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A Look at Women in the History of Redemption

By Jon Zens

In 1977 my pilgrimage in Christ took a decided turn. I came to see that Jesus had indeed inaugurated a New Covenant which required new wineskins. Considering the new ethical starting point, “As I have loved you, love one another,” led me in 1980 to see the importance of the “new community” Jesus created on the cross.

The 58 “one another’s” in the New Testament were to be carried out by a spiritual priesthood of believers in which there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. This then raised the question, “What ministry by women is legitimate under the New Covenant?” In 1981 my feeble stab at answering this query, “Aspects of Female Priesthood,” was published in Baptist Reformation Review.

I appeal to you to consider my points, comparing Scripture with Scripture, with an open mind, captive to the Word, and willing to evaluate traditional viewpoints.

After 20 years of further reflection on almost every possible nuance published regarding Biblical texts relevant to the roles of women, I find myself coming to the following conclusions:

 

1.  In the body of Christ there are no “positions of authority.” The rule of Christ is, “you are all brethren.” According to the teachings of Jesus no believer, male or female, should have “authority” over other brothers and sisters.

 

2.  In light of this, no believer should ever function in a way that would seek to “seize authority” over others. Brethren are to prefer others ahead of themselves. We are to “serve one another in love.” Jesus teaches that the most honor goes to the ones with the least status, like slaves and young children.

3.  I’m wondering if 1 Chronicles 25:5-8 doesn’t pretty well sum up the revelation of the Bible’s history of redemption. “And God gave to Heman 14 sons and 3 daughters. All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. . . Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.”

Looking at the full sweep from Genesis to Revelation, can we not make the following generalization? The fact that the Lord has been pleased to visibly use more men than women (“14 sons, 3 daughters “) in the history recorded in Scripture rests in His sovereign purposes, not in any inherent lack or disability in the female sex.

 

4.  I think this is borne out by a consideration of “prophets” and “prophetesses” in the Bible. There can be no doubt that more male prophets are mentioned than female. But the women prophetesses functioned just like their male counterparts: they called Israel to covenantal faithfulness.

In the Bible there is no thought that “it is out of place for a women to be a prophet.” Further, there is no concern that a prophetess doing her job — which certainly involved addressing the men and women of Israel with their words from the Lord — inherently “usurped authority” over men generally, or their husbands specifically.

The female prophetesses are on par with male prophets. Miriam is listed with Moses and Aaron in Micah 6:4. She was so well respected that even during her punishment “the people did not move on until Miriam was received again” (Numbers 12:15).

5.  Those who use 1 Timothy 2:12 to affirm that it is always wrong for men to be taught by women are faced with a real problem. They see this text an ever-abiding principle, to be violated under no circumstances. Following from this, they also aver that any teaching of men by women involves a sinful “usurping of male authority.”

Neither the Old nor the New Testaments, however, will confirm this principle. The Old Testament gives ample examples of godly women giving instruction to men. Deborah was a Judge in Israel, and in that capacity “she used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah . . . and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:4). Here is a case where men and women were instructed in justice and praise by a woman.

The female prophetesses also clearly illustrate that there is nothing ignoble about men hearing the word of the Lord from the lips of women. In the New Testament, the husband/wife team of Priscilla and Aquila took aside a man who was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures and taught him in the way of God more fully (Acts 18). There was nothing wrong with this man having his understanding of the gospel deepened by a woman’s Christ-given insight.

Priscilla was not usurping authority over her husband or Apollos by participating in his instruction. She was not consigned to kitchen duty while her husband did all the teaching. Would those of you who are male Bible-teachers be willing in humility to learn of Christ’s ways more fully if a husband/wife team invited you to their home? Apollos was. What if the wife had more to say than the husband (as Priscilla being listed first probably indicates)? Could you receive instruction from a woman? Apollos did.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul assumes women were praying and prophesying in the assembly gatherings. Prophesying is a form of teaching: “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may be instructed and encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:31; cf. letters in Appendix).

All of this points to the better option that 1 Timothy 2:12 was not given as an inviolable principle, but was spoken out of concern for a specific problem Paul was addressing. If this text is taken to mean that it is always sinful for men to be taught by women, then it would flatly contradict the clear evidence of both Testaments.

6.  In Acts 21, we are told that Philip had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. Surely these honorable women were not the only prophetesses functioning in the first century. This again illustrates the “14 sons, 3 daughters” pattern: there were more male prophets than female in the early church, but both functioned on par with each other.

