This is going to be a shorter article, because I have much more research and study to do on it. I’ll put out my thesis, but I have not yet done the full survey of Scripture that I need to do to come up with final conclusions.
Thesis: By conflating the roles/offices of priest and prophet in the Old Testament and elder and apostle in the New, modern evangelicals (particularly around the Young, Restless, and Reformed resurgence) have conflated roles in which women were used in Scripture with roles in which they were not, the result being that all roles are open to women in egalitarian thought and none to women in complementarian thought. Both of these systems of thought miss the Biblical model which had women robustly used in ways involving verbal proclamations (prayers and prophecies) but limited them in authoritative/pastoral roles involving sacrifices in the Old and sacraments in the New.
Points to consider:
1. It’s a presbyterian/reformed thing to see Scripture as connected and coherent. The Old Testament is not a disjointed set of antiquated Laws and stories. Instead, it is the foundation for the New Testament, the first buds of the gospel story that blooms in earnest in the gospels. For instance, in reformed thought, the New Testament practice of baptism is closely tied to the Old Testament practice of circumcision.
2. What if New Testament elders are tied to the ministry of Old Testament priests and New Testament apostles more to Old (and New) Testament prophets/prophetesses? How would this change our understanding of what women can and cannot do in the Church?
3. The church polity of individual churches and denominations are varied. Rather than considering how different churches use the words apostle, elder, and pastor, we should start by simply considering how the Bible uses the words.
4. Women were clearly prophetesses in both the Old and New Testament (Ex. 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Chron. 34:22, Luke 2:26, Acts 21:9).
5. Women clearly spoke (prayer and prophecy) during worship gatherings in the New Testament church (I Cor. 11:5).
6. Women were forbidden from either all speaking in services or a certain type of speaking in I Cor. 14: 34 and I Timothy 2.
7. A woman, Junia, may have been an apostle, depending on how you read Romans 16:7.
8. Priest in the Old Testament and Elder in the New were official roles with very specific qualifications. Only men are named in either role. New Testament qualifications for elder are less strict than Old Testament qualifications for priest.
9. Neither prophet/prophetess in the Old or apostle in the New have clearly specified qualifications (at least not on par with priest and elder). There are no qualifications in Scripture around their gender.
Points 5 and 6 are important – either Paul wrote a convoluted mess of instructions to the church at Corinth, or he didn’t. I personally don’t think he did, and I think we can use the different things he says to refine what each instruction means, using the Bible as commentary on itself. Whatever keeping silent means in I Cor. 14 and teaching with authority means in I Timothy 2, it apparently doesn’t mean a woman can’t pray or prophesy publicly in church. I have seen churches which don’t allow women as elders that are more and more asking women to lead in prayer during worship service. I think that is closer to the practice of the New Testament church.
In general, I think the conservative gender resurgence of the last few decades involved a charismatic element that conflated the office of elder with the general gift/role of apostle. Mark Driscoll saw himself as receiving direct words from the Lord. He believed the charismatic gifts were still for today and, in my humble opinion, played loose with the phrase, “God told me ….” C J Mahaney and John Piper, I believe, are both open to charismatic gifts for today. I personally don’t have strong convictions either way – I see in Scripture both the argument for and against apostolic/charismatic gifts for today. I tend toward a belief that direct words from God were shut off when the canon of Scripture was set.
This conflation of the priestly and prophetic serves the egalitarian argument that everything is open to women. My friend Jeremiah says it this way – “Complementarians who maintain the lazy conflation of priestly and prophetic don’t realize they’ve conceded the argument to egalitarians if they won’t begin to distinguish the two roles from the OT forward.”
Personally, I have no problem that Junia is talked about like she was an apostle. I can concede that to egalitarians and still believe the authoritative office of elder in the church is for qualified men only. I also don’t have a problem with the ministry of women like Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer, at least not because they are women (in contrast, I disagree with how both handle Scripture). Neither has attempted to take a spiritually authoritative role of elder (that I know of). They don’t exercise church discipline. In fact, I watched an episode of Joyce Meyer speaking with her husband and noted the deference and respect she gave him (whom I think actually oversees her ministry).
In conclusion, I think we see women throughout Scripture speaking to God’s people—prophesying in the Old (and New) and praying in services in the New. I’m wondering how a triperspective view of elder as prophet, priest, and king, a thought that took off over the last decade in Mark Driscoll’s circles, confused us about what women can and can’t do by lumping all of those under the auspices of one specific role in the church, the authoritative role of elder.
I have much more thinking and research to do on this, and if you have thoughts or input, please add them. I always grow from reading comments.
(Unless you want to tell me what’s wrong with Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer. Please don’t do that. That will only distract from the important discussion over what women did and did not do in the Old and New Testament.)