What’s an Exile to Do? Husbands, Live a Holy Married Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter continues to exhort us Christian exiles from his “Survival Manual” as he works his way through God’s marriage ordinance in 1 Pet 3:1-7. Having addressed Christian wives (many with non-Christian husbands) in 3:1-6, Peter moves on to address briefly Christian husbands married to a Christian wife in 3:7. While still endorsing the household as “the center that shaped the world” with the husband’s place as one of head-stewardship (from which authority derives) and the wife’s place as one of submission, Peter takes on his culture’s expectation that a husband should both sympathize with and marginalize his wife. To husbands, then, the Apostle declares, “Live together with your wife, as I do my own (1 Cor 9:5), knowing and honoring her as both different from you and equal with you (3:7a). Here’s what I mean.”

“First, know and honor her as the weaker vessel (3:7b). No, it’s not what the ancient philosophers were thinking: she’s not intellectually, psychologically, and morally inferior to you. We did just mention the history of Sarah and Abraham (3:6), right? Sarah makes my point. We know the history of creation too. We read there that, as vessels fashioned by the Divine Craftsman-Physician (Gen 2:7, 22), both husband and wife have creaturely weakness, but her vulnerability as the female differs from yours. She’s weaker in that she’s ordinarily physically and maybe socioeconomically more vulnerable than you. But even those vulnerabilities aren’t where she’s most at risk. No, most importantly, she’s spiritually more vulnerable than you, husband. Again, we do know the history of the fall (cf. 1 Pet 5:8-9; Gen 3:1-13) and the pre-flood world (cf. 1 Pet 3:20; cf. 2 Pet 2:5; 3:4-6; Gen 5:28–6:12), don’t we? Because we do, we need to remain alert to the continuing threat that the devil poses in this world. His tactic is still what it was in the beginning: to go after the wife first to get to the husband himself. So, gents, reckon with the fact that your wife—your ally and companion in marriage—is a high-value, priority target, not a mere collateral casualty, in the devil’s war plan. Mindful of that reality, be vigilant in your resistance to his tactic, shoring her up with spiritual resources and remembering that, whatever the devil’s strength or your wife’s weakness, God’s omnipotence is able to overrule them both (5:6-7). Live together with your wife, then, knowing and honoring her as more vulnerable than you.”

“Second,” the Apostle says to husbands, “know and honor your wife, not just as different from you, but as equal with you: she’s an heir with you of the grace of life (3:7c), as Sarah was with Abraham. Together, you’re destined to inherit the resurrection life to come (1:3). Esteem her highly, then, in the way you think about her, talk to her, and act toward her. Like you, she’s one of God’s children. She has all the promises, liberties, and privileges of those born of Him (1:23). Like you, she’s under God’s fatherly care and bears His name. She has the Spirit of Christ and is a co-heir with Christ in glory. So, know and honor your wife as equal with you: yes, she’s submitted herself to you, but she’s submitted herself to Christ first as you have, and you’re both destined for eternal glory in Him (5:10).”

“One last thing,” Peter says: “don’t forget that your conduct toward your wife affects your own communion with God (3:7d). Husbands, if you’ve ever sensed that God’s not listening to your prayers, examine your relationship with your wife. You live together with your wife before your Lord, and He inspects the way you live even your married life. His face has always been set against those who do evil, whether Christians or non-Christians (3:12c). The ears of your Lord are open to your prayers (3:7d, 12b) that you might break any abusive patterns of speaking evil and doing evil in which you’re involved (cf. 3:10-11). So, husbands, know and honor your wife for all that she is. And never forget that you’re accountable to God for your words and deeds toward her.”

As God’s exiles, the Apostle commands Christian husbands to live lives of moral excellence. One of a husband’s duties is to respect God’s marriage ordinance by stepping forward to take his place responsibly within it. The reason for this is that, for Peter, the household is the basic unit of an ordered Christian life, and that a husband’s place in the household is one of head-stewardship, while a wife’s place is one of submission. Yet, once more, in issuing this directive, the Apostle makes it clear that he’s not just parroting and endorsing the marriage and family values of the ancient world. As his handling of God’s ordinances of civil government and labor (2:13-20) makes clear, he has a larger agenda. It’s an agenda in which we Christians are to be conformed to the example of Christ (2:21-25), following His path of obedience from suffering to glory, as we take our places within God’s ordinances. With specific reference to marriage, then, Peter again engages critically with his culture’s expectations, and the result is a reformation of conventional conceptions of a husband’s authority. While he continues to affirm that the positions of husband and wife are not interchangeable, he frames the husband’s authority within limits defined first by his obedience to God and the example of Christ. Clearly, his commands give a husband no right to adopt authoritarian dispositions and behaviors that marginalize or otherwise abuse his wife. A husband has a stewardship (responsibilities) to God and to his wife that he is not to abdicate; he has gifts and graces the benefits of which he is not to deny to her (or the church). Thus, a husband who’s a bully or a wimp before his wife will find no place in a rightly ordered Christian marriage. Rather, says Peter, “husbands, live together with your wife, knowing and honoring her as both different from you and equal with you. And don’t forget: doing the good that God requires of you in marriage will illustrate the holiness that He expects in every aspect of your life.”[i]

[i] The commentary by Joel B. Green, 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2007) was most helpful in developing this post.

What’s an Exile to Do? Wives, Live a Holy Married Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

The exhortations in Peter’s “Survival Manual for Christian Exiles” just keep coming. He began by exhorting us, as the New Israel, to live lives of moral excellence among our Gentile hosts (2:11-12). He then walked us from the public civic sphere into the private household sphere, and in each he’s emphasized the Christian’s fundamental duty: “Live your life,” he says, “as freed servants of God for His sake and His favor” (2:12, 13, 16, 19-20). Consistently, his message has been “respect God’s ordinances and take responsibly your places within them to commend to others the ultimate lordship of Christ and our accountability to Him.” Having shown how our duty to “honor everyone” (2:17) is worked out in the ordinances of civil government (2:13-17) and of labor (2:18-20), he now shows us how it’s worked out in the ordinance of marriage (3:1-7). Stressing the parallels (likewise, 2:18; 3:1; 3:7) with our duties within God’s other ordinances and with Christ’s example, Peter calls on spouses to take their proper places within marriage. For perspective on this relationship—and especially since the Apostle’s commands offend many today, we need to appreciate the husband-wife relationship in Peter’s first-century Greco-Roman world.

