The Paw Print

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Editorial Issue 1

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For the last couple centuries, the church has grappled with the question of God’s is will for women serving in the church? This question is frequently asked because of multiple scripture passages that can lead to confusing conclusions around whether or not women have different roles than men in church. The Paw Print staff talked about what they think Scripture concludes about women as church leaders. The majority of the staff believed that women should be allowed to hold all leadership positions if God calls them to one, with a couple of members saying that although they had not seen or may not prefer a female pastor, they were not against it if God calls a woman to that position.

Questions regarding church leadership often end up intertwining with questions about the male/female dynamics in a Christlike marriage. Many christians hold that marriage is modeled after the relationship between Christ and the church, so then the church itself is modeled after marriage. This puts great importance on what the Bible really says about men and women in marriage, and what, if any, different roles exist.

In the modern church, there are two major camps in the discussion of the effect of gender on church leadership and marriage: the egalitarian argument and the complementarian argument. The egalitarian argument holds that there is complete equality through Christ, and that the Holy Spirit equally works through male and female, calling them to the same positions in the church. It holds that male and female are also both called to mutual submission to each other in marriage and in church communities. The complementarian argument holds that although created equal, men and women hold equal but separate roles in the church and in a marital relationship. It also holds that Christians are called to mutual submission, but within this submission there is a doctrine of male headship in marriage, and of a male pastor over his congregation. The majority of the Paw Print staff holds a more egalitarian view.

Part 1

Old Testament Theology of Equality and Female Leadership

Support for having all roles in church leadership and mutual submission in marriages comes from not only the New Testament, but all throughout the Biblical narrative. It begins in Genesis, when God creates both male and female in his image, and then gives them equal, dominative authority over creation. Following this is the fall, when both man and woman are cursed. The curse affecting the woman, found in Genesis 3:16, reads, “To the woman He said,‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” This verse is often used in support of a complementarian argument because it says “he [the husband] will rule over you [the wife].” Scripture is not saying this should happen — it is not saying patriarchy is the way the world is meant to be. It is saying it will happen–which it has throughout all of history, in almost every culture. A disparity between men and women is a part of the curse put on creation, equated here with the pains of childbirth. Every part of this verse is describing a result of broken relationships brought on by sin–it is not describing a sinful act. A woman having pain in childbirth is not her sinning, just as a woman desiring rightful equality with man is not a sinful act. God is describing the negative effects that will happen because of a now unnatural imbalance. There will be more physical pain (“in pain you will bring forth children”), and there will be also be social pain (“he will rule over you”).

Old Testament Female Leaders

Later in the Old Testament, although much less frequently recorded than the male leaders, there is evidence of female leadership in scripture. Examples of these leaders are Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4-5), Esther (Esther 4:15-17), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) and Athaliah (2 Chronicles 22:10-12).

Part 2

New Testament Theology of Equality and Female Leadership

Throughout the New Testament there is theological and historical evidence of women in leadership roles. It’s important to establish that the Jewish culture Jesus entered into was a patriarchy. A patriarchy is:  “a form of social organization in which the father is the supreme authority in the family, clan, or tribe and descent is reckoned in the male line, with the children belonging to the father’s clan or tribe”( Nearly all the cultures Paul wrote to, with the exception of certain Greco-Roman cities (including Ephesus, who he wrote to in 1 Timothy and Ephesians), were almost completely patriarchal societies. This affects the way Jesus treated women, and the way Paul wrote about women in his letters.

First, the question arises: Why would Jesus have only male disciples if he valued men and women equally?Why would Jesus only pick males as his closest disciples on Earth if he obviously valued and supported women learning from his teachings more than traditional gender roles (ei. Galatians 3:28, Luke 10: 38-42, etc.)? Likely this was because the culture would not have listened at all to Him if he completely broke from their norms. Jesus’s disvalue of gender norms and societal walls is evident when he preaches to a samaritan woman, considered one of the lowest of the lows, and in turn she becomes the first known witness to the gentiles. To have people listen to him and his message required a certain level of cultural conformity. Putting women in an official authoritative position at that moment would likely have hindered his ministry. This means that although Jesus lived in a patriarchal society, and did not completely break from it, he still began to break from it, and in doing so supported the original equality found in the very beginning of Genesis.

This positive example of a woman teaching is very important in establishing Jesus’ desire for everyone to teach his word, not just males. If 1 Timothy 2:12-13 meant women were not supposed to preach or teach the gospel to anyone but other women, then it is contradictory with what is happening in John 4 with the Samaritan woman’s testimony bringing many to the Lord. She taught and people believed.

