The logical and theological gymnastics of those who oppose women leaders in church

As the culture wars in conservative evangelical Christianity continue to rumble along, the pronouncements of some its key leaders are getting more and more disconcerting. I am seriously concerned about the rising “alpha male” type approach to church, embodied mainly by Mark Driscoll and his acolytes. In my home town, Johannesburg, a few churches led by young men have gone this route: denying women any role in leadership or public teaching in their churches. The theological leaders of this movement include John Piper, James Dobson and Wayne Grudem (see more at their ‘Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood‘), and to a lesser extent Don Carlson and Tim Keller (see their ‘Gospel Coalition’).

Rachel Held Evans is running a great series on her blog, calling out the strange, illogical and unbiblical pronouncement coming from this corner of evangelicalism. They’re really getting themselves into a tangle over this issue (something that often happens when Scripture is misinterpreted, misrepresented or misunderstood).

I wrote about this a while ago, when I expressed my concerns about a video put out by the Gospel Coalition. They are using views on the role of women as a test for Biblical orthodoxy, and also claiming that it is not correct to attempt to understand the cultural and historical context in which a Biblical book was written (this completely contradicts the approach Carson has taken in his many excellent commentaries of Biblical books – but it seems that the issue of women leaders trumps his previous work as a Biblical scholar. One wonders why?).

But Rachel has found a few ‘exhibits’ of key statements made by those who oppose women leaders in church – not isolated, out-of-context statements, but key pronouncements and position statements – that just make no sense at all. Take some time to read the links below. You’ll be amazed, and stunned. And you’ll realise fairly quickly that the approach of those who want to keep women ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the home’ (my words, but typically the intention of those who take the so-called ‘complementarian’ view) is more a harking back to some idyllic (but completely inaccurate) picture of 1950s suburban America, rather than anything you can find in the Bible.

Exhibit A: Women are ‘hardwired’ to be protected, while men to ‘protect’. This why is women should not be in military. And, in all seriousness, John Piper said that if a couple walking down a dark street are attacked, the man must do the defending even if his girlfriend is a black belt in karate. Read more here.

Exhibit B: Owen Strachan, head of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood recently called stay-at-home dads, “man fails”. Nice. But he went further and wrote an article about an episode of Sesame Street in which a young boy is encouraged to play with dolls. Strachan said that this is an example of how “the basic foundations of the Protestant worldview are under assault.” Sesame Street, he argues, is on “the frontlines of the gender wars” and this scene represents a “disastrous teaching on sexuality and gender.” Really? Rachel wrote a great response here, but the best reponse is from a Dad, Micah Murray, in his blog, Redemption Pictures.

Exhibit C is a classic issue. Those who won’t let women preach from their pulpits very often let women teach Sunday school (teaching young men), become missionaries (teaching foreign men) and allow them to “share” in church (though not preach). John Piper half-heartedly acknowledged the career of one of the world’s best teachers, Beth Moore some time ago, but more recently was asked if he used commentaries written by women. His response is jaw dropping. He does, because somehow the book mediates the feminity of the author – something not possible if the woman is standing speaking on a platform. Good grief – is this for real? Read more here.

More exhibits are coming in this series. The next will be a look at Focus on the Family’s view that women should not work outside of the home and that feminism will lead to death.

Rachel rightly labels all of these, ‘the absurd legalism of gender roles’. Absurd indeed. But also unbiblical, ungodly and illogical. Wrong, in other words. Christians need to stand up against those who deny women the right, the privilege, the responsibility and the joy of exercising their gifts, abilities and passions for service in the church and in God’s world. Here’s something you should be hearing at your Reformed church this week: the Bible doesn’t say what you think it says about women!

45 thoughts on “The logical and theological gymnastics of those who oppose women leaders in church”

  1. Jen Pollock Michel makes the point that her local church represents her Complementarian view.

    And to me it’s a valid position biblically. You can look at the women in leadership issue anyway you want, but there is no new testament president for women elders.

    That women can flow in any spiritual gift a man can is clear, but if churches appoint women elders, they do so without biblical precedence. That’s a dangerous space to operate in for churches.

    I believe that everything God wanted to be in the bible is in the bible and if God wanted women elders, there would be example of it in the new testament. It in no way makes women inferior or less gifted.

  2. Steve, thanks for your comment. On the basis of your logic (which I don’t agree with, by the way, since both Priscilla and Junia are examples of women elders/leaders/apostles – but let’s go with your logic anyway), we should not allow black people to be elders in our churches either. There is no Biblical precedent for this.

    I’d be interested in why you would see gender is being different from race (I assume you do, anyway)?

  3. Graeme the bible says there is no Greek or Jew bit all are in Christ. Pentecost had how many different nationalities hearing their own language. Your comment on race is biblically baseless.

    I know you don’t agree with me, you don’t have to. But the bible says an elder must be a man of one wife, but makes no mention of a women being an elder of one husband…

    Furthermore the comments about women in the Corinthian letters etc need to be taken on the context of that situation as well as other reference to women on the bible, for example, Philips daughters ego prophesied, Ruth, Esther, even Deborah etc.

    The bible is therefore clearly not anti women having gifting or profile.

  4. Priscilla isn’t an example of one. She was married to Acquilla. Were Julia and Andronicus married? Obviously as a team and one fresh, a woman would play a significant role in an elders life, or someone with an apostolic gift, it doesn’t make them elders though.

  5. Steve, I must seriously ask if you are joking…

    Here’s the verse you first quoted in full, indicating that there is “no Jew or Greek” so we cannot discriminate on racial grounds:
    Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    On the issue of 1 Timothy 3 talking about men being elders (and deacons, by the way), the men are required to be married and to have more than one child. That is, if we take these verses literally (as you are trying to). You cannot claim that these verses require an elder to be a man, without also claiming that this man must have a wife and must have children (plural). I don’t think that complementarians require this.

    And, finally, you say that we can’t talk about Junia because “it’s only one verse”. Did you know that there is only one verse in the Bible that refers to the virgin birth, and that that verse also has a problem with the original meanings of the words (“virgin” means “young girl”)? So, on your logic, should we throw out one of the main proofs of Jesus’ divinity?

    These are precisely the theological and logical gymnastics I refered to in the title of my piece. I am sorry to say that you are doing both!

  6. Hey Graeme,

    In all serious I’m not joking, but lets get to what my position is just now as you’ve already started hypothesizing incorrectly about it.

    Let me respond to your comment first. I didn’t read the scripture I referenced, and I concede I should have. Having said that, the response was in your comment about black people being elders.

    The Gal 3 text refers to equality in Christ and not people’s specific roles. I could go into more appropriate references around the ordination of elders in non-Jewish cultures, but then what would be the point? I don’t differentiate on the basis or race and neither do you.

    Which brings me to your second statement about 1 Timothy 3 and you making assumptions about my position on the verse too. I don’t like the debating tactic, I think its demeaning. And as we’ve both agreed in a quick Facebook conversation, this is not about winning but about growing.

    So lets get back to the original discussion shall we?

    Let me refer to something you wrote: “Rachel Held Evans is running a great series on her blog, calling out the strange, illogical and unbiblical pronouncement coming from this corner of evangelicalism.”

    The key word here is unbiblical. Is it biblical or not to have female elders?

    I’d like to say first off that I have theological differences with all of the men you’ve mentioned in this post, however I do take a position that the bible does not advocate female elders.

    Is my statement unbiblical or not? I take the position that it is not.

