The introduction to this blog series is crucial to read. It provides the background as well as the links to what I reference in this post. If you have not read it, it can be found here.
Boyd’s title is “The Case for Women in Ministry. ” This is already misleading because the opposition does not necessarily have a counter-case. Boyd’s equivocation of “ministry” with “eldership” is something Complementarian (CP) adherents deny.
Paul says in Ephesians 4: 11-12 that the offices of the church were instituted for the expressed purpose “to equip the Saints for the work of ministry.”
Our position then is that women should be in “the ministry.” Men, women, and children all make up “the saints.” Paul, in Ephesians 4 specifically qualifies particular offices and roles from the general work of ministry.
The insistence that is subtly common to the Egalitarian (EG) position, that CP Christians have a low view of women and seek to silence them and keep them out of the public domain is a straw-man. And it is that lack of distinction between ministry work and the Elders of a local church that makes this next blog post necessary. Boyd and Rachel Held-Evans, in classic EG fashion, point to numerous examples of women doing amazing ministerial work in Scripture, and holding high positions of authority, as being a refutation of the CP position. It is not though, it is instead completely irrelevant once the position is defined.
For example Boyd argues,
“Perhaps the most persuasive argument in support of women serving in leadership positions within the church is Jesus’ counter-cultural affirmation and empowerment of women.”
Notice though that Boyd is relentlessly missing the point. He has equivocated “leadership positions” of all kinds to “elder.” We agree Jesus empowered and affirmed women in a unique and beautiful way. That does not mean Jesus did not have unique roles for them, which models His own relationship to the Triune Godhead and to His church.
Likewise, Rachel Held-Evans misses the point in the same exact way. She quotes John Piper, when asked if a man should refuse to listen to Beth Moore, said this to the questioner,
“No, unless [he] begins to become dependent on her as [his] shepherd-pastor…The Bible is clear that women shouldn’t have authority over men. In context, I think this means that women shouldn’t be the authoritative teachers of the church- they shouldn’t be elders.”
Piper articulated the position just as I have. That is why it is so amazing to see it immediately, and consistently misrepresented. Rachel Held-Evans responds,
“In other words, it’s OK to learn from women…just not too much.”
That is at best over-simplistic, but more likely altogether wrong. Piper did not so much address the quantitative time spent listening, but the office the woman is speaking from, and the office the listener is functionally placing her into. Piper goes on to clarify explicitly that Beth Moore cannot be an elder of a church. And if one only listens to her, they have made her that in their lives, and that is a problem.
And this characterizes all of the examples of the women chosen to refute the CP position. I will look at the women in which Boyd and Held-Evans emphasized specifically, but all of the women mentioned in both essays can be refuted by this claim: none of them are teaching elders in a local church. Women can be prophets, queens, judges, missionaries, evangelists, and even teachers. All of those contexts are not up for dispute. The issue is whether any of these women occupy the specific role and duty of “authority and teaching” over “men” when the local church is gathered (1 Timothy 3: 14-16). None of the women in Scripture fit that description.
One of the most popular arguments among EG apologists is to mention the female prophets in Scripture (prophetess). Miriam was an Old Testament example of a woman who could prophesy. And, this continued in the New Testament with examples like Philip’s daughters (although New Testament prophecy and Old Testament prophecy are very different in nature).
However, the logical leap is that if a woman can be a prophet, she can be an elder in a local church. And nothing in Scripture warrants that assumption.
Boyd tries to bridge the gap saying,
“Early Christians considered prophecy one of the highest – some argue that it was the highest- positions in the church. They did not make a clear distinction between prophets and preachers because both were responsible for speaking the word of God under the Holy Spirit’s anointing.”
Not only does Boyd not cite anything at all to justify these claims, the New Testament does not quite bear this out.
Held-Evans made a similar claim stating that,
“Nowhere does the Bible spell out this distinction between teaching and speaking…”
However, none of these statements are quite true.
First of all, women were commanded to speak. In 1 Corinthians 11: 4 they are told they are allowed to pray and prophesy, and in Colossians 3: 16 they are alongside men in singing songs in church, which Paul says teaches and admonishes one another. Women are singing, praying, and prophesying. Certainly they are speaking.
That is why when Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over men” we know to limit this to the Elder position where in he almost immediately describes as being the teachers and authorities of the church (1 Timothy 3). When we harmonize Paul instead of dismissing him, we can make an exegetical case for the difference between teaching and speaking.
Also, not long after Paul tells women to prophesy, he says that once prophets speak they must submit to other’s weighing of such prophecy (1 Corinthians 14: 29). This is important for two reasons.
