Book Review: Hearing Her Voice – A Case for Women Giving Sermons. By John Dickson.

hearHearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons.  By John Dickson.  Zondervan, 2012. $4.22 (On Kindle here).

The main theme of John Dickson’s latest ebook is the way that modern notions are projected onto first century biblical concepts.  In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul states, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet.’  Dickson argues that the modern semantic range of the word ‘teach’ (didasko) covers far more than how Paul used the word in the first century.  When the word teach is understood as an apostolic role, the modern semantic range of the words preach, teach and the like, are brought into question, thus opening the door for women to engage in preaching.

The target audience for this ebook is mixed.  While he states that it is not an academic book, he seeks to engage not only ministers, church leaders, and laypeople, but also his colleagues, which ones assumes are academics.  Dickson’s stated intention is to help the reader (re)assess the biblical grounds for allowing or prohibiting women in the pulpit.  The book is persuasive, but there is room for further dialogue on the raised issues, which can be aided by the provided discussion questions at the end of the book.  This section is a great resource for exploring Dickson’s thoughts in a group setting.

To begin with, Dickson outlines that there are many speaking/teaching type roles in the Bible, but only one that women are prohibited from engaging in, and that is the role of teaching (1 Tim. 2:12).  He explains that there are differences between the roles of exhorting, prophesying, evangelizing, reading and teaching.  Dickson grants that there is overlap between these roles, but he is keen to show that any overlap should not negate any apparent distinction.   A helpful clarification is that these speaking roles have a similar content but different function.  In this first chapter, Dickson demonstrates that at the very least women should be able to engage in a number of speaking (‘teaching’) roles that involve biblical content in mixed gender settings because these roles, especially the role of exhortation, most closely resembles the modern day sermon.

In chapter two Dickson seeks to answer the question ‘what is teaching?’  It is argued that in 1 Timothy 2, Paul is not referring to a general conception of teaching but teaching that is authoritative, which he further clarifies using ‘historical realities and biblical text’.  ‘Teaching for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles.’  By drawing on the historical reality of the early church’s need for an oral tradition to preserve the core truths, Dickson mounts the case that teaching, in the narrow 1 Timothy 2 sense, is comprised of, and is the communication of, the new covenant truth prior to the advent of the Bible.  The biblical defense is made up of two phrase structures.  The first is similar to that which we read in 2 Timothy 1:13: ‘Follow the sound words you have heard from me.’ (2 Tim. 1:13).  The second phrase is found throughout the Pastoral Epistles: ‘trustworthy word’ (pistos logos) (1 Tim. 1:15, 3:1, 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11 Titus 3:8).  It is thus argued that the notion of teaching is thus a specific role with specific content.

Dickson concludes that the role of preserving the truth is different to the other speaking/teaching roles, which in essence expound the content of the oral tradition.  The concept of teaching in 1 Timothy 2 is referring to the preeminent role of safeguarding, preserving and delivering the content of Jesus’ person and work both orally and later in text.  This, according to Dickson’s argument, is what women are prohibited from engaging in.

In the last two chapters, Dickson’s main thesis comes together as he differentiates between exposition and teaching.  Exposition is explaining what the teachers have preserved.  That is, exposition is the explanation and application of the content (teaching) that has been safeguarded by teachers through oral tradition (and later through text) to the life of the church by men and women.  Dickson explodes the assumption that expounding is equivalent to teaching, though not without a measure of nuanced discussion regarding certain content and function overlap.  An interesting supporting text that Dickson draws on is 2 Timothy 3:16, which states that Scripture is useful (ophelimos) for teaching (didaskalia).  In other words, Scripture (the Old Testament) supports, but is not equivalent to, the apostolic task of laying down the apostolic tradition.

