Lo and behold, this is the final post in my brief series on the role of women with regards to leadership in the church. It started with my interaction with the recent ruling of the Church of England with Tom Wright’s follow-up article to this ruling and has now moved into a 2-part series in which I am interacting with some of the major challenges that I have read from complementarians (those who believe women should not be appointed as pastors/elders/bishops).
In part 1, I looked at two important points:
1) Paradigm-shaping passages: This is where I discussed how and why I believe Bible passages such as Gal 3:26-29, Gal 6:15 and 2 Cor 5:16-17 become very significant in understanding not only the roles of women but the whole social order. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the subsequent in-breaking of the new creation order has re-oriented absolutely everything in regards to the world’s social constructs.
2) Dealing with clear passages: I addressed some of the passages that complementarians identify as clear markers as to why women cannot serve as pastors/elders/bishops. Those Bible texts are ones like 1 Tim 2:8-15; 1 Tim 3:2; and Tit 1:6.
But now it’s time to move on to my final 3 points:
3) The Beginning Passages
I’ve spent time in the past looking at the early chapters of Genesis, specifically chs.1-3. So I only want to summarise some thoughts here.
What you might hear many complementarians argue for is that God established a clear ‘creation order’ from the beginning in regards to the role of men and women. 1 Timothy 2:12-13 clarifies this by stating: I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Adam was formed first, not Eve. And in God’s good creation order, we are exactly why women can never teach or exercise authority over men. She must be silent in such situations. So the argument goes.
But when you go back to the early chapters of Genesis, we must take note of some things: Nowhere are we told that, because male was created first, male is therefore inherently in authority over female. Nowhere! Not only that, but it is also worth noting that Genesis 1 actually tells us both male and female were created simultaneously.
Ah, but what I have forgotten is that Genesis 2 tells us male was actually created before female. Genesis 1 lays out a kind of summary account; Genesis 2 gets into the details of how and the order in which man and woman were created.
But what I think happens here is that some just might be forcing a ‘creation order’ into both Genesis and 1 Timothy 2. I already addressed in my last post that I don’t believe the context of 1 Timothy 2 puts a dampening on women in leadership for the next few thousand years. A particular situation in a particular setting (mainly Ephesus) was being addressed.
But what about Genesis 1 and 2? It seems pretty clear, at least from ch.2, that the creation order has been established, and so, noting 1 Tim 2:13-14, women are not to lead lest they go against God’s order.
First off, I think it worth noting that Genesis 1 and 2 don’t only present an differing order as to the creation of male and female. It’s wider than that. For example, Genesis 1 presents that animals were first created, then male and female were created together. Yet, Genesis 2 has a different order. Male was created, then animals, then female.
So, does Genesis 2 lay out the premise that, because animals were created prior to woman, this means they also have a lead role over women?
Of course, this borders on the ludicrous. But hopefully it makes the point that something being created before another does not necessarily imply leadership over the other. Winged creatures were created before the beasts of the earth. Does this entail leading animals?
I don’t have time to address all the different exegetical approaches to the early chapters of Genesis, for it would take us off track quite a bit. But, suffice it to say that I am convinced that the early chapters of Genesis are not given as a detailed, straightforward history. Rather, what we have here are probably 2 creation traditions combined across the 2 chapters, all as a kind of polemic for the Hebrew God, Yahweh, over and against the other ancient near eastern gods and their creation accounts. It’s not ultimately about seven 24-hour days (for how do you have ‘days’ before a sun was created, and why are evenings mentioned before mornings?). It’s not about fish and birds being created before pigs and cows.
Rather, these early chapters are set in a way to speak to the ancient peoples about the grander purposes of the one true God, the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh. Yahweh was established as the sovereign Creator; Yahweh was declared as Lord of his temple, the heavens and earth; Yahweh made eikons (icons), or image-bearers, out of real flesh and blood human beings, both male and female; and these image-bearers were called to both rule and relate (through Sabbath-rest) to him.
Going back to 1 Tim 2:13-14, it seems obvious that the passage draws upon the Genesis 2 narrative. I’d say that is a given. But to the exact detail of how it is drawing upon Genesis 2 is what I challenge. I don’t believe a ‘creation order’ was laid out in Genesis 1-2 to tell us that men are the only leaders and I think the Timothy situation is directly addressing problems within the goddess-worshipping community in Ephesus. As I said in my last article, the questionable context around vs13-14 make me think we might have just wrongly approached these words to Timothy.
Now, moving on to more details in Genesis 2, complementarians love to emphasise the use of the phrase ‘helper suitable for him’ (2:18; also in 2:20). This wording is very clear that a woman is called to not lead with man, but rather to be his helper. And, you know, when we think of the word ‘helper’, we tend to picture someone under another – like the elves being under Santa, as ‘Santa’s little helpers’.
