Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 22 (Gupta)

This is the final post in this series (22). If you want to catch up on or look at old posts, go to the INDEX.

My Hopes for the Women in Ministry Conversation

What do you hope to achieve? I have been asking myself this question for the last 3 weeks, as I have produced these 20+ posts. What difference does it make? I am not the first person to make these arguments. I stand on the should of giants like Keener, Witherington, Bauckham, Cohick, Westfall, Fee, Belleville, Marshall, Reid, and others. And I know for many Christian leaders out there, they are settled into their views of men-leadership only, and I can’t blame them, I too am confident in my view of shared (women and men together) leadership. But here are my hopes.

For Those Who Believe Women Cannot be Pastors, Elders, Preachers, or Teachers over a Mixed Congregation of Men and Women

I hope you will find ways to listen carefully to women in your church. If you don’t permit them to teach or preach, ask women to pray up front and give their testimonies about what God is doing in their life. Women and men in the church need to see faithful women of God up front as part of the people of God in shared ministry. Women can do much more than sing and play piano. They have words of wisdom to share, even as laypeople. Let them be seen and heard.

Even as you thank women in your church for serving behind the scenes, also get to know how they do evangelism in everyday life, what they are up to as they lead Bible studies, and as they regularly give wise counsel to others.

For Those Who Are On the Fence about Women in Ministry

Take the “Gupta” wager. I believe you will lose more by taking the risk of restricting women from vocal and executive leadership (in shared ministry) than if you allow them. You could be wrong. I could be wrong. But I am willing to meet my Maker with a clear conscience that I believe Scripture isn’t 100% clear on this, and I need to act according to conviction and wise counsel. Since I have believed in women in ministry (~2004), I have been impressed with virtually all of the women elders, pastors, and teachers I have encountered. I did not turn into a crazy liberal. I still love Jesus, the Bible, and the Church.

Read more, study more, and stay in the conversation. Talk to women pastors about their discernment of ministry and their experiences. 

For Men and Women Who Support Women in Ministry

Be vocal, encourage and thank the women around you, advocate for them, tell them their sermon was good if you thought so. It is easy to underestimate the amount of negative feedback women receive as women leaders in ministry. They get criticized on outfits, hair, makeup, their voice, their mannerisms, etc. Men walk out of sermons by women sometimes. People occasionally yell negative things. And don’t forget harassment on social media. Send positive emails and notes—things women leaders can read over again to remind themselves they are not alone.

For Women Leaders and Pastors

Be encouraged—many of us think your vocation and the use of your gifts are biblical and fruitful! 

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 21 (Gupta)

Answers to Questions

 

How do we know when commands in Scripture are universal vs. contextually limited/cultural?

Often we can sense it based on context (“do not commit adultery”—that’s clearly universal!). But sometimes it is very difficult because the Bible contains so many different genres and you extrapolate ethics somewhat differently based on that. When it comes to Paul’s letters, there are a few ways to be sure—repetition: do we see it in several contexts? Clear and common language; or, the put it the other way around, when Paul uses rare and unusual terms or vocabulary, it leads one to believe the situation is more restricted. On this particular issue, I find the central texts (1 Cor 11, 14, 1 Tim 2) have such peculiar arguments and vocabulary that it hardly proves universal barring of women in ministry leadership. On some of the methodological matters, see my article: “Mirror-Reading Moral Issues in Paul.”

What do you think about wives’ submission in the home? 

I believe Scripture’s ideal is stated in Eph 5:21: mutual submission. I’m not even really sure what female “submission” would look like. My wife and I talk through and share all decisions. Sometimes I go with what she wants, sometimes (perhaps often) she goes with my preference, because she is very generous and thoughtful. On “big” issues, I can’t imagine it would be helpful for me to dictate to her anything. I can confess I often lack common sense, and she is very wise, so I trust her. At home, I do the cooking, she does laundry and cleaning, she does a lot of the yard work, I get the cars serviced and pay bills—we don’t care much for traditional gender roles in the home. What works is that we both try to live out the fruit of the Spirit in our marriage, and we have a happy marriage. We are just husband and wife working together to live for Christ. We have our challenges like anyone else, but power dynamics is not one of them. (Craig Keener has a nice little essay on mutual submission)

Is women in ministry a make-or-break issue? What is at stake? 

