The Assembly and Male Authority: Response to Renew #12

July 23, 2021

I am grateful to Renew for the invitation to offer a 2500-word response to their 12-blog series “On Gender and the Bible.” Renew will follow my response with a 1500-word reply. I will regard their response as the end of our discussion with no further reply from me.

In their first blog, Renew identified my book, Women Serving God, as a primary interlocutor. Several blogs directly interacted with it; others did not. I responded to those blogs where Renew engaged my book specifically. A list of the blog interactions, with links, may be found here. I recommend everyone read both Renée’s book (On Gender) and mine as well as the blogs for a full account.

First, I will address our differences about the participation of women in the assembly. Second, I will offer some general perspectives regarding Renew’s 9,000+ word summary (blog #12). My response is entirely too brief, but I appreciate the space Renew has afforded me.

The Use of Gifts in the Assembly

My book focused on a specific question, “Does God invite women to fully participate through audible and visible leadership in all the assemblies of the saints where men and women are gathered to glorify God and edify each other?” (p. 16).

On this question, Renew and I find significant common ground.

  • We both affirm the practice of women praying and prophesying in the assembly as a function of audible and visible leadership.
  • We both believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a narrow concern and does not entail prohibiting women from speaking (e.g., praying, testifying, and reading Scripture) in the assembly.
  • We both affirm there are forms of leadership within and outside the assembly (including teaching adult Bible classes, leading small groups among other functions) that do not dishonor “male headship (authority).”

Gratefully, Renew rejects the historic traditional position that silences women in the assembly except for singing (though much of history also silenced the singing of women). In other words, their interpretation of “male headship (authority)” is itself a new interpretation of the restrictive texts which began to emerge with some significance in the 19th century. The “soft complementarian” position is a new position in the context of traditional practices. Traditionalists see this as caving into the women’s movements of the last two centuries.

In relation to the assembly, our primary difference is simply this: Renew believes authoritative teaching belongs only to “male headship in the local church.” This teaching “leads and sets direction for the congregation.”

Does this mean any lesson delivered from the pulpit on a Sunday morning “sets direction for the congregation?” Does this exclude women from all preaching or only some forms of or contexts for preaching? In other words, how does one discern when a function exercises headship (excluding women) and another function only exercises leadership (including women)?

Renew and I agree women may lead the assembly, but Renew restricts women from “authoritative teaching,” that is, the task of the “main preacher” and elders/overseers. They do so primarily on this basis:

  • They see prophesying as less authoritative than teaching because women prophesied in the assembly but they are not permitted to teach authoritatively. The gift of prophecy, however, is given priority over teaching in the same way apostleship is given priority over prophesying in 1 Corinthians 12:28: “first, apostles; second, prophets; and third teachers.”
  • Women should not exercise ecclesial [my word] authority over men (Renew’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12). However, (a) the translation of the rare word as “authority” is highly disputed; (b) it is not Paul’s word for ecclesial authority anywhere else (including 1 Timothy), and (c) women elsewhere exercised communal authority over men in Scripture (Deborah and Esther).

I don’t find these two points credible.

  • Prophesying is speaking the word of God for the sake of edification, teaching, encouragement, and revelation. The distinction between prophesying and teaching in terms of authority is weighted in the wrong direction; prophesying is more weighty than teaching. It is also a distinction of recent origin—a new interpretation.
  • To exclude women from authoritative teaching on the basis of 1 Timothy 2:12 is precarious because the grammar, lexicography, and context is problematic. I have identified twelve different interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12. Renew’s own discussion of 1 Timothy 2:12 identified their position as “likely” rather than certain. Their interpretation is dubious (see this video for a more thorough discussion).

Contrary to identifying a single office or gender as leaders in the assembly, 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What is the outcome of this, brothers and sisters? When you meet together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All these things must be done to build up the church.” When Paul says, “brothers,” in 1 Corinthians, he includes both men and women (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:1; 14:6, 20; 15:1). Both men and women are singing/praying (psalm), teaching, prophesying (revelation), and speaking in tongues in the assembly. Women were teaching as well as prophesying and praying. Renew does not think 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 totally silences women except disorderly ones (Oster) or those who judge the prophets in 14:29 (Sproles). This leaves lots of space for women to exercise audible and visible leadership in the assembly.

My point is a simple one. In terms of the assembly, Renew and I, disagree only on one particular: they exclude women from serving as authoritative teachers.

Renew and I agree that whatever “male headship (authority)” is, it does not silence women in the assembly. The problem of identifying exactly what is a “male headship (authority)” function in the assembly is not explicit in the New Testament. It must be inferred, which is why soft complementarians (including those in the Renew network) often disagree about where to draw the line.  

  • Some don’t permit women to teach adult male Bible classes; some do.
  • Some don’t permit women to co-preach with a male leader; some do.
  • Some don’t permit women to lead worship; some do.
  • Some don’t permit women to officiate at the communion table; some do.
  • Some don’t permit women to permanently lead small groups that include men; some do.
  • Some don’t permit women to be lead ministers over programs in the church involving men; some do.
  • Some don’t permit women to preside over a baptism; some do.

I could go on. In 1995 (revised in 2006 & 2013), Grudem 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. The application of “male headship (authority)” is no simple matter.

Should not such an important principle that is foundational to male/female relationships be more clear?

Such applications, however, are unnecessary. No text explicitly restricts the participation of women in the assembly based on “male headship (authority).” Women prayed and prophesied even as they honored their heads. Headship (whatever that means) actually supports women in their praying and prophesying in the assembly, and prophesying—speaking the word of God to the assembly—carries authority to which the assembly should submit, after they are properly tested like all words should be. Since prophecy bears authority, it might be that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not mean what Renew thinks it “likely” means.

Summary Blog Post #12

If we appeal to history (not necessarily a bad thing), it cuts both ways. Perhaps worldly patriarchy has always (for centuries) influenced the interpretation of Scripture just as much as some think worldly egalitarianism influences the interpretation of Scripture today.

