Do we dare appreciate wives and mothers in the church?

June_and_Ward_Cleaver_Leave_it_to_Beaver_1958In light of the Meghan O’Rourke article on today’s “Links To Go,” today seems like a good day to broach yet another unpopular aspect of our gender roles discussion. I think modern society has undercut and devalued the arena where women are created to shine: the home. The roles of wife and mother are seen as largely irrelevant; the stay-at-home mom is concerned to “not do anything.”

Full disclosure: My mom has a master’s degree and taught full-time for many years. Both of my sisters went to college and work full-time. My wife has a master’s, is considering a doctorate, and works outside the home. My daughter is a freshman in college, and I would have been very disappointed had she not continued her education.

I don’t think “barefoot and pregnant” is the highest calling a woman has. And I fully support any woman who wants to work outside the home.

But I think we’ve lost the value of motherhood, and that’s damaged our society and damaged our churches. And I think confusion about gender roles in society has played a part of that.

I also realize how old-fashioned that sounds, yet I know that we live in a culture where merely being a Christian is a bit old-fashioned. I’m willing to run the risk of being old-fashioned.

I believe that men were meant to provide for and support their families. I believe that women were intended to be the primary nurturers and caregivers for the children, primary creators of the home environment for the family. Each gender contributes to the other’s tasks, but I believe there is an order that works on physical, psychological, and emotional levels. (The physical is admittedly less true in modern society, at least as far as labor is concerned)

I also think that we do harm to our families, our churches, and our societies when we neglect that order.

Am I saying that our churches are doomed if women participate more? By no means. But I am saying that the goal of full egalitarianism, in my understanding, is a foolish goal. And I believe that what most pleases God is a difference in emphasis in the spheres of focus of men and women. Men aren’t to neglect the family; women aren’t to neglect the church. But their roles in those spheres are different.

And yes, I feel like a caveman even writing such words. The feminist movement has done its job well.

32 thoughts on “Do we dare appreciate wives and mothers in the church?

  1. Keith Brenton

    I’m taking another tack with this, but why do churches feel compelled to single out certain groups of people above others? Fathers, mothers, veterans, teachers, seniors in high school and life – sure, they all deserve recognition and appreciation for their achievements. Why them and not others? Singles? Widows? People of color? White people? Pudgy people? Fit people? Calm people? Ornery people?

    “Honor to whom honor is due” is a Biblical principal. But are we keeping it in context? Are we preferring that over the scripture in James warning us not to give preferred seating to the rich?

    My objection to the argument above is that “different” does not and should not equate to “unequal.” Anywhere. Including the church.

  2. Wendy Cayless

    Women who are mothers are actively intensively parenting for only a short period of their lives. And active parenting doesn’t preclude them from using their gifts in the institutional church at the same time. Men manage careers and church service… Plus it would give them a recognition and fulfilment that is often very lacking in full time parenting. I went back to paid work because of being isolated at home.
    But what about the single women, the married women who don’t have children, the women whose children are grown? Are they to stifle their God-given gifts just because other women are in the thick of mothering for a short season of their lives?

  3. Tim Archer Post author

    Keith, that is VERY much my point. Different does not mean unequal. Saying that men and women have different roles in no way implies that one is superior or inferior to the other.

  4. Jerry Starling

    Back in the 1970’s I remember hearing Keith Stotts say that a generation or so prior to that time the concern had been fathers working outside the home, but that concern in more recent times had shifted (then) to mothers working outside the home, today, the latter is almost a given, and mothers who choose not to work away from home are considered weird! as many people thought Mrs Romney was during our previous presidential campaign.

    Thank you for urging the church not to follow the world in the “have it all” syndrome.

  5. Wendy Cayless

    mmm Jerry, seems to me that the men in the church do “have it all”…. the power, the voice, the decision making ability, the opportunities to serve as they are gifted, without being limited by being potential mothers…

  6. Tim Archer Post author

    Wendy, I’m sorry that I’m not communicating better. That’s two different posts now where you’ve thought that I’m saying that motherhood somehow disqualifies women from, well, anything. I’m really not trying to say that. Lay aside “limited” and “disqualified” and other negative words and try reading the post again.


