A Unified Field Theory on Gender

There’s been a number of posts this last week defending complementarian thought. Most notably, Kevin DeYoung wrote 9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism. I’ve had this post in the works for a long time, but Kevin’s post and Aimee Byrd’s response to it reminded me anew of a long unsettled feeling I’ve had with complementarian language.

Many reformed conservatives feel dissonance with the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Though we generally identify aa complementarian, this is more a function of the fact that we DON’T identify with egalitarian thought than a hook, line, and sinker support of conservative presentations and applications of complementarian thought. Furthermore, we generally identify as complementarians because we’ve been greatly influenced in other ways by the old leaders of the movement. I was deeply influenced by John Piper’s Desiring God. I find D. A. Carson’s exegeses of various passages incredibly helpful, including passages on women. Tim Keller’s writings on social justice transformed how I think about the gospel applied.

I really don’t want to be at odds with any of these guys whom I respect and from whom I have learned life changing truths. But some of their language around the Bible and gender and the applications of the groups they support leave me uncomfortable. I go back again and again to the word dissonance. Something is not quite right. Something doesn’t fit the rest of Scripture. I think often of a science conundrum that well illustrates the problem (in my humble opinion) with the last 30 years or so of discussion on gender among evangelicals.

 Note: if you are of the personality type that curls into the fetal position at the mention of a science conundrum, I’ll try to explain this in a way that is empowering, not frustrating, to you. If I fail, let me know in the comments, and I’ll try harder next time. 

Consider for a moment Newtonian physics. Most of us are familiar with it — even you artists and poets who don’t think you are. At least we all live according to it everyday. It centers around the concept of gravity. An apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head in the late 1600’s, causing him to figure out gravity. Large objects (like our earth) pull smaller objects toward them (like an apple being pulled back to the earth or the moon being held in orbit by the gravitational pull of the earth), and the foundation of Newtonian physics was laid. Much in our world fits Newtonian physics, and it has become a great tool for understanding the universe. We all stick to the earth because of Newtonian physics. The moon orbits the earth; the earth orbits the sun. From satellites transmitting data to the earth to ants crawling along the ground, it seems that our universe is fundamentally held together by gravity. I was even taught in high school that electrons orbited around neutrons in atoms similar to the planets around the sun. The idea was that the neutron held the electrons in orbit through the gravitational pull of the neutron.

The problem is that scientists later discovered that electrons and neutrons don’t actually work like that. In fact, you can’t even measure how an electron travels in an atom. All of our world does not in fact obey Newtonian physics, particularly at the micro level. So we have a universe that follows one principle while the tiny parts that make up that universe defy it. Atoms don’t fit Newton’s model. Albert Einstein and others after him sought for a Unified Field Theory, something that explained how the universe worked on a macro and micro level. How could the big parts of the Universe work together in a way that the small parts making them up defied? There has to be a bigger principle at work, one that explains both.

Can you see where I am going here with gender?

In the 70s and 80s, a new conservative model on gender in the Church was codified. Statements were written, councils were established, and books were published. And these statements, councils, and books spoke into a number of problems around gender in the Church. They highlighted the fact that God created two distinct but overlapping genders (though the overlapping part has been sorely under-emphasized), two genders that complemented each other. Complementarian thought was born, and it caught on with many because it explained a lot of our experience to us. For those who value a straightforward reading of the Bible, especially when it comes to submission in Ephesians 5 and male-only eldership in I Timothy 3, it gave us a systematic way to look at gender. It also fit what many Christians were seeing in their homes. Among my generation, it gave many a counterexample to their upbringing shaped by parents of the 60’s who were putting off the conservative social constructs of the previous generation. Ozzie and Harriett accidentally raised the Woodstock generation. Who raised my peers. And many of my peers wanted more stability in the home for their children than they had experienced with their Woodstock parents. Complementarian constructs resonated with children of Woodstock parents.

The problem is that while the complementarian movement explained a lot and defended important Scripture, it still has underlying root weaknesses. The primary one in my opinion is its foundational misinterpretation of Genesis 3:16 that believes a woman’s root problem after the fall is that she wants to take control from the man and dominate him in return. That view put termites in a corner foundation of complementarian thought. You can’t build a solid structure on gender with that kind of foundational misinterpretation of the root problem from the fall for women.

Another root problem in complementarian thought is that the movement was fundamentally a reaction to 2nd wave feminism. It’s obviously a problem to build a system of teaching from Scripture as a reaction against any cultural movement. But it is even more of a problem when you realize that 2nd wave feminism itself was in many ways a white privileged movement. First wave feminism was not, in my opinion. But 2nd wave feminism hasn’t impacted other cultures the same way it has middle and upper class whites because other cultures and other income brackets struggle with a different set of gender issues than those traditionally associated with 2nd wave feminists (like equal executive pay). Gloria Steinhem and other feminist leaders have long been criticized for their overemphasis on equal pay in the upper echelons of the privileged while only paying lipservice to the types of gendered abuse that occurs throughout the world among the poor.