    In your reference to Junia from what reading I have done, I’m seeing arguments about whether Junia was or was not a women and what exactly their his or her relationship to the apostles was: “outstanding among the apostles” or “well known to the apostles.”

    That good sir sounds like theological and logical gymnastics to me? Am I wrong?

    Lets move on to Priscilla and Aquila. No doubt a team and a couple Paul replied on. Were they equal in their role responsibility though? Would Priscilla have led a church in her home had she not been married to Aquila?

    She was a businesswoman no doubt, worked in both the local church and apostolically with Paul and it is interesting that her name often comes first when referenced by Paul.

    But is their biblical president in the writing surrounding her for female elders? I don’t think so. You are most welcome to try and prove me wrong.

    So to my position. I believe that if God had intended for women to hold the office of elder, the bible say so. However, there is no difference in equality between men and women are are women excluded on a gift level. The wives of elders form integral parts of an eldership team just as as Priscilla would have been an integral part of Paul’s team.

    I think the verses on women need to be taken into consideration in light of the circumstances of which they were written and a holistic view of the bible including all next relating to women.

    God made men and women different from each other and if He had wanted women to be elders, I believe he would have given clear indication for it.

    Now, you are most welcome to disagree with everything I have said. If you want to poke holes in my position, feel free to do so. However, I’d ask that you provide scriptural references in doing so as well as your understanding of what those scriptures mean.

    Before reading your post, I did not even know of people’s position on Junia, so this has been most informative. I also don’t claim that my position is right, I’m merely calling it the way I see it.

  7. Steve, thanks for a great, considered reply.

    As with many current issues in contemporary Christianity, this issue really comes down to Biblical interpretation. And rightly so, amongst evangelicals – we claim the Bible is our guide, and therefore we must work hard to understand it.

    This is not the place for a full discussion of interpretation, but the key to our conversation is about context.

    Let me explain. The Bible nowhere tells me that I have to obey the speed limits while driving in my car. Does that mean I don’t have to? The Bible does not give us any instructions about genetic modification – does that mean Christians must oppose GM? Obviously not, of course. The Bible is not a cover-all constitution, and it becomes dangerous when we try and read it that way.

    It might be easy to dismiss my examples, so let me get more specific. The Bible also instructs us to “lift up holy hands” when we pray. Yet most people don’t do this, and no church I know of insists on this. We are instructed to greet each other with a kiss. But we don’t (well, some do, of course, but probably not a “holy” one 🙂 ). I’m sure you understand the point I am making. We choose to take some instructions literally, and understand the essence of others (e.g. the instructions around slavery), and ignore others completely (like the issue of levirate marriage – look it up if you haven’t heard of it: awesome news if your brother has a hot wife – otherwise horrific, and rightly ignored!).

    So, does the issue of women leadership fall into the “ignore it” category, or the “adapt it” category, or the “obey it” category? That’s the question.

    My point in my post is that those who see this is an “obey it” category issue really battle to actually obey the instructions. If we take these verses as literal, then women must cover their heads, not wear trousers, never pray in public (although there is actually an intsruction which says, “WHEN women pray they must cover their heads”, so there is a contradiction there), etc. We also can only have male elders who are married, and have more than one child. I don’t know of any church that takes these seriously. But why not?

    I fall into the “adapt it” category. Jesus and the first apostles treated women in revolutionary ways – well in advance of their cultural context. Women in the early church had MORE authority and power and position than in any other parts of society in that day. For us to now use the Bible to restrict their authority, power and position in any way seems disingenuous to Scripture, to the apostles and to Jesus.

    But it comes down to interpretation. I have a lot of respect for people who are consistent in their Biblical intepretation. Totally consistent. I may not agree, but I can see their point. I have lost all respect for John Piper, and am losing respect for Don Carson and Tim Keller because of their flip flopping around this issue, and their compromising of their Biblical consistency.

    That’s my point. Thanks for the conversation.

  8. What a fascinating debate between two incredible writers thank you. I must say I personally find too much emphasis in church life on certain “sins” while totally underplaying other sins (such as gay people being picked on consistently while adulterers get off almost Scott free) and in the case of this subject….certain areas that we can “adapt” the scriptures on to be more relevant, but others that are non-negotiable according to what men of the day feel. One day (in eternity) we will have all the answers and I think we are going to be surprised about so many things. “Those who are last will be first…..”

  9. This issue is a prime example of why biblical inerrance, and infallibility, are such important topics. I cannot regard the bible as a perfect guide anymore – except perhaps in its intent. But even then, not everywhere.

    In some cases, the guidance is outmoded. In other cases it is contextual, or simply strange by any objective moral standard – and I couldn’t put my weight behind it.

    Your examples about speed limits and GM are on the money, Graeme. I was going to get more mundane and say the bible doesn’t advise us to brush our teeth daily – but it’s still a good idea. But I won’t. 😉

  10. Steve has continued this conversation on his Facebook page, and one of his friends has made an excellent contribution which I summarise here:

    So we know the scripture “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28

    If you zoom out over Pauls life, the primary problem he tackled in his generation, was around the “Jew nor Greek” issue. His biggest opposition came from Jews. It was something he fought for. And today, us Gentiles benefit from his fight… most christians are now Gentiles.

    I’m not saying he didn’t challenge other things, but the “Jew nor Greek” (which encompasses law and grace, circumcision, etc) was probably the main issue of his day.

    Now what about slavery? Paul tells masters to be good to their slaves, and slaves to obey their masters. Does that mean God is pro-slavery? Think about it. Or is it something that another generation would fight for… God blessed slave owners in the old and new testament! Does that mean it’s His desire for humans to literally own one another? no ways!

    Only around 1800 years later does a generation rise up, and put an end to slavery. And many pro-slavery christians could’ve seen slavery as being ‘biblically’ supported. When it’s not the case. It possibly just wasn’t the battle they needed to fight then. And so Paul doesn’t directly deal with slavery as being wrong, but with the attitude of slaves and owners within a wrong system.

    Now what about “male nor female”?

    Paul wrote to 9 geographic locations, 13 letters and he often said “take this to these churches…” In only three locations does he restrict women Ephesus, Corinth and Crete. They all had one thing in common: there was a goddess of the city. They were polytheists, but the god ruling that city was a woman. So Paul restricted their authority because they ruled over the men in ungodly ways in those cities. And he didn’t restrict them forever, he restricted them until they got it right.

    Just like slavery, I don’t think Paul’s generation dealt with womans oppression. Maybe another generation is taking it up now.

  11. Graeme – I thought I’d bring this question back onto your blog. In the context of your arguments around slavery above, would you use the same reasoning to explain away laws like 132 and 613 of the old Testament Mitzvot, for example?

    Law 613: Not to a woman for servitude after having sexual relations with her — Deut. 21:14
    Law 132: The rapist must marry his victim if she is unwed — Deut. 22:29

    In that age adultery and fornication were very clearly and explicitly banned on pain of death by stoning (Deut 22). So laws implicitly condoning the rape of female POWs, and expecting rape victims to marry their rapists, cannot be argued away due to the “context of the time,” or saying that “these battles had to be fought later,” in the same way as arguments about slavery. While slavery was the norm in that culture, clearly, adultery and fornication were consistently regarded as wrong. Why make exceptions for female POWs and rape victims, then?

  12. Graeme 🙂 Long time bru!

    Been watching this debate go on. Thought it might be good to pipe in at some stage, after seeing some of the comments made.

    Let me make a few points from an experience point of view and then some insights I see here and in scripture.

