Many books are written and many commentaries on women in ministry. This blog is not designed to fight for or against but to open the dialogue to understand the heart of the Father and His intent for His creation. We must eat the whole lamb.
Below are 4 takes on women in ministry
- John Wesley
- Randy Cutter
- Master student final presentation: Debra Ortiz
- Gordon Fee
Wesley was a reformer in regard to women in ministry. His assumption was that Paul forbade women preaching, but his experience demonstrated that women were some of the best preachers and pastors. He noticed that Paul’s experience included women praying and prophesying in the church. Thus, at first Wesley encouraged women touched by God to “testify” and avoided the word “preach.” Later he claimed the movement of God of his day was an extraordinary situation similar to the Acts 2 narrative where God was clearly no respecter of persons in pouring out the Spirit. He began encouraging women to preach in society meetings.
At the end of his life, when he finally began to ordain ministers, he ordained two women. Sarah Mallet was an effective Methodist preacher whom Wesley advised as was Sarah Crosby who was a tireless itinerant preacher. Their success was aided by the backing and support of Wesley who believed that opposition to women in ministry decreased in his later years. But after he died opportunities for women to minister publicly quickly declined. (See Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld, “Daughters of the Church,” (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987), 240. Find My Place)
Randy Cutter’s Video:
Debra Oritz Video:
Below is a hermeneutical approach to the gender debate. Since this was a hot topic I thought it prudent to include a living scholar. Enjoy.
Chapter 21 HERMENEUTICS AND THE GENDER DEBATE by Gordon D. Fee (get the book)
It is of some interest that the present gender debate is primarily an event taking place among evangelical Christians. For fundamentalists this is a closed issue. Their selective and literalistic approach to Scripture has won the day for eternal patriarchy. For more moderate or liberal Christians it is also a closed issue, with patriarchy dismissed as culturally outdated. At the end of the day, the primary differences among the three forms of Protestant faith are hermeneutical, having to do with both the meaning of texts (exegesis) and their application, but it is especially so among evangelicals involved in the debate over patriarchy and gender equality. Unfortunately, on this issue there is often a tendency on both sides to dismiss by name calling. But it is also common among patriarchalists to argue that egalitarian hermeneutics resort to a “special hermeneutic” to arrive at their conclusions. In some cases it has been further argued that this “special hermeneutic” opens the floodgates to an assortment of evils, such as rejection of biblical authority and acceptance of homosexual practices.’
This chapter 2 addresses these matters by examining some fundamental hermeneutical issues that divide the two sides,as well as by articulating a hermeneutic that leads to genuine obedience to Christ and is at the same time consonant with the gospel of grace and gifting-and with Paul’s own rejection of law keeping. Such a hermeneutic is preferred to one that tends to turn questions of gender relationships into a form of law in which “roles” and “structures” are placed on the same level as the ethical obligation to love one’s neighbor. In order to get there we need to go back to the beginning: why hermeneutics at all? And what does it mean for us to speak hermeneutically from a particular in this case, evangelical) doctrine of Scripture?
By its very nature, human speech-the use of symbols (words) to convey meaning-requires hermeneutics. When we speak we tend to think of it rather straightforwardly: my thoughts, expressed in words common to both of us, heard by your ears and recorded and deciphered by your mind. Unfortunately, however, between the mind of the speaker and that of the hearer are symbols-chiefly words, sometimes inflections or body language-so that what is intended as straightforward speech is commonly misunderstood.
Brief dialogue between two people who know each other well usually has a high degree of understanding, especially since dialogue allows for clarification. But the possibility of misunderstanding is increased as one is distanced from his or her hearer or reader-when, for example, monologue replaces dialogue, or the speaker is unknown to the hearer(s), or writing replaces speaking. When one adds other distancing factors-especially time, culture and a second language-the possibility of misunderstanding is heightened all the more, unless the writer has tried to be particularly sensitive to such distancing factors. But even then the degree of understanding is predicated very much on the degree of common experience
It is this factor-our distance from the biblical writers in time and culture-that demands that we be good exegetes, if we are truly to hear Scripture as God’s eternal Word. We must wrestle with their use of words, syntax and literary forms, which express their ideas, and we must hear those ideas within both the author’s and the readers’ cultural contexts and presuppositions, if ever we are adequately to understand what they intended by their words
But that is only one part of the task, and it is one that we can engage in with a relative degree of objectivity-although it is also true that any interpreter always brings to a text a considerable amount of cultural baggage and personal bias. The other side of the task, however, and for the interpretation of Scripture the urgent
one, is relevance. What does the biblical author’s intended meaning, as expressed in these ancient texts, mean for us today? At this point very much depends on the presuppositions of the interpreter. Here is where evangelical and liberal divide, where Pentecostal and dispensationalist, or Baptist and Presbyterian, part company.