This movement has also allowed for other wrong interpretations in Scripture, for instance that women were created to image the church (Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Mary Kassian) and that all women should submit to all men (John Piper).

Most of all, this movement hasn’t allowed for women to serve in the modern complementarian church the way they served with Jesus, Paul, and Peter in the New Testament church. 

So what to do? Well, we need to re-examine some key teachings from Scripture. Personally, I’ve been looking at this from two angles.

1) Re-examining headship through Scripture. I think headship is an incredibly important teaching because it starts in Genesis and extends all the way through the Epistles. Understanding how the Bible uses the concept unlocks a lot around gender. I’ve been looking at headship particularly in reference to I Corinthians 11’s instructions on women and head-coverings. I feel like the light has come on in my head, solidified after reading an article on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. THAT STORY IS I CORINTHIANS 11 PERSONIFIED – it is everything Paul was trying to warn the church in Corinth about. The competing definitions of headship as source on the egalitarian side and authority on the complementarian are equally weak choices. Headship in Scripture is deep and beautiful, and I’m looking forward to publishing that article on Monday — Headship, I Corinthians 11, and Thomas Jefferson.

2) Looking at all the women in the Bible. Conservatives have come up with an idealized womanhood that fits about 50% of the women affirmed in Scripture. Every woman used by God in Scripture gives us a data point for understanding what God did and did not mean by certain words He used. Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Abigail. Euodia, Synteche, Lydia, and Junia. These ladies aren’t outliers. They are part of the normative plan for women made in the image of God. We must couple them with Sarah and Ruth, Mary and Rachel for a holistic understanding of what God created women to be and how He uses them in His story.

Of course, Einstein never figured out a Unified Field Theory, and maybe we won’t around gender either. But I do believe that God is sanctifying His Church, and I think the next step may be moving us to a better understanding of male and female in the image of God, one that contributes to the flourishing of both man and woman in the Body of Christ as God intended in Eden.

77 Responses to A Unified Field Theory on Gender

  1. Unknown April 22, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    Can you reference the Piper articles where he builds his case for all women submitting to all men? I'm genuinely curious. thanks so much. Robyn

  2. Wendy April 22, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    Robyn, that was recently highlighted in his article around the topic of whether women should be police officers. I'll try to find the link when I get home.

  3. Robyn Haralson April 22, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

    Found it: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-women-be-police-officers

    He didn't seem to stridently assert that all women should submit to all men, though I could see how it would come across that way. I didn't totally agree with his conclusions in the article, and struggle with some of his thought process, but I thought his comment at the end, ” And we may come to different views on some roles, but that submission to Scripture is a great common ground” was helpful. Thanks for your reply.

  4. Robyn Haralson April 22, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

    Sorry to blow up your comment section, but have you read this Russell Moore article? It is a great corollary: http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/12/05/women-stop-submitting-to-men/
    Thank you for your article.

  5. Wendy April 22, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

    I always appreciate Russell Moore. He's regularly a corrective voice in conservatism. Thanks for sharing that.

  6. Jennifer at Purposeful Nutrition April 22, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    Love this. Keep writing. I so appreciate your voice in this discussion.

  7. Wendy April 22, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    Thank you, Jennifer!

  8. Jenny Wall April 22, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. ncrozier April 22, 2016 at 10:03 pm #

    Really excited to read your article on Monday. Have been digging into the gender questions so much after reading God's Word to Women by Katharine Bushnell. It's hard to find voices that aren't strident in this discussion and that really bothers me. I really appreciate the measured approach here. And I totally got the science illustration though I would definitely be more in the artist/poet camp so thanks for explaining that so well.

  10. Laura April 22, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    Thanks Wendy. I identify as egalitarian, but once upon a time I was complementarian. Maybe I'd still be comp if more were like you.

    “Most of all, this movement hasn't allowed for women to serve in the modern complementarian church the way they served with Jesus, Paul, and Peter in the New Testament church…Conservatives have come up with an idealized womanhood that fits about 50% of the women affirmed in Scripture.” – YES!

    And it is painful and frustrating when you are in the “wrong” 50% and your gifts and passions are unwanted. And your only option is to force yourself into a mold into which you do not fit. I refused to do that…

  11. Saralyn April 23, 2016 at 12:23 am #

    Thank you for putting into words the thoughts on my heart. I am slogging through the mire of past assumptions right along with you, seeking to know the whole counsel of God regarding half of his image bearers. The more I see of the greatness of God, the less satisfied I am to be confined by a doctrine precariously built on a handful of verses from Paul's letters.

