The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture


Why Arguments against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical

posted by Ben Witherington

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Most of you who know me, know that I did my doctoral thesis on women in the NT with C.K. Barrett at the University of Durham in England. My first three published scholarly books were on this very subject.  One of the reasons I did that thirty some years ago was because of the controversy that raged then over the issue of women in ministry, and more particularly women as pulpit ministers and senior pastors.  Never mind that the Bible does not have categories like ‘senior pastor’ or ‘pulpit minister’,  the NT has been used over and over again to justify the suppression of women in ministry— and as I was to discover through years of research and study,  without Biblical justification.   Now of course equally sincere Christians may disagree on this matter, but the disagreements should be on the basis of sound exegesis of Biblical texts, not emotions, rhetoric, mere church polity, dubious hermeneutics and the like. 

So in this post I am going to deal with the usual objections to women in ministry, one by one.  Some of these objections come out of a high church tradition, some tend to come from low church traditions,  some are Catholic/Orthodox  some are Protestant, but we will take on a sampling of them all without trying to be exhaustive or exhausting.

1)  Women can’t be ministers, because only males can be priests offering the sacrifice of the Mass etc.   The root problem with this argument is that the NT is perfectly clear that apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons ARE NOT PRIESTS IN THE NT.  There is no need for a  separate order of priests in the NT because Christ’s sacrifice made obsolete the entire OT sacerdotal system of priests, temples and sacrifices.  The only priesthoods we hear about in the NT are: 1) the priesthood of all believers, which of course includes women, and 2) the heavenly high priesthood of Christ (see Hebrews).  There is no new priesthood between these two carried over from the OT or inaugurated in the NT era.  Indeed the whole language of sacrifice and temple is spiritualized in the NT to refer to our offering of ourselves or our praise to God, and the Temple is described in various places in the NT (cf. 1 Cor. 3-6), as either the believer’s body, or the whole community of Christ in which Christ and the Spirit dwell.  The problem here is essentially a hermeneutical one. Somewhere along the way about the time when the church became a licit religion under Constantine the OT hermeneutic took over, a hermeneutic which saw churches as temples, the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice, ministers as priests, the Lord’s Day as the sabbath, and so on. This did a grave dis-service to the newnness of the new covenant and its facets and features, and the net result was an exclusion of women from various ministries, on grounds the writers of the NT would have rejected outright.

2) Women can’t be ministers because then they would have headship over men, including their husbands— and this will never do,  and is a violation of the household codes in the NT.  This argument is often complex and at the heart of it is an essential confusion of what the NT says about order in the physical family and home, and order in the family of faith, wherever it may meet. It is certainly true that texts like Col.3-4 and Ephes. 5-6 and other texts in 1 Pet. for example do talk about the structure of the physical family. As I have argued at length, the patriarchal family was the existing reality in the NT world, and what you discover when you compare what is in the NT and what is outside the NT, is that Paul and others are working hard to change the existing structures in a more Christian direction.  Paul, for example, has to start with his audience where they are, and then persuade them to change. And you can see this process at work in Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians.  For example, though the language of headship and submission is certainly used in these texts the trajectory of the argument is intended to: 1) place more and more strictures on the head of the household to limit his power and the way he relates to his wife, his children and his slaves; 2) make the head of the household aware that women, children and slaves are in fact persons created in God’s image, not chattel or property.  This becomes especially clear in Philemon when Paul urges Philemon to manumit Onesimus on the basis of the fact that he is “no longer a slave, but rather a brother in Christ”. Paul is working to place the leaven of the Gospel into pre-existing relationships and change them.  Similarly with the roles of husbands and wives, in Ephes. 5.21ff. Paul calls all Christians to mutual submission to each other, one form of which is wives to husbands, and then the exhortation ‘husbands love your wives as Christ did the church, giving himself….’ can be seen for what it is— a form of self-sacrificial submission and service.   Submission is no longer gender specific or unilateral as Paul offers third order moral discourse here, working for change (see my commentary on Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon– Eerdmans).  Furthermore, we need to keep steadily in mind that what determines or should determine the leadership structures in the church is not gender but rather gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.  The family of faith is not idenitical with the physical family, and gender is no determinant of roles in it.  Gender of course does affect some roles in the Christian family, but that is irrelevant when it comes to the discussion of the leadership structure of the church.  This is why we should not be surprised to find even in Paul’s letters examples of women teachers, evangelist, prophetesses, deacons, and apostles. Paul is not one who is interested in baptizing the existing fallen patriarchal order and calling it good.  One of the tell tale signs of Paul’s views on such matters can be seen in what he says about baptism— it is not a gender specific sign that we have for the new covenant unlike the one for the old covenant, and Paul adds that in Christ there is no ‘male and female’ just as there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free.  The implications of this are enormous. The change in the covenant sign signals the change in the nature of the covenant when it comes to men and women.

3)  Women can’t be Christian ministers because specific passages in the NT prohibit it.  Here, especially for very conservative Protestants is the nub of the matter. It is believed that 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 and 1 Tim. 2.8-15 prohibit women from teaching and preaching in the church. I will not bring up the hypocrisy of some of these arguments that make nice distinctions like— “its o.k. for women to teach or lead a Bible study in the home, but not in the church building.’ (this word just in– there were no church buildings in the NT era, they met in homes!), or even worse ‘its o.k. for women to teach and preach on the mission field where it’s necessary, but not here in America where it isn’t.’  Again the logic here is completely bogus and not based on anything in Scripture at all.   But what about those texts?

1 Cor. 14.33b-36 (assuming that it is an original part of this letter, which many scholars doubt on textual grounds. I disagree with the doubters) is part of a large problem solving letter.  Paul is correcting problems as they arise in the house churches in Corinth.  One such problem is caused by some women, apparently just some wives, who are interrupting the time of prophesying by asking questions.  Now Paul has already said in 1 Cor. 11 that women are a
llowed to pray and prophesy in Christian worship if they wear headcoverings to hide their ‘glory’ (i.e. hair), since only God’s glory should be visible in worship, and he is not reneging on that permission in 1 Cor. 14.33b-36.  The largely Gentile congregation in Corinth brought with them into the church their pre-existing assumptions about prophecy and what was appropriate when approaching a prophet or prophetess. The oracle at nearby Delphi for example was a consultative prophetess. People would go to her to ask questions like— Should I marry this man, or Should I buy this land etc.  and the oracle would give an answer.  Thus it was natural for some Corinthians to think that when prophets spoke in their assemblies, they had a right to ask them questions.   Paul’s response is no— “worship time is not Q+A time, and you are interrupting the prophets. If you have questions asks your man (probably husband) at home. There is a time and place for such questions, but Christian worship isn’t it.  The reason Paul corrects women/wives in this case is not because they are women but because they are in this instance causing this problem, of course.  A couple of other points about this text need to be noted: 1)  the text says nothing about women submitting to men.  The call here is for these women to be silent and in submission as even the Law says.  O.K. where in the OT is there a commandment for women to be silent and submit to men?  Answer NOWHERE.  Its not in the Pentateuch at all, or for that matter elsewhere. What Paul is talking about is being silent in the presence of God and listening to his inspired words, in this case coming from the prophets and prophetesses!  “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence (and listen)’… and be in submission to God’s teaching.

What about 1 Tim. 2.8-15?  This is sometimes, wrongly, seen as the ultimate proof that women should not be ministers. But again this ignores the context and nuances of the text, which of course is the major problem with proof-texting anyway.  Paul here is giving Timothy some instructions about how to handle his fledgling new converts probably in Ephesus (see my commentary on the Pastoral Epistles– Letters and Homilies for Gentile Christians Vol. One IVP). Now the problem as it surfaces in 1 Tim. 2.8-15 clearly has to do with particular women,  high status women who have fancy clothes and hairstyles and are expecting right off the bat to be teachers of one and all in the church.  The proof that this is once more a corrective passage, dealing with problems is seen from the outset— First Paul corrects grumbling men whom he wants to pray, then he corrects these high status women.  Paul is an equal opportunity corrector of men and women when they are in error. In regard to his correction of women, something needs to be said about high status women in cities like Ephesus. What we know about such women is that they played vital roles in the Greco-Roman religious festivals, temples, worship services. They were priestesses, they were prophetesses, they were teachers, healers, keepers of the eternal flame, etc.  It is then not surprising that such high status women would expect to be able, once they converted to Christ, to do the same sorts of things in the church.  The problem was,  they needed to be properly instructed and learn before they began to instruct others, whether male or female. This is a good principle for all of us to follow.   I once had a student who was getting frustrated in a seminary class because of all that he was required to learn, much of which he thought was unnnecessary, and he came up to me and said— “I don’t know why I need to learn all this stuff first. Why I can just get up in the pulpit and the Spirit will give me utterance.”  I replied– “Yes Charlie, you can do that, but its a pity you aren’t giving the Holy Spirit more to work with!”   In essence, Paul is saying the same thing to these women in Ephesus— they need to learn before they teach.

Here are some details about the exegesis of 1 Tim. 2.8-15. Once again nothing is said about women submitting to men here. The Greek is clear enough. Here the word for ‘quietness’ is used rather than the word for silence, and once again the issue is their being in submission to the authoritative teaching of Timothy and others.  Secondly the Greek verb “I am not now permitting” as Phil Payne has shown over and over again, is not a verb that implies an infinite extension of this refusal to permit.  It means what it says “I am not presently permitting…” Why not? Because the women needed to learn before they taught.   Thirdly,  the Greek, since we are dealing with a text where a correction of behavior is being offered should be translated as follows “I am not currently permitting women (in this case the women referred to with the hairdos and bling and expensive attire) to teach or usurp authority over the (authorized) men.  This is a prohibition of an abuse of a privilege, It does not rule out the possibility of a later authorization of a proper use of the privilege of offering Christian teaching, indeed we hear elsewhere in the Pastorals about more mature Christian women doing some teaching.   The verb authenteo  here is a rare one, meaning either to exercise authority, or to usurp authority, and it occurs on here in the NT.  Here is a good example of why you can’t study the language of the Bible in isolation from its larger context, in this case the context of usage elsewhere in Greek.  Elsewhere, in a corrective context the verb refers to an abuse of power, a usurping of some role or function that others have. It does here as well.