Dickson addresses the obvious critique that someone who is expounding the preserved teaching is in fact preserving and passing on the very content that Dickson has solely ascribed to the apostolic teaching role.  He counters this by explaining that this notion of preserving the teaching is secondary.  The person expounding the preserved truths is not preserving the teaching in the primary apostolic sense.  Such expositors are wholly accountable to the apostolic tradition, whereas the apostolic teachers and the tradition that they preserve is not accountable to anyone in any such way.  In other words, the preservation has been completed and is final.  What is left is the communication of these truths and the application of them to the body of Christ.  For this Paul uses the terms exposition, prophesy, evangelism, etc., all of which women are not prohibited from engaging in.

The argument put forward by Dickson is simple – if teaching is understood in the narrow sense to be the preservation of the apostolic truth, then the command that women cannot teach in 1 Timothy 2 prohibits women from the narrow sense of teaching only, that is, preserving the apostolic tradition.  This allows women to engage with other forms of communicating biblical content to mixed groups.

Dickson’s argument is a compelling reminder to check the glasses that we use when we read the biblical text.  His argument is well rehearsed and buttressed with thorough biblical grounding, historical context and sound logic.  One aspect of the book that needs extra attention and debate, however, is the notion that one who today teaches the apostolic truth is not a teacher (in the narrow sense) but only secondarily so.  It might be argued that while the modern expositor is not the original preserver of the new covenant truth, there is still the requirement to faithfully pass on the truth as it was handed down to them.  Does the famous 2 Timothy 2:2 passage challenge the primary versus secondary distinction that Dickson draws with regard to those that preserve apostolic truth?  What is the difference between the role of Paul, Timothy and the early church fathers, and the preacher in the pulpit today in maintaining the apostolic truth?  Are the roles today of teacher in the narrow sense (even if secondary) and expositor necessarily conflated?  If so, what impact would this have on the discussion of women teaching from the pulpit?


Book review: Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry

womenBourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry.  By Michael F. Bird.  Zondervan, 2012. $4.22 (On Kindle here).

Michael Bird often splits the pack with much of his theology.  In this readable and brief book Bird claims to do the same by seeking to find a middle ground between the often polarised perspectives of women in ministry.  This book is suitable for lay people who are seeking to understand how one might defensibly hold a somewhat egalitarian position.  However, this book is also useful for pastors and ministers that have assumed a position without thinking through the other side’s point of view.

The thesis of the book is that Paul not only endorsed women teaching in churches, but ‘Paul specifically encouraged it!’  In other words, Paul’s clear use of women in teaching roles must be integrated into any Pauline perspective of women in ministry.

After laying out his own journey from a complimentarian view towards a more egalitarian view Bird defines the terms and the spectrum on which they are found. This is a concise and helpful summary of the main players and their perspective of the debate.

In chapter 2, Bird presents the complimentarian reader with a conundrum, which is that Paul used a woman to deliver, read and expound his theological masterpiece – Romans – to the church in Rome (Romans 16:1-2).  This cameo by Phoebe is the ground-breaker that Bird uses to open the door to engage the idea that perhaps women can play a more substantial teaching role than complimentarians might suggest.

Bird then engages with the primary Pauline texts in this debate.  In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Bird argues that Paul is not creating a hierarchy, but rather couplets, in which the head is honored.  Because Paul is not articulating a hierarchy (God at the top and women at the bottom), Bird contends that this passage cannot be used to limit the role that women might play in ministry.  On the contrary, women and men alike are permitted and able to engage in the same ministries by maintaining their God-given gender identity according to the cultural norms and by ministering according to their gifts in an orderly fashion.

Regarding I Corinthians 14:33-36 the issue of the interpolation stands out.  Even though this might solve Bird’s issue, he simply but effectively plays away the notion that the difficult verses of 33b-35 are an inserted interpolation by calling upon textual and internal evidence.  He treats the difficult verses in another way.  By drawing upon the reason behind Paul’s instruction for women on how to carry themselves in public worship, Bird mounts his case.  Women must honor their husband in their public use of speech.  Bird states: ‘It is the type of speaking and not the possibility of wives speaking that Paul prohibits.’

