Tag Archives: Women

Resources for UCC Bible Study

At the University Church of Christ, we’re discussing “Men and Women in Scripture.” My site was given as a resource, but I know it’s not always easy to locate the articles. So here’s a list of the main ones:

Thinking about the thinking about women in the church
Women, men, and what the church is supposed to be focused on
My understanding of gender roles in the church
The Bible, Culture and Gender Roles
Gender roles and the cultures of the Bible
Does Paul go against the rest of the Bible on the topic of gender roles?
Does Galatians 3:28 provide the final word on gender roles in the church?
Do we dare appreciate wives and mothers in the church?
What does the creation story tell us about gender differences?
Miscellaneous thoughts on gender roles in the church
Women speak to the value of motherhood
Submission and gender
Phoebe, Junia, and the women of Romans 16
Microphones do not a leader make
Form versus function, revisited
Form, function, and passages about gender differences
Men, women, and the resurrection
Ephesians 5 for husbands and wives
What 1 Peter says about husbands and wives
How we live out submission and leadership in our marriage
Veils and heads, men and women
Women in the church: Silence is golden?
Holy hands and simple clothes
Silence or quietness? What does submission call for?
Spiritual giftedness and gender
Baptism, gender, and Galatians 3
The discussion of gender in the church is more than a two-position conversation
Jews, slaves, women, and baptism
Gender by design
The woman desiring her husband in Genesis 3… it might not mean what I thought

What 1 Peter says about husbands and wives

Bible in the shadowI guess we could have discussed 1 Peter 3 yesterday, but it deserves some time of its own. Here’s the passage in question:

“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives— when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:1–7)

Let’s look at immediate context. Following an admonition to live good lives “among the Gentiles” (2:12), Peter lays out a series of “submit yourself to” instructions: everyone submit to governmental authorities (2:13-17), slaves to masters (2:18-25), and wives to husbands (3:1-6). This final instruction is tempered by a warning to husbands to be understanding and show honor to their wives. Two reasons are given for that:

  1. They are co-heirs of salvation
  2. Mistreating one’s wife will be a hindrance to prayer

In Buried Talents, Jay Guin argues that this passage is specifically directed to women with unbelieving husbands. I don’t think that’s the case. Peter does feel that this behavior could lead to the conversion of non-believers, but note that he thought only some would be in a mixed marriage (vs. 1). Much of the language is similar to Ephesians 5, speaking of a relationship of submission and respect (the same word used in Ephesians 5:33). And the following instructions seem to be given to believing husbands (vs. 7); why wouldn’t we see them included in the discussion about wives living in submission?

Guin also points to the reference to Abraham and Sarah, reminding us that their marriage had a lot of problems. While I think that’s true, it’s no reason to disregard Peter’s point. Think about Abraham being continually held up as a person of faith. What if we merely focused on his weak points: moments of doubt, times of sin, disobedience to the Lord’s call, even falling on his face laughing at God. We could say, “Abraham is no model of faith; look at his failures.” I’d suggest instead that we trust that Peter (and Silas – 5:12) were guided by the Holy Spirit as they wrote these words.

Husbands are again warned not to treat their wives in a domineering way. Family leadership does not include high-handed, despotic behavior. That’s part of the curse in Genesis 3, not part of God’s original design. Women may be “weaker vessels” (Peter’s words, not mine), but they are by no means inferior. They are co-heirs with us and with Christ. No one can mistreat his wife and be right with God.

Ephesians 5 for husbands and wives

BibleEphesians 5:21 and following comes at an interesting point in the book of Ephesians. It seems to be part of the fleshing out of verses 16 and 17:

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16)

(The NIV Study Bible says that the grammar ties verses 21 and following to the filling of the Spirit in verse 18; I’ll trust them on that one. They indicate that Paul is saying that the Spirit’s power makes the following instructions possible)

Part of that fleshing out was to live lives of submission. Verse 21 states the principle that Christians are to submit to one another. Yet that principle needs some explaining. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Children are to obey their parents. Slaves are to obey their masters. In each of those cases, a limit is put on the other party. In reverse order, masters are to treat their slaves as people made in the image of God, not mere property. Parents are to avoid exasperating their children while training them in God’s way.

And husbands are to love their wives. Paul expounds on what this love looks like. It’s a sacrificial love, with the husband giving of himself in order to help his wife be more spiritual. He is to love his wife as he loves his own body.

Paul’s final word on the subject is: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33)

The word respect is the same one that Peter uses in 1 Peter 3:2 when discussing wives’ submission to their husbands. It’s also used of the attitude Christians should have toward government officials (Romans 13:7) and toward God himself (Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:1). It’s also used of slaves’ attitudes toward their masters (Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:18).

