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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Revisiting "Authentein" with Catherine Kroeger

The following commentary was written by Catherine Clark Kroeger from the book “Women, Authority, and the Bible” by Alvera Mickelsen, editor. I think Kroeger’s section on “authentein” (coming from the Greek verb, “authenteo”) is a wonderful one, and I wanted you, my readers, to get to read this. Pass it on to all you know and continue to read it over and over again.

“The Meaning of ‘Authenteo’”
If the religious environment surrounding 1 Timothy 2 is important, so is the language. ‘Authenteo,’ translated ‘to usurp authority’ in the King James Version, is a Greek verb so rare that it appears nowhere else in the entire New Testament. The concept of ruling or exercising authority over another occurs frequently in the New Testament, but always with other words. The French etymologist Pierre Chantraine suggested that ‘authentes,’ the noun from which the verb ‘authenteo’ is derived, had essentially the significance of the person beginning or being responsible (aitios) for an action, situation, or state. From this stemmed two other basic meanings, namely, to be in charge or rule over something and to be ultimately responsible for a terrible crime, usually murder. In this way, Chantraine resolved an etymological problem that had perplexed scholars since late antiquity. How could the same word denote both murderer and ruler? In the earliest usages, the concept of murder was almost always involved. The concept of ruling came later. For the verb ‘authenteo,’ there is only one attested use in the sense of ‘to murder.’

Let us turn to the value that Chantraine held to be most basic, that of originating something or being held responsible for it. By the New Testament era, ‘authentes’ was already being used to denote an originator or instigator (Josephus Wars 1.582; Polybius 12.14.3; 22.14.2; Diodorus of Sicily 16.61. Psichari, “Effendi,” p. 426). The related adjective, ‘authentikos,’ like the English ‘authentic,’ implies something original or genuine. In the sense ‘to begin something, to take the initiative, or to be primarily responsible for it,’ the verb ‘authenteo’ is even used by the early church fathers for the creative activities of God (Eusebius “de ecclesiastica theologia” 3.5; J.P. Migne, “Patrologia Graeca” (Paris, 1857-66), 24:1013A; Dihle, “Authentes,” pp. 82 n.2, 83 n.1.). John Chrysostom (late fourth century) discusses the replacement of Judas in the book of Acts and writes, “Protos tou pragmatos authentei” (“He was primarily responsible for the matter”). In a discussion of lapsed brethren, Athanasius (mid-fourth century) suggests leniency for those who defected under compulsion but had not themselves instigated (authenteo) the problem: “Tois de me authentousi men tes asebeias parasyreisi de di’ananken kai bian” (Athanasius “Epistle to Rufinus” (ed. Migne 26.1180C).

“Authenteo,” as well as the related “authentizo,” could also mean “to take a matter or inheritance into one’s own hands” (Berliner griechische Urkunden [Aegyptische Urkunden aus den koniglichen Museen zu Berlin), vol. 1 (1895), no. 103.3, 8 (p. 122).It was equated with “autodikein” (“to have one’s own law courts or to take the law into one’s own hands”) (Thomas Magister (ed. Ritschl) 18.8; Moeris (ed. Piers), p. 58). For example, a bishop was asked to take a difficult marital situation in hand, and the pope to take a matter under his jurisdiction (Berliner griechische Urkunden 103; Basil “Epistle” 69.4.389A). In the sixth century, Lydus used the verb in the sense of taking the initiative, in a manner that combined the concepts both of starting something and of having the authority to do so (Johannes Laurentius Lydus, “de Magistratibus populi Romani,” ed. R. Wuensch (Leipzig; Teubner, 1903), 3:131.

In the late Renaissance, an era when scholars studied classical texts more thoroughly than is customary today and had materials to which we no longer have access, another definition was cited by lexiocographers: praebo me auctorem (“to declare oneself the author or source of anything”). “Authenteo,” when used with the genitive, as it is in 1 Timothy 2:12, could imply not only to claim sovereignty but also to claim authorship. “To represent onself as the author, originator, or source of something” was given in various older dictionaries that I have been able to consult, such as the widely used work of Cornelis Schrevel and the still-fundamental “Thesaurus Linguae Graecae” by Stephanus (Stephanus, “Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, ed. Dindorf (Paris: Didot, 1831-1865). The earliest of these entries date back to the Renaissance, the latest to the last century. This value disappeared from classical dictionaries about the time when the translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 was being challenged by feminists.

The differentiation between being an originator and professing to be one is a valid point. In several texts, the meaning is strengthened by the sense of asserting oneself to be the author or source of something. For instance, Saint Basil was in anguish because the rumor had gone out that he had anathematized his old friend Dianius. Where was he supposed to have proclaimed the anathema? he asked. In whose presence? Was he merely following someone else’s lead, or did he himself instigate the outrage or even profess himself (authenton) to be its author (katarchon kai authenton tou tolmetos)?(Basil “Epistle” 51.1) “Authenton” is the climax of this carefully constructed progression. It moves from a passive role to an active one and then to claiming responsibility for that role of instigator. Constantine’s Edict speaks of God who proclaims himself to be the author of judgment (“tes de kriseos authentei ho hypsistos theos”) (Eusebius “Vita Constantini” 2.48). Leo wrote to Pulcheria of Eutychus, the self-avowed author (authentountos) of the dissension in the church at Constantinople (Leo the Great “Epistle” 30.1).

Thus there is support for “authenteo” as meaning “to proclaim oneself the author or originator of something.” If we apply this meaning of “authenteo” to 1 Timothy 2:12, we would have “I do not allow a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator or source of man.” This then might be a prohibition against a woman teaching a mythology similar to that of the Gnostics in which Eve predated Adam and was his creator. Certain Gnostic myths also included the notion that Adam, who had been deluded, was liberated by the Gnosis of his more enlightened spouse. (Catherine Clark Kroeger, "The Meaning of 'Authenteo'", from "Women, Authority & The Bible" by Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp. 229-232).

This concludes the article. If you have any question or comments regarding Kroeger’s article, please reply under the “comments” section of this post. I look forward to reading an interesting discussion!

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Series Starting Soon...

Dear Readership,

I've been starting new reading these days on the subject of women in ministry, and I've decided (after quite a long stay away) to resume work here at "Men and Women."