  7. nick gill

    Give us something to replace them with, Tim.
    Men can fill every role in the church except Mother and Wife. They can teach older men *and* older women. They can teach younger men *and* younger women. They can preach in mixed company, to men only, to women only. They can pray out loud in public and in private, regardless of the ages and genders of the people present. Men can lead in every situation. EVERY situation.

    The man’s sphere is the world.
    The woman’s sphere is the home.You can’t honestly tell me that one of those isn’t more limited than the other.

  8. nick gill

    Women who are mothers are actively intensively parenting for only a short period of their lives.

    This is a relatively new, Western phenomenon and the health of the Western culture suggests that the older way, where families tended to live together in multi-generational homes and groups (like the insulae in Palestine and elsewhere), may have been much more of a blessing to the life of the culture and kingdom.

  9. Tim Archer Post author


    How much of that comes from the modern construct that is the “worship assembly”? That’s where so many of our problems come from. And the need to limit and disqualify.

    I’ll get into this more, but I don’t see “leadership” in the terms that you describe. I know that we’ve even made standing up and passing communion trays an act of leadership, but that’s hardly a biblical perception. In fact, leadership is more about service and sacrifice than it is who says a prayer. (which I feel women can freely do… but that’s for a later post)

    Grace and peace,

  10. nick gill

    The part of leadership that is about service and sacrifice is open to both genders equally.

    The part of leadership that is about decision-making is not.

    Simply put:
    Female leadership = service and sacrifice.
    Male leadership = service and sacrifice and decision-making.

    Again, if that isn’t a limitation, please give us a better word to describe it.

  11. Jr

    In conversation I find that it is the egalitarian that is most often the one pushing inequality. For example, I don’t believe women should be pastors or elders. Does that make them unequal to men? No. But the egalitarian will say that it does. I find that insulting. It is the egalitarian who places “value” and “worth” on position and fleeting cultural norms instead of the basic created decree as the image of God.

    Roles do not define worth or value in the eyes of God, and should not in the Church, or the family. Why do egalitarians insist that it does?

    Grace be with you –

  12. Tim Archer Post author

    Roles do not define worth or value in the eyes of God, and should not in the Church, or the family.

    Good point Jr.

    As Keith said, different doesn’t mean unequal.

  13. Keith Brenton

    “Different” should not equate to “unequal” in terms of opportunity. As a culture, we’re struggling with that, in regard to race, gender, income and other differences. As a church of believers, we should not.

    Your earlier post asked whether Galatians 3:28 trumps other scriptures. i’d have to say it expresses a universal principal that does, in fact, put the corrective teachings of Paul and Peter into perspective. So does Acts 10:34. Limiting them to speaking only about salvation, or the latter only to matters of nationality undermines the very character of God they are trying to express.

    Either God does not show favoritism to people at all, ever; or He does show favoritism to one gender over another every Sunday between dawn and noon within the walls of a church building.

    Either He doesn’t make distinctions between races and genders and social orders of man, or when it comes to leading, shepherding and nurturing His flock, He does.

    The second choices are simply not defensible to me.

    If you want to extend the discussion to gender roles at home – and your post here opens that door, Tim – I’d agree with Nick that you need to define “mothering.” Neither Angi nor I bore our children. From the time we adopted them, I was their work-at-home parent. I fed them. I changed them. I read to them and played with them. Was that mothering or fathering or just parenting?

    Forgive my bluntness, but how does my functioning at home or in the church depend upon what happens to dangle between my legs or doesn’t between my armpits?

    I’m not saying there aren’t differences beyond that – but how exactly does scripture say they disqualify one and qualify another?

    Hopefully none of us would look at the qualifications for elder in the epistles and conclude that they are the only ones. They say nothing about sanity, emotional stability, or financial stewardship. Kids with a good mom might transcend a dad who has none of those traits, yet qualifies by the letter, and they could become believers. Does that mean he should be an elder? If we believe and act as though these qualities are not exhaustive, then why do we enforce a gender restriction based on a customary part of speech? English is STILL trying to adjust to a less male-gender-dominated way of expressing personhood. It’s awkward because it’s still new: “He/She” instead of just “He” — you know what I mean.

  14. Tim Archer Post author


    I don’t mind the bluntness, but I am worried about the thought behind it. If I believe that God created me, created us as male and females, then what dangles between my legs doesn’t just happen to dangle there. God created us that way. He could have made humans reproduce without making different sexes. He didn’t. He chose that. If you want to talk about what reflects the character of our God, you have to keep that in mind. He did not make one superior to the other. He did make the sexes different. This was God. Not evolution. Not chance. “Male and female he created them.”

