Against Patriarchy, Part Thirteen: Women Apostles

In the last post I hinted at the fact that we can find good evidence for several female apostles in Scripture. It is to this matter that we now turn.

The Qualifications of Apostleship

In Greek literature outside of the New Testament, the word “apostle” originally referred to a type of transport ship and eventually came to refer to the dispatch ship that went out ahead of the fleet. The usage of this word by the New Testament writers indicates that in some sense the apostles were “messengers” in the sense of ships sent ahead of the fleet to bring the news of its sure arrival. The close connection between the “sea” and the Gentiles noted in Scripture would seem to mean that these Apostles were sent out into the world as ships to be “fishers of men.” For someone to qualify as an apostle they must have been with Jesus in His earthly ministry (Acts 1:21), witnessed the Resurrection  or the Resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:3, 5-8), and had been called for a vocation or mission by the Resurrected Jesus (Gal. 1:11-16; 1 Cor. 1:1, 17; 2 Cor. 12:11-12; 15:8-11; Rom. 1:1; Eph. 1:1).

We also know that there were more apostles than merely the Twelve, and this distinction between them is maintained throughout Luke-Acts. “The Twelve” is the expression used to refer to the group we call the Apostles, but at the time there were many, many more who followed Jesus as disciples, witnessed the Resurrection, and were sent out to make disciples of all the nations. In between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus was “appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God,” (Luke 1:3). Paul reports that He “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep,” (1 Cor. 15:6). He appeared to the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).

Most especially, however, He appeared to the women who followed Him, and He did so to them prior to making Himself known to the male disciples (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12), and in particular He made Himself known to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-2, 11-18). Recall our qualifications of Apostleship, that 1) they must have been with Jesus from before the crucifixion, 2) one to whom the Resurrected Jesus appeared, and 3) be given a commission to bring news.

We know that these women were with Jesus from prior to the crucifixion because they had ministered to Him prior to this (Luke 8:1-3). The crucifixion accounts in particular tell us that the women “had followed Jesus from Galilee” (Matt. 27:55-56; Luke 23:27, 49, 55). Mark records that when “He was in Galilee, they followed Him and ministered to Him, and there were also many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem,” (Mark 15:40-41).

They go to the tomb on the first day and encounter the Risen Jesus, making them not merely eyewitnesses but the first eyewitnesses. Not only this, but they are given a commission, thus matching all the criteria for apostleship. In Mark’s account, the women are told, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, as He told you,” (Mark 16:7). In Matthew’s account, the angel reiterates the command to go, but then Jesus Himself appears as they are running along the way and tells them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to got to Galilee, and there they will see me,” (Matt. 28:10).

Mary Magdalene in particular is singled out as the very first human being to see Jesus alive (Mark 16:9; John 20:14-18). Jesus told her, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” and “Mary Magdalene went and announced [apaggello] to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,'” (John 20:18). This is connected closely to the word used for the words of the Apostles before the first Church council in Acts 14: “When they had arrived and gathered the Church together, they declared [anaggello] all that God had done with them,” (Acts 14:27). As Paul defends himself before Agrippa, he says, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared [apaggello] first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem,” (Acts 26:20).

There is another interesting aspect to Mary’s apostleship and the message she bore. The Twelve ignored her. Mary Magdalene, Jesus’s mother, and Joanna, along with a few others, return from the tomb and “told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them,” (Luke 24:10-11). In Mark’s account, Mary “went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it,” (Mark 16:10-11). The apostles prove themselves to be unlike Jesus in their dealing with the women followers, and ignored her as one with an apostolic message of good news. But Jesus soon corrects them. “Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen,” (Mark 16:14). Jesus vindicates Mary as an apostle, one who had seen the Lord and bore the message to others, rebuking the others for not listening to her.

All well and good, you might be thinking, but nobody ever said Mary was an apostle. So it would be going beyond the bounds of Scripture to say that she was an apostle. But we must remember that there were other apostles beyond “the Twelve” who spread the good news of the resurrection and who were commissioned by Jesus to carry this message, and that Mary meets all of the Scriptural criteria for the office. This by itself would be enough, but there is more to say. Many early Church Fathers recognized Mary Magdalene as an apostle, equal in authority to the Twelve. Augustine called her “Apostle to the Apostles,” a title that was in circulation probably much earlier. An eleventh century painting shows her standing before the eleven Apostles, her finger raised, instructing them on what she had seen and heard. The Eastern Orthodox church to this day recognizes her as co-equal to the Twelve. The second-century gnostics attempted to use her influence and wide-ranging respect throughout the Church as a means of attracting converts by penning an anonymous letter titled The Gospel of Mary. Hippolytus, a martyred Bishop of Rome (170-236 A.D.) wrote, “Lest the female apostles doubt the angels, Christ himself came to them so that the women would be apostles of Christ and by their obedience rectify the sin of the ancient Eve … Christ showed himself to the [male] apostles and said to them…’It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles,” (De Cantico 24-26). Gregory of Antioch (d. 593) wrote of Christ’s intention in making Mary and the other women apostles was so they might “be the first teachers to the teachers. So that Peter who denied me learns that I can also choose women as apostles,” (Oratio in Mulieres Unguentiferas. XI).

There is one more female apostle to mention here. Paul himself speaks of her in Romans 16 alongside the other many women that appear among the Church leaders there. He writes, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me,” (Rom. 16:7). It is important to note the deceptive way in which the ESV (and many other translations) renders this verse. The Greek translated “well known to the apostles” is episemoi en, which is better translated “They are prominent among the apostles.” Even many opponents of women’s ordination concede this rendering of the Greek. The best rendering of episemoi is “eminent” or “prominent,” and en refers to something “fixed,” “stamped,” or “in” something else, not known to another group. Thus, they were “in” or “among” the apostles, apostles themselves. Even Piper and Grudem must begrudgingly concede that had Paul intended to communicate these two were simply known to the apostles, he would not have used “apostles” in the third person, excluding himself from that group (Recovering Biblical, 80). Far more likely he would have included himself in the statement. “They are well known to us,” or “well known to the other apostles also.” Some have raised a question about whether this name is in fact actually Junias, a masculine name; the trouble is that, so far as anyone is able to determine, the name Junias simply does not exist. There is no record of such a name ever being used at any period of history. A number of Church Fathers also accepted Junia as a female apostle, including Origen (who suggested Junia could have been one of the seventy-two disciples Jesus commissioned). John Crysostom, no fan of female bishops (or women in general), was even forced to concede the point: “Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle,” (Homily on Romans, 31).

Clearly, women could be apostles in the New Testament, and their ability and freedom to do so was defended until at least the end of the sixth century by various people and factions. In the case of Junia and the translation of Romans 16:7, a presupposition that a woman couldn’t possibly be an apostle has influenced the way some evangelical translations (like the ESV) render the passage. They have, in essence, altered the translation because “Paul couldn’t have really meant that.”

Having looked at female apostles, we will now turn to female prophets, pastors, and church leaders.

Against Patriarchy, Part Twelve: Jesus the Temple

We have looked at the key text and theology of the New Covenant, that Jesus resolves all the barriers and breaks down all the divisions which the Torah put up, and that a central barrier was the barrier of circumcision, which barred women from “drawing near” to the Temple in the same way as men, and barred them especially from serving in the Temple as priests.

In this installment, we will examine Jesus as the True Temple, but first it remains to point toward a few shadows of women serving in the Temple under the Old Covenant, foretastes of the coming of the Messiah who welcomes them into His Temple.

Jesus in the Shadows

We have already established Eve as being Adam’s equal in the Garden, in both nature and role, and part of this was Eve’s co-equality as a learner with Adam under the tutelage of the angels (Heb. 1-2; Gal. 3-4). We also note that the angels are genderless beings, yet still able to preach in the Garden (Matt. 22:30). We also note that the new humanity in Christ was eventually to surpass the angels and come to be teachers and servers in the Temple-Garden, the Church: “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels,” (Heb. 2:7). In Baptism this is (at least in principle) accomplished, and all are now counted as being “sons of God,” (Gal. 3:26-29). This is restoration to the Garden, but then also a promotion to a place above the angels for both Adam and Eve and all who are in union with Christ on the Throne.