I am writing to announce that I will be starting a new series here at the blog soon, titled "The Trinity: Good News For Women." One of the readers here at the site, Cheryl, has made comments about Bruce Ware and his belief that Christians should not pray to Jesus (as Christ is "subordinate" to the Father). It is a sad state of affairs, but complementarians are now using the Trinity as the argument for their view of the eternal subordination of women (based off of their belief in the eternal subordination of the Son). Pray for this up and coming series, that the Lord will work wonders in my heart and mind as well as yours (you, the readers). There's still a lot of work to be done in making the case for women in ministry.

In case there are curious minds out there who desire to know what I'll be reading, I'll provide a starting list here:

(1) "Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity" by Kevin Giles
(2) "Who's Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate" by Millard J. Erickson

(3) "Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance" by Bruce Ware

There will be more reading for this subject as we make our way through the series.

I hope you're enjoying the work at "Men and Women." Pray for the blog, pray for the hearts and minds of egalitarians (that we remain ever faithful to the proclamation of the Scriptures), and last but not least, pray for our complementarian brothers and sisters, that the Lord would help them understand that women too are made in the image of God and endowed with spiritual authority. I look forward to much discussion in the coming days.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Women In The West, Part III: Tomb Inscriptions

I’ve covered women presbyters in church canons and Episcopal letters. Now, we’ve arrived at the time of tomb inscriptions.

I have a confession to make: there are very few tomb inscriptions available to us from the West for women presbyters. We will find out why after we’ve seen all the evidence of women presbyters, both from the West and the East.

For now though, we’ll look at three tomb inscriptions and gather details from them.

First, there is Martia the Presbyteress. According to Madigan and Osiek, the inscription of Martia is “a graffito found near Poitiers in Gaul...evidence...including conciliar and epistolary writings considered...may place it in the sixth century” (Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, “Ordained Women In The Early Church: A Documentary History.” Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, page 195).

Let’s read the inscription:

“Martia the presbyters (presbyteria) made (ferit) the offering (obblata) together with Olybrius and Nepos” (195).

Giorgio Otranto, as I mentioned in a previous post, views such inscriptions as a noun and a title. Madigan and Osiek write,

“We agree with Otranto. First of all, the Council of Tours (567) would use ‘presbyteria’ as a title at roughly the same time this graffito was made; the slightly later Council of Auxerre (578) would use ‘presbyteria’ as a title as well. All three pieces of evidence come from Gaul. We also agree with Otranto that ‘Olybrius and Nepos are almost certainly two presbyters who were officiating in the community to which Martia also belonged; and it is probable that this woman collaborated with them during the Eucharistic celebration...[according to Otranto] ‘the fact that there had been a desire to record an action performed by Martia during a liturgical celebration would seem to signify not the usual service of the faithful at the moment of the offertory, but rather an act habitually performed by a deacon or another member of the clergy.’ Otranto is right to interpret this letter in light of the letter of the three Gallic bishops. Both texts are found in roughly the same period; both refer to activities in Gaul; both refer to the participation by women in the Eucharistic celebration. In light of this roughly contemporary literary evidence, and of the existence of the graffito, it seems likely that Martia HAD AN IMPORTANT ROLE AS A MINISTER IN THE CELEBRATION OF THE EUCHARISTIC SERVICE in Poitiers” (195-96).

Notice that Martia’s inscription says that she “made” the offering with the two other officials. This means then, that she had some role to play in the Eucharist that likely involved administering the eucharist to the congregation.

The next inscription concerns Flavia Vitalia. According to Madigan and Osiek, Vitalia’s inscription is dated around 425 and was found in modern-day Croatia. The tombstone was bought by a man named Theodosius. Let’s read the inscription:

“Under our Lord Theodosius, consul for the eleventh time, and Valentinian, most noble man of Caesar, I, Theodosius, bought [a burial tomb] from the matron (matrona) Flavia Vitalia, the holy presbyter[a] (presbytera sancta) for three golden solids” (196).

Madigan and Osiek write,

“What can we say with certainty about Flavia Vitalia? First of all, the description of her as matrona tells us she was free-born and married. Second, the title PRESBYTERA tells us, in all likelihood, that she OCCUPIED AN OFFICIAL AND RECOGNIZED PLACE AS A LEADER IN THE ECCLESIASTICAL COMMUNITY OF SALONA...this piece of evidence emerges from a similar ecclesiastical-cultural milieu as the one reprehended by Pope Gelasius, and Flavia was functioning as ‘presbytera’ at about the same time as those whose activities so infuriated the people. In this light, it is EQUALLY IMPOSSIBLE to conclude that Flavia Vitalia was NOT a presbyter in the full and proper sense of the term, invested with the status and all the functions of the sacerdotal office” (196).

Look back at the inscription: Flavia Vitalia is called “the holy presbyter.”
Remember the Tertullian post on Prisca? He called her “the holy minister,” and certainly thought of her as an ecclesiastical authority. Well, Vitalia’s position is that of “the holy presbyter,” so she would not have just been a helper or someone without spiritual authority in the church. Therefore, we can infer from her inscription that she was a leader in her church. We are also told something else: that in the fourth and fifth centuries, church officials began to be in charge of selling burial plots (Madigan and Osiek, 196). Flavia Vitalia, then, must have been a church official of some rank to be appointed this task.

The last notable tomb inscription we have for women presbyters is “a sacerdota from Solin.” It reads:

“...of/to [?] a PRIESTESS...” (caps mine).

Madigan and Osiek supply the following information:

“The epigraph on this tombstone is fragmentary. It is the genitive or dative form of ‘sacerdota,’ ‘priestess.’ The only other bit of the epigraph remaining is a cross. This indicates the entombed was a Christian, not a pagan priestess. Obviously, as this tombstone comes from Solin, it has to be interpreted in light of the Flavia Vitalia inscription and vice versa. Taken together, they suggest a strong possibility, minimally, that women were functioning as presbyters in the community. Eisen even suggests that ‘it is possible that the epigraphically attested sacerdota was the bishop’ of the community. Eisen is correct. It IS possible. Such a possibility is strengthened, philologically, by the use of ‘sacerdota’ rather than ‘presbytera.’ This is clearly NOT THE WIFE OF A PRIEST, NOR IS IT MERELY A RESPECTED ELDERLY WOMAN IN THE COMMUNITY. She is a ‘priestess’ or ‘sacerdotess,’ a woman with high official status and some sort of important official function in the community of Solin. Here the fragment of a single word, when interpreted in conjunction with contemporaneous inscriptional evidence, CAN bear at least that much historical weight” (197).

