Posts Tagged ‘Gender


the word, and women in ministry

Women in church leadership is the church issue in the public domain in the UK at the moment, and serendipitously the focus of a short series of sermons in my local church, hence my posts on the topic. The role of women in church is not a topic about which I relish posting for by their nature such posts are polemical rather than edifying.  Also, I am not insensitive to the fact that my views find little resonance with many Christians today and none with the liberal establishment.  However, engaging in the polemic and unpalatable is often what loyalty to God involves.  Specifically, loyalty to God and his revealed will in Scripture means, in my view, defending male leadership in the church and opposing egalitarian voices (that is those who contend for both male and female leadership in the church).

I say ‘defending’ for complementarianism or patriarchy (male leadership) has been the overwhelmingly orthodox and established form of leadership in the Christian Church since post-apostolic times.  It was the basis of organized religious life in God’s OT people, whether of the patriarchs or the national Covenant Community,Israel.  And I would argue, despite egalitarian protests, it is the pattern of life in God’s New Covenant Community, the Church.  It is not simply that God’s people (OT and NT) lived in a patriarchal culture and tolerated it but that patriarchy (male-leadership) is affirmed, in both OT and NT, as God’s revealed order in this present world.  The NT (as the old) , I contend, teaches both implicitly and explicitly male leadership in the church, the new creation people of God who are one in Christ.

Now as Dylan said in the 60’s ‘the times they are a-changing’, however, that we shouldn’t criticize these changes (as Dylan insists) is simply chronological hubris.  And the C21, like every preceding century, is not free from hubris. NT Wright has written a piece criticising the notion that the church should simply ‘get with the programme’ of modern society. He writes,

‘It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the programme” over women bishops… The Church that forgets to say “we must obey God rather than human authorities” has forgotten what it means to be the Church. The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle. You might as well, walking in the mist, take a compass bearing on a mountain goat.’

He points out too the chronological snobbery that assumes what society now applauds must necessarily be right and good, the ‘but surely you can’t still believe that in the C21?’ mantra.  Citing C S Lewis, he writes,

“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasps a feckless official in one of C. S. Lewis’s stories. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?”

“I have seen them both in an egg,” replies the young hero. “We call it Going bad in Narnia.”

Lewis nails a lie at the heart of our culture. As long as we repeat it, we shall never understand our world, let alone the Church’s calling. And until proponents of women bishops stop using it, the biblical arguments for women’s ordination will never appear in full strength’

Wright goes on to observe,

‘If the Church had allowed prime ministers to tell them what the “programme” was it would have sunk without trace in fifty years. If Jesus had allowed Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate to dictate their “programme” to him there wouldn’t have been a Church in the first place.’

Lewis and Wright are surely correct and Wright is equally correct in asserting that for Christians, only biblical arguments can make the case for women’s ordination.  Only when these are made will the case for women’s ordination ‘appear in full strength‘.  The trouble is Wright’s ‘biblical arguments’ are far from imposing.  Granted, he is writing a blog post, however, having just asserted the need for solid biblical arguments revealing the ‘full strength’ of the egalitarian position, one assumes his sharpest and most compelling evidence will be marshalled, yet the arguments proposed are so weak they pixelate.

Wright’s case is constructed around three women.


Wright posits,

‘All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.’

Wow!  What a lot of freight this meeting with Mary is asked to bear.  I can hear it creaking ominously. Jesus inaugurates in this meeting with Mary, according to Wright, egalitarianism in the church (a point missed it would seem for some twenty centuries).

We must ask if egalitarianism is indeed established by this event?  To be sure, it is shrewd of Wright to regard egalitarianism as a post-resurrection and new creation phenomenon thus neatly dismissing any patriarchy in the creation narrative and the OT at large.  More significantly, it effectively neutralises (by placing in a past and now redundant era) the very awkward fact (for egalitarians) that Jesus chose twelve apostles, all male.  It is new creation inaugurated in Christ’s resurrection, says Wright, that introduces egalitarianism and this is signalled and symbolised by the first witness to the resurrection being a woman who is entrusted with the task announcing this momentous fact to the disciples.

Is Wright right?  Can the text bear the freight it is asked to carry?  A few questions demonstrate it cannot.

Does the text hint in any way that it is signalling and defining a new order in gender roles?  Does the subsequent NT refer to this event as the basis for an egalitarian ecclesiology?   Does the rest of the NT lead us to believe that this incident may have even implicitly signalled a game-changing egalitarianism?  The answer is uniform, self-evident and negative.