    1. I’ve seen, over and over again, many women feel as if they’re under pressure to lead and work and do all sorts of things that the feminists insist they should. They feel as if they’re less of a woman if they just want to stay home and be a mother. As if they’re less of a woman if they can’t be a mother AND a business leader AND a prominent leader in the church. Many women don’t want all this pressure, but now they feel as if something’s wrong with them that they don’t.

    2. In my experience, when a man actually takes the lead, most women feel more secure and more able to do the things that they feel they can do well.

    3. Women and men are obviously different and can do different things. Yet, what women can do, is seldom explored or praised by both dominant men and, interestingly enough, dominant women. I seldom see a feminist praising the female for being female / girly. It’s like there’s something wrong with girls who like pink and want to feel like a princess waiting for their knight. Why is this?

    4. Male dominance is the result of the fall (Gen 3:16) but male leadership appears to be God’s design (Gen 2:18). These are not the same thing. In a sinful world male’s abuse their leadership authority. All sorts of things happen in a sinful world that shouldn’t. Should we challenge God’s pattern because of a sinful world? Or live according to God’s pattern in the proper way?

    5. God’s pattern appears to be that males lead in a family context. Given the pictures of a church including a picture of a family than an organisation / business etc., there is a clear leaning towards male leadership in a governmental sense (not male dominance, again). This doesn’t mean woman can’t lead in other ways / ministries, what’s in question here is governmental leadership. There is a difference between a pastoral gift and a pastoral office (if I may use such a word). A woman may have a pastoral gift and she can exercise that. But a pastor / elder office leans towards a governmental leadership in the church. These are different things.

    6. Graeme, you seem to be arguing against a particular brand of American evangelical complementarianism when there is obviously many different kinds of complementarianism. I didn’t read Piper’s quote, for instance, but if he said the male should defend in that situation he is obviously taking the Biblical pattern too far. You’re right that he may be promoting a particular culture rather than a Biblical way of viewing these things, but you may be guilty of throwing out the baby with the bathwater as a result.

    7. I find it interesting that there isn’t a clear case of God putting a female in a position of governmental authority in the scriptures. Jesus could have come in the form of a woman to challenge what has been a culture throughout human history. But he doesn’t.

    8. Arguments on slavery and how people defended it in the past with the Bible are a little silly in my opinion. 1 Tim 1:10 talks against slave traders in particular. The arguments also don’t touch on how slavery in the OT was practiced (by God’s design) because people assume that the same kind of slavery practiced then was the same kind of slavery we saw in the 17th century. It would be like calling a butler a slave, in many ways.

  13. Charles, women were treated as property in OT times. The OT concept of adultery applies ONLY to women who are already married (read the verses, for example: Lev 20:10), and therefore were the property of their husband.

    Both these commands you refer to talk of what happens when a man has sex with an unmarried woman. Different circumstances, different laws, different issue.

    I am not sure, therefore, what point you’re trying to make. Or, given this information, if you’d like to make a different point, or your point in a different way.

  14. Ryan, let’s deal with your last point first. You have an incorrect picture of Biblical slavery. Consider:

    When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

    Earlier that chapter:

    2 “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. …

    7 “If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she is not to go free as male slaves do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money….

    Even Jesus appears to condone the beating of slaves in a parable (Luke 12:47), although this is an indirect reference and in a parable.

    As Charles has also indicated in a comment here, the treatment of slaves from nations beaten in war was also highly questionable. You cannot simply wipe away the brutality inherent in the Biblical record of the OT.

  15. Then, Ryan, to your other 7 points. Without being dismissive of the various points you make, I make just two responses.

    Firstly, feminism is an incorrect (yet understandable) overreact to centuries of abusive male domination. My picture of what the Bible advocates is mutual roles for male and female with neither lording it over the other. Abandoning male headship models does not imply acceptance of feminist models.

    Secondly, you say that there are no clear examples of women taking governmental authority in the Scriptures.
    Deborah might want to argue with you there.
    So too would Miriam. She is identified in Micah 6:4 as one of the three leaders God sent to bring Israel out of Egypt.
    Huldah would be pretty upset with your statement too (see 2 Kings 22).

    Of course, we could list many prophetesses, teachers and pastors. But your points were about “governmental leadership”, and you wanted examples. There are three. All good ones.

    Finally, I’d highly recommend this as a read:

  16. He’s given me names and more to chew on, this is good! Thank you Graeme.

    Yes I concur with Ryan. There is a difference between a women operating in a gift and one operating in governmental authority.

    I need to go into the examples more, but you know what stuck me? Deborah sends for Barak and exhorts him to take up the fight against Jabin king of Canaan. When Israel had victory Deborah and Barak sang a song that said, “When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the Lord!”

    Graeme you advocate a woman as an example of governmental authority who rose up in a tumultuous time in Israel where Judges 2:10 says 10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.

    While she did lead, was it God’s ultimate intent? I’m not trying to detract what Deborah did, but she exhorts Barak to take up the fight against the Canaanites and praises God when the princes of Israel lead. And after they sing the song, its say Israel had peace for forty years.

    Does not Deborah’s story support our side of the debate and not yours?

    PS I think Deborah is a fantastic story and it is not my attempt to undermine women. As I stated on Facebook:

    “This whole women in the church issue is affected by feminism where many people think that the those who don’t advocate women elders and trying to disenfranchise women.

    It is NOT that. I’m at the front of the queue urging my wife and other women in my church to do more, to be more visible, to preach more etc. But God’s intent and His ways must always define us and not the other way around.”

  17. Another “good grief” moment from me, Steve…

    You’ll clearly see what you want to see in Biblical story. (This is true for all of us). But if you see Deborah as anything other than a God-ordained woman taking leadership (and therefore instructing others to do things!), I don’t know how to proceed.

    PS, Judges 2:10 describes the start of a 400 year period which includes 20, 40 and 80 year cycles where this statement was sadly true. Nothing to do with Deborah. In fact, if it relates to anyone in particular, it’s Gideon and Joshua.

    Sorry, I have to say what I am feeling again about comment… Good grief.

  18. Hey Graeme,

    Well, about slavery, I’m not saying one wipes away the obvious brutality. Even Calvin had to admit it was pretty brutal. This is an ongoing discussion in scholarly circles as well as contemporary ones. I’m very interested in Greg Boyd’s current work in this area.

    I think you would know as well as anyone that you can’t just quote verses from the Torah without understanding some context. You can’t read words like ‘property’ without having an idea of what was even meant by that. My basic premise was, however, that one cannot say, “because [many] Christians were wrong about (a) in the past that means that they must also be wrong about (b), (c) and (d).”

    To turn it on its head, you say that Piper et al. are putting forward a 50’s suburban idyllic picture as some Biblical truth. But you may be doing nothing more than projecting a modern idyllic picture yourself. We’re all a product of our time and we have to accept that. Not all Christians throughout time have agreed with others on the issue of slavery.

    Onto your second response. You said this:

    “The Bible advocates is mutual roles for male and female with neither lording it over the other. Abandoning male headship models does not imply acceptance of feminist models.”

    Agreed on both points. Thanks for that last point in this sentence. As to the first point, well I would say – there is never an injunction (complementarianism included) to ever LORD anything over another. This itself is a point complementarianism has also pushed forward.

    It’s the ‘mutual’ roles under contention. Mutual roles in what, exactly? This needs to be defined. Both my wife and I have mutual roles in parenting, but I father while she mothers. I don’t (and can never) mother and she can never father. Our basic physiology will prevent it, no matter how hard I could try.