Many evangelicals, of course, tend to think the answer lies in finding the meaning of the text itself,, and sometimes that is true. But very often it is not so. After all, there are a large number of evangelicals who claim to take Paul’s prohibition regarding women’s speaking in the assembly (I Cor I4:34-35) at face value, yet they reject altogether the prohibition six verses later in I Corinthians 14:39 (“do not forbid speaking in tongues”). By what kind of tortured hermeneutics does such a thing happen, one wonders.
What the text means as an eternal word for us is the crucial hermeneutical question. Since one’s presuppositions determine so much at this point, we need to examine the basic presupposition common to all evangelicals that will distinguish us both from other expressions of Christianity and from other religious expressions: the nature of Scripture.
SCRIPTURE AND RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY
Evangelical Protestantism identifies itself by its adherence to the biblical documents as inspired Scripture and therefore as the basis of religious authority for its theology and life in the world. But what does it mean for us to name as Scripture these documents that were written in recognizable human language, in largely recoverable historical contexts of a roughly fifteen-hundred-year span some nineteen-hundred-plus years ago? To answer that requires us to articulate a few presuppositions about the nature of religious authority in general, before particularizing our understanding of religious authority.
Let’s begin with three preliminary observations.
- The question of religious authority is an ultimate one, and ultimately we are dealing with the triune God. The problems lie with the penultimates-how God communicates or reveals himself, or what authoritatively mediates God and God’s will to humankind.
- 2. A person’s basic authority is ultimately a matter of faith; that is, one makes a faith commitment of some kind that says “This plus this,” or “This not that,” has authority in my life or church. This is so even if one does not articulate it.
- Related to this is the reality that one cannot finally prove one’s authority to be the correct one. What one can hope to show is the reasonableness of it. Thus, for
example, just as a historian cannot prove the resurrection of Jesus but can nonetheless show how the resurrection seems to make the best sense of all the available historical data, so we cannot prove the Bible to be God’s Word, but we can show by a variety of evidence that it makes good sense to believe it to be so.
Religious authority itself is of two kinds: either (I) it is external to oneself (so-called objective authority), or (2) it is internal (so-called subjective). External authority is of three kinds: (a) a sacred book, (b) an authoritative person(s) (sometimes = the founder) or (c) a community of persons (sometimes = tradition). Internal authority is of two kinds: reason and experience.
Each of these has its problem areas. For external authority there is always the question of authentication: why this one and not another. The problem with internal authority is that it lacks any means of verification or absoluteness. People with similar religious experience or a common view of reason may find support in one another, but the ultimate authority lies with oneself-it is my experience, after all, or my reason-and the result is the autonomy of the individual. This idolatry, the autonomy of reason and the individual-which reflects a failure to take the Fall seriously enough-divides the Christian from most Western non-Christians
as well as the evangelical from the liberal.
The evangelical stance on the question of religious authority is that our basic authority is external. This is predicated on the prior theological grounds (which we find eminently reasonable) of the nature of God and the reality of the Fall. We believe that our vision of God was distorted by the Fall and therefore that God cannot be discovered through our reason or experience; that is, God cannot be known from below, as it were. God must reveal himself if he is to be known at all. We further believe that God has so revealed himself: by deeds, in a Person and through a book that both reports and interprets those deeds and that Person. Because ultimately we know the Person, or hear the gospel, through the book, we take the book to be our primary penultimate authority. That is, we believe that this is the way God chose to reveal and to communicate. The other forms of authority (tradition, reason, experience) in various ways authenticate, verify or support, but all must themselves finally be authenticated by Scripture.