It should be noted that those of us who accept covenant theology also accept that Israel was simply the Church under the Old Covenant, and that Jesus built a New Church in the New Covenant comprised of Jews and Gentiles who could both serve in the Temple (1 Cor. 10; Heb. 3-4, etc.), and that all the symbols and pictures of Israel in the OT are co-opted by Jesus and the Apostles and used to describe the Church in the NT. One of the implications of this is that the NT Church is to be a city and a political community just as much as Israel was, and that Israel’s civil community was actually a shadow of the Church, and that leadership roles under the OT in the civil sphere are applied to Church leadership positions within the NT Church community. Thus, when the book of Judges tells us that “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time,” (Judges 4:4), it speaks by typology to women who would render judgments in the public courts of the Church (1 Cor. 6:1-6). It speaks of her also as a prophet, one who receives God’s word and teaches the people in a public fashion (but we will examine the office of prophet another time). We are also told, concerning Deborah, that she “used to sit under the palm of Deborah” and “the people of Israel came up to her for judgment/justice,” (Judges 4:5). Now, trees symbolize the ladder to heaven (Jordan, Through New Eyes, ch. 7), of which the Son of Man is the ultimate picture (John 1:51). They also symbolize God’s presence, the altar, the people of God themselves, and God’s provision, and so we should probably see Deborah’s justice-doing beneath the palm tree as participating in each of these meanings. Trees are also associated with the restoration to Edenic paradise, a return to the Trees (Gen. 2:8-9; Rev. 22:1-2), and so Deborah is pictured as one returned to Eden to sit beneath and between the Trees of Life and Judgment to teach, judge, and bring justice and wisdom to Israel, one who teaches wisdom in the Holy of Holies in the Temple as God always intended for mankind. It should also be noted that the whole people, the “congregation” or “assembly,” were said to “come up” to her for justice just as they used to do for Moses (Ex. 18:3). She could summon and send even the general of Israel’s army (Judges 4:6), and when Israel is victorious over their enemies, both Deborah and Barak sang together before the people of God’s deliverance as equals (Judges 5).

As has been mentioned, to lead in the civil life of Israel was by type and shadow to lead in the public leadership of the Church in the NT. With this in mind, we should take note of the three leaders of Israel out of Egypt and across the wilderness. “I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam,” (Micah 6:4). Moses describes her as “Miriam the prophetess” (Ex. 15:20-21) and the Psalmist could declare that “Yahweh gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host,” and Miriam and the women singers are here parallel to “the righteous” who shall “exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” while the Psalmist summons the whole congregation to “Sing to God, sing praises to His name,” (Psa. 68:11, 3, 4). When Aaron and Miriam go up to confront Moses for taking an Ethiopian wife, their right and authority to do so is assumed in the text despite the fact that they are wielding their leadership wrongly (Num. 12:1-15). When the Torah was rediscovered in the Temple, the servants of the King were sent to “Huldah the prophetess” who declared “Thus says Yahweh” to them (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22).

These examples, scattered and ignored though they might be, indicate that there were women who foreshadowed by symbol and typology that the long-awaited promise would finally come to pass: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit,” (Joel 28, 29). We are now in a place to look at Jesus’s own ministry.

The Holy of Holies Tabernacled Among Us

Scholars are rediscovering the importance of the Temple for understanding Jesus’s ministry. Wright notes that the “Temple was the focal point of every aspect of Jewish national life” and that its “importance at every level can hardly be overestimated,” (New Testament and the People of God, 224). Given this, the fact that Jesus reorients all of Israel around Himself as the True Temple takes on a much greater significance (John 2:19-21; Perrin, Jesus the Temple; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God). When John declares that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His Glory, Glory as only the Son from the Father,” (John 1:16), he is saying that the Glory of Yahweh’s Presence in the Holy of Holies has at long last stepped out from behind the veil and has tabernacled in human flesh. Thus, Jesus’s call for people to follow Him is the means by which He is building up a new Temple around Himself (1 Cor. 3:9, 16-17; Eph. 2:19-22; Rev. 3:12; 21-22), a Temple without the dividers and barriers of the former Temple under the law.

But once again, I do not think the full implications of this have been examined with regard to women. The fact that Jesus is the Temple, the Holy of Holies come forth in the flesh, means that His dealing with, addressing, communing with, and embracing of women means that they too are welcomed into the Holy of Holies to serve Him. The woman with the hemorrhage of blood who runs through the crowd and touches the hem of Jesus’s robe shows, therefore, that women need no mediation to come before the Mercy Seat/Throne (Matt. 5:25-34). While the Twelve male disciples abandoned Jesus, the women disciples remained with him to the end: “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering [diakeneo] to Him,” (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40). This is the same word used by Matthew earlier, in the wilderness temptation: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering [diakeneo] to Him,” (Matt. 4:11; Mark 1:13). These women were serving the same function as the Angels, serving and ministering in the Holy of Holies, acting as angelic-priests. These women had taken on the role of the angelic tutors in ministering before the Glory-Presence of Yahweh, as had always been God’s intention, and is the same word Paul used for his own role, and the roles of others, as ministers of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; 6:21; Col. 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7). A number of women followed Jesus with the rest of the disciples (a larger group than simply the Twelve) and ministered to Jesus, and supported his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). A sinful woman came forward at a party and drew near the Holy of Holies in the flesh and anointed His feet with tears and ointment (Luke 7:37-38).

Twelve Men?

One of the most common reasons for denying women the ministry is that Jesus did not appoint any women as the Twelve disciples. One pastor, Toby Sumpter, writes, “One of the strongest arguments against the ordination of women for ministerial offices in the church may in fact be an argument from silence, or better, an argument from absence.” Did you catch that? One of the strongest arguments for refusing women the ministry is the silence of the Scriptures on the matter. As we have just seen, however, women ministered to Him as ministers/priests in the Holy of Holies, just as the angels in the heavenly sanctuary. And as we shall see, Paul had no problem with women serving in ordained positions, and in fact knew a number of women who did serve in these positions.

So if neither Jesus nor Paul had a problem with women performing ministerial functions, why then did He appoint twelve men to serve as disciples set apart from the others? He did so because He came to set up a New Covenant with a New Torah, a New Israel, and thus He needed twelve New Tribes as the foundation of His work in this regard. His reason was typological. The wall of New Jerusalem has “twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb,” (Rev. 21:14). This was why, incidentally, another man was appointed to the Twelve when Judas betrayed them (Acts 1:15-26). The typology of the New Israel was what was important here, not the biological reality of maleness per se. When we examine apostleship next in this series, we shall see that several women served in this position.

Against Patriarchy, Part Eleven: Jesus, the New Humanity

We have looked at a few problems with the patriarchal reading of Scripture, and we will today address what is possibly the largest problem with it. Patriarchalists and hierarchical-complementarians have not taken into account the monumental change wrought by Christ in the transition between Old and New covenants. Having been influenced by a vocal and influential movement that emerged in the 1970s (called variously Dominionism, Theonomy, or Christian Reconstruction), the neo-Calvinist world has come to oppose any suggestion that the Old Testament has been canceled by the New. While there is great continuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant in a number of ways, this has led to downplaying the radical transformation and change from the Old Covenant which Jesus brought about with the inauguration of the New  Covenant.

The result of this attempt to downplay the discontinuity between covenants has been the corruption of the original context in which the Old Testament was written, opening the Church up to actually muting the testimony of the New Covenant. Try to bring up anything you believe has been altered by the NT and find Matt. 5:17-18 thrown in your face as prima facie evidence that you simply must be wrong. This hermeneutical suspicion of any change between covenants has given rise to a number of ways in which we can actually get around the weight of Jesus’s teaching, dismissing those readings as “compromised.” In this way we have actually worked to file down the New Testament so that it fits better with the Old Testament, rather than recognizing the changes for what they are and letting Jesus and the Apostles reshape our understanding of the Old Testament.