These are the three major tomb inscriptions on women presbyters in the West. In my next post, I will cover women presbyters from the East.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Women Presbyters In The West, Part II-B: Episcopal Letters

There are three Episcopal letters I will tackle in this post: (1) Letter 14 (to bishops in southern Italy) by Pope Gelasius I (492-96), (2) Letter of Three Gallic Bishops, and (3) Letter of Atto, Bishop of Vercelli, to Ambrose the Priest.
First, Pope Gelasius’ letter:

“We have heard to our distress that contempt of divine things has reached such a state that WOMEN ARE ENCOURAGED (firmentur) TO SERVE AT THE SACRED ALTARS (ministrare sacris altaribus) AND TO PERFORM ALL THE OTHER TASKS (cunctaque) THAT ARE ASSIGNED ONLY TO THE SERVICE OF MEN (non visi virorum famulatui sexum), and for which they [women] are not appropriate (cui non competunt)” (186).

Madigan and Osiek tell us that there is much controversy surrounding this letter, and that most don’t believe this refers to sacerdotal ministry. However, Giorgio Otranto “reads the text as evidence for the argument that ‘at the end of the fifth century, some women, having been ordained by bishops, WERE EXERCISING A TRUE AND PROPER MINISTERIAL PRIESTHOOD IN A VAST AREA OF SOUTHERN ITALY, as well as perhaps in other unnamed regions of Italy” (186).

What makes Madigan and Osiek believe Giorgio Otranto?

“...the single Latin word with enclitic ‘cunctaque’: ‘and ALL THE OTHER THINGS’ (emphasis added) that male presbyters do and for which women, in Gelasius’ view, are not competent. Otranto captures the significance of ‘cuncta’ very well: this word, he correctly notes, implies ‘all the attributes of the male services: liturgical, juridical, and magisterial.’ When that piece of philological evidence is introduced, then we can agree with Otranto that: ‘The functions exercised by women at the altars, therefore, can refer only to the administration of the sacraments, to the liturgical service, and to the public and official announcement of the evangelical message, all of which comprise the duties of ministerial priesthood...Hence...Gelasius...intended to stigmatize and condemn not the exercise of a feminine liturgical service, but an abuse that appeared to him a great deal more serious: that of TRUE AND PROPER PRESBYTERS WHO WERE PERFORMING ALL THE DUTIES TRADITIONALLY RESERVED FOR MEN ALONE’” (187).

What we have here is Pope Gelasius writing against women who are serving in tasks that were “only to the service of men.” It is the idea of women acting as official presbyters of the church that offends Gelasius.

Madigan and Osiek point out another great detail of the text:

“...the letter itself states (albeit in the passive voice) that women are ‘encouraged’ (firmentur) to serve at the altars. Bu whom? The bishops? It is certainly possible but, on the basis of this text, far from certain, especially since Gelasius implies some of the bishops simply CONDONED this behavior rather than encouraged it. Be that as it may, this text, especially when put in context of contemporary inscriptional evidence, constitutes very strong evidence that some women in the south Italian dioceses were functioning as fully-fledged presbyters with the knowledge of their bishops. It is crucial to observe that these were not women in heretical sects but IN CHURCHES CLAIMING TO BE ‘CATHOLIC’ OR IN COMMUNION WITH THE CHURCH OF ROME” (188).

The last sentence of Madigan and Osiek’s quote says it all: Gelasius’ letter shows us that women were ordained and active not in heretical sects (like the Priscillianists), but in the orthodox church (which, at the time, was the Roman Catholic Church). And this is the proof needed when someone comes up and tells you that only the heretical groups allowed women such activities. Point to this letter as evidence that the heretical sects were not alone in their permission of women.
The next letter is called “The Letter of the Three Gallic Bishops.” Madigan and Osiek provide this background:

“Written in 511 by three bishops from the northern Gallic dioceses of Tours, Rennes, and Angers, this letter is addressed to two Breton priests. All five clerics are named in the first sentence of the letter, which reprehends a situation (in their eyes an abomination) very like the one described by Gelasius less than two decades before” (188).

Here it is:

“Bishops Licinius, Melanius, and Eustochius to priests Lovocatus and Catihernius, our most blessed lords and brothers in Christ. We have learned through a report of the priest Speratus, a venerable man, that you have not desisted from carrying certain altars (tabulas) through the domiciles of several citizens and PRESUME TO SAY MASSES THERE WITH WOMEN, whom you call ‘conhospitae,’ whoo are EMPLOYED (adhibitis mulieribus) IN THE DIVINE SACRIFICE; so that, while you are distributing the eucharist, THEY HOLD THE CHALICES AND PRESUME TO ADMINISTER THE BLOOD OF CHRIST TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD. This novelty and UNHEARD-OF SUPERSTITION saddens us not a little, as such a horrendous sect, which by no means has ever existed in Gaul, SEEMS TO BE EMERGING IN OUR TIMES” (188).

Notice that the “conhospitae” here are holding the instruments of Holy Communion and also administering it to the believers. The letter calls the idea of women doing such things an “unheard-of superstition,” which is their attempt to label women serving the eucharist as an unholy act. And then, they go on to state that this act “by no means has ever existed in Gaul,” which implies that the idea of women serving and administering the eucharist is against tradition. Because it goes against the status quo, it is seen as something wicked.

