Sunday, December 6, 2009

Essence and Function, Part One: The Importance of Philosophy

I’ve been thinking over the series on the Trinity that I’ve been doing here at the blog the last few days...and it has occurred to me through dialogue with others via e-mail that it is important to spend some time explaining the simple philosophy behind the Trinity and the men-women debate.

Now, some may say, “Well, this is a theological issue...let’s just stick to the Bible.” When I was younger, I believed the exact same thing----even until I was a seminary student, I believed the exact same thing. But my time at seminary (in addition to the countless pages of reading I’ve done) has convinced me, via historical theology, that debates in the church are not as much an issue of the Bible as they are of philosophy. In the debate on the Trinity, for instance, everyone will marshal their proof-texts to sway you to believe what they do; however, what happens when you arrive at an impasse? What happens when your opponent has just as many passages for his view as you do yours?

This is where philosophy comes in. During the Middle Ages, philosophy was labeled “the handmaiden of theology” (,9171,871268,00.html) and, although the two fields have had their share of fights, I still believe the statement to be true: philosophy is still the handmaiden of theology. Because Scripture speaks of God as a logical God, a God of order, a God who does that which is just and right, it makes sense to study philosophy. The word “philosophy” literally translated, comes from two Greek words, “philos” (lover) and “Sophia” (wisdom). Put together, the word “philosophy” refers to “a lover of wisdom.”

Scripture testifies that wisdom is a blessing:

“Happy is the man who finds WISDOM, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and ALL THE THINGS YOU MAY DESIRE CANNOT COMPARE WITH HER. Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and ALL HER PATHS ARE PEACE. SHE IS A TREE OF LIFE to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her” (Proverbs 3:13-18, NKJV).

Wisdom is more profitable than “silver,” “fine gold,” and “rubies.” Wisdom is worth more than “all the things” a person could ever desire. In other words, wisdom is the most valuable possession a person could ever own. Wisdom is even worth more than all my college and seminary training combined!

One of the most important things that Solomon wants us to see about wisdom is that “she is a tree of life to those who take hold of her...” Solomon labels wisdom as “a tree of life.”

Does the “tree of life” allusion here ring a bell? It should. This reference takes us back to Genesis, where Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden by eating fruit from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Someone could say, “well, they aimed for, why was it a bad thing?” It was wrong because they were disobeying God! The very act of disobedience itself showed that humanity’s first parents did not have a “fear of the Lord,” which is central to wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10, NKJV). To first have wisdom, then, we must first have a reverential fear for the Lord. God must be first in our lives, and we must long to please him with all our heart, soul, and might (which involves the mind). Once He is Lord over our lives, then and only then can we seek to love Him with everything we are and everything we have. Wisdom, then, is not just a tree of knowledge, but a tree of understanding. And wisdom gives life, prolongs days (“length of years,” Prov. 3—see above).

It is at this point that you may ask me, “Well, I realize that wisdom is important, that it’s more valuable to me than anything I hold dear. How do I get this wisdom?” James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, tell us:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, LET HIM ASK OF GOD, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

I have taken some time here to show the importance of philosophy in the life of the believer. The Lord desires that we please Him with our minds; but in order to do that, we’ve got to become “lovers of wisdom.” The only way to do this is to know what wisdom is—and that starts with “the fear of the Lord.” Once a person has the Lord as the center of their entire existence, then he or she can begin to ask God for wisdom. God desires that we know Him in a most intimate way, so He will give us wisdom if we ask for it. Our desire to study philosophy should be founded upon our desire to please the Lord with our minds, our intellect that He so graciously bestowed upon humanity. Let the wicked and lazy servant be an example to us that, to throw away our minds is to disregard the goodness of our Lord...and thus, make ourselves enemies of His Grace.

I will continue with a discussion of wisdom and philosophy in future posts.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Operation Giftedness: Resolving the Presumed Contradictions

It is through dialogue over the last few days that I have found the inspiration and idea to write this blog post.

I’ve been talking a lot at my other blog, the Center for Theological Studies (CTS), about contradictions and how to resolve them. In addition, I’ve also dealt with the contradiction here of “equal essence” but “subordinate function” as well when referring to Christ. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that two opposing concepts or things cannot co-exist in the same way at the same time. This means that “short and tall” cannot co-exist peacefully...unless we define “short and tall,” such as “she is shorter than her aunt but taller than her grandmother,” or “she is shorter than her aunt without heels, but taller than her aunt with heels,” etc. Either way, two opposing concepts or things must have “qualifiers,” more information in order to resolve the blatant contradiction.

And this concept of resolving contradictions is a good one to use when it comes to interpreting Scripture. I’m sure you all have run into the problem of what happens when someone says that there are two passages that “seem to be opposed” to one another. Complementarians have done this with regard to 1 Timothy 2 (see my post under the section “1 Timothy 2” titled “In The Name of 1 Timothy 2” for more information).

Here at “Men and Women,” we’ve been tackling the issue of Christ’s equality in essence and His subordination in function. What do you do when you find that, just as you emphasize the equality of Christ, someone else emphasizes the subordination of Christ? I initially tried to solve that thorny problem with the passage of Hebrews 5:8. The person I dialogued with conceded that I was right on that issue...but this still did not keep him from heaping up a dozen verses where Jesus exalts the Father above Himself.

I can’t promise you that attempts to reconcile Scripture will convince other people. In fact, I don’t think anything here at the blog is one-hundred-percent convincing to every single person! Complementarians, for instance, will most likely find none of my arguments appealing in any manner. Therefore, my goal is not to make you 100% convincing...but to give you sound argumentation and evidence so as to face someone who thinks that the egalitarian view is liberal and historically progressive with little to no backing...

Today’s topic is on “Operation Giftedness.” That’s right! I am writing another post where we are looking at two or more passages. 1 Timothy 2 will continue to be tackled here at the site because there are so many theologians and Christians alike who believe this chapter prohibits women from serving in the church. But, to counteract this passage, I will use other passages, such as 1 Peter 4 and Romans 12.

Let’s first place 1 Timothy 2 side-by-side with 1 Peter 4:

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I DO NOT PERMIT A WOMAN TO TEACH or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:11-15, NKJV).

“As each one has received a gift, MINISTER IT TO ONE ANOTHER, as GOOD STEWARDS of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11, NKJV).

Do you see the problem? In 1 Timothy 2, Paul is prohibiting women from teaching, but in 1 Peter 4, Peter himself is giving license to those with spiritual gifts to exercise them in a godly manner. How do we reconcile both of these passages? Is everyone to use their gifts—-- or only men? Which is it?

If that doesn’t disturb the atmosphere a bit, read Romans 12:

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us, LET US USE THEM: if prophecy, LET US PROPHESY in proportion to our faith; or ministry, LET US USE IT in our ministering; he who teaches, IN TEACHING; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8, NKJV).

This is even more disturbing to the text of 1 Timothy 2 than 1 Peter 4 is. Paul says here that if we have a gift, “let us use” it. But this poses problems for 1 Timothy 2, which Paul also wrote to the church at Ephesus. How then, do we reconcile both 1 Peter 4 and 1 Timothy 2?

I think the answer can be found in not so much the use of gifts as in the MANNER of how the gifts are used. Look back at Romans 12, and this is what you’ll find:

(a) “if prophecy, let us use prophecy IN PROPORTION TO OUR FAITH” (Romans 12:6; the manner in which prophecy is used).

(b) “he who gives, WITH LIBERALITY; he who leads, WITH DILIGENCE; he who shows mercy, WITH CHEERFULNESS” (Rom. 12:8; the manner of giftedness)

Someone might say, “Well, what about verse 7? What does the “it” of verse 7 refer to? the answer can be found in verse 6: “if prophecy, let us prophecy IN PROPORTION TO OUR FAITH...” Further back in the passage lies verse 3: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one A MEASURE OF FAITH” (Rom. 12:3, NKJV).

In whatever gift we operate, let us use our gifts according to not only the grace we have been given, but our faith as well (Rom. 12:6).

What about 1 Peter 4? The answer of how to reconcile that passage with 1 Timothy 2 can also be found in the manner of how the gifts are used:

(a) “as each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as GOOD STEWARDS of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10, NKJV).

(b) “If anyone speaks, LET HIM SPEAK AS THE ORACLES OF GOD. If anyone ministers, let him do it AS WITH THE ABILITY WHICH GOD SUPPLIES, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ...” (1 Pet. 4:11, NKJV)

As demonstrated with the above passages of Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4, the issue seems to be “how” the gifts and abilities are being used, not the giving of the gifts or even types of gifts (although they are mentioned).

Someone could say, “Well, I’ve seen all your evidence above. But how do these two passages meet head-on with 1 Timothy 2?” The problem in the church at Ephesus in 1 Timothy 2 was the “manner” in which the church was operating:

(a) “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, WITHOUT WRATH AND DOUBTING” (1 Tim. 2:8, NKJV).

(b) In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in MODEST apparel, WITH PROPRIETY AND MODERATION, NOT WITH BRAIDED HAIR OR GOLD OR PEARLS OR COSTLY CLOTHING, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, WITH GOOD WORKS” (1 Tim. 2:9-10, NKJV).