As the Person who ushered in such a new covenant, one that transcended the Old and overcame the barriers it put up, Jesus is the focal point for understanding what the New Covenant did. Thus we must start with Him in order to understand some of the things that were altered from the Old Testament.

Jesus the Hermaphrodite

We have already looked at Adam as a symbolic hermaphrodite before the creation of Eve, an “earth creature” which contained both sexes within himself without differentiation. We saw that God then divided the man into two and reunited the halves to be “one flesh” again, in a new and glorified form. This act parallels the many acts of dividing which God performed in the creation account, dividing light and darkness, land and sea, day and night, and so on. The division of creation and the division of man are parallel, and the process of reunifying the divisions of creation is the reunification of man into “one flesh.”

Jesus also goes through this process of division and reunification. He was born of God similar to how Adam was made of God. In His life He gathered a corporate body to Him and loved them greater than His own flesh, and went to the cross for them. In His death, He sank into “deep sleep” and was pierced in the ribcage, out of which (in the words of St. Augustine) poured forth the blood of redemption and the water of Baptism, the means of our cleansing and commission as people of God, the Bride and Body of Jesus.

But then He departed again, ascending into heaven to prepare for us a place in His Father’s House (John 14:1-3). The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of this house as the heavenly Tabernacle. After “making purification for sin, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” having become “much superior to angels,” (Heb. 1:3, 4). This was done so that He might “bring many sons to glory” as “founder of their salvation,” (Heb. 2:10). He “has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are types of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf,” (Heb. 9:24). The author of Hebrews tells us that His is our hope, by going ahead of us to prepare for us a place there. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a Hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,” (Heb. 6:19-20). This word “forerunner” (prodromos) refers to a messenger who runs ahead of an army to send news or instructions to their destination. The rest are soon to follow and those at their destination ought to get ready to meet them. And just as Jesus ran before the great train of saints, so those saints are to run after Him. In chapter twelve we are told that He ran ahead to scale the mountain of God and that we are to follow, never stopping or slowing until we have gained the summit. “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith[fulness],” and at last in A.D. 70, “you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” (Heb. 12:1-2, 22-23).

Paul pictures this process as a union with Christ by the Spirit. Through Baptism we are united with Jesus. “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For we have been united with Him,” (Rom. 6:4-5). “In Him you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit [in Baptism]. who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,” (Eph. 1:13-14). Christ is the fullness of all things (Eph. 1:9-10). The Father “gave Him” “to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all,” (Eph. 1:22-23). In Christ the Father has “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Jesus,” (Eph. 2:6). In union with Christ, who ascended to the heavenly Tabernacle and the heavenly Mercy Seat/Throne, the Church has been raised to the same place, dwelling in Him as His very Body, His very Incarnation. We dwell in Him in the highest place, and He dwells with us on earth in the Church, which has been brought into the very Godhead of the Trinity. We are in Christ by means of the Spirit, and the Father dwells in the Spirit and the Son just as the Son dwells in the Spirit and the Father, and the Spirit dwells in the Father and the Son (for more on this theme, see Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity). Because He rules over all things, we rule over all things in Him. Because He fills all things, the Church fills all things in Him. Because He is the High Priest commissioned to serve in the heavenly Temple, so too the Church, and each of us as members of the Church, His Body, are all of us High Priests commissioned to serve in the heavenly Temple.

Because we’re each in union with Him by Baptism, gender no longer stands as any obstacle as a means of access to God or as a means of serving in the heavenly Temple, the Church. The carefully constructed hierarchy of graded holiness under the Old Covenant no longer applies. Christ’s elevation above every other authority means that we are elevated above every other authority in Him, which in turn means that we have been lifted above the top of the walls and dividers which had been put in place under the Old Creation, which limited who can participate in public worship and who is eligible to be commissioned to serve as High Priest, whether we are Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Christ is the final, spiritual hermaphrodite who unites all those who have been raised to the Throne in Him together into a single Person, a single Body. By His cross He was “abolishing the Torah of commandments expressed in ordinances,” (Eph. 2:15), “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” which He “set aside, nailing it to the cross,” (Col. 2:14). This was done so that there could be “one body and one Spirit,” “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” (Eph. 4:3, 5-6).

Galatians 3:26-29

There is no more sweeping defense of this point than Galatians 3. “For in Messiah Jesus you are all sons of God, through faithfulness. For as many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have put on the Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus,” (Gal. 3:26-29).

We’ll discuss the implications of the three barriers in a moment. But first we need to introduce what Paul is talking about. Galatians was written to respond to the arguments of the Judaizers, who argued that the Torah had to be kept in addition to baptism in order to be saved. We have already seen that the Torah was the series of graded holiness and limited service of the Old Testament lay Israelite, and this limitation meant that Gentiles, women, and slaves were excluded from priestly service. The very basis of the covenant, circumcision, was exclusive to men, for example.

But now baptism has been established as the means of entrance into the priestly people, which fulfills circumcision (Col. 2:11-12). Baptism also fulfills the ceremonial washings of the Old Covenant, which were symbolic-resurrections and symbolic-recommissionings to the status of priestly people (Spencer, Holy Baptism). And as scholar Peter Leithart has demonstrated, Baptism fulfills the ordination service of the Israelite priests (Leithart, Priesthood of the Plebs).

First, Paul says that the union forged between the believer and Jesus in Baptism has the effect of making them all “sons of God.” This is the evidence which he puts forward as evidence that the barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and male and female have truly been overcome. Because the believer dwells with Christ in His Body, raised to the highest heaven and incorporated into the Son of God, every believer becomes a son of God by nature of this union with Christ, elevated to the same place as Christ, no matter their race, their station in life, or their biology.

Next, Paul establishes this point by arguing that Baptism is a symbolic exchange of the clothing. As many as have been Baptized into Jesus have “put on” Jesus. Salvation/vindication/righteousness are often pictured as being robed or clothed, and often Kings and judges are clothed by the Spirit (Judges 6:34; 1 Chron. 12:18; 2 Chron. 6:41; Psa. 35:26; 109:29; Prov. 31:25; Isa. 61:10; Zech. 3:3-5; Luke 24:49). The Old Man/New Adam typology stands in the background (Col. 2:11-12; 3:9-10). But for the Israelite, the most important pieces of clothing were the Priestly garments (Ex. 28, 39). The clothing rite of the Priests conferred investiture and ordination to serve in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 28:3-4; 29:5-9; 35:19; 40:12-13; Num. 20:25-28). Paul has such investiture in mind and alludes to references to the priestly garments in Gal. 3:27 (2 Chron. 6:41; Psa. 132:9, 16; Zech. 3:1-5; Isa. 61:10). The allusion to sonship and being heirs (Gal. 3:29) is also an allusion to the priestly tribe of Levites, who served in the Temple and guarded it (Leithart, Priesthood, 106). Yahweh had promised that the Levites, who had no possessions or landed property, have Himself as their inheritance (Num. 18:20; Deut. 18:2; Josh. 13:14); they were counted as sons by adoption (Num. 3:40-51; 8:14-19; Ex. 13:11-16) and became “heirs” of God by means of their ordination rite which began with a change of clothing (Num. 8:7). Baptism, then, is a washing from uncleanness to restoration among the people, anointing to rulership in Christ as King, and investiture and ordination as High Priest/Levite to serve in the heavenly Temple in union with the True High Priest and True Levite.