Mary’s meeting with Jesus in the garden was private not public, unofficial and not official. Interestingly when Paul cites witnesses to the resurrection to the Corinthian believers he does not include the appearance to Mary.  He says that Jesus was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve and then by over 500 brothers at the same time (1 Cor 15:1-5).    Likewise in Acts, it is the resurrection appearances to the apostles that Luke flags up as verifying the resurrection (Acts 1:1-3).  The public and official witness is exclusively male. Telling the others she had seen Jesus is likely to have been informal and certainly not something we can readily equate with authoritative teaching or leadership far less with inaugurating a new structuring of gender roles in the home, church and society. Nor is there later NT reference to this incident as signalling egalitarianism that one may expect if it were such a game-changing sociological event.

Given Wright’s premise (that new creation introduced egalitarianism) we may expect leaders in the early church to be fairly evenly balanced between male and female but this is not the case.  Indeed, when in post-resurrection the apostles choose someone who was with Jesus during his ministry to replace Judas, we may expect, if Wright is correct in his premise, a female disciple to be chosen (perhaps Mary Magdalene herself) to help ‘right’ the imbalance; a case for positive discrimination if ever one existed.  But no, the chosen replacement is male and not by accident rather masculinity is a required criterion (Acts 1:21-26). Throughout Acts the leadership of the Church continues to be male.  The deacons chosen in Acts 6 were all male.  Church elders were male (1 Tim 2).  In fact, the church, male and female, does not have a gender-neutral  name but is given the male generic title ‘brothers'(hardly an appropriate title for a new self-consciously egalitarian body in a patriarchal culture, as Wright would have us believe).  No, Wright, in his quest to find female leaders, is obliged to resort to two names that appear but once in Scripture, in Romans – an implicit confession his case is weak.

Does Mary’s witness to the resurrection signal a radically altered role for women in God’s new society?  Do the NT writers (all male) develop from this incident an egalitarian theology? Far from it. Instead we find them asserting that gender roles in the church find their origin not in new creation but in the original creation.  It is to the garden of Eden that the writers turn not to the garden where Jesus met Mary.  Far from the NT championing egalitarianism, female leadership in church is explicitly outlawed  (for some did try to introduce it) based on the creational order of Adam and Eve, an event that the NT writers do invest with sociological significance (1 Cor 11:1-16; 14:33-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15).  Wright tries to negate the force of these explicit texts by claiming that ‘serious scholars’ disagree about their meaning.  Well there’s a surprise. Scholars always disagree over that which they do not wish to obey, in this they are ‘men of like passions’ with the rest of us.  For thousands of years ‘serious scholars’ understood these texts but now, just when society embraces egalitarianism, they are found to be a morass of exegetical difficulty – forgive my skepticism.

The simple fact is that in this inaugurated stage of new creation (which happened as Wright says, at the resurrection), living as it does in the midst of the old creation, all that belongs to the Pre-Fall order of creation is honoured by it.  In fact, the order of the original creation should be upheld and revered in this world by God’s new creation most particularly; while the world may overthrow it, the church will extol it and exemplify it.  It is worth noting that many who insist on creation ethics as the basis for ecological concerns and even marriage squirm embarrassingly to extricate themselves from its patriarchal order.  There is a patent dishonesty here.

Wright is wrong, Mary does not signal a new egalitarian ethic in God’s new society, what she does demonstrate is that a heart devoted to Christ, as Mary’s was, will receive blessings that the less devoted heart will miss.  It was love for her Lord that held Mary at the cross while most fled.  It was this same love that brought her to the tomb on the first day of the week before all others and kept her there when others had gone.  Devotion is gender-free.  But the rewards of a devoted heart and the order God has placed in his new society are two different things and not to be confused.


To support his contention that Mary signals an egalitarian church order Wright offers two NT examples of women in leadership.  To all but the most jaundiced eye these examples must appear weak in the extreme, even faintly ridiculous.  If this is the best egalitarians can put in the window to prove women’s leading role in the early church then they should shut shop.  Wright’s examples have a whiff of desperation about them. His first is Junia.

