A Biblical Examination of the Original Doctrinal Statement of the “Christians for Biblical Equality”
The Third Signpost
We are being taught how to interpret the Scriptures which we and the universal church have always interpreted in the wrong way — so the authors of this manifesto allege. I have shown that this allegation is false and even farcical in the case of the first two principal texts (which I have called “signposts”) that they mention: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33-36). We come now to the third signpost – forgive me,”isolated text” which is 1Timothy 2:9-15:
9 “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
Paul is admonishing Timothy, his apprentice, to maintain good order and Christian standards of conduct for both men and women. Having addressed the men first, he now turns to the females. He begins by telling them that they must not be luxurious or extravagant in either dress or appearance; which excess is inconsistent with the shamefacedness (bashfulness) and sobriety that are becoming to Christian women. Rather, they are to be modest, shunning the limelight, not seeking to draw attention to themselves. They are to show inner beauty by quietly going about doing beautiful (Gr. kalos, “good, beautiful”) works.
In keeping with this modesty and seriousness, he commands Timothy to “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.” Does this sound familiar? As in 1 Cor 14: 34, woman’s silence in the church is an expression of her subjection to God’s order. “Subjection” in this place and “obedience” in 1 Cor 14:34 are the same word in the Greek. If you will, use the word, ‘subordination”.
In saying “let” he is not merely giving them permission. It translates the imperative mood of the verb. He does not say “women”, which might mean a particular group of women; as if it only applied to one congregation, for example, in which the women were unruly. No – he says “woman”, which shows that it is woman in the generic sense that is meant. And it is not “the woman”, for the article is absent. It is “a woman”, that is, a woman simply considered as a woman – not a boisterous woman, or a foolish woman – just a woman. The command is therefore universal; that is, for all women in all the churches.
Then he adds, with emphasis:
12 “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1Ti 2:12-14)
Once again, the language is explicit, and impossible to misunderstand. Not only is she prohibited from teaching in the place of the man, which is a usurpation; she is rather obligated to keep silence. This is not a strange or unnatural thing, nor is it oppressive to women.
Anyone, man or woman, who has ever been in a court of law has been required to keep a strict silence until the proceedings are finished. This is to facilitate the hearing of the parties concerned, so that nothing is misunderstood or wrongly recorded. It is necessary for the judicial process to go on without distraction. The same solemnity ought to be observed at the meetings of the church.
Paul gives two reasons for this injunction. The first is the order of creation. This is a brief allusion to the record of the creation of Adam and Eve. Man was made first, and then the woman was made of his substance, to be a fit helper for him. These facts demonstrate man’s superior status, and the reason that the woman is to be subordinate to him, and therefore to keep silence in the church.
The second reason derives from the account of the fall. Eve sinned first, being tempted by the serpent. The fall was begun by her, because she allowed herself to be deceived. Paul is saying that woman is more vulnerable to deception than man is. She was deceived – he was not. The contrast is plain. This is not just a historical fact: it was still true in Paul’s time, and it is still true today. Otherwise, why would it be a valid reason to forbid women from teaching? This is an unpopular fact; but a fact nonetheless. Unless we are willing to set aside the testimony of the Apostle Paul, and the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, we must accept what is written.
This is the third of those “few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women” – so they say. I say that, like 1 Cor 14:34-40, it is a locus classicus, one of those foundational passages which gives the standard teaching on the subject. It is foundational to the relationships between men and women in the family, in the church, and in the broader community.
We have briefly examined what the Feminists would have us to believe are just a few isolated texts that seem to contradict the doctrine of sexual equality, but do not. I cannot for the life of me agree with what seems to me a fantastic notion, and possibly one of the most egregious hermeneutical errors of all time! The passages speak for themselves. They are in entire agreement with each other, and with the background of patriarchal social structure instituted in the earliest times and established by the law of Moses as the norm for the community of God’s people.
Leadership without Authority?
Point 10 closes the section labeled Community with a statement that revolves around a word that has been substituted for authority, rule, etc. in the modern church – even in some modern Bible translations. That word is “leadership”.
