deceived and are persuading men to follow them just like Eve did Adam who knew better because he was created before Eve.”

SWS says, “The closest equivalent to the role of Timothy and Titus in today’s churches would be the preacher, who is something more akin to the ‘pastor-teacher’ from Ephesians 4:11.” Or, Renew says, “That would be equivalent to a senior pastor or preacher in today’s context.” Seeking such an equivalency in the modern context is inferential at best. In other words, it is an application of 1 Timothy 2:12 that is far from certain or clear. Indeed, it assumes structures and practices that are not even clearly present in the practice of the church at Ephesus. If it were clear, complementarians would not have a wide disagreement, would they? Unless . . . soft complementarians are actually influenced by egalitarian culture rather than reading the Bible accurately, as rigid complementarians claim.

2.  Rationale: Headship Rooted in Creation.

Renew assumes that Paul teaches women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to submit to men in the assembly. But Paul does not say that. When asked, Rick reminds us that 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 call women to submit based on the creation story. However, 1 Corinthians 11 never uses the word submit, and the submission in 1 Corinthians 14:34 (as I suggested in my response to Renew Review #3) is submission to order within the assembly (just like the prophets in 1 Corinthians 14:32). In any event, Paul does not here say to whom or what women are to submit in 1 Timothy 2:11. I think it is more probably submission to teaching, to sound doctrine, or submission to God. It seems to me they are to submit to what they are learning.

Renew (quoting SWS) says, “It is worth noting that 1 Tim. 2 shares with 1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Cor. 14:34-35 a conviction that the creation narrative is the ground for the biblical doctrine of headship.”

  • It is far from certain that 1 Corinthians 14:34 describes headship (that language is not used in that text) and grounds it in the relationship between Adam and Eve (see my discussion in Response to Review Part 3). It seems to me the principle of submission there reflects the concern for order in the assembly.
  • “Headship” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 does not entail authority (see my discussion in Responses to Review Part 2 and Part 3). The word submission does not appear in 1 Corinthians 11.
  • “Headship” is not mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Paul does not say, for example, “women should not teach a man because man is the head of woman”–which, of course, he could have said if that is what Paul intended.

I suggest in my book that Paul is not grounding his instruction in the principe of primogeniture. Rather, it is a narrative sequence of events from creation (Adam was first formed, then Eve) to fall (Eve sinned) to redemption (Eve—and the women of 2:9-10 [“they’]—will be saved through the childbearing, who is Jesus). I argue this extensively in the book. Renew does not address my argument which seeks to listen closely to Genesis 2-3 (as Rick says we should). Rather, Renew articulates their own argument for a creation norm for male authority over women based on primogeniture.

Primogeniture does function within the culture of Israel and Paul. However, Paul does not name the principle—he only provides the chronological information. Moreover, in the biblical story, especially in Genesis, the rights of the firstborn (primogeniture) are subverted: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Judah over Rueben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. (Renew does not engage the majority of my arguments against the primogeniture interpretation.) The chronological statement does not necessarily entail the ideological principle of primogeniture, but it may be read quite differently as sequential story-telling. In fact, the form of the text uses sequential language (“first . . . then;” note how this same language is used in 1 Timothy 3:10, one example among many). In my book, I argue that Paul’s language is about narrative sequencing to tell the story of Eve’s deception rather than about a normative principle of primogeniture (see the next section for a brief articulation of this viewpoint).

The “biblical doctrine of headship” as male authority over females whereby authoritative leadership in the assembly is invested in men alone is not only a misreading of Paul’s point but fails to make the interpretative move that is part of the historic understanding of this text within the church. I think this is critically important.

If the doctrine of male headship (understood as male authority over women) is rooted in creation, then—as the church for over 1800 years argued—it should apply not only to the home and church but to society. This is why women were excluded from social positions of power in the historic Christian tradition. The church, from early days, understood this text to apply to society as well as the home and the church. Consequently, within the last century many Christians opposed suffrage (the woman’s right to vote) and the participation of women in “secular” careers, including holding political offices as well as professional careers in medicine and law. If male authority is grounded in creation, then it applies to all of life. But the examples of Deborah and Esther demonstrate that it does not apply to political authority. Consequently, to see male authority over women as grounded in creation is problematic within the biblical story itself. When male authority is grounded in creation, there is no room for the divinely sanctioned and honored positions of authority Deborah and Esther exercised over men in both political and religious contexts.

