I Get Mail: What About Hell?

I received the following email:

Can you please recommend a few good books on heaven and hell? A friend is confused about why good people who do not believe Jesus is the only way don’t make it to heaven.

Bosch There are actually several different questions being asked here:

1) Is there a hell, and why do some people go there? (I’ve never heard anyone complain about the possibility of people “going to heaven.”)

2) Do “good people” who are not believing Christians all go to hell?

3) What about the “good Buddhist”? Is it fair for God to send good people who are not Christians through no fault of their own to hell? You do not actually mention this question, but it often lurks in the background.

I would answer briefly as follows:

The Good News

Christianity is not primarily about hell, but about God’s love for humanity despite the mess we have made of the world, and the way in which God has become a human being in Christ to “set things right” (N.T. Wright’s expression). The gospel (good news) is not “God is angry with you and wants to send you to hell,” but “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . .”

Why “Stuff Happens”

What’s wrong with the world? Is suffering, evil, and death on ontological problem (“just the way things are”) or a moral problem (the consequence of wrong human choices)? The Christian explanation for suffering, evil, and death is “sin.” It is not that “bad things happen to good people,” but that even so-called “good people” do bad things. A moral explanation for what’s wrong with the world is the only one that takes evil seriously or that offers any hope for a solution. If suffering, death, and evil are “just the way things are,” then there can be no ultimate solution.

The current culture supposedly does not believe in sin, but this is not really true. What has happened instead is that we have shifted from a “sin” culture to a “shame” culture. People do not want to believe in their own sin, but they have no problem in placing blame on other people, and “shaming them” when they cross some current cultural boundary. “Shaming” escalates, however, and simply leads to people “shouting each other down.” “Shaming” offers no room for forgiveness, change, or reconciliation.

Former TSM faculty member and my good friend Leander Harding says that “Sin is what other people do that I disapprove of. There are lots of things that I do that other people disapprove of, but I don’t call them sin.”

There are all kinds of signs in everyday culture that we are well aware of and believe in “other people’s” sins. We guard our email from spam and we filter our telephone calls because we are constantly on the alert for identity theft and online scams. People march in protest either for or against various causes, and current political divides indicate that both sides believe that those who disagree with them are not just mistaken, but immoral. Contrary to President Trump, we don’t believe “there are some very fine people on both sides.” Nor should we. White nationalists are evil. We live in a culture in which people constantly have to fear about the possibility that someone with a gun will take innocent lives. It is evil to shoot down innocent people in cold blood. There is a crisis about immigration in our culture, and people rightly believe that it is evil to separate small children from their parents and put them in cages. The “me too” movement has made it clear that sexual exploitation is evil, and our culture will no longer tolerate it. The fact that even those who are accused of racism quickly deny that they are racists makes clear that we agree as a culture that racism is evil.

Where the Christian doctrine of sin is helpful is that it reminds us that the problem is not just with those “other people,” but with us as well. If “all have sinned,” then all can be forgiven. If there is no sin, but only shame, then no one can ever be forgiven, and we all must live forever not only shaming others, but with the fear that others might shame us.

What “Salvation” Means

Crucial to the Christian claim is that in the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has taken on all of the suffering and evil in the world, and defeated it. As Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in her essay “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” on the cross, God has “taken his own medicine.” Because of Jesus, sin, death, and suffering will not have the last word.

A crucial point in the proclamation of the gospel is “God’s universal salvific will.” That is, everyone who has ever lived, came into existence because God loves them. God wills the salvation of everyone, even the worst sinner; Jesus Christ has died for everyone, and God has done and will do everything in his power to bring about the salvation of every single individual. A Collect from the Book of Common Prayer, begins: “O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity . . .” In the words of Prosper of Aquitaine, “If anyone is saved, it is because of the goodness of God; if anyone is lost, it is their own fault.”

This has implications for theological anthropology, or our understanding of what it means to be human. The following can be said of every person who has ever lived: “You are created in the image of God, you are a sinner who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ, and God truly wills your salvation.”

(A strict Calvinist would not agree with the above. That’s one of the reasons that I am not a Calvinist.)

It is important to keep in mind that salvation (“heaven”) is not “Disneyland,” a place where everyone goes to “have a good time.” Rather, salvation is redemption – the re-creation and restoration of the entire universe to be the way in which God intended it to be. Salvation is not just “living forever,” but reconciliation with and living with, knowing and loving the God who is our Creator. 1 Cor. 13:2 states that we shall “see [God] face to face,” and know as we are known. 1 John 3:2 states: “[W]e know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” In the words of the famous prayer from Augustine’s Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

To be created in the image of God means that we are created for fellowship and union with God, that God has created the world to share his love and goodness with creatures. We do not exist to “do our own thing,” but to know and love God, as God knows and loves us. We are created to be loved by God and to love him in return.

To be “sinful” means not just that “everyone does bad things,” but that we have turned our backs on our Creator, and thus missed the whole point of our existence. As Jesus summed up the two great commandments, the first commandment is to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sin is not just “doing bad things,” but failing to love as we have been loved. In the words of the “General Confession” from The Book of Common Prayer, “We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

Moreover, and most important, salvation or redemption is about reconciliation to God and neighbor. It is about being restored to the love for which we were created. Salvation is about forgiveness of sins, but also about union with Jesus Christ – the risen Christ sharing his life with us – knowing and loving Christ, becoming “friends” with him (John 15:15), and being in communion with him and his body, the church. Salvation is not merely about individuals “going to heaven,” but about becoming members of the church, the people of God, the body of which Jesus Christ is the head, the community of people who are learning to love God with all of their hearts and their neighbors as themselves.

Hell, no? or The Hell there is!

But if eternal life (salvation, redemption, “heaven”) means life forever with God, loving him and knowing him as he is for who he is, being part of the body of Christ, loving and forgiving our neighbor whom we now love as ourselves, what then of those who want nothing to do with God or Christ? What then of those who do not want to forgive their neighbor, or to love him or her as themselves?

The doctrine of hell is not at the heart of Christianity, but I would suggest that it is the “flip side” of the gospel – the good news that God wants to reconcile us to himself so that he can share his life with us, that salvation is about union with and sharing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, of being part of this new community the church, who live to love God with all of their hearts and their neighbors as themselves. “Hell” is the doctrine that says that although God truly loves and wills the salvation of everyone he has ever created, that Jesus Christ has truly died for everyone, and sincerely invites everyone who has ever lived to share in this new life in Christ, and to become part of this new community of love and forgiveness, no one will be forced to do so. “Hell” means that, despite all God has done for their salvation, those who refuse to be reconciled with God and one another, will be allowed to do so forever. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

There are several possible theological positions that have been taken in response to the doctrine of hell, and a number of questions that need to be addressed.

“Pluralism” is the position that says that “all roads lead to the same destination.” Everyone will be saved by whatever religion or belief they follow. This is the position associated with liberal Protestant theologian John Hick. Former Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori infamously stated that Jesus was “the way” of salvation for Christians, but that other people had their own ways. The problem with “pluralism” is that it ultimately does not take any one religion seriously, and it reduces Jesus to a good example or a wise teacher rather than the Savior of the world. Pluralism claims to respect every religion, but it does not respect any of them seriously enough to actually consider their fundamental claims, and it does not take seriously the central claim of Christianity that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

“Universalism” is the position that eventually everyone will be saved. Many theologians who have been orthodox in every other respect seem nonetheless to have been universalists, including theologians from whom I have learned a lot. Reformed theologian Karl Barth, Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Scottish writer George MacDonald (who influenced C.S. Lewis), Anglican F. D. Maurice, Eastern Orthodox writer David Bentley Hart, all seem to have been universalists. The main problem with universalism as I see it, is that it seems to conflict with the plain teaching of the New Testament, including especially the teaching of Jesus, e.g., the parables of the sheep and the goats, or the rich man and Lazarus. It also ignores the problem of those who “just say no.” Assuming that God has done everything possible for our salvation, is it not possible that some people might refuse that gift forever?

If we reject both pluralism and universalism, there seem to be two (or possibly three) final possible positions.

Exclusivism is the position at the opposite extreme from both pluralism and universalism. Exclusivism is the position that only those who have explicit faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. In other words, everyone is lost except for those who have consciously exercised faith in Jesus Christ. This has certainly been the position of many orthodox Christians. The problem with exclusivism is that it seems to fly in the face of the universal salvific will of God. If only those who are saved who explicitly have faith in Jesus Christ, then it would seem that the majority of the human race will not be saved. This would seem to imply that God’s will that no one should perish, but that all will reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9) would largely be defeated.

“Inclusivism” is the position that Jesus Christ saves, and that ultimately anyone who is saved will be saved because of the person and work of Christ. However, we cannot presume that only those who have exercised conscious and explicit faith in Christ before their death will be saved by Christ. If we take seriously that God wills everyone to be saved, and that Jesus Christ has died for everyone, that God’s grace is active everywhere, then surely it is possible that God can save even those who do not yet know that Jesus Christ is their Savior. This does not imply that everyone is saved (universalism), or that every path leads to salvation (pluralism). It does imply that God can work in mysterious ways in those who do not (yet) have explicit faith in Christ, and if (and when) they are saved, it will be Christ who saves them. If the “good Buddhist” is ultimately saved, he or she will not be saved by being a “good Buddhist,” but because Jesus Christ has died for her sins, and because ultimately (whether in this life or the next), she will come to know Jesus Christ as her Savior. (This is a position that has been held by Roman Catholic theologians such as Karl Rahner, by C.S. Lewis, and by many contemporary Christian theologians.)

Missiologist Leslie Newbigin, and former Dean and President of Wycliffe College George Sumner, have advocated a position identified as “particularism.” Newbigin has complained that “inclusivism” focuses too much on the salvific fate of the individual, and does not take seriously enough the way that religious life takes place within particular communities. The biblical story is not concerned with individuals going to heaven and hell, but with the redemption and eschatology of the entire cosmos – a new heaven and a new earth. God brings salvation through communities; Israel is God’s people elect as the representative of the nations. The incarnate Jesus Christ is elect as the one who bears the sins of the entire world. Jesus’ followers live in the midst of the fallen world as signs of God’s kingdom, not as the select saved in the midst of the many lost, but as the sign of God’s intent to save all human beings. There will indeed be a final judgment, but there will also be surprises. Some who think they will be saved will not be, and vice versa.

George Sumner complains that Rahner’s version of inclusivism tends to reduce grace to psychology, and loses track of what Sumner calls “Christological final primacy.” “Final primacy” is the position that all other truths must be brought into relation to the single norming truth of Jesus Christ, who is the First Truth. Christ is the “First Truth,” the “unknown God” of Acts 17, the “Word who enlightens everyone coming into the world” (John 1:9), the One through whom even pagans have knowledge of the law “written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:15).

According to Sumner, the non-Christian religions contain “partial truths,” but they also contain falsehood and ignorance. What is of chief importance is to remember that the goal (telos) of the narrative of salvation is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ must be at the center of any theological affirmation of salvation. To abandon Christological final primacy is to abandon Christian faith.

I would suggest that Newbigin’s and Sumner’s “particularism” and “final primacy” are not rejections of “Inclusivism” so much as warnings against the dangers of “Inclusivism” turning into “Pluralism.” Newbigin and Sumner agree with “Inclusivists” that salvation is possible for those who do not have explicit Christian faith in this life, but they also want to be emphatic that this salvation comes from Jesus Christ, not from being a “good Buddhist.”

Another possible way of expressing “inclusivism” would be to reverse the original premise of exclusivism. Exclusivism states: “No one is saved except for those who have explicit faith in Jesus Christ.” Inclusivism would state rather: “Everyone is saved except for those who finally refuse to receive forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation in Jesus Christ.” Inclusivism is the position that if the door to redemption is finally shut, it will only be shut by those who refuse to the end to receive God’s redeeming and reconciling grace in Jesus Christ, and that the door to hell in the end will be shut from the inside. God has done, and will do everything he can, either in this world or the next, to save all who will be saved, and no one will be lost because they did not receive the possibility of salvation.

There is one final position I should mention: “Conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” This is the position that identifies hell not as a continuing eternal conscious state of separation from God, but as the ceasing to exist of the lost. Unlike the saved, who live in God’s presence for eternity, the “damned” simply are no more. This is a position that has been held (even if tentatively) even by some traditional Evangelical theologians such as John Stott. Whatever one thinks of “annihilationism,” it would be a rejection of both pluralism and universalism, and it would be a variation on traditional understandings. Annihilationists would presumably be either exclusivists or inclusivists. (The theological critique of annihilation would be the same as that of universalism. It seems to be in conflict with the teaching of Scripture.)

Some final reflections:

What about the symbolism of hell? I think it important to recognize that the language of hellfire and brimstone connected with hell is metaphorical and symbolic. The point of the imagery is not to give a literal description of hell anymore than the symbolism of a city made of gold and precious stones is a literal description of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21), but to emphasize the great tragedy of losing out on salvation. Ultimately, hell is the prospect of eternal separation from God. Some Eastern Orthodox theologians have even suggested that hell is the burning love of God as experienced by those who eternally reject that love. In Dante’s Inferno, he uses many different images for hell, including that of a frozen lake at the deepest level of hell. In C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce, he imagines hell as a kind of “gray city.” The great loss of hell is not physical pain, but the missing out on the possibility of sharing in the Divine Love for which we have been created. Returning again to Augustine’s Confessions, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” To forever have that thirst for God who can alone makes us happy and who can alone give us rest, and yet, because we have decided forever to prefer our own wills to the joy offered us by our Creator, to be eternally restless and eternally unsatisfied, would indeed be hell.

Finally, the most important thing to remember about the Bible’s imagery of hell is that it is always addressed personally and existentially, and calls for a personal response. The Bible does not speak of hell in order for us to speculate about or to imagine the fate of others, but always as a personal reminder: Am I myself in danger of rejecting God’s promise of grace and forgiveness? Is there a danger that I myself might turn my back on God’s love? Am I myself in danger of missing the very purpose for which God created me?


C.S. Lewis has perhaps written more thoughtfully on hell than any other modern writer:

The Problem of Pain. Macmillan, 1952.

Lewis has a chapter on “Hell,” in which he addresses some of the main objections people have raised to the doctrine of hell.

The Great Divorce. Macmillan, 1946.

C.S. Lewis’s imaginary story of a bus ride from hell to heaven in which hell’s residents are given a second chance.

N. T. Wright

Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good. HarperOne, 2017.

This is a good starting point to get to the heart of what Christianity is about. Christianity is about the “Good News” that God is “setting things right.” Christianity is not primarily about “going to heaven or hell.”

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne, 2008.

Wright corrects a lot of common misconceptions about “heaven.” He has a short discussion of “hell.”

Leslie Newbigin, “The Christian Faith and the World Religions,” Keeping the Faith: Essays to Mark the Centenary of Lux Mundi, Geoffrey Wainwright, ed. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.

This is Newbigin’s critique of Pluralism and Inclusivism in favor of “Particularism.”

George Sumner. The First and the Last: The Claim of Jesus Christ and the Claims of Other Religious Traditions. Eerdmans, 2004.

This is one of the best discussions of the implications that Jesus Christ is the universal Savior (what he calls “Final Primacy”) has for other religions.

Neal Punt. Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism. Eerdmans, 1980.

This now older book challenges the central premise of exclusivism by suggesting as an alternative to “Everyone is lost except for those who have faith in Jesus Christ” that “Everyone is saved except for those who finally refuse God’s grace in Jesus Christ.”

Jerry Walls. Hell, The Logic of Damnation. University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

Heaven, The Logic of Eternal Joy. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Purgatory, The Logic of Total Transformation. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most. Brazos, 2015.

Jerry Walls is an important Evangelical Methodist philosopher who addresses some of the traditional objections to the doctrines of heaven, hell and purgatory(!) in these books.

Thomas Aquinas for Evangelicals (Part 1) Introduction

AquinasI first became acquainted with the writings of Thomas Aquinas when I was an undergraduate philosophy major. I became interested in Aquinas because I was interested in apologetics, and I thought that Aquinas would be helpful for doing things like providing arguments for the existence of God. I later shifted my academic focus from philosophy to theology, and have found Aquinas to be a lifelong companion on my theological journey. I am not a Roman Catholic but an Anglican, and I have often encountered a kind of discomfort when other Christians who stand on this side of the Reformation hear about my interest in Aquinas. Aquinas is considered to be the quintessential Roman Catholic theologian, and, accordingly, is regarded with suspicion by many non-Roman Catholic Christians – especially Evangelicals. My ad hoc response would be much like that of Christian Ethicist Stanley Hauerwas who, when he was first teaching at the University of Notre Dame, had to respond to concerns that a Methodist theologian was teaching about Thomas Aquinas. Hauerwas countered that Aquinas lived three hundred years before the Protestant Reformation, before there were any distinctions between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Aquinas was not therefore a Roman Catholic theologian, but a church theologian, and so a Methodist had just as much right to claim him as would a Roman Catholic. Recently D. Stephen Long, another Methodist theologian, has argued persuasively that Protestants should recognize that Aquinas actually played a significant role in the history of Reformation theology, and needs to be reclaimed by Protestants. If Aquinas can be claimed by two Methodist theologians, I would argue that he certainly can be claimed by Anglicans. In what follows, I hope to provide an introduction to Aquinas’s thought in a way that might be helpful for Reformation Christians, especially Evangelicals.

Who was Thomas Aquinas?

Thomas Aquinas was born sometime around 1224 or 1225 as the youngest son of lesser nobility, related to the Counts of Aquino, in the family castle of Roccasecca (in southern Italy, halfway between Rome and Naples). His family had hopes that young Thomas would enter the Benedictine order and would perhaps eventually become an abbot, but he had other ideas. There was a new kind of religious order at the time, the friars, who differed from traditional monks in that they were not cloistered – that is, they did not live in monasteries – but lived among the laity and engaged in mission in the everyday world. Friars came in two varieties, the Friars Minor (O.F.M.) or Franciscans (founded by St. Francis of Assisi) and the Order of Preachers (O.P.) or Dominicans (founded by St. Dominic). As their name suggests, the Order of Preachers focused on preaching, but also on study and teaching, so they had a more academic focus than did the Franciscans. Against his family’s wishes, the young Aquinas joined the Dominicans in 1244. His family responded by having Thomas kidnapped and held him captive for a year or so. He eventually escaped, and in 1245 the Dominicans sent him to the newly founded University of Paris, a budding intellectual center, where he studied under Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great). In Paris, Thomas studied Aristotle’s ethics – Aristotle’s major works were now being translated into Latin for the first time – and the writings of the Eastern Christian mystical theologian Pseudo-Dionysius.

In 1256, Aquinas received his Master in Theology (magister in sacra pagina); his responsibilities would have included (1) legere (“reading”), that is, to comment on Scripture; (2) disputare (disputation), to teach by responding to objections, the teaching method of scholastic theology; (3) praedicare (preaching). (Around 100 of Aquinas’s sermons have been preserved.) From 1259 to 1274, Aquinas taught in various places, mostly in Paris and Italy. During this time, he wrote his major theological works, and, towards the end of this period, his two major works: the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologiae.

On the Feast of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6), 1273, Aquinas was celebrating mass and had some kind of unusual experience. Afterwards, he told his socius (“secretary”) Reginald,“Everything I have written seems like so much straw in comparison to what I have seen.” Speculations run the gamut from the theory that Aquinas had some kind of mystical experience to his suffering a stroke. Whatever its nature, after this experience, Thomas ceased to write, and the Summa Theologiae, his greatest work, remains unfinished. He got as far as discussing the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, but never finished writing on the other five Catholic sacraments, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology, or eschatology. (Nonetheless, enough exists from his other writings that scholars can at least speculate about what his views would have been. After Aquinas’s death, dedicated followers put together a Supplement to the Summa Theologiae, creating a conclusion based on one of his earliest works, his Commentary on Peter Abelard’s Sentences.)

In early 1274, Pope Gregory X summoned Aquinas to appear at the Council of Lyons, an attempt to reunite the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches. While traveling to the council, Aquinas struck his head on the branch of a fallen tree. He became ill, and was taken to a Cistercian monastery, where he died shortly after on March 7. Although dying at the age of only 49, Aquinas’s written works exceeded those of any other theologian until those of the Reformed theologian Karl Barth, in the twentieth century. As with Aquinas, Barth’s master work, the Church Dogmatics, was never finished, ending almost exactly where Aquinas had, with the discussion of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the church. (Barth got as far as the doctrine of baptism.)

Objections to Aquinas

Before making a positive case for Aquinas as a theologian, it would probably be helpful to address some of the numerous objections that have been and continue to be raised against Aquinas’s theology. The following objections are raised often enough to list them as “standard,” especially among Evangelicals. They are so prevalent that unless they are at least addressed, any positive discussion may not get off the ground.

First, it is claimed, Thomas Aquinas was not really a theologian at all, but primarily an Aristotelian philosopher, who imposed pagan philosophy on his theology. Another way of putting this would be to say that Aquinas was primarily a “natural theologian” who was interested in doing things like “proving the existence of God.” (This is an objection often found among the “Reformed,” especially among those influenced either by John Calvin or Karl Barth.)

Second, an alternative, but related, critique is to complain that Aquinas was a “classical theist” who believed in such things as divine “immutability,” whose “static God” is distant from, does not interact with or respond to, and thus cannot love, the creation. Aquinas’s embrace of “classical theism” shows again that he was more influenced by Hellenistic philosophy than the Bible. While the above objection would be found among Calvinists, this objection has been more characteristic of their opposite opponents, the “open theists.” Variations of the critique can also be found in the writings of theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann or Robert Jenson.

Third, Aquinas is said to have made a false split between the one God and the Triune God leading to a neglect of the doctrine of the Trinity. Aquinas’s “Treatise on the One God” is a case of “natural theology” rather than a biblical doctrine of God. (Insofar as Aquinas writes about the Trinity at all, the doctrine amounts to a kind of afterthought. He had to say something about the Trinity, but it plays no significant role in his theology.) This criticism, raised also against Augustine of Hippo, reflects the revival of Trinitarian theology in the late twentieth century, and the rediscovery of not only Eastern patristic theologians like the Cappadocians, but also Karl Barth’s placing of the starting point of theology in the doctrine of the Trinity in his Church Dogmatics. Not only Protestants (Moltmann) and Eastern Orthodox theologians have raised this criticism, but also Roman Catholic theologians such as Karl Rahner.

Fourth, Aquinas’s doctrine of “analogy of being” (analogia entis) placed God in the same category as creatures, reducing God to creaturely status. The “analogy of being” is the fundamental heresy, and the single reason why one cannot become a Roman Catholic (Karl Barth). Conversely, Aquinas’s doctrine of “analogy” ends up in equivocity, meaning that ultimately we can know or say nothing about God. Unless some kind of “univocity” lies at the basis of our language of God, we will ultimately be reduced to skepticism.

Note that this objection against “analogy” actually accuses Aquinas of mutually incompatible errors, either reducing God to the level of creatures by embracing univocity, or, rather, of making God unknowable by refusing to embrace univocity. If the former was the accusation of Karl Barth, the latter has been more the complaint of contemporary analytical philosophers of religion.

Fifth, Aquinas was a “virtue ethicist,” showing once again that he owed more to Aristotle than the Bible. This objection would find its most ardent adherents among radical “Lutherans” who would suspect “virtue ethics” of being an example of “works righteousness.”

Sixth, Aquinas had an inadequate doctrine of the fall, believing that the fall did not affect the intellect. Moreover, Aquinas’s doctrine of grace was semi-Pelagian at best. He believed that we are justified by human merit (good works). This objection would be a standard Protestant objection raised by advocates of justification by faith alone.

Last, Aquinas was not interested in Scripture and shows little acquaintance with the Bible. Reflecting this lack of interest in the Bible, Aquinas does not have a whole lot to say about Christology. Finally, Aquinas’s eucharistic doctrine can be summarized in one word: “transubstantiation.” This last objection would be a typically Protestant objection of advocates of sola scriptura: Aquinas’s theology is not a theology based on Scripture, but is simply an uncritical repetition of Medieval Roman Catholic dogma.

How to Respond?

The first set of objections – that Aquinas was primarily an Aristotelian philosopher rather than a theologian – is partially justified insofar as it has been Catholic philosophers who were initially responsible for this misreading. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879), “On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy,” recommended Aquinas to Roman Catholics primarily for his philosophy. For much of the 20th century, a “Thomist” meant a certain kind of “Catholic philosopher” who did such things as defend Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God (the quinque viae or “five ways”), the “analogy of being,” and Thomist realist epistemology over against modern secularism and skepticism. A classic example of this approach would be the twentieth-century Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. While Thomists like this still exist, the beginning of the collapse of “Thomist philosophy” likely began with the debate between “traditional” Thomists and historian of philosophy Etienne Gilson, who argued for something called “Christian philosophy.” Contrary to Thomist advocates of a clear distinction between philosophy (natural theology) and (revealed) theology, Gilson argued that Aquinas was a Christian philosopher, that his philosophy was influenced by and only possible because of premises dependent on revelation. Toward the end of his life, Gilson recognized that even this claim did not go far enough. Gilson admitted that in his attempt to distinguish between Thomas’s “Christian philosophy” and revealed theology, he had misread Aquinas. Aquinas was not a “Christian philosopher,” but a theologian from beginning to end.

Where previous generations of “Thomist” scholars had focused on only a handful of “philosophical” texts in Aquinas’s writings, in the last couple of generations, Aquinas has begun to be read for the theologian that he was. While working on my doctorate, I studied under David Burrell, who had chairs in both philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame, and taught what he called “philosophical theology.” Burrell argued that the doctrine of creation from nothing (known by revelation not by philosophical speculation) was crucial for understanding Thomas Aquinas’s thought. In the last couple of decades, scholars have begun studying not only Thomas’s doctrine of creation, but his doctrine of the Trinity, his Christology and soteriology, and his doctrine of grace.

The additional claims that Aquinas was a “classical theist” or that he separated the doctrine of the One God from the Triune God are largely based on misreadings – at least insofar as the critics presume that the primary influence on Aquinas’s thought here is Hellenistic (pagan) philosophy. Rather, as numerous scholars have shown in recent years, Thomas’s primary concern in his doctrine of creation is to preserve the unique distinction between Creator and creature implied in the Christian doctrine of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Again, far from peripheral, the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation are central to and pervade the Summa Theologiae from beginning to end.

The criticisms of Barth and analytic philosophers concerning “analogy of being” rather cancel each other out insofar as they accuse Aquinas of opposite errors. Barth’s criticism is certainly the most serious; however, in what is arguably still one of the best studies of Barth’s theology, Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar demonstrated that Barth had simply misread Aquinas on analogy. (“Being,” for Aquinas is not an overarching category in which Creator and creatures equally share.) As for the analytical philosophers, they might well read Barth’s own defense of an “analogy of faith”; if language for both God and creatures is univocal, then God does indeed seem to have been reduced to the level of the creature.

Was Aquinas a “virtue ethicist”? Yes, but one might well argue that this is a “feature,” not a “bug.” With the rediscovery of virtue ethics beginning with Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, there has been a renewed appreciation for “virtue ethics,” not only among Roman Catholics, but also for Protestant ethicists such as Stanley Hauerwas. When one reads a Reformed philosopher like James K. A. Smith writing about “spiritual formation,” and Evangelical ethicist Oliver O’Donovan placing what would be the traditional theological virtues of faith, hope and charity at the center of his recent magnum opus on Christian ethics, one wonders what the fuss is about. Of course, it must also be insisted that Aquinas’s “virtue ethics” is not simply a regurgitation of Aristotle. For Aquinas, the theological virtues – which are entirely gifts of grace – are at the heart of Christian ethics. Aquinas claimed that humility was a virtue; Aristotle thought that it was a vice.

Finally, the last set of objections are not so much objections to Aquinas’s theology as they are an affirmation of Reformation understandings of the doctrine of justification and grace against those formulated at the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, and Protestant objections to Catholic understandings of the relationship between Scripture and tradition. There is a certain amount of anachronism here. Aquinas wrote three hundred years before both Luther and Trent. He cannot rightly be accused of either holding or rejecting positions that he never explicitly encountered or addressed. However, a more careful reading of what Aquinas actually wrote about such issues as justification and grace or the relationship between Scripture and tradition might be surprising. Certainly Aquinas was no Protestant, but neither was he a Tridentine Catholic.

One of the reasons for the neglect of a careful reading of Thomas Aquinas’s own theology was the Neoscholastic “manualist” tradition of Roman Catholic theology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Catholic theology was taught using “manuals” that consisted of series of set questions and answers to theological topics. The assumption behind the manuals was that Catholic theology was certain and unchanging, and there was thus no real need for careful historical investigation. The Bible, the writings of the Church Fathers, and even the writings of important Catholic theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, were not actually read for themselves, but rather presented through the “manuals.” The “Thomism” of this manualist tradition was more influenced by late Medieval and Reformation era writers such as Thomas Cajetan, Francisco Suarez, Domingo Báñez, and John of St. Thomas than it was by Aquinas himself. In the mid-twentieth century, manualist methodology was challenged by Roman Catholic thinkers such as Marie-Dominic Chenu, Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, who insisted that a fundamental task of theology consisted of a careful reading of the historical sources, especially the Bible and the Church Fathers – a methodology they called “Ressourcement.” Perhaps most significant for the theological study of Aquinas in this movement was the work of the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac and what was known as the Nouvelle Théologie movement. De Lubac initiated a radical change in the reading of Aquinas’s doctrine of grace which was at least as critical of late Medieval theologies of grace as the Reformers had been.

Finally, equating Aquinas’s understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition with what later Roman Catholics embraced over against the Protestant Reformers is not only an anachronism, but also a simple misreading.

Thomas Aquinas as Theologian

As noted above, Thomas Aquinas was primarily a theologian, not a philosopher, and a clear shift has taken place in interpretation of his writing over the last half century. As noted, this happened in several stages. First was the move from an apologetic reading of Aquinas as an advocate of “natural theology” to a proponent of “Christian philosophy,” one whose philosophy was influenced by principles derived from biblical revelation. Next advocates of the “Christian philosophy” reading came to recognize that the doctrine of creation played a significant role in Aquinas’s thinking. Around the same period of time, Henri de Lubac and others associated with the Nouvelle Théologie began examining Aquinas’s doctrine of grace and contrasting it with the “extrinsicism” characteristic of the late Medieval Scholasticism that dominated the period of the Council of Trent. In response to criticisms flowing out of the recent Trinitarian revival, theologians have been more carefully reading Aquinas’s trinitarian theology. Similarly, the revival of virtue ethics has led theologians to discover how central the theology of grace and Christian spirituality are to Aquinas’s Christian ethics. Again, in recent years theologians have begun to study other areas of Aquinas’s theology, e.g., his Christology and his doctrine of grace. Finally, translations of Aquinas’s numerous commentaries on Scripture have begun to appear for the first time in recent years, and this has led to a new appreciation for the central role that Scripture plays in his theology.