We can go far beyond this basic analysis, looking at the meaning of “head” and “submission” in this passage. (I will mention that Jay Guin does a good job with that in Buried Treasures, although he puzzlingly applies things to both men and women that are only addressed to one or the other) But I think this is more than enough to begin the discussion.

This passage does not directly address men and women in the church. However, so much of what is said about the genders seems to hinge on the marriage relationship, this seems to be a good place to start.

One of my key points is this: this teaching does not seem to precede Galatians 3:28 historically. The equality of men and women as regards the spiritual inheritance does not eliminate the differences between husband and wife.

Microphones do not a leader make

churchI want to repeat myself a bit. I think this point gets lost in so many of the discussions about gender: much of the problem stems from an overemphasis on public worship.

We define our churches by that once-a-week gathering of the saints. We define much of the work of the church by what is done during that time. Think about your church’s budget. What percentage goes to providing for that time? I’m talking about salaries, about building costs, about everything involved in allowing us to bring dozens or hundreds of people together. Isn’t that the main thing our church does?

If it is, then our church has little right to exist. Our weekly time together prepares us to go out and do the work of the church. If three hours a week (or five or one) make up the bulk of our Christianity, then something is really, really wrong.

Much of the discussion about men and women in the church comes down to who is going to get to stand up, who is going to get to speak, who is going to get to be seen by everyone else present.

So let me restate my radical views:

  • I don’t think the focus of the early church was a once per week assembly. To be honest, you have to do some piecemeal Bible study to even present a case for a weekly assembly.
  • I don’t think the focus of the church was on gathering hundreds of Christians together in one place. That wasn’t practical in many settings. And if it were the focus, wouldn’t we have more discussion of such in the New Testament?
  • I think a lot of our angst comes from the modern design of assemblies. Not the New Testament example. The modern design. Suddenly stepping up to a microphone implies authority. Where someone telling their story to a gathered group of friends feels like sharing, “giving your testimony” to a crowd seems to place you above them, if only for a moment.

I know that not all of the problems mentioned in gender discussions revolve around public worship. But a high percentage of them do.

I also know that pointing out that problem doesn’t solve it. Fact is, we have large weekly assemblies. We are guided by modernism’s idea of what should be done at such times. And we’ve got to work out how to proceed.

Let’s just recognize that there should be flexibility in how we proceed, with each congregation being given the freedom to work out its own standards and norms. Those who damn other Christians for not being more inclusive of women are running the risk of damning themselves. Those who damn other Christians for allowing women to participate more fall under the same threat of divine judgment.

Phoebe, Junia, and the women of Romans 16

adult, child with bibleI’m still going to be in and out a bit the next week or so, but let’s move ahead a bit in our discussion of gender. It might help a bit to look at some of the women mentioned in the New Testament.

Romans 16 is an important passage; about one third of the people mentioned in this chapter are women. Phoebe is the first; she was probably the bearer of this letter. She is called a servant or deaconess. It helps to remember that “deacon” and “deaconess” really don’t exist in Greek; the word is servant. But that doesn’t answer the question as to whether Paul uses this term in a technical way. The most likely is yes, that Phoebe was recognized as one of the official church workers. Early church writings show women who served as deaconesses, fulfilling roles that the men found difficult, such as helping with the baptisms of women.

Several of the women in the list are said to have worked hard. We’d like to know exactly what that work involved, but we aren’t told.

One of the most interesting comments in Romans 16 is made about a woman named Junia. Paul says:

“Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Romans 16:7, KJV)
“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (Romans 16:7, NIV)
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.” (Romans 16:7–8, ESV)

Those three translations give a pretty good idea of the different ways of reading this passage. The KJV shows the ambiguous nature of the Greek, while the NIV and ESV show the different ways that phrase can be understood. Outside of the New Testament, there’s good evidence of the grammatical use reflected in the ESV, though context would tend to favor the NIV’s view.

Either way, it helps a lot to remember that Paul doesn’t use the word “apostle” in the same way that Luke does. That is, Luke uses the word “apostle” almost exclusively to refer to the Twelve, while Paul often uses it in a broader sense. He uses the term for people other than the Twelve, and even contrasts the terms in this passage from 1 Corinthians 15:

5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

In my view, Junia was one of the sent, probably along with her husband (Andronicus). Like Priscilla and Aquila, they were probably active in evangelism and the establishment of new churches. That would help explain their imprisonment at this early date.

Women were active in the life of the early church, as they are today, so none of this should be threatening to anyone. We need Phoebes and Junias today as much as ever.