Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 6 (Gupta)

Thinking about Patriarchy

Soon, I will be jumping from Genesis 3 to the New Testament. I have already talked about Deborah, and I think she busts the assumptions we have about the empowerment and competency of women in the Old Testament. Also, I need to do a lot of work in the New Testament with key texts, so we will commence with Jesus and women.

But before looking at texts in the New Testament, it is vitally important to address the matter of patriarchy in the Bible.

Is Patriarchy “Biblical”?

Put simply, patriarchy is the idea that a (certain) society revolves around men and their leadership. In patriarchal societies, men are the leaders and decision-makers, and women play a supporting role. It would be foolish to argue that Jesus did not live in a patriarchal society. Israel had kings. Israel had male priests. Jesus had male disciples. The lives of men dominate the pages of the entire Bible. Everyone agrees on that. But “what is” is not always “what should be.” Just because something happens in Scripture, doesn’t mean that is the way it ought to be. Jesus makes this clear when he allows divorce, but points out that it is a concession, not a new standard (Matt 19:8).

This is where I teach my students about the ideas of progressive revelation and divine accommodation. Progressive revelation means that God does not reveal his full will all at once, but allows it to unfold over time. In the middle of the story, we cannot expect to see what the fullness of new creation looks like (so 2 Cor 4:17).

Divine accommodation means that God might use already existing systems to communicate his revelation in culturally familiar concepts because He has a long term plan to move towards complete redemption. So, for example, Scripture refers to the “four corners” of the earth (Isa 11:12), even though the actual world is spherical. God was communicating partially within existing thought structures, even if they were not factually correct.

I think this matters when we look at ongoing elements of patriarchy in the Bible. Yes, it is part of the reality of life in Antiquity. So, we have male priests, male kings, and male disciples. But scholars like William Webb have wisely called us to look for pointers in Scripture to what it ought to be like. Even in the midst of a patriarchal world, one that I admit Jesus doesn’t condemn explicitly, we catch glimpses of a “men and women together in leadership” vision. One where “sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).

I believe the fact of Scripture itself deconstructs patriarchy. The Church and the Spirit together embedded the voices of both men and women in Holy Scripture (e.g., women like Miriam, Hannah,  and Mary), transforming their words into the Word of God for the people of God. This permanently overturns patriarchy’s silencing of women, and empowers these women to be inspired and authoritative teachers for all and for all times.

I believe when we disarm patriarchy and move towards amphiarchy (shared leadership), we honor the symphony of Scripture and reflect the ideal unified calling of men and women to care for God’s world together.

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 5 (Gupta)

The Undoing (Genesis 3)

In this blog series, I want to spend some time on Genesis 3, popularly known as “the Fall.” I think that terminology is inaccurate. Falling is not imagery used here. Closer to what we see happen in this chapter, I like to call it the “undoing” of God’s good work in creation. All that beauty, innocence, harmony, and unity is undone.

The first thing to notice with Genesis 3:1 is that the problem seems to come out of the middle of nowhere. This serpent appears on the scene with a dastardly agenda. He succeeds in sowing the seed of doubt in the mind of Eve (3:3-4). But, what is worse, Eve gives into temptation and seeks to “be like God” (3:5) in her knowledge of good and evil. She believed it would give her special or divine wisdom such that she could be independent of God (3:6). Adam is not absent, but joins in this rebellion (3:6). So they hide and are ashamed when their eyes are finally opened (3:7-9).

Their reaction isn’t to revel in their newfound wisdom. When they are confronted by God, they immediately cast blame. Man blames woman (3:12) and woman blames the serpent (3:13). Conscience and integrity or undone. All this back-stabbing and division unravel God’s work of establishing unity and abundance. And God’s words of judgment further underscore the frustration of creation’s fecundity.

A key verse here in terms of gender roles is 3:16 where God says: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Jewish Publication Society). This is a pretty good “literal” translation of the Hebrew, but what does it mean? Well, it seems obvious (to most) that man “ruling” over woman is a problem, not a blessing. This verb is about absolute authority over someone, like a king ruling a subject (Gen 4:7; Gen 37:8). The Creation accounts do not call for man to rule over woman; she helps him and they co-rule over the creatures together.

A more difficult interpretive issue is what it means that her “desire” will be towards her husband. What kind of desire? Love? Sexual feelings? The Hebrew word itself is neutral; it simply means passions or longings. It could be good, like deep love. But it can also be destructive passions, like malice. The ESV 2016 translates this as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” This has been largely rejected by scholars. The NET translates this as “You will want to control your husband.” I think this is close. I would translate this (in paraphrase) as, “you will desire to undermine your husband.”