A new consensus has arisen that Thomas Aquinas was primarily a theologian, not a philosopher. Aquinas’s primary teaching duties consisted of lecturing on Scripture. He wrote commentaries on books of the Bible. He preached sermons. While Aquinas did use Aristotle (and Pseudo-Dionysius and Augustinian Platonism) to articulate theology, he transformed or even “baptized” them in the process. For example, the doctrine of creation from nothing is central to Thomas’s theology; yet Aristotle believed that the universe was eternal, and Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover was unaware that the universe existed. Friendship is important for Aristotle’s understanding of ethics, but Aquinas went beyond Aristotle to say that the most important kind of friendship is friendship with the triune God. For Aristotle, not only could we not be friends with the Unmoved Mover, the Mover was not even aware that we exist. When Aquinas discussed Aristotle’s notion of “happiness,” he suggested that Aristotle was talking about the “happiness of this life,” but Aristotle did not believe in any other kind of happiness since he did not believe in an afterlife. To the contrary, for Aquinas, to be created in the image of God means to be created for the eternal happiness that we will only have when we see God face to face in the beatific vision. Finally, at the heart of Thomas’s theology is the incarnation of God in Christ for the redemption of sinful human beings – something Aristotle never imagined!

I hope in the following essays to shed some light on what Aquinas actually wrote on these matters and why he might be helpful for Evangelicals.

My Response to the Response of Six Anglican Leaders to the ACNA Statement on Holy Orders

The following is my response to the Response to Holy Orders Task Force Report — Six Anglican Leaders Reflect on ACNA Statement, which I will refer to in what follows as the Response.

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryI begin by noting that there is nothing new introduced in the Response, but also that the Response contains a significant anomaly. The Response consists of arguments that have been used against women’s ordinations for the last several decades. However, the Response also combines (without acknowledgment or clarification) the two very different arguments against women’s ordination used by Protestant Evangelicals (Complementarians) and Sacramental Catholics (Liturgical symbolism). The Response presumes that the arguments can be combined, but it is questionable whether they are even compatible. (If one takes seriously Complementarian disinterest in sacramental concerns and Catholic rejections of Complementarian positions, the two approaches cancel each other out.)

The first half of the Response assumes the position defended by Evangelical opponents of women’s ordinations known as “Complementarians,” a group whose beginnings are no earlier than the 1970s and 1980s. Complementarianism is a view associated primarily with Baptist Calvinists Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Throughout, the Response simply repeats arguments used over and over again by Grudem and Piper. Unfortunately, the writers of the Response seem either unaware of or choose not to address the serious weaknesses in Complementarian arguments that have been pointed out repeatedly. The Response does not acknowledge that Complementarianism represents a uniquely Protestant approach. Complementarianism is primarily concerned with masculine authority: women cannot be ordained because they cannot speak publicly in a worship setting, cannot teach men, and cannot exercise authority over men. The Catholic argument against women’s ordination is a completely different argument connected to sacramental symbolism, and both modern Roman Catholics and the Orthodox have rejected complementarian arguments concerning authority. For Catholics, women can do all of the things complementarianism forbids: they can preach, they can teach, they can exercise authority over men; they just cannot celebrate the Eucharist. This point is crucial because it makes clear that the first half of the Response represents a one-sided Protestant approach that is at odds with the Catholic position.

On Complementarianism, see my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics.”

If the first half of the Response one-sidedly echoes Complementarianism, it is also unfortunate that throughout the Response quotes only from the ESV translation of the Bible, an intentionally Complementarian translation that at times misleadingly translates passages to force complementarian readings. That the authors do not acknowledge the differences between the ESV and other translations is unfortunate.

The Response presents what it calls “clear biblical testimonies to a male-only presbyterate.” Unfortunately, the passages to which it refers are anything but “clear” on that issue.

The Response begins with the two key proof texts to which Complementarians regularly appeal because they restrict women from speaking or teaching.

1) 1 Cor. 14:33-35.

The Response quotes the English translation of the ESV and claims that “this is not simply a local rule because [the text says] “As in all the churches of the saints . . .”

Unfortunately, the Response does not mention two significant textual problems.

First, a considerable number of biblical scholars make the case that this passage is an interpolation, not written by Paul at all. The Western mss. tradition places the passage after v. 40, while no non-Western mss. does so. The options are either that, at some unknown period, a copyist removed the passage from Paul’s original position and moved it elsewhere (for no apparent logical reason), or, alternatively, the passage was not in Paul’s original mss., but was inserted in the margin by a copyist. Later copyists inserted it into the text, but in different locations. It is easier to explain the origin as a gloss than to assume that a scribe later moved the passage from where Paul originally put it.

Second, assuming for argument’s sake that Paul did write the text, there was no punctuation when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Linguistically, it makes more sense to place the phrase “as in all the churches of the saints” with the preceding sentence, as in the KJV and the NIV: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” The ESV creates an unnecessary redundancy. If Paul had already written, “as in all the churches,” why did he then need to write that “women should keep silent in the churches”? On the other hand, making the point that God is the author of peace, not of confusion “as in all the churches,” just makes sense. Paul is complaining throughout 1 Corinthians about disruptive worship practices. His statement about women is addressing another such disruptive practice. In being disruptive, the Corinthians are violating a practice of orderly worship that is normative in all the churches.

More important, the Response fails to address the question of what kind of speech Paul was prohibiting in 1 Cor. 14:33 ff. Everyone in the debate agrees that Paul was not advocating an absolute prohibition of women speaking because Paul allows women to prophesy in 1 Cor. 11, and even complementarians admit this. The context indicates that Paul is prohibiting some kind of disruptive speaking of women in a particular context in the Corinthian church, not all speaking. The issue of disagreement concerns what kind of speaking that was. Nothing in the context indicates that Paul was addressing a question concerning women holding church office or exercising authority. He is demanding that certain women (not all women) exercise some kind of silence in a particular worship setting (not everywhere and not at all times). There is nothing in the context that suggests that this is a universal prohibition against all women speaking in church under all circumstances.

See my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching.”

2) 1 Tim. 2:11-14

Here again, the Response simply follows the Complementarian argument by claiming that “Paul argues from creation – before the Fall and not after.” They then state that “male authority in the Church derives not from a fallen order but from the creation order.”

Again, the writers fail to acknowledge that this passage is beset with a number of interpretive difficulties. First, they presume that Paul is providing a warrant and not an example. That is, because Adam was formed first, therefore, women should not teach or exercise authority.

The Response necessarily assumes that the crucial word “because” (gar) is being used as a warrant in the sense of cause rather than a warrant in the sense of example. Gar can be used as a warrant, but it can also be a simple conjunction or used as an example. Elsewhere Paul always uses Adam and Eve as typological examples (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). That would seem to be what he is doing here: “Eve was deceived; do not be deceived as Eve was.”

Moreover, numerous scholars point out that Paul’s use of epitrepō should be translated “I am not permitting,” not “I do not permit.” Thus, Paul is referring to a present prohibition, not a permanent one.

Once more, the ESV misleadingly translates (authentein) as the neutral “to exercise authority over.” However, biblical scholars point out that the word has a stronger and primarily negative connotation. As NT scholar Ben Witherington notes, “I conclude that the author means that women are not permitted to ‘rule over,’ master,’ or ‘play the despot’ over men.”

A more careful reading indicates that Paul’s admonition addressed a specific historical situation, that he was concerned about the danger of particular women who were being deceived, that he referred to Eve not as a warrant against women teaching rooted in creation, but as a typological example of someone who had been deceived, and that he was in this context currently prohibiting women from teaching until they had been adequately informed – “Let them learn in quietness and full submission” (i.e., to what they were being taught; there is no reference to a submission to a person), and that women should not “usurp authority” or “play the despot” over men.

Again, see my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching.”

3) “Headship”

Further evidence that the Response is dependent on Complementarianism is indicated in the use of the word “headship” to describe their position. This is a term first introduced into the discussion by George W. Knight, III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women: New Testament Teaching (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1977, 1985), after which it became a regular way for Complementarians to describe their position.

1 Cor. 11:7-16

The response misleadingly quotes the ESV translation of v. 10 – “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head . . .” This is one of the ESV’s most egregious mistranslations. The words “symbol of” do not occur in the original Greek. The NIV correctly translates the passage “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” That is, the authority referred to in the passage is not that of the man over the woman, but the woman’s own authority. This is the only reference to “authority” in the passage, and the ESV translation makes the passage say the opposite of what is actually in the text.

The point of the passage is not that the “man” is the “head of the family,” as the Response says later, but that man and woman are equally dependent on one another. The woman came from man in creation (the original Genesis story), but now all men come from women (through childbirth). So the woman (in the original creation account of Genesis) is made “from man” (1 Cor. 11:8), but all men are now born “from woman” (1 Cor. 11:12). The passage is not about male authority over women at all – again, the only reference to authority in the passage is to the woman’s own authority – but to mutuality between man and woman.

See my essay: “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and ‘Headship.’

4) Gen. 2

The Response states that “God commanded the man and not the woman . . . suggesting that the man is head of the family.”

This misses several key points in the exegesis of Genesis 2. First, God does not command the “man,” but the “human being,” ha adam, the generic Hebrew word for “human.” It is not until v. 23 that sexuality is introduced into the passage when the man (is) recognizes the woman (issa) as one like himself. Up until this point there is nothing in the Hebrew text to indicate that ha’adam is a male. At no point in the passage is there any evidence for male authority over the woman. The man does not command the woman; nor does she obey him. It is only after the fall that the woman is told that “your husband will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).

In this context, the Response states that as Adam names the animals, so “God brought Adam to Eve to give her a name.” However, in the original Hebrew, it is clear that while ha’adam names the animals, he does not name the woman. The Hebrew formula for “naming” is absent. The man does not name the woman, but greets her with a cry of recognition: “This is woman (issa) because she was taken from man (is).” That the only difference between the man and the woman is the feminine ending makes clear that the man and woman are fundamentally the same. It is only after the fall into sin that the naming formula appears in reference to the woman when she is “named” Eve – the “mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

The Response states that the man “takes the lead in marriage” because he leaves his father. Rather, that the man leaves his father and mother and “holds fast to” (clings to) his wife confirms the reading of the rest of the passage that the woman was created to satisfy the man’s need for companionship. On a hierarchical reading, the woman would rather leave her parents to cling to her husband. The passage makes clear that it is the man who needs the woman; she is the “helper” who relieves his loneliness. There is no hierarchy here, and certainly no authority of the man over the woman, at least not until the fall into sin.

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis.”

5) Ephesians 5

The Response regularly uses the words “head” and “headship” in the sense of “authority over” as in the “headship of the husband in the nuclear family” and “male headship in the family.” There is no reference to nor acknowledgment of the several decades’ controversy concerning the meaning of the metaphor kephalē (translated “head”) in Paul’s theology. Granted, the metaphor does mean “authority” in modern English, but the current scholarly consensus is that it almost certainly did not mean that for the apostle Paul. Paul is the first in the ancient world to use the metaphor of “head” to describe the relationship between husband and wife, and what he means by the metaphor can only be discerned by his own context. He nowhere uses the language of authority (exousia) to describe the relationship between husband and wife in Ephesians 5, but rather uses “head” language to speak of the husband’s love and nourishment for his wife. Nowhere in Ephesians 5 is the man told to command his wife, nor the wife to obey the husband.

[Grudem tries to argue from Greek parallels that kephalē always means “authority over.” Unfortunately, almost all of his references are chronologically later than the NT, and all are examples of a one-to-many military leadership. This misses the significance of the uniqueness of Paul’s use of the metaphor within the context of marriage, and that Paul certainly did not understand Christian marriage along the lines of a general’s rule over his many soldiers. In addition, as other NT scholars point out, there are numerous instances of the use of the Greek kephalē as a metaphor where it cannot possibly mean “authority over.”]

The Response cites the misleading ESV translation of Eph. 5:22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” However, there is no imperative “submit” in the original Greek. Rather, in v. 21, Paul uses a participial form to call for a mutual submission of all Christians to one another. The command in v. 22 is not a specific command for the wife to submit to her husband, but for the wife to engage in the same kind of submission to her husband that all Christians are expected to give to each other (and, accordingly, that her husband is expected to give to her). Similarly, the husband is commanded to “love his wife” in v. 25, but this, again, is simply an echo of the command given to all Christians in 5:2 to “walk in love as Christ loved us.”

There is nothing in Paul’s use of the metaphor kephalē in Ephesians 5 nor of the mutual submission demanded of all Christians in the same chapter to imply a hierarchy of authority between men and women, either in the home or in the church.

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission.”

The passage refers to other passages, but these are discussed at length in my essay.

6) The Pastoral Epistles

The Response refers to the Pastoral Epistles concerning “instructions for the Church’s bishops/overseers and deacons.”

The Response incorrectly affirms that “all of the articles and pronouns designating the elders are masculine.” Although English translations of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 regularly provide masculine pronouns, there are no masculine pronouns whatsoever in the original Greek text. Moreover, Paul uses the Greek word tis (anyone) to describe the overseer: “Whoever [tis] aspires to [the office of] overseer/bishop desires a good work.” Moreover, the requirements Paul lists are not a “job description,” but moral requirements. Paul lists the exact same requirements for the office of elder that he later lists for various women’s roles in the church.

Throughout the rest of the NT, references to those who hold church office are always in the plural, and not a single presbyter or overseer/ bishop is mentioned by name. Masculine pronouns are used in Acts 20 to refer to the Ephesian elders, but this is a matter of grammatical gender, not physical sex. (In NT Greek, any plural group that includes even a single male is referred to using masculine nouns and pronouns.) The Response acknowledges this, but states that “contexts strongly imply that Luke did not intend women to be included among the elders.” However, the only context to which the Response refers for justification is Jesus’ choice of male apostles. This misses the typological significance of Jesus’ choice of twelve male Jewish apostles, as well as key differences between the offices of presbyter and apostle. The elders in Ephesus were Gentile (not Jewish), presumably more in number than twelve, and were not eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. While the Ephesian elders might well have been all male, there is absolutely nothing in the passage itself to establish this one way or another.

The Response states “There is not one female priest or elder in either the Old or New Testament.” However, because no elder (presbyter) or overseer/bishop (episkopos) is mentioned by name in the NT, we could as easily state that “There is not one male priest or elder in the New Testament.” The only office holder in the NT who is mentioned specifically by name is the deacon Phoebe (Rom. 16:1). (The OT situation is irrelevant because we are discussing NT office, not OT priesthood.)

The Response claims that Phoebe was a diakonos or servant, and also that “Scripture . . . limits the diaconate to men” (appealing to 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). Context makes clear that diakonos refers to an office, not a “servant.” Paul uses the exact same terminology referring to Phoebe that he uses in reference to other deacons (Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:8,12) and he uses the masculine diakonos, not the feminine. It is also surprising that the Response claims that 1 Tim. 3:8, 12 “limits the diaconate to men,” while ignoring the reference to “women” in verse 11, which context makes clear almost certainly refers to female deacons. Again, the ESV translation of “their wives” is misleading. The Greek simply says “women” and the “likewise” (ōsautōs) indicates that these women have the same relationship to the office of deacon as do the men. They are not “wives” of deacons, but women deacons.

See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)” and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons) or a Presbytera is not a ‘Priestess’ (Part 2).

7) Junia the Apostle (Rom. 16:7)

The Response suggests that “Junia” might well be the male “Junias,” but also quotes the unfortunate ESV translation “well known to the apostles.” It also suggests that “apostle” could mean “messenger.” No, no, and no.

Translators have gone back and forth over whether “Junia” was the male “Junias” (if she was an apostle) or “well known to the apostles” (if she was Junia). In recent decades, overwhelming historical research has made clear that Junia is a female name. There is no evidence for a single “Junias” in ancient literature, and so even complementarians (like the ESV) have had to acknowledge a female Junia. The ESV translation is unfortunately based on an essay by Burer and Wallace in New Testament Studies 47 (2001), arguing for the new translation “known to the apostles.” However, three independent definitive studies by Bauckham, Epp, and Belleville establish that Burer and Wallace’s essay used faulty methodology, including seriously mistranslating their primary reference source. Moreover, church fathers such as Chrysostom, who were native speakers of Greek, understood the passage to mean that Junia was a woman (not a man), and an apostle (not “known to the apostles”). Junia was a woman, she was herself an apostle (not known to the apostles), and she held the office of “apostle” (not merely a messenger).

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office).”

8) The Response defends a recent argument used by Complementarians concerning the Trinity. Against the argument of the ACNA Task Force that the Complementarian claim of subordination within the Trinity is likely “heretical,” the Response affirms the historic position that the Trinity consists of three persons with one equal being. They also claim that the Son is eternally begotten, while the Spirit proceeds. They also deny that the Son sent the Father or that the Spirit sent the Son. The Response defends its position by referring to 1 Cor. 11:3 – “The head of Christ is God.”

It is not clear here whether the Response really understands the Complementarian position. The key distinction is that between an economic subordination and an eternal subordination of the Father to the Son. Certainly the entire Catholic tradition affirms that the Son is subordinate to the Father in terms of his economic mission. Moreover, the risen Christ sends the Spirit, but again, we’re talking about economic mission. Again, 1 Cor. 11:3 refers to the economy of salvation – it is not that the eternal Father is the head of the pre-existent Son, but that God (the Father) is the head of Christ (the incarnate Son).

To the contrary, the Complementarian position is that there is an eternal subordination of the Son to the Father so that the eternal pre-incarnate Son eternally obeys the Father, and the Father eternally commands the Son. This is not the historic position of the Catholic Church, and it is likely heretical. The historic patristic position (as found in figures such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria) is that the incarnate Son is subordinate to the Father insofar as he is human (i.e., within the economy of salvation), not that the eternally proceeding Son is subordinate to the Father in the divine nature (i.e., within the immanent Trinity). The complementarian position is an innovation, and, at the least, implies that within the divine nature, the Father and the Son have two distinct wills. However, the historic doctrine is that the triune God is three persons, but one nature, and that will is assigned to nature, not person. If the Complementarian position is not heretical, it is at least incoherent. If the Triune God has only one will, the Father cannot eternally command the Son. If the eternal Father eternally commands the eternal Son, then there must be two distinct wills in the Trinity, and thus two Gods. If not Arianism, it is hard to see how this is not tritheism.

See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and ‘Headship.’

While the first half of the Response relies on Protestant complementarian arguments, the second half shifts (without acknowledgment) to Catholic sacramental objections. There is no hint of recognition that these approaches are not only different, but mutually at odds.

Arguments from Masculine Symbolism

The Response states that Jesus “could have appointed a woman as one of the Twelve, but he did not. To ordain a woman to headship in the Church, representing Christ at the Eucharist, suggests not only that Christ was wrong to choose only male apostles but also that God as wrong to have chosen His Son to become a man and not a woman.” Two claims are made here:

1) Jesus “could have appointed a woman” as an apostle. This misses the symbolic and typological symbolism of Jesus having chosen twelve Jewish male apostles. Typologically, the church is the new Israel and Jesus’ twelve apostles correspond to the original twelve sons (not daughters) of Jacob who were the ancestors of Israel’s twelve tribes. For reasons of typology, Jesus could not have “appointed a woman” to this role, but neither could he have appointed a man who was a Buddhist or a man who was Swedish. In terms of typological symbolism, masculinity has the exact same significance for apostleship as the number twelve and Jewishness. Moreover, the role of the twelve is unique. Not only did the twelve represent the (Jewish) twelve tribes of Israel. They were also companions of Jesus and eyewitnesses of his resurrection. After the NT period, church office holders may be successors of the apostles, but they are not apostles. That there were twelve male Jewish apostles  no more requires that subsequent Church office holders should  be male than they would be required to be twelve in number, Jewish, companions to the earthly Jesus, or eyewitnesses of his resurrection.

2) The function of the ordained minister is to “represent Christ at the Eucharist.” This is a modern and indeed a Roman Catholic claim. It does not appear before Pope Paul VI’s encylical Inter Insigniores, after which it was embraced by Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics as well.

This is not only a modern argument, but is contrary to the historic Orthodox (and Patristic) understanding of ordination. The historic position is not that the minister represents Christ (acts in persona Christi), but that he represents the church, i.e., the female Bride of Christ (acts in persona Ecclesiae). Orthodox clergy such as Bishop Kallistos Ware have pointed out that Inter Insignories is contrary to the historic Eastern Orthodox understanding; Roman Catholic liturgical theologians like Edward Kilmartin have pointed out that Inter Insigniores conflicts with the structure of the eucharistic prayer. In leading the eucharistic prayer, the priest is not an actor playing the role of Jesus Christ, but the leader of the liturgical celebration who is praying on behalf of the church (the bride of Christ). The eucharistic prayer begins and ends with the words “we” and “us.” Not only can a woman pray these words, but given that the presider prays on behalf of the church (the symbolically feminine bride of Christ), it might be more appropriate for a woman to do so.

Of course, there is a sense in which the Scriptures indicate that those who hold apostolic office resemble Christ – through self-abnegation (pointing away from the self to Christ) and through imitating Christ in suffering. Those holding church office represent Christ as “jars of clay” or “earthen vessels” who acknowledge that “this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” and “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:7-11). There is nothing gender specific about this way of “resembling Christ,” however. It is expected of all Christians (Phil. 2:1-11).

See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background)”  and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi).”

3) The Response notes correctly that God is portrayed in Scripture using male pronouns, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are described using male language, that the Bible never refers to God as “mother” – to which the correct response is “yes.” There are, however, reasons for this male imagery that do not have anything to do with the issue of ordained ministry. Only if one presumes that ordained clergy are representations of a male deity rather than representatives or spokespersons is this masculine imagery relevant to the question of orders. The anti-iconic nature of Israel’s religion points against any notion that male office holders represent a male god.

The Response argues that the male Adam, not the female Eve, represents the human race, referring to Rom. 5. This argument misses the way in which typology functions in Paul’s writings. Paul could certainly use female typological symbols (Gal. 4). However, historically, Jesus was a male – he could not have been both male and female. Accordingly, it makes sense to refer to Jesus as the “second Adam” and not the “second Eve.” However, it is also significant that in making the Adam/Christ parallel, the apostle Paul uses the Greek word anthropos (human being) rather than the Greek word aner (male human being) to refer to both Jesus and Adam. If what was significant about Jesus and Adam was their masculinity, Paul could have made this clear by using the Greek word for male human being (aner). He did not.

For the above, see my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism Part 1 (God, Christ, Apostles)” and “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology).”

4) The Response concludes with a discussion of a distinction between a “Petrine” charism and a “Marian” charism that is derived from the theology of Roman Catholic theologian Hans urs von Balthasar (not acknowledged). The distinction is based on a theory of a symbolic typology of the sexes, which modern Roman Catholic theology has rejected. Sara Butler, author of what might be the best modern summary of the Roman Catholic argument against women’s ordination is clear: “Undoubtedly, how one construes the difference between the sexes, and how much importance one accords to this difference, enters into speculation as to why the Lord chose men and not women. But it is imperative to grasp that this is not at the root of the magisterium’s judgment. The complementarity of the sexes does not appear among the ‘fundamental reasons’ given for the Church’s tradition.” [Sara Butler, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Mundelin, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2007), 47.] The modern Roman Catholic argument against women’s ordination is based entirely on grounds of liturgical symbolism, not on a typology of the sexes.

At the same time, it is important to note a consistent theme in the differences between the “Petrine” and “Marian” charisms. The ministries associated with the Petrine charism mentioned in the Response all consist of the kinds of activities in which men would normally have engaged in pre-industrial societies: training, teaching, administering discipline, supervising. The ministries associated with the Marian charism are just the kinds of activities in which women normally would have engaged in pre-industrial societies: Women nurture adults and children. They witness to neighbors. They exercise hospitality. What makes these charisms distinctive is that they are necessarily tied to divisions of labor present in all pre-industrial societies. In pre-industrial societies, the activities of women are necessarily domestic and largely home-bound because of the need for large families; because women give birth to children and breast-feed, their activities necessarily take place near the home because they have to be able to take care of and watch over small children. In contrast, because men are not biologically tied to children in this manner, they (and they alone) are the ones whose tasks can largely take place outside the home: they are the politicians, the civic leaders, the soldiers, the sailors, the merchants, the builders.

The rise of industrial culture has changed these phenomena irrevocably. In post-industrial cultures, both men and women work outside the home. Many of the activities that were necessarily done in and about the home in pre-industrial cultures are now done by industry: farming, food and clothing production, medicine, education of children, elder care. Because they are no longer needed as a source of domestic labor, large numbers of children are not an economic necessity and family sizes become smaller. Because children are normally educated outside the home, and thus absent for much of the day, there is no longer a biological necessity for women’s activities to be restricted to the domestic sphere.

Given the biological basis of a division of labor in pre-industrial societies, it is, of course, no surprise that the writers of the Response can point to men who engaged in “Petrine” ministries and women who engaged in “Marian” ministries, both in the biblical period, and throughout the history of the pre-modern church. This is exactly how one would expect Christian men and women to have exercised their respective ministries in pre-industrial cultures where biological necessity limited the activities of women largely to the domestic sphere, while men, and men only, were able to work outside the home. However, the suggestion that men’s and women’s roles in the church should still be limited by a division of the sexes that is rooted in a connection between biological and economic necessities that no longer apply in the post-industrial world is not only short-sighted, but also likely impossible. Even if we could put the industrial genie back in the bottle, not even traditionalists would likely want to do so. (I note that the argument for a distinction between a Petrine charism and a Marian charism appeared on the internet. Presumably the writers would prefer not to go back to the pre-industrial economic conditions in which the traditional divisions between men’s and women’s economic tasks are based, in which women would stay home to give birth to and nurse large numbers of children, and there was no internet on which men could distribute essays about why women should not be ordained.)

See the discussion of changes introduced by industrialism in my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis.”


As noted above, there is nothing new in the arguments presented by the Response. I was not surprised that I had already addressed each one of these objections in essays I have been writing in the last several years. I am disappointed, however, that the Response either seems unaware that each one of these objections has long been addressed (not just by me), or, alternatively, chose to ignore them.

The Response is problematic for the following reasons:

1) The Response uncritically combines two different kinds of arguments against women’s ordination (Evangelical Complementarian and Roman Catholic sacramentalist) without apparent awareness that these approaches are mutually at odds.

2) The Response uniformly relies on the Complementarian-leaning ESV with no acknowledgement that its translations are often tendentious.

3) The Response repeats Complementarian readings of standard proof texts without acknowledgment that Complementarian exegesis has been challenged repeatedly by some of the best contemporary biblical exegetes.

4) The Response endorses the new Complementarian understanding of the Trinity without acknowledgment of its departure from the historic Catholic doctrine.

5) The Response endorses the new Catholic argument based on sacramental resemblance between a male celebrant and a male Jesus Christ without acknowledgment that it is indeed a new argument and represents a distinctively Western Catholic eucharistic theology.

6) The Response appeals to a typology of male symbolism based on masculine metaphors for God, Jesus’ male sex, and the male sex of the apostles without asking the fundamental question of how this masculine imagery actually functions in the Scriptures. In addition, the argument simply assumes that the ordained minister functions symbolically as a representation rather than a representative.

7) The Response appeals to a notion of Petrine and Marian charisms that simply reflects the traditional division of labor in pre-industrial societies in such a way as to make pre-industrial models of the relationship between the sexes normative.


Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Response to the “Ordination Challenge”

The following presupposes some familiarity with two earlier essays: Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument and Concerning Women’s Ordination: The “Tradition” Challenge

Melancholy A gentleman named Michael Joseph has responded to my “ordination” challenge.

1) C. S. Lewis once responded to an unsympathetic critic who had clearly gotten his views wrong: “[W]e all know too well how difficult it is to grasp or retain the substance of a book one finds antipathetic.” I suppose I should not be surprised if a response to my essay seems rather seriously to miss much of the point of my argument. A key point in the misreading seems to be the presumption that I assume that the Church Fathers were simply irremediable sexists and had nothing good to say about women. Accordingly, the author presumes it sufficient to point out that if Tertullian says some good things about women or that Chrysostom speaks positively about women in marriage, or if Augustine does not believe that “Eve is by nature more a sinner” that this somehow invalidates my argument.

A single paragraph in my earlier essay should set straight that misunderstanding:

In making this point, it is not my intention to embrace the kind of diatribe that one occasionally encounters in revisionist feminist scholarship that portrays the entire history of the church as nothing but an unmitigated practice of oppressive subjugation and patriarchal abuse of women. Such one-sided readings can find their counterparts in equally one-sided accounts of how Christianity remarkably improved the status of women in the pagan world, and was, on the whole, a remarkably good thing for women. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to trace a consistent pattern in the history of the church that explains why the church has not ordained women. Some selective examples follow. (These are typical, but not exhaustive.)

So no, I do not at all believe that pre-modern church tradition is simply uniformly negative toward women. To the contrary, I state concerning Aquinas:

Thomas could speak in almost glowing terms of the relations between men and women. Asking whether woman should have been made of the rib of man, he responds with an illustration that points to the partnership and companionship of men and women, an adapted form of which has been used in countless wedding services . . .

Moreover, in my recent challenge I state: “It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.”

And indeed it is not. The same Aquinas who could speak so positively about Christian marriage could also write: “So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”

The same Richard Hooker who could glowingly write about marriage – “The bond of wedlock hath been always more or less esteemed of as a thing religious and sacred.” (Laws 5.73.3) – could also write: “And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others . . . .” (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5, 43.5)

So much of what Mr. Joseph says is simply beside the point of my argument. Tertullian, Chryostom and others could simultaneously say very positive things about women in some respects, while simultaneously agreeing that women could not exercise church office for the very reasons I mentioned – that in comparison to men they are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation. Mr. Joseph’s assumption seems to be that it is impossible for a single person to hold both opinions. Since the church fathers say many positive things about women, he assumes that they could not simultaneously believe that women are ontologically inferior in certain respects. I agree that there should be a logical inconsistency here, but the inconsistency is not on the part of the one recognizing the inconsistency.

And it is this presumption that makes up almost the whole of Mr. Joseph’s argument. Over and over he follows the pattern:

Witt quotes A affirming X which Witt interprets to mean Y.

However, X cannot possibly mean Y because A also says Z, and no one who says Z could also believe Y.

Therefore, Witt has to be mistaken when he says that A affirms X, and whatever it sounds like A is affirming, A cannot mean Y.

However, the argument fails if it is possible that A might possibly affirm both Y and Z simulanteously. That the simultaneous affirmation Y and Z seem incoherent from our point of view does not give us permission to conclude that no one could ever have thought differently.

And, of course, the key point of my argument concerning the new tradition concerning women’s ordination is that all sides now agree that it really does not make sense to affirm both Y and Z simulaneously. Since the church really wants to affirm Z, it quietly quit affirming Y.

2) Joseph makes things easier for himself, but also concedes a central point in my argument by restricting the allowed time of discussion to the “first five centuries” of church history. To my claim that “a sizeable body of Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation” authors was presented, he responds: “A sizable body of early church writing was certainly not presented,”and “Only nine quotes were provided . . . from the period from before 500 AD.”

However, it was never my intention to provide an exhaustive discussion and I certainly never intended to restrict myself to the patristic era. I did not claim to be presenting a sizeable body of any single period, but a sizeable body of selective writers from the entire history of the pre-modern church. My intention was to be both representative and comprehensive – to include writers who were patristic, Medieval, Reformation, Eastern , Catholic, Protestant. Given that this was a blog essay (not an entire book), it could not be exhaustive. I wrote:

Nonetheless, it is not difficult to trace a consistent pattern in the history of the church that explains why the church has not ordained women. Some selective examples follow. (These are typical, but not exhaustive.)

However, by restricting the discussion to the patristic era, Mr. Joseph actually makes a major concession. The later writers that Joseph excludes from the discussion necessarily have to be excluded since they so inarguably confirm my claim.

