Women and Ministry: A Tension between the Overlapping “Now” and “the Age to Come”

Women and Ministry A Tension between the Overlapping “Now” and “the Age to Come”
Jon Ruthven, PhD

It seems that the problem of women and ministry in the NT reflects a tension, not only between Christian tradition and modern culture, but also between two NT passages which appear to be contradictory, i.e., Gal 3:28 and 1 Tm 2:11ff. I think it’s important to get this apparent “contradiction” hammered out if we’re to avoid endless wrangling over the “women in ministry” issue. If one is a conservative on matters of scripture, one can’t simply appeal to the current cultural norms, either in Biblical times or today, for justification of Christian praxis. Many interpreters, particularly of 1 Tm 2, suggest that Paul is addressing a specific, historically limited situation that no longer applies to us. Once one starts relativizing scripture like this, then the finger is out of the dike: just about any command of the New Testament can be dismissed by relegating it to an “exceptional practice” in the first century. On the other hand, we simply can’t flow with the trends of our modern culture. If there is no biblical standard, who do we follow these days? Radical feminism? The gay rights movement? The pedophilia rights movement? Where does it stop? No, I firmly believe that Christianity, even like the original apostles, cannot “go beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6). I do think there is an approach to preserving the integrity of scripture on the one hand, and on the other reconciling these commands (1 Tm 2:11ff) with other scriptures (Gal 3:28; cf. Col 3:11–paraphrases of Joel 2:28?). Galatians 3:26-29 The Dissolution of Human Barriers in Christ It seems that Gal 3:26-29 uses some strong language vis a vis women: a) “you are all sons of God through faith (not gender) in Christ Jesus.” b) Those baptized “have clothed [them]selves with Christ.” The clothing metaphor is one of assuming authority (as firstborn of household, Lk 15, or as receptor of prophetic authority for ministry, Elijah passed his “mantle” to Elisha, cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8 “’clothed’ with power”–a promise to women in the 120 at Pentecost; Lk 15–the “cloak” to the prodigal son was an explosive conveyance of primogeniture!) as well as simply for receiving the Spirit. c) Gal 3:26-29 is a clear paraphrase of Joel 2:28/Acts 2:17-18, which to the Jewish mind was the entrance into the “olam haba”’ the age-to-Come of the Spirit. In that age all would become filled with the Spirit, become prophets and become “as the angels”–no gender. The “in Christ” of Gal 3:26 is not talking only about a Protestant “salvation” for all genders and classes, but of prophetic ministry and authority for them as well. “Christ” is not simply Jesus’ last name, but the designation of the messianic bearer of the eschatological Spirit of prophecy. So to be “in Christ” is to be “in the state of the eschatological Spirit when ‘all Israel would become prophets’.” 1 Timothy 2:11-15 On the other hand, the language of 1 Tm 2:11ff. is strong and clear: women are not to teach or to take authority over men. There is no way to tap dance around this command. So how can these two passages both be true? Paul’s argument against women having “authentein” or teaching authority is based 100% on arguments from the “created, earthly order”–the pre-messianic, pre-Spirit context: First, Adam was “first” in creation (though feminists argue that Adam was only a “rough draft.”), implying a kind of primogenitur–the status of “firstborn.” Second, Paul seems to argue that the woman was the weak link in the temptation and “was deceived,” becoming, apparently the open
door for Adam’s fall. This female, as opposed to male, propensity for being “deceived” is puzzling and has generated lots of ink from commentators and dismay from many women. Nonetheless, he does use this argument against women teaching. Third, Paul states rather clearly that a woman characteristically retains her salvation [not via teaching] but in raising children and remaining in faith, love, sanctification and sobriety. This restriction infuriates a lot of women today, and men, for that matter. In traditional theology, all manner of qualifications and exemptions are applied to this passage. For example: both men and women can’t be the “teachers” of that time were more domineering–inappropriate for women; women can teach other women, not men; they can teach kids; can teach natives in foreign lands, etc.), but the message is stark and clear: women are commanded not to teach in a church setting. How can this argument apply canonically–to all places at all times in the Church? Remember, we can’t cut and paste unpopular commands by limiting them to unique situations in the New Testament era, as is popular in “gay” exegesis today. I believe the apparent contradiction can be solved if we recognize a temporal/develop-mental issue here: to the extent a body of believers exists in the age of the Spirit is the extent to which the gender [and other] distinctions become less significant. To the extent the body participates in this present created order (note, I didn’t say “fallen”–though that adds to the gravity–no pun. OK, pun) is the extent to which the distinctions, and hierarchies, continue. The distinctions are exacerbated by a broken relationship with God (both in Eden and in Timothy’s church), resulting in a power struggle: the woman strives after power (Gn 3:16c), precipitating a tyrannical response from her