Looking at the Greco-Roman view of husband and wife, it’s remarkable to see the extent to which the ancient world did and did not share the Apostle’s outlook. For example, students of Roman antiquity have found evidence from the early empire of the husband’s compassion for his wife alongside his children and slaves. Evidence has also been found of expanding roles for women in the affairs of the ancient household and in the public sphere, expanding roles tied to the rising status of men. Social change notwithstanding, the household remained the basic unit that ordered life within the empire: with places for everyone and everyone in their places, it was “the center that shaped the world.” Within the household, the husband’s place was one of head-stewardship (from which authority derived) and the wife’s place was one of submission (subordination), and one of her duties was to adopt her husband’s religion. Given this background and Peter’s specific interests in household relationships (2:18–3:7) and in social conduct in general (1:13–2:17), we have to ask: did the Apostle simply adopt and promote the marriage and family values of the Greco-Roman world? Or did he engage critically with them? The contexts preceding 3:1-7 make it clear that Peter has been engaging critically with or even undermining the values of his age. So, what can we say about his handling of the marriage ordinance?

The Apostle turns first to Christian wives (3:1-6), and he commands them: be subject to your own husband—submit yourself to him, step forward and take your place responsibly under himeven if he’s not a Christian (3:1). Yes, God declares through Christ’s Apostles that it’s wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian, but what’s a wife’s duty when she becomes a Christian and her husband doesn’t? While affirming the wife’s position under her husband, her conversion to Christ was a wildcard that might complicate the marriage and the household. Pointedly, Peter addresses his culture’s expectation that the wife will follow her husband’s religion by instructing her how she might win her unbelieving husband to Christ. Engaging critically with the family values of his world, the Apostle’s instruction to wives is this: “the submission required of you is first to our God in Christ and then to your husband.” In other words, a wife’s subjection to her husband is always defined first by her obedience to God and by the example of Christ. In this light, Peter goes on to say, “wives, let your husband see that you’re holy and reverent before our God, that you’re pure and respectful before him (3:2; Peter’s words can have both meanings). Furthermore, don’t enhance your beauty with the latest inappropriate outer finery that’s prized by society, as even the ancient philosophers teach (3:3). Instead, adorn yourselves, as only Scripture teaches, with the lasting Christlike inner beauty that’s precious to God (3:4). Beautify yourselves as did the holy wives of long ago who put their hope in God: they submitted themselves to their own husbands (3:5). Example: be like ‘Lady Sarah.’ She entrusted herself to God as she submitted herself to her husband, ‘Lord Abraham,’ even when his acts of fear-filled duplicity put her and their offspring in jeopardy (3:6a). Ladies, beautified as Sarah was, you’ll be nothing less than her daughters: courageously confident in your God and submitted to your own husbands (3:6b), commending to them Christ’s lordship and their accountability to Him.”

As God’s exiles, the Apostle Peter commands Christian wives to live a life of moral excellence. One of a wife’s duties is to respect His marriage ordinance by coming forward to take her place responsibly within it. This is the case because, for Peter, the household is the basic unit of an ordered Christian life, and a wife’s place in the household is one of submission while a husband’s place is one of head-stewardship. Yet in issuing his instructions, the Apostle makes it clear that he’s not simply adopting and promoting the marriage and family values of the ancient world. No, as his handling of God’s ordinances of civil government and labor (2:11ff.) shows us, his bigger agenda is to see us conformed to the example of Christ, following His path of obedience from suffering to glory, as we take our places within God’s ordinances. With specific reference to marriage, Peter takes exception to his contemporaries’ expectations, and the result is a reformation of conventional conceptions of a wife’s submission. Yes, he continues to affirm that the wife’s position is not interchangeable with her husband’s position, but he frames the wife’s submission within limits defined first by her obedience to God and the example of Christ. Clearly, his commands give a wife no excuse to adopt servile dispositions and behaviors that yield a withdrawn or blind submission to her husband. A wife has responsibilities to God and to her husband that she is not to abdicate; she has gifts and graces the benefits of which she is not to deny to him (or the church). To sharpen the point, a wife who’s a rival or a doormat before her husband will find no place in a rightly ordered Christian marriage. Rather, says the Apostle, “wives, be like Sarah: entrust yourself to God as you submit yourself to your husband. And keep this in mind: doing the good that God requires of you in marriage will typify the holiness that He expects in every aspect of your life.”[i]

Having addressed Christian wives, Peter will move on to address briefly Christian husbands married to a Christian wife. We’ll take up that topic in the next post.

[i] One commentary that was particularly helpful to me on this passage was that of Joel B. Green, 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2007).

Aimee Byrd’s Book, Chapter 1

Byrd’s book is divided into three main parts. The first main part is called “Recovering the Way We Read Scripture.” This part deals primarily with hermeneutical issues. As someone who claims the Reformed tradition as her own, it is a question why she should feel the need to recover the way we read Scripture. Does she believe that we have lost something earlier generations had? It is not entirely clear what she means by this, but we will simply note this and move on.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Why Men and Women Don’t Read Separate Bibles.” I agree with much of what is in this chapter, starting with her rejection of the idea that men and women need separate Bibles. Her scathing denunciation of reading the Bible “in pink and blue” culminates in this zinger: “If the aesthetics are good, then our sanctification must be on point” (33). Against many feminist scholars, she rejects the idea that the Bible is patriarchal (42). There are many important female voices in the Bible, some of which she points out (Huldah in this chapter, Ruth in the next), and others exist like Hannah and Mary. Whether all the conclusions she draws from them are justified is another question. At the moment, however, I am listing the areas of agreement. Also, and I agree with her, she laments the poor state of theological education for women. The “Bible” studies that are on offer for women are generally hideous. Maybe publishers think that women can’t handle theology. But why would any great theologian of all church history be inaccessible or irrelevant to women? Byrd elsewhere acknowledges her debt to the great theologians, and that they continue to inform her.

There are several points that need to be examined closely for their implications. Not all of these implications have been mentioned before. First, she says that “the books written before the establishment of Christian trade publishers had an androcentric, or male-centered, perspective” (34). She immediately qualifies this statement by suggesting that this does not mean an inherently wrong perspective, but rather an incomplete perspective. This raises a question in my mind, one which I am not sure Byrd ever answers. Firstly, what does she mean by “androcentric” in this context? Does Byrd see linguistic markers like generic “he” as evidence of androcentrism? Does she see something like covenantal headship, via Ephesians 5, as androcentric? Her words here appear to be a critique, but then she pulls her punch a bit.

Next, the historical situation of Anne Hutchinson is fraught with complications. On Byrd’s reading, she was not taken seriously by her pastors/elders (36). Byrd seems to believe that if the church had invested time and energy into teaching her, the story might have been different. That is possible. However, she was given a rather good education back in England (including religious education), being taught by her learned father, Francis Marbury. It is not clear in the record how much of her theology was already in place before she came over to the colonies. Byrd seems to be claiming that the supposed neglect of Hutchinson was the main contributing factor to her later problems. It is possible that such neglect could be a contributing factor. But Byrd seems to be hinting that no blame for the situation accrues to Hutchinson herself. Any pastor, however, would be disturbed by a group meeting in someone’s house for the express purpose of critiquing the pastor’s sermon. That has “clique” written all over it! Byrd might reply by saying that Hutchinson had no other options available to her. I find that difficult to believe. She didn’t have to form a group. She could discuss the sermon informally with other people. If she had any differences with the pastor, she had a responsibility to bring those to the pastor, and him only, not spread discord by critiquing him behind his back. That is on her.