At the same time, however, Mr. Joseph (perhaps unwittingly) makes things more difficult for himself because he is trying to make a case for a theology of ordination for which there is no evidence in the patristic period. There is almost no discussion of such notions as clerical priesthood, eucharistic sacrifice, or priestly representation in the patristic period because there is very little discussion about the priesthood of Christ. As I write elsewhere, “What is missing from the writings of the church fathers is any detailed discussion of this relationship between Christ’s priesthood and the priesthood of the ordained clergy.”

If the discussion is to be kept to the first five centuries, it will be a very short discussion.

Now to the discussion of the specific texts:

3) Tertullian

Joseph tries to soften Tertullian’s claim concerning women being the “devil’s gateway” by claiming that Tertullian is simply following Scripture: “Is Tertullian not allowed to make this observation?” He then follows the pattern I mentioned above. Tertullian exhorts women to holiness. He calls them “fellow servants and sisters.” Then the key quote: “Tertullian’s tone dramatically shifts, doesn’t it!” That is, because Tertullian affirms Z, he could not possibly have meant Y when he said X. (Oh, yes, Tertullian also says some critical things about men, so it all evens out.)

However, what if Tertullian could affirm both Z and Y, whether we ourselves find that consistent or not?

I included Tertullian as affirming “Statements that women are more susceptible to temptation than men:” Tertullian does not simply warn women against following Eve’s example. He states that they too are Eve, and they are personally responsible for Eve’s sin, and thus share her guilt. Because Eve yielded to temptation, the women Tertullian addresses yield to temptation. Because they yield to temptation, they are “the devil’s gateway.” According to Tertullian, women (not men) are the “first deserter of the divine law.” And the women to whom Tertullian is speaking (not men) are those who persuaded “him (men) whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.”

This goes beyond simply affirming the teaching of Scripture. Does Tertullian claim that women are more susceptible to temptation than men? Yes. (The devil was not valiant enough to attack the man because he would not have yielded.) Do women lead men into temptation? Again. Yes.

4) Epiphanius

Mr. Joseph selectively reads Epiphanius, whom I discussed at some length in my earlier essay. I acknowledged that Epiphanius refers positively to both the virgin Mary and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist. But I then made the following points: 1) Epiphanius does not actually make any argument beyond appealing to historical precedent: Eve, Mary, and Philip’s daughters were not ordained. 2) At no point does Epiphanius make a connection between male ordination and the celebration of the sacraments. At no point does he suggest that the male apostles resemble a male Christ, or that there is a correlation between masculine priesthood and the eucharistic presidency.

Epiphanius does provide an explicit warrant against women’s ordination, however: “Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.”

So what is the point of the appeal to Mary and Philip’s daughters? They provide a negative example against ordinary women. If Mary and Philip’s daughters were not ordained, then a fortiori we cannot ordain women who are “unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.”

5) I’m not sure what point Joseph is making in reference to the Augustine quote. In my challenge essay, I had included Augustine as an example of “Claims that women are subordinate to men.” In my original essay, I had written that Augustine was “typical” of the claim that even before sin, women had been subject to their husbands. This claim is certainly correct. Joseph asks “Is Augustine’s argument that Eve is by nature more a sinner?” Well, no. But I had affirmed no such thing.

6) Chrysostom

Joseph seems to have completely missed the point of my Chrysostom citation. Again, he follows his predictable pattern. Chrysostom says lots of good things about how men should love their wives. Joseph then makes much of a sentence I quoted that “the modest woman pierces and disturbs the mind.”

However, he completely ignores two more crucial quotes:

First that the bishop must have more care for the “female, [in the congregation], which needs more particular forethought, because of its propensity to sins.”

Second, Joseph insists that Chrysostom’s claim that women are more adept at household management while men are better at wordly affairs is simply an affirmation of what he calls a “complementarian” outlook. He misses, however, that in an agrarian society, management of worldly affairs would certainly have been associated with greater intelligence. To the extent that women could not be ordained because they presumably lack these skills, there would certainly be an understanding of not just difference but deficiency. Moreover, Joseph ignores Chrysostom’s explicit statement about why women cannot teach: “Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . Therefore let her descend from the professor’s chair! Those who know not how to teach, let them learn. . . .” This is not simply an affirmation of gentle love and complementarity. And, again, given that Chrysostom’s position is a kind of “complementarianism,” restrictions on women’s teaching “because they taught Adam badly” points to an ontological incapacity.

And, finally, even if Chrysostom’s argument is that women cannot be ordained because of different kind of intelligence related to household management, this corresponds to no contemporary argument against WO. Contemporary complementarians studiously avoid making those kinds of claims. Contemporary sacramentalist arguments are not interested in gender differences at all except insofar as they relate to an ability to resemble a male Christ.

7) The Obsession with Complementarianism

Joseph anachronistically describes the position of Chrysostom and others as “complementarianism” and “headship” and also refers positively to the organization CBMS and the Danvers Statement. In so doing, he ignores a crucial point of both of my earlier essays. The “complementarian” position has been explicitly repudiated by both the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. It is because of this explicit repudiation that new arguments have had to be embraced concerning masculine sacramental representation.

To the extent that Joseph repeatedly characterizes the church fathers as “complementarians,” he confirms my point. Insofar as the contemporary Catholic position repudiates complementarianism, it is at odds with the historic position.

At the same time, there is something odd about appealing to the church fathers to support what is actually a Protestant argument. However, even here, as I’ve again made clear, Tertullian, Chrysostom et al, do not simply affirm the contemporary complementarian argument. They do indeed claim that women are less intelligent, more subject to temptation, etc., which is contrary to the complementarian position. That they can also say nice things about women does not somehow undo this.

8) Apostolic Constitutions

Joseph claims that my quote from The Apostolic Constitutions is simply another example of “complementarianism.” However, the connection between the man being the “head” to the “unreasonableness” of the body (the woman) governing the head indicates not merely a subordination, but a subordination rooted in a difference in intelligence. According to AC, it is only “reasonable” that the “head” (the thinking and talking part) governs the body (the irrational part).

Joseph appeals to the Apostolic Constitutions speaking positively about women (there’s the standard argument again) and to the claim (as in Epiphanius) that Jesus did not ordain women. Actually, the claim is that Jesus was not baptized by his mother. (Of course, contrary to AC, the modern church does allow women to baptize.) But again, the historic argument is rooted in hierarchical authority of men over women, specifically including teaching. There is nothing here of the modern Catholic argument concerning sacramental resemblance to a male Christ, and, again, as noted above, the most straightforward reading has to do with rationality: it is not “rational” for the body to govern the “head.”

Joseph also makes the odd claim that because the Didascalia Apostolorum is essentially contained in the Apostolic Constitutions, it is “not really a separate quote.” However it says something about the transmission of a tradition that a distinct community takes up an earlier writing and incorporates it again as a new text. We would not argue that Luke’s gospel is not really a separate witness because Luke incorporates material from Mark’s gospel.

In the end, my reading of the texts still stands.

Some final observations. I stand by my claim that the new complementarian and sacramentalist arguments against WO represent new traditions insofar as they depart from the logic of the earlier tradition.

I find it ironic that I was challenged for providing insufficient patristic evidence for my argument – “A sizable body of early church writing was certainly not presented – and then Mr. Joseph concludes with a series of suggestions about early church history that are entirely speculative, and without any patristic textual evidence whatsoever. The advantage of my argument is that it is at least based on actual textual citations. It is also confirmed by the readings of other scholars who may not agree with my position concerning WO, but who acknowledge that a genuine change has taken place. Sara Butler, whom I cite as the preeminent advocate for the new Roman Catholic position, acknowledges that the position introduced by Pope Paul VI is not the historic position, and the the historic arguments are no longer considered tenable.

I also find it ironic that Joseph appeals to a Protestant “complementarian” reading of the patristic tradition to justify what is actually a “Catholic” position concerning the normativity of church tradition. He does not acknowlege that the Evangelical “complementarian” position is at odds with the new Catholic sacramental position. Both the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church have rejected complementarian understandings of the relationship between men and women, and are emphatically clear that they do not base their opposition to WO on complementarian grounds. So to the extent that Joseph affirms a complementarian reading of the patristic tradition, the more difficult it becomes to make the claim that the current Catholic position is not a departure from that tradition.

Finally, Joseph repeatedly makes reference to an “apostolic tradition” based more on speculation than textual evidence. He refers to a “mind of the early church” and an “apostolic consensus.” But we know that “mind” only from actual texts, which don’t say a whole lot about ordination, and even less about women’s ordination. Insofar as they address women’s ordination at all, they provide problematic arguments against it. Moreover, the primary concern in these patristic arguments has nothing to do with sacramental practice (the Catholic concern), but is entirely about authority of men over women. Insofar as the question is raised as to why women cannot exercise authority over men, there is a consistent answer – which I’ve documented, and which appears again and again in the later history of the church.

Joseph states that “Jesus Christ, the GodMan, apparently had compelling reason(s) to not clearly ordain women . . .” To the contrary, Jesus Christ did not ordain anyone. Jesus did call twelve Jewish male apostles, but the typologically symbolic reasons for that are obvious. Jesus could not have called women apostles for the same reason that he could not have called Chinese apostles or fifty-seven apostles. Although it can be argued that clergy are successors to the apostles, there is no more reason that they would have to be male than that they would have to Jewish or that their numbers would be restricted to twelve.

Finally, I note that Joseph responded to my challenge by addressing a different issue instead – that I was mistaken in my reading of certain of the church fathers. He did not make the case for explicit parallels to either the modern Complementarian nor the modern Catholic sacramentalist position. (Pointing out that the fathers say some nice things about women does not cancel out what they also say about why women cannot teach or exercise authority – which is the crucial patristic argument against WO). Interestingly, although his appeal to “tradition” presupposes a “Catholic” position, he argued instead that the patristic tradition actually has affinities with the Protestant Complementarian position. He quietly avoided discussing the issue of sacramental resemblance to a male Christ, but that would be an extremely hard argument to make insofar as the fathers simply do not make that argument.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The “Tradition” Challenge

Joan of ArcRecently, I posted the following on Facebook in response to the recent ACNA College of Bishops Statement on Women’s Ordinaton:

As a member of the ACNA, I was a consultant to the ACNA Women’s Orders Task Force. When the ACNA was founded, it was decided that we would be a “large tent” representative of orthodox Anglicanism, extending hospitality to those Anglicans who could not affirm women’s orders, even though they held a minority opinion within worldwide Anglicanism. I am happy that the ACNA has continued to recognize that there is room for disagreement on this issue.

However, I am unhappy with this statement in particular, which does not tell the whole story: “However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order.”

Yes, the practice is recent, but so is the recognition that women are of equal moral, intellectual, and spiritual status with men. The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men. Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

I accompanied the post with a link to this page:

Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument.

I quickly discovered that posting this was a mistake, as I received responses like the following that made clear that people read my statement, but had not actually read my essay:

Who has made this “historic argument”?

To make matters worse, my statement was shared elsewhere without the link to my accompanying essay, where it received responses such as the following:

I would truly love for someone to post even one demonstration of the Early Church arguing specifically that women cannot be ordained due to their inferior intellectual, moral, or spiritual state, or even an inferior ontology. Just a quote from them that speaks for itself.

The substance would be giving a quote from the Early Church that shows – rather than assumes – that they argued from a view that women are inferior:
– not merely subordinate, but inferior, for assuming that subordinate implies inferior merely assumes what Witt needs to demonstrate,
– not merely that a writer or several made an observation or rebuke or rhetorical flourish against the female sex (for they did that against men, too)
Basically, just someone, provide something from the early church that clearly shows that they said, basically, “the mind of the Church is that women can’t be priests because women are without exception intellectually incapable/wanton/etc.”

Lots of words, lots of assertions, lots of analogies, lots of debate over whether the analogies are valid…. but no early church quotes, viz, no actual evidence.

I am tempted to respond by again referring back to my earlier essay, but that would be too easy. I’m more than willing to accept a challenge, and will raise the challenge with one of my own.

So first a response to the above challenge.

My argument consists of the following two assertions:


The historic argument against women’s ordination was that women lacked intelligence, were emotionally unstable, and were more subject to temptation than men.

This can be broken down as follows.

First is what I will call the “ontological deficiency” claim. Writers in the tradition claimed (all quotations are from my original essay):

(A) Women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, and more subject to temptation than men.

Claims that women are less intelligent than men:

“To woman is assigned the presidency of the household; to man all the business of state, the marketplace, the administration of government . . . She cannot handle state business well, but she can raise children correctly . . .” John Chrysostom

“[T]he female is more prudent, that is, cleverer, than the male with respect to evil and perverse deeds, because the more nature departs from the one operation, the more it inclines to the other. In this way, the woman falls short in intellectual operations, which consist in the apprehension of the good and in knowledge of truth and flight from evil. . . . Therefore sense moves the female to every evil, just as intellect moves a man to every good.” Albert the Great

“For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Thomas Aquinas

Their [women’s] “judgments are commonly weakest because of their sex.” Richard Hooker

“And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others . . . .” Richard Hooker

Statements that women are emotionally unstable compared to men:

“[G]enerally, proverbially, and commonly it is affirmed that women are more mendacious and fragile, more diffident, more shameless, more deceptively eloquent, and, in brief, a woman is nothing but a devil fashioned into a human appearance . . .” Albert the Great

“Nature I say, doth paynt them furthe to be weake, fraile, impacient, feble and foolishe.” John Knox

Statements that women are more susceptible to temptation than men:

“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.” Tertullian

“For it is not possible for the Bishop, and one who is concerned with the whole flock, to have a care for the male portion of it, but to pass over the female, which needs more particular forethought, because of its propensity to sins.” John Chrysostom

“Therefore there is no faithfulness in a woman. . . . Moreover, an indication of this is that wise men almost never disclose their plans and their doings with their wives. For a woman is a flawed male and in comparison to the male, has the nature of defect and privation, and this is why naturally she mistrusts herself. And this is why whatever she cannot acquire on her own she strives to acquire through mendacity and diabolical deceptions.” Albert the Great

“Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.” Epiphanius

Second is what I will call the “exclusion by nature of subordination” claim:

(B) Ordination necessitates exercising authority over others, particularly teaching and speaking in an authoritative manner. Women cannot be ordained because they are necessarily subordinate to men, and threfore cannot execise authority in this manner. This is primarily an exclusion from women exercising any authority whatsoever over men, and only secondarily a specific exclusion from ordination.

Claims that women are subordinate to men:

“Even before her sin, woman had been made to be ruled by her husband and to be submissive and subject to him. But . . . the servitude meant in [Genesis 3:16] denotes a condition similar to that of slavery rather than a bond of love.” Augustine

“For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.” Thomas Aquinas

Eve “had previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection. Now, however, she is cast into servitude.” John Calvin

“He [the man] will dominate you [the woman], that is, you will decide nothing by your private inclination but will act in everything by the inclination of your husband.” Heinrich Bullinger

“And for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained hath still this use, that it putteth women in mind of a duty whereunto the very imbecility of their nature and sex doth bind them, namely to be always directed, guided and ordered by others . . . .” Richard Hooker

“So, I say, that in her greatest perfection woman was created to be subiect to man.” John Knox

Claims that women cannot be ordained because they are in a state of subjection to men, and therefore cannot teach or exercise authority over men:

“It is neither right nor necessary that women should be teachers, and especially concerning the name of Christ and the redemption of his passion. . .” Didascalia apostolorum

“But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest?” Apostolic Constitutions

“Why not? Because she taught Adam once and for all, and taught him badly. . . . Therefore let her descend from the professor’s chair! Those who know not how to teach, let them learn. . . . If they don’t want to learn but rather want to teach, they destroy both themselves and those who learn from them. . . .” John Chrysostom

“Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” Thomas Aquinas

“To make women teachers in the house of God were a gross absurdity, seeing the Apostle hath said, ‘I permit not a woman to teach.’” Richard Hooker

“I am assured that GOD hath revealed unto some in this our age, that it is more than a monster in nature that a Woman shall reign and have empire above Man.” John Knox

“The apostle taketh power frome all woman to speake in the assemblie. Ergo he permitteth no woman to rule aboue man.” John Knox

Third is what I will call the “inherent correlation” claim.

(C) Proposition (B) is a direct corollary or consequence of Proposition (A). Women are necessarily subordinate to men, and cannot exercise authority over them because of an ontological incapacity located in a deficiency in reason, emotional instability, and susceptibility to temptation. Because of this ontological deficiency, they cannot exercise authority over or teach men, and so cannot be ordained.

Claims that women cannot exercise authority over men because of an intellectual, emotional, or moral incapacity (which necessarily implies that they cannot be ordained):

“To woman is assigned the presidency of the household; to man all the business of state, the marketplace, the administration of government . . . She cannot handle state business well, but she can raise children correctly . . .” John Chrysostom

“Nature I say, doth paynt them furthe to be weake, fraile, impacient, feble and foolishe: and experience hath declared them to be vnconstant, variable, cruell and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faultes haue men in all ages espied in that kinde, for the whiche not onlie they haue remoued women from rule and authoritie, but also some haue thoght that men subiect to the counsel or empire of their wyues were vn worthie of all publike office.” John Knox

Actual claims that women cannot be ordained because of such an incapacity:

“Never at any time has a woman been a priest. . . . And who but women are the teachers of this [that women can be ordained]? Women are unstable, prone to error, and mean-spirited.” Epiphanius

“For if the ‘man be the head of the woman,’ and he be originally ordained for the priesthood, it is not just to abrogate the order of the creation, and leave the principal to come to the extreme part of the body. For the woman is the body of the man, taken from his side, and subject to him, from whom she was separated for the procreation of children. For says He, ‘He shall rule over thee.” Apostolic Constitutions

“For ‘if the head of the wife be the man,’ it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head.” Apostolic Constitutions

“So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. . . . Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” Thomas Aquinas

“Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all.” Boswell’s Johnson

“The apostle taketh power frome all woman to speake in the assemblie. Ergo he permitteth no woman to rule aboue man.” John Knox (compare with the above statement by Knox)

The above should be enough to make clear that there is a traditional understanding of why women cannot be ordained which can be expressed in terms of the inherent connection between propositions (A), (B), and (C). Any argument against women’s ordination that does not include all three propositions is not the traditional argument, but an innovation.

This leads to my second affirmation:

Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

To elaborate this claim, there are three new positions concerning women’s ordination: (1) The Egalitarian position that women can and should be ordained; (2) The Protestant “Complementarian” position that women cannot be ordained. (3) The Catholic “Sacramental” argument that women cannot be ordained. All are innovations insofar as they reject some element of the traditional argument. This can be illustrated by the following propositions.

(A1) Women share an equal intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacity with men. They are not less intelligent, emotionally unstable, or more subject to temptation than men.

Egalitarians, Evangelical Complementarians, and Catholic Sacramentalists equally affirm (A1).

But (A1) is directly contrary to (A).

I have yet to find a contemporary opponent of WO who will acknowledge that (A) is inherent to the traditional position, but the above citations clearly demonstrate that it is.

The (1) Egalitarian position is that in light of (A1), there is no valid argument against WO, and therefore women should be ordained. The (2) Complementarian and (3) Sacramentalist positions argue that despite (A1), women should still not be ordained.

The (2) Protestant Complementarian affirms (A1), but also continues to affirm (B). However, because the Complementarian does not affirm (A), he (or she?) cannot affirm (C). Rather, the Complementarian affirms:

(C1) Although (A1), women still cannot be ordained because God has created different “gender roles” rooted in “male headship.”

For Complementarians, men can exercise any role in the church that women can fulfil, but women have the exclusive role of always being in submission to male authority. In a religious setting, women cannot teach, speak publicly where men might be present, or exercise authority over men.

Complementarians do affirm (B), but rather than affirm (A) and (C), they affirm (A1), and (C1), and are thus an innovation in relation to the previous tradition.

The (3) Catholic sacramentalist also affirms (A1), but differs from the (2) Complementarian in the following:

(B1) The argument from authority no longer applies. Women can exercise any role of teaching, exercising authority, and speaking, and even preaching within the church. (There are no “gender roles” rooted in “headship.”)

Rather, the sacramentalist affirms:

(B2) The distinct function of ordination has to do with presiding at the sacraments. The presiding minister (the priest) represents Jesus Christ, that is, acts in the “person of Christ” (in persona Christi) when presiding at the sacraments. Because Jesus Christ is a male, only a male priest can represent a male Christ.

(B1) and (B2) are decided departures from the historic traditional arguments against women’s ordination. To the best of my knowledge, no traditional theologian raises this sacramental argument against WO. It does not appear until the 20th century, first in essays like C.S. Lewis’s “On Priestesses,” but most definitively in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Inter Insigniores. Non-Roman Catholics (Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics) borrow the argument from Roman Catholics.

(B1) and (B) are also in opposition. Complementarians continue to affirm (B), but Sacramentalists do not.

(C2) Because women do not resemble a male Christ, women cannot be ordained.

(There is a variation of the above argument that does not strictly follow the Roman Catholic position that the priest acts in persona Christi, but still appears to “male/female” symbolism. Because only a male priest can symbolize a male Christ, only males can be ordained. The substance of the argument is still the same.)

Thus, (1) Egalitarianism, (2) Evangelical Complementarianism, and (3) Catholic Sacramentalism equally represent innovations to the tradition.

In light of (A1), (1) Egalitarians are an innovation in advocating the ordination of women, but only in the sense of recognizing the implications of what Scripture teaches about the intellectual, moral, and spiritual equality of men and women. Women’s ordination is the logical consequence of a Christian doctrine of vocation.

In addition to (A1), the Egalitarian would affirm:

(B3) The primary call of the ordained minister is to service (Matt. 20:26-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-14). Insofar as the ordained minister has a representative function, the minister first represents the church as the body of Christ, and the (female) bride of Christ. Insofar as the minister represents Jesus Christ, the minister represents Christ as the head of the church which is his bride, but most significantly through cruciformity, by pointing away from him- or herself to the crucified and risen Christ, and through following Christ in suffering. The ordained minister represents Jesus Christ as a “jar of clay.” This sort of Christocentric representation is not gender-specific, not unique to men or women, to clergy or laity, but is at the heart of discipleship for all Christians (Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 4:5-12).

(C3) Insofar as the call to ministry is primarily a call to service, and the minister represents first the female Church (as the bride of Christ), and, second, Jesus Christ in terms of the cruciform pattern to which all Christians are called, ministry qualification is determined by Spirit-gifting and vocation, not by gender.

However, (2) Evangelical Complementarians and (3) Catholic sacramentalists are just as much positions of innovations as are Egalitarians. No one holds to the traditional position.

Rather than affirming (A), (B), (C), (2) Complementarians affirm (A1), (B), and (C1). Complementarians reject two of the original three indispensable premises of the traditional position.

Rather than affirming (A), (B), (C), (3) Catholic sacramentalists affirm (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2). They reject all three of the original indispensable premises of the traditional position.

Moreover, the only position of agreement shared between (2) Complementarians and (3) Sacramentalists is (A1), not only a departure from the tradition, but also an agreement with (1) Egalitarians. Evangelical Complementarians continue to affirm only one of the original premises (B), while Catholic Sacramentalists affirm none, and Complementarians and Sacramentalists disagree not only with the tradition, but with each other concerning (B) (which Sacramentalists reject), (B1) and (B2) (which Complementarians reject), and (C1) and (C2), about which Complementarians and Sacramentalists disagree.

I think the above adequately addresses the original challenge. However, I conclude with a challenge of my own. I have argued that Evangelical Complementarians and Catholic Sacamentalist opponents to women’s ordination represent innovations to the historic tradition. Their advocates insist that they do not, and are simply following the historic tradition. My challenge:

Provide an actual historical reference from the Christian tradition that corresponds to what I have called the Complementarian or Sacramentalist positions. It is not enough to provide some individual positive statement about women mentioned by a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author.

Rather, from a discussion that specifically deals with the issue of women’s ordination and opposes it, provide an example from a Patristic, Medieval, or Reformation author (or authors) that clearly endorses either (A1), (B), and (C1), or (A1), (B1), (B2), and (C2) as a coherent and integrated position. It is not enough to find individual quotations from an author that can be read to endorse any single one of the above propositions. Rather, in the same way that I have shown through detailed quotations that there is a sizeable body of Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation writers who endorse (A), (B), and (C) and bring them together to form a coherent argument against women’s ordination based on female ontological incapacity, an adequate demonstration that what I have called the (2) Protestant Complementarian or (3) Catholic Sacramentalist positions are not innovations to the tradition would have to substantiate with actual textual references that one or the other of these two was an actual position that was held by someone in the history of the church before the mid-twentieth century.

I do not think that this challenge can be met, and so I stand by my initial claim: Given that the current arguments against WO are NOT this argument, the continuing opponents of WO are as much endorsing a “recent innovation” as those of us who favor it.

Robert Jenson on Revisionary Metaphysics

Recently, I wrote a book review of a collection of Robert Jenson essays entitled Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics for The International Journal of Systematic Theology.1 Unfortunately, IJST considered the first version of the review to be too long; they wanted a short review, not a review essay. The following contains the bulk of what I omitted, focusing on Jenson’s understanding of “revisionary metaphysics,” and, particularly, on questions of divine immutability and impassibility. I affirm the traditional position, and some might find helpful my interaction with Jenson’s challenge.

TrinityThere is a dominant sub-theme that pervades Robert Jenson’s book, Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics and provides its title: revisionary metaphysics.2 What does Jenson mean by “revisionary metaphysics”? In the preface, Jenson affirms that insofar as the question “What is it to be?” continues to be asked, Christian theology necessarily has to do with metaphysics; classical Christian theology necessarily interacted with and revised pagan Greek metaphysics to “fit the gospel.” The resulting Christian metaphysics is above all trinitarian and Christological. Jenson’s acknowledged conversation partners include the Cappadocian fathers, Cyril of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas, “certain Lutherans,” Karl Barth, and Jonathan Edwards (pp. vii-viii).

However, Jenson is also convinced that traditional Christian metaphysics has been influenced too much by Greek metaphysics; in particular, he rejects notions that God is impassible and timeless, doctrines of God that he considers implicitly unitarian or binitarian rather than trinitarian, and Christologies that are adoptionist or Nestorian.3 Several of the essays in this book emphasize these themes. In “Ipse pater non est impassibilis (The Father Himself Is Not Impassible),” Jenson points to the Hellenistic roots of impassibility: Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics did not know about the incarnation or the biblical distinction between Creator and creature; for them, the fundamental distinction was between the temporal world and a timeless divine realm (p. 94); Jenson insists that if the christological notion that one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh is true, “then the God here referred to by ‘the Trinity’ is not impassible . . . in any sense of impassibility perceptible in the face of the world, it will not do as an attribute of the God of Scripture and dogma.” (pp. 95, 96).

In an essay entitled “Creator and Creature,” Jenson claims that traditional mappings of the distinction between Creator and creature in terms of oppositions such as infinite/finite, timeless/temporal, transcendent/immanent are “radically mistaken.” Rather, “the difference between Creator and creature is displayed precisely by the christology against which the pair-matchings are most frequently deployed.” (p. 155). Jenson states that “the notion of an infinite will undoes itself.” To will something is to will one thing and not another, and thus to set limits for oneself – not to be infinite. Moreover, an act of will demands a “before and after” that is analogous to time rather than its opposite. To transcend means to transcend something. God does not transcend creation, since he does not start from creation (pp. 156-158).

Jenson proposes establishing the distinction between God and creatures “narratively.” It is God who distinguishes himself from everything else – which is creature – and sets up the Creator/creature difference by taking action. Everything that is not God has being by participation in God who is Being, and necessarily has God as its final and formal cause. Jenson insists that “some form of the Platonic great chain of being is a required moment in the doctrine of creation,” and that “some modification of the Platonic notion of ‘participation’ is indispensable in Christian theology.” The problem with emanation schemes is that anything that emanates from God is drawn back into God, and Jenson suggests that the act of creation is a preventative action on God’s part to prevent such a merging of divine and created identity: “God establishes himself as Creator and everything else as a creature by activity stopping this sort of return from happening.” (pp. 158-159).

Drawing on Cyril of Alexandria’s christological doctrine that, in the incarnation, Jesus Christ is a single agent, Jenson points to Christology as the solution to the emanationist problem: “To keep his creating from becoming an emanating and absorbing, God does the incarnation.” Insofar as the incarnate Christ is both Creator and creature, and yet a single agent, Jenson finds the theological clue he needs to establish the difference between Creator and creature: “God acts to block the possibility of emanation/return by being in his second identity an actor who acts always as Creator and creature, and by just so seeing to it that there is only that one.” (p. 161).

In “Once More on the Logos asarkos,” Jenson posits two maxims that could be read as unproblematic rejections of Nestorianism: (1) “Jesus is the Son/Logos of God by his relation to the Father, not by a relation to a coordinated reality, “the Son/Logos.’” (2) “In whatever way the Son may antecede his conception to Mary, we must not posit the Son’s antecedent subsistence in such fashion as to make the incarnation the addition of the human Jesus to a Son who was himself without him.” (p. 119-120).

It is Jenson’s third statement that will provoke controversy: (3) Considering the question, “How would the Trinity have been the Trinity if God had not created a world, and there had therefore been no creature Jesus to be the Son, or had let the fallen creation go, with the same result?,” Jenson concedes that he previously pondered this question, but “It has now dawned on me that the putative question is nonsense, and so therefore is my previous attempt to respond to it.” (p. 120).

At the conclusion of the essay, Jenson endorses Thomas Aquinas’s position that “a divine hypostasis is ‘a subsisting relation,’” concluding that “it is Jesus’ relation to the Father – and not Jesus as a specimen of humanity – which is the second hypostasis of Trinity.” Jenson states: “The Father’s sending and Jesus’ obedience are the second hypostasis in God” (Jenson’s emphasis), and “In the divine life there is therefore no line on which the relation describable as God’s sending and Jesus’ obedience could occupy a position ‘after’ anything.” (p. 122).

What to make of Jenson’s “revisionary metaphysics”? Although some theologians have thought it possible to dispense with metaphysics, Jenson’s claim that Christian metaphysics is indispensable is surely correct. Theological affirmations concerning the triune persons, God’s activity in creation, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, whether human beings have a capacity for grace, how and whether grace transforms human nature, the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom, how God operates in the sacraments, the union between the risen Christ and the church, and eschatology as both re-creation and transformation, all presume a uniquely Christian ontology. Jenson is also correct that a properly Christian metaphysics must be revisionary. Certainly patristic discussions of the incarnation and the Trinity, Medieval discussions of topics such as grace and nature, and Reformation discussions of justification and the sacraments, simultaneously used and transformed philosophical concepts and tools ultimately derived from pagan metaphysics. The real issue of disagreement concerns Jenson’s claim that Christian metaphysics has been insufficiently revisionary. Are notions of divine impassibility and immutability, contrasts between Creator and creature in terms of infinite/finite, eternal/temporal, and affirmations of a Logos asarkos, uncritical holdovers of pagan (Hellenistic) metaphysics?