There are a few instances in the New Testament where the direct translations from Greek to English leave us with different colloquial connotations that affect some verses regarding women in the church. For example, when 1 Corinthians 11 discusses one church’s policy on head coverings, Paul says that the head of woman is man. This verse is used to say that men are the leaders or authority over women, because colloquially in English head has a connotation of leader or authority. But in Greek, this word (kephale) did not have the connotation of authority, but source or origin. This then makes the verse in alignment with Genesis 1, when woman comes out of man. This verse is not saying man is the authority over the woman, but rather,  reiterates that women were created from man’s ribs. Then, Paul actually goes on to say that through Christ, man is now also born of woman, making us all equal in Christ: “For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Corinthians 11:12).

The words “subject” and “submit” are also used to support the idea that females need to humble themselves and obey their husbands. They are usually taken from the verses Ephesians 5:22-24. These verses command wives to be subject to their husbands. Taken out of context, this verse would lead to the conclusion that women have a greater duty to submit themselves to their husbands than the husbands do to their wives. However, when examined with the preceding verse and up through verse 33, it appears to be more of an example than a separate command. Often not included when referencing this text is verse 21. Paul states, “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” So Paul just said that all believers, both male and female, need to equally submit themselves to each other. Does this not mean husbands must also submit to wives to the same extent they submit to their husbands?

The word submit has caused confusion after it is used is 1 Peter 3:1-7. This verse calls wives to submit to their husbands. Again though, this verse is not supposed to be taken out of context of the chapter before it. In 1 Peter 2, the author is commissioning Christian brothers and sisters to live like Christ in a pagan society. One of the examples he gives is of slaves submitting to their masters. But, like Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So why should slaves still submit if they know that in Christ they are completely equal to their unbelieving masters? Because they are in a position where, through humbling themselves, they can be witnesses to their masters. In 1 Peter 2, Peter says that although when humbling themselves to masters they are enduring unnecessary and unkingdomly suffering, enduring it like Christ did humanity’s sins would be an incredible example of the love of Christ. It is not saying here that slavery is right, it is saying that those under it can use their position to bear witness to their masters. So, when Peter transitions into chapter 3, he commands the exact same submission from wives, still acknowledging the incorrectness of their unequal position. Paul says that even though Christian women know that they are completely on the same playing field as their unbelieving husbands through Christ, continuing to humble themselves in their pagan-given, servant-like position is an incredible witness of Christ. This verse, as it is sometimes used, is not grounds for Christian husbands to require submission of their wives. It is speaking to Christian women in a pagan family, married to a pagan man who subjects her to the sinful patriarchy established by his culture. The Christian slave under a pagan master knows that in Christ they are truly equal, they still choose not to disrespect the authority their master believes they have over them in order to bear witness. In the same way, a christian wife with a pagan husband can be a witness by choosing not to disrespect the authority he believes he has over her, even though she knows he has no actual power.

So, then when Peter says husbands are called to love and respect their wives as the weaker partner after he just elevated them to equal positions, that doesn’t actually mean women are inherently weaker. This is actually culturally shocking, because husbands are commanded to respect their wives as wives respect their husbands. Again, this goes against the grain of the culture, without completely breaking it. By still referring to women as weaker, which the people would have thought to be truth, Paul uses a partial break from culture, just as Jesus did by teaching women.

New Testament Female Leaders

Finally, in the New Testament there is plenty of evidence of female leadership, including a debated female apostle. Acts 2:17-18 talks about how both male and female servants will prophesy. In Phillipians 4 Paul references women that have struggled with him in ministry. In Romans 16:1-2, Paul describes Phoebe as diakonos, usually meaning minister or deacon when used in the Bible. In Acts 18:24-26, Priscilla teaches alongside her husband Aquila as a partner, teaching Apollos, a learned man. These examples  are of women serving in the same positions as men, and referred to by the same greek language (diakonos, prostatis, etc.) as male leaders in the Bible.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, not only is there evidence of abundant female leadership in the early church, but there is strong theological evidence of God’s original plan for equality of all God’s children. There is also evidence of the restoration of that equality through the blood of Christ. While saying this, the staff does acknowledge that there are still valid arguments from the complementarian viewpoint, arguing something different for God’s plan for women on Earth. To the Paw Print staff, the most critical factor of determining what allows a woman to be a leader is God’s call for their life. Only the individual can hear and distinguish that call.

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