Your Sons and Your …

Here’s what my Bible records Peter explaining on the Day of Pentecost: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

The NIV11 does show the cognate terms clearly because “servants” refers to male and female servants of God — same term, different gender. What this text says is that Pentecost heralded a new day, and that day meant God’s Spirit would be poured out on all — men and women, sons and daughters, young and old. This is Joel’s and Peter’s version of Paul’s Galatians 3:28. But instead of the “in Christ” theme of Paul we’ve got the “gifts” theme. God chooses to whom to distribute gifts; God chooses from the Day of Pentecost on to give those gifts to men and women.

If God gifts women with prophecy, why are so few women speaking in churches? 

But there are plenty of churches that don’t recognize the gifts of women when they’ve got them. Non-recognition of gifts grieves the Spirit. We don’t decide in advance which gender speaks and which gender is designed to listen; we listen instead to the gifting of God. When God gifts, we receive.

Many women have a story about believing and knowing they’ve been called and gifted by God; some of them have been given sufficient opportunity — small groups, youth groups, sudden opportunities (I tell the story of Alice in Junia is Not Alone) — to notch it up from knowing they are gifted to being recognized by others for those gifts. Then church leaders — males — step up to say God doesn’t gift women like that. And that flies in the face of Acts 2 which says God gives women the highest gift of all — to prophesy.

A prophet is someone who stands between God and God’s people: God speaks, the prophet hears, and the prophet speaks for God to the people. It is a noble calling; if not the highest of gifts, near the top.

A very good memoir of a woman called is by Sara Gaston Barton, A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle.  I would urge you to get a copy of this book and get ready either to read it or better yet: get a copy, read it and then give it someone who is called and waiting for the church to recognize God’s calling. Sara tells her story among the Churches of Christ, of a gift not always recognized … and so her struggle is the struggle of many called women.

I like this book so much I wrote the foreword. But there is no way to blog through a memoir. They’re meant to be read, not sketched. It’s a great story of a life. If you are looking to wrangle with a woman over some passages in the NT, go elsewhere. This not that kind of book; it’s her story being called and discerning what that means when males are casting hot shadows over any woman who thinks such thoughts. The book is full of grace.

What we need more of is males. Males who believe women are gifted by God. Males who are willing to resist churches and leaders who think women aren’t gifted. Women can stand up and fight but time has convinced me that until recognized male leaders have the courage to stand up for called and gifted women their gifts won’t be recognized. So here’s my challenge: If you think the word omitted in the title to this post is Daughters, then I’m asking men who really believe it to look around at your church and ask one question: Do women speak routinely in my church or is always males, or almost always males? If it is mostly males, it is time for you to stand up for the called women at your church. (My logic is from the greater to the lesser: if women can be prophets, they can surely speak behind a pulpit on Sunday morning. Teachers are third and prophets second in 1 Cor 12:28.)

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  • I could not agree more. However, what would you say to those who may argue along these lines: “Sure this is what Peter says echoing Joel the prophet. But this prophesy included women because it was intended to be all-inclusive, involving all of humankind as the recipient of prophesy, which was to come through men only. Moreover, there were some things not literally fulfilled in this prophesy, such as ‘blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.’ Moreover, God says elsewhere that women should not teach men or assume authority over them and teaching/prophesying is a position of authority.”

    Lots of objections here, but this is often the line given in response.

  • Sharon G

    You warm my heart, Scot Mcknight. I read your blog just to keep my heart hoping for breakthrough in this area. Thanks for calling out the men. I agree this is the key to change in most churches on this topic.

  • scotmcknight


    1. “which was to come through men only” is defeated by this text itself. Something new here: prophesy will be spoken by both men and women.

    2. The “not literally fulfilled…” is discussed today but I’m of the view that this is cosmic imagery for dramatic change and that dramatic change is the ascension of Christ to the throne of God and the de-throning of earthly powers. So, this is political metaphor for the change the new age brings. I don’t take these images to be literal. So, on that one, there is good reason for the counter to be substantivally challenged.

    3. That women can prophesy, that teaching is 3d when prophecy is 2d in 1 Cor (I don’t want to make too much of the order but we need to consider this), that women did teach (Priscilla, Junia, etc), makes me think the “do not teach” is a limited kind of teaching — and my view, as outlined in Blue Parakeet, is that they were not to teach so long as they were untaught. Check out Tom Wright’s translation of the NT on 2 Tim 2.