Finally, what about the argument from creation, from the story of Eve? Paul is assuming some in his audience know the story very well.  The story is as follows in the Hebrew— only Adam is instructed about the prohibition in regard to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and it was his duty to properly instruct Eve, as she was not around when that prohibition was given.  As the story develops, it is clear enough that Eve had not been properly instructed. She talks about not touching the fruit of the tree, which was not part of the original prohibition.  Now the very ‘deceived’ here is an important one, only used in Paul in connection with Eve and the Fall.  A person who is not properly instructed, is easily deceived, and may take action that is disastrous.  Such was the case with Eve. She is the perfect example to give to the high status women in Ephesus– they needed to properly be instructed before they took any action.  I would remind you as well that on a literal reading of the Genesis story, Adam was right there with Eve on this occasion and could have and should have stopped her, but he did not do so.  Eve plucked the fruit, and Adam dropped the ball as the authoritative teacher for the occasion. This is no doubt why it is Adam who is blamed for the Fall in Rom. 5.12-21.   Paul then goes on to offer an alternative— “but now women shall be saved by the child-bearing” or possibly it reads “women shall be kept safe through the child-bearing”. What Paul is certainly not doing here is talking about salvation for women by baby-making!!  So either of the two renderings I suggested are possible.  I tend to favor the interpretation that the definite article before childbearing points to a specific birth— Jesus’ by means of Mary.  So Mary is Eve in reverse.  She obeys the voice of the angel, is the handmaiden of the Lord, unlike Eve.  The other possibility is that Paul is saying that the curse on women (pain and danger in child-bearing) can be reversed in Christ if they remain faithful Christians and trust the Lord.   In either case, this text is not a prohibition of all women in all times in all situations preaching and teaching.  It is a very specific prohibition, and doubtless Pa
ul would say the same thing to women  or men today who try to teach or preach the Word of God without properly learning it first!!   One more thing about the Genesis story. The author tells us that the effects of the Fall is patriarchy. It was not God original creation order design.  The text tells us that part of the original curse (not the original blessing) on Eve will be “your desire will be for your husband, and he will lord it over you!!”  So to love and to cherish degenerates into  to desire and dominate!!!  This is the effect of sin on the relationship, not inherent gender properties or qualities of the relationship.

As I have learned over many years…. the problem in the church is not strong and gifted women.  We need all those we can get, and were it not for them, many churches would have closed long ago. I remember so vividly meeting the babooshkas– the grandmothers in the Moscow Baptist Church, who had stopped Stalin from closing the church by standing in the door and not letting his troops enter and close it down.  Thank God for strong, gifted women in the church.   No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in  the church.

If you want more along these lines, see my commentaries or my lay person’s summary  Women and the Genesis of Christianity,  (Cambridge Press).   Enough said.    



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Jay

posted October 25, 2009 at 5:54 am


If I must choose between 1 Corinthians 14: 33b-36 being an interpolation and the interpretation you present in this blog entry, I will choose the third option. Unfortunately I don’t know for certain what that option is yet. In meantime, I am willing to withhold a conclusion, but that conclusion does not entertain for a moment that women should be barred from speaking or ministering in the Church. The interpretation you give assumes that women are the particular problem. Would it not be reasonable to assume that there would be just as well a number of male members of the Corinthian church that were unknowledgeable, even illiterate slaves? Surely there were other women residing in Corinth of the stature like that of Priscilla. What about the women who had no “man” of their own? Are they suppose to ask Prisicilla during the tea time after the meeting? I am on the same side with you on this whole discussion and appreciate your opinion. I just am not sure about the interpretation of this Corinthian passage.



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Mark Stevens

posted October 25, 2009 at 6:01 am


Thank you for this Ben. I think I will put this article away and show it to my daughter when she is older!
I think the biggest problem with those who hold to the view that women have no place in the pulpit etc, is the lack of willingness and shear arrogance. How do you handle such blatant unwillingness to even discuss the issue? Furthermore, I would love to hear what you have to say about complementarianism v egalitarianism in relation to marriage etc.
Thanks,
Mark Stevens



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Your Name

posted October 25, 2009 at 7:47 am


Ben just to let you know, this is the 3rd psot that got deleted becuase the code topost is next to impossible to read and thann the whole commentn is nlost. I will keep trying to let you know that many commentors do not re-write 3-5 times on a blog, they usually just walk away good post, this is my 3rd shot st commenting



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Irish Paul

posted October 25, 2009 at 10:14 am


Sorry Mark, but I find your comments a little troubling.
I’m not sure that you understand that for many of us complemetarians, lack of willingness and supposed “shear arrogance” are not the biggest problem; the biggest problem is our love of God’s Word and how we interpret it. If anything, I have found that there are some egalitarians who are unwilling and arrogant to accept that our case is grounded theologically and that we are not all brow beating our women into submission due to some twisted partriarchy.
I do not think that there is much to gained by “discussing” the issue anymore. I think that the arguments have been argued and the lines are pretty much settled. Perhaps we should move beyond these lines by accepting that there are divergent views held amongst godly believers and allow one to have the liberty of conscience and an individual church/denomination to organize along these lines. I have witnessed this “dead horse” being flogged so much that it keeps coming to life.
Whilst I respect Dr. Witherington much, I cannot agree with him on this point and with all conscience become an egalitarian. So, I would appreciate not being accused of unwillingness and arrogance because it is untrue and hurtful. One must always be careful that the accusations one makes do not reflect the actual reality of the accuser.
Yours respectfully in our Lord.
Irish Paul



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ScottL

posted October 25, 2009 at 11:37 am


Thanks for the article, Ben. Great stuff!!



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Ben Witherington

posted October 25, 2009 at 11:47 am


Hi Irish Paul:
I think your suggestion is wise, as the problem seems intractable, but I do think we can discuss the matter with respect. I don’t think you can find modern secular egalitarianism in the NT. The equality we find in the Bible is that we are all equally created in the image of God and so of sacred worth, and those who are in Christ are all equally being renewed in Christ, and thus as Gal. 3.28, our ethnic, social, and sexual differences, which are real and not to be ignored are nonetheless not the basis for relating in Christ, or for deciding who does what in the body of Christ. Having said this it seems clear to me that in the physical family what Paul is talking about is closer to a complimentarian view of male and female roles. The problem comes when one assumes that the same is true in the family of faith.
And Jay, Paul has already been correcting various men, in this very passage, so the fact that there is a specific problem he is correcting involving married women should not surprise us. The NT is not just a bunch of general principles such that one size fits all. To the contrary the Word of God is a Word on target and deals with both general and specific issues. The general principle in 1 Cor. 14 is there should be order in all the churches, not chaos. The specifics of what and who is disorderly in a given situation may vary.
BW3



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Holly

posted October 25, 2009 at 12:19 pm


Rats. Since I have eight children I was hoping, indeed, that women were directly saved through childbearing. I was banking my eternal status on just such a thing. (Tongue planted in cheek, of course.)
I just finished reading Scot McKnight’s book, “The Blue Parakeet.” He speaks of the “women saved through childbearing” phrase, and suggests that it might be referring to a thought process that was beginning to gain popularity among the young women of that day. That thought was that mothering and child-bearing was somehow “not a worthy occupation,” and that it should even be eschewed. This wasn’t for noble reasons such as missionary work nor necessarily because of persecution – but more that they couldn’t possibly be bothered with a houseful of diapers to change and noses to wipe. It’s hard to wear “bling” when you are responsible for a gang of little people. (Ask me how I know this…) In other words, it could have simply been a reaffirmation of the worth of mothering. I’d like to put in a plug for evangelicals giving the same reminder here. As we lay out the full authority and right of women to minister in complete capacity (a concept I fully support,) I think it would be good for us to also say, “And mothering is a wonderful and valid way to spend your life too. God can use women anywhere, in any way.
Great post, Dr. W.



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Holly

posted October 25, 2009 at 12:33 pm


I will add, however, as pertains to the above commentors, that I have seen SOOOO much damage due to complementarian relationships. Within the conservative community (particularly the homeschooling community, which is large and growing and has a decent amount of influence,) patriarchy has disenfranchised a huge number of women from realizing their full potential in Christ and within the New Covenant. In this circle, complementarianism is construed to mean women stay at home, always, and that for a woman to ever work outside of her home is the same thing as adultery. They reason that the woman is giving the authority that is rightfully her husband’s over to another man. Girls are not released to go to college. Young people do not choose who they marry – that authority is given to the father. Some women do not vote, some do not learn to drive cars – as that would give them independence that would lead them away from the security of the home.
So, while complementarianism sounds good – it sounds Biblical – it is like so many other words these days that can have several meanings. I think that a lot of Christian couples do not want to be described by that term, because it now has a loaded meaning.
Egalitarian sounds so…harsh, too, so easy to equate with a godless model.
I notice that some are calling the balance of mutual love and service within a marriage by a new term – “mutuality.”



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Outsider

posted October 25, 2009 at 12:59 pm


Irish Paul–
This issue can’t be set aside so long as there are women called by the Lord to serve as ministers who are turned aside.
I’m sorry you’re hurt by what Mark said, and I would agree that one can, without a tincture of arrogance,.disagree with Professor Witherington’s exegesis. But I would also judge that your hurt is not as considerable as is the hurt of the women eminently qualified to serve but shunted aside, or even that of those who love those women and sympathize with their sense of frustration. I imagine that Paul would have felt the same towards Phoebe had she been shunted aside from her diaconate.
Outsider



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Holly

posted October 25, 2009 at 1:31 pm


I know that I should not post quite so often, but as I am making lunch for my family here on this beautiful Sunday, I keep coming up with thoughts. In this case, it is a question.
What exactly are those “family” gender roles? I can only think of one, and that is childbearing and the direct nurturance of a child. Are there any other “universals” which are for all times and all peoples? I really am interested in hearing other thoughts.



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Ben Witherington

posted October 25, 2009 at 1:59 pm


Holly the two you mention are the obvious ones, but there is also the issue of a mother’s responsibility to educate her daughter as to how to be a Christian woman, emphasis on both the adjective and noun. There are mother daughter talks about things specifically female that the husband is not really equipped to do or be empathetic about.
BW3



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Holly

posted October 25, 2009 at 2:34 pm


Well, hmm. Okay. Thanks. I see that. :) In other words, not only childbirth and nursing the baby, but the training of the next generation and the continuance of the faith. A mighty big job – and one that has a corollary within a father’s responsibility to his son.



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Neil Parille

posted October 25, 2009 at 3:24 pm


Ben,
What about the argument that the apostles were men?
-Neil Parille



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Ben Witherington

posted October 25, 2009 at 4:00 pm


First of all, not all the apostles were men. See Romans 16 which refers to a husband and wife tandem who are notable amongst the apostles. Secondly, if you are referring to the 12, they are the one’s set apart to judge the 12 tribes of Israel. They have a specific role in relationship to the patriarchal religion, in short the OT religion.
BW3



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Mark Stevens

posted October 25, 2009 at 5:47 pm


Irish paul, My apologies – I did not mean to tie the two together – The arrogant I refer to are not the same as the compl/egag debate. Sorry.



