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A Controversial Word: “Head”

19 Jun

 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands”. ~Ephesians 5:21-24

Before we start evaluating the vying types of submission, let’s first examine what it means for the man to be the “head.”  The Greek word for head is κεφαλή or kephale. Complementarians translate this word into “authority.”  I’m going to say, upfront, that too much is read into this one word because, in reality, it has a variety of uses and meanings.  Typically, it means a physical head (you know, that thing that houses your brain).  However, it can also refer to being first, being preeminent, or the origin/source of something else.  We should look for all the ways it’s used, but we should especially watch the way Paul uses it in other letters.  Interestingly, Paul  typically uses kephale to mean “source” or “origin” rather than “authority.”

In 1 Cor. 11:2-16, kephale is used as a literal head and as source (which 11:8-9 makes clear).

In Col. 1:18, kephale, is being used in reference to the beginning, and thus can clearly be understood as origin or source.

In Col 2:10, kephale is clearly being used as source/origin because if it meant “authority” then Paul would be repeating himself.  It’s saying Christ is the source of all authority.

Eph. 1:22 is the only place where kephale can be taken as “authority” without any ambiguity.  However, just three chapters later, in Eph. 4: 15-16 Christ is identified as the “head” in that he is a unifying source of the whole body.[1]

In light of this evidence, I am more likely to believe kephale is being used as origin or source- which would be consistent with the Genesis account as well as other Pauline arguments.  Just look at this passage from 1 Cor. 11 which deals with head coverings.  “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God,” (1 Cor. 11:8-12).  Women come from men, but all things come from God.  Man is the source of women, but Christ is the source of the church.  This interpretation is just as biblically sound (if not more so) as the complementarian argument which insists kephale means authority.

In light of the varying ways the word kephale is used by Paul alone, can we really say, with %100 certainty, that “head” only means authority in Ephesians 5?  I don’t think so.  Am I willing to be a martyr over whether or not it means “source” over and against “authority.”  Probably not.  But the evidence sure does make one think…


[1] Alan Padgett. As Christ Submits to the Church.  66-67

Jesus & Women

22 Mar

Hello Friends!

Today I’m writing on an aspect of biblical womanhood which is often overlooked- Jesus’ own interactions with women.  If you’re reading my blog you probably agree with my starting premise:  Jesus, as incarnate God, is the best gauge of what God actually thinks about womenfolk.  Because the Bible was written by men who were raised in a patriarchal culture (and therefore probably didn’t give much thought to including a “woman’s perspective” on Jesus’ ministry), we’re going to have to dig a little deeper.  For this blog, I am referencing a recorded lecture in which Dr. Ben Witherington III taught on the subject.  He also has some published works on women of the Bible.  I haven’t read them, but can attest to his excellence in the field of biblical scholarship.

Background

It can be helpful to understand the world in which Jesus lived.  In the first century, Israel was not autonomous.  It was part of the Roman Empire and was engaged in a desperate struggle to maintain their cultural and religious identity amidst the pluralism of Rome.  Some women in the Roman Empire enjoyed considerable freedoms, such as owning their own businesses, having individual bank accounts, initiating divorce and even being elected to lower-level government leadership.  In addition to the civic role of women, pagan religions provided opportunities for women to serve as priestesses (especially of female gods).  Israel, on the other hand, had none of this.  There, a woman could neither inherit property nor sue for divorce.  Even widows were not entitled to inherit their husband’s property, which meant their survival depended on a hasty remarriage or the financial support of other male relatives.  Women were extremely limited in regard to economic opportunity and were almost entirely dependent on men for their subsistence.  Women were equally limited when it came to the practice of Judaism.  Because women were considered “unclean” during a menstrual period, they could not lead, nor be counted as part of a quorum for a synagogue to form.  There were female prophets (such as Anna), but they were few and far between.  On top of this, it was men- and not women- who received the mark of the covenant (circumcision).

The family was the center of Jewish life and community.  Jewish girls were married between the ages of eleven and thirteen (put’s the role of Mother Mary into perspective a little!), but these marriages were not for love.  They were a financial transaction.  IN the Greco-Roman world, women were considered “movable property” along with slaves and minors.  A woman had two obligations:  1) Get married and 2) have children.  Marriage was the only honorable profession available to Jewish women.  This is the world Jesus came into.

ImageMotherhood

Before we go any further with the ways Jesus challenged the culture of first century Israel, I’d like to say a word Jesus’ first human relationship- his mother.  The incarnation did not begin on a starry night in Bethlehem.  God became Emmanuel (God With Us) the moment Mary’s womb was filled.  God chose to spend his first nine months swimming inside a woman’s body.  And his first years were spent drinking from her breast and depending on her willingness to care for a helpless child.  Jesus forever sanctified the role of mother.  Those people who wish to diminish the holy task of motherhood obviously don’t know Jesus well.

Jesus Challenges Culture

Mark 3:31-35

 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In this passage, Jesus’ biological family has come to take him home, but Jesus says something pretty radical.  He makes the claim that the family of faith now supersedes the biological family.  The central family unit is no longer determined by heredity, but by faith.  The family of faith holds the trump card.  This is Jesus’ way of saying the physical family will not hold the same prominent position that it held in Judaism.  He intended to create a new, universal family- which you can bet rattled the sensibilities of patriarchal Israel.

Mark 7:17-23

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable.  He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile,  since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The connection from this passage to the issue of women may not be readily apparent, but it’s actually very important.  In these few verses, Jesus has declared Levitical law to be unnecessary.  He is doing away with the concept of things and people being “clean” and “unclean.”  Being unclean for one week of every month is what barred women from religious service, but that barrier no longer stood.  Even the sign of the covenant, male circumcision, was soon to be replaced by baptism, which is administered to both sexes.

Luke 8:1-3

 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

In this passage, we see Jesus deconstructing social norms within his own following.  He’s challenging the accepted view of womanhood in multiple ways.  1) Women were not entitled to learn Torah, and here they are serving as disciples. 2) Women were leaving the responsibilities of their homes in order to follow this rabbi around. 3) They were providing financially for Jesus and the male disciples, which means they had somehow accumulated finances.  As Ben Witherington says, they were not the “hospitality brigade.” These women were traveling with and providing for Jesus’ ministry.  We also see Jesus consorting with women of various status.  Mary had been possessed by demons, and Joanna was married to Herod’s steward.  You may recall that Herod hated Jesus.