Bobby and Danny suggest Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 concerns all women. But I believe it is about the women described in 2:9-10, which is not all women. 2:9-10 does not describe all women but the women who dressed immodestly and promoted ungodliness. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 addresses women involved in the same agenda because they, like Eve, are “teaching and authenting” men in order to lead them into evil.

And, they ask, “why did Paul ground his statement in the created order itself (2:13)?” Actually, Paul grounded it in the narrative of Genesis where Eve was deceived (which is emphasized by stating it twice) rather than the idea of primogeniture (not stated at all). I argue this extensively in my book, but many of my arguments are not addressed in the review. Reneé asked, “if Adam was persuaded by Eve, who believed a lie wouldn’t that mean Adam was also deceived?” No. Adam was persuaded to disobey, but he was not deceived. He rebelled against what he knew was true and sinned with his eyes wide open.

Reneé reminds us that creation theology is relevant and contains normative principles. I agree. Moreover, I also see authority relations in Scripture (there are proper modes of authority). I have no intention of explaining them away. What I want to see, however, is the biblical text that says men have authority over women in such a way that women are excluded from participation in certain activities in the assembly. I don’t think 1 Timothy 2:12 can supply that, and no other text excludes women from the exercise of their gifts in the assembly. Renew and I agree 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 do not exclude women from the exercise of their gifts.

Bobby and Danny list Grudem’s ten reasons for why gender “roles” are grounded in creation. I addressed almost all of these in my book. There is no interaction in the review with my discussion of these points nor explanation of how each point in the list is rooted in the text to support the theological case. So, I will leave it to the reader of both the blog and the book to make their own assessment.

Bobby and Danny believe Genesis 3:16 did not “create Adam’s headship [by which I assume they mean male rule or authority over women, JMH]; rather, it corrupted it.” Yet, the only time rule, dominion, or authority is explicitly identified in Genesis 1-2 is something the man and woman actually share (Genesis 1:28). Historically, the church believed Genesis 3:16 was the beginning of the rule of men over women. Genesis 3:16 is the first time the word “rule” occurs in the whole of Genesis 1-3 in relation to men and women.

Given the reference to Grudem, I remind readers of something I point out in my book. When Grudem attempts to apply 1 Timothy 2:12 to the contemporary church (first in 1995, then a second edition 2006—with changes that highlight the difficulty of his project), he identified nine governing activities, ten teaching activities, and one “public visibility or recognition” position that are restricted to men, while he detailed nineteen governing activities, twenty-five teaching activities, and nineteen activities related to “public visibility or recognition” that are open to women. This is primarily based on his understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12. The vast majority of churches of Christ would not agree with his distinctions, perhaps many Renew members either (I don’t know enough to speak about Renew’s constituency). In churches of Christ, we have our own lists, and we have a wide diversity among ourselves—both now and historically. Interestingly, Grudem himself has demonstrated how complicated the soft complementarian position really is.

In contrast to Grudem, Paul wants Timothy to entrust both men and women with teaching people. Like men, women learn so they can teach. Just as Paul entrusted Timothy with teaching (1 Timothy 1:18), so Paul intends Timothy to entrust this to others (including women). 2 Timothy 2:2 reflects this Pauline agenda—people learn so they can teach. Paul wants Timothy to entrust the gospel with “faithful people” (anthrōpous) who are “able to teach others.” Paul uses anthrōpous (people) rather than aner (male as in 1 Timothy 2:8). Anthrōpous always refers to men and women in the Pastorals (plural form; 1 Timothy 2:1, 4; 4:10; 5:24; 6:5, 9, 16; 2 Timothy 3:2, 8, 13, 17; Titus 1:14; 2:11; 3:2, 8, 10). Since women are commanded to learn, they are also empowered to teach once they have learned.

3.  Childbearing: Forbidding Marriage and Childbearing

Renew may be correct about 1 Timothy 2:15, or they may not. Who can be sure about this difficult ending to Paul’s rationale for 1 Timothy 2:11-12? Indeed, the uncertainty of the text adds to the problematic nature of applying 1 Timothy 2:8-15 with any certainty, which Renew already recognizes (remember: “likely”).