The most disturbing part of the chapter is the section entitled “Revealing a Woman’s Work” (45-6). If her conclusions are correct, and women formed part of the authenticating of Scripture, then there can be no theological objection to female ministers. If they have the greater, they can have the lesser. She describes Huldah as “authenticating the Word of God largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy” (46, referencing Christa McKirkland). She quotes with obvious agreement McKirkland’s claim that Huldah might have been “The first person to authenticate the written Word.” Authenticating the Word of God is not how the Bible describes what she did. All the text says is that she passed on the word of the Lord that came to her, which included this statement from the Lord: “all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.” It is not at all clear that Josiah wanted it confirmed as to whether the book that was found was the Word of God. His words in 2 Kings 22:13 refer rather to his fear that the things written in the book would come true. Huldah confirms that they would, but with qualifications mentioned in 19-20. Huldah was a true prophetess. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to doubt this, nor for Deborah, whose words came true. Some opponents of feminism have tried to argue that the consulting of Deborah and Huldah indicate the failure of male leadership. At least in Huldah’s case, this is not so, since Jeremiah started his prophecies about five years before the consultation with Huldah (thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, putting the beginning of his prophecy around 626 B.C., and the consultation of Huldah about 621 B.C.). The objection could work with Deborah’s case, but not with Huldah. Most scholars I consulted on this passage addressed the question of why Josiah did not consult with Jeremiah by answering that Jeremiah was probably in Anathoth, whereas Huldah was right there in Jerusalem. In any case, there is no indication that Huldah authenticated God’s Word (who does that anyway? The Reformers always said we receive God’s Word, not authenticate it. God’s Word is self-authenticating). In addition, Josiah’s response to the word even before the consultation indicates that he believed it was already authoritative. What he did in consulting Huldah was to ask how the curses would work out (a point I owe to Fowler). Huldah’s gifts of prophecy are certainly genuine but she does not appear in Scripture as one who had the same public ministry of speaking and writing that her contemporaries Jeremiah or Zephaniah had. Rather, she appears as one who delivered oracles in a private consultation with five members of the royal court. Our conclusions about the exact nature of her ministry or that of other men or women have to depend on other passages and considerations. For more, see Thomas Schreiner’s essay in RBMW. I would need to do more research to see what I thought about this claim, though it seems to have at least some initial plausibility.

Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (#5: Removing Wallpaper)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Discussions of biblical topics and texts like those in Aimee Byrd’s new book are inevitably and decisively influenced by existing commitments and larger frameworks of understanding. Efforts to identify and address those controlling factors are a challenging but necessary and profitable way to sort out differences and to work toward consensus. With this in mind, we return to the place where we began our interaction with Byrd’s book, namely, to the adage that “a woman may do anything in church that an unordained man may do.” No doubt Byrd, like many others, is happy to affirm that this adage is the framework from which she argues for the reciprocal coactivity of laywomen and laymen in the same capacities.

By contrast, without ignoring the aforementioned adage, our engagement with Byrd has taken up selected issues that she raises about the relationship and service of women and men within God’s household, and we have applied to those points the added framework provided by the general and special offices, the elements of worship, and the family-church analogy. So, what happens when we apply that additional background to the issues that Byrd raises? Perhaps this is best summarized in a set of affirmations. From the points we’ve studied in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, we would believe and teach:

1. that all believers, men and women, should pursue discipleship, with Christlikeness as its goal, the church’s historic doctrines and practices as its focus, and the local church and the home as its two primary, yet distinct settings mentioned in Scripture;

2. that, when believers come together in church, laymen and laywomen may be coactive in all elements of public worship except those elements, such as the ministry of God’s word to His household,[i] that are reserved to those men who serve in the special teaching office;[ii]

3. that, when believers come together at home, laymen and laywomen should find there a setting where they may be coactive in teaching and learning according to their ability and maturity; and

4. that, whether believers come together in church or at home, they should seek to become examples of maturity; men to be respected as “fathers” in God’s household, among whom are some whose calling is to teach and govern God’s household in the special office of elder, and women to be honored as “mothers” in God’s household whose calling is to teach the younger women.

Whatever else the preceding affirmations may say, it seems clear that we must reevaluate the adage that “a woman may do anything in church that an unordained man may do.” Certainly, the adage rightly reminds us that all believers serve in the general teaching office and may take part in all elements of worship not reserved for those men who serve in the office of elder. Yet our considerations have exposed the adage for what it is: it is itself a yellow wallpaper that hides an important truth. We need to peel back even this covering to reveal the truth of the family-church analogy.

That truth is that the relationship and service of women and men are not just about shared capacities; they are also about distinctive callings. Nor are they just about our shared siblingship; they are also about our different stewardships. Let’s put it another way. Both men and women may become exemplary teachers (Titus 2:3-4; 1 Tim 3:2; Heb 5:12) and exemplary household managers (1 Tim 5:14; 1 Tim 3:4-5). It remains, however, that, in a human family, a woman, as gifted and mature as she may be, can never become a father; a man, as gifted and mature as he may be, can never become a mother. Just as the callings of women and men are not interchangeable in the human family, so they are not in the church family. The adage, then, does not express and should not be allowed to eclipse Paul’s family-church analogy with its bearing on relationships and service in God’s household. In fact, the adage, well intentioned though it may be, is really not much more than another expression of extrabiblical suppositions that stereotype church members, in this case as interchangeable siblings to be treated the same and slotted to serve in the same capacities. The analogy, on the other hand, presents church members as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, to be appreciated for their differences, not least in calling.

Following the analogy, then, we will affirm that men and women may do anything in church that is in keeping with their callings. Moreover, we will press ourselves to work more carefully at honoring women who devote themselves to becoming and contributing as “mothers” in God’s household, along with men who devote themselves to becoming and contributing as “fathers” in God’s household. We will also press ourselves to work more carefully to comply with those rules in God’s word that are always to be observed, those principles that should govern the full assimilation and deployment of men and women in our churches as required by the family-church analogy, the elements of worship, and the general and special offices.

[i] The public ministry of God’s word would include both its reading and its preaching (as in 1 Tim 4:13).

[ii] To be sure, in a more complete discussion, we would explain that, just as men and women should not be coactive in the ministry of God’s word, so they should not be coactive in the ministry of the sacraments.

Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (#4: Family/Church Analogy)

Posted by R. Fowler White

From our discussion of selected points in Aimee Byrd’s recent book in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our review, we are hopefully clarifying the points on which we can agree and disagree about the results that she sees coming from an equal investment in the discipleship of women and men. We have urged that Byrd’s book is strongest when she calls for a reemphasis on Christlikeness and the church’s historic doctrines and practices as the proper goal and focus of discipleship. We do differ with her, however, when she contends that discipleship will produce laywomen and laymen who serve God’s household in the same capacities. Alternatively, we see discipleship producing laywomen and laymen who are indeed coactive and reciprocal in some capacities that are the same, but in others that are different. In other words, we see discipleship producing women and men whose capacities to serve are correlated with the general and special offices and with the elements of worship. Of course, this correlation is precisely the point at which our visions of discipleship and its results may clash. It is also the point at which it was vital for Paul to elaborate on love of others (1 Cor 12:31–14:1) as the standard that should shape relationships and service in God’s household. To his elaboration of this standard we want to call attention in this post.

As we said in Part 3, according to 1 Cor 14:26-40, love of others requires that during the public ministry of God’s word in its various forms (14:26), those who give and receive that ministry must do all things in a fitting and orderly way, following “the Lord’s command” through the Apostle (14:36-38; 11:16). To get readers to feel the weight of those directives, Paul attaches them to two anchors. One of those anchors is the practices taught and instituted in all the churches (14:33b; 11:2, 16). This connection tells us that, beyond what Byrd and her sources suppose, there is more at stake here than a special rule for a special situation in a specific local church, namely, a rule to stop the disruptive chatting of distracted women during the public ministry of God’s word. No, what is at stake is a standing rule (cf. 7:17b) in all the churches (14:33b), a rule that, during the public ministry of God’s word to His household, the women should not speak but should subject themselves (like the laymen) to those men who aspire to and qualify for service in that special public ministry (14:34; cf. 14:37-38). This is not to say that discipleship between women and men should never be coactive and mutual; it is to say that the appropriate venue for that reciprocal coactivity is the home, not the church’s public meetings (14:35; cf. Acts 18:24-26). The point at stake, then, is that the love of others should constrain a local church not to put its men and women at odds (11:16) with the traditions delivered to all the churches (11:2) when it comes to the public ministry of God’s word.[1]

In addition to those universally binding practices, Paul also appeals in 1 Cor 14:34 to the Law as one of the anchors of his directions. To understand what he means by the Law, it is most helpful to use “the proper hermeneutical lens” through which Byrd, following her sources, wants us to view 1 Corinthians 11–14. With that lens, we see that those four chapters are an essay in which Paul addresses disorders that were occurring when the church came together. Therein, 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 1 Cor 14:33b-40 are bookends that mirror one another, with the intervening sections also mirroring one another in reverse order as they lead to and from the essay’s center point in chapter 13.[2] For our purposes, it is most important to notice that if those bookends do indeed mirror each other, then it is more than reasonable to conclude that the Law in 1 Cor 14:34 is Paul’s shorthand for Genesis 1-3 to which he refers in 1 Cor 11:7-9, 11-12. Seeing, then, this connection between Genesis 1-3 and 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, the chain-link logic in his reasoning comes into view. And, of course, the significance of Genesis 1-3 is that there Paul finds not just the beginnings of man and woman and the family dynamics of their relationship, but also the analogy that those beginnings provide for the relationship between women and men in the church. Thus, we see that, like the apostolic traditions, the Law also forms an anchor for Paul’s explanation of how men and women are to relate and serve in love in God’s household.

Bringing the preceding points together, we see that in 1 Corinthians Paul gets readers to feel the weight of his directives about the public ministry of God’s word from two anchors: the universally binding apostolic traditions and the family-church analogy in Genesis 1-3. But 1 Corinthians is not the only place where the Apostle links his logic to the family-church analogy: we find it again in 1 Timothy. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11–14 and 1 Timothy 2–5, we have the earliest and latest uses of this reasoning (thus providing us an indication that Paul’s directions for the churches were consistent over the entire course of his ministry). In those chapters, it is really interesting to notice Paul’s recurring interests in the same issues: in gender-appropriate apparel for public worship (1 Cor 11:4-7; 1 Tim 2:9-10), in the elements of public worship (1 Cor 11:4-5; 11:23-26; 14:15-19, 26; 1 Tim 2:1–3:7; 4:13), and in the standards that define and govern relationships between women and men (1 Cor 11:8-9, 11-12, 16; 14:34-38; 1 Tim 2:13-15; 3:4-5, 15; 5:1-2). That Paul repeats himself in these chapters ought to make his reasoning all the more valuable to people struggling to sort out relationships between men and women.

Pointedly, in Paul’s presentation, church standards of relationship and service are a carryover from family standards. As a result, he would have church members, out of love for one another, take into account whether their fellow members are male or female, younger or older (1 Tim 5:1-2). In addition, lest we think that the analogy is only a matter of age and sex, Paul takes it beyond those criteria and applies it to spiritual growth and calling (cf. Eph 4:12-16; Rom 12:2; Eph 5:8-10; Col 1:9-10; see also 2 Pet 3:18; Heb 5:12-14). Thus, he would have men become examples of maturity (cf. 1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:7), respected as “fathers” in God’s household (cf. 1 Cor 4:15; 11:1; Phlm 10), among whom are some whose calling is to teach and govern God’s household in the special office of elder (Jas 3:1; 1 Tim 3:1-7; cf. 1 Cor 4:15; 11:1; Phlm 10; cf. 1 Pet 5:3). Similarly, he would have women too become examples of maturity, honored as “mothers” in God’s household whose calling is to teach the younger women in God’s household as their “daughters” (Titus 2:3-5; 1 Tim 5:9-10, 14 [with 3:11?]; see also 1 Pet 3:6b; cf. 2 Tim 1:5 with 3:14-15). All things considered, the bottom line of Paul’s family-church analogy is that love of others requires us to oppose any suppositions that a local church is a homogeneous assemblage of interchangeable persons (even siblings) who are to be treated the same and to serve in the same capacities. Instead, Paul bids us to look in love on a local church as a heterogeneous household of fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who are to be treated with the honor due to them on account of their differences in sex, age, maturity, and calling.[3]

To draw to a close this series of posts on selected points of Aimee Byrd’s new book, we will look in Part 5 at the adage that “a woman may do anything in church that an unordained man may do” in the light of Paul’s family-church analogy.

[i] Cf. A. C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1155.

[ii] The structure of 1 Cor 11:2–14:40 would look approximately like this: A: gender-appropriate apparel in worship, 11:2-16; B: disorder in the ministry of the Lord’s Supper, 11:17-34; C: gifts and the unity of the body, 12:1-30; X: the standard of conduct (love), 12:31-13:13; C´: gifts and the priorities of the body, 14:1-25; B´: disorder in the ministry of God’s word, 14:26-33a; A´: gender-appropriate speech in worship, 14:33b-40.