Luke 10:38-42            Image                     

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha has taken up the traditional role as hostess.  She then confronts Jesus, suggesting that Mary should be in the kitchen too.  Jesus responds in an unexpected way.  He defends Mary’s right so sit at his feet- the traditional role of a disciple- and he even says she has chosen the better part.  In Greek, Jesus says she’s chosen the better “dish”- a play on words.  Jesus is teaching, with his actions, that the priority for men and for women is to be a disciple of Jesus.  He offers women a religious education and inclusion they would not receive anywhere else. 

Matthew 19:3-12

 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”  He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’  and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”  He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”  But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.  For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Two things are going on here.  First, Jesus is extending the protection for women who are married.  In ancient Israel, only men could initiate divorce, and this could be done for a variety of reasons.  Some rabbis were conservative and believed divorce was only for infidelity (though one should keep in mind a woman could be executed for the same crime), but there were other rabbis who said a woman could be divorced for burning the toast.  Since women were economically dependent on their husbands (and a divorced woman was “damaged goods) divorce often resulted in the ruin of Jewish women.  By restricting divorce Jesus was actually extending protection for women.

The second- and perhaps more significant- change in this passage deals with the second half of the text.  Jesus declares singleness to be a viable option.  Jews took the command to “be fruitful and multiply” very seriously.  In their mind, every able-bodied person should be married and procreating.  Jesus, however, makes singleness for the Kingdom a legitimate option for men and for women.  This means that women can pursue religious service instead of having a family.  That’s big.  Motherhood is not only contribution women make in the Kingdom Jesus has inaugurated.

ImageThe Passion and Resurrection Narratives

According to Mark 14, it was only the female disciples who remained with Jesus until his death (John says one male disciple was there).  The men all fled, which means the women were the only faithful disciples at the close of Jesus life.  It was the women who tended to his burial needs and it was the women who first encountered the risen Christ.  Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist.  The text says, “and she went proclaiming.”  Tell me, how is that not a call for women to preach?

Jesus and His Twelve Male Disciples

I’ll go ahead and address this, because it comes up so often.  Many people respond to the above information by noting that Jesus’ twelve disciples were all men.  That’s only natural.  Jesus chose them as emissaries to the traditional culture ancient Israel/Palestine.  They are sent out to seek the lost sheep of Israel, which means they couldn’t be so radical no one would listen to them.  Trust me; women would not have been able to evangelize as easily as the men could in that culture.  In addition to that, they are meant to mirror the twelve patriarchs of Israel.

I’m not trying to insinuate that Jesus puts down male leadership.  Rather, I’m trying to show all the ways Jesus actively trained up women in addition to men for ministry.

 

Passages that Seem to Limit Women: 1 Timothy 2:11-15

4 Feb

Okay Ladies and Gents, the day has come.  Today we’re going to tackle 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

I know what you’re thinking:  “This looks pretty straightforward.  Paul is clearly banning all women from leadership for all time.”  I thought that for a long time too.  If you still think that at the end of today’s blog- it’s okay.  I respect anyone who holds a position because he/she feels it’s more biblical.  But I’m asking you to go with me, and ponder a notion that may be unfamiliar- even threatening- for just the length of this post.  Don’t get defensive.  Don’t feel attacked, because that’s not my intention here.  Aristotle said that it’s the “mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  So, whether you are a complementarian, egalitarian or undecided, let’s entertain some thoughts…

In biblical studies classes, one of the first things we learn is to honor the context.  The context takes everything into account from the genre of the book, to the literary, historical and cultural settings of the author and audience.  The bible cannot mean something to us today that it never meant to the original audience.  Context is always important.  It is necessary for sound interpretation.  So let’s take a look at the context of 1 Timothy.

  1. Author:  Paul the Apostle
  2. Audience:  Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus and student/co-worker of Paul
  3. Genre:  Epistle, or letter.
  4. Date:  mid 60s CE
  5. Major Themes of the letter:  correcting false doctrine and removing/limiting  those who are propagating the false doctrine

There are several implications just from these five pieces of information.  First, since we hold to Pauline authorship (and I do), that means that all of Paul’s writings are relevant when discussing this particular prohibition on women.  Second, we recognize that 1 Timothy is a letter.  We know from the beginning that we’re missing half of the conversation.  Furthermore, it’s a letter to a particular person, in a particular situation, in a particular location.  We cannot get away from Timothy’s context because his context (a church in Ephesus that is combating false doctrine) is the purpose for the entire letter!  Finally, we must consider the way the broad theme of the letter may influence the particular statements found therein.

Reading Paul in light of the whole NTImage

Since Paul is the author of this book, it’s only right for me to consider ALL of Paul’s teachings on women in conjunction with this passage,which is the only explicit limitation on women teaching men in the entire Bible.  This means that I read 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in light of Galatians 3:36-39, Romans 16 (see blogs on Phoebe, Priscilla and Junia), and 1 Corinthians 12 (which lists spiritual gifts without reference to gender). In these three passages, not to mention the biblical accounts of female prophets and leaders and the example of Jesus (blog to come), we see Paul affirming women leaders!  He calls women his co-workers, and he praises them as teachers, leaders, patrons, and even an apostle.  It would seem that the bible in general- and Paul is particular- is sending mixed messages; which leaves us with two possible options.  1) Paul was unstable and double-minded or 2) some things that Paul wrote in letters were meant to address specific situations and were not intended to be normative.[1]

I don’t know about you, but option number two seems much more likely (not to mention less problematic).  And it makes perfect sense given the context. Almost the entire letter of 1 Timothy addresses false doctrine.  A group of people were spreading heresy and Paul was giving Timothy some suggestions to shut it down.  One of those suggestions was to stop the women in Timothy’s congregation from teaching.  Honestly, it isn’t all that surprising those women were part of the problem.  They had very little education, if any at all.  Women were often quite young and were typically married by fourteen (give or take two years), which made them more susceptible to bad doctrine.  If the woman was a widow or wealthy wife, she had some spare time and could easily go from house to house, teaching others the heresy she’d learned.  Paul was completely right to shut this kind of behavior down!  It’s worth mentioning that Paul also cracked down on the men who were leading in Ephesus.  The problem was not that women were teaching, but that women who were unlearned and susceptible to false doctrine were spreading heresy.