The third text that Bird deals with is Ephesians 5:21-24.  Whereas this passage is often called upon to explicate the submission of women to their husbands, Bird calls the readers’ attention to verse 21, which calls for mutual submission.  He defends this notion of mutual submission by referring to other passages like 1 Corinthians 7:4 and 11:11.  Bird also draws upon some anecdotal evidence to show how submission to the head of the house often meant submitting to a woman.  If the church was lead by the head of the house (i.e. Chloe in 1 Corinthians 1, 7 and 11) then it is no surprise to learn that there were sanctioned woman leaders in the early churches.

Before Bird moves on to Galatians 3:26-29, he makes note of Paul’s female co-workers who had teaching roles in the church, where he returns to more fully deal with Phoebe’s role in the delivery of Romans to the church in Rome.  When Bird turns his attention to Galatians, he argues that this passage is primarily dealing with soteriology.  What determines if one is in Christ or not?  Not race, gender or societal position.  But while this text has soteriological emphasis, Bird claims it also has ecclesiological implications.  If men and women are one in Christ then gender cannot be the quality that dictates ministry roles.

Finally, Bird looks at the 1 Timothy 2:11-15 text that at first glance is a knockout blow to the egalitarian cause.  Bird begins his defence by looking at the perspective that God’s created order was the driving argument in this text, instead of one that was culturally confined.  This appeal to creation, however, is not in line with 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and the command for women to cover their heads on the grounds of the created order.  The command in this instance is obviously culturally driven and therefore not universally applicable, and so Bird argues that an appeal to the creation principle does not necessarily imply a universal application.

Bird’s second defence is somewhat logical.  He says that a decision to restrict women from teaching should be consistent at all levels and all contexts, both religious and secular.  If this is a divine principle embedded in creation then it should translate to all spheres of existence.  In the end, Bird denies that the driving argument in this text is one that appeals to creation, but rather is one that is embedded in the cultural issues of the time.  Women may not teach men if they are teaching false doctrine with a view to gain superiority over men as was the custom in Ephesus at the time.

This book argues against a simple reading of the relevant texts.  Bird’s persistent calling for consistency with regard to the use of the created order to defend a complimentarian perspective is convincing, as is his call for consistency in implementing this divine order.  While these arguments dent the complimentarian view, Bird’s own argument is weakened by the speculative nature of having to depend on cultural reconstructions.  While he aims at a middle ground between the egalitarian and the complimentarian perspectives, Bird does not demonstrate why the lead pastor, bishop or other such figure should be male, even though this is his preference.  If one was to take his arguments at face value one might well have to argue for equal opportunity in these roles too.

Babies, after-birth abortion and logic

This one is hot off the press.

If you haven’t heard the latest, a bunch of ethicists have written an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics called ‘After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?‘  The overarching premise is that if a foetus can be aborted for various reasons, then by those same reasons a baby should be able to be aborted (their usage) after birth.

I agree with the logic.

A good example that they give, which highlights the point well, is the use of prenatal testing to determine if a child is impaired in some way.  If a test comes back positive then there are grounds (for some) for the child to be aborted.  The reasons that are often given are that the child will live a horrible life of suffering, and/or that the parents, mother or father cannot cope with such difficulties, inconvenience or burden, and so on.

The logical difficulty comes when a baby’s physical or intellectual impairments go undetected by prenatal tests.  The baby is subsequently born with the undetected impairments, which, if detected prior to birth the baby could have been aborted.  The authors of the article give numerous examples of this possibility.

So what do we do?

Well, if one is going to grant the option of aborting these impaired babes pre-birth, then on the same grounds, one should be granted the same option post-birth, which they have conveniently called ‘after-birth abortion’, as opposed to the term infanticide.

Their argument is not purely based upon pragmatism, but on a philosophical argument of what is means to be a moral being.  This is summed up in their reason for using the term ‘after-birth abortion’ instead of the term infanticide.  Such usage:

…emphasise[s] that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.

In a clever sleight of hand the authors shift what is being defined and argued.