[iii] The content of this paragraph paraphrases and reapplies observations found in V. S. Poythress, The Church as Family (1990) and in the report submitted by the Committee on Women in Church Office to the Fifty-fifth (1988) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (#3: Prophesying)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Part 1 and Part 2 of our interaction with selected themes in Aimee Byrd’s new book, we reviewed 1 Tim 2:12 and Acts 18:24-28 and Col 3:16 (with others) as representative passages related to teaching in the special and general offices. From those texts we gleaned that laymen and laywomen were exhorted to be coactive in the general teaching office, but that the special teaching office was limited to qualified men. From our interaction with Byrd to this point, then, we gather that, since reciprocal coactivity in teaching was not a mark of the special office or of the public meetings of the church, the coactive teaching of those in the general office need not diminish or undermine those in the special office.

Along with texts related to teaching, however, there are also texts related to prophesying, and from them Byrd and many others (including denominational study committees) have argued that women were permitted to prophesy in the church’s public assemblies. As plausible and as widely accepted as this view is, it is pertinent to ask this question: how is it that, when the NT churches gathered in their public meetings, only men were teaching but both women and men were prophesying? To answer this question, it is worth asking if the premise of the question was true: were men and women in fact coactive in prophesying in church? Or was it the case that the same standards regulated teaching and prophesying? Before we comment further on the question of standards, let’s examine the observation that both women and men prophesied when the churches came together.

First, to the extent that Scripture speaks of the prophethood of all believers, we should grant that men and women both did prophesy in church. For instance, in Acts 2:17-18 Peter declares that, insofar as Christ pours out His Spirit on all believers, they all share the prophetic anointing and thus all “prophesy.” That being the case, they all occupy the general prophetic office (e.g., 1 Cor 12:13; 1 John 2:20-27). In this light, the focus of our attention has to shift. Now we must ask, what did the activity of the general prophetic office look like?[1] With Peter’s citation of Joel as an interpretive backdrop for his readers, Luke portrays general prophesying throughout his narrative in Acts as a coactivity of household members, regardless of their sex, age, class, or race. But his narrative pushes us to be more specific. Indeed, Luke describes that activity almost exactly as the Chronicler describes the liturgical prophesying of selected male and female Levites under David (e.g., 1 Chron 25:1-7). That is, those Levitical liturgists are said to have “prophesied” according to their assignments in certain (not all) elements of public worship,[2] namely, as they offered intercession, thanks, or praise (1 Chron 6:31-48; 16:4-7). Interestingly, in Acts we see that under David’s greater Son, male and female believers are said to have “prophesied” as they offered prayer, thanks, or praise. Specifically, as we follow Luke’s narrative, we are struck by the fact that, wherever Christ poured out His Spirit (in Jerusalem [Acts 1:14; 2:11], in Caesarea [Acts 10:44-46], in Ephesus [Acts 19:6], in Corinth [1 Cor 12:13], and beyond), the coactivity of men and women in many acts of public worship bore witness to their fellowship in the prophethood of all believers that the Spirit of Christ was forming.

Second, in addition to the general prophetic anointing of all believers, Scripture describes the special prophetic ministry of some believers (1 Cor 12:28-30; Eph 4:11). Upon closer examination of the prophetic activity in 1 Corinthians 11–14, it becomes clearer that, as they prophesied, men and women were coactive in certain elements of public worship, but not in all. For example, remembering that the Chronicler and Luke tell us that men and women “prophesied” as they were offering intercession, thanks, or praise, we need not be surprised when Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11:4-5 and 14:15-19 that men and women “prophesied” in those very same acts of worship. Other elements of worship, however, come into view in 1 Cor 11:2–14:26 (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 2:1-15; 3:14-15; 4:13). From this wider context, we realize that Paul’s overriding concern is to see all elements of public worship regulated by love of others (1 Cor 12:31–14:1). Strikingly, according to 1 Cor 14:26-40, love requires that during the public ministry of God’s word (14:26), anyone contributing to that ministry must follow the Apostle’s directives (14:36-38) on when to speak and when to be silent (14:27-35). In fact, in light of the question of whether prophesying was regulated by the same standards as teaching, it is critical to notice that the Apostle’s directives applied whether God’s word was brought in the form of “a psalm, … a teaching, … a revelation, … a tongue, … [or] an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26b NASB95). Clearly, insofar as teaching and prophesying contributed to the public ministry of God’s word, Paul regulated them both by the same standards. Thus, 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an awfully close parallel to 1 Tim 2:11-15 (we will have more to say about this parallel in Part 4). In that light, it is remarkable to notice that, consistent with the distinction we saw between the general and special teaching offices, we also see a distinction between the general prophetic anointing and the special prophetic ministry. By all appearances, when God’s household came together (1 Cor 14:26a), men and women were expected to be coactive in the general prophetic office (e.g., 1 Cor 11:4-5; 14:15-19), but the special prophetic ministry of God’s word, like the special teaching ministry of God’s word, was limited to men (1 Cor 14:34-35). In other words, contrary to what Byrd and many others have argued, the Apostle’s policy on prophesying was, in “all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor 14:33b), coordinated with the general prophetic anointing of all and the special prophetic ministry of some: that is, Paul limited that element of worship devoted to the special prophetic ministry of God’s word to men; and, consistent with the general prophetic anointing of all, he approved of women and men being coactive in prophesying during those other elements of worship not devoted the ministry of God’s word. In short, in all the congregations of Christ’s church, the principles that regulated teaching and prophesying were the same.

In what has preceded, we have sought to show how Paul correlates the coactivity of women and men in prophesying and in teaching with the general and special offices. We have also sought to highlight that the Apostle cites love as the standard that shapes his directives for participation in the elements of public worship. We can understand even better, however, where Paul anchors his policy on women and men in teaching by taking one more step. We’ll take that step in Part 4.

[1] The trajectory of the following comments was first suggested to me by Dr. R. Laird Harris. Recently, essentially the same trajectory has been suggested independently by Iain M. Duguid, “What Kind of Prophecy Continues? Defining the Differences between Continuationism and Cessationism,” in Redeeming the Life of the Mind: Essays in Honor of Vern Poythress, ed. John Frame, Wayne Grudem, and John Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 112–28.

[2] By “elements of worship” we mean reading and preaching God’s word, singing psalms and hymns, offering prayer, presenting offerings, confessing the faith, and administering Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (#2: Acts 18:24-28; Col 3:16)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (Part 1), we urged that in 1 Tim 2:12 the Apostle Paul sets out a policy for the churches that limits the public teaching (and governing) of God’s household to men who aspire to and qualify for eldership. Apart from that conclusion, we readily acknowledge with Byrd that there are certainly other NT texts where laywomen and laymen are coactive in teaching one another. Acts 18:24-28 and Col 3:16 are two of those texts. In this installment of our interaction with Byrd, we’ll look more carefully at these passages.