husband, though she is compensated by the ultimate empowering ability to produce children—a huge divine mandate in scripture that receives scant respect these days. In this context, like Rom 13 and the civil order, hierarchies are offered as an interim system—a temporary compromise—for preserving order in society, anticipating the ideal condition “in Christ,” when no one is struggling to dominate, but rather to serve. The 1 Tm 2 passage reflects a regression within the church from the ideal of Gal 3:28/Joel 2:28ff, or at least a polar tension in our existential condition of living in “the already, but not yet.” In this eschatological interpretive context, then, both sets of passages (pro and con) are true! What remains is to discern, through biblical “wisdom,” how and when the passages apply. There seem to be situations in which God gives absolute-sounding laws and commands appropriate for the developmental level of the readers (as in the “created order” of the 1 Tim 2:11 context, rather than in the “Spirit-order” of Gal 2:26-28//Joel 2:28), sometimes looking to a time when the commands might be reversed, as in the OT cases of sacrifices, divorce, revenge, that are reframed in Mt 5. In the NT Jesus recognizes the “milk/meat” problem of the need to teach the student, not the lesson (“many things I would teach you, but . . . .”), wherein what is true for one state of spiritual development is no longer true, or at least will be dramatically adjusted, for a more advanced stage. For example, I may say to my 3 year old: “Never cross the street!” But to a 10 year old, “Watch out for traffic before you cross the street.” Or to a 18 year old, “Go to the store (several streets away, with no instructions on safety even given).” Certainly the issue of applying scripture to one’s situation represents the temptation of Jesus (Mt 4; Lk 4), which was to pre- or mis-apply the rules of scripture without using biblical “wisdom,” i.e., divine revelatory confirmation as to their proper application. Is something like this going on within the NT regarding varying levels of maturity in relations between the sexes and other human classifications? Canonically, this rule (and its relevant passage) applies historically and geographically to churches who may have ranged from “milk” level to “meat” level of spiritual development. Certainly, there is a tension in behavior and responsibility with respect to our struggle with sin: we live both in Romans 7 and Romans 8: we are, as Luther says, simultaneously sinful yet justified.
We all, of course, live in both ages: this age and the one to come (“upon whom the end of the ages has come”). The Corinthian women and men had to learn about living in both ages in tension: one could not live in the flesh and expect to operate as though one were already completely in the age to come. Certain developmental stages needed to be realized first: the kingdom is characterized not by power positions, but by servant positions; not by exclusivity, but by “receiving the little [undesirable] ones.” In this context struggles for power—a characteristic of the fallen state–are superseded by struggles to build up the body (the ideal of the “one flesh” in Gen 1:27 & 2:7, 23), in which, when one is exalted–even women–all rejoice! Instead of worrying about who’s boss (a self-destructive, “earth-bound” response to insecurity, e.g., by the abused women of radical feminism as well as tradition-bound Fundamentalist men), the Christian relinquishes that worry because of the underlying empowerment of the Spirit: a secure person is not concerned about power and position, but rather is concerned about Christ’s mission: to see to it that others grow, prosper and be empowered. Hence, “equality” of the sexes, or any other classes, for that matter, is a non-biblical concept. “Equality” presupposes conflict and competition for power. Equality is a political compromise between two or more suspicious and wary combatants. By contrast, the NT does not espouse “equality,” but rather, “unity”: we are not “equal” in Christ Jesus, but, higher than that, we are “one.” The Christian has relinquished claims of “equality,” choosing rather to become a servant to others: to see them built up and empowered first, being secure in the knowledge that it is God who provides one’s security. Bottom line? I believe the biblical rule is this: “To the extent that a local church is ‘in the Spirit’ is the extent to which all human barriers become increasingly irrelevant as to who expresses the Spirit’s leading–since there is a common acknowledgement that the Spirit is ministering (Gal 3:28). On the other hand, to the extent to which a local church remains in the ‘created order’ (Paul appeals to that in 2 Tm 2), then the interim solution to power struggles of the ‘present age’ apply, i.e., a hierarchical chain of command, much as the ‘powers that be’ (also ordained by God, Rom 13) very imperfectly regulate society to avoid an even worse outcome: chaos caused by unrestrained conflict. Some years ago I had to put my money where my mouth is. I strongly encouraged my wife, despite her misgivings, that she had the wherewithal for a PhD. Her academic performance proved to be spectacular: she actually received her degree 6 months before I did, though I had started 3 years earlier. Our students, during this time, gleefully referred to us as Dr. and Mr. Ruthven—an address in which, in an academic environment in which competition is everything, I took pride in the fact that I had a part in encouraging her to grow “beyond me” in developing her God-given ministry.