  • scotmcknight

    I want to clarify if some had an earlier version of this post … I thought I was using the NIV2011, which is my default translation, and so I assumed it was the NIV2011 but lo and behold! it was the KJV, and so I made a comment about the NIV11 not having clarity on “servants” — but I was referring to the KJV when I thought I was referring to the NIV2011. I edited that; the NIV2011 got this precisely right. Then I changed it and WordPress reverted to the older version … and I wot not what hath happened… but methinks the text now standeth upright.

  • Great question, Paul. I am eager to hear Scott’s response as I’m a pastor’s kid who grew up in a hard complimentarian church culture. I’ve heard those same objections countless times. Now I’m a teaching pastor within this same church culture and wondering how to implement these convictions sensitively.

  • Dawne Piotrowski

    Thank you, Scot! There is something powerful in having my gifts recognized and affirmed by male church leaders. Thank you for encouraging men to stand up in support of women who have been striving to use their gifts for the benefit of the whole church.

  • EricW

    In “Complimentarianism” men say nice things about women.

    In “Complementarianism” men deny things to women. This is today’s Patriarchalism. Note the “e” and don’t confuse the two when writing.

  • Amen, amen! Women wanting to use their spiritual gifts is NOT about their selfishness- it’s about obeying God’s will and using their gifts to serve the body of Christ.

  • Samuel

    Scot, I noticed that you parenthetically said you did not want to make much of the order in 1 Corinthians 12 but often hear people refer to the order of gifts to setup an hierarchy in many respects. Do you think that is the best approach to legitimize the importance of prophecy (or any ‘gift’ for that matter) or the fact that women are equally gifted in that way? Many will refer to an ‘apostolic’ gift as trumping every other gift because it is first in order or helping is not as important as any other gift. Do you see where I’m going here?

  • JJ

    Thanks, as always, for being one of those “recognized male leaders” who speak on behalf of gifted-for-ministry women. I second Dawne’s (#6) comment: affirmation of my gifts and calling by male leaders, even though it is not a necessary condition for the validity of that calling, means a great deal.

  • Phillip

    I’ll second the recommendation to read Sara’s book.

  • Kiko

    Prophesy; forthtelling which reveals the mind (message) of God in a particular situation.

    Revealing the mind of God can have to do with looking at things from a different perspective. Being able to explain to someone who is not understanding a passage in a way that makes it real to them. Taking the Word(s) God has given us and showing us how it is all about Jesus.

    Hebrews 10:7 “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do your will, O God.”

    Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    Galatians 5:16 “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” – One of them being gossip, idle ramblings, but clearly speaking forth the Word of God the way that God says it without adding to or taking away from it.

  • cathy

    Scott, I so appreciate your keeping this issue before us, and totally agree that what is needed at this critical time is strong male voices who will speak out in defense of women who are attempting to walk out their gifts and calling of God. I realize that both positions have strong scholars and even stronger opinions; however to allow an issue such as this to divide the body of Christ is so sad, and in my opinion, plays into the very plan of satan to hinder the spread of the gospel. Since both sides are convinced in our positions, how about we just use our gifts and calling to preach and teach and make disciples and leave it to God to judge us — after all, if we are passionate about doing His work, is He not capable of leading us into “all truth” as we study to “rightly divide the word”, and “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”?

    The most frustrating thing for me is that many of those who oppose women having equal status admit that they have never studied the issue for themselves — never read one book or even a position paper, it’s just their “gut” feeling.

    I began noticing the inconsistencies in the complementarian position and started studying, having struggled with this issue for so long due to been called myself into ministry at the age of 18 and being limited for years in what I could do. I had allowed Men that I respected to keep me from entering into the fullness of the call on my life until God spoke to me very clearly and said, “you are not going to answer to _____ _____ (a particular, well known, outspoken complementarian) on judgment day, you are going to answer to me”. It was like a breaking of oppression over me. Shortly thereafter I completed seminary, was ordained and now serve as co-pastor with my husband. One of my greatest passions is to bring liberation, through what I believe to be a better understanding of the context of the scriptures to younger women and men regarding this situation.

    Thanks for your part in educating in this area!

  • scotmcknight

    Samuel, Paul enumerates the gifts in that passage, and I think he’s got a bit of a hierarchy at work, and so I would say prophecy is a “nobler” gift than teaching, but I wouldn’t want to overcook this. Paul wants the Corinthians to see that prophecy is more important than tongues… it’s all about edification of the Body; it’s all about doing our part.

    My point is this: Peter says God’s prophetic word to Joel is coming to pass at Pentecost. He’s saying that in this new day women will be more gifted than before or at least that they will be gifted. We don’t have to make a huge distinction between pre- and post-Pentecost, only that God’s prophetic gift is now at work in all — men and women, young and old.