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Mark Stevens

posted October 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm


And to say “all” was also unfair – I should have chosen my words more carefully. I actually refer to a select few but perhaps the loudest of the voices. I would never suggest that comps ever brow beat their wife!
Ben, when you say, “I don’t think you can find modern secular egalitarianism” I believe that is true, however, to what extent then should those who hold to today’s cultural norm rethink their position? Or, do we live within our culture and therefore the argument becomes one of preference?



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Dan

posted October 25, 2009 at 7:12 pm


Thanks for the summary view of your position Ben. I was very interested to read your view.
In relation to previous comments, I do believe this issue is a matter of interpretation. Unfortunately so much historical context is not very convincing to me, because I do not understand how people can assume what is not there.
Therefore I hold to the fact that women have a vital role in ministry (both paid and unpaid). They are great ministers of the gospel, but there is still order in the church. I do not take male headship lightly or arrogantly. This is one of the major issues within the letters to the Corinthians and Timothy. Order is necessary for gospel ministry in the Church. So I take the Corinthian and Timothy passages above to be about order not behaviour. I respect a woman’s right to preach the gospel, but not in a mixed congregation. I respect a woman’s right to be involved in ministry to woman, children, and youth. There is a great ministry opportunity for woman in today’s church. Let women be ministers within church but also allow the word of God to dictate the roles of both men and women in Church.
Sorry for the length of this comment. But we also need to consider the position of authority of the preacher in comparison to the prophet. I think this holds a great deal of information that is regularly over looked.



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Ben Witherington

posted October 25, 2009 at 8:09 pm


Hi Dan:
We are certainly not ignorant at all about the historical context of women and men prophesying in Corinth. Nor are we ignorant about women and their roles in Greco-Roman religions in Ephesus. So we are hardly talking about an argument from silence. A good example of an argument from silence would be talking about a preacher’s authority– a subject nowhere addressed in the NT. You have to make certain assumptions about elders or prophets or apostles to do so, and in fact we have very clear evidence of women teaching men– (see Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos in Acts 18), and women being apostles, prophetesses, deacons, and in the case of Phoebe– leaders (prostatis). The Word of God says nothing about whether either men or women can be preachers in the church, because in fact there is no category ‘preacher’ in the NT, unless you mean evangelist, but that refers to someone reaching out to the lost. This is not a matter of the authority of the Bible, but as you suggest a matter of interpretation. The great problem with interpreting the Bible while ignoring its historical context is that a text without a context just becomes a pretext for what we want it to mean. See my commentary Conflict and Community in Corinth on all of this.
Blessings
BW3



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Leo

posted October 25, 2009 at 8:12 pm


Dan, up until VERY recently, i held a view similar to that, but “hard case” situations have convinced me to re-think the situation. if that is in fact the case, what disciplinary measures ought to be taken against the women in congregations where there are no men who have as powerful and effective preaching gifts as the women who teach? in such a situation (and i could give you real world examples) to remove the woman from the preaching position and replace it with a man simply for the sake of having a man instead of a woman would impoversh the entire congregation.
Is God the type of person who would impose a type of order which would end up impoverishing a church? to ask it a different way, is order more important to God than enrichment and encouragement?
under your position, the church i have described is in sin, and the woman preaching is in sin by doing everything she can to encourage and support her congregation. the righteous thing to do would be something that would not only impoverish a community, but dishonor the woman preaching and demand that she and the church face discipline. that flies in the face of everything i know about the nature of sin, and the personality of God.
are there exceptions where it is the “lesser sin?”



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mat

posted October 25, 2009 at 8:16 pm


Great article Dr Ben, that’s a keeper. I grew up believing that only men were allowed to be ministers/priests, but after reading Glenn Miller’s article I feel that I have been wrong (and now your article adds more credit to that view). My biggest hurdle (or trump card) had always been 1Tim2:12. Miller’s (as per Kroeger)translation of authenteo makes the verse “I do not allow a women to teach nor to proclaim herself author of man,”. I am still searching for the best/proper meaning, and so far (my Greek is really rusty) my kin keep telling me that ‘originator’ seems better but that’s based more on modern Greek. If it is so, that would better explain the verses following as a correction of the teaching that women were created first.
Miller also thinks that 1Cor14:36-38 is actually a rebuke of the 1Cor14:34-35 position (which is supposedly the faulty position of some in the Corinth church). As verse 36 starts with “What?”/n.
Miller also lists a noteworthy argument against his own view at cbmw.org which has some good articles too, for a comparison.
Even though I believe women can be in ministry, I always feel alittle uncomfortable with it in practice as priests (pastors/ministers don’t bother me as much), but that’s due to my own bias based on my cultural upbringing… and I am trying to fix that.



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Ray Dymun

posted October 25, 2009 at 10:59 pm


Thanks Ben, women as pastors and leaders in the church is an issue that I have promoted even in fellowships that did not agree with me. I have used some of the points you have shared,and now have a some more. If I may, I would like to add the caveat that fellow promoters of this view should not advance the issue to the point of chaos in the local body, as that would foster the confusion that was evident when Paul addressed these matters two millenia ago. Matters of interpretation, while troublesonme, allow the body to have all its parts,each performing the function God designed for it. If the teeth bite the tongue, the we all suffer.



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Erik

posted October 25, 2009 at 11:59 pm


If I remember correctly there is no evidence for there being female priests. Also I’ve read many old writings from church leaders who wrote on it long before the bible was compiled. Ah here I found them after all:
“It is not permissible for a woman to speak in church, nor may she teach, baptize, offer, or claim for herself any function proper to a man, and least of all the office of priest.” -Tertullian (who I think came up with the trinity)
“Divine law has excluded women from the sanctuary, but they try to thrust themselves into it.” John Chrysostom in On the Priesthood
Origen on commentary for 1 Cor 14:34 has an argument againsts female priests.
“If women were ordained to be priests for God or to do anything canonical in the church, it should rather have been given to Mary… She was not even entrusted with baptizing… Although there is an order of deaconesses in the church, yet they are not appointed to function as priests, or for any administration of this kind…”
-Epiphanius of Salamis in his Against Heresies
Is it possible female priests were not argued against in the bible by the authors because it was to be preached in the early churches?



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Wayne P

posted October 26, 2009 at 12:23 am


The argument about the apostles being all male is specious. Yes – they were men, but there also had to be 12 of them (see Acts 1 about the needed replacement of Judas) and they all had to be Jewish – all elements related to their symbolic role as leaders of the “New Israel” – the church. In addition, their role as shown in the book of Acts isn’t the big decision-making body this argument seems to assume.
In Eph. 2:20, however, Paul speaks of the church being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The New Testament is clear on this – there were women prophets (phophetesses) in the early church!
On the subject of apostles – has the evidence of John 20 ever been considered? The risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene and gives her a message to give to “his brothers,” i.e. the disciples (vs. 18) – men and women (brothers & disciples understood generically), including the apostles. The interesting fact here, of course, is that Peter and “the beloved disciple” (usually believed to be John) have just left the site of the empty tomb! Jesus waits until they leave and then appears to Mary! And then He gives her a message to give to the men who just left! (According to Piper and Grudem, is Jesus even allowed to do this? If their understanding of “biblical manhood” is correct, why didn’t Jesus give Peter and John the message while they were still there rather than have them hear it from a woman? And where is the “male authority” that Mary is supposed to be under?) Indeed, while all four gospels agree that women were the first eye-witnesses to the resurrected Lord, John makes it clear that this was deliberate and intentional on the part of Jesus.
There is a message here to women – about the Lord’s willingness to empower and commission them as His witnesses and messengers. This passage could even be seen as prototypical of how the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of the risen Lord) calls, gifts, and sends women as his messengers to others – both men and women – today.
But there is also a message for men: Are we willing to make the necessary adjustments in our thinking to be willing to receive such messengers?



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Cheryl Schatz

posted October 26, 2009 at 5:33 am


There are other very worthwhile arguments for women in ministry from the hard texts on women (my own web site http://www.strivetoenter.com/wim is filled with the arguments that are on my DVD on this subject) but the logical arguments such as Ben’s about the trajectory going from freedom to more freedom rather then freedom to less freedom is very helpful too.
Yet those who hold tightly to the complementarian view because of the hard passages on women are unlikely to reject that view merely from logical arguments. They need to know what the hard passages mean and what they don’t mean.
Did Paul create a brand new law that forbids women to teach men? There was no such law in the Old Testament so either Paul created a new law or we have misunderstood Paul’s prohibition to be universal when it is a specific situation at Ephesus. There are so many problems if it is a brand new law.
No other law was spoken in the words of a man rather than God “I am not permitting…”
No other law is without a second witness to establish it. 1 Timothy 2:12 is never repeated or explained nor does any other apostle confirm a universal application.
Universal laws are given for universal application. If God wanted to give a brand new law through Paul, why would He have Paul write it in a personal letter written to only one person rather than a letter written to an entire church? Why would women from creation until Paul have freedom to teach without sanction by God and then suddenly it becomes a sin for women to teach men without a word of explanation by God as to why women had freedom before Paul? How come this one law is one that satan loves? He loves it when part of the body of Christ is stopped from using their God-given gifts for the benefit of others. Satan’s purpose is to silence all of us so he is especially pleased with a “law” that silences some.
There are more problems with the view that Paul created a brand new law that forces women to be prejudiced against their brothers in Christ and to refuse to teach them. Those who believe that women are restricted by the hard passages should be willing to answers these problems.



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Your Name

posted October 26, 2009 at 10:44 am


Although I am a fence sitter on this issue, still learning and thinking, it seems rather obvious that in the OT only men were priests in the Temple, and by order of God in the Torah, hence why would there need to be a rule or law about women teaching Scripture or having religious roles?
I do like the argument posted above about the book of John and the message given to the women.
I don’t fully get how BWIII gets around the Genesis thing, so I guess I’ll have to buy or borrow his commentary.
Lastly, I found it interesting and useful to see how BWIII developed his argument without relying on the whole “headship” issue (i.e., it’s only relevant in relation to the specific problem). In terms of exegesis the complementarians have by far the better argument on that (i.e., it does mean headship, not source), and so the only way around that argument is to look at the scriptural and cultural context and determine the scope and limitations of that argument.
regards
#John1453



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Jay

posted October 26, 2009 at 11:07 am


Thanks for your response Ben. However, I am not sure exactly where Paul is correcting men in this particular passage unless you are understanding αδελφοι to refer to only men.