The last Episcopal letter is from Atto, the Bishop of Vercelli, to Ambrose the Priest. According to Madigan and Osiek,

“Atto was an accomplished canon lawyer and bishop of Vercelli, a town in the Piedmont, in the early tenth century. Among his writings are a commentary on the epistles of Paul, collections of various canons, and several letters; the following is taken from his Letter 8, to an otherwise unknown priest named Ambrose, who had apparently written to him to inquire about the meaning of the terms ‘presbytera’ and ‘diacona’ in the ancient canons. Atto replies that the terms could refer to women who had married priests and deacons before their ordination. But he also says (and then the quote follows):

“Because your prudence has moved you to inquire how we should understand ‘female priest’ (presbyteram) or ‘female deacon’ (diaconam) in the canons: it seems to me that IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH, according to the word of the Lord, ‘the harvest was great and laborers few’; RELIGIOUS WOMEN (religiosae mulieres) USED ALSO TO BE ORDAINED AS CARETAKERS (cultrices ordinabantur) IN THE HOLY CHURCH, as Blessed Paul shows in the “Letter” to the Romans, when he says, ‘I commend to you my sister Phoebe, who is in the ministry of the church at Cenchrea.’ Here it is understood that not only men BUT ALSO WOMEN PRESIDED OVER THE CHURCHES (sed etiam feminae praeerat ecclesiis) BECAUSE OF THEIR GREAT USEFULNESS. For women, long accustomed to the rites of the pagans and instructed also in philosophical teachings, were, for these reasons, converted more easily and taught more liberally in the worship of religion. This the eleventh canon of the Council of Laodicea prohibits when it says it is not fitting for THOSE WOMEN WHO ARE CALLED FEMALE PRESBYTERS (presbyterae) OR PRESIDERS (praesidentes) TO BE ORDAINED IN THE CHURCHES. We believe female deacons truly to have been ministers of such things. FOR WE SAY THAT A MINISTER IS A DEACON (DIACONUM), FROM WHICH WE PERCEIVE FEMALE DEACON (diaconam) TO HAVE BEEN DERIVED. Finally, we read in the fifteenth canon of the Council of Chalcedon that a FEMALE DEACON is not to be ORDAINED BEFORE HER FORTIETH YEAR—AND THIS WAS THE HIGHEST GRAVITY. WE BELIEVE WOMEN WERE JOINED TO THE OFFICE OF BAPTIZING so that the bodies of other women might be handled by them without any deeply felt sense of shame…JUST AS THOSE WHO WERE CALLED FEMALE PRESBYTERS (presbyterae) ASSUMED THE OFFICE OF PREACHING, LEADING, AND TEACHING, so female deacons had taken up the office of ministry and of baptizing, a custom that NO LONGER IS EXPEDIENT” (192).

I wanna say to the readership, KEEP THIS LETTER QUOTE HANDY! You will need this one as well.

Now, let’s look at the details of the above quote. Atto (Bishop of Vercelli) writes Ambrose the priest, and tells him that in the “primitive” (early) church, women were ordained. Then, he quotes Romans 16:1-2, using the example of Phoebe and then mentions that “Here it is understood that not only men BUT ALSO WOMEN PRESIDED OVER THE CHURCHES (sed etiam feminae praeerat ecclesiis) BECAUSE OF THEIR GREAT USEFULNESS.” So Phoebe, to Atto, was a “female presider” over the church at Cenchrea. “The eleventh canon of the Council of Laodicea” prohibits women serving in such places of ordained leadership. And the fact that a church council had to issue a canon AGAINST this practice proves that such a practice existed in the early church. Finally, in his discussion of female presbyters, Atto states that “those who were called female presbyters assumed the office of preaching, leading, and teaching…”

And the female presbyters bring to mind the passage of 1 Timothy 5. I’ve covered 1 Timothy 5 here at the site regarding biblical eldership (read under the section labeled “biblical eldership”). However, until this quote, my views regarding 1 Timothy 5 were just pure speculation. But now, I’ve got proof…

The word regarding “older women” in 1 Tim. 5:2 is “presbuteras.” This word is very similar to “presbuterae.” Now someone may say, “Well, how do we know that these “older women” mentioned are official elders in the church? They could just be “older women,” women who are advanced in years.” That is very true: they very well could just be women who are old in age. However, this view, as impressive as it may be, doesn’t do justice to a little something we call CONTEXT!!

While chapter 5 may seem to start with just discussion of the elderly, it ends up being about the office of elder. Verse 17 states, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” In this verse, Paul is telling Timothy that the elders that labor in the word and teaching are to be compensated (including financially) for their labor in God’s service. In verse 19, Timothy is told not to receive an accusation against an elder “except from two or three witnesses.” In verse 20, Timothy is told to “rebuke before all” those elders who are deliberately sinning in the church. In addition, we read that “widows” can be enrolled on the church list (v. 9), and these widows have certain qualifications to meet for list enrollment. As we can see, the context of chapter 5 is about church leadership and structure. Therefore, the “older men and women” of 1 Timothy 5 are not just people advanced in age; instead, they are the “eldership” of the church. This would make sense with the eldership being mentioned just a few verses prior to chapter 5 (4:14), the eldership that had laid their hands on Timothy.

1 Timothy 5 proves to us that women were part of the ordained leadership as well—and this Bishop of Vercelli, Atto, tells us that women were teaching, preaching, and leading (which matches 1 Timothy 5).

I have now covered the Episcopal letters. The next post will cover tomb inscriptions of women presbyters in the West. Keep reading...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Women Presbyters In The West, Part II-A: Church Canons

For those of you who read Part I on Tertullian, let me add something to it: I am still in shock myself regarding Tertullian’s comments regarding women, as well as his respect for Prisca (Priscilla), whom he calls a “prophetess” as well as “the holy minister.” For those of you who haven’t read the post I put up last night, go back and read it. Let’s just say it’ll fire you up more about defending women and their work in Christian ministry.

Tonight I’m back to cover canons and Episcopal letters regarding women presbyters in the West. Before I get started though, I want Madigan and Osiek to give us something to look forward to:

“From the late fourth century, a movement was stirring in the West toward greater leadership roles for women, spurred on in part by the movement of Priscillian. The letter of Gelasius at the end of the fifth century requires some context. Not only Gelasius but also the three bishops of Gaul a few years later, and Fulgentius Ferrandus in Africa half a century later, suggest that the practice of women serving at the altars had happened in certain times and places in the West. Fulgentius connects the office of women presbyters with the Greek East, whose influence was strong in southern Italy, the destination of Gelasius’ letter. Finally, we give a later, tenth-century opinion of Atto of Vercelli that in the early church, women were ordained presbyters” (Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, “Ordained Women In The Early Church: A Documentary History.” Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, page 183).

As these canons and church documents will show, women did serve as presbyters in the early church.