I would not go as far as saying that my complementarian friends are unsaved or preaching heresy. But I think that if our churches are 60% women, and we cut them out of decision-making in the church, and we silence their powerful voices, that comes at a high price and leaves the church diminished and weak. I will have a final post on what my hopes are for this issue in the future.

If I read just one book on the subject to learn more, what do you recommend?

If you have the time and know a bit already about the subject, read Discovering Biblical Equality. If you are newer to the discussion, read Derek and Dianne Tidball’s The Message of Women.

If shared ministry (men and women) is the ideal, how did the church so quickly become patriarchal in its dominant forms?

That is not my expertise, I must confess, but I would say that the NT doesn’t come right out and say, “Hey, make women pastors!” It sets the foundation and sows the seeds for it, and the 2nd century and 3rd century Christians needed to move that idea forward, and by and large, they didn’t. I think church tradition has its place, we need to respect the decisions of those who came before us, but we know they weren’t always right. There are some amazing female voices from the Patristic world that we have neglected. Learn more about Macrina the Younger.

What are the most effective tools to create change in the church around this issue?

Writing books has been our usual tactic, and that is good, of course, but it is not enough. This is not going to sound very theological, but I have learned that for change to be widespread, we need to influence influencers. That means gracious and trust-filled conversations with soft complementarians. That means developing relationships with those with whom we disagree, avoiding lobbing grenades, rejecting name-calling, speaking with respect. This can be hard sometimes, but it is the only way to earn a voice.

Ask Your Questions on Women in Ministry (Gupta)

The final few posts in this “Why I Believe in Women in Ministry” series will be my answers to questions from readers.

You can ask a question:

  • In a comment to this blog post on WordPress
  • On Twitter tweeting back at my tweet of this post
  • On my FB personal page (“Nijay K. Gupta”) where I have linked this post

Please note the following

  • I cannot answer every question, so I will try to cluster them and prioritize most relevant questions to the subject and items I haven’t already discussed in the posts.
  • Snarky questions, rhetorical questions, and statements in the form of a question will not be acknowledged
  • Questions that begin, “Why should I listen to a liberal idiot like you…,” will be edited to read: “Nijay, you brilliant scholar and handsome devil…”
  • If you are a spambot trying to sell me something, sign me up for 3 and send the bill to “Dr. Michael F Bird, Ridley College.”

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 20 (Gupta)

Recommended Reading on Women in Ministry

Recent books and classic works worth consulting. [* = Highly recommended]

Non-Technical Books

(suitable for laypeople and readers with little or no theological education)

*James Beck and Craig Blomberg, ed. Two Views on Women in Ministry (Zondervan, 2005).

A helpful counterpoint perspective with multiple contributors.

Michael F. Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Zondervan, 2011, Kindle only)

In this short book, Bird gives his take on the issues; he points out non sequiturs in complementarian approaches and the dangers of overinterpretation.

Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian (Baker, 2016)

Lee-Barnewall notes how current conversations can be very individualistic, but God’s vision for the church (and its leadership) requires re-centering on the kingdom and the gospel as a people together.

Cohick.jpg*Lynn Cohick. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Baker, 2009).

Cohick is an expert in the lives of women in everyday life in the Roman world, and sheds light on the lives of early Christian women.

Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen, ed. Women, Ministry, and the Gospel: Exploring New Paradigms (IVP, 2007). 

This book comes out of a Wheaton conference and brings diverse voices together for cooperative discussion on “new paradigms” or new paths forward.

*Alan F. Johnson, ed. How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership (Zondervan, 2010).

I love this book b/c too often people make this a conservative (=complementarian) vs. liberal (=egalitarian) issue; but all of these conservative evangelicals in this book talk about how they changed their mind towards supporting women in ministry, while maintaining a high view of Scripture and theological orthodoxy.

Catherine Kroeger and Mary J. Evans, ed. The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (IVP, 2002).

800+ pages; a multi-contributor commentary on the whole Bible which takes a special interest in the perspectives, lives, and experiences of women. A great resource!

