Tag Archives: feminism

Gender Equality and Homosexuality in Scripture

17 Jan

Yesterday, the linking of gender equality and homosexuality came up twice.  The first time was in the context of a class, and the second came over dinner with a friend.  It seems that some folks are putting the two issues in the same camp, assuming the arguments are congruent for both, and that support of one equates to support for the other.  I’ve even had a man tell me he couldn’t support women in ministry because it was a “slippery slope” towards ordaining gay people.  While it is certainly true that a proponent of marriage equality is more likely to promote equality amongst the sexes, the same cannot be said in reverse.  I say that for one, very good reason- the arguments in favor of gender equality are completely different from the arguments for Christian gay marriage.    

Biblical egalitarians, like me, have come to this position after wrestling with texts and evaluating the tensions within the biblical witness.  The point is -there are tensions!  Not every passage of Scripture that deals with women is in agreement with the others.  Yes, Paul limits women in 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 14, but Paul also praises women as leaders in Romans 16, and writes with the assumption that they will be praying and prophesying  in worship in 1 Cor. 11.  He also has the gumption to say things like, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Gal. 3:28-29 NIV).  On top of Paul’s testimony, we have four Gospels which portray Jesus’ counter-cultural encounters with women.  Not only did he offer deep respect for women, but he also brought women into discipleship (think Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Joanna, Susannah, Mary of Clopas, etc).  The conversation gets even larger when we bring in the dozens of Old Testament passages which deal with women.  Often, egalitarians are accused of disregarding Scripture passages we just don’t like.  In reality, however, we’re engaging all of the biblical witness, and interpreting two small passages in light of the entire biblical witness.  We aren’t disregarding passages.  We’re evaluating them within the entire canon of Scripture (the same thing we do with slavery by the way). We not only have the freedom to do this, but also the responsibility, because there IS tension within the text which calls for careful study and interpretation.

The same cannot be said for homosexuality in the Bible.  There are no tensions within Scripture when it comes to homosexuality.  Admittedly, addressing homosexual relations does not seem to be a high priority for any of the biblical writers.  That being said, the matter is addressed in both the Old and New Testaments.  In every instance, the practice is forbidden.  That’s it.  There are no contradicting texts.  There are no writers who disagree with those who came before.   The biblical witness is consistent.  As a progressively-minded person, I would LOVE to say something different.  But I cannot make claims about the text which the text doesn’t make for itself.  

I understand the motivation to link these two issues. After all, proponents of biblical equality and marriage equality are both concerned with the honorable treatment of all persons.  Throughout history, both women and LGBTQ folks have been treated as something less than human, undeserving of love and respect.  Such behavior is unbiblical and unchristian. Period.  Every human has been made in the image of God and has inherent and sacred worth, regardless of that person’s actions or beliefs.  But that’s where the link between gender equality and homosexuality ends. 

My friends, however tempted we may be to link gender equality with marriage equality, these two conversations should be had separately.  Scripture doesn’t link them.  The arguments for/against them are not the same.  Please don’t misrepresent advocates of either by assuming the two positions are necessarily linked.  The church needs to engage both of these issues, but the Bible doesn’t deal with them in the same way, so we shouldn’t either.    

Advertisements

The Woman of Proverbs 31 and Why You Are Not Called to Be Her

9 Jul

 I may not qualify for the “blogger” status yet (as inconsistent as my posts can be), but I am definitely a blogging enthusiast.  I follow a lot of blogs and I read many more than I follow.  Given my passion for the large and controversial subject that is Biblical womanhood, I especially enjoy reading blogs about women, marriage, leadership, etc.  A couple days ago, two of my facebook friends shared a link to one such blog.  It was written by a lovely Christian woman who was sharing some wisdom on being a godly wife.  By the second paragraph I could tell I disagreed with her on some pretty important issues.  She’s clearly coming from a complementarian position, but I kept reading because she’s my sister in Christ and she shared a lot of wisdom which transcends the gender role debate.  And then she brought up Proverbs 31.  I’ve been meaning to write on this for a while, but seeing yet another admonishment to be like that iconic woman gave me the motivation I needed to get this post going.