But what of this word helper, translated from the Hebrew word ‘ezer. Interestingly enough, this word is actually used many times to describe God’s role with us (see Ed 18:4; Deut 33:29; Ps 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11; etc). And, of course, God is our ‘ezer, our helper! But I suppose that, just because the biblical author utilised this word for God, he was in no way communicating God’s lesser role to us? Knowing this, I believe we should steer clear of the view that the word ‘helper’ describes a subordinate role.
In his systematic text, Millard Erickson summarises this Hebrew term well:
This would suggest that the helper envisioned in Genesis 2:18 is not inferior to the one helped. Rather the helper is to be thought of as a coworker or enabler. (Christian Theology, p546)
That the woman was the helper of the male and that she was also taken out of his side (or ‘ribs’) does not communicate inferiority of role. Rather, it communicates mutual togetherness, like that described in Gen 1:26-28. I believe both Gen 1 and 2 communicate that they were co-workers of equal standing – both as image bearers, both given the same ruling mandate. Here we have mutual togetherness!
The last point to address out of the early chapters of Genesis is the objection that, because the man named the woman, this communicates his leading role over the woman. We find this action in Gen 3:20. Don’t forget that the man also named the animals and we know the ruling mandate over the animals, the argument might go.
The ironic thing to recognise is that this naming took place after the event known as ‘the Fall’. And, again, searching the context of Gen 3, I am not sure the text identifies this naming action as a communication of leadership. Both have fallen, both have been responsible, both have received judgment. And so we turn to vs20 and it actually comes forth as a beautiful expression. Not one of communicating who is in charge, who is in the lead role. ‘Eve’ will become mother of all the living, even of the one who would crush the serpent’s head (see 3:15).
And if we want to consider 1 Tim 3:14 – And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. – as a pointer to who has the leadership amongst the sexes, I think this would be a mistake. For starters, is this verse telling us that only the woman is a sinner, mainly because she was deceived?
Of course not, especially noting how most evangelicals turn to places like Romans 5 to convey some kind of headship upon Adam – that because he sinned, and he stood as the father of all creation, all humanity participated with him. Who really gets first prize as best sinner? Adam or Eve? Do we run to Romans 5 or 1 Timothy 2? Or is it that we are trying to hard to fit a square peg in a round hole? Are we trying to piece together Bible passages to form a particular systematic approach to Scripture, rather than engaging the text within its own situational, socio-historical context?
I am aware that I was not able to address all issues and points. Some have produced 200+ pages on these Bible passages alone. But I think it gives us enough to grapple with to realise that a) maybe things aren’t like we first thought and b) maybe we are trying to read some things in to Genesis 1-3 or 1 Timothy 2 that should not be there (theologians call that eisegesis). I am convinced God has not ultimately excluded women from leadership.
4) Trajectory Theology
Here is a term that many might not be too familiar with – trajectory theology. There are basically 2 aspects to this hermeneutical approach to Scripture: 1) The recognition that certain commands and teachings of Scripture were not to be binding on God’s people for all time. 2) Within the New Testament framework, some changes had been put into effect, but by the time the canon of Scripture was closed, all doctrinal and practical aspects had not been completely finalised.
With regards to the first point, I always point people Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. McKnight is one of the leading authorities of today on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. And he is evangelical through and through. In this book, McKnight has some interesting words right from the beginning:
Throughout this process of conversion and reading the Bible, I made discoveries that created a question that disturbed me and still does. Many of my fine Christian friends, pastors, and teachers routinely made the claim that they were Bible-believing Christians, and they were committed to the whole Bible and that – and this was one of the favorite lines – “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!” They were saying two things and I add my response (which expresses my disturbance):
One: We believe everything the Bible says, therefore…
Two: We practice whatever the Bible says.
Why say “hogwash,” a tasty, salty word I learned from my father? Because I was reading the same Bible they were reading, and I observed that, in fact – emphasize that word “fact” – whatever they were claiming was not in “fact” what they were doing (Nor was I.) What I discovered is that we all pick and choose. I must confess this discovery did not discourage me as much as it disturbed me, and then it made me intensely curious (and it is why I wrote this book). The discoveries and disturbances converged onto one big question:
How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?
Whether or not we want to admit it, we, as Christians of all types, undertake this practice. Some do it from a more negative perspective to deconstruct the Scripture and make it worth nothing in their lives. But, the normal, Bible-believing, evangelical does this as well. We do not believe we are compelled to take up certain practices because we recognise they come from a more ancient context. There are principals to learn from these statements and practices, but they are not binding for all Christians of all cultures for all time.
Some examples might be:
- The Sabbath (from a biblical perspective, Sabbath is Friday sundown to Saturday sundown)
- Head coverings
- Clothing & hair-length
- Certain spiritual gifts (though I’d argue all spiritual gifts continue)
But, going back to my second point above, here is an important aspect of theology. I think we can recognise that the New Testament takes us forward in our understanding of the full outworking of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the new creation, but knowing the New Testament only covers some 70-90 years, all of the details were not fully and finally worked out. And this comes into play when we approach the topic of social constructs.