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Ben Witherington

posted October 26, 2009 at 11:37 am


1 Cor. 14 is the completion of a long section on worship beginning in 1 Cor. 11. You will find plenty of correction of men along the way and in 1 Cor. 14 some of the prophets are men, like Paul.
As for the headship argument, unless you are willing to go the Grudem way and say that Christ is ontologically subordinate to the Father because God is the head of Christ, a fact which in no way limits Christ’s roles by the way, then headship can’t have anything to do with ontology or gender or maleness or male authority over women. God is spirit, not the giant male in the sky and God’s headship over Christ has nothing to do with ontology or maleness, it has to do with the Father being the source of the Son (hence only begotten of the Father) just as Adam is the source of Eve, but ever since then men find their source in women (see 1 Cor. 11.11).
It has been argued about 1 Cor. 11 that it should be translated Christ is the head of husbands, and husbands of their wives, which is possible though I am not fully convinced. What is more important in that the conclusion of argument is not about the creation order, whatever one makes of Genesis 2, but the ‘nevertheless’ and what follows it in 1 Cor. 11.11ff. The order of redemption is not simply the creation order reaffirmed.



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Kevin Crooks

posted October 26, 2009 at 11:58 am


Doc,
Thanks so much for this post. Though I already was completely convinced of women’s role in ministry your arguments provide me with that much more ammunition. Your progression from freedom to more freedom, not less, is especially powerful. On a personal note, my wife and I are both DOC pastors. Even in our denomination, as in yours, there still exists very strong prejudice against women ministers. My wife’s road to ordination was much more difficult than mine, simply because she is a woman. She astoundingly gifted for ministry, much more so than I.
So – I am making sure she reads your post today.
Peace
Kevin Crooks



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Josh

posted October 26, 2009 at 6:38 pm


It’s too bad no one was able to properly interpret Paul for the first 1,800 years of Christian history. If we are to believe your arguments Dr. Witherington, 20th-century American theologians have a better understanding of the context of early Greek Christians than did fathers of the church like Chrysostom.
My biggest problem with some of your arguments are their striking similarity to the arguments used by folks like Mel White to advocate for full acceptance of homosexual relationships in the church. Once we unmoor from the historical understanding of a passage and start to dismiss the plain sense of the text as merely cultural artifacts meaningful only for a specific time and place, we’ve taken the first step down a very slippery slope.



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Kevin Jackson

posted October 26, 2009 at 7:10 pm


Josh,
You could say the exact same thing about slavery. In fact C.S. Cowles notes that a common argument among the pro-slavery crowd was that Abolitionism was ant-Christian.



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Ben Witherington

posted October 26, 2009 at 7:21 pm


Hi Josh:
Chrysostom, it should be noted certainly said there are no women priests, but then he turned around and said that Mary Magdalene was an apostle to the apostles proclaiming the Easter message on Easter. You really need to read more Chrysostom. And for the record, the church fathers were by no means univocal about prohibiting women from ministry. This is simply false.
But what disturbs me most about your post is the implication that ‘the plain meaning of the text’ is obvious without bothering to study the text in its original contexts. What I am saying is that what we need is indeed the original meaning of the text. I am certainly not suggesting we shouldn’t stick with the mandates of Scripture. What I am saying is the mandates of Scripture were clear enough when it came to women in the first and second centuries, and it went downhill after we abandoned the eschatology of the early church and its openness to changing the patriarchal culture. And the coup de grace came when Constantine authorized the church to be a legal religion “just like all the other temple/priest/and sacrifice” religions in the Empire.
What I am saying Josh is that my interpretations IS the likely historical meaning of the text, which explains perfectly well why Paul had female co-workers, fellow female teachers, apostles, deacons etc. in his churches. Unlike Mel White, I have no interest in leaving the ethics and praxis of the Bible behind. Too the contrary what I want to do is leave the fallen patriarchal culture and its worldview behind. So should you.
Blessings
BW3



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Dan

posted October 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm


Thanks Ben,
I do still wonder though if the context of the passage is stronger than our assumptions on the cultural context? For instance i find it extremely difficult to disconnect the fact that Paul gives a corrective instruction to women as you have addressed in 1 Tim 2. Then he gives recommendations and requirements for deacons and overseers. Would you hold the understanding that Paul is regarding these positions to be held by men?
Concerning preaching it seems that the position of authority in teaching/preaching in public is greater and far more dangerous than we give it credit for. I do understand that there are certain circumstances where there is inadequate male leadership to take the strain (as mentioned by Leo). But if there is a man who can teach and preach in the public view i think this is a necessary instruction to that situation, or are we trying to discredit the word of God? (having asked this i am still trying to get my head around the different views concerning this verse and also others that concern women in ministry)
Ben i am happy to hear further comments as i still havent formed a solid view in all of this.



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Ben Witherington

posted October 26, 2009 at 10:19 pm


Hi Dan:
First of all, the Pastorals refer to both male and female deacons. The translations ‘wives of the deacons doesn’t work. Secondly, a prostatis is an overseer and Phoebe is called this in Rom. 16. The word does not mean ‘helper’. As far as the missionary practice is concerned, it is hardly a surprise that Paul would urge Timothy to look first for men to be overseers or elders in a new missionary situation. If you want to begin a new religion you have to start with people where their social situations are, and then work for change. Crete, for example was a hugely patriarchal society. Furthermore, in a place like that there would be few educated women that one could convert and draw on. Philippi by contrast was a different social setting. Notice how there Paul has no problems with approaching a woman like the Lydian who is the head of her own household and begins to host a house church.
Just some thoughts to consider.
Blessings,
Ben



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David

posted October 26, 2009 at 10:49 pm


Most of us are so steeped in traditional teaching that is difficult to lay aside our blinders and admit to the general theme of scripture–that God extends his grace to all humanity. Therefore, it isn’t reasonable to think that God would prohibit women from the pulpit, unless God prohibits reason itself. Paul, like all the writers of the bible, must be understood within the context of his time and culture.



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Erik

posted October 26, 2009 at 10:59 pm


Is there any evidence out of the bible that has women priests? Also I would like to know which fathers said it was ok to have women priests, bishops or whatever. It seems to me, from what I’ve read, the top church fathers from Ireneaus to Agustine all condemed it. For example, Chrysostom condemed it twice! Many of the christian authorities before Constantine have actually supported many of the things you don’t such as opposing women priests. I would like the know where to get your interpretation to contrast it with the earliest church authorities since I’m seeing a big difference.



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Your Name

posted October 27, 2009 at 12:04 am


One thing that I love about reading N.T. Wright’s fresh perspective is that he usually does not encounter passages that he just throws away or explains away. In his dismantling of traditional Protestant views, he reveals how odd some of Paul’s statements must be if the traditional Protestant view is correct…they leave you asking, “where did that come from?” The question I ask is, “if I came to the understanding that this interpretation reflects, would I possibly say what Paul said?…really?… From what I see from your view (though N.T. Wright seems to hold a similar view), it does not pass this test…it seems like you’re forcing a square peg through a round hole…I think those who question Paul’s inerrancy have a stronger argument…no offense intended…but for now I tentatively hold the view you oppose…you’re strongest argument I think is really from the big picture of “new creation” where “neither male nor female” matters…but in our current manifestation of this “newness” could it be that there is a counter-cultural beauty to be found?…and “neither male nor female”–could it be that this is limited to the more direct context of the status of those justified in Christ–no longer just the men with the badge (i.e. circumcision vs faith)?



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Steve M

posted October 27, 2009 at 4:54 am


Ben,
Thanks for this blog; I appreciate it(and you) because it prods me to wrestle with the text.
I want to broach the subject of hermeneutical method. It would seem to be dangerous to point out instances of NT women in leadership (Phoebe, Lydia, etc.) as prescriptive. Precedents do not necessarily constitute guiding principles. I think of the vast amount of biblical material that is simply reliable historical narrative, meaningful because it gives a record about how people of faith (or, in some cases, faithlessness!) faced challenges, applied their faith and appropriated God’s grace. However, just because women operated, at times, in particular leadership roles can hardly be construed as the ethos and/or teaching/general (preferred) practice of the church. It would seem to me to be of little consequence that women were found in such roles; the real issue is the model, not the exceptions.
In legal practice, precedents are vital. It would seem clear that in hermeneutics, not all precedents constitute norms. For example, for that reason, I can benefit hugely from the book of Acts as I consider methodology in cross-cultural ministry, but I do not have to consider it a rule book/playbook from which I cannot stray. If it were clearly given as a rule book/playbook, that would be different. But there is no reason to force the text into disservice by making it the missiological rule book. Obviously, there is a vast amount of theologically normative content in Acts, but every historical record or instance therein is not necessarily normative.
In like fashion, mentions of Phoebe or Lydia as women (implicitly or explicitly) exercising leadership should absolutely be pointed out, studied and considered, but those mentions should not be construed as models without express warrant — namely, something in the context that indicates authorial intent to prescribe practice.
Thanks again.



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Jay

posted October 27, 2009 at 9:22 am


John Chrysostom on Junia, Romans 16.7 ‘Oh how great is the devotion of this women that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!’ (The Homiles of St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I, 11:555; Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956).



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Ray A.

posted October 27, 2009 at 10:40 am


Hi Steve M,
After emerging from a massively patriarchal religion, how can these examples of women NOT look like exceptions? This is a brand new model of ‘religion’ without respect of gender. (I’m not saying Christianity discredits gender)
Because Paul isn’t vehemently against women like Phoebe, Priscilla and others, and isn’t correcting them or arranging male replacements in their steads, I don’t see Paul treating them as “exceptions”.
Ben,
Thank you for your insights, you’ve definitely brought much clarity to the contexts and I appreciate the humble way you present them.



