Well this is third and final post in this series about the vindication of female leadership in the church.
Part 1 is available here
Part 2 is available here
Here I would like to share a few thoughts to round up on this subject.
Firstly, I would like to recognise and appreciate Bible Translators for the important and valuable service they offer to the Body of Christ, especially those people who do it as a sacrificial ministry, sometimes risking their lives to go to hostile new countries for the sake of preparing Bible translations in local dialects. This is a difficult and often unappreciated job which many of us (myself included) take for granted. in my previous two posts, I have criticised Bible Translators a fair bit for translations which I believe to be inconsistent with the rhythm of the Bible. However I want to make it clear that as a Bible Translator myself, I highly respect them, and I am grateful for the work that they do.
The ambiguity is in the Greek:
With the case of women/wives in the 1st Timothy Chapter 2 chapter the ambiguity is in the actual Greek language itself, because of the two dual meanings each of the Greek words for wives/women and husbands/men. Then the ambiguity gets translated into the different languages. Because the word “woman” is not ambiguous in English in the way “gyne” is in Greek, it is not immediately apparent that these verses are ambiguous in Greek, and the average reader will read this translation and believe that this is what the Bible says.
NB – The NIV version to which I have linked above actually has a footnote saying that the word translated as man can also be translated as husband. This is the first acknowledgement I have seen of this possible dual translation in any established Bible Translation.
Could I please ask you to consider the issue from my viewpoint? As a woman who pursues Christ with all her might and vigour, I am exactly the kind of woman who would be affected if women are “not allowed to have authority over or teach men”. Many Christian women will not be in this situation, as they do not necessarily feel called to this, and this is the same also with many Christian men.
The point is not that I have sought to be in any position “over men” or to teach or have authority “over men”. What I have sought, what has been my personal drive and determination for such a long time is to know God as much as I possibly can, to be immersed in His Word the Bible, and to dedicate my life to His service. As a result of this pursuit, and the spiritual hunger that God has graciously given me, I am now in a place where I know things and I can see things that are glaringly wrong with the Church as it currently stands. (This is the same way the prophets of old worked, by the way. I am not claiming to be more special than other people; I believe that God has made His power available for anyone who pursues it – and I have pursued it).
I could so easily open my mouth to challenge these issues (by God’s grace, He has also blessed me with fearlessness to a large degree, especially when it comes to challenging the Church). And yet no, I must not do this – because of my gender?! In my experience, no-one else is saying many of the things that I am saying. I don’t know a single person – no not one – who talks habitually as I do about deeply radical issues but Biblical issues like raising the dead – even healing the sick. I often feel that if I don’t say many of the things I say, then they would largely go unsaid. And frankly the Church needs to hear these things – desperately so. I have come across so much complacency and spiritual apathy in mainstream Evangelical churches – and also in Pentecostal churches. Ooh, I wonder whether the complacency and general prayerlessness of the Church at large could in any way be related to the very evident and ongoing collapse of society right before our very eyes?! And yet by the thinking of many people who disagree with female leadership in church, I might be disobeying God even by writing this blog – in case a man might be listening. (In the Timothy passage the onus is on a wife/woman to not be in authority over a husband/man, rather than on the husband/man to remove himself from the wife/woman’s authority and teaching). Seriously?! What this instruction effectively achieves is that it dissuades women from even pursuing the knowledge of God to such a deep extent, feeling that “it is not their place”. Frankly, harvest fields are desperately overripe and the church of Christ needs every hand that could possibly contribute to the harvest – even female hands. By knowing God as much as you can, by pursuing Him, His word, His truth, then you are simply strengthening your hands to make them as strong as possible for the work of reaping that harvest. Of course every Christian should be actively encouraged to pursue God, His truth and His power to the utmost.
To someone like me with a hunger for God and a desperation to see His power at work in our lives, this injunction against female leadership seems totally artificial. A humorous analogy that occurred to me – it is like the difference between an iPod Touch and an iPhone from Apple. The point there is that, as marketed, the iPod Touch has exactly the same features as the iPhone – except that it cannot make calls. (This certainly was the case with the first generation of these “iPod Touch” gadgets, I don’t know whether it remains the case with the current releases.) However, in terms of hardware, these two products are actually exactly the same thing. The iPod Touch does have the physical ability to make calls – but this has been disabled by a software feature from Apple. So you have a product that can physically make calls, is totally “qualified”, but is simply “not allowed to” because it is “only” marketed as an iPod Touch, not a full iPhone. Or to look at it another way you’re paying a few hundred pounds extra for an iPhone over an iPod Touch – because of a software setting.
This is how the restriction of female leadership seems to me. Women can know God, they can know the Bible inside out, they can be immersed in pursuit of Christlikeness and holiness – but they are not allowed to express all of that – because they are “only” women, not men. And then there is also the fact that all of this contradicts the Old Testament examples as well as the New Testament examples of Phoebe, Priscilla, Chloe, Junia. Of these, Phoebe and Priscilla are incontrovertible examples of female leadership in the New Testament. Seriously, why are we even having this discussion?!!!