  • The vast majority of Christians were traditionalists (totally silencing women in the assembly).
  • The vast majority of Christians excluded women from any public roles in society as well the home and church. As late as the early 20th century, many Christians opposed suffrage because a woman should only exercise authority through a man (supposed meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12).
  • The vast majority of Christians believed women were inferior intellectually, inherently gullible (easily deceived), and too emotional for leadership, even into the early 20th century (if not still among some).
  • The vast majority denied women and men were equally created in the image of God. For them priority in creation implied Adam was a superior human. This includes some of the most renowned Christian theologians. Thomas Aquinas, for example, said females—as created—were inherently “deficient” and not made in the image of God in the same way males are.
  • Many (though difficult to quantify) Christians overlooked, sanctioned, or even justified the maltreatment of women from domestic violence to sexual abuse.

Historically, female itinerant preaching emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries at about the same time Christians began to advocate for the abolition of slavery.

Nevertheless, it is better—Renew would agree—to seek the restoration of God’s intent in creation rather than use historical arguments as theological principles. History is filled with good and bad, and the way to adjudicate is through biblical theology.

1. God created males and females to be different.

I prefer to say, God created males and females different. Males and females are differentiated, This a created good. God created diversity within nature and humanity. This diversity enriches life and brings different perspectives and experiences to the table. Difference does not imply a difference in authority, however. Rather, God enjoys the diversity of the human community because it enriches the community as they share life together in mutual submission.

2. God created male headship (authority) in the beginning.

This is the crux because it fundamentally and unnecessarily conflates primogeniture (authority as first created) with headship.

Does the creation of Adam have primogeniture significance? This is an unnecessary inference because (a) the text of Genesis does not read as a primogeniture text because the climactic moment is the creation of women so that humanity is whole (good); (b) primogeniture is not absolute in Genesis as Isaac is given the promise over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Judah over Rueben, and Ephraim over Manasseh; (c) the only explicit identification of authority in Genesis 1-2 is their shared authority over the creation; (d) the woman was created as an equal help/ally (one who corresponds or is “face-to-face”); (e) if it is primogeniture, then men should have authority over women not only in the home and church but in all social relationships; and (f) 1 Timothy 2:13 may be read differently as a narrative sequence rather than assuming primogeniture (see this blog).

Does Paul use the word “head” as a synonym for authority? This is not certain. There are other potential meanings from “ontologically superior” (traditional reading) to “source” to “head/body-unity/nourishment” to “prominence in terms of what came first.” I don’t think Paul means “authority” because (a) women participate in the assembly with their own authority (1 Corinthians 11:10, NIV, CEB); (b) though women came from men, now men come through women, and all things come from God—in the Lord, there is mutuality rather than gendered authority; (c) this is the only text (1 Corinthians 11:3) that indicates that “headship” is a relationship that every man sustains to every woman, but if it means authority, then this should apply to society as well as home and church (why is this not universally true rather than only in the home and church?); (d) headship in Ephesians 5 is about the head/body analogy where the head nourishes the body (rather than having authority over the body) and this relationship is characterized by mutual submission; and (e) if “head” means authority, then it appears men have authority over women in analogous way that Christ has authority over the church—which is absolute authority, a Lordship authority.

In other words, this claim is far from certain, based on a few ambiguous lines in a few texts, rooted in inferences rather than explicit statements, and has created a primogeniture understanding in place of the mutuality and shared authority of Genesis 1. I think perhaps worldly patriarchy has influenced Christian interpreters throughout the centuries (leading them to traditionalist conclusions) rather than hearing the intent of the word of God. Soft complementarians, I believe, need to reclaim the original divine intent for creation rather than one influenced by worldly patriarchy.

3-4. Marriage

I understand Ephesians 5 in a much more mutual sense than a hierarchical one. Since my book did not discuss this question, I will move on due to space limitations.

5. Male Headship in the Local Church is Reflected in the Teaching-Authority and Elder Roles.

I offered my perspective on “teaching-authority” in the previous section. As to elders, my book makes no case about elders, so I will conserve space. Yet, though insufficient, I note that elders are never described as “heads” as part of their function in the local church, there are no male pronouns in the Greek text when Paul describes the qualities of elders/overseers, and Paul begins 1 Timothy 3:1, “if anyone” which is gender neutral.

6.  Men and Women are to submit to and honor the authority of male headship in the church.

Of course, this sense of “authority” depends on: (a) the meaning of “head” and (b) the meaning of authority in 1 Timothy 2:12. These are dubious conclusions and far from certain.

I have no problem with believers submitting to teaching and appropriate functions/gifts of other believers. The question is whether that authority is gendered such that no females may serve as authoritative teachers (though women prophets did). Since believers are to submit to every fellow-worker and laborer, and women are included among Paul’s fellow-workers and laborers (20% are women in Paul’s letters; 1 Cor. 16:15-16; Romans 16:3, 6, 12; Philippians 4:3), then believers should submit to women as they serve within the community of faith. Submission is not about a gendered hierarchy of authority among believers but mutual submission to each other in the exercise of our gifts.

Authority lies in giftedness rather than gender. We submit to those who exercise their gifts within the community.

7. On Blessing the Church.

I have some questions.

  • What if we have perpetuated worldly patriarchy instead of embracing mutual submission?
  • What if we excluded gifts (including teaching) from the assembly because of worldly patriarchy?
  • What if we have suffered loss (the common good for which gifts are designed) because we have excluded women from the exercise of some gifts due to worldly patriarchy?

I could ask more questions, but I am out of space.

“Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.”  Many women can testify to that. They have been victims throughout church history.

I, with Renew, affirm: “men and women were created by God to equally reflect, in gendered [sexually differentiated, JMH] ways, the nature and character of God in the world.”

We mirror the glory of God in differentiated but mutual ways. Neither spiritual gifts nor authority are gendered. Rather, God’s glory is manifested through the diverse exercise of gifts within the community of faith.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all.