Interestingly, SWS suggests that 1 Timothy 2:15 reflects the content of some of the false teaching. The false teachers were probably advocating “asceticism” as “a way toward greater piety.” I can see that possibility. Indeed, SWS thinks, “Perhaps Paul is correcting a strain of this heresy in 1 Tim. 2. In view of the kinds of opponents present in Ephesus, it may be that Paul is recasting a statement made by the false teachers” (emphasis mine). In other words, part of Paul’s rationale for 1 Timothy 2:11-12—and this is a significant point—is the rejection of what false teachers were teaching. That is how I understand, in part, 1 Timothy 2:13. I think it likely that Paul begins the sequence here, in part, to oppose what some false teachers were saying. The false teachers, perhaps based on some kind of early Gnosticism or due to the teaching of the Artemis cult, believed women were the origin of men or had some kind of priority over men. If so, part of the point of 1 Timothy 2:13 is to oppose the false teaching present in Ephesus. But who can be certain?

Reading 1 Timothy 2:13-14

Renew and I identify two different principles grounded in two different hermeneutical moves. Neither the ground nor the principle are explicitly stated in 1 Timothy but are inferred from what both think is going on in the text.

  Renew   Hicks
Text (2:13) Adam was first formed. Adam was first formed.
Ground Invests Adam with the rights of primogeniture (firstborn) between the sexes. Appeals to the narrative where Adam, first created, was first instructed but listened to his deceived wife.
Principle Primogeniture entails the principle of male authority over women. Eve functions as a typology for deceived women in order to warn the Ephesian church.
Application No woman should teach men or have authority over men. Deceived women must first learn before they teach; let them learn in quiet respect.

My approach has the benefit of intertextuality as what is explicit in Genesis 2-3 is weaved into Paul’s rationale. The italicized lines below are explicit in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 in the chart below while the parenthetical statements are the background story explicit in Genesis. This flow contains no inferred principle but intersects the text of 1 Timothy 2 with the text of Genesis 2-3—this is an example of intertextuality within the biblical canon. This flow, in fact, reflects the broad biblical drama of creation, fall, and redemption.

Creation                Adam was first formed (1 Timothy 2:13).

                        (The man was formed from the ground, Genesis 2:7.)

                        (The woman was formed from the man, Genesis 2:21-22.)

Fall                        Adam was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14).

                        (He knew the command of God, Genesis 2:15-17.)

                        (But he listened to Eve, Genesis 3:17.)

                  Eve was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14).

                        (The serpent tricked her, Genesis 3:13.)

                  Eve became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:14).

                        (She ate the fruit, Genesis 3:6.)

Redemption          She will be saved through the childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15).

                        (God promised a seed to crush the serpent, Genesis 3:15.)

                  If they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with modesty (1 Timothy 2:15).

Eve is only named in two passages in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. In both texts Eve functions as a type of deceived people, including both men and women in 2 Corinthians. In 1 Timothy, she is a type of deceived women (“they” in 2:15) who were teaching false doctrine (going from house to house “saying” nonsense). Because they were deceived by others, they were teaching pagan myths and behaving immodestly.

Significantly, the only word repeated in 1 Timothy 2:14 is “deceived.” That underscores the point—it is a deception problem, not a male leadership or authority problem. Eve represents the women in the Ephesian house churches who had been deceived by false teachers. She illustrates the danger of listening to deceived women. The specific situation in Ephesus involved deceived women, not deceived men. Paul is neither describing every woman nor the nature of women but identifying one woman from the Biblical story who was deceived in order to highlight the local problem in Ephesus. Deceived women were going house to house teaching pagan myths and cultivating relationships with men. It is not a universal statement about women any more than some who had been, similar to Eve, deceived by Satan in the Corinthian church is a universal statement about men and women (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Just as some Corinthians had been deceived by some who taught a different (heteron) gospel, these Ephesian women had been deceived by those who taught a different (heteron) doctrine.

False teaching is the context of the whole letter (1:3-4, 18; 6:2-4, 12), and the specific context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Some insist nothing is said about false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. This fails to recognize how the letter flows from “therefore” to “therefore” (2:1, 8) as well as how the whole letter is framed by the concern about false teaching.