Point 10. “The Bible defines the function of leadership as the empowerment of others for service rather than as the exercise of power over them (Matt 20:25–28, 23:8; Mark 10:42–45; John 13:13–17; Gal 5:13; 1 Peter 5:2–3).”
Notice the deceitful way that this begins: “The Bible defines leadership as…” Wait a minute! The Authorized Version, the standard English Bible, does not even use the word – ever! The ESV uses it once, as does Young’s Literal Translation, in Numbers 33:1, where the Hebrew word means “hand”. The AV and NKJV translate the place,”under the hand of”. YLT gives us “by the hand of”. How then can the Bible be said to define it?
Besides, the Bible knows nothing of leadership without authority. All through the Bible, we meet with expressions like “rule” or “ruler”, “king”, “lord”, “governor” “dominion”, “kingdom”. These words are incompatible with mere “leadership”. They have to do with authority and the exercise of it; with power, and the exercise of power.
The document before us refuses to acknowledge that there is order and authority in the church and family, as there is in the state. Let us continue:
“The Bible defines the function of leadership as the empowerment of others for service rather than as the exercise of power over them. (Matt 20:25–28, 23:8; Mark 10:42–45; John 13:13–17; Gal 5:13; 1 Peter 5:2–3).”
Since the Bible does not define leadership, the truth must be that it is the Feminists defining it; but to what purpose? All this has nothing to do with what the Bible teaches. Nevertheless, we must be patient. Perhaps they are saying the same thing that we are; only in different words. The core of this statement is that “the function of leadership [is] the empowerment of others for service”. If we substitute a Bible word for leadership, then we have ” the function of [government, or rule, or kingship, or authority] [is] the empowerment of others for service. Is this true? Does anyone think that this is true? Of course not.
The function of government is to exercise authority, in order to maintain justice and order in society. Everyone knows this! Governments in this fallen world do not always do a good job of this; but nevertheless, that is what they are for (Romans 13:1-7). That is why we are to respect and obey the ordinances and laws of our country, the laws of our churches, the rules given us by our fathers.
The authors of the document, however, need to get far from the notion of any authority of men over women; so they have to resort to the pretext that the exercise of authority itself is not appropriate in the Christian community. So they not only substitute leadership for government; but pervert some passages of Scripture to say that it is wrong to exercise authority at all. And the first Scripture that they offer in support of this is Matthew 20:25-28:
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The Feminists claim that this verse plainly shows that no one should exercise dominion or authority in the church; but that is not what this says. The key to understanding the verse lies in the choice of the verbs used by Jesus, whose meaning is somewhat obscured in the AV. Any first year Greek student can tell you that these verbs are compounds of the preposition , kata and a common verb. The basic verbs are kurieuouo which means to exercise lordship and exousiazo, which means to exercise authority. Kata, when used as a prefix, loses its ordinary meaning of “down”, and simply adds emphasis to the verb. The compound verb, katakurieuouo then becomes “lord it over”, and katexousiazo, “play the tyrant”. See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, comment on Matthew 20:26. These words do not speak of the use of power, but the abuse of it. Otherwise the verbs would appear without the prefix.
Therefore, the Feminists are wrong in their understanding of this whole paragraph. The contrast is not between exercising authority and what they call “leadership” without exercising authority. The contrast is between two different ways of using lawful authority. One can use it to hurt people, or to help them. One can use it to make them servants, or to become theirs.
It is virtuous in a ruler to use the advantage of authority to make his people prosper. For example, by executing justice on the wicked, he makes the world safer for the good. By advancing good men to positions of power, he prevents the all too common corruption of the government. Without his authority, he could do none of these things. He would not be a servant of the people, he would be a burden on them, and a curse.
So it is with the rulers of the church. They are not to lord it over anyone; they are to use their lawful authority for the peoples’ edification and blessing. Anyone acquainted with the New Testament ought to be familiar with these words of Paul in 2 Cor verse 8:
“For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed:”
If the reader will start at verse 2 and read through to verse 11, he will better understand these words in their context.