The church has traditionally tried to find ways to verbalize this conviction regarding the ultimate revelatory nature of Scripture so as to safeguard it from being watered down, either by one of the other kinds of authority on the one hand or by the drifts of culture or collective fallenness on the other. Out of such concern arose various attempts to articulate the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit. By this articulation we were first of all affirming that because Scripture is ultimately inspired by the Spirit of God, it is self-authenticating. In the final analysis, we believe that the authority is intrinsic. God has spoken-and will continue to speak-here. Let the lion out of the cage; it will defend itself. At the same time we were articulating our conviction that God himself is the ultimate source of the Christian faith, as it is revealed or defined in our sacred book.
THE NATURE OF EVANGELICAL HERMENEUTICS
It is the doctrine of inspiration-the tenet that God inspired not only the people who spoke but also the words they spoke-that distinguishes the evangelical view of Scripture and also forces us to wrestle with the issues of hermeneutics. Inspiration maintains that God indeed “spoke all these words and said . . .” But it does not maintain that God dictated all these words. To the contrary it recognizes, indeed argues, that the Bible is God’s Word spoken in human words in history.’ As Gods Word it has eternal relevance; God addresses us. It is ours to hear and obey. But as human words in history the eternal Word has historical particularity. None of the words was spoken in a vacuum. Rather they were all addressed to, and conditioned by, the specific historical context in which they were spoken.
Evangelical hermeneutics therefore, by its very understanding of the nature of Scripture, must always be interacting with the intersection of the human and divine in these words that are believed also to be the Word. Thus we must struggle against the tendency to come down on either side the human or the divine in such a way as effectively to negate the other.
For example, though sympathetic, an evangelical rejects the fundamentalist’s anxiety over the need for absolute authority, which tends thereby to replace the authority of the Word with the authority of the interpreter. To arrive at such an absolute the fundamentalist tends to see Scripture as a divine word on y, and thus merely pays lip service to its human authors. As with Docetists or Apollinarians in Christology, the Word may appear to be human, but in reality the divine has been so superimposed on the human as to eliminate its genuine humanity almost altogether.
On the other hand, the evangelical also sympathizes with, but finally rejects, the liberal’s fear of imposing on the church-in the name of God-rules that seem to be more arbitrary than loving, or dogmas that are difficult for moderns to swallow. Here, as with Arian Christology, the error lies in an affirmation of the human that diminishes-or negates altogether-the divine. All too often the emphasis on the human side of Scripture results in the hearing of a human word more than the Word of God. Scripture is therefore primarily “God-talk” by us rather than “thus says the Lord.”
well grounded, the evangelical response to such hermeneutics is still valid. Such an attitude toward Scripture tends to divest it of its divine authority. Rather than a powerful word from God that addresses us and sits in ultimate judgment on our impoverished human lives, what is left of Scripture is the meager results of Western rationalism with its pallid moralism and a historical criticism that sits in heavy judgment on the text itself. If we select only parts of Scripture as God’s Word or listen only to what is compatible with
contemporary broad-mindedness, how does the God who judged human wisdom as folly through the scandal of the cross speak his judgments on our fallenness and do it with any authority? In such case God speaks only what we think God should speak, only what is palatable to certain political oreconomic convictions, or finally only what we allow him to say. The final word and judgment are ours. That seems to us to be too great a price to pay to be contemporary or incarnational or “loving.” The scriptural view is that one must speak the truth in love.
So evangelicals feel compelled to reject those hermeneutical stances that see Scripture either as a divine word in such a way as to divest it of its truly human character or as a human word in such a way as to blunt or negate its also being God’s very Word. But to steer between these two polarities, to see Scripture as both human and divine, is not without its own difficulties and tensions.
First, the intersection of the eternal Word with historical particularity leaves us with far more ambiguities than some feel comfortable with. What do we do with the holy war and the slaughter of nations? How do we reconcile God’s abundant mercy with the lament that speaks of dashing Babylonian children’s heads against rocks? What do we do with the holy kiss, charismatic gifts, head coverings, the mode of baptism, the sovereignty of God and human freedom, to name but a few items where evangelicals who hold the same view of Scripture are deeply divided as to what it means for our lives at specific points?