First, we have the “First Synod of Saragossa”:

“According to Sulpicius Severus (363-420), a contemporary of Jerome and Augustine and hagiographer for Martin of Tours, a synod was held in 380 in Saragossa and was attended by bishops from Spain and Aquitaine...the synod was convoked mainly to combat the errors of Priscillianism. Priscillianism was a movement that began in Spain around 370 and spread rapidly throughout the entire country and from there to southern Gaul. Among the followers it attracted were Instantius and Salvianus, two bishops. A strictly ascetical group, the Priscillianists had pronounced similarities to the Manichaeans, with whom they may be confused in the canons here...the execution had the effect of making Priscillian a martyr and of radicalizing the movement that traced itself to his name. Indeed, it became immediately more heterodox, as the Synod of Toledo (c.398) noted to its horror. In any case, none of the heretics, though invited, appeared at Saragossa. Nonetheless, the synod condemned them and threatened to excommunicate any who communed with them” (183-184).

Because of the Priscillianists, the Synod of Saragossa issued the following statement:

“Let all believing women who belong to the Catholic Church absent themselves from lectures and conventicles of foreign men, and FROM WOMEN GIVING LECTURES, EITHER OUT OF ZEAL FOR TEACHING OR LEARNING, since this is what the Apostle commands. [1 Cor. 14:34-35; and 1 Tim. 2:12: ‘I permit no woman to teach...’]” (184).

Madigan and Osiek comment,

“Of perhaps greater importance is the implication that women themselves were organizing and giving lectures for the purpose of teaching and instruction” (184).

Notice too, that the Synod of Saragossa uses two famous Scriptures noted by complementarians today on the issue of women in ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12. What this tells us though, is that women were teaching and instructing, and the councils were so against it that they began to organize and publicly condemn what the women were doing. Evidently, the Priscillians made such a stir before the councils with their meetings and “leading women” that the council saw no other way to address the issue. Still though, these women were considered to be “spiritual authority” in the eyes of many believers. If these women were not deemed spiritual authority, why would the Synod have even bothered to mention it?

Next we have the “Synod of Nimes, Canon 2.” According to Madigan and Osiek,

“...a Gallican National Synod occurred at Nimes in approximately least seventeen...Gallican bishops from seven provinces did. They produced only seven brief canons, most directed against the Manichaeans...and especially, the Priscillianists. Among the heterodox practices observed with alarm by the bishops assembled at Nimes, just a few years after the Synod of Toledo, was the elevation of women to clerical offices reserved, in their minds, for men” (184).

The Canon states as follows:

“The following was suggested by certain individuals, that contrary to apostolic teaching (apostolicum disciplinam), unbeknownst, WOMEN SEEMED TO HAVE BEEN ASSUMED INTO LEVITICAL SERVICE (in ministerium...leuiticum videantur adsumptae) in some place or another (nescio quo loco). Ecclesiastical discipline does not permit this because IT IS INAPPROPRIATE (indecens), and such ORDINATION should be undone (distruatur) when it is effected CONTRARY TO REASON (contra rationem). It should be seen to that NO ONE SO PRESUME IN THE FUTURE” (185).

We learn some things from Madigan and Osiek regarding this document. First,
“In the West at the end of the fourth century, ‘levitical’ and ‘sacerdotal’ often could be, and often were, used synonymously. So there are philological grounds for believing that these Priscillianist women were functioning as presbyters” (185).

In addition,

“the Synod is quite UNANALYTICAL in its rejection of female priesthood, noting only that it is not traditional, because indecens, and that it is unreasonable. Finally, the forceful recommendation that such ordinations be undone ties into the debate, occurring at almost the same time in North Africa, over the permanence of priestly ordination and Episcopal consecration. The ‘orthodox’ position worked out by Augustine in his conflict with the Donatists is that such ordinations could not be undone. Medieval scholastics developed this position with more philosophical texture, as those theologians insisted that ordination effects a character on the soul of the ordinand that can be neither reversed nor erased. The bishops assembled here assume not only that it can be reversed but that it must” (185).

What I think is noteworthy about this canon is what Madigan and Osiek note: that “the Synod is quite unanalytical in its rejection of female priesthood…” For three and a half years now, I have heard people talk about the issue of women in ministry and was told that, for some of the women I’ve met, they grew up with nothing but male preachers, male deacons, male pastors, male elders, and male teachers—so that’s how it should be...nothing but MALE leaders! But all that statement says is, “I’ve grown up in a certain tradition, and I’m COMFORTABLE with that.” It’s funny how so many women have grown up in a complementarian atmosphere, and yet, have NEVER questioned why things are the way they are (complementarian). I find that fascinating to believe. And the sad thing is that most of the women I’ve talked to in the last three and a half years haven’t even desired to question the “status quo.” They are content and happy just the way they are.

And I think I would still be the exact same way if I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone and done a study of women all on my own. So I do sympathize with these women and understand their background; at the same time, however, I still have to challenge the traditional view that God cannot call women to such wonderful gifts in His church. I believe that God gifts women to serve in ways that He has gifted men, and for the church to not allow women to exercise those gifts is the church’s way of “rebelling” against God. Now there’s the problem: the church, as the bride, is not submitting to her Husband. And yet and still, they can toss around passages for women to submit to their husbands. Sounds like we haven’t practiced what we’ve preached...

I will continue with Episcopal letters in my next post.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women Presbyters In The West, Part I: Tertullian

The time has come to begin our work on women presbyters in the church. Yes, it’s true—women did serve in this authoritative function in the church.
I will post on two writings of the church father Tertullian here, one called “Exhortation to Chastity,” and the other called “To His Wife” (Tertullian’s letter of instruction to his wife of what actions to take after his death).

Before I get ahead of myself, I will now give some introduction regarding Tertullian:

“Born in Carthage, North Africa, Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (c. 160-225) was one of the most influential and brilliant of the Latin fathers. He could also be quite vituperative, especially on the subject of women, though most of all these abusive remarks need to be carefully contextualized and interpreted. A convert from paganism, Tertullian nonetheless became a prolific and effective apologist for Christianity. In his theological works, he did much (along with the Latin Bible, probably already available at the end of the second century) to augment and develop the theological vocabulary of the church, so much, in fact, that he is often designated ‘the father of Latin theology’” (Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, “Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History.” Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, page 174).