Women and the Bible: Notes on Ecclesiastes 7:23-29

June 4, 2021

The NRSV reads (my two translation adjustments are in brackets):

All this I have tested by wisdom; I said, “I will be wise,” but [she] was far from me. 24 That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? 25 I turned my mind to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things, and to know that wickedness is folly and that foolishness is madness. 26 I found more bitter than death the woman who is a trap, whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters; one who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 See, this is what I found, says the Teacher, adding one thing to another to find the sum, 28 which my mind has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made human beings [upright], but they have devised many schemes.

This text has been used as an example of the Bible’s (or, at least, this particular author’s) misogyny. While some suggest that we should not be surprised that the “Teacher” would hold pessimistic and/or misguided views of humanity, I think a misogynistic reading is a misunderstanding of what the Qoheleth is doing in this critical juncture in the book’s argument.

This is a significant moment in the book where an unfulfilled search is emphasized (“I did not find what I was looking for but only found something more bitter than death itself”) as well as the inability of human beings to know much of anything that has enduring significance by their own wisdom.

“I have tested” (7:23) recalls Qoheleth’s quest that begun earlier in the book (2:1). That testing followed folly, not wisdom. The conclusion is that wisdom [she] is inaccessible (“far off”) and unfathomable (“deep, very deep”). No human being can discover it.

The search (“turning my heart toward”) itself is traumatic and fraught with dangers. The search seems like a good idea, that is, to “know, search out and seek wisdom and significance” (7:25).  The Hebrew term behind “scheme” or device is attested only in 7:25, 7:27, and 9:10. A cognate appears in 7:29 often translated “plans, schemes, or inventions” (only elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible at 2 Chronicles 26:15). The point seems to be something like generating meaning or significance with the embedded idea of self-creation perhaps.  Perhaps the point is something like this: when we cannot discover authentic meaning, we create our own (or, as the existentialist Sartre said, we create essence out of our existence).

What does one find out (or discover)? The Hebrew term translated “find” is used eight times. The movement of the text is something like this:  I wanted to find X, but instead I found Y; finding X is harder than finding one human being in a 1000 (or, “finding a needle in a haystack”) since I was unable to find X (wisdom personified as a woman). What I did find is Y, which is folly (personified as a woman).

“Dame Folly” and “Lady Wisdom,” prominent in Proverbs 1-9 (especially 9), form a wisdom backdrop for this section.  “Dame Folly” is a snare, a trap, much like an adulterous seductress (Proverbs 5-6). “Lady Wisdom” (Proverbs 8) is the embodiment of the wisdom that arises out of the fear of the Lord. Qoheleth did not find “Lady Wisdom” but discovered “Dame Folly.” Bartholomew’s commentary on Ecclesiastes puts it this way (p. 275): “Human autonomy is so ingrained in modern culture, even though it has been challenged but not abandoned under the guise of postmodernism, that it is difficult for us to see the radicality of the ironization of an autonomous epistemology here in 7:23-29…[it] demonstrates that starting with an autonomous epistemology is not wisdom but folly and will lead one not to truth but right into the arms of Dame Folly.”

While 7:28 is sometimes read as misogynous (women are less virtuous, or they are inferior intellectually, etc.), it is probably better to see it as either hyperbole as in there is no one who is upright, male or female (taking the cue from 7:29, and consistent with 7:20), or proverbial as in it is easier to find a needle in a haystack than it is to find “Lady Wisdom” (taking the cue from 7:25-26). In other words, finding Lady Wisdom is more difficult than finding one man in a thousand. He did not find wisdom; rather, he discovered folly. And this is consistent with humanity in general: though they were made upright, human beings devise many foolish schemes.

Qoheleth has a moral compass—the one who pleases God (e.g., “good before the face of God”) and the sinner (cf. Ecc. 2:26; 5:5; 8:12). Though Qoheleth did not find “Lady Wisdom” but did find something—“this alone I found”—“that God made ‘adam upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” God created humanity with dignity, identity, and vocation, but humanity created their own paths (folly).

Theologically, the creation narrative lies behind this reflection in Qoheleth. God made ‘adam (human being; cf. 3:11, 14; 7:14; 11:5; 12:1). The Solomon persona in 2:5-6, 11 contrasts with God’s own creative work. While God created something good, Solomon seeks some that satisfies his own interests. The “Fall” narrative is part of this context as well: “they” (human beings) have created their own meaning and wisdom through their various schemes.

Qoheleth’s search, personified by Solomon, is rooted in the human ego or autonomy; it is the process of self-discovery. Qoheleth did not employ traditional wisdom (which begins with the fear of the Lord) but rather employed a version of Hellenistic wisdom where humanity is the measure of all things. Qoheleth adopts the dominant cultural worldview in order to examine “vanity” (hebel, used 37 times in Ecclesiastes) and discover “wisdom.” It did not work. He did not find authentic wisdom but only folly.

Traditional Hebrew wisdom actually lies in the backdrop of Qoheleth’s thinking. Qoheleth pursued an alternative but it was a dead-end and ultimately returns to what is “known” (what is confessed; cf. 3:12, 14; 8:12) and the fear of the Lord (5:7 is an imperative; cf. 3:14; 8:12-13). “Dame Folly” and “Lady Wisdom” form a backdrop throughout the book as well.

Theologically, Qoheleth’s search is about the nature of epistemology (autonomous?) and the fundamental resource of wisdom, which arises out of the fear of God. Postmodern readers resonate with the dead-end nature of autonomous human discovery, which attempts to discern a metanarrative to give meaning to human life.  Job 28 also shares this. The question is “who narrates the world?” Qoheleth probes the meaningfulness of Israel’s narrative for a Hellenistic setting and provides a theological resource for probing that narrative in the postmodern setting. This is part of its canonical function.