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ben witherington

posted October 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm


Hi Steve: The hermeneutical rules as applied to ancient texts are not the same things as legal standards of evidence in modernity. What you look for is positive repeated patterns to decide whether the author thinks something descriptive is or ought to be prescriptive, or a negative repeated pattern on the other side of the ledger when reading narrative texts. In the case of women doing various forms of ministry, it meets the requirements of being a positive repeated pattern both in the NT and beyond it (see e.g. the Acts of Paul and Thecla).
Blessings
BW3



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Josh

posted October 27, 2009 at 2:10 pm


Kevin: There was never universal unanimity on the issue of slavery in the early church. In fact, Paul warns Christians not to voluntarily enter slavery (slavery in the Roman empire could actually be a means to social and financial advancement, which is why such a warning was necessary), and writes the letter to Philemon regarding Onesimus. Besides, my point is not that we should blindly follow the fathers on every issue (I’m Protestant after all), but rather that, if we think we’ve found historical context that completely changes the meaning of a particular passage, and no church father anywhere seems to have seem similar context despite being in a far better position to judge an early Greek-speaking world, we might want to take a step back and approach with caution.
Ben: I do believe the context of the time and culture is important. However, I think we can also over-read and over-contextualize ourselves right out of the true meaning of the text, which is what Mel White does when discussing Romans. I wasn’t trying to accuse you of the same wishful interpretation he engages in, just to point out the danger of borrowing “context” until you can justify anything. I simply can’t see any basis in the texts you are discussing for believing that Paul meant to address confusion between protocalls for dealing with idols versus Christian sermons or other peripheral issues. Nor do I think that throwing words like “Patriarchy” around is particularly helpful. It’s needlessly incendiary to folks who have no desire to dominate their wives and are simply trying to follow scripture as are you. Besides, the rest of the very patriarchal world of the ancient near east had no problem with female deities or priestesess, so I question whether patriarchy can legitimately be cited as a reason for the fathers approaching these passages the way they did.
As for the fathers, I’m not foolish enough to believe that I’ve read them as much as a guy with a PhD, but what I have read seems pretty clear. Chrysostom, for example, in dealing with Timothy, essentially says that Paul brought up Adam and Eve to remind us that the last time a woman had an opportunity to “teach” her husband, she caused the fall. You don’t have to agree with his interpretation completely to see that he felt the universal nature of the prohibition was pretty clear. If there are other church fathers who felt differently about women teaching in church, I’d be glad to get your citations and read through them, I simply have not encountered them myself.
Lastly, I think part of the problem here may be that we aren’t clear about the difference between women in ministry and women as pastors. I realize the terminology is a bit anachronistic, but I think you are too quick to call some of these distinctions artificial. For example, Christians may not have had “churches” per say, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a distinction between using your front room for Sunday worship and using it for praying together with one or two believing friends. Likewise, the fact that some roles (prophetess, deaconess) were open to women does not mean that all roles necessarily were.



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Cheryl Schatz

posted October 27, 2009 at 5:35 pm


There are other very worthwhile arguments for women in ministry from the hard texts on women (my own web site http://www.strivetoenter.com/wim is filled with the arguments that are on my DVD on this subject) but the logical arguments such as Ben’s about the trajectory going from freedom to more freedom rather then freedom to less freedom is very helpful too.
Yet those who hold tightly to the complementarian view because of the hard passages on women are unlikely to reject that view merely from logical arguments. They need to know what the hard passages mean and what they don’t mean.
Did Paul create a brand new law that forbids women to teach men? There was no such law in the Old Testament so either Paul created a new law or we have misunderstood Paul’s prohibition to be universal when it is a specific situation at Ephesus. There are so many problems if it is a brand new law.
No other law was spoken in the words of a man rather than God “I am not permitting…”
No other law is without a second witness to establish it. 1 Timothy 2:12 is never repeated or explained nor does any other apostle confirm a universal application.
Universal laws are given for universal application. If God wanted to give a brand new law through Paul, why would He have Paul write it in a personal letter written to only one person rather than a letter written to an entire church? Why would women from creation until Paul have freedom to teach without sanction by God and then suddenly it becomes a sin for women to teach men without a word of explanation by God as to why women had freedom before Paul? How come this one law is one that satan loves? He loves it when part of the body of Christ is stopped from using their God-given gifts for the benefit of others. Satan’s purpose is to silence all of us so he is especially pleased with a “law” that silences some.
There are more problems with the view that Paul created a brand new law that forces women to be prejudiced against their brothers in Christ and to refuse to teach them. Those who believe that women are restricted by the hard passages should be willing to answers these problems.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 27, 2009 at 6:32 pm


A couple of comments seem to argue that the idea of women as ministers is new (that crack “it’s too bad no one was able to properly interpret Paul for the first 1,800 years of Christian history,” for example). Might I submit that this is far from true. The existence of those church fathers who argued so loudly against it, itself, is an indicator that, even in those patriarchal times, there were Christians who thought otherwise.
One of my favorite–if admittedly a bit more recent–examples is “Women’s Speaking Justified” by Margaret Fell in 1666. Fell is often referred to as the “Mother of Quakerism,” and although arguing for women’s right to preach the gospel, really can’t be argued as doing so for modern feminist reasons. There are many places to find this work on the web, as it’s in the Public Domain, but if you don’t want to slog through 17th-century English, might I suggest the Modern English version I created a few years back (which itself has been used in seminary classes to help students with the material)?



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Scripture Zealot

posted October 27, 2009 at 7:23 pm


I’m very perplexed by this:
“The other possibility is that Paul is saying that the curse on women (pain and danger in child-bearing) can be reversed in Christ if they remain faithful Christians and trust the Lord.”
Could this really be the case? If so, is it a matter of degree? I can’t believe it would literally be the case.
Jeff



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Ben Witherington

posted October 27, 2009 at 8:53 pm


Hi Jeff:
It is a possibility, but I think it is unlikely because of the definite article before the word childbearing. This surely refers to a particular and specific childbearing, hence the allusion to Mary and Jesus makes sense.
BW3



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mp

posted October 27, 2009 at 11:13 pm


As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 1 Peter 3:5-7 (Holman Christian Standard Bible) 5 For in the past, the holy women who hoped in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do good and aren’t frightened by anything alarming.7 Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. The principle of submission is seen throughout the old testament. It is the submission that is demonstrated in the law not silence. I’m amazed at how quickly people rush to conclusions–again forcing square pegs through round holes. A woman prophetess or Priscilla helping to instruct a man who is taken aside does little to force one to one conclusion or another. Such examples seem to simply refine one’s view–whichever he or she may take. The first big obstacle that faces BW is simply what to do about the role of submission. How can one possibly read the Old or New Testament without noticing…unless one has pre-determined what he or she wants or will believe…submission is taught for all, but a special role of submission is taught/praised for women…I don’t think BW should base his argument against caricatures of old views…I don’t think he should force a conclusion on the text as if his view is the only other option…I think we are in need of a need of a new construct in which a uniquely female submission is accounted for & the role of women in ministry is still accounted for…in a way that meets the demands of scripture and common sense.



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Your Name

posted October 27, 2009 at 11:21 pm


As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.
1 Peter 3:5-7
5 For in the past, the holy women who hoped in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do good and aren’t frightened by anything alarming.7 Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
The principle of submission is seen throughout the old testament. It is the submission that is demonstrated in the law not silence. I’m amazed at how quickly people rush to conclusions–again forcing square pegs through round holes. A woman prophetess or Priscilla helping to instruct a man who is taken aside does little to force one to one conclusion or another. Such examples seem to simply refine one’s view–whichever he or she may take. The first big obstacle that faces BW is simply what to do about the role of submission. This role is clearly global in nature, not simply a familial pattern. How can one possibly read the Old or New Testament without noticing…unless one has pre-determined what he or she wants or will believe…submission is taught for all, but a special role of submission is taught/praised for women…I don’t think BW should base his argument against caricatures of old views…I don’t think he should force a conclusion on the text as if his view is the only other option…I think we are in need of a new construct in which a uniquely female submission is accounted for & the role of women in ministry is still accounted for…in a way that meets the demands of scripture and common sense.



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Roger

posted October 28, 2009 at 6:14 am


Hi Dr. W.
I’m wondering if you’ve ever perused Glenn Miller’s articles on Women in the Bible (http://christian-thinktank.com/femalex.html)specifically his chapter on Paul and Women (http://christian-thinktank.com/fem09.html) (he agrees with you BTW).
He has some slightly different comments on the whole “silent in church” thing (not in disagreement though)
With 1Cor14:33-34 he suggests that the break in the sentence is incorrect, and that 33b should be part of the same sentence as 33a, and not part of the same sentence as 44, the reason being that “the only other time this kind of argument occurs in Paul is in 1Cor11:16, where it is a CLOSING argument–there too about propriety in worship”
“33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.”
He also suggests that it is likely that in verses 34-35 Paul is quoting his opponents, and that in verses 36-38 he is refuting them
(I haven’t done full justice to his arguments here, but I find them very interesting and compelling)



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Ben Witherington

posted October 28, 2009 at 8:47 am


Hi Roger:
I think Glenn may well be right that 33a goes with what precedes– with the phrase ‘as in all the churches’ qualifying what has already been said. MP you are quite right that silence and submission are called for in the OT– to God. There are zero examples where this combination is predicated of the relationship of women to men.
Blessings
BW3



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Ben Witherington

posted October 28, 2009 at 8:54 am


P.S. I don’t see any examples at all in the OT where a “uniquely female submission to males” is counseled in the OT. My point is not that we do not see descriptive passages where this happens, I am talking about divine mandates or imperatives— where is this commanded by God? Take for example the beautiful and programmatic statement about the godly wife in Proverbs 31. Anything there about submission of the wife to the husband?? Nope. Instead what we do find is “she speaks wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of the household…” In other words, she teaches others (no gender limitation here) and she runs the household, is the de facto authority figure and delegator in her own home. This is a dramatic contrast with what Ben Sira says about women.
BW3



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EricW

posted October 28, 2009 at 10:53 am


Some people seem to see Christ restoring man and woman to where they were just after the Fall – i.e., with the woman’s desire being for her husband, but with him ruling over her, and with the women’s greater propensity to being deceived still intact.
Others seem to see Christ as restoring man and woman to where they were before the Fall in Genesis 2 – with the woman subordinate to the man because the man was created first and the woman was created from him as a helper corresponding to him and for his sake.
Still others seem to see Christ as restoring man and woman to where they were in Genesis 1 – i.e., both created equally in the image and likeness of God (or perhaps “male and female” together being the image and likeness of God), with no sense of one being subordinate to the other.
Still others seem to see Christ as even doing away with the Genesis 1 “male and female” (as Paul may be saying in Galatians 3:28 where he changes the conjunction joining his pairs from ουδε to και when he says “male and female,” thus echoing the LXX language of Genesis 1:27 – unless it’s normal Greek practice to make the last in a string of ουδε’s a και instead), believing that in Christ there is not simply a restoration of the original creation, but a New Creation, One New Man, whose Head is Christ and whose Body is the church in which there is no “male and female,” but all the members, male and female, are also the Bride of Christ.
So when it comes to this topic, I think the questions that need to be asked and answered include: What did Christ accomplish and inaugurate? What did He restore and/or establish? What of His work is to be evident and put in place now, and what must await the eschaton and/or the restoration of all things? I think one’s beliefs and assumptions about these things impact one’s view of women in the church and in ministry.