This means that when the Old Testament mentioned “a group of prophets” it is certainly not out of the question that a few women could have been present (1 Samuel 10:5, 10; 19:20). Also, when the New Testament mentions “prophets” of the Messianic age, we know for sure that some women were included among the males with this gift (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians12:28-29, 14:29,32; Ephesians 2:20, 4:11; Revelation 18:20).

One author tried to mute the presence of female prophetesses by noting in Acts 21 that a male prophet came from a distance to give a word from the Lord to Paul, instead of Philip’s daughters who were local. But one could just as easily point out that King Josiah sent his high priest Hilkiah and four other men to Huldah the prophetess to discern the Lord’s will, and by-passed Jeremiah and Zephaniah who were living at the time (2 Kings 22:13-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22).

The issue is not the sex of the prophet, but the sovereign purpose of the Lord. And is this not a crystal clear example of males accorded the highest status in Israel — a king and a priest — being taught by a female without impunity? “So they took her answer back to the king” (2 Kings 22:20). Does this event not show that a woman can teach men without breaking the boundaries of what is appropriate for a female? Was Huldah’s giving the word of the Lord to a king, priest, and four other men (and ultimately to the whole nation of Israel) a violation of 1 Timothy 2:12?

Further, the cases of Deborah and Huldah show beyond doubt that women can carry on prophetic ministries without “usurping authority” over their husbands or any other male. The names of both women’s husbands are given, and Deborah is called “a mother in Israel.” This conclusively shows that a wife can carry on a ministry, such as prophetess, without violating the headship of the husband. Again, the issue is the giftedness bestowed by Christ, not the sex of the recipient.

 

7.  The assembly in the city of Thyatira was rebuked by Christ with these words: “You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and eating foods sacrificed to idols . . . I say to the rest of you in Thyatira , to you who not hold to her teaching . . .“ (Revelation 2:20, 24).  This passage indicates that the Head of the churches was not upset at the fact that a woman was prophesying, but his anger was against her teaching which led to sinful practices.

J. Ramsey Michaels notes concerning this disruptive woman: “The power and influence of this Jezebela self-styled prophetess at Thyatira, must be viewed in light of three facts:

a.  Women prophesied freely in early Christianity (see, for example, Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5);

b.  Women often played major roles as priestesses in contemporary Roman and Eastern cults in Asia Minor;

c.  The Christian Montanist movement in the same region a century later assigned conspicuous leadership roles to two prophetesses – Priscilla and Maximilla (Eusebius,Ecclesiastical History, 5:14-19)” [Revelation, IVP, 1997, pp. 78-79].

The very fact that her teaching apparently had time to permeate the assembly would indicate there was no general prohibition against women prophesying. This female, nicknamed “Jezebel,” shows that just as there were males who were false prophets, so there are false female prophets.

While many men have started dangerous sects, one thinks of women like Ellen G. White, Aimee Semple McPherson, Mary Baker Eddy and Kathryn Kuhlman as women who taught false doctrine and led many astray. The issue here is what is taught, not the sex of the one from whom it originated.

This dimension meshes well with the suggestion that Paul’s restraint of women in 1 Timothy 2:12 related to his concern for the false doctrine that was being spread by some women in Ephesus. The Greek there can be translated, “1 am not now permitting a woman to teach. . .“

There is much evidence to suggest that special circumstances occasioned these remarks. Paul and Timothy had worked with each other for some 15 years. If Paul had banned women from speaking in all the churches, wouldn’t such a statement as 1 Tim.2: 12 be superfluous to the younger assistant?

 

8.  Paul uses the interesting Greek word, synergosto describe those men and women who labored with him in the gospel. It means “co-worker.” He uses this word with reference to women in Romans 16:3-16; Philippians 4:3-4. That he would use such a word for both Timothy and Euodia is not without significance. The fact that Euodia and Syntyche “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel” (Philippians 4:3) must mean that they did a whole lot more than just bake bagels.