    Let’s take it to the church family. Women mother, men father a church. There are sons and daughters in the church who are fathered or mothered. We say, men father by leading governmentally, while women mother through a myriad of other ways.

    As to your examples, I haven’t done a deep study in either of them. There’s a contradiction in your method of exegesis, if you would forgive me for saying so. At one point you’re being rather critical of the OT and the law, but when it proves your case you’re using it differently.

    At any rate, if we want to use Miriam as an example we need to look at God identifying her as a leader and then looking at how she worked that out in the OT. Moses was the clear governmental authority where it seems even Aaron had to submit to his authority. God identifies them as leaders, but the narrative shows that the governmental leadership was Moses’s.

    Huldah was a prophet, so don’t see anything about governmental authority there, without looking much deeper, I would admit.

    Steve’s response above about Deborah is very interesting. I would say that one needs to stretch the narrative (and her song) quite a bit to use her as an example of women in governmental leadership.

    I’ll read Rachel’s post and see if she expounds on these details, but so far I don’t see these examples as very good ones to show governmental leadership.

  19. Ryan, I haven’t got much to add to what I’ve said before to contribute at this point.

    Just to say though that there is no inconsistency in my use of the Old Testament. I don’t think that any of the laws of the OT are applicable to us today, and I don’t treat the OT as a Constitution or legal document. But it is hugely important as a record of God’s dealing with His people, and of the redemption story of history.

    Finally, I thought you asked for examples of women taking a clear lead in the Bible. All three I gave are clear. The discussion here is about elders, not “senior pastors”.

    And to be honest, if you and Steve are happy with women preaching, leading, teaching and fulfilling all of the gifts, I don’t see what the issue would be with them being elders. Or indeed, what the task of an elder is in this environment that a woman could not fulfull.

    Let’s move the conversation to that issue. We’re not going to agree on Biblical interpretation it appears, and I am very uncomfortable with a proof texting approach that this line of discussion has gone down. The Bible is not there for us to pick a topic and then go and find a minutae example to either prove or discredit our points. You can literally find Biblical proof for anything if you do this. I’d like to know what an elder needs to do in a church that a woman would not be able to do.

    Thanks for the interactions.

  20. I’ve had several good grief moments in reading your blog over the years. I’ve come close to responding before but for some reason, never followed through in commenting.

    This isn’t one of them, I mostly agree with what you say about women, however the above post was however about women in leadership and had a reference to “calling out the strange, illogical and unbiblical pronouncement coming from this corner of evangelicalism”

    So I disagreed on the issue of women in [governemental] leadership and the fact that the post implies that my stance and Ryan’s is unbiblical.

    In fact we’re asking you to show why you believe it is unbiblical.

    At first you give two examples of Priscilla and Junia which I disagreed with and you did not answer me on that saying on Facebook:

    “Steve, I am not ducking your question about women elders in the Bible. I just don’t have anything more to add to what Jon-Mark van Rooyen said above. I don’t treat the Bible as a constitution, and therefore don’t see the need to have a specific verse about women elders. There is enough evidence in the Bible that Jesus and his disciples all treated women with MORE honour, MORE respect and gave them MORE leadership and teaching roles than the surrounding culture did. That’s my Biblical model.”

    Then when you do answer with some examples, you seem to shrug off my response give a few examples which I’m currently not seeing as cases for women in governmental leadership. Ryan seems to concur.

    You said in Facebook you don’t see the need to have a specific verse about women elders yet you’ve written a post about how you think the likes of Piper perform logical and theological gymnastics and refer to a blogger who calls their position unbiblical.

    So are you going for a biblical backing of women in leadership or aren’t you, because I don’t understand your position.

    Thinking about what has given me good grief moments in your blogging over the years, it comes down to the fact that I think you sometimes miss God’s intent through the scripture.

    I think you’ve missed it on the issue of women in leadership and I think you missed in on the issue of homosexuality. While we don’t need to reopen those old blogs again, you dissected scripture into such little pieces that even after going through the whole process you declared you felt no one had proved you wrong.

    But I think you were wrong because you missed the overarching picture painted through scripture of God’s plan for relationships.

    I don’t want to discuss homosexuality with you, I’m making a point of why I felt uncomfortable in reading your posts — I often don’t agree with the way you interpret scripture.

    For me debate boils down to whether there is a biblical precedence for women in governmental leadership or not. Right now, neither of us seem to think much of the other’s position. If you want to leave it at that, so be it, lets agree to disagree and move on.

    But if you want to write posts about theological and logical gymnastics around women in leadership then I think you need to make a stronger defense of your position.

  21. Hey chaps! Just had this thought today –

    Let’s say hypothetically, that the bible fully supports this idea that woman should not govern… and that the bible makes room for women ministering and operating in their gifts, but only with delegated authority given from another man (or an eldership team) above her. Lets say this is the perfect picture, and that it is ‘biblically’ right.

    If we believe a woman shouldn’t carry a role in governing, does this view affect and spill over into our worldview of how society should be? Or is this solely for the church? If the answer is yes, that it should spill over into society through the church, then is your church actively instilling these values into the women at church? Surely this then means that churches should discourage women to –

    1. Govern businesses. Especially with ones that have 1000s of employees.
    2. Govern schools, health facilities, etc.
    3. Govern in politics, like (Hellen Zilla)

    Now I get that if their aren’t men to govern in society, then it’s ‘seemingly’ fine for a woman to fill in, and I guess you could use the same logic for in church. But lets say that there are both capable men and women around in society. Would you then discourage women to go for governing positions at schools, businesses, politics?

    I know the church and state are separate… but it seems like what we’re talking about here is a question of ‘design’, the intention of how God made all women.

    So what are your thoughts Steve & Ryan?

  22. Thanks Graeme,

    ” I’d like to know what an elder needs to do in a church that a woman would not be able to do.”

    I’m not sure if you mean “what a woman does not have the ability to do,” or if you mean, “what a woman is ‘not allowed’ to do.”

    In either case, let me come at this angle. I’m borrowing the father / mother concept from what appears to be a recurring theme from scripture on the one hand, and on the other, I’m looking at things from a anthropological / psychological point of view.

    Father’s ‘father’ and mothers ‘mother’. Surely fathers do not mother and visa versa. Nature demands that mothers should mother and fathers should father. It’s in our very make-up and is self-evident. That has nothing to do with culture, although culture will try and refine it in a certain way – either a good way or a bad way. We do live in a fallen world, after all.

    When it comes to church governmental structure, a church is fathered by elders. It is not mothered by elders. But it is mothered by women in other contexts. This is why elders are male, to fulfil a father role in a church.

    For some reason, people seem to think this has something to do with power rather than function. They insist that since mothers cannot father, then mothers are seen as something less than fathers. That’s a perception formed by sin but not by God’s design. It’s a perception that occurs because of sin – elders dominating instead of shepherding.

    I would argue that the *nature* of male leadership (how males tend to lead) is the *right kind* of governmental leadership that makes a local church healthy. A local church is a family, a community. The *way* in which females tend to lead does not lend to a fathering role. This is simply by nature.

    The discussion then points to what fathering and mothering looks like. For example, mothering is gentle and protective. Is there something wrong with that? Should mothering look any different? Should it be more like fathering, which is more risky and rougher? Is there something wrong with the fact that little boys wrestle with their dads but look to their moms for more cuddles? Is there something wrong with the female vocals being more soothing while the male vocals are more rough? Is there something wrong that the physiological make-up of a man is different to a women? Should men breastfeed? Well, they obviously can’t, by nature.