Theologically, Qoheleth lives with both the “vanity” (hebel) of life and the goodness of creation (“rejoice” of 11:9 and the imperatives of 9:7-9). The text ultimately orients us toward a humble, though frustrating, fear of God in the face of death.

Christologically, one may not only see the eschatological response to death but also the embodiment of the goodness of life in the midst of death in the ministry of Jesus. “Vanity” (hebel) is not denied; indeed, it is shared with humanity. At the same time, it is redeemed in the context of an “already, but not yet” eschatology.

Helpful resources:

Craig G. Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Exegetical, 2014)

Choon-Leong Seow, Ecclesiastes (Anchor Bible, 1997)

Michael Fox, Qohelet and His Contradictions (Sheffield Academic Press, 1989).


ELEVEN QUESTIONS ABOUT AND SIX INTERPRETATIONS OF 1 TIMOTHY 2:13-15

March 19, 2021

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

If the reasons Paul gives for 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are difficult to understand and subject to a wide range of meaning in addition to the questions and interpretations surrounding 1 Timothy 2:11-12 themselves, it is precarious to assume their universal import and impose restrictions on women based on this text. There may be situated cultural reasons rather than universal ones for Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Eleven Questions

1.  What is the significance of “first”? Is it prominence in a marriage, primogeniture rights, narrated chronological sequence? What does “first” entail? What sorts of honors, rights, privileges, inheritance, or authority are involved? Why does Paul appeal to “first” rather than “headship” explicitly if this is his meaning?

2.  What is the significance of the fact that Adam was not deceived but Eve was? Does this imply something about women as weaker, uneducated, more gullible, or inferior? How does this factor into Paul’s rationale?

3.  Why is it important to emphasize that Eve was deceived? How does this illuminate the situation in Ephesus? How does it illuminate why women are not permitted to “teach or have authority” over a man?

4.  Why is the transgression of the woman noted but not the transgression of Adam when in other places Paul highlights the transgression of Adam and the responsibility of Satan?

5.  What is the transgression of Eve? Is it merely the eating of forbidden fruit or is it also the assumption of leadership authority in the marital or spiritual relationship between Adam and Eve? Is the transgression of Eve the same as the transgression of the women in 2:9-12, or is the transgression of Eve similar because both the women of 2:9-12 and Eve were deceived?

6.  What is the nature of the rationale? Does it provide a ground for a universal principle or an example (narrated story) of why deceived people (in this case women) should not teach?

7. Why does the rationale contain events from both creation and the fall? How is the “fall” part of the rationale for 2:11-12? Are these two separate rationales (creation and fall) or is this a narrated sequence derived from Genesis 2-3 about Eve as a deceived woman?

8.  What does “saved” mean? Does it refer to salvation from sin, from the curse (a reversal of Genesis 3:16), from death, or taking her proper place in the domestic world rather than public life?

9.  What does “childbearing” mean? Does it refer to the birth of the Messiah, to child-rearing, to childbirth itself, or is it a metaphor for domestic life in general?

10.  Who is the “she” of verse 15 and who are the “they”? Is this merely stylistic? How are the “she” and “they” connected? Is it Eve who represents all women and “they” are all women? Is it about husband and wife (“they”)? Are the “they” the women of 2:9-10?

11. To what extent does Genesis 3:16 as the reversal of the fall through salvation and hope for healthy marriage and/or sexuality play a factor in understanding Paul’s rationale?

Six Interpretations

The first three interpretations are essentialist readings (that is, there is some thing about the created nature of reality) of Paul’s rationale while the final three interpretations are about the situated nature of Paul’s rationale. The former lend themselves to universal applications (though there is a difference in whether it applies to home alone, home and church, or to home, church, and society). The latter lend themselves to limited applications to the situation in Ephesus.

1. For Adam was formed first as the image of God, then Eve as an inferior helper; and Adam was not deceived because he was not as gullible as Eve, but the woman was deceived because her nature is more gullible and became a transgressor that ruined the whole human race for which she is punished, according to Genesis 3:16. Yet she [Eve or women] will be saved from further sin, ruin, pain, or perhaps even death through childbearing as she keeps to her domestic responsibilities, provided they [all women and/or her children] continue their Christian discipleship in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

This is the dominant interpretation of the post-Constantinian church. The rationale suggests that women are not equipped for leadership in the home, church, and society because of their secondary essence. Their role is confined to the domestic sphere.

2. For Adam was formed first with primogeniture rights where the chronological order is an enactment of a divine hierarchical intent, then Eve as a dependent helper in the human vocation; and Adam was not deceived as a good, instructed leader would not be, but the woman was deceived as she listened to the serpent and became a transgressor when she assumed a leadership that did not belong to her and led her husband into sin. Yet she [Eve or women] will be saved from the further effects of Genesis 3:16, sin, ruin, pain, or perhaps even death through childbearing as she keeps to her domestic responsibilities, enjoys renewed marriage/sexuality with her husband in reversal of Genesis 3:16’s distortion of the intended created order, and refrains from public leadership in the church, provided they [all women or her children] continue their Christian discipleship in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

This interpretation grounds Paul’s teaching in a hierarchy of roles. Because men have primogeniture rights, which is how “first” is understood, they are invested with the responsibility to authoritatively lead the home and church. It is a hierarchy of authority. For some, this includes society as well, but for others it is restricted to the home and church alone. Women are excluded from particular roles by virtue of a hierarchy of authority.

3. For Adam was formed first as the prominent leader, then Eve as a co-worker and marriage partner in the human vocation; and Adam was not deceived because he was instructed well, but the woman was deceived because she was uninstructed and the woman became a transgressor due to her lack of learning. Yet she [wife] will be saved from the further effects of Genesis 3:16, sin, ruin, pain, sexual exploitation, or perhaps even death through childbearing in the context of her married home life as a kind of reversal of Genesis 3:16’s corruption of God’s intent, provided they [husband and wife] continue their marital relationship and life in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

This interpretation locates Paul’s rationale in the marriage relationship as grounded in the story of Adam and Eve. The application of the text, according to this interpretation, relates to household relationships rather than public leadership in the Christian community. This may be an accommodation to culture, or it may reflect an understanding of husband-wife relations patterned after Adam and Eve in creation.

