Guest Post: When Men and Women Ministered Together as Equals…in the Early Church

In our efforts to restore the equality of women in the Church, it’s so important to honor and thank those men who have consistently championed mutuality, using their influence and gifts to advance the partnership between men and women as we work together for the Kingdom.  In evangelical circles, I think of Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington, Frank Viola, Gordon Fee, Jon Ortberg, Roger Olson, John Stackhouse, Brian McLaren, and many more, including my friend, Ed Cyzewski. 

Ed is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and is the co-author of the forthcoming book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus (Due out in August 2012). He shares his imperfect and sometimes sarcastic perspective on following Jesus on his blog, In A Mirror Dimly In one of the coolest, most affirming series on the Web, Ed has invited women to share their experiences in ministry—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in a series of guest posts entitled Women in Ministry series. If you haven’t had the chance to read through some of those, do yourself a favor and check them out.  I’ve always believed that the purpose of building a platform is to share it. And Ed has modeled that for me, and for so many other readers, in a beautiful and life-giving way.  Today I’m returning the favor. Hope you enjoy this guest post on Priscilla and Aquilla as much as I did!



Have you ever heard of the Apostle Peter’s wife? No? 

We know he had a wife. However, we know nothing about her, save that Paul seemed a little put out that Peter could travel with his wife and enjoy financial support for the two of them while he had to sew tents all day. We have no record of Peter’s wife preaching, teaching, organizing a potluck, or running the first nursery in Jerusalem. 

While we know nothing about Peter’s wife, we know quite a bit, comparatively, about Priscilla, as in the wife of Aquila. 

Do you know how many times we hear about Aquila by himself? Zero. 

Of the seven times we read about Priscilla and her husband, her name is listed first five times. 

In a male-dominated culture where patriarchy defined the Jewish culture of guys like Paul, this is worth noting. It’s likely that Priscilla came to mind first when people thought of Priscilla and Aquila. 

However, the point of mentioning Priscilla and Aquila (let’s call them P and A) isn’t to debate whether one is superior to the other. The point is that P and A formed a ministry powerhouse that not only kept up with a stone-dodging, beast-fighting hoss like Paul. They routinely emerged as leading characters at key points in the growth of the early church, first converting Apollos and then hosting a church in the pivotal city of Ephesus. 

These are critically important accomplishments. (In fact, even if a lot of Calvinists prefer that women don’t teach in their churches, they have to admit that any woman chosen to work with Paul and to teach Apollos SHOULD be the dream woman of every male Calvinist. Come on guys, admit it!)

Getting back to the importance of P and A…

Ephesus was a major port city, religious hot house (remember “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”?), and cultural center back in their time (with a lecture hall AND a library for crying out loud.). Having a healthy church there was critical. 

In addition, Apollos not only dominated the Jewish leaders of his day, he was in much higher demand than Paul himself—a notion that may strike some evangelicals today as sinful. The way Luke describes his conversion makes it sound like schooling Apollos was a typical Saturday afternoon for team P and A.

So here’s the highlight reel for P and A:

• When God needed someone to assist his top missionary, he tapped P and A. 

• When God needed someone to straighten out his top preacher, he tapped P and A again. 

• When God needed a home for a church in a major city, he flashed the P and A light in the sky. They pulled up their tent-making business and moved in. 

P and A show us a wife and husband working together as equals, even if Priscilla sometimes came to mind first. Regardless, they shared the work of ministry. They’re always mentioned together, while just about every other male minister in the New Testament is mentioned without any reference to a wife, let alone a wife equally sharing in the ministry. 

We don’t have many details about P and A. To many of us, they’re just footnotes in the bigger stories about Paul, Peter, John, and Barnabas. However, at critical moments in the advancement of the Gospel, this woman and man suited up in their spiritual armor, jumped into ministry, and lugged the Kingdom of God forward into hostile settings. 

Women have historically had a vital role in the ministry of the church. For exhibit A, see Priscilla. Women didn’t start ministering because of the modern feminist’s movement. Priscilla risked her life for the Gospel long before women risked their lives to obtain the right to own property or to vote.

There’s no doubt that many women today are following in Priscilla’s footsteps. Some serve equally alongside their husbands, while others sense God’s calling for themselves and pursue it faithfully. These women often hear criticism and proof texts from the church. Sometimes the criticism can be hateful and mean-spirited, as if these women are stealing the Bible or surrounding churches with land mines and barbed wire. 

I don’t know what exactly is behind some of the anger and criticism Christians sometimes direct at women in ministry. I suppose some critics are trying to stop women from “sinning.” Others may fear that the Bible falls apart for them if 1 Corinthians 14 or 1 Timothy 2 are read alongside the stories of Deborah, Huldah, and Junia (I’ll just add that I’m not interested in debating this here, but encourage complementarians to read NT Wright on this topic and to lodge complaints with him). The fear and anger of some may even suggest that they worry women will “rise up” and displace men in the church. Sometimes even women attack fellow women who speak about their ministry calling.

If there’s one thing the story of P and A teaches, it’s that a wife and husband can equally share a ministry in a healthy, God-honoring way. Paul didn’t bat an eye writing about them both ministering together, even if his eyes were pretty gross. 

We don’t know the details of how P and A worked together in their ministry. Perhaps it’s better that way. Heaven knows we’d probably try to create a strict husband and wife ministry manual if Luke told us the details. 

It’s enough to know that P and A risked their lives for the Gospel together, taught people together, hosted a church in their home, and set out on missionary journeys together. Neither of them owned the ministry. Aquila wasn’t the husband of a church planter, and Priscilla wasn’t the wife of a missionary. 

They were both ministers in the early church used mightily by God regardless of gender. 

To the surprise of some and possibly the chagrin of others, it worked.


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This is the tenth post in our series, One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society. You can read the rest of the posts here.

To participate in the Week of Mutuality synchroblog: 

1.  Write a post around the theme of mutuality in the Church, home, and world. 
2. Share your post on Twitter using #mutuality2012, and it will show up in the live scroll here on the blog.

3. To be considered for Mutuality Week’s Sunday Superlatives, submit your post here


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Is patriarchy really God’s dream for the world?