Now, on to the two documents of Tertullian’s. The first document is titled “Exhortation to Chastity.” Madigan and Osiek give us an introduction to the context of the letter:

“Tertullian urges his friend not to remarry and recommends to him a life of continence. In the tenth chapter of the treatise, he dwells on the advantages of widowhood. Drawing on examples from the Hebrew scriptures and Paul on the desirability of purity, Tertullian then turns to what was revealed in an oracle of the Montanist prophet Prisca” (179).

On with Tertullian’s words:

“Again through the holy prophetess (prophetidem) Prisca is the gospel PREACHED IN THIS WAY [i.e., THROUGH PROPHECY], that THE HOLY MINISTER knows to minister sanctity. ‘Purity,’ she says, ‘brings harmony, and they see visions and, turning their face to the ground, they also hear distinct voices, as salutary as they are mysterious’” (179).

Madigan and Osiek note,

“While Tertullian generally, and often vehemently, opposes women exercising a teaching role, he does recognize here (as he does in ‘On the Soul’ 9.4) THAT SOME WOMEN (LIKE PRISCA), UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, DO UTTER AUTHORITATIVE PROPHECIES. Tertullian PLACES PRISCA’S ORACLE AS AN AUTHORITY alongside the Hebrew scriptures and the Apostle. All are effected by the action of the Holy Spirit” (179).

First, I wanna say that even Wayne Grudem goes against church history. In Grudem’s book, “Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth,” which we’ve covered in quite a lot of detail here at Men and Women, I’ve quoted Grudem as saying that prophecy is “non-authoritative.” However, Tertullian the great church father would blatantly disagree with him; here, Tertullian says that it is authoritative and even considers Priscilla (“Prisca” for short) as a spiritual authority. Grudem needs to get a little more acquainted with his church history.

Notice that Tertullian writes here that “the gospel preached…” is “through prophecy.” Isn’t it funny how today, when an egalitarian goes to Joel 2:28 and says, “When Joel says that ‘your…daughters will prophesy,’ he is saying that women will preach,” what is the response? “oh, you’re delusional.” However, EVEN TERTULLIAN, one of the most adamant voices against women teaching publicly, believed that women COULD PREACH IN THE CHURCH! He believed that to prophesy meant “to preach,” and this is why he refers to Prisca (Priscilla) as “the holy minister.”

Here’s what I want you, the readership, to do: go to people who don’t believe Joel 2:28 and show them the statement by Tertullian above. If they know their church history, then they’ll be stunned that Tertullian, against women teaching, would advocate them preaching! The reason, though, why I’ve been doing this historical/archaeological series is because most conservative evangelicals have grown up with this idea that women have NEVER had any positions of ecclesiastical authority; and, since the Bible “supposedly” claims that women can’t have those positions, then women have never held them. But this isn’t true; and the near 20 posts we’ve done on the historical evidence here at Men and Women show clearly that women did hold such positions in the early church. I pray that Tertullian’s statement above will be one of your favorite statements to “whip out” on complementarians when they come telling you that your view of women in the church is wrong and disagrees with history. Chances are, you’ll shock them…and this is exactly the hoped-for response.

The next document I will quote is Tertullian’s letter, “To His Wife,” in which he gives her instructions regarding life after his death:

“How harmful to faith, and what an impediment to sanctity, second marriages are, the discipline of the church and the restriction (praescriptio) of the Apostle declare, since he does not allow twice-married men to preside [1 Tim. 3.11], and when he would not allow a widow into the ORDER (in ordinem) unless she had been married to only one man (univiram)…indeed, it is fitting that THE ALTAR OF GOD be presented pure (mundam)” (181).

Madigan and Osiek:

“Tertullian used the term ORDO to describe an OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED SOCIAL CATEGORY within the church. In applying the use of the term here to women, Tertullian implies that WIDOWS ARE PART OF THE CHRISTIAN CLERGY, even if there is no explicit profession of widowhood. At the time of Tertullian’s writing, widows were in fact recognized by the entire Christian community as a special class of Christian, symbolized spatially in liturgical assembly by their occupying a place apart and by penitent sinners seeking reconciliation before them and the presbyters” (181).

Notice that Tertullian’s letter above to his wife discusses “widows,” and then goes on to discuss “the altar of God” being “pure.” Tertullian makes a connection between an order of widows and the altar. This tells us that women served at the altar—although we don’t know what functions they performed. Even in the time of Tertullian, and even with Tertullian’s bias against women teaching, he had no problem affirming women serving at the altar in this letter to his wife.

Although Tertullian was quite outspoken against women teaching publicly, we see that he did believe women had the Holy Spirit and that, being vessels of the Spirit, could possess the spiritual authority to prophesy (preach) and give words from God to God’s people. He certainly believed Priscilla had this spiritual authority and honors her as “the holy minister” (which means that she wasn’t just serving tables). I think Tertullian was right when he said,

“Those persons have but a poor knowledge of God, who suppose Him to be capable of doing only what comes within the boundaries of their own thoughts” (printed in “Quotable Quotes From The Early Christians” in “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed By The Early Church Fathers” by David W. Bercot, Editor. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998, page 548).

I think both of these Tertullian quotes are in the egalitarian’s favor that you should print them off, frame them, and keep them close. You never know when the day will come that you’ll need them…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Women Deacons In The East, Part V: Later Texts Bearing On Earlier Evidence

“The following discussions in the Eastern Church from the seventh century and later all shed light on further interpretation of some of the texts presented in the previous chapter. Several, for example, witness to the belief in their day that, though deaconesses no longer functioned liturgically, they were once FULLY ORDAINED MEMBERS OF THE CLERGY and even entrusted with some kind of altar ministry” (Madigan and Osiek, “Ordained Women In The Early Church: A Documentary History. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, page 133).

I promised you, my readership, that I would supply part five soon…and although it has taken me a while, I’m back to deliver as I promised. In this post, I will begin to tackle later documents that show the privileges women experienced in the church earlier in history—such as ordination.