  12. Anonymous April 23, 2016 at 2:11 am #

    Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Abigail. Euodia, Synteche, Lydia, and Junia.

    Wendy, if I might ask, which of these women taught and/or exercised authority over men in the church and which verses would we find that in?


    And what did women do to “to serve … with Jesus, Paul, and Peter in the New Testament church” that they don't do in “the modern complementarian church” (whatever that means)?

  13. Anonymous April 23, 2016 at 2:12 am #

    Sorry, I messed up the signature on that previous post. The second question was supposed to come before my name, not after. My apologies.

  14. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 23, 2016 at 2:37 am #

    the analogy of Newtonian and subatomic physics has been useful in other realms of discussion. The musicologist Leonard Meyer used it as an explanation of problems in serialist/atonal apologies. Just because things are difficult to determine at the subatomic level does not mean macrolevel events are unpredictable, it doesn't even mean microlevel events are unpredictable so much as that we lack the means to comprehensively observe them. I've found it difficult to agree with complementarianism or egalitarianism because I'm not sure it's a given that this isn't a case of ideological conflict subordinating the canonical texts to contemporary concerns that aren't a match for the issues the biblical texts were addressing. By and large contemporary debates seem to have swirled around the responsibilities of those who are sexually active. I haven't seen (yet) either complementarians or egalitarians discuss what their respective ideologies mean to people who are celibate and I find it worth mentioning that when Jesus described eunuchs he mentioned two of three categories of them not actually having a choice over their status.

  15. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 23, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    Deborah was prophet and judge, per Judges 4-5. Consolidation of prophetic and judicial roles was one of the patterns in that period of Israelite history. Samuel was priest, prophet and judge. what neither prophet/judge did was necessarily lead troops into battle. That the sons of Israel came to Deborah for judgment seems to establish pretty clearly she was regarded as able to teach and adjudicate on matters pertaining to law. There's nothing in the text itself that suggests it was thought inappropriate for Deborah to have that role. Complementarians have employed some mental gymnastics to try to argue otherwise but so far I haven't found a persuasive case that Deborah was thought of as somehow being in a “not supposed to have this job” form of job judging and being a prophet for the people of Israel. That Huldah was consulted regarding the authenticity of the book of the Law suggests that she, too, was considered genuinely authoritative and had a prophetic role to play.

  16. Anna Vroon April 23, 2016 at 3:06 am #

    This is a well timed post for me. I have been feeling increasingly confounded by this gender debate, feeling the dissonance you have mentioned with complementarionism. I accepted a friends invitation to a 'Biblical Egalitarian'FB page wondering if it would be interesting to be involved in that side of the discussion, but I found it off-putting and struggled to find anything I could engage with. I think Jesus was very affirming to women, and gives us dignity and value and affirmed our service to him and the Christian community. But I can not get past the fact there are restrictions around preaching and authority in the church. It's just, knowing Jesus and how he relates to me, I can't seem to find these restrictions degrading either.

  17. Anonymous April 23, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

    Thanks for that, Wenatchee. I agree with your comments. However, since Deborah didn't teach or exercise authority over men in the church, we are left with the original question: Where do these women, or any other women, teach or exercise authority over men in the church?

    1 Timothy was written to teach us how to conduct ourselves in the church (1 Tim 3:15). So appealing to situations outside the church doesn't help to explain that.


  18. Bailey April 23, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

    I'm 100% egalitarian, but I love reading your thoughts on gender! This sort of gentle correcting and patient sorting out of faddish theology from actual truth is the tone this gender conversation needs to strike. Bravo!

  19. Natalie April 23, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Can't wait to hear your next installment. This was very helpful.

  20. Wendy April 23, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    Larry, i'll post a link to an article I wrote on women teaching with authority. I'm away from my computer right now. But in general I believe that women are restricted from teaching with the authority of an elder. I see no examples in Scripture of women doing that.

  21. Cara Wieneke April 23, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    I remain a huge fan of John Piper's work. But his discussion regarding women as police officers reminded me that I need to exercise discernment when hearing anyone teach, even someone I admire as much as John Piper. I could not disagreed more with what he said during that discussion.

    Your post today has put into words EXACTLY where I am right now in my thinking. And I believe churches are not utilizing women's strengths to further the ministry. They aren't putting an emphasis on ensuring that women, no less than men, are learning doctrine and how to discern false teaching. Consequently, women are left assuming that they don't need to know doctrine; they just need to worry about filling their traditional wifely/motherly roles. Case in point: the soap bubbles submission post.

    Thankfully I read that post AFTER already having a basic understanding of egalitarianism and complementarianism, or I would have rejected complementarianism outright. But honestly, the CBMW seems to impliedly argue that this is precisely the type of submission women should display.