The letter to the Hebrews presents the action of Baptism as the destruction of the Holy Place in order to bring the Holy of Holies and the Courtyard together under a single tent. The author describes the Tabernacle in some detail (Heb. 9:1-7) before commenting that the fact that the High Priest could only enter once a year, and not without blood (v. 7). “By this,” the author writes, “the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the Holy Places [Holy Place and Holy of Holies] is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age),” (vv. 8-9a). There were two tents in the Tabernacle, the tent that enclosed the courtyard, and inside this was another tent which enclosed both Holy Place and Holy of Holies. The author of Hebrews plays with what the Tabernacle symbolizes by speaking of the Holy Place as symbolic for the present age, that is, the Age of Jew and Gentile separated, the Age of Circumcision. The Tabernacle symbolized the cosmos and the ordered structure of the world:

Cosmos                   Tabernacle                  Society

World                                Courtyard                            Gentiles
Land                                   Holy Place                           Israel
Sanctuary                        Holy of Holies                   High Priest

Thus, when Hebrews says the first section symbolizes the present age, he means that the Holy Place symbolizes the Jewish nation in contradistinction to the excluded Gentiles. Because of this, he can write that “According to this arrangement” the Torah cannot “perfect the conscience of the worshiper,” but can “deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation,” (vv. 9-10). When Israel was swept aside in A.D. 70 it put an end to the symbolic Holy Place and Israel, resulting in a new arrangement, an undivided house.

Cosmos                   Tabernacle                         Society

World                               Courtyard/Holy Place              Old Humanity
Sanctuary                       Holy of Holies                               Christ/Church as High Priests

The old divisions were swept aside and the curtain blocking entrance to the Holy of Holies would stand open, so that the world could behold God’s glory and any who had been baptized could enter and serve in the heavenly Holy of Holies, in union with Christ who serves there. As Leithart notes, “In the remodeled house, the dividing curtains are rent and the wall of separation broken, so a single baptismal doorway opens into an undivided house (cf. Heb. 9). Whereas priestly “baptism” once marked out an inner ring within the community of circumcision, ordination and circumcision are now enfolded into Christian baptism,” (Priesthood, 151).

Through His unique sacrifice and His entry into the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus has shaken the Old Covenant house, and baptism temporally and geographically extends His disruption of heaven and earth. By its very form, baptism conjugates the Old rite, administering the once-for-all priestly bath to those outside the lineage of Aaron, and thus enacts the promise and threat of Shiloh: formation of a new priestly house crowned and enthroned together with Melchizedek, the dissolution of priestly gradations within the seed of Abraham, the end of geneological qualifications for priests, and the replacement of the divided sanctuary. As first-century Jewish converts, once divided into priests and laymen (cf. Acts 6:7), were baptized, a homogeneously priestly people emerged. Baptism formed a new Israel out of the old, molding her into the eschatological race of the Last Adam, the kingdom of priests. It is the efficacious sign of the clothing change of heaven and earth, destroying antique Israelite order and remapping the terrain. (Leithart, Priesthood, 197).

In this way Baptism broke down the barriers of Jew and Gentile. But there are two more barriers it overcomes.

Slave and Free

By raising the baptized person up over every power and authority on earth or in heaven, uniting them with Christ enthroned in heaven, all slaves that underwent Baptism were likewise raised above their masters and all who believed they could control them. This had the effect of allowing slaves to serve in the priesthood, entering into the Holy of Holies to serve there. Any slave was therefore free to serve in the covenant community as equals to any other, evaluated on the basis of their lives and not on their social station outside of that community. F. F. Bruce notes, “This could mean, for example, that someone who was a slave in the outside world might be entrusted with spiritual leadership in the church, and if the owner of the slave was a member of the same church, he would submit to that spiritual leadership,” (Commentary on Galatians, 188-189). If the slave had an unbelieving master, the slave was in an enviable position of modeling Christ’s own servitude as a means of evangelism (1 Pet. 2:11, 18-23). If the master converted or was already a believer and spent any time among the community of Jubilee in which slaves were freed and the chains of oppression broken (Isa. 61:1-2), it would not have been unlikely that Christian masters would have released their slaves in the seventh year (Deut. 15:12-15). This is essentially what Paul requested of Philemon when he returned his runaway slave Onesimus: “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, as a beloved brother. … So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me,” (Phil. 1:16-17). “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ,” (1 Cor. 7:22). This made slavery as an institution unsustainable, and it reveals that Paul’s long-term strategy was the eventual abolition of the practice entirely by gospel subversion (Wright, Colossians and Philemon).

No More Male and Female

We find that Paul’s baptismal strategy applies just as much to the barrier of male and female as it does to Jew and Gentile and master and slave. In Christ, by baptism, women who were once excluded from serving in the Temple can now do so because “you are all sons of God,” regardless of gender, because “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (Gal. 3:26, 27). We are all, regardless of gender, sons of God in the Son of God, commissioned to enter into and serve in the Holy of Holies with the rest of the Church. As odd and uncomfortable as it might feel for some of us, this means that women stand equally able and qualified to serve as deacons, elders, pastors, and bishops if called to that office. All are now sons of God. All are now High Priests.

Under the Old Covenant, the sign of the covenant was circumcision and thus women were excluded from the outset. They could only possess the crumbs from God’s Table by clinging to the household of the men who were circumcised, and they were disqualified from serving in the Temple for lack of the proper tackle, so to speak. The priestly ordination rite put the priest under a four-fold circumcision, smearing blood on the right ear, thumb, and big toe (Lev. 8, esp. v. 23) alongside the circumcision of their manhood. But now Baptism fulfills all four circumcisions, commissioning and ordaining all the baptized for priestly service in the heavenly Temple, the Church, where God dwells. This does not mean we all become elders and pastors, but it does mean that the Spirit can call whoever He wishes to serve in that special capacity. “There is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” who “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:4, 5-6, 11-12). Notice how they are spoken of in genderless terms. The weaker and stronger members of the body in 1 Cor. 12 are spoken of merely as those who differ in the gifts of the Spirit, not an ontological, gendered strength or weakness: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. … For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit,” (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 11, 13). For this reason, Wilson is simply wrong to assert (on the basis of no exegetical work), “At issue is baptism, not ordination,” (Why Ministers Must Be Men, 13). But as we have seen, to the contrary of Wilson’s assertion, baptism is ordination (Leithart, Priesthood of the Plebs). Even Luther was force to admit that the priesthood of all believers meant that “a woman can baptize and administer the word of life by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short, by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul…When women baptize, they exercise the function  of priesthood legitimately and do it not as a private act but as a part of the public ministry of the Church which belongs only to the universal priesthood,” (Luther’s Works, vol. 40:, 25, 23). Despite this claim, he still attempted to prevent women from being ordained on the basis of social convention, though this creates a serious tension in his thought.

Once again, Baptism levels the playing field and raises up all those who have been excluded, oppressed, and maligned. To then deny them what their Baptism grants them, equal standing in Christ and His Body, is to re-gender what God has ungendered and to undo baptism once again. Paul’s direct quotation of Genesis 1:27 in Galatians 3:28 and claim that it no longer applies doesn’t mean an end to biological or psychological differences, but that both sexes have been regrafted into a single Body, Christ and the Church, and knit back together into a single person, a New Man, a New Adam who stands not as an “earth creature” with both present in the same body, but in the ascension and through Baptism this New Man now stands as a “heaven creature” which has both male and female, masculine and feminine, present in His resurrection Body. The union of Christ and Bride, Head and Body, individual and corporate, makes Jesus the New Hermaphrodite, the resolution of all the divisions of the Old Creation. Jesus was revealed the “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (Eph. 1:10). “He Himself is our shalom, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two,” (Eph. 2:14-15). This “new man” is a new anthropos (humanity, human race), not a new male (aner); Christ builds a new humanity in Himself by reconciling and uniting all divisions in Himself, first by raising up those baptized above all other authority, over the walls of the divisions, and then sweeping those divisions away and coming down to an earth swept clean and made new to dwell with them (Rev. 21:1-4) as the implications of this are worked out in history before a final restoration.

I’m sure this has been a lot to take in, but it was necessary to take the time to explore it. Many will be suspicious of the conclusion that women are permitted to serve in the pastorate, and will appeal to a few places in the New Testament that would seem to support their position. It is to these passages we will now be turning.

Against Patriarchy, Part Ten: Male Households?

Another common assumption of patriarchalists is that the male is given dominance over his whole household, including wife and children. This is argued from a few places where men are addressed as needing to care for their households, but, as we shall see, just because Paul says one thing in one place does not mean he has not said other things elsewhere, and it does not mean that this exhausts all that we can say about an issue.

