Ian Paul’s Summary: the Bible on women and authority

Revd Dr Ian PaulIan Paul has summed up his series on what the Bible teaches on women and authority. This material is due to be published as a Grove Booklet. In a previous post I referred to what Ian had written on 1 Timothy 2. The summary in Ian’s new post is presumably intended to sum up the series, and the booklet. Here is my summary of the summary, quoting Ian’s words:

  1. The creation accounts offer no evidence of hierarchy in male-female relationships as part of the original created order. …
  2. The gospel accounts appear to show no embarrassment about the commissioning of women to roles that would normally be restricted to men …
  3. The evidence from Acts and Paul goes further. …
  4. The critical texts in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and 1 Timothy are best understood as offering a corrective in particular contexts in the light of the outpouring of the Spirit …
  5. There is no textual evidence that the New Testament envisages any permanent prohibition on women exercising authority or a teaching role on the grounds of their gender. …
  6. The nature of the texts on women’s roles sets this issue at some distance from current debates on same-sex relations. …

In other words, there is no biblical leg to stand on for the complementarian position that women must not exercise any kind of authority in the church.

For the full summary read Ian’s post.

22 thoughts on “Ian Paul’s Summary: the Bible on women and authority

  1. I look forward to this booklet. For me it is the arguments from scripture, rather than a sacramental view of ministry, which are the maker or breaker. My bias is towards an egalitarian line which generally seems to me how Scripture moves, and I welcome a clear exposition setting that out. All useful supporting material as the dear old CoE continues is perambulations on women as Bishops.

  2. Thank you, Colin. I am certainly more interested in biblical arguments than in ones based on sacramental traditions. But I’m sure that even Anglo-Catholics will agree that an argument with only a sacramental leg to stand on and no biblical leg is at best a very weak argument.

  3. Peter, thanks for linking to this. What I have found really interesting over the last two months or so I have been posting about this has been the complete absence of any disagreement or comment from ‘conservatives’ who disagree with me. I can’t quite believe that my position is completely irrefutable, but I know there are some among my readers who don’t agree with women in leadership. I wonder if they have all changed their mind now…?!

  4. Ian, perhaps you should try commenting on the blogs of people who disagree with you. That might prompt a reaction. But I know a few conservatives read this, so they might react.

  5. Peter, I am sure you are right–though I know there are conservatives who read, since a couple have commented on *other* posts, but not these ones!

  6. Pingback: Women and Authority: new Grove booklet - Gentle Wisdom

  7. “In other words, there is no biblical leg to stand on for the complementarian position that women must not exercise any kind of authority in the church.”

    Sorry to burst your bubble Peter, but

    (1) That’s not the complementarian position! (Read what you wrote again, carefully.)

    (2) This conclusion does not follow from all six of Ian’s theses, so that even if they were all true, there’s no reason to conclude that there’s no scriptural grounds for it.

    (3) Ian’s six positional statements fail to cover the doctrine of the fall in Genesis 3. Amazingly, when I read Ian’s original post(s) on which his booklet is presumably based, despite their general detail they omit discussion of Genesis 3 and of 1 Tim. 2:14!

    So as things stand, it’s impossible to conclude that complementarianism has no Biblical support – because even if it had none anywhere else, it might have it in those very passages which Ian has not yet
    exegeted (or at least hasn’t published his exegesis online).

    Regarding Ian’s six points summarised here, I’d offer the following remarks:

    1. Without having read Ian’s elucidation of this point, I instinctively find it rather improbable. Doesn’t Paul say that God made Eve for Adam and not vice-versa, and doesn’t this strike any reader of Genesis 2 in plain view? In terms of ‘hierarchy’ or whatever term we should rather use, doesn’t it stand to reason that the ‘lesser’ is made for the ‘greater’ even though both are human and in God’s image?

    2. True in many instances – and yet everyone knows the significance traditionally attached to the fact that all 12 apostles were chosen to be men. The usual response to this (i.e. accommodation to cultural prejudices) is specifically destroyed by the point Ian makes here. Cue the fallacy of the excluded middle: how about the possibility that Christ BOTH opened to women ministries which the culture of the time would have barred to them, AND still maintained certain headship roles for men only?

    3. Again I agree, in the cautionary sense described above – but again, never do we find a single case of a women acting as pastor or teaching elder in a church. Not once. In other words, not a single instance that would even seem to conflict with the classical view of the general instruction of 1 Tim 2 etc.

    4. This is of course the very heart of the matter. Naturally I’d suggest that our very own context is one of those to which these texts offer a ‘corrective’!

    5. Until Ian completes his published exegesis of the so-called critical texts (i.e. by discussing Genesis 3 and 1 Tim. 2:14 at the least), it is impossible for him or anyone to claim that the NT contains no textual evidence for the restriction.