    Project that onto church leadership. See how that plays out in a natural family, and then see how it plays out in a church family. Of course there are single mothers and single fathers, and in those cases each has to father and mother at the same time, which is extremely difficult and not ideal as any single parent will tell you. But in an ideal case, each sex brings with it something unique and special that strengthens a family and makes it healthy. In the case of the church, the governmental function of eldership rests with dads. It’s a *function*, not a *position*.

    I think one of the issues is people’s inability to see the church as a real community / family and rather see it as an organisation. Certain ecclesiological structures don’t help. But be that as it may, that may answer your question. It requires moving away from trying to define what women can or can’t do and rather defining what, by nature, should a family look like and how it should function.

  23. Steve, thanks for your summary of the conversation so far. Very helpful, and my apologies for sounding like I was ducking your issues or running around the issue. It can be difficult sometimes to manage multiple streams of a conversation across Facebook and my blog, when I also access these on three different devices.

    It might help then to summarise where I stand.

    The story of Adam and Eve is an archetype, but it does not create a standard or ideal for us to aim at. Having said that, though, as the story goes, God created men and women to be equal. Any instructions given about women being subservient to their husbands were a curse as the result of the Fall (Genesis 3). I believe that we are released from that curse because of what Christ did on the Cross.

    Throughout both the Old and New Testaments the dominant cultures were entirely patriarchal. Therefore, any examples of women in leadership in these contexts is extraordinary and remarkable (in the sense that we should not ignore it, and should give it extra attention). There are many examples of women doing what the culture would not allow them to: leading, teaching, prophesying, etc. Our discussion has been about leadership, and the thing you call “governmental” leadership. You have not defined what this is. But there are three examples in the OT and two in the NT of women exercising this form of leadership.

    Junia was an apostle. The underlying greek construction indicates clearly that she was both female and an apostle. Since apostleship ranks equal with or higher than eldership in the levels of “governmental” leadership hierarchy, no further discussion is required here as far as I can see. Ditto with Priscilla and Aquilla. What does it matter if they shared leadership – this just shows that they were considered equal by the other apostles and by Paul.

    The issue between us is one of how we interpret the Bible. The only reason I dissected it on the issue of homosexuality was to dismantle conservative interpretations. This is not the correct use of Scripture.

    I think we both agree that we should be looking at Scripture for principles. And I think the most important principle in this discussion is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” You will say that this relates to standing before God and to exercise of gifts, but not to “governmental” leadership. Since this is not a Biblical category, I’d suggest the burden of proof lies with you.

    So, maybe it would be helpful for me to understand your position to know what you think it is that elders do that no-one else should be doing. Practical instances would help me. And I’d also be interested to know why you think God does not want women to do this stuff.

    I am going to be on the road for a week now, and then on holiday, so replies might now be slow…

  24. Ryan, thanks for your detailed answer. I don’t see anything Biblical in it.

    You say father’s father and mother’s mother. Where do you find this in the Bible? And what does that mean?

    You say mothering is gentle and protective, and fathering is rougher and more risky. Pure and utter nonsense. And unbiblical. Are Biblical men required to be rough and risky? Really? Are Biblical mothers meant to be gentle and protective? What about the Proverbs 31 woman? She is risky and business like. This is the 1950s suburban American picture I was talking about. It certainly is not Biblical.

    You then talk about the nature of male leadership. Again, what on earth does this mean? What is specifically male about a type of leadership? And where do you find this in the Bible?

    Now, regardless of your answer to these questions from me, let’s do what you say and impose this model onto the church. Are you saying that the correct approach to church leadership is to be rough and risky? Are you saying that it’s best for the top leadership – the leaders who set the tone, hold the culture and make the ultimate decisions – are not required to be soothing, nurturing, gentle and protective? What kind of church do you have in mind? Really?

    On one thing we agree: “But in an ideal case, each sex brings with it something unique and special that strengthens a family and makes it healthy.” And this is done as the two work together, not in a position one over the other, but mutually. We disagree because I see the *function* of eldership needing both the male and female aspects to be properly executed.

    So, you still haven’t explained what an elder would actually do. What is the function of the elder that you believe must be reserved for men only? Is it the imperative to make the church a rough and risky place? I shudder at the thought…

  25. Jon Mark, you’re 100% on the money with your question. If God has created a model for us, this model must work in all parts of our lives. In our families, our homes, our businesses, our schools, etc.

    I have said it before: I am impressed with those who are absolutely consistent. These Christians would have opposed Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, for example. I am less impressed by those who create exceptions. This is what this post is about.

  26. Ryan and Steve, just one more thought/question I had this morning. I know that electronic conversations are not great for judging other people’s tones, and I know from experience and feedback that my tone tends to be aggressive. I apologise if that is the case. In this conversation, I am genuinely interested to understand your viewpoint. Yours is not the standard reformed Christian position, and it interests me.

    So, maybe a question that would help you to help me understand you: let’s assume a situation where almost all of the men in a certain village were killed/removed (e.g. by war). The women want to continue having a church, and so appoint a female eldership. (I am just trying to create a scenario in which my question becomes a genuine possibility, rather a mere hypothetical). My questions are: what would be deficient in the eldership of this church? What would you be concerned about for this church? What could go wrong because there are no male elders?

    I am genuinely interested.

  27. Thanks Graeme for the reply.

    I’ll reply in more detail later in the week. Note in my original comment I said I was going to come from an anthropological / psychological viewpoint, purely because you said you were uncomfortable with prooftexting. The issue lies here in misunderstanding precisely how you would even want to have this conversation – if I bring up texts and say here is why I see things in a certain way, you say you’re uncomfortable with prooftexting. So I avoided bringing scriptures into the equation, and then you ask me where I see what I stated in the Bible? Well, it’s very difficult to show someone where I see it in the Bible if they don’t want to indulge in some prooftexting! 🙂

    I suspect you might be more interested in the overall narrative? But then if we look at the overall narrative, we see male leadership in most cases and we see how God himself chooses to reveal himself. But that doesn’t suit what you’re getting at. At some stage you have to start looking into the nitty gritty of the text (prooftexting) but that’s also something you don’t want to do. Except in the case when someone brings in not only a proof text but also historical context which only infers your viewpoint! (I am referring to Jon Mark’s comment.) On the surface, this style of discussion is somewhat similar to how one debates a fundamentalist – they pick and choose and change the framing of the discussion when and how it suits them. But it’s ultimately fruitless.

    This makes any reasonable discussion practically impossible. I’ll still reply to your questions though 🙂

  28. Ryan, you have misunderstood my comments about proof texting.

    Let’s first acknowledge that for all of us it’s tough to have a virtual conversation that includes a few threads, and has spent part of its life on someone else’s Facebook page. I don’t think any of us are trying deliberately to make it more difficult, but this is tough medium for intricate debate.

    Having said that, let me try and be clear. My concern is not with referencing the Bible (obviously not), nor with looking to the Bible for proof of our positions or beliefs (again, I hope that’s obvious). I actually think that most of our debate is actually about how to interpret the Bible and how we use the Bible. Let me reiterate then, that my concern is with approaching the Bible as if it were some kind of rule book, or codified set of laws (that’s what I mean when I call it a Constitution). The Bible is a set of books, covering many different genres, most of which are stories and parables. It’s not easy to interpret. Real care must be taken when doing so. It is only in this sense that I do not like proof texting.