We should note before we begin that male headship in this way is excluded from the outset by the general principles we have seen Paul already develop concerning mutual submission and equality in all of life for believers. Even if in every other place Paul said that women and children were to submit to the father/husband this would still not diminish his obligation to do precisely the same for them on the basis of their being believers.

Patriarchalists appeal to a number of passages in order to establish this male priority structure, which we have already examined and rejected. Neither Genesis 1:26-28 or 2:8-24 speak of male superiority, and in fact quite the opposite, as we have discussed at some length. We note also that 1 Cor. 11:7 does not teach that women is subordinate to man, but that woman surpasses man in glory. It should be noted here also that the proper translation of v. 10 is not “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,” but rather “That is why a woman ought to have authority over her own head.” This will be defended in later installments. They also appeal to 1 Tim. 2:13, which speaks of Adam being formed first, despite the fact that we have shown this passage is dealing with Genesis 3 and Eve’s vulnerability of knowledge, and that this does not establish all women are creationally lesser in the slightest.

They also appeal to 1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:24, and Col. 3:18 to establish the “headship” of the man over the woman. As we have already examined in detail, none of these passages speak of authority, and mean simply “source” or “origin,” and that Eph. 5:24 comes in the context of the mutual submission of Eph. 5:21. They also appeal to 1 Pet. 3:1-6, which we have also seen comes in the context of a Christian wife submitting to an unbelieving husband as a work of evangelism, that also comes in the context of the mutual submission of all Christians, regardless of gender, to submit to unbelievers after the example of Christ (2:21-24; 3:8-9). The whole context of 1 Peter is summed up in 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” The submission of the believing wife to the unbelieving Gentile husband is part of this evangelistic program, nothing more than an example of the universal submission to which all believers are called, to one another and to the world. It is the same with Titus 2:5, which simply singles out women to do what all Christians are to practice mutually anyway.

They also point to the qualifications for elder and deacon as an example where a man must manage his household well in order to be entrusted with the management of the Church (1 Tim. 3:4, 12). There are a few comments necessary here. Firstly, what have we seen already about what “management” or “rule” looks like? We have seen that it looks like Jesus, who came in the form of a slave, to serve and not to be served, and to practice submission and seeking the good of others over himself, which is the calling and duty of every Christian, regardless of gender. So the call for the one seeking eldership and deaconship to “manage” their households well is a call for the same submission which is practiced mutually and reciprocally and by everyone. Secondly, the texts do not say that the wife is part of the household. Verse 2 speaks of the wife without regard to submission, and then v. 4 simply says they must manage the household and the children. The wife is distinct from the household, unusual for the time period Paul wrote in, but as we shall see, this is something assumed in the Torah. Likewise, the qualification for deacon is simply “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households,” (1 Tim. 3:12). Once again, the wife is mentions outside of the household.

Why would Paul construct his argument so carefully? Because he was an expert in the law. When the law was first given in the Ten Commandments, wives were actually included among the household goods of the man. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” (Ex. 20:17). But 40 years later when Moses restates the law after a generation of applying it and growing in wisdom, the wife has been elevated above the rest of the household and stands apart from it. “And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house,” (Deut. 5:21). Notice the reversal.

So it is interesting to notice that the Bible often addresses parents together as heads of their household. In the Ten Commandments itself, in the heart of the law, they are addressed as equals: “Honor your father and mother,” (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,” (Eph. 6:1-2). Proverbs frequently addresses parents together, as an equal unit (Prov. 6:20; 10:1; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 28:24; 30:11, 17). Paul, in fact, describes mothers as being oikodespoteo, “house ruler,” and did you catch that root of the word despot in there? There is no inequality here. They are equally the governors of their house, mutually and reciprocally submissive to one another.

The End of Patriarchy

But for all the advances of Israel over the other nations with regard to separating women from the household of the male, the Old Covenant was still limiting to women. The fact that the covenant was given directly through circumcision meant that women were in principle only ever marginal actors on the center of Israelite life. They could participate by clinging to a man who had been circumcised.

Jesus changed all of that. Under His teaching, the New Covenant would no longer be a gendered covenant in the same way that the Old was. His teachings illustrate this nicely. The Beatitudes, as the universal principles for all of Christian life, stand as a glorious, genderless vision of the covenant community (not in the sense that gender has been done away with, but simply that one no longer approaches God by way of one’s gender, but simply by personal faithfulness). Not only are the poor and meek said to be blessed above all in the Kingdom, but they will inherit! Only under certain conditions could women inherit property under the Old Covenant (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-9; Josh. 15:13-19; Job 42:15). But in the new covenant, anyone could inherit all that belonged to God. Any who are pure in heart, regardless of gender, “shall see God,” (Matt. 5:8). All who work toward peace “shall be called sons of God,” (Matt. 5:9). All those who are persecuted for the sake of God’s justice will find that “theirs is the Kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 5:10). All who follow Him, regardless of gender, are to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16). This indicates, by the way, that we are to all make public testimony, regardless of gender, and that no longer will the talents of some be hidden away under a basket. All, regardless of gender, are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness/justice,” (Matt. 6:33). His words presume equal participation by women: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,” and “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household,” and “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” (Matt. 10:35, 36, 38). “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt. 11:28). “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” (Matt. 12:50).

So often the English language gets in our own way when trying to read the Bible. We simply assume our translations are accurate, but often they fail to convey the full scope of various words and phrases. One such limitation of English is the word “man.” Our word “man” translates two separate Greek words: anthropos (humanity) and aner (male). So we don’t realize how radical it was that Jesus took on Himself the Messianic title “Son of Man” and used the word anthropos. He came as the Messiah, announcing Himself as the “Son of Humanity,” the Son of the undifferentiated Adam that contained components of masculine and feminine prior to the separation of Eve. He did not come for men, but for all humanity together. He came to knit back together what God had divided in the beginning, a New Humanity, not in a male form, but in a single, undifferentiated form that incorporated men and women equally and directly. By Baptism, the covenant is no longer limited directly to men (Gal. 3:26-29).

It is no wonder the women responded to Jesus in the way they did, flocking to Him. As Dorothy Sayers once said:

They had never known a man like this Man–there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized them; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious,” (Are Women Human?, 47).

Against Patriarchy, Part Nine: Masculinity and Femininity

The patriarchalist/hierarchical-complimentarian reading of Scripture depends upon separate and distinct “gender roles” that delineate “created” and “designed” differences between men and women that show them their different “roles” in social, cultural, and family life. This attempt to demarcate the masculine and the feminine into categories I have long found to be problematic, and I hope to show why here.

But first, what do patriarchalists claim distinguishes the masculine from the feminine? There are a number of suggestions, but chief among them is the idea of initiation and response. Being masculine means initiating things, and being feminine means responding to the initiative of the masculine (Podles, The Church Impotent, ch. 3). Men “take the initiative and women respond to men’s leadership,” (Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 147). Wilson’s categories are the most exhaustive, so we will look at them in more detail. He defines the marks of masculinity as being “lords, husbandmen, saviors, sages, and glory-bearers,” (Future Men, 14. Emphasis his), and as authority, sacrifice, responsibility, and initiative (Wilson, For a Glory, 41). In contrast to this, femininity is defined as submission, obedience, gratitude, and responsiveness (Wilson, For a Glory, 45-46).

Now, these only work as categories if they are more true of one gender than the other. If it can be demonstrated that both criteria are possessed by both Godly men and women, these categories as distinct gender roles will collapse under their own weight, and a mutual possession of all these roles by the sexes will seem to be the norm. For instance, how is initiative a uniquely dominant trait of men and not women? The deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the exodus (in which God took the initiative) is routinely pictured as a feminine act (Deut. 32:10-14; and this imagery is repeated, Psa. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4; Mal. 4:2), and Jesus repeats this feminine imagery for His own actions (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34).