A close examination of the specific text

Most translations begin this passage by saying, “I do not permit.”  However, many Greek scholars will point out that Paul is actually speaking in the present tense, as if to say, “I am not permitting.”  This suggests that Paul was speaking with regard to the particular situation in Timothy’s church, rather than all churches.

Secondly, very few people point out how radical it was that Paul said women should learn.  Everyone harps on the quietness and submission part, but that was completely in line with Paul’s culture.  It was not normal, however, for women to be given a significant religious education.  In that respect, Paul is being quite progressive. Giving women a proper theological education would also serve as a corrective to false doctrine and enable women to teach at a later date when they were qualified.

Thirdly, there is a great deal of debate, amongst biblical scholars, regarding the use of “authority” in this passage.  There are some who believe it is best understood as an authority that domineers, rather than leads.  Here are two articles that address that interpretation more fully.  The second link is a little more detailed.

http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/1-timothy-211-15

http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/can-women-teach-part-ii/

Paul then points to Adam and Eve as a reason for the restriction on women.  In this instance, I disagree with the article from CBE (the first of the above links).  I don’t think Paul is saying anything about the inherent equality of women and men.  Rather, I think Paul is actually going back to the issue of false teaching. If  you refer to the creation narrative, you’ll notice that God instructed Adam not to eat fruit from the tree at the center of the garden.  Yet when Eve conversed with the serpent, she was under the impression that the fruit could not be eaten or touched. Somewhere along the way, Eve was misinformed and was deceived because of it.  I don’t think Paul is using creation order as a reason for male headship (read my blog on Genesis and womanhood where creation order is dealt with in great detail).  I also don’t think Paul is putting all the blame for the fall on Eve.  There are other places (like Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15) when the blame is put squarely on Adam.  It seems to me that Paul is harkening back to a familiar story where poor instruction left a woman vulnerable to deception and took humanity down a bad path.  The same was clearly happening in Ephesus.

Others believe Paul was actually “correcting” previous teachings that ignored Eve’s part in the fall (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15).  Thus, it would function as a good reminder that neither men nor women were morally superior.  That’s legitimate, but I find it less persuasive.

As for the section on childbirth… I have no idea what Paul meant there.  There’s actually no consensus amongst New Testament scholars on that one, so I won’t presume to offer an interpretation.  The CBE article I linked to mentions Artemis worship.  Others have suggested it referred to protection during childbirth.  Frankly, there isn’t enough evidence, in my opinion, to do anything but speculate here.

In summary, the context of false doctrine in the epistle to Timothy, combined with a close study of the specific verses, all of which are read in light of Paul and Jesus’ affirmations of women, point to an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that was specific to the situation of Timothy’s first century church in Ephesus, and is not prescriptive for all women, for all time.


[1] Normative means something is applicable for all people, in all culture, for all of time. 

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Junia

3 Jan

ImageGreet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. –Romans 16:7 NIV

Today we are discussing a third woman whom Paul’s hails in Romans 16.  Her name is Junia.  Believe it or not, Romans 16:7 is a verse that is heavily disputed amongst Bible translators.  There are two issues they just can’t seem to agree on.  The first is whether or not the figure of Junia was a woman (as the feminine name suggests) or male, in which case the name should be translated as Junias.  Check the Bible on your own shelf.  Depending on your translation, you will either see Junia or Junias.  The second item that is disputed is whether or not Andronicus and Junia(s) were well known among the apostles, or well known by/to the apostles.  Again, check your own translation.

Because of the issues with translation, today’s blog is a little longer and more technical.  Please bear with me on that.  For this blog, I have referenced 24 different translations.  At the end of this post, I have included a graph, which shows you the different ways the most common and available translations translate Romans 16:7.

It’s All in a Name

Let’s look first at the issue of the name.  Is it Junia or Junias?  In most of today’s translations, you will see the name Junia.  There are several reasons why I think that’s correct.  1)  The earliest New Testament manuscripts we have use the name Junia.  There are a couple of very old manuscripts that have “Julia” instead, but that’s still a feminine name.  The older the manuscript, the more likely it is to reflect the original, thus, Junia is more likely than Junias to be the correct name.  2) The name “Junias” has never been found in any other source.  There are no extra-biblical writings, such as literature or histories; no monuments; and no burial sites that use the name Junias.  As far as scholars can tell, the name never existed.  Junia, on the other hand, was an extremely common name in the Roman Empire during the lifetime of Paul.  3) The church fathers used the feminine form of the name and referred to Junia as a woman.  John Chrysostom commented on Romans 16:7 by saying, “O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”  Given the testimony of the text (which are as close to the original as we have available), the context of the Ancient Roman Empire, and church history, it seems pretty clear that Junia is the appropriate translation, and that Paul was speaking about a woman.  Calling her Junias became popular around the 13th century.  I suppose the early translators simply could not imagine a situation where a woman would be called an apostle, thus they chose to “correct” what they assumed was a mistake.

Was Junia an Apostle or Not?

Before we can answer that question, it must be stated that every translation is an interpretation.  I’ll say it again:

Translation = Interpretation

I think Bible translators are faithful, hard-working men and women who sincerely work to offer up to us a copy of God’s word which we can understand and use.  English translations are reliable, but those of us who are using a translation rather than the original language need to recognize that translators make interpretative choices, and some translations do that more than others.  There are two schools of thought when it comes to translation.  There’s formal equivalence – which tends to be “word for word”- and then there is dynamic equivalence- which is thought for thought.  For a more in-depth description of the differences, check out this website:  http://voices.yahoo.com/how-choose-bible-version-formal-dynamic-equivalence-2101594.html?cat=9   Whether they favor formal or dynamic equivalence, all translators find themselves in situations where they have to make interpretative choices (though the latter requires considerably more).  Often, those decisions reflect the theological position of the translator.  For example, the NASB and ESV tend to be more popular amongst reformed folks, whereas Wesleyans will prefer the RSV or NRSV. While interpretative decisions don’t really alter the general message of the Gospel, they can make a difference in smaller doctrinal issues.  Romans 16:7 is a perfect example of that.

