October 10, 2017

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

Filed under: Women's Ordination — William Witt @ 12:43 am

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.


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  1. Great post! Thank you! I think in this sentence, though, in #4– “However, in the original Hebrew, it is clear that while God names the animals, he does not name the woman”– “ha adam” is meant instead of God? Thanks again.

    Comment by Julie Walsh — October 10, 2017 @ 2:58 am

  2. Thanks. Corrected.

    Comment by William Witt — October 10, 2017 @ 3:12 am

  3. Thank you , Bill. This is a remarkably patient and careful response to the Response.

    Comment by Joe Lawrence — October 18, 2017 @ 10:10 pm

  4. Hi Dr. Witt,

    Thank you for writing your series.

    I have a question that I’m really struggling with. Why didn’t God just make things more obvious in His Word? He surely knew ahead of time the trouble we’d face interpreting things even 100 years later. I mean, even in Greek-speaking lands, 4th and 5th century church fathers would have trouble understanding the Greek text, because it would read to them the same way Shakespeare reads to us today–archaic words and confusing idioms. Why didn’t God culture/language-proof the Bible better?

    This doesn’t just pertain to women’s ordination for me. I am an adult survivor of childhood abuse. My poor, mother was abused by my father as well. The church mantra to victims back in the day was “stay and pray”, and still is in so many churches today. Sadly, I have found that “stay and pray” attitude in the church fathers, even when pagan law allowed divorce under the most extreme forms of abuse. If you’ve ever read medieval historians Sara M. Butler or Barbara Hanawalt, the issue continues into medieval times. Canon law, combined with the notion that the paterfamilias had the right to chastise his own wife, focused on keeping the couple together, even under some very rough abuse. The Church would only very reluctantly allowed for separation, and only under the most extreme violence where they thought the woman’s life was endangered. In some regions, such as France, a wife had to also prove adultery of her husband in addition to extreme cruelty in order to be granted a separation. In all other cases, she was forced back to be with her abusive husband. (Husbands with an abusive wife also suffered in this manner.) Meanwhile, the children are always invisible property, and get to suffer with no rights. The Church of England into the modern period continued these practices.

    Why didn’t God do more for us so that we wouldn’t have to be stuck with our abusers? It shouldn’t have taken nearly 2000 years before domestic violence came to the forefront. Ditto with women’s ordination.

    I can’t help but feel that women (and children) have gotten the lion’s share of the curse of the Fall in Genesis. Pain in child bearing, being treated with cruelty by husbands with no way out, and even having to share in the curse on the ground with hard labor (women have always had to work on the farm as well as the men in ye olde days). It’s hard not to think that God disdains women. I’m really struggling not to think that way, but it’s hard to see another conclusion.

    Christianity is supposed to reverse the effects of the fall, but why did it take 2000 years until it could even begin to get things right some of the time (and largely only in Western nations)? So much pain could have been spared us if God had written, “You can ordain women”, or “spouses don’t have to stay with abusers, and abused children can be in the custody of the good spouse if you can legally find a way”. Or how about, “husbands, submit to your wives, even though your culture tells you you’re the boss.” And “women are just as intelligent to men and should not be considered easily deceived or subordinate to them.” And let’s not forget some rules for slaves, like don’t beat them and maybe emancipate them ASAP. You know, basic stuff that would have fixed a zillion problems Christianity has faced through the centuries.

    I just feel so let down. Before I started studying church history, I could at least pretend there was some golden era somewhere where Christianity truly bettered people’s lives. Now I struggle to believe God loves me and all the other oppressed people who have gone through so much hell because their oppressors misunderstood some Bible verses.

    Could you help me, somehow? I don’t know how. But maybe you could help me find God in all this?


    Comment by Megan — March 2, 2018 @ 6:31 am

  5. Dear Megan,

    Thank you for your comment. You raise a lot of questions, and I’m not sure whether I am adequate to answer them, at least not in a short reply. But I’ll do the best that I can.

    First and foremost, I am very sorry to hear that you were raised in an abusive family. An abusive father can make it especially difficult for adult children of such parents to relate to the notion of God as “Father,” since “male parent” imagery is often associated with painful childhood memories. (I would add, as an aside, that an abusive mother can be just as problematic. I have known adults [both men and women] who had grown up with alcoholic, narcissistic, and even physically abusive mothers, with the expected ongoing psychological and emotional trauma. The problem seems to be one of abuse, not gender.)

