Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Theology Of Gender: Part Three

Part III:
Men And Women In Church Ministry

By far the most hotly debated aspect of the larger gender debate is typically referred to as the question of “women in ministry.” Despite the fact that many more Christians are in a marriage relationship than are engaged in some form of ministry, and thus it would seem more practical to focus on the Biblical view of men and women in marriage, there is no doubt that the primary focus of both egalitarian and complementarian writers is on the Biblical view of men and women, specifically of women, in church ministry. Therefore, this will be the longest section of my paper, as I attempt to wrestle with three extremely difficult passages (1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and 1 Timothy 2), weigh the exegetical arguments from both sides for each passage, and attempt to determine whether or not a clear picture of the place of men and women in ministry emerges from the sum of the Bible’s teachings.

One final word by way of introduction. The primary focus of this section will be to answer the question, “Does the Bible teach that women can hold positions of leadership over men in the church?” As such, I will devote little if any space to addressing all of the ministry positions open to women other than those involving leadership over men. It should be noted briefly, however, that the offices of pastor and elder are a minority in church ministry, and just in the sense of sheer numbers there are far more ministry positions open to women than would be closed to them on a complementarian view. Also, many of these positions are of vital importance to the church (and, as I will discuss in my conclusion, they are all of equal importance to leadership positions). Thus, even if the complementarian view is the one that emerges with the strongest Biblical support, we should not forget the vital importance of women, along side of men, in advancing the cause of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11

There are many difficulties in interpreting this passage. For one thing, just as with 1 Corinthians 7, we don’t have the letter from the Corinthians to which Paul is here responding. It is also unclear as to what specific practice Paul is encouraging. We know that it involves women covering their heads in some manner, presumably as a sign of respect or of gender distinction, but beyond that the text reveals nothing. However, I believe that if we simply trace Paul’s argument from beginning to end, the text gives us enough information to make a reasonable conjecture as to Paul’s intended meaning, and therefore the enduring principle that will apply to Christians today.

Paul prefaces his argument in verses 4 – 16 with a metaphorical statement regarding “headship.” He says that Christ is the head of man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ. Immediately following this statement he begins his argument, saying that if a man prays or prophesies with his head covered, he dishonors his “head.” Likewise, if a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she dishonors her “head.” Both Gordon Fee and Thomas Schreiner agree that Paul is probably playing on his metaphorical use of head in verse 3 to give his statements a double meaning. The man who prophesies with his head uncovered not only disgraces his own head, but also his metaphorical head, Christ. This reading is also supported when Paul says later, in verse 14, that if a man has long hair “it is a disgrace to him”. In the same way, a woman who prophesies with her head uncovered not only disgraces herself, but also her metaphorical head, the man.

The question is, what meaning does Paul have in mind when he uses “head”? Gordon Fee argues that “source” is likely in this passage because of the later reference (verse 8) to Eve coming from the man. He also appeals to two early church fathers, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, who interpreted the metaphor in that way. However, he also points out that this is the first time Paul uses the head metaphor in his letters, and here it is used without any connection or reference to the body.

In light of these observations, I feel that the meaning of “source” is far more unlikely than “authority.” As noted earlier, Wayne Grudem’s research on the meaning of “head” in the Greek literature of the time should help to inform our understanding. In Ephesians 5, the use of “head” in conjunction with the body metaphor made it easier to argue that Paul had a meaning like “source of provision” in mind. But without the body metaphor here, and no previous uses of the head-body metaphor to hearken back to, we cannot assume that the Corinthians would have understood the metaphor in this way. In fact it is unlikely that they would have. Moreover, Chrysostom and Cyril’s Trinitarian theology was heavily influenced by the Arian controversy. Not only were they the minority voice on this issue among the early fathers, but their rejection of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father is not in line with the official position of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has maintained a “monarchial” view of the Trinity from Nicea forward. This makes the rather strong egalitarian claim that the “subordinationist” position is a heterodox one to be, quite simply, false. Kevin Giles overstates his case when he argues that, “to teach the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in being or role, person or function, is to teach contrary to the way the best theologians have interpreted the Bible across the centuries and to reject what the creeds and reformation confessions of faith affirm.” In fact, the opposite is true. Not only did Tertullian (one of the earliest, most prolific writers of the church) hold to a monarchial (or hierarchical) view of the Trinity, but John Calvin (who Giles cites as one of the great theologians who supposedly denied the eternal subordination of the Son) agreed with Tertullian, saying, “Nor am I displeased with Tertullian’s definition, provided it be taken in the right sense, that there is a kind of distribution or economy in God which has no effect on the unity of essence.” Moreover, it is clear that the Nicene fathers, in crafting their great ecumenical creed, labored to distinguish between a “unity of being or essence” and a “subordination of order.” If the Nicene Creed doesn’t represent orthodoxy, what does? None of this is to suggest that those who argue against the eternal subordination of the Son are defending a heterodox position, for that claim would be equally overstated. What is clear however is that while both positions have existed since the early centuries of the church, the “subordinationist” position has always been the dominant, often official, position of the church.