First, it certainly seems to challenge Boyd’s assumption that prophets were the highest office in the church, when they are forced to submit their prophecy to the examination of others. It seems there is an abiding authority in which New Testament prophets are submitting to. Especially since, during this time, the women prophets were to be quiet and learn with submission, just like the Law required (1 Corinthians 14: 33-35).
Second, this seems to establish a clear distinction between teaching and speaking. The women were told to speak through prophesy and prayer (1 Corinthians 11: 5), yet when it came to teaching and learning, they are required to learn quietly and submissively (1 Corinthians 14: 33-35). Only when one assumes EG interpretations and dismisses the relevant texts can they conclude, as Held-Evans does, that all speaking is the kind of authoritative teaching found in 1 Timothy 2.
Even all of this aside, the burden of proof is still on the opposition to prove that Paul considers the office of N.T. Prophet equal to that of the local church elder.
No such evidence can be found. And that is why CP theologians are happy to accept women as prophetesses, and not commit the logical fallacy that they must therefore be allowed to serve as authoritative teaching elders in a local church.
A prophetess is not an elder.
Deborah the Judge
Another very famous argument for the EG position is Deborah. Deborah served as a judge over Israel (Judges 4). There is some strength to this in that Israel was theocracy. However, the point still stands that to be a civil authority of high rank does not mean you are able to be an ecclesiastical authority in the highest rank. How many people feel Donald Trump is qualified to pastor their local church?
Deborah being a civil judge over the nation of Israel is simply a different category than New Testament church teaching authority.
EG and CP theologians are in agreement that women can serve in the civil and political realm, just as Deborah and Esther demonstrate. That does not nullify Paul’s words against teaching men in the local church, which is something Deborah and Esther never did.
Eunice and Lois
This is a strange one used by both Boyd and Rachel Held-Evans (RHE). They both appealed to Paul’s commendation of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). These women raised Timothy in the faith. Yet, somehow Boyd and RHE believe that mothers raising Godly children qualifies them for the office of the Elder.
Boyd comments on them saying,
“There was probably some teaching and authority going on here, and I doubt it suddenly stopped after Timothy turned thirteen.”
The exact same problem remains: Lois and Eunice were not teaching authorities in the local church. Ignoring the context Paul wrote his prohibitions in (1 Timothy 3: 14-16) is detrimental. CP Christians want Christian women to be theologians, to know the word, and to teach it to all of their children. That does not make them elders in a local church.
Priscilla is an amazing biblical story. It is sad it is used to promote a position contrary to Paul’s message to Timothy.
The account in Scripture relevant is Acts 18:26. In this, it is said that Priscilla, along with her husband, pulled Apollos aside after his apologetic encounters in with the Jews “and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Apparently, Priscilla had a thing or two to teach Apollos about apologetics and the truth of God.
This is an amazing text no doubt! But it commits the same problem as all the others. Priscilla is an individual woman, teaching an individual man, outside the context of the local church. This is not the CP argument and therefore is not relevant.
Boyd demonstrates his misunderstanding of the CP position on this,
“Although some interpret 1 Timothy 2 as forbidding women from teaching or having authority over men in any circumstances, Acts 18:26 says that Priscilla and Aquilla instructed Apollos, an apostle in need of further training.”
I do not know who these people are who think women cannot teach or have authority over men “in any circumstances,” but it is not mainstream CP theologians, nor have I claimed that anywhere in this series. Paul is very clear in limiting his prohibitions to the church, and so are CP Christians.
RHE quotes an interesting man in her article who left the CP position because he was reading theological books written by women and being edified by them. She quotes Scot McKnight as saying,
“Anyone who thinks it is wrong for a woman to teach in church can be consistent with that point of view only if the refuse to read and learn from women scholars. This means not reading their books lest they become teachers.”
I cannot begin to wrap my head around this logic. Are McKnight and RHE seriously maintaining that to be consistent with the view that women cannot teach in church, we must condemn women teaching outside of church? That logic is akin to a child reasoning that they may never wear shoes because mom and dad told them they may not wear shoes in the house.
Obviously, there is no inconsistency with distinguishing between elders in the local church and private teachers. That is what Boyd, RHE, and McKight fail to recognize.
A 21st century example of Priscilla would be a female theologian writing a book for all to learn from (for example, everyone should read Rebekah Merkle’s Eve in Exile.) However, Priscilla did not rule and teach over Apollos in the local church. The category errors continue.
(It is also important to note that this event is descriptive in nature, not prescriptive.)
Phoebe the Deacon?
Without a doubt the strongest argument the EG has in their armory would be Phoebe. The reason being is that she is the only woman on the list who potentially served within the local, New Testament church. She was not a judge, queen, evangelist, or friend. She held an office in the church.