    At the same time, one of the reasons that I emphasize in my blog that the Christian understanding of God as Father is rooted in Jesus’ own relationship to God as his Father is to make clear that the Christian understanding of God is not rooted in patriarchal understandings of deity modeled on traditional male parenting roles. Rather, Jesus’ address to God as his Father is unique, grounded in the special relationship that Jesus has as “the Son.” Through grace, Christians (both male and female) are enabled to share or participate in Jesus’ own relationship to his Father as adopted sons and daughters of God, but God is not uniquely “our Father” in the same way that God is the “Father” of Jesus.

    Given that qualification, it is important to note how the “Father” imagery of the NT operates. It is relational, and focuses on intimacy, nurture, and forgiveness. It seems to function as a deliberate contrast and correction of the patriarchal notion of the authoritarian father. In my essay, “Disciples of Jesus,” I write a good deal about both first-century Mediterranean “honor culture,” Christological subversion, and discipleship as “mutual submission” in contrast to the “top down submission” of the patriarchal “honor culture.” The God who is the Father of Jesus is very different from the patriarchal fathers of Jesus’ own culture. He is the Father who gives good gifts to his children, who shows favor to lost sinners, who, like the father in Jesus’ parable, welcomes the prodigal son home. David DeSilva writes that by calling God “Father,” early Christians became part of a “fictive kinship” system that provided an alternative to the biological kinship systems that were endemic to the “honor culture” of the first-century Mediterranean world.

    To some of your specific questions:

    1) “Why didn’t God make things more obvious in his Word? . . . Why didn’t God do more for us so that we wouldn’t have to be stuck with our abusers? It shouldn’t have taken nearly 2000 years before domestic violence came to the forefront. ”

    On the one hand, Scripture is quite clear about a lot of things, including relationships between men and women, parents and children, and even (in a culture where there were slaves), between masters and slaves.

    In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus forbade not only adultery, but male lust (Matt. 5:27). In its original context, it is clear that Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was intended for the protection of women (Matt. 5:31-32). In first-century Jewish culture, the concern was not that women were trying to flee abusive relationships. Only men could divorce, and they could do so for “any reason,” including, according to some rabbis, burning their husband’s toast. Jesus’ teaching on divorce protected vulnerable women from both adulterous husbands, but also from the spousal abandonment which would leave women in poverty.

    In Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5, he commands husbands to love their wives as “Christ loved the church,” and “as their own bodies.” That is, husbands should love their wives so much that they are willing to die for them. As I also note in my essay on this chapter, the “submission” mentioned in verse 22 is mutual, based on Christ’s example (vs. 1-2). Notice that there is nothing in the passage about wives obeying their husbands.

    Concerning children, Jesus states that “whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).

    Concerning fathers and children, Paul writes: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

    Finally, concerning slaves, Paul reminds masters that they also should consider themselves slaves: “Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (Eph. 6:9). In Paul’s letter to Philemon, it is clear that Paul is requesting Philemon to free his slave: “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. . . . Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philemon 1: 17,21).

    Just as important, or even more important than these specific injunctions, are the patterns of behavior modeled by Jesus and by NT Christians. Jesus had women disciples (Mary Magdalene, the sisters Martha and Mary); Paul had women co-workers (Romans 12); in the book of Acts, women had key roles in the church (Acts 1:14, 5:14, 8:12,17:4,12); women were founders of churches (Lydia, Acts 16). The NT writes of the special care that the early church had for widows (Luke 21:2; Acts 6:1, 9:39; James 1:27; 1 Tim. 5:4-9). The pastoral epistles, which some read as limiting the leadership role in churches, devote at least as much space speaking of the role of women in churches as they do men (1 Tim. 2:9-10, 3:11, 5:2, Titus 2:3-4).

    In light of the above, I think that the Bible speaks quite clearly to issues such as spousal (and child) abuse. It is just not possible to love one’s wife as Christ loved the church, and to physically or emotionally abuse her. According to Jesus, it would be better to be drowned in the ocean than to abuse a child.

    Certainly issues of spousal and child abuse have come to the forefront of contemporary culture in recent years, but if churches have ignored these issues, they simply have not been reading their Bibles. Certainly no woman should have to stay in an abusive relationship, and there is nothing in the Bible to suggest such. (Again, it is clear that the point of Jesus’ original statement about divorce was to protect women from abuse, not to encourage it.)