Florence Gillman observes: “a co-worker is ‘one who works together with Paul as an agent of God in the common work of missionary preaching’ [Ollrog] . . . Co-workers were:

a. . . . basically rooted in the communities which sent them on their mission as community delegates.

b.  They were integrally related to Paul’s mission historically (the breadth, depth, and success of the mission related to the use of co-workers) and theologically (Paul’s use of co-workers gave his mission the character of being a shared function of the Church).

c.  Paul’s treatment of his co-workers as partners was based in the gospel and gave him no claim to dominating authority, i.e., there was no hierarchy directing the coworkers.

d. The relation of the co-workers to their communities remained essential to them . . . Paul was unthreatened by this type of woman [co-worker]. His leadership was evidently not premised on their diminution. . . Paul. . . in living out his own call and mission also appreciated, and depended upon, the roles, tasks, and gifts of all the members of his communities” (Women Who Knew Paul, pp.43-44,42). Paul’s women co-workers were involved in gospel ministry in much deeper ways than the “silence” position will allow as permissible.

 

9.  In 1 Corinthians 12:7 Paul teaches that to every believer, male and female, a manifestation of the Spirit is given for the good of the body of Christ. Those who use two texts (1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12) to prohibit women from speaking at all in the body gatherings seem to fly in the face of Paul’s flow of thought in 1 Corinthians 11, 12, 13, and 14.

In chapter 11 he asserts that it is all right for women to pray and prophesy in the gathering; in chapter 12 he emphasizes the importance of all the parts in the body of Christ (not just the males); in chapter 13 he underscores that love must reign in our relationships and our functioning together, or all is in vain; and in chapter 14 he stresses the priority of understandability (in prophecy) over unintelligibility, which all may participate in (“each of you has…,” v.26; “you can all prophecy…,” v.31).

What textual basis would anyone have for silencing women up to verse 34? Given the long context that leads up to the “silence” passage, does it seem right to cancel it out in alleged faithfulness to one text? Especially since in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is poured out, in fulfillment of Joel’s words, on both men and women to prophesy.

To start with the “silence” passage and work backwards causes people to squeeze Scripture unnaturally into their mold:

a. “Each of you” in 14:26 really means “each male”;

b. “All prophesy” really means “all men can prophesy”;

c. “To each is given” in 12:7 really means “to each male”;

d. “Woman praying and prophesying” in 11:5 was not in the assembly, but somewhere else; etc. It is more natural to see Paul’s concern in 14:34 referring to, as Grudem suggests, “a silence with respect to the spoken evaluation of prophesies” (The Gifts of Prophecy in the New Testament & Today, p. 225).

10.  It is clear that Paul teaches the headship of the husband in the home, which, of course, carries over into the assembly. However, it does seem to me that 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 reveals a mutuality that is also present in the Christian marriage.

Male headship cannot mean that the husband has control over his wife’s body. This text teaches that husband and wife each have “authority” over the other’s body. The important decision to withdraw sexually from one another for a period of time does not rest in the husband’s hands.

Such a course of action, Paul says, can only be reached by the mutual agreement of the couple. The Greek word here is symphonou, from which we get our English word, “symphony.” Would this not indicate that the goal of a “one-flesh” couple is to reach decisions together?

The traditional notion that male headship equates to the husband “making the decisions” does not seem to flow out of Paul’s thought. If decisions in a household are continually being made unilaterally by the husband, without the input of the wife, would this not constitute a serious distortion of the husband as head of the home? As the couple submits to one another in the fear of Christ, shouldn’t they be constantly seeking to be one-minded in their lives together? And isn’t this the way it should be in the assembly?

Traditionally, “the Pastor” as the head of the local church pretty much makes decisions for the congregation. The idea of the assembly working matters through until the Holy Spirit brings like-mindedness (as happened in Acts 15) is virtually unknown.

Unfortunately, many Christian marriages follow this pattern. The husband rules with a rod of iron, and the wife is made to feel like a piece of property. A Christian man with a naturally strong personality who uses “submit to your husband” as a justification for dominating or abusing his wife is out of touch with how Christ cares for his bride, the church.

11.  It seems that often problems and concerns related to the ministry of women arise because we read our traditional church practices into the New Testament. For example, in many circles the question boils down to, “Is it right for a woman to say things while standing behind a pulpit?” But such a question was never asked in the first century. There was no pulpit for men or women to stand behind (cf. Norrington, To Preach or Not To Preach).

Another big question is, “Should women be ordained to the ministry?” But, as Strom points out, this “whole debate is premised on notions of leadership and ordination that cannot be found in Paul or the rest of the New Testament. Given the ways Paul repudiated the conventions of leadership, the argument should not be about whether women should be ordained, but about why anyone should be” (Reframing Paul, p. 179).