'Hejaab' photo (c) 2006, Khashayar Elyassi - license:

Praised be Thou, O Lord, who did not make me a gentile; 
Praised be Thou O Lord, who did not make me a boor;
Praised be Thou, O Lord, who did not make me a woman.”
—R. Judah 

"Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, 
neither slave nor free, 
nor is there male and female, 
for you are all one in Christ Jesus." 
- Galatians 3:28

Denny Burk, an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and influential leader in the complementarian movement, wrote a response to me yesterday in which he readily admits that complementarianism is simply a gentler word for patriarchy. Patriarchy—a cultural system in which men exercise unilateral authority over their households and (generally) over society—is, according to Burk, God’s ideal for this world. Today, the Gospel Coalition affirmed this position

Burk quotes fellow complementarian Russell Moore: 

“...To use the word ‘patriarchy’ in an evangelical context is uncomfortable since the word is deemed ‘negative’ even by most complementarians. But evangelicals should ask why patriarchy seems negative to those of us who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God and Father of Jesus Christ...Egalitarians are winning the evangelical gender debate, not because their arguments are stronger, but because, in some sense, we are all egalitarians now. The complementarian response must be more than reaction. It must instead present an alternative vision—a vision that sums up the burden of male headship under the cosmic rubric of the gospel of Christ and the restoration of all things in him. It must produce churches that are not embarrassed to tell us that when we say the 'Our Father,' we are patriarchs of the oldest kind."

Burk concludes, “Whatever we call it (complementarianism, patriarchy, hierarchy), Moore’s point still rings true. Evangelicals who are unwilling to be counter-cultural are going to find themselves one way or the other accommodating themselves to the feminist spirit of the age and falling short of the biblical ideal.” Burk says he agrees with Moore’s assessment that too many complementarian marriages are complementarian in name only, that true “biblical patriarchy” requires more hierarchy in the home.

As distasteful as I find his position, I am actually grateful for Burk’s post, and the Gospel Coalition’s subsequent endorsement of it, because with it, we've finally cut through the crap to identify what this debate is really about: power.  

The question at the bottom of it all is this: Does patriarchy—(man's rule over woman)—represent God’s ideal for the world, or is it a result of sin?  The struggle is not between complementarianism and egalitarianism, or between traditional and non-traditional roles, but between patriarchy and equality.

I believe, with every bone in my body, that patriarchy is a result of sin, and that followers of Jesus are to be champions of equality. I believe it is our calling, as imitators of Christ, to reflect God’s new vision for the world, initiated through  Jesus Christ,  in which there is no hierarchy or power struggle between slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, for all are one in the family of God. 

Patriarchy is a result of "the Fall." 

As we discussed extensively on Monday, the author of Genesis tells a story of creation that presents the first man and woman as true partners.  Both are created in the image of God, and both are charged with tending to the earth God has made. With ezer kenegdo properly translated, (and with the creation of woman after man identified as a plot point meant to create drama, not subordination), we see that there are no explicit statements of a hierarchal relationship between man and woman until after the event that Christians have come to call “The Fall.”  

“Your desire will be for your husband,” God tells the woman “[but] he will rule over you.” 

It is within the context of judgment, not creation, that hierarchy and subjugation enter the Bible’s story of man and woman. Where there was once mutuality, there is subjugation. Where there was once harmony, there is a power-struggle.  The writer of the Genesis, who undoubtedly had observed this power-struggle in his own world, calls it for what it is: a tragedy, an example of our collective brokenness and our desperate need for redemption. 

Burk, Moore and the Gospel Coalition seem to think that a power-struggle is okay, so long as it is the man who comes out on top. But I believe the teachings of Jesus, and their application through Paul, lead us to the conclusion that power is overrated, and that the ultimate goal is harmony, just like we see in Eden.

 The effects of patriarchy in scripture...

The effects of the curse that “man will rule over you” are seen immediately in the stories we read in scripture itself.  If Burk and Moore indeed dream of a return to the “biblical patriarchy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” then we should be concerned.  

- In the patriarchal culture of scripture, women could not inherit property, pursue divorce, or be trusted to make a vow (Deuteronomy 21:16–17; 24:1–4; Leviticus 27:1–8). Wives were considered the property of their husband, though they held a higher status and more privileges than slaves and concubines (Exodus 20:17). When Sarah failed to conceive, Abraham did what was common in a patriarchal culture and impregnated his slave, Hagar. Jacob had two wives (sisters Leah and Rachel) and two maidservants (Bilhah and Zilpah) through which he had twelve sons. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite of the women, a fact that caused considerable strain between the sister wives.  

- Daughters  were considered the property of their fathers and could be either sold into slavery to pay off debt or married for a bride price (Exodus 21:7; Nehemiah 5:5; Genesis 29:1–10). Marriages were typically arranged by the male members of the family before a girl reached puberty.  While the virginity of young men was inconsequential, a woman’s could mean the difference between life and death. If a woman failed to bleed on her wedding night, she was to be executed on the doorstep of her parent’ home (Deuteronomy 22:21). Daughters of priests who engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage were to be burned alive (Leviticus 21:9)  When the home of Abraham’s nephew Lot was surrounded by a mob of men from Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot refused to send out his guests to be raped but offered his virgin daughters instead, as they were more expendable.  

- Virgins captured in war were considered plunder, along with children, livestock, and treasure taken from the besieged city.  (Women who were not virgins were often killed along with the men.) In the book of Judges, when the Benjamites were in need of wives, they simply abducted them from a neighboring city when they were out dancing in the vineyards. 

There are of course many more stories. The point is, our first glimpses into a patriarchal society, even one in which Yahweh is God, reveal inequity and violence against women.  Groups like the Vision Forum have long been advocating a return to “biblical patriarchy” that resembles the culture of the Old Testament, complete with fathers essentially owning daughters until they are given in marriage. I’ve always been careful to try and make a distinction between this group and complementarians, and am disheartened to see mainstream complementarianism move in this direction.

The effects of patriarchy around the world...

If scripture is not enough to convince you that patriarchy is a result of sin, you need only look at the world to observe its effects. 