    I don’t understand the argument about the qualifications of elders. Because they aren’t the only characteristics necessary, they become invalid? That makes no sense. If you look at the description, this goes beyond a customary part of speech. “Husband of one wife” is definitely talking about males. If Genesis 1 could say “male and female,” it’s quite a stretch to throw out all gender distinctions in the rest of the Bible.

    If you look at the practice, the same is true. There is not sign that the early church had equal leadership by males and females, neither in the Bible nor in early church history. We have a chronological hubris that leads us to think that we understand the first century church better than any of the Christians who came before us. I can’t buy that. We aren’t bound by church history, but we can learn from it.

    Grace and peace,

  15. Wendy Cayless

    Tim, how do you deal with intersex and transgender people and how God created them? How do they fit into your male/female dichotomy?
    The Genesis accounts depict how the ancients understood gender differences. We have progressed a bit since then. We (the church universal) have moved ahead of first century understandings of race and slavery, but gender… still a LONG way to go.

  16. gal328cofc

    I often hear the complementation/essentialist defense that “different” does not mean “unequal.” I’d like to suggest that, as a feminist theologian and proponent of gender justice/equality, that from my perspective, “equal” does not have to imply “same.”

    In other words, I do not hold to some sort of unisex ideal, or think that there are no salient differences between men and women. There are many; some of them more clearly rooted in biological sex and some of them the result of socialization into particular gender expressions, presentations and roles.

    To be clear, I see gender essentialism as a social interpretation of the meaning of differences in human embodiments (male embodiment implies men are like X, Y and Z, and suited for X, Y, Z roles; female embodiment implies women are like A, B, C and suited to A, B, C roles). If, however, we pay more attention to the realities of human embodiments, rather than less, we see that male embodiments actually don’t reliably uphold the gender essentialist interpretation of “men,” and female embodiments don’t reliably uphold the gender essentialist interpretation of “women.”

    This is not an attempt to persuade anyone of this, simply to illustrate that not all feminist theologians or proponents of gender equality come to those convictions by disregarding salient differences between men and women!

    To forward the conversation, then, the question that is pressing, I think, is whether these differences are differences that matter when it comes to leadership and participation in the church: not simply public roles in worship assemblies, but in leadership structure and decision making processes and ministries.

    Do the differences in male and female embodiment matter in the act of preaching? Do the differences in male and female embodiment matter in the act of leading worship? Do the differences in male and female embodiment matter in the act of prayer? Do the differences in male and female embodiment matter in the act of listening to the Spirit and discerning the will of God? Do the differences in male and female embodiment matter in the accumulation and expression of wisdom?

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could argue that female embodiment and socialization into feminine gender could prevent someone from the act of preaching, leading worship, praying, receiving the Spirit, or becoming wise as a follower of Christ. Unless (to follow earlier bluntness) somehow these things are dependent upon what dangles or doesn’t between our legs–and I’m pretty sure I can assert with confidence that no one has ever yet heard a sermon preached via genitalia.

    So once again we come to–if these differences in human embodiments aren’t impediments to these things, then restricting women from these acts of discipleship and reserving them for men only is an arbitrary practice, not based on the inability (or as Beck calls it in his post, “ontological incompetence”) of women to do these things. At this point, we can either 1) argue that this arbitrariness is God’s prerogative and that we are bound to follow this restriction even though it makes no sense; or 2) reconsider whether our interpretation of God’s will in this matter hasn’t been correct, given that it restricts women from contributing to the kingdom of God in all the ways that they are clearly capable of doing.

    Thanks for this discussion.

  17. Tim Archer Post author


    The male/female dichotomy isn’t mine. It’s biblical, from cover to cover. That is, the Bible doesn’t waver on that point.

    Modernism held that all change was “progress.” Our world has come to see that isn’t so. I hold to an ancient faith in a modern world, working to differentiate what is cultural from what is not. I don’t see anything within the Bible itself to make me think that it’s teachings about there being differences between the genders as being bound by culture. How those differences are expressed… certainly. The fact that they exist… no.

