Those of us who support women in ministry are often accused of “not believing the Bible” when we explain that we have different interpretations of those few passages that, on the surface, appear to either restrict women from leadership roles or subjugate women to men.
If you look at those passages in context, you’ll find that those who restrict women in ministry “don’t believe in” the passages they use against women, either. (And by “don’t believe in,” I mean their definition of the phrase—where if a passage isn’t interpreted and implemented at face value, then the person in question “doesn’t believe in it” regardless of any hermeneutics or context that they may otherwise use to explain the passage.)
This isn’t some occasional problem with their hermeneutics. Literally, every single one of the key passages that they use to argue for the subordination of women has at least one verse that they routinely fail to preach or teach. They expect us to believe that the subordination / restriction verses are crystal clear, but when you point out the rest of the passage, the hemming and the hawing begins.
For this post, note that I’ll be using the abusive boyfriend of Bible translations, aka the English Standard Version, to show that even a translation that was created specifically to give safe space to evangelical complementarian views isn’t able to translate these passages in a way that they can teach and affirm. Normally I wouldn’t use the ESV for anything other than holding down the lid on my George Foreman grill.
Here are the wedding vows that we used for our ceremony, as well as the sermon that my friend Katie Langston preached when she married us. Katie and I met online almost 10 years ago when I was mostly blogging about Mormonism, where she was one of the Mormon commentators on my blog. She is now a divinity candidate at Luther Seminary, preparing to serve as a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The vows came in part from the egalitarian wedding vows available at The Junia Project. I suggested the quotes from John Wesley and Christine Caine, while Katie crafted the sermon on Song of Songs 8:6-7. (My immediate response when Katie asked me if she could preach on SoS 8:6-7 at my wedding was, “Why? What’s wrong with verse 8?”)
I thank Katie again for flying out to my wedding and putting together this beautiful sermon on such short notice.
Welcome and Prayer
Officiant to audience: On behalf of the Jeffries and L. families, welcome to this celebration of marriage of Bridget and V. Join me in prayer as we ask God to bless this union.
I’m old-fashioned about many things. I didn’t own a smart phone until 2014. I still believe in saving sex for marriage (and frankly, all of you “very serious” Christians announcing on your OKCupid profiles that you’ll have sex “within 3-5 dates” need to read 1 Thess. 4:3-8 and repent). And I love me a good, paper-and-glue book. I’m a proud member of Book of the Month Club (est. 1926) and they deliver me a hardcover copy of a 2017 new release every month.
I was also pretty stubborn about sticking to a paper copy of the Bible for daily readings. Until recently.
I’ve honestly never understood people who take this position given that the Bible contains a very specific example of a woman preaching in public:
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to [Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)
Some notes on this passage:
– The temple was both public and holy.
– Anna is noted as holding an authoritative calling (prophet). Paul said that the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20) and that prophets were second in authority after apostles but before teachers and those with gifts of leadership (1 Corinthians 12:28).
– The text takes pains to establish Anna’s holiness. The wife of one husband (1 Timothy 5:9) then widowed, one who frequently fasted and prayed, and one who never left the temple.
– Most notably, Anna spoke about Jesus Christ not just to Mary and Joseph, but “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” In other words, this was not some doting grandmother figure uttering a private prayer over a sweet little newborn. Her meeting with the infant Christ prompted her to turn and preach Jesus Christ to all those gathered there who were expecting a Messiah.
I honestly have no idea how complementarians and other hierarchists try to conform this passage to their anti-woman theology, but I’ll hazard some guesses:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. ~ 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (NIV)
Claim: In 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Paul tells all women to sit down and shut up in church.
Claim: 1 Cor. 14:33b-35 restricts women from preaching.
Short Answer: 1 Cor. 14:34-35 isn’t about preaching at all, nor is it directed at all women. It was an injunction against a small group of Corinthian wives who were interrupting congregational meetings with (probably uninformed) questions. It should be translated, “Let the wives remain silent when the congregation meets; they are certainly not permitted to speak out. Rather, let them submit themselves, as says the law. If there is something they want to know, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for a wife to speak out in a congregational meeting.”
The previous post refuted the incorrect claim that the Bible teaches all three persons of the Trinity as quintessentially male. But what about Jesus Christ? After all, the fact that he was incarnated as a man had to mean something, right? In recent years, arguments against women’s ordination have come to rely more and more heavily on Jesus’ human gender.
Such arguments overlook the entire nature of who Christ is. More importantly, they overlook the fact that the early Christians undeniably associated Jesus with the female person of Wisdom in the Old Testament and other Jewish intertestamental literature.
In both the Greek and the Hebrew, the word for wisdom (σοφία / חָכְמָה) is feminine. In numerous places in the Old Testament, this feminine concept of wisdom is personified as a woman, sometimes with majestic and powerful language wherein Wisdom makes divine claims of herself. For example:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always[.] 
Wisdom was also a regular fixture of intertestamental Jewish literature such as Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom of Solomon, the result being that Wisdom as a personified divine aspect of and authorized assistant to YHWH was already an important philosophical and theological concept among the Jewish community at the time of the birth of Christ.
Throughout Christian history, Wisdom has received significant attention from figures and movements in search of a feminine understanding of God. (more…)
There is a female apostle in the Bible named Junia (Romans 16:7): “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (NIV) Anyone who opposes the ordination of women needs to reconcile their theology of ordination with that fact.
