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.


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.


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!


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!


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

August 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Brief Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Ground on 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

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

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

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

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

The Disagreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership and Headship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace upon my friends at Renew!


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

August 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

Summary

Where we agree . . .

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

Where we differ . . .

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

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

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

A Misunderstanding

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

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

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

On Veils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Ground

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

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

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

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

On Headship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headship As Source of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching and Prophesying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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



A Reply to Renew’s Response to My Response

August 14, 2020

I am pleased to receive an answer to my response to Renew’s review (first installment) of my book Women Serving God. I appreciate the tone and care in this piece. I reproduce, with Renew’s permission, their response below in toto from their Facebook page. My response follows their text below.

Renew wrote:

Reflections on Part 1 of On Gender and the Bible
(a Response to John Mark Hicks)
By 
Renew.org

Many thanks to John Mark Hicks for engaging us in dialogue about his recent book Women Serving God. We are grateful for the gracious tone he responded with and we appreciate him as a brother in Christ. We agree with John Mark on a great many important things, including the importance of arriving at biblical views of gender and church ministry.

In addition, there is a great deal in his book which is admirable. Very importantly, he champions servant leadership, encourages leaders not to stifle giftedness, and calls us back from traditionalism to the standard we should all affirm: the Word of God. Hicks writes, “Sadly, control and power are more often at play among the people of God than self-giving service” (146). This is a sad, true observation, and one which has often gone under the radar even as Christians have busily tried to cultivate correctness regarding these issues.

It will become clear in upcoming articles that we at Renew.org arrive at different conclusions from Hicks when it comes to the meaning of some biblical texts relevant to this topic. Our first article, however, dealt with how we interpret the Bible as distinguished from Hicks’s methodology. We are writing this to engage with some of Hicks’s responses to our first article.

A Possible Overstatement

It is true, as Hicks notes, that he never uses the word egalitarian to describe his position. Likewise, the point of Women Serving God is not to give a sustained argument about leadership structure in the church or in the home. Rather, the point of Women Serving God is more modest: he argues for full participation of men and women in their areas of giftedness when the church assembly is gathered. For this reason, we might have been overreaching to call Hicks’s position “egalitarianism.” He has the right to label his own position, and we don’t want to attach a label which isn’t the best fit.

Elsewhere, Hicks has defined egalitarianism as “the full equality of role relationships and functions within the leadership and ministry of the church. This position denies male headship as a theological value and opens all functions in the church/assembly to the church/assembly to women. There are evangelical (those who believe in biblical authority) and non-evangelical versions of egalitarianism.”[1] From this definition, we see that Women Serving God is arguing for at least some of the egalitarian perspective as he has defined it, although he hasn’t yet dealt specifically with leadership offices per se (i.e., “functions within the leadership”).

To be fair, however, Hicks gives arguments in his book which match the egalitarian position as we have seen it articulated by others. Whenever male authority is mentioned in his argument, it is implied to be something which is merely situational, with no binding implications. This is true of the maleness of the first human (121), the maleness of the Old Testament priests (138), the maleness of Jesus (143), and the maleness of the 12 apostles (148).

Whether or not the label fits, Hicks has certainly set up premises for an egalitarian conclusion. He is right that leadership is a gift the Holy Spirit gives to men and women (Romans 12:8). However, add in the idea that male leadership in the Bible is merely situational, and it takes no imagination at all to land on a church structure with female elders and senior ministers. The argument for egalitarianism has practically already been made. Yet the label “egalitarianism” can bring in unwanted or unintended connotations which we didn’t mean to import by calling his position egalitarian.

Q: A subjective hermeneutic?

It is indeed all too easy to use the label “subjective” for other people’s interpretations which you don’t like. Hicks is absolutely correct that the “blueprint” when it comes to gender roles “is not as clear as we have sometimes assumed” (26). To look at someone’s honest hermeneutical attempts and immediately cry, “Subjective!” would be ungracious and unfair.