    I work outside the home. I work with men and women in prison. I have an opportunity to share the Gospel with people who really need to hear it. And that was not by accident. That was by God's design. But if I accepted Mr. Piper's teaching as correct and quit my job (because, at times, I assume an advisory/authoritative role over my male clients), I would lose the opportunity to share the Gospel. That simply cannot be God's will…

  22. Anita April 23, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    I'm really looking forward to hearing what you have to say about 1 Corinthians 11! Being a member of a PCA church has really limited how I and other women can participate. I haven't dug into the topic but I have often prayed and questioned God about how he wants me to serve within our church.

  23. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 23, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

    Larry, I would say a monkey wrench Protestants set up for themselves was shifting the description of pastoral/elder office from a priestly role to a prophetic role. In the polemics against the catholic priesthood it might have made sense to a Zwingli or Bullinger to describe a pastor as more prophet than priest but traditionally within the Torah it was the priests who were responsible to teach the scriptures to the people while the prophets were a kind of ad hoc judicial committee, so to speak. So it's not entirely surprising that after centuries of a potentially misguided attempt to regard the pastor as “prophet” rather than priest that Protestants have had battles in the West about why women might not be considered biblically permitted to serve as elders.

    Women could and did exercise roles that had authority over men in the people of God, just not very observably in priestly roles.

  24. Jenn April 23, 2016 at 7:28 pm #

    Wendy, Thank you for your continued writing in this. Every time I've been pondering a topic in scripture, you have put beautiful voice to my thoughts. I just finished your book The Gosepl Centered Women, which was wonderful as well. Please keep digging into scripture and writing.

  25. Wendy April 23, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Exactly, Wenatchee. We conflated prophet and priest in the Old Testament and apostle and elder in the New. There were clearly female prophets in the Old. I believe this is like apostle in the New, which is why Junia can be called an apostle and it doesn't affect my beliefs that the office of elder is restricted to men. There were no women named as priests in the Old Testament or elders in the New. This seems to be what Paul is limiting in I Timothy 2-3. But evangelicals were sloppy for so long in conflating apostle and elder that they've made a major mess of things.

  26. Kristin Conniff April 24, 2016 at 12:27 am #

    This is such a thought provoking discussion. Could you explain what you mean by the “definition of headship as source on the egalitarian side”?

  27. Christy Rood April 24, 2016 at 12:33 am #

    Thank you for putting your dissonance out there for us all to read. I'm at almost the exact place as you, and can't wait to read your thoughts on headship as I'm revisiting that issue right now. 🙂

  28. Don April 24, 2016 at 12:47 am #

    I am egal, before that I was comp altho I did not know the term. I was comp because teachers I respected taught it and it seemed to be what Scripture was teaching, in fact it seemed totally obvious to me so I could not even conceive of an alternative until a counselor informed me there was such an alternative and that I should investigate it. So I resolved to read and study an egal book. I expected to easily dismiss its arguments. But I also knew that I could be wrong in my understanding.

    After reading the book, there were a handful of puzzles that I could not solve and which I had “put on the shelf” to handle later. I was a math major so I knew that one way to prove something is to assume the opposite and show a contradiction. So I temporarily took off my comp hat and tentatively put on an egal hat. Gack! All of my puzzles on the shelf went away and I saw how comp ideas were harming the church.

    So keep digging and if you want to convo, I am here.

  29. Wendy April 24, 2016 at 1:26 am #

    Egalitarians generally believe the Greek word translated head should be read as “source”, like the head of a river. Because Eve was made from Adam's rib, they read “head” as a reference to her creation from man, not man as an authority or physical head over a wife.

  30. Kristin Conniff April 24, 2016 at 11:04 am #

    Thank you!

  31. Kristin Conniff April 24, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    Would you mind sharing how the change in your view manifests itself practically?

  32. Kathy Stegall April 24, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    Those were my feelings exactly – way back in 1990!


  33. Kathy Stegall April 24, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    Yes, Wendy, I agree that “Headship” is a very important topic that needs lots of Bible study. Here are some of my thoughts. The Theology of “Head” in 5 parts:


  34. Bill in Australia April 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

    So the complementarians think Mary, Sarah and Ruth were good submissive complementarian women. Really?
    Mary was offered the choice of mothering the Son of God and she did not consult her Rabbi, her elders, her father or Joseph, an older man she was engaged to. She made the most important decision in history all by herself as a single teenage girl. Seems pretty assertive and audacious to me.

  35. Bill in Australia April 24, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    What about Sarah? She insisted Abraham must cast Hagar and Ismael out of the family and Abraham was reluctant but God supported the assertive Sarah and told Abraham to do as his wife asked. Would John Piper approve if he was Sarah's pastor?

  36. Bill in Australia April 24, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    What about Ruth? Didn't she go to Boaz and ask him to cover her with his coat? Wasn't that a proposal of marriage? From a young woman to an older man? Don't complementarian preachers tell women to wait for a man to chase after her?

