Ben Witherington on Women in Ministry

Below is a short and succinct video teaching from Ben Witherington, professor of New Testament studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. The topic is a hot one for today – women in ministry, as well as in the household.

If you read my blog regularly, you will already know where I stand on this position, being of a more egalitarian persuasion. In all, I appreciate greatly what Witherington has to share, especially in mentioning the concept of a trajectory being created within the New Testament.

What is a trajectory?

One could state it this way: We recognise that certain details, commands and teachings of Scripture were not to be binding on God’s people for all time sake. You know, like foot washing, head coverings, specific clothing, and the sort. That might suffice. But let’s flesh it out a little more.

In identifying a trajectory, at least in regards to the discussion surrounding women’s roles, we note that something is being created within the corpus of New Testament writings that, even though one might be able to quote some verses in support of the complementarian perspective that men alone should carry leadership and authority within ministry and the home, we see a door opening for a broader and greater understanding of God’s design for the mutual and shared roles of both men and women. The normative views of the socio-religious culture of that day are slowly being transformed by the rule of God.

You see, those of the New Testament times found themselves within a patriarchal society. Guess what that meant? Men were in charge, women were not. Children could have even been viewed of more value than women. And one must admit that some teaching within the New Testament does not necessarily challenge such a perspective. But what it does is offer this two-fold outlook: a) it calls for faithful and servant heart in the midst of such a culture and b) opens the door for movement towards that greater design of God for women. It’s quite like when we read the New Testament passages on slavery, you don’t see an outright challenge to such an accepted structure. Rather, what you see is: a) a calling to be a faithful follower of Christ as a slave, which meant treating your master well, as well as the master treating the slave well and b) a trajectory opening that allows for us to conclude that slavery is not God’s great and ultimate design for human beings.

Within the kingdom, there are no social barriers, AT ALL. Gender, socio-economic, cultural, national, etc, have all come down in Christ. Yes, they still exist. Men are men, women are women. But these factors do not determine calling, gifting and ministry in the purposes of God. This is all part of God’s new creation in Christ and the new covenant. We are fully headed there one day, but the church is to be a society that lives like it even now.

So, those are some brief thoughts of mine on women in ministry and what we might call trajectory theology. But take some time to view this short, 7-minute teaching of Ben Witherington. I believe it provides some solid points to think about within the gender-role discussion.

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5 thoughts on “Ben Witherington on Women in Ministry

  1. Hi Scott, some helpful observations there. Often hard for us now to appreciate how radical the teaching on women and involvement of women in ministry would have been. I like what you said about slavery, think you could have taken it further though! The movement of Onesimus from slave to brother and equal in Philemon reinforces the teaching in Ephesians of mutual submission between Christians now being the defining relationship, more so than wife/husband or slave/master. Whilst I don’t agree entirely with the approach of feminist theology, the focus on household gathered around a common table eating and sharing hospitality rather than a household ruled by a patriarch seeks to bring this understanding of equality in Christ into our Ecclesiology in a helpful way.

  2. Jo –

    Thanks for the comment and thoughts. Just as a side, egalitarianism (or mutuality) has nothing to do with feminism at its core. I am not saying you make the full connection. But PLENTY of people thing egalitarianism is simply liberal feminism. It’s like equating charismata gifts with only those who abuse it. Or equating evolution only with atheistic or agnostic perspectives. We cannot make these fully connections, since there are plenty of healthy Christians holding to these varying views. And I think more and more have and will continue to see these views as acceptable within [evangelical] Christianity, even if they might not hold to them fully.

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Scott, can see why you would think I was making a connection there between egalitarianism and feminisim, but that wasn’t my intention. In fact I would contend that the two are in opposition. Simply, I think that some feminist theology can help to introduce balance to prevailing historical views leading to an egalitarian position which I would adopt myself. Fully agree with everything else you say!

  3. Pingback: Women in Ministry & Trajectory Theology | Think Theology

  4. Pingback: Is Christianity sexist? – AntWoord

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