Scot McKnight, Junia is Not Alone (Zondervan, 2011, Kindle only)

McKnight’s short articulation of his approach to women in ministry. Concise, clear, and compelling.

Lucy Peppiatt, Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Cascade, 2018, Kindle only). 

*Lucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women (IVP, 2019, forthcoming).

Peppiatt is quickly becoming a major voice in this subject matter. She has some fresh readings of Pauline texts (obviously 1 Cor 11 is a major focus), but her forthcoming book from IVP articulates a more comprehensive reading of Women in Scripture.

Barbara E. Reid, Wisdom’s Feast: An Invitation to Feminist Interpretation of the Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

I used to think “feminist” was a bad word. Reid changed my mind and helped me see the deep value of this perspective.

F. Scott Spencer, Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Luke’s Gospel (Eerdmans, 2012).

This is a remarkable book on the Gospel of Luke. If you read this book, Luke will never be the same. Spencer especially drew my attention to the beauty and importance of Mary’s Magnificat.

*Derek and Dianne Tidball, The Message of Women (IVP, 2014).Tidball.jpg

If you want to recommend something to your friends that is very evangelical-friendly, simple to understand, and compelling, the Tidballs offer a winsome vision for embracing women and men together in ministry and life.

 

Technical Books

(advanced reading that requires knowledge of Greek and some theological education)

*Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women

When I was at Gordon-Conwell, Bauckham’s influence and status were on the rise. He is considered one of the most weighty NT scholars in the world. So when he did the spadework on the women in the Gospels, I was hooked. READ THIS BOOK!

*Eldon J. Epp. Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Fortress, 2005).

Eldon definitively proves that Junia is a woman, and also gives strong evidence in favor of her as an apostle.

Philip Barton Payne. Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan, 2009).

At 500+ pages, PBP’s work is a rather comprehensive treatment of problem texts in Paul.

*Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothius, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality.

This book was a bombshell for me. Here, all in one place, several expert scholars tackled virtually all of the tough issues related to women in marriage and ministry. Even today, there is nothing that compares in size and scope to DBE! I was especially attracted to Howard Marshall’s essay on the Household Codes. I still refer to back to that today when I teach or write on Col/Eph.

Paul and Gender*Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender (Baker, 2016).

Westfall has written a well-rounded book, methodologically rigorous, meticulously researched, loaded with new insights; her work on 1 Timothy 2 is especially good.

 

 

 

 

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 19 (Gupta)

Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Prohibit Women from Leading and Preaching over Men in the Church?

For those who argue that women should not be preachers, elders, or leaders (over men) in the church, they often appeal to 1 Timothy 2:12 as their most direct and clear biblical foundation. Here are some questions I want to discuss:

  • Is Paul offering universal and general teaching in 1 Timothy 2:8-15?

  • Does this passage teach that women cannot have authority over men in the Church?

 

1 Timothy is an occasional letter, not a comprehensive church leadership manual

The “Pastoral Epistles” are situational letters, from Paul to a particular individual (here Timothy) in order to address certain circumstances. Now, all of Paul’s letters contain some general teaching. But, sometimes, his teaching is more limited to one situation. Only the literary/rhetorical and socio-historical context will tell us whether the teaching is “once and for all.”

Did Paul write 1 Timothy?

Scholars continue to debate whether Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy, or if perhaps it was written in a later era by someone else. My own view is that it probably has some historical connection to the apostle Paul. I admit its style of writing and argumentation don’t match letters like Philippians and Romans, but I don’t see any contradictions in theological teachings when 1 Timothy is compared against the so-called undisputed letters.

Looking at the Text in Context (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

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

While Paul has some very firm commands to pass on to the Ephesian church through Timothy, one can’t help but notice that he argues in this manner:

-Do THIS, don’t do THIS

The prohibitions (2:8, 9, 12) included here lead me to believe there were serious problems going on in this church precisely on these matters. I think it is fair to assume men were disputing and creating a ruckus. Women were flaunting wealth. And, thus, I take 2:11-12 to be referring to clear misbehavior on the part of some of the Ephesian women.

If we take this as corrective teaching, we can better understand Paul’s harsh tone. Paul recognizes this church has been infected with many diseases of false teaching, in-fighting, and genderized furtive behavior—and he calls the theological physician, Timothy, to put the church on a very strict lifestyle and diet.

