Monday, June 15, 2015

BW3 on women in ministry

I'm going to comment on this post:

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.

I agree with Ben that this appeal falters on a false premise.

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.

i) Here Ben resorts to the "trajectory" strategy. That's a popular argument among feminists, pacifists, homosexuals, &c. You claim that even though the Bible doesn't condemn something–indeed, even if the Bible commands something–the Bible is moving in the direction of abolishing the custom in question. That's a very loose argument.

Ben is critical of homosexual marriage and (active) homosexual ordination. Yet members of his own denomination use the same trajectory strategy to argue for both. 

ii) Although there's some truth to what he says, it disregards the fact that Paul grounds male headship in Gen 2. It's not just an accommodation to the prevailing cultural norms.

iii) In addition, there's a nagging tension in Ben's argument, both here and elsewhere. On the one hand he stresses Greco-Roman "patriarchy" as the norm. On the other hand, he appeals to emancipated, upper-class women. But those two arguments tug in opposing directions. 

Similarly with the roles of husbands and wives, in Ephes. 5.21ff. Paul calls all Christians to mutual submission to each other…

That's deceptive, for the way in which husbands and wives are called to submit to each other is asymmetrical.  

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 identical 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. 

Needless to say, that simply begs the question in favor of egalitarianism. Yet that's the very issue in dispute!

This is why we should not be surprised to find even in Paul’s letters examples of women teachers, evangelist, prophetesses, deacons, and apostles.

That fails to examine what the terms and examples mean in context. 

Paul adds that in Christ there is no ‘male and female’ just as there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free.

Ah, yes. When all else fails, whip out the old Gal 3:28 trump card. That's the all-purpose standby of desperate egalitarians.

i) To begin with, Paul's phraseology is hyperbolic. Notice the rhetorical parallelism.

ii) In context, Paul isn't discussing equality in general, but common membership in the Abrahamic covenant via the new covenant. That's open to all by faith in Christ.

iii) Paul isn't abolishing all role relations. For instance, his discussion in Rom 1 presupposes irreducible differences between men and women. Men and women aren't interchangeable.  

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. 

I'm not a NT textual critic, but I'll venture the following observation. In a few MSS, vv34-35 are transposed to follow v40. What's the most likely explanation? Is this a scribal dislocation or a scribal interpolation? If the latter, it's hard to see how these verses came to be incorporated in all our MSS traditions.

If, on the other hand, a scribe inadvertently skipped over vv34-35 when he was copying the letter, then noticed his oversight, it would be too late to add them in the original sequence (between v33 and v36), because that space was now filled up. Because he continued copying before he noticed his oversight, he can't go back to insert vv34-35 where they belong. He can only add them further down, when he stopped copying. There's space ahead, but none before. When later scribes copy his MS, that becomes a MS tradition, albeit a minority tradition. 

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 allowed 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. 

Ben offers that harmonization with great assurance. Keep in mind, though, that that's just his hypothetical historical reconstruction. It could be correct, but the text itself doesn't say that or imply that. So his harmonization is overconfident. That's merely one possible explanation. He doesn't have any actual evidence that they were influenced by the Delphic oracle. 

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. 

Except that Ben himself draws attention to 1 Cor 11. But there Paul grounds the principle in the creation narrative (Gen 2). For Paul, the fact that Eve was made from Adam, rather than independently, or vice versa, is an indication that, in some respects, men naturally outrank women. 

A couple of other points about this text need to be noted: 1) the text says nothing about women submitting to men. 

An exercise in misdirection. 

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. 

That's a pretty obtuse objection considering the fact that Ben himself drew attention to 1 Cor 11. Paul is picking up where he left off in 1 Cor 11. He's alluding to Gen 2. 

What about 1 Tim. 2.8-15?…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. 

i) That's kitchen sink methodology, where you ransack Greco-Roman culture for miscellaneous material which supposedly forms the background to Paul's discussion. But that's much too generic. 

ii) Moreover, it's counterproductive. Ben oscillates between patriarchy and freewheeling upperclass women. But if some women already had that much authority in 1C religious circles, then it undercuts his appeal to oppressive patriarchal structures which kept women under the thumb of men. 

The problem was, they needed to be properly instructed and learn before they began to instruct others, whether male or female.

That turns Paul's prohibition into the opposite of what he actually said. 

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.

The key issue isn't the force of a Greek verb, but Paul's anthropology. 