    6. Perhaps the most interesting point, and also a crucially and urgently practical one for us all. My own view is that there are both contrasts and similarities between the two sets of arguments. Unfortunately, liberals seem to run mainly with the parallels, which is probably why worldwide, those denominations which have been ordaining women as priests/pastors for some time have either proceeded to legitimise same-sex coupling or come under great pressure (i.e. internal dissension) to do so. And even if we ourselves do not quite see why it is so, we should at least be willing to learn from the sad experience of recent church history and accept THAT it is often so even before we figure out a satisfactory theory of WHY it is so. (Just as in science – you accept phenomena as fact before you come to understand them by a theory framed around them.) Hence women’s ordination is a doubtful proposition in general, and in the present context needs more than a mere scriptural ‘nem con’ to be safely proceeded with.

    Meanwhile given that key texts remain unexamined, I’m very surprised that Ian was able to say that no ‘conservative’ commenter at his blog had offered a response to his claims. So far from that being necessary, the ball is still in Ian’s court in some important respects!

  8. Thanks for commenting Dan. I think you response is fairly representative of the kinds of comments I have had from others, and this is why I say no ‘conservative’ commentator has responded to my argument.

    You comment ‘Without having read Ian’s elucidation of this point,…’ If you haven’t read it, why are you commenting?!

    ‘I instinctively find it rather improbable’. That sounds very close to ‘I have made up my mind so don’t confuse me with the facts’!

    ‘Doesn’t Paul say that God made Eve for Adam and not vice-versa…’ Yes he does, in 1 Cor 11.9. Of course, Paul is not here offering an exegesis of Gen 2, but deploying it in an argument, and he also says a. that woman is the ‘glory’ of man, which does not sound like a term of inferiority; b. that women ought to have authority over their own head (there is no word ‘sign of’ in Greek); and c. that in fact men and women are mutually dependent on one another in vv 11 and 12–in fact he says it twice, and then appears to undermine any idea of one coming from another by noting that ‘all [not 'everything' as some translations] come from God.’

    ‘doesn’t this strike any reader of Genesis 2 in plain view?’ Not if you actually read the text carefully, no. Unless, again, you have made up your mind before reading the text.

    ‘doesn’t it stand to reason that the ‘lesser’ is made for the ‘greater’ ‘ No, and this goes against the meaning of Gen 2 at at least four points, as you might see if you get around to reading my comments–the extraordinary ‘not good’; the expression ‘suitable companion’; the change from the naming formula’; and the transition of description from ‘adam’ to ‘ish’.

    You can find my comment on Gen 2 here http://www.psephizo.com/?p=658 and the comment you are looking for on Gen 3 in the Grove booklet.

    ‘Cue the fallacy of the excluded middle: ‘ Yes, I agree with you, that that is logically a possibility. The test of this will be to see how his followers worked that out.

    ‘a single case of a women acting as pastor or teaching elder in a church. Not once. ‘ Except that we do. We find Priscilla taking the lead in planting the church in Ephesus; we find Phoebe as the letter carrier (so reader and interpreter) of Romans, as well as exercising leadership; we find Junia as an outstanding apostle among the apostles; we find numerous others who have ‘worked hard’ in the Lord, a phrase Paul elsewhere uses to describe his own apostolic ministry. Past arguments to exclude these examples have all depended on the circular ‘Paul could not have meant that, because 1 Tim 2 excludes the possibility’ even to the point of (as Eldon J Epp points out) translators changing the Greek text to make female Junia a male Junias.

    ‘Until Ian completes his published exegesis’ Which I do in the Grove booklet. You can buy it from http://www.grovebooks.co.uk

    ‘Hence women’s ordination is a doubtful proposition in general,’ I think this is the most inept argument I have ever read on this subject. You cite science–but if any scientist said ‘Phenomena A and B occur together, so there must be a causal link between them’ they would lose their jobs. I think a basic course in statistics might help here.

    ‘Meanwhile given that key texts remain unexamined’ Er, only by you!

    ‘ball is still in Ian’s court’ Have it back.

  9. Ian, thank you for responding so promptly and graciously to Dan.

    Dan, I do not appreciate people making these kinds of comments without actually reading the material. I have a few matters to add on your initial numbered points:

    (1) That is of course only part of the complementarian position. Perhaps I should have added “over men”, but in effect no authority is allowed except perhaps over women’s meetings, and perhaps sometimes over children’s work.

    (2) In principle there might be other relevant Scripture passages, e.g. in the Old Testament other than the Creation accounts, which Ian Paul did not consider. But since you haven’t read his material you don’t know which passages he considered so you cannot say that he offers no basis for the conclusion which I drew. To be fair, I haven’t read all of his material either, but I trusted him to consider everything relevant.

    (3) I’m sure the doctrine of the Fall is relevant here. I would understand it as the basis and origin of male domination of women, and the whole complementarian position as being a sinful consequence of it. Your understanding may differ. Ian’s also might, but we need to buy the booklet to read it.