With this in mind, we can safely conclude that there is nothing heterodox about understanding the statement, “the head of Christ is God” to denote hierarchy. But is there any reason to prefer this reading? I believe there is. As previously mentioned, the lack of a body metaphor makes “source” very unlikely. More importantly, I believe that the analogies don’t correspond adequately if “source” is the connecting term between them. Christ is not the source of man in a way that is even similar to the way in which man is the source of woman. Christ (as God) actually created man, while man was merely the raw material used by God to create woman. In that analogy, it is the dust from which Adam was made, and not Christ, that would be his “source”! Still, all metaphors must break down at some point, and it could still be argued that Paul has merely a loose or general idea of “source” in mind. However, if egalitarians wish to make reference back to 1 Corinthians 8:6, which says that all things came through Christ, to provide evidence for their interpretation, they must explain why only man, and not also woman, is said to have Christ as a source. And all this still doesn’t square with the third analogy, Christ and God. God “sending” Christ is so dissimilar to the previous two concepts of “source” that it becomes highly implausible that this is Paul’s intention.

The interpretation that head means “authority”, on the other hand, not only makes the analogies work together much better, but also provides an adequate explanation for why the third pair is included, and why it is placed last. Some might argue that if hierarchy were intended in this verse, the pairs would go: God-Christ, Christ-man, man-woman. A more important question for egalitarians would be, “Why did Paul include the third pair at all?” Not only does it not seem to fit the other two pairs, but (assuming the egalitarian interpretation) Paul’s analogy between the first two pairs would have perfectly sufficed to ground his argument about men and women’s head coverings. So why the third pair, and why place it last? Tom Schreiner offers a plausible explanation, in light of the complementarian interpretation. If Paul is indeed talking about Christ as authority over man and man as authority over woman, it would be tempting to draw out of the analogy that women were as ontologically inferior to men as men are to Christ. To preemptively counter this kind of thinking, Paul adds the third pair. There is no inferiority between God and Christ, for they are one.

This also provides an adequate explanation for the contrast of the two creation sequences in verses 8-9 and 11-12. Gordon Fee postulates that one of the problems in Corinth was a slow and subtle move toward androgyny, which is one reason Paul seems to be emphasizing gender distinctions so heavily. I think this much is true. Because of that, Paul again feels the need to preemptively counter false implications that readers might draw from his letter, and so reminds them that men and women are interdependent, language that is immediately reminiscent of the oneness of God and Christ from verse 3.

In the end, the primary factor that is determinative of which interpretation one takes is the meaning of “head” as used in the analogies of verse 3. If the authority of men over women in a public gathering is in view, it becomes clear that Paul is urging women to continue wearing their cultural gender markers, not merely for the sake of remaining true to one’s own sexual identity (which is certainly in view here to some degree), but also as a sign of respect to the authority placed over them by God. Therefore, having stated what I believe to be a strong case for taking head to mean “authority”, as well as some of the implications of that throughout the rest of the passage, I believe that I have shown the complementarian position to be the exegetically stronger of the two.

1 Corinthians 14

Now we move to one of the more confusing passages in scripture. 1 Corinthians 14: 34 says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” Obviously Paul cannot mean that women are to remain totally silent at all times in a church, because in the previous passage he assumes that women pray and prophesy. Craig Keener argues that, because Paul specifically tells women not to ask questions, but to wait and ask their husbands at home, that women asking questions during church services is the problem Paul is addressing here. He suggests two major reasons for this. First, women were most likely far less educated than men. And even though the Corinthian church was made up primarily of Gentiles, and Gentile women were far more educated and possessed higher social standing than Jewish women, because they were Gentiles their education would most likely not have included Torah. Since most educated questions in a church service would have required a knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, these women would have been asking mostly ignorant questions and disrupting the services. Second, men were very uncomfortable with women speaking in such a setting, and the protocol of the time would have disapproved of women speaking with unrelated men in public. Thus Paul may have been trying to keep order by keeping uneducated questions out of public church services and maintaining cultural standards of propriety.