A final word about Matthew 20: 28, where Jesus says “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” That he served us to the greatest extent possible, saving us by his humiliation and death, does not at all contradict the fact that He is our Lord and Master. Authority is not inconsistent with self-sacrificing service. They should not be set over against one another.
Next comes Matthew 23:8 “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.”
It would be wrong to take these words literally. That would mean that we could not address our fathers as “father”.(v. 9) This text is meant to inculcate humility. There is nothing wrong with a Christian minister being honored with the epithet, “teacher”, or even “master”. Jesus often uses the antithesis as a way of teaching. He is saying that one ought not to desire, much less insist upon, being honored with the titles of the great. He should instead remember that he is just another servant of the One Master of all.
Mark 10:42–45 is virtually the same as same as Matthew 20:25-28, and so adds nothing to the discussion.
John 13:13–17 reads:
“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
It is hard to see how this applies to the subject at hand. It has nothing to do with “the definition of leadership”. It is a very non-egalitarian verse, after all. Jesus says that He is their Master and Lord; not their “leader”. He is washing the disciples’ feet to demonstrate the humble service that He requires of His disciples, who are going to become the rulers of the church after His departure.
He enforces the lesson with the a fortiori argument. If I, who am greater than you, can humble myself to do this; much more ought you. Then in one of those few places that He uses what is almost an oath, the emphatic “verily, verily”, He brings home the lesson: The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
Help me out here. We have servants and masters, people who send people and people who are sent. We have people that are greater than others. Am I missing something? Is it possible that the Feminists do not see that they are shooting themselves in the foot? There is not a word here about “leadership”. There is not a trace of the thing itself. There are explicit references to persons in positions of authority and not one bad word about them. How is this a proof-text for their novel theory of leadership versus authority?
In Galatians 5:13 we are told: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” We might be tempted to dismiss it as obscure, since it proves nothing at all. But in the light of the premise that the Feminists are trying to prove, and the false dichotomy that they are peddling, there is only one way to see this verse. Unless the men who rule the church are willing to surrender their authority (so that they can join with those spiritual persons who are serving one another in love) then they are using their liberty for an occasion to the flesh. Rule is fleshly and loveless. Leadership is loving and unselfish.
But I’m dying to ask this question. What do the Feminists want to place women in the eldership for? Why can’t they just be leaders without titles? Surely they don’t need positions of authority to exercise “leadership”! I say, lead away! No one’s stopping you. Take your little band of radicals and go somewhere. It’s a free country. Just don’t presume to thrust yourselves into an office from which your sex excludes you, and to change the sacred order instituted by Jesus Christ!
Their last proof-text shows how deliberately perverting God’s word leads to a mind void of judgment. 1 Peter 5:2–3 reads, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
Who in his right mind would find in this text a proof that ministers must not exercise authority? Let me ask you, what is oversight? Is an overseer on the same level as the ones overseen? Or doesn’t the first part of the word indicate a certain superior position? Surely it does. There can be no question of an overseer exercising authority over others. That is what they are paid for. They act according to their orders from the higher authorities, so that they may enforce the orders given to those under their authority, and thus, hopefully, to get the work done.
Oversight implies authority as surely as it implies responsibility. No one would willingly accept a managerial job that demanded of them a certain result; but which didn’t give them the authority to appropriate the monies they will need to buy supplies, etc. or the authority to give orders to the workers and to hold them responsible. Authority must correspond to responsibility.
Here is what these verses really say:
The oversight of God’s people is not to be taken on because some minister presses it upon you against your will, or your better judgment – and not for the salary you expect to receive. It is only to be undertaken willingly, with a sense of Divine calling to it. Nor is the office to be abused, as by severity towards the people under your care. He is not to “lord it over” the flock of God, but to shepherd it. He is there for its sake; not it for his.
As we have seen in the examination of proof-texts in other parts of this document; there is nothing in them that really proves what they are so desperate to prove: the equality of the sexes, and the propriety of women serving as officers in the church.
This completes my exhaustive treatment of the text and proof-texts of the section titled “Community”. Next, I will turn my attention to the section that tells us what “Christian Feminism” means for the Christian family.