The best example to start with is slavery. Now, let me be very clear. I don’t believe that the New Testament declares slavery to be a good and wholesome practice. But it still does allow for it. There is enough room in the text to say that slavery could be allowed. And, in the days leading up to the work of those like William Wilberforce, many argued in favour of slavery due to this reality. Nowhere did Paul or others say do NOT have slaves.
But we recognise that, in the fulness of God’s purposes, he desires that no one be slave to another. A trajectory was set forth in the New Testament, one that would abolish slavery forever. But the outworking of this was never fully established in the letters of Paul, Peter, James, etc.
One might even argue the same for certain theological frameworks. I think the New Testament gives some pointers to Trinitarian theology – that God reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But a more fully-developed Trinitarian theology would come later on in church history.
And, so, with the role of women from a New Testament perspective, I think we have a trajectory which is being set forth, but one that was also not fully developed by the end of the first century. If we turn to certain statements in the New Testament, it might seem that, in line with the practices of ancient peoples, women should remain subordinate to men (passages like Eph 5:22-33; 1 Pet 3:1-7; and I’m willing to admit I could be wrong about passages like 1 Cor 11 or 1 Tim 2). But things were headed in a certain direction, a trajectory was set in place, to move towards God’s ultimate intention from the beginning and one we believe will be true in the age to come – mutual togetherness amongst both genders.
Even if one still wants to argue that, in the beginning, Gen 1-2 makes it very clear that men are to have the lead role over women, I have never met anyone (to date) that argues that the age to come keeps in tact a male only authority. Rather, with the restoration of all things in Christ, both sexes stand mutually together, not just floating on the clouds up there, but enjoying our God and continuing somehow the ‘work’ he has for us in the renewed heavens and earth (for work was never declared bad in the beginning). And, so, we who have tasted of the the things to come are called to live out this new order even now!
Now, for those who might suggest that trajectory hermeneutics on women’s roles could lead to the allowance of same-sex relationships, this is a fallacy. This is known as the slippery slope, which says that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant effect. But, there are plenty examples of where this has not taken place, me included. Even more, while I believe gender roles is a social issue, I believe same-sex marriage is both a social and moral issue. I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed the social order but not the moral standard of God’s design for marriage. I believe that is sufficient for now.
5) Gender Really Does Matter
This last, and hopefully briefest, point has to do with some practicalities around the discussion at hand.
When I say gender really does it matter, what I mean is that I would never argue that men and women are equal in all things. There are differences not just in physicality, but also in roles. Nothing is inherent to all human beings. Each one, created in the image of God, is gifted and graced according to God’s purposes alone.
Accordingly, just because I believe women should be considered in the appointing of pastors, elders and bishops, by no means do I believe we should simply appoint women just for the sake of proving our argument. God forbid such foolishness! But I’d also say the same thing with regards to appointing men. This takes much wisdom and counsel, based in the calling, gifting and grace of God.
I’d also argue that, the best situations I have seen in church leadership are when the husband and wife have a shepherding role together. It could be that the man still carries the greater measure of grace-gifting. But their working together harkens back to the beginning of Genesis. It can provide holistic shepherding as well.
Still, I’ve seen some very anointed and gifted women in my life – in teaching, in shepherding, in evangelism, in prophecy, in leading people. And I cannot be moved from the old adage that says ‘seeing is believing’. I don’t base my beliefs solely on experience. But I will go ahead and say that I am a charismatic continuationist and one of the reasons I hold to such is that I have seen healings, miracles, prophecy, words of knowledge, etc. I’ve not been used too greatly in these areas, though I have been used in prophecy and tongues for the edification of the body. And when one encounters the work of God in such a way, one would be silly to deny the work of God’s Spirit.
And so, as I’ve noted, I have seen women teachers, women shepherds, women evangelists, women prophetesses throughout my life. Not any weird stuff (well, I’ve seen that as well), but I speak of solid and healthy expressions of the gifting of Christ amongst anointed women.
In all, I would encourage complementarians to remain humble as they engage in discussion with egalitarians. Of course, I’ve come across plenty of egalitarians and complementarians who carry a great arrogance in their speech. By no means do I suggest only those opposed to my approach cause the problems. And we need to acknowledge that there are problems, there are holes, with both paradigms. Both sides carry strong points and both sides carry weak points. This keeps us humble before God and each other (or it should).
But, at least for me, I am convinced both theologically and practically that God does gift women in these leading roles amongst his sheep. Women should be considered, according to God’s grace and calling, able to lead and shepherd expressions of Christ’s ekklesia. And as we allow for such, we will see a body healthily shaped after our Lord.