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MP

posted October 28, 2009 at 10:37 pm


However we may argue the specifics…it appears that the law reflected a difference in the role of men and women, and Paul suggests a difference in his writings as well. You have explained this in light of special circumstances…this simply isn’t a forum for careful exegesis, so I can’t go into detail here…but let me settle on a couple of points…(the last for me—I’ll make a note of your book for further info): (1) Could it be that “as the law also says” is saying that a woman is to behave submissively just as the law demonstrates (not necessarily as the law mandates)? This would especially tie to the fact that the law portrays godly women as particularly displaying a particularly feminine submissiveness & possibly even the fact that women did not assume certain authoritative roles in the law. In addition, I do not think it is clear that the curse was reversed in Jesus in every way—is there any other part of the curse that we have yet escaped?…which brings me to the next point… (2) It seems to me that your interpretations of these passages are done from an a priori conclusion that it would not be right for women to be prohibited to speak/teach in the assembly OR, from another perspective, it must be ok. I would like to agree with you on this, but I personally cannot accept these interpretations as probable, unless I come to share an a priori reason to do so. An example of such a proposed reason is the idea that “In Jesus the curse is reversed.” As mentioned, the actual curses have not been reversed…this would be the one & only curse to my knowledge that is reversed in Jesus at the present time…making this argument weak at best. {This ties to the questions EricW proposed}. Another example of this would be “in the Messiah there is neither male nor female”. However, in context, it seems that this focuses on our equal status as justified heirs of the promise—possibly alluding to the fact that there is no longer the uniquely male badge of circumcision, but there is now a badge of faith for all….making this argument again weak at best.
So…I am at a loss for solid a priori reasons to make your views seem probable…Do you have any other proposals?
One last note on probability: If Paul is really concerned about being delicate concerning women not being seen as taking a distinct role from men, is it really probable that he would write words that mislead many honest men & women as they straightforwardly read the scriptures?
With Great Respect,
MP



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 29, 2009 at 9:36 am


Quick comment, repeating that which has been said elsewhere, but seems necessary in light of the most recent comment.
What was “straightforward” to the readers of Paul’s time may not be to us. Just because it isn’t to us is no reason to assume that Paul wrote word that were misleading at the time.



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mp

posted October 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm


Mark, Point noted…but 2 distinctions: 1) If the inspiration of the scriptures is assumed to be true in a strong sense, this would seem to be a sort of careless-ness of the Spirit–at least improbable considering what was at stake for the future of Christianity. 2) From what I have seen from BW’s argument, Paul’s letter could be easily misunderstood by plenty of others in the 1st century world–he must have planned on the letter staying in Corinth with the people under consideration…which again seems unlikely……simply again pointing to the need for an a priori reason to look for another interpretation instead of what still seems to be the most “straight-forward” translation & interpretation of the text… And, as of yet, I have seen no sufficient reasons…my ears are open…



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TL

posted October 29, 2009 at 5:38 pm


”It’s too bad no one was able to properly interpret Paul for the first 1,800 years of Christian history. If we are to believe your arguments Dr. Witherington, 20th-century American theologians have a better understanding of the context of early Greek Christians than did fathers of the church like Chrysostom.” October 26, 2009 6:38 PM
Josh, this line of thinking loses credibility when we remember that in the early church there were women in leadership and teaching ministries. Many translations have obscured these facts by not properly translating words referring to women teachers and leaders. In addition, religious teachers have taught incorrectly about women and demeaned the incidences in Scripture trying to claim them as exceptions or not really about women teaching, preaching, or leading.
These facts did cause some distress on men of that era who thought women were inferior to men, which we can see by the early church father’s discussions. Thus, there were arguments about women from the get go, and I don’t believe they have ever stopped.



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TL

posted October 29, 2009 at 6:15 pm


”(1) Could it be that “as the law also says” is saying that a woman is to behave submissively just as the law demonstrates (not necessarily as the law mandates)? This would especially tie to the fact that the law portrays godly women as particularly displaying a particularly feminine submissiveness & possibly even the fact that women did not assume certain authoritative roles in the law. In addition, I do not think it is clear that the curse was reversed in Jesus in every way—is there any other part of the curse that we have yet escaped?…which brings me to the next point…”
MP,
Since Scripture clearly says “as the law is saying”, then we must look to find what law is saying these things. It is not the torah, because no such law is in the torah. We do have instances of the oral law where it is said that it is a shame for women to speak, thus that is a likely possibility. There could have also been a local law that for women it was not allowed them to speak in public meetings. My bet is on #2 though, the oral law.
Then we have the question of whether this is something that Paul is saying or something he is quoting. IMO it is far more likely that Paul is quoting the Judaisers who would try to silence women according to their oral mishnas’, rather than Paul. Paul has already praised women in other epistles and he just got finished a few chapters back admonishing women to consider their attire while praying and prophesying (preaching).
As to the curses in Gen. 3, we still have reptiles/snakes that slither on their bellies and the ground is still full of thorns and thistles. Neither men nor women were cursed. Humanity suffered the just reward for their disobedience, and that is death.



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MP

posted October 29, 2009 at 7:17 pm


TL,
Interesting remarks… (
1)If your “bet is on #2,” how do you understand the passage? Particularly how would you “translate” the three main verses without resorting to a paraphrase that is completely your own words?
(2)How you view prophesying in ch 11, is influenced by how you interpret ch 11, which is a difficult passage that I don’t claim to fully understand (I would like to see more details on BW’s interpretation of that passage)…but if you have a “traditional” view of ch 14, it is easily fathomable that the prophesying in ch 11 occurs outside of the assembly that is under consideration in ch 14….but honestly I have not seen any argument on ch 11 that compels me one way or the other…
(3) Concerning the curse…though technically only the ground & serpent are directly “cursed,” the principle of a curse applies to the other consequences in the same general sense that Moses put before the children of Israel blessing & cursing…& I don’t find this point relevant to the point I was making since I was countering the suggestion of others…



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Matt

posted October 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm


Ancient paintings on Syrian walls dating to the end of the first century show women standing next to Paul holding there hands in a way that shows equal leadership with Paul. Peter on the other hand according to his writings was less accepting of women in leadership. It is time that Christians accept that all the Bible was inspired by man’s encounters with God… it is not word by word a translation directly from the mouth of God or angels. Each book of the Bible has its author’s view of the world influencing the book’s writing style and themes. Therefore Christian writings will conflict each other in many ways. What we need to do is remember that Jesus valued everyone as equals. This should trump everything in every Christian leadership position.



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Your Name

posted October 31, 2009 at 2:47 pm


I really appreciate your teaching on women, Ben.



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Jfox1

posted November 1, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Concordia Publishing House’s Lutheran Study Bible disagrees with what Ben said.
For example, the notes for Ephesians 5:22-6:9 states, “Paul modifies a traditional ‘household code.’ For the Christian, the Gospel does not overturn the order of life,but gives it new meaning. Each relationship is interpreted ‘in the Lord.’ Wives, children, and servants look on their husbands, parents, and masters as representatives of the Lord and submit to them. Husbands, parents, and masters likewise view the ones entrusted to them as Christ viewed the Church: with self sacrificing love. 5:22 submit. see note, v21. Submission is not mutual, but appropriate to each relationship. Within the marriage relationship, the wife ‘submits’ taking the place God has given her (I Pt 3:1-6) See notes, Gn 1:26-28; I Tm 2:13; TI 2:5; see also p. 1904 as to the Lord. See is to view her husband as an image and representative of Christ… See p. 1972.”
The note for I Peter 3:1 states that wives submitting to husbands is God’s order of creation.
The notes on I Timothy 2:12 state that God calls qualified men to teach and preach the Scriptures in the Church’s public services. Women may actively teach the Scriptures to other women, to children, and in private conversations with other believers and unbelievers. Exercise authority over a man. Namely, the authority God gives to publicly preach and teach the Scriptures to the assembled congregation.
The notes don’t come out and say it, but apparently women are not allowed to teach a mixed group of men and women or a group of men.



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Not A Lutheran

posted November 1, 2009 at 5:43 pm


And that’s one reason I’m not a Lutheran. :)



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Jfox1

posted November 1, 2009 at 8:58 pm


Not A Lutheran
November 1, 2009 5:43 PM
“And that’s one reason I’m not a Lutheran. :)”
I disagree with those notes, too. I guess I’m not a very good Lutheran. ;)



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janet

posted November 2, 2009 at 1:40 pm


With all that’s happening in the world Today This should not be an issue at all, The Body of Christ better get wisdom on how trying to reach the lost .Male or female .



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Rebekah

posted November 2, 2009 at 4:51 pm


Finally, a man who freely admits the disservice done to women by traditional Christianity, and who does not take the texts out of context to ‘prove’ that women



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Dallas

posted November 2, 2009 at 8:48 pm


The post by Ben here is very good. I would like to add that 2 Tim 2:8-15 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 were intended only to restrict wives from usurping authority over the husband by means of the ministry, as supported by both context clues in the passages and the normative definition of the word aner. They were not intended to restrict women generally from ministry



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Queen

posted November 3, 2009 at 1:45 pm


It is so strange to read this article today. A friend of mines told me this morning that Women should not be preaching the word of God. My response is that God made woman to help man and that if he is delivering the word of God and can not fulfill his duty, then as his mate she is suppose to carry on the word of God. I asked him about Deborah, Ester, Martha and Electra. What are doing just holding each other hands. God gave us a choice and it is up to each individual man or woman to carry his word or to sit idle on the stool of do nothing. Roman tells us that we are not to be ashame of the Gospel of God. It did not say that a man had to carry the word. Our world would be in bad shape if God had not ordained women to carry the word.



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John McGrath

posted November 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm


Your argument about the celebration of the Mass is quite Protestant and does not address the chief argument that Catholics use: the Sacraments of both the Eucharist and priestly Ordination were instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and no women were present. But it could be argued that the institution of these Sacraments were not completed until the Resurrection. And the first person to see the Resurrected Christ was a woman. There fore women were included in the Catholic version of priesthood from the beginning.



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Patricia

posted November 3, 2009 at 4:29 pm


Kudos and well done, Dr. Witherington. Many women are recovering Baptists like myself, not only dismayed from the Sheri Klouda incident, but also the patronizing condescension exercised by Christian men in churches who use submission theology (some quite sincerely) as justification. Having spent the last few years having to deconstruct the theology I grew up in, and taking out the trash, the superstitions, the agendas, etc. – I’m in reconstruction, and not only on this topic. Last year, our family started experimentally attending a Methodist church plant, pastored by an Alsbury grad and one of your former employees. It has been so much better than where we came from. But there are so many women suckered into a churchianity that demeans them, and they don’t even know it.