Old Testament scholar Richard Hess interprets the text in this way:

 The woman’s “desire” for her husband is not primarily sexual desire. In accordance with basic principles of interpretation, one finds this rare word, teshuqah, nearby in Genesis 4:7, where it refers to sin’s “desire” to control Cain. The same verb, “to rule, master, ” mashal, describes both the man’s domination of the woman and Cain’s ability to dominate sin. Thus the woman will desire to dominate the man but the man, perhaps with superior strength, will dominate the woman. However, this is a judgment of how things will be, not necessarily how they must be. The patriarchal societies of the world express the reality of male domination…[T]he emphasis here is on the terrible effects of sin, and the destruction of a harmonious relationship that once existed. In its place comes a harmful struggle of wills.

One can see the reality of this “undoing” in Genesis 3, and it gets worse until the call of Abram (Gen 12). Does Genesis 3 teach that men must lead and women must follow? No, we see hope in Adam and Eve joining together as one flesh, and it is Eve who has the final word as she praises God for blessing them with a child.

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 4 (Gupta)


Image of God, Male and Female

It’s time to look at Genesis 1 and 2. I used to think that it made a big difference that woman was created after man, and that she was created to be a “helper” to man. But, as Lucy Peppiatt reminded me (in her soon coming book, which is excellent), this is one way of interpreting the creation story, but it is not the only way. Before we get to some of these gender issues, I just want to make a few notes about Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 1

This is a grand narrative of the incredible act of God to fashion a good and beautiful world: light, day and night, waters, sky, land and greenery, sun, moon, and stars, sea creatures and birds (1:1-20); and the command for all things to produce abundance (1:21-25).

In 1:26, adam (human) does not mean “Adam,” nor does it mean “man/male.” We know that because it switches immediately from adam (singular) to “they” (plural), implying that adam stands for human, male and female. This seems fuzzy in 1:26, but becomes more clear in 1:27 when they are defined as “them: male and female.” They are created in God’s own image, which means they are like him in special ways that are not true of other creatures. Presumably, this relates to their unique ability to rule (wisely?) over all the creatures of the world. This is said twice, in 1:26 and 1:28.

If all we had was Genesis 1, we would naturally assume men and women were equals, partners and co-rulers on earth as the image of God. There is not a whiff of headship, male-leadership, or “gender roles” here. Put another way, if the dinosaurs had questions, they wouldn’t necessarily go to Adam first and foremost.

Genesis 2

This second account clearly goes back and re-tells parts of the creation story in a bit of a different way. We are given more details about the actual formation of the man (2:7). He is made from earth. Man is given work in the Garden, he must care for it (2:15). But he is warned not to eat from the special tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17). (A bit of foreshadowing—woman is not made yet, and had not received this command first hand as far as we know.)

So then, God formed animals and saw whether they might work as helpers for Adam (2:20). “Helpers” to do what? We are not told, but either it means those who would tend the Garden (from 2:15), or to help rule the earth (from 1:26-27).

Let us not get tripped up on the word “helper” (2:18, 20). This word (ezer) does not mean “assistant,” but neither does it mean “savior.” “Helper” is actually a good neutral word: someone who helps someone else. If my car breaks down and I have to push it to the side of the road, I need help, someone else to share the work.

When Genesis says that woman was made from man’s rib, that does not mean she is derivative, but simply means she is like him (bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh). She is not less than him, she is human like him. He is not superior in any way because he was made first. (Otherwise, why were humans made last in Genesis 1?) He clearly needed help with his vocation, and God created woman to partner in the work. Nothing from Genesis 2 clearly establishes headship, female submission, or unique male leadership. In fact, quite the opposite, man is not commanded to lead or guide woman; he is “united” to her (2:24) and they become one.

The Big Picture

When I read Genesis 1 and 2, here is what I think these chapters are communicating about humans.

  1. A Unified Species: The first mention of human(s) is 1:26, and they are treated as one thing, a unified species, made in the image of God and created to co-rule.
  2. Two Types: From 1:27, the clear addition is there are two types, male and female.
  3. Man needs help: In 2:18, it is made clear Adam can’t do this work alone, he needs help.
  4. Woman helps man: The animals cannot suffice, so woman is created from man to show her fitness for helping him.