Finally, let’s assume that it was your group that was seemingly disbarred from expression of the knowledge of God, which is what this boils down to. Let’s imagine, for example that people were disbarred by virtue of ethnicity. Every other marginalised group was allowed, but just not your group – which actually happened to be the majority group. Would you just accept that – just like that? Would that not cause wondering, and asking “Why?”?
Why would God do that – what might be His reasoning for that? Would you not even try to examine the issue in depth, looking at the original languages, if you could? And yet some people (some of them female, shamefully – rolling my eyes) expect women to just accept that this is what the Bible says. Just like that! Without even making the effort to understand why – just accept at face value that this is what God wants. I’m sorry, but I believe that that viewpoint is wrong, and I hope I have adequately demonstrated to reasonable people that it is wrong, and why it could never have been right.
I’ve said that this is the final post on the vindication of female leadership, and I don’t want to add another post to this subject. However, I have remembered a few things that I wanted to include in this closing post:
NOT I, BUT THE LORD:
I made a point in Part 2 about the fact that Paul says that he does not allow a woman to have authority over her husband, as I believe that verse should be read. I made a point of the fact that Paul was limiting a woman’s scope by his own personal authority, as opposed to God’s authority. To buttress the point of apostolic authority versus divine authority, I would like to highlight 1 Corinthians Chapter 7, where this same Paul goes into some detail to distinguish between his own commands and those from God.
First he gives an instruction, then makes it clear that this instruction is from God, not from himself : Not I, but the Lord: 1 Corinthians 7v10
then he gives another instruction, and makes it clear that he is the one speaking, but as someone who has the Spirit of God: I, not the Lord: 1 Corinthians 7v12.
In practice in the Christian church, Paul’s instructions are treated as if they were instructions from God Himself, and I believe that this is the way things should be. However, where he says in Timothy “I do not permit a woman” then all this only emphasises the point that this instruction, whatever it does mean, comes from Paul’s apostolic authority, and must be contrasted with places where God has explicitly used His own divine authority to endorse female leadership.
Further on in Timothy:
I also wanted to clarify the points I made in Part 2 about the possibility of a woman being an elder or a deacon. I concentrated on the fact that in the New Testament, many male forms of words were used in a way that included women. Later on the following occurred to me: that Paul could have written with an expectation of male overseers and deacons for reasons that I discussed in Part 2: Perhaps the point is not that women are automatically barred because of their gender, but rather that women at that time were generally not knowledgable enough to hold these positions of authority, because they were not educated to the same standards as men. In this case it would have made sense to assume that the people holding these positions of authority would be male, and to use male language as Paul did. The example of Phoebe shows us that even in those times, there were accepted female exceptions to this expected trend. So the expectation in those days may have been that a woman on the whole would not have been sufficiently knowledgable to be a teacher. However if there happened to be a woman who was sufficiently knowledgable (like Phoebe) then yes, she would have been considered for leadership just like any qualified man. I believe that this is a plausible suggestion.
Nothing or all!
I believe that if female leadership is Biblically valid, along the lines I have demonstrated, then it is fully valid – that is, that a woman should theoretically be able to hold even the highest available positions of leadership. Or to look at it from the other side, if the idea that women cannot be leaders has been disproved, then it has been fully disproved, and that whole idea should be scratched out, as if it never existed – as it never did – at least not biblically. Often you will see people or ministries trying to offer half-way measures: a woman can be a lay-preacher, but she cannot be the full minister of a church. Please. Either it is all or nothing – or in this case, nothing or all! That said, I personally believe that the structure of church in our modern days, with the emphasis on a single individual, male or female controlling one large church of people is flawed and unbiblical and unproductive, putting much too much stress on that single individual, and failing to release the immense potential in the church.
Jesus in the Bible is quite big on catching fish, right? Well in most cases I have seen the pastor well-meaningly acts like he the pastor is single-handedly trying to catch enough fish to feed his whole congregation (I realise I am mixing my metaphors here!) When we are talking about very big congregations, no wonder many pastors get burned out, and barely have time to spend time with God themselves. Rather, I believe a pastor should be teaching people to catch fish, so that they would then be able to go ahead to teach others to catch fish, who would in their own turn go out and teach others. And then churches/pastors often talk about “feeding” their congregations. Well, you are not supposed to be feeding me, but rather teaching me how to feed myself from God’s word. And then I won’t have to call the pastor every time I have the slightest problem, but I can simply deal with it myself, and you as a pastor will have more time to spend with your family, relax, and actually enjoy God. And as it happens, by the grace of God I am someone who is fully able to feed myself – so don’t worry, I am not going to starve to spiritual death when I stop coming to your church, or anyone else’s church!
So then, I believe that the whole concept of leadership should be more fluid, in that every single person in the church should be trained up to be able to lead others, or to go out and make disciples. I believe that this is the (quite obvious) way in which the church would make most impact. So I am the last person in the universe who would be clamouring for any elevated position for myself, or encouraging anyone to strive after this for themselves because I think that this way of thinking about Church is unproductive.
Hebrews 5.12 ties in with this thinking a little, telling its readers that “By now they should have become teachers”. (However, James gives a different perspective, telling readers that “not many of us should become teachers” – James Chapter 3v1 However, I believe in the James reference that this is a poetically worded warning to be very careful and watchful before taking on this role, not literally that many people should not become teachers.)