Junia(s), Wright informs us, is female and an apostle.  In fact, the sum total of information we have about Junia(s) in the NT is contained in these words found in Romans 16,

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to/among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (Roms 16:7)

Junia has become an egalitarian cause célèbre carrying on her shoulders as she does the responsibility for providing a clear example of female leadership in the NT.  I say ‘her’ with some diffidence for while it is probable, it is by no means certain that Junia(s) is a woman.   Further, it is certainly not clear that ‘well known to/among the apostles’ implies Junia(s) is herself/himself an apostle.  It may be just as readily, and more plausibly, understood that the apostles knew of Andronicus and Junia (a husband and wife team?) and held them in high regard.   Given the explicit texts supporting patriarchy we are obliged to understand the more ambiguous reference to Junia(s) in a way which harmonizes with these which makes Junia someone well-known to the apostles the likely interpretation. However, even if the text is understood as Junia being an apostle, she is clearly not one of the twelve and we must remember the noun ‘apostle’ has also an non-technical ordinary sense, simply meaning ‘messenger’ or ‘envoy’ and saying nothing about church leadership (Phil 2:12; Cf. 2 Cor 8:23; Jn 13:16); Andronicus and Junia may simply be messengers or envoys sent from one church to another, or a husband and wife missionary team each functioning within their God-given gender roles.   If the proof for active female leadership in the early church depends on Junia’s credentials as an apostle it is thin indeed.


Wright, to my mind, scrabbles around even more desperately in his second example.  The sum total of what we know of Phoebe is again found in Romans 16 where we read,

Rom 16:1-2 (ESV2011)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

Wright exposits,

‘Within a few decades, Paul was sending greetings to friends including an “apostle” called Junia (Romans xvi, 7). He entrusted that letter to a “deacon” called Phoebe whose work was taking her to Rome. The letter-bearer would normally be the one to read it out to the recipients and explain its contents. The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.’

I think he hopes the flourish of rhetoric will mask the audacity of his claim.  The conclusion of his last sentence leaves one flabbergasted.  Wright makes theological quantum leaps larger than many secular evolutionists do in their discipline though like them he seems unfazed and unabashed.  We are not told Phoebe is the letter-bearer?  Where is the proof that the letter-bearer read it out to the church?  And more insistent still, where is the evidence that the letter-bearer exposited it to the church?   Wright’s sweeping assertions and leaps of logic beggar belief.  Let’s not be swept along by his rhetoric; let’s not mistake rhetoric for what is actually revealed, for the rather more prosaic truth is that Phoebe was a servant of her home church and was visiting Rome.  We are not told that she carried the letter to Rome; Wright extrapolates from a conjecture and creates a mythology, ‘ The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.’.  Can we trust biblical scholarship like this?

If this case presents the strongest plank egalitarians stand on then it is not merely ominously creaky but collapses under them.


more on same-sex marriage

Further to my previous post with links to the same-sex marriage debate I’d like to recommend one other.  My friend Jonathan McLatchie has an excellent post here.  Although general in scope, it addresses the Scottish situation.


what happens when eve tells adam what to do and adam lets her…

The whole of Scripture demands careful reading.  Nothing is insignificant.  This is nowhere more true than in the opening chapters of Genesis.  These chapters are laden with symbolism.  The narrative of Gen 1-3 is pregnant with the big issues of human history.   In a couple of previous blogs (here, here and here) we reflected a little on the text of Scripture which gives the account of ‘the rebellion’ or ‘the fall’.

Gen 3:1-6 (ESV)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” ​​​ And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

I thought today I should reflect a little on one of the human failings that facilitates the fall, a creational irregularity that contributes to the rebellion.   In Gen 2 we are told that Adam is created first and then Eve.  This is significant.  Priority in creation conferred leadership (1 Tim 2:13).  Moreover, in the Genesis account, Adam was the source of Eve; she came from his body (Gen 2:21).  This too is significant.  The narrative point is that source and origin confer rights; the woman,  coming as she does from the man is intended to reflect the worth of the man in her submission to him (1 Cor 11:8).   Furthermore, we are expressly told the woman was made as a help for the man and not (at least in the most formal sense) vice versa (Gen 2:18).  A point again plainly stated in the NT (1 Cor 11:9).  We could add further indications of male leadership.  For example, Adam names Eve.  To name in the ancient world was an indication of authority (a bit like the implied authority of parents in naming their children still is today).

This male leadership is sometimes called patriarchy or more often today it is known as complementarianism.  It is called complementarianism as a way of recognising that males and females created by God are different and have different callings in life, callings which were never intended to be in conflict but to be complementary.  Now it is not my intention to try to tease out these different callings or roles.  I want simply to observe as the previous paragraph has made plain that fundamental to this distinction is the calling of men to lead.