4. For Adam was formed first, then Eve in contrast to pagan and Gnostic myths that say otherwise or give prominence to the woman; and Adam was not deceived and, though instructed, sinned with his eyes wide open, but the woman was deceived by the lies of the serpent and became a transgressor. Women should learn the mystery of godliness rather than trust the deceivers and their myths. Yet she [women] will be saved from pain and death through childbearing as a kind of reversal of Genesis 3:16’s corruption of original mutuality and/or sexual exploitation, provided they [all women] continue their Christian discipleship in faith and love and holiness, with modesty rather than seeking the help and aid of Artemis or other pagan gods.

This interpretation locates the rationale in the context of the conflict with false teaching in Ephesus. Some were promoting female dominance and priority (including teaching that Eve was created first or had some priority). Paul responds with the chronology of the Genesis narrative and the role of Eve in the fall. Further, in contrast to how women sought protection (salvation) in childbirth from Artemis, Paul counsels they trust God through continuing in faith, love, and holiness.

5.  For Adam was formed first in chronological sequence, then Eve was created to complete humanity so that together they might pursue the human vocation; and Adam was not deceived and, though instructed, sinned with his eyes wide open, but the woman was deceived because she listened to the serpent and then Adam listened to Eve and through her deception the woman became a transgressor. Women should learn the mystery of godliness rather than trust the deceivers and their myths. Yet she [women] will be saved from this false teaching through honoring their marriages and having children rather than embracing asceticism as part of the false teaching as a kind of reversal of Genesis 3:16’s corruption of original mutuality, provided they [Christian women or husband/wives] continue their discipleship in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

This interpretation believes the problem in Ephesus was generated by the presence of false teachers. Just like Eve, some women were deceived into following and promoting their myths. Paul’s resolution is the rejection of the asceticism that plagued this false teaching and encourages women and men to embrace healthy sexuality, including having children as well as continuing in a godly marriage and community.

6. For Adam was formed first in chronological sequence, then Eve was created to complete humanity so that together they might pursue the human vocation; and Adam was not deceived and, though instructed, sinned with his eyes wide open, but the woman was deceived because she listened to the serpent and then Adam listened to Eve and through her deception the woman became a transgressor. Women should learn the mystery of godliness rather than trust the deceivers and their myths. Yet she [Eve] will be saved from her transgression through the birth of the Messiah [“the childbearing”], provided they [all women or the women of 2:9-10] continue their discipleship in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

This interpretation understands the problem in Ephesus was generated by the presence of false teachers. Just like Eve, some women were deceived into following and promoting their myths. Paul’s resolution is the birth of the Messiah who will save from sin all those who continue in faith, love, and holiness.


FOURTEEN QUESTIONS ABOUT AND TWELVE INTERPRETATIONS OF 1 TIMOTHY 2:12

March 15, 2021

“I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent [or quiet].” 1 Timothy 2:12 (NRSV)

Some suggest the above text is clear, obvious in its meaning, and uncomplicated. Quite the contrary, I think, and for at least three reasons: (1) fourteen questions that reflect how difficult its interpretation is, (2) twelve distinct but seemingly viable interpretations of the text, and (3) its history of interpretation.

These considerations, among others, make this one of the most problematic texts in Paul to understand and apply. 2 Peter 3:16 recognizes some texts in Paul are “hard to understand.” Is 1 Timothy 2:12 one of them? Perhaps so, given its history of interpretation and applications.

FOURTEEN QUESTIONS ABOUT 1 TIMOTHY 2:12

  1. Does “man” refer to any male (including eight year old persons), all baptized/born again men in the church, all men (whether Christian or not) at a certain age, or to only husbands (as a domestic teaching rather than a “church” or assembly teaching)?
  2. Does “woman” refer to any female (including eight year old persons), all baptized/born again women in the church, all women in creation (whether Christian or not), or to only wives (as a domestic teaching rather than a “church” or assembly teaching)?
  3. Does “a woman” refer to a specific woman who was a protagonist of some sort and creating a disturbance, or is it generic for all women, or only some women like those identified in 2:9-10?
  4. To what does “teach” refer—official church authority, instruction of any kind, singing? Does it include speech like making announcements, reporting on mission work, serving on a praise team, leading worship in song and prayer?
  5. Is the purpose, content, or style of teaching part of Paul’s concern in this text? Or is it only the act of teaching itself?
  6. What is the meaning of the rare word for “authority”—is it negative, positive, neutral, official, leadership in any form, or a specific form of leadership? What is the lexical meaning of authentein (“to have authority”)–legitimate authority, oppressive authority, domineer? Why does Paul only use this word once in all his writings, and why did not Paul use one of his typical words for leadership/authority that are present elsewhere in the Pastoral letters?
  7. What is the grammatical relationship between “to teach or have authority over a man”—is it is it about the manner/style of teaching, or two separate but related acts, are the two verbs both positive/negative or mixed, does “over a man” apply to teach as well as having authority?
  8. What is the setting for the prohibition—assembly, home, society, public, private, etc.? Is it limited to any of these settings, or is it universal in intent?
  9. Is the intent situational (addressing a specific problem for a limited moment), universal and timeless, or both? What is the universal principle and how is it related to the situation? Is the statement itself the universal principle or an application of a principle within a particular situation? Why does Paul uses a word that typically addresses a limited situation (“permit”) instead of a more general and often used verb to “command” in the Pastorals?
  10. What is the meaning of “silent” or “quiet”—does it refer to voice, demeanor, submissiveness (but to what or to whom—husband, all men, church authorities, church teaching, the assembly, God)?
  11. How do we apply this text in our contemporary settings—what is “leadership” in our contemporary church architecture (serving communion while standing, serving on a praise team before the assembly, etc.), what is the line between teaching and non-teaching in this text (is there a difference between teaching and prophesying, making announcements, giving a testimony a baptism or in the assembly, requesting prayers, confessing sin, etc.?), what kind of authority (leadership?) is envisioned in our present settings, and are women to be “silent” with their voice, only “quiet” in their demeanor, or both?
  12. Where do we apply this text in our contemporary settings—small groups, home devotionals, public assemblies, Bible classes, street preaching, one-on-one evangelism, PTA meetings, etc.?
  13. What is the social, cultural, and historical context of this text? How would this have been heard in its context in light of the particular situation of the Ephesian house churches?
  14. What is the literary context of this verse, the purpose of the letter itself, and the disturbances surrounding women in Ephesus evident in the letter?