  • Worldwide, women ages fifteen to forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.
  • Every 9 seconds, a woman  in the US is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. I wish I could say that all complementarians categorically condemn female submission to male violence, but John Piper has said that, in order to model godly submission, a woman may need to quietly “endure verbal abuse for a season” or “getting smacked one night” before “seeking help from the church.” (He says nothing about contacting authorities). Similarly, in Created to Be His Help Meet, Debi Pearl advises a woman whose husband pulled a knife on her to “stop complaining” and focus instead on not “provoking” her husband’s anger. This is destructive advice and reveals something of an assumption that the preservation of male hierarchy is more important than preservation of a woman’s dignity.
  •  At least 3 million women and girls are enslaved in the sex trade.
  • Study after study shows that societies characterized by the subjugation of women are more violent, more impoverished, and more unjust than societies that empower women.  In their excellent book Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that “in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.”  Empowering women increases economic productivity, reduces infant mortality, contributes to overall improved health and nutrition, and increases the chances of education for the next generation. Several studies from UNICEF suggest that when women are given control over the family spending, more of the money gets devoted to education, medical care, and small business endeavors than when men control the purse strings. Similarly, when women vote and hold political office, public spending on health increases and child mortality rate declines. Many counterterrorist strategists see women’s empowerment as key to quelling violence and oppression in the Middle East, and women entering the workforce in East Asia generated economic booms in Malaysia, Thailand, and China. (You can find all of these studies cited and analyzed in Half the Sky, which I highly recommend.)

Complementarians keep insisting that patriarchy is counter-cultural, and that advocates of mutuality are simply capitulating to culture. But patriarchy itself is a cultural system. The Greco-Roman Household Codes themselves are representative of a cultural system. And systems that reflect the values and dreams of only half of God's human creation, (only half of God's image!), are broken. 

Jesus did not come to preach a kingdom that affirms these systems, but rather, to preach a kingdom that transcends them. 

Jesus changes everything...

It was no accident that the first person charged with spreading the good news of Christ’s resurrection was a woman.  Despite the fact that, by virtue of being a woman she would have been considered an unreliable witness whose testimony wouldn’t hold up in court, Mary Magdalene is charged with telling the world that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  Talk about counter-cultural.

That’s because Jesus changes everything. With the resurrection of Jesus, and the inauguration of his Kingdom, the entire world is being made over! The old things have passed away, and “behold, new things have come"!

To participate in the Kingdom of Jesus is to participate in a whole new “system,” a whole new mode of being, in which the last is first and the first is last. Is it any wonder, then, that the early church included female apostles, deacons, teachers, and church planters? Is it any wonder that Peter and Paul’s version of the Household Codes broke with tradition by instructing men and women, slaves and masters to “submit one to another.” Even in a patriarchal culture, the early Christians were doing things differently. 

“In your relationships with one another,” Paul wrote, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8).  

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,” wrote Paul, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

This doesn’t sound like patriarchy to me.  This doesn’t sound like hierarchy, and power, and “he will rule over you.” It sounds like dignity, grace, peace, and love. It sounds like mutual respect, mutual leadership, mutual support, and mutual grace.  

It sounds like Eden. 

For patriarchalists, the power struggle between men and women will only end when men win. 

For egalitarians, the power struggle between men and women can only end when, like Christ, we both choose to lose. 


To participate in the Week of Mutuality synchroblog: 

1.  Write a post around the theme of mutuality in the Church, home, and world. 
2. Share your post on Twitter using #mutuality2012, and it will show up in the live scroll here on the blog.
3. To be considered for Mutuality Week’s Sunday Superlatives, submit your post here


Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Ask an Egalitarian...(Response)


In a fun combination of our interview series and our mutuality series, I’m pleased to introduce Mimi Haddad.  

Mimi is president of Christians for Biblical Equality, a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women “who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups.” She is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the University of Durham, England. Mimi has written more than one hundred articles and blogs and has contributed to nine books. In addition to all of this, she serves as an adjunct assistant professor at Bethel University and an adjunct professor at North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois. She and her husband, Dale, live in the Twin Cities.

Mimi did a fantastic job responding to your questions, and I’m thrilled that she covered a lot of ground that we haven’t been able to cover in our series.  I really learned a lot

[I should probably note that while I identify myself as egalitarian, I do not necessarily agree with every position/theological rationale of the CBE. And the folks at CBE would probably want me to say that my views are not necessarily reflective of theirs]]



From Paula: Last week, Rachel hosted "ask a Christian Feminist."  In your opinion is an egalitarian the same thing as feminist?  If not, what are the points of departure and similarity?  What scripture, theory, theology etc. frames an egalitarian point of view?

In her “Ask a Christian Feminist” column, Dianna Anderson suggests that a feminist (whether Christian or not) is an individual who believes that females are human beings and, because of this, they deserve the same respect and dignified treatment as males. In its most basic sense, feminism seeks justice for females. But how do we know what is just and why do we care? This is where the main difference lies. Like “Christian feminists,” “egalitarians” discern and embrace justice for females through the teachings of Scripture where they observe that:

Women and men are equally:

• Created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27).

• Share authority, dominion and agency in the world (Genesis 1:28).

• Responsible for and distorted by sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:11-19).

• Redeemed by Christ (John 3:16).

• Gifted by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28; Ephesians 4:11-13).

• Responsible for using our God-given gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7, 2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Many of the first wave feminists were deeply biblical individuals whose advocacy for women and children was inseparable from their advocacy of the Gospel. I celebrated their legacy this year at Fuller Theological Seminary. This history alone shows that egalitarians are not bowing to secular culture but locating moral ideals in Scripture.

So, is an egalitarian the same thing as a feminist? Just as all squares are also rectangles, egalitarians are also feminists in that they seek justice and dignity for women. But, not every feminist is a Christian or an egalitarian. Egalitarians and Christian feminists both share a common denominator—that justice and equality for females is a biblical ideal that can and should be part of the moral teachings and practices of Christians. This was true for the first wave of feminists whose priorities fueled not only egalitarian theologyand the Golden Era of Missions, but also social projects like suffrage and abolition. To read more about this see Mutuality.

From Eric: Since your doctorate is in historical theology, I'd like to hear your take on the shape the debate about women in the church has taken throughout history. (The complementarian version is often "This began when liberals threw out God's word for modern feminism," but I'm guessing there's a lot more to it than that.) To what extent is this a church-universal struggle to handle certain Scripture texts faithfully, and to what extent is it just a theological repackaging of modern American culture wars? Also, who are some good examples of historical theologians or church movements who took a more "egalitarian" approach to gender in the church? 

Throughout Christian history, the church has held three distinct views on gender. These include:

1. The Patriarchal Perspective: This view teaches that men and women are both created by God, but women are innately (ontologically) inferior and more prone to sin. Because of this, women are to submit to male authority. This perspective was the dominant view until the 1800s, when the early evangelicals challenged the devaluation of slaves and women based on ethnicity and gender—conditions that are fixed and unchangeable. 