When we use the word subjective, it isn’t because Hicks is trying to use cultural discernment in reading the text (as he points out, aren’t we all?). Rather, when it comes to Hicks’s hermeneutics regarding gender issues, it’s a selectivity which suggests subjectivity. He seems to be selective in what he emphasizes. Hicks articulates his case in a way that makes it appear the Bible is overwhelmingly stacked against the norm of male authority, except for one verse: 1 Timothy 2:12. Numerous times (116, 152, 153, 157, 160), he sets the rest of the Bible against this single verse when it comes to male authority in the assembly. Indeed, it was his one remaining “firewall” to embracing the full participation view.

To be fair, his book does present a defense of a particular position, and he is marshalling the best evidence for the full participation view. As a defense of a position (and since this isn’t a systematic theology of the entire Bible), there is going to be selectivity involved when it comes to which passages receive emphasis. When does selectivity therefore become problematic?

Being selective when it comes to Scripture becomes problematic when it brings about an overemphasis which overshadows other important truth. Hicks’s sincerity and diligence cannot be called into question. Still, in the interest of showing each and every actual and possible instance when women held positions of leadership in the Bible, there does seem to be an unfortunate overshadowing of a norm of godly male leadership which God set forth in both Old and New Testaments.

For example, the Persian Queen Esther gets her own subsection as a political and religious leader over God’s people, yet the book contains no mention of God’s pattern of placing kings over Israel (with the only queen in Israel being the usurper Athaliah). Shouldn’t either fact be just as frankly acknowledged? Another example: In describing Eve, Hicks uses language such as “powerful helper or rescuer,” “full and empowered partner,” and “the one whose creation fully equips humanity” (121-22). Meanwhile, Hicks implies that Adam holds “no hint of any rank or authority” before the Fall (123). That language feels a bit imbalanced, and the presentation a bit selective.

Q: The full story?

One of the definitive features of Hicks’s hermeneutic is to read each text through the lens of the eschatological goal (i.e., the new creation). When reading and applying Scripture, it is indeed imperative to know where we are in the storyline of Scripture. Likewise, we shouldn’t attempt to fossilize ourselves in First Century cultural norms; we should be diligent about effectively and faithfully contextualizing the kingdom of God in whatever culture we find ourselves in.

Still, we wonder if Hicks’s way of framing the Bible’s big-picture story of the Bible is complete enough. Is it the case that the complementarian view bloats a few texts (most notably, 1 Timothy 2:12) out of all proportion so that the larger trajectory of Scripture is muted and truncated? On the contrary, we suggest that it is soft complementarians who are best positioned to apply the whole of Scripture. While we gladly acknowledge the glorious giftedness that the Spirit pours out on woman and man alike (i.e., numerous passages of Scripture), we also recognize godly male leadership as a norm that God employs in both Old and New Testaments (i.e., numerous passages of Scripture).

It seems that Hicks minimizes the latter of these two Scriptural realities. Is the maleness of Old Testament priests significant, given that many ancient pagan civilizations had priests and priestesses? Probably not, Hicks concludes; he suggests that the maleness of the Old Testament priests was probably no more theologically significant than having something to do with women’s menstruation periods: “The sanctity of blood probably excluded women from the priesthood due to their menstrual cycle” (138). We are told that the maleness of the apostles is no more instructive of how Jesus wants the church to be led than their ethnicity as Galilean Jews (148). However, why was it that the apostles chose ethnically diverse men to lead in the Acts 6 distribution of food? And when the church branched out into Gentile territory, why was it that Paul continued to plant churches with male elders? There appears to be a norm of godly male leadership over the church, something which traces back to the church’s Founder. When you deemphasize this norm of godly male leadership which spans both testaments, you end up deemphasizing seemingly relevant parts of Scripture’s storyline. Even when it comes to the first stage in the storyline—Gen. 1-2—Hicks claims there is “no hint of any rank or authority” for Adam, yet Gen. 1-2 is precisely where Paul goes when establishing gender distinctions in church and marriage (1 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Timothy 2:13-14; Ephesians 5:31).