People who read this article also liked:

8 thoughts on “Women and Ministry: A Tension between the Overlapping “Now” and “the Age to Come”

  1. Pretty nice says:

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon it and wished to mention that I have truly loved browsing
    After all I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I hope you write more very soon!

  2. Pretty nice says:

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon it and wished to mention that I have truly loved browsing
    After all I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I hope you write more very soon!

  3. William Shifflett says:

    ON THE TENSION ON WOMEN IN MINISTRY
    I must say this is a thoroughly confusing piece. I find it difficult to uncover a clear stream of thought but I would point out several errors in the material presented.
    CREATED ORDER/SPIRIT ORDER
    The author seems to be asserting that there are churches where women should not hold ministry positions and other churches where they should. He seems to envision two different kinds of Christian church. One which operates under the created order apparently drawn from 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and another Spirit order based on Galatians 3:26-29, and a claim that this is a paraphrase of Joel 2:29. The two-tiered system is also illustrated by a milk/meat analogy. Some churches are at a meat level, others at a milk level. Let me highlight some of the flaws in reasoning that exist here and which do nothing to address the vital issue of why women shouldn’t serve in pastoral roles.

    Perhaps the oddest comment comes from the last sections of the material where the author says, “The NT does not espouse ‘equality’ but rather ‘unity’: we are not equal in Christ Jesus, but, higher than that, we are one.” This is an odd statement to make when using 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.” (NIV2011) Paul’s point in this passage is that we are all equally part of the one new man God has formed by bringing Jew and Gentile together.) “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” (Ephesians 2:15 NIV2011) Paul in the Galatians passage is speaking of the elimination of racial, class and gender inequalities. But this does not remove role distinctions among God’s people, distinctions that include restricting pastoral roles to men.

    Oneness as the author envisions requires submission to those over us in the Lord. It is portrayed as something which must be striven for even by people who are Spirit-filled. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that the Spirit-filled/led person will possess a default oneness with others. I am not accusing the author of this but there seems to be an inference that truly being led of the Spirit will produce a oneness over the question on women in pastoral roles.

    Other flaws in the reasoning of this piece rise from Galatians 3:27’s “clothed with Christ,” as a metaphor for assuming authority i.e. over men. But this is metaphor about pure living. “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:13-14)

    And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (Ephesians 4:24-25)

    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:9-12)

    It is Christ’s moral nature we are to put on, a nature which is and was itself subject to the Father. A submissive spirit we are to emulate in obedience to the teachings and commands of God, i.e. men as pastoral leaders. We are to treat each other as equals to achieve oneness, but this does not negate role distinctions.

    This allusion to “clothing” as the assuming of authority in continued in reference to the prodigal son in Luke 15, who was given a robe. It was actually the ring he received which symbolized authority, but what is missing from the text is any sign that the prodigal received authority over either the father or the elder brother. The author writes “Lk 15-the ‘cloak’ to the prodigal son was an explosive conveyance of primogeniture” i.e. the rights of the firstborn. Nothing in the text suggests that the prodigal was elevated in this way. Such an elevation would mean someone was becoming subject to him so the idea of submission to someone else remains, in the hands of a man no less. And even if it did convey the idea of the prodigal’s elevation, that says nothing about the placing of women in pastoral roles.