(c) “Let a woman learn IN SILENCE WITH ALL SUBMISSION” (1 Tim. 2:11, NKJV).

(d) “Nevertheless, she will saved in childbearing if they CONTINUE IN FAITH, LOVE, AND HOLINESS, WITH SELF-CONTROL” (1 Tim. 2:15, NKJV).

Notice that the men were praying with angry hearts (wrath and doubting); the women were dressing immodestly, which is why the emphasis is placed on “modest” apparel. In addition, Paul also wrote that they should do what is “proper,” which is “good works.” This is because what the women were doing in the church was anything but “good” work.

Then, there comes verse 11. Women are to learn “in silence with all submission.” This is the best way for learning to take place, but since the women need to know what “good work” is all about, Paul states it here: the women are to pay attention and submit to what they are being taught.

The question then becomes, what about vv. 12-15? First, let me point out that the word “authentein” does not mean “to have authority.” Although the NIV has put out this definition, modern research shows the word to mean something “other” than “to have authority.” For instance, my “A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament,” by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller, states that the word means “to give orders to”...this shows that the women in Ephesus were out of order, not that Paul simply was against them having a position of authority (Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey Miller, “A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008, page 398).

Burer and Miller both put out a definition that I think in some ways would work, but I don’t think fits the context. However, I’ve actually done some research on this subject (search for my posts on “Authentes” and “Authentein” in my section labeled “1 Timothy 2.” My word study will prove particularly helpful to those who desire to know more on this subject. In addition read Katherine Kroeger’s study of the word “Authentein” as well. She has some interesting insights. If you have any further desire to read on the subject, I suggest you read “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy” by Pierce and Groothuis. Linda Belleville has done quite a study there and, while I disagree with her conclusion, she demonstrates (as do Burer and Miller) that the word “authentein” does not mean “to have authority.”

Next, what about verses 13 and 14? Do they appeal to some inherent “creation order”? Or is Paul just upholding the Law? My answer: the latter----Paul is defending the Old Testament Law from the heretical interpretations being tossed around in the church.

Someone may easily object and say, “Wait! How do you know this?” well, this is where context comes to the surface. Look back at 1 Timothy 1:

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia— remain in Ephesus that you may charge SOME THAT THEY TEACH NO OTHER DOCTRINE” (1 Tim. 1:3, NKJV).

The problem in the church involved the teaching of “other doctrine.” This is Timothy’s whole reason for staying in Ephesus and not going to Macedonia with Paul. They were also paying attention to “fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification...” (1 Tim. 1:4)

In verse 7, we discover that there are those “desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm...” these believers want to teach the truth, but they confirm by their very words that they don’t know it themselves.

But verse 8 ties this passage with that of 1 Peter 4 and Romans 12:

“But we know that THE LAW IS GOOD, IF ONE USES IT LAWFULLY...” (1 Tim. 1:8)

So the law is good “if one uses it lawfully.” What Paul was saying to Timothy here is that the law is good when it is used in a GODLY MANNER. Teaching, then, like the other gifts mentioned in 1 Peter 4 and Romans 12, is a good thing when it is done in a godly manner, in a way pleasing to the Lord. When it is abused, however, it then becomes a tool for evil and wickedness, and must be suppressed. This is the reason for why the women of 1 Timothy 2 are being told they cannot teach. Unlike the complementarian view, women are not told they can’t teach because of a creation order, but because they do not understand what they are saying (1 Tim. 1:7) about the law. Paul has to defend that “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam WAS NOT DECEIVED, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Paul is only defending the events as Genesis records them--- not prohibiting women to serve because of some “creation order” in Genesis that automatically disqualified them from serving.

I will continue to use 1 Timothy 2 in relation to other passages to show the folly of those who base their view of women in leadership on one passage. Proper hermeneutics demonstrates that, when context is examined, reality is not what it seems to be at first glance...

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Hermeneutic of Hope

“As a growing body of theologians is demonstrating these days, there is no such dogma. Reformed theology at least attempts to interpret the whole counsel of God in view of the principle that SCRIPTURE INTERPRETS SCRIPTURE. In other words, that which is clearest and is treated with the greatest significance in Scripture interprets those passages that are more difficult and less central to the Biblical message. At least THE GOAL is to say what Scripture says and to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes” (Michael Horton, “God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, page 12).

I’ve been investing quite a bit of time in the last six months to issues on my other blog, called “Center for Theological Studies.” In so doing, I’ve been reading on the debate between Calvinists and Arminians (for those who wanna see the research, click on the link at the top of this page, on the right). To be brief, covenantal theology attempts to unify all of Scripture around a common theme, which covenantal theologians believe to be covenants. Now most people believe that Christ serves as the unifying theme of the Scriptures, but there are other related themes like the covenant. For instance, if you read Paul’s words in Galatians 3, you will understand that the Spirit desired that salvation would come to not only the Jew, but also the Gentile, through Abraham (“in you ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH will be blessed,” Genesis 12:3). When God told Abraham that “all the nations” would be blessed, He was referring not only to Jew, but Jew and Gentile. Christ serves as the fulfillment of other covenants as well, but there is no time to discuss this further here.

In any case, Horton’s quote above from his book intrigued me about two days ago while sitting in a salon waiting for my sister to get some kind of nail treatment (I am so inept in these things..) The principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture” is one to which the Reformers held to (Luther, Calvin, and others), and one which we should hold to as well. If God has revealed Himself in His Word (which He has), and if He desires to make His ways known to us (which He does), then surely, something in the Bible can help us understand that which we do not!

It is my belief, however, that we apply this little hermeneutical principle to everything else EXCEPT the issue of women in ministry. Have you ever heard contradictions on this subject? Someone will say, “a text means what it means in its context”; and then, he or she will turn around and say, “but the text of 1 Timothy 2 regarding a woman says what it means” WITHOUT REGARD FOR CONTEXT! I’ve heard this before and wondered whether or not the person understood that he or she contradicted himself/herself in two sentences, one right after the other!!

1 Timothy 2 is a hard text to interpret. In all the numerous reading I’ve done on the subject, every writer struggles with how to interpret this passage, and thus, how to apply the passage in the contemporary church. But we are not alone! 1 Timothy 2 is only one passage of a host of passages located in the 66 books of the biblical canon. Using what we know from those other passages, we can interpret 1 Timothy 2.
I could point out the biblical examples of Deborah (prophetess), Miriam (prophetess), Huldah (prophetess), Euodia and Syntyche (fellow laborers with Paul, Philippians 4), and Junia the apostle (Romans 16). While all these examples are valid ones, I will not approach an example of a person in this post, but a Scriptural passage instead. Which one will I choose?

I will choose a passage that I think gets to the heart of women in ministry and leadership in the church—1 Corinthians 12.

In verse 7, Paul writes, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all...” Everyone receives a gift from the Spirit. The gift itself is the manifestation of the Spirit—it is the way that the Spirit testifies to a person being a child of God. It is the Spirit’s presence made known not just to the person, but to everyone in the body of Christ around them. Verses 8-10 lists the various gifts that the Spirit gives to His church. Verse 11 gets to the heart of this post:

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually AS HE WILLS” (1 Cor. 12:11, NKJV).

I think this is where the rubber meets the road. In most discussions on women in ministry, there is always an appeal to 1 Timothy 3, which states that the pastor (or bishop) should be “the husband of one wife.” This phrase has been taken to say that only men can be preachers, pastors, elders, and so forth. And I’ve even read material on this subject where theologians will interpret 1 Timothy 2 in light of 1 Timothy 3 (which comes after the text in question)—and yet, they do not seem to mind leaving off the material BEFORE 1 Timothy 2 (which is 1 Timothy 1), where we read that the problem in the church at Ephesus involved “myths and endless genealogies” and that Paul told Timothy to stay at this church specifically to put down the false teaching in the church. It seems that even the context is “proof-texted” these days...

Back to 1 Corinthians 12. Notice that the Spirit gives gifts “as He wills.” This is a guiding principle for the church today. The Spirit is the one who decides who gets what gift. But we have forgotten this today. In today’s church, when we set aside who gets to operate in what office in the church, we don’t set aside believers ON THE BASIS of gifts, but on the basis of gender! If the church decides to set aside preachers in the church, those who have an ability to proclaim the word of God, the next thought in the minds of the church is “we have to find men.” Even if there is a woman who is faithfully teaching a Sunday school class, and knows the Word of God, we turn our backs and focus on selecting men to aid the Pastor. No matter how many degrees the woman may have, her level of education and seminary training, we will look for men to aid the Pastor. It seems that, in our minds, “maleness” is the first gift to the church, and all the leadership gifts hinge upon “maleness.” But where is that in Scripture? “maleness” or “femaleness” are not gifts given by the Spirit to the church in 1 Corinthians 12—yet, we act as though they are. Why is this so?

In response to my question just asked, someone would say, “Well, men are to lead in the home.” That is true, and as a conservative evangelical, I will agree with that statement. But my next question would be, “How does leadership in the home GUARANTEE leadership in the church? And how does submission in the home GUARANTEE submission in the church?” And to this, I would wait in vain for an answer. General revelation shows us via everyday experience that every man in every family does not go on to work in a leadership position in the church. But when it gets to women, we ASSUME that every woman is to have a submissive role in the church. But where is that in Scripture? Even Paul allowed women to serve as deacons in the church in 1 Timothy 3. If you’ll notice, the only leadership called in Acts 6 were “seven men.” Paul, however, breaking with tradition, made room for women to serve. There’s a lot I could say about that, but I won’t address it here. The point being here, nonetheless, that there is no one passage of Scripture that ties leadership/submission in the home with leadership/submission in the church. And yet, we claim to be “biblical”...

