Tag Archives: women

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.    

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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

A Series on Christian Marriage

18 Jun

When I was eighteen years old, I had the following conversation with a guy who led one of the Bible studies I attended.

Me:  “I’m getting a little frustrated with this relationship.  I know it’s important for him (my boyfriend at the time who shall remain nameless) to be the leader in this relationship, but he’s not doing that at all.  I’m pretty sure I’m more spiritually mature – not to mention more emotionally mature- than he is anyway.”

Mentor J:  “Kate, if you want him to be the spiritual leader of this relationship, then you need to wear the skirt.”

I cringe even writing out this excerpt from my complementarian days.  I had been taught that men were the leaders in society, in church, and especially in the home.  My future husband was to be my spiritual “head” and I was to be his docile and submissive “helper”.  Since that was the kind of husband I needed, it was important that the guys I dated fit the bill.  I had a checklist.  1) He had to be Christian (which I still think is essential). 2) He had to pursue me. 3) He had to be a spiritual “leader.” To be honest, this list contained over sixty expectations (with varying importance), most of which I could care less about now.  Even as I evolved into the Christian egalitarian I am now, I assumed my husband would function as the spiritual leader of our home.  Mutuality wasn’t even on my radar until seminary.  Even then, I figured my future husband would want to “lead” in some fashion, even if we didn’t practice hard patriarchy.  I just assumed all men needed to feel like they were in charge in order to be satisfied in the relationship.

Then I met RC.  He’d dealt with the womanhood issue when he was in college, and came to an egalitarian position.  I knew how he felt about women in ministry early on (that was a litmus test for second dates), but it wasn’t until we got engaged that we started talking about roles within the family we were on the verge of creating.  I still remember driving on Highway 64 West, along the Ohio River in Louisville, and saying, “So you really don’t see yourself as the spiritual leader of our family?”  His response was thoughtful and considerate- classic RC.  He told me that he was a leader to our future children, just as I will be, but when it comes to our marriage, we’re on equal footing. 

That statement, while certainly not meant to be offensive, is sure to rub somebody the wrong way.  Living in a region that is almost 50% Baptist means that this kind of thinking is ingrained in the evangelical culture here.  One could respond, “But wifely submission is biblical!” Believe it or not, I agree with you.  Wives are to submit to their husbands, but the Christian ethic of submission is much larger than wives and husbands.  After all, Ephesians 5:21 states, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  So do I submit to my husband?  Yes.  Does he also submit to me?  Yes.  The ethic of submission is the foundation of our marriage (which by the way is pretty awesome), but the submission is mutual and not patriarchal. 

In this series on Biblical Womanhood, I will be exploring the world of Christian marriage.  We will cover Ephesians 5, Proverbs 31, The Song of Solomon and much more.  For this section, I’m drawing from a few sources more than others.  The first is a book by Alan G. Padgett called As Christ Submits to the Church.  The Second is Paul, Women and Wives by Craig Keener.  The third is A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans.  Finally, I’ll be drawing from Liberating Tradition, by Kristina LaCelle-Peterson.  The Evans source is less scholarly, but still a thought-provoking read. 

I’d like to close by saying that I don’t think marriage –even Christian marriage- can be prescribed down to a “T.”  I know godly men and women who uphold complementary roles and still love and respect each other very much.  At the same time, I know couples who are hard-core Jesus feminists, reverse every role, and maintain a passionate devotion to the Lord and one another.  If God is the center of a marriage, and each partner seeks to love and honor the other, I am convinced that the couple will find a natural rhythm of leading and being lead.  That rhythm won’t be the same for everyone.  Thus, if your marriage doesn’t function the same way mine does, that’s okay.  I’m not interested in critiquing individual marriages.  I do, however, want to present an ethic of mutual submission which evangelicalism has wrongly shunned out of fear.  You may evaluate the evidence I present, and decide you disagree.  That’s fine.  You may see things for the first time and experience the same freedom I did.  That’s good too.  All I ask is that we really wrestle with this issue, let the Holy Spirit lead, and, when we disagree, do so with grace.

 

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