2. The Egalitarian View: It was the early evangelicals who first challenged gender and ethnic prejudice biblically. Embroiled in the struggle for abolition and suffrage, the early evangelicals opposed the idea that Eve, and therefore all women, are the source of sin and that God punishes women because of Eve. It is not gender, they argued, but our rebirth in Christ that determines our identity, character and therefore our sphere of service. Christian rebirth—publically declared through baptism (which replaced circumcision)—was open to all people, regardless of ethnicity, class or gender (especially women, who could never be circumcised). 

The early evangelicals, like Katharine Bushnell, understood that for too long the church associated women with Eve’s sin and men with Christ’s victories over sin—a view that wreaks havoc on the Christian view of sanctification. Evangelicals likeCatherine Booth, A.J. Gordon and Fredrik Franson were at the forefront of correcting these theological inconsistencies as it concerned gender. Today’s egalitarians have taken up the same theological project—exploring how Christ’s new creation leads to a new tradition in the church. To read more about this history see my articles in Priscilla Papers and my recent series on Is God Male?

3. The Complementarian Perspective: In response to loosened morals in the 20th century, coupled with the growing influence of secular feminism (that placed feminist ideals above the teachings of Scripture) a third view emerged in the 1970s. This position argues that while men and women are created equal by God, they have different “roles.” By roles they mean one thing—males have authority over women. To hold that men and women are equal in being, but unequal in authority strips the term “equal” of its essential meaning. To deny females equal authority not because of their character, their intimacy with Christ or their giftedness, but solely because of gender—a fixed and unchangeable condition—creates communities, organizations, churches and marriages that are inherently unjustbecause they deny a people group shared authority based on an unchangeable condition-gender.

Is this debate a Theological Repackaging of America’s Culture Wars? 

As we have seen, egalitarianism predates modern America’s culture wars. The idea that males and females are equal in being was promoted by the early evangelicals until the 20th century, when Enlightenment intellectuals challenged the miracles of Scripture, and more importantly, the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. As a result, fundamentalists and many evangelicals moved from the vigorous intellectual life that characterized the early evangelicals, to a “plain reading of Scripture,” even though this was the very method of biblical interpretation used by the proslavery camp. It was also being used to exclude women from positions of leadership—a leadership that had led to a legacy we call the “Golden Era of Missions,” a movement unparalleled in its success for growing Christian faith in new centers around the world, as Dana Roberts notes. Through these events, egalitarians lost influence among evangelical institutes.

 As I have celebrated the leadership of early evangelical women, while speaking at evangelical colleges, not everyone has been terribly pleased. Once, my chapel lecture was boycotted by the Bible faculty who believe that Scripture prohibits women from preaching or teaching men, even while whole communities embraced the Gospel through their female graduates. Early evangelical women contributed to one of the greatest expansions of Christian faith in all of history. They were also the theological conservatives of their day. It was a zeal for Christ that directed their extraordinary lives. Even so, they were just too radical for today’s evangelicals, perhaps because they challenge us precisely where we have become anemic and theological deficient. Perhaps our view of the Cross needs further consideration? 

From Two-to-One: How can egalitarians more consistently challenge and reject patriarchy beyond the complementarian/egalitarian debate and women's roles in ministry? I'm interested in how egalitarians' worldviews shape their thinking and decision-making in a broader sense in rejecting patriarchy, similar to how feminists' worldviews shape their thinking on the intersectionality of many issues, including gender norms based on a patriarchal system of power.  Some concrete examples would be: How do egalitarians decide on last names upon marriage? How do they view the division of labor in the home? Do they connect issues like sexualized violence against women in conflict/war with good ole husband-is-the-final-decision-maker-in-the-home teachings? 

Alan Myatt observes that a corruption in one element of worldview distorts the others. Consider the patriarchal worldview critiqued by the early evangelicals:

A Patriarchal Worldview

Epistemology or knowledge: God has revealed, through Scripture and nature, that males are to hold authority over women the whole of their life.

Ontology or being: In their being, males are more godlike, and are therefore innately superior to females. God, and Christian faith, is therefore more masculine than feminine.

Teleology or purpose: Males are created by God to hold authority over females. This is their destiny. Females are created by God to submit to male authority. This is their destiny. Male authority is God-ordained and therefore best for marriages, families, churches and communities.

Ethics or justice: Males obey God by assuming leadership and holding authority over females, whereas females obey God by submitting to and obeying male authority. A similar worldview was constructed by proslavery Christians, Muslims, Brahmans and the Nazis to deny slaves, women and Jews religious and cultural equality, a marginalization that led to enormous abuse.

An egalitarian worldview looks like this: 

An Egalitarian Worldview

Epistemology or knowledge: God has revealed, through Scripture, that males and females share dominion, leadership and authority in accomplishing the purposes for which they were created as individuals.

Ontology or being: Females and males are created in God’s image to share dominion. Both are responsible for sin. Both are equally redeemed by Calvary and equally gifted by the Holy Spirit for responsible stewardship.

Teleology or purpose: Our destiny as Christians is to fan into flames the gift of God within us to advance the Gospel through our unique gifts. It is not gender or ethnicity that determines authority or service, but gifting, moral character, and intimacy with Christ.

Ethics or justice: We obey God through the responsible use of our God-given gifts, which are not limited by gender, ethnicity, or class. We disobey God when we exclude, marginalize, or deny others the fullest use of their gifts because of unchangeable conditions like gender or ethnicity.

As the early evangelicals freed women to shared spiritual authority and leadership in missions, it led to the largest advance of the gospel in all of church history—the Golden Era of missions. As women share decision making in marriages, it leads to happier and more stable marriages that experience less abuse (ethics) according to research by Prepare / Enrich

What are the practical implications of an egalitarian worldview for couples?They are free to make daily decisions based not on male authority but on their gifting and calling from God. Each marriage is different, because each person is unique. As the Meta-Analysis studies show, there are greater differences among women, than between men and women. 

It is enormously freeing to be who you are in Christ, without bondage to gender or cultural roles not found in Scripture. For this reason, each couple makes their own choice regarding their last name(s), the division of labor, parenting, or any other decision, taking into consideration the unique gifts, calling and opportunities available to each spouse. Together they ask, “What is best for the ‘team,’ the one-flesh relationship in which each spouse has an equal voice?” A great book on this topic is Partners in Marriage and Ministry, by Ron Pierce, professor at Biola.

From Katherine: I often wonder if I actually believe in egalitarianism or if I embrace it because it is beneficial to me as a woman, How do you approach this dilemma? How can we know for sure that God taught egalitarianism, and not that we are just seeing what we want to see because it makes more sense to us?