The church today operates with an asymmetrical standard: when it comes to “men,” men are allowed to work anywhere in the church that God has gifted them to serve; and when they come into our churches, they are welcomed and embraced. But when it comes to women, our gender ELIMINATES many of the positions of church giftedness before the Spirit even manifests in us where He desires us to serve. Once our gifts are narrowed down to “five,” for instance, NOW, THE SPIRT CAN GIFT US TO SERVE IN ONE OF THOSE! Isn’t it funny how we hamper down the Spirit, who, by the way, is GOD? What is it gonna take for us to understand that, by tearing women and their giftedness down, we are SLAPPING GOD IN THE FACE? How much more clearly can this be illustrated?

I’ve written all this to say that Horton is right: we need to return to the principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” When it comes to this debate, we need to remember that, no matter what you or I think, God’s Word is what decides the standard, no matter how right or wrong it “feels” to me. And if it challenges tradition, so what? Jesus challenged tradition. And if I will challenge tradition, and by so doing, become more like Christ, then I’ll do it...I’ll continue to uphold the hermeneutic of hope.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Trinitarian Order: First, Second, Third?

“The common order in which Christians usually express the names of the members of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Spirit, and this is supported by the order in the baptismal formula in Matthew 28. However, Warfield points out that THIS ORDER IS BY NO MEANS INVARIABLE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT...” (Millard Erickson, “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 56).

In today’s post, I am covering the idea of “taxis,” or order within the Trinity. I have finished covering the Gradational-Authority View (which states that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father in function). Now, I will begin the study of the “Equivalent-Authority View,” beginning with B.B. Warfield. In his above statement, he recognizes the baptismal formula in Matthew 28, which states the following:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT” (Matthew 28:19, NKJV).

Nevertheless, B.B. Warfield makes the case that, if the Father were really superior (and the Son and Spirit subordinate), then we would see this order consistently repeated throughout the New Testament. However, this is not what we see:

“In the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, the order is ‘Lord, God, and Holy Spirit.’ In 1 Peter 1:2, the order is ‘Father, Spirit, and Jesus Christ.’ In Jude 20-21, it is ‘Holy Spirit, God, and Lord Jesus Christ.’ Sometimes, as in 1 Corinthians 12:3-6, the order is ACTUALLY REVERSED COMPLETELY, which may be a rhetorical device. Again, Warfield’s statement is cautious: ‘If in their conviction THE VERY ESSENCE of the doctrine of the Trinity was embodied in this order, should we not anticipate that there should appear in their numerous allusions to the Trinity some suggestion of this conviction?’” (56-57)

I think that the interchangeable order of the Trinitarian members shows us their equality—that one is no more God than the others, that no one member is “less God” than the others. But I think this equality also demolishes the idea of the Son and the Spirit as “subordinate.” After all, Paul tells us that after meeting Christ on the Damascus Road, he went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) where he was taught by the Lord concerning the law and the Scriptures. It seems that, if he was taught by the Lord in all matters (which he states he was), then, if there was an important “one order” to the members of the Trinity, that the Lord would have revealed that also to Paul? The fact that we see Paul using the members interchangeably without being labeled a heretic testifies to the fact that using them interchangeably does not “humiliate” God Himself.

Warfield does acknowledge that Christ is sent by the Father, and that He takes on a role of submission to His Father. However, his reason for why this occurs differs greatly from that of the gradationists:

“It may be natural to assume...that the reason why it is the Father that sends the Son and the Son that sends the Spirit is that the Son is subordinate to the Father and the Spirit to the Son. But we are bound to bear in mind that these references to subordination in modes of operation (functions) MAY JUST AS WELL BE DUE TO A CONVENTION, AN AGREEMENT, BETWEEN THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY—a ‘Covenant’ as it is technically called—by virtue of which a distinct function in the work of redemption is VOLUNTARILY ASSUMED by each” (57).

I know what you, my readers, are thinking at this point: here goes an “invented” scheme as a way to deal with the submission of the Son to the Spirit (and the Spirit to the Father and Son). However, there is biblical warrant for Warfield’s assertion:

“LET US make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...” (Genesis 1:26, NKJV)

“Come, LET US go down and there confuse their language...” (Gen. 11:7)

These are two instances in Genesis, but I think it shows us the collaboration of all the Trinitarian members in regards to creation of man (Genesis 1) and the confusing of the language of mankind (Genesis 11). It shows that all of the members had one mind and were in unanimous agreement regarding divine action. This is what we know biblically. While we do not know if there was a Trinitarian agreement regarding Christ’s role as Savior and His Crucifixion, we do know that the Trinity members agreed on everything. If this is so, then we can make the connection between the creation of man (and the world) to the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit before the foundations of the world.

We’ve seen in this post that, while the baptismal formula of Matthew 28 shows order, we see that the order was interchangeable throughout the New Testament. In addition, we’ve also seen that the distinguished roles are very likely to be the result of a pre-creation covenant amongst the Trinitarian members. While we can’t be one-hundred percent sure of a covenant, details within Scripture itself give us hope. The gradationists, on the other hand, don’t have a shred of evidence to prove that the Spirit and the Son were subordinate before the foundations of the world...and this hole in their argument is what tears the gradationist view apart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Important Theological Question...

“He [Bruce Ware] believes that the egalitarians have a problem here in terms of their inability to answer an important theological question: ‘It appears that contemporary egalitarianism is vulnerable also to this criticism. Since NOTHING IN GOD grounds the Son being the Son of the Father, and since every aspect of the Son’s earthly submission to the Father is DIVORCED ALTOGETHER FROM ANY ETERNAL RELATION that exists between the Father and Son, there simply is no reason why the Father should send the Son’” (Bruce Ware, quoted by Millard Erickson, in “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 42).

In “The Trinity: Good News For Women” series, I have covered quite a bit so far. We have seen Bruce Ware’s arguments, among others, for the eternal subordination for women. Here in this post, Bruce Ware poses a question: if there is no eternal submission in the Trinity of the Son and the Spirit, and if there is no hierarchy within the Trinity itself, then why does the Father send the Son?

This question makes it seem as if hierarchy and submission are the ONLY reasons why Jesus would be sent. But to emphasize these two factors downplays what Scripture has to say about why Jesus came. In truth, Jesus came to die for the sins of the world (both Jews and Gentiles). For proof, we have the following verses:

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, FOR HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS” (Matthew 1:21, NKJV).

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID. AND HE WILL REIGN OVER THE HOUSE OF JACOB FOREVER, AND OF HIS KINGDOM THERE WILL BE NO END” (Luke 1:31-33, NKJV).

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!’” (John 1:29, NKJV)

As is demonstrated with the verses above, Jesus’ mission was not to show “who the boss is,” or to show Jesus taking orders from the Father. The purpose of Jesus’ mission was to give His life for the sins of the world. Jesus tells us this Himself in John 6:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; AND THE BREAD THAT I SHALL GIVE IS MY FLESH, WHICH I SHALL GIVE FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD” (John 6:48-51, NKJV).

His mission was to be Savior, which is why He was given the name “Jesus.” The name “Jesus” means “Savior.”

So, contrary to Ware’s belief, the Incarnation was not done to show submission or the authority of the Father, but rather the love of God for the world (John 3:16-17). In the same way that Abraham sacrificed his son and received him back as a foreshadowing (Hebrews 11:17-19), so the Father sacrificed His Son out of love for the world.

As I’ve shown in this post, Ware’s emphasis on submission and authority demonstrates his own perception of the Father sending Jesus. However, it isn’t supported by the biblical text. And Paul’s concern for the church as a congregation was that they mutually submit to one another, seeing the Father and Christ as the example of submission (Christ) and exaltation by the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Houston, We've Got a Problem": The Thorn of Temporary Submission

“Ware spends considerable time on the topic of taxis, or ordering, within the Trinity. Because of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons and this distinction is not in terms of any difference in essence or attributes, it must be found in this ordering. Ware describes it: ‘The order is not random or arbitrary; it is not the Spirit first, the Son second, and the Father third, nor is it any way other than the one way that the early church, reflecting Scripture itself (Matt. 28:19), insisted on: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ So the Son obeyed the Father in all things, not only during his earthly ministry, but also in eternity past, just as he will do so in eternity to come. Similarly, Ware traces the role of the Holy Spirit, who submits himself to both the Father and the Son. He acknowledges that the Spirit directed the Son at certain points in the Son’s life and ministry, but HE REGARDS THAT APPARENT SUBMISSION OF THE SON TO THE SPIRIT AS BEING RESTRICTED TO THE SON’S EARTHLY MINISTRY” (Millard Erickson, “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, pages 38-39).