    Likewise, the Luke 24:49, and Acts 1:8 references say only that women received Spirit baptism, it does not say anything about their taking pastoral roles. This is where the shift to the dual kingdoms seems to take place. Note the statements about “the age-to-come of the Spirit. In that age all would become filled with the Spirit, become prophets and become ‘as the angels’- no gender.” This is a complete misreading of Scriptural texts.

    The only passage where Jesus makes any kind of reference to being like the angels is in connection to the resurrection. “Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.” (Luke 20:34-36)

    Christ says nothing about being genderless. The focus is that earthly marriage will no longer apply in the age to come. The resurrection doctrines teach that it is our bodies, male and female which shall be resurrected. The male/female distinction is a reflection of God’s image which we shall bear for eternity. Thus, the author has applied an eternal principle to the present time and misrepresented Scripture in the process, to suggest a genderless focus in ministry, an extreme view in light of our culture’s attempt to eliminate gender distinctions.

    These extremes are seen finally in the author’s suggestion that the limitation of 1 Timothy 2 regarding women in pastoral roles is a regression within the church from the Galatians 3:28/Joel 2:28 ideal?? Are we to see the rest of the instructions in 1 & 2 Timothy in the same regressive light? He further suggests a distinction between milk churches, those which abide by 1 Timothy, and Meat churches, which supposedly abide by Galatians 2:28 principles. This distinction is a further clear misreading of Scripture.

    It is true that Paul speaks to the Corinthian church as needing to be fed with milk. (1 Cor. 3:2), and it is one of the books where a restrictive role to women is enjoined. But Paul begins the letter with an acknowledgement that they did “not lack any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7), and mentions the prophetic role of women therein. They are clearly living in that new spiritual age already and women are restricted in pastoral roles.

    When the author mentions this distinction he says “In the NT Jesus recognizes the milk/meat problem of the need to teach the student, not the lesson, (many things I would teach you, but…’) wherein what is true for one state of spiritual development is no longer true, or at least will be dramatically adjusted, for a more advanced stage.”

    One wonders how to teach the student without a lesson? Nor does Jesus’s reference above have anything to do with maturity. The Holy Spirit had not yet come when Jesus says I have many things to teach you in John 16;12 he is making a distinction between His role and the Holy Spirit. Jesus goes on to sat the Spirit will guide into all truth, which, one would assume, includes the role of women in pastoral ministry. This demands that we examine 1 Timothy 2 closely before we say the instruction there is a regression rather than Spirit instruction on how the church should be structured.

    In conclusion, this article flails away about why women should be granted pastoral roles without engaging the principal verse, except to suggest it is regressive. It misquotes Scripture and makes numerous other allusions which are untenable biblically. This kind of reasoning is exactly why people like myself find the argument of women in pastoral roles unacceptable. The extremes which must be taken to make the case rather than to simply abide by Paul’s instructions are astounding.

  4. William Shifflett says:

    ON THE TENSION ON WOMEN IN MINISTRY
    I must say this is a thoroughly confusing piece. I find it difficult to uncover a clear stream of thought but I would point out several errors in the material presented.
    CREATED ORDER/SPIRIT ORDER
    The author seems to be asserting that there are churches where women should not hold ministry positions and other churches where they should. He seems to envision two different kinds of Christian church. One which operates under the created order apparently drawn from 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and another Spirit order based on Galatians 3:26-29, and a claim that this is a paraphrase of Joel 2:29. The two-tiered system is also illustrated by a milk/meat analogy. Some churches are at a meat level, others at a milk level. Let me highlight some of the flaws in reasoning that exist here and which do nothing to address the vital issue of why women shouldn’t serve in pastoral roles.

    Perhaps the oddest comment comes from the last sections of the material where the author says, “The NT does not espouse ‘equality’ but rather ‘unity’: we are not equal in Christ Jesus, but, higher than that, we are one.” This is an odd statement to make when using 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.” (NIV2011) Paul’s point in this passage is that we are all equally part of the one new man God has formed by bringing Jew and Gentile together.) “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” (Ephesians 2:15 NIV2011) Paul in the Galatians passage is speaking of the elimination of racial, class and gender inequalities. But this does not remove role distinctions among God’s people, distinctions that include restricting pastoral roles to men.