The longing for absoluteness in all matters, which compels the fundamentalist mindset, is ever with the evangelical as well-precisely because of the conviction that Scripture is God’s Word above all. Since God is unseen and known only by revelation and faith, and must finally be trusted, the need for certainty is often vested in the penultimate that leads us to God. Such a need drove the Pharisee to put a hedge around the law and the legalist to put a hedge around certain behaviors, in order to keep people within the boundaries. For some, it is too much to trust in God without absolute certainty, which of course is its own form of idolatry.
Hence there is always pressure from this side of our fallenness to eliminate ambiguity. If God himself is infallible, then the text of his Word must be infallible. If the text is infallible, then there must be an infallible understanding of it. But that is not an evangelical syllogism. The text itself in its intent is infallible, we would argue, because of its character as God’s Word. And we insist on this, because even if we disagree on the meaning of the text, our hope lies in the text itself to have its inherent power as God’s Word to correct us.
But the buck stops there, at the text and its intent, as to what is infallible. God did not choose to give us a series of timeless, non-culture-bound theological propositions to be believed and imperatives to be obeyed. Rather he chose to speak his eternal Word this way, in historically particular circumstances and in every kind of literary genre. By the very way God gave us this Word, he locked in the ambiguity. So one should not fight God and insist that he give us his Word another way or, as we are more apt to do, rework his Word along theological or cultural prejudgments that turn it into a mine field of principles, propositions or imperatives but denude it of its ad hoc character as truly human. The ambiguity is a part of what God did in giving us his Word this way. Our task is to recognize and capitalize on what God has done.
Second, Scripture’s historical particularity-the fact that the eternal word was expressed in specific historical and cultural contexts-brings with it a degree of accommodation. At issue here is whether the vessel the cultural context is also somehow vested with a dimension of the eternal. Here too is an area of evangelical anxiety, since what some see as part of the cultural trappings others would contend for as having eternal value. That there is some accommodation is a matter on which all agree-even the fundamentalist, albeit usually unwittingly. But how much, and of what kind(s)-these are the burning questions. And here is where some sore spots among evangelicals are openly festering, especially on gender issues.
Third, inherent in the conviction that Scripture is both human and divine is the recognition that it has diversity within an essential unity. The diversity results from its historical particularities, the unity from its ultimately divine origin. But how to articulate this unity and diversity is another area in which evangelicals are not all agreed. The traditional hermeneutical principle here is the analogy of Scripture-Scripture interprets Scripture, because God is its ultimate author and therefore gives it unity. While I would argue vigorously for the validity of this principle, the problem arises at the point of working it out in practice. Sometimes, in the name of this hermeneutical principle, what appears to be a highly improbable meaning is superimposed on a text in order to make it conform to other texts for the sake of unity-which is often the result of a prior commitment to the shape of that unity as much as to the unity itself. Unity is often understood to mean uniformity. That Scripture might reveal a diverse witness on some matters is summarily ruled out before one even looks at the texts.
While it is certainly true that one can make a beautiful quilt out of whole cloth, it is also true that one can do so out of patchwork. Any two pieces of patchwork lying side by side in isolation could indeed appear to be discordant. But when those two become part of a whole, with pattern and design, the glory of the quilt’s unity lies precisely in the patterns of diversity.
Granted, to insist that the very nature of Scripture has locked into it a degree of ambiguity, accommodation and diversity causes some people to capitulate in despair-either toward the certainties of fundamentalism or toward the ambiguities of liberalism. Far better to opt for the radical middle. If God gave us his Word this way, then our task is to hold on to both realities-its eternality and historical particularity-with equal vigor. If we cannot always have absolute certainty as to meaning or application, we can certainly move toward a higher degree of common understanding.
The way toward that higher level of commonality, I would argue, is still to be found at the crucial point of authorial intentionality, which we would insist is also the Holy Spirit’s intentionality.4 After all, speech has intent; and if we are to hear God’s Word rightly for ourselves, we must begin with that original intent. If God did not speak timeless aphorisms, he did speak an eternal Word. That Word had specific intent in its historically particular moments. Our task is to discover and hear that Word in terms of God’s original intent as expressed by the biblical writer, and then hear that same Word again in our own historical setting, even when our particulars are quite different from those of the original setting.
But this does not mean we need to keep their historical particulars intact as well. For good or ill, history brings changes to culture, a fact that is especially so for Western culture. Instead of seeing this as a debility, we should recognize the greater glory of Scripture and praise God for it. That he would speak so directly to their contexts is what gives us hope that God will always through that same Word speak again and again to our own historical context as well as to all others.