Fight the good fight, Timothy (1:18-20).

“Therefore, I urge prayer” (2:1-7).

“Therefore, I want men to pray . . . likewise women to . . .” (2:8-15).

Paul wrote 2:8-15 because of what he said in 2:1-7. He wrote 2:1-7 because of what he said in 1:18-20. In other words, given these causal connections, what Paul wrote in 2:8-15 is directly related to the false teachings about which he charged Timothy. Whatever is happening in 2:8-15 and whatever Paul meant by those instructions, they are part of his response to the presence of false teaching in the Ephesian house churches. The topic of false teaching is integral to 2:8-15.

When Paul addresses the situation envisioned by 2:8-15, he is well aware of the false teaching, who is involved, what is happening among the house churches in Ephesus, and who the excommunicated protagonists were (e.g., Hymenaeus and Alexander). Far from a digression about prayer and public worship or an intentional blueprint specification, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 develops the letter’s theme—opposition to the presence of false teaching and associated behavior in the Ephesian house churches.

Some women were promoting ungodliness, and they were teaching false doctrines. Consequently, Paul does not permit these deceived women to teach and authent (overcome, persuade in a negative, controlling, or abusive manner) men. It is not because they were women but because they were acting like Eve who was deceived by the serpent and persuaded Adam to share her transgression. That is what Paul wants to stop.

Thirst for Power?

Bobby and Danny write: “And here we arrive at an important truth that we all need to pay attention to: Nobody naturally tends toward the kind of biblical, sacrifice headship described throughout the Bible. Do people thirst for power? Absolutely. But as both head of the church and submissive Son of God, it is Jesus who teaches us what actual headship and submission look like. None of it look like the ugly power plays of Genesis 3:16 which come so naturally to us humans.”

There are several dimensions of this paragraph that I find probematic. For example, I don’t see “headship” as authority. But we have covered that ground previously.

This language, however, draws an analogy that I find disturbing. If men are the head of women (in the sense in which I think intended), then it is men who exercise power sacrificially just as Jesus does as head of the church. Women, then, sacrificially submit to men just as men (and women) submit to Christ as the head of the church. In other words, men rule and women submit, just as men submit to Christ as the head of the church, and the Son of God submitted to God as his head. That analogy is open to significant abuse, and, in my opinion, misses the whole point of headship in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. But that is not really my main concern with the paragraph.

The “thirst for power” is certainly part of the brokenness of the world, and it is reflected in Genesis 3:16 to one degree or another. But I do wonder to whom (if anyone) or what specifically (if anything) Bobby and Danny are referring. They may have no specific reference in mind. I accept that. At the same time, I have heard many make this point in the context of women who “thirst for power” because they seek to use their gifts in the assembly. Bobby and Danny are clear that “nobody” escapes this fallen desire that comes “naturally to us humans.” So, I accept this is not their charge here.

Nevertheless, in the context of our present discussion, it raises an important question. Do women who seek to use their gifts in the assembly reflect a “thirst for power”? What if the problem is not so much women who have a thirst for power as it is men who want to maintain power. But that is unfair, one might say. Perhaps men are not so much concerned about maintaining power but obeying God’s directives. Exactly! That is exactly what interests me and interests the women whom I know that seek to use the gifts God has given them but are constrained by the exercise of male power and authority in the church. Consequently, the discussion must stay at the level of what does the text mean rather than who is thirsting for power.

Everyone in our discussion wants to live according to God’s intent in creation and God’s design for the eschaton. I don’t find it helpful, in this context, to quote some as saying, “This is unfair. It can’t possibly be right. We have to look like the world.” No serious disciple of Jesus that I know talks like that. Rather, it is a matter of what is the divine intent, what does Paul actually teach, and how do we love one another in healthy ways that reflect the gospel and its norms? This is, it seems to me, where the discussion ought to lie.

Summary

It seems to me that the bottom line for Renew is something like this: “teaching” in 2:12 is the function of a person in authority (perhaps an “official” capacity?) invested with the responsibility to guide the church and protect it from false teaching, and this is restricted to men because men are the head of women by virtue of God’s creative act in Genesis 2.