Jenson’s claim that they are so indicates a division that (broadly speaking) cuts through contemporary theology, with theologians such as Jenson and “revisionst” Barthians such as Bruce McCormack on the one side, and more traditional Barthians (George Hunsinger, Thomas F. Torrance), traditional Thomists, “Barthian” Thomists (Hans urs von Balthasar, D. Stephen Long), and the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, on the other.4

The complaint concerning Hellenism is debatable. Another possible reading is that the big threat from Hellenism came with emanationism, and the crucial break concerned necessary creation.5 Unlike the One of Plotinus, the triune God does not need to create a world because God is eternally complete in se in that God’s love is fully actualized in the triune relations. But it is precisely this affirmation that the school of Jenson and McCormack rejects in their denial of the Logos asarkos.6

A second concern is whether Jenson has accurately characterized the position with which he disagrees. No theologian likes to be accused of rejecting a position based on a misunderstanding. Jenson himself complains of having been misunderstood and offers a position that may help to “avoid stalemate” between passibilists and impassibilists, traditionalists and revisionists (p. 93). Nonetheless, as critics of divine “impassibility” and “timelessness” too often do, Jenson characterizes “impassibility” and “timelessness” as if they were meant to be positive descriptions, what might be called “attributes” of God. He complains, for example, that it will not do to evoke the “analogous character of predicates applied to God” when discussing divine timelessness. “God is good” says something about God as the formal cause of goodness in creatures, but if time and eternity are contradictories, then “we define the difference between Creator and creature in such a fashion as to make the posit of a cause in God . . . simply inconceivable” (p. 157).

Talk of analogy is a venture into Thomist territory, and Jenson acknowledges his appreciation for Aquinas’s distinction between essence and existence, which he calls a “brilliant move” (p. vii-viii, 158). In creatures, essence (what something is) and existence (that something is) are distinct; in God, they are not. What Jenson does not acknowledge is the significance that this distinction has for Aquinas’s understanding of divine “timelessness” and “immutability.” For Aquinas, that essence and existence are not distinct in God means that God is the pure act of existing (purus actus essendi), and cannot have potency toward more or less existing. According to Aquinas, “to be” (esse) is an act (actus essendi), not a property, and God fully exists because he fully actualizes his own existence.

Aquinas’s task in Summa Theologiae 1.3-26 has often been misunderstood as that of providing a description of divine attributes: infinity, immutability, goodness, justice, providence, and so on, but this is a misreading. Aquinas distinguishes the following ways in which human beings can speak of God: (1) negation: the denial of God to any limitations unique to creatures; (2) positive relational terms: (2a) both metaphor (“Our God is a consuming fire”) and (2b) strictly relational terms (“Creator,” “Savior”); (3) positive analogical perfections terms that speak literally of the Triune divine nature in itself (God is both “good” and “goodness,” “just” and “justice”).

It is only (3) perfection terms (like “goodness” and “justice”) that are predicated analogously of God. “Timelessness” and “immutability” are neither attributes nor positive descriptions of God at all, so certainly not analogous predications; they belong to Aquinas’s “negative” theology, denying of God limitations that strictly belong to creatures as a way of formulating the distinction between God and creation.7 David Burrell has suggested that such terms should be understood as “formal features” of divine simplicity.8 ST 1.3.1-8 provides descriptions of the ways in which “God is not”9; the One in whom existence and essence are identical will be absolutely simple, not composed in any way – without extended parts, lacking a distinction between form and matter, essence and existence, genus and difference, substance and accidents. Infinity (or “limit-less-ness”) and immutability (or “change-less-ness”) are not positive descriptions of God at all, but denials to God of limitations distinctive to creatures.10 God is infinite because he is not finite: since God is his own subsistent existence, he is not limited by matter or form, and omnipresence means that God exists wherever he causes creatures to be. Because God is the pure actuality of existing, God’s nature is unchangeable, not subject to deterioration or further actualization: unlike creatures, God is not susceptible to substantial change (coming to be or ceasing from existence), accidental change (as simple, God has no accidents), or change of place (God is not in a place and so cannot move to where he was not before), or acquisition or loss of perfections.

Moreover, there is no need to posit an additional explanation apart from God’s necessary existence itself in order to distinguish between God and creatures. That God is simple (without parts or composition) and exists necessarily is sufficient to distinguish God from all composite and contingently existing creatures. (Simplicity does not compromise Trinitarianism because the divine persons are not parts, but rather relations of origin).

At the same time, Jenson is at least partially correct; advocates of impassibility and passibility tend to talk past one another. Advocates of impassibility are concerned with God’s nature in itself, which they rightly deny can be enhanced or debased by creatures; critics are concerned with God’s relation to and interactions with creatures in a contingent and changing world. Jenson (and similar theologians) seem to have three concerns: (1) Is there any sense in which God responds to creatures? (2) Is there any sense of “before” and “after” in God’s actions? (3) Does eternity have any positive relation to time or rather (in the concern expressed by Jenson), are time and eternity simple contradictories?

Many advocates of impassibility have simply denied that God responds to creatures in any sense. This has been a consistent affirmation of the Bañezian interpretation of Aquinas.11 A distinction between God’s nature and divine intentionality may be more helpful here. Interpreters of Aquinas point to a key passage in which Aquinas removes intentional activity from what he means by “movement” or “change” (ST Aquinas speaks of actions of understanding, willing and loving as “operations,” not change in the strict sense of movement from potentiality to act. Accordingly, it does not follow from the full perfection (and thus immutability) of God’s pure act of existing that God cannot respond to or interact with creatures.12 In a “creative retrieval and completion” of Aquinas’s metaphysics of personhood, Norris Clarke has argued that receptivity must be included as a positive perfection of being, and particularly of personhood. Without corresponding receptivity, authentic mutual love would be incomplete, and there could be no self-communication. In the doctrine of the Trinity, receptivity is “present in the Son and the Spirit . . . as a pure perfection of existence at its highest . . .”13

Jenson writes of “narrative time” as “the ordering of events by their mutual reference,” and the “narratively-temporal extension of an event [as] its relation to other events in a set,” which he compares to “musical time” as a way of discussing God’s economic actions in redemptive history, as God’s “total history with us” (pp. 97-98). Some rapprochement might be possible here to the extent that advocates of immutability would be able to speak of a logical order in God’s beings and actions: “before” and “after” in God does not have to mean temporal priority. In the generation of the Son, the Father is eternally the origin of the Son’s being, and the Son eternally receives his being from the Father; yet there is no temporal order between them. In the order of redemption, both creation and sin are logically prior to redemption. One of Aquinas’s fundamental assertions is that God is not the cause of sin (ST 1.49.2). Sin is unnecessary, and so, logically, might not have happened at all. At the same time, it is well known that Aquinas answers the historic conundrum of whether the Word would have become incarnate if there had been no sin by affirming (against what would later be called the Scotist position) that the Word would not have become incarnate if there had been no sin (ST 3.1.3). Without having to decide between the Thomist and Scotist positions, it is clear that Aquinas held that a fundamental affirmation of Christian faith – that the Son of God became incarnate in Jesus Christ – was contingent on the outcome of a contingent human event. If sin had never occurred – again, according to Aquinas, a distinct possibility – there would have been no economic history of redemption. So whatever Aquinas’s affirmations concerning divine immutability (unchangeableness), he did not understand this to mean that God does not respond to human activity, nor that it is not meaningful to speak of a divine “before and after” in terms of God’s economic activity. Thus there are Christian truths affirmed by those who affirm divine impassibility that presume that some of God’s actions are responses to human actions and that there is in God some kind of logical order (at least) that corresponds to the created temporal order of redemption: redemption presupposes the existence of sin, which God does not create; prayer is the exercise of a genuine created causality, which, if we take seriously, presumes divine response to human activity.

Finally, given that immutability and timelessness are negative descriptions and not positive affirmations at all, it should not follow that eternity and time are simple contraries; Brian Davies points out, for example, that, for Aquinas, eternity is a “measure of duration,” which measures “abiding existence,” and that eternity means that, God “embraces (includit) all times,” that eternity is present to all times (ST 1.10.1; 1.10.2 ad 4; 1.57.3). Davies interprets Aquinas to understand eternity to mean that “God has duration and that he exists at all times.”14

What about Christology and Jenson’s concerns about Nestorianism? Following Cyril of Alexandria, the historic Chaleconian position is that the subject of identity in the incarnation is the single divine person of the Word/Logos/Son who has assumed a human nature; the personal identity of the Word incarnate is neither the human nature, nor a human person. Thus, the distinction between person and nature is a real advancement of Chalcedon christology. Since there is no second human person, Jenson’s anti-Nestorian affirmations follow from the traditional doctrines of enhypostasia and anhypostasia. As human, the incarnate Word is named Jesus, but there is no separate human person in distinction from the divine person of the Word/Son. The point of the communicatio idiomatum is that the subject of predication is the person, not the nature. Accordingly, because Jesus’ personal identity simply is that of the second person of the Trinity, any predications apply to the divine person. God does indeed suffer in Christ because the subject of the incarnation is the second person of the Trinity, but the Son suffers as human, in his human, not his divine nature.15

Another helpful distinction is that between what Aquinas calls “real relations” and “rational [or notional] relations” (ST 1.13.7). Against what he considers an inaccurate criticism, Jenson denies that he believes that God “actualizes himself . . . through his actions within history”: “I have not said any such pseudo-Hegelian thing.” (p. 93). But he is ambiguous. At times, Jenson seems to collapse the immanent Trinity into the economic Trinity. As noted above, Jenson follows Aquinas in affirming that a divine hypostasis is “a subsisting relation,” and that Jesus’ relation to the Father is the second person of the Trinity. Jenson’s conclusion, however, that “The Father’s sending and Jesus’ obedience are the second hypostasis in God” (p. 122), is one which Aquinas would certainly not have drawn in that it seems to erase the distinction between the Trinity as eternal subsisting relations of origin (ST 1.28), and the temporal economic missions of the Son and the Spirit (ST 1.43). For Aquinas, the eternal subsisting relation of origin which distinguishes the Father from the Son is a different kind of relation from the Son’s temporal mission. The former is eternal, necessary, and what Aquinas calls a “real relation”; the latter is contingent, free, and would not have taken place if humanity had never sinned. It is what Aquinas calls a “rational relation,” since it involves the relation between a non-necessary created temporal reality – the created human nature assumed by the Son – and the eternal divine person who assumes it. If Jenson is conflating the Son’s eternal relation of origin (“subsisting relation”) with the Son’s temporal mission (“The Father’s sending and Jesus’ obedience are the second hypostasis in God”), there would be a problem. This, combined with Jenson’s assertion that the incarnation is necessary in order to distinguish between God and the world would seem to imply not only a necessary creation – perhaps even a supralapsarian creation since the purpose of the incarnation is redemption – but that the existence of the world is in some sense necessary in order for God to be Trinity. If (1) it is necessary for God to become incarnate in order to preserve the distinction between God and creation, and (2) the temporal mission of the Son (“The Father’s sending and Jesus’ obedience”) simply is the second hypostasis in God, then, at the least, it would seem to follow that creation is a necessary presupposition to God’s trinitarian identity – in which case it might be understandable that a reader would conclude that Jenson understands God to constitute himself (or at least to determine himself in some manner) through historical action. Far from being “nonsense,” it is of crucial importance to affirm that God does not need to create a world, and God would still be Trinity even if he had not.

In conclusion, this collection of essays is classic Robert Jenson. What he writes about the Christian story, post-modern culture, liturgy, the creedal center of the Christian message as located in the Trinity, creation, covenant, incarnation, resurrection, church and eschatology is always worth listening to. At the same time, traditional Barthians and Thomists will not be convinced, or at least not completely convinced, by Jenson’s “revisions” of classical Christian metaphysics.

1 International Journal of Systematic Theology, 18 no 4 Oct 2016, p 465-467

2 Robert W. Jenson, Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics: Essays on God and Creation, ed Stephen John Wright. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014).

3 These have long been themes in Jenson’s theology. See, for example, Robert W. Jenson, Unbaptized God: The Basic Flaw in Ecumenical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992); Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Systematic Theology Volume 2: The Works of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

4 This is to paint with broad strokes, of course. Barth accepted “predicates of classical theism . . . in modified form”; both Barth and Torrance tended to interpret immutability in terms of “divine constancy.” George Hunsinger, Reading Barth With Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), p. 131; Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), p. 239.

5 David B. Burrell, C.S.C., Knowing the Unknowable God: Ibn-Sina, Maimonides, Aquinas (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), pp. 5-18; Giles Emery, O.P. ‘The Immutability of the God of Love and the Problem of Language Concerning the “Suffering of God”’, Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, ed. James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), pp. 33-34.

6 For a traditional Barthian defense of the Logos asarkos, see Hunsinger, pp. 16-32, 157-158.

7 “Now, because we cannot know what God is, but rather what he is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how He is not. . . Now it can be shown how God is not, by denying Him whatever is opposed to the idea of Him, as, composition, motion, and the like.” ST 1.3 Prol.

8 See David B. Burrell, C.S.C, Aquinas: God and Action (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979); Knowing the Unknowable God: Ibn-Sina, Maimonides, Aquinas (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986); Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993).

9 It is not until ST 1.13 that Aquinas addresses positive predication concerning God, whether metaphorical terms (“rock”) (art. 3), relational terms (such as “Creator” or “Lord”) (art. 7), or analogously predicated “perfection” terms (“good” and “goodness.” “wise” and “wisdom”) (art. 5).

10 “[W]hen Aquinas tells us that God is eternal, he is primarily telling us what God is not, namely not changing. And in holding to the view that God is immutable, he is chiefly denying that certain creaturely limitations are found in God.” Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 111.

11 David Bentley Hart is particularly critical of the Bañezian approach in “Impassibility as Transcendence: On the Infinite Innocence of God.” Divine Impassibility, pp. 299-323.

12 Burrell, Aquinas: God and Action, p. 37; Emery, p. 62; Burrell writes: “[If] divine eternity be understood for what it is – a formal feature of divinity as such – then the creator who bestows esse and is hence present to each moment of time as it exists in its respective now will be one intimately engaged with each individual. And when such individuals are intentional beings, capable of knowing and loving, such a God will be responsive to them as they are responsive to divine promptings. Nor does such a picture in any way clash with another formal feature of divinity – unchangeableness – since intentional interaction is not change but involves the responsiveness of knowing and loving.” Knowing the Unknowable God, pp. 105-106. William Hill writes: “[God] willing to enter into relationships with human beings, who as persons determine themselves to be the kind of persons they are vis-a-vis God, is on his part a willingness to be determined on this ontological level of freedom and personhood, without any corresponding mutation or determination on the level of nature.” “Does the World Make a Difference to God?,” Search for the Absent God: Tradition and Modernity in Religious Understanding, ed. Mary Catherine Hikert. (New York: Crossroad, 1992), p. 118.

13 W. Norris Clarke, S.J., Person and Being (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1993,1998), pp. 20-21, 82-87.

14 Davies, p. 109.

15 Bruce D.Marshall, “The Dereliction of Christ and the Impassibility of God,” Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, pp. 246-298; Thomas G. Weinandy, “Cyril and the Mystery of the Incarnation,” The Theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria, ed. Thomas G. Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating (London, New York: T & T Clark, 2003), pp. 23-54.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Conclusion

In memory of Martha

For Tina, Amy, Hannah, Christina, Peg, Rebecca, Noel, Seretha, Connie, Ann, Meg, Lauren, Lilly, Becky, Mary Ellen, Christen, Tracey, Grace, Wendy, Gaea, Mary, Bonnie-Marie, and numerous other women colleagues, students (former and current), friends, and countless others I have forgotten to mention: May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for his Bride the Church, bless you and your vocations, whether lay or ordained.

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryWhether women should be ordained to church office is an issue of both hermeneutics and doctrinal development. That is, how might the teaching of Scripture and the history of the church’s tradition faithfully be appropriated in a very different historical and cultural context from that in which the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were written? However, it is also a case of doctrinal amnesia. As documented in an earlier essay, the historical reason for opposition to women’s ordination is located in assumptions concerning ontological inferiority: women could not be ordained because they were considered to be less intelligent than men, emotionally unstable, and more susceptible to temptation.1

In the last several centuries, two changes led to abandonment of the church’s historical reason for opposition to women’s ordination. First, the rise of modern industrialization produced social and economic changes that meant that women were no longer confined to the domestic sphere, and it became common for women to work outside the home. Second, an expansion of the understanding of Christian liberty beyond freedom from sin to include freedom in one’s person (including social and economic freedom) provided theological warrant for the church’s endorsement of social movements such as representative democracy, the abolition of slavery, workers’ rights, social welfare, racial equality, universal suffrage, and equality of women in the work place.2 This theological endorsement of social liberty and equality is arguably a genuine development of doctrine.3

This notion of social liberty and equality means that in all mainline churches – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican – women are now recognized as having equal ontological status with men.4 Accordingly, the church has quietly abandoned the historical reasons for opposition to women’s ordination. No historic mainline church now claims that women are less intelligent, more emotionally unstable, or more subject to temptation than men. This recognition of women’s equality is something genuinely new, and, along with the notions of social liberty and equality, is also a genuine doctrinal development.

How did the churches respond to this new recognition of women’s equality? Some have argued that the new understanding leads logically to the ordination of women. If the historic reason for opposition to the ordination of women no longer obtains, then it follows that women should be ordained. That is the position represented in this series of essays. However, some have responded with new arguments against the ordination of women that are not recognized as new, combined with a theological amnesia or forgetfulness of the historical reason for opposition to women’s ordination.

Both Protestant and Catholic opponents of women’s ordination have put forward arguments that are connected with some traditional function of ordained ministry, whether exercising authority (in the case of Protestants) or presiding over liturgical worship and administering the sacraments (in the case of Catholics). These new arguments represent new theological positions that have been defended as if they were traditional, but are not. If historic Christian tradition had rejected women’s authority over men, it was because women were considered to be ontologically inferior to men, with the consequence that all female authority over men was rejected in every social sphere, not simply in the field of ordained ministry. To the contrary, the new Protestant opponents to women’s ordination endorse neither the historic position, nor its reasons. Complementarians claim emphatically that their opposition to women exercising authority in the church is not based on any understanding of female intellectual or moral inferiority; rather, subordination of women to men is based on a new notion of different gender “roles” presumably founded in creation, a new theology of male “headship” based on an interpretation of the metaphorical use of the Greek word kephalē in two of Paul’s epistles to mean “authority over,” and then read into the rest of the biblical canon in cases where the word does not actually appear, along with a problematic doctrine of ontological subordination within the Trinity. As noted in previous essays, although earlier Christian tradition would not have done so, Protestant “complementarians” allow women to teach theology or the Bible in secular universities, just not in the church. Presumably, they allow women to work in secular occupations where they might exercise authority over men. So where the earlier tradition restricted women’s authority over men in every sphere, the new complementarian position apparently does so only in the context of the church and the family.5

If the historic Catholic tradition rejected women priests, the church did not oppose women’s ordination for liturgical or sacramental reasons. Roman Catholic author Sara Butler has appealed to the church father Epiphanius for an argument that women cannot be ordained because Jesus Christ called only male apostles. But Epiphanius did not connect this opposition to liturgical celebration of the sacraments; he did not argue that women cannot preside at the Eucharist because they do not resemble a male Christ or male apostles. Rather, Epiphanius appealed to the usual historical argument; specifically, he claimed that women are foolish and easily tempted.6

Both complementarian and sacramental opponents of women’s ordination also appeal to Christology, but for different reasons. Women cannot be ordained because they both do and do not resemble Jesus Christ. For Protestant complementarians, (1) males resemble Christ in exercising authority in the same way that a male Christ exercises authority over the female church; (2) females resemble Christ in being subordinate to men in the same way that Jesus Christ the Son of God is subordinate to God the Father. Catholic opponents of women’s ordination characterize resembling Christ not in terms of exercising authority or in submission to authority, but in terms of sexual iconography. Only male priests can represent a male Jesus Christ in the celebration of the sacraments based on a literal physical resemblance between the male Christ and the male priest.

Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacramentalists appeal to Scripture to provide support for their positions, but in very different ways. Complementarians point to the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, to Paul’s use of the word kephalē (“head”) to refer to men in relation to women in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, to Paul’s injunction that wives submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5, as well as to two of Paul’s injunctions against women speaking in church or teaching men. Catholic traditionalists point to the exclusively male priesthood of the Old Testament, and to Jesus having called only male apostles. In previous essays, I have addressed these arguments at length, arguing that complementarians misread the passages to which they appeal, and that there are reasons for the Old Testament male priesthood and Jesus having chosen male apostles that have nothing to do with whether women can rightly exercise church office. I have also argued that the narrative structure of the texts of the Old and New Testament provides the interpretive key to interpreting what the Scriptures say about men and women and their relationships, and that these narrative texts engage in a process of christological subversion that challenges traditional patriarchal notions of masculine hierarchy and privilege.

Given the weakness of Protestant complementarian and Catholic sacramentalist appeals to Scripture and tradition, I have argued that those who reject women’s ordination tend to buttress their arguments with appeals to notions or norms imported from outside the biblical text, in the light of which they then interpret the texts, imposing on the texts a theology of sexuality originating from outside the Scriptures. Certainly the cultural setting and historical background of both the Old and New Testaments is that of all traditional agricultural societies, in which some men exercise authority over other men and over all women; Protestant complementarians appeal to this structure as a normative pattern for contemporary relationships between men and women, but they do not acknowledge that the pattern is rooted in pre-industrial agricultural socio-economic structures that were common to all ancient societies, which no longer exist in post-industrial cultures, and in which women’s tasks are no longer confined to home and hearth for biological reasons having to do with child-rearing and breast-feeding. Complementarians also do not acknowledge the extent to which the New Testament patterns of cruciformity and mutual submission challenge and subvert the first-century Mediterranean honor/shame culture that provided the social setting and cultural justification for this hierarchy.7

In contrast, Catholic opponents of women’s ordination truly recognize that a shift has taken place. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body advocates equality in marriage and mutual submission between husbands and wives; at least in theory, women can now exercise any role of authority within the church; they can teach; they can preach; they simply cannot preside over the Eucharist or ordain others to preside over the Eucharist. To justify this single exception of liturgical presidency, Catholic opponents also appeal to an extra-biblical norm in the light of which the texts are then re-interpreted. The norm in this case is a theology of the Eucharist and priestly ordination that first appeared in the writings of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century – that in presiding at the Eucharist, the priest represents (or acts in the person of) Jesus Christ. However, the modern Catholic position interprets this understanding of priesthood in a manner that Aquinas did not – that the priest must literally resemble Jesus Christ in a physical manner; that only a male priest can represent a male Christ. This later theology of priesthood as male representation is then read back into Jesus’ choice of male apostles to provide the warrant for what is actually a later theology.8

Similarly, despite official Catholic rejection of male-female sexual symbolism as normative, at least some Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican opponents of women’s ordination appeal to an understanding of male-female symbolism in which they apply the masculine imagery of God as Father, Jesus Christ as a male, and male apostleship to demand a male priesthood; and the female imagery of the virgin Mary and the church as the bride of Christ, to a symbolically female laity – although lay people include both men and women. I have argued that this appeal to sexual symbolism is a case of “natural theology” that finds its origins not in Scripture, but in Hellenistic, intertestamental and post-New Testament oppositional understandings of the relationship between male and female, understandings of male-female relationality that are rather contrary to the personalist biblical understanding of man and woman as relationally oriented to one another because equally created in the image of the Triune God.9

A question could be raised at this point. If opponents to women’s ordination in historic mainline churches now recognize (and indeed affirm) that women are ontologically equal to men, are not less intelligent, not emotionally unstable, and are not more susceptible to temptation to men, and yet they still have refused to endorse the ordination of women, certainly there must be a reason for this besides logical incoherence. Perhaps the real reasons for opposition to women’s ordination are not rooted in inequality after all? Perhaps what I have referred to as “new” reasons for oppositions to women’s ordination are not actually new at all, but are rather the church’s articulation of the actual (albeit implicit) reasons that it had never ordained women, but simply had never needed to articulate until now because the issue had never before been raised seriously. Something like this is the argument that Sara Butler makes when she distinguishes between the historical “argument” (the ontological inferiority of women) and the church’s “fundamental reasons” (Christ’s choice of male apostles and the priest as a “sacramental sign” of Christ) for opposition to women’s ordination.10

In reply, given the theological inadequacy of the new “fundamental reasons” to oppose women’s ordination, I would suggest different explanations for this continuing opposition to women’s ordination in spite of recognition of women’s equality. First, I think, most of those who continue to be opposed to women’s ordination have failed to acknowledge that the current arguments against women’s ordination really are new positions. I referred to “doctrinal amnesia” at the beginning of this essay because continuing opponents have not recognized that historic opposition to women’s ordination was grounded in claims of ontological inferiority and inequality. Given the collapse of this historic reason for opposition, the affirmation of ontological equality between men and women really is a game-changer. It is not enough to presume that what are really entirely new arguments are simply minor adjustments, or, even more misleading, that they actually are the historic reasons – which they clearly are not – and that the old position can still hold apart from what actually were the historic reasons.

Second, it helps to consider how changes actually take place within a tradition. Here I appeal to standard discussions in the works of philosophers and theologians such as Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Bernard Lonergan, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Helmut Thielicke.11 When confronted by radical changes in a new cultural context – such as the change from pre-industrial to industrial culture with an accompanying change from an understanding of male and female inequality based on inferiority to one of ontological equality – there are inevitably three responses: (1) reaction, resistance, opposition or entrenchment; as much as possible existing communities or social groups reject the new change. Theologically, this has been the response of “fundamentalism” or “conservativism” to modernity; (2) assimilation; the “progressive” response is to embrace the new change without question, and modify or even discard any previous understanding to accommodate the new. Theologically, this has been the response of “liberal” Protestantism and Catholic “modernism”; (3) Conversion and re-actualization: the adoption of a new intellectual paradigm (Kuhn) that is able to incorporate insights from new knowledge while better explaining what was previously known; conversion to a new intellectual, moral or spiritual horizon (Lonergan); creative engagement with the new situation in coordination with re-actualization of what was previously affirmed (Lonergan, MacIntyre, Thielicke). This is the approach of what I would call “critical orthodoxy.”

Reaction is not in all cases simply refusal or resistance, however. As Thomas Kuhn argued in his classic work on “paradigm shifts,” a conservative tradition can “accommodate” to change by making minor adjustments to the previous “paradigm” in an effort to maintain the earlier tradition. In Kuhn’s example, when it became impossible to fit new astronomical observations into the traditional geocentric model of the universe, traditional astronomers did not abandon the earlier position. Rather, small adjustments were made (the postulation of additional epicycles) to allow the old paradigm to accommodate the new data.

In the same way, the new Protestant complementarian notion of male “headship,” of different gender “roles” combined with what really is a new Trinitarian theology of eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, or the slight but unacknowledged alteration by Catholic traditionalists of Thomas Aquinas’s in persona Christi eucharistic theology to mean a physical resemblance between the priest and Christ, appear to be just such minor adjustments (something like theological epicycles) made in the hope of accommodating the newly acknowledged equality of women without having to make any drastic changes in the actual participation of women in the life of the church.

Confirmation of this reading of the situation is found in that opponents of women’s ordination also engage in a bit of exegetical sleight-of-hand; both complementarians and Catholic opponents read things into the biblical text that simply are not there. Complementarians (1) find in Genesis 1 and 2 a hierarchy of men over women before the fall into sin; (2) interpret Paul’s “headship” language to mean authority of men over women; (3) read Paul’s language of “mutual submission” in Ephesians 5 to mean a submission of women only to men; (4) read two notoriously difficult to interpret Pauline restrictions on women’s speaking in worship settings and teaching of men as universal and permanent prohibitions rather than as addressing specific historical situations. Catholic opponents of women’s ordination read into the biblical texts a symbolism concerning Jesus Christ’s masculinity and his choice of male apostles, and draw implications for eucharistic theology that had occurred to no one before the twentieth century.

Are Women Human?

How to respond?

First, the full implications of what really is a new understanding of the ontological equality of men and women needs to be taken seriously. Given what really is a new doctrinal development and a rejection by all parties of the historic reason for opposition to women’s ordination, minor adjustments are not adequate. The churches need to address the issue of whether they really do consider women to be of equal spiritual worth with men. I point readers not to contemporary writings by feminist theologians but to four essays written decades ago by Anglican mystery writer and lay apologist Dorothy Sayers.

In “Are Women Human?,” Sayers points to the changes that had already taken place as a result of the industrial revolution and their consequences for men’s and women’s roles in the work force. In reference to the kinds of domestic work that used to be done by women in pre-industrial cultures – spinning, dying, weaving, catering, brewing, preserving, pickling, estate management – Sayers writes:

Here are the women’s jobs – and what has become of them? They are all being handled by men. It is all very well to say that woman’s place is in the home – but modern civilization has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organised by men at the head of large factories.12

Sayers notes the incoherence of insisting that women should continue to restrict their occupations to traditional domestic household functions when the pre-industrial household no longer exists:

It is perfectly idiotic to take away women’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones. Every woman is a human being – one cannot repeat that too often – and a human being must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.13

More than half a century ago, Sayers had already pointed out that interpreting differences between men and women in terms of symbolic archetypes is a male rather than female obsession:

[I]t is very observable that whereas there has been from time immemorial an Enigma of Woman, there is no corresponding Enigma of Man. . . . [T]he entire mystique of sex is, in historic fact, of male invention. The exaltation of virginity, the worship of the dark Eros, the apotheosis of motherhood, are alike the work of man . . .14

Over against the abstractions of sexual archetypes of masculinity and femininity, Sayers offers the corrective of the concrete reality of actual men and women and the concrete good of personalist relationalism:

[T]he average woman of intelligence is fairly ready to believe in the value of a personal relationship, but the idea of a peculiar mana attached to femaleness as such, deriving as it does from primitive fertility-cults and nature-magic, is likely to strike her as either nonsensical or repellent.15

The most fundamental characteristic of women in comparison to men is that they are, first and foremost, human, and thus are more like men than they are like anything else:

But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings. Vir is male and Femina is female: but Homo is male and female.