  18. Tim Archer Post author

    It’s a bit awkward calling someone gal328cofc; any preference as to a name I could use? I don’t mind a pseudonym if you’re seeking anonymity.

    I would caution again about the worldview behind the depiction of genitalia as being some sort of biological accident. Humans are holistic beings, created by God. I am more than my genitalia, and there is much more than my genitalia that differentiates me from my wife and other women. I’m not a carbon-based life form; I’m a human, created in the image of God.

    When it comes to dichotomies, we can accept them or reject them, right? (yeah, that’s a joke) We’ll just have to accept the fact that in some points you aren’t discussing with me but with everyone you’ve ever had this discussion with. We’d find more agreement than you might think as far as women participating in public ways in worship.

    I’ll still argue for the third way, even if it apparently only makes sense to me. It’s not about God being senselessly arbitrary (though I would add in such matters that just because something doesn’t make sense to us doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense). It’s also not necessarily true that everyone in the body has a right/obligation to do what they are clearly capable of doing. That’s not how it worked at any point in biblical history; why should it be that way now?

    It doesn’t fit your dichotomy, but I believe that God designed a world in which women performed certain functions (several of which are biologically impossible for men) and men performed certain functions. It’s arbitrary in a sense, but in order to reverse the roles, the biological functions would have to be changed, and we’d end up at the same place. I know that modern society argues against such ideas, but those arguments don’t spring from the Bible itself. Nor are they inherent in Christian culture.

    I hope to lay out my views more fully. For now, I’ll plod along, angering both sides along the way. It’s a talent I have.

  19. Keith Brenton

    Tim, I don’t think anyone is throwing out all gender distinctions in the Bible; what I’m doing is questioning whether we’re making distinctions that affect opportunity to serve God that scripture doesn’t make.

    I think there are signs that Phoebe (female proper name) was considered a deacon and someone named Junia (female proper name) was considered a shepherd. To me, that’s a sign.

    Concluding that the qualifications listed in scripture for church offices exclude women because only one gender is mentioned is suspect to me, therefore, because of examples like those two.

    It seems to me that a sentence in Greek or English would get complicated trying to say “An elder must be a husband of one wife or a wife of one husband.” My point is, we still don’t do that in a big way today, in English.

    The qualifications for elders in scripture aren’t invalidated by adding more that are common sense – like sane, financially responsible, etc. Neither are they treated as being exclusive because of that. Common sense tells me that if a woman was serving/regarded as a shepherd, then women are not excluded by the qualifications listed.

    Then we would also have to examine whether those lists of qualifications were intended by God through Paul as church law for all churches for all time – and that gets into inconsistency between lists, additive versus location-specific — and all that goes farther than you probably want to go in this post!

  20. Tim Archer Post author


    Junia was called an apostle in Romans 16, seemingly in conjunction with Andronicus. Paul’s use of “apostle” is NOT Luke’s use. Note 1 Corinthians 15, with a reference to “the Twelve” in verse 5 and to “apostles” in verse 7. I don’t remember her being called a shepherd, unless you have another passage in mind.

    Both Phoebe and Junia were active workers in the church, along with other women mentioned in the New Testament. That’s not the same as a leadership position.

    It wouldn’t be difficult to say, “An elder must only have one spouse.” Or to say, “In the same way the women…” as Paul did in 1 Timothy 3! Or maybe give instructions to the men and to the women as Paul did in Titus 2.

    Does something have to be “church law” for it to inform our choices? If Paul says that something should be done a certain way, does it have to be law for it to be right? Again, my view towards the two different lists in Timothy and Titus are not as legalistic as some. What I’ve pointed out is that, decades after writing Galatians 3, Paul still emphasized gender differences in those books. Some would say that he just wasn’t as enlightened as we are, that he was bound by his culture and worldview. I don’t see it that way.

    Grace and peace,

  21. gal328cofc

    hi Tim,

    I’m not seeking anonymity; I identify myself (Jen Thweatt-Bates) by name on as the administrator of the site. Here I’m commenting as gal328cofc because I feel like it’s a wonderful thing that you’re engaging in this discussion at such length and part of what seeks to do is encourage such things…and also because I came to the blog via twitter where I follow you & others as “gal328cofc,” so I figured you might identify me better that way, maybe. When I comment just as myself I usually use the handle “JTB” and link to my personal blog. But you can call me Jen! :)

    There are a couple of things I want to say in response at this point, one of which I think I said in a comment in an earlier post but is relevant again here. I think it’s quite possible to construct a complementation rationale for advocating for women’s leadership in the church; in fact, if there is an essential difference between men and women along the lines that complementarianism presumes, then we’re missing out on all sorts of gifts, perspectives and experiences that can only come from women.