I find these arguments entirely unconvincing for several reasons. First, women were far more educated in the Roman Empire than has traditionally been believed. Still, Keener’s point about Gentile women not having much access to Torah training is certainly true, but that would have been just as true for Gentile men! And there is no adequate argument for why Gentile men would have had access to Torah training and not women. Because Roman women were accustomed to being educated (and even teaching) there is no reason to think that they would have been less likely to receive training in the Scriptures along with their male counterparts.
In order to accept this argument, we have to believe two things. First, that no significant percentage of the Corinthian women were educated enough to ask intelligent questions. Second, that no significant percentage of the Corinthian men were uneducated enough that they too should have received censure by Paul for creating disorder. Even if the first is conceivable, surely the second is not.

Here I believe Wayne Grudem makes the more persuasive case. He argues that what Paul is censuring is women interpreting prophecy. Because the judging of prophecy would be authoritative, and not prophesying itself, it would make sense within a complementarian framework that women be allowed to do the latter and not the former. But what exegetical justification is there for this? Just a few verses back, in verse 28, Paul makes a similar censure of anyone who would speak in tongues without an interpreter present. He says, “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church.” Just like the censure of women in verse 34, Paul is obviously not instructing the tongue-speaker to remain absolutely silent for the entire church meeting if there is no interpreter present. Rather, the speaker must be quiet with regard to the function of speaking in tongues. The same rational should be applied to verse 34. The context of Paul’s command is prophecy and “weighing” prophecy. Thus it would be a perfectly reasonable solution, from a study of the text alone, that Paul is prohibiting women from performing one of those two functions. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 that it cannot be prophesying, therefore it must be the weighing of prophecy. Grudem then goes on to suggest that Paul’s comment about asking questions is designed ensure that no one “plays the system” as it were. After all, a woman could certainly ask critical questions in such a way as to subtly offer judgment of a prophecy, thereby getting around Paul’s censure. Therefore, given the context of the passage and the unlikelihood of the Keener’s argument, this solution seems to me to be the most reasonable.

1 Timothy 2

Entire books have been devoted to this passage alone. It is considered by many to be the key passage in the whole gender debate. It may be surprising, therefore, that I will spend less time on this passage than on the previous passages. It is my opinion that all the evidence for this passage has not been fully studied and weighed to the point where one definitive answer is obvious to all. Therefore I shall treat it briefly, only in as much detail as I feel is needed to show that one reading is at least slightly more probable than the other.

The entire debate over this passage is focused on one word, authenteo. Linda Bellville argues extensively that this word, at and before the time of Paul, had a very negative connotation, something close to “domineer” or even “murder.” From this she argues that what Paul was prohibiting was women teaching men in a domineering way. In response, Wayne Grudem cites a comprehensive study of authenteo by H. Scott Baldwin. This study revealed two important things. First, of all the varied meanings that authenteo took on from before the time of Paul up to the tenth century AD, the one unifying theme was that of “authority”, to greater and lesser degrees. Second, of all the examples of authenteo that Baldwin studied, none of them were used in the negative at or around the time of the New Testament. The earliest example of the word being used in a negative way came from 390 AD. Indeed, some of the citations Linda Bellville gives, which she insists must mean “domineer” rather than “have authority over”, could easily mean something like “to control”, “to compel” or “to influence”, all of which fit with Baldwin’s findings and none of which carry the negative connotation.

Further, the grammatical structure of the “neither-nor” statement Paul makes is such that both verbs must be either negative or positive. Grudem asserts, based on several positive uses of “to teach” in 1 and 2 Timothy, that the teaching in this verse must be positive, therefore authenteo must also be positive. However, it isn’t quite as clear as Grudem would like it to be. Since Paul does prohibit false teaching in his letters to Timothy, we cannot simply assume that teaching is always positive. However, the first part of Grudem’s argument, I believe, still stands. Baldwin’s study seems to have shown with a good degree of certainty that the typical use of authenteo at the time of Paul was either neutral or positive, in the sense of exercising authority. Given that, combined with the good probability that teaching could very well be viewed positively here (as it is elsewhere in 1 and 2 Timothy) I believe there to be a fairly solid case for the complementarian understanding that this is a general prohibition of women exercising authority over men in the church.

Other than the strictly exegetical concerns (which, as I said, I feel constitute a strong enough argument on their own), there are two other major factors that lend even more credence to the complementarian position. The first is the following chapter, 1 Timothy 3. In this chapter qualifications are given for elders and deacons. While it has been noted that the main thrust of the section is to describe the kind of godly characteristics that anyone should have when seeking a church office, I find it significant that when it comes to deacons, both men and women are mentioned, but within the same passage, when talking about elders, only men are mentioned. Now, it is possible that 1 Timothy 3: 11 is talking about wives of deacons, and not deaconesses, but this is usually not the egalitarian read of the passage. To explicitly include a section for deaconesses, but not for female elders, is possibly one of the strongest implications in Scripture in support of the complementarian view.