Of course, even as I wrote the previous sentence, I realised how utterly reprehensible it is to the modern ear.  It is considered impossibly oppressive.  It is thoroughly retrograde and unpardonably recidivist.  Patriarchy may have been the basis of every civilization in all of previous history but we are enlightened, we know better.  Any half-human, half-moral, half-intelligent person knows that the only right position is full egalitarianism.  That is, male and female are not only equal in value and importance (which no complementarian denies) but any suggestion of gender meaning role differences is toxic and grotesque.   The patriarchy or complementarianism of Genesis 1-3 does not stand a prayer in our modern world.  It has as much credibility as claims that the world is flat.  I know this.

Yet, while the Bible does not claim that the earth is flat, it does teach again and again, in both old and new Testaments that God has conferred leadership on the male.  In fact, implicit in the narrative we are considering is that the misappropriation of roles by both Adam and Eve contributed to ‘the rebellion’.  The narrator is careful to inform us that the serpent spoke to Eve.  It is Eve that is beguiled and deceived.  Then Eve urges Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and Adam follows her bidding.  The point is clear, both acted outside their God-given callings.  Eve took the lead in a critical decision to disobey God and Adam in culpable weakness allowed her to do so.   Sin entered the world because neither maintained their God-given roles.

This, Paul forbids women to teach in the church for two reasons, one formal the other material.  The formal reason, that is, the essential reason, is that because of male priority in creation God has placed the responsibility of leadership and therefore  teaching in the church to the male (1 Tim 2:11-13) .  We may add to this a material reason, or if you like a reason evident from observation, namely, that given Eve was deceived by the serpent, and Adam was not it is clear that God knew what he was doing in placing leadership in the hands of the male; women seem more easily duped (1 Tim 2:14).  If you disagree with the latter comment then your beef is not with me, but Paul.  In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, your quarrel is with the Holy Spirit.

What is my main point in this post?  It is that reneging against biblical gender roles and the great rebellion go hand in hand in the biblical narrative.  The modern drive for a full-blown egalitarianism in society is simply an indicator of its defiance of God and his revealed pattern in creation.  This defiance by society is already having tragic consequences.  Neither men nor women feel sure of  their identity and responsibilities.  Their image is increasingly shaped by the media – the least responsible culture-conditioner imaginable.    Men are shoe-horned into caricatures of  either machismo-ism or homosexual effeminacy.  The new ‘metrosexual man’ is as concerned with his looks, dress and smell as his female counterpart, probably more so.  Meanwhile women discover their ‘freedom’ has pretty well turned them into the sex-objects of the worst kind of male fantasy; a new kind of sexualized woman: the hard-hitting Lucy Lui; the Terminator’s Sarah Connor; Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley';  Kate Beckinsdale’s  Underworld ‘Selene'; or Uma Thurman’s ‘The Bride’ in Kill Bill.  The list goes on.  The female who is more deadly than the male is part of C21 lore.

In the new egalitarian society boys don’t grow up to be men, they remain ‘boys’ with all their boyish evasion of responsibility.  All are charmingly irresponsible and befuddled Hugh Grant’s.   They marry later, if at all.  They father children but do not raise them.  Women wear the trousers and carry the responsibility.  They study, achieve, provide the income and keep the home (not so egalitarian in reality).  Men become touchy-feely while women are stoical and hard.   The role reversal works out at so many levels.    But the net result is marriage deeply suffers and society begins to disintegrate.  The net result is the rebellion deepens.

Of course, there are other factors that play into the troubles of society, but the setting aside  of a responsible complementarianism, as in Gen 3,  is undoubtedly one.

What a loss of complementarianism means for the church will be the subject of a future post.


patriarchy and jane fonda

This blog first appeared on a previous blogsite.  I feel it is worth reiterating.  Too many churches seem committed to a policy of pragmatism on the role of women in church life.  It represents a tacit abandonment of biblical authority in the church whose final end is apostasy.

For a few years it appeared Jane Fonda – the Angelina Jolie of my generation – had become an evangelical Christian. Embracing biblical faith was an astonishing volte face for the liberal leftist ‘Hanoi Jane’. Tragically her faith in its initial form was not to last. All too soon she saw conflict with her liberal left feminist agenda and something had to give. What gave was her commitment to a biblical faith. She saw quite clearly that biblical faith was not compatible with her militant feminism and regrettably her feminism trumped her faith, at least in its biblical manifestation. She still describes herself as a Christian but finds the Gnostic gospels more appealing and more in line with her liberalism and feminism.