I can see no clear Creation signals that man is given special command to rule or serve as leader over woman. Quite the contrary, he is seen as incomplete and lacking without her. That doesn’t make her superior. Presumably she needs him as much as he needs her, but all in all everthing is considered very good because there is the possibility of these two being united as one.

Next, we will look at the spoiling of Eden according to Genesis 3.

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 3 (Gupta)

Starting with Deborah

In many cases, to address the matter of women in ministry, scholars begin with Genesis. But I prefer to begin with Deborah. Why? For me, she makes all the difference. That is because this one case study in Scripture overturns virtually all arguments against women church leaders. (In 2012 I wrote a blog on some of the details in Judges 4-5, FYI)

But—women are not gifted in leadership. Deborah was.

Women belong in the home sphere. Deborah was called to lead a nation.

Women should focus on supporting their husband. Deborah alone was judge over Israel.

Men should have final say. Read the book of Judges. Men do and say some really dumb stuff. A lot.

The reason I start with Deborah is because, when people say that women shouldn’t be pastors, preachers, elders, or leaders, they must explain why this is so. They must reason out what exactly disqualifies women. (It is not enough to say, “the Bible says so.” Even if it did, Christians are thinking and reasoning people; we need to know why we make the ethical decisions we commit to.)

History tells a long story of men depicting women as too emotional, too weak, too stupid, or gullible. (Case in point: in a 1995 essay, Thomas Schreiner portrayed women as more susceptible to deception, but in a revised 2005 edition, that argument was removed. See documentation at the end of this blog.) That was pretty much the main rationale for no women leaders until the late 1970s and 1980s. With the rise of women CEOs, women scholars, and women politicians, it became thoroughly unreasonable to put men a cut above women in leadership or intellect. So, the argument again women shifted to “gender roles” and “gender spheres.” It was unsustainable for complementarians to urge that women were mentally or emotionally unqualified to lead. Rather, the argument shifted to focus on the proper place for women—as supporters of other women, and caretakers of home and children. (This shift of argument is well-documented in Alan Padgett’s book, As Christ Submits to the Church.)

So, for many complementarians, the ideal woman is a good mother, a submissive wife, and a supporter of children and other women in a church context. If there is a clear boundary line for complementarians, it is that women absolutely cannot carry out executive authority over a man (based largely on their reading of 1 Tim 2).

And yet, Deborah does just that. She

  • “was leading Israel” as prophet (4:4)
  • served as judge over Israel by “holding court” (4:5)
  • speaks firmly to Barak the command of the Lord (4:6) (note that she summoned for him, he didn’t ask for her)
  • commands Barak to attack Sisera (4:14)

Some have argued Deborah was not a real “judge,” because it doesn’t say she was “raised up.” But the Song of Deborah makes this pretty clear: “in the days of Shamgar…the highways were abandoned; travelers took winding paths. Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel” (5:6-7).

There have been all kinds of rebuttals against seeing Deborah as an example of female executive authority over men.  Here is how I would respond.

Wasn’t she used by God because no man could be found willing to lead? If you read Judges, there are hardly any good men at all, and yet Gideon and Samson are considered “judges.”

Wasn’t she just a prophet, representing God? She was a prophet, but she was also more. Prophets (alone) don’t “hold court” in Israel.

Did she really have authority over men?  4:5 is pretty clear that all kinds of Israelites went to Deborah to have their cases and disputes resolved by her. If it were just women, I am sure the text would have made this clear. Also, see below what Ambrose writes about this matter, because he was convinced she was the sole executive leader over all Israel, over women and men.

So, let me state again that I bring up Deborah first because she busts so many myths about whether or not women are capable of executive ministry; and it demonstrates that Scripture blesses and honors her ministry. She is the only positive (developed) character in Judges.

Women can lead. Women did lead. They did it well. They sometimes did it alone. They prophesied. They commanded. They spoke the Word of the Lord. They warned. And they sang victory songs.

Before you say or hear someone say, But women aren’t good at/women aren’t wired for/women struggle with—filter it through the Deborah test. If Deborah did it, don’t make it a genderized limitation. I think men and women have differences, but capacity for leadership isn’t one of them. I am lucky to have had many incredible women mentors, colleagues, leaders, and pastors in my life, all who demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills.