I’m back to continue my discussion of Millard Erickson’s work. For those who haven’t bought this book, you need to buy it. It will prove to be one of the best books regarding the subordination debate that you could ever own. I also think that Erickson was fair to both sides of the debate, while still being honest with his readers and stating his advocacy of the equivalent-authority position.

We’ve seen here at the site just how adamant Bruce Ware is about the ETERNAL SUBORDINATION AND SUBMISSION of the Son to the Father. And we’ve also noted that Bruce Ware believes that the Spirit is eternally subordinate to both the Father and the Son. However, in the quote above, Ware finds himself entrapped: in discussion of the Son’s subordination to the Spirit, he now states that the submission of the Son to the Spirit is “restricted to the Son’s earthly ministry.”

Funny, but we don’t read anything of this sort in Scripture! We read nothing of the Son submitting Himself to the Spirit, but we see this in the Incarnation (as Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit), as well as the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness (Luke 4, among others), and Jesus’ miracles with the Spirit’s power. Even though this submission is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, Ware seems to “assume” that this submission is temporary.

But if the submission of the Son to the Spirit is temporary, why not then the submission of the Son to the Father? In the thought of Bruce Ware, the Son has to eternally submit because He is subordinate, BELOW, the Father. However, Ware’s need to keep the Father as always “superior” to the other members of the Trinity sounds like part of an underhanded agenda to me.

Apart from Bruce Ware’s material on the Trinity, I do read other material of Ware’s. And last night, I found myself finishing Ware’s discussion of the Doctrine of Divine Immutability (which basically teaches that God changes nothing about Himself, except in relationship with His creation). This doctrine teaches us that emotions like God’s anger really existed—that God was angry with us while we were enemies of His. When we were sinners, we were “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” to use a Jonathan Edwards sermon title. Once we accepted Christ, however, we became “friends” of God...which means that now, God’s anger is no longer kindled toward us. Instead, God’s anger has now been appeased in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is why Romans 3 and 1 John 4 refer to Christ as “the propitiation for our sins.” The word “propitiate” means “to please, to appease,” and Christ’s sacrificial death was the “appeasement” of God’s wrath. This is why when Jesus is born in the Gospel of Luke, for instance, the angels proclaim, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Peace came in the form of Christ, who is our “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9).

Now, back to Bruce Ware. I was reading on the above doctrine, and I noted a statement Bruce Ware made that I think works perfectly for this discussion on the Trinity:

“What is it like to be in relationship with one who is infinitely wise, powerful, holy, truthful, and good? Perhaps from God’s side of the picture, this relationship is summed up with the words, ‘he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust’ (Ps. 103:14). The disparity between us and God is impossible really to imagine. Analogies fail, because the disparity here is between what is infinite and what is finite and, at present, fallen. WHY SHOULD WE THINK THAT THIS RELATIONSHIP WOULD BE LIKE ANY OF OUR OTHER RELATIONSHIPS?” (Bruce Ware, “God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and The Christian Faith.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, page 156).

Notice the statement I capitalized above in Ware’s quote? I think it is fitting. Ware says that our relationship with God is unlike any other relationship that we have. And I would say that he’s right—it is “the infinite” interacting with the “finite,” and “the finite” (us) interacting with “the infinite” (which is God).
However, if our HUMAN relationships are BELOW our relationship with God, then how do we characterize the intratrinitarian relationship of the Trinity? Since all the members of the Trinity are “fully and equally God” in their own right, and yet, are in relationship with one another, where does this fit on our scale of relationships?

Ware tells us here that the Trinity has a hierarchy within itself, QUITE LIKE HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS:

“An authority-submission structure marks THE VERY NATURE of the eternal Being of the one who is three. In this authority-submission structure, the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. THE FATHER POSSESSES THE PLACE OF SUPREME AUTHORITY, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, THE SON SUBMITS TO THE FATHER...and the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. THIS HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE OF AUTHORITY exists in the eternal Godhead even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence” (Bruce Ware, “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationship, Relevance, and Roles.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005, page 21).

But this contradicts what he said above; if the God-human relationship is ABOVE human relationships, and the intratrinitarian relationship consists of the three persons as God, then doesn’t that place the intratrinitarian relationship ABOVE the God-human relationship? And if analogies fail with the God-human relationship (Ware states this above), then how much more do they fail when it comes to the members of the Trinity!!

We see the difference in the God-human relationship from human relationships in the book of Hebrews:

“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He FOR OUR PROFIT, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:9-10, NKJV).

The God-human relationship is above all human relationships! On this, we would all agree...

Next, the Trinitarian relationship.

“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’
But to the Son He says:
‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.’
‘You, LORD, in the beginning LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, and the heavens are the work of Your hands” (Hebrews 1:6,8,10).

The Trinitarian relationship is such that each member of the Trinity recognizes the other members as “fully God” and equal to Himself.

If this is true, then what about Jesus’ submission?

“though He was a Son, YET HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8, NKJV).

If we listen to Bruce Ware, the Son had already “learned obedience” in heaven; however, this contradicts the biblical record. If Christ was already “subordinate” in heaven, then why would He need to learn obedience on earth? It is at this point that we should part ways with our good friend, Bruce Ware.

And, because of the Son’s temporary submission to the Father, we can conclude that the Son temporarily submits to the Spirit. But, if this be the case, then there is a mutual submission amongst all the members of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the case of the Spirit, this can be seen with the fact that the Son foretells of
the Spirit:

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment...when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:8, 13 NKJV).

However, we find that the Spirit also foretold of Christ’s coming:

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the SPIRIT OF CHRIST WHO WAS IN THEM was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11, NKJV).

The Spirit of God that was within the prophets foretold that Christ would suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Now, let’s look at this interaction. The Spirit announces Christ’s coming through the prophets; but in John, the Son also announces the Spirit’s coming and His mission in the world. In both cases, we have the Son and the Spirit recognizing and introducing one another. This is the case of a relationship among equals, not one wielding power over the other.

Our friend Bruce Ware is at a disadvantage: he wants to affirm the “temporary” subordination of Christ to the Spirit, while affirming Christ’s “eternal” subordination to the Father. What we find in the Trinity instead is a mutual relationship among equals. Jesus tells us this when He requests of the Father to “glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5), stating that He had glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4). This, then, is mutual submission.

Sounds like Ware’s playing theological mind games with the evidence; however, to affirm the Son as “temporarily” subordinate on one hand and “eternally” subordinate on the other shows more of the mind of Bruce Ware than it does the testimony of the biblical evidence.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Father Alone?

“Ware makes much of the differing roles of the three persons. With respect to creation, for example, he says of the Father, ‘He is the Grand Architect and Wise Designer of everything in the created order. More generally, ‘From initial creation through ultimate consummation and everything that happens in between, it is God the Father who is the Architect, the Designer, the one who stands behind all that occurs as the one who plans and implements what he has chosen to do. Thus, the Father is PREEMINENT in foreordination, creation, providence, and many associated doctrines. He is also the giver of every gift. Yet, ‘though the Father is supreme, he often provides and works through his Son and Spirit to accomplish his work and fulfill his will” (Millard Erickson quoting Bruce Ware, in “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, pages 37-38).

In Bruce Ware’s book, called “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance,” Ware goes to great lengths to show why the Father is superior to both Jesus and the Spirit in the Trinitarian relationship. In the quote above, he states, “He [Father] is the Grand Architect and Wise Designer of everything in the created order.”

However, Scripture tells us that without Jesus, the world would not have been created: “All things were made through Him, and WITHOUT HIM NOTHING WAS MADE THAT WAS MADE” (John 1:3, NKJV). Christ was just as essential to the creation of the world as God the Father was.

Next, Ware states, “Thus, the Father is preeminent in foreordination, creation, providence, and many associated doctrines.”

But Ware’s comment here is a problem as well. Notice what the Scriptures say about Jesus:

“And He [the Son, Col. 1:13] is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, THAT IN ALL THINGS HE MAY HAVE THE PREEMINENCE” (Colossians 1:18, NKJV).

It seems then that the Son was to have “preeminence” along with the Father. After all, this is the same Jesus who prayed to the Father,

“And now, O Father, GLORIFY ME TOGETHER WITH YOURSELF, with the glory WHICH I HAD WITH YOU BEFORE THE WORLD WAS” (John 17:5; 1:1, 14, 18; Phil. 2:6).

Since in his eyes the Father is the “head” of the Trinity, the Son and the Spirit are “sent” by the Father:

Yet, ‘though the Father is supreme, he often provides and works through his Son and Spirit to accomplish his work and fulfill his will.”

However, what are we to do with the Spirit’s “willing”?

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit...but one and the same Spirit WORKSS IN ALL THESE THINGS, distributing to each one individually AS HE WILLS” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 11).

But if 1 Corinthians 12 is correct, then Bruce Ware can’t be—for here, the Spirit Himself is “willing” who will receive certain gifts from Himself. If Bruce Ware is correct, then the Father “wills” for the Spirit to give gifts, but now, the Spirit is “willing” gifts to whomever He pleases! If we listen to Bruce Ware, the Father and the Spirit are IN OPEN CONFLICT RIGHT HERE IN SCRIPTURE!!