 

The second half of Proverbs 31 is a passage that all women within the church are familiar with.  At least, we all are now that a purse manufacturer launched with that name.  This passage is one I’ve read a dozen times, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how flawed my understanding of it has been.  In the past I’d looked to it as a “to do” list of sorts.  My inner dialogue went something like this:

Me:  I want to be a godly woman.  [opens up Bible to Proverbs 31]

Prov. 31:10-12: “A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.   Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

Me:  That sounds pretty good.  Be valuable, worthy of my husband’s confidence, and spend my life doing good towards my partner.  That’s a noble goal to strive towards and seems consistent with a life of holiness.  Keep Reading….

Proverbs 31:13-28  I see this woman is very industrious.  She works with eager hands, brings food from afar, gets up so early in the morning it’s still dark, manages real estate and farms.  She works so hard that her arms are strong, and she’s up until very late in the night.  Considering she does all this and sews clothing for her family (and for sale to merchants), it’s a wonder she has time to sleep at all.  Despite all the work she’s doing, the Proverbs 31 woman is immensely generous and sees to the needs of the poor.  This woman is honorable.  In fact, she is valorous!  She’s so awesome she even makes her husband look good at the city gates. 

 Me:  Wow.  She’s totally out of my league.  I’m not industrious.  My food comes from a farmers’ market at best (and Kroger more often than not).  I consider myself accomplished to sew a straight line and by bedroom usually houses 3-7 piles of laundry.   I don’t come close to working the hours she did (and get grumpy when I try).  On top of all this, my arms are way more jiggly than I’d like to admit.   

 

Conclusion?  I am so far from this woman it’s not even funny.

 

The only thing this Proverb has ever done is make me feel woefully inadequate.   Is that the purpose of this proverb?  Was it written just so women like myself, 3000 years in the author’s future, can develop inferiority complexes about not being industrious, domestic, or sturdy, in addition to being noble and generous (which I believe are Christian virtues all believers should strive to cultivate)? 

I don’t think so. 

 

With all the hype and guilt-mongering that’s come from this passage, the most meaningful aspect of the proverb has been overlooked.  We’ve forgotten (or perhaps ignored) the fact that this passage was written about an actual woman by a proud husband or son.  Check out verse 29. “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”  Everywhere else in this passage, the Proverbs 31 woman is spoken of in the third person, but here the author uses the first person.  These 21 verses are about a real woman- a woman of great honor and valor.

 

It isn’t until the final verse of the Proverb that we’re given a direct command or admonishment.  The author says, “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”  This proverb was never meant to be a directive or “to-do” list.  It’s a tribute to an amazing woman.  If anything, the lasting principle of this passage is for husbands and sons to honor the women in their lives who display honorable qualities, such as those exhibited by the Proverbs 31 woman.  Believe it or not, that’s exactly how Orthodox Jews treat this passage.  Husbands will recite these words over their wives when they’ve displayed valorous qualities.  For them, it is always a commendation and never a reproach. 

 

Here’s the thing, God has fearfully and wonderfully made each and every one of us.  We are unique, quirky, and interesting in our own ways.  Paul is very clear that the Holy Spirit has distributed gifts according to his own good judgment.  We don’t all have the same gifts.  Not every woman is an astute business person or a domestic goddess.  More importantly, not every woman is necessarily called to be.  If my house looked perfect every day, then  I probably wouldn’t be fulfilling the call to ministry God has given me.  I work for the good of my family, and bring in an income (as did the P31 woman!), but it doesn’t happen through industry, agriculture or manufacturing.  And that’s okay!

 

So instead of looking at the P31 woman as the standard for godly womanhood, maybe we should honor the command in verse 31.  Look for women who exhibit the valor in their lives, and praise them, the way the author of Proverbs praised this iconic woman.  And when it comes to figuring out what kind of woman (or man) we’re supposed to be, maybe we should reach for the standard Jesus sets in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

 

What’s your experience with Proverbs 31?  How is your calling different (or similar) to hers?

 

By the way, if you’re looking for another egalitarian blog, check out the work of Rachel Held Evans.  She’s basically amazing and posts nearly every day.

http://www.rachelheldevans.com

 

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

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?