Liberating Women for Ministry? part 2 (Key Texts)

This is a series about women in ministry.  I have found that in most evangelical circles, women who are in ministry do not have the same opportunities as men.  Why is this?  It comes from a deep seeded belief that core leadership of a biblical church is found in men alone.  Women are equal in worth to God, but are limited in their function within the body of Christ.  Here is the kicker, I think that Scripture might tell a different story.  This series will be and exploration on this important topic.  Here is part one.

Central Question: Can women serve in any role within the church?  If so, how does this compare to most modern evangelical churches?  If not, what are the boundaries for women in ministry?  How does the New Testament serve as a guide on this issue?

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11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;  she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Timothy 2.11-15

In the ancient world, this was written during the emergence of what some historians call: “the new Roman Women.”  In the major cities of the empire there was a movement of women who were choosing immodesty, sexual indiscretion, elaborate dress, and even taking the podium from men to speak.  This movement was bent on subverting the defined gender roles of the day. In addition to this, Ephesus was the home of the famous Artemis/Diana fertility cult, which was female-dominated and had similar tendencies to raise women over-against men.[1] The Temple of Artemis was the most massive structure in the area.  This female dominated attitude seems to have crept into the community that Timothy was leading.  In this context the point of the passage seems to be that women should be permitted to learn in submission to God (not men), and that men and women ought to be given the space to develop gifts and then employ them.  This is not a “given” just because they are women and can exercise authority over men, but must be done in love with the principle being that all who teach must first choose to learn.  NT Wright brings out the intended meaning of verses 11-12 in the following way: They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God.  I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed.”[2] The example of Adam and Eve serves to inverse the supposed view that women ought to dominate over men, climaxing in Eve’s fallibility as an example to balance female superiority complex.

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3.28

Although this passage is not directly about ministry roles, it demonstrates that all labels that separate people, whether those of status, gender, race, or tradition; can no longer do so for the baptized renewed family of Abraham.  The cross and resurrection relativized all things that separate and brings together an egalitarian community of mutual love and service.

We have now dealt with of the passages that seem to silence women from speaking in the church, the next step will be to look at the what the whole of the bible says about women in leadership roles…

ANY THOUGHTS ON THESE PROPOSED INTERPRETATIONS?


[1] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 198-199.

[2] N. T. Wright, Women’s Service in the Church, 11-12.

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  • http://brettcohrs.com Brett

    My mom is an ordained minister, although she had to go outside of the denomination where she served as youth pastor for her ordination. She’s since moved on to found an urban ministry. In light of her frequent leadership roles and her ordination in evangelical church settings, the first passage has caused me a tad bit of stress. I’ve seen her fruit and know that her gifts are there.

    Still, I don’t normally like reinterpreting Scripture through the lens of personal experience. I appreciate the re-couching of the 1 Timothy passage to show not a silencing from a leadership role, but more of an encouragement to learn and grow. After all, outside of Paul, weren’t Timothy’s spiritual mentors the matriarchs in his family?

    Mostly, though, my mom’s role is confirmed through the whole counsel of Scripture. You seem to allude to future exposition of the topic in your last paragraph above.

    I think the evangelical church has been too nervous that if this passage was interpreted slightly different than traditionally, it would lead to other ‘re-interpretations’ of other touchy issues.

  • Eleonore

    Kurt I’d be interested to hear how you & others understand 1 Tim 2:15 and it’s place in that section.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Eleonore: here is a starting point. It wont answer all your questions, but here is a way of looking at that section.

      N.T. Wright translates this passage in the following way:

      “So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.”

  • http://nicenejosh.wordpress.com Nicene Josh

    I would like to allude to Romans 16 where Paul writes of Junia. Paul says that she is well known among the apostles. N.T. Wright says that the Greek words used in that verse, show that she was one of the apostles, and not just known to the apostles. Just as Phoebe is a deacon in the church to which Paul has addressed the letter to.

    Also, 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that when women are praying or prophesying in church, they should look like women.

    St. John 20 should be looked at as well. Where Mary Magdalene is sent to go tell the apostles of Christ’s resurrection. She is given an order directly from Christ to tell the apostles of his resurrection.

    As to 1 Timothy 2, you might say that because of the location, Paul was telling the church at Ephesus that although women should be allowed leadership positions, that does not make them superior to men. Men are still the spiritual heads of the family.

    N.T. Wright translates this verse in the following way:

    “So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.”

    Anyway, my two cents. I definitely have to get back into studying the roles of women in leadership.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Josh, Agree fully with our insights. I will notice that I actually did quote the NT Wright paraphrase for verses 11-12 in the article :-)

    • Amy Stone

      Men are still the spiritual heads of the family.

      Nicene Josh, what do you mean by “spiritual heads” and “family”?

      • http://nicenejosh.wordpress.com Nicene Josh

        The man is responsible for his family. In the Judaic contexts of which Paul was writing, the man was responsible for making sure his family obeyed God’s word, and were faithful to the true God. This is what it meant to be the spiritual head.

        As for family, it meant a father, his wife, and his children. If the father died, it fell to the eldest son to lead the family. Such was the case with Jesus. We get this glimpse when Jesus is carrying the cross and he looks to St. John and tells him that the Blessed Virgin is now his mother.

        According to this verse, we can assume that Joseph has died, and Jesus is the head of the family. He passes this responsibility on to St. John.

        This is the context of spiritual head and family in Palestine at the time of Jesus.

        • Amy Stone

          Nicene Josh,

          I hear various versions of this notion frequently, but I have never understood 1) how it is biblical (although I blindly assumed that it was for many years), and 2) how it works/looks.

          I would respectfully disagree with you that Paul was writing in a Judaic context. Paul speaks, almost exclusively, in a Greco-Roman/cosmopolitan context. He is also squarely against judaising.

          The audience he spoke to did not have a concept of the nuclear family equivalent to ours today. Marriage was very different too. The oldest male husband would be the sole patriarch, not each married male. In other words, my husband and I, as well as our children, might be under the authority of my husband’s father (in a Judaic family) or my own father (possibly excluding my husband, in a Roman family). In addition, there were several states and concepts of “marriage” in both contexts.

          The closest model of marriage to ours, in a Roman context, wasn’t even a legal union in the Roman Empire. It was more like cohabitation with an informal commitment between two individuals that were “liberated” (i.e., without the security of extended family obligations) from a paterfamilia.

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  • http://erikpasco.blogspot.com Erik

    What about the texts referring to church elders being male (only?). How do you view those passages as we think about women leading in local churches?

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  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Sorry, I’m just now catching up with the rest of this series.

    I would like to offer my own thoughts as a link to my comments on 1 Tim. The whole chapter should be considered, as well as the cultural background, along with Paul’s habits.

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  • http://twitter.com/davepatchin David Patchin

    Thanks for the engaging & appropriate dealing with the texts. You state that Gal 3:28 though not directly about ministry, “demonstrates that all labels that separate people, whether those of status, gender, race, or tradition; can no longer do so for the baptized renewed family of Abraham.” If this statement is correct, Gal 3:8 would open the door for gay marriage equally as wide as for women serving in all roles. Would you agree?

    • http://thepangeablog.com Kurt Willems

      Not sure I gather the connection / application you imply by using this verse:

      “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.””

      How does that apply to gay marriage issues?

  • CuriousGeorge

    Nicene Josh writes:
    “Also, 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that when women are praying or prophesying in church, they should look like women.”

    Just curious as to what, exactly, is involved with that. And why it matters.


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