Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why God created women?

Amidst the comments to my previous post the following are particular challenges I would like to respond to within a post rather than another comment:

"I'm asking YOU why God created women, what did/does He ask us to do/be? I presume you have already decided what He asks you as a male to do.
" I don't have any idea how to prove that I have 'looked more deeply' into whether my arguments 'take account of the fullness of humanity, in creation and in redemption, a fullness in which men and women share completely.' You have set up the answer in this way. "When you delve more deeply, you will end up agreeing with me." Disagreement thus becomes evidence of not having 'deeply delved.' It's an impossible burden that I can never meet. "

First, I do not think God created women to be sent out for coffee. One reason why I am prepared to bat for women being able to share in all the ministries of God's church is the suspicion I harbour that lurking beneath arguments which sound principled may be a basic denial that women are equal to men. Take this comment as an instance (which I linked to in the previous post):

"I love the way that Doug Wilson writes. I might not always agree with what he writes but he has a beautiful way of putting things that only enhances what he’s saying. So, in a series of recent posts on the Women Bishops nonsense in the Church of England, and particularly N.T.Wright’s contributions, he has come up with some corkers, 
Wright also says that Junia is listed among the apostles (Rom. 16:7). He earlier was dismissive of the unusual words in 1 Tim. 2, but here is apparently unaware of the common uses of the noun and verb forms of apostello. An apostle is a “sent one,” and the verb means “to send.” Jesus was an apostle of God (Heb. 3:1), the twelve were apostles of Christ (Luke 6:13), and Paul and Barnabas were apostles of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:2-4). How much authority is involved is a pure function of the sending agency, and what the sent one is commissioned to do. Of course Junia was a sent one. But whose? To what purpose? The mere use of the word gives us no basis for promoting someone who was sent for coffee to the ranks of the Twelve."

It is not a beautiful way to put things to ascribe the apostolic Junia as "someone who was sent for coffee." It sounds belittling to me.

Nevertheless, I accept that there are principled arguments for denying women may share in all the offices of the church. In respect of the second comment above I do not want to (and apologise if I set things up in the previous post to look as though I do) set up an unwinnable argument about looking more deeply into the fullness of humanity of women. If I implied that I could not accept any look in depth that disagreed with my own conclusions then I went too far. The point I am trying to make I will now put this way: I think we (especially we men) owe it to women to check, re-check and double check that any argument we bring against women being ordained to roles such as presbyter and bishop does not hide within it a diminution of women's full humanity.

If, having checked, re-checked and double checked that no such diminiution is overt or covert then we may have an argument against women's ordination that is coherent with the full humanity of women. (Obviously I think Mr Wilson, cited above, fails my standard on the matter! And I wonder if the writer who commends him would write so approvingly if he checked, re-checked and double checked what he has written. Sent out for coffee? Yeah, right!).

So, back to the first comment: positively, what do I think God created women to be and to do?

First and foremost I think God created women and men to people the earth, to enjoy its goodness, to steward its resources, and to praise its Creator. To people the earth, men and women come together in marriage in order to create families, for without one another the peopling of the earth fails, and following this particular aspect of God's purpose for men and for women, men become husbands and fathers and women become wives and mothers.

Secondly, God created women and men for service: serving God and serving one another. At the heart of Jesus' own vision for humanity is a vision for serving one another: the least is the greatest, the last is first, love one another. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. I sense that from this perspective we should understand the word 'helper' in Genesis 2:18-25: a 'man' alone (whether a male or a female) has no equal counterpart to form human society, so 'man' alone became 'male and female he created them' (binding both Genesis 1 and 2 together). Neither beast nor bird creates human society: men and women do. But each is to be 'helper' (or, in the language of Jesus, 'servant') to the other. What Adam exclaims when he discovers Eve is not 'At last, a helper' but 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.'

Inevitably, in our service of God and of one another, specific directions are given. As people met Jesus on the way, some were called to literally follow him, others were sent back to their place of residency, but all were asked to live the lifestyle of the kingdom (cf. the Sermon on the Mount and other teaching). Within the kingdom there seems to be only one constant role for its citizens: service.

When New Testament talk moves to 'church' it seems to reckon both with the question of diversity-in-unity (so talk about the body of Christ, members of one body, diverse gifts, one Spirit) and practical arrangements for the daily and weekly life of churches (who hosts, leads, serves, teaches but, as noted here in the last few days, without mention of who presides at eucharist). Previously, I have argued that the early days of the church were days of pneumatological flexibility: the charismatic church rather than the institutional church. Within that flexibility offices were created as required (e.g. Acts 6), instructions were given to fit local conditions (e.g. 1 Timothy - and they were local conditions because in different conditions today we ignore most of 1 Timothy's instructions about practical arrangements for church life: men do not raise hands in prayer, widows are no longer organised according to Paul's instructions).

What has God created men and women for in the church? To serve one another, to serve the cause of the gospel, to love one another through the power of the Spirit. The richness of talk of submitting to one another, of being fellow workers working together with God is a richness which comes from the profound foundational truth of the church that it is birthed through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on men and women, a baptism of the Spirit in which there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek because the church is the one body of Christ inclusive without distinction of all humanity who make its members.

God created men and women for freedom in Christ, constrained only by the law of Christ which is to love one another. This profound gospel truth, vehemently propounded by Paul in Galatians, is our guide to the roles of men and women in the church. What has God created us for? To love God, love our neighbour, love our enemy and love one another.

ADDENDUM: John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar has posted something which relates very closely to what I am trying to say here. My quick, and initial comment (also in a comment below) is this:

In that post I suggest John R is coming very close to what I am saying and veering away from it at precisely the point which worries me: by emphasising woman as image of the image-bearer, whether he wishes to or not, he sets up the conditions under which women may be treated as lesser than men.

