A Biblical Examination of the Original Doctrinal Statement of the “Christians for Biblical Equality”
Women and the Ministry Gifts
Once again, undeniable truth is used to support error. The first statement is perfectly accurate. The second is, however, demonstrably false. The author’s case is so weak, that he finds it necessary to overwhelm us with the sheer number of his proof-texts, in a show of strength. The problem is that its declaration that “ women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Body of Christ”. This might seem innocent; but what it is really saying is that it is proper and orderly for women to be called to be preachers and officers in the church. This analysis will be confirmed by the choice of proof-texts, and in the rest of the document.
Point 8. “The Bible teaches that both women and men are called to develop their spiritual gifts and to use them as stewards of the grace of God (1 Peter 4:10–11). Both men and women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Body of Christ, under His authority (Acts 1:14, 18:26, 21:9; Rom 16:1–7, 12–13, 15; Phil 4:2–3; Col 4:15; see also Mark 15:40–41, 16:1–7; Luke 8:1–3; John 20:17–18; compare also Old Testament examples: Judges 4:4–14, 5:7; 2 Chron 34:22–28; Prov 31:30–31; Micah 6:4).”
I have gone through all of these, one by one, and summarized the relevant contents of each:
1 Pe 4:10–11 We are admonished to use our gifts for God’s glory.
Acts 1:14 Women were present in the upper room when the apostles prayed.
18:26 Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos to their home, where they updated him (for he only knew of John’s baptism) concerning the one that John had introduced to the world: Jesus, his ministry, death and resurrection.
21:9 Philip had four daughters who may have had the gift of prophecy. But the text only says that they “prophesied”. This might be understood of the ordinary setting forth of God’s word which all believers are encouraged to do.
Rom 16:1–7 The church at Rome is exhorted to receive Phoebe with honor, and to assist her in whatever business she came to Rome for.
12–13 They are to greet Aquila and Priscilla for him.
15 They are to salute the sister of Nerius.
Phil 4:2-3 Paul calls on two women in the church who were at odds to be reconciled, and mention is made of “those women which laboured with me (Paul) in the gospel.
Colo 4:15 Mention is made of a person named Nymphas, of whom John Gill says”‘And Nymphas’; which some, unskilful in the Greek language, have took for a woman.”
Mark 15:40–41 “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.” This is a list of the women who had ministered unto Jesus.
16:1–7 Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Jesus’ body.
Luke 8:1–3 List of the principal women who traveled with Jesus and “ministered unto him of their substance.”
John 20:17–18 “Jesus saith unto her, ‘go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.’ Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.”
Judg 4:4–14 The unusual case of Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapi- doth, who judged Israel. In a time of spiritual declension, when men had become dissolute and cowardly, God used a woman to deliver them, and to shame them at the same time.
5:7 Deborah’s song of triumph, in which she calls herself “a mother in Israel”.
2 Chr 34:22–28 In a time when Manasseh’s son Amon had all but eradicated the true religion from Israel, a single copy of the book of the law is discovered; and the new king, Josiah, alarmed at the judgment which he saw must come upon Israel for their sins, sends to the prophetess Huldah for advice. She prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem.
Prov 31:30–31 The God-fearing woman is highly praised.
Mica 6:4 “For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Miriam is best known for her song of triumph after the crossing of the Red Sea, which she taught to the women of Israel, and led them in singing. We do not know what else she may have done, until she rebuked Moses and was afflicted with leprosy for seven days. Neither she nor Aaron were equal to Moses, but she was a woman, subordinate to both her brothers, so the sin was greater, and accordingly, she was punished.
No one should diminish the important – really, the indispensable – role that godly women have played in the church throughout history. All honor to those Hebrew and Christian mothers who brought up so many godly sons and daughters by their faithfulness; laboring often without recognition or appreciation! They accepted their domestic role and were not troubled to be subject to their husbands.