TWELVE HISTORIC INTERPRETATIONS OF 1 TIMOTHY 2:12

Bold=the NRSV text; Italics=an interpretative perspective

1.   I permit no woman to teach at all or have any authority over a man in any circumstance whether in society, home, or church; she is to keep silent in all contexts where men are present and submit to all men.

This was the typical interpretation for most of the Post-Constantinian church (fourth century onward). Women may only teach, have authority, or lead an assembly or group in female-only environments, whether in public or private. At times, women were not even permitted to write for publication, which is a form of teaching.

2.   I permit no woman to teach in any public (though it is permitted in private) venues where men are present or to have authority over a man in any public contexts, including social, political, and educational ones; she is to keep silent in public situations and maintain her role as a keeper of the home.

This was, historically, the interpretation of the vast majority of Christian traditions. Women were excluded from all public venues whether in society or church, though often encouraged to teach in private (within certain parameters). For many, “man” is defined as any adolescent male or any male that has been baptized/born again.

3.   I permit no woman to teach any man in any religious context whether at home or church (including small groups, Bible classes, and other religious venues) or have authority over a man in the life of the home or church (though she is permitted to do so in social contexts); she is to keep quiet and submit to men in the home and church.

This modern interpretation restricts its meaning to the church and home. A woman is not permitted to lead (have authority over) men in any public or private gatherings of the church in any way. This excluded women from leading small groups that included men in their home as well as teaching Bible classes, and it excluded women from leading prayers in such setting (sometimes, including leading their own husbands in prayer). It is represented by many traditional (“hard”) complementarians. For many, “man” is defined as any adolescent male or any male that has been baptized/born again. However, women may teach and have authority over men in social, educational, political, and other contexts.

4.   I permit no woman to teach any man in any public church context or have leadership authority over a man in any public way; she is to keep silent rather than teach; she is to submit rather than exercise public authority in the assembly. But she is permitted to teach in private contexts and public social venues.

This modern interpretation restricts the prohibition to public church contexts. A woman is not permitted to lead men in the public gatherings of the church in any way, whether visible and/or audible. However, it gives women space to teach in other settings such as small groups, Bible classes, or report on mission work to a group (depending on what is considered public or private). Some “soft” complementarians understand the text in this way. For many, “man” is defined as any adolescent male or any male that has been baptized/born again. However, women may teach and have authority over men in social, educational, political, and other contexts.

5.   I permit no woman to teach any man as an official church authority figure or in any way to have official authority over a man as a preacher (e.g., the official senior minister), pastor, or elder; she is to keep quiet by submitting to the authority of male church officials, though she is permitted to teach and have authority in private contexts, various religious gatherings, and social venues.

This modern interpretation restricts the prohibition to official authoritative speeches and decisions within the church. Primarily, this restricts women from becoming pastors (including the regular “preaching minister”) and elders. A woman may teach in religious contexts such as Bible classes, small groups, and even preach on occasion to the whole assembly as long as she does not assume the role of elder, senior minister, bishop, or some official authoritative representative of the church. Some “soft” complementarians understand the text in this way. However, women may teach and have authority over men in social, educational, political, and other contexts.

6.   I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man in the sense that she may not usurp or take by force an authoritative teacher role in the public assembly; she is to keep an appropriate quiet[ness] in the public assembly.

This modern interpretation affirms women teachers (including the public assembly) as long as they are serving quietly under the leadership of church male authority (e.g., elders). Some suggest there is a hard theological boundary (e.g., no women elders or preachers) as to what church officials may permit while others believe elders are guided by a spiritual wisdom that discerns what is culturally appropriate for the sake of the health of the congregation.

7.   I permit no [wife] to teach or have authority over a [husband]; she is to keep a quiet demeanor in relation to her husband at home and in public, especially in the public assembly of the church.

This modern interpretation restricts the teaching to the relationship between a husband and wife in public or in the public assembly. Some limit it to only domestic relationships, and thus it does not apply to church organization or assemblies. It is limited to the interaction between a husband and wife. Consequently, it contains no other limitation on the participation of women in the public assemblies of the church.

8.   Accommodating to the Roman cultural setting for the sake of the gospel, I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep quiet as they submit to God so that the gospel might get a hearing.

This modern interpretation reads the text similar to the way many handle slavery texts. Living within the Roman culture, Paul does not take a revolutionary approach but a quiet subversive one. The gospel must be heard first before any revolutionary changes are possible in cultural dynamics. But Paul does not intend this as a universal, timeless prohibition. It is an accommodation to the domestic patterns of Roman culture.

9.   For now, I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man due to the turbulent circumstances surrounding women in the Ephesian house churches; she is to keep a quiet demeanor in all her activitives.

This modern interpretation affirms the situational nature of Paul’s statement. It is peculiar to Ephesus in some sense and is Paul’s response to those specific circumstances. Paul does not intend this as a universal, timeless prohibition but is limited to the peculiar circumstances of the Ephesian house churches.

10. I permit no deceived woman to teach false doctrine or to have authority in a way that negatively and abusively overwhelms or dominates a man; she is to keep a quiet demeanor in all her activities, just like all believers. Once she has learned, then she may teach.