You see the problems with the idea of a “Trinitarian conflict” or “Trinitarian disagreement,” right? I do. How then, can we reconcile the “willing” of the Father and the “willing” of the Spirit? We can reconcile this by remembering that, since all three members of the Trinity are God, they do not will apart from one another; rather, they all have ONE WILL and do things IN ONE ACCORD! Scripture tells us this also:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts know what the mind of the Spirit is, because He [Spirit] makes intercession for the saints ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD” (Romans 8:26-27, NKJV).

The Spirit intercedes according to God’s will, which means that the Spirit does the uniform will of the Trinity. The Trinity has one will, not three (which would argue that each member of the Trinity has a SEPARATE will).

Jesus Himself spoke of the agreement of the Trinity:

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15, NKJV).

When Jesus said that “all things that the Father has are Mine.” The Father gave all things to Jesus. Jesus then, gave “all things” to the Spirit.
Notice then, that what the Father has He “shares” with the Son; and the Son shares with Spirit.

Clearly then, there is an intimate bond between the Father, Son, and Spirit. There is no one member of the Trinity “yielding power or authority” over the other members.
Is the Father “alone” in His work? No, He isn’t. The problem is even worse for Bruce Ware when you consider that the Trinity was in UNANIMOUS AGREEMENT among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when God created man (Genesis 1:26-28)...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Nature of the Trinity

“An authority-submission structure MARKS THE VERY NATURE of the eternal Being of the one who is three. In this authority-submission structure, the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. The Father possesses the place of supreme authority, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, the Son submits to the Father just as the Father, as eternal Father of the eternal Son, exercises authority over the Son. And the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. This hierarchical structure of authority exists in the eternal Godhead even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence. The implications are both manifold and wondrous as we ponder this authority-submission structure which not only is accepted but is honored, cherished, and upheld within the Godhead” (Bruce Ware, “Beholding the Wonder of Our Triune God: Importance of This Doctrine,” from “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005, page 21).

The “Trinity” series will continue with a quote from Bruce Ware’s book (as given above). I capitalized a phrase at the beginning, “marks the very nature.” The reason why I did this is because it contradicts the subordinationist stance. Notice that Ware is quick to say, “each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence.” However, what does Ware mean by a “commonly-possessed essence”? Isn’t there ONLY ONE essence that the members of the Trinity share? One easily discovers that Ware’s language demonstrates that there is a “common essence,” but also an “uncommon essence.”

Millard Erickson, author of “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordinate Debate,” shows us the “uncommon essence”:

“It is important to notice that this differentiation in which the Father is eternally supreme and the Son and the Spirit eternally submit to the Father is described as a structure that ‘marks the very nature’ of God. IT IS THEREFORE INTRINSIC TO THAT DIVINE NATURE. Things could not have been otherwise. This means that each of the three persons has roles that are unique
to him and that THESE ROLES ARE ETERNAL”
(Millard Erickson, “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 37).

If something is intrinsic to one’s nature, then it must be “of the essence,” essential to the Person of the Trinity. In this case, if subordination is part of the very nature of the Trinity, then we end up with a “less-Deity” Jesus and “less-Deity” Holy Spirit.

Since the subordinationists like to use human analogies to make their case regarding the Trinity, let’s oblige them for a moment. At the current moment, I’m a student. My function in this society is a student (although I pay bills). But is being a student INTRINSIC to my nature? Was it NECESSARY for me to be a student to be human? NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! I could have decided to be an astronaut or a basketball player. I could have become a full-time member of an international music group. I could have become the owner of a restaurant chain, etc. My function in society is not “essential” to my existence (although I don’t think I would enjoy life half as much if I had done anything else except go to school!!).

Now, as a student, I’m not “eternally subordinate” to my professors. Although my professors are my academic and ecclesiastical superiors, one day I will graduate with my PhD and they will have to stand and acknowledge my achievement as I walk across the stage to receive my degree. One day, I will be their academic equals (and theological equals as well). Everyone knows that their students do not always stay “subordinate” to them. Their students may even surpass them in their educational pursuits...if this is true, then it is also true that the function of Christ as “eternally subordinate” goes against that idea. Christ as Savior offered Himself for mankind “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). How could He do this “once” but be “eternally subordinate”? if the function, coming to die for mankind, occurred “one time” for all of history, then why would Christ be PERMANENTLY held in this position?

The Scriptures testify to the difference between “temporary” and “eternal”:

“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they OFFER CONTINUALLY YEAR BY YEAR, make those who approach perfect. For then WOULD THEY NOT HAVE CEASED TO BE OFFERED? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices THERE IS A REMINDER OF SINS EVERY YEAR. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4, NKJV).

The law was a “shadow” and “not the very image” of what was to come. Because it was “impossible” for the temple sacrifices to do away with sin, there was a need for something “superior” to temple sacrifice. Notice that the sacrifices are offered “continually year by year.” The temple sacrifices are eternally subordinate in their effect.

But Christ is the ULTIMATE sacrifice:

“And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, WHICH CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:11-12, NKJV).

The Lord Jesus gave His life for the world ONCE, and His sacrifice is still saving those who come to Him by faith. He is not “eternally subordinate,” but “eternally superior.”

If His function on earth was to “save” through His blood, and His blood has already been shed, then what need is there for Him to retain this function eternally?

The writer of Hebrews realized Christ was God, and he contrasts the Father’s treatment of the angels versus that of Christ Himself:

“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ And of the angels He says:
‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.’
But to the Son He says:
‘Your throne, O God, IS FOREVER AND EVER; a scepter of righteousness is THE SCEPTER OF YOUR KINGDOM” (Heb. 1:6-8, NKJV).

Notice that in verse 8, the Father calls His Son “God,” and tells His Son that “your forever and ever.” In addition, the Father tells the Son that He rules the Kingdom: “the scepter of Your kingdom.” The Son’s rule is ETERNALLY. One who “rules” cannot be “subordinate.” Since the Son rules eternally, He cannot be ETERNALLY subordinate.

If all three members of the Trinity agreed with one undivided will to create the world, and agreed to make man in “our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26-28), then what makes us think any one member is “eternally” subordinate?

I’ll continue with more of our series in my next post.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Going to the Source: The Central Meaning of 1 Corinthians 11.3

I am still here in the Trinity series, talking today about 1 Corinthians 11:3 and its implications for women in ministry.

I’ve made it clear here at the site that one cannot give Christ an “eternal” functional subordination without also giving Him an eternal “ontological” subordination—a subordination in essence, which now makes Him “less God” than the Father, the Spirit being “less God” than the Son.

Today I’m back to deal with this passage and some comments from Erickson’s book.
In his chapter on “The Gradational Authority View,” Erickson quotes from the work of George Knight III regarding the role of women. In 1977, Knight published a book titled “The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women,” in which he claims to “set the record straight” about men and women and how they should relate to each other. Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:3, Knight writes,

“For the basis of man’s headship and woman’s submission, the apostle Paul appeals to the analogy of God the Father’s headship over Jesus Christ, His incarnate Son (1 Cor. 11:3);...with full authority and with absolute and permanent reasons, Paul argues for the form of this relationship between man and would have to deny Paul’s argument or his explanation and application of Genesis 2 to overturn the fact that this is the teaching of the apostles which they intended to be believed and obeyed” (George Knight III, cited by Millard Erickson, “The Gradational View”; from “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 34).

Now that we know how Knight feels about women, let’s look at Scripture itself, 1 Corinthians 11—

“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. FOR MAN IS NOT FROM WOMAN, BUT WOMAN FROM MAN. NOR WAS MAN CREATED FOR THE WOMAN, BUT THE WOMAN FOR THE MAN” (1 Corinthians 11:2-9, NKJV).

As you can see, the issue here is clearly “origin” or source, for we are told that “woman is from man” and woman was created for the man, both pieces of information supplied in verses 8 and 9. The “symbol of authority” found in verse 10 is to be worn because the origin of the woman is the man. The woman comes from the man, in the same way that Eve came from Adam’s rib in Genesis.

But look at verses 11 and 12:

“Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as WOMAN CAME FROM MAN, even so MAN ALSO COMES THROUGH WOMAN; BUT ALL THINGS ARE FROM GOD” (1 Cor. 11:11-12, NKJV).

Look at Paul’s argument. It is easy to look at verses 8 and 9 and get lost in that portion of the argument without looking to Paul’s conclusion in verses 11 and 12. In these two verses, though, Paul is arguing that, whereas the EARLIER ORIGIN of mankind is the man, the MODERN ORIGIN of man is the woman, since man is born of a woman. This is why Paul writes in verse 11 that “neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.” The man comes from the woman just like the woman comes from the man. In Genesis, Eve needed Adam to be created; however, Adam needed Eve to bring children into the world, as all men need women to bear children today (for only women can do so).

And notice what Paul says about Christ and God?

“but all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:12b).

As we’ve seen in verses 11 and 12, Paul trumps the argument of women wearing head coverings because they came from “man.” Paul argues instead that if men should not wear head coverings, there is also an argument that women shouldn’t either—because they are the origin of new life today that comes into the world.