Several early church fathers commented on the passage and confirmed this Scriptural witness to a female apostle:
Origen (AD 184/185 – 253/254): “It is indeed possible that they were Paul’s relatives even according to the flesh and that they believed in Christ before him and were held to be noble among the apostles of Christ. It can also be understood that perhaps they were of the seventy-two, who themselves were also named apostles, and on that account he would call them noble among the apostles, even among those apostles who were before him.” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans 10.21.2, as translated into Latin and preserved by Rufinus, translated into English by Thomas Scheck)
John Chrysostom (c. AD 349 – 407): “To be apostles is a great thing, but to be distinguished among them—consider what an extraordinary accolade that is! They were distinguished because of their works and because of their upright deeds. Indeed, how great was the wisdom of this woman that she was thought worthy of being called an apostle!” (In epistulam ad Romanos 31.2; PG:60.669-70, translation mine)
Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c. AD 393 – c. 458/466): “Then to be called ‘of note’ not only among the disciples but also among the teachers, and not just among the teachers but even among the apostles . . . ” (Interpretatio in quatuordecim epistolas S. Pauli 82.200, translated by Linda Belleville)
That alone is enough to establish that the first sentence of this post is a sound translation of Romans 16:7 with the backing of history and tradition.
For some, the gender  of God is obvious. The God of the Old Testament is referred to exclusively with masculine pronouns, adjectives, and verbs.  For the New Testament, both the Father and the Son are similarly described in masculine terms, while the titles used for God in both testaments are entirely masculine as well. Many believe this alone represents enough data to show that God is an essentially male or masculine being.
Most male headship advocates  will assert that the Spirit is referred to as a masculine being as well.  In actuality, the data on the Third Person of the Trinity is less decisive. In Hebrew, the word for “spirit” is the feminine רוּחַ, so the adjectives and verbs associated with it throughout the Old Testament are usually feminine—for example, מְרַחֶפֶת for hovered in Gen. 1:3. In Greek, the word for “spirit” is the neuter πνεῦμα with most of its adjectives and pronouns matching that case. Going by gendered language alone, the Spirit is a “she” or an “it.”
The oft-cited exceptions occur in John 15-16 when Jesus is delivering his sermon on the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, wherein he refers to the Spirit with the masculine pronoun ἐκεῖνος. At first glance this seems significant since a neuter form for this adjective exists (ἐκεῖνο) and John seems to have shunned it in favor of the masculine even though it does not match the case of the noun under discussion. However, the antecedent to ἐκεῖνος is not πνεῦμα, but παράκλητος, a masculine adjective functioning as a substantive noun. This could still be a decisive declaration on the Spirit’s sexuality if John had originated this usage of the term, but he did not. The masculine plural form was similarly used as a substantive adjective by Demosthenes in the 4th century BC.  John took the pre-existing masculine concept of a παράκλητος as one’s legal advocate and applied it to the Holy Spirit. It therefore follows that his identification has everything to do with the Spirit’s function in the lives of believers, not its gender.
This poses a dilemma for Christians who assert that God is wholly male or masculine: (more…)
I never read the entirety of The Shack, the popular 2007 Christian novel about a man who converses with God about the murder of his beloved youngest daughter. My reasons were not theological. I had a childhood friend who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered when I was 9 and she was 11, so the subject of the novel was a little too close to home for me.
I did read enough of the novel to know that two members of the Trinity, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, manifested themselves as women (a black woman and an Asian woman, respectively), and this became one of the many theological “problems” that was protested in the novel. For example, Mark Driscoll, then at the zenith of his megachurch pastor career, decried this as “goddess worship.” Mary Kassian, writing for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, lamented that evangelical fans of The Shack were “succumbing to the feminist pressure to image God in feminine ways.” In quite recent history, complementarians and other male headship advocates  got it into their heads that all three members of the Trinity are quintessentially masculine and/or male, and as such, God could not have incarnated as a woman nor could he ever manifest as one, even if he wanted to.
The Shack has now been made into a major motion picture starring Sam Worthington. It was released today. Its reviews have sadly gone the way of most Christian films (15% on RottenTomatoes as I write this), but in light of the film, I thought it might be worth it to revisit what the Bible says about whether God has a gender, along with some extrabiblical details and philosophical considerations.
I am of the opinion that gender is created and God does not possess one as part of any eternal nature, so God could theoretically incarnate and/or manifest himself as a woman as well as a man should it please him to do so. And I want to point out that viewing God as genderless is not some novel feminist incursion on traditional Christian theology. It is historic and quite mainstream. (more…)
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright [New York, N. Y.: HarperOne, 2010; HarperAudio audiobook read by Anthony Ferguson, 2010]
If C. S. Lewis had been in favor of women’s ordination and a Bible scholar (two things which naturally belong together ;-)), he would have been N. T. Wright. They were/are both Anglican, English, taught at Oxford, and have/had a preponderance of fondness for being known by their initials. Wright also, like Lewis, possesses a keen ability to reason from the Scriptures in a simple yet logical manner and a creative command of useful metaphors and analogies to bring his points to life. His Simply Christian (which I haven’t read) has been compared to Lewis’s Mere Christianity, with obvious similarities in the titles. No word on whether or not Wright shares in Lewis’s fondness for cigars, but I digress.
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is a sequel to Simply Christian, but I can attest that you don’t have to read the first to understand and be edified by the second. As the subtitle suggests, After You Believe is about the development of character and what that means, a call for Christians to return to the pursuit of virtue. Central to Wright’s message is a breakdown of what the “Royal Priesthood” is: that Christians are meant to be both rulers and priests, and that this life is but the small opening part of a much longer existence (there are echoes of deification in this theology, although Wright does not use that term). The pursuit of virtue is not a matter of salvation, Wright is clear, but something we should seek earnestly in anticipation of and preparation for what God means for us to be. Wright makes the case that virtue is not something we are automatically given by the indwelling of the Spirit, but something that we must make a conscious effort to build up and pursue—with the Spirit’s help, of course.