What Does “Assume Authority” (NIV) Mean?

This is where things get really tricky. When Paul normally talks about authority (power and leadership over another), he uses kyrieuo (rule over; w.g., Rom 7:1), or some form of exousia (e.g., Rom 13). These are relatively common word groups. But here in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul uses an extremely rare and unusual Greek word authenteo. It occurs less than a dozen times in ancient Greek (first century AD and prior). Compare that to exousiazo (“to have authority over”) which occurs over 900 times in ancient Greek. We will get to what authenteo means in a minute, but just take a second to think about this: why would Paul choose such a rare word unless it fit a strange and rare situation?

So what does authenteo mean? Many English translations render it as “have/exercise authority” in a neutral/positive sense.

HCSB: “to have authority”

ESV: to exercise authority”

NET: “to exercise authority”

RSV: “to have authority”

Essentially, then, these translation treat authenteo as a synonym of exousiazo. But, again, if they are so close in meaning, why choose such a rare word? 

Based on the meager evidence we have for how ancient Greek writers used authenteo (and other words based on the same root), another set of translators believe it has a more negative meaning of domineer (especially based on other forms of the root).

So the King James: “to usurp authority,” and the NIV seems to have moved in this direction: “to assume authority.” This kind of meaning is supported by the Latin Vulgate translation which reads dominari  (from which we get the English word “dominate”).

To my mind, it would make all the sense in the world that Paul would choose this rare word authenteo if Paul wanted to tell women not to try and dominate over men with their teaching or power. In this kind of situation, Paul would not be rejecting women who want to be equal in the church. He would be demoting women who want to seize total control.

Chew on this #1: It is hard for lay people to fully understand just how rare the usage of authenteo was at Paul’s time. So think about it this way: have you ever used a word that (1) you will never use again, (2) you will never hear from another person ever, (3) and will never read anywhere ever again? That is how unusual it would have been for Paul to use authenteo. So why would he not have chosen a more common word if he was giving a direct and clear universal command through a third party (Timothy)?

Chew on this #2authenteo does not occur (elsewhere) in the New Testament. It does not occur in the Septuagint (including the OT Apocrypha). It does not occur in the Greek OT Pseudepigrapha. It does not appear in any of the works of Josephus. Or Philo. Or any of the Apostolic Fathers. Isn’t that strange?

What about the Appeal to a Creation Story?

Some interpreters argue that women (universally) are taught here to be submissive to men because of the appeal to Adam and Eve in 2:13-14. Certainly when Paul points to key Old Testament stories, he has a broader point in mind. But the focus of this Scriptural appeal is not based on the inherent superiority of men due to privilege of the firstborn. After all, Paul elsewhere places the majority of blame on Adam, not (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15), not Eve. The mentioning of Eve’s deception by Paul is his way of humbling any arrogant Ephesian women who want to cause trouble for the men, believing they were wiser.

Chew on this #3: How could the same Paul who (supposedly) told women to be quiet in church and listen to the men teach also send Phoebe to deliver Romans and commend her as his patroness and deacon/minister? How could he maintain such a cordial relationship with Priscilla who certainly was not quiet in her leadership?

Conclusion

I understand this passage to be corrective of a disturbingly imbalanced situation in Ephesus where women were intentionally trying to domineer over men. Paul’s concern is not to force women into submission in the church under men, but to cultivate a healthy community by rebuking troublemakers. Everyone should learn peacefully and cooperatively.

Further Resources

This is a very complex discussion with many moving parts, so those with some Greek knowledge and training might want to read more. See below:

Cynthia Long Westfall (advanced article on authenteo)

Linda Belleville (more comprehensive discussion of 1 Timothy 2)

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 18 (Gupta)

The Books that Helped Me Change My Mind about Women in Ministry (written before 2003)

I changed my mind in favor of supporting women in ministry around 2003, while I was in seminary. In this post, I will mention a few books then that moved me along on this issue towards that change. In a separate post I will point to more recent works of note.

Craig Keener, Paul, Women, and WivesHere is a conservative, biblical scholar who is absolutely brilliant, and he had answers to a lot of my questions. Craig is always careful with his scholarship not to overstate what the evidence can prove.