ImageI wish I were a Greek scholar, who could wow you with my skills of Biblical translation and explain to you exactly why Junia was well known among the apostle, as opposed to being well known to the apostles.  Sadly, I don’t yet have those skills.  What I do have is access to twenty-four different English Translations.  I decided that I would compare the way these versions translate Romans 16:7 (again, reference the chart below).  Going into this, I developed a hypothesis.   It seemed to me that no one worried about whether or not Andronicus and Junias were among the apostle or simply known by them.  The reason being, of course, is that Junias is masculine and no feathers were ruffled by that.  It wasn’t until the resurgence of using Junia, that people felt the need to re-examine her place (or lack thereof) among the apostles.  Thus, I hypothesized that translators would only use “to/by” if they also translated the name to the feminine.  That way they could rightly use the feminine name, without admitting she was among the apostles.  My chart details my findings.

With one exception, my hypothesis proved correct.  There is only one translation that prefers to say Andronicus and Junias were respected by the apostles, and that is the Contemporary English Version.  The other four translations who use “to/by” also translate the name into the feminine, Junia.  Thus, from them we read that Junia was well known to the apostles instead of being one of them herself.  This conclusion, however, is definitely in the minority.

As you can see from my comparison chart, nineteen of the twenty-four translations I looked at believe Andronicus and Junia(s) were among the apostles.  That’s 79%.  Interestingly, the five translations that state Andronicus and Junia(s) were known to/by the apostles (the Contemporary English Version, English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Version, the Lexham Bible and the New English Translation) are either affiliated with, or edited by Southern Baptists, who oppose egalitarian views of womanhood.

Given that the vast majority of translators believe Andronicus and Junia(s) were among the apostles, and that all of the opposing translations have been put forward by a particular tradition who are biased against women in leadership (and the 79% who use “among” represent both ends of the theological spectrum), I must conclude that Junia was an apostle. 

Translation

Use Junia

Use Junias

“among the apostles”

“to/by the apostles”

American Standard Version

Amplified

Common English Version

Complete Jewish Bible

Contemporary English Version

Darby

English Standard Version

God’s Word Translation

Good News Translation

Holman Christian Standard Version

King James Version

Knox Bible

Lexham English Bible

New American Standard Version

New Century Version

New English Translation

New International Version

New International Version 1984

New King James Version

New Living Translation

New Revised Standard Version

Revised Standard Version

Wycliffe Bible

Young’s Literal Translation

Conclusion

Though Junia is only mentioned in passing, it’s clear that she was a woman whose life and ministry Paul greatly respected.  She was a Jewish Christian, and was apparently converted early- even before Paul (who converted approximately three years after the resurrection).  We’re also told that she was so dedicated to her faith and the gospel that she was imprisoned alongside Paul.  Even if Paul had stopped there, we would know that she was a godly woman and a great example for men and women alike.  But Paul didn’t stop there.  He said that she was “outstanding among the apostles.”  As an apostle she would have been responsible for planting churches throughout the Roman Empire, and functioning as a leader over them.  What’s more, Paul says she was outstanding at it.  I hope we keep her life and ministry in mind when our denominations make decisions about who we call apostles today. Image

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Priscilla

28 Dec

Today we’re looking at another woman whom Paul mentions in Romans 16.  Her name is Priscilla, and she is listed along with her husband here:

“Greet Prisca and Aq′uila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house.” – Romans 16:2-5 (RSV)

Under normal circumstances, the mention of a husband/wife ministry team would give no one pause (Complementarian nor Egalitarian).  However, we are fortunate enough to have the back story of these two, which makes their mention a little more interesting.  It can be found in Acts 18.

There, we’re told that Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla, in Corinth.  They were Jewish believers who had recently come from Italy (almost certainly Rome) because the emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from the city (around 49 CE).  They had immigrated to Corinth where they worked as tent-makers.  Paul lived and worked with them.  When Paul left, Priscilla and Aquila joined him.  The three arrived in Ephesus and began ministry, but Paul eventually left the couple there.  We know from from 1 Corinthians 16 (which Paul likely wrote from Ephesus) that Priscilla and Aquila began a church in their home in Ephesus.

While Priscilla and Aquila were living in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos came to the city.  He was from Alexandria and was a believer.  Apollos was a powerful speaker on behalf of Christ, but he only knew the baptism of John.  In other words, he had not been instructed fully in the Way.  When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of the Lord more fully to him.  After their tutelage, Apollos left and became a very influential teacher and leader in the church (Acts 18).

ImageIt appears that Priscilla and Aquila returned to their home in Rome when the edict of Claudius expired.  At the very least, they seem to be located there when the letter to the Romans was written.

So what does this missionary couple teach us about Paul’s view of women in ministry?  Quite a lot actually.  First, we see how valuable they were to Paul’s ministry and to the ministry to gentiles in general.  The three worked (and lived) very closely and supported one another in ministry.  Even the use of “Priscilla” which is a diminutive of “Prisca” reveals how close they were [It’s like calling me Katie instead of Kate or Kathryn].  On top of that, they led churches in Ephesus and in Rome, and served as teachers to one of the most influential apostles of the early church.  They were super-duper important!  They are a testimony to how powerfully God uses marriage and married couples.  Neither Priscilla, nor Aquila, was every mentioned individually (at least not in the Bible).

Most Complementarians will stop right there- arguing that married couples indeed minister together.  They would, however, contend that Aquila functioned as the spiritual leader of the two in marriage and in ministry.  As you can probably imagine, I’m going to suggest something different.  Priscilla and Aquila are named seven times (see acts 18:2, 18,19,26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; and 2 Timothy 4:19).  In five of those seven instances, Priscilla is named first.  [If you want to check for yourself, click this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=priscilla&qs_version=NIV ] That may not seem significant, but it was, at the very least different.  Imagine if I introduced a newly married couple as Mrs. And Mr. Smith- instead of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  It’s just not how we do things.  Saying it sounds weird and wrong, because it’s not how we introduce married couples.  Now, think about how it would have sounded to Paul’s first century audience when Priscilla was mentioned first.