  37. Don April 24, 2016 at 3:00 pm #


    In my marriage, my wife and I are equal partners in making decisions for our family. We can decide for ourselves who is responsible for what without the need to try to fit into some “box” that prescribes so-called gender roles and we can change as circumstances change. We each can contribute our gifts to the partnership to try to help make it as successful as possible. I can share my goals and she can choose to help me attain them even if they do not directly interest her and vice versa. I do not have a “trump card” to make a “final decision”, but there are lots of ways for us to make decisions and if we cannot in the moment we take it as a indication to seek more info and pray more, but this really does not happen very much.

    For church leadership, I am willing to listen and learn from anyone, I do not automatically exclude half of the possible teachers. I also believe plurality in church leadership is taught in the Scriptures and that in a general sense, the leadership should be diverse and reflect the diverse members of the congregation. They should be diverse across their spiritual and natural gifts, their gender, their race, etc. Unity in diversity and diversity in unity.

  38. Wendy April 24, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    Bill, straw man (or woman).

    I don't know what you are addressing.

  39. Wendy April 24, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    You are operating in stereotypes more than what I think characterizes the majority of leaders who claim complementarianism.

  40. Angie April 24, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    Wendy, thank you again for your measured contribution to this discussion. I listened to Bent Tree Bible Church's address by their elder board and message by Pete Briscoe from Sunday prior. The term “cognitive dissonance” came up. One elder describes the dissonance over women in leadership ministry as between “the boy in me and The Man in me. By way of paraphrase, he says The Man, Jesus, in him was causing “cognitive dissonance” over the complementarianism he had always been taught and what he was seeing in Scripture and observing practically. Their delivery is drenched in humility and the weightiness of the decision and offers much hope. http://benttree.org/sermon/the-future-of-leadership-at-bent-tree/

  41. Kristin Conniff April 25, 2016 at 1:10 am #

    Thank you for taking time to share that. It helps to have some concrete examples as I'm thinking through this.

  42. Anonymous April 26, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks again, Wenatchee. I wonder if the prophet/priest thing is a red herring. First, I am not following the argument you are trying to make there and second, I am not sure the Protestants changed anything in that regard. To me it is better let's look at the NT and see how the office of elder in a church is described.

    You say that “Women could and did exercise roles that had authority over men in the people of God, just not very observably in priestly roles.” This is precisely my question. Can you show me any of these in the church? Give me some texts that I can look at that show a woman teaching or exercising authority over men in the church.


  43. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 27, 2016 at 2:30 am #

    A lot hinges on how we define prophecy. Was it preaching/teaching?

  44. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 27, 2016 at 2:41 am #

    Protestants DRASTICALLY changed emphasis on what pastoral office was considered to entail, shifting the core metaphor from priestly to prophetic. Zwingli and Bullinger can be considered the heroes or villains here but the shift was one they're closely tied to. I can understand how and why that shift was made in the late medieval period and the historic basis for it. But I would say it presented a long-range problem within Protestantism for complementarian thought if it continues to presuppose a conflation of prophetic and priestly activity. Were the daughters of Philip the Evangelist who all prophesied preachers/elders in authoritative presbyter roles? It never says that and it seems incongruent with the OT accounts in which prophetic roles tended to be advisory and only in unusual circumstances co-extensive with a formal judicial role.

  45. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 27, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    It's hardly cheapt, but for further reading on the way Bullinger and Zwingli came to define prophecy in connection to pastoral office … Daniel Timmerman, Heinrich Bullinger on Prophecy and the Prophetic Office (15-23-1538)ISBN 978-3-525-55089-2 C 2015 Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co.

  46. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 27, 2016 at 3:48 am #

    we'll want to be careful not to get too … Marcionite-ish in insisting that the OT provides no precedent for prophetic or priestly activity within the NT era since, after all, up until the canonization was wrapped up the scriptures for the early Christians would have been something like what we know of as the OT. The idea that nobody in the early church would have considered the OT instructions regarding priestly or prophetic activity as in some sense at least potentially normative seems too big a stretch for me to entertain.

  47. Anonymous April 28, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    Some prophecy was preaching and teaching. But I still am not following you on the supposed change in the pastoral office. We can look at the NT and see that the pastoral office involved a number of things, not least of which was preaching or proclaiming the Word. So I don't see any need to talk about a conflation. I say let's study the NT and see what God tells the elders/pastors/overseers (all the same office) to do. But I am not sure how that helps anyway. The question isn't whether the priestly and prophetic roles can be combined or separate. The question is whether or not women can teach or exercise authority over men in the church.