When we turn to Acts 18:24-28, we find Luke’s review of an episode in which a married Jewish couple, coworkers with Paul in his Gentile mission (Rom 16:3), teach a well-spoken, well-versed Jewish preacher of the OT Scriptures. Intent on highlighting the discretion of Priscilla and Aquila as they approached Apollos to instruct him, Luke draws the reader’s attention, with some evident care, to the contrast between his actions in the public eye and their actions out of it. After Apollos is said to have spoken boldly “in the synagogue” (18:26; cf. “in public,” 18:28), Priscilla and Aquila are reported to have “invited him to their home” for a private tutorial (18:26, NIV; cf. “took him aside,” ESV, NASB95, CSB, and NKJV). In addition, Luke describes the explanation that Priscilla and Aquila gave to Apollos, not as an individual effort of either spouse, but as a joint effort of both spouses. Given the particulars of this episode, we might wonder if or how Luke’s narrative harmonizes with Paul’s directive in 1 Tim 2:12. Noticeably, Luke’s account depicts a woman, alongside her husband, instructing a man while they all met in a private location, perhaps the couple’s residence. This coactivity of Priscilla and Aquila was not a function of the special teaching office and did not occur in a public meeting of the church (or synagogue), but it did yield a great harvest of gospel grace when Apollos emerged from his lesson with Priscilla and Aquila and went on to “water” where Paul had “planted” among those in Achaia (Acts 18:27-28 with 1 Cor 3:6). Luke’s description in Acts 18, then, harmonizes with Paul’s prescription in 1 Timothy 2 in that Luke portrays a laywoman and a layman, not in the public teaching of God’s household or in the special teaching office, but in the general teaching office, coactively teaching another man in private as the couple worked with Paul in his apostolic mission to the Gentiles.

Turning to Col 3:16, it’s apparent that Paul is exhorting church members to teach and admonish one another, but we can elaborate on the words there. Granted the teaching envisioned in this text relates especially (though not exclusively) to the doctrinal content of the songs we sing, the expression “teaching and admonishing” recalls the Apostle’s description of his own ministry in Col 1:28 and effectively reminds readers that “everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40; cf. Eph 4:12). The phrase in Col 3:16 also mimics Paul’s description in Rom 15:14 of the reciprocal instruction of which members of the church in Rome were capable. More remarkable still is the expectation expressed by the writer of Hebrews about his readers in 5:12: by this time you ought to be teachers. To be sure, through the discipleship process, some in God’s household would distinguish themselves as examples worthy of emulation (Heb 5:14), and certain of those examples would be men who aspired to and qualified for eldership (Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Pet 5:3). Yet we are not to think that in 5:12 the writer of Hebrews presents the special teaching office as the only fruit of discipleship ministry. No, as Byrd might remind us, while texts like Col 3:16, Rom 15:14, and Heb 5:12-14 are general enough to include what qualified men do in the special teaching office, they also provide the basis for laywomen and laymen to do what Priscilla and Aquila did in the general teaching office. That is, because every believer has Spirit-given ability to understand and communicate truth (1 Cor 2:6-16; 1 John 2:20-27) and so occupies the general teaching office, we take it that in Col 3:16 and similar passages Paul is exhorting church members to teach each another, even as they allow for differences of ability and maturity (Heb 5:12-14). In other words, such texts should cause us to see that reciprocal coactivity in the general teaching office is also the fruit of discipleship properly embraced. In this light, we can see how Paul’s exhortation in Col 3:16 and in comparable texts squares with his regulation in 1 Tim 2:12.

To this point in our interaction with Byrd’s book, we’ve pulled together representative passages related to teaching the church in its public meetings, and we’ve found that the fruit of discipleship is seen in both the general and the special teaching offices. Though the task of teaching the church in its public meetings is fulfilled only by men aspiring to and qualified for the special teaching office, Scripture clearly expects laywomen and laymen to be coactive in the general teaching office according to their ability and maturity. As Byrd points out, however, good and relevant questions about these conclusions do understandably arise when we compare Paul’s regulations for teaching with his regulations for prophesying. His statements oblige us to deal with the question, was it the case or not that, when the church came together, women and men were both prophesying and only men were teaching? We plan to take up that topic in our next post (Part 3).

Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (#1: 1 Tim 2:12)

Posted by R. Fowler White

As Lane acknowledged in his first post on Aimee Byrd’s new book, certain statements in a book stand out to some reviewers as controlling or recurring factors in its argumentation. To other reviewers, more incidental statements get their attention because to their eyes those assertions are as conspicuous as missed paint strokes on the dining room wall. Despite our differences in approach to Byrd’s work, however, Lane and I have a common interest in giving it a respectful, rigorous, and vigorous hearing. For my part, I take it that Aimee Byrd is a serious-minded disciple of Christ, a member-in-good-standing of a Reformed congregation of Christ’s church. In my view, she has posed fair and important questions to which pastors and teachers should give thoughtful answers, and she has made serious pleas to which careful responses are required. From all I can see, she desires and anticipates that her research, interpretations, and theological reasoning will be seriously weighed. For what my thoughts may be worth, I’ll focus on selected points in her presentation.

Before getting to those points, let me orient the reader to my stance by summarizing what I understand to be the overall strength and weakness of Byrd’s three-part book. From where I sit, the book is strongest when, in part 2, she points out errors in certain complementarian teaching and calls for a reemphasis on the proper goal (i.e., Christlikeness) and focus (i.e., the church’s historic confessions) of discipleship, a reemphasis marked by an equal investment in the discipleship of women and men with that goal and focus in mind. On the other hand, however, the book is weakest when, in parts 1 and 3, she identifies the fruit of that discipleship as laywomen and laymen serving in the same capacities in God’s household. In the end, I believe the book’s weakness has made and will make it harder for its strength to be appreciated in certain circles.

With that orientation, let’s begin this interaction with Byrd’s book by noticing that the adage that “a woman may do anything in church that an unordained man may do” is now commonplace in discussions (including Byrd’s) of women and speaking gifts in Reformed circles and elsewhere. This is especially the case when the adage is set over against the concept of “authoritative teaching” in conversations about church ministry. Meanwhile, denominational study committee reports (like those in the OPC and PCA) and new books (like Byrd’s) continue to be published on women and men in church ministry. It seems appropriate, then, to focus again on the activity of men and women in the ministry of teaching in God’s household as it is represented in Scripture. Admittedly, in this series of posts,[i] we will not be able to cover all facets of this topic. We will offer, instead, a succession of posts on selected points as key components for any broader consideration.