Lord/Authority

That men are to rule the earth and subdue it is commonly established by appeal to Genesis 1:26-28 (Wilson, Future Men, 14). But as we have already seen, the dominion mandate was given to the “earth creature” who possessed both male and female, masculine and feminine traits in a single body. “Let them…have dominion,” (Gen. 1:28). This call would apply no less to women than to men, since it was given to both. Wilson also then appeals to the Great Commission as the means by which New Covenant men keep the earth and subdue it (p. 14). But wait, is the Great Commission a gendered command? No, it isn’t. And that is largely the point. The means by which the earth is subdued is now not by family life, but by non-gendered discipleship. We know that women could share in this mandate equally because we see women leading people to the gospel all the time. “Now a Jew named Apollos…had been instructed in the way of the Lord…He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately,” (Acts 18:24, 26). Women could pray and prophesy in the public worship of the Church (1 Cor. 11, 14). Women were also prophets. Immediately after Pentecost, Peter declares, “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy,” (Acts 2:17-18). As we have already seen, this mutuality carries over in to the home. “The husband should give himself to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband, for the wife does not have authority over her own person, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his person, but the wife does,” (1 Cor. 7:4).

Husbandship

Next, Wilson argues that masculinity is seen in the mandate to tend and keep what he has conquered (Future Men, 15), quoting Gen. 2:15 as evidence. But again, when God speaks this command to Adam he is still an “earth creature,” the undifferentiated human containing both masculine and feminine traits. This call is, then, also given to women. Nothing yet has been said that actually sets out any distinct traits of manhood vs. womanhood. Again, this call to tend what has been conquered has been transformed by the Great Commission, which conquers outsiders by baptism, and tends them by teaching them to be disciples. We have already seen men and women working in tandem to do this (Acts 18:26).

Savior/Sacrifice

We are then told that “Men also have a deep desire to deliver or save,” (Wilson, Future Men, 15), and the example of Jesus is given. Wilson quotes from Genesis 3:15 to establish his point: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” But as we have seen, the role of deliverer was given especially to the woman (Gen. 2:18) and the promise of the great war is given as an antithesis “between you and the woman.” Jesus was only part of the fulfillment of this great war, for He was to crush the Serpent’s head and ascend into heaven to take the throne. But the feminine Bride will join Him on the heavenly Throne (Dan. 7:13-14, 18, 21-22, 26-27), and Paul says that the “God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rom. 16:20). The Church’s feet, yes, but also under the feet of the people just listed in Romans 16, which included Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphosa, Julia, and “Nereus and his sister,” (Rom. 16:3, 6, 7, 12, 15). Women play a special role in the war against the Serpent as head-crushers and ones who deliver as God delivers.

Sage

Wilson also argues that intellectual study and the inculcation of wisdom is a masculine trait (Future Men, 16-17). Of course, as we have seen, both man and woman were brought into the Garden to learn wisdom from their angelic-beast guardians, of which the original Serpent was one, who acted as their pastor and instructor. From this, there seems to be no distinction between male and female concerning education, which is neither a particularly masculine nor feminine trait. We also recall from Genesis 3 that the woman learned wisdom before the man, and that the realization that man would surpass him led the Serpent/Lucifer to contradict God. Wisdom itself is always personified in Scripture as a Lady (Prov. 1-9), to which the man was learn and study under. Wilson is forced to admit that Lady Wisdom is in authority over men as they learn and grow, but he cannot help find ways to resist it. She “disciplines” “grimy little boys,” picturing Wisdom as performing domestic tasks like spanking, and strongly implies that when a boy becomes a man he is no longer under Wisdom (Future Men, 16). This is required by his hierarchical understanding of authority, but seems disingenuous. When has a man graduated from Wisdom’s tutelage? The wise man knows there is always more to learn. So this aspect of masculinity too is not limited to the male gender in any sense, and ought to be equally enjoyed by all.

Glory-Bearing

Finally, Wilson argues that men must be glory-bearers because they are the image and glory of God (Future Men, 17). This, he argues, is in distinction from women, who apparently aren’t the image and glory of God in the same way. “The woman reflects the glory of God by reflecting the glory of the man, whose glory she is,” (p. 17). Wilson’s position here is that the male is the reflection of God, while the woman only reflects the reflection of God. So, evidently, the man is a single mirror, but the woman operates on a two-mirror system, another step removed from the image and glory of God. To which we reply that Wilson should return to Lady Wisdom and learn instruction once again. This is completely contrary to Paul’s point, as we have alluded to already. The woman is the pinnacle of creation, and so the fact that she is the glory of the man does not mean that she reflects his glory, but that her glory makes her an “improved” version of man. And if Wilson’s comments are any indication, we men need an improved version! No, Wilson is quite plainly wrong here. There is no good reason for why women cannot to be glory-bearers as well, and many good reasons to think they will be generally better at this than men, as this is by “design” as the glory of man.

Submission

We now begin on the feminine traits. Obviously, the single most obvious trait about women, according to patriarchalists, is that they are submissive by design, submitting to somebody or something. But as we have already seen on a number of occasions, the NT’s position on submission is that it is to be mutual and reciprocal. “Submit to one another…as to the Lord,” (Eph. 5:21). “The husband does not have authority over his person, but the wife does,” (1 Cor. 7:4). “In humility consider others more significant than yourselves,” (Phil. 2:4). This is clearly a mutual call, in life, society, culture, and marriage. It is, simply put, the character trait of the Christian, regardless of gender.

The same goes for obedience, for this means living as a servant of others, putting them ahead of one’s own self without consideration of gender. It also means the same for gratitude, because Christians are called to have gratitude for all things, good or bad (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17; 1 Thess. 5:18), a call which ironically comes right before the call to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).

These sorts of claims made by hierarchical complimentarians and patriarchalists are problematic because they fail to offer a compelling and distinct gender role division among the sexes. They have yet to offer any particular case for what it means to be a “man” in contradistinction to being a “woman.” But their views are not merely problematic for this reason. By attempting to claim that men and women are inherently different at certain things, they seek to “lock” the genders into dominant and subordinate traits. This has the effect of stifling each individual’s personality, and results in the attempt to suppress what gifts the Spirit has given. It is not wrong for a woman to initiate by “asking out the guy,” nothing wrong with asking the man to marry her (as, by the way, Ruth did). It isn’t wrong for an unmarried woman to work outside the home or to move out of her father’s house. It is not wrong for the woman to work and the man to remain at home, or for the woman to support the household (Jesus let women support Him, after all: Luke 8:1-3). There is not a shred of evidence in Scripture that any of these things are a problem. Jesus’s command to “seek first the Kingdom” and “all these things will be added to you” is not a gendered call. He calls men and women to leave their homes and follow Him and not to worry about food, clothing, or provision. There’s no reason to worry that your daughter likes playing in the dirt, rough-housing and participating in sports rather than dresses, dollies, and pink. We need to stop repressing the Spirit and the talents and gifts which God has given to us.

Against Patriarchy, Part Eight: Mutual Submission

It is necessary to now look at the concept of submission in Scripture, to determine whether all Christians are called to submit to one another in reciprocity, or whether there is a sense in which women must perform an additional form of submission that is nonreciprocal above and beyond this mutual submission. Patriarchalists and hierarchical complimentarians frequently claim the latter, that women had a special role of submission and indeed subordination based in their reading of the eternally subordinate Godhead and the very creation order, by “design” and nature.

We should also take note carefully of our terminology. Patriarchalists simply assume the debate is between the defenders of Biblical orthodoxy, against whom the cultural enemies of “radical feminism” seek to destroy all gender differences and live forever in a glorious flatland of non-differentiation, of which the notion of Biblical equality is only a “lite” version of this, pressed into the Church by hopelessly gullible Christians who have absorbed “cultural” and “alien” presuppositions. This is a recurring motif of Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of this discussion.