I so appreciate your willingness to self-examine and question your own motives. This is part of the approach abolitionists and first wave feminists propose as they developed a method of interpreting Scripture that exposed both theological errors and the self-interest of slave-owner. It goes like this: 

1. A plain reading of the Bible must include the historical and cultural context.  

2. The full testimony of Scripture must be heard. The obscure portions of Scripture must be interpreted by that which is obvious. 

3. A portion of Scripture should be viewed for its primary emphasis, not for its “attendant features.” Attendant features do not constitute the moral teachings of Scripture.  

4. Be scrupulous in assessing selfish motives when reading the Bible.

Here is an example of how this method might work to interpret 1 Timothy 2:11-15—a difficult text to understand not only because of its implications for gender and power, but because Paul suggests that women are saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15), and, because he uses a strange Greek word found only once in the Bible—authentein (1 Timothy 2:12). We cannot build a universal application from such a text through a “plain reading” of the words. Its complexity demands more of us. To read with accuracy, we must analyze the historical, cultural and linguistic background, and allow what is clear in Scripture to shed light on what is unclear. In doing so we learn that 1st century writers nearly always used authentein for “authority” that was domineering, misappropriated or usurped. That is why the Vulgate, the Geneva Bible, the King James and others versions of Scripture translate authentein as “domineering,” or “usurping authority.” 

It is also helpful to learn that Ephesus was a city known for its worship of the fertility goddess Artemis, who promised women safety in childbearing. (Does this sound familiar? See 1 Timothy 2:15.) Unlike most goddesses, Artemis did not have a male partner and her followers held authority over men. This helps explain why some Ephesian women may usurp authority to promote myths and genealogies contrary to Scripture. Paul opposes their efforts by using the unusual Greek word authentein. 

Priscilla and Aquila were also well known in Ephesus through the church they built in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19), where Priscilla (mentioned ahead of her husband) taught “the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26) to a gifted speaker—Apollos. Priscilla instructed a gifted leader in the very city—Ephesus—where Paul asks women not to usurp authority over men. In doing so, she does not usurp authority or teach falsely. Rather, she explained the way more accurately! The universal principle of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not to excludewomen (like Priscilla) from teaching accurately, but to exclude false teachers who usurp authority

Women may be concerned that such an interpretation is selfish or awkward in extending them freedom to exercise their gifts of teaching and leadership, yet it does represent the main stream of Paul’s work building the church beside women, slaves and Gentiles. Scripture celebrates Paul’s female coworkers, the deacon Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) and Junia—a prominent apostle (Romans 16:7). For more information on this topic see Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy. The Scriptures give us holy boldness to advance the gospel as equal partners beside men.

From Kevin: An egalitarian friend of mine (and fan of yours) made the statement that, while he is egalitarian, churches that go down this route tend to become theologically progressive on a host of other issues. Indeed, many of the arguments for women in the pastorate are also often applied to allowing gay marriage, supporting sex outside of marriage, denying the existence of eternal hell etc... Is being an egalitarian simply part and parcel of a liberal theological viewpoint, or is it distinct? Why or why not? 

There are a number of denominations that have been ordaining and /or licensing women preachers since the early 20th century and have not used the same methods of biblical interpretation to advance gay marriage, sex outside marriage, or to deny eternal hell, etc. I am thinking of independent churches, the Holiness traditions, the Assemblies of God, and the Nazarene Church, and the Baptist General Conference, which ordained its first woman in 1943—the Reverend Ethel Ruff. Ruff preached at numerous Baptist General Conference churches and also on the Moody Radio Show (WMBI) with the full support of her denomination and Bible Institute. She is one of many examples of women preachers from denominations that have not been embroiled in the gay marriage debate, etc.

Remember, the slippery slope has two sides! There have also been churches entrenched in a male-only model of leadership, whose leaders sound more like Plato than Jesus. One has recently argued thatChristianity has a masculine feel, thus suggesting that maleness is a part of God’s being. What is more, in their defense of male-authority, another evangelical leader (who served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society) insists that God the Son is eternally subordinate to God the Father. He now teaches Christians to pray to God the Father, rather than to Jesus. My series on Is God Male? challenges the orthodoxy of these positions, which were established to exclude women from positions of leadership.

To be fair, both sides of the gender debate have been guilty of sliding down a slippery slope, which in my view is unnecessary, given the wealth of excellent resources available to help us accurately interpret Scripture on issues related to gender, sexuality, and faith.

From Gina: How do you respond to the argument that complementarianism is the "traditional" interpretation of Scripture, and thus we shouldn't be quick to accept egalitarian interpretations? More generally, how do you respond to an interpretative tradition that is, for the most part, decidedly patriarchal? I sometimes feel like I'm standing against the rest of Christian history and don't know how to respond to my brothers and sisters who say I am believing a new, unorthodox notion about gender. Thank you for your time. I love the work CBE does.

Hi Gina. Thanks for your encouraging words about CBE. In my response to Eric, I explore how patriarchy (not complementarity) was the dominant view held by the church until the 1800s. 

Gender is not the only “traditional view” that the Church has debated and changed its mind. The church has altered its position on a number of key issues like astronomy, the practice of indulgences, the emancipation of slaves, and the authority of women. Gender is simply the most recent reform movement to capture our energies, but it probably won’t be the last. Reforms are needed, because in each age the Holy Spirit “cleans house,” allowing us to better reflect God’s holiness and justice.  

Reform movements challenge “traditional” views in the following way:

The Bible: Reforms begin when leaders, through a rigorous engagement with Scripture, perceive a truth that has gone unobserved by the church. They articulate the need for reform biblically, and their scholarship has global influence. 

Prayer: Mary Queen of Scots said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of Europe. Prayer fueled the abolitionist movement and the slave communities, quickening its leaders and strengthening their cause. 

Popularization: Once the case is made intellectually, God recruits the artists, musicians, activists and literary geniuses who make intellectual arguments compelling to popular audiences, enabling laypersons to perceive the need for reform. The Protestant reformers built consensus using music like “A Mighty Fortress.” Abolitionists published slave narratives, African spirituals, and books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin to popularize reformist ideas. 

Globalization: Reformers find each other across cultural and continental lines. The international discussion grows into global momentum and solidarity. 

Change begins: The position under critique slowly admits to errors and abuses, and eventually yields to the consensus of the global church. 

For more on this see our book Global Voices of Biblical Equality and also in my article “Ideas have Consequences.”

