One of the books I have been reading is from conservative theologian and former (he is deceased) Southern Baptist professor Dr. Earl Ellis. He has brought to light some new thoughts (at least new to me) in this discussion. It seems there are three Scriptural areas which need to be explained/discussed: 1) Paul's positive statements regarding women's ministry in his letters, 2) I Cor. 14:33-35 which commands women/wives to be silent, and 3) I Tim 2:11-12 which states that women/wives are to learn in quietness and submission while not usurping authority or teaching over men/husbands.
Just to clarify the discussion: no one that I know of explains these passages in terms of women being inferior to men. The issue is one of roles in the church, at least that is how most conservative thinkers explain it. Both men and women are equal in their salvation and unified in Christ (Gal 3:28), however, roles may be distinct as between husband and wife or between the Father and Jesus Christ.
In this post, I want to present Dr. Ellis' arguments regarding the positive role of women in Paul's ministry. In another blog post I will present his exegesis of the I Cor and I Tim passages. All of this information can be found in his book Pauline Theology pages 53-86 which is very readable.
Paul mentions many women who are involved in ministry with him: Prisca (Priscilla), Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, Nympha (not mentioned by Ellis), and Phoebe. In fact, when we look at the biblical evidence nearly 1/4 of the names mentioned in regards to Paul's ministry are women (not from Ellis). Significantly, Phoebe (Rom 16:2) is called a "minister" or possibly "deaconess" in the church of Cenchreae. The other ladies, exluding Nympha, are called "coworkers" which is a term Paul uses elsewhere of those involved in various ministries including teaching, preaching, and prophecy. Junia was imprisoned (Rom 16:7) most likely because she was involved in some ministry which drew the ire of the Roman government: preaching and evangelism. Ellis does not mention Nympha (Col 4:15), but she needs to be added to the list as well in that her house was used for a church meeting. When we realize that only wealthy people owned homes large enough to accommodate 30-50 people for a church meeting, then we realize that Nympha was probably wealthy. Also, if the church met in her home, then there is no reason to assert that she did not administrate some aspects of the meeting. Lastly, Paul mentions that women can have the gift of prophecy (I Cor 11:5). Since prophecy is exhortation, encouragement, consolation and probably has significant overlap with what might be defined as teaching this becomes a significant point. It also creates tremendous tension with I Cor 14 where Paul tells women/wives to be silent.
Obviously Paul has a high regard for women in ministry. In fact if it were not for I Cor 14 and I Tim 2 this would most likely be a non-issue. So how does Ellis handle/explain these other passages? Does he give priority to this evidence or does he give priority to I Cor 14/1 Tim 2? Tune in next time to find out (and hopefully "next time" will be relatively soon).