Given our focus on teaching, it would be a good preliminary step to clarify what is meant by authoritative and non-authoritative teaching. Basically, the difference is this: “authoritative teaching” is “official teaching,” teaching done while holding the office of elder; “non-authoritative teaching” is “non-official teaching,” teaching done while not holding the office of elder but having the approval of elders. In large measure, the description overlaps with the historic Reformed distinction between teaching in the special office (held by elders ordained to it) and in the general office (granted to all believers). We’ll make use of the special/general distinction later. For now, without disputing the official/non-official distinction, let’s ask, what is its exegetical basis in Scripture? Granted that the verb “teach” and its cognates, used without qualification, mean “instruct according to the apostolic traditions” (e.g., Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 1:3; 4:11; 6:2b-5; 2 Tim 2:2; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:28; 2:7; 2 Thess 2:15), the exegetical basis of the official/non-official distinction in recent discussion has most frequently involved the claim that in 1 Tim 2:12 Paul refers not to teaching, on the one hand, and exercising authority, on the other; rather, he refers to “teaching from a position or an office of authority” and thus to “teaching authoritatively, teaching officially.” What can we say about this interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12?

First, a brief word about context. The immediate context of 1 Tim 2:12 (i.e., 2:1–3:15) is devoted to regulations for the public activity of men and women as it relates to prayer, apparel, discipleship, and officers in God’s household. Thus, it is clear enough that the activity in view here takes place in the church’s public meetings. Second, as for limiting the instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 to the concept of “authoritative teaching,” there is scant evidence to support the claim that in fact that text refers only to “teaching authoritatively or officially.” That is, the syntactical construction does not tell us that the two infinitives conjoined in 1 Tim 2:12—“to teach or to exercise authority”—express one idea (such that the second infinitive modifies the first, thus expressing the one idea “teach authoritatively”). Instead, the two infinitives are conjoined to express two related but distinct ideas. The point is, the syntax of 1 Tim 2:12 strongly favors the view that Paul has two activities in mind, not one.[ii] Well, so what? What’s the payoff of the “two-activities” interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12 for the coactivity of men and women in teaching the church?

The “two-activities” interpretation constrains us to conclude, in contrast to Byrd’s argument that the reciprocal coactivity of men and women in God’s household is the fruit of discipleship, that the Apostle does not permit men and women to be coactive in teaching the church in its public meetings. In fact, Paul’s references to teaching and governing in 1 Tim 2:12 reappear in the qualifications of men who aspire to the church’s eldership (see 1 Tim 3:1; teaching, 1 Tim 3:2 and 5:17b; governing, 1 Tim 3:5 and 5:17a). Seeing, then, that Paul addresses restrictions on two public activities of women and men in 1 Tim 2:12, there is sufficiently explicit biblical basis to conclude that the Apostle limits the public teaching and governing of God’s household to men who aspire to and qualify for eldership (the bases of this policy in the creation and fall of the first man and woman have been discussed elsewhere). That being the case, this text makes a decisive, even controlling contribution to the discussion that Byrd rightly wants us to have. Believing, however, that her affirmations of male-only ordination are enough to satisfy us on this text or its implications, she chooses not to discuss it. This choice, in my judgment, is a major miscalculation, since it raises doubts about the advisability of publishing a book that does not address the texts that pose, at least ostensibly, the most obvious and serious challenges to her proposals. Even so, she is right to put forward other biblical texts on men and women in teaching for us to consider. We’ll turn to some of those passages in subsequent posts.

[i] This series of posts represents the content of a complete rewriting of an article of mine that appeared in Ordained Servant, a publication of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 2001), pp. 10-13.
[ii] For more on this point, see A. J. Köstenberger, “A Complex Sentence Structure in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in A. J. Köstenberger and T. R. Schreiner, eds., Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (3rd. ed.; Baker, 2016), pp. 117-162.

On Finding Places for Priscilla Other Than Wife and Mother

Posted by R. Fowler White

While considering Rachel Green Miller’s question, “Is There a Place for Priscilla in our [Reformed] churches?” I urged that we should be able to agree to valorize the functions of wife and mother for today’s ‘Priscilla,’ just as the Reformers did. We should be able to do this because we confess the cruciality of those roles for the progress of reformation.

We’re liable, however, to miss the church-historical and theological importance of those functions unless we appreciate the linkage that the Reformers discerned between the priesthood of all believers and the sanctity of marriage and family. In that linkage, we have an indispensable, though basic, reference point for locating the places for ‘Priscilla’ in our churches. Particularly as Reformed communions, we affirm that she has a place in the general office of priest that the Lord Christ bestows on all believers. In fact, we also confess her place in the general office of prophet. We affirm these truths because to every believer—every ‘Priscilla’ and every ‘Aquila’—Christ imparts the Spirit of truth, and because common to believers as general officeholders is a Spirit-given ability to communicate to others at least the basics (“milk”) of God’s self-revelation in Christ (1 Cor. 2.6–3.3; 1 John 2.20-21, 27; Col 3.16; Heb 5.12). In addition, we affirm that, when believers grow in their understanding, they become better able to communicate truth to others (Rom 12.2; Eph 5.8-10; Col 1.9-10; Heb 5.11-14; 2 Tim 3.16 17). So, even though, as Miller herself has made clear, Scripture plainly grants the special teaching office only to men (1 Tim 2.11–3.7; Titus 1.5-9), Scripture also plainly grants the general teaching office to all believers, women and men alike. In that affirmation, then, we have an initial answer to Miller’s question: the places for today’s ‘Priscilla’ in our churches are in “the general teaching office.”

As much as that answer should mean to us, we can and should say more, precisely because we know that Scripture does. We read there of older women training younger women (Titus 2.3-5), of mothers teaching their children (Titus 2.4) and grandmothers their grandchildren (cf. 2 Tim 1.5), and of unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21.9; 1 Cor 11.5; cf. Acts 2.17). And, yes, we read of Priscilla and Aquila who, while they were coworkers with Paul in his Gentile mission (Rom 16.3), took the well-spoken, well-versed OT expositor Apollos aside to explain to him the way of God more accurately after hearing him speak in the synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 18.26). As we ponder these texts, we shouldn’t miss their references to the various places where Priscilla and other women were serving in the general teaching office. Yet we should also ask, are the actions prescribed and described there integrated by a framework of understanding other than that of the general office? I maintain that they are, and that framework is the analogy between family and church.