Thus, when you place the ministry of women and men in the first century context of the “assembly that meets in their home” (Romans 16:5), the whole issue takes on more of a family flavor instead of an institutional setting. Witherington’s research led him to conclude that the Corinthian ekklesia consisted of about 40 people. “It is tempting,” he says, “to see the Corinthian house congregation as an extension of the household, with the head of the house also being the head of the assembly. Favoring this view is that Gaius, Priscilla and Aquila, and perhaps Stephanas, Chloe, and Phoebe were both the hosts and the leaders of the churches that met in their homes” (Conflict & Communityp.30).

The basic picture we see in the New Testament is that believers got together “to break bread” (Acts 20:7) in homes and in that context the Holy Spirit led their mutual ministry with one another as illustrated in 1 Corinthians 14. In a Christian home, when a husband, wife, two boys, and two girls gather in the evening around a table for dinner, do only the father and the sons converse, while the wife and daughters remain totally silent? Of course not.

When you picture the early church meeting in Priscilla and Aquila’s home to eat and fellowship together around a table, isn’t it a bit inconceivable and unnatural to believe that all of the wives and daughters were mute during the meeting? The “silence” position seems out of touch with the reality of the family nature of early Christian assemblies.

12.  It seems to me that it is also important to put the function of elders and deacons in this family setting. Perhaps a number of issues regarding “church leadership” can be put into better perspective by realizing that the early church was like an extended family, where servanthood — not office, title and position — was important. It would be quite natural as an assembly functioned together as a spiritual family for a grouping of older, mature men and women to be recognized by the body for their service.

The Greek word presbuteros means “older man,” and presbutera means “older woman.” The oversight of the assembly is to be carried out by the “older men,” the presbuteroiAs Frank Viola notes, “We never see women in the first century exercising oversight in the church” (Open Letter). The “older women,” the presbuterashave the privilege of ministry, not limited to, but certainly focused on helping the younger women in the assembly.

Two times in the New Testament these groups are in close proximity to one another: 1 Tim:5: 1-2, “rebuke not a presbutero” – “treat presbuteras as mothers”; Titus 2:2-3, “teach thepresbutas to be temperate” – “likewise, teach the presbutidas to be reverent.” With regard to the elders, the family analogy in home and congregation is evident in this apostolic standard: “if he does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s ekklesia?”

The elders living among the spiritual family do not lord it over the flock, or dominate ministry, but desire to protect the brethren and equip them for various ministries, just as a father/husband does with his wife and children.

13.  It just seems to me that when you see ekklesia functioning in an informal, family atmosphere, the whole concern of ”a woman teaching men” is put into a proper perspective. Husbands who are honest will freely admit that they have been taught many things by their wives from the Word, and have received invaluable discernment from them in the family decision-making process.

When this phenomenon takes places is the wife “usurping authority” over her husband? Obviously, a wife should never seek to dominate or manipulate her husband. Rather, the couple should be seeking to discern the Lord’s mind in all things together (symphonou, 1 Corinthians7:5).

“Teaching” in the New Testament is much broader than some of our narrow, “official” conceptions of it. Paul says that even in singing with and to one another, we “teach and admonish.” If the Lord gave a song for a sister to sing to the body, she would be involved in a broad teaching ministry to the entire ekklesia, and yet this is not “seizing authority” over anybody.

When a woman prophesies in the assembly, she will be part of the “teaching/learning” process in the body (1 Corinthians 14:26, 31), yet she is not out of line as a sister. The truth is that both brothers and sisters can get out of line by what they say in the assembly. When this occurs, the body in general and the elders specifically, have the responsibility to correct the situation.

In our experience we have discerned the following general points with reference to the functioning of the sisters/wives:

a. they should not bring up matters publicly that are touchy or controversial which have not been discussed with their husbands first;

b. they should not engender discussion in the assembly about matters in which the husband/wife do not have unity on themselves;

c. they should not publicly take issue with their husbands, or other brothers present.

“The business of correcting and challenging others in a meeting,” Frank Viola observes, “is best handled by the brothers. The sisters should be unburdened by such unseemly tasks” (Open Letter). Sisters are very discerning and their concerns and questions should never be squelched. But it appears that the better part of wisdom is for the sisters to discuss such things with their husbands, or if single, with the elders or older sisters.

If the ekklesia desires the mind of Christ, then the concerns of all must be processed in a proper way. And in thinking about these things we must remember that women can function with eminent gifts without interfering with their marriage, and without violating the husband’s headship, as did Deborah and Huldah.