    I do not believe that the daughters of Philip were as you suggest, but I think that is the only sort of difficult passage in the NT. I was waiting for someone to mention that. Buy when we read it, we should note the lack of details about what they were doing, who was their audience, when and where they were doing it. All of those things matter. To assert that they were teaching and exercising authority over men in the church is to say something not in the text. The text does not say that. None of the others commonly mentioned (Junia, Phoebe, Euodia and Synteche who ironically are rebuked for the use of their mouth) are ever shown as teaching or exercising authority over men. So I think there is an explanation for Philip's daughters that doesn't involve teaching or exercising authority over men.

    Lastly, I don't think it is Marcionite to look to the NT for information about what elders/pastors/overseers are to do. Marcion wasn't about that at all. In fact, to the contrary, perhaps had the OT been sufficient for the church, the NT would not have needed to be written. The very existence of the NT might argue against your assertion that the OT would have been normative in these things. That's a very simplified presentation of a more significant argument, but it should not be without notice that when the NT teaches many things, it appeals to the OT. Yet when the NT teaches ecclesiology, it does not appeal to the OT for these things.

  48. Wenatchee the Hatchet April 28, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    the reason the prophet/priest distinction isn't a red herring is because conflating the two roles is what adds to the current debate about whether women can teach in authority. If it becomes clear throughout the OT that at no point did prophets have public teaching roles but played a judicial/ad hoc consultant role then we're not looking at cases where women publicly regarded as prophets were regarded as having a role of teaching publicly. In Deuteronomy 16-18 the normal pattern would be to consult tribal chiefs and elders regarding matters of the law, cases would be adjudicated at higher levels only as they increased in difficulty. The high priest or judge would have a more “supreme court” role, and within the workflow of cases the prophet was last in the sequence and played the role, if you will, of an ad hoc committee. Deuteronomy lays out a pattern in which local clan and tribal elders were expected to be conversant enough in the case law to handle simpler cases themselves.

    Again, attempting to stick to only NT proof texts on whether women were shown as able to teach in authority isn't useful if we're granting a conflation of prophetic and priestly activity. Complementarians who wish to be lazy about this point have given egalitarians the argument, which might explain why it's been in Protestant circles more than in Catholic and Orthodox circles that debates about women as pastors have been more heated–in interpretive traditions where the pastoral role was always cast in essentially priestly terms the debate was a bit more of a non-starter. I'm suggesting that the Reformers made a rhetorical move that made sense at the time but that should not be considered accurate or correct in light of the OT canon. If we take scripture to be our reference and canon we can start with the OT canon that explicitly describes what prophets and priests did, then use that to inform our debates about NT passages in which definitions may have been presupposed but not entirely explained. If prophecy never necessarily entailed public instruction (a role restricted to the priests in the Torah) then it would make sense if we see women in the NT described as having prophetic roles but that these roles never, at any point, were conflated with teaching in authority in priestly activities. This seems like a pretty simple observation if we're not locked into wanting to prooftext issues only on the basis of NT documents.

  49. Anonymous April 29, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

    Thanks for that response.

    I think prophets did have public teaching roles. Their writings are filled with teaching about how the Law has been ignored and violated and what should be done to fix the problem.

    Furthermore, the former prophets are actually historians (Joshua-2 Kings). The latter prophets are preachers and teachers. As Hobart E. Freeman (who wrote a classic work on the prophets) says, prophets were “divinely appointed moral and ethical preachers and teachers of true religion.” I wrote quite a bit about this years ago which is too much to post here, but I am drawing on that for my comments here.

    I don't know of any place where Deut 16-18 is used as you use it here to with the prophet at the top of the judicial structure, at least in his prophetic role. Again, we would have to look at Scripture for that. I don't recall prophets being used that way but I would entertain any passages you have to defend that.

    As far as using the NT, I am not granting the conflation. I don't think that can stand from the OT, let along extend into the NT. Prophets were both preachers and teachers. I am saying that God gave instructions to his church and those instructions should be sufficient. Why not look at them and see what they say? Perhaps part of the question is talking about what prophecy actually is and whether or not there are biblical prophets today.

    Regarding the debate in Protestant circles vs. Catholic or Orthodox, I imagine that is polity related. Catholic and Orthodox are top down structures in which dissent is not approved. Therefore, whatever people might think, there is no real debate about it. However, the Catholic church does have debates about women in the priesthood. Less to be sure, but still debates.

    Prophecy certainly did entail public instruction. Appealing to the Torah to limit it to priests only ignores that Moses was a prophet who was commanded to teach (Deut 4:1, 6:1. etc.). However, the bulk of prophetic ministry comes later which is why the Torah doesn't mentioning prophets in that terminology. So I think rather than a conflation, you are drawing a distinction that doesn't exist as you are using it. The main distinctions include (1) priests as passed from father to son whereas prophets were called; (2) priests offered sacrifices prophets did not; (3) priests were typically localized whereas prophets served more generally to the wider nation; (4) prophets gave inspired messages directly from God whereas priests seem to teach what was already written. I am sure there are others, but I think your argument for a conflation has no merit because the distinction didn't exist as you strongly as you say it did. I think the OT should inform us on the nature of the Word ministry in the church, but the NT gives us important teachings that should be honored.