There are two possible explanations for this. 1) Priscilla was from a superior socioeconomic class than her husband.  I am not inclined to believe this for one simple reason.  Paul never seemed to give much preference to class anywhere else in his letters.  Why should we suppose he cared when it came to his tent-making friends? 2) Priscilla could have been mentioned first because she was the more prominent figure of the two.  Given the unlikelihood of the first possibility, I am persuaded to favor this explanation.  In addition, there is nothing in the text that indicates Aquila was the “real minister,” while Priscilla stayed in the background doing women’s and children’s ministry. Quite the opposite, actually; because the text tells us that Priscilla and Aquila offered instruction to Apollos.  I hope you find it as interesting as I do that this woman is being praised for teaching a man.

What I think it most significant about Priscilla and Aquila, though, is the fact that their ministry was done together- seemingly with mutuality and equality.  If Priscilla was more prominent, then she never chose to minister without the partnership of her husband.  If I’m wrong, and Aquila was more prominent, it’s clear he never chose to subordinate the ministry of his wife.  That’s a great picture for Christian marriage, especially for those of us in ministry.

In my own marriage and ministry, this seems especially relevant.  As far as church ministry goes, I am more “prominent” because I am the pastor, but my husband partners with me in that ministry.  His advice, accountability, and wisdom are indispensable to me.  He has been my most valuable resource in ministry.  We are equals, even if I’m the one who has the title.  I am confident it will be the same when RC ministers to the academic world.  He will be the doctor, the professor, and eventually the writer.  In the academic world he will be the prominent one.  However, he would never elevate his role in ministry over mine.  That’s mutuality.  And let me tell everyone from first- hand experience, it is much harder to live out mutuality than hierarchy. But then again, I’ve found that the Way of the Lord usually is much more difficult- yet much more beautiful- than any other way of life.

In conclusion, Priscilla and Aquila give us a great picture of God’s design for couples in ministry.  They also reveal how highly Paul viewed the ministry of both Priscilla and Aquila.

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Phoebe

27 Dec

I am currently studying for my blog on 1 Timothy 2, which is the passage most frequently used to limit women in leadership.  In that chapter we find the only explicit prohibition on Women teachers in the entire Bible.  Yes, I really just said that… the ONLY explicit restriction in all sixty-six books of the Bible.  Part of my premise- with regard to that particular passage- is that it should be read in conjunction with, and in light of, all the passages in which Paul affirms women in leadership.  However, it may be difficult for readers to do that, if they are not familiar with such affirmations in Scripture.  Thus, in preparation for the big “Shi-bang,” we will begin, first, with Romans 16.

In the first 16 verses of this chapter, Paul gives a list of 27 people.  Ten of them are women.  More than one third of the people Paul either wished to greet or commend are female.  In a male dominated culture, that alone is worth mentioning.  However, what is more significant is the way he speaks of these women and the titles he gives them.  Today, we’ll be looking at Phoebe.

PhoebeImage

Phoebe is the first person Paul mentions.  The title she is give varies upon one’s translation.  She is called a “servant” (NASB, CEB, ESV, KJV), “minister” (Darby), “deaconess” (Amplified, RSV,), “leader” (CEV), “helper” (Expanded, NCV, New Life Version), one who “has devoted her services” (Knox Bible), and “deacon” (NIV, NLT, NRSV).  In Greek she is called a diakonos.  Between all of Paul’s letters (at least all those tradition holds as Pauline), he uses diakonos a total of 23 times.  In the KJV- which I use along with Strong’s Lexicon/Bible Dictionary), diakonosis translated as servant ONLY when used in reference to Phoebe.  Three times it is used to refer to a deacon.  The rest are ALL translated at minister.  This is interesting since there is no contextual evidence to suggest “servant” is a more appropriate translation than “minister.”  Granted, newer translations use servant for diakonos much more frequently.  Personally, I feel that diakonos is best translated as servant, minister or deacon (in that order).  Deaconess, no matter how similar, in my humble opinion, is a poor choice because the Greek term is masculine, thus it would be inappropriate to make it feminine in English.  However one chooses to translate this word, it’s essential that we recognize Phoebe was being recognized with a title Paul ascribed to himself.  In 1 Timothy 3 we even see a list of qualifications for anyone who wished to become a deacon.  Clearly, Phoebe was not merely a helper or a good Christian woman.  She was a servant, perhaps even a minister.  Paul even names the church in which she served.  Paul goes on to commend this woman, and calls the church to show her hospitality and to help her in any way she requires, because has provided such help to others, even Paul. 

 

Tradition also holds that Phoebe was the carrier of the letter to the Roman Church.  Thus, Paul was using these verses as a way of introducing her.  Paul’s introduction is also consistent with the way non-biblical authors introduced letter carriers.  The role of letter carrier conveys the level of responsibility Phoebe was entrusted with.  Some historians believe the letter carrier was also the first reader or “lector.”  This would make Phoebe the first expositor of the book of Romans!  While this is somewhat debatable, what is certain is that the letter carrier (even if he/she wasn’t the first reader), was privileged to know the author, as well as the author’s context and intent.  Thus, the letter carrier was the go-to persons for questions concerning the letter.   Here’s a great little article on the issue of letter carrying:  http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/phoebe-carrier-of-pauls-letter-to-the-roman-christians/

 

There are some who have challenged the notion that Phoebe’s role as deacon equated her with some level of spiritual authority.  They also maintain that Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is transcultural and for all time.  To those people, I ask these questions:  If there is no authority in the office of deacon, then why was Paul so concerned that only appropriate candidates fill that office?  If women were not permitted to speak or teach under any circumstances, why does Paul choose a woman to be the letter carrier and perhaps even expositor?  What do you think?