TENSION POINTS IN EVANGELICAL HERMENEUTICS
One can expect general agreement among evangelicals on most of what has been said to this point. Our differences result when all of us look at the same texts, all with a similar view of Scripture as the Word of God, yet either understand the original meaning of the texts in different ways
or have different views as to how they do or do not apply. While this is true for all sorts of matters of theology, ethics and church practice,5 it is especially true for the so-called gender debate.
At issue finally in this debate is the basis on which we construct our theological statements about what it means to be human, as both male and female, and then how this theological understanding works out in the practical areas of relationships between men and women in church and home. Our principal hope for greater consistency and larger agreement in these matters, it seems to me, lies still with the first task of hermeneutics-the careful exegesis of texts, which has the ortginal intent of the text as its primary goal. This is why chapters four through thirteen of this volume are devoted to the original intent of the several “disputed” texts. Since God chose to communicate himself to us through human speech in historically particular circumstances, we are locked into a hermeneutical process
that demands that we listen carefully first of all to what is intended; there alone lies our hope of hearing what God wants us to hear.
But to argue for discerning the intention of texts as the prior hermeneutical task does not resolve all our difficulties. It is merely the way forward. Several hermeneutical tasks remain. The rest of this essay will explore two areas of application, related to the two primary texts that divide us on gender issues (Eph 5:21-33; I Tim 2:11-12). The two areas of concern are tendencies on the part of some evangelicals (I) to create “theology by way of implication” rather than on the basis of clear and explicit statements in Scripture, and (2) to turn some ad hoc biblical imperatives into a form of Christian law requiring observance. In each case an alternative hermeneutical model is offered for consideration, which attempts to be true to the intent of the text of Scripture on the one hand and to the intent of the gospel on the other. At the same time it takes into consideration the realities of ambiguity, accommodation and diversity.
THEOLOGY BY WAY OF IMPLICATION
It is an evangelical axiom that what is absolutely basic to Christian theology is clearly and explicitly taught by intention in Scripture.7 The universal sinfulness of humankind, for example, is based on passages like Romans 3:23, where Paul by inspiration of the Spirit says plainly that “all [Jew and Gentile alike] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Furthermore, Scripture without ambiguity has a single witness on this matter and other matters like it. On the other hand, this axiom does not mean that all Christian theology is so explicitly set forth. Many things that evangelical-and other-Christians believe to be true about God and the world are either derived from the primary texts or learned by way of implication. But most such theological statements are of a secondary nature, which does not mean that they are unimportant but that they do not have the same level of import as primary theological constructs.8 For example, evangelicals believe that the material creation, including the human body, is good. This is based on Genesis I and Paul’s affirmations about the body in such passages as I Corinthians 6:13-14 and 15:35-57. But there is considerable disagreement over the nature of the resurrected body and over how “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom 8:2I), precisely because of the ambiguity on these matters in the New Testament itself.
One can think of dozens of such matters. For example, the Pentecostal doctrine of tongues as “the initial physical evidence” of Spirit baptism is derived by implication from several passages in Acts that narrate such receptions of the Spirit. The baptistic mode of baptism by immersion is
based on biblical narratives, plus the meaning of the verb to baptize, especially as it is assumed in Paul’s letters (Rom 6:3-4; I Cor I2:I3). Weekly or daily celebration of the Eucharist is based on narratives only. In all these cases, and many more like them, one can offer theological reasons for one’s point of view. But in fact on such matters evangelical Christians are deeply divided, because the theological positions are derived by implication, not by explicit scriptural instruction.
And this is the reason for division among evangelicals when it comes to men and women’s relationships or roles in both church and home-because there is no explicit teaching in the New Testament either about this relationship or about church order, structures or worship. 10 That is, one may derive a patriarchal view of church and home by way of implication from a certain understanding of a few texts, but nowhere does Scripture explicitly say, for example, that only men may hold certain church offices-especially since the idea of “offices” as having priority and needing to be “filled” by someone does not appear at all in the New Testament.