14.  In 1 Corinthians 11, it seems that the traditional emphasis has fallen on “the woman is the glory of man. . . Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” But it needs to be pointed out that Paul’s emphasis seems to land on the mutual interdependence resulting from redemption, rather than on a hierarchical priority of the male. Literally, Paul says in verses 11-12, “Nevertheless, neither woman without man nor man without woman in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so also the man is through the woman, but all things are of God.”

We know from Genesis 2 that God’s creation of the “image of God” encompassed both male and female. Eve as “helper” carried with it no idea of inferiority or inherent weakness. This Hebrew word is used often to refer to the Lord as the “helper” of Israel. The command to have dominion over the earth was given to both Adam and Eve. As a result of the fall, the beautiful relationship between man and woman was ruptured. Sin causes them to want to dominate each other, instead of pursuing harmony and one-mindedness together.

In Christ, marriage is restored. With mutual respect for one another, the wife can submit to her husband (as the ekklesia does to Christ), and the husband can love, nourish, and cherish his wife (as Christ does the ekidesia). Together they can reach decisions with mutual consent (symphonou). The traditional model of a dominating husband and a passive wife cowering in submission wife reflects the fallen order, not the redemptive order of the “new man,” where there is neither male nor female. As one author put it, woman was created to be at man’s side, not at his feet.

15.  We need to keep in mind that the conceptions of women that emerged in the early church fathers were awful and unbiblical (cf. Clark, Jerome, Chrysostom & Friends). Yet many church leaders act like the visible church has always been a friend to women. John Lofton makes this incredible remark, “All of us who write have wished. . . that we had the power to, once and for all, lay to rest certain lies. Big Lies. And one of the biggest of the Big Lies I would like to never see repeated again is this: Christianity has been anti-woman”(Chalcedon, Nov., 1986).

Certainly neither Christ nor Paul were anti-woman. But it is a fact that post-apostolic Christianity has grievously portrayed the persons and functions of women (cf. Gage, Woman, Church & State; Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven). Ambrose (A.D.339-397) wrote: “She who does not believe is a woman . . . for the woman who believes is elevated to male completeness.”

Many such statements, and worse, could be multiplied. The inferiority of women is embedded in the doctrine of the visible church. Are we so naive as to think that the historical church has not been infected and affected — in everything from Bible translation to interpretation of Its texts — by the vile, dishonoring conceptions of women inherited from the past?

Is it any wonder that those wrestling with this issue in our day often have to spend time exposing and stripping away layers of assumptions that have piled up over 1500 years of unabated distortion? It is imperative that we search the Scriptures to see what is really so about women. A strong case could be made that the church was responsible for spawning the ungodly feminist movement. Is it any wonder that at some point women would rise up and react vehemently to the church’s horrendous misrepresentation of the female sex?

16.  Romans 16 provides us with some clues regarding the ministry of women in the early church. Paul begins by commending Phoebe, who probably brought his letter to Rome, to the brethren there. The apostle informs them that she was functioning as a “deacon of the ekklesia in Cenchreae” (cf. 1 Timothy 3:11 for a possible reference to female deacons).

It is interesting that when the Greek word diakonos is used of Paul and other males, the King James Version often translated it “minister,” giving it a formal, office-bearing flavor But when this word was used of the female Phoebe, they recoiled from the “minister” rendering and translated it “servant,” giving her a non-official function. In my opinion it would be best to always translate diakonos as “servant,” thereby reflecting the New Testament’s focus on family images, not on hierarchical offices.

The space Paul devotes to this sister shows how much he respected and valued her. The Roman saints are told to “stand by her in whatever help she may need from you.” This means that they (including the elders, though they not mentioned anywhere in the epistle) are to listen to what she says and respond to her requests for aid.

Then Paul says that she was a prostatis to many people, including me.” This is an interesting noun. The verb form means: “1. to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, be at the head (of). . . 2. to have an interest in, show concern for, care for, give aid” (Bauer’s Lexiconrevised by Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 870). The noun form means: “one who stands out in front, one who looks out for the interests of others, defender, guardian, benefactor” (Bauer, p.885). It is clear that this sister had a prominent, important and wide-ranging ministry, and was so recognized by the assembly at Cenchreae.