Finally, what about the argument from creation, from the story of Eve? Paul is assuming some in his audience know the story very well…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 from picking the fruit, 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. 

i) It isn't clear from a "literal reading" of the narrative that Adam was right there during the temptation. The fact that Adam was there at the end doesn't mean he was there at the outset. For one thing, you must make allowance for narrative compression. Adam could have been out of earshot, then noticed that Eve was talking to a stranger, and came over to investigate. In fact, it would make sense for the Tempter to isolate Eve. Catch her when she was alone. More vulnerable. By the time Adam joins the conversation, it's already over. 

I'm not saying that's correct. I'm saying you have to make assumptions either way that go beyond what the account says. But if anything, the account indicates that it began with just two people–Eve and the Tempter. 

ii) Moreover, despite the fact that Adam takes the lion's share of the blame in Rom 5, Paul still takes the position that men naturally outrank women in 1 Cor 11. 

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!!”

Paul's argument is based on Gen 2, not Gen 3. The principle is prelapsarian, not postlapsarian. 

This is totally forgetting that Paul is speaking as a missionary into a strongly patriarchal cultural setting whether in Ephesus or on Crete, and his principle is to start where the people already are, not where he would like them to be. This means starting with the existing male leadership structure in the culture until the leaven of the Gospel can fully do its work and change things from the inside out. So quite naturally, it is men that Timothy and Titus are going to appoint first as leaders to these brand new church plants. This does not mean it needs always and forever to be that way, but the new converts would have to be convinced by loving persuasion that it was o.k. for women to fill such roles. You can see however how Paul is already beginning to push in that direction because in Rom. 16 he mentions a woman leader named Phoebe who is a deacon in the Corinthian churches, and probably there is a reference to women deacons in the Pastoral Epistles discussions about elders and deacons as well.

Once again, this reflects a systematic tension in Ben's argument. On the one hand he wants to say patriarchy was the norm. Men were over women.

On the other hand, he shifts to upper class women. But in that case, "patriarchy" oversimplifies the situation. In that case, the culture was stratified by social class as well as gender. Upperclass women were over lower-class men. The culture assigned some women (e.g. Roman noblewomen) a position of dominance over some men. 

Consider Galla Placidia. In the Roman pecking order, she outranked most men. Few men could afford to cross a woman in her station. 

And that might indeed account for some of the problems in some Pauline churches. A turf war between (male) elders and high-society women. Some women were used to wielding authority over men–men who were their social inferiors. 

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.

Keep in mind that Ben is an ordained minister in the UMC. He laments the liberalization of the UMC, yet he's oblivious to how the role of women in the UMC has contributed to the liberalization of his denomination. 


  1. BW3's method appears to be to parse/torture every statement of Paul until it abandons hope and leaves the field. This then leaves the obvious question - So, if none of that means much, outside of the very specific cultural + missionary situations that Paul spoke into, then we have a silence - how do you get from that silence to your enthusiastic advocacy of the thing that Paul (in his very specific situations, blah blah) is against? BW3's answer seems to be to detect a "trajectory". There are hints in the subtle influences Paul has set loose, which point, eventually, to full-on advocacy.

    This is a very weak argument, prima facie. Once you've (arguendo) established that everything does not mean what it appears to mean, but that innumerable subtleties mean that they in fact mean something quite different, on what grounds are we then to trust that we can get *anything at all* by detecting subtle trajectories, let alone "means the opposite"? If what apparently is clear in meaning in fact is not clear at all, then what level of confidence could a rational interpreter have in his ability to detect things in the remaining subtleties?

    There are more than a few shades of the Emporer's new clothes in BW3's article. He can detect what isn't there, because he's cleverer than you are.

  2. i) Here Ben resorts to the "trajectory" strategy.

    Steve, does this works for the issues of slavery and polygamy in such a way that though the Mosaic covenant didn't endorse slavery or polygamy, it regulated them? That God accommodated the practices because they weren't strictly evil? The laws in the Mosaic covenant regulating them being a concession on God's part because the practices were widespread in the ANE. But that they were never ideal. Freedom and monogamy were. With the latter Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Church/Scriptures moving in the "trajectory" of freedom and monogamy?

    1. You don't need a "trajectory" to condemn polygamy. You don't even need the NT. The OT clearly treats that as an aberration. Gen 2 is the ideal. The promiscuity of Abraham, David, and Solomon has disastrous consequences. That's a cautionary tale.

      "Slavery" isn't any one thing, as I've often explained. You have a critique of chattel slavery in Rev 18.