Paul thus assumes a Greco-Roman patriarchal culture when he instructs Christians on how to live within it in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, but he does not thereby bless the culture itself nor explicitly instruct men to exercise authority over their wives. Furthermore, there is far more ambiguity in the biblical evidence than patriarchalists seem ready to allow. For example, the two household codes in Colossians and Ephesians are especially “elitist,” directed toward people like Philemon,” in whose villas some house churches would have met. But such households would also have been in the minority in terms of the overall number of believers; furthermore, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians assumes a full household, with husband and wife, children and slaves. One wonders, for example, how this passage would have been heard in Nympha’s house church (Col
4:I5). Not only was she the householder, and therefore most likely gave leadership to the church that met in her house, but there would have been no husband to submit to, and she would have assumed the man’s role in the other relationships. Moreover, the word to wives has to do with the householder’s wife, not the wife in a slave couple, who herself would be required to obey the householder, not her husband, because she was owned by the former.
Furthermore, the structures evident among the wealthy in the typical Roman villa seem to be less evident in the households found in a typical insula.12 Thus it is of interest to note the differences between how Paul speaks of Philemon’s household and the church that met there and how he speaks of that of Priscilla and Aquila in Romans I6:3-5. In the former case Paul greets both Philemon and his wife Apphia; but when greeting the church he uses the singular pronoun (“and the church that meets in your [Philemons] home”). Priscilla and Aquila, on the other hand,
were artisans (tentmakers), who would not have lived in a villa but most likely) in an insula, where the house church would have met in a large room upstairs. In their case, and in contrast to Philemon, not only is Priscilla mentioned first, 13 but Paul sends greetings to the church that meets “at their house” (cf. I Cor I6:I9).
Given both the ambiguity of the New Testament evidence and the lack of explicit teaching on patriarchy as the norm in the new creation, to derive a theology of patriarchy from the Ephesians passage would thus seem to be a dubious form of theologizing at best. There is no question that these texts reflect the patriarchal worldview of the Greco-Roman world, but they do not bless that worldview theologically. Rather, Paul’s instructions dike Peter’s in I Pet 2:I8-3:7) have to do with how to live out the life of Christ in such a cultural setting. Christian theology that requires adherence from all believers in all times and places needs to be made of sterner stuff-derived from clear, explicit texts whose intent is specifically to instruct regarding what Christians are to believe.
A key text used to derive patriarchy as a theological concept is I Timothy 2:11 -15, where Paul appeals by way of analogy to the creation narrative.15 Here Paul is addressing a situation in the Ephesian church where some elders had gone astray. These men in turn had apparently led some younger widows astray with them, probably using these women and their domiciles for the propagation of the false teaching.’6 It is the deceitful nature of this teaching that concerns Paul. After all, later he excoriates the men and women who are spreading the falsehoods as following “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (I Tim 4:I) and clearly says that some of the younger widows have “already turned away to follow Satan” (I Tim 5:I5). Precisely for this reason he also urges in contrast to his explicit advice given in I Cor 7:39-40) that these younger widows marry and have children (I Tim S:14). The language in this latter passage echoes that of I Timothy 2:8-IS, where Paul is addressing both the men (I Tim 2:8) and the women (I Tim 2:9-I5) with regard to proper demeanor in worship. It should also be pointed out that after dealing with the younger widows in I Timothy 5:11-15, Paul goes on in I Timothy 5:I7-25 to address how Timothy is to deal with the straying elders.
Paul appeals to the Genesis narrative to support his not permitting a woman to teach a man in order to domineer over him. 17 That Paul is using the Genesis narrative for ad hoc purposes seems plain in light of his first assertion in I Timothy 2:14, that “Adam was not the one deceived,” Paul’s interest in Genesis is with the language of “deception”-which does not come from the actual narrative of the Fall (Gen 3:I-7) but from the woman, who responded to God’s “What is this that you have done?” by excusing herself and blaming the serpent, who “tricked me, and I ate.” Paul’s interest lies with the younger widows in Ephesus, whose deception by Satan is addressed in the rest of I Timothy 2:14-15, where he reflects the Genesis narrative: “the woman … was deceived and became a sinner.” But as he will urge later (I Tim 5:I4), her salvation rests in her “childbearing” (cf. I Tim 2:I5).