This is the equality claimed and the fact that is persistently evaded and denied. No matter what arguments are used, the discussion is vitiated from the start, because Man is always dealt with as both Homo and Vir, but Woman only as Femina.16

Accordingly, many of the stereotypical assumptions about similarities and differences between men and women are simply nonsensical. For example, there is the inscrutable mystery that men presume is at the center of femininity when they ask the perennial question, “What do women want?”17 Sayers writes:

I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual.18

Closely tied to Sayers’s insistence on the basic human equality between men and women is another central theme in Sayers’s writing, that of a Christian theology of work. Drawing on Genesis 1:26-28, Sayers brings together the notion that humanity is created “in the image of God,” that humanity is created “male and female,” and what has been called the “cultural mandate” – that humanity is created to exercise stewardship over creation – to argue for a Christian “understanding of work.”19 Sayers states that “work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do,” that “good work” and not profit should be the primary point of work, that one should do work for which one is “fitted by nature,” that “[w]e should clamor to be engaged in work was worth doing, and in which we could take pride.” Finally, that work should be viewed as a vocation, and “that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his [or her] profession or trade – not outside it.”20

How is this notion of work connected with the affirmation that men and women are equally created in the image of God, and that, first and foremost, “woman are human”? Sayers acknowledges that there are some practical differences between men and women that make some work more suitable for most men than they are for most women: “[T]here is no harm in saying that women, as a class, have smaller bones then men, wear lighter clothing, have more hair on their heads and less on their faces . . . ,” but such comparisons only apply for particular cases: “Few women happen to be natural born mechanics; but if there is one, it is useless to try and argue her into being something different.”21 What is important is that the particular job should be done by the particular person who does it best:

If the women make better office-workers than men, they must have the office work. If any individual woman is able to make a first-class lawyer, doctor, architect or engineer, then she must be allowed to try her hand at it. Once lay down the rule that the job comes first and you throw that job open to every individual, man or woman, fat or thin, tall or short, ugly or beautiful, who is able to do that job better than the rest of the world.22

The point is not that every occupation or interest that used to be done by men should now be done by every woman. As a classics scholar, Sayers points out that not every woman wants to know about Aristotle anymore than every man wants to know about Aristotle, “but I, eccentric individual that I am, do want to know about Aristotle, and I submit that there is nothing in my bodily shape or bodily functions which need prevent me from knowing about him.”23

The implications for a theology of women’s ordination are, of course, obvious. The crucial question is whether there are any essential differences between men and women that are significant for exercising church office. Specifically, granted that there are obvious physical and social differences between men and women (only men can be fathers, sons, or brothers; only women can be mothers, daughters, or sisters), do any of these have anything to do with the capacity to speak or teach or exercise authority (Protestant complementarianism) or to preside over worship or celebrate the sacraments (Catholic objections), or exercise pastoral care for parishioners, that would indicate that certainly not every woman, but women with the specifically necessary callings and gifts could not perform these functions?24

Opponents of women’s ordination might well respond to the above question in two ways. First, it could be argued, while it is generally the case that those with the requisite skills are best suited for particular kinds of work, the ordained ministry is not simply “work,” but a vocation, a divine calling to be recognized by the church, and which must be distinguished from merely secular occupations. Problematic in this claim, however, is the recognition since the Reformation that all forms of work, if they are good work, should be considered as “vocations.” Sayers herself emphasizes this when she writes that any work worth doing is a vocation: “It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred.”25 But the converse is also true. If the secular vocation is sacred, the sacred vocation is also “good work,” and should be done by the person who is most able to do the work well. Given the choice, do opponents of women’s ordination really believe that it would be preferable to have a man who preaches poorly, presides at worship in a slovenly manner, and has poor pastoral skills (and the examples of these are far too many) over a woman who preaches well, presides reverently at worship, and exercises compassionate pastoral ministry, simply because he is a man and she a woman?

Second, the opponent of women’s ordination could well respond that nothing Sayers writes demands that women ought to pursue ordained ministry. Modern opponents of women’s ordination nonetheless insist that they recognize women’s lay ministries, and there is nothing to prevent a woman with skills in writing (such as Sayers), preaching, teaching, or pastoral care, to fulfill her vocation in a lay ministry. This argument is probably more credible if coming from Catholic opponents to women’s ordination who (at least in theory) restrict women’s ministry only from presiding at liturgical functions; however, it is still question-begging insofar as the very same argument could be made concerning men. It could be said of any man (as it is said of women), that the pastoral skills that are usually recognized as signs of vocation to ordained ministry could also be exercised in some form of lay ministry. So the question is not whether some (not all) women might pursue ordained ministry rather than some form of lay ministry, but rather whether anyone (male or female) should do so when vocational gifts could always be fulfilled in some kind of lay ministry instead? If one argues that, at least in some particular cases, some men should pursue ordained ministry, then ipso facto, the case is the same for some (not all) women.

Toward a Positive Theology of Non-Gendered Ordination

In much of what I have written in this series of essays, my arguments have been defensive, responding to objections to the ordination of women. In what follows, I would like to provide a short summary of a theological case in favor of the ordination of women, or, more specifically, an argument for a non-gendered approach to ordained ministry. Specifically, what is the purpose of ordained ministry within the church, and what would be the requirements for selecting certain persons for church office, whether men or women?

First, any positive argument that men and women are equally eligible for ordination to church office must say “no” to the “culture wars” of the last few decades, and to non-theological arguments concerning sexuality, and its relationship to ordained ministry. A properly biblical and systematic theology of sexuality is not hierarchical (as in complementarianism); neither, however, does it derive its understanding of sexuality from post-modern identity politics. Although certainly affirming an equality between men and women, a biblical and systematic theology of sexuality does not regard male and female sexuality as fluid or interchangeable, as does much contemporary sexual identity politics. Again, only men can be fathers, sons, and brothers; only women can be mothers, daughters, and sisters.

At the same time, an argument for the suitability of the ordination of both men and women is not interested in debates between patriarchy and post-modernity for either upholding or rejecting traditional cultural notions of masculinity and femininity. As Carrie Miles points out, traditional notions of male and female “personality” are rooted in pre-industrial divisions of labor between the sexes. In pre-industrial agricultural societies, successful males need to be physically strong, ambitious, intelligent, competitive, independent, and aggressive. Those who succeed will be those who subdue and master others. Correspondingly, in pre-industrial cultures, women compete not for the best jobs, but for the best husbands. Successful women will be physically attractive, nurturing, good household managers, accommodating, emotionally sensitive, patient, interested in children. These are, of course, traditional cultural understandings of what makes men masculine and women feminine. They also correspond economically to the descriptions of the consequences of sin for men and women in Genesis 3: the curse on the ground means that there is a scarcity of provisions, and men must work hard in order to survive. Women must turn to their husbands in that they are financially dependent, and husbands rule over their wives insofar as, in an agricultural economy, men necessarily have more power in the family relationship. (The very thing that makes women valuable – their ability to bear and nurse children – makes them economically dependent on their husbands.)26 Traditional male and female cultural stereotypes also correspond to the reward/punishment structures of traditional honor/shame cultures, a structure which, I have argued, was undermined by the principles of “christological subversion” and “mutual submission.”

In addition, however, insofar as traditional notions of masculinity and femininity are tied to the economics of pre-industrial cultures, they are increasingly irrelevant in a post-industrial culture. For most jobs, modern men do not necessarily have to be physically stronger or more aggressive in that they are no longer restricted to physical labor to make their livings. Modern women are no longer tied necessarily to work that keeps them physically close to children in that modern economic production is no longer home-based. Accordingly, even if it were desirable to maintain traditional stereotypical notions of maculinity and femininity, it would not be possible apart from a return to a pre-industrial economy that created the distinctions in the first place, a return which is culturally implausible, and which even traditionalists would likely not desire.

Second, a positive argument for a non-gendered account of ordained ministry should be grounded in a theology that is creational, Christocentric (cruciform), and Trinitarian (redemptive-historical and ecclesial). An egalitarian biblical theology of ordination is founded on a proper reading of (1) the account of the creation of humanity in the image of God as male and female in Genesis 1 and 2; (2) Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexuality, along with his relationship to his female disciples; (3) Paul’s egalitarian theology of marriage and sexuality; (4) the practice and ministry of both men and women in the early church. Consequently, an egalitarian anthropology will be grounded in a Trinitarian Christocentric personalist ontology. In terms of symbolism, such a theology will be rooted in a reciprocal Trinitarian personalism, rather than a “binary” and hierarchical male/female symbolism; a personalist ontology will emphasize that relationality and mutual submission are crucial to what it means to be male or female. (Many of the details of the above argument have been made already in the preceding essays and will not be repeated at length here.)

Returning to Genesis

A personalist and relational Christian ontology will begin with a return to God’s intentions in creation prior to humanity’s fall into sin: There is a correlation between the creation of humanity in the image of God as male and female and trinitarian personalism; all human beings are created to know and love the triune God who has created humanity in his image. The relational orientation of men and women toward one another is a reflection of the eternal love between the Triune persons. The creation of human beings as male and female is a reflection of and participation through grace in the pericherotic relations of the Triune persons. Men and women are created to know and love God; but they are also made for one another, for mutuality, and relationality, and not for a subordination of one sex to another. To the contrary of complementarian hierarchicalism, the historic subordination of women to men characteristic of all pre-industrial cultures is a consequence of the fall into sin, and redemption entails a reversal of this subordination, a return to the equality, mutuality, and reciprocity between men and women intended by God in the original creation. Again, the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 applies to both men and women, and this certainly has implications for a gender-neutral understanding of ordination to church office because the specific roles of ordained ministry parallel the demands of the creation mandate (or, rather, creation blessing, as Carrie Miles argues).27


The New Testament expands on the Old Testament by applying to Jesus Christ what Genesis says about the image of God. James 3:9 uses language much like that of Genesis, but other passages in the New Testament speak of Jesus Christ as the Son who is the “image of God” (Col. 1:15), of the “glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Cor. 4:4), as the one who pre-existed “in the “form of God,” but took on the “form of a servant,” (Phil. 2:6-7), as the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), and as the typological fulfillment of the “Son of Man” language in Psalm 8, “who was made for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:5-9; cf. Ps. 8:3-8). As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ is the perfect image of the Father. Also discussed previously, Romans 5 identifies Jesus Christ as the second Adam.28

Two passages in particular (already discussed at length) pick up on the male-female imagery of Genesis and apply it either to Jesus Christ and humanity or to Christ and the church (1 Cor. 11:3, 11-12, Ephesians 5: 21-23), speaking of Christ as the “head of every man” (1 Cor. 11:3) or “head of the church,” and the church both as Christ’s body and his bride (Eph. 5:23, 32). (The church fathers developed this bodily and nuptial imagery to suggest that just as the woman was taken from the side of Adam, so the church as the bride of Christ is taken from Christ’s bleeding side on the cross.)

Just as in Genesis 1, however, the focus of these two passages is on nurture and reciprocity, not authority. 1 Cor. 11 emphasizes that the woman is the “glory of man” and that, just as the woman was originally taken from the man, so now all men come to be through women. The only reference to “authority” in the passage is to the woman’s own authority (1 Cor. 11:10). Similarly, Ephesians 5 focuses on the mutual subordination of all Christians to one another, and to the way in which both men and woman resemble Jesus Christ by “walking in love as Christ loved us” (Eph. 5:2; cf. 5:25) and by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21; cf. 5:33). (Also of significance is that neither passage specifically says anything about church office; 1 Cor. 11 is addressing disruptive worship practices; Ephesians 5 addresses worship insofar as all Christians are encouraged to address one another in “hymns and spiritual songs,” and the Christian family is to echo this mutual submission of all Christians to one another.)29

The New Testament insistence that it is Jesus Christ who is the true image of God leads to a modification of Old Testament anthropology. Accordingly, all Christians now image Jesus Christ as disciples who are “in Christ,” and in whom Christ dwells, who participate in Christ who is the image of God as they are joined to the risen Christ through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Unlike Moses, Christians “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (1 Cor. 3:18).

At the same time, cruciformity is crucial to an understanding of Christian discipleship, of how Christians resemble or represent Jesus Christ; Three New Testament passages are crucial in this regard: Phil. 2:5-11 is the “master story” for Paul’s account of cruciform spirituality; as Christ “emptied himself” by taking on the form of a servant, so also Christians are to look not to their own interests, but to those of others. Ephesians 5 portrays the mutual submission of all Christians to one another, who “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). 2 Cor. 4 describes the practice of Christian ministry as exemplified by the apostles, of those who carry a treasure in jars of clay, carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus so that Jesus’ life is manifest in their bodies (2 Cor. 4:7-12). This model of cruciform spirituality is the correct pattern for the manner in which the ordained minister does or does not represent or resemble Jesus Christ.30

Ironically, despite their different ways of insisting that the ordained minister must resemble Christ, both Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacamentalists miss the New Testament’s most crucial point regarding resemblance of Christians to Jesus Christ – what I have designated by the terms “Christological subversion” and “cruciformity.” For the New Testament, “resembling Jesus Christ” is consistently expressed in terms of cruciformity. Christians resemble Jesus Christ by pointing away from themselves to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and through sharing in his suffering. Resemblance to Jesus Christ through cruciform discipleship is expected of all Christians, and it is not gender-specific. All Christians resemble Jesus Christ through following the path of the cross. This is the model that the New Testament sets up for following Christ in Phil. 2:1-11. It is the model of mutual submission demanded of all Christians, men and women, parents and children, masters and servants, in Eph. 5:1-6:9. It is the model for apostleship in 2 Corinthians 4.

Against complementarianism, the New Testament does not speak of leadership simply in terms of authority of some over others; rather, the New Testament consistently challenges what Alan Padgett has called Type I submission. All Christians are called to represent Jesus Christ in terms of what Padgett calls Type II submission, the mutual submission of voluntarily taking on the role of servants in relation to one another.31 Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament specifically rejected Mediterranean social institutions, yet Christological subversion consistently challenges those institutions. Leaders are not told simply to exercise authority or power over subordinates. Rather, as in Ephesians 5, mutual submission is the model of authority expected of all Christians. When Paul uses the word kephalē” (“head”) metaphorically in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, he does not use the metaphor to speak of authority, but rather of mutuality, nurture and self-sacrifice. Cruciformity is also the model provided for apostleship and pastoral leadership in 1 Cor. 4-6. The church’s office holders resemble Jesus Christ as those who carry a treasure in clay jars, who proclaim not themselves but Jesus Christ, who represent Christ by carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus (1 Cor. 4:7-12). This is a resemblance to Jesus Christ that is based neither on authority nor in sexuality.

Against Catholic sacramentalist arguments, how does Paul suggest that the church’s apostles resemble Christ? Not in terms of masculine sexual imagery, but rather by pointing away from themselves toward the crucified Jesus Christ, as does John the Baptist in Grunewald’s painting. The church’s office holders resemble Christ as earthen vessels, and through sharing in Christ’s suffering. Nothing in any of this New Testament imagery is gender-specific.

Word and Sacrament

What are the responsibilities of the ordained minister? Ecumenical consensus points to two main tasks: proclamation of the Word and administration of the sacraments.

Ministry of the Word

Historically, there are four primary ways in which the ordained minister is understood to exercise the ministry of the Word: authority, preaching (and teaching), the power of the keys, and pastoral care.32

Complementarians have focused on the exercise of authority as the primary function of the ordained minister, and everything else flows from that. The complementarian argument is that women cannot be ordained ministers because they cannot exercise authority over men, and, in consequence, cannot preach or teach either. (As noted above, the Catholic understanding of ordination no longer focuses on masculine authority in this way.)

Much of what I have written in this series of essays has challenged the notion of a permanently hierarchical top-down notion of authority in which some (namely men) always command, and others (women, children, and other subordinates) always obey in what Alan Padgett has referred to as “Type I” submission. However, nothing in what I have written rejects the notion of authority as such. Insofar as ordained ministry involves genuine leadership, it necessarily entails a kind of authority, yet an authority re-interpreted through the lenses of cruciformity and Christological subversion. Ordained clergy exercise authority by pointing away from themselves to the crucified Christ.

Recent authors have corrected both an authoritarian permanently hierarchical understanding of authority as well as the post-modern tendency to reject all authority as inherently oppressive.33 Post-modern culture is distrustful of authority, and in recent decades, much of the mainline church has been trying to downplay that part of the pastor’s (or priest’s) mission. One of the chief ways in which the twentieth-century church did that was by substituting different understandings of authority for the pastor’s authority. The ordained minister was no longer someone who points to Jesus Christ, but a therapist, a social worker, or the Chief Operating Officer of the congregation. At the same time, when people are uncertain about the source of their authority, they become frightened, and they fall back on their own personal authority. There are clergy who have no problem imagining themselves to be representatives of Christ, but the image they prefer is that of Christ enthroned in glory, the Christus Pantokrator.

To the contrary, in the 1st epistle of Peter, the apostle explains the proper type of ministerial leadership: “So I exhort the elders (presbyters) among you, as a fellow elder (presbyter) and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God among you, not by way of compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not lording (μηδ’ ὡς κατακυριεύοντες, mēd ōs katakurieuontes) it over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1-4, my translation). The presbyter is asked to shepherd the flock as one whose role is modeled on that of the Good Shepherd. The language of suffering (“witness of the sufferings of Christ”) is reminiscent of similar language in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

Lacking in the passage is any use of such terms as exousia, the normal Greek NT word for “authority”; to the contrary, the presbyter is specifically forbidden from exercising any domineering top-down authority. In 1 Peter, office-holders are called to exercise authority as did Jesus, who said “[W]hoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28). Verse 5 does indeed call on those who are younger to “submit” (ὑποτάγητε, hypotagēte) to the elders/presbyters (πρεσβυτέροις, presbyterois).” At the same time, however, the submission is not top-down hierarchical submission (Padgett’s “submission I”), but the mutual submission of all to each other: “But all of you (πάντες, pantes) be subject to one another (ἀλλήλοις, allēlois), and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” (modernized KJV).

As the role of the Good Shepherd is to lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), so the ordained pastor follows the example of the One Shepherd. That kind of leadership is more difficult than being a social worker or a CEO. It demands more long-suffering than does top-down authority. Ordained clergy cannot act as shepherds unless they love the people they are called to serve, and unless they are willing to suffer. The pastor or priest does not then act on his or her own authority. Pastoral ministry is that of a shepherd who shares in the ministry of the One Shepherd. Any authority that ordained clergy have comes from beyond themselves. It is the authority to share with the Good Shepherd in laying down their lives for the sheep. Obviously such sacrificial authority is not gender-specific.

The second role of the presbyter is that of preaching or proclaiming the Word. The primary job of the preacher is to communicate the Word of God about Jesus Christ as contained in the Scriptures. The main point of such preaching is, once again, to point to Christ. The pastor’s sermons should focus on the Good Shepherd, who Jesus Christ is, and what Jesus did. Who is Jesus? He is the Son of God, the incarnate Word become flesh, the second person of the Trinity. What did Jesus do? He became human, he died for our sins, he rose from the dead, and he is coming again. As noted above, in the incarnation, Jesus Christ models a cruciform pattern of life that is the paradigm for all Christian discipleship. That is the gospel. That is what the pastor is to preach. The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, and is coming again. The good news is about Jesus Christ, and his person and work, and that is what the preacher needs to come back to in his or her preaching, over and over. And if he or she does that, he or she will play the same role as does John the Baptist in Grunewald’s painting, and God will speak through his or her words. As the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote:

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place
To be a window, through thy grace.
(George Herbert, “The Windows”)

And again, to proclaim the word that Jesus Christ has died and risen is not something gender-specific. To the contrary, the gospels make clear that it was not men, but rather women, who first came to the empty tomb, who were the first witnesses that the crucified Jesus was no longer dead but risen. In his first sermon in the book of Acts (2:14-40), the apostle Peter makes clear that this proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fulfillment of a prophecy of the Old Testament prophet Joel. When God pours out his Spirit on all people, sons and daughters will prophecy; God will pour out his Spirit on his servants, both men and women (v. 17-18).

The next way in which the pastor acts as a shepherd is that of the “power of the keys.” The power of the keys is the ordained minister’s authority to proclaim Christ’s forgiveness to the repentant. Reformation Christians get uncomfortable here, but we need to be reminded that this is an authority that Christ has given to his church. The Anglican Reformer John Jewel stated:

Moreover, we say that Christ hath given to His ministers power to bind, to loose, to open, to shut. And that the office of loosing consisteth in this point: that the minister should . . . offer by the preaching of the Gospel the merits of Christ and full pardon, to such as have lowly and contrite hearts, and do unfeignedly repent themselves, pronouncing unto the same a sure and undoubted forgiveness of their sins, and hope of everlasting salvation.34

To be able to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness to repentant sinners is not in conflict with the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone; it is a way of making forgiveness concrete and objective. Again, it is important to remember that the ordained minister does not proclaim forgiveness on the basis of his or her own authority. The pastor is a sinner, just like the person who comes for confession. As the prophet Isaiah says, we are all people of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Is. 6:5). But One greater than a seraphim has touched our lips, and he has said, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7). It is because Jesus Christ has forgiven him or her that the presbyter can proclaim that Christ forgives others. In order to do this, clergy need to acknowledge their own sins, and they need to accept Christ’s forgiveness.

Finally, there is one last way in which the ordained minister acts as a shepherd of Jesus Christ. The minister is pastor and spiritual director. The words “pastor” and “pastoral” come from the Latin word that means “shepherd.” There is a uniquely pastoral dimension to ordained ministry. The traditional exhortations given to clergy at ordination speak to this responsibility. One of the responsibilities of the pastor is to get to know his or her parishioners, to spend time with them, to pray with them, to baptize them, to marry them, to bury them.

Administration of the Sacraments

If Protestant accounts of ordained ministry have focused on the pastor’s authority and proclamation of the word, Catholic accounts have focused on the role of the presbyter in administering the sacraments, specifically in presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist. As noted previously, Catholic arguments against the ordination of women often focus on the Catholic understanding of church office as a “sacramental priesthood.”

A theologically nuanced understanding of ordained ministry does not necessarily see these two models as opposed so much as complementary. The office of the presbyter includes both preaching and proclaiming the Word, but also presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist. At the same time, as with the Protestant understanding of ministry as the proclamation of the Word, so an understanding of ministry that emphasizes ordination as “priesthood” needs to recognize that New Testament office is not simply a repristination of the Old Testament sacrificial system; rather, as with proclamation of the Word, New Testament priesthood must be re-defined Christologically: Jesus Christ is not only the perfect image of God and the Good Shepherd; he is also the One High priest, who not only fulfills, but also transforms Old Testament worship. As Cyril of Alexandria emphasized, the church’s worship is not something of its own that the church offers to God, but a participation in the risen Jesus Christ’s vicarious worship of the Father through the Holy Spirit.35

The teleological end of Christian worship is the church’s union with the triune God as the church becomes the body of Christ united to the crucified and risen humanity of Jesus Christ its head through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments do not have an end in themselves, but exist as means of grace to enable this union between the crucified and risen Christ and the church. As they are united to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in baptism (Rom. 5), all Christians reflect Christ’s image, and are conformed to it. So in Thomas Aquinas’s discussion of baptismal character, it is Jesus Christ who is the primary “character” or image of God (following Hebrews 1:3); all Christians participate in and resemble Christ’s character through baptism; it is this participation in Christ’s character through the act of baptismwhich brings one into the church that enables the priest/presbyter to represent Christ.36 In other words, the logic of Aquinas’s position is that in persona ecclesiae (in the person of the church) precedes in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Or, at least, that representational symbolism is dynamic. All Christians resemble Jesus Christ insofar as Christ is the head of the church; the church represents Christ as sharing in Christ’s character through baptism. It is thus through their union with Christ in baptism that Christians are made one with his body, the church, and all Christians represent Christ.

Thus, the way in which the ordained minister acts in persona Christi when presiding at the church’s worship is neither unique, nor is it based on male sexuality. The eucharistic minister resembles Jesus Christ in first receiving the baptismal character shared by all Christians. It is thus not the Eucharist, but baptism, that is the originating sacrament of identification with Christ. In the church’s worship at the Eucharist, the presiding minister represents the church as having receiving the baptismal character that makes worship possible, and thus represents Jesus Christ who is the head of the church. In the eucharistic prayer, the celebrant first acts on behalf of the church as its representative (in persona ecclesiae). The eucharistic prayer is a prayer – it begins and ends with the words “we” – and, in this prayer, the priest represents Jesus Christ as first representing the church, which his bride. Thus there is a crucial significance to the epiclesis in the eucharistic prayer; in invoking the Holy Spirit to descend on bread and wine to make it the risen Christ’s body and blood, and on the gathered people to make them Christ’s body, the priest acts as a representative of the church as the body of Christ, and in this manner as a representative of Jesus Christ as the head of this body.

If we describe the church’s worship using the language of “eucharistic sacrifice,” it is necessary to affirm (as do all contemporary ecumenical agreements) that it is Jesus Christ who offers the sacrifice, not the presiding minister. It is Jesus Christ who makes himself present, not the celebrant. Moreover, as the patristic church taught, and as modern ecumenical agreements also emphasize, the Eucharist is not a new sacrifice, but simply the same sacrifice of the cross which is “re-presented.” Jesus Christ is not “sacrificed again”; rather, as the risen Jesus Christ becomes truly present through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, so Christ is present in the once-for-all atoning significance of his life, death, and resurrection. The eucharistic sacrifice does not depend, then, on the person of the ordained priest, but on the person of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. The celebrant does not “offer” anything of him or herself; nor is the priest a “mediator” in the sense of being a substitute for Christ or an alter Christus.

In the eucharistic prayer, then, it is Jesus Christ who is the primary celebrant, not the ordained priest. Again, it must be emphasized that the eucharistic prayer is a prayer, not a drama. The presiding minister is praying on behalf of the entire congregation, not acting a drama or playing a role in a play. The “words of institution” recited in the eucharistic prayer are part of this prayer in which the presiding minister prays on behalf of, and acts as a representative of, the gathered community (in persona ecclesiae).

Of course, in a manner similar to the proclamation of the Word, the eucharistic minister represents Christ not only to the extent that he or she represents the church as Christ’s bride, but also, once again, in terms of cruciformity; in recalling Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice in the “Words of Institution” – “This is my body given for you; This is my blood shed for you” – the celebrant points away from him or herself and his or her own adequacies or accomplishments to the complete sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, and returning in glory – to redeem and sanctify the church. It is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice that is made present in the church’s worship, not that of the church’s ordained clergy. The worship of the church is a matter of the church pointing away from itself to Jesus Christ’s finished work, but it is also a participation in the risen Christ’s own worship on the church’s behalf. The structure of the eucharistic prayer makes clear that the presiding minister is praying on behalf of and as a representative of the gathered community of the church; insofar as the church is the bride of Christ (and is thus symbolically feminine), women most appropriately have the capacity to illustrate this by leading the church’s prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer.37

Concluding Reflections

What might be the implications of what really is the church’s new understanding of the equality of men and women, and of a gender-neutral understanding of ordination to church office?

First, a trinitarian understanding of personhood and a relational and reciprocal understanding of the relationship between men and women means not only that men and women are equals, but that their identity as male and female is established in relation to one another; man and women need one another and should be friends with one another. Thomas Aquinas transformed Aristotle’s notion of friendship from The Nichomachean Ethics in light of Jesus’ statement in John 15:15 – “I call you no more servants . . . but friends” – to suggest that charity as the highest theological virtue is friendship with Jesus, and friendshp with God. But charity is also friendship with fellow human beings, and grounds Aquinas’s understanding of ethics summarized in the Ten Commandments as love of God and love of neighbor.38 Certainly this has implications for the relationships between men and women in the church.

Karl Barth famously developed his understanding of the relationship between men and women in light of the two creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. Gen. 1:27 points to the interpersonal and relational nature of what it means to be created in the image of God; man as male and female indicates that the imago dei is fundamentally relational, and that the image of God is a reflection of the triune interpersonal relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That humanity is male and female means that humanity cannot be humanity alone, but only as male in relation to female and female in relation to male. There is no man or woman as such, but “only concretely masculine and feminine co-existence and co-operation in all things.” The creation narrative of Genesis 2 indicates that humanity means “fellow human”: “the encounter of man and woman as such is being in encounter and therefore the center of humanity . . .” The basic distinction and connection of I and Thou is thus “coincident with that of male and female.”39 So, for both Barth and Aquinas, the image of God is essentially personal and relational, grounded in the trinitarian relations of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Barth goes beyond Aquinas, however, in emphazing that it is precisely the mutual and complementary relationship between humanity as man and woman that is the ontological foundation of the personalistic and relational image of God in human beings.40

Second, the centrality of cruciformity as the paradigm for Christian discipleship, combined with Paul’s call for mutual submission, and both Paul’s and 1 Peter’s description of ministry, leads to a transformed understanding of Christian ministry and authority in terms of servanthood and mutual submission rather than top-down exercise of authority of some over others. That is, the New Testament challenges the first-century Mediterranean honor/shame culture exemplified in what Alan Padgett calls “Submission I,” and offers instead the paradigm of mutual submission (“Submission II”). For the New Testament, to exercise church office means to be a servant to one’s fellow servants. Again, there is nothing about mutual submission in love patterned on Christ’s cruciform self-sacrifice that is inherently gender-specific.

Third, Paul’s coordination of a theology of the Eucharist as participation (or communion) in the body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, combined with his imagery of the church as a diverse body of many members points to hospitality at the core of the church’s fellowship (koinonia) (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Hospitality means not only welcoming the stranger who is outside the church, but, more specifically, welcoming one’s brother or sister inside the church. Neither men nor women can say to the other, “I have no need of you.” However, a hierarchical understanding of sexual “gender roles” leads necessarily to an antagonistic relationship between men and women. At least insofar as it comes to the question of the kinds of gifts that would normally indicate a call to ordained ministry, the refusal to ordain women is to say to another member of the body of Christ, “I have no need of you.”

A proper understanding of Christian community will lead necessarily to male repentance for failure to recognize the gifts and calling of women within the Christian congregation. It will also mean a willingness to listen to the voices of women in the church. In a TED Talk entitled “How to Speak Up For Yourself,” Adam Galinski points out that courage to speak depends on (1) moral conviction, (2) a position of power in tension with a fear of punishment, and, finally, (3) community support. When it comes to public speaking, even those with moral conviction will tend to be silent if fear of punishment is not balanced by both some kind of position of power and community support. Galinski points out that what appear to be differences between the sexes actually tend to reflect differences in power. When it comes to public speaking, women find themselves in a double bind. They lack the power to speak, but they are also are punished if they do speak.41

Galinski’s points are directly relevant to the question of women’s ordination in the church. Resistance to women’s ordination contributes to the double bind in which women find themselves in the church in that women are denied the moral authority to speak; they lack the power to speak to the church, they are punished if they speak, and they lack support of the community if they do speak.

But refusing to women the freedom to speak to the church is not only to deny to them the moral integrity of the word that they need to speak to the church, but also to deny to the Christian community the word it may need to hear from women. In my years teaching in a seminary, I have found that women as a whole are often better preachers than men as a whole. At the seminary where I teach, women graduates consistently win the “outstanding preaching” awards at graduation out of proportion to their actual numbers in the student body. There are likely numerous reasons for this. It is a truism that women tend to be more verbal than men and are thus perhaps better speakers. It is also likely, however, that those women who pursue ordination tend to be more determined than those men who do so. After all, only those women who are strongly convinced of their vocations tend to overcome community pressure against ordination; men are rewarded for a “vocation” for which women are punished. By denying women ordination, we deny them the ability to use a divinely given gift. But more than the harm done to women by refusing to allow them to speak is the harm done to the church. Denying to women the opportunity of ordination means that women cannot speak the Word of God to the church. The church needs to hear the word that women are called to speak.

This will also mean that the church needs to reconsider its theology of vocation to embrace an understanding of vocation based on “Spirit-gifting.”42 It helps here to recognize the difference between two different understandings of vocation, what might be called the difference between “Benedictine” and “Dominican” models of ministry. Historically, there has been a tension between Benedictine and Dominican understandings of vocation. Benedictines are cloistered monks, and the understanding of vocation among monks tends to be that it is assumed that one does not have a vocation until one proves otherwise. This is the case because the Benedictine model is that of a “religious” way of life that is primarily concerned with spiritual formation within the monastery. The monastic tradition is concerned to provide a safe setting in which people can form good habits and escape from temptation. It is only after one has been formed in the cloister that it is considered safe to enter once again into the outside world.

To the contrary, the Dominicans were not cloistered monks, but mendicant preachers, the Order of Preachers. The Dominican model of vocation is thus that of an “apostolate”; Dominicans exist in order to preach for the salvation of souls. The goal of Dominican spirituality is then, not primarily inward (spiritual formation), but outward – to be useful to others. This results in an entirely different understanding of vocation. The Medieval Dominican Humbert of Romans emphasized that preaching is too urgent to wait until people think that they are ready to do it. To the contrary, to avoid preaching until one thinks one is ready is a temptation to be avoided. The Dominican understanding of vocation is that if one has the gift of preaching, one must preach – one has the vocation to preach.43

I would suggest that the church’s understanding of vocation to ordained ministry has been too often based on the Benedictine model – the assumption that one does not have a vocation unless one proves otherwise, and in the case of women, the church always presumes otherwise. To the contrary, if particular women (not every woman) demonstrate the gifts in preaching, liturgical celebration, and pastoral skills that would (in the case of men) indicate a calling to ordained ministry, then the church should presume that these women have a call to ordained ministry until proven otherwise. The burden of proof is not on those who would argue for the ordination of women, but on those who would deny it.