In vs. 3-5, Paul mentions the husband-wife team of Priscilla and Aquila, who both are his “co-workers,” and in whose home an ekklesia meets. In the following verses Paul mentions eight more sisters: Mary, “who worked hard for you”; Junia; Tryphaena and Tryphosa “who work hard in the Lord”; Persis “who has worked very hard in the Lord”; Rufus’ mother; Julia; and Nereus’ sister. Andronicus and Junia appear to be another husband-wife team. Paul designates them in v.7 as “outstanding among the apostles,” using “apostle” here in the sense that Barnabas and Silas were apostles.

Some have questioned that the name here is a feminine form, but the evidence points to its correctness. “In a survey of the Church Fathers up to the twelfth century whom commented on Romans 16:7, the overwhelming consensus was to give a feminine reading.

One of the most striking comments is that of by Chrysostom. Of Junia he wrote: ‘Oh! How great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of the apostle!’ . . . . What tips the balance most decisively toward a feminine reading, however, is not so much opinion but the fact that Junia was a common Roman female name, while not a single instance of the masculine form Junias. . . is attested” (Gillman, pp. 67-68). Romans 16 certainly shows that women were not relegated to the shadows in the early church.

17.  The information we have about the ministries of women in the New Testament is all the more significant, it seems, when one considers the scanty or total absence of light we have on so many other people. The Book of Acts highlights the ministries of Peter and Paul. With the exception of James, we know almost nothing about the shape and direction of the other Apostles’ work for the Lord (cf. W. Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles, Tyndale, 1977). The truth is we have only glimpses of information about a lot of matters we wish were expanded in the New Testament.

18.  In summary, I would note the following salient points:

a. women were not silent in the Old Testament era;

b. Joel foretold that males and females would prophesy in the Messianic age;

c. women were not silent when the Messiah was born (Luke 2:36-38);

d. women were not silent on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13-14; 2:1-4, 6, 8, 11, 16-18);

e. women were not silent in Christian meetings (1 Corinthians 11:5, 14:23-24, 26, 31);

f. Paul sees the headship of husbands as the basis for the proper functioning of the wives, not as a basis to silence them;

g. as in B.C. so in A.D. there were women prophetesses;

h. the initiation of a divorce by a wife was unheard of in the first century, but Christ mentioned it as a possibility (Mark 10:12);

i. wives must be careful to function in unity with their husbands;

j. a proper New Testament perspective would encourage men and women to function as equals, while the wives would seek to manifest a submissive spirit in light of Paul’s concerns;

k. there are examples in Scripture of women teaching men without being out of place or violating their husband’s headship.

19.  I’ll never forget what happened at a home church we visited in Louisiana in 1987. The first thing the leader said when the meeting began was, “In accordance with Paul’s teaching, women will be silent in our gathering.” My spirit was deeply grieved by this dogmatism. Something did not seem right. Brethren, Moses said in anticipation of a future era, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets! That the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:24-30).

This has indeed been fulfilled. The Lord has made his flock a kingdom of priests who each have a manifestation of the Spirit for the good of the body. A position which silences female believers ends up with the priesthood of malesnot a priesthood of allI do not believe the functioning of women revealed in the history of redemption will sustain such a conclusion.

20.  “Given the difficulties of correctly applying 1 Corinthians l4:33b-35,” says Steve Atkerson, “we must be careful to respect those who hold to applications which differ from our position” (THCT, p. 132). This is a worthy reminder. The ministry of sisters is an issue that requires careful consideration indeed.

The fact that so many New Testament scholars cannot agree on how to correlate 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:34, etc., should prompt us to hold our views with humility and openness. But twenty years of wrestling with this matter has led me to conclude that the “silence” view is woefully inadequate. There is too much contrary evidence to justify, silencing half the priesthood. I wish that those who stake everything on two limiting passages would be willing to revisit this topic.

 

 APPENDIX

Appendix: Letters to Steve A. & Eric S.

Dear Steve/Eric,

Just received the March, 1993, “Woman’s Issue.” Just wanted to make a few comments as my time allows, for in a few areas I felt the presentation was weak. I agree that when you put ekklesia into an informal context, many aspect of the woman’s question fade into oblivion. But it still remains as a critical practical question since roughly half of the priesthood is female!

I take issue with your statement, Steve, that “in fact, there is not a single example in the entire New Testament of women teaching men.” That is a loaded way to put the matter. If you follow the reasoning below, which seems to conform to New Testament information, then you do in fact have examples of situations where women taught men/women in the assembly.