Romans 16: 1, “I commend you to our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrae…”
The reason this passage is used is because the Greek word rendered “servant” in so many translations is the same word rendered “deacon.”
Thus, it is possible Phoebe was a deacon of the church at Cenchrae. I maintain she was in fact. However, this presents no problem for the CP position.
First, it is not settled that she was in fact a deacon. The reason being the word “deacon” really does just mean servant. It has a very broad usage in both Scripture and secular writings. D.A. Carson mentioned that simply serving tables or helping a neighbor move would make one a deacon.
A biblical example would be Romans 13:4 where the government is called God’s “deacon” or “servant.” Obviously, the government does not occupy the office of deacon. Thus, it is possible that Phoebe served the church there in a more general way, making her a helpful, so as to be called a deacon in its general term so often used.
I personally maintain she was an office holding deacon. However, this is still not an issue. For deacons are not the authorities of the church, the elders are. Also, the only difference between elders and deacons in Paul’s qualitative lists in 1 Timothy 3 is “able to teach” (2). Thus, the teaching authority Paul goes on to prohibit women from is perfectly consistent with the roles of the elders, not the deacons.
Junia the Apostle?
The last woman so often mentioned is Junia.
RHE is under the impression Junia was an apostle,
“[Paul] recognized Junia as an apostle.”
If this were the case, it would certainly pose a problem to the CP position. However, Paul does not say Junia was an apostle.
Moments after commended the Romans to the deaconess Phoebe, Paul goes on telling them to greet “Andronicus and Junia,” his “kinsman” and “fellow prisoners” who are “well known to the apostles” (Romans 16:7).
Other translations render that last phrase “outstanding among the Apostles. Junia then was not an apostle, she was well known to them, and praised among them. She was not however an apostle.
(Also, there is even some debate over whether the name should be Junias, meaning Junia may not be a woman after all.)
Boyd does not seem to think she was an apostle the way RHE does, but in the lesser sense of the word meaning “messenger” or “sent one.” Yet again, that is irrelevant. Women can be missionaries, they can be sent. They cannot be elders.
An important note to be made is that the two arguments the EG proponents hold cannot be reconciled. As we will see in the next blog, they are fond of interpreting Paul as making culturally relative remarks in the passages where he commands women to be silent and not to teach (1 Tim. 2, 1 Cor. 14).
Yet, they turn around and demonstrate Paul admonishing women who did these very things, during the times in which they believed Paul’s prohibitions were binding.
Even if we grant for the sake of argument that what Paul says in 1 Timothy is culturally relative, it would still disqualify the women who were doing this in the culture it was relative to. In other words, if Paul’s words in 1 Timothy were relative to the 1st century women only, then that means they were binding on women like Priscilla.
Thus, one cannot hold simultaneously the positions that Paul commended Priscilla, Lois, Eunice, Phoebe, and prophetesses for teaching men, and also believe that what Paul wrote was only for that culture. One of those must be abandoned.
The Biblical Affirmation of Women
It is a common tactic to list all the women above, along with others, to try and hollow out Paul’s clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2. None of these women serve that purpose. However, it is easy to read the arguments of EG theologians like RHE and Greg Boyd and, through their misrepresentations, see CP Christians like myself as being anti-woman. This could not be further from the truth. To distinguish between the elder of a church and other ministry roles does not force one into disparaging women.
We do recognize female heroes of the faith. Women like Rahab protected believers from persecution, Lydia housed and cared for Paul and his companions. In fact, most American churches owe their existence to gentile women. For the Macedonian women were those who so readily accepted Paul’s message (Acts 17: 4,12). Our Christian heritage traces back to bold women who made up much of the church. Women were the glue and foundation to the primitive churches in Macedonia.
Paul had a counter-cultural appreciation and respect for women. He let them protect and serve him, and he considered them partners in the Gospel, those who fought side by side with him. He spoke well of them, trusted them, and treated them as equals.
Women were some of the first Christian evangelists who boldly proclaimed the Gospel to the culture after the resurrection of Christ.
Women were respected by Jesus. He would speak to them, trust them, commission them, and love them the way no other men were willing to do in that culture.
The Bible speaks highly of women. Women are missionaries, teachers, moms, evangelists, prophets, judges, and queens.
Also, is there anyone in Scripture outside of Christ and the Apostles more emblematic of true, holy, Christian virtue than Mary, Jesus’ own mother?
The argument Paul makes in 1 Timothy 2 disparages none of these things. Paul believes there is a unique position and role within the family and the church which needs to be upheld by the genders. It is based on God’s creation laws, and His relationship to His church. But that in no way means we disparage, belittle, or think less of women.
To do so would in fact be quite unbiblical, and would be to our own detriment.