Dorothy Sayers’s insistence on the connection between vocation and good work is again helpful The way that one knows that one has a vocation is if one has the gifts to do it. What does it say about our understanding of vocation when particular women have good theological minds, have the ability to speak well (preach good sermons), can lead worship reverently (have liturgical skills), have organizational skills ( the ability to exercise leadership), and can exercise pastoral sensitivity, yet we exclude them from ordination?

For complementarians, the refusal to consider the ordination of women indicates a false understanding of authority, one that roots authority in sex rather than in competence. For Catholics, insofar as they have allowed women to exercise all kinds of pastoral leadership except for administering the sacraments, this reduces the gifts and callings of women in the church to a kind of glorified “lay ministry.” Does allowing women to exercise every ministry in the church except that of presiding at celebration of the sacraments not itself indicate a kind of reduction of the office of ordained ministry to a kind of mechanical understanding of the relationship between the ordained minister and the sacraments?

Again, the adoption of a “Spirit-gifting” or Dominican understanding of vocation makes clear that the purpose of ordained ministry is not that of exercising power over others or of privilege. To the contrary, the point of ordained ministry is one of service. As Katherine-Greene McCreight has pointed out, the focus of orthodox “biblical feminists” in the church is not on gaining equal rights for women in the church, but on asking for an equal opportunity to serve within the church.44

Finally, I conclude with one last consideration concerning possible differences between men and women and how this might affect their vocations within the church. What I have written in this series of essays has focused primarily on similarities between men and women. As Dorothy Sayers emphasized, women are human, and women are more like men than they are like anything else. Of course, there are fundamental biological differences between men and women, and both the complementarity between women and men, and many of the social roles that men and women fulfill are rooted in these essentially biological differences – again, only men can be husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers; only women can be mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. I have also argued (following Carrie Miles) that many of the so-called social and cultural differences between men and women in pre-industrial cultures are rooted in basic differences in biology that necessarily restrict women largely to domestic tasks in agricultural societies, but allow men more flexibility to work outside the home: men are physically stronger than women; women give birth and breast-feed infants.

However, we can still ask whether there are also psychological differences between men and women that might have relevance to the question of women’s ordination. Are men (broadly speaking) more rational and abstract? Are women (broadly speaking) more emotional and relational?45 Here, I would suggest that caution is in order. While such psychological differences may exist broadly speaking, there will always be exceptions; despite broad tendencies, some particular women will always be more rational, independent, and abstract in their thinking than some men, while some men will always be more emotional and relational than some women.46 However, even to recognize such differences (again, broadly speaking) between men and women is not an argument against women’s ordination, but for it. The relevant corrective here would again be the apostle Paul’s discussion of different gifts within the diversity of the church as the one body of Christ. If there are inherent psychological differences between some women and some men, this would indicate that those women would exercise pastoral ministry differently than those men, but they would do so in a complementary manner to serve the church in a manner in which those men could not. The church should not refuse the pastoral gifts of women because of possible intellectual, emotional, or psychological differences between women and men. To the contrary, the church needs the pastoral gifts of women in order to avoid one-sidely masculine church leadership.

1 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-the-argument-from-tradition-is-not-the-traditional-argument.

2 See my earlier essays: “Non-theological Arguments Against the Ordination of Women,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/non-theological-arguments-against-the-ordination-of-women; “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-beginning-with-genesis.

3 On the notion of development of doctrine, see John Henry Newman’s classic work, An Essay in the Development of Doctrine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), along with the definitive Anglican response by J.B. Mozley, The Theory of Development: A Criticism of Dr. Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London, Oxford, and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1878). Against Newman, Mozley argued for two different senses of the notion of development: (1) a simply explanatory process, in which an idea is said to be developed, but not altered; and (2) a development which is a positive increase in the substance of the thing developed, a fresh formation not contained in or growing out of the original subject matter. Mozley argued that the Nicene formula and the Athanasian Creed were examples of the first notion of development, not the second (144, 146, 149-153). In this series of essays I am arguing that the notions of “social liberty and equality” as a development of the notion of Christian liberty, and the ordination of women as a development from the church’s affirmation of the ontological equality of women are developments of the first kind. They do not add something new in the sense of something “different,” but something new in the sense of an explanatory process or drawing out of the logical implications of something inherent in the original subject matter of Christian faith.

4 “Equal” does not mean “identical.” Certainly there are clear differences between men and women; only men can be fathers, brothers, and sons; only women can be mothers, sisters, and daughters. Ontological equality in the sense in which I am using it affirms that women are of equal intellectual, moral, and spiritual status with men. Men and women are equally human, and mutually complementary, mutually created for relationship with one another and with the triune God as their Creator and Redeemer. More specifically, the notion of equality denies the historical claim that women are less intelligent, emotionally unstable, and more susceptible to temptation than men. Obvious physical differences between men and women mean that there are some tasks for which some men would be more suitable than some women; for example, most men are physically stronger than most women. However, there is nothing intrinsic to the differences between men and women that imply that men and women are not equally suited for most tasks. The specific tasks that would be excluded would obviously be those that are biologically determined. Again, only men can be fathers; only women can be mothers.

5 On the new “complementarian” Protestant argument against women’s ordination, see my earlier essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-hierarchy-and-hermeneutics.

6 On the new Catholic argument against the ordination of women, see my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi),” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-and-the-priesthood-of-christ. Sara Butler appeals to Epiphanius in The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church (Chicago/Mundelein, Ill: Hillenbrand Books, 2006), 61, 63. Epiphanius’s statement can be found in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, trans. Frank Williams (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), 79.7, 2,3; 3,1.

7 On these issues, see especially Carrie A. Miles, The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality From the Economics of a Fallen World (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006) and David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

8 See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi).”

9 See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism Part 1 (God, Christ, Apostles),” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-the-argument-from-symbolism-part-1; “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology),” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-the-argument-from-symbolism-part-2.

10 Butler, 46-51.

11 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1970); Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990); Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988); Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Geneology, and Tradition (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990); Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith Volume One: Prolegomena, The Relation of Theology to Modern Thought Forms (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974).

12 Dorothy L. Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 24.

13 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 25.

14 Dorothy Sayers, “Introduction,” The Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Cantica II Purgatory, trans. Dorothy L. Sayers (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1955, 1980), 33.

15 Sayers,” Purgatory, 38.

16 Dorothy Sayers, “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” Are Women Human?, 37.

17 That this continues to be a male obsession is evident in the title of the film What Women Want (2000) released over fifty years after Sayers’s essays.

18 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 32.

19 See particularly Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), and “Why Work?,”Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1995).

20 Sayers, “Why Work?,” 72-78.

21 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 19, 29.

22 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 25.

23 Sayers, “Are Women Human?,” 21.

24 The question might well be raised “Where did Sayers herself stand on the question of women’s ordination?,” to which the answer is that she took an ambiguous stance. In 1948, C.S Lewis wrote Sayers a letter in which he asked her to speak out against the “innovation” of women’s ordination by “Chinese Anglicans” (actually Hong Kong. The first Anglican women were actually ordained in Hong Kong in 1944). Sayers responded that it would be “silly” and “inexpedient” to establish a new barrier between Anglicans and “Catholic Christendom.” At the same time, she rejected what would become the new Catholic argument against the ordination of women: “I can never find any logical or strictly theological reason against it. Insofar as the Priest represents Christ, it is obviously more dramatically appropriate that a man should be, so to speak, cast for the part. But if I were cornered and asked point-blank whether Christ Himself is the representative of male humanity or all humanity, I should be obliged to answer ‘of all humanity’; and to cite the authority of St. Augustine that woman is also made in the image of God . . .” In the end, she declined Lewis’s invitation: “The most I can do is to keep silence in any place where the daughters of the Philistines might overhear me.” The letters are cited in Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993), 358-359.

25 Sayers, “Why Work?,” 76.

26 Miles, 50-56.

27 “No gender-specific responsibilities are given in creation, nor does the text in any way imply that one sex will take a role different from the other. . . . Moreover, the imperatives in verse 28 are not commandments as often thought but gifts or blessings. . . . Genesis 1 portrays man and woman as the beneficiaries of great munificence. . . . Everything on earth was a gift to them, intended for their happiness. Even sexuality itself – humankind as male and female – was one of the blessings of creation.” Miles, 20. See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-beginning-with-genesis.

28 Stephen R. Holmes, “Image of God,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 318-319.

29 See my essays “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-mutual-submission; “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and “Headship,”http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-women’s-ordination-women-in-worship.

30 See especially Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).

31 Alan Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

32 Much of what follows is based on a sermon I preached that appeared as “Icons of Christ: A Sermon Preached at an Ordination,” in The Living Church (September 9, 2012) 16-17, 36-41.

33 Yves R. Simon, A General Theory of Authority (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1962, 1980); Victor Lee Austin, Up with Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2010); David T. Koyzis, We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

Much confusion about authority arises insofar as authority is confused with coercion or the oppressive use of power. Rather, power is the ability to get something done. Authority is the delegated responsibility of an individual to act on behalf of a community or group to get something done. An Amish farmer who organizes a barn raising is exercising authority even though no coercion is involved.

34 John Jewel, Apology of the Church of England (London: Cassell & Co., 1888), Part II.

35 On Cyril, see Thomas F. Torrance, “The Mind of Christ in Worship: The Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy,” Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 139-214.

36 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.62-63.

37 For the above, see especially Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, The Ministry of Women in the Church, trans. Fr. Steven Bigham (Redonda Beach, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1991); Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Kallistos Ware, The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2000); Edward Kilmartin, S.J. Christian Liturgy: Theology and Practice I. Systematic Theology of Liturgy (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1988) and The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 2004); George R. Sumner, Being Salt: A Theology of an Ordered Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007); Thomas F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood: A Theology of Ordained Ministry, 2nd Edition (London: T & T Clark, 1993, 2003); Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975),

38 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 4.54; Summa Theologiae 2-2.23.1; Jean-Pierre Torrell, “Charity as Friendship in St. Thomas Aquinas,” Christ and Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas, Bernard Blankenhorn, O.P., trans. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 45-64.

39 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 3 – The Doctrine of Creation Part 2 – The Creature, G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, eds. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 286, 292, 293.

40 Paul K. Jewett’s early book Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), is a development of this theme.

41 Adam Galinski, “How to Speak Up for Yourself,” https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_galinsky_how_to_speak_up_for_yourself?language=en.

42 Gordon D. Fee, “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 241-254.

43 On the difference between the monastic and the Dominican understanding of vocation, see Simon Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection:An Exploration of Christian Spirituality (Springfield, ILL: Templegate Publishers, 1985), 138-151; on Dominican spirituality, see Tugwell, Early Dominicans: Selected Writings (Mahway, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982); The Way of the Preacher (London: Dayton, Longman & Todd, 1979). Of course, while there were women Dominicans, there were no female Dominican priests or preachers. The reason for that would have been the traditional one based on female intellectual incapacity.

44 Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine: Narrative Analysis and Appraisal (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 36-40.

45 For an earlier feminist argument that such differences exist, see Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982, 1993).

46 Dorothy Sayers was one such an example of a woman who tended to be more rational than emotional, and was thus not “typically female.”

A New Page: A Guide to My Essays on Women’s Ordination

Over on my “Pages” section, I have added a A Guide To My Essays About Women’s Ordination. This likely will prove helpful in navigating the forest.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons) or a Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 2)

christ_in_the_house_of_martha_and_maryThis is the second of two essays on women’s ministry in the New Testament. In the previous essay, I addressed the question (1) “Did women exercise ministerial office in the New Testament period?”1 In this essay, I address the two additional questions: (2) How does the New Testament address the question of female bishops or presbyters? (3) What are the contemporary hermeneutical implications of what the New Testament says about women in office?

As noted in previous essays, the New Testament says very little about the actual practices associated with the more permanent ministries which I have called “office.” For example, the New Testament nowhere describes the ritual celebration of the Eucharist or indicates who presided at its celebration; nor does the New Testament ever use the word “priest” to refer to those who exercise office, both key concerns in Catholic discussions of ordained ministry. Although the New Testament nowhere identifies by name a woman who exercised the role of presbyter or bishop, it does not mention by name any man with these titles either.

In addition (as I also pointed out), the New Testament terminology for office is fluid, and a number of titles are used: “co-worker,” “apostle,” “deacon,” “teacher, “prophet,” “leader.” However, after the New Testament period, permanent ministry is particularly associated with the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, and deacon. These offices are rarely mentioned in the New Testament. The book of Acts indicates that Paul and Barnabas appointed “elders” (πρεσβύτεροι, presbyteroi) “in each church” (Acts 14:23). As Paul concluded his third mission journey before returning to Jerusalem, he addressed the “elders” (πρεσβύτεροι, presbyteroi) of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). Paul counsels them to keep watch over the flock over whom the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers” (ἐπίσκοποι, episkopoi) in order to shepherd the church of God (v. 28). In chapter 15, Acts mentions “the elders” in conjunction with “the apostles” (Acts 15:4, 6, 22, 23). In Phil. 1:1, Paul greets the “saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi,” along with the “overseers and deacons” (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις, episkopois kai diakonois). This is the only letter in which Paul specifically addresses these office holders by title. Again, there is nothing in these passages to indicate the sex of these office holders, and the only person specifically identified as a deacon by Paul is the female deacon, Phoebe (Rom. 16:1).

The only New Testament description of qualifications for the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, and deacon occur in the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9); consequently, these are the crucial passages to examine in order to assess whether the New Testament addresses the question of female bishops or presbyters. Those who are opposed to women’s ordination appeal to these passages as crucial for deciding the issue. The Anglican Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? states:

By the time of the Pastoral Epistles, an ordained ministry with full authority has developed, and with these we see, in some places, the first beginnings of monepiscopacy. We naturally stress the witness of the Scriptures that the ministry of presbyteroi and episkopoi is male. There is no evidence of, or endorsement for, the exercise of oversight or liturgical leadership by women: the opposite is the case.2

In a footnote, the document appeals for biblical support to 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 as “possibly a special prohibition by St Paul of female presidency of the Eucharist,”3 as well as “1 Timothy 3: Titus 1:5ff., etc.”4 Beyond the mere reference, there is no actual exegesis of either 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1. That these passages provide warrant for a male-only presbyterate and episcopacy is assumed to be self-evident. The strong statement “the opposite is the case” referring to “no evidence of, or endorsement for, the exercise of oversight or liturgical leadership by women” is, again, simply asserted. There could, of course, be no evidence for the exercise of liturgical leadership by men either, since the New Testament says nothing whatsoever about who presided at liturgical celebration, whether male or female. In my previous essay, I argued that there is indeed strong evidence that women in the New Testament church, held “office,” and thus exercised some sort of ecclesial oversight. The Forward in Faith statement is thus mere assertion without substantiation.

On the other hand, the Evangelical Complementarian Wayne Grudem at least makes an attempt at an argument based on the observation that 1 Timothy 3:2 states that the office of overseer “should be filled by someone who is the ‘husband of one wife.’ . . . It is evident that only a man can be a husband. . . . anēr . . . is the Greek term that specifically designates a male human being. This means elders [sic] had to be men.”5 (Grudem’s argument will be addressed below.)

Job Descriptions or Moral Qualifications?

The pastoral epistles describe the qualifications for overseers/bishops, elders/presbyters, and deacons in two places. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 addresses qualifications for overseers (or bishops), 3:8-12 discusses deacons, and Titus 1:5-9 includes almost identical language concerning elders (or presbyters), who, in verse 7, are also referred to with the title of “overseer/bishop.” (Whether the offices of overseer/bishop and elder/presbyter are two distinct offices, or are rather simply different names for the same office is an issue of controversy that need not be addressed here.)6

The first thing to be noted is that these are not job descriptions, but moral qualifications for church office. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington notes that the focus is on “character description.” The main function of the passages is “to explain how a leader should behave, not what the leader’s full job description should look like.”7 The character description of the overseer/bishop contrasts five vices which the office holder should avoid with six virtues to pursue, in addition to demanding sexual fidelity in marriage. Paul is likely contrasting the moral behavior of overseers, elders, and male and female deacons with that of false teachers and unruly women described elsewhere in the pastoral epistles.8

Misleading Translation

So, first, the qualifications for church office in the pastoral epistles are moral qualifications, not job descriptions, and specifically not gender qualifications. Second, it is also important to note that the standard English translations of these passages are misleading, giving the impression that Paul is describing specifically male office holders. In describing the office of overseer/bishop, Paul uses the generic τις (tis), properly translated as “whoever” or “anyone.” Paul affirms that “whoever (τις, tis) aspires to the office of bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1-2, NRSV). The same word is used in Titus 1:6: “If anyone (τίς, tis) is blameless/irreproachable . . .” As Philip Payne asks, “Would Paul encourage women to desire an office, as these words do, if it were prohibited to them?”9

Unfortunately, by their introduction of male pronouns where there are none in the original Greek text, modern English translations give the misleading impression that Paul is claiming that church leaders must be male. The complementarian-leaning ESV translation introduces the male pronouns “he” or “his” ten times in 1 Tim. 3:1-7, while even the “inclusive language” translations of the NRSV and the revised NIV have eight and ten masculine pronouns respectively. In actuality, the Greek texts of 1 Tim. 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9 do not contain a single male pronoun.10

A more literal (but admittedly awkward) translation of 1 Timothy 3:1-6 would read as follows:

Trustworthy is the saying: Whoever [tis] aspires to [the office of] overseer/bishop desires a good work. It is necessary therefore that the overseer/bishop be without approach, a “one woman man” [literal translation], temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, apt at teaching, not an excessive drinker, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy; managing one’s own household well, having children in subjection with all gravity – but if someone [tis] does not know how to manage one’s own family, how would one care for God’s church? – not a recent convert, lest being puffed up, one become conceited and fall into the devil’s snare.

With the single exception of the three-word expression “one woman man” (to be discussed below), nothing in the passage would indicate that the person being discussed for the office of overseer/bishop would be either a man or a woman.

Also significant are the close parallels between the language that Paul uses to describe the qualifications for the office of overseer/bishop and the language he uses to describe women. The language is so close that it cannot be coincidental. There are numerous verbal or conceptual parallels between overseer requirements and passages regarding women. Almost half of these passages use nearly identical terminology; others use synonymous expressions, while others forbid identical characteristics.11 The following parallels are based on a chart created by Philip Payne12:

Overseer Description→Statements About Women→Pastoral Epistle Odds

1 Tim. 3:1 (καλοῦ ἔργου, kalou ergou “good work”)→ 5:10 (ἔργοις καλοῖς, ergois kalois “good works”)→8/14

3:2 (ἀνεπίλημπτον, anepilēmpton “irreproachable”)→ 5:7 (ἀνεπίλημπτοι, anepilēmptoi “irreproachable”)→3/14

3:2 (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, mias gunaikos andra “one woman man”)→ 5:9 (ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή, henos andros gunē “one man woman”)→4/14

3:2 (νηφάλιον, nēphalion “temperate”)→ 3:11 (νηφαλίους, nēphalious “temperate”)→3/14

3:2 (σώφρονα, sōphrona “sober”)→ 2:9, 15 (σωφροσύνης, sōphrosynēs “sobriety,” “propriety”)→6/14

3:2 (κόσμιον, kosmion “orderly”)→ 2:9 (κοσμίῳ, kosmiō “orderly”)→2/14

3:4 (σεμνότητος, semnotētos “gravity,” “respect”)→ 3:11 (σεμνάς, semnas “to be grave”)→6/14

3:6 (κρίμα, krima “judgment” to be avoided)→ 5:12 (κρίμα, krima “judgment” to be avoided)→2/14

3:7 (μαρτυρίαν καλὴν, marturian kalēn “good witness”)→ 5:10 (καλοῖς μαρτυρουμένη, kalois marturoumenē “witnessed” by “good” works) → 3/14

The repeated use of such identically-phrased language in reference to both the requirements for the office of overseer/bishop and in reference to women cannot be a coincidence. Payne calculates that the 36 lines of 1 Timothy explicitly about women (out of a total of 516 lines in the pastoral epistles) comes to approximately 1/14 of the pastoral epistles. The total number of times an expression appears in the pastoral epistles divided by 14 gives the odds of a random distribution in the pastoral epistles (the third column above). The probability of a random distribution of all these words and expressions occurring in the thirty-six lines of the pastoral epistles explicitly about women is the product of each of the separate odds for the appropriate columns, approximately six in one million.13 Regardless of the exact mathematical possibilities, the use of so much identical terminology both in the verses describing the requirements for the office of overseer/bishop and in the verses explicitly about women only makes sense if Paul deliberately described women using the identical vocabulary that he had used to describe overseers in 1 Timothy (as well as elders in Titus 1:6-9). Given that this is certainly the case, it cannot be that Paul understood the requirements for the office of overseer to exclude women – since they are the same requirements! Rather, Paul seems deliberately to use identical language to describe the moral qualifications of overseers/bishops and elders and the expectations for women in the church. As noted above, the requirements are moral qualifications, character descriptions, not job descriptions, and they are not gender-specific.

A “One Woman Man”

What then about the three-word expression μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, (mias gunaikos andra, literally “one woman man”) in verse two translated variously as “the husband of one wife” (KJV, ESV), “married only once” (NRSV), and “faithful to his wife” (NIV)? Does it mean (as Grudem claims) that office holders have to be male? There is disagreement about the meaning of the phrase “one woman man” and its female equivalent (1 Timothy 5:9). Both Grudem and Payne (who agree on almost nothing else) believe that it is an exclusion of polygamists (and likely adulterers).14 Witherington suggests that polygamy and polyrandry are probably unlikely, since these were rare practices in the Greco-Roman world. The emphasis is on the word “one,” not on “man” or “woman.”15 As noted above, the requirements of the office of overseer/bishop are primarily moral requirements: “[T]he strong sense in this passage is on being morally irreproachable. It is therefore far more likely that the phrase in question is dealing with behavior within marriage, which is, to say, being sexually faithful to one’s own wife, and so not engaging in any sort of extramarital infidelity.” A “one woman man,” indicates, then, someone who has been exclusively faithful to his wife. The close parallel to 5:9 (“one man woman”), which is nearly identical in language and form, indicates that both passages are dealing with the same issue – sexual fidelity in marriage.16

The passage does not imply that the person must necessarily be married and cannot be single. Nor do the following statements about managing one’s own household and one’s children imply that the overseer/bishop necessarily has children. Paul simply assumes as a matter of course that the person would be married with a family, as would have been normal in first-century Mediterranean culture.17 John Chrysostom’s Homily on 1 Tim 3:2 interprets the passage to mean not that there is a rule that the bishop must have a wife, but that he cannot have more than one.18 If the passage were to be pressed to imply a strict job description with minimum requirements, then the references to managing a household would mean that all bishops, presbyters, and deacons would need to be married home owners with at least two children old enough to be believers. If these were minimum requirements, then not even Paul, who was single and (since he exercised an itinerant ministry) did not own a home, would have qualified as an overseer or deacon.19

The phrase “one woman man” functions, then, as an exclusion (no adulterers), not as a minimum job requirement. Grudem recognizes correctly the exclusionary element when he acknowledges that the passage does not rule out single men as overseers,20 but he is inconsistent in then insisting that the passage implies that the overseer must necessarily be a male. Payne points out that if the requirement is morally exclusionary, it does not prohibit women any more than the requirement prohibits unmarried men or married men who do not own homes or have children:

Since “one woman man” is a set phrase that functions as an exclusion, any claim that a single word of it (“man”) also functions separately as a requirement must posit a double meaning. This is not warranted by the context. It is bad hermeneutics to isolate a single word (“man”) from a set phrase (“one woman man”) that functions as an exclusion (of polygamists and probably adulterous husbands) and to elevate that single word to the status of an independent requirement (that all overseers be men).21

The exclusion operates exactly in the same way that the parallel requirement in 1 Timothy 5:9 functions concerning widows, as a promotion of exclusive fidelity within marriage. Oddly, Grudem claims that the parallel in 5:9 concerning widows is “is not parallel, but precisely the opposite,” because “it assumes that the widow is a woman, and it assumes that the elder is a man!”22 To the contrary, a qualification for overseer that was “precisely the opposite” would read something like “a many man woman,” that is, an adulterer. Genesis 2:23 makes clear that woman is not the opposite of man, but like him as his “helper” or partner, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In both passages in 1 Timothy, the requirement is a moral restriction on both men and women that serves an identical function, the exclusion of adulterers and the promotion of fidelity in marriage.

Grudem makes a parallel argument based on Paul’s statement in verse 4 concerning household management: “. . . the New Testament sees a close relationship between male leadership in the home and male leadership in the church. Paul says that the candidate for the office of elder must manage his own household well.”23 The Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? makes a similar claim: “The bishop’s duty is, as described, to be the paterfamilias of God’s assembly . . . There is an obvious, although not explicit, logic here relating this monistic paternal episcopal ministry to the unity of the one oikos of the Father. One God, one bishop, one flock of the redeemed.”24 Both confuse Paul’s accommodation to the normal social setting of the Mediterranean household with an endorsement of that setting as having a permanently normative status. Witherington points out that it is not surprising that there is significant overlap in what Paul writes about the overseer/bishop with the desirable character traits of non-ecclesial office holders in the contemporary Mediterranean culture. What is surprising, however, and should be given heavier weight is the way that Paul modifies common norms, especially sexual norms, within a “christological and apostolic paradigm.” In contrast to the ancient Mediterranean “shame/honor” culture, which I have discussed at length in other essays, is the focus on servanthood. The overseer, elder, or deacon, is called to be humble and serve others, not to domineer over them.25

In defending his claim that the passage implies male leadership, Grudem argues that Paul never uses the word προΐστημι (proistēmi) (1 Tim. 3:5) to speak of women managing or governing a household, but only men.26 However, as Payne points out, Paul does use the even stronger word οἰκοδεσποτεῖν (oikodespotein, “to be house despots”) to describe younger widows in 1 Tim. 5:14, who are to marry and manage their homes. Moreover, no NT passage explicitly applies proistēmi to men either. In Rom. 12:8, the word is used in a list of gifts that could apply to either men or women, and Rom. 12:6-8 (like 1 Timothy 3:1-13) contains no specifically male pronouns. On the other hand, the only time the noun form is used in the NT, it describes a woman, Phoebe, who,

in Rom. 16:2, is called a προστάτις (prostatis), a “leader” or “patron.”27

Women Deacons?

In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Paul provides a list of the requirements for deacons, which are the same kinds of moral or character requirements as those for overseers/bishops. As are overseers, deacons are to be “grave/honorable/above reproach” (σεμνούς, semnous) (3:8; cf. 3:4), not heavy drinkers of wine, not greedy (cf. 3:3). Significantly, as with overseers/bishops, deacons are to be “one woman men” who manage their children and household well (3:12; cf. 3:2, 4). Important for this discussion is 1 Timothy 3:11, a short statement in the middle of the qualifications for deacons, which reads: “Similarly, women (γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως, gunaikas ōsautōs) [to be] grave/worthy of respect (σεμνάς, semnas), not slanderers (διαβόλους, diabolous), sober (νηφαλίους, nēphalious), faithful in all things (πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν, pistas en pasin)” (my translation). As in 3:8 (“Deacons, likewise . . .), the verse is introduced by the word “likewise” or “similarly” (ὡσαύτως, ōsautōs). This, along with the immediate context of the verse, indicates that the women discussed have some relationship to the office of deacon. Controversy concerns whether 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to female deacons or to deacons’ wives. Predictably, the complementarian-leaning ESV translates the passage: “Their wives likewise . . . ,” while the NRSV and the NIV play it safe with the literal “Women likewise . . .” and “In the same way, the women . . .” (In footnotes, the NRSV and the NIV both list “wives of deacons” and “women deacons” as possible translations.)

Context and vocabulary indicate “women deacons” as the preferable translation. Witherington points out that, grammatically, the sentence is dependent on 3:2 and the word “must” (δεῖ, dei). As 3:8 with its description of deacons is tied to 3:2 by the word “likewise,” so 3:11 is then tied to 3:8 by an additional appearance of the word “likewise.” The passage would, then, seem to be a continued discussion of church functionaries, women deacons, not wives of deacons. If it is deacons’ wives, it is difficult to imagine Paul not first having made similar comments about overseers’ wives.28

Payne provides additional grammatical and vocabulary indications that the passage must refer to women deacons. If Paul had intended to refer to “wives of deacons,” he would have added an expression such as “of deacons” or “their,” or “having wives” (cf. 3:4, “having children”). Because deacons had already been been referred to, there would have been no additional need to supply the word “deacons” when referring to women. The word “likewise/similarly” would have been sufficient as it exactly parallels “deacons, similarly” in verse 8. Each case of “similarly” indicates a church office provided by moral qualifications. Neither “deacons similarly” nor “women similarly” has a verb, but rather presuppose the continuation of “it is necessary for . . . to be” (δεῖ . . . εἶναι, dei . . . einai) from verse 2. The parallel verbal vocabulary and structure describing the qualifications for “deacons” and “women” also point to a description of office. Deacons (3:8) and women (deacons) (3:11) are required to be “worthy of respect” (σεμνούς, semnous; σεμνάς, semnas); “not double-tongued” (μὴ διλόγους, dilogous), “not slanderous: (μὴ διαβόλους, diabolous); “not addicted to much wine” (μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας, mē oinō pollō prosexontas), “sober” (νηφαλίους, nēphalious); not “fond of dishonest gain” (αἰσχροκερδεῖς, aisxrokerdeis), “faithful in all things” (πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν, pistas en pasin).29

Finally, as pointed out in the previous essay, it is helpful to examine patristic interpretations of a passage, since the church fathers were native speakers of ancient Greek. As with the case of Phoebe being a deacon and Junia an apostle, so most patristic commentators interpret the passage to be referring to women deacons.30

Given then, that verse 11 almost certainly refers to female deacons, this would also cast light on the expression “one woman man,” which appears again in v. 12, describing deacons. If “one woman man” and “managing one’s household” as character qualifications for deacons in verse 12 does not exclude the female deacons described in verse 11, then the identical vocabulary used to describe overseers/bishops in 3:2, 4 and elders in Titus 1:6 cannot exclude female overseers or elders. (We would also know from Rom. 16:1 that the “one woman man” qualification would not exclude female deacons since Phoebe is described as a διάκονος, diakonos of the church of Cenchrae.)31

Some, however (particularly complementarians), will appeal to Paul’s prohibition of women teaching or holding authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12. Would this not exclude women from exercising the office of overseer/bishop or elder/presbyter? I have already examined this passage at length, and I refer readers to that essay.32 Paul’s use of the present tense verb form οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω (ouk epitrepō) (“I am not permitting”) indicates that the exclusion is temporary, and is addressing a particular local situation involving false teachers. Paul’s prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12 might have something to do with Paul’s not explicitly mentioning women overseers in 1 Tim. 3 in the same way that he had mentioned women deacons, but it would not be a permanent prohibition. If there is a tension in interpretation between 1 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Tim. 3, then 1 Tim. 2:12 should be interpreted in the light of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1:6 rather than the reverse. A controverted interpretation of a single verse in 1 Tim. 2:12 should not override the normal meaning of τις (tis) (“everyone,” “any one”) in both 1 Tim. 3:1 and Titus 1:6. Moreover, if 1 Tim. 2:12 overrides the normal meaning of “anyone” to imply a permanent exclusion of women from office in the church, then the silencing of members of the circumcision party in Titus 1:10-11 would imply a similar permanent exclusion.33

Finally, returning to a criticism raised in an earlier essay concerning the problem of “women priestesses,”34 an objection sometimes raised by “Catholic” opponents of women’s ordination is that an ordained woman would be a “priestess,” and the Christian church does not have “priestesses,” but “priests.” However, as should be evident from this essay, Paul does not use the language of “priest” (ἱερεύς, hiereus) to refer to church office, but overseer/bishop (episkopos), elder/presbyter (presbyteros), and deacon (diakonos). The historical origins of the English word “priest” are as a translation of presbyteros, the ordinary Greek word for “elder.” Paul does indeed use this word in reference to women in the pastoral epistles. In 1 Timothy 5:1, he writes “Do not rebuke an elder/older man (Πρεσβυτέρῳ, presbyterō), but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, and female elders/older women (πρεσβυτέρας, presbyteras) as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with all purity.” Within this context, Paul is probably not referring to church office, but simply using the ordinary Greek word that would have described older men and older women. However, the point is that the issue of the ordination of women to church office has nothing to do with women “priestesses.” An ordained woman would be a female overseer/bishop, a female elder/presbyter (presbytera), or a female deacon.