    I think I’d probably say the gift of apostleship is a macro-gift.

  • I think the difficult thing for many men is that truly “standing up” for women necessitates “sitting down.”

    I’ve seen a lot of men who affirm the gifting of women, but aren’t willing to give up their own teaching/preaching/leading positions (or the frequency with which they fill those positions). Affirming words are nice and hugely important, but too often men are affirming women to lead in positions that just so happen to already be filled by men. Men need to not only recognize/affirm women leaders but also create or vacate positions where these gifted leaders actually get to lead.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It’s interesting how everyone accepts, even celebrates, the fact that godly women write books that teach, encourage and inspire. Yet, some balk at recognizing a call on women for leadership at church. The root of this reluctance is not scriptural. It lies deep in the human psyche – in our evolutionary history. While this is not the sensitive answer Evan (5) is properly seeking, I think it is the truth. 

    For another less than sensitive commentary on the issue see Joseph E. Coleson’s chapter on Genesis 1-11 in “The Bible Tells Me So” Richard P. Thompson and Thomas Jay Oord, eds. Judging from the way he puts the matter, Coleson is a brave fellow: “God’s creation intention was and is absolute gender equality: not gender identity but gender equality. God’s eschatological intention is the restoration/recreation of all the created order…..For the church, of all peoples and of all institutions to teach that women are second class members of God’s family because our first mother ate first of the forbidden fruit is not only mistaken. It is sin of the first order. It is rebellion against the will and desire of God, revealed from the very beginning.”

    As a male senior citizen whose mother was a lay preacher, it’s easy to say amen to Coleson’s strong words. I hope many more men can join me.

  • EricW

    @Bev Mitchell: Amen!!

  • EricW

    @Bev Mitchell: I see the book can be had in Kindle for $10. 494 pp. in paperback. Is it worth buying and reading (I love the quote from Coleson)?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Eric (17),
    Yes, “The Bible Tells Me So” is well worth careful reading. It’s a group of over 30 essays by Nazarene theologians and pastors on a great many topics that occupy us here on Jesus Creed and elsewhere. Very encouraging to see such level headed, solid stuff coming from what many may consider to be a very conservative setting.

  • James Rednour

    The pastor at my church (a YRR guy) came right out and told me once that God does not gift women to preach because God would never gift a person by the Spirit and then refuse to allow them to exercise that gift. I almost responded to him that maybe someone ELSE was refusing to allow them to exercise that gift but thought better of it.

  • James Rednour

    And apparently there are two types of teaching gifts: one that enables people to teach the Word to everyone and one that enables people to teach the Word only to women. I did not know that…

  • Jamieson

    Bev (16)
    I know this is not the subject of your post, but I, for one, appreciate your “insensitivity.” I wonder if being “sensitive” is perhaps part of our problem. We are just too damned polite to say it like it is.

  • EricW

    @James Rednour 20.: I hope that’s the pastor at your “former” church. :p I would have about as much difficulty attending a church that did not allow women equality, as the Spirit enabled or as their abilities displayed, in all the gifts and functions and positions as one which similarly second-classed non-whites.

  • Scott

    What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?

  • T

    This is one of my problems with de facto cessationism. When we simply ignore or don’t do prophecy anymore it’s easier to keep women (and the bulk of the congregation) silent. Same for being okay with letting the term/role of “pastor” absorb/eclipse/replace all the speaking gifts. We make it so much easier to keep stiff-arming women because we don’t do prophecy anymore; we only teach. We don’t have prophets anymore; just pastor- teachers. Turning all speaking in church into teaching is a loss for all and especially women.

  • T

    Scott (24),

    For starters, we take it along with I Cor. 11. On the one hand, I don’t know many churches that still believe that it is shameful for men to have long hair. On the other, Paul talks about “whenever a woman prays or prophesies.” Apparently, she can do this in a way that honors her husband (in that day at least, with a head covering and/or long hair), and in a way that does not. But the first point is that women were prophesying. Women can’t be silent and prophesy, and Paul’s letter, as a whole, doesn’t say otherwise.

    As with all things, Paul is concerned that gifts be used, and in a way that is respectful to all. I think that just as we can now allow men to have long hair and not feel they are being shameful (or women have short hair), I think we can have women prophesy even without a hat for their husbands to feel honored, despite Paul’s strong language about men’s hair, women’s hair, and similar cultural signs of respect.

    Regardless of our thoughts about hair, I think the important point is that Paul’s “silence” doesn’t appear to be intended to prevent women from prophesying. Otherwise, why have them do it at all, head covered or not? Further, such a reading would contradict Joel and Peter. Rather, the whole of the letter makes it much more likely that the women and men are to prophesy, but in a way that is respectful and loving to spouses and to all.