That framework permeates especially Paul’s first letter to Timothy. The apostle even cites the principles governing relationships in human households as the model for our duties within the church as God’s household (1 Tim 3.15; cf. 3.4-5). In 1 Tim 5.1-2, he distills our duties to one another into a single catch-all command, saying, in effect, “when relating to fellow church members, treat all with the respect due them by reason of their gender, age, and household status.” From this command, it’s clear enough that, like Timothy, we’re to understand that the distinct roles of family members carry over into the distinct roles of church members: as gifted and mature as they may be, women cannot be fathers, sons, or brothers and should not be treated as such; men cannot be mothers, daughters, or sisters and should not be treated as such. Just as we’re not to treat family members as identical and interchangeable, so we’re not to treat church members as identical and interchangeable. In fact, significantly, the actions we see described in Scripture are consistent with the actions prescribed in the Pastorals (1 Tim 5.2; 2.11-15; Titus 2.3-5) and in 1 Corinthians (14.34-35). For example, in Acts 18, Luke contrasts Apollos’ speaking “in the synagogue” (v 26; cf. v 28, “in public”) with Priscilla’s and Aquila’s “taking [Apollos] aside” [ESV, NASB95, NKJV; “inviting him to their home,” NIV] for corrective instruction. Luke’s description of Priscilla’s actions in Acts 18 very nearly mimics Paul’s prescriptions, whether it’s the substance of 1 Tim 5.1 or 1 Cor 14.34-35 that is in mind. On that occasion, there was a place (noticeably not public) for the communication of truth by a wife and husband to a man, and it caused no blurring of the distinctions either between the general and special teaching offices or between the genders.

Be that as it may, my overall point is that the phenomena we find in Scripture take into account not only the general teaching office shared by women and men but also the specific differences of gender, age, and household status. It seems to me, therefore, that we’re bound to support today’s ‘Priscilla’ as she fulfills the general teaching office in our churches in places where her actions produce no confusion about office or gender. Even at the intersection of family and community (cf. Prov 31.10-31), there are places where ‘Priscilla’ can use her gifts to benefit others, regardless of their gender, age, or household status: be a coworker in a church mission, speak at a conference; write a book, a commentary, or a blog; have a podcast. We should not, however, support actions that affirm or allow the interchangeability of office or of gender. We’ll commend women to use their gifts in the general teaching office as prescribed and described in Scripture, to devote themselves to functioning as mothers, daughters, and sisters in God’s household. These things we’ll do because we know that, though all believers hold the church’s general teaching office, they are not interchangeable, either in our families or in our churches.

One other thing in closing: as we engage Miller’s question, we can agree that our Reformed churches are always to be “working to ensure that our hearts and lives are being reformed by the Word and Spirit of God” (as Dr. Godfrey puts it). In addition, we can all “acknowledge that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and the government of the church–circumstances common to human activities and societies–which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (WCF 1.6). Given that our prudence is finite and still in measure corrupt, we cannot presume to produce uniform, universally endorsed outcomes. We can, however, press ourselves not to settle for mere pragmatism but to work carefully to identify those “general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed,” those principles that should govern the full assimilation and deployment of today’s ‘Priscilla’ in our churches.

For further reading (without endorsing all that is said), see the following resources:

https://frame-poythress.org/may-women-teach-adult-sunday-school-classes/

https://frame-poythress.org/the-church-as-family-why-male-leadership-in-the-family-requires-male-leadership-in-the-church-as-well/

On Finding A Place for Priscilla

Posted by R. Fowler White

In her January 20, 2020 post on the White Horse Inn blog, entitled Is There a Place for Priscilla in our Churches? Rachel Green Miller addressed her closing appeal to the modern Reformed Christian community: “It’s time to consider, ‘Where is the place for Priscilla in our churches?’” To lead up to that question, Miller reviews the portrayal of Priscilla in the NT and in commentaries of church fathers and Reformers. Her presentation culminates with references to women of the Reformation era, linking them with Priscilla as women who used their gifts to benefit the church. It is a compelling picture, one that Miller supports by citing Kirsi I. Stjerna, Women and the Reformation (Wiley Blackwell, 2008; p. 214) as follows: “The movement(s) flourished and endured from roots that were both male and female: the product not just of the male theologians but of women, who as daughters, sisters, spouses, mothers, widows and as believers espoused the new faith and ‘taught’ it and ‘preached’ it in their own domains, so participating concretely in the Protestant mission.” To appreciate the full import of Stjerna’s remark, I went to her book itself to see it in its context. There, I found out more about the “domains” in which women participated in the Protestant mission. Let me explain.

Miller’s citation comes from Stjerna’s final chapter on “Conclusions and Observations on Gender and the Reformation” (pp. 213-22). A lengthy quotation from that chapter is necessary to understand the work of women during the Reformation. Stjerna writes (pp. 214-15):

A general conclusion can be made that the reformers’ teachings did not induce a deep cry for emancipation, liberation, or a class movement towards gender equality. The Reformation does not appear to have instigated any drastic changes in gender roles and expectations. Instead, Reformation teachings managed to give new meanings to the traditional roles of women while at the same time reinforcing a hierarchically ordered view of human relations with a theology that taught created equality with natural differences between the sexes, as well as spiritual equality within hierarchically ordered gender roles. The reformers’ convincing positive interpretation of the importance of the family and their promotion of the religious value of motherhood (the role that was consider the most ‘normal’ – and creation-based – but which, until then, had not been theologically valorized) may be one of the reasons that there was not initially a greater outcry for more options. … The hierarchical ordering of family and societal relationships was not seen as contradicting the gospel of liberation, but rather as being instrumental in its successful realization.

… The Reformation needed the continuity provided by hierarchical gender relations. Marriage was of central importance; “the institutionalized Reformation was most successful when it most insisted on a vision of women’s incorporation within the household under the leadership of their husbands” ([Stjerna citing Lyndal Roper, The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg (Clarendon, 1989), p. 2]). …

It is possible to draw the conclusion that, on the one hand, the Reformation incorporated a vision about spiritual equality and the liberation of consciences from religious oppression, and on the other hand, it harnessed itself to a patriarchally arranged societal system and opted for continuity in social structures rather than abruptions. …

Within the context rehearsed above, we can sharpen our understanding of Stjerna’s remark that Miller quoted. Case in point, we should not miss how Stjerna sums up the Reformers’ ideas about women: “what women heard from the reformers was the reiteration of dogmatic statements excluding them from the ministry of the Word and sacraments and from places of public voice and authority, and affirming the traditional virtues of women and good wives” (p. 219).

Qualify Stjerna’s summary as we might, I, for one, am eager to join Miller to consider the place for Priscilla in our churches. I will come to that consideration remembering that the Reformers ‘theologically valorized’ the roles of wife and mother in the service of the Protestant mission. As heirs of the Reformers, we should be careful to do no less. This is not to foreclose on consideration of other places for Priscilla. It is to commend to her what women of the Reformation era did: they espoused the faith, ‘teaching’ it and ‘preaching’ it in their places as wives and mothers, indeed as daughters, sisters, and even widows.

 

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