    In this debate, the argument has gone like this: “Show me a Biblical example of a woman in leadership (and implied is: that’s the only way I can accept it’s possible).” [An example is given.] “That’s not a good example, for the following reasons.” [Those reasons are shown to be questionable]. “You’re just playing games.” [Sigh].

    I would prefer not to play that game. I would be very comfortable with women in leadership despite a single Biblical reference to this, unless the Bible has specifically commanded it not to happen. The references provided about restrictions on women in leadership can all be shown to be (1) cultural, or (2) specific for a location and not general.

    So, I am not saying we can’t go back to the Bible. In fact, this whole thing is about HOW we go back to the Bible.

  29. Hi Graeme – to revisit my question about adultery rape (sorry for the delayed response – I’ve been a little indisposed) – I understand that women were considered property, and only married women could commit adultery. But what about the *men*?

    That’s what I was referring to – a *married* man goes into battle, and is given the “right” to have sex with a captured female, or a *married* man rapes a girl and is then not only allowed to, but expected to marry her. Surely HIS act would still have been considered adulterous, even though the woman may not have been considered an adultress? Or did the objectification of women in those days really extend to a carte blanche on sex with all unmarried women for a married bloke? Or did it all just get wrapped up in the blanket of polygamy as one of the norms of the times – was it really that much of an open season?

    I concede my diction was probably misleading – perhaps my closing question should have been: “Why make exceptions for the married men who raped female PoWs and unmarried girls, then?” Assuming I’m not completely off my rocker here, why would these exceptions have been made in a context where adultery and rape were banned?

  30. Hi Steve, Ryan, Graeme

    I think this statement by Graeme sums it up for me: “I’d like to know what an elder needs to do in a church that a woman would not be able to do.” Ryan and Steve, you guys seem to be okay with women doing everything that an elder does, except actually being called one. It’s a puzzling position. I am very much of the opinion that biblical precedent cannot be used as a catch-all to determine the right course of action in every eventuality. It also cannot be used as a stick with which to beat down courses of action that it doesn’t mention. Its overall intent is far more relevant in situations which, for reasons of cultural and technological evolution, simply didn’t exist when it was written.

    Notwithstanding this reality. Deborah very clearly was a governmental leader. She was a Judge of Israel. At that time Israel didn’t have kings, and were ruled by judges instead. Steve and Ryan, in what sense, exactly, was her leadership non-governmental? Judges 4 says: “4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[a] Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided.” So – she *lead Israel,* she *held court* and the Israelites went to her *to have their disputes decided* – as they would have gone to Solomon or the other judges and kings of Israel.

    But to return to the point: what are women unable to do, that elders are supposed to? Or what is it that they should not do, that elders are supposed to? If the only real answer is that they shouldn’t be given the title, then this whole discussion is silly. Personally, I’ve always been turned off by titles anyway – but if this is really the case then, whether anyone likes or believes it or not, women are acting as de facto elders all the time, in thousands of churches – even your own, Ryan and Steve.

    To me the arguments about the “nature” of male and female leadership are as spurious as the arguments about the “nature” of fathering and mothering. Yes, certainly, even statistics will show behavioural tendencies – but even these tendencies are very often socialised. Outside of physical realities like brute strength and the presence of mammary glands, nearly every married couple I know has a different mix of skills. I would definitely contradict the idea that men cannot “mother,” or women “father.” I am often nurturing toward my son in ways that are “typically” mothering – and then I also wrestle him onto the floor and play cricket and rugby with him in the garden, and try to teach him how to treat women etc etc. There are, likewise, many ways in which my wife can bolster and complement that fathering role I play. Male and female, father and mother, in this sense, are simply social constructs used to explain things. Where an actual mother or father begins and ends in the day-to-day reality sense is impossible to define.

  31. Charles, thank you for that eloquent statement of the issue. I await the answers from Ryan and Steve.

  32. I also Like JM’s question about the extension of the male leadership model into the rest of life. I’m tempted to ask: “To what extent did the fact that Israel was a patriarchal society cause its authors to embed patriarchal assumptions into the bible?”

    To me the answer is that, clearly, this happened to a large extent. Yet even so there exist several notable exceptions. How should we interpret this fact when considering the underlying, divine Author’s intent in issues of male vs. female governmental leadership? If, even in a patriarchal society, these notable exceptions to the norm existed – why on earth should women not assume even more, and greater, leadership roles in modern-day society…churches included?

  33. Charles, I am looking forward to Greg Boyd’s work on the violence in the OT. The issues you raise are indeed troubling parts of the Bible, that we have largely ignored.

    But one small point here: the married/unmarried issue had to do with the status of the woman, not the man.

  34. Thanks guys, even though this is your blog Graeme, I appreciate a lively space to discuss things! 🙂

    Graeme, thanks for your reply, this helps us to find a point of solidarity. You said, “My concern is with approaching the Bible as if it were some kind of rule book, or codified set of laws (that’s what I mean when I call it a Constitution). The Bible is a set of books, covering many different genres, most of which are stories and parables. It’s not easy to interpret. Real care must be taken when doing so. It is only in this sense that I do not like proof texting.”

    Brilliant, ok I understand. Plus I think we agree on this point: God did not give us the Bible to give us a constitution. I’m very much a “free gracer” myself – Christians have no obligation to the OT law, not for justification or for sanctification. Furthermore, we are not obligated to Jesus’ teachings for either of these either. Sanctification is by the Spirit, by relationship with Jesus himself, not any teaching or law. That last part might be under contention, but let’s stick to where I am convinced we can agree: none of what we see in the Bible is to be used as a codified set of laws for the Christian community or the individual. But with that said, there are, what I see, clear guiding *patterns* in the Scriptures for what makes for a *healthier* church.

    Patterns are not laws, they are “flexible wineskins”. For instance, it seems to me that the model of elders and deacons is in the Scriptures to provide us a basic (flexible) model for what will make for a healthy church. When we begin to add too much to this model (or take away from it) we create more trouble for our churches. Examples such as CEO’s with executives or, on the other end, house church models with no leadership at all, have often led to some terribly unhealthy communities.

    I argue for male-led eldership from this point of view. I don’t see it as a law, but I see it as an ideal which makes for a healthier church. When we begin to add to it or take away from it, we land ourselves in trouble, unless the context calls for us to make an adjustment and, by the Spirit, we do so; and that we’re willing to adjust the other way when the context calls for it. We do see Paul write that the husband is the head of the wife in Ephesians 5:23, as Christ is the head of the church. In this and scriptures like it, as well as the overall narrative where we see male leadership and we see God’s revelation of himself as Father, it seems to me that males are, in general, to take the lead in the family.

    Since I’m arguing from a point of taking the family model into our ecclesiology, well that’s one reason why I see males as ones who are to father a church. It’s not only that the church models family life, but that church life serves as an example where we can see how families are to be led. I see male leadership in my church leading governmentally, I begin to understand how I can lead at the home. It may be difficult for simple men like me to understand how to lead my home when I only see / encounter / have relationship with females leading my church family.

    Graeme you ask what I mean by fathering or mothering. Well, it’s hard to explain, given that both of these roles are only ever understood in the context of relationship. And this is precisely my point – the church is a place of relationship that relates to others in reality (in real relationship to people), not in theory, how God loves. In its ecclesiology, it reveals God as Father, because that is how God revealed himself throughout the ages.