I admire her honesty. She faced the message of the Bible squarely, saw its patriarchy was not merely a cultural context but a conviction, and rejected its message. In this she shows more integrity than an army of evangelical feminists and their acolytes who manage by hermeneutic sleight of hand to convince themselves that the Bible supports their egalitarian agenda. This despite the following and much more besides.

The Bible is composed of two testaments. The NT writings are written exclusively by men. The OT is probably written exclusively by men (two books are named after women but are written in the third person).

In a world of both male and female deities the Deity of the Bible, OT and NT, is emphatically masculine. In the OT, Yahweh is accompanied by male pronouns. He is King, not Queen. When he takes on human theophanous form he is invariably male. In the NT, God is ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ both demonstrably male titles. He is also ‘Spirit’ always defined in masculine terms. When God becomes human in Jesus he becomes a man.

In Genesis we discover that when God creates human beings he creates a man first. More, the woman he creates is derived from the male and is made to be a ‘helper’ of the man. In fact from Genesis forward patriarchy is inescapable. The concern of the early chapters of Genesis is with the male children. Genealogies are traced through males. God calls Abraham, a man, and promises that through him and his seed (Jesus) the whole earth will be blessed. The major players in Genesis thereafter are male – Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons (with his daughter gaining only a fleeting mention). The tribes of Israel are named after the sons not the daughter.

The same could be said of the rest of the OT. Moses the leader of God’s people is male. Aaron the leader of the priesthood is male. Indeed only males were allowed to be priests. The Judges in Israel who led before a King was given were all male bar one, Deborah, and she only reluctantly became a judge because of the weakness of the men. In fact she makes explicit that her leadership brings shame on the men (Judges 4). When God appoints a King he appoints, as the title reveals, a male. And all the prophets reveal that the Messiah to come will be male.

In the NT the Messiah arrives and is indeed male. When he chooses his alternative Israel he chooses twelve apostles to represent the twelve tribes – all are male. Leadership in the NT church was male – elders had wives not husbands. The public teachers of the church were male… but here I will stop for we get into disputed territory.

Now of course I am not saying women had no place or are not prominent from time to time in the biblical narrative. Think of the four great women specifically included in the genealogy of the birth of Christ. However, they are there for a specific purpose and are the exceptions that prove the rule. My point here is not to address the relative roles of men and women in Scripture but simply to point out the highly disputed, yet indisputable fact of patriarchy in the Bible, or male leadership, a fact only too obvious to Jane Fonda.


god’s women

It ought to be crystal clear to any who read Scripture (though I know it is not) that God has placed authority in this present world in the hands of men.  In both OT and NT God’s model of order in society involves male leadership.  Yet any who infer from this that women are either inferior or unimportant are not reading their Bible.   The reality is, often God uses women to accomplish his purposes.  Examples of this are peppered throughout Scripture.

One example lies in the preservation of the child Moses.  Moses in God’s purpose was to be a strategic leader of God’s people.  He was the leader used by God to redeem his people from Egypt.  He prefigured in many ways God’s coming Messiah. In the OT, Moses is a towering figure.  Yet, in God’s ways,  Moses would be who he became because of women who protected and shielded him. He owed his life to godly women who risked theirs to preserve his.  All Pharaoh’s (Satan’s) attempts to destroy Moses (and for that matter the divine seed, Israel) were thwarted by women.  His mother hid him in a basket made of bulrushes in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree he should die at birth (Ex 2:2-3).  The midwives, ordered to kill all male children outwitted Pharaoh’s orders because they feared God more than the King (Ex 1:17).  Moses’ sister watched over him as he lay in the basket at the banks of the Nile (Ex 2:4).  God, with heavenly irony, even ordered that Pharaoh’s daughter would find the basket and take care of the child; Pharaoh’s own house is orchestrated by God to protect Moses (Ex 2:6).

In the narrative, Pharaoh’s impotence to destroy the people of God and thwart God’s purpose is exposed.  Women, considered weak in their culture, yet strong in faith and in the Lord, are used to ‘confound the mighty’.  God delights in using the weak of this world to destroy the strong.  He uses the things that ‘are not’ to bring to nothing the things that ‘are’.

It has always been thus and will continue so to be.  Thank God for godly women.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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