  • It is very interesting for me to be a fly on the wall at this blog. I do not agree but I am challenged. Do you all believe we evolved? May sound strange but one individual referred to the problem as being caused by our evolutionary development? Strange way to answer the question of a woman’s right to preach and lead when the authority we are told to submit to is the word of God. I am not convinced by origin of the species on many levels. So wondered if you, Scott think it is a valid argument? I did think the idea of just getting on with it, ministry, was a good idea’! However, there is too much at stake for most to do that, it would almost be like people were giving in or giving the others the benefit of the doubt. I am sad to say that I am still stuck with Paul’s arguemrmts about the order of creation being the reason why men are to lead, and his command is pretty strong too. I am not saying that there are no issues for me with this interpretation but it is the, as far as I have read, strongest argument from explicit teaching on the issue. We can quibble about other passages but this for me is where the battle lies and sadly I have not heard a convincing arguemrmts to open my mind to an alternative! I have done a lot of readin. It is tough, I see women doing a good job of it and my wife’s best friend is a preacher, but skill and ability are not where the issue lies, but what has God Said. And it still feels like we are in the garden of Eden, arguing with the devil and adding to the word, hath God said? No we must not touch it or we will die! If I hear a good arguemrmts that deals with Paul I will be convinced otherwise,my heart is open to Jesus to move me. I hope I don’t get a kick in for sharing my views. Mat

  • Sara Barton

    I think Scot McKnight’s book The Blue Parakeet has helped describe a way to read that explores the entire movement of Scripture toward oneness in Christ, and he explores the case study of women’s leadership in ministries as one example. This discussion is, at heart, about how we read the Bible. Your thoughts are certainly understandable from the approach you are taking, but as my book explores, there are other ways of looking at it. My book is about how we find unity as Christ-followers even when we are coming from differing perspectives. Thanks for sharing your views.

  • I think that prophetic women’s voices will not come through church structures. There is the issue of denying the full gifting of women. But there is also the issue that churches are too often gate-keepers. Frankly, I think it would be hard to be a prophet from within church structures. A prophet can have no other loyalties beyond what God has given them to do which is quite inimicable to having a church paid post. Or being elected by other church members or staff.

    True story: years ago my family was attending a promising new church. For weeks, I felt strongly that I was supposed to tell the leadership of certain problems I saw with the power dynamics in the church. And that there was going to be a problem on staff which would be confirmation of the problems they had. My husband was often present at pre-service prayers and told me that the weekend after I sent the email to the board of elders they started praying fiercely for protection over the pastor against those who would defame, criticize and speak ill of him. Three weeks later the church secretary showed up pregnant by a worship team member. We left the church not long after that. A few months later, the pastor’s face started showing up on the sides of buses around the city. It seems quite likely that church will never become what it was meant to be.

    Which is simply to illustrate that prophecy isn’t always welcome by churches. Also, prophecy’s a hard thing to lay claim to because of all the high profile people who have made a mockery of the idea of prophecy. I would imagine that there are men and women all over the place who have felt lead to give some small message which is never known by anyone but the person who gave it and the person/people who it was given to.

  • C J Dull

    McKnight gives a good example of why this issue has become as intractable as it is. It is one thing to accept that women can be given the gift of prophecy, which is rare (except perhaps for cults) for members of either sex if understood in the most common sense of the word. It is something else to accept that such an understanding also applies in other areas (” if women can be prophets, they can surely speak behind a pulpit on Sunday morning”). The end result seems to be that both sides become more rigid in their views. How extensive is Galatians 3.28? The next verse mentions only the promise to Abraham. There are churches that permit women to do anything a male can do. Why not simply compare the groups that do and the ones that don’t. If these are truly gifts from God, it seems that would be reflected in more concrete dircumstances and even statistical measures.

    C J Dull

  • scotmcknight

    CJ Dull, Yes it is a contentious issue; Yes, I have a firm view; but I don’t think the from the greater to the lesser argument is not without some merit. The last point, about comparing churches, doesn’t fit for me… it’s an exegetical issue first and foremost.

  • Ryan Buzzell

    I would just like to point out that in that verse in 1 Corinthians Paul isn’t setting a ranking on the God’s but merely listing them as anyone would in a letter. You are trying to say God put a rank on certain people who receive these gifts but Paul states that no ones gift is superior to any others.

  • Ryan Buzzell

    Sorry just read mine and it made no sense haha God’s should be gifts