This modern interpretation affirms the situational nature of Paul’s statement and identifies it as a problem with some women who have been deceived by false teachers and were active among the house churches. Paul does not intend this as a universal, timeless prohibition but is limited to the specific circumstances of the Ephesian house churches.

11. Correcting male and female overseers (bishops) in the midst of a congregational struggle with false teachers, Paul wrote, I permit no unlearned or deceived woman to teach in an incorrect or overbearing manner; she is to learn with a quiet demeanor, submitting to the truth of the gospel.

This view understands 1:18-3:16 as focused on leadership in the church, particularly overseers. Paul has already excommunicated two male leaders, and now he instructs Timothy in the appropriate decorum regarding leadership in the church. Men were arguing and women were dressing immodestly (disorderly) and acting (teaching) in overbearing ways.

12. Paul or one of his disciples wrote, I permit no woman to teach at all or to have any authority over a man in any circumstance whether in society, home, or church; she is to keep silent in all contexts where men are present and submit to all men. But this is an enculturated perspective that is no longer viable in our contemporary context.

This modern interpretation suggests the author is simply wrong, though his direction was appropriate for his own cultural location or perhaps was blinded by his own cultural values. This perspective understands the prohibition in the same way as the Post-Constantinian church, which is #1 on this list.

*If you are interested in my own view, you can watch this video, or read the appropriate chapter in this book.*

SOME RELEVANT HISTORY FOR CHURCHES OF CHRIST

In the nineteenth century, many leading teachers among the churches of Christ believed that 1 Timothy 2:12 had universal application. It was not limited to the assemblies of the church but also applied to societal relationships and vocations. Consequently, 1 Timothy 2:12 was used to deny women the vote, oppose public speaking by women in any social situation, and reject any kind of public leadership on the part of women.

If the historic, traditional interpretation that dominated for centuries in the Post-Constantinian era is correct, they had a point. If the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 is rooted in some kind of “order of creation” (primogeniture or firstborn), then it applies universally—whether in church assemblies or educational and political ones. Whatever is rooted in creation, complementarians typically believe, applies to every aspect of human life.

It would seem a consistent application of 1 Timothy 2:12—if one thinks this expresses a timeless prohibition—excludes women from any public leadership or authority, whether in the church or in society. That is how our “forefathers” read it until women were given the right to vote, hold political office, sit on juries, serve as judges, and become Presidents of universities as well as sit on the boards of Christian universities. Subsequently, we no longer believed that, adjusted our interpretation, and decided that the text only applied to (any?) assemblies of the church (and/or home) while continuing to ground the prohibition in some kind of “creation order.”

This came into specific focus when the woman’s suffrage movement—the movement to secure the right of women to vote in local, state, and federal elections—became a prominent question among the churches.

In 1874, D. G. Porter, a minister within the American Restoration Movement, wrote an article entitled “Republican Government and the Suffrage of Women” (Christian Quarterly [October 1874] 489-90) in which he concluded that women do not have the right to vote “unless, indeed, it is proposed to proceed upon what seems the absurdest of all principles; namely, subordination at home and in the Church, but independence and equality abroad. We call this proposition absurd, because it would seem that if woman can be equal to man in authority anywhere, it must be at home and in the Church; and that her equality here, if indeed that ought to be her position, must be the foundation of her equality in external affairs.”

According to this argument, 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids women to have authority over men because this is the order God instituted in creation. If this order is rooted in creation, it is universal. It cannot apply simply to the home or church, but it must apply to society as a whole. Consequently, women do not have the right to exercise the authority of voting or have authority over men in any social situation.

This was a common argument in the late nineteenth century, and we can see it or something similar among some of the most respected leaders among Churches of Christ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

David Lipscomb (d. 1917) wrote:

For women to enter the work of public speaking or of leadership in the affairs of this world is to cut them off from childbearing (Gospel Advocate [3 July 1913], 635).

Woman’s work in life is to bear and train children. No higher, holier, more sacred work has ever been committed to human beings. This is her chiefest work in life. If there were not a passage of scripture on the subject except to indicate this, it would forbid her engaging in any work incompatible with this. Public speaking in any of the callings of life that demand a constant strain on the mind, a constant anxiety and care in reference to the public affairs of church or state, an excitement of the ambitions for place and power, not only destroy her taste for and cause her to neglect the home and family duties, the duties of wife and mother, but such a strain on the mind destroys the ability for childbearing (Questions Answered, 739).

R. C . Bell (1877-1964) in The Way (1903), p. 776:

[W]oman is not permitted to exercise dominion over man in any calling of life. When a woman gets her diploma to practice medicine, every Bible student knows that she is violating God’s holy law. When a woman secures a license to practice law, she is guilty of the same offense. When a woman mounts the lecture platform or steps into the pulpit or the public school room, she is disobeying God’s law and disobeying the promptings of her inner nature. When God gives his reason for woman’s subjection and quietness, he covers the whole ground and forbids her to work in any public capacity…She is not fitted to do anything publicly….Every public woman—lawyer, doctor, lecturer, preacher, teacher, clerk, sales girl and all—would then step from their post of public work into their father’s or husband’s home, where most of them prefer to be, and where God puts them….You are now no longer a public slave, but a companion and home-maker for man; you are now in the only place where your womanly influence has full play and power.

History enlightens us. Even among Churches of Christ we have not always interpreted this text the same way–and many other examples could be cited, including no women teachers at all. This ought to give us some pause, especially if we think we understand this text correctly and have no doubts about our conclusions.

CONCLUSION

A text with such difficulties, questions, and history of interpretation (where only an extreme minority would hold the traditional, historic interpretations of #1 or #2) should not be the basis of excluding women from teaching in the public assembly because . . .