Beck and Blomberg, ed. Two Views on Women in MinistryOn the “pro” side you have Keener and Belleville, on the “not-pro” side you have Schreiner and Blomberg. This book helped me see the strengths of various arguments and how the “other side” would respond.

Ben Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches. Back then, Ben was someone I admired greatly as a biblical scholar and thought-leader for pastors—and I still love his work, but he is slowing down just a little bit! He made his case with penetrating insight and good scholarship.

Gordon Fee—commentariesIn seminary, I spent ample time in the commentaries of Gordon Fee, esp on 1 Corinthians and Philippians (and also check out his little 1-2 Timothy, Titus NIBC volume). For me, there is no better role model of the passionate and wise biblical scholar than Fee. His exegetical work was significant towards turning me in favor of women in ministry.

Discovering Biblic Eq #2834

Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothius, and Gordon Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality. This book was a bombshell for me. Here, all in one place, several expert scholars tackled virtually all of the tough issues related to women in marriage and ministry. Even today, there is nothing that compares in size and scope to DBE! I was especially attracted to Howard Marshall’s essay on the Household Codes. I still refer to back to that today when I teach or write on Col/Eph.

Richard Bauckham, Gospel WomenWhen I was at Gordon-Conwell, Bauckham’s influence and status were on the rise. He is considered one of the most weighty NT scholars in the world. So when he did the spadework on the women in the Gospels, I was hooked. READ THIS BOOK!

William Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. This book put words to some hermeneutical thoughts and questions I had. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Webb, it is a must-read. Webb has forced Christians to think about the ultimate ethics behind Scripture and how we might discern what those ethics are. This was a missing piece I needed.

Linda Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church. This book is clear, concise, and hit all the major concerns. She also introduced me to the work of Brooten, where I learned about what leadership titles women had in the ancient Jewish synagogues.

Klyne Snodgrass, “A Biblical and Theological Basis for Women in Ministry” (The Evangelical Covenant Church). I was very interested in evangelical denominations wrestling with questions about women in ministry. Klyne and his committee did their research on this and came out supporting women in ministry. Klyne is a trusted evangelical scholar, a Gospels expert, he also knows his way around Paul’s letters. I appreciate the ECCs work on this issue.

Daughters.jpeg

Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministryfrom New Testament Times to the PresentThis is a massive book (450+ pp.) which gave me a sense of women in ministry not only in the early church, but throughout history.

 

 

Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 17 (Gupta)

Biblical Interpretation and Modern Cultural Influences

Sometimes I hear this argument: you are just arguing for women leadership because of modern sensitivity to women’s rights.

This is an important issue, because this can be a real obstacle for people accepting an argument in favor of women in ministry—that somehow it is contaminated by cultural pressure and therefore spoiled.

I want to raise the following points in response.

1) Modern culture is not a threat per se to the Bible

We cannot sustain the assumption that all modern cultural forces are bad. There are a lot of good things in culture.

2) Biblical interpretation does not take place in a vacuum

We do not take off our presuppositions, experiences, or values when we approach the Bible. We bring ourselves to the reading of the text.

3) Sometimes modern cultural insights can be beneficial

Imagine that you have a child with a disability. And that you bring interest in people with disabilities to the biblical text. Your eyes are more trained to see those who are different in the Bible. By virtue of these experiences, you have something special to bring to others whose eyes are not trained the same way. This actually enhances your reading of the Bible, and this can help others.

4) Cultural values need to be recognized, not suppressed

We cannot discard our cultural values, but we ought to understand them as best as we can. How do we keep them in check if they might clash with Scripture? We need to be a part of a reading community that can form and help us, and correct us if we are not respecting the holy Word.

Summary

It was seeing women training for and in ministry (and as theologians) that first sparked me to re-think women in ministry leadership. I can readily admit that. But that turned me to the Bible to examine the relevant texts exegetically. Cultural forces are not always bad—they are often eye-opening for our reading of the Bible. Ultimately, though, Christian conviction should be grounded in biblical witness and wisdom. And for me it is. The more I re-read the Bible, the more I see amazing women exercising leadership for the good of the church and society.