In The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight spends about half the book showing how the narrative approach to hermeneutics changes our thinking on the role of women in the church. In our lesson series, we’re not going to spend so much time on it, because I didn’t want to give the impression that we were studying this book just to study the role of women — and because there were so many other lessons to cover that are important, too. But neither can we skip the lessons.
There are basically four positions that people take regarding what the Bible says about the role of women:
1. Paternalism. Women can have no position of leadership over men. It’s a positive command of God (just a rule). Therefore, we need to honor the command as strictly as possible to show God that we truly fear him. The principle derives from Gen 3:16 and applies in marriage and the church.
(Gen 3:16) To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
And “rule” means rule.
Now that we’ve learned a better hermeneutic, we can immediately reject this theory for two reasons. First, we now know that the Curse is the enemy of God and Jesus came to undo the Curse.
Second, we know that God wants us to be united with our spouses in the same way that Adam and Eve were “one flesh” and “united” — which emulates the unity the Trinity enjoy.
(John 17:20-21) “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
It would hardly make sense for husbands and wives to be less united that two unmarried disciples! — and Jesus prays for his disciples to be as united as Jesus and God.
2. Liberal feminism. There are those who’d argue that we can ignore the New Testament passages on the role of women solely because they disagree with modern cultural assumptions about the equality of men and women. But this approach places our culture and preferences above the scriptures. It’s not a position we’ll waste any time on.
3. Spiritual leadership. One of two moderate positions argues that the husband is the “spiritual leader” of the wife and the spiritual leaders of a congregation are to be men. This position notes —
* That Gen. 3:16 is a curse and therefore not normative for God’s children.
* That 1 Cor 14:33-36 has been misinterpreted. Obviously, women were permitted to pray and prophesy in the presence of men in the assembly, as chapter 11 amply evidences. Therefore, women aren’t required to be silent.
However, 1 Tim 2:11-15 remains the rule, and women may not teach or exercise authority over men.
4. Egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is a school of thought that argues that 1 Tim 2:11-15 has also been misinterpreted, and that the real test of the role of women is whatever gifts the Spirit has given them. If God chooses for a woman to have the gift of leadership, she is to use it to God’s glory.
Thus, in marriage, husbands and wives are partners — there is no heirarchy, no tie-breaking vote. Rather, decisions are made jointly, with the spouses each exercising their talents to their fullest extent.
I’ve covered this material in great detail in an earlier series called Buried Talents. That series is very comprehensive and covers many questions that we won’t have time to cover here.
The Story doesn’t change with the subject. The Story is still that, ever since the Curse, God has been working to fix broken relationships in marriage, in the community of God’s people, and between God’s people and God.
And it’s still true that Jesus began the work of undoing our brokeness through his atoning work and the gift of the Spirit. The Kingdom continues to anticipate heaven, which will be a return to the Paradise of Eden, except better.
We’ve already covered the lessons of Genesis 1 – 3. I just want to remind the reader of a few points.
First, the Hebrew word translated “helper” is ‘ezer and usually refers to God as Israel’s helper. There is no indication in the word of inferiority or subordination. It’s just not there.
Second, there’s nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 that suggests that Eve was inferior or subordinate to Adam. We sometimes read that into Genesis from the New Testament, but just picking up chapters 1 and 2 and reading them cold, it’s pretty clear that Adam’s rule over Eve came from sin — and that his rule over Eve was a change.
Third, “rule” (mashal) in Gen 3:16 means rule. For example, Joseph uses the word in describing his position in Egypt —
(Gen 45:8) “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler [mashal] of all Egypt.”
It does not mean “spiritual leader.” If God made man the spiritual leader of the church, it wasn’t in Genesis 3.
Now, because of the Curse, we should expect that, throughout history, men will dominate women. And it’s true; the Bible certainly reflects the patriarchy that is so common in most of the world’s history. However, because God has always loved us and sought to cure our brokeness, we should expect to see moments when male domination is overcome by the power of God.
In my reading, most books and articles that argue for male spiritual leadership or male rule deal with Deborah by ignoring her. Those with the integrity to deal with her wiki-story do so illogically. There may be exceptions, but I’ve not seen one.
(Judg 4:4-6) Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.
6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor.”
Deborah was a prophetess, a married woman, a judge, a leader over Israel, and commander-in-chief over the commander of the army. She was literally a judge — she decided cases — and people, men and women, submitted to her authority. And speaking as a lawyer, if anyone has authority, judges have authority.
Chapter 5 of Judges, the Song of Deborah, was written by Deborah and Barak — so add to her list of accomplishments: author of a chapter of the Bible.
If God established in Eden an order or hierarchy in which men are to lead women, there’s no explaining Deborah. She clearly enjoyed the favor of God and the people. The general obeyed her orders.
In Men of Strength for Women of God, F. LaGard Smith argues that God gave Deborah rule as a consequence of the weakness of the men. He cites as authority,
(Judg 4:6-9) She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'”
8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
9 “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh,
Well, Deborah was judge, leader, and prophetess long before Barak asked her to go with him. And the result of Barak wanting this prophet of God present wasn’t the beginning of female rule but credit for the victory going to a woman — quite a different thing. Smith’s theory fails for lack of any evidence. It’s just not in the scriptures.
Any theory of the role of women has to be consistent with Judges 4 – 5.
Speaking of the Messianic age, Joel prophesied,
(Joel 2:28-29) ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.’
Clearly, one of the signs of the coming of the Messianic would be the outpouring of the Spirit on both men and women. Of course, there had been female prophets before Joel. The change was not that a few women would receive the Spirit — that had already happened. The change was the men and women would be equal recipients of the Spirit.
The Kingdom would include the restoration of the Edenic relationship between God and men and women. In Eden God walked both with Adam and Eve.