    Finally, in any discussion concerning the Bible, it is important to remember the distinction between exegesis (what did it mean then?) and hermeneutics (how do we apply it now?). The Bible is not a single book, but a collection of books written in numerous genres (history, law, poetry, wisdom, etc.) over hundreds of years, primarily recounting the history of God with his people in redemption. The writers were addressing their contemporaries, and addressing issues in their own time and culture. They were not writing for us, so we should not be surprised if they do not directly address our concerns. Hermeneutics is the process of using creative imagination to ask how what we find in the Bible can speak to us two thousand years later, but the task is not always straightforward.

    2) What about church history?

    You mention two issues concerning church history. First, did the church fathers understand NT Greek? Short answer. They did. For the Eastern fathers, Greek was their native language. There were differences between classical Greek (the Greek of Aristotle and Plato), koine Greek (the “common” language of the NT), and what someone like Chrysostom might have written, but they are not so significant as to mean that the fathers could not understand the NT. (There are passages where some of the fathers worry because the Greek of the NT is not as polished as that of someone like Plato.) The Western fathers depended on the Latin Vulgate translation, but, again, because Latin was a classical language, it did not change appreciably.

    The second issue has to do with the problem of spousal abuse and divorce in Medieval England. (You specifically mention Barbara Hanawalt and Sara M. Butler.) I have not read these books, but what I have been able to find out about them indicates that the story is not a simple one of men abusing women. A review of Butler’s book The Language of Abuse says: “Her meticulous archival research shows clearly that medieval marriages could, and did, go horribly wrong, and that church courts, royal courts, and the community at large recognized spousal abuse as a problem, even when they did not necessarily agree on what constituted abuse or on how best to address it.” That actually seems about right. The reason why court records of spousal abuse exist is because (even then) the surrounding culture recognized it as a problem. If abuse was not perceived as a problem, there would be no court records.

    This does lead to the problem of church history, and particularly of of women in the history of Christian culture. In my essay on the “argument from tradition,” I note that there are examples of revisionist feminist scholarship that portray “the entire history of the church as nothing but an unmitigated practice of oppressive subjugation and patriarchal abuse of women.” I also note, however that there are “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.” And this is true. Because history is full of both villains and saints, any reading is necessarily selective. Was Christianity bad for women? Yes. Competent historians can point to countless examples. Was Christianity good for women? Yes. Competent historians can point to countless examples. So, no. There was no “golden era” of church history. But neither is church history nothing but a bleak history of oppression.

    One of my disadvantages in responding to your concern is that I am primarily a systematic and (intellectual) historical theologian, and not a cultural historian so I cannot address things like the history of Medieval marriage practices or canon law in detail. What I can do (and perhaps this provides a helpful balance) is to point to the history of women’s own words.

    A number of years ago, I taught two courses in an undergraduate Religion Department, one on the “Image and Roles of Women in Christian History,” one on “Christian Mysticism.” In both courses, I included texts written by women from the history of Christianity. The first course was cross listed in “Women’s Studies,” and some of the young women in the course clearly wanted me to teach them about how the history of Christianity was a history of male oppression of women. In the second course, there were two young women who announced at the beginning of the course that they were atheists. At the end of the semester, the student reviews from the women in the first course indicated that I had somewhat changed their minds – that if nothing else, the history of women in the church was a “mixed bag.” However, more significantly, at the end of the second course, the two young women “atheists” both announced that they were now believers. And that their minds had been changed in part at least by reading the words of women Christian writers such as Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and (more recently), Evelyn Underhill.

    As a professor, one of my tasks is to direct student theses, and in the last several years, I have directed a number of women students who have written on Christian women writers such as the Medieval Beguines, the novelist Jane Austen, and the mystery writer and apologist Dorothy L. Sayers. I do think that the writings of these Christian women provide at least a counter balance to what is certainly at many points a sad history of male oppression of Christian women.

    I would encourage anyone who is concerned about the place of women in the history of the church to read the writings of Christian women (or about them), not just social history: from the early writings of women like the pilgrim Egeria, Gregory of Nyssa’s account of his sister Macrina, Medieval and post-Reformation women mystics, to more contemporary women theologians and writers of whom there are many.