I would like to end this post with an extended quote from Ambrose, bishop of Milan (340-397). Ambrose talks here about Deborah as a model of courageous leadership. It reminds me that even many centuries ago Deborah was recognized for her incredible leadership. (I have put in bold certain lines I felt were especially poignant)

For [Deborah] showed not only that widows have no need of the help of a man, inasmuch as she, not at all restrained by the weakness of her sex, undertook to perform the duties of a man, and did even more than she had undertaken. And, at last, when the Jews were being ruled under the leadership of the judges, because they could not govern them with manly justice or defend them with manly strength, and so wars broke out on all sides, they chose Deborah, by whose judgment they might be ruled. And so one widow both ruled many thousands of men in peace and defended them from the enemy. There were many judges in Israel, but no woman before was a judge, as after Joshua there were many judges but none was a prophet. And I think that her judgeship has been narrated and her deeds described, that women should not be restrained from deeds of valor by the weakness of their sex. A widow, she governs the people; a widow, she leads armies; a widow, she chooses generals; a widow, she determines wars and orders triumphs. So, then, it is not nature which is answerable for the fault or which is liable to weakness. It is not sex but valor which makes strong.

Concerning Widows 8.43–46.

John R. Franke, ed., Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 115.

see Thomas Schreiner, “An interpretation of 1 Tim 2:9-16,” in Women in the Church (ed. Kostenberger), 141, 144 (1995 edition).

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 2 (Gupta)

Wow, there was so much feedback and interest on social media from my first post, I feel like I should do a quick second one while I have a bit of time (sitting at the beach, “working hard”).

Translation and Terms: The Devil is in the Details

I am being honest when I say, one of the most important things I did to help me understand the “women in ministry” issue was: learn Greek and Hebrew. (And I took advanced Greek, advanced Hebrew, Classic and Ecclesiastical Latin, Aramaic, and Akkadian for good measure.)


So many people over the years had said to me: just read your Bible and the answer is clear. By this, they mean that there are many “clear” passages that forbid women from being pastors or preachers. But here is the problem: “translators are liars” (so the famous proverb goes). That is not a cop-out. Bible translators have to simplify texts to communicate clearly, but all along the way they make lots of little choices, and they have to “take sides” on issues even if the answer isn’t fully clear. So, my house of cards began to collapse when I was confronted with many translation issues. For example

Was Phoebe (Rom 16:1; diakonos) a “servant” (KJV), “deacon” (NIV), or “deaconess” (RSV)? Keep in mind Paul used diakonos for himself (1 Cor 3:5) and Christ (Rom 15:8), and it can also be translated “minister.”

When Paul calls women to be “silent,” is the issue one of lack of words, or is it about respect, peace, and harmony in the church? The verb sigao refers to being quiet, but it can be used in reference to quiet or still waters (LXX Ps 107:29). In Exodus, Moses instructs the Israelites crossing the river that “The Lord will fight for you, and you will be quiet” (LXX Exodus 14:14 NETS). Is Moses concerned with silence? No, so most translations of the Hebrew and Septuagint text prefer the language of peace or stillness.

Then we have the issue of “ordination” and “pastors” and “preaching.” There is little in the New Testament that lays out the specifications of ordination (see 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). As for “pastors,” this does not appear to me to be a dominant “office” in the first century. In Acts, Paul tells the Ephesians “elders” that the Spirit had made them overseers of the church, to shepherd the people (20:28). Paul mentions pastors/shepherds briefly in Ephesians 4:11. Aside from that, we know very little about “pastors” and their responsibilities. To say a woman cannot be a “pastor” is to place some construct on the Bible that is not explicitly there. We know far more about what Paul thinks about bishops than about pastors. As for “preaching” (i.e., “women cannot preach”), the NT says virtually nothing about sermons and what we think of as preaching (i.e., Bible lessons for the church). The language of preaching (kerusso, kerygma) in the NT is almost always about the proclamation of the gospel. And if rocks are qualified to do this (Luke 19:40), I can’t imagine women wouldn’t be.

Now, I am fine with modern ordination, and pastors, and elders, and preaching, but we must be cognizant of the fact that we sometimes read our modern assumptions about church practices back into the Bible. That is dangerous!

So, a crucial part of my journey was knowing what is and is not actually in the Bible, and seeing the complex, but beautiful Greek text which begs careful study. We will try to do some of that careful study, but for now I want to just reinforce the notion that it is misleading to say: The answer is clear in MY Bible. That usually means: The answer is clear in MY FAVORITE ENGLISH TRANSLATION.