  1. the diversity of interpretation is disorienting to some degree,
  2. the questions are debatable at every turn, especially the meaning of authenteo,
  3. other texts affirm women prophesying with men present,
  4. the story of women in the Bible runs against the grain of this text (e.g., Miriam as a leader of Israel [Micah 6:4], Deborah has authority to judge and prophesy [Judges 4:1-3], etc.),
  5. the application of this text is wildly inconsistent,
  6. the history of interpretation indicates the church has often been wrong in the application of this text,
  7. the understanding of this text, even among traditionalists and complementarians, has changed in the light of further study and positive (as well as negative) illumination of cultural contexts.

Consequently, any certain application or interpretation of this text does not take full account of its difficulties. 1 Timothy 2:12, given our distance from the situation the text addresses, the problems of grammar, and a critical issue of lexicography, is not a clear and unequivocal text.

Given the principle of interpreting the more obscure texts in the light of the clearer texts, it is best, then, to interpret this text in the light of clearer texts such as the gifting of women to prophesy among other texts.

Peace upon God’s church


On Women Baptizing and Teaching in Light of the Great Commission

March 11, 2021

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20a

The imperative to “make disciples” is part of Jesus’s last words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. The following two participles (baptizing and teaching) are instrumental in this process. In part, disciples are made by baptizing them into the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and they are also continuously formed (made) by teaching them to follow what Jesus taught.

Baptism is a dynamic movement into the life of God. Disciples are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a movement into (which is literally what the text says; e.g. ASV) the communion of God, which gives disciples a sense of belonging to the family of the one (“name,” not names) God of Israel. Baptism is our entrance into the community of God to live among the people of God in the church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).

Teaching is also a dynamic activity. Discipling is a process that not only begins before baptism but continues after it. Disciples are formed by teaching that is based on the life and words of Jesus. This includes—if it is not, in fact, the focus—the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which concludes with a call to the wise living, which is obedience to the words of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus teach the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-29).

Discipling is not limited to one class or group within the community of God.

The heirs of the Restoration Movement have long recognized that baptism is not a clerical act, limited to the clergy in the community. We have wonderfully modeled the priesthood of all believers by affirming everyone’s privilege to baptize another, particularly one whom they have led to Christ. As Alexander Campbell said, “When then any one desires baptism, any one to whom he applies may administer it” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 580).  There are no clerical boundaries to baptizing another, though pragmatically this often fell to the “preacher” in many congregations.

But the priesthood of all believers disappears when gender is introduced into the discussion. And the exclusion of women from baptizing anyone has a long history in the Restoration Movement. For example, Campbell also said, “We never, by word or action, sanctioned either females or minors as baptists” (p. 584). There are, it is argued, no examples of women baptizing anyone. Therefore, women are excluded. (We might remember there are no examples of women eating the Lord’s supper either.)

In effect, this limits Matthew 28:19-20a to males. If women cannot baptize anyone, this means they cannot obey the command of Jesus to “make disciples” in the way Jesus told his disciples to make disciples. Are not women as well as men told to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing. . .”?

Further, to “make disciples” is not only to baptize them but to continue to teach them as well. Yet, the practice of many congregations is not only to exclude women from baptizing but also to exclude them from teaching. This exclusion comes in many forms, and not all exclusivists agree on the degree of the exclusion and its particulars.  This excludes women from private teaching, leading small groups, instructing Bible classes where men are present, and sermons as well as other forms of teaching. Some, however, only exclude women from sermonizing in the assembly, or perhaps even more narrow—speaking authoritatively for the church. In other words, when it comes to identifying the teaching from which women are excluded, it is a continuum of judgments, inferences, and applications.

If women are to make disciples, it is difficult to exclude them from the very process Jesus identified for disciple-making. If Matthew 28:19-20a is a call for disciples to make disciples, it is a call for both men and women to make disciples by baptizing and teaching the discipled.

Women, then, are invited to baptize and teach as part of the discipling ministry of the followers of Jesus.

I realize that the previous sentence is relativized by some who maintain that 1 Timothy 2:12 not only prohibits women from teaching men (in whatever form such teaching is envisioned) but also from having authority over them. Consequently, it is suggested by some that baptism is an authoritative act (bordering on a clericalism) within the community and women cannot, therefore, baptism anyone and certainly not men. A single text, it appears, delimits the disciple-making Jesus commanded on the part of women in the community of God. For some, it excludes them from baptizing anyone, and for many it only excludes them from representing the church through authoritative speech (whatever form that may take).

While this is not the place, due to limitations of space, to seek a better understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12, a few comments are appropriate. The sort of teaching envisioned in 1 Timothy 2 is not disciple-making but abusive domination of another. Paul, it seems to me, forbids some women, who had been deceived by false teachers, from aggressively attempting to persuade men. They were belligerently overwhelming others and leading them into the clutches of Satan by spreading false myths rather than submitting to the truth of the gospel, the mystery of godliness. (For more on this way of reading 1 Timothy 2:12, see my video here.)

To use 1 Timothy 2:12 to limit women in disciple-making, whether in baptizing others or teaching others, is not only to abuse 1 Timothy 2:12 but to subvert the commission of Jesus intended for his disciples, both men and women. I see no reason to delimit or restrict the meaning of the word “teach” in Matthew 28:20. Women are authorized to teach, and the only text that might say otherwise is filled with difficulties of language, grammar, context, and meaning. It seems to me, Matthew 28:19-20 provides the horizon for all disciple-making, baptizing and teaching.

In answer to the call of Jesus, everyone, both male and female, may baptize and teach others. Everyone is called to make disciples.


Three Problems with the “Soft Complementarian” Understanding of 1 Timothy 2:8-15

March 6, 2021


Golden Calves–Then and Now

October 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to my friends at Renew.


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

August 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Brief Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Ground on 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

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

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

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

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

The Disagreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership and Headship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace upon my friends at Renew!


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

August 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

Summary

Where we agree . . .

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

Where we differ . . .

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

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

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

A Misunderstanding

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

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

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

On Veils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Ground

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

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

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

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

On Headship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headship As Source of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching and Prophesying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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