From Kim: As an  egalitarian, how do you define the characteristics of woman- femininity and men- masculinity and what does this look like in a Christian marriage. As I am on my own journey, coming from a complementarian viewpoint  and  starting to lean towards more of an egalitarian one, this is one thing that I am trying to put into perspective. Even though I see the level playing field when it comes to value and calling, I also don't think that we are all unisex. God didn't just create two unisex persons... He created them male and female, so there must be strengths and weaknesses that specifically pertain to each gender. For instance I hear a lot of egalitarian woman say that it bothers them when women are portrayed as needing to be rescued and protected but I like it when my husband protects me and stands guard in our home. Can I feel this way and yet still call myself and egalitarian?

Different individuals have unique concerns regarding the care they desire from their spouse. What characterizes egalitarian marriage is that spouses make decisions together, as joint heirs of Christ’s kingdom. The important concept is that you empower one another, and that you use your unique gifts with equal influence to serve Christ, that you realize you are of equal worth, and that you understand that you have equal voice and authority to shape you marriage, family and vocation. You can certainly be an egalitarian and still prefer your husband’s physical protection, which is different from requiring his authority to make decisions. 

As for which strengths and weaknesses pertain to each gender. As I mentioned elsewhere that the research from “Meta-Analysis” studies show that the differences between women is greater than the differences between men and women, suggesting that we may overemphasize gender differences. Regardless of the degree or nature of gender differences, to propose that men and women share leadership and authority is not to say there are no differences between males and females. 

'01192011346' photo (c) 2011, amboo who? - license:

No egalitarian argues that men and women are the same! No one want wants a culture of unisex beings! It may seem as if we do because (and this is very important) for centuries, males were viewed as superior and thus held authority over females. As egalitarians suggest that males and females are of equal value, and that men and women share authority, people hear “there are no gender differences.” This is because holding authority identified people as superior, and this is how males were viewed relative to females. As egalitarians advance the shared authority of males and females, people perceive sameness of being because authority was linked to being (ontology), and men were believed to be, in their being, superior to females.

As egalitarians suggest males and women are equal in being (not superior or inferior but fallen and in need of Jesus), we are not advocating androgyny, but a humanity comprised of males and females who are equal in value in Christ, and thus hold equal authority. Does this make sense? See my response to Two-to-One in this series, and also my article on this

From HopefulLeigh: As a single woman, I'm curious about how egalitarianism might play out in a dating relationship. Complementarianism provides some structure and cues (i.e. how or if he leads the relationship, even though you're not married yet). How would you suggest a couple broach this topic?

Dating, it seems to me, is an opportunity to develop a strong and beautiful friendship, built through honest communication, patience, prayer, mutual respect and understanding, and on a commitment to grow the fruits of the Spirit through lots of circumstances. For egalitarian couples, authority is shared equally between men and women, and for this reason, egalitarians work at making decisions together. They practice building consensus on any number of issues, like where they go on a date, who shares what portion of the expenses, how much time to spend together, with others, with family, etc.

I am not sure this means dividing all the tasks exactly down the middle because you should take into account the unique gifts and abilities of each person. How would you make decisions with a good friend? Whoever has the idea suggest it and you go from there. Dating is not so different. For example, my boyfriend (now my husband) had greater financial means when we were dating. Therefore, he often paid for meals and outings. And, there are other considerations too. Sometimes one of us felt really strongly about a decision. At other times, I was just too tired to come up with a good date idea, and deferred to Dale who often had great vision. We ebbed and flowed in taking initiative, as life would empower or drain us, but we did flow together. With egalitarian relationships, there are fewer prescribed roles, and taking leadership or initiative does not necessarily imply authority or supremacy, it can often just mean someone has a great idea, or a passion to see a movie, and decides to takes the lead. When we were first dating, my husband initially exercised the greatest initiative. But, as I felt more confident in the relationship I too joined in and orchestrated some really exciting adventures we both enjoyed. We worked it out. We each enjoyed leading at times, and following at other times. It was a dance that we developed that was unique to us, and one we believe was ultimately orchestrated and led by God. See Mutuality's issue on Dating.


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For the sake of the gospel, let women speak

This is the seventh post in our series, One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society. You can read the rest of the postshere.

It’s time! Today we discuss one of the most controversial passages of Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where the apostle Paul writes that “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.”

Now, I’ve heard from a bunch of folks who are eager to point out that most modern scholars are doubtful that the apostle Paul actually wrote the pastoral epistles. I’ve done a little research on this, and indeed the evidence is compelling. However, for our purposes this week, and with my particular audience in mind, I’ve decided to stick with the assumption that Paul is the author of these texts. 

How do we read the epistles?

“I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah.” 
—F. F. Bruce

We forget sometimes that the epistles are just that: letters.

In our rush to find proof texts to support our various positions, we tend to skip past the initial greetings that designate the recipients of the message— “to the church of God in Corinth,” “to the churches in Galatia,” “to God’s holy people in Ephesus,” “to Timothy,” “to Titus”—or those odd little details that remind us that we are essentially listening in on someone else’s conversation--“I have made a fool of myself,” “I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else,” “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus in Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” (You don’t see that last one on many desk calendars.)

I’ve never once heard a sermon preached on the passage in which Paul tells Titus “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12–13), and yet, if these words are truly the inerrant and unchanging words of God intended as universal commands for all people in all places at all times, then the Christian community needs to do a better job of mobilizing against the Cretan people, perhaps constructing some “God Hates Cretans” signs!

'letters' photo (c) 2006, liz west - license:

Hyperbole aside, it’s important to keep in mind that while the epistles are certainly written for us, they were not written to us.With the letters of Peter, Paul, James, John, and the other apostles, we are given the priceless gift of seeing how early followers of Jesus applied his teachings to their unique circumstances. While these letters are packed with important theological observations—“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come,” “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel,” “Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus”—they also include lengthy discussion concerning how first-century house churches should operate, how unprecedented influxes of poor widows should be handled, how women should cover their heads when they pray and prophecy, how slaves should behave toward their masters, whether Christian converts should be circumcised, whether Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols, how to endure persecution, how not to offend the surrounding culture, and how to follow Christ with conviction while avoiding unwanted attention from the suspicious Roman officials.

In other words, these letters have contexts. They are addressing very practical problems. 

