Posted By MSH on February 27, 2011
Well, I’ve finally carved out some time to respond to John Hobbins’ post entitled “What the New Testament Has to Say About Women in Ministry.” Below I have included each of John’s points (JH) along with my replies (MSH).
JH: (Point 1) It is a plausible but not incontrovertible assumption that “Junia” in Romans 16:7 is a woman. If so, nonetheless, she was almost certainly an apostle in the sense of a missionary, and part of a husband-and-wife team. . . .
MSH: no disagreement here.
JH: …. To suggest that she ran around and got up and preached in synagogues like Paul did, either on her own or side by side with her husband, seems unlikely. On the other hand, there is no reason to think she could not have spoken in exclusively Christian gatherings….
MSH: agreed as well (see my subsequent post to the one that kicked this off, about how I view “non-original 12 disciple apostleship” as basically missionaries.
JH: …. According to Paul, women were to be allowed to exhort and admonish with divine sanctions – a good working definition of prophecy – so long as it was done in good order by someone whose gifts were subject to testing (1 Cor 11-14, to be read as a unit).
MSH: also no disagreement here. I don’t see a necessary connection between propheticity and any sort of local church authority. For sure there was overlap, but no 1:1 equation in the NT as far as I can tell.
JH: (Point 2) Kephale (head) in Paul’s letters is a metaphor which has to do with hierarchy (though it has other resonances as well, particularly in Ephesians 5). See the comments of Max Turner. Hierarchy, however, is understood in the Israeli military sense in the Bible. That is, if you have a position of greater authority, it’s up to you to be more exposed, more vulnerable. You don’t retire to a safe place behind the front lines, rather, you lead your subordinates, with the greater likelihood that you will suffer the consequences. If you are beneath someone’s authority, you can expect to be covered and protected by that someone, who will suffer on your behalf….
MSH: an odd title for the analogy (it feels anachronistic), but I don’t disagree.
JH: … Paul saw it as part of nature for men to protect women in this way, with angels, apparently, protecting both (Paul is hard to follow here), just as he saw long hair to be by nature a feminine thing, and short hair a masculine thing. If we choose to make a clearer distinction between nature and culture than Paul needed to in his situation, that would be because our cultural context is different than his own. However, all of this has exactly nothing to do with the question of women in ministry. Christ stands in a hierarchical relationship to all believers, indeed, to the world as a whole; he proved that on the cross.
MSH: This doesn’t make much sense to me. Why is the church (local assemblies of believers) specifically excluded here? Does everyone within the local body share *equal* responsibility (vulnerability)? If we say “no,” distinguishing the laity from leadership, where leadership would have greater responsibility / vulnerability than the laity, then are we to conclude that all *leaders* have precisely the same responsibility / vulnerability? That might make for nice theory, but I think, given human nature, it would actually work that way in reality. I need some exegetical basis for this parsing.
JH: ….Yet he sent out his followers to do the same things he did, without exception. It is even said that they would accomplish greater things than he did, and fill up what was missing in the vicarious suffering he accomplished. None of this is parceled out from the get-go into complementary realizations according to gender …
MSH: Now here is an important point. John appears to acknowledge that there is going to be hierarchy, but that said hierarchy is not delineated on the basis of gender. This might provide a point of focus: on what basis does Paul’s language in 1 Cor 11:3 not apply to “believer relationships” within the local church when it apparently (for John) applies outside the church? If John wants to apply it only within a family unit (he didn’t say that – this is just for illustration), then how are we to conclude Paul wrote 1 Cor 11 only with respect to families. Indeed, how are we to parcel out *which relationships* 1 Cor 11 applies to and which it does not?
JH: … though of course realization according to gender was and still is culturally constrained based on time, place, and other specifics of context. All cultures are complementarian to various degrees; all cultures are egalitarian to various degrees. The gospel, against both complementarians and egalitarians, is not about making culture more equal or more complementarian. It’s about taking given cultural forms and making them into channels of faith, hope, and love.
JH: (Point 3) I concur with Mike that the fact, for example, that Miriam was a prophetess in that she sang to the Lord in public; that Deborah was a prophetess, too, in that she sang the tribes of Israel into battle, is not much of an argument in favor of women admonishing and exhorting with divine sanctions in public. Nor is it ever suggested that women could be priests in the Old Testament. But it is clear that Moses longed for the day in which all the Lord’s people would be prophets (Numb 11:29); that Joel predicted that both men and women would be given the spiritual gifts necessary to act as prophets (2:28-29 = 3:1-2); that Peter expected that prophecy to be fulfilled with the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18); and that we then hear of prophetesses in the New Testament (Acts 21:9; I Cor 11)….
MSH: I would only ask here on what basis John wants us to equate propheticity with local church leadership. Again, I wouldn’t say they are mutually exclusive or never overlap. I just don’t see a 1:1 relationship. I also don’t see why I should presume propheticity is to be identified with leadership (I speak here of administration or “authority”). I think the NT material could certainly be understood as people with prophetic gifts exercising those gifts apart from any sort of leadership in the local church. For John’s point to have real weight, these things need to be evident (for me anyway).
