You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Women's ministry in the church Part 3: I Tim 2:9-3:1a

This is the third and final post regarding Dr. Earl Ellis' view of women in ministry. In the first post, I covered Dr. Ellis' observations noting the positive role of women in Paul's ministry and churches. In the second post, I examined I Cor 14:34f which in Ellis' view limits only the role of certain married women in the exercise of their gifts. In this third post, Ellis' view of another "limiting" passage will be examined: I Tim 2:9-3:1a.

Ellis begins by comparing I Tim 2:9-13 with I Cor 14:34f and I Pet 3:3-6. His purpose in doing this is twofold: 1) he wants readers to note the similarities in vocabulary and topic between these three passages, and 2) he wants readers to conclude that Paul is using a traditional "household code" in I Tim 2:9-13. The second point needs to be unpacked a bit. One of Ellis' contributions to scholarship has been his observation that Paul utilized several early church traditions in his epistles. A tradition can be understood as a hymn or statement of faith which the early church utilized in its meetings. Some of these may have been written by Paul himself, although that is not significant. Perhaps the most agreed upon traditional piece which scholars recognize is Phil 2:6-11. "Household codes" are common in the NT letters. They are exhortations given to those of the household: husbands, wives, children, slaves, and masters (e.g. Eph 5). Ellis argues that this I Tim 2 passage is a traditional piece which circulated in the early church that is also a "household code" which is primarily discussing the role of husbands and wives. What Paul has done here is to take the "household code" and juxtapose it with the church worship setting.

Based on the conclusion that these are traditional "household codes," Ellis argues that the words for "women" and "men" should be understood to be "wives" and "husbands." These are the same Greek words used in the I Cor 14:34f passage (surprise! surprise! See the second post for more details). Since their semantic range encompasses both possibilities, it is up to contextual clues to tip the scale one way or the other. Ellis notes three contextual clues to support a "wife/husband" reading: 1) the relationship of this passage with other "household codes", 2) Paul uses the illustration of Adam and Eve which points to the marriage relationship, and 3) the promise to the "observant woman, which is connected with childbirth" (Ellis, Pauline Theology, 72). This appeal to women giving birth points to the household setting and not the worship setting.

Thus, Ellis concludes that Paul does not allow a married woman to teach or exercise authority over her own husband. A single woman, however, is not limited by this and has more ministry flexibility. What is key here in understanding Ellis is that he views Paul as limiting certain women not because they are women, but only if their practice of gifts would violate the roles in marriage. In other words, Paul is very open to women exercising their gifts and assuming various roles in the church, but if their exercise of ministry causes them to violate their role in marriage, then they should limit themselves.

One final point which Ellis makes concerns the role of bishop which is discussed in I Tim 3:2. This post is in danger of being too long already, so I will just give Ellis' conclusion. Ellis notes that Paul may also exclude women from becoming bishops in the church if we understand the bishop to be a single leader of a church. Another option, which Ellis also states is valid, is that women are not excluded from this role if the leadership structure of the church has multiple leaders (i.e. multiple bishops/plurality). Once again, however, if this role causes the women to be teaching or in authority over her husband, then she would have to step down.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Women's ministry in the church Part 2: I Cor 14:34-35

This is part 2 of my summary of Dr. Earl Ellis' thoughts regarding women in ministry. As I mentioned last week, there are at least three major textual areas which need to be discussed: 1) Paul's positive statements regarding women's ministry, 2) I Cor 14:33-34 which commands women/wives to be silent, and 3) I Tim 2:11-12 which commands women/wives to learn in quietness and not to teach and usurp authority over men/husbands. Last time I summarized some of the positive statements which Paul made in regards to women in the church, and we saw that there are verses which show a significant role which Paul gave to women. Originally, I had thought to deal with both I Cor 14 and I Tim 2 in one blog post, but I now think I will divide them into separate posts in case we want to comment on each passage individually. So this entry is Dr. Ellis' thoughts on I Cor 14: 34-35.

Here is the text, "...women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (I Cor 14:34-35 NIV)

Ellis first notes that this passage has four qualifications to it. Before mentioning them, however, it is important to note that the word "women" (Gk: γυνη) can be translated as "women" or as "wife." Context decides. Ellis understands the word to be "wives," but is this justified? Several contextual clues point to the more specific reading of "wives":1) Paul mentions that they should ask their husbands. Surely Paul would not be so careless as to assume that all his female church attendees are married. It makes sense that he is limiting his discussion to married women. 2) Paul mentions that the Law states that wives should be in submission. This is most likely not a reference to the regulations given on Sinai, but is more generally a reference to the first five books of the OT - the Pentateuch which are also regularly called "the Law." Paul is probably referencing Gen 3:16 and the results of the Fall for women which states that the husband will "rule" (NIV) the wife. "The Law" does not speak about women being silent, but it does speak of wives being submissive to their husbands.

Now to Ellis' qualifications: First, the teaching is directed to married women and not to women in general. This is seen by the reference to asking "their own husbands." Obviously, if you are not married then you cannot ask your husband. Second, this only applies to wives of Christian men because a saved women would not go home from church and ask her unsaved husband. The image is laughable. Third, it seems to apply only to Christian wives married to Christian husbands which are actually present at the service. This makes sense in that a wife would most likely ask her husband about some teaching/event happening at the church service. If he is out of town, then he cannot answer as he wasn't at the meeting in the first place. Lastly, this passage is probably specifically written to instruct gifted wives of male prophets. These specific wives should be silent and submissive when their husbands are prophesying. For Paul, it is disrespectful for the wife to publicly challenge her husband as he is exercising his gift of prophecy. She should wait and talk with him at home so that the marriage roles are not violated.

Since the last point is the most significant and debatable, I will separate out his reasons supporting it in a new paragraph. First, the immediate context surrounding the text is about the proper use of the gift of prophecy in the worship service (14:29-33 and 39-40). This significantly supports Ellis' argument that the restriction regards the proper way for married couples to exercise their gift of prophecy in the church. Second, in verses 29-30 Paul directs prophets to speak in an orderly manner, to keep their numbers limited, and then weigh carefully what is said by the other prophets. In other words the prophecy/prophet needs to be tested. This involves discussion - orderly discussion. But what if the situation involves a husband and wife who both have the gift of prophecy? Does Paul want husbands and wives to be debating each other publicly as they practice their gifts? Ellis concludes that this is the specific situation happening in Corinth.

To summarize Ellis' argument for this passage: Paul's command is that in situations where both a husband and a wife have the gift of prophecy, then the wife should wait until they get home if she needs to disagree or discuss the husband's prophecy. In this way, the marriage roles are kept in place as per the Genesis passage.

This blog has already broken a key blog rule: keep it short. However, I am very interested in hearing critical readings of Ellis view. Is this reading tenable?