Recently I heard Tish Harrison Warren say that whether you are egalitarian or complementarian, you can only be about 80% sure you are right. I think Warren is right. Scripture offers so many pieces of this puzzle to analyze, and it is really hard to put it all together. It is a beautiful mess, but it is anything but 100% clear to anyone.

In later posts, I will dig into particular texts, church roles, and questions about gender and leadership. I am not trying to throw everything out the window when I say that looking at the Greek makes things messy. I just want to emphasize that the first step in anyone’s journey on this issue must include intellectual humility and a sober recognition that the textual and hermeneutical issues are complex, especially when you look at the text in the original languages.


Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 1 (Gupta)

I (Nijay Gupta) have been an egalitarian for over 15 years. So, I am definitely long overdue for expressing my views in an extended, written format. There will be a large number of posts in this series, so stay tuned.

Starting from the beginning

Before getting into biblical and theological arguments and views, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my story.

I became a believer as a teenager. In college (at a secular university), I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and the Navigators. I went to a conservative evangelical (non-denominational) church. In those years, I started to read books by theologians and Christian leaders—C. S. Lewis, Max Lucado, Dallas Willard, Jerry Bridges, Ravi Zacharias and especially John Piper (this was the ‘90’s!). I did not have a very well thought out view of what women should or should not do in ministry. Either I had never seen or heard of a woman pastor, or I assumed anyone associated with such views just didn’t take the Bible very seriously.

I subscribed to what I call “package theology.” If I found a scholar convincing in one area of theology, then they must be “right” in all areas—hence, I bought their “package.” So with Piper, I liked his writings on glorifying God, I liked his work on missions, so I took his whole package, which includes a strict view that men alone ought to lead churches. (I was so enamored with Piper that I once drove 14 hours from southern Ohio to Dallas to hear Piper preach at Dallas Theological Seminary.)

And yet, even in my college days, there were a few things that contradicted or challenged some of my assumptions about women in leadership. First, there was an amazing staff leader with Campus Crusade named Jane Armstrong. Everyone who knew her respected her deeply; she was and is wise, godly, mature, caring, and competently led many men and women on missions trips (including myself). But, in Crusade’s leadership system, she could never be the campus director because she is a woman. She could be an associate campus director (which she was), but a man must be the director. (That is what I had heard.) But why?

A second thing during that time stuck with me. When I went home in the summers, I would help out with my home church, and I did an internship there as well. My church believed that women were not allowed to be “pastors.” But there was a female director of children’s ministry on staff. She was very wise, much beloved in the community, and she went on the “pastors’ retreat” every year (I know that because as an intern I went once as well). For all intents and purposes, she was indeed a “pastor.” But the church used a terminology loophole to maintain what they considered a biblical view.

It wasn’t until I attended seminary that I really took a hard look at the issue of women in ministry. I went to Gordon-Conwell where there were faculty on both sides of the debate. To be perfectly honest, I was still staunchly complementarian my first year of seminary. In fact, I wrote my first systematic theology paper on this (self-chosen topic): “Why Women Shouldn’t Be Pastors.” (I got an “A” on the paper, btw). But in my second year of seminary, I went through a long journey of thinking and study that led me to the opposite conclusion. So I wrote my final (3rd year) systematic theology paper on this subject: “Why Women Should Be Pastors” (I also got an “A” on that one!)

What changed my mind? It wasn’t one single thing. Rather, it was the erosion of the false confidence I had in my complementarian view. Almost all of the assumptions I had about the key biblical texts were not as secure as I had assumed, once I dug into the academic discussions. Furthermore, I continued to meet and become aware of respected evangelical scholars who supported women in ministry (people like Walter Kaiser, Gordon Fee, Howard Marshall, and F. F. Bruce). This started to disassemble that Piper “package” I had once bought into. Thirdly, I got to know some evangelical women scholars who supported women in ministry (esp. Catherine Kroeger, for whom I eventually served as a research assistant), and to my surprise, they were wonderful, conservative, Bible-loving, God-honoring scholars.

In my experience, people do not often change their mind just by reading biblical scholarship- although the exegesis matters greatly. Rather, for me, I was stuck on trying to ponder the rationale and logic of male-only pastors. We all know incredibly gifted women who are highly competent to serve as leaders (I’m married to one!). If anyone ever tells you, “do this, because the Bible says so,” but they can’t explain why, that is bad theology and ethics.

So that is the beginning of my story. More to come; next up…”Setting the Table: Terms and Translations.”

[Disclaimer: rude comments will be removed; constructive comments and questions will be permitted and I will try to interact with as many as I can.]