But one cannot help but feel that these “proof-texts” have been assembled to give credibility to the notion that woman is on the level of man in all this. But the attempt fails, because the Scripture emphatically opposes it. That ship founders on the rock of I Cor 14:36 ff and other Scriptures that we will look at later. It is useless to collect a long string of verses that do not teach what the Feminists claim that they do. There is not a shred of evidence that women deacons or elders or evangelists belong to the normal order of things. Two women prophets appear in the Old Testament; and they both arose because the times were so bad that there were no men of the character that was requisite for a man of God. It is significant that no male prophets are mentioned in the records of those times of national apostasy.
Later, a woman of infamy (Jezebel) will to all intents and purposes bear rule over the Northern kingdom, usurping the authority of her husband, and instituting the worship of Baal. Meanwhile, In the Southern kingdom, a woman (Athaliah) will kill all the royal seed of Israel and usurp that throne. Neither one ended well; but in the meantime, it was a great humiliation to Judah and to Israel to be ruled by a woman. It signaled God’s great displeasure. No man wants to be placed in that position; for we all know instinctively that it is a humiliation, and against nature. Other than these two, Israel never had a queen that ruled instead of a king. Other than the two prophetesses, Israel never had a prophetess as the spiritual authority of the nation.
Point 9. “The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions (Acts 2:17–18, 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5; 1 Peter 2:9–10; Rev 1:6, 5:10).”
My first observation is that the language is insufficiently clear. Are these three functions of the church? I assume that they are; but whether the church in its character as a community or in its public worship I cannot tell. The title favors community, but thew aim fo the manifesto in general, and this section in particular, is to raise women to the offices of the church which have been traditionally occupied by men. Then what exactly are these functions? What is meant by the prophetic function? What is the priestly function? Is there any such thing as a royal function; and if so, what is it? Presumably, the proof texts will shed light on some of these questions; but proof-texts ought not to be used for any other purpose than to prove propositions that have already been set forth definitively. But I will proceed under this disadvantage, and do the best that I can.
Does the Pentecostal event represent an ongoing prophetic function that belongs equally to men and women?
The first proof text offered is Act 2:17-18. This text makes plain that men and women both “prophesied” on that day; and that this was in fulfillment of the pre diction of the prophet Joel. There is no mention of a normative “prophetic function” here, and certainly nothing to indicate that this kind of event ought to be repeated throughout the present age.
You must pardon me if I seem to spend too much time on this particular proof-text: I find it impossible to explain it thoroughly in a few words. And this analysis will save us time when we consider the rest. The words are:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:”
The question remains unanswered whether the event described here represents a so-called “prophetic function” that is normative for the whole present age, or whether it was a unique event of the kind that was only to be expected during apostolic times.
What does “prophesy” mean?
The answer to this question is a part of the larger question of the meanings of the word “prophesy” in various contexts in the New Testament. I will just offer a summary statement from the great Reformed scholar, Albert Barnes. commenting on these verses:
Shall prophesy – The word “prophesy” is used in a great variety of senses:
(1) It means to predict or foretell future events, Mat 11:13; Mat 15:7.
(2) To divine, to conjecture, to declare as a prophet might, Mat 26:68, “Prophesy who smote thee.”
(3) To celebrate the praises of God, being under a divine influence, Luk 1:67. This seems to have been a considerable part of the employment in the ancient schools of the prophet, 1Sa 10:5; 1Sa 19:20; 1Sa 30:15.
(4) To teach – as no small part of the office of the prophets was to teach the doctrines of religion, Mat 7:22, “Have we not prophesied in thy name?”
(5) It denotes, then, in general, “to speak under a divine influence,” whether in foretelling future events, in celebrating the praises of God, in instructing others in the duties of religion, or “in speaking foreign languages under that influence.”
How does this bear upon the question under consideration? The first question that must be asked is “Which definition best fits the words of the text?” The first two definitions can, I think, be ruled out of the discussion. But if the prophesying spoken of in the text answers to definition 3 above, “To celebrate the praises of God, being under a divine influence”, then all must grant that this kind of activity will and ought to go on throughout this age; but then, is this what is meant by a “prophetic function”? Given the lack of definition in the statement, I cannot say.