This metaphor is an oversimplification; so please don’t take this as a summary statement of Hicks’s position. But it’s almost as if the big-picture story of the Bible is being portrayed as a train which could move forward unimpeded, if it weren’t for a single log in the way. The train symbolizes full participation in the assembly with no gender distinctions in leadership, and the log is 1 Timothy 2:12. The log, we are told, can be removed if rightly interpreted. Could it be that, in keeping with the train metaphor, a more accurate portrayal would be that a healthy church moves forward when everybody’s giftedness is recognized and encouraged, and that the norm of godly male leadership—properly understood and humbly exercised—is not logs to be removed but rather railroad ties upon which a gifted church can move full speed ahead?

Ours is not a statement endorsing male leadership per se. We’ve all experienced how power-hungry males in leadership can completely wreck whatever they touch—including churches. Instead, ours is an endorsement of humbly following God’s way of doing church. We share this goal with our brother John Mark, but we suggest that there is a fuller way of incorporating all the relevant Scripture regarding this important topic than the model we read in Women Serving God.[2]

Two Final Observations

Hicks takes issue with our statement that he “interprets away the key texts.” As he puts it, “It is rhetorical flourish rather than an argument.” Hicks is right that we made that assertion without making the argument. That argument will come in future articles, in which we will do a deep dive into these key texts. For now, please note that it’s a point well taken, and we should have waited to make such a claim until we presented the argument on which it is based. We anticipate waiting until after we have published the rest of the series before we respond to any of Hicks’s future responses to our articles.

Finally, we want to close with a very helpful statement from Hicks’s book, followed by a single reflection. Here’s his statement: “It is time to honor all the gifts God has given to women and for male leaders to recognize those gifts, share God’s mission with the other half of the church, and hear the gospel through the faithful voices of our sisters” (207). Yes, there are areas of disagreement we have with Hicks’s argument, but let us punctuate this summary statement of our brother with an “Amen.” This statement is precisely what we want to see in our churches.

[1] See John Mark Hicks, “Hermeneutics and Gender,” https://johnmarkhicks.com/…/2…/06/hermeneutics-and-gender.doc.
[2] For more on this fuller way of incorporating all the data, please read “Q: Is there a better way than seeing WDWD passages and WKSP passages as exceptions to each other?” at 
https://renew.org/on-gender-and-the-bible-what-john-mark-h…/.

My Response

To be sure, there is overlap in my position and egalitarianism, specifically the full participation of women in the assembly. At the same time, egalitarianism typically involves a much broader vision than I articulate or defend in this book. The term “egalitarianism” has connotations and associations that would have distracted from what I was doing in this book, and some of those associations are not commitments I share. My book focuses on a specific question. I appreciate Renew’s recognition that I wanted to keep this focus and not import extraneous meanings often associated with the term egalitarianism into their review of my book.

I’m not clear as to how my selectivity (which we all do in marshalling an argument or proffering an interpretation of Scripture, as Renew notes) is subjective when I address the perceived male patterns that supposedly ground male authority over women in the assembly.  They seem to think I ignored that. More on that in moment.

The only two instances of my supposed subjective selectivity noted are: (1) I call attention to Esther, but I don’t mention the Kings of Israel, and (2) I imply that Adam did not hold any rank or authority before the Fall.  I’m not sure how these are examples of selectivity, especially #2. I don’t think Genesis 2 teaches that the man held any authority or rank over the women before the Fall unless one adopts a misreading of Paul’s understanding of Genesis 2. The book addresses this in relation to both 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2.

As to (1), I don’t see how this is subjective selectivity when the point of the section in which I talk about Esther is discussing the activities of women in the story of Israel. As a godly ruler, she exercised religious and political authority among God’s people. (Athaliah ruled in ungodly ways, just as many men did.) Male kings also exercised authority as well, which is uncontested and well-known by students of Scripture. Both did. And that is the point. Both did.

I do address each of the points raised to support the “norm of godly male leadership”—male priests, Jesus as male, male apostles, and male elders. The reader can see how I address those topics in the book. More on that in a moment. At the same time, it is important to remember that Scripture also pictures women who exercise authority and leadership over men like Deborah and Esther (consistent with the theology of creation since God does not sanction what violates the divine intent in creation, right?). It is not a uniform “norm of godly male leadership.”