Why I’m Writing this Series: My Story

22 Dec

Hello Folks,

I’ve been thinking the last few days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I should have shared my personal journey towards Biblical egalitarianism before beginning this whole process.  It is only through sharing my story that I believe people will understand why I am so passionate about this topic.  Secondly, I think I need to clarify what my motivation for this project is.

I was blessed with two great parents who affirmed my gifts and talents my entire life.  In my home, there was no such thing as a glass ceiling.  I had many different career aspirations:  dentist and mommy, teacher and mommy, archaeologist and mommy, lawyer and mommy, back to teacher and mommy.  I always wanted to be a mommy, and have always been a “girly girl.”  Aside from that, my gender had very little impact on what I wanted to do with my life.

As I grew older, I began to notice some stereotypes, but I disregarded them.  “Girl Power” was something we cheered on the playground, and I distinctly remember telling my Dad that I liked Star Trek Voyager because the captain was a woman (I still like Voyager as a matter of fact).  My pseudo-feminism was never a problem, because I was living in a secular world that (for the most part) never prescribed my role to me.  Then I became a Christian.

At fifteen I gave my life to the Lord and I joined a United Methodist Church.  I was fortunate to witness many women in leadership at my home church.  Granted, the minister and youth minister were both men, but the worship leader, children’s director and director of Christian ed. were all women.  To be honest, I didn’t think about it much until I started reading Scripture.  I felt like Jesus reached out to women and included them, but there was that darn verse in 1 Timothy, and some weird things about silence and head coverings in 1 Corinthians.  Naturally, I was confused, and my confusion was exacerbated by the fact that I was growing into a leader and sensing the beginnings of a call for ministry.

When I was a senior in high school, I started meeting with a wonderful woman from a different theological tradition.  [If she’s reading this, I hope you know how much I value our time together and I am incredibly thankful that you challenged me to really dig into Scripture and to let it be the authority in my life.]  She pushed me to walk the walk, and to give God my all, but at the same time, she taught me that women were meant to be secondary to men in the home and the church.  Being young, impressionable, and eager to please God, I bought in.  I stepped down from all my leadership positions (because they effectively put me over the boys), and I accepted my role.  I even got upset when my college had the audacity to allow a woman to teach the New Testament class!  While I know this was not my mentor’s intention (or the intention of any Complementarian I might add), the notion that I was somehow “less than” proved damaging to my faith over time.  You see, my gifts and my passions were for ministries forbidden to women (or so I thought).  I was good at speaking, teaching, leading, etc.  I tried to apply those gifts to children’s ministry, but I was miserable and not very good at it.  At first I just thought my gifts and passion for ministry meant I was rebellious or power hungry, but after sincere striving to fit into the mold of good Christian woman, I started to question God.  I was angry at him, for making me “unfit” to do the things I was good at.  I didn’t understand why my passion for ministry was so repulsive to him. This little identity crisis-combined with some other wounds- led to my temporary exit from the church.

To make a long story a little shorter, my Complementarian ideologies were challenged when I met a woman named Linda Fox.  We were working on a retreat together and I knew she was a pastor (ordained in the Southern Baptist church back when they still did that).  I recoiled from her a bit at first, but as I watched her minister I saw the fruit.  She was good.  And God was CLEARLY using her in powerful ways.  That really threw me for a loop.  I had thought God didn’t honor or bless women pastors.  She wasn’t power hungry, or eager to usurp men.  She simply lived out the call and used the gifts God gave her in the places he told her to go.  Wow!  On the same retreat, a woman who is now my dear friend, told me after some prayer time that I was anointed for ministry (something I’d felt before but buried).  At that point, I decided I needed to really study ALL of Scripture and figure out what God really thought about us women-folk.  That process took several years.  To be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced until the summer before I took my first paid ministry position.  The Holy Spirit convicted me that to continue to run from my calling was disobedience to my Lord.  It’s hard to argue against that.  Since then, I have been blessed to serve God and his beloved children (of every gender) in ministry and leadership.  He has continued to develop my gifts and has opened the door for me to be a pastor of a church.  On top of that, God has blessed me with a husband with whom I share an unbelievably intimate relationship that is based on equality and mutuality.  Having been on both sides of the Egalitarian/Complementarian fence, I am truly convinced this side bears more fruit.

I have been accused of being “liberal” as of late, and the word “feminist” has been thrown around as if it’s a curse word.  Liberal and conservative are rather subjective terms.  Compared to a fundamentalist, I am pretty liberal.  On the other hand, if you compared me to someone on the far left of the theological spectrum, he/she would say I was very conservative.  If you want to know what I believe, look at my statement of faith.   I am orthodox, which means I believe everything the church fathers deemed essential for Christian faith.  You could also put me in the Wesleyan camp (if you want to get more specific).  As for feminist- I am one.  You probably are too if you go by the definition.  According to the dictionary, a feminist is a person who “advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” I am a feminist because I believe God created men and women for intimate, loving and mutually submissive relationships in which they could experience complete unity.  The unity of Eden was marked by equality.  I believe it is sin that has created the great divide between the sexes.  As a child of God, and participant in the covenant community, I believe I am called to live into Eden, rather than the curse.

My motivation for doing this little blog series has little to do with a “feminist agenda.”  I’m honestly not trying to change the mind of complementarians out there.  Truthfully, I think the best way to accomplish that task is simply to be a woman in leadership and to do it well.  I would be lying, though, if I said I don’t have an agenda, because I have two.  The first is purely personal.  This subject is very important to me and this little project has been fun.   My primary motivation, however, is driven by my love for young people.  I’ve been part of youth ministry for years and I have seen several young women with gifts and graces for ministry.  I also know, first hand, that young women are put down- their gifts buried- and their calls dismissed because they are female.  At the same time, I have seen young men inundated with false expectations of marriage, fatherhood, and responsibility in the church.  My hope is that young women and men -who don’t have the benefit of a seminary library or egalitarian role models- can read this and see the dozens of passages that affirm women, mutual submission, and gift-based leadership, as opposed to the four Scriptures that appear to limit women.  At the very least, there will be some exposure to the “other side” of the issue.