If definition 4, “To teach – as no small part of the office of the prophets was “to teach the doctrines of religion” is what the authors of this document meant, then I just must say that I disagree; for it seems to me unlikely that this kind of activity was going on. Most of these people had not been trained, as the Apostles had; nor can it be assumed that they were all mentally furnished for that function. Further, the thought of so many voices speaking different languages at the same time would hardly have created an atmosphere appropriate for the teaching of the word of God. If the Pentecostal event is an instance of “exercising the prophetic function”, then prophesying must mean something other than teaching the doctrines of Scripture.
Is the fifth definition what is meant, “in general, to speak under a divine influence, whether in foretelling future events, in celebrating the praises of God, in instructing others in the duties of religion, or in speaking foreign languages under that influence”? This seems to accord with all the details of the text. But is this what is meant by the “prophetic function”?
Does this verse lead us to expect that this prophecy is to be an ordinary or extraordinary phenomenon? Is it to be normative, or was it a miracle of the Apostolic age, a “sign of the apostles”?
Several considerations come to mind. First, there is nothing in the text to show that what was happening at that time was to recur, in its essentials, throughout the age. Joel does not say so. Peter said “…this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit… ”
What is meant by the phrase “in the last days”? Does this refer to the entire present age, or the last days of the Mosaic period? Opinions differ. Obviously, it makes a difference to our discussion how you view this phrase. Furthermore, there is nothing in the language of Joel that would help us to determine whether this was a unique event or a standard for the whole present age. He simply says “in” the last days, not “at one point in” or “throughout”. Consider the words of Jesus in Mar 16:17-18:
“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
Is this intended to be normative; or is it an eloquent summary of what we see happening in the book of Acts? Is it prescriptive or descriptive? Charismatics say that it is the normal experience of the church. The reader can draw his own conclusion. But I do not believe that the church is supposed to be awash in miracles. One thing that makes a miracle a miracle is that it is not an ordinary event. My judgment? The passage is descriptive; but there is no evidence that it is prescriptive.
Joel’s words do not decide the question whether Pentecostal happenings were unique to the Apostolic times, or whether they are to continue to the end of this age. His prophecy is a general statement, and is meant to provide a scriptural context for the Pentecostal event; rather than a normative statement concerning the exercise of prophecy in the ordinary life of the church. Like the passage in Mark, it is descriptive, rather than prescriptive.
But Peter, in his sermon, says that the events of that day were the result of a very significant and unique event:
“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” (Act 2:32-33)
The outpouring of the Spirit and the miracles that drew attention to it were proof of the seating of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God, foretold in Psalm 110:1. This is the significant fact that the whole account leads up to: Jesus is Lord! The kingdom of God has come! Acknowledge his lordship and repent of your sins. Believe and be baptized, and you will be saved from His wrath! The preaching of this message will characterize this whole age; but the historic importance of Pentecost is its unique and powerful witness to Christ’s resurrection and exaltation.
Another reason for believing that events like this are not to be expected after the death of the Apostles is the fact that there are other things mentioned in the prophecy of Joel that are not observed in our churches today, namely “…your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”. These sorts of miracles were common in the time of Peter and Paul; but the testimony of the early church fathers is that after the Apostles were gone, miracles became rare. They insisted that the signs of the Apostles were not passed on to them; that they were inferior in every way to those first followers of Jesus. However, as the church deteriorated under the early Popes, the unsubstantiated claims of miracles began to increase. Modern day claims of tongues, prophecies of future events, dreams and visions, immediate healings, etc. have not, in general, stood up to scrutiny; and it is well-known that many of them are simply frauds. They may indeed happen – God is not bound – but not often; and this is the main thing: they do not define any ordinary functions of the church.
So this text should not be alleged to prove that “in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic function” of the church in our time; unless we mean by prophecy Barnes’ third definition ” To celebrate the praises of God, being under a divine influence.” This occurs all the time in our churches, when spirit-filled men and women sing hymns together, take their part in the responses of the liturgy together, read Scripture responsively together, etc. But does this constitute “the exercise of the prophetic function”? I would say, “in part”. But surely the regular preaching and teaching of the word by ordained clergymen and appointed laymen is the chief exercise of the prophetic function. And from this role, women are explicitly excluded.