    Lastly, I would object to the claim of prooftexting only on the basis of NT documents. The NT epistles were written directly to churches to teach how to be the church. 1 Timothy in particular was written so that people would know how to conduct themselves in the church (1 Tim 3:15). Therefore, it seems entirely appropriate to draw our main teaching on the church from those documents since the church is significantly different than Israel in many regards.

    Thanks again.

  50. Wenatchee the Hatchet May 1, 2016 at 12:06 am #

    You've misread what I've proposed about prophets. They were not “at the top”, they seem to have played and intermittent ad hoc and advisory role. Under “normal” circumstances you'd never bother consulting a prophet in ancient Israel because you'd have the local chiefs and elders and the Mosaic law and a high priest or a judge. Prophets, whether in ancient Israel or in pagan nations, were generally political advisors in addition to having their religious roles. David could have his personal seer in Gad but a regular farmer would not, most often.

    Paul's prohibitions and permissions suggest that if we let them guide us we may see that whatever “prophesy” was it might not incude public instruction as a necessary component. It's his prohibitions to women that suggest this.

    Paul's instructions regarding prophesy tell us a woman could prophesy with a head covering yet if you say that prophesy entailed public teaching then Paul's prohibitions make it interesting to suggest how a woman could prophesy with a covered head if she was to be silent in the church and not to teach in authority over man. But for some reason, in the NT the daughters of Philip were renowned for prophesy. If prophesy were primarily about public instruction to groups then this would be impossible and Paul would be shown to have given incoherent, contradictory instruction. There's no contradiction in Paul's instructions if the task of public instruction were seen in priestly terms.

    So if in the OT we see that prophets were regarded as authoritative and women could have the role of the prophet; and if we saw Luke describe the seven daughters of Philip as gifted in prophecy and Paul instructed both that women could prophecy with head coverings but that they were not permitted to teach in authority over men OR to even speak at all in the church gatherings then whatever prophesy might have been, it has to account for the testimony in Scripture that in both the NT and OT women were praised when they had the gift of prophesy and that they were regarded as able to speak authoritatively, but that it did not involve them giving instruction in the scriptures on a regular basis.

  51. Wenatchee the Hatchet May 1, 2016 at 12:11 am #

    Let's say you haven't conflated the priest and prophet. You've seemed to transpose the priestly responsibilities described in the OT onto what you described as prophesy in the NT.

  52. Howard Donahoe May 4, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Who do you believe presents the best interpretation of Gen 3:16, and why? You critiqued one particular view, but I didn't notice your alternative presented.

  53. Howard Donahoe May 4, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  54. Don May 4, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    On Gen 3:16 I really like the insights of the Flemings in Bruce Fleming's “Familiar Leadership Heresies Uncovered” which has a strange title but great insights. His wife Joy knows Hebrew and wrote the drafts for the Gen discussion.

  55. Howard Donahoe May 4, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    It seems the Fleming book received some poor reviews. But I was hoping for Wendy's perspective on Gen 3:16 anyway.

  56. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

    Howard, I've written on this a lot in the past, and I didn't think to relink to old articles. Here's the main one. You might have to copy and paste into your browser. My html formatting is weak. Bottom line is that I think the old school desire, meaning strong longing or craving, is the best translation. Which may be why all the translations use that word! http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2012/04/somewhat-scholarly-analysis-of-genesis.html

  57. Kristen Wells May 4, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

    I think you are really great Wendy. I really enjoyed this article.

  58. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

    You are very kind, Kristen!

  59. Anonymous May 4, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

    Wendy, aiding folks in wrestling with Gen 3:16 and wanting a scholarly presentation absolutely dedicated to submitting to scripture, google Susan Foh.

    Roy Kerns

  60. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    Roy, I strongly disagree with Foh's interpretation. See my main article on this.


  61. Anonymous May 4, 2016 at 6:09 pm #

    Wendy, you delight me with your “love math, theology (and whales).” But (minor friendly quibble from a physicist admirer of yours) physics seems not your forte. Your overall illustration contrasting Newtonian vs modern (quantum) physics probably works for even the artists among us. Newspaper knowledge that there exists major, as yet unreconciled puzzles in harmonizing the huge and miniscule worlds. Yet you have some interesting detail errors. Eg, I suspect a memory glitch regarding hi school rather than a teaching error about neutrons using gravity to hold electrons. The science community never thought that.
    Roy Kerns

  62. Anonymous May 4, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

    Thanks for the Link, Wendy. You have impressed me so much with your willingess to submit to scripture and your ability to think carefully that I will read your article.
    Roy Kerns

  63. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    Roy, the science community might have never thought that, but I can guarantee you that someone wrote a science text book that ended up in my private school that said exactly that.