Hermeneutics and the Regulative Principle

Finally, I turn to the issue of hermeneutics: What are the contemporary hermeneutical implications of what the New Testament says about women in office? In an earlier essay, I addressed the issue of hermeneutics, and distinguished it from exegesis.35 In that essay, I followed some distinctions introduced by Anglican Divine Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity over against Puritan objections to Anglican ecclesiology and liturgical practices. Specifically, the Puritans advocated a “regulative” principle of Biblical interpretation. Whatever was not specifically commanded in Scripture was prohibited. (Thus the Puritans rejected written liturgies, written prayers, lectionaries, liturgical calenders, vestments, hymn-singing that was not based on the Psalms, the exchange of wedding rings.) In contrast, Hooker embraced a permissive hermeneutic for the application of Scripture to contemporary practice. Whatever was not specifically forbidden by Scripture was allowed. Hooker also made helpful distinctions between natural law, revealed law, and positive law. Not all “positive laws” recorded in Scripture have permanent validity for all time and places. Particular positive laws in Scripture might have temporary application if their goal or purpose has been fulfilled; for example, the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have been fulfilled by the atoning work of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the goal or purpose of a positive law must be discerned in assessing how that goal might be fulfilled in a different setting or time than its original setting in Scripture. The church has the freedom to formulate its own positive law that might differ in its specifics from the positive law contained in Scripture if the church law fulfills the same goal.36 Finally, Hooker made an extremely important observation concerning merely historical statements in Scripture which cannot simply be presumed to provide permanent warrant for later Christian practice: “When that which the word of God doth but deliver historically, we counter without any warrant as if it were legally meant, and so urge it further than we can prove it was intended, do we not add to the laws of God, and make them in number seem more than they are?”37

How then might Hooker’s hermeneutical principles be applied in light of what the New Testament says about church office, and particularly about what Paul wrote in the pastoral epistles? There is a serious danger, I think, in a hermeneutical misapplication of historical precedent in Scripture. Both Evangelical complementarian and “Catholic” objections to women’s ordination seem to presume that the first-century church’s historical practice concerning what is assumed to be exclusively male exercise of church office provides a permanent warrant for later church practice.

I have argued in my previous essay that there is good historical warrant for the exercise of church office by women in the NT church, and, in this essay, that nothing of what Paul writes about the requirements for the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, or deacon would exclude women from those offices. Even if I am mistaken, however, if there were no evidence of women holding office in the NT church, and if Paul’s requirements for office as described in the pastoral epistles indicates that the offices of overseer/bishop, elder/presbyter, and deacon were held only by men, this in itself would not provide a necessary warrant for male-only leadership in later church practice.

The hermeneutical danger here is that against which Hooker warned, of confusing a merely historical practice with a warrant, of confusing the descriptive with the prescriptive. In the pastoral epistles, Paul was writing in and addressing the social setting of first-century Mediterranean culture. House churches were patterned along the lines of the Mediterranean household, and Paul would have assumed that the householder would be male, have children, and manage his household – although there would have been exceptions, such as Paul himself or “co-workers” of Paul, such as Priscilla and Aquila. At the same time, the requirements that Paul lists for the office of overseer, elder and deacon are moral; he provides no prescriptive job descriptions. Paul’s concern is that the overseer/elder be a good moral example both to the church and to the surrounding pagan culture, can manage the church well as he manages his own household, and is above reproach or scandal. However, nothing that Paul writes would exclude a woman from fulfilling the same functions. Indeed, that Paul refers to “anyone” (tis) when describing those eligible for these offices, uses no specifically male pronouns, and deliberately uses identical moral language to describe what he expects of women in his churches (including women deacons) that he demands of office-holders makes clear that there are no distinctive gender requirements for holding church office. There is nothing in what Paul writes in the pastoral epistles concerning the requirements for church office that would provide a theological warrant for excluding women from ordination, and, as Richard Hooker argued that the church in his own day had the freedom to use written liturgies, written prayers, lectionaries, liturgical calenders, vestments, hymn-singing that was not based on the Psalms, and exchange wedding rings (even though none of these were specifically commanded in Scripture), so the church in our own day, facing a vastly different cultural situation from the household culture of the first-century Mediterranean world, should be willing and indeed eager to ordain as office holders those women who meet the kinds of moral character requirements for office on which Paul insisted in his own day, and in whose lives the church discerns evidence of divine vocation to church ministry.

1 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office),” http://willgwitt.org/theology/womens-ordination-office.

2 Jonathan Baker, ed. Consecrated Women? A Contribution to the Bishops Debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004), 61.

3 I address this passage in my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-speaking-and-teaching. Needless to say, this passage says nothing about “female presidency of the Eucharist” because it says nothing about the Eucharist.

4 Consecrated Women?, 61, n.

5 Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multonomah Publishers, 2004), 80. Although Grudem refers to “elders” (presbyters), the text reads episkopos, that is “overseer” or “bishop.”

6 For a recent argument that they were distinct offices, see Alistair C. Stewart, The Original Bishops: Office in the First Christian Communities (Baker Academic, 2014).

7 Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 109, 243.

8 Witherington, 237, 241-242.

9 Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 448.

10 Payne, 445-448.

11 Payne, 449.

12 Payne, 450.

13 Payne, 450-451.

14 Grudem, 80; Payne, 445-446.

15 Witherington, Letters, 109.

16 Payne, 451 note.

17 Witherington, Letters, 110, 237.

18 “ This he does not lay down as a rule, as if he must not be without one, but as prohibiting his having more than one.” John Chrysostom, “Homily X, 1 Tim.3:1-4,” Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed.(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994); http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf113.v.iii.xi.html.

19 Payne, 446.

20 Grudem, 80.

21 Payne, 447; “If Grudem is permitted to dismemeber ‘one woman man’ and arbitrarily designate one word of it out of context as a new requirement, what is to keep one from isolating ‘one’s own house’ from ‘ruling one’s own house well’ (3:4-5) and designate home ownership as a new requirement for home owners?” Payne, 447

22 Grudem, 256.

23 Grudem, 80

24 Consecrated Women?, 166

25 Witherington, 114-115, 236.

26 Grudem, 263, n. 107

27 Payne, 452-453; See my previous essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)”; http://willgwitt.org/theology/womens-ordination-office.

28 Witherington, 241.

29 Payne, 454-459

30 So, for example, John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Timothy 3:8-10: “Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses.” “Homily 11, 1 Timothy 3:8-10,” A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 13, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Philipp Schaff, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994); http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf113.v.iii.xii.html. However, there was no distinction between the office of “deacon” and “deaconess” in the New Testament period. Paul would have been referring to women deacons.

31 Payne, 448.

32 See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching”; http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-speaking-and-teaching.

33 Payne, 453.

34 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 1: Old Testament Priesthood)”; http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-a-presbytera-is-not-a-priestess-part-1.

35 “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-hierarchy-and-hermeneutics.

36 Significantly, Hooker considers Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning widows (1 Tim. 5:9) as precisely such an alterable measure in Scripture; Sykes, 93.

37 Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 2 vols. (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1907), Book III. v. 1; cited in Stephen Sykes, “Richard Hooker and the Ordination of Women,” Unashamed Anglicanism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 88.

Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)

Jesus and the Canaanite WomanIn previous essays in this series, I have addressed theological objections to the ordination of women, both Protestant and Catholic. In the next few essays, I will discuss the actual ministry of women in the New Testament, that is: What actual ministerial roles did women exercise during the New Testament period, and what might be the implications for current ecclesial practice? I will address three issues: (1) Did women exercise ministerial office in the New Testament period? (2) How does the New Testament address the question of female bishops or presbyters? (3) What are the contemporary hermeneutical implications of what the New Testament says about women in office? That is, what should be the church’s current practice in light of New Testament material concerning women in office? (Previous essays have already discussed the status of women in the Old Testament, women in the ministry of Jesus, women and Old Testament priesthood, and the theological implications of Jesus having called only male apostles.) In this essay, I will address the first question: Did women exercise ministerial office in the New Testament period?

New Testament Office

Roman Catholic theologian Francis Martin brings a helpful contribution to the discussion of the ministry of women in the New Testament by distinguishing between (1) charisms of service, (2) ministry, and (3) office. A charism of service is a particular endowment, given by the Holy Spirit, that enables a member of the Christian community to contribute to the life of that community. Examples of charisms of service would be prophecy, teaching, words of wisdom or knowledge, speaking, interpretation of tongues, helping others (1 Cor. 12:4-11,28, 14; 1 Peter 4:11). Ministry refers to divinely enabled activities that build up the Christian community and have a more permanent basis. More permanent ministerial gifts would include leadership, some forms of diaconal service, or itinerant preaching (Rom. 12:7-8; 1 Cor. 12:28). Office refers to a stable ministry which secures the permanence of apostolic teaching by providing for a continuing existence over space and time. Office works within the corporeal and historical nature of the church, and must be transmitted through some form of human activity (laying on of hands?). Office is particularly bound up with “remembering” the apostolic message, particularly the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The ministerial gifts that enable a person to exercise office include presiding over the faithful transmission of the gospel through word and sacrament in worship. Office is particularly associated with the ministry of presbyters and bishops.1

This is precisely the distinction that needs to be made to address the issue of women’s ministry and the ordination of women in the church. No one denies (not even Protestant complementarians) that women exercised what Martin calls “charisms of service” in the New Testament church and, presumably, may do so today as well. No one denies that women exercised some forms of more permanent ministry in the New Testament church, and may do so today – what we might today designate as “lay ministries” – although Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacramentalists disagree about what kind of permanent ministries might be allowed to women today. For Protestant complementarians, any permanent ministry involving the exercise of authority over or teaching of men would be excluded to women. For Catholic sacramentalists, women are allowed to exercise permanent ministries involving teaching and even the exercise of authority provided that they do not preside over the church’s celebration of the sacraments. For both Protestant complementarians and Catholic sacramentalists, the prohibition lies in the exercise of office; they disagree in their understanding of ordination to office to involve different tasks – whether authority and teaching or celebration of the sacraments.

Given the clear distinction between charisms of service and more permanent ongoing ministries, the crucial difference for the current discussion concerns that between more permanent ministries and “office.” Given that some women in the New Testament period exercised more permanent forms of ministry, were any of these positions of office? The question is not as straightforward as it might appear for the following reasons:

First, during the New Testament period, the distinction between charism, ministry, and office, is not always clear. Martin writes: “There was a period when the charisms, ministries and offices . . . were not differentiated, though they clearly existed and achieved differentiation and identifiability as the church grew.”2 Prophecy, for example, can be a charism of service, since Paul encourages all to “prophecy” (1 Cor. 15:5-19); when the church comes together, each is to have a “teaching” or “revelation” (1 Cor. 14:26). In distinction, other examples of prophecy seem to imply a kind of ongoing ministry (1 Cor. 14:32, 37; Rom. 12:8; Acts 11:27-28; 15:27-33; 21:9). Finally, “prophet” can also refer to someone who holds an office, that is, exercises some kind of supervisory role in the community (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). Similarly, “teaching” may refer to a transient charismatic gift (1 Cor. 12:8, 14:26), but it also can refer to a more stable permanent ministry (Rom. 12:7; Col. 3:16). In most cases, however, teaching refers to an authoritative function of the transmission of the gospel, an “office.” In the book of Acts, “teaching” is the task of apostles (Acts 2:42; 4:2, 18; 5:21, 25, 28; 5:42; 13:1, 15:35; 18:11; 20:20; 21:21, 28; 28:31). In the pastoral epistles, the term applies to Paul as an apostle (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim.1:11). In Ephesians 4:11, “teacher” is listed as an office alongside apostle, prophet, evangelist, and shepherd. In a given case, then, it may not be clear whether the description of a particular task or title refers to a charism, a permanent ministry, or an “office.”

How then to distinguish between ministry and office? Martin acknowledges: “It is obvious that we are not going to find the reality of office existing in a clearly distinct form in the New Testament” – first, because of “fluidity of language” (the same term can be used in more than one way), and second, because many of the charisms and ministries of the New Testament church were later absorbed by office.3 Martin suggests two indications of the development of office in the New Testament. First is the assurance with which some New Testament figures teach or exercise authority. The apostle Paul would be a prime example. Second would be the exercise of leadership roles. In Acts, Luke refers to “elders” (presbyters) and “overseers” (bishops). Paul’s letters refer to “elders,” and “overseers” as well as “deacons.” In 1 Thess. 5:12, Paul refers to those who “labor among you” and are “over you in the Lord.” The book of Hebrews refers to “leaders” who preach the word and “keep watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:7, 17). At the same time, Martin acknowledges that New Testament terminology for office – apostle, overseer, leader, deacon, prophet, teacher, care-taker, laborer – is fluid and unfixed.4

Second, the New Testament simply does not address some of the characteristics essential to Martin’s definition of office. The New Testament says nothing about who presided at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist in the first century church or how the eucharistic service was structured. Concern for faithful historical transmission of the gospel through a formal activity of the church – in the specific manner of second century and historic Catholic discussions of apostolic succession – is not addressed in the New Testament because, when the New Testament documents were written, the apostles were still alive.

Finally, except for individuals identified specifically as apostles (either the original twelve, Paul, James the brother of Jesus) or the rare exceptions such as Timothy and Titus, who are assigned specific pastoral responsibilities (1 Tim. 1:3, 4:11-16, 5:1-25, 6:2,17-20; 2 Tim. 1:6, 14. 2:2, 14ff., 4:1-4; Titus 1:5-9, 2:1-10,15, 3:1-2:10), the New Testament does not unequivocally identify specific individuals as exercising the task of what Martin calls “office.” For example, opponents of women’s ordination sometimes object that the New Testament nowhere identifies any woman by name as a bishop/overseer or presbyter/elder. However, apart from a single reference in 1 Peter 2:25 to Christ as the “bishop/overseer” of your souls, the New Testament nowhere identifies any man by name with these titles either. Rather the terms are generally applied to groups, and never to specifically named individuals: presbyters/elders (Acts 11:30, 14:23, 15:2,4,6,22,23, 21:18; 1 Tim. 4:14, 5:17,19; Tit. 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1,5; 2 John 1:1, 3 John 1:2), bishops/overseers (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:1,2; Tit. 1:7).5

These ambiguities are precisely the problem with Martin’s concluding statement concerning the exercise of office by women in the New Testament: “The fact that even at the earliest level, when women were rightfully prominent and influential because of their gifts and services, there is no clear evidence that a woman was ever an office holder, is not an accident of the data, nor a patriarchal reading of it.”6 Given the acknowledged fluidity and ambiguity of the language applied to ministry and office in the New Testament, and, given that, with the exceptions of the apostles as well as Timothy and Titus – to whom roles of “office” are specifically assigned – there is “no clear evidence” that specific men were named as office holders either, the strong conclusion that Martin draws from the evidence concerning women holding office is not warranted.

Women Office Holders in the New Testament

Given the above ambiguities, any case that there were women office holders in the New Testament would have to be implied. Nonetheless, a careful examination of the evidence indicates that a strong case can be made that Paul’s letter to the Romans mentions three women who not only exercised what Martin calls permanent ministries, but also exercised ministries of church office.

Light can be shed on what Paul says about women in ministry by first looking at what he writes about ministry in general. Although Paul is clear that all members of the church have been given gifts of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), Paul also acknowledges authority figures in the congregation. In Galatians 6:6, he speaks of local teachers. In 1 Cor. 12:28, he seems to indicate a hierarchical order: (1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) teachers, (4) miracles workers and other charismatic gifts. Ben Witherington points to the following specific ministries in Paul’s writings: leader, administrator, or overseer (ἐπίσκοπος) (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Phil. 1:1); diakonos(διάκονος)(Phil. 1:1); fellow-worker (synergos, συνεργός). The leadership pattern in Paul’s churches is that of (1) apostles; (2) Paul’s “fellow-workers” – traveling companions who had authority over and were involved in several congregations; (3) local leaders. Those with greater financial resources could provide meeting places, patronage, protection, and lodging, which could lead to a kind of church leadership. At the same time, Paul’s approach to leadership was neither based on traditional social distinctions, nor, on the other hand, was it merely pragmatic or democratic. Paul’s primary criteria for leadership was that of service in building up the body of Christ. In this way, although Paul did not abolish social distinctions, he used them for the benefit of the church, and thus turned normal social categories upside down.7 (We have already seen this principle in discussions in previous essays concerning “Christological subversion,” “cruciformity,” and “mutual submission”).

In Romans 16, Paul concludes his letter with a series of greetings that reads something like a letter of recommendation. This would not have been unusual, since there were no methods of modern communication in the ancient world, and letters of recommendation were vital. People would often send letters along with travelers they knew, and in this case, Paul recommends Phoebe, who was likely the carrier of his letter, whom Paul commends to the church in Rome (Rom. 16:1).8 Paul names twenty-six people in the letter, the majority of whom seem to be Jewish Christians in Rome. The letter is addressed to the Gentile majority, however, whom Paul is encouraging to welcome these Jewish Christians and include them in fellowship. Paul does not directly greet his friends, co-workers and relatives whom he mentions in the list. Rather, by asking his Gentile audience to do it for him, Paul is likely hoping to effect some kind of reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome.9

One of the most interesting characteristics of the list is the large number of women Paul mentions. Out of twenty-six persons mentioned, ten (including Phoebe, the letter-carrier), are women. In the list, Paul describes women as “deacons,” “patrons” or “leaders,” “apostles,” “co-workers,” “hard workers.” As James Dunn notes, “So far as this list is concerned, Paul attributes leading roles to more women than men in the churches addressed.”10

A Woman Deacon

Paul opens his series of greetings by introducing Phoebe, his letter carrier, to the church at Rome. The following is my own extremely literal translation: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon (οὖσαν διάκονον, ousan diakonon) of the church in Cenchrea, so that you may receive her in the Lord worthily of the saints, and may stand by her in whatever thing she may need, for indeed, she has been a patron/leader (προστάτις, prostatis) of many and of myself.” (Romans 16:1).

English translations from the mid-twentieth century are misleading.11 Translation of the key words diakonos and prostatis is more revealing of translator assumptions about women’s roles than illuminating of the passage’s meaning. The original NIV translates the passage to describe Phoebe as a “servant,” and requests Paul’s readers “to give her any help . . . for she has been a great help to many people . . .” The older RSV identifies Phoebe as a “deaconess,” but also translates prostatis as “helper.” The more recent ESV translates diakonos as “servant,” but includes “deaconess” in a footnote. ESV more correctly translates prostatis as “patron.” The more recent revised NIV and the NRSV recognize Phoebe as a “deacon,” but translate prostatis as “benefactor,” which is softer than “patron.”

It is correct that diakonos can be translated as “servant.”12 In Romans 13:4, the civil ruler is described as the “servant” (diakonos) of God. In the story of the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus tells the “servants” (diakonoi) to fill the jars with water – which becomes wine (John 2:5,7, 9). In Romans 15:8, Christ is described as a diakonos (servant or minister) to the Jewish people. Whether diakonos should be translated “servant” or as referring to a church office depends on context and exegesis. This is an exact parallel with the Greek word presbyteros (πρεσβύτερος), which is translated variously. In the book of Acts, presbyteroi sometimes refers to Jewish leaders (Acts 4:5, 8, 23: 6:12), in which case it is translated “elders,” and sometimes refers to church office (11:30, 14:23; 15:2,4,6,23, etc.), and, while often translated “elders,” could also be transliterated as “presbyters.” In the pastoral epistles, presbyteros generally refers to those holding church office (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:17,19; Titus 1:5), but can also refer literally to older men (1 Tim. 5:1), and even (with a feminine ending) to older women (1 Tim. 5:2).

There are several reasons why diakonos should be translated as “deacon” rather than “servant” in Romans 16:1, and should be understood as referring to an office. The noun diakonos is masculine in gender (not the expected feminine), and if Paul had meant “servant,” he would likely have used a verbal form such as “one who serves” (διακονέω, diakoneo) (Romans 15:25) or the general term “ministry” (διακονία, diakonia) (1 Cor. 16:15). The participle ousan (οὖσαν διάκονον, ousan diakonon, “being a deacon”) would seem to refer to an ongoing ministry. This, combined with the qualifier, “of the church in Cenchrae,” points to a recognized office in the church. The appropriate context for understanding the term should then be the parallels of Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8,12. Phoebe should not be called a “deaconness” because the gender of the noun is masculine, and “deaconess” was an office of women church workers that did not exist for another three hundred years.13 Accordingly, as Dunn notes, “Phoebe is the first recorded ‘deacon’ in the history of Christianity.”14 (Romans 16:1 and possibly 1 Timothy 3:1 are the only two places women are given the title διάκονος in the NT.15) N.T. Wright points out that attempts to make the term mean anything else than “deacon” fail. To translate the word as “servant,” merely pushes the problem back a further stage, “since that would either mean that Phoebe was a paid employee of the church (to do what?) or that there was an order of ministry, otherwise, unknown, called ‘servants.’”16 As Craig Keener, points out, “Most readers would probably assume that meaning [deacon] here if this passage did not refer to a woman and if it were translated the way it normally is in the New Testament.”17

At the same time that Paul’s greetings in Romans indicate that Phoebe was a deacon, the New Testament says little about what the office of deacon entailed. Many Christian churches understand the office of deacon in terms of the seven overseers of tables described in Acts 6; however, the title of diakonos is not applied to them, even though the work of both the apostles and the seven is described in terms of service or ministry (διακονία, diakonia) (Acts 6:1,2,4).18 Keener notes that the term generally means a “minister of the word.” Paul applies the term to himself as an apostle of the gospel (1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25), and also uses it for colleagues in the gospel (Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7; 1 Thess. 3:2; 1 Tim. 4:6).19 Dunn suggests that it “points more to a recognized ministry . . . or position of responsibility within the congregation,” and that the office was “likely a ministry of hospitality.” 20

The second key word used to describe Phoebe is προστάτις (prostatis). Against translations of the word as “helper,” Dunn insists that the word should be given its “full weight,” and that it means “patron,” “protector,” or, alternatively, “leader” or “ruler.” The masculine equivalent of prostatis is well known as the role of a wealthy or influential individual as patron. The Latin equivalent is patronis. There is a Jewish synogogue inscription from Aphrodisias in the third century of a woman προστάτις of a synagogue.21

Other New Testament scholars suggest a meaning of “patron” or “sponsor.”22 In his earlier book, Witherington suggested that Phoebe was in charge of the charitable work of the church. The term likely means “helper” or “protector,” referring to personal care or hospitality that Phoebe had provided to Paul and others.23 In his commentary on Romans, Witherington suggests that prostatis refers to a person in charge of some kind of charitable work, which is consistent with being called a deacon. It may also mean helper, protector, a “perhaps even patroness.” Given that Paul had rejected patronage in Corinth, choosing to support himself by tent-making, his acceptance of it from Phoebe shows that he has great respect for and trust in her.24 Wright points out that the word “benefactor” means much more than the older NIV translation of “she has been of great help”: “[B]enefactors and patrons were a vital part of the culture, and this makes Phoebe someone to be reckoned with socially and financially as well as simply a sister in the Lord and a leader – of whatever sort – in her local church.”25

Philip Payne focuses rather on the notion that prostatis should be understood as “leader,” “chief,” or “executive office”: “Every meaning of every word in the NT related to the word Paul has chosen to describe Phoebe as a “leader” (προστάτις) that could apply to Rom. 16:2 refers to leadership.” (cf. Rom. 12:8). Payne argues that the linguistic evidence strongly favors the normal meaning of the term prostatis as “leader.” “Since her leadership was in the church it would entail spiritual oversight.” Given what Paul teaches about mutual submission, it should not be surprising that Paul includes himself under Phoebe’s leadership.26

Thus, Paul’s readers would have regarded Phoebe as a woman of significance who had used her wealth and influence not only as a leader of the church in Cenchrae, but as Paul’s patron and benefactor. Dunn suggests that the terms diakonis and prostatis may be linked. Phoebe was a “deacon” of the church because of her well-known patronage of foreign visitors, resident Jews and visiting Christians. Paul recognized himself as the beneficiary of both Phoebe’s patronage and his protection. Phoebe was a woman of “some stature,” a patron or protector of many, including Paul. She was a deacon and must have used her property and influence in the service of Christians in Cenchrae. She was traveling to Rome on business, and Paul took the opportunity of her travel to write the letter, and send it along with the commendation attached.27

A Woman Co-Worker and Teacher

The first people Paul asks to be greeted in Romans 16 are Prisca and Aquila: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers (συνεργούς μου, synergous mou) in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles, give thanks.” (Rom. 16:3-4, my translation). Both Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila and Andronicus and Junia (mentioned later) seem to have beeen husband and wife “ministry teams.” There were places in the Greco-Roman world where only men or women could go, and a couple who ministered together could go places where one or the other could not go alone.28 From 1 Cor. 16:19 and Acts 18, it appears that they were some of Paul’s closest co-workers, and “two of the most important people in Paul’s missionary enterprise.”29 They seem to have been involved in a variety of activities, including providing hospitality for Paul, church planting, teaching and preaching. They were involved in a variety of churches, including Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. According to Acts 18:2, they came to Corinth after the Jews were expelled from Rome. Paul lived with them in Corinth, and they worked together because they shared the same trade of tent-making (Acts 18:3). They traveled with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19). and stayed there for some time (1 Cor. 16:19). When Paul wrote his letter, they were now back in Rome. 2 Timothy 4:19 later places them again in Ephesus.30 They were likely well-to-do business people who could travel extensively. That they risked their necks for Paul may imply that they attempted to use their social status to protect him. That “all the churches of the Gentiles” are grateful suggests sponsorship, missionary leadership, or teaching.31 They seem to have regularly used their home as a meeting place for believers. Verse 5 refers to an assembly of Christians who meet in the home of Priscilla and Aquila. It would seem that Christian meetings were held in homes where the household owner or owners were Christians. Paul mentions other house churches in 1 Cor. 16:19 (Priscilla and Aquila again), Col. 4:15, and Philem 2.32

Paul always refers to Priscilla as “Prisca.” Luke adds the diminutive “Priscilla.”33 Four of the six times, her name comes first, which is “highly unusual in a patriarchal culture.” That she is mentioned first may be explained either because she was of higher social status, or because she was more prominent in the church. Linda Belleville points out that when reference to their occupation as tent-makers or to “their house” is mentioned, Aquila’s name comes first, but when ministry is mentioned (including the teaching of Apollos), Priscilla’s name is first. This would suggest that Priscilla had the dominant ministry and leadership skills.34

Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila as “my co-workers” or “fellow-workers” (synergous mou). Paul’s most frequent term to describe those who helped him in ministry is synergos (συνεργός ), which he uses more frequently than terms such as apostle, brother, or servant. Paul uses it twelve of the thirteen times it occurs in the NT (cf. 3 John 8), and it is never used simply to refer to ordinary Christians (Rom. 16:3, 9, 21; 1 Cor. 3:9, 16:16; 2 Cor. 1:24, 8:23; Phil. 2:25; 4:3;1 Thess. 3:2; Philem. 24). A “co-worker” is an associate of Paul who works together with him as commissioned by God in the shared work of mission preaching. In 1 Cor. 16:16, 18, the Corinthians are asked to submit themselves to all who are synergounti and kopionti (those who are “fellow-workers” and “laborers”), so the term implies a leadership position.35 In Phil. 4:2-3, Paul describes two women (Euodias and Synteches) as “fellow-workers” who “struggled together with me in the gospel.” They are ranked alongside Clement (a man), and alongside Paul’s other “fellow-worker.” They are not simply devout women, then, but fellow ministers of the gospel. Witherington notes, “Paul certainly shows no qualms about having women as co-workers in a wide variety of roles.”36

In addition to being designated as “co-workers,” Priscilla and Aquila were teachers. Acts 18:1-3, 24-26 speaks of Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos. By mentioning her first, Luke implies that Priscilla is the primary instructor. “More accurately” means that Priscilla went beyond basic Christian teaching. Apollos already had a basic knowledge of Christian faith, and was “well versed” in Scripture. That the act took place in private is “probably not very significant . . . since there is no indication that Luke was trying to avoid having Priscilla teach Apollos in a worship context.”37 That Priscilla was present in Ephesus at the time the pastoral epistles were written (2 Tim. 4:19) is significant in light of the complementarian appeal to the prohibition of women teaching men in 1 Timothy 2:12. The passage cannot mean a permanent prohibition of women teaching men because Priscilla taught Apollos.38

A Woman Apostle

Certainly the most controversial among Paul’s greetings in Romans 16 is verse 7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia (’Ιουνίαν, Iounian), my relatives (τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου, tous suggeneis mou) and fellow-prisoners, who are well-known among the apostles (οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, oitines eisin episēmoi ēn tois apostolois), and who were in Christ before me.” (Rom. 16:7, my translation). Similar to Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia appear to be another husband-wife ministry team. Despite their non-Jewish names, they were certainly Jewish and perhaps even close relatives of Paul, since Paul identifies them as “relatives” (τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου, tous suggeneis mou = “my relatives,” “kinsfolk”). They had been in prison with Paul, and, since they were “in Christ” before Paul, they were Christians from an early date. They are a man and a woman, either husband and wife, or possibly brother and sister. Described by Paul as “apostles,” they would have been witnesses to the resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1), who had a calling or commission to preach the gospel.39

The earliest patristic texts and translations of the Greek presuppose that the passage should be translated as I have done so here. That is, Junia is identified as a woman who is also a well-known apostle. Despite demeaning comments he had made elsewhere concerning women,40 John Chrysostom spoke highly of Junia: “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles . . . Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”41 Commentators from the patristic era onward took Paul to mean that Andronicus and Junia were apostles. The Greek fathers were unanimous in understanding Junia to be a female apostle.42 The Latin fathers, as well as Latin translations, were also unanimous in recognizing that Junia was a woman who was notable among the apostles.43 Thus the Latin Vulgate reads: “Salutate Andronicum et Iuniam . . . qui sunt nobiles in apostolis.” Early English translations, such as the King James Version, also follow this pattern: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”

Two exceptions have been claimed to this universal patristic consensus. Origen, in Rufinus’s Latin translation of his commentary on Romans, refers to Junias (not Junia), as does Epiphanius (315-403).44 In both cases, however, the claim is problematic. The passage in Origen occurs in Rufinus’s later Latin translation (not Origen’s original Greek text, which no longer exists), and recent critical editions indicate a transcriptional error. “Junias” is a variant in two of three twelfth-century manuscripts, but earlier manuscripts have “Junia.” Eldon Jay Epp concludes: “In any event, this alleged exception can be dismissed as carrying little if any weight, and we can be confident that Origen read Rom 16:7 as ‘Junia. . . . [T]here can be no doubt that feminine forms were used by Origen in these passages.’”45

The reference in Epiphanius is also irrelevant. Epiphanius wrote that Junias was a man and a bishop, but that the unquestionably female Prisca was a male bishop as well! Moreover, it is unlikely that Epiphanius was actually the author of the cited text. The work was not ascribed to Epiphanius until the ninth century, and in only one existing thirteenth-century manuscript (out of nine). The others do not ascribe it to Epiphanius.46

Despite the unanimous consensus during the first millennium of Christianity, the patristic reading passed by the wayside. Two key questions were fundamental in the shift: First, is apostleship restricted by sexual identity? Second, are the two individuals well-known apostles, or merely known to the apostles? The key assumption behind the challenge lies in the assumption that a woman cannot be an apostle. Epp points to an interesting pattern. If the two individuals are identified as apostles, then Iounian becomes a man. However, if Junia is instead identified as a woman, then (because a woman could not be an apostle),the ending phrase is translated “well known to the apostles”: “[I]t is interesting to observe that, over time, the male ‘Junias’ and the female ‘Junia’ each has his or her alternating ‘dance partners’ . . .”47

The pattern appears in some recent discussions of the passage. Roman Catholic theologian Manfred Hauke acknowledged that Andronicus and Junia are “numbered among the ‘apostles’ here.” He was quick to point out, however, that the accusative Iounian can derive as well from the masculine Iounianos (Junianus) as from the female Iounia (Junia). However, women cannot be apostles: “The strict ‘bans on teaching’ in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 would not be easy to understand given the supposed existence of a female missionary preacher.”48 And so, Hauke concludes: “An ‘apostle Junia’ thus seems to fall into the category of modern myth . . .”49

Similarly, Evangelical complementarian Wayne Grudem claims that, in Greek, “this name could be either masculine or feminine,” and he appeals to modern translations that identify it as masculine. Grudem eventually acknowledges that the name is probably feminine, but concludes that any reading that Junia is a female apostle “carries little weight against the clear teaching of exclusive male eldership and male apostleship in the rest of the New Testament.”50 The Anglican Forward in Faith document Consecrated Women? claims that “we cannot be sure” whether Junia was a man or a woman because “Iounian could be the accusative of the masculine noun or it could be that of the feminine Iounia.” However, they also embrace the predicted pattern: “[T]hose who claim Junia as the first woman apostle stand on shaky ground. The disputed interpretation of one verse in one letter of St Paul can hardly call into question the clear witness of the Pauline corpus taken in its entirety.”51 The pattern is clear; if Junia is an apostle, then Junia must be Junias; if Junia is Junia, and not Junias, then she cannot be an apostle.