If he claims that man and woman are not “independent in the Lord” (v.11), then he would be making the same statement about Christ and God—neither is independent of the other. The Father needs the Son and the Son needs the Father. According to Giles, Athanasius made the same argument:

“To put it succinctly, for Athanasius the Father and the Son are eternally correlated. The Father never stands alone or works alone. Pannenberg states that ‘Athanasius’ most important argument [was] that THE FATHER WOULD NOT BE THE FATHER WITHOUT THE SON (Contra Arian 1.29).’ The words ‘begotten’ and ‘offspring’ are for Athanasius helpful terms to use of the Father-Son relationship because they ‘signify a Son...and beholding the Son we see the Father’” (Kevin Giles, “Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, page 136).

I’ll state it again: Athanasius’ greatest argument was that “the Father would not be the Father without the Son.” And I think this matches Paul’s point regarding the origin of men and women in 1 Corinthians 11. Without Adam, there would never have been an “Eve.” But today, without the “woman,” no “man” would exist. Thus, we see a dependence of the woman on the man, and a dependence of the man on the woman. In the same way, we see the mutual dependence of God and Christ on one another. And both relationships, whether divine or human, are both based on interdependence and trust. This, then, is the meaning of relationship; and until subordinationists figure out what “relationship” is, they’ll continue to get it wrong.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Trinity: Good News For Women, Part I-A (Creative Absence, Continued)

Yesterday, I posted on the opposing categories of “essence” and “function” and how both of these can’t exist as absolutes side-by-side because they are both opposite phrases of “equal in essence” and “subordinate in function.” I then took you, the reader, through the ridiculousness of the subordinationists’logic—which is demonstrated when they add the word “eternally” in front of both opposing statements (as if this actually helps the problem). Now what they’ve done is affirmed that these two OPPOSING STATEMENTS can exist AT THE SAME TIME IN THE SAME WAY throughout infinity! This is like saying that a person can be both tall and short at the same time throughout all eternity. When subordinationists accept this contradiction, however, they are going against rules of common logic.

Tonight, though, I’m back to deal with the words of Gregg Allison, who is a professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. Allison was asked by Randy Stinson, who chaired the event, to explain “the discrepancy in the debate” over the church fathers and the Trinity. According to Courtney Reissig, Allison responded as such:

“Because the early church did not specifically discuss authority and submission in their teaching on the Trinity, Erickson takes this as the early church fathers not holding to authority and submission. Allison said that the church fathers saw authority and submission as so natural that they did not have to make it explicit in their writings.”

For those who wanna see the article for themselves, go to the following site:

What amazed me most about Allison’s quote is that he advocates the subordinationist position, but does so for a poor reason: “the church fathers saw authority and submission AS SO NATURAL that they did not have to make it explicit in their writings.”

He is, however, incredibly wrong on this point. There is a reference to Jesus as “subordinate” (with the word “subordinate” mentioned) in a few of the church fathers, but not all. I will cover in this post the church fathers who reference the “subordination” or “inferiority” of Jesus in relation to God the Father.

First, we have the ante-Nicene (before the Nicene Creed) father Novatian:

“He [Jesus] is therefore the Son, not the Father: for He would have confessed that He was the Father had He considered Himself to be the Father; and He declares that He was sanctified by His Father. In receiving, then, sanctification from the Father, HE IS INFERIOR TO THE FATHER” (quoted by Millard Erickson in “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity?” page 143).

Next is the church father Athanasius:

“For we acknowledge, that though HE BE SUBORDINATE TO HIS FATHER AND GOD, yet, being before ages begotten of God, He is God perfect according to nature and true, and not first man and then God, but first God and then becoming man for us, and never having been deprived of being” (“Who’s Tampering With the Trinity?” page 148).

“And no one is ignorant, that it is Catholic doctrine, that there are two Persons of Father and Son, and that the Father is greater, and the Son SUBORDINATED TO THE FATHER together with all things which the Father has subordinated to Him” (148).

Erickson writes regarding Athanasius:

“Whether he saw the full implications of his view and would have applied them to these statements is not completely clear, but the principle of the double account, if carried through thoroughly, might have resolved these APPARENTLY CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS” (149).

As I stated in my blog post from yesterday called “Creative Absence,” one cannot hold to “equal essence” and “unequal function” at the same time without qualifying these two opposing statements. Athanasius, however, leaves them “in tandem” without qualifying the terms. Even though he mentions “subordination,” we still don’t know whether he would’ve qualified the subordination as “temporary” or “eternal.”

Hilary of Poitiers is another church father who writes about the subordination of the Son in his work, “On the Councils”:

“There is no question that THE FATHER IS GREATER. No one can doubt that THE FATHER IS GREATER THAN THE SON IN HONOR, DIGNITY, SPLENDOR, MAJESTY, AND IN THE VERY NAME OF FATHER, the Son Himself testifying, ‘He that sent Me is greater than I.’ And no one is ignorant that it is Catholic doctrine that there are two Persons of Father and Son; and that THE FATHER IS GREATER, AND THAT THE SON IS SUBORDINATED TO THE FATHER...” (Hilary of Poitiers; quoted by Millard Erickson in “Who’s Tampering,” page 151).

These three church fathers (Novatian, Athanasius, and Hilary of Poitiers) are the only three that mention “subordination” in their discussion of the Son’s relation to the Father.

Back to Allison’s quote: the church fathers did mention submission and authority, and some even labeled Jesus as “subordinated” in function. However, only three do so. And the fact that they mention “subordination” of any sort demonstrates that the church fathers felt the need to explicitly, in detail, set forth their theological convictions in writing. However, the “subordination” of Jesus is never qualified (we are just told that Christ is subordinate). So the question then becomes, if Jesus’ “functional subordination” was not qualified, then was His essence? Are there any clues about His essence and its eternality? That will be the subject of my next post...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Trinity: Good News For Women, Part I (Creative Absence)

“Stinson asked Allison to explain the discrepancy in the debate if both sides are claiming church history as their ally. Because the early church did not specifically discuss authority and submission in their teaching on the Trinity, Erickson takes this as the early church fathers not holding to authority and submission. Allison said that the church fathers saw authority and submission as SO NATURAL THAT THEY DID NOT HAVE TO MAKE IT EXPLICIT IN THEIR WRITINGS.” (

Our series on the Trinity will begin with a few articles regarding the intense debate amongst conservative evangelicals over the Trinity—and what this means for women in ministry.

Reading the quote above (from the article link above) made me laugh immensely. This
morning, I finished reading Millard Erickson’s chapter on “The Historical Considerations” from his book “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate,” and the entire chapter revolved around tracing the church fathers who are claimed by both sides in the debate. Erickson wanted to show what the church fathers really said regarding the Trinity, and whether or not the fathers ever claimed that Jesus was subordinate to the Father.

I can tell you this: while Jesus was considered to be “eternally generated,” that is, “begotten of the Father from all eternity,” He was never unanimously labeled as “subordinate.” One church father, Hilary of Poitiers, comes out in his language and labels Jesus as “subordinate”; but none of the others do. Eternal generation does not imply eternal functional subordination. However, if Jesus is “eternally subordinate” in His function, then He is also “eternally subordinate” IN HIS ESSENCE—and this is the old ancient heresy of Arianism repackaged!

Gilbert Bilezikian, an egalitarian and equivalentist (believes in the equality of the Trinity persons), writes the following with regard to eternal functional subordination and eternal essence:

“a subordination that extends into eternity cannot remain only also becomes ipso facto an ONTOLOGICAL reality” (quoted by Millard Erickson, “The Equivalent-Authority View,” from “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity?” page 71).

If Jesus has existed from all eternity, and He has been “forced” to do what He’s told to do from all eternity, then He has been “ontologically subordinate” (inferior in Deity) from all eternity.

Here’s a simple way to approach this. Think about slavery times in this country. When it was reported that new land was available in America, European landowners and workers of all types decided to come to America. At first, there were those who couldn’t pay their way to America—they didn’t have enough for the fare. As a result, landowners began to help these everyday people make it to America. When the workers got to America, they placed themselves under the landowners with the title “indentured servants.” Such a title was meant to be “temporarily subordinate in function”: the only reason why the workers were servants to the landowners was to pay off their debt. In a few years, the indentured servants believed they would be free of their debt and would go their own way. As time passed, though, they began to understand that they wouldn’t be able to pay off their debt; as a result, not only would the indentured servant remain in service for his entire life, but GENERATIONS more of his kinsfolk would remain in slavery as well.

If we look at the subordinationist belief, they would say, “Well, Jesus IS God; He’s just SUBORDINATE in function.” They attempt to separate function from essence. But let’s get back to my slavery story above...

If the subordinationist belief is correct, then the slaves should have been considered the “equals” of the slaveowners, even though they were functionally subordinate, right? Isn’t this how it should have gone? yes. But the problem is, this is NOT how history unfolded; instead of the servants being considered the equals of their “functional superiors,” they began to be treated as “ontologically subordinate” to their superiors. Once blacks were enslaved in what seemed to be an unceasing spiral, no longer did the surrounding society deem them as “equals.” Instead, what we find in reading history is that society began to argue the INEQUALITY of persons. Blacks now were deemed BIOLOGICALLY INFERIOR, labeled as the “chattel” or property of their slaveowners, and deprived of rights in this country like voting, citizenship, etc.

But wait a minute! Blacks were equal, right? Yeah, in theory...but the fact that society enslaved them and THEN found “genetic” arguments to “prove” the reasons for enslavement and inequality shows that even a society can’t maintain an “equal, but subordinate stance.”