    Actually, I just looked it up. It's the Rutherford model — “This led Rutherford to propose a planetary model in which a cloud of electrons surrounded a small, compact nucleus of positive charge. Only such a concentration of charge could produce the electric field strong enough to cause the heavy deflection.[14]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_theory

  64. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

    I admit my high school might have been using very out of date text books though.

  65. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

    Thanks, Roy!

  66. Anonymous May 4, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    Wendy,your 11:17 a.m. post proves the point: electric field, not gravity, was (and is) thought to be the means by which a nucleus keeps its electrons. And it is not the neutrons which do this, but the protons, which have the charge opposite the electrons. Which is minus and which plus, as you might guess, are a circumstance of history and arbitrary. Everything (to use a math term) commutes. As I note when teaching physics, who knows why opposites attract ;^D The neutron, meanwhile is the character that walked into a coffee shop. The barista said, “For you, no charge.”
    Roy Kerns
    ps: read your essay interacting with Susan. Will revisit it a few more times. But at present, with respect even awe at your effort, I don't think you made your case.

  67. Wendy May 4, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

    I appreciate that you at least read and considered it, Roy!

  68. Don May 5, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    I saw one negative review on Amazon that did not even discuss the contents.

    I have Fleming's PDF of an early version of what he and Joy teach on Gen 3:16. I will send it to you and Wendy if you wish.

  69. Wendy May 5, 2016 at 12:35 am #

    Sure! theologyforwomen@gmail.com

  70. JR Rodriguez May 5, 2016 at 4:20 am #

    Respectfully, your understanding of the history of physics is incorrect. Newton didn't even try to explain gravity, and while Einstein earned his Nobel by proposing the Quantum he, like Maxwell who earlier gave us the mechanics, hated Quantum Mechanics. You may wish to find a different analogy to the comp/egalitarian tension you struggle with that you do understand. I suggest you examine your own unease with Gen 3:16 again. Whenever I dislike a section of Scripture, it is often because I am in rebellion. However, it's true that many times, often after years, I find I misinterpreted that Scripture.
    As a man I hesitate from writing more clearly to a woman because often when criticized they revert to victim mode. Would you be willing to have a more critical analysis of what you wrote?

  71. JR Rodriguez May 5, 2016 at 4:22 am #

    She did so in obedience to her mother in law whose God and people she was clinging to.

  72. JR Rodriguez May 5, 2016 at 4:23 am #

    Respectfully, your understanding of the history of physics is incorrect. Newton didn't even try to explain gravity, and while Einstein earned his Nobel by proposing the Quantum he, like Maxwell who earlier gave us the mechanics, hated Quantum Mechanics. You may wish to find a different analogy to the comp/egalitarian tension you struggle with that you do understand. I suggest you examine your own unease with Gen 3:16 again. Whenever I dislike a section of Scripture, it is often because I am in rebellion. However, it's true that many times, often after years, I find I misinterpreted that Scripture.
    As a man I hesitate from writing more clearly to a woman because often when criticized they revert to victim mode. Would you be willing to have a more critical analysis of what you wrote?

  73. Wendy May 5, 2016 at 11:11 am #

    JR, I anticipated such criticism and was careful to run the illustration by a guy in applied physics before running with the illustration. We agreed that it was a simplistic explanation of unified field theory but that it generally got the correct idea across. I do feel victimized by your comment, but I will go have a glass of wine to help me get past it. (Just kidding).

    If you want to give a more critical analysis, I suggest doing it in the comments of one of the two posts that followed this one, where we get into the meat of the Word on I Corinthians' headship and how the terms prophet and apostle are used. I'm very interested in feedback on those.

  74. Barbara Roberts May 7, 2016 at 7:12 am #

    Howard, you might like to read my interpretatation of the woman's desire in Genesis 3:16. It is fairly similar to Wendy's.

    I base my interpretation on the context of Genesis 3; and I believe my interpretation is confirmed by what we commonly see around us in the world, in gender relations.


  75. Barbara Roberts May 7, 2016 at 7:15 am #

    I agree with Wendy that Susan Foh's interpretation of the woman's desire in Genesis 3:16 is incorrect.

    Here is my article explaining why Foh's interpretation is not only wrong, but very dangerous.

  76. Wendy May 8, 2016 at 2:14 am #

    Barbara's article is well studied. I recommend it.

  77. Tania May 9, 2016 at 2:10 am #

    Hi Wendy,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. If you're looking again at 1 Cor. 11, this research may be helpful to you. It went a long way for me in explaining some many of the exegetical obstacles that are present int his passage! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzSFGt53sFg