1.  In Acts 2, Peter states that the gift of prophecy in the Messianic age will be exercised by both men and women.

2.  Prophesying is a form of teaching in Paul’s mind. Not all teaching is prophesying, but all prophesying is a form of teaching (as is, for that matter, singing).

3.  In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul saw prophesying as central in Christian meetings.

4.  In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul had no problem with women praying or prophesying with men present, as long as they did these activities in a proper manner.

5.  Philip had four daughters who prophesied. Are you prepared to argue that they never exercised their gifts (which involved “teaching” per #2 above) in the presence of males?

6.  Thus there are clear examples in the New Testament where women prophesied (which was a form of teaching) with males present.

While, as you rightly note, “teaching and prophesying [are not] synonymous gifts . . . [and] are listed as two distinct, separate gifts,” you cannot avoid the fact that prophesying is still another form of teaching in the body of Christ. Thus, just because the two gifts are not identical does not get you off the hook.

You seem to assume that anytime a woman teaches men the Bible, she is in this action usurping authority. I challenge that. The New Testament never teaches this. To me, the issue is how a woman teaches, per 1 Corinthians 11.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “each of you. . . has a teaching.” There is no contextual reason for limiting this remark to males, especially when Paul states in vv.23-24, “the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues. . . if all prophesy,” and in v.31, “you can all prophesy one by one so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.” The flow of 1 Corinthians 11, 12, 13, 14 is in line with Acts 2 — men and women may participate in body edification.

Other verses that qualify women’s ministry must not be used in such a way as to cancel out the clear perspectives of Acts 2, etc. To make my position clear at this point: I do not believe that women should be elders; but I do believe women’s gifts in the assembly should not be stifled. In the informal context of doing ekklesia I think the concern of a woman prophesying (teaching) men should subside.

Thanks for considering these brief thoughts.

Jon

 

June 19, 1993 Dear Eric/Steve,

Thanks for your replies of 4/25 (Eric) and 5/18 (Steve) to my letter.

Eric’s letter did not give me any reason to modify my original reasoning. Further, his letter did not seem to keep in mind what I was responding to. I was specifically questioning Steve’s remark, “there is not a single example in the New Testament of women teaching men.” As you point out, Eric, my crucial point is that Paul considered prophesying to be a form of teaching. I believe my point is well-taken. I’m surprised you would not agree with this, and that is why I felt no need to cite a text. Check out all the major scholarly studies on prophecy in the New Testament (David Hill, E. Earle Ellis, David Aune). They all assert that prophecy is a form of teaching. To cite a rather obvious text: “for you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” (1 Corinthians 14:31). If one is “learning” from something that is being said, does that not imply that a form of teaching is going on? The fact that Paul wished for prophecy (which is understood), not tongues, to be central in the meeting implies some relationship to teaching does it not?

To return now to my presentation: women did prophesy (a form of teaching) in the assembly in the presence of all, hence Steve’s statement that there is no example of women teaching men in the New Testament is incorrect. Your statement, Eric, that it is a leap of logic for me to say that if women can participate in one form of teaching means they can participate in all, begs the question. My point was in response to Steve’s remark that there is no New Testament example of women teaching men. Wrong. There is a clear example of this. if women can participate in a form of teaching where men receive, then Steve’s universal remark at best, then, needs to be qualified. That was the point I was making, and still feel strongly that you both need to consider if you are to be faithful to New Testament data.

If we agree that it is important in hermeneutics to let the clear shed light on the vague, then I feel both feminists (women can do all) and those who hold to some stricter view of feminine participation need to allow what is clear to be heard. Both tend to skip over what is “clear” to the other side.

You are wrong, Eric, in saying that there is no Scripture to cite to prevent feminine elders. There is. A woman cannot be the husband of one wife. To assert that women can in proper ways teach men does not at all mean that they can also be elders, if the Word indicates that males are to be elders. Again, one can listen to what is clear in the New Testament. For you to say that the sex of elders is “not specifically addresses in the Bible” is beyond me. It is clearly addressed. If it is, then your last two paragraphs have no bearing on my original reasoning in my first letter.

My challenge still stands to you both: Acts 2 states clearly that men and women will prophesy; prophesying is central in Paul’s mind to Christian meetings; prophesying is a form of teaching with all present; hence, it is not faithful to the New Testament to say, without important qualification, that there is no example of women teaching men. I think you need to think through your position more carefully and make sure you do justice to what the New Testament states.

Yours by His grace,

Jon

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