The truth is, subordinationists cannot maintain “equal, yet subordinate” and hold them both in balance. If an “equal essence” exists, then it is “essence” we must emphasize. If we don’t, then even “blacks” in my story above become nothing more than “animals.” To stress the differences of human beings at the expense of the human quality creates a whole new category of “species” for the “black” person.

And it is no different with the Trinity. To stress the subordination of Jesus at the expense of His equality as Deity is to make Him less than God.

In the world of philosophy, Bilezikian (whom I just quoted above) uses what is called “The Law of Non-Contradiction,” which states that two OPPOSING ideas cannot be the same in all respects AT THE SAME TIME. Let’s take for example, the words “tall” and “short.” Now we all know that these two adjectives are in direct contradiction to each other. To reconcile them, we must “qualify” the adjectives themselves—in other words, specify TO WHAT EXTENT these two adjectives can peacefully co-exist. So, if Sue is “both tall and short,” we must explain HOW this can be. Sue cannot be “EQUALLY TALL AND EQUALLY SHORT” at the same time. However, Sue can be “tall” and be “shorter than her grandmother” at the same time. The second phrase, “shorter than her grandmother,” tells us the extent to which Sue is “short.” With the qualifying statement, though, we see that Sue’s “shortness” is relative. It doesn’t change the fact that when we see her walking in the mall, because she is six feet tall, she will be labeled “tall.”

But, can Sue be “taller than her grandmother” and “shorter than her grandmother” at the same time? Of course not! When a person is using a qualifying statement, if one quality is absolute (unqualified), the other must be qualified. Now, both statements can be qualified (for instance, “taller than her aunt, shorter than her grandmother”); but both CANNOT be unqualified (tall and short).

And this is where the subordinationists fall into a trap.

Essence is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

1 a : the permanent as contrasted with the accidental element of being.

What is “function”?

Merriam-Webster defines “function” as that which “implies a definite end or purpose that the one in question serves or a particular kind of work it is intended to perform.”

If essence, then, is “permanent,” then function must be “temporary,” for it “implies a definite END,” in and of itself. Seeing this, then, “essence” and “function” are opposites.

Because they are opposites, they cannot co-exist (like tall and short) without some sort of qualifier. If a person cannot be “equally tall and equally short,” then neither can they be “the same in essence and the same in function.”

There are, then, three choices:
(1) Qualify the essence
(2) Qualify the function
(3) Qualify both essence and function

First, let’s qualify the essence. Since this is important to Jesus as Deity, we will say that He is “equal in essence” to the Father.

Next, let’s qualify the function. Since this is where Jesus differs from the Father, we will say that He is “different” in function. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

Last, we are left to qualify both essence and function.

Now, look at what we have. Jesus is equal in essence, but unequal (different) in function. Have we solved the problem here? No, absolutely not! By saying that Jesus is “equal in essence, unequal in function,” all we’ve done is pile MORE OPPOSITES on top of the OPPOSITES! Look at it:



All we’ve done is piled two more opposites (equal and unequal) on top of two previous opposites (essence and function). We’ve still got two absolute statements without qualifiers. So now, we’ve got to find two more adjectives to qualify the two statements above. The end result of these two must be in such a state where one is permanent (absolute) and the other is temporary (qualified).

What do the subordinationists do? They present to us the following:



But this only compounds the problem we had above! We notice that they’ve added another qualifier, but it’s the SAME. They have failed to add two qualifiers that will distinguish the two statements.

By using the word “eternally,” all they’ve given us are “equally opposing statements”! We are no better off than where we started. Sue is still “always tall” and “always short” (if we use the same qualifier, “always”).

Therefore, if Jesus is “eternally equal in essence,” He cannot be “eternally unequal (or subordinate) in function.” There must be a qualifier to the equality and a qualifier to the subordination (for both essence and function are opposites).

If we qualify Jesus’ essence, what shall we do? Well, if we say that He is “temporarily” equal in essence, then we have committed the old ancient heresy of Arianism (where Arius believed that Jesus had a “point of beginning” and was “created”). However, we would then be forced to keep the other opposing phrase, “eternally unequal in function”; this would then mean that Jesus is “less God” than the Father (because He would only share Deity for a time—“temporarily equal”). We end up with this:

If, then, we decide to say that Jesus is “temporarily unequal in function,” then we end up with this scheme:


This fits what we know about Jesus and His existence. In the case of Jesus, we see that one exists for a shorter duration than the other, that being Jesus’ subordinate function is “temporary,” as compared to His “essence,” which is “eternal.”

Even if we had not used “essence” and “function,” we can still see the problem with the subordinationist view:
“eternally equal”
“eternally unequal”

In this case, we still have TWO EQUALLY OPPOSING PHRASES that would still need a qualifier to distinguish them. Jesus would then have had to be either



Bilezikian makes the argument that “eternal” subordination becomes part of the “eternal” essence. Here, however, I’ve shown you that, according to the rules of philosophy and logic, the subordinationist view doesn’t hold up.

About the Allison quote? I'll tackle it in my next post...

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Why Arguments Against Women In Ministry Aren't Biblical" by Ben Witherington III

Dear Men and Women,

The following is an article by Ben Witherington III I stumbled across while randomly reading on the internet. Witherington put the article out a few days ago, so it's fairly recent.

Before I let you read the article below, let me just say that I am extremely PROUD of Witherington and his work in the fight for women in ministry. I also applaud him for theological reasons (as I share his theological stance on Arminianism) as well as his educational stance (I, too, am an alum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). But above all, I praise God for men like Witherington who found the courage to admit that women possess great ability for the kingdom of God and should be allowed to exercise such ability. I pray that this article will inspire you, in a world where women are put down every day...

"Most of you who know me, know that I did my doctoral thesis on women in the NT with C.K. Barrett at the University of Durham in England. My first three published scholarly books were on this very subject. One of the reasons I did that thirty some years ago was because of the controversy that raged then over the issue of women in ministry, and more particularly women as pulpit ministers and senior pastors. Never mind that the Bible does not have categories like 'senior pastor' or 'pulpit minister', the NT has been used over and over again to justify the suppression of women in ministry--- and as I was to discover through years of research and study, without Biblical justification. Now of course equally sincere Christians may disagree on this matter, but the disagreements should be on the basis of sound exegesis of Biblical texts, not emotions, rhetoric, mere church polity, dubious hermeneutics and the like.
So in this post I am going to deal with the usual objections to women in ministry, one by one. Some of these objections come out of a high church tradition, some tend to come from low church traditions, some are Catholic/Orthodox some are Protestant, but we will take on a sampling of them all without trying to be exhaustive or exhausting.
1) Women can't be ministers, because only males can be priests offering the sacrifice of the Mass etc. The root problem with this argument is that the NT is perfectly clear that apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons ARE NOT PRIESTS IN THE NT. There is no need for a separate order of priests in the NT because Christ's sacrifice made obsolete the entire OT sacerdotal system of priests, temples and sacrifices. The only priesthoods we hear about in the NT are: 1) the priesthood of all believers, which of course includes women, and 2) the heavenly high priesthood of Christ (see Hebrews). There is no new priesthood between these two carried over from the OT or inaugurated in the NT era. Indeed the whole language of sacrifice and temple is spiritualized in the NT to refer to our offering of ourselves or our praise to God, and the Temple is described in various places in the NT (cf. 1 Cor. 3-6), as either the believer's body, or the whole community of Christ in which Christ and the Spirit dwell. The problem here is essentially a hermeneutical one. Somewhere along the way about the time when the church became a licit religion under Constantine the OT hermeneutic took over, a hermeneutic which saw churches as temples, the Lord's Supper as a sacrifice, ministers as priests, the Lord's Day as the sabbath, and so on. This did a grave dis-service to the newnness of the new covenant and its facets and features, and the net result was an exclusion of women from various ministries, on grounds the writers of the NT would have rejected outright.
2) Women can't be ministers because then they would have headship over men, including their husbands--- and this will never do, and is a violation of the household codes in the NT. This argument is often complex and at the heart of it is an essential confusion of what the NT says about order in the physical family and home, and order in the family of faith, wherever it may meet. It is certainly true that texts like Col.3-4 and Ephes. 5-6 and other texts in 1 Pet. for example do talk about the structure of the physical family. As I have argued at length, the patriarchal family was the existing reality in the NT world, and what you discover when you compare what is in the NT and what is outside the NT, is that Paul and others are working hard to change the existing structures in a more Christian direction. Paul, for example, has to start with his audience where they are, and then persuade them to change. And you can see this process at work in Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians. For example, though the language of headship and submission is certainly used in these texts the trajectory of the argument is intended to: 1) place more and more strictures on the head of the household to limit his power and the way he relates to his wife, his children and his slaves; 2) make the head of the household aware that women, children and slaves are in fact persons created in God's image, not chattel or property. This becomes especially clear in Philemon when Paul urges Philemon to manumit Onesimus on the basis of the fact that he is "no longer a slave, but rather a brother in Christ". Paul is working to place the leaven of the Gospel into pre-existing relationships and change them. Similarly with the roles of husbands and wives, in Ephes. 5.21ff. Paul calls all Christians to mutual submission to each other, one form of which is wives to husbands, and then the exhortation 'husbands love your wives as Christ did the church, giving himself....' can be seen for what it is--- a form of self-sacrificial submission and service. Submission is no longer gender specific or unilateral as Paul offers third order moral discourse here, working for change (see my commentary on Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon-- Eerdmans). Furthermore, we need to keep steadily in mind that what determines or should determine the leadership structures in the church is not gender but rather gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. The family of faith is not idenitical with the physical family, and gender is no determinant of roles in it. Gender of course does affect some roles in the Christian family, but that is irrelevant when it comes to the discussion of the leadership structure of the church. This is why we should not be surprised to find even in Paul's letters examples of women teachers, evangelist, prophetesses, deacons, and apostles. Paul is not one who is interested in baptizing the existing fallen patriarchal order and calling it good. One of the tell tale signs of Paul's views on such matters can be seen in what he says about baptism--- it is not a gender specific sign that we have for the new covenant unlike the one for the old covenant, and Paul adds that in Christ there is no 'male and female' just as there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free. The implications of this are enormous. The change in the covenant sign signals the change in the nature of the covenant when it comes to men and women.