    Now in terms of your scenario regarding war-time, yes the women should (not just ‘could’, but probably ‘should’) appoint female eldership. As to where they would be deficient, one cannot say they may be deficient in anything from a practical point of view, it really would depend on who they are – women are amazing organisers! But I don’t think they would be *prophetically* showing God as father given that they are not males. They may to a degree, but not to a complete degree.

    I’m sure you might disagree since, quite rightly, women can show fatherly aspects. But I mean, generally speaking, most women will find it difficult as most men find ‘mothering’ difficult. I can mother my son but I sure get tired quickly of doing it! It’s more draining than those aspects when I father.

    God can anoint the women for the task. He might bring the right kind of women to the church who can come close. But, in general, women lean more naturally to mothering than fathering – which seems to me to be a fact of observation – and because it’s easier for males to father and women to mother, which seems to me by God’s design, it all just seems to lean on male eldership being the right ‘fit’ for a local church family.

    As a final point, let me reiterate a concern. For most, this discussion is about liberal vs conservative views, and for liberals this is a matter of ‘progression’ not a matter of ‘context’, which means, in general, this becomes a matter of politics and law. Many liberal Christians then seek to bring this law into the church. That is a concern for me.

    I don’t really know how else to explain my point of view and we all have more to learn in how we can express ourselves better in writing. I don’t know how else to show how I read the scriptures in this matter. Thanks man.

  35. Looking very forward to Boyd’s work on OT violence. Graeme, have you followed his blogs on the matter and come to any findings of your own?

  36. Hey guys,

    Sorry, like all of you I am a busy man.

    OK let me respond. John Marc, I think the Proverbs 31 raised by Graeme answers your question. I think it gives a clear indication that a women can be involved in business.

    Whether her husband was an elder in a political sense or a spiritual or both I don’t know. I have not looked into the meaning there.

    Graeme thank you for your response. I think you have been most gracious.

    I think you are right it is about how we read the bible. I don’t think we’re going to agree on a direct reference basis. We clearly differ on how we ready scripture specifically.

    You seem set on Junia and convinced too. As I linked you, there seems some doubt. This debate leads us nowhere because I think you’re on shaky ground and you don’t agree. Lets park that one.

    So back to how we read the bible, I think there are some non-negotiables with scripture that are clear. That Jesus was the son of God, that He died for our sins and that through his death and resurrection we are freed from the consequence of sin etc.

    I think from there, we start to see God’s intent woven through scripture. Intent is an important thing for me. I think when we come to understand God’s master plan better, we understand more about ourselves and the church, which is is body.

    I think while there is a context to the times the scriptures happened in, I think we can also explain away things in the bible, writing them off to context. For example, the bible was written in patriarchal societies, therefore it does not make a case for male only elders. I think that kind of thinking can lead to assumptions and allow us to create a flavour of Christianity based more on our own understanding than God’s intent.

    Looking at Graeme’s position on scripture vs my own, I feel like we have two different approaches to the church. Even by name Graeme’s blog future church now and his thoughts on the emerging church conflict with my thinking of going back to what the church was in the New Testament. Not literally, but in term’s of God’s intent for the church is.

    I agree with Ryan that women can lead churches in times of war or in the case of the death of her husband in a church plant where there is no one suitable to lead the church, I just don’t think its God’s intent for the way a local church would run ideally.

    Which is why I don’t see Deborah as a case of a scriptural precedent for women elders. Because I think Deborah rose up to fulfil a need, but I think that she operated in a vacuum of a lack of male leadership and I she herself points to God’s intent – for men to rise up in their leadership calling.

    As to my position, well my lead elder calls himself a reformed charismatic, although I know Ryan does not like the terms that much.

    I’ve referenced that in the context of say a Pricilla and Acquila that a husband and a wife can “elder” together. They had a church which met in their home.

    In how an eldership couple function differently from each other, well I think its up to the elder to lead in the area of discipline and direction in terms of where that local church is going.

    Some people in the circles I am involved in would argue that an elder sets doctrine as well. I’m still chewing on that one. I think women can preach on doctrine just as a man can.

    Coming back to our differences of opinion, I do find Charles and Graeme’s questions stirring my thinking. To shed some light on my history, much of my thinking was shaped in a New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) context which I was in for 8 years. My theology has definitely grown from there.

    A scripture I hold dear is Eph 3:10 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    There is that word intent again. His eternal purpose is also important. Someone once described the acts of the new testament as casting a shadow backwards in time as representations of what was to come. For example, the lamb being sacrificed as a picture of Jesus on the cross.

    I think there is a lot more of God intent described through the pages of the bible than some might think.

    All challenges to my thinking welcome.

  37. A quick response. Steve, you talk about intent. I think you’re spot on. In theological circles, this is sometimes referred to as the redemption trajectory of Scripture. The best example is slavery. Was God’s intent that there be slaves? If not (I assume we all agree on this), why did He not address this issue in Scripture? He didn’t need to: the redemption trajectory was always that Israel treated their slaves better than anyone else did. And even that slaves were set free. It’s obvious that the trajectory started in Scripture would lead through church history to the end of slavery eventually around the world.

    So, let’s get back to intent and women leaders.

    To understand God’s intent, we need to induce certain things, but looking at the picture of what heaven will be like is a great start. And here we have a great picture: there will be no marriage and no gender differences in heaven. But that no marriage thing is hugely significant in the context of our conversation. I really do believe that the redemption trajectory of Scripture and history is to remove gender distinctions of all types (as well as racial and cultural ones too).

    If we read in Scripture of patriarchy (or male governmental leadership as you phrase it), I believe this is a working out of the Fall, rather than God’s eternal plan for his creation. As a redeemed community, I believe that today we should work for equality – to make it “on earth as it is in heaven”.


    Might be worth a read.

    So this lady came to me at church and said she had been reading our conversation. She said she runs a business with her husband, but said she is not built for it. She added as a woman, fear and how she handles stress make it harder for her to lead in a business context. She said she agreed with eldership couples, but not female elders saying women aren’t “built” the for it.

    I was also thinking about spiritual warfare. I think this is also an area where men are better suited to take the lead in a church because they are better suited to conflict, although that does not preclude women from involvement in spiritual warfare.

    Graeme, if Jesus was removing a barrier between men and women as a result of the fall, would he not have instituted it on earth? Also is not marriage pre the fall?

    You asked for thoughts on what elders do specifically apart from their wives. What are your thoughts on this?

  39. Steve, the lady who spoke to you at your church might be a typical, conservative Christian woman. It doesn’t make her right or normative. And to say that women are better at spiritual warfare is just flat wrong. Don’t mess with my 99 year granny – she’s one of the world’s great prayer warriors!

    Marriage might have been pre-Fall, but it won’t be in heaven. The ideal earthly marriage, in my opinion, is based on equality.

    I don’t see elders as needing to be men or women, so your question doesn’t apply to me.

  40. A so now we’re getting to the heart if the issue I think. Why is the view that men and women are made differently and gave different roles an equality issue? I know many have used the line about roles to suppress women, and but that’s not my intent. My intent is to see myself, my wife, my leaders, everyone flourish in what God made them to be.

    I’m reading Danny Silks book. I’m in chapter two and there is a lot right with it and a lot of pendulum swing in it too. He spends most of the first chapter vocalising the need for equality in position of church leadership and talking about his own marriage.

    One of him and his wife’s biggest challenges was their pasts and it came out in counselling that she felt vulnerable because she did not feel protected by him as a spouse.

    So on the one hand he’s advocating equality in leadership but there are these glimpses into the roles men and women play according to how God made us.

    So to me, God’s intent here is paramount. What did he intend when he made man and what did he intend when he made women?