This is, actually, a discussion between two groups of Christians who both take the text seriously and want to live according to all that is revealed in God’s word. The major impetus for the push for equality comes not from feminists outside the Church, but by careful and detailed exposition and examination of Scripture within the Church. Likewise, embracing such Biblical equality does not threaten either the oneness and threeness of Trinitarian life or of the very real sexual and pyschological differences between men and women of which all admit (or of anyone who finds themselves somewhere in between). Instead, it simply means that such distinctions ought not to be the definition of the way in which one relates to God, the Church, and the world. The question is really a question not of specific texts but of the whole sweep of Scripture’s story. Does God relate to us on the basis of biology or gender, or does He relate to us as each images of Him able to stand as equals before the Throne? The rhetoric leveled against the term “feminist” by hierarchical-complimentarians, claiming that it seeks to eliminate all biological and gender difference in creation, has resulted in the preference of the term “egalitarian-complimentarian” to apply to those who support Biblical equality. This is done to highlight the fact that their goal is neither to deny or to eliminate the differences between genders.

As Christ Submits to the Church

One of the shocking things about Scripture is how clearly it teaches us that Christ submits to the Church just as much as the Church is summoned to submit to Him. We have already looked at Ephesians 5 in the previous post, but Paul’s analogy between Christ and the Church and the husband and the wife is vital to our understanding of this important truth of mutual submission. As we recall, Paul wrote that Christians generally and married couples in particular were called to “submit to one another…as to the Lord,” (Eph. 5:21). This analogy is tightly argued and flows in both directions, between Christ/Church and Husband/Wife. So when Paul declares that wives are to submit to their husbands “as the Church submits to Christ,” (v. 24), it is in the context of both submitting to one another. But this means that Christ submits to the Church. There is an exchange of mutual submission between Christ and the Church.

This is seen in a number of other places, where Christ submits to the Church out of love and honor, taking the form and station of a servant with respect to her. Most famously, Paul tells us that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” and therefore “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant [lit. slave],” and “becoming obedient to the point of death,” (Phil. 2:7, 8). This is to become our example. Paul tells the Philippians to be “of the same mind, having the same love,” and commands them to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” (v. 2,3). These are genderless, universal calls for mutual selflessness, a submission borne not from authoritarian hierarchies or command structures, but a submission that begins by having the “same love” that Christ had for us. Peter tells us the same thing. Christ “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten,” and “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps,” (1 Pet. 2:22-23, 21). When Peter recommends wives with unbelieving husbands win those husbands with their conduct and submission, he is doing nothing more than applying a mutual, genderless call for all Christians to take the form of a servant to each other and the whole world to a specific situation (1 Pet. 3:1-6). He concludes by again contextualizing this as a universal command: “Finally, all of you…do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless,” (1 Pet. 3:8, 9). Paul agrees. “Outdo one another in showing honor,” (Rom. 12:10). This mutual seeking the good of others above oneself is to be exercised in every area of life. To the point when someone demands a legal claim against you, “why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7). It extends to our economic and material lives as well: “your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be equality,” (2 Cor. 8:14). Anyone in need whom you come across is to be seen and dealt with as you were dealing with Jesus Himself (Matt. 25).

Christ modeled this mutuality of servanthood by initiating the cycle of blessing and not cursing, stepping down out of heaven to submit to all of our weakness and frailty and hatred. “The Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve,” (Mark 10:45), and therefore “lording it over” one another is excluded. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all,” (vv. 43-44; 9:35). During the last Passover, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet: “If the I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, so you ought to wash one another’s feet,” (John 13:14). This submission is not done because of a hierarchy or external, imposed structure that requires or obligates it, either by gender role or by nature. It is to be done simply because Jesus loved us enough to become the servant of His Church in a self-sacrificial way. But as we have seen, imitating Him in this self-sacrificial way is what all Christians are to be like toward all Christians, as well as to the whole world.

There is a clear reciprocity of love here in which all serve all, regardless of gender. The submission of marriage is not different in form or nature, and nothing more is demanded of women than of men with regards to submission. “Submitting to one another…as to the Lord,” (Eph. 5:21). In fact, mutual submission is illustrated by regards to sexual intimacy: “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does,” (1 Cor. 7:4), but rather, the “husband ought to give himself to his wife, and the wife to her husband,” (v. 3). It is here that the hierarchical-complimentarian ESV translation can trick us; they speak of “conjugal rights,” and while this is certainly implied, the intimacy is actually far greater. This is a total self-giving, an intimate mutual-indwelling between husband and wife that includes sexual activity but also transcends it. The text says that husband and wife are to give themselves and recognize that they don’t have rights over their whole person, not just over their activities in the bedroom. This is a radical mutual self-giving to one another, a mutual taking the form of a servant to one another.

At their best, the hierarchical-complimentarians draw near to this idea of self-sacrifice. They do their best to emphasize the husband is to lead sacrificially, as a servant leader (Wilson, For a Glory and a Covering is the most direct about emphasizing this). But they still cannot get past the idea that something, somehow, is required more for women than for men in the submission/servant/slave department. Note Kostenberger: “wives are called to submit to their husbands in a way that is nonreciprocal,” (God, Marriage, and Family, 59. Emphasis, ironically, is his.). For all their talk of servant leadership, hierarchical-complimentarians must still define this as “authority over” (Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical, 52-54, 60-61, 64) and are forced to argue that “egalitarians wrongly pit servant leadership against authority,” (Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, 168). They are trying to strike a “halfway covenant” between the “authority over” of the Gentiles and the “authority-as-servant” of Jesus. But “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” (Matt. 6:24).

As we have already seen, for Jesus and the Church, leadership is taking the initiative to become a servant for others, serving their needs and desires and not their own, and that this call is not gender-exclusive. It is a call for all who are believers, men and women alike. What is more, it is the heart of Paul’s teaching on marriage, that husband and wife are to take on the form of servant for the sake of the other, practicing mutual submission. The Bible teaches mutual submission, not the submission of the wife exclusively, and not as a result of her “nature,” “design,” or “gender role.”

Against Patriarchy, Part Seven: Woman as Helper?

Patriarchalists often claim that women are subordinate to men because they were made second and as man’s “helper.” This argument is often framed in terms of “design.” Women were just designed to submit and help men do their thing. Wilson, for example, tells us that “the creation order tells us that Adam was not created for Eve, but rather that Eve was created for Adam,” (Reforming Marriage, 29; Father Hunger, ch. 11). As a result, “submission for women is not optional. They will be in submission in some way and to somebody,” (Wilson, For a Glory and a Covering, 64). Sproul Jr., writing about the creation of woman in the Garden, says that this “affirms that she is in a position of submission,” (Bound for Glory, 64). Kostenberger writes that “Genesis 1-3 repeatedly root the man’s primary responsibility in the family (as well as in the church) in the fact that he was created first,” and argues that “these facts follow plainly from a reading of the creation narratives in Genesis,” (God, Family, and Marriage, 24. Emphasis his). The woman was to be his “associate or assistant” and “assigned to the man as his ‘helper’ and thus placed under his overall charge,” and that “female subordination” is “rooted in the creative order.” Being the man’s helper “sums up her very reason for existence,” (God, Marriage, and Family, 25, 26). This is “deeply imbedded in the created order, feminist doctrine notwithstanding,” (Wilson, Reforming Marriage, 31).

Such a reading would seem to belie, indeed contradict, what patriarchalists/hierarchical-complimentarians are at pains to establish–that the fact that women were “designed” to be submissive subordinates, “assistants” whose whole existence is to be found in helping the man accomplish his tasks of ruling does not make the woman inferior on a created, ontological level. But if they are not ontologically inferior, then they should not have been “designed” as a subordinate. Designed subordinates are made that way. Like women, who will apparently, as a gender, “be in submission in some way and to somebody,” (Wilson, For a Glory and a Covering, 64). By nature. By design. By created order. Such arguments make them ontologically inferior on the basis of creation, rather than as ontological equals who are afterward assigned “roles.” In this way, patriarchalist and hierarchical-complimentarian readings actually prove too much.

But what does Genesis 1-3 really say?

The Creation Account

At the peak of the creation week, God made humanity, and He made them equal. “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness,” the Godhead decided (Gen. 1:26). And so God “created man in His own Image, in the Image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” (v. 27). “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…and have dominion,” (v. 28). What is shocking about this statement is that man and woman were created at the same time, unlike most Ancient Near East creation accounts where men were made first, with the right to dominate women.