I am grateful to see the affirmation of reading Scripture through the lens of the eschatological goal (new creation). Is it true, however, that I bloat the significance of 1 Timothy 2:12 for soft complementarianism?  Is this not the primary text, if not the only one, in the New Testament that is used by soft complementarians to delimit women from preaching or speaking authoritatively in the assembly (however authentein, “exercising authority” or “usurping authority,” is understood)? What other text does a soft complementarian (limited participation) use since 1 Corinthians 11 & 14 are typically understood to permit rather than prohibit the participation of women in the assembly, even encouraging praying and prophesying in the assembly (unless 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 prohibits “judging” as an authoritative function)? I am open, however, to hearing how the Corinthian texts might supply a principle or prohibition that grounds the “norm of godly male leadership.” I will await that discussion.

The part of the story Renew thinks I too easily dismiss is the thread of male leadership from priests in Israel to Jesus as male to male apostles to male elders. Thus, my understanding of the story, Renew claims, is incomplete. There is an assumption that this trajectory entails a pattern or norm of male leadership and authority over women. In the Lord, however, women are priests. Jesus represents all humans, and the goal is to conform all humans to the image of Christ. Nowhere does Scripture ever limit the gifts or authority of women because of the male gender of Jesus. The Twelve was limited to Jewish males, but this places no limit on the gift of apostleship Post-Pentecost (others than the Twelve are called apostles without being included in the Twelve, including a woman, Romans 16:7). Even if I grant only male elders for the moment (which I do not explicitly contest in the book), does this limit the gifts of women in the assembly? Is there a role in the assembly that belongs only to male elders? What text would provide that limitation other than 1 Timothy 2:12? So, we are back to 1 Timothy 2 as the lone text for delimiting the participation of women in the assembly.

Permit me to drill a bit deeper for a moment. Renew asks, “why was it that the apostles chose ethnically diverse men to lead in the Acts 6 distribution of food?” We are not told why. If we understand this as part of a pattern or “norm” of male leadership, would we not have to say a woman should never have that kind of function in the ministry of benevolence within the church? If we are going to use the exclusive male selection in Acts 6 as an example of a pattern or norm of male leadership and authority, then we must be careful to make sure that part of the pattern is carried out in the contemporary church? If that is a blueprint pattern, then may women ever serve as deacons? May they lead benevolent ministries? In what ways may they “serve tables” or are they excluded from serving the sorts of tables Acts 6 envisions? The illustration of Acts 6 and male leadership, it seems to me, highlights the danger of seeking male patterns where there are none explicitly identified or explained as such. This is the danger of inferences. This argument would exclude women from “serving tables” and ministries for which they are gifted and for which we have examples in Scripture, even as deacons (Phoebe, for example). It seems to me this illustrates how one might mistakenly discern a male “norm” and extrapolate from it more than intended by the story of God or the narrator (Luke).

It is nowhere stated that male priests are chosen because of some pattern or “norm” of male leadership rooted in creation. It is an inference that fits a particular way of reading. This inference, even if correct, is tempered by the fact that, in the Lord, women are priests who offer sacrifices of praise and serve as well as men. There are many examples of this kind of movement in Scripture. Why are not eunuchs chosen as priests in Israel? They are, nevertheless, priests in the Lord. Just as with eunuchs, there may be reasons for the exclusion of women from the priesthood that have nothing to do with the “norm” of male leadership.

Contesting my claim that there is “no hint of any rank or authority” for the man over the woman in Genesis 1-2, it is suggested that Paul sees it there. I don’t think he affirms that. In my opinion, that is a misreading of Paul. But we will get there when we discuss 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14 in later posts.

I appreciate Renew’s concern to combat male abuse and power-seeking male leadership. I fully believe Renew wants to embrace God’s design for humanity. Where we disagree, after we fully incorporate “all the relevant Scripture,” is whether God intends women to fully participate in the assemblies of the saints or not. I think “all the relevant Scripture” answers “Yes”.  Renew thinks otherwise.  We will let the readers judge as they walk with us through the various texts in future posts.

Renew, thank you for the response.  It is much appreciated, and I look forward to further discussion through the blog posts.