    Oneness as the author envisions requires submission to those over us in the Lord. It is portrayed as something which must be striven for even by people who are Spirit-filled. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that the Spirit-filled/led person will possess a default oneness with others. I am not accusing the author of this but there seems to be an inference that truly being led of the Spirit will produce a oneness over the question on women in pastoral roles.

    Other flaws in the reasoning of this piece rise from Galatians 3:27’s “clothed with Christ,” as a metaphor for assuming authority i.e. over men. But this is metaphor about pure living. “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:13-14)

    And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (Ephesians 4:24-25)

    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:9-12)

    It is Christ’s moral nature we are to put on, a nature which is and was itself subject to the Father. A submissive spirit we are to emulate in obedience to the teachings and commands of God, i.e. men as pastoral leaders. We are to treat each other as equals to achieve oneness, but this does not negate role distinctions.

    This allusion to “clothing” as the assuming of authority in continued in reference to the prodigal son in Luke 15, who was given a robe. It was actually the ring he received which symbolized authority, but what is missing from the text is any sign that the prodigal received authority over either the father or the elder brother. The author writes “Lk 15-the ‘cloak’ to the prodigal son was an explosive conveyance of primogeniture” i.e. the rights of the firstborn. Nothing in the text suggests that the prodigal was elevated in this way. Such an elevation would mean someone was becoming subject to him so the idea of submission to someone else remains, in the hands of a man no less. And even if it did convey the idea of the prodigal’s elevation, that says nothing about the placing of women in pastoral roles.

    Likewise, the Luke 24:49, and Acts 1:8 references say only that women received Spirit baptism, it does not say anything about their taking pastoral roles. This is where the shift to the dual kingdoms seems to take place. Note the statements about “the age-to-come of the Spirit. In that age all would become filled with the Spirit, become prophets and become ‘as the angels’- no gender.” This is a complete misreading of Scriptural texts.

    The only passage where Jesus makes any kind of reference to being like the angels is in connection to the resurrection. “Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.” (Luke 20:34-36)

    Christ says nothing about being genderless. The focus is that earthly marriage will no longer apply in the age to come. The resurrection doctrines teach that it is our bodies, male and female which shall be resurrected. The male/female distinction is a reflection of God’s image which we shall bear for eternity. Thus, the author has applied an eternal principle to the present time and misrepresented Scripture in the process, to suggest a genderless focus in ministry, an extreme view in light of our culture’s attempt to eliminate gender distinctions.

    These extremes are seen finally in the author’s suggestion that the limitation of 1 Timothy 2 regarding women in pastoral roles is a regression within the church from the Galatians 3:28/Joel 2:28 ideal?? Are we to see the rest of the instructions in 1 & 2 Timothy in the same regressive light? He further suggests a distinction between milk churches, those which abide by 1 Timothy, and Meat churches, which supposedly abide by Galatians 2:28 principles. This distinction is a further clear misreading of Scripture.

    It is true that Paul speaks to the Corinthian church as needing to be fed with milk. (1 Cor. 3:2), and it is one of the books where a restrictive role to women is enjoined. But Paul begins the letter with an acknowledgement that they did “not lack any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7), and mentions the prophetic role of women therein. They are clearly living in that new spiritual age already and women are restricted in pastoral roles.

    When the author mentions this distinction he says “In the NT Jesus recognizes the milk/meat problem of the need to teach the student, not the lesson, (many things I would teach you, but…’) wherein what is true for one state of spiritual development is no longer true, or at least will be dramatically adjusted, for a more advanced stage.”

    One wonders how to teach the student without a lesson? Nor does Jesus’s reference above have anything to do with maturity. The Holy Spirit had not yet come when Jesus says I have many things to teach you in John 16;12 he is making a distinction between His role and the Holy Spirit. Jesus goes on to sat the Spirit will guide into all truth, which, one would assume, includes the role of women in pastoral ministry. This demands that we examine 1 Timothy 2 closely before we say the instruction there is a regression rather than Spirit instruction on how the church should be structured.

    In conclusion, this article flails away about why women should be granted pastoral roles without engaging the principal verse, except to suggest it is regressive. It misquotes Scripture and makes numerous other allusions which are untenable biblically. This kind of reasoning is exactly why people like myself find the argument of women in pastoral roles unacceptable. The extremes which must be taken to make the case rather than to simply abide by Paul’s instructions are astounding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.