All of this to say that Paul’s use of the Genesis narrative is scarcely explicit theological instruction on patriarchy with regard to ministry in the church.18 His concern is not with establishing patriarchy from man’s priority in creation but with the woman’s deception by Satan (which is being repeated again in Ephesus. Paul prohibits a woman from teaching a man so as to dominate him because he does not want the women in Ephesus to replay the sin of Eve, who was deceived and led Adam into sin.
Thus this ad hoc reference to the Genesis narrative is simply not concerned with establishing a new-creation mandate based on a “creation order” that gives man authority in home and church. Furthermore, the Genesis narrative itself does not make Adam’s priority in creation a theological point. Rather, a straightforward reading of that narrative makes two basic points: that humanity created in God’s likeness is not complete with only the male, and that the two are made for each other-so that in the sexual union the man and the woman actually become “one flesh.” Thus the concern is with (I) their differentiation, (2) their bearing God’s image together and (3) their unity in the marriage union.
My point, then, is that no New Testament text explicitly teaches patriarchy as the divine order that is to prevail across the two biblical covenants. It is also highly questionable exegetically whether in these few texts Paul intends even by implication to set forth patriarchy as the divine order under the new covenant. And here is where the issues of ambiguity and diversity of witness come to the force.
First, what Paul is said to be arguing here by way of analogy is not explicitly taught anywhere else in Scripture. In the Genesis narrative patriarchy in fact begins with the Fall and is expressly related to the woman’s role in the Fall (Gen 3:I6). But the analogy pointed to here-that man is to rule woman because he was created prior to woman-occurs nowhere else in all of Scripture.
Second, the ambiguity of using this analogy from the Genesis narrative for such a theological construct is that Paul appeals to this narrative in two earlier instances in his letters, where a rather different picture emerges. First, in 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul also refers to Eve and her being “deceived by the serpent’s cunning”; but in this case it has to do with the whole church in Corinth-including presumably some male leaders-being deceived by false teachers. Second, and more significant, in Romans 5:I2-2 I, precisely because Paul is contrasting the “original sin” in Eden with the work of Christ, it is Adam, not Eve, who is responsible for the sin that has fully infected the human race. This is also an ad hoc creation on Paul’s part. But in this case a very clear theological point is being made regarding the universality of human sinfulness; and because Christ is put forward as the “second Adam,” the universality of human sinfulness is not expressed in terms of Eve’s deception and fall but as having come through the man.
Thus Paul uses the Genesis narrative in a variety of ways. The only place where theological points are drawn from the narrative is where he refers to Adam’s sin. The two references to Eve have to do with her being deceived by Satan and his concern that such deception is being repeated in his churches.
All of this to suggest, then, that a theology that articulates what all Christians in all places and at all times should believe needs to be drawn from texts that teach such theology explicitly or from texts where the theology is implicitly embedded in what is being said. But in the latter instances, such theology should also reflect the universal perspective of Scripture, without ambiguity and diverse witness. Where there is ambiguity and diversity of witness, it would seem that what is being “taught” is Christian truth that is being accommodated to that culture and its structures.
A HERMENEUTIC OF GOSPEL AND SPIRIT
Related to the difficulties with establishing patriarchy as a divine order for all cultures is the necessity in an egalitarian culture to set boundaries as to what women may or may not do in the home and church. The net result is that patriarchy thus turns the gospel of grace and Spirit gifting into a set of laws to be adhered to.
Take the household code in Ephesians 5:2I-33. Here we are often told that the man is under divine obligation to be the ruler of the household. But that does not appear as an imperative in this passage-even by implication. It was simply the cultural assumption that he would be, and requiring it by way of imperative would be outside of Paul’s cultural frame of reference. In fact, the only two imperatives in this passage are for the wife to submit to her husband and for the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church. The imperative to the wife would not have been seen as a heavy burden; after all, submission to one another is at the very heart of the Christian ethic see especially Phil 2:3-4, where Christ becomes the paradigm.
The radical imperative is what was said to the husband, who by law had all the rights and privileges in the Greco-Roman household. In a situation that simply begged for abuse, Paul is calling on the Christian householder to love his not meaning sexually in this case but by a constant giving of himself for her. This, of course, also lies at the very heart of the Christian ethic, in which the whole Torah is summed up in a single imperative from Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself” 19 So radical is Paul’s imperative within its Greco-Roman culture that he repeats it three times in this passage (Eph 5:25, 28, 33)-and then uses the example of Christ’s giving himself redemptively in his death for us as the paradigm.