    Graeme, in the context of all you have put forward, can you articulate your view on wives submitting to their husbands? How do you understand those verses within the context of your view on scripture?

  41. Steve, thanks for these further comments and insights. I really like how this conversation has progressed, and think we’re very close in our positions. Before I answer your question, though, I need to say that the position you have taken here is definitely NOT the position held by most “complementarians”. They definitely see women as inferior (they would not say so, but they exclude women from many giftings, including leadership, teaching, prophecy, wisdom). Your position is much more nuanced, and makes a huge amount of sense to me.

    However, I still think that it is based on a non-Biblical, culturally-biased view of the roles of men and women. The danger is that those men and women who do not fit into this cutesy view of macho-man on his white steed saving the “oh save me, handsome knight” damsel, will feel excluded from your religion. I know I am totally misrepresenting what you have actually said and caricaturing it. But, since your categories of what are ‘male’ things and what are ‘female’ things is not Biblical or objectively, emprically based, the argument to absurdity might help to show its weakness. Again, I am not accusing you of having this view – just wondering if you’ve thought through the implications for those who might not fit into your pattern of sexuality?

    Anyway, let’s get back to what you have actually said. You asked I would define submission.

    I assume you have gone back and read Ephesians 5? To refresh your memory, the chapter is a series of instructions on how to manage various Christian relationships. The chapter starts with an instruction that we are all to have Christ-like love for each other, “giving ourselves up for each other” just as Christ gave himself up for us. Paul then, having mentioned Christ, does what he often does at that point in his letters: goes off on a tangent about how we must devote ourselves to Christ and the consequences if we don’t. He gets back to his point in verse 21.

    And here is the heart of what is missed by those who want to claim that wives must be subservient to their husbands. It’s simple: “Submit to one another.” We must all submit to each other. Whatever the next verse might mean (“wives submit to your husbands”), this also applies in the other direction. Under the rules of Greek grammar and Biblical interpretation, the heading is the main point. What comes after is just detail to substantiate it. Wives submit to your husbands. Husbands submit to your wives.

    However, Paul goes even further and says that husbands are not merely to submit to their wives, but rather to love their wives as Christ loved the church: sacrificially, serving, without reserve.

    Both of these statements were counter cultural at the time, and phrased in order to have the most impact on the first readers. But the implication is clear: two equals in the marriage, working together.

    There is another small matter in these verses: the issue of “headship”. This is where most of these debates come down to. What does it mean that Christ is the head of the church, and the husband is the head of the wife? Some claim that “head” in this context means authority over. Others say it means “source” (as in “the head of the river” is its source). You can then look to other verses that talk about man coming before woman in creation, but all men coming from women in their birth. Since the interpretation is ambiguous, I think you’ve got to look at the broader context (submit to one another) and the intent of the passage. I think this points to equality.

    One final point: if Christ is the head of the church, he is also its Saviour (Eph 5:23 makes this specific point). If the husband is the “head” of the wife, in what way is he her saviour too? If he is not (and he is not!), then maybe we’ve misinterpreted the other parts of that sentence too?

    Having said all of this, it seems that your interpretation and application are consistent and make sense. Thanks for making your position clear. I hope I’ve made mine clear. I hope we can respect each other’s positions, and not make this issue a litmus test for our Biblical interpretation or orthodoxy. Many do. I also hope that we can agree to encourage women to operate in their giftings and callings.

  42. I’m sorry that I didn’t find this blog earlier. And, I, as well, do not want to seem aggressive by ANY means! However, I keep reading viewpoints that have “current” Biblical references. I, myself, am an amateur theologian. I have researched Islam, Buddhism, and, VERY, VERY thoroughly OT & NT Biblical History.

    I am extremely intrigued by this conversation, however, there seems to be so many “issues” that I feel are not being addressed.

    The NT was NOT “God inspired” – the NT was created by a council of Bishops that convened in Nicaea (Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 CE. I believe that the “vote” that lead to the creation of the NT was NOT “divinely inspired”, instead, it was politically inspired. Any religious material that didn’t meet the “standard” was thrust aside. Remember the “Crusades”?????

    The same thing occurred when the OT was “put together”. One example of an OT “oopsie” was the fact that in the first book of Genesis, God fashioned man and woman simultaneously – “So God created mankind in the divine image, male and female, God created them.” (Possibly Lillith?!?!?!)

    However, in Genesis 2 & 3, the story miraculously changes to state that God decides to make a companion for Adam and crates the animals of the land and sky to see if any of them are suitable partners for him. As God brings each animal to Adam it becomes apparent that Adam needs a “suitable helper.” God then causes a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and while Adam sleeps God fashions Eve from his side. When Adam awakes, he recognizes Eve as part of himself and accepts her as his companion. (A little “revision”)

    And, I’ll wait for any comments on this before I begin to compare and contrast the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And, then the discussion of “Q” – which may or may not be from Enoch – ANOTHER book left out of the Bible…..

  43. The Donna, thanks for your interaction. The issue of which books should be in the Bible is an interesting one, with a fraught history. However, the Old and New Testaments are different. The Old Testament as we have it today existed when Jesus was alive, and he did nothing to correct it. Would have been easy for him to do so, if we had made a mistake. It’s also not entirely correct to say the Council of Bishops “created” the New Testament – they simply affirmed what most people were already treating as the New Testament.

    Either way, we have to account for the work of the Holy Spirit in the process.

    I am happy to say the Bible as we have it is God’s Word for us. I think the issue is in how we interpret it, how we treat it, and what we think it is. The problem is us, and not the Bible!

  44. Graeme:

    There are at least 156 “early” Christian writings known to date. A fraction of those made into the various translations of the New Testament. The following I am quoting from an anonymous source online:

    The quality of the translation and the number of the books.

    The New Testament canon of the Catholic Bible and the Protestant Bible are the same with 27 Books.

    The difference in the Old Testaments actually goes back to the time before and during Christ’s life. At this time, there was no official Jewish canon of scripture.

    The Jews in Egypt translated their choices of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in the second century before Christ. This translation of 46 books, called the Septuagint, had wide use in the Roman world because most Jews lived far from Palestine in Greek cities. Many of these Jews spoke only Greek.

    The early Christian Church was born into this world. The Church, with its bilingual Jews and more and more Greek-speaking Gentiles, used the books of the Septuagint as its Bible. Remember the early Christians were just writing the documents what would become the New Testament.

    After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, with increasing persecution from the Romans and competition from the fledgling Christian Church, the Jewish leaders came together and declared its official canon of Scripture, eliminating seven books from the Septuagint.

    The books removed were Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom (of Solomon), Sirach, and Baruch. Parts of existing books were also removed including Psalm 151 (from Psalms), parts of the Book of Esther, Susanna (from Daniel as chapter 13), and Bel and the Dragon (from Daniel as chapter 14).

    The Christian Church did not follow suit but kept all the books in the Septuagint. 46 + 27 = 73 Books total.

    1500 years later, Protestants decided to keep the Catholic New Testament but change its Old Testament from the Catholic canon to the Jewish canon.

    The books that were removed supported such things as
    + Prayers for the dead (Tobit 12:12; 2 Maccabees 12:39-45)
    + Purgatory (Wisdom 3:1-7)
    + Intercession of saints in heaven (2 Maccabees 15:14)
    + Intercession of angels (Tobit 12:12-15)

    The books they dropped are sometimes called the Apocrypha.

    Here is a Catholic Bible website:

    Also, check out the website:

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