PS:  This picture is of my husband, Linda Fox, and me, on the day that Linda married us!

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The Unsubmissive Wife the Bible Praises: Abigail

20 Dec

The Story of Abigail can be found in 1 Samuel 25.  The following is a summation of her story.  Abigail was married to Nabal.  Nabal was a fool, but Abigail waImages beautiful and intelligent.  At this time, Saul had just died, and David had essentially been living in hiding (Saul wanted to kill him).  After a while of living in the vicinity of Nabal, David sent word to the wealthy man, asking him to share some food with David and his men.  David reasoned that it was only fair because David and his men had not stolen or acted wrongly towards Nabal’s.  They’d even protected them in some ways.  But Nabal is as greedy as he is foolish and refuses to share anything with David.  Keep in mind that hospitality was HUGE in ancient Israel.  Not sharing food would have been highly offensive to David. Thus, when David receives Nabal’s reply, he gets very angry, and tells his men to armor up and prepare for battle.

Meanwhile, one of the servants goes to Abigail.  The servant tells her about Nabal’s lack of hospitality toward David and how good David and his men has been to the people.  Sensing the danger, Abigail secretly loads some donkeys down with food and sets out to meet David and his men before they attack her household.  She is doing this in direct disobedience to her husband’s command.  When Abigail meets David and his men, she offers the food and pleads for him to forgive her husband’s insolence.  David is won over by her and does as she asks.  Thus, a crisis is averted, and Abigail is praised for her wisdom.

Abigail is not what we would call a leader, but she is hailed precisely because she took the lead in a crisis situation.  Had Abigail followed the rules of wifely submission, she would have honored her husband’s commands, and then everyone in her household would have died.  I recently watched a video clip where John Piper (a Reformed pastor and Complimentarian) urged women to submit to their husbands unless/until the husbands wanted their wives to sin- even in situations of abuse!  But here, Abigail is praised for doing the exact opposite.   Her story proves that even in the intensely patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, there is a limit to wifely submission.

Another thing I find interesting is the way Abigail speaks about her husband to David.  She says, “Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him,” (1 Sam. 25: 25).  I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think it’s good for marriages when one spouse puts another down- especially in public.  I think the goal of every husband and wife team should be to out-do one another in love.  However, the fact that Abigail spoke out against her husband- even calling him a fool- reinforces the idea that women are not helplessly bound to their husbands’ stupidity.  They can, and should, stand up for what is right and for themselves.

At the conclusion of this story, Nabal died.  He went into a sort of coma when Abigail told him what she’d done.  He lingered for ten days before dying.  When David learned of the fool’s demise, he sent his men and asked Abigail to be his wife.  She accepted, and lived out her life as one of King David’s queens.  The moral of this story (just in case you haven’t picked up on it yet), is that there are limits for wifely submission, even in the Old Testament.  Abigail lived in a patriarchal culture, where women were expected to strictly obey their husbands and never bring them disrespect.  Abigail both dishonors and disobeys, and yet, the Bible teaches that her actions were right.  This is food for thought for everyone who is wrestling with to understand the extent to which wives should submit to their husbands.

Two Women Leaders You’ve Probably Never Thought About: Miriam & Huldah

19 Dec

ImageMiriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron.  In addition to being a prophet (Exodus 15:20; see the blog on Deborah for clarification on the role of prophets in the Old Testament), Miriam led the Israelites into the worship of YHWH.  In fact, part of a song she composed is recorded in Scripture (see the song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15).  I have seen Miriam compared to a modern day worship leader.  I think that’s good comparision, but I do not think this particular text lends much support to women in leadership over men.  You see, in verse 15:20 is says that the women followed her lead.  While that is certainly commendable, it is not earth-shattering.  What is surprising, however, is the way Miriam uses her voice to call out the men in leadership.

In Numbers 12, we’re told that Aaron and Miriam began speaking against Moses because they didn’t like his new wife.  Imagine the situation:  a woman calling out a man!  And this wasn’t just any man- it was Moses!  That takes guts.  After all, Miriam’s baby brother was the spiritual an temporal leader of the people of Israel.  We have to presume that Miriam felt she had the position- even the right- to speak out against something she disagreed with.  That’s significant right there.

As it turns out, YHWH was not pleased with Miriam and Aaron’s response to Moses’ marriage.  God calls BOTH Aaron and Miriam to the tent of meeting and reprimands them.  In punishment, Miriam is given leprosy.  Interestingly, the one thing God does not bring up, is the fact that Miriam is a woman.  If she had failed to stay “in her place,” so to speak, wouldn’t YHWH have mentioned it?  He doesn’t say a word about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of women calling out men; rather, he reprimands both Miriam and Aaron for speaking out against a prophet whom YHWH favors.

Moses pleads for his sister to be healed.  God responds, but Miriam still has to spend seven days outside the camp (she was ritually “unclean”).  The text then tells us that the people did not leave their place until she came back into the camp.  Apparently, regardless of her insubordination, Miriam was important enough for the whole camp to wait for her return. Hmmm….

ImageThe next woman I’m going to discuss is virtually unheard of in most Christian circles.  Her name is Huldah and her story can be found in 2 Kings 22.  When Josiah was king, the Book of Law was rediscovered in the Temple.  Upon reading it, Josiah tore his clothes because he knew Israel was not living according to God’s divine decree.  He wanted to understand the Law better, so Josiah charged the priest with the task of finding a prophet who could render the book’s meaning.  The high priest goes to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum.  She apparently lived in the new quarter of Jerusalem.  These men, priests no less, go to Huldah(a woman) to interpret the Law and deliver a message from YHWH.  This is enormously significant.  What’s more, Huldah was married.  The priests did not confer with her husband (as her spiritual head).  Nope.  They did not ask for his opinion after Huldah delivered her message from God.  They simply acknowledged that this woman was anointed by the Holy Spirit as a prophet who spoke on behalf of God.  Then they took her message seriously.  What does this say about women who are anointed by the Holy Spirit as teachers today?

Deborah: Prophet, Warrior, and Judge of Israel

6 Dec

ImageThe account of Deborah can be found in the book of Judges, chapters 4 & 5.  Let’s start by pointing out some of the basics.