I have spilled a lot of ink on one proof text; but in the process, I have introduced some principles and some facts which will help us in dealing with the others. The texts are:
Acts 21:9 “And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”
We have a notice here that four virgins prophesied. Prophesied, in what sense, on what occasions, is unknown. Did they have the gift of prophecy? Did they only prophesy on this occasion? It does not say. Now, why were they mentioned? If women prophesying was an ordinary occurrence, why mention it at all?
Maybe it was because they were so young. Jewish women usually married between sixteen and twenty. Some did not marry, but this was the exception to the rule. If the eldest was twenty when the Apostle visited Philip, and there were no multiple births, the youngest could not be much more than seventeen. If the eldest was sixteen, then the youngest was thirteen or under. It would then be a notable thing that Philip and his wife had brought up four maidens who knew the Scriptures well, and loved the Lord. It would then have been stated as a compliment to him, which makes perfect sense.
I say this only to show that the text is too sketchy to help the Feminist cause. Only by importing their own meaning into it can they make it appear otherwise.
1 Cor 11:5 “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.”
It is almost humorous to see a Feminist using a verse from this passage as a proof-text! They don’t believe a word of the text, and yet they quote it as an authority! Do they cover their heads? Do they believe that not to cover their heads is a disgrace – a symbolic rejection of their female role? Not a bit of it! Yet they shamelessly draw attention to it because it seems to be a prop for their tenuous (I’m being kind) theory of sexual equality.
But what does it prove? That women did, in some sense, “prophesy” in the early days of the church. What’s wrong with this? First, it is not clear in what sense they prophesied. The text does not resolve the question for us. The reference is incidental. The main point is the necessity of covering the head. The fact that this prophesying was being done does not say whether they should be doing it or not. Nor does it give the occasion – whether in the church meeting or not. It is simply said that if a woman prophesies, she ought to cover her head.
1 Peter 2:9–10 “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
I do not deny that the church, as a body, women included along with men, is all these things; nor do I wish to. These are glorious privileges, that are ours in common with all the saints in all ages, because of sheer grace!
But does that mean that women are to exercise all the same ecclesiastical functions; or if they do, in the same way? The text does not supply the answer, because the text is not talking about functions or roles at all. If we read it in context, (verses 4-10) we discover that verses 9-10 are part of a contrast with verses 7 and 8. On the one hand, there are the disobedient, that stumble at the word. On the other we have “you which believe”, to whom Christ is precious.
The references are to the Jewish people and the Christian church. Peter says that the honors and titles that once belonged to the Hebrew nation are no longer theirs; but have now been given to the new people of God. The contrast is between these two people groups. But because we have been made the true people of God, our response ought to be gratitude and service. This is where the individual comes into view.
Verse 5 reads: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” That this priestly function is performed by men and women is acknowledged by all; but that is because it is not, per se, a public function. We all pray, we intercede, we bear others’ burdens, we praise God, confess our sins, and praise Him – in private and family prayer, and also publicly, when we pray silently while one man leads. The text does not prove that women are to lead men or the congregation in prayer. That subject is not addressed by Peter here. Other Scriptures answer this question, and I will get to them bye and bye.
The Reign of the Saints
Rev 1:6 “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Rev 5:10 “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
These texts are intended to prove that there is a royal function which women exercise on an equal basis with men. However, women are not in view here; for it says “kings” not “queens”. (In Greek, the word is in the masculine gender. There is a feminine form of basileus, and it means “queen”.)
To reign is to rule. It is the exercise of authority. The rule that is represented in these two texts is not a rule over the church of God; but over the world. The last phrase may be rendered, “and we shall reign over the earth”. This idea of the saints’ universal dominion goes back into the Old Testament, especially the Psalms and the prophets. Daniel’s prophecy comes to mind:
“And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” (Dan 7:27)
The idea that there is some sort of rule over the church that women share with men is a serious mistake. Such an idea is not in these texts. The rulers of the church exercise ministerial authority, not magisterial authority, in the church in Christ’s name. But none of the names of royalty belong to them. They make no laws; and their formal acts are always subject to the judgment of Christ their Lord.
This completes our survey of the proof-texts for the first statement under point 9.