The battleground here is not when life starts per se, whether at conception or at birth like the old discussion, but rather, what is a moral being?  A baby and a foetus are similar in that they are morally equivalent and only potential persons, so they argue.

I won’t expound the ins and outs of their argument, but I agree that it logically follows that if a foetus can be aborted because it is not a moral being, merely something with personhood potential, then one must be consistent and attribute the same value to new born babies who are, by the same yard stick, not moral beings, merely capable of one day being a person.

Should we be scared of a flood of new laws that might legalise the aborting (killing?) of babies on the basis that they are not yet moral persons?  I don’t think so.

The issues that the authors of the article raise need to be responded to by all who have previously held views on abortion, whether for or against.  I suppose one could put their head in the sand and pretend that our moral stances have no logical consequences but that is certainly foolish.

These ethicists have thought through the subsequent logical implications of holding to pre-birth abortion, and given one perspective: there are grounds for aborting living babies.

What this article does is expose how dangerous a poorly thought through moral stance can be.

For that I thank them.

Who Determines Where Women Belong?

Ok, so you’ve seen and read the picture and you would agree that it’s pretty funny – lame funny:)

But why?

Probably because the picture’s contents has little bearing upon our reality today, but was in fact indicative of life, not that long ago.  In other words, it is funny because it represents how we used to think a few years back.

The way that women are viewed has changed and that is why this little pic is funny.  It is interesting to see how the role of women has changed throughout history.

I have finally got around to reading a short little e-book by Scot McKnight – yep, it’s is a McKnight book reading week.  The book that I read was called Junia Is Not Alone and it is all about one name – Ἰοuνιαν (the Greek form).  This person is only mentioned once in the Bible even though they get a brilliant rap by Paul.  Paul says of this person, ‘Greet Andronicus and  Ἰοuνιαν, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was‘ (NIV, Romans 16:7).

Did you get that?  Ἰοuνιαν has all the badges of honour:

  1. Jew
  2. Fellow jail-bird with Paul
  3. Outstanding among the apostles
  4. A believer before Paul

The amazing thing (apparently) is that Ἰοuνιαν is a woman. This is where McKnight’s book sensationally kicks in.  This ancient truth, that Ἰοuνιαν is a woman, has been until recent times hidden from us – true story.  I won’t bore you with the details, but the big botch-up comes with Martin Luther.  He wasn’t the first to do it, but was certainly one of  the most influential.  Couple Luther’s influence with a botched-up composite Greek New Testament in 1927 by a guy called Nestle and you have the game sewn up.  Junia is not longer a she, but a he.

But why?

McKnight states the problem like this:

…a new kind of logic about women began to dominate.  The logic was simple: the person of Romans 16:7 is an apostle, and apostles can’t be women, Junia cannot have been a woman. Junia was a man (loc. 133).

Of course you can see the difficulty.  We do it all the time.  When the Bible says something that surely has to be wrong or does not line up with the way that we view the Bible, we play it away somehow, anyhow.  So for example, Jesus says,

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:32-34).

It can’t mean what it says, I’m talking about the sell the possessions bit(!), and so we look for alternate readings. Our friend Martin did this, as did many other trusted New Testament scholars.

It’s all ok, Junia (the female) has been reinserted and life can roll on, but the dilemma of an apparent female apostle still stands.  Well, actually that depends on which version you read.

Let me give you a snippet.  Some say, like the NIV, that ‘They (Andronicus and Junia) are outstanding among the apostles’.  That could be read in a bunch of different ways including that she was an apostle, and an excellent one at that.  Or that the apostles know her well as an outstanding believer, etc.  Or any permutation in between.  Another version, this time the ESV reads, ‘They (Andronicus and Junia) are well known to the apostles.’  This is a very particular reading.

So, the million dollar question: which reading is best?

My suspicion is that, unfortunately, though not necessarily wrongly, we will choose the one that best suits our own theology of women in ministry.  Hmmm, a little back-to-front.

And we are back to square one.