  1. Deborah was a woman.
  2. Deborah was a prophet.
  3. Deborah was married.
  4. Deborah was leading Israel.
  5. Deborah held court under the “Palm of Deborah.”
  6. Deborah led Israel into battle.

I will address these basics in reverse order.

Deborah led Israel into Battle

If you are familiar with the Biblical account, you will see that Deborah led the people of Israel into battle. In fact, the general, Barak, refused to go without her!  It’s also recorded in Deborah’s song that the army waited on her, and called out for her before they marched.  This is significant for a number of reasons.  It validates her position as the temporal and spiritual leader of Israel.  It reveals the true extent of her influence, and it portrays her in a position women did not typically occupy.  Israelite women did not fight in battles.  Now, let’s be clear.  There is no evidence that Deborah personally wielded a weapon or fought in battle.  It’s not outside the realm of possibilities, but let’s not confuse her with Xena or anything.  She wasn’t a warrior princess.  However, it is clear that her presence was considered essential to the success of the battle (it wasn’t- only YHWH’s presence was required, but the people felt they needed her).  It also shows that Deborah was versatile and exhibited leadership in many ways.

Deborah held court under the “Palm of Deborah”

This reveals a couple cool things.  First, we should note that Judges was written centuries after Deborah’s life and reign, yet the place where she administered justice was still referred to as the “Palm of Deborah.”  It obviously carried historical/cultural significance.  Also, the fact that she administered justice from one location, and that people traveled to her, gives us an idea of how respected she was in Israel.  Would you walk a hundred miles to present your case before someone you’ve a) never heard of or b) don’t respect?  I sure wouldn’t.

Deborah was leading Israel

Deborah’s lived during the period of the judges.  She probably reigned around 1150 BCE (note the approximation there).  At this time, Israel had no king.  The Tribes were mostly self-sufficient.  However, when Israel was threatened by another nation/people the tribes would have to be unified and God would raise and empower a person to defend the Promised Land and lead the people.  They were referred to as judges.  This is where Deborah’s account gets even more interesting.  She was leading before the enemy advanced.  She is the only judge to have been administering justice (or exercising any kind of temporal authority) before the crisis arrived.  We’re also told that she continued to judge after the enemy was subdued.  Hmmm.  The plot thickens.

Deborah was married.

Okay, this little tidbit probably doesn’t strike anyone as significant, but it was.  You see, ancient Israelites took the whole, “be fruitful and multiply” thing very seriously.  They thought it applied to every physically capable person, thus celibacy was not an option.  It goes without saying that her culture was patriarchal.  Married women were under the authority of their husbands.  Granted, the Laws of ancient Israel gave women more protection and status than most other cultures of the ancient near east, but let’s not forget she did not live in a culture comparable to our own.  So the fact that she was married- likely even had children- and was the leader of Israel is HUGE!  We cannot know for sure if she was a mother, but considering how shameful barrenness was for women, it seems unlikely that it would have gone unmentioned in the text.  Yet, it was not her husband who was called to lead Israel, it was Deborah.

Deborah was a prophet

Let’s begin with a brief description of the role of prophets in the Old Covenant.  YHWH was the ultimate king of Israel.  However, he divided his administrators on earth into three categories:  prophet, priest and king (once the office of king was established).  The King administered justice, was in charge of judicial matters, etc.  The priest represented the people to God and offered sacrifices on their behalf.  The prophet, on the other hand, represented YHWH to the people.  The prophet was, literally, the mouthpiece or spokesperson for God.  The word of the prophet was the word of the LORD.  Prophets were powerful.  The prophet could even call out kings!  Think Nathan.  The prophet is not born, nor is the office inherited.   He/she is called, and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  The prophet is caught up in the divine council (Isaiah is a good example), and given a message, which the prophet takes to the people.  If the prophet changes the message, then there would be significant consequences.  Dt. 18 declares that the prophet is the one who takes God’s message to the people.  The prophet has more power than anyone else in God’s administration.  And this is the position that YHWH has called and anointed Deborah for.  And remember, ONLY God can call and empower someone to be God’s prophet!

Finally, Deborah was a woman.

I recognize that Deborah’s gender is obvious (although some Bible translators do try to turn a woman’s name into a man’s in Romans 16!), but too many people fail to recognize how truly significant Deborah’s life and leadership were when it comes to understanding biblical womanhood.  In my last blog, I addressed the “curse passage” in which God told Eve that her husband would rule over her.  The story of Deborah makes it abundantly clear that it was only “descriptive” and not “prescriptive.”  By that I mean that it was not (and is not) God’s will for men to rule over women.  It’s also a beautiful testimony to the willingness of God to call and equip women and men, for all rules in the church, the home, and society.

The Other Side of the Argument

The Complementarian argument against Deborah as a model for female leadership is probably the weakest in their arsenal (they aren’t all weak.  I’ll give credit where credit is due).  I was originally taught, and have since read, that Deborah was chosen as a way to shame Barak; or that there were no righteous men so God had to call Deborah to get the job done. I’ve even been told that she was actually a model for submissiveness because she rebuked Barak in private.  First of all, Deborah was called before Barak, and remained in leadership afterwards.  He was “shamed” because he did not trust God to deliver the Israelites from such a huge army.  The same things would probably have happened if he’d been instructed by a male prophet.  Secondly, I have a hard time believing that Deborah was the only righteous person left in Israel.  Heck, a lot of the other judges weren’t even that righteous and God still found a way to use them.  Besides, if having a female judge was meant to be a point of shame on Israel’s unrighteous past, wouldn’t the author have judges have mentioned it, or at the very least mentioned that no men were available for the position?  This argument is a stretch from what the text offers us.  Finally, there’s nothing to suggest that Deborah rebuked Barak in private.  In fact, she summoned him to her place of administration!  That alone suggest she was in a position of authority over him.

In conclusion

I think Deborah is a great example of God calling, anointing, and empowering women for his service.  She was certainly the exception, rather than the rule, but what a magnificent and significant exception she was.  If nothing else, it shows us that God includes women and men in his story and invites both to partner with him in ministry and leadership.