  10. I collected my copy of this booklet from Church House Bookshop while in London today, well OKThursday. I note that Gen 3 and I Tim 2 v 14 are covered by the contents. I will read it all carefully and comment if it seems appropriate then..

  11. Look forward to it Colin.

    I keep learning new things, and one comment I would now add relates to terminology in Gen 2. Looking through the Hebrew text, it is very striking that the creature is called ‘adam’, in continuity with Gen 1 where ‘adam’ is created ‘in the image of God…male and female’, and only became ‘ish’ = male man *after* the removal of the rib. I think commentators differ as to the extent to which the ‘adam’ in the first part of Gen 2 is male, but this would suggest the writer is seeing gender differentiation happening at the point of the removal of the rib.

    But I would be interested in reflection on this from anyone with more knowledge of philology.

  12. Ian, from what I understand (but I am not a professional Hebrew scholar) and remember, the Hebrew word adam is not gender specific, except possibly in one place in Ecclesiastes I think – and of course where used as a proper noun for the man Adam.

    The word adam is common to Semitic languages, Arabic as well as Hebrew. It has also been borrowed into Turkic languages. But there is variation in its gender related usage. I remember hearing about when two female friends of mine, American Christians living in Azerbaijan, visited Turkey. Azerbaijani and Turkish are similar enough that they could make themselves understood – except when they went to a hotel and asked for a room for two adam. In Azerbaijan this was the normal way to ask for a double room as adam is gender generic. In Turkey it meant a room with two men, gender specific. Now the Turks might have expected visiting men to ask for a room with a female “escort”, but for women to ask for the opposite would have seemed rather shocking!

  13. Peter how fascinating!

    The question then is how do we know when it is Adam and not ‘earth creature.’ The usual way would be the presence or absence of the definite article ‘ha-’. It is absent (‘for the first time’ according to NET notes) so some Bibles translate it as Adam there.

    But in fact it is also anarthrous at 1.26. I guess you could argue that this is a collective sense–except that the article appears again in 1.27, where ha-adam is specified as male and female.

    I think all this strengthens the view that ha-adam in Gen 2 is gender inclusive within the narrative.

  14. Thank you, Ian. As I am on vacation I don’t have my reference books with me to check where the article occurs. I’m sure in 1:26 the intention is collective and gender generic and not a reference to the male individual Adam.

  15. I have now read Ian’s book. I guess those who are already of a firm opposite view are likely to challenge any alternative exegsis. Though the specific areas of Genesis 3 and 1 Tim 2 which Dan mentioned are certainly covered. My own feeling has for some been that women should have the same access to leadership as men As a Reader I would have no problem if my vicar, my Suffragen + who is our Warden of Readers, or my Diocesan + whose license I hold, were women.

    I have long accepted that such a feeling must be tested against Scripture and this book provides a valuable summary of how key texts support such a view. Since the argument often hinged on the Created Order, for a long time I found the Gen 2 concept of woman as helper a challenge. It seemed to sit opposite to Gen 1 which is in no way hierarchal. It was Dave Faulkner over on Big Circumstance who opened my eyes to the meanings of the Hebew here – as stated now in more detail by Ian.

    Then I wondered about my sense that in this matter the church , facing the challenge of the ‘now and the not yet’ as in other situations, should be seeking to reflect the creative will rather than the fallen world to the fallen world. This matches the single big story approach which Tom Wright seems to espouse. Is it legitimate to apply that concept to gender and leadership, and why; or if not why not? So I appreciate how Ian has outlined the argument from how God acts in Gen 4-11. Another piece of the jigsaw falls into place.

    Clearly I must explore the issues in more detail, using the link Ian sets out in the Introduction. Something to do at more leisure.

  16. Colin, thank you for that. You certainly need to explore more that concept of Eve being a “help” for Adam, a Hebrew word which by no means implies a secondary status as it is otherwise used mostly of God being a “help” for humans! I don’t know what Ian wrote about that but I would expect it to be along the same lines.

  17. The NET (which is otherwise not particularly friendly to women in leadership) translates as ‘companion’ and comments: Traditionally “helper.” The English word “helper,” because it can connote so many different ideas, does not accurately convey the connotation of the Hebrew word rRzEo (}ezer). Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English “helper” can have. In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs. In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman would supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here. See further M. L. Rosenzweig, “A Helper Equal to Him,” Jud 139 (1986): 277-80.

  18. But I guess the more important reflection from Colin’s comment is how it is that some fairly straightforward exegesis, which has been around since 1976 (Phyllis Trible), on a key passage, engaging with a contemporary issue, is so little known in the church. This is not a reflection on you Colin, but on the lack of openness in the debate.

  19. Gents
    Thanks for the further thoughts. Yes Peter, that is exactly the point Ian describes. in the book. Dave Faulkners post was a “ding” moment in outlining the same point. To pick up on Ian’s subsequent posts, I had not heard of the 1976 study to which he refers. As he says, lack of openess?. However our Diocesan Reader training scheme expects on going study.

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