Given the unanimous patristic consensus, how did the female Junia become the male Junias? It was only in the Medieval period that scribes first introduced the form Junias – based on the conviction that a woman could not have been an apostle! Aegidius (or Giles) of Rome (ca 1243/47-1316) seems to have been the first to have identified Junia(s) as a male in the thirteenth century.52 Luther’s translation of the Bible into German also contributed to the view that Junia was not a woman, but a man named Junias.53 Beginning in the early twentieth century, lexicographers began to turn the female Junia into the male Junias by changing the accent. In Greek, the only difference between the female ’Ιουνίαν and the male Ἰουνιᾶν is between the feminine acute and the masculine circumflex accents. In the earlier uncial texts, there were no accents, and when accents were eventually added, the first editions of the Greek New Testament printed the female acute rather than the male circumflex accent, e.g., Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. The change from a feminine acute to a masculine circumflex first occurred in Nestle’s Greek New Testament in 1927, followed by other editions of the Greek New Testament, with the rationale usually given that it would have been unlikely for a woman to be among the apostles.54 Modern lexicons have assumed that the name is masculine without argument.55 So Arndt and Gingerich state: “The possibility, fr. a purely lexical point of view, that this is a woman’s name . . . is prob. ruled out by the context.”56 But the context says nothing that would indicate it is a man’s name!

In modern translations, the shift to “Junias” began with the New Testament of the English Revised Version (1881) and the American Standard Version (1901). (Interestingly, Westcott and Hort’s Greek New Testament [1881] still had the female ’Ιουνίαν.) The tendency toward masculine translations continued until around 1970. The RSV, for example, has “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men(!) of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.”57 Richard Bauckham comments: “The history of the matter is a sad story of prejudice making bad translation.”58 In summary, the understanding of Iounian as feminine dominated the first millennium of Christianity, but then was arbitrarily changed from female “Junia” to male “Junias” without discussion or justification.59

What would be the argument or justification for understanding Iounian to be either Junia or Junias, feminine or masculine? Iunia is a Latin name, not a Greek one. When translated into Greek, the accent (as noted above) is the only determiner of the gender of the name in Greek: ’Ιουνίαν (acute) or ’Ιουνιᾶν (circumflex). The argument for a masculine name is that Iunias would be a shortened form or contraction of Iunianus. The problem is that there is “no empirical evidence whatsoever for the abbreviated form Iunias.” There are no occurrences in any Greek or Latin document of the New Testament period, and no evidence that Iunianus has ever been shortened to Iunias.60 Belleville also points out that Greek nicknames were shortened versions of longer names, but Latin nicknames were lengthened, not shortened. Also, when there was a final -i in the stem, it was omitted. The shortened form of Ιουνιανός would then be Ιουνᾶς (Iounas), not Ιουνιᾶς (Iounias). It was also not Paul’s habit to use nicknames. For example, he refers to Prisca, not Priscilla, and Silvanus, not Silas.61

What then, would be the case that Iounian is the accusative of the Latin female name Junia? In Roman society, women did not generally have a personal name, but were named after their family. For example, Gaius Iulius Caesar is masculine; his daughters were Iulia Major and Iulia Minor (Julia I and II), with “Iulius” being the nomen or family name. Iunius is a common Latin nomen; there are many men named “Iunius,” and consequently many women named “Iunia.” Latin names were transcribed into Greek with Latin masculine endings rendered as Greek names in -ος (-os), Latin feminine names in -a are rendered in -α (-a) or -η (ē). The names Iunius/Iunia would thus be Iounios/Iounia. The accusative would be Iounion/Iounian. Accordingly, Iounian would have to be a woman.62

Again, while there are examples of the male name “Iunius” and the female name “Iunia,” there is not a single example of the male name “Iunias.”63 As Bauckham points out, the evidence of name usage is the “only argument.” There would have to be “overwhelming reasons” to support a masculine reading over a feminine one, but given the wide prevalence of the name “Junia” and the complete lack of evidence for “Junias,” the conclusion points to the female name: “We certainly cannot presuppose, as such overwhelming reasons, that there could not have been a woman apostle or that Paul would not have recognized a woman apostle. This would be to beg the question.”64 All the evidence points to Junia being a woman, and none whatsoever for the male “Junias.” Consequently, in the last few decades, the majority of scholars have come to acknowledge that Junia was indeed a woman.

However, as noted above, there is a predictable pattern to the discussion. For much of twentieth century New Testament scholarship, it was assumed that, since Iounian was an apostle, and a woman could not be an apostle, then “Junias” had to be a man. With the new rising consensus, the shift has turned to the argument that the now-recognized female “Junia” could not have been an apostle. Michael R. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace made the case that, although Junia was indeed a woman, she was not an apostle. Rather, the Greek should be translated not as “outstanding among the apostles,” but “well known to the apostles.”65 Burer’s and Wallace’s article is cited as definitively settling the issue by opponents of women’s ordination.66 The complementarian-leaning ESV translates the passage “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” There is no footnote providing even a hint that “to the apostles” might be translated “among the apostles.”

Two key distinctions are important for the discussion. Richard S. Cervin’s essay (cited above), distinguishes between an “inclusive” meaning (noteworthy among the apostles), and an “exclusive” meaning (noted by the apostles), and this distinction is followed by later writers.67 The second crucial issue concerns how we understand the meaning of ἐν (en) plus the dative case. Paul wrote ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις (episēmoi en tois apostolois). Burer and Wallace suggest that a noun in the genitive case is typically used with comparative adjectives; if Paul had meant that Adronicus and Junia were outstanding “among the apostles,” he would have used the genitive – τῶν ἀποστόλων (tōn apostolōn). If no comparison is suggested, however, he would have used en plus the dative – ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις (en tois apostolois).68

After a comparative analysis of ancient texts, Burer and Wallace conclude that when a comparison is made, epismos is frequently put in the genitive case. So, in 3 Macc. 6:1, Eleazar was “prominent among the priests.”69 Also key to their discussion is a distinction between personal and impersonal comparisons. They acknowledge that when used with impersonal nouns, en is used comparatively. In Add. Esth. 16:22, a “notable day” is to be observed “among the festivals.”70 Crucial to their discussion is the pseudepigraphal Psalms of Solomon 2:6, which they translate as “they [the Jewish captives] were a spectacle among the Gentiles.” Burer and Wallace claim that this passage has “all the elements” for a comparison to Rom. 16:7: (a) people as the reference of the adjective “well known,” (b) followed by en plus the dative plural, (c) the dative plural refers to people. The first group is not part of the second; that is, the Jewish captives were not Gentiles. “That the parallels discovered conform to our working hypothesis at least gives warrant to seeing Andronicus’s and Junia’s fame as that which was among the apostles.” They claim: “[A]lthough the inclusive view is aided in some impersonal constructions that involve ἐν plus the dative, every instance of personal inclusiveness used a genitive rather than ἐν. On the other hand, every instance of ἐν plus personal nouns supported the exclusive view, with Pss. Sol. 2.6 providing a very close parallel to Rom 16.7.”71

The two authors conclude by examining a number of papyri and ancient inscriptions. Although they acknowledge that the data is “not plentiful,” they do claim that it points in a single direction: “ἐπίσημος followed by ἐν plus personal datives does not connote membership within the group, but simply that one is known by the group.”72 They conclude that Rom. 16:7 “almost certainly” should be translated “well known to the apostles.” Thus, Junia was known to the apostles, but she was not an apostle.73 (Despite this strong claim, they acknowledge that the data is not conclusive; in one case Lucianus “unmistakably” has an inclusive force for ἐν (en) plus the dative.)74

Shortly after its appearance, three New Testament scholars (Richard Bauckham, Linda Belleville and Eldon Jay Epp), responded critically to Burer’s and Wallace’s essay.75 Bauckham claims that “their evidence does not actually support [their] conclusion,” and that the essay has “serious defects”; its conclusion is “highly tendentious, even misleading.”76 Belleville writes that their analysis is “problematic in a number of respects.”77 Epp states that “even a cursory examination of [the evidence] presented raised significant doubts about the authors’ stated thesis . . .”78 As noted above, Burer and Wallace claim that “some impersonal constructions” of en plus the dative point to an inclusive sense, while “every instance” of personal use plus the genitive is inclusive, and “every instance” of en plus the dative is exclusive. However, as Bauckham points out, in each case there is only one text given as an example for each category: (Add Esth 16:22 [impersonal inclusive]; 3 Macc 6:1 [personal + genitive]; Pss. Sol. 2:6 [personal + dative]). “One” does not equal “some,” and certainly not “every case.”79

Burer and Wallace make much of Pss. Sol. 2:6, which is their sole evidence of a “very close parallel” to Rom. 16:7. Bauckham and Belleville point out that, unfortunately, Burer and Wallace incompletely and inaccurately cite the passage in claiming that epismō refers to the Jewish captives. A complete citation makes clear that epismō does not refer to the captives at all! Bauckham cites a translation by Sebastian Brock: “Her sons and daughters were in grievous captivity, their neck bears a seal-ring, a mark (epismō) among the nations.”80 Belleville translates the passage: “The sons and daughters (of Jerusalem) were in grievous captivity, their neck with a seal, with a slave-brand among the Gentiles.”81 Epismō refers then not to “sons and daughters,” but to “seal” or “seal-ring.” Since the essential element (people used as a referent) is not present at all, the passage is irrelevant to the evidence.82

Both Bauckham and Epp also question the distinction Burer and Wallace make between personal and impersonal “inclusive” uses. The five impersonal uses provided by the authors are all inclusive, and three of them (Add. Esth. 16:22; 1 Macc. 11:37, 14:48) have en plus the dative.83 Epp also points out that the single example of an inscription (TAM II west wall. Coll. 2.5) which they treat in detail is translated exclusively in a way that begs the question, since it could as easily be translated inclusively. Belleville argues that all of the Hellenistic inscriptions referred to by Burer and Wallace should actually be translated inclusively, and Epp agrees.84

Finally, Witherington points out that when patristic authors use “in” to mean “in the eyes of,” they actually include the specific words, or something like them. If Paul had meant that Andronicus and Junia were “known to the apostles,” he would not have used en, but rather hypo or a simple dative form.85 Against Burer’s and Wallace’s central thesis, Belleville insists that “Primary usage of ἐν and the plural dative (personal or otherwise) inside and outside the NT (with rare exception) is inclusive in/among and not exclusive ‘to’ . . . .” (She cites Matt. 2:6; Acts 4:34; 1 Peter 5:1 as examples.)86 Belleville concludes: “Despite their assertions to the contrary, [Burer and Wallace] fail to offer one clear biblical or extra-biblical Hellenistic example of an ‘exclusive’ sense of ἐπίσημος ἐν and a plural noun to mean ‘well known to.’ The authors themselves admit this early on, but then go on to conclude otherwise.”87 Epp concludes that the three evaluations by Bauckham, Belleville, and himself “should put to rest any notion that [Rom. 16:7] carried the sense of ‘well known to/esteemed by the apostles.’ Again, it is clear that Andronicus and Junia, in Paul’s description, were ‘outstanding apostles.’”88

Finally, more significant than the detailed grammatical debates is the unanimous agreement among the patristic interpreters of Romans 16:7 that the text identifies Andronicus and Junia as “among the apostles.” Bauckham writes that it is a “major error” to dismiss this evidence. Writers such as John Chrysostom and Origen were native educated Greek speakers: “If Burer and Wallace’s conclusion is right, then it is inexplicable that these Greek patristic interpreters would have read the Greek of Romans in the way they did.”89

There is one last escape for those who want to deny that Junia was a woman apostle. As with the case of “deacon,” which can also mean “servant,” the Greek word translated “apostle” can also mean “messenger”; in a manner similar to the way in which Phoebe was down-graded from a deacon to a “servant” of the church at Cenchrae, so there are those who insist that even if Junia was a woman and an “apostle,” this does not mean that Junia held a church office. Grudem claims that “apostle” could just as well mean “messenger”: “Since Andronicus and Junia(s) are otherwise unknown as apostles, even if someone wanted to translate ‘well known among,’ the sense ‘well known among the messengers’ would be more appropriate.”90 While the ESV does not have a footnote offering “well known among the apostles” as an alternative reading, the footnote to “apostles” does read “or messengers.”

The clue to how Paul is using the word “apostle” in this context is determined by how he uses it elsewhere. Paul would not have understand Andronica and Junia to be among the “twelve apostles,” whom Paul refers to as “the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). Paul does use the word “apostle” in a non-technical sense twice (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25) to refer to messengers of the church. In these cases, Paul qualifies “apostle(s)” by referring to “apostles of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23) or to “your apostle” (Phil. 2:25). Paul’s unqualified use of “the apostles” would indicate that he is using “apostle” as he does when he refers to himself as an apostle, to refer to an office which is larger than the office of the twelve, but includes those (like himself) to whom the risen Christ had revealed himself in a resurrection appearance, and who had been commissioned to preach the gospel. Given the extent to which Paul defends his apostleship, it is “highly unlikely that he would employ the term ‘apostle’ loosely when applying it to others.”91 Given that Paul claims that Andronicus and Junia were Christians before he was, it is possible that they were among those whom Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 15:7 as witnesses of the resurrection.92 If Andronicus and Junia were Christians before Paul, and “outstanding” among the apostles, they would likely have been members of the early Jerusalem church, and perhaps founders of the Christian community in Rome. Paul does not speak so highly of anyone else he mentions in Roman 16.93

Office Once More

At the beginning of this essay, I referred to a distinction made by Roman Catholic theologian Francis Martin between charism, on-going ministry, and office in the New Testament church. While acknowledging that women exercised ministries of both charism and on-going ministry in the New Testament period, Martin denied that there is any evidence that women ever held church office. In this essay, I have examined the apostle Paul’s references to three women who exercised church ministry in connection to the church in Rome and have tried to make the case that all three exercised some form of church office. Phoebe was both a deacon of the church at Cenchrae and a prostatis, a patron of Paul’s ministry who exercised some form of church leadership. Priscilla was a “co-worker” of Paul, the term that Paul applies to his closest associates, but also exercised the ministry of a teacher. Finally, Junia was an apostle, a witness to the risen Christ who exercised a ministry of gospel proclamation.

Granted that these women exercised some form of ongoing ministries in the early church, does it follow that these ministries were necessarily examples of church office? Martin claims otherwise. Concerning Phoebe he writes: “Thus the fact that Phoebe is called a diakonos . . . probably means that she is traveling as a representative of her community. . . . Although her influence was great and beneficial, there is no indication that she fulfilled what would later be recognized as an office.”94

As with Phoebe, Martin denies that there is any reason to suggest that the teaching ministry of either Priscilla or Aquila(!) implies any kind of office:

Given this usage of the term and the fluidity of vocabulary we have already seen, it is possible to say of Prisca (Priscilla) that she, along with her husband, was an outstanding proponent of the gospel, whose authority came from the grace of ministry she received, but not that she held some “official” position in the church at large. . . . [W]e see the prominence and influence of a ministry divinely conferred upon both a woman and a man. They are not, however, presented in a way that would lead one to classify either of them along with the “teachers” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:1, where the term implies office.95

Martin makes a similar claim concerning Junia:

I would conclude . . . that there are strict and loose senses of the term apostle. . . . [Paul] uses apostolos in both a strict and a loose sense. . . [C]alling Andronicus and Junia “apostles” in Romans 16:7 may approximate the use in 2 Corinthians 8:23, but it is far from the strong sense implied in Paul’s self-designation or in lists such as 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11.96

Concerning the term “co-worker,” applied to Priscilla, he writes: “[Co-workers] seems to be a title [Paul] reserves for those who have generously extended themselves for the sake of the gospel, but nothing more precise can be garnered from it.” Martin suggests that those who would conclude from the application of terms such as “co-worker” (or presumably “deacon” or “apostle”) to women such as Phoebe that they should be equated to “co-workers” such as Timothy and other leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 16:16) are reading the texts too narrowly: “Such a way of reasoning implies a rigidity of terminology foreign to the New Testament in general and Paul in particular.” Martin concludes that while these women had great ministerial gifts, “[t]here is, however, no address to a woman or quality attributed to a woman that would suggest that their leadership was of the type I have described as office.”97

Martin’s demurral is based on the fluidity of vocabulary concerning ministry in the New Testament. Prophecy and teaching can be examples of either charism, on-going ministry, or office. Moreover, we could add that the New Testament terms associated with office are simply ordinary descriptive labels that can have more than one meaning. A diakonos could be a “deacon,” but might only be a “servant.” A presbyteros could be a “presbyter,” but might just be an “older man.” An episkopos could be a “bishop,” but might only be an “overseer.” An apostolos could be an “apostle,” but might only be a “messenger.” A “co-worker” might be an office holder (such as Timothy), but might just be one of Paul’s traveling companions.

At the same time, granted the possible flexibility of vocabulary, it will not do simply to assume without argument that the same language applied to both men and women implies office in reference to men, but only “flexible vocabulary,” and not office, to women. To claim on the one hand, as Martin does, that no women are addressed or exercised leadership in such a manner as to imply that their ministry was a form of office, and then, on that basis to conclude that Paul’s applications of titles such as “deacon,” “co-worker” and “apostle” to these three women must be examples of flexible vocabulary and does not imply office is simply to beg the question. Paul’s description of these women is itself the evidence that these women did hold office. (Moreover, as noted at the beginning of this essay, since there are remarkably few men who are identified by name as holding office in the New Testament either, Martin’s criteria would eliminate all but a handful of men from being office holders as well.)

The strongest argument that these women exercised office is that Paul speaks of them in exactly the same way that he speaks of men of whom we would have no hesitation to attribute office. Linda Belleville states succinctly: “The language Paul uses for the ministries of these women is that which he uses for his own missionary labors and the labors of other colleagues . . .”98 It is precisely because of possible ambiguity of vocabulary that I have not simply asserted that these women held office, but argued that the language Paul uses in reference to them is exactly the kind of language he uses in describing men who held office. Phoebe is not simply described as a “servant,” but as a diakonos (masculine ending) of the church at Cenchyrae in a manner parallel to the language applied to deacons in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8,12. The term “co-worker” (synergos) that Paul applies to Priscilla is used in exactly the same way that he applies it to male co-workers such as Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Clement (Phil. 4:3), Timothy (1 Thess. 3:2), Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phil. 24), and, finally, Urbanus (Rom. 16:7) in the same chapter in which Paul speaks of Priscilla. Priscilla and Aquila are described as leaders of the church and teachers in exactly the same way that Paul describes his other “co-workers.” Moreover, 1 Corinthians 16:16, the passage in which Paul asks his readers to “submit” to his “co-workers,” and to which Martin appeals as the kind of office which could not be applied to someone like Priscilla says nothing about the sex of the “co-workers.” If the ministry-team of Priscilla and Aquila were a male ministry-team such as Paul and Barnabbas (Acts 15:22), Paul and Silas (Acts 15:40), or Barnabbas and Mark (Acts 15:39), it is difficult to imagine that anyone would suggest that their ministries should not be described as “office.”

Finally, as I have argued above, the evidence is overwhelming that Andronicus and Junia were not only a husband-wife ministry team, but also “outstanding apostles,” not simply “messengers.” Paul’s unqualified use of “the apostles” in reference to them indicates that he places their ministry in the same category as his own; they were witnesses to the risen Christ who had been commissioned to preach the gospel.

I conclude with a quotation from New Testament scholar Ben Witherington:

Paul’s specific commendation of seven of the nine women named in this chapter and his reference to Phoebe’s role as a deacon are extremely significant. While contemporary believers divide over ordination of women, women teaching men and the like, this chapter suggests that such objections, in general, would have puzzled Paul. . . . The conclusion then follows that Paul has no problem with women as teachers (Priscilla) or leaders, proclaimers, or missionaries of the Good News.99

Did women exercise ministries in the New Testament period that would later be designated as office? All of the evidence indicates that the answer is “Yes.”

1See Francis Martin, The Feminist Question: Feminist Theology in the Light of Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 90-93, 108-109.

2Martin, 95.

3Martin, 109.

4Martin, 110-112.

5Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 453. Payne specifically mentions the lack of specific reference to the names of male overseers (bishops), but the above list shows that this is true of the office of presbyter as well. The two exceptions would be 1 Peter 5:1 where the writer identifies himself as a “fellow elder” and 2 and 3 John where the writer identifies himself as “the elder.” Assuming (for argument’s sake), the traditional authorship of these letters, the apostolic authors Peter and John are identified as “presbyters,” but not explicitly named as such.

6Martin, 113.

7Ben Witherington III, Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 107-111.

8James D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary Romans 9-16 (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1988), 886; N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 10 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 761.

9Ben Witherington III with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 376, 379-380.

10Dunn, 900.

11Linda Belleville notes that English translations from the 1940’s to the 1980’s tended to “obscure” Paul’s descriptions of these women: “[W]omen can’t be leaders, so the language of leadership must be eliminated. Phoebe becomes a ‘servant’ and Paul’s ‘helper’ (instead of a deacon and Paul’s patron . . . ).” Linda Belleville, “Women Leaders in the Bible,” Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InerVarsity Press, 2004), 116. Craig Keener writes that the RSV “badly translates” prostatis as “helper.” Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992, 2004), 240. Dunn writes that “The unwillingness of commentators to give προστάτις it most natural and obvious sense of ‘patron’ is most striking . . .” Dunn, 888.

12As complementarian Wayne Grudem is eager to point out. Grudem recognizes correctly that the key issue has to do with “office”: “The question is whether Paul has a church office in view (‘deacon’) or is simply honoring Phoebe for her service to the church . . .”Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multonomah Publishers, 2004), 264.

13Dunn, 886; Payne, 61; Witherington, Romans, 382.

14Dunn, 887.

15Witherington, Women in the New Testament, 113; Pliny speaks of two female slaves who were called ministrae in Bithynia. Dunn, 887.

16Wright, Romans, 761-762.

17Keener, 239. This was noted as long ago as 1917 by B.H. Streeter, who asked, “Why is it that the translators, when interpreting it [diakonos] for men, use the word ministers, when for women, the word servant?” B.H. Streeter and Edith Picton Tubervill, Woman the Church (London: F. Fisher Unwin, 1917), 63; cited Keener, 239.

18Keener, 238.

19Keener, 239.

20Dunn, 886, 887.

21Dunn, 888.

22Keener, 240.

23Witherington, Women in the New Testament, 114.

24Witherington, Romans, 384.

25Wright, 762.

26Payne, 62-63.

27Lydia (Acts 17:12) would be another example of such a wealthy patron. Dunn, 889.

28Witherington, Romans, 381.

29Dunn, 891.

30Witherington, Romans, 385; Witherington, Women, 114; Dunn, 891; Payne, 64; Wright, 762; Keener, 240-241

31Dunn, 892.

32Witherington, Romans, 386; Dunn, 893.

33Payne, 64.

34Witherington, Romans, 385; Belleville, “Women Leaders,” 122.

35Witherington, Women, 111; Romans, 385; Dunn, 892.

36“In light of what we have learned about Paul’s συνεργοί, this text strongly suggests that the two women engaged in spreading the gospel with Paul.” Witherington, Women, 111-112; Witherington, Romans, 392-393; Payne, 67.

37Witherington, Women, 154.

38Grudem (179) dismisses the example of Priscilla as a teacher by distinguishing between public and private teaching, appealing to 1 Timothy 2:12 for warrant, but nothing in 1 Timothy 2:12 makes a distinction between private and public teaching. See my essay “Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-speaking-and-teaching/.

39Dunn, 893-894; Witherington, Women, 114; Romans, 387; Wright, 762.

40See my essay, “Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument ‘From Tradition’ is not the ‘Traditional’ Argument,” http://willgwitt.org/theology/concerning-womens-ordination-the-argument-from-tradition-is-not-the-traditional-argument/.

41Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-760; cited by Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 32.

42Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 166.

43Linda Belleville, “’Ιουνιαν . . . ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16:7 in Light of Primary Source Materials,” New Testament Studies 51, 231-149; 236.

44Wayne Grudem and John Piper, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 80; Grudem continues to make this claim in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 225.

45Epp, 34; Belleville, “Re-examination,” 236.

46Bauckham, 166-167, note; Belleville, “Re-examination,” 235.

47Epp, 72.

48Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption, trans. David Kepp (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 358.

49Hauke, 359.

50Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 237

51Jonathan Baker, ed. Consecrated Women? A Contribution to the Bishops Debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004), 66.

52Epp, 35; Bauckham, 167.

53Epp, 38.

54Belleville, “Re-examination,” 236-239. Hauke makes the rather embarrassing error of concluding that Iounian must be male because the word is masculine in form, with a circumflex accent (Hauke, 359). There would have been no accents when Paul wrote Rom. 16:7!

55Epp, 58.

56William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 381.

57Epp, 67; “The assumption that only men could be apostles and that therefore the name must be male was thereafter dominant down to the 1970s.” Bauckham, 167.

58Bauckham, 166.

59Epp, 39.

60Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16.7,” New Testament Studies 40(1994):464-470; 464-466; “But the simple fact is that the masculine form has been found nowhere else, and the name is more naturally taken as ’Ιουνίαν = Junia.” Patristic commentators take it for granted that it is Junia. “The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption . . .” Dunn, 894.

61Belleville, Re-examination, 239; “The simple fact is that Ἰουνιᾶς is absent from the Koine of the day. It does not appear in any inscription, letterhead, piece of writing, or epitaph . . . The accusative form in Greek would be masculine Ἰουνιον , or Ἰουναν – leaving no room for a Ἰουνιαν.” Belleville, “Re-examination,” 240. Hauke (359) points to “Silvanus” being shortened to “Silas” as an example of name shortening (Acts 15:40) similar to “Junias,” but Belleville points out correctly that Paul himself uses “Silvanus,” not “Silas” (2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1).

62Cervin, 467-469.

63“Junias . . . cannot be documented in the Greco-Roman world . . . Hence I conclude, with a high degree of confidence, that to date a bona fide instance of Junias, whether in Greek or Latin, has not been found. . . .The clear result of this lengthy discussion of ‘Junias’ (masculine) is that, at least to date, this presumably male name is nowhere attested in the Greco-Roman world.” Epp, 33, 35, 43; “[T]he name Junias is not attested among the thousands of Greek names preserved from antiquity. Even examples of the names Junius and Junianus are rare.” Bauckham, 168; “The feminine ’Ιουνία . . . appears widely and frequently. . . ’Ιουνιᾶς does not appear even once.” Belleville, 241.

64Bauckham, 169; “The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity.” Dunn, 894.

65Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” New Testament Studies 47 (2001) 76-91.

66Cited by Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 224, and Consecrated Women?, 66.

67Cervin, 470.

68Burer and Wallace, 84.

69Burer and Wallace, 86

70Burer and Wallace, 86.

71Burer and Wallace, 87.

72Burer and Wallace, 88.

73Burer and Wallace, 90.

74Burer and Wallace, 89.

75Bauckham, Gospel Women; 172-179; Belleville, “Re-examination,” 242-248; Epp, 72-78.

76Bauckham, 174.

77Belleville, “Re-examination,” 242.

78Epp, 73.

79Bauckham, 174-175.

80Bauckham, 175-176.

81Belleville, “Re-Examination,” 247.

82Bauckham, 176.

83Bauckham, 178; Epp, 74.

84Belleville, “Re-examination,” 245; Epp, 75.

85Witherington, Romans, 390.

86Belleville, “Re-examination,” 243.

87Despite their claims to the contrary, their Hellenistic examples bear the inclusive, not the exclusive meaning. Belleville, Re-examination, 244-245.

88Epp, 78.

89Bauckham, 179; also Witherington, Romans, 390; Epp, 69.

90Grudem, 227.

91Epp, 70; Bauckham, 180; Witherington, Romans, 390;

92Dunn, 894. Another possibility, defended at length by Bauckham, is that Junia was the same person as the “Joanna” mentioned by Luke (Luke 8:3; 24:10). Bauckham, 181-186.

93Bauckham, 181.

94Martin, 100-101.

95Martin, 106-107.

96Martin, 100.

97Martin, 108.

98Belleville, “Re-examination,” 231.