The epistles were never meant to be interpreted and applied as universal law. Rather, they provide us with an instructive and inspired glimpse into how Jesus’ teachings were lived out by realpeople, in real communities, facing real challenges. It is not the details found in the letters that we should seek to imitate, but rather the attitudes. The details (head coverings, circumcision, meat offered to idols, widow management, hair length, etc.) are rarely timeless, but the attitudes (“as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” “do not cause your brother to stumble,” “avoid the appearance of evil”) provide guidelines that can instruct us as Christians today. So the questions we should be asking ourselves today are not: Should we eat meat offered to idols?, or Should women wear head coverings?,  but rather, How can we find peace when Christians feel convicted in different ways? and How do we avoid unnecessarily offending others by our appearance? 

When read this way, I am constantly impressed by the degree to which these early Christians were willing to sacrifice beliefs and traditions they held dear for the sake of love and for the sake of advancing the gospel. Such a reading does not devalue scripture, but rather honors it for what it is, not what we try to make it. 

What’s with the women at Ephesus?

Just as I’ve never heard a sermon against Cretans, I’ve also never heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8, in which Paul tells Timothy, “I want men everywhere to pray, lifting holy hands without anger or disputing” that included a universal dictum that all men everywhere must raise their hands whenever they pray.  Nor have I heard a sermon on one of the most common instructions found in the epistles, to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Corinthians 16:20) Nor have I ever heard of a pastor being removed from the position in keeping with Titus 1:5-6 because one of his or her children had left the faith. (It’s an uncomfortable reality, but if complementarians were as consistent in their application of biblically-based pastoral qualifications as they claim to be, a few of their most prominent spokesmen would have had to resign from their pastoral positions when their children left the faith. They didn't.)

I haven’t heard any sermons on all of those biblical instructions, but I’ve heard more than I can count on 1 Timothy 2:11, which says, “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.”

So what was the context of these words? Were they really meant to be applied universally to all women everywhere?

Some context: In keeping with the trend of early Christianity, the first-century churches at Ephesus and Corinth attracted a lot of women, particularly widows. As a result, large portions of the pastoral epistles tackle the mounting logistical challenges of caring for so many unmarried women. Of particular concern to Paul was a group of young widows who had infiltrated the church and developed a reputation for dressing promiscuously, sleeping around, gossiping, spreading unorthodox ideas, interrupting church services with questions, mooching off the church’s widow fund, and generally making common floozies of themselves (1 Timothy 5).

'' photo (c) 2009, Sharon Mollerus - license:

Many scholars believe these women were likely influenced by the popular Roman fertility cults of Artemis that encouraged women to flaunt their sexuality and freedom to a degree that scandalized even the Roman establishment, hardly known for its prudish morals. Worship involved deviant sex, shirking off marriage and childbearing, possible abortions and infanticide, and immodest dress that made adherents indistinguishable from prostitutes. (This trend inspired Caesar Augustus to pass legislation regarding what respectable women ought to wear...and, oddly, what prostitutes and adulterers ought to wear!) It seems that enough of these women had joined the church to tarnish its reputation, repelling potential converts and giving the Roman authorities yet another reason to be suspicious of the church, which was the last thing the early Christians needed. (If you want to learn more about the cults, your best bet is Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities by Bruce Winter. See also The Letters to Timothy and Titus by Philip Towner.)

“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need,” Paul tells the elders at Ephesus. But “younger widows,” he says, are “to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Timothy 5:14; emphasis added). I suspect that Paul didn’t want the church, so full of unmarried women, to be seen as just another Greco-Roman cult. He also didn’t want pagans unfamiliar with the teachings of Christ and the Jewish culture interrupting services with questions or bossing around other converts. Is it any wonder, then, that he expected some women in Corinth to prophesy, but challenged others to “remain silent,” or that he advised the women at Ephesus not to seize authority over men but to “learn in quietness and full submission”? (Remember, the guys would have been seriously outnumbered!)

“We are thus led to the conclusion that when Paul asks women to be silent . . . he is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind,” writes Scot McKnight in The Blue Parakeet“His concern is with some untrained, morally loose, young widows, who, because they are theologically unformed, are teaching unorthodox ideas.” It is reasonable, then, to assume that once these widows were trained, they could resume speaking.

What about Adam and Eve?

Things get a little trickier as Paul goes on with his letter. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve,” he writes. “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.”

Now, I’ll readily admit that the fact that Paul appeals to the creation narrative to support his point about Ephesian women complicates things for egalitarians. (Actually, the part about being “saved through childbearing” complicates things for everyone who believes people are saved by faith alone.) References to Adam and Eve certainly give a line of argumentation a universal feel.

But as I mentioned on Monday, when first-century rabbis like Jesus and Paul allude to the stories of the Torah, including the creation accounts, they are not participating in “straight exegesis” as we would understand it today. Rather, their creative interpretations of the text are influenced by the hermeneutical conventions of Second Temple Judaism, which allow for quite a bit of “play” with the narrative texts. According to Peter Enns, Paul often uses Adam and Eve as a way of “appropriating an ancient story to address pressing concerns of the moment.”

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations about what Paul meant with these few sentences—that he was countering teachings from the Roman cults that the gender order should be reversed, that he had simply accepted the widely-held belief that women are more easily deceived than men and responsible for the Fall, that by “saved through childbearing” refers to Christ’s arrival through Mary, that “saved through childbearing” is meant to discourage women from engaging in the anti-children activities of the cults, that childbearing has a special redemptive effect, and so on. (I have a hard time with that last one seeing as how Jesus consistently praised singleness and celibacy as an option for committed Christians, as did Paul in 1 and 2 Corinthians.)

No one seems to know for sure what this passages means, and frankly, I’ve just about given up on figuring out exactly what’s going on with it. But here’s the thing: Anyone who says that Paul’s instructions regarding the women at Ephesus are universally binding because he appeals to the creation narrative to make his point can be consistent in that position only if they also require women in their church to cover their heads, as Paul uses a very similar line of argumentation to advocate that. (See 1 Corinthians 11. )

What about women today?

So what about women today? Can we really compare women who have devoted their lives to studying scripture, many with seminary degrees and years of experience, to the promiscuous, first-century Roman widows mooching off the church and spreading idle tales from door to door?

Obviously, Paul didn’t have a problem with women teaching in generalAs we saw yesterday, he honored Priscilla, a teacher to the apostle Apollos, and praised Timothy’s mother and grandmother for teaching Timothy all he knew about faith. He recognized Junia as an apostle, Phoebe as a deacon, and Euodia and Syntyche as church planters.  