    It is also helpful to read social history textbooks that tell of the “other side of the story.” For example, numerous textbooks on the history of the Reformation describe how the Reformation encouraged a new emphasis on domesticity and the positive value of married life that had been missing during the Medieval period because of a one-sided emphasis on the spiritual value of celibacy. For example, Jewish writer Simon Shama’s The Embarrasment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age has a chapter each on women and children in which he describes the positive changes in family life that followed the Reformation.

    3) What about the “curse” of the fall? You write: “I can’t help but feel that women (and children) have gotten the lion’s share of the curse of the Fall in Genesis.” Here I might point you to my essay “Beginning with Genesis” and to two authors I mention in that essay, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses and Carrie A. Miles, The Redemption of Love. Miles is particularly helpful in pointing out that Gen. 3:16 is not describing a “curse,” but the inevitable results of human beings living in a fallen and sinful world. As I also point out in a footnote in my essay, “Several recent commentators suggest that the Hebrew should be translated not as referring to pain in childbirth, but to increased effort in assisting the man in cultivating the land as well as the need to have an increased number of children: “‘I will greatly multiply your efforts and your childbearing’ . . . makes better sense of its syntax.” Hess 91; Freitheim, 363. Miles agrees in pointing out that the consequence of the fall as described in Genesis accurately describes the situation of both men and women in a pre-industrial culture. Men need to work hard in order to support large families. Women need to have large families in order to provide agricultural labor. However, in contrast, redemption points to an understanding of marriage as a mutual partnership of love between men and women that does not reduce life to the mere fulfillment of economic necessities.

    Finally, you write: “It’s hard not to think that God disdains women” and “Now I struggle to believe God loves me and all the other oppressed people who have gone through so much hell because their oppressors misunderstood some Bible verses.”

    I suspect that this may be your real concern, and perhaps it is a pastoral one more than a theological one. I will respond as honestly as I can.

    First, if the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ exists, then God loves you, and he certainly loves women. We know that God loves women because his Son Jesus loved them, and chose women like the sisters Mary and Martha to be some of his closest disciples (Luke 10:37-42). Jesus went out of his way to bless women whom his society disdained, such as the “sinful” woman who washed his feet (Luke 7:36-50) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). When his apostles deserted Jesus at his crucifixion, women stayed with him (Mark 15:40-41). On the Sunday after his death, it was women who came first to visit his tomb, and it was women who were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16; Luke 24; Matthew 28; John 20).

    Second, from what you write, it sounds as if you have been deeply hurt by those who call themselves Christians, but who have done a really bad job of being followers of Jesus. You write that they have “misunderstood some Bible verses,” but unfortunately the problem is likely one of what the Bible calls sin, not simple misunderstanding. I wish that I could say that Christians live differently than other people, but if the Bible is correct in what it says about sin, we should not be surprised when they don’t. Certainly in my own life, some of my greatest disappointments have come when I have been disappointed by people who called themselves Christians who lied to me, betrayed me, misused their authority, or were cruel to the weak. Especially is this hard when so-called Christians abuse women and children.

    However, I have been fortunate to have known some really wonderful Christians, including some who have radiated the love of Christ for others, who were amazingly kind and generous, who were mirrors of Jesus to others. I have seen some of these people endure great suffering and even mistreatment by other Christians with a remarkable patience and willingness to forgive. I am not at all suggesting that people in oppressive situations should simply “stay and pray.” I am suggesting that Christians who look and act like Jesus are a powerful argument for the love of God.

    Finally, however, it is really important to distinguish between the God of the Bible and those who claim to be his followers. I have been disappointed many times by Christians, not, however, because they were being faithful to what the Bible teaches about God and Jesus, but because they were not. If Christians disappoint you, that’s all the more reason to trust in God, not human beings. If Jesus is God incarnate, then (as Dorothy L. Sayers reminds us), that Jesus died on a cross means that God takes his own medicine. If God (in Christ) bore the suffering and sins of the world on the cross, then our own suffering is not alien to him.

    Whether any of this is helpful, I don’t know. I would suggest that if you are in a church whose leaders are not examples of Christ’s love, who “misunderstand some Bible verses” in order to justify abuse of others, including especially women or children,it might be time to go elsewhere and find a Christian community that more faithfully demonstrates its love of Jesus by the way they treat “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).

    Grace and Peace,

    Bill Witt

    Comment by William Witt — March 10, 2018 @ 10:52 pm

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