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gift ideas

posted November 4, 2009 at 12:37 am


Thats really true. I was wondering why people are so much biased for certain issues in our society. I think this article will make them think about this.



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EricW

posted November 4, 2009 at 9:12 am


John McGrath November 3, 2009 4:12 PM Your argument about the celebration of the Mass is quite Protestant and does not address the chief argument that Catholics use: the Sacraments of both the Eucharist and priestly Ordination were instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and no women were present.

Mark 14:20 suggests there were others at the Last Supper besides Jesus and the 12, for Jesus tells them that the “one of you” who will hand him over is “one of the 12.” He would have no need to specify it was “one of the 12″ if the 12 were the only ones there.
IIRC, the recent movie The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (2003) has Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper and also with Jesus and the other disciples during his farewell discourse (John 14-17). While there is no explicit Biblical support for Mary being there, there is nothing I know of that says she wasn’t there.



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Your Name

posted November 4, 2009 at 9:38 am


Ben is teaching in contradiction to the rest of the Bible:
What about Adam being punished for listening and obeying Eve?
What about Ruth who had to come to her husband to save the Jews?
What about John the Baptist being killed at the request of a woman?
What about Sarah calling Abraham lord?
What about an elder being the husband of one wife?
What about all the scripture Ben just twisted to his purpose?
What about the fact women are more emotional then men, therefore less rational by design? Women think wide, multi tasking, men think deep. Men have power/love. Women have love/power.
What about the fact woman was deceived in the Garden not the man? Man was “with her”, he ate after her, he disobeyed God, but he was not deceived. He sinned intentionally, cynically, and delibrately. He refused, as he always has, to accept his social leadership role, but that doesn’t mean women should take it over, even if it would make things “better”.
What about Jezabel and Ahab as an example of when a woman guides a man?
What about man as head and priest of the family? Is the family to have two heads and priests? According to Ben, the analagy of the Christ’s relationship to the Church is just twisted enough to allow for his cultural twist of Biblical roles in the family.
Christ was a servant leader of the church, but he is also leader of the church, not just the sacrificing servant of the church as Ben emphisizes. He set the boundaries, standards, roles, rewards, punishments, purpose, principles, and is absolute, unquestionable, Ruler and King of the church as well as the sacrificing, servant, leader. Ben emphisizes the less over the more, the effect over the cause in order to propagate his propaganda. Its a twisted, distortion no matter how you say it. Its not Biblical.
What about the fact women supported and cared for Christ and the apostles, but didn’t participate on their level with Christ?
Ben has been miseducated and deceived.
The only time women are brought to the forefront of scripture is as an example of bad things that happen when they lead men, or to serve men or Christ in a submissive, serving way.
Ben is teaching culturally tainted blasphme.



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Mara

posted November 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm


9:38 AM commentor: “The only time women are brought to the forefront of scripture is as an example of bad things that happen when they lead men, or to serve men or Christ in a submissive, serving way.”
The Judge, Deborah, blows this comment all to pieces. i.e. proves without a doubt that your comment is completely false.
And your long list of accusations against women proves nothing. It just makes you come across like a prosecuting attorney on a vendetta.



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Your Name

posted November 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm


When Christ was crucified the viel was rent , he took away all division. There is no Jew nor Greek , slave nor free male or
female we are all one in Christ. The reason this can be and
true women are more emotional then men but, the difference now is
that our helper come. Women as well as men can be filled with
the Holy Spirit and he leads and guides in all truths.
To say a woman has to be quiet in the Church and just ask
her man at home is leaving her in Chains and that is not
what Christ did. He died for all. He did not leave anyone
in bondage. Whom the son set’s free is free indeed.
Thier is liberty in Christ not just to the Jew and the Gentil
slave free, male but, also to the female.
I am a woman Minister and when I first felt as though God was
calling me. I searched this out I prayed and the Lord showed
me through a Minister(male) tring very hard to tell me I was
being decieved. AS he spoke he was working on destroying
the vision God had put in me. The vision that God used to
bring me hope. The Lord spoke to me and let me know this is
not me.
The word will alway’s bring hope never destroy it. This is a trick
of the enemy tring to stop women period from doing the will of God.
WE all have to search out our own salvation with much fear and
trembling an no man can stand before the judgment seat of
Christ for us.
As far as the comment that in times psst women was only used in
situations that turned out bad in the bible . Thier was several
situations that men could have been listed there too.
In this cause no one could be rightous enough to carry God’s
word but, thanks be unto God for his free gift of rightousness
that freed us and gave us liberty to carry his word.
Also if this is the case what about Mary Magdalene at the Tomb?
What about the Samaritain Woman.
My list could go on but, I think the point is made.
Love n Christ.



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TL

posted November 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm


”What about Adam being punished for listening and obeying Eve?
”
Adam was not punished for listening to his wife when she offered him the forbidden fruit. Adam was punished for disobeying God and eating that which was forbidden, as was the woman.
”What about Sarah calling Abraham lord?
”
What about it. Many wives even today will call their husband’s ‘mister, captain, in a combination of respect and mirthful honor. Even in the days of “Lords” and “Mistresses” it was simply a show of gracious respect. Or do you think men are to be women’s ‘lords’? :)
”What about an elder being the husband of one wife?
”
And a ‘deacon’ as well, both men and women. Mias gunaikos andra. It is a known idiom that means faithful. We still use that idiom today, 2000 years later. It is: “soandso is a one woman man” or “soandso is a one man woman”.
”What about the fact women are more emotional then men, therefore less rational by design?”
Bad rumor. It’s a fallacy. Both men and women express themselves emotionally, just differently. In fact a good argument could be made for men being more emotionally inclined and less logical by how many men settle their differences first with fists.
”Women think wide, multi tasking, men think deep. Men have power/love. Women have love/power.”
More fallacies. These are man made ideas. You won’t find them in Scripture.
”What about the fact woman was deceived in the Garden not the man? Man was “with her”, he ate after her, he disobeyed God, but he was not deceived. He sinned intentionally, cynically, and delibrately.”
Because of this we know that it doesn’t matter how we go about sinning, whether being duped into it, or sinning deliberately (which by the way is worse), we will suffer the same consequences for sin.
What about man as head and priest of the family?”
Please cite a Scripture that says a man is the head of his family or that he is priest of his family.
”Christ was a servant leader of the church, but he is also leader of the church, not just the sacrificing servant of the church as Ben emphisizes.”
Believers are to follow Christ’s example as one who loved sacrificially, came to serve and not to be served. We are not to try to follow who Christ is as God in the flesh. We cannot be gods. Neither are we to think that some of us can be gods over the others who are merely humans.
”The only time women are brought to the forefront of scripture is as an example of bad things that happen when they lead men, or to serve men or Christ in a submissive, serving way.”
Aaaah so here we have the crux of the matter. IYO women are inherently bad, and therefore were born and created to be men’s servants. May I ask what church you go to. And have you ever read the Bible for yourself? Or do you just believe what others tell you?



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TL

posted November 4, 2009 at 5:24 pm


MP, sorry to take so long to get back to you. Forgot where this discussion was.
” but if you have a “traditional” view of ch 14, it is easily fathomable that the prophesying in ch 11 occurs outside of the assembly that is under consideration in ch 14.”
Are you suggesting that the women were prophesying and praying amongst strangers? I don’t think so. In that era proper women (especially wives) did not regularly socialize with strangers. And if they had been meeting in private social events, there would be no need at all for the veiling questions. Veiling laws regulated what women wore in public including public meetings.
Also, in view of 1 Cor. 14:26, everyone is expected to participate, not just the men.
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27
” Concerning the curse…though technically only the ground & serpent are directly “cursed,” the principle of a curse applies to the other consequences in the same general sense that Moses put before the children of Israel blessing & cursing.”
That seems a huge stretch. God did not say to them that He was putting forth ‘blessing and cursing’. Rather God was stating exactly what He was doing. He cursed the serpent, gave a prophetic word relevant to the Messiah, explained to the woman how her life and relationship would change, and explained that to the man as well, and cursed the ground. Let’s not confuse what was actually said.



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Seminarian Steve

posted November 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm


Thanks Ben for sharing your work. It’s another helpful resource towards a more biblical understanding of women in local church ministry.
What’s your review of Webb’s “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.” I first read it, in one of Scot McKnight’s classes and have encouraged others to read it as well. It’s a book that has certainly shaken the old interpretations…



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Pam

posted November 9, 2009 at 7:43 pm


“In terms of exegesis the complementarians have by far the better argument on that (i.e., it does mean headship, not source),…”
“What about man as head and priest of the family?”
Perhaps we should give some thought to another meaning that Paul might have been trying to convey when he stated that the head of the wife is the husband. Paul deliberately chose the word kephale for head, not arche. Also, Paul stated that the head of the wife is the husband, he did NOT say that the head of the family, the household or even the children is the husband. The husband is the head of the wife only. Therefore, the husband is not the arche (archon, which means “ruler”) of the wife nor of the family, the household or of the children. Maybe Paul meant for head to be interpreted as that bodily part that sits between one’s shoulders (and that IS one of the definitions of kephale). Paul also stated that husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. One flesh, a head and its body…… what a beautiful metaphor!! The head sacrifices its self-serving wants and desires for the good of the body.
If the wife, as the body, feels the calling from God to preach and to minister, then the husband, as the head, should make the sacrifice of not giving in to his selfish motivations for not allowing her to preach and to minister.



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Matt Tully

posted November 14, 2009 at 2:47 pm


Hey Dr. Witherington,
Thanks for the interesting post. I am currently studying 1 Tim. 2 and have one particular question for you. In your Socio-Rhetorical commentary on 1 Tim., you do not comment on the fact that Paul restricts women from teaching or having authority over “men.” In this post, you seem to indirectly comment on the addition of this word when you paraphrase:
“I am not currently permitting women (in this case the women referred to with the hairdos and bling and expensive attire) to teach or usurp authority over the (authorized) men.”
First, how do you support your understanding that Paul is specifically referring to the immodest women in the church? His previous injunctions against immodesty seemed to be aimed at all women. Although he is giving this command to combat a problem with specific women in the church, the command still applies to all the women in the church.
This then leads to my second question: Where do you find support for your idea of “authorized” men? Is this just assumed in light of the context?
Finally, accepting that Paul is referring only to those in proper authoritative roles in the church, why restrict this to “men”? If, as your paraphrase seems to indicate, Paul was referring to the immodest women in the church, why would he not command them to submit to “authorized” women as well? Why limit their submission to the authorized men?
I look forward to and appreciate your input on this issue! Thanks!
– Matt
matttully at gmail.com



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Gary Simmons

posted November 16, 2009 at 1:32 am


This may be slightly tangential, but some, such as Everett Ferguson (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, ACU Press), claim that early Christian baptism was done in the nude.
If this is true, then what follows? What do you do with Lydia? Paul couldn’t have baptized a naked woman! Therefore, she must have baptized herself. If baptism can be self-applied, then how does this affect Christianity?