The first document we will look at is the Trullan Synod, Canon 15. Madigan and Osiek tell us,

“The Trullan Council or Synod was held in 692 in the domed hall (trullus) of the imperial palace of Justinian II in Constantinople to complete the disciplinary work of two previous councils numbered fifth and sixth in 553 and 680-81, hence its secondary name of ‘Quinisext’ or ‘fifth-sixth.’ Its canons largely concerned questions of clerical life and were not accepted in the West” (134).

Let’s read what Canon 14 says:

“Let the canon of our holy God-bearing fathers be retained, namely, that a presbyter not be ordained before the age of thirty even though he be fully qualified, but let him be held back. For Our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the thirtieth year and began to preach. Likewise a deacon before the age of twenty-five, nor should a DEACONESS (diakonissa) BE ORDAINED (cheirotonein) before the age of forty” (134).

Notice that Canon 14 gives an age requirement for the ordination of women deacons. Notice too, that canon 14 does not “introduce” the idea of deaconess ordination, but instead, refines the position (with an age requirement). This means that the practice of ordaining women deacons had to have been a normal occurrence for quite some time prior to the publication of this canon.

The Council of Nicaea provides a reference to women’s diaconal ordination in Canon 19:

“This is what happens with deaconesses (diakonissai). Virgins were coming to the church and with encouragement from the bishop, they were maintained as dedicated to God, but in the dress of the laity. This is the way it was arranged. Having attained forty years of age, they were worthy of ORDINATION (cheirotonia) AS DEACONESSES, if they were found to be completely deserving. If any were found to be among the Paulinists, they would be dealt with the same as the men” (136).

There is an interesting point to bring out of Canon 19. In this case, unlike most, it is “virgins” who are being ordained. This is very much against the idea that a woman had to be a “wife” in order to become a deaconess. Perhaps this is why “Phoebe” is mentioned in Romans 16:1-2 as “just Phoebe”—because maybe she didn’t have a husband at all; maybe she was an unmarried woman.

Regarding Canon 19 of the Council of Nicaea, Madigan and Osiek write:

“Balsamon adds more than the Canon of Nicaea, for he goes on to specify age of ordination, bringing in this information from Canon 15 of Chalcedon. HE IMPLIES THAT THE OFFICE OF DEACONESS BEGAN WITH CONSECRATED VIRGINS AND AROSE FROM THIS GROUP. As we will see with his further comments, HE ALSO ASSUMES AN ORIGINAL SACRAMENTAL MINISTRY FOR THEM. The final comment here relates to the integration of the followers of Paul of Samosata into the catholic church: their ordinations done before reconciliation and (re) baptism in the church were not considered valid (see Canon 19 of Nicaea)” (136).

Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek mention “Canon 15 of Chalcedon” above in their comments on canon 19 of the Council of Nicaea. This canon will be dealt with next. For now, what is of note is that Balsamon assumes that the virgins have an actual “sacramental ministry.” In other words, these virgins are to perform services at the altar. This is something that church councils attempted to squelch at every turn.

Now, regarding Council 15 of the Council of Chalcedon:

“The issues concerning the present canon have received wide attention [or, are completely outdated; panteescholasan]. A deaconess (diakonissa) today is not ordained, EVEN IF SOME FEMALE ASCETICS ARE LOOSELY REFERRED TO AS DEACONESSES. For there is a canon that defines that women may not enter the sanctuary (bema). HOW COULD ONE WHO CANNOT APPROACH THE ALTAR (thysiasterion) PERFORM THE FUNCTION OF THE DEACONS? Read canons fourteen and fifteen of the Trullan Synod, which depose a DEACONESS ORDAINED before the age of forty. Doesn’t the present canon anathematize one who marries after ordination? It offends the grace of God” (136)

Madigan and Osiek write the most interesting note on this canon:

“Balsamon mixes two things here. The first comment CONFIRMS THAT ORDINATION OF DEACONESSES IS A THING OF THE PAST, though some monastic women may still bear the title in twelfth-century Constantinople, without ministerial function. The reason for women being excluded from the altar is given in his ‘Response to Mark’s Questions 35: ‘the monthly affliction.’ But the final comments refer to the Trullan Synod (692) and do presuppose the existence of deaconesses, remarking on the minimum age limit. The fifteenth canon in fact speaks only of subdeacons but then affirms that all the clergy mentioned above (presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, and subdeacons) should be deposed if ordained before the required age. Thus Balsamon witnesses to the interpretation that deaconesses were considered members of the clergy (see comment on the Trullan Synod)” (136).

First, we should ask ourselves, “Why would Canon 15 of Chalcedon even have to be produced IF women were not being ordained as deaconesses?" Notice that Balsamon then quotes the canon that forbids women at the altar, and then says, “How could one who cannot approach the altar perform the function of the deacons?” In other words, the function of the deacons, INCLUDING women, involved work at the altar. Women according to this canon cannot be deacons because they have been forbidden at the altar. The canon Balsamon quotes regarding women at the altar should make us ask the question, “If women have to be forbidden at the altar, then doesn’t this mean there was a time when they were ALLOWED at the altar?” Thus, we see that women were allowed at the altar and had sacramental ministries, something that is considered to never have even existed by many of today’s church leaders. I guess they’ve never read their history. And this is why I’m providing this information for my viewers: because they need to know that not everyone in the early church interpreted 1 Timothy 2 to mean what complementarians claim it does today.

What exactly does Balsamon’s “Response to Mark’s Questions” say? Let’s read Balsamon’s next work here:

“Question 35: the divine canons mention deaconesses (diakonissai). So we want to learn what were their liturgical roles (leitourgema).
Response: IN TIMES PAST, ORDERS (tagmata) OF DEACONESSES WERE RECOGNIZED, and THEY HAD ACCESS TO THE SANCTUARY (bema). BUT THE MONTHLY AFFLICTION BANISHED THEM FROM THE DIVINE AND HOLY SANCTUARY, In the holy church of the see of Constantinople, deaconesses were appointed to office, without any participation in the sanctuary, but attending to many church functions and directing the women’s assembly according to church procedures”

According to Madigan and Osiek, “Again Balsamon implies that ORDINATION OF DEACONESSES WAS ONCE FULLY PRACTIED and that at one time THEY EXERCISED SOME KIND OF SACRAMENTAL MINISTRY, THE MEANING OF ACCESS TO THE SANCTUARY. He thinks, however, that once the liturgy was established in Constantinople in the fourth century this practice already had been terminated…Balsamon attributes the restriction of women from the sanctuary NOT TO ANY INHERENT INFERIORITY but to CULTIC PURITY CONCERNS” (137).

