I concur with many of Mike Heiser’s exegetical observations. Details below the jump, according to the numeration of his points.
- It is a plausible but not incontrovertible assumption that “Junia” in Romans 16:7 is a woman. If so, nonetheless, she was almost certainly an apostle in the sense of a missionary, and part of a husband-and-wife team. To suggest that she ran around and got up and preached in synagogues like Paul did, either on her own or side by side with her husband, seems unlikely. On the other hand, there is no reason to think she could not have spoken in exclusively Christian gatherings. According to Paul, women were to be allowed to exhort and admonish with divine sanctions – a good working definition of prophecy - so long as it was done in good order by someone whose gifts were subject to testing (1 Cor 11-14, to be read as a unit). If I am right about this, the situation would have been similar to that of a Chiara Lubich in the Catholic Church. Chiara was a very gifted teacher. The movement she founded, though held in suspicion by many in the hierarchy for decades, won over John Paul II. I heard her speak to huge audiences consisting not only of laypeople, but of priests and bishops. She had their rapt and reverent attention, and for good reason. Nonetheless, she was not a priest or a bishop, or ever suggested that such offices be opened up to women.
- Kephale (head) in Paul’s letters is a metaphor which has to do with hierarchy (though it has other resonances as well, particularly in Ephesians 5). See the comments of Max Turner. Hierarchy, however, is understood in the Israeli military sense in the Bible. That is, if you have a position of greater authority, it’s up to you to be more exposed, more vulnerable. You don’t retire to a safe place behind the front lines, rather, you lead your subordinates, with the greater likelihood that you will suffer the consequences. If you are beneath someone’s authority, you can expect to be covered and protected by that someone, who will suffer on your behalf. Paul saw it as part of nature for men to protect women in this way, with angels, apparently, protecting both (Paul is hard to follow here), just as he saw long hair to be by nature a feminine thing, and short hair a masculine thing. If we choose to make a clearer distinction between nature and culture than Paul needed to in his situation, that would be because our cultural context is different than his own. However, all of this has exactly nothing to do with the question of women in ministry. Christ stands in a hierarchical relationship to all believers, indeed, to the world as a whole; he proved that on the cross. Yet he sent out his followers to do the same things he did, without exception. It is even said that they would accomplish greater things than he did, and fill up what was missing in the vicarious suffering he accomplished. None of this is parceled out from the get-go into complementary realizations according to gender, though of course realization according to gender was and still is culturally constrained based on time, place, and other specifics of context. All cultures are complementarian to various degrees; all cultures are egalitarian to various degrees. The gospel, against both complementarians and egalitarians, is not about making culture more equal or more complementarian. It’s about taking given cultural forms and making them into channels of faith, hope, and love.
- I concur with Mike that the fact, for example, that Miriam was a prophetess in that she sang to the Lord in public; that Deborah was a prophetess, too, in that she sang the tribes of Israel into battle, is not much of an argument in favor of women admonishing and exhorting with divine sanctions in public. Nor is it ever suggested that women could be priests in the Old Testament. But it is clear that Moses longed for the day in which all the Lord’s people would be prophets (Numb 11:29); that Joel predicted that both men and women would be given the spiritual gifts necessary to act as prophets (2:28-29 = 3:1-2); that Peter expected that prophecy to be fulfilled with the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18); and that we then hear of prophetesses in the New Testament (Acts 21:9; I Cor 11). The evidence is strong, and not just from the New Testament, that God raises up women to admonish and exhort, perhaps especially for “such a time as this,” in the last days. One might expect such women to be unencumbered by the traditional chores reserved for women, such as managing a household and raising children, so it is not surprising that the prophets of Acts 21:9, Philip’s daughters, were in fact unmarried. In a sense, the whole idea that women in antiquity, given domestic organization at the time, could do things that required them to be out of the house on a continual basis, is a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, serving with prophetic gifts in worship, admonishing and exhorting in that context, was compatible with being a materfamilias; much easier of course if one were unmarried or widowed. The offices of elder and bishop, on the contrary, given the 24/7 on-call dimension of the roles, were unsuited to women with heavy domestic responsibilities. This remains the case today in many cultures, in all cultures to some degree. But, at a certain point in the reorganization of the domestic and professional spheres with which we are familiar in the West, notwithstanding the new problems such reorganization creates, a tipping point is reached, and a long series of professions once reserved for men, in practice if not de jure, become callings married women with children take on. Even cultural conservatives seem to have no problem with a mother with children like Sarah Palin becoming president of the United States and commander-in-chief. If that is the case, the argument against women being elders or bishops is not based on practicalities, but on the notion that being a pastor in the new covenant is equivalent to being a priest in the old covenant, which office was “arbitrarily” limited not only to males, but to males of a particular bloodline. But that is a problematic line of argument. In the new covenant, the priesthood of all believers is emphasized; furthermore, the threefold office, prophet, priest, and king, is likewise attributed to all believers.
- I concur with Mike that arguments from Ephesians 5 and the other household codes are irrelevant to the question at hand.
- Arguments from creation order are not only irrelevant, but might be thought to boomerang. After all, birth order is characteristically overturned by God in the Bible. Or, as Jesus put it, the first shall be last, and the last will be first.
My advice to traditionalists: keep the tried and true ways if you are so convinced. Beyond that, perhaps Gamaliel’s advice is fitting: if the permission granted to women in circles beyond your own to become elders and bishops is of human origin, it will fail; if it is of God, and you fight it, you will be fighting against God.
Women in Ministry Series
Women In Ministry: Is There a Biblical View? (Michael Heiser)
Women in Ministry: Why The Issue Matters (John Hobbins)
What the New Testament has to say about Women in Ministry (John Hobbins)
Women as Ministers (Michael Heiser)
Women in Ministry: Response to John Hobbins (Michael Heiser)
Women in Ministry: A Response to Michael Heiser (John Hobbins)
Next Round (Michael Heiser)
Heiser incurs the wrath of McCarthy (John Hobbins)
A Thanks to John Hobbins on the Women in Ministry Issue (Michael Heiser)