3) Women can't be Christian ministers because specific passages in the NT prohibit it. Here, especially for very conservative Protestants is the nub of the matter. It is believed that 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 and 1 Tim. 2.8-15 prohibit women from teaching and preaching in the church. I will not bring up the hypocrisy of some of these arguments that make nice distinctions like--- "its o.k. for women to teach or lead a Bible study in the home, but not in the church building.' (this word just in-- there were no church buildings in the NT era, they met in homes!), or even worse 'its o.k. for women to teach and preach on the mission field where it's necessary, but not here in America where it isn't.' Again the logic here is completely bogus and not based on anything in Scripture at all. But what about those texts?
3) 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 (assuming that it is an original part of this letter, which many scholars doubt on textual grounds. I disagree with the doubters) is part of a large problem solving letter. Paul is correcting problems as they arise in the house churches in Corinth. One such problem is caused by some women, apparently just some wives, who are interrupting the time of prophesying by asking questions. Now Paul has already said in 1 Cor. 11 that women are allowed to pray and prophesy in Christian worship if they wear headcoverings to hide their 'glory' (i.e. hair), since only God's glory should be visible in worship, and he is not reneging on that permission in 1 Cor. 14.33b-36. The largely Gentile congregation in Corinth brought with them into the church their pre-existing assumptions about prophecy and what was appropriate when approaching a prophet or prophetess. The oracle at nearby Delphi for example was a consultative prophetess. People would go to her to ask questions like--- Should I marry this man, or Should I buy this land etc. and the oracle would give an answer. Thus it was natural for some Corinthians to think that when prophets spoke in their assemblies, they had a right to ask them questions. Paul's response is no--- "worship time is not Q+A time, and you are interrupting the prophets. If you have questions asks your man (probably husband) at home. There is a time and place for such questions, but Christian worship isn't it. The reason Paul corrects women/wives in this case is not because they are women but because they are in this instance causing this problem, of course. A couple of other points about this text need to be noted: 1) the text says nothing about women submitting to men. The call here is for these women to be silent and in submission as even the Law says. O.K. where in the OT is there a commandment for women to be silent and submit to men? Answer NOWHERE. Its not in the Pentateuch at all, or for that matter elsewhere. What Paul is talking about is being silent in the presence of God and listening to his inspired words, in this case coming from the prophets and prophetesses! "The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence (and listen)'... and be in submission to God's teaching.
4) What about 1 Tim. 2.8-15? This is sometimes, wrongly, seen as the ultimate proof that women should not be ministers. But again this ignores the context and nuances of the text, which of course is the major problem with proof-texting anyway. Paul here is giving Timothy some instructions about how to handle his fledgling new converts probably in Ephesus (see my commentary on the Pastoral Epistles-- Letters and Homilies for Gentile Christians Vol. One IVP). Now the problem as it surfaces in 1 Tim. 2.8-15 clearly has to do with particular women, high status women who have fancy clothes and hairstyles and are expecting right off the bat to be teachers of one and all in the church. The proof that this is once more a corrective passage, dealing with problems is seen from the outset--- First Paul corrects grumbling men whom he wants to pray, then he corrects these high status women. Paul is an equal opportunity corrector of men and women when they are in error. In regard to his correction of women, something needs to be said about high status women in cities like Ephesus. What we know about such women is that they played vital roles in the Greco-Roman religious festivals, temples, worship services. They were priestesses, they were prophetesses, they were teachers, healers, keepers of the eternal flame, etc. It is then not surprising that such high status women would expect to be able, once they converted to Christ, to do the same sorts of things in the church. The problem was, they needed to be properly instructed and learn before they began to instruct others, whether male or female. This is a good principle for all of us to follow. I once had a student who was getting frustrated in a seminary class because of all that he was required to learn, much of which he thought was unnnecessary, and he came up to me and said--- "I don't know why I need to learn all this stuff first. Why I can just get up in the pulpit and the Spirit will give me utterance." I replied-- "Yes Charlie, you can do that, but its a pity you aren't giving the Holy Spirit more to work with!" In essence, Paul is saying the same thing to these women in Ephesus--- they need to learn before they teach.
Here are some details about the exegesis of 1 Tim. 2.8-15. Once again nothing is said about women submitting to men here. The Greek is clear enough. Here the word for 'quietness' is used rather than the word for silence, and once again the issue is their being in submission to the authoritative teaching of Timothy and others. Secondly the Greek verb "I am not now permitting" as Phil Payne has shown over and over again, is not a verb that implies an infinite extension of this refusal to permit. It means what it says "I am not presently permitting..." Why not? Because the women needed to learn before they taught. Thirdly, the Greek, since we are dealing with a text where a correction of behavior is being offered should be translated as follows "I am not currently permitting women (in this case the women referred to with the hairdos and bling and expensive attire) to teach or usurp authority over the (authorized) men. This is a prohibition of an abuse of a privilege, It does not rule out the possibility of a later authorization of a proper use of the privilege of offering Christian teaching, indeed we hear elsewhere in the Pastorals about more mature Christian women doing some teaching. The verb authenteo here is a rare one, meaning either to exercise authority, or to usurp authority, and it occurs on here in the NT. Here is a good example of why you can't study the language of the Bible in isolation from its larger context, in this case the context of usage elsewhere in Greek. Elsewhere, in a corrective context the verb refers to an abuse of power, a usurping of some role or function that others have. It does here as well.
Finally, what about the argument from creation, from the story of Eve? Paul is assuming some in his audience know the story very well. The story is as follows in the Hebrew--- only Adam is instructed about the prohibition in regard to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and it was his duty to properly instruct Eve, as she was not around when that prohibition was given. As the story develops, it is clear enough that Eve had not been properly instructed. She talks about not touching the fruit of the tree, which was not part of the original prohibition. Now the very 'deceived' here is an important one, only used in Paul in connection with Eve and the Fall. A person who is not properly instructed, is easily deceived, and may take action that is disastrous. Such was the case with Eve. She is the perfect example to give to the high status women in Ephesus-- they needed to properly be instructed before they took any action. I would remind you as well that on a literal reading of the Genesis story, Adam was right there with Eve on this occasion and could have and should have stopped her, but he did not do so. Eve plucked the fruit, and Adam dropped the ball as the authoritative teacher for the occasion. This is no doubt why it is Adam who is blamed for the Fall in Rom. 5.12-21. Paul then goes on to offer an alternative--- "but now women shall be saved by the child-bearing" or possibly it reads "women shall be kept safe through the child-bearing". What Paul is certainly not doing here is talking about salvation for women by baby-making!! So either of the two renderings I suggested are possible. I tend to favor the interpretation that the definite article before childbearing points to a specific birth--- Jesus' by means of Mary. So Mary is Eve in reverse. She obeys the voice of the angel, is the handmaiden of the Lord, unlike Eve. The other possibility is that Paul is saying that the curse on women (pain and danger in child-bearing) can be reversed in Christ if they remain faithful Christians and trust the Lord. In either case, this text is not a prohibition of all women in all times in all situations preaching and teaching. It is a very specific prohibition, and doubtless Paul would say the same thing to women or men today who try to teach or preach the Word of God without properly learning it first!! One more thing about the Genesis story. The author tells us that the effects of the Fall is patriarchy. It was not God original creation order design. The text tells us that part of the original curse (not the original blessing) on Eve will be "your desire will be for your husband, and he will lord it over you!!" So to love and to cherish degenerates into to desire and dominate!!! This is the effect of sin on the relationship, not inherent gender properties or qualities of the relationship.

As I have learned over many years.... the problem in the church is not strong and gifted women. We need all those we can get, and were it not for them, many churches would have closed long ago. I remember so vividly meeting the babooshkas-- the grandmothers in the Moscow Baptist Church, who had stopped Stalin from closing the church by standing in the door and not letting his troops enter and close it down. Thank God for strong, gifted women in the church. No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in the church.

If you want more along these lines, see my commentaries or my lay person's summary Women and the Genesis of Christianity, (Cambridge Press). Enough said." -- Ben Witherington III

About Ben Witherington on the Bible and Culture
Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.