In fact, these days, women in the pulpit are more highly educated than their male counterparts. While over three-quarters of female pastors (77 percent) hold seminary degrees, less than two-thirds of male pastors (63 percent) can say the sameIt continues to amaze me that some evangelicals believe that Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, who was ordained at seventeen without a seminary degree, is more qualified to by virtue of being a man to speak to the Church than someone like my friend Jackie Roese, who received top honors at her seminary and is now a pastor at Irving Bible Church in Dallas, or Catherine Hamlin, who devoted her life to caring for fistula patients in Africa, or Sarah Coakley, who is one of Christianity’s most influential theologians and philosophers, currently working on a four-volume systematic theology.

Something needs to change. 

Me with the smart, over-achieving ladies of Truett Seminary - a reminder that things are changing for the better

Me with the smart, over-achieving ladies of Truett Seminary
a reminder that things are changing for the better

Where do we draw the line?

With all these bright, trained women running around, its’ no wonder complementarians have a difficult time applying their own restrictions on the roles of women in the Church. For example, John Piper was once asked by a man, “Is it wrong for me to listen to Beth Moore?”

 “No,” Piper said. “Unless you begin to become dependent on her as your shepherd-pastor. This is the way I feel about women speaking occasionally in Sunday school. We don't need to be picky on this. The Bible is clear that women shouldn't teach and have authority over men. In context, I think this means that women shouldn't be the authoritative teachers of the church-they shouldn't be elders.” He went on to say that women like Beth Moore and Elisabeth Elliot should be free to speak, to write, and to teach.

In other words, it’s okay to learn from women...just not too much.

'Woman with book and palm trees' photo (c) 1920, George Eastman House - license:

Piper appears to consider the first half of 1 Timothy 2:12 (“a woman should not have authority”) as universally applicable, but disregards the second half (“she must be quiet”) by encouraging women like Moore to continue speaking. If the first half of 1 Timothy 2 is so crucial to the complementarian hierarchal construct, why is the second half, (along with the silence command in 1 Corinthians 14:34) essentially ignored? Why is that complementarian women are forbidden from assuming leadership in churches, and yet permitted to speak? Nowhere does the Bible spell out this distinction between teaching and speaking or between leader and "shepherd-pastor," and yet Piper seems seriously committed to it.

I’ve spent far more time than I care to admit combing through complementarian literature, reading debates about whether women can read Scripture aloud in church, whether female missionaries should be permitted to give presentations on Sunday evenings, what age groups women should be allowed to teach in Sunday school, whether women can speak in small group Bible studies, what titles to bestow upon worship leaders and children’s ministry coordinators so that they don’t appear too authoritative, and on and on and on. If you really want to give yourself a headache, check out Wayne Grudem’s article “But What Should Women Do in the Church?” in which he painstakingly lists 83 church ministries in “decreasing order of authority and influence” to help churches decide which ministries are appropriate for women.  I confess that when I read this list, the first image to come to my mind is that of a man straining gnats and swallowing camels.

Scot McKnight himself changed his position on women and teaching when he realized that his favorite Bible professor, the one from whom he’d learned the most about interpreting and applying scripture, was a woman. “Anyone who thinks it is wrong for a woman to teach in church can be consistent with that point of view only if they refuse to read and learn from women scholars,” he concluded. “This means not reading their books lest they become teachers.”

And as one commenter noted yesterday, many complementarians don’t seem to have a problem with women assuming leadership and teaching roles as missionaries in developing countries,“because if it's happening 'over there', 'somewhere else', in some primitive place where lifestyles aren't quite as sophisticated, and buildings aren't quite so solid , and people are presumed to be simpler, then it's as if it isn't really happening...I'm thinking of the modern Junias like Lottie Moon, Jackie Pullinger, Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, Marie Monsen, Gladys Aylward, etc.”

I’ve been told by some complementarians that women are permitted to teach in such circumstances because “desperate times call for desperate measures.” But anyone who doesn’t see the entire world as desperate for the gospel isn’t paying much attention. Those who think the urgency of Pentecost has passed, that the world doesn’t need every trained and passionate advocate for the gospel it can get “have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear.”

'Utdeling av Nobels fredspris 2011' photo (c) 2011, Utenriksdepartementet UD - license:

(Pictured: Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian mother of six who won the Nobel Peace Prize for organizing the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a movement which mobilized both Christian and Muslim women to end Liberia’s long and bloody civil war through prayer, protests, sit-ins, diplomacy, and sex strikes. Her movement—which has saved thousands of lives— began when she delivered a sermon on peace at her church.

What should we do for the sake of the gospel?

I can’t know for sure, but I believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the women at Ephesus were intended to protect the gospel from untrained teachers and to ensure that the Church remain distinct from the cults of the surrounding culture. And I believe that, just as he celebrated Junia and Priscilla and Phoebe, he would celebrate and affirm the many trained, gifted, and passionate women who are preaching the gospel from behind pulpits, in darkened slums, in front of classrooms, in busy homes, and before crowds of people longing to encounter God.

It has been pointed out that as long as Christians remain embroiled in endless debates about what women can and cannot do for Jesus, we are only utilizing half the ChurchWomen have so much to bring to Christianity—so many gifts, so many insights, so many new ways of looking at things, expressing things, enacting things, and questioning things. I am convinced that the gospel will only benefit from more women preaching it.

What a tragic and agonizing irony that instructions once delivered for the purpose of avoiding needless offense are now invoked in ways that needlessly offend, that words once meant to help draw people to the gospel now repel them! Research shows that the overall number of women attending church has dropped by 11 percent in the last twenty years. I suspect that part of this has to do with the fact that when female executives, entrepreneurs, academics, and creatives are told that they have to check their gifts at the church door, many turn away for good. In a more egalitarian culture ,where women are assumed to have the same value as men, restricting women’s roles based on their gender is unnecessarily offensive. It drives people away from the gospel -  and not because of the cost of discipleship.

And while our sisters around the world continue to suffer from trafficking, exploitation, violence, neglect, maternal mortality, and discrimination, those of us who are perhaps most equipped to respond with prophetic words and actions—women of faith—are being systematically silenced by our own faith communities.

Scot McKnight has wisely asked: “Do you think Paul would have put women ‘behind the pulpit’ if it would have been advantageous ‘for the sake of the gospel’?

Or, put another way: Do you think Paul would have prevented women from speaking if he knew it would hurt the gospel?

The answer to that question should be a lot simpler than it has become.


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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.