    That said, I want to clarify a bit of what I said above regarding embodiments and essentialism, and how these things intersect with the theological perspective on gender we call complementarianism…and here, I am speaking more as JTB as this explores my personal theology regarding gender and embodiment, rather than any sort of official gal328 stance (there isn’t one, as far as I know) on these matters.

    So, I do not consider embodiments incidental–in fact, to reiterate, I think we would benefit (in all sorts of ways) from paying more and closer attention to bodies than we have, theologically. What sort of embodiment we have shapes who we are in profound ways. So I do not at all believe that the differences between men and women can be confined to differences in genitalia, full stop–nor do I at all want to define gender in terms of genitalia. Of course you and I and everyone else are more than specific body parts. So here I think we are in some sort of agreement. (?)

    Where we diverge, then, is that I find paying attention to human embodiments means realizing that gender essentialism (Man=XYZ, Woman=ABC) isn’t really based on biology or embodiment. In other words, we are more than our genitalia! So, I have a body with a womb and lactating breasts, but who I am encompasses far more than these particular biological capacities and functions; I also have a body with a high pain tolerance, a capacity for physical strength, an analytical brain, a clear speaking voice and also a decent alto singing voice, and unfortunately a tendency to exercise-induced asthma. When we pay attention to human embodiments, what we find is that our bodies profoundly shape who we are, but also that our bodies are more than the interpretations of them that gender essentialism has given us. (This is also, BTW, why I think Wendy’s comment about bodies that fall outside the clear male/female sex categories are important: they tell us that biological reality is more diverse than these categories, a clue that these categories are social interpretations of biology, and are selective in what biological facts “count.”)

    Complementarianism, as a theological interpretation of gender and appropriate gender roles, depends for its salience on gender essentialism. If men aren’t simply individual manifestations of Man, and women aren’t manifestations of Woman, then you can’t prescribe universal, complementary roles for every man and woman. And if paying attention to our bodies in a way that does truly grant that we are more than our genitalia and reproductive functions means that gender essentialism unravels…then so does complementarianism.

    However, I reiterate, that’s all just to clarify my own perspective on the complicated intersections of biology, embodiment, gender and all that; I am engaging in a spirit of exploration, with the goal of mutual understanding and not persuasion.

    I do want to push back a bit, as a theologian, on the last point you make above. I do, for theological reasons, find it hard to accept a doctrine of God that accepts arbitrariness in the name of sovereignty (this makes me very definitely not Calvinist!). But I certainly think it’s legit to point out that, human understanding being limited as it is, that things might not make sense to us doesn’t necessarily mean they make no sense–that is, I would say, that with a better understanding (perhaps an eschatologically delayed one), we would then see how they make sense. So the burden is on me, at this point, to clarify why I think we should not accept current interpretation and practices of gender in Churches of Christ as one of these things that we should accept as among this category.

    So here’s why. I believe that God calls on the church to be the body of Christ in the world, the people who seek, discern and enact God’s will in their and other’s lives. I believe that the community of the church functions to equip us as followers of Christ to do this. I believe that God desires us to do this as best we can. The question is, can the gifts, perspectives, experiences, and wisdom of women in the church be helpful in accomplishing this? Can women contribute in ways that they currently do not? Would it help, or would it harm, the church, if women were to preach, pray, lead alongside men?

    This is a pragmatic criterion–but also a highly theological one, in that it applies a criterion of “fruitfulness” to the matter. If we are to equip ourselves for every good deed, and there are contributions women could be making to this equipping of the church and individual Christians but they aren’t because of our restrictions on how/when/where/what women may do in the church–then we are allowing ourselves to be ill-equipped, and claiming that God wills it so. This is more than simply arbitrary, but counterproductive to enacting God’s will in the world as the church!