Now, most patriarchalists are generous enough to grant that women reflect the Image of God and that women are co-rulers with men, though this is quickly undercut later (Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 22-24; Piper and Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 97). But they are also quick to point out that Eve’s subordinate status is clear from the fact that both man and woman are called “man.” This only makes sense “against the backdrop of male headship.” “God’s naming the race ‘man’ whispers male headship,” even though “Moses does not explicitly teach male headship in Genesis 1” and the “burden of Genesis 1:26-28 is male-female equality,” (Piper and Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 98). 

This is a failure to let the Bible define itself for us. It takes the biological differentiation between man and woman and reads it backward into the pre-differentiation passage without letting the obvious implications of definition into account. God is not defining all of humanity after the male, He is starting with a creature that contains masculine and feminine traits, in which male and female are contained in one body and defining that creature corporately. “Man” in Genesis one is little more than an undifferentiated being of male and female elements and characteristics, a hermaphrodite, if you will (literally or symbolically makes little difference to the meaning of the passage). “Man” at this stage probably means “earth creature,” without sexual differences, or both sexual differences.

But, say the patriarchalists, what about Genesis 2? There woman is clearly made second, which proves their case, right? Not so. We should still not take “man” to mean “male” until after God puts Adam into deep sleep and extracts woman from his ribcage. Thus, when God speaks to Adam prior to this point, He is speaking to the undifferentiated “earth creature,” fully formed but carrying both male and female within himself. Patriarchalists make much of the fact that Adam was given a task (Gen. 2:15) to which Eve was made as his assistant. But since the Adam of that moment was still the undifferentiated creature carrying both male and female within himself, God is actually speaking to both of them. He puts mankind, male and female, in the Garden “to work it and keep it,” (Gen. 2:15), which is no different from Genesis one when God said “to them…have dominion,” (Gen. 1:28). We’re still on equal footing. There is no inequality, inferiority, or subordinate status anywhere suggested in the creation accounts.

In fact, a careful reading of the passage illustrates not just equality, but almost a sense of superiority of the woman over the man. The order of creation is from simple to complex, a rising of ability and intelligence, from insects and bugs to birds and fish to wild creatures to domestic creatures, to Adam, and then to Eve. She is the crown and glory of all creation, the pinnacle of creaturely being. This is Paul’s reasoning in 1 Cor. 11:7: the male might be the image and glory of God, but the woman was made not just in the image and glory of God, but as the glory of the man too, placing her on a higher plane symbolically. Conservative scholar James Jordan notes, “The woman is the glory of the man, and thus a ‘better version’ of the man, an improvement in the sense of being more glorious,” (Jordan, “Deaconesses, Part One,” Rite Reasons No. 102). We also see this sort-of superiority in the fact that the woman does not leave her father and mother and cleave to her husband, but the man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife (Gen. 2:24)

What about Eve’s being Adam’s “Helper”? Doesn’t that imply a lesser role, a fundamental orientation toward her husband in her calling and duty? Does not being the man’s helper “sum up her very reason for existence,” (God, Marriage, and Family, 25, 26)?

The word for “helper” here is ezer, a word used for God’s deliverance of His people. Jethro, for example, names his son Eliezer, which means “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh,” (Ex. 18:4). Psalm 20 declares, “May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you ezer from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!…O Yahweh, save the King! May he answer us when we call,” (Psa. 20:1-2, 9). “Behold, the eye of Yahweh is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for Yahweh; he is our ezer and our shield,” (Psa. 33:18-20). “I am poor and need; hasten to me, O God! You are my ezer and my deliverer; O Yahweh, do not delay!” (Psa. 70:5). “O Israel, trust in Yahweh! He is their ezer and their shield,” (Psa. 115:9). “From where does my ezer come? My ezer comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth,” (Psa. 121:1-2). “Blessed is he whose ezer is the God of Jacob…who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. Yahweh sets the prisoners free; Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind,” (Psa. 146:5, 7-8). The “help” which Yahweh provides is deliverance from destruction, persecution, famine, war, and enemies. This is the sort of “helper” woman would be, a deliverer, an essential ingredient without which he would surely perish. She would be his deliverer, his means of liberation.

His deliverer from what? From anything. A support in the storm, his refuge, one who defends and protects him from all comers, just as he was to be for her. Again, what we see is mutuality. Patriarchalists are right to see the call of a husband to protection and support to his wife; but they miss that this task was also for the woman to do for the man. The task was given while “man” was still undifferentiated, containing both male and female aspects. No hierarchy here, just a co-equal mutuality of protection for one another.

But there is also a historical-redemptive aspect to her deliverance. And to unpack that, we have to turn to the Fall of humanity. Man and woman was to gather in the center of the Garden for worship (Jordan, Trees and Thorns), to be taught God’s principles from their angelic guardians (the Old Creation was ruled by angels: Heb. 1-2; Gal. 3-4). This makes them equally subject to God’s word, declared to them by sexless angels who neither marry or give in marriage (Matt. 22:30). This was not a moment when man instructed woman, as some have suggested.

Scholar James Jordan has demonstrated that the angelic Serpent did not begin this exchange evil. He was Lucifer, lord of all the angels, God’s messenger, come to grow and stretch humanity in wisdom, playing the role of pastor in this proto-Holy of Holies. So when he says, “Did God really say” at the start of the exchange (Gen. 3:1), this is a question not geared to subvert God’s word, but rather to test their comprehension of that word. Many commentators have hammered Eve for her response, which was to say that they were neither to eat of it nor touch it (Gen. 3:2-3). They take Eve to task for adding to the word of God, because God never said not to touch the fruit, just not to eat it (Gen. 2:16-17). Once again, these scholars are blaming the woman. In fact, a study of the later law reveals that what you do not eat you should not touch (Lev. 11), and Paul declares “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch,” (Col. 2:21). Eve was learning wisdom (ahead of the man, gasp!). She understood God’s word and had applied it wisely and had grown. But suddenly the Serpent contradicts God. God said “you shall surely die,” but the Serpent subverts God’s word at this point, immediately after the woman displays wisdom. “You shall not surely die,” (Gen. 3:4). Eve is tempted and “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate,” (Gen. 3:6). Adam stood there the whole time and did nothing. Patriarchalists have rightly seen that Adam should have stepped in and corrected the Serpent (or the woman, if they are feeling particularly subordinationalist). They reason from this that obviously God appointed the man protector. But can we really imagine a situation in which Adam was tempted by the Serpent and the woman was not supposed to step in and correct the Serpent?

It is sometimes supposed from the temptation of Eve that she was the “weaker” sex by nature, so obviously the Serpent targeted her. She was gullible, easily deceived, and thus her punishment is being forbidden from teaching a man. This is supposed from 1 Tim. 2:12-15: “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man…For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love a holiness, with self-control.” Full exposition of this passage must come some other time, but it should be enough to note that Paul’s argument does not depend upon the created order; rather, he is referring to the fact that Eve had not heard God’s instructions to Adam directly; Adam had to tell her what God said. She had to trust that Adam was accurate in telling her what God said. She was made second and missed the direct instructions, not that she was made second and is therefore inferior. Her weakness was not of nature, but of knowledge, a vulnerability which the Serpent exploited. The heart of the passage revolves around v. 14, that she was deceived and became a transgressor, not that she was gullible and easily manipulated. But what are we to make of v. 15, that “she will be saved by childbearing?” Is Paul saying women are saved by having big families? Emphatically not. In fact, he’s referring to the second way in which woman will be man’s deliverer. The curse on the Serpent was that someday a deliverer would come forth to destroy him: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” (Gen. 3:15). Paul is saying that womankind will be saved along with menkind by bearing a child who has grown, ministered, died, ascended, and will come to judge their enemies and deliver them all from the devil, sin, and death (1 Tim. 2:15).

Incidentally, the first time we get the faintest hint of gender subordination is also in the midst of this curse on creation. The consequence of their sin will mean that “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” (Gen. 3:16). That is, men will want to dominate, and women will want to be dominated. This curse was finally undone in baptism and equality restored (Gal. 3:27-28).