Thus what needs to be noted in the end is that there is no imperative regarding the structures of the household-these were simply assumed. The only imperatives are those that are fully in keeping with the gospel of grace and the Spirit.
One problem with turning this passage into a transcultural mandate for patriarchalism is what to do when the culture shifts as radically as it has in the West over the past century-plus. If current English-speaking North American culture is not fully egalitarian, by law it is now generally so in the public domain. Husbands and wives very often are equally educated; they often marry in part because they recognize complementary gifting in each other; and in a large number of cases both work outside the home, sometimes with the wife having a management position. It is common to hear some patriarchalists rail against this “demise of the family in Western culture”; but it is a cultural reality whether appreciated or not.
The issues for us have to do with how we live Christianly in this, or any other, culture. And here is where the hermeneutical issue comes to the fore. The contemporary Western home is a radically different thing from its Greco-Roman forebear. In order to uphold male rule in today’s household, patriarchalists are regularly faced with the necessity of fine-tuning various rules and restrictions regarding “biblical gender roles.” In the end, the gospel of
grace and the Spirit is turned into a form of law, which gives rise to the pharisaic problem of needing to put a hedge around the law, deciding what is or is not “allowable” within its framework.
Peter’s very pharisaic question “How many times must I forgive?” is now turned into “What constitutes wifely submission?” Or, “When husband and wife come to a stalemate in decision making, who has the last word?” One wonders whether Paul would laugh or cry! The gospel of grace and gifting leads to a different set of questions: How does one best serve the interests of the other? How does one encourage the Spirit’s gifting in the other? Questions like these cross all gender boundaries.
A similar kind of casuistry has had a long history in the evangelical church with regard to women’s role in the church, especially with regard to “teaching men,” based on an interpretation of I Timothy 2:12 as permanently subordinatingwomen’s ministry to men’s authority. For example, with the advent of the modern missionary movement, single womenregularly went abroad on the basis of their calling, whether sent out by the local church or not. After the women were successful in gaining converts and establishing growing churches, then the North American church stepped in and “ordered” the church under male leadership. Hypocritically and with blatant racism they “allowed” the woman missionary to teach the Bible to men in Africa or Asia but frequently forbade her to do so back home. The same kind of “putting a hedge around the law” has occurred more recently in patriarchal settings. For example, even though a woman who is a biblical scholar writes books that men read, and even though she is sometimes “allowed” to teach the Bible in a college classroom, she may not teach an adult Sunday school class in church when men are present-or if she may, it is still casuistry that makes it “allowable.”
This kind of casuistic approach to law tends to prevail wherever patriarchalism is the “legal rule” of the church. The question is always framed in terms of legalistic boundaries rather than in terms of recognition of genuine giftedness by the Spirit. There would seem to be a much better way, and that is to read the two “limiting” texts as not making specific roles and structures obligatory for all times and places. Rather, since I Timothy 2 stands in tension with much else in Paul’s letters, it is better understood as an ad hoc word intending to forbid some young widows from being carriers of the “diseased” teaching in Ephesus. Likewise, the household codes in Colossians and Ephesians are not intended at all to set boundaries but rather to encourage Christian deportment within an existing patriarchal culture. What the church should be encouraged to do is to recognize Spirit gifting wherever it is found and find ways of developing such gifting so that the whole church may benefit.
In the end, then, the hermeneutical questions raised by those who hold firmly to Scripture as God’s eternal Word must take into account the nature of that Word as both human and divine. And because of this, we must be prepared to recognize and articulate the nature and kinds of ambiguity, accommodation and diversity that the double nature of Scripture forces on us. Within this hermeneutical framework our theology, ethics and church practice should be predicated on two firm foundational stones:
- Only what is explicitly taught in Scripture by intention should be understood as obligatory for all believers, and what is merely implied in Scripture should accordingly be held in abeyance.
- Our hermeneutics of imperatives should be driven bythe gospel of grace and Spirit gifting, not by a new form of pharisaic legalism that tries to find ways to put a hedge around a form of Christian law.
Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy (Kindle Locations 4283-4284). Kindle Edition.