What kept women from performing work at the altar? It wasn’t their “inferiority” to men, or their need to “submit” or “not have authority”; instead, it was because of their monthly menstruation. However, if this becomes the reason to ban women, then there is a reason to ban certain men as well: for the Old Testament Mosaic Law is full of people who could not be serve as the priests, or in the tabernacle. Anyone who was unclean, or had any type of impurity (such as leprosy or a birth defect) could not serve in the tabernacle:

16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying: ‘No man of your descendants in succeeding generations, who has any defect, may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For any man who has a defect shall not approach: a man blind or lame, who has a marred face or any limb too long, 19 a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, 20 or is a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man who has a defect in his eye, or eczema or scab, or is a eunuch. 21 No man of the descendants of Aaron the priest, who has a defect, shall come near to offer the offerings made by fire to the LORD. He has a defect; he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both the most holy and the holy; 23 only he shall not go near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a defect, lest he profane My sanctuaries; for I the LORD sanctify them.’” (Leviticus 21:16-23, New King James Version)

So, if women were not allowed to serve, then men who had the above defects (such as skin diseases or broken bones, or unequal limbs) should not have been able to serve as well. If women are not to serve today, then the Levitical law should be in effect and all men with physical problems on the above list in Leviticus should be forbidden from serving at the altar. And yet, we all know that no church today will stop men with defects from teaching, preaching, pastoring, and serving Holy Communion. If you ask me, I smell a “discrimination” rat...

I have one more document to quote from, that being Matthew Blastares’s “Alphabetical Collection 11”:

“Women deacons then fulfilled a certain service AMONG THE CLERGY (kleroi), which is nearly unknown to everyone now. There are some who say that they baptized women because it was not proper for men to see undressed those being baptized who were of a certain age. Others say that THEY WERE ALLOWED TO APPROACH THE HOLY ALTAR AND PERFORM NEARLY ALL THE FUNCTIONS DONE BY MALE DEACONS. THEY WERE FORBIDDEN ACCESS AND PERFORMANCE OF THESE SERVICES BY LATER FATHERS BECAUSE OF THEIR MONTHLY FLOW THAT CANNOT BE CONTROLLED” (138).

Notice that women were allowed to work at the altar at a certain point in time, and that the only reason they were forbidden to do so involved their monthly menstruation. This should tell us, once again, that 1 Timothy 2 was not an excuse to prohibit women from serving. Even Blastares seemed puzzled that the churches disconnected women serving at the altar and 1 Timothy 2:

“But for a woman to be deacon of the holy and unbloody sacrifice does not seem plausible to me. It is not a safe policy [literally: a saving word] that those to whom it is not conceded to teach publicly should be allowed the rank of deacon, whose work is to cleanse by their teaching the unbelievers who approach for baptism” (138).

Notice that he links “teach publicly” with “rank of deacon, whose work is to cleanse by their teaching the unbelievers who approach for baptism.” Blastares didn’t understand how women couldn’t teach but yet, could baptize publicly. Evidently, the church itself didn’t make this connection. So, contrary to today’s thought about women and 1 Timothy 2 (and contra Blastares), women were still allowed to serve at the altar—even if they weren’t allowed to teach.

These later texts confirm what has already been stated—that, at one point in time, women were ordained and allowed to serve at the altar. In future posts, I will cover “women presbyters” in both the East and the West. Stay tuned…

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Ten NOT Reasons (Continued)

I’m back here at Men and Women to tackle another of Grudem’s “Ten Reasons For Male Headship Before the Fall.” I promised you I would tackle these ten reasons, and I will get to them all before I stop writing on them.

Reason #5 supplied by Wayne Grudem is “The primary accountability”:

“…in a similar way, when God summoned Adam to give an account, it indicated a primary responsibility for Adam IN THE CONDUCT OF HIS FAMILY. This is similar to the situation in Genesis 2:15-17, where God had given commands to Adam alone before the Fall, indicating there also a primary responsibility that belonged to Adam. By contrast, the serpent spoke to Eve first (Gen. 3:1), trying to get her to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR LEADING THE FAMILY INTO SIN, AND INVERTING THE ORDER THAT GOD HAD ESTABLISHED AT CREATION” (Wayne Grudem, “The Key Issues in the Manhood-Womanhood Controversy, and the Way Forward” from “Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood,” page 31).

It’s good to at least be able to write a post on Wayne Grudem from time to time. I mean, there are days when (as you can imagine) I have to step away from the men and women debate. It gets to be too much. If I don’t step away, I get frustrated by the opinions out there regarding an “unequal” view of women…

However, there are times when courage is needed to approach this task; and so, no matter how frustrating the opinions of men like Wayne Grudem may be, I am on a mission and I CANNOT GIVE UP THE FIGHT!! I must persevere in this subject until women are where God places them.

Regarding Grudem’s quote above, the most striking phrase of all involves the fact that he believes Adam’s “family” played a role in his accountability to God. Before this moment, Adam and Eve were married—but there was no family except for Eve. There were no children at all (no Cain, Abel, or Seth).

Next, he claims that the serpent tried to “get her [Eve] to take responsibility for leading the family into sin, and inverting the order God had established at creation.” First, let me say that the serpent had one task—that is, to get the first couple to attempt to “overthrow” God—and the first couple did attempt this impossible feat!! This idea that the serpent tried to get Eve to “usurp” power from Adam and take his responsibility, is NOWHERE IN THE TEXT! This is Grudem’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 coming to play. As I’ve said at the blog here, Grudem LOVES 1 Timothy 2, and if there were no 1 Timothy 2 as we know it, Grudem wouldn’t have any problems with women (I’m being sarcastic…he’d still find a new reason to replace 1 Tim. 2).

Why then, is Adam responsible to God? Because God charged him with the task. God made Adam the human head of creation, the “lord” over the earth. As a result, Adam was to dress the garden and keep it (as well as watch over it). This is all Genesis 2 tells us about Adam being the head of creation.

But here’s a rare moment in time: Grudem actually goes on to say something that I agree with…but, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what it is...