    So the question now becomes, do we think it would be helpful to the church were women contributing their gifts and time in ways currently restricted to men only? If we answer yes, we think it would be helpful to the church’s mission in the world–then we have got to rethink our interpretation and practice. Or, we are left with a theology in which God has chosen to handicap the church in its God-given mission.

    Tim, again, thank you for providing space for this discussion on your blog and for the generosity of your hosting of a variety of voices. This is an encouraging thing, I believe, for everyone.

  22. Sara B.

    It seems you are insinuating that there’s something amiss in society, and you see gender roles in the home as a way to address those ills. You wrote that neglect of God’s order harms families, churches and societies.

    Could it be that when we see things amiss in our world, when we point fingers at hot-button issues like stay-at-home or working mothers, we are limiting the kind of imagination Jesus preached? Jesus tended to ignite imagination rather than simplifying societal problems. When there were societal problems in the home or community, Jesus told stories and gave teaching that challenged people to zone in on several themes inherent in the Kingdom of God: hospitality, generosity, kindness, mercy, inclusion of the marginalized, peace, and love. When those actions, motivated by love for God, are embraced by working moms or stay-at-home moms or single moms or adoptive moms or non-moms, the Kingdom grows. And our world is better because of it. In the face of the broken world, if our imagination for the Kingdom of God is limited, we’re missing what Jesus preached.

    A mother can certainly honor Christ by staying at home in traditional ways. I have a friend who homeschools her children, and I am continually surprised and encouraged by how she inspires imagination for God’s kingdom in their home. But Christ is also honored and children are raised well in other circumstances. Christ was honored recently when one of my friends celebrated her tenth year as a middle-school teacher, with her sons and husband making posters and giving cards and flowers to celebrate her Christian witness in her classroom. Christ was honored recently when a friend of mine served as an attorney in a high-profile rape case in which she represented two teenage girls who had been abused by someone in authority at their school. This friend and her husband raised three productive and faithful children while they both worked full time; her husband her children have grown up to called her blessed. They have imagination for the Kingdom Jesus preached regardless of whether or not they live in traditional family structures. I could certainly continue with more examples.

    Perhaps it would be helpful if more couples living in mutually-submissive partnerships shared their experiences and told their stories. Both my husband and I work outside the home and have since our children were small. We both embraced all the parenting roles from diapers (as much as one can embrace that job) to school drop-off to help with homework to bedtime prayers and spiritual guidance. I guess the hoped-for result for Christian parents is that children are healthy, functioning, compassionate adults with a lived faith of their own. And while no parent should ever proudly take all credit for being successful parents (since it’s a partnership with God and the wider community), my kids meet that criterion and then some. They have imagination for the Kingdom of God that’s bigger than one specific family dynamic.

    When we despair about the broken state of the world or feel that one group is being overlooked or under-appreciated, I suggest we turn to Matthew 5-7 and join Jesus as he guides us to imagine a world in which all are welcome, all are loved, all are respected. When faced with these difficult conversations, what if we really prayed, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” ?

  23. Tim Archer Post author


    Thanks for visiting and commenting. It would certainly be hyperbole to blame all of society’s ills on misplaced gender roles, though wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a simple solution to the world’s problems?

    As I stated in the original post, I’m not against women working outside the home. (I’ve been praying along with my wife that she be able to find full-time employment!) And I definitely agree that Christ can be glorified by women using their talents in many ways. And I think my wife would describe our marriage as mutually submissive, though it would be presumptuous of me to speak for her.

    I guess all I have to say is: I found nothing to disagree with in your comment (except your interpretation of my remarks). And I’m sure glad you added to the discussion!

    Grace and peace,

  24. James W

    How exactly could churches suffer from increased leadership by females? It seems to me that your argument involves a serious non-sequitur when you transition from the “societal ills” you presuppose about the place of mothers in modern society and your application to the Church.

    That is, there is absolutely no logical link between your nostalgic view of “how things used to be” (mothers as primary caregivers/fathers as primary supporters) and leadership in the Church. Even if I supported this essentialist distinction (which I do not), there is nothing inherent to this model that makes men more suited for ministry in the Church. What is it about being the “breadwinner” as opposed to the “nurturer” that qualifies one for pastoral duties? (In fact, if you buy into this dichotomy, it makes much more sense that the “nurturers” would be far more naturally suited to pastoral ministry.)