JH: … The evidence is strong, and not just from the New Testament, that God raises up women to admonish and exhort, perhaps especially for “such a time as this,” in the last days. One might expect such women to be unencumbered by the traditional chores reserved for women, such as managing a household and raising children, so it is not surprising that the prophets of Acts 21:9, Philip’s daughters, were in fact unmarried. In a sense, the whole idea that women in antiquity, given domestic organization at the time, could do things that required them to be out of the house on a continual basis, is a contradiction in terms….
MSH: Ditto what I noted in the last reply.
JH: … On the other hand, serving with prophetic gifts in worship, admonishing and exhorting in that context…
MSH: This appears to assume the sort of 1:1 identifications that I’m asking about above.
JH: … was compatible with being a materfamilias; much easier of course if one were unmarried or widowed. The offices of elder and bishop, on the contrary, given the 24/7 on-call dimension of the roles, were unsuited to women with heavy domestic responsibilities.
MSH: I wouldn’t disagree with that in principle, but John is assuming the domestic duties was the only or primary reason the offices of elder or bishop seem to be held by men (or described in masculine terms). I don’t know of any exegetical basis for that assumption. It would have been nice for Paul or someone else to tell us that (but that could be said about many things!). For my part, before I bring my assumption to this issue, I’d like something in the text to hang my hat on. A reasonable assumption does not an exegetical point make. I have lots of what I’d think reasonable assumptions about points of biblical theology (and some strong suspicions!), but in a journal article or paper or dissertation, that doesn’t cut it. And I hope some complementarians reading this exchange start looking in the mirror at this point as well.
JH: … This remains the case today in many cultures, in all cultures to some degree. But, at a certain point in the reorganization of the domestic and professional spheres with which we are familiar in the West, notwithstanding the new problems such reorganization creates, a tipping point is reached, and a long series of professions once reserved for men, in practice if not de jure, become callings married women with children take on. Even cultural conservatives seem to have no problem with a mother with children like Sarah Palin becoming president of the United States and commander-in-chief. If that is the case, the argument against women being elders or bishops is not based on practicalities, but on the notion that being a pastor in the new covenant is equivalent to being a priest in the old covenant, which office was “arbitrarily” limited not only to males, but to males of a particular bloodline. But that is a problematic line of argument. In the new covenant, the priesthood of all believers is emphasized; furthermore, the threefold office, prophet, priest, and king, is likewise attributed to all believers.
MSH: For the point of the “priesthood of all believers” to have any impact on me, John needs to establish that this phrase refers to authority or administration or hierarchy (so as to level the “old hierarchy”). I take it as referring to *unmediated access* to God. With the theocracy kaput, each believer had direct access to God. The idea says nothing about hierarchy (as in, eliminating hierarchy). Now, John could ask me “well, Mike, can you *restrict* the priesthood of the believer idea in such a way as to exclude my use of it to leveling hierarchy?” I would reply that I can’t be sure the priesthood of the believer doesn’t mean what John wants it to mean as well. My lack of omniscience comes into play there. But I’m not convinced at all that it must or does mean what John sees in it. That’s John’s job in this exchange! I think I could argue that the references most often used to express the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:5-9) seem to fit my take on them better, as the language of sacrifice is part of the context, and sacrifice is quite linkable to access to God. The reference in 1 Pet 2:9 seems to cast believers (and the priesthood) as mediators of the knowledge of the divine, mediating the knowledge of God to others (“proclaim the excellencies”). What I’m saying here is that the phrase *does* democratize things like access to God and mediating the knowledge of God to others among all believers. But I don’t see how that eliminates hierarchy or the need for hierarchy. Come to think of it, exactly what ruling authority did OT priests have? They were not rulers in Israel in most matters, and even within their own ranks had hierarchy (and it wasn’t just the high priest and everyone else, so the Jesus:everyone else proportion isn’t a correct analogy).
JH: … My advice to traditionalists: keep the tried and true ways if you are so convinced. Beyond that, perhaps Gamaliel’s advice is fitting: if the permission granted to women in circles beyond your own to become elders and bishops is of human origin, it will fail; if it is of God, and you fight it, you will be fighting against God.
MSH: Well, that can of course be reversed to egalitarians: “if the restriction of church leadership withheld from women in circles beyond your own is of human origin, it will fail; if it is of God, and you fight it, you will be fighting against God.” I’m actually a bit more apathetic here. If I wanted to grind a complementarian axe, I’d say, “For me, if God cared so much about having women in church leadership, He would have given greater detail – i.e, I wouldn’t have to be asking the questions I’m asking (and I’d have greater clarity on the items I sketched out in my second post).” But since I don’t have this axe to grind, I’m inclined to just say that if God really wanted us to fight for one position or the other like it was an item of great doctrinal importance, he would have made it more clear.