The second major factor for me was the logic of the egalitarian reading of 1 Timothy 2. When Andreas Kostenberger argued that if Paul had intended to prohibit a negative action like false teaching he would have used a negative word like heterodidaskalein, I. Howard Marshall responded that for Paul to have said “I don’t permit a women to give false teaching” would have implied “I do permit a man to give false teaching. In other words, it would have been a bad word choice. Grudem aptly points out the poor logic of this position. For if Paul intended something negative like “I don’t permit a women to teach a man in a domineering way” that would imply “I do permit a man to teach in a domineering way.” I was convinced by this that Marshall’s own argument could be turned on the egalitarian position, which, when combined with the previous arguments, makes the complementarian reading of 1 Timothy 2 slightly more plausible.

Finding Hope In A Fallen World

There are two ways to approach the gender issue. One is Biblical, the other philosophical. In one way, because we are evangelicals, we must view the Biblical approach as the most important. Whatever the Bible says, we must submit to its authority as God’s very Word. However, because we must employ our rational faculties as best we can to the interpretation of Scripture, the philosophical approach is in some ways just as important. Thus, if Rebecca Groothuis is correct that the complementarian mantra, “Equal in being, not in function” is an untenable philosophical position, then complemetarians must seriously reconsider their position. But on the other side of things, if the exegetical arguments of Wayne Grudem and others are correct, then egalitarians must likewise reconsider their position. If both sides are open and honest, perhaps one day we will actually find that middle ground that so many are now desperately seeking.
Until then, what can we do? The conclusion of my paper is that the complementarian position emerges with the most overall Biblical support. As such, I believe the church must embrace this Biblical view. One of the biggest practical concerns for Evangelicals today is whether or not a woman should be a senior pastor. This question is totally foreign to the New Testament, however, and is ultimately irrelevant. So far as I can tell, the only church office not open to women is elder (or overseer). The only work that you never hear of women doing in the New Testament, and, as my paper has now argued, the only work that women are ever prohibited from doing, is teaching. Specifically, teaching in an official capacity of authority, in a public church setting, and over men. This has direct implications for a variety of situations today. Obviously women should not be giving the sermon in church on Sunday morning. Obviously women can lead a women’s group. But what of the grayer areas? Women can teach children, but how far does that go? Can women teach college groups? Possibly. What of Para-church organizations? Do they count as Christian assemblies where women ought not to have authority of any kind over men? Well, again, the only type of authority that the Bible explicitly seems to forbid women to have over men is teaching authority, and this is always in the context of church. Since it is likely that the Bible allows women to be deaconesses, I would see no reason why women couldn’t be the heads of financial committees or things of that sort, since such tasks and those similar to it are really no different than the roles of a deaconess. Can women be in the administration at a Christian college? I think so. Can they be Biology teachers? Art teachers? English teachers? I don’t see why not. Can they be Bible teachers? That’s a bit tougher question to answer. Perhaps it would be acceptable at the college level, but not at the seminary level. For cases such as those, I’m willing to leave room for cultural standards of adulthood and maturity. In any case, despite the constant cry for a definitive list and “do’s and don’ts” from the complementarian camp, there is a certain amount of freedom that the Bible seems to allow for. The important thing is to have the right mindset. So long as we are trying our hardest to work within the Biblical model, and not constantly looking for exceptions and loopholes, we will probably be ok.

Finally, we must always keep sight of the Biblical picture of leadership. Egalitarians frequently argue that we shouldn’t be focused on claiming our rights to authority over others, and I couldn’t agree more. They argue that we are to focus on serving one another, and again I couldn’t agree more. But something that I feel egalitarians would do well to remember is that true Biblical leadership is nothing more than the ultimate form of servanthood. Christ has all power and authority and dominion over all the earth, and yet he humbled himself more than any human being possibly could. The same is true for those who are called to lead in Christ’s church. The powerful description of the way in which a husband is to love his wife does not reveal some sort of egalitarian model of marriage, rather in reinforces the Biblical picture of true leadership. For a husband to take on the role of head of his wife is for him to give up his wants and desires for her sake. It is for him to always put her first, to always think of her before himself, and ultimately to give up his whole life for her. That is not a command to “mutually submit.” Far from it. That is a command to be a true Christian leader, as Christ was, and is, and forever will be. May God give us all the strength and courage to fulfill the roles we were designed for, to His honor and glory!

1 comment:

  1. Really excellent work David. I think I might have some points of disagreement but they are minor. When I get a chance I might try to work over these parts again.