    And on a final note, your last line (“And yes, I feel like a caveman even writing such words. The feminist movement has done its job well.”) is completely inappropriate. It is only from a position of uncontested privilege that you could accuse the movement that fought and continues to fight for women’s rights (for really radical things, like the right to vote) of making you feel like a “caveman.” Regardless of whether you intend it this way, your words are dismissive toward women. Thus, even with a throw away line at the end, you are embodying the stereotype of male dominance.

  25. Nick Gill

    “Husband of one wife” is definitely talking about males.

    In his book on eldership, John MacArthur (hardly an egalitarian!!) makes the assertion that “one woman man” doesn’t have to be assumed to be gender-specific. It could very easily be referring to the trait of marital faithfulness, and since Paul is writing a letter rather than a piece of legal documentation, placing the expectation upon him to close all potential interpretive loopholes by repeating himself is unfair. The Greek (man of one woman) can just as fairly be interpreted as an expression of covenant faithfulness and monogamy.

    Gender-neutral terminology for married people doesn’t exist in Greek (in fact, as is well known, specific words for married people don’t exist in Greek! which leads to several different bits of confusion!) so it is unfair to expect Paul to say “spouse” when the word “spouse” didn’t exist.

  26. Nick Gill

    When we despair about the broken state of the world or feel that one group is being overlooked or under-appreciated, I suggest we turn to Matthew 5-7 and join Jesus as he guides us to imagine a world in which all are welcome, all are loved, all are respected. When faced with these difficult conversations, what if we really prayed, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” ?

    In the eschaton, when the kingdom fully comes, will males still lead females? I’m curious as to what “your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” is expected to look like for those who believe that creation was established with male leadership as a foundational concept. To paraphrase Peter in order to illuminate my point, is Sarah still calling Abraham her lord?

  27. Tim Archer Post author


    Do you know of any examples from the early church where Christians argued that women could be elders? Seems like they were closer to the original language than we are. I don’t know of any cases, but admit that my knowledge of early church history isn’t that impressive.

    BTW, I agree that Paul wasn’t writing legal documentation. And I see differences in the lists between Titus and Timothy which make me think that certain aspects of each were location specific. But the naming of men as elders/pastors/shepherds seems to be consistent both in the New Testament and in the life of the early church.

  28. Tim Archer Post author

    In the eschaton, when the kingdom fully comes, will males still lead females? I’m curious as to what “your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” is expected to look like for those who believe that creation was established with male leadership as a foundational concept. To paraphrase Peter in order to illuminate my point, is Sarah still calling Abraham her lord?

    Tying into today’s post, will the relationship between Jesus and His Father change in the eschaton? Since Paul relates the relationship between men and women to that between Jesus and His Father, it seems to be a relevant question.

  29. Nick Gill

    Do you know of any examples from the early church where Christians argued that women could be elders? Seems like they were closer to the original language than we are. I don’t know of any cases, but admit that my knowledge of early church history isn’t that impressive.

    Mine is pretty shabby as well, but no, I don’t. My first response would be that the early church — as we can read both from the NT itself and from the strong anti-semitism present in the writings of several of the ECF — was having a hard enough time wrapping its head around the “neither Jew nor Greek” part of Galatians 3:28.

    Following closely on the tail of that would be the level of cultural accomodation commanded to the early church. Because of the radical difference between monolatrism and the surrounding cultures, and more specifically the radical difference between worshiping Jesus Christ as Lord and the other religious concepts of the day, the church was expected to bend over backwards as much as possible to avoid creating hostility and/or giving offense over secondary and tertiary matters. This is why Paul could “become all things to all people, so that by any means available he might save some.” He could adhere strictly to the Law of Moses (with his worship recentered around Jesus, of course) when he was around the Jewish church, and live in the freedom of the Gentile church when he was among Gentiles.

    So I’m not surprised that the early church, in the midst of a culture that understood eldership as a uniquely male job, doesn’t argue for female eldership — for the same reason that no one would counsel Christian missionaries in Arabic countries to flaunt their freedom in Christ — rather, we would counsel them to submit their freedom in Christ to their neighbor’s weakness (there’s something about the 1st half of 1 Cor 11 in there somewhere, I think).

    They’re too busy already dealing with the ramifications and consequences of even more central issues of the Way. Worshiping Jesus only is getting enough of them martyred.

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