There are many assumptions embedded in that statement as well as concepts imported into 1 Timothy 2:12 that are not explicitly there. Here are a few.

  • Definition of “teach”
  • Identification of the “authoritative teacher”
  • Definition of authentein
  • Definition of headship (the meaning of kephale)
  • A particular interpretation of Paul’s use of Genesis 2
  • A particular interpretation of Genesis 3:16 as the corruption rather than the beginning of the rule of men over women.

None of these are absolutely clear, and taken together it is difficult to even use the word “likely.” There are too many assumptions to be certain. Renew’s conclusion is an inference rather than something explicit in the text. The text does not explicitly say what Renew claims the text means.

In fact, Renew’s conclusion is a reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that explains away the traditional and historic understanding of the text that the church has held for centuries from near its beginning (I was charged with reinterpretation and explaining away texts in Renew’s first review). Renew’s blog contains many reinterpretations. Here are five.

  • “Teach” as a specific office or status (“authoritative teacher”) that permits some women to teach some men in some circumstances when the historic interpretation is the exclusion of women from any teaching of men in assembled groups.
  • “Authority” as a specific modifier for the kind of teaching Paul envisions when the historic interpretation is the exclusion of women from any kind of leadership in the assembly (including serving at the table of the Lord or leading worship, even prayer) or within the church body (voting, business decisions, etc.).
  • Eve’s role as an example of the negative impact of female leadership in positions of authority when the historic interpretation is that women are too gullible and weak, too easily deceived for leadership.
  • The application of 1 Timothy 2:12 to only the home and church when the historic interpretation is that women are excluded from leadership in society as well as the home and church because this is rooted in God’s creative act and thus applies to this relationship within the whole of God’s good creation.
  • The judgment that Genesis 3:16 is a corruption of God’s design for male authority when the historic interpretation is that it is the beginning of a male rule divinely prescribed as a punishment of Eve.

I wonder if these reinterpretations are also due to “egalitarian notions of humanity” dominating the current culture, which is the implied accusation against my position. For example, 1 Timothy 2:12 was once used to deny women the right to vote less than a hundred years ago. Did the church change its understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 under pressure from the suffrage movement (the first wave of Feminism)?

As Rick says, perhaps “with some historical and cultural background” and more careful exegesis, we can see “what is happening here.” Exactly! That is my claim as well. So, let’s discuss the details of the text rather than project a claim of egalitarian cultural influence. I might say as well that each of the above five reinterpretations also reflect the influence of egalitarian cultural influence in the last hundred years–I am fairly sure that is what rigid complementarianism (the historic traditional position) would say. It is good to remember that the soft complementarian position is itself of rather recent origin.

Conclusion

1 Timothy 2:12 remains the only text that explicitly identifies a gender boundary in the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts. Renew agrees that 1 Corinthians 11 requires different clothing but does not restrict the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts. Renew agrees 1 Corinthians 14 does not restrict the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts but forbids disorderly conduct. Only 1 Timothy 2:12 remains as a potential text that provides a boundary for the exercise of gifts.

Renew, it seems to me, never really answered the question I asked in my response to Part 3.   What, precisely, is the difference between a leadership function and a headship function? What plain reading of what text clearly identifies that distinction? 1 Timothy 2:12 does not clearly do that, and its plain reading does not fit the soft complementarian position.

Remember, Renew says (emphasis mine),

  • Likely, it means Paul permits no woman to serve in the role of authoritative teacher.”
  • “It likely means that women should not be in the teaching role.”
  • “Paul is likely declaring that women cannot serve in that role.”
  • “we are not entirely sure how [authentein] should be translated.”

Given all the “likely”s and uncertainties present, how can this be a certain conclusion, and how can it be taken so seriously that it excludes half the church from teaching authoritatively in the assembly?

For me, to exclude half the church whom God has gifted for the edification of the body of Christ from full participation and “authoritative teaching” in the assembly on the basis of a “likely” (according to Renew) interpretation of a single text in Scripture is unsafe and dangerous, especially in light of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Anna, Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian prophets, Philip’s daughters, Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, and others I could list. I can no longer do that as I once did.

May God have mercy. Peace to my siblings and friends at Renew!