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EricW

posted November 16, 2009 at 8:44 am


Gary Simmons:
From what I’ve read, men baptized the men, and women deacon(esse)s baptized the women.
On the other hand, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html makes no mention of a separation of men from women. Read Chapters 20 and 21.



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anonymous

posted November 21, 2009 at 5:11 pm


@Gary Simmons & EricW : It’s important to realise that baptism was not some new thing that John the Baptist dreamt up. Ritual immersion in water has been part of Jewish religious life for thousands of years, and the accounts in the new testament have to be understood in this context. Look up “mikveh” if you are interested. Although today it is primarily done by women after their period each month, men also do immerse themselves – the interval varies according to their particular tradition. In contemporary practice, yes, immersion is done naked and it is self-applied. I don’t know enough about history to say what the custom was in the NT period, though. It would be an interesting research topic. One thing I’m sure of is that Christian understanding and practice relating to immersion has moved a long way from how it was in biblical times.



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Gloria

posted May 17, 2010 at 10:45 pm


Whwn I was 33 years ol I was clld to ministry. Anointed and equipped.
I was a member of a church. They licensed me to preach but refused to ordain me after completing school. Said God did not call women to pastor and ordination would make me qualified to pastor. I have been beat down so bad that some 30 years later I lost the confidence and drive to pastor now. An opportunity arose for me to pastor a small Baptist Church now my family has spoken out that God did not call women to pastor. My sister challenged me to show her in scripture that God sent women to pastor. She uses the scripture in I Tim where it says a Bishop should be the husband of one wife. I have no knowledge of scripture that clearly defines that women should pastor. Can you direct me to scripture that over rules I Tim scripture ?



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posted January 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm


Excellent read about Why Arguments against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical
– Ben Witherington on the Bible and Culture!



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Jay

posted November 9, 2011 at 2:08 am


And nowhere (for all of your research) is the MAIN complementarian argument against women in certain roles (specifically elder/pastor/bishop) addressed in all your reasoning above. To whit: the very clear gender specific Greek nouns used when outlining the requirements of being qualified for that role in at least two places in the New Testament. Those noun choices were not made as a result of addressing some larger contextual problem or church-specific situation…they are part of a list of requirements. No argument I have read to date from an egalitarian viewpoint has addressed this issue satisfactorily…not one. I am certainly willing to be taught otherwise, and I also do not feel as if I have “the truth” to the exclusion of any other. However, without conclusive “scriptural” (vice interpretive) evidence countermanding the very list of requirements given for being an elder (same noun as bishop or “pastor” in this sense), it would seem to be a dangerous conclusion to “interpret” away a given requirement using reasoning mostly derived from “arguing” against complementarian inconsistencies.



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mindy

posted December 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm


Thank you.



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Norman Doromal

posted January 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm


Great article.Thank you for posting this. Blessings.



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Debs

posted January 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm


Hey Dr B. Awesome blog.
Let me put my 2 cents in:

I grew up in a conservative Korean church, but in my 20’s i moved mysself to an evangelical (white) church and received training at their bible college.
I can understand both points of view. My personal opnion is that women are gifted and equipped for ministry – why would God have planned and purposed me for this and then not let me exercise them with the purpose of giving all glory to God?
However, thinking of the context of the church i grew up in, i understand it to be a cultural mindblock. Not just by ethnicity, but historically and subculturally.
I was asked at the end of my training to come back and take on the role of Youth Pastor – which was a huge step for them – yay! – but i turned it down as i knew if i took the role, it would be under huge scrutiny and micromanaged (“you can say this, but you cant say that”). I knew that my unconservative theology would eventually cause controversy and strife with the elders and leaders. I chose not to take the role to preserve the peace for the congregation so that they could continue to “work out their salvation” in their own time. They are becoming more and more open to evangelical point of view over the years.
I think it is important to challenge wrongthinking/exegesis, but i also think that it is important to ensure we dont cause people to stumble.

Gloria, it was a very difficult decision and process when i left the Korean church. My family were very much against it, and very critical and hurtful in some instances. However, i followed what I knew God has spoken to me in my heart and trusted that He would work out all the details. I never retaliated in kind (meanness, personal remarks), only in love. But i stood my ground. I told myself, at the end of all days, I will stand alone before God and have to account for my life. I wanted to be able to say to Him that I followed Him despite the difficulties.
Gloria, all things do work out for those that follow Him and are faithful because the Lord opened my family’s eyes and they have seen that my decision bore good fruit. They are now supportive and my greatest critic – my mum – now attends the evangelic church with me (enthusiastically).
Keep faith Gloria! Like your name says – you’ll give Glory to God!



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LovelyLisa

posted November 18, 2012 at 1:49 am


Thank you Dr. Ben! I feel there are SO many stories in the OT and NT (especially NT) which are favorable for women! It’s AMAZING what social barriers were broken down and challenged in there! It was all about changing the norm from what was taught, which didn’t follow the word completely at the time, and was corrected by Jesus’s acts and words. His words are all about equality, love, peace, and care for the disabled and poor.

Oftentimes, as I recall, there were people who questioned Him for breaking social barriers, and He showed them how is way was good. Women do speak up and do good things, e.g., one woman poured perfume on Him and some people questioned Him about it and He saw what was truly in her heart and convinced them it was good, she was being kind to Him. There was also the time when the women went to see Jesus in the tomb and He wasn’t there. They went and told the men and they didn’t believe them at first, but they were right and Jesus was alive and showed Himself to them. Then there was the time when Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman, and people wondered why. Also, Jesus talks to men, women, children, disabled, poor, old, rich in nearly the same way (same phrasing and calls to hope). This makes me as a reader see that he sees them as equal and all worthy in the eyes of God. We’re all human and worth saving. He referred to rules and laws making sure to make them fair to all parties involved by having the same rules apply to both, by referring to both sides affected. Then He stopped the men who dragged a woman out from stoning her (i.e., killing her) for adultery by at first ignoring them and then saying “let the person who has no sins throw the first stone.” This is a good lesson about morality and being peaceful. The men and people who dragged her out, of course, had a conscience and did not do this because of what he said. This gave her a 2nd chance, IMO. Mary also was his mother and an important, wonderful figure. Also, Jesus saved all types of people, women and girls included. He probably healed thousands of people and possibly touched hundreds of thousands of lives. So from just these few instances… obviously Jesus likes women too…

So, I feel that in the way you see it all in context is SO true. Personally, I’m guessing right now that Timothy 8-15 was mainly referring to Artemis specifically and the Greco-Roman traditions. I.e., There should not be any gods but Him. This Greco-Roman tradition of having Artemis (a goddess) was not following it. So I’m thinking he may have been referring to Artemis, Athena, Helen, ect. the beliefs of the Greco-Romans. These images were not submissive or quiet (definitely not), so I’m thinking he was referring to them (i.e., the images of the goddesses) and not the general female population which were not doing that and were not living like that. A lot of them didn’t have the same rights (couldn’t vote, couldn’t have property, though the goddesses had all of this and total power, control, you know, as goddesses). So, I think this may have been what he was saying in context, against the other idols, as there are many examples in the OT and NT with normal strong women doing good, social barrier breaking, and the words and acts of Jesus himself being kind and fair toward all. Anyway, I appreciate what you wrote and you sound like a very kind person. Blessings!



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John smith

posted February 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm


Women belong in the kitchen…go make me a sandwich.



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Alea Zoe

posted May 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm


This is great! I am currently working on my senor thesis that addresses this issue. I also have come under quite a bit of critique from other Christians who feel I am stepping out of my natural God given role by not buying the subjugation of women line. Thank you so much.



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Helene Fulton

posted November 24, 2013 at 4:14 am


Thank you Dr Ben for this amazing article. May I please use this in my book Witchcraft in the Church that is soon to be published.

This is one of the subjects that God through His Spirit told me to add.

Helene



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Jan

posted February 5, 2014 at 10:23 am


I have been struggling with this issue for decades. My younger sister is an ordained minister and pastors a church in New England. My older sister’s pastor is a woman. I have met her and listened to her preach. She is a lovely, gracious person and loves the Lord.I, however, am involved with an independent, fundamental church steeped in the legalism: Women should not wear pants, women should not even pray in church except in small groups, short hair on women is borderline sinful. And on and on. It’s hard. Especially since I wake every day with a new set of questions. I appreciate the sanity and clarity with which you address this issue.



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EricBreaux

posted March 3, 2014 at 11:20 pm


Could someone correct the person who wrote this http://christianstudies.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/does-kephale-mean-source/ article



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Cliff Williams

posted June 19, 2014 at 10:03 am


A great article! Thanks for writing it. I am doing a book of stories of women in ministry, which I hope will encourage more women to enter the ministry. Information is at http://www.cliffordwilliams.net/womensministrystories.



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google advertising professional

posted September 15, 2014 at 10:16 am


My partner and I stumbled over here by a different web address and
thought I might as well check things out.

I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking at your web page repeatedly.



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Dr Mary Calder

posted October 28, 2014 at 10:49 pm


After 41 years of preaching ministry and pastoring I’m amazed that I told God He was insane because women don’t do those things. As it turns out a woman was listed as a New Testament apostle and women have pastored and taught over the centuries in spite of opposition. The message that it was time for the birth of the Messiah was being taught by Anna the prophetess in that transition time from the old to the new testament. A woman was told to carry the news of the resurrection and the next assigned meeting place of the infant new testament church to Peter and the other apostles. “In-other-words” the first bearer of the New Testament message “HE is risen” was a woman!



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kznwoodprojects@gmail.com

posted November 4, 2014 at 1:40 pm


A lot of time and energy wasted on studies, only to come up with incorrect conclusions. Shame!



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ที่พักชะอำ

posted November 15, 2014 at 11:20 pm


I don’t even understand how I finished up right here, but I assumed
this put up was good. I do not recognise who
you might be however definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you happen to are not already.

Cheers!



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Lisa L. White

posted November 26, 2014 at 11:25 am


Can you provide a link or copy of Women and The Genesis of Christianity? I would like to read it.

Thanks.

-Lisa White



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