In a slightly larger comment I suggest we need to consider whether his understanding of adam as 'collective singular' precisely fails to acknowledge that as a collective singular noun it includes the one collection Genesis 1:26 and 5:1b-2 refers to, 'male and female.' Crucial here is Genesis 5:1b-2 (noted by John, so fascinating that he understand its implication differently to me):

"When God created man (adam), he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man (adam) when they were created." (ESV).

The adam is collective singular: they are male and female - it (adam-kind) is male and female.

Further, in setting out the relationship between 'Adam' and 'Christ' he drives this to settle an argument that Adam (the male) is the image-bearer of God and this Eve (the female) is the image of the image-bearer. But the Adam in whom we all sin and therefore die is the collective in action, the male and the female  engaging together as humankind falls - each is culpable (as, perhaps ironically in this present discussion, is drawn attention to by 1 Timothy 2:13-14). It is 'humankind' which falls and Christ is the representative and first fruit of the new humanity in whom we live. Paul, I suggest, understands this in at least two places in his writings. In Galatians 3:28, the new humanity, those who are 'in Christ', are 'neither male nor female'. In 1 Corinthians 11:11, he writes, 'Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman'.

To ignore these texts when attempting to argue that men image God as image-bearers of God and that women are images of the image-bearers (a derivative relationship) is a problematical theological exercise because it does not seem to allow for what Genesis 5:1b-2, Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:11 are saying, men and women as one humanity image God, scar that image and in Christ are restored as that image.


Rosemary Behan said...

I can't put it better than the Ugley Vicar who must have cross posted with you. I might add something later, but I wing home tomorrow and am packing and cleaning.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Can you show me where the modern idea, or even the word, 'equality' appears in Scripture? Or in nature?

As I have said before, the issue if "equality" is not helpful to the debate one way or another.

Doug Wilson has a biting wit, and I don't always agree with him, but I have read enough of his articles to know that he does not "belittle" women.

I just cannot see how the theme of "behind this opposition to WO is sexism."


What is the difference between that and those who say to you and I that behind our support for Biblical marriage is "homophobia"?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
I presume you are referring to this

In that post I suggest John R is coming very close to what I am saying and veering away from it at precisely the point which worries me: by emphasising woman as image of the image-bearer, whether he wishes to or not, he sets up the conditions under which women may be treated as lesser than men.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
My point does not rest on 'equal' being used in Scripture, let alone the modern idea of 'equality.' My point rests on the scriptural idea that men and women were created by God and redeemed by Christ, without a priority being given to one gender over another, nor with one gender being valued by God over the other gender.

Biting wit can be a most unfortunate way to talk to or about people. I have hurt too many people in my life through 'biting wit.' While I can appreciate that everywhere else in Wilson's writings he does not belittle women, I find his comment about Junia being sent out for coffee to be demeaning.

I was not aware that I had developed a theme that behind the opposition to WO is sexism. I am developing a theme that opposition to WO may unwittingly foster or even be presupposed on a diminution of the value of women as fully human. Sexism I take to be a deliberate intent to diminish or even denigrate women.

I have had no one say to me that support for biblical marriage is homophobia.

Rosemary Behan said...

Briefly, if you believe as I do, that God has created us 'helper/helpmeet .. a task that is supremely His, then He has honoured us beyond our capacity to understand, and not created us as images of the image bearer.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
I think I understand what you are saying and the particular insight about God bestowing on us a special honour which is key to it.

It is not, as you can see from my post, how I understand 'helper'; nor is it what I understand John Richardson to be saying.

But that doesn't matter: your view has a power of its own and doesn't need John Richardson to underpin it!

carl jacobs said...


I am developing a theme that opposition to WO may unwittingly foster or even be presupposed on a diminution of the value of women as fully human.

Which is exactly what I said you were doing. This is an admission that you are appealing to a character flaw in your opponent. Assume Bob makes an argument against WO. The content of Bob's argument no longer matters because Bob's argument is 'presupposed on a diminution of the value of women as fully human.' Bob must now defend himself against such charges even as his argument has been completely delegitimized. The listener is told to infer that the only reason Bob is making this argument is because of his underlying presupposition, and that Bob would not be making the argument if that presupposition was removed.

Now assume Bill makes the same argument against WO but Bill in truth is not making that argument from a "presupposed [...] diminution of the value of women as fully human." Does it matter? Bill's argument is identical to Bob's argument. If Bob has been delegitimized then so by extension has Bill. And so it goes.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
I am NOT appealing to a character flaw in a particular group of people per se. I am appealing to an observable fact that any one of us, whether or not we have a character defect, may sincerely arrive at a flawed conclusion on the basis of unseen, or unintended faulty presuppositions.

Having been critiqued many times for flawed arguments I am only too aware of getting things wrong when seeking to propound a matter. I see that not as a character defect but as a mental defect (i.e. my brain is not large enough and fast enough in its intellectual capacity to process all aspects of a case) - a mental defect remedied by the corporate engagement of many defective minds in conversation!

On your instances above I am simply saying that Bob's argument bears the strictest of examinations at the deepest level because these matters are not conceptual when it comes to the status of women in societies, including the church. So does Bill's argument. On what I am saying one might pass muster and the other might not. The question of the character of either proponent does not come into the matter (unless otherwise evidenced, in which case, I suggest both Bob and Bill take care about sending Junia out for coffee!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Ok, that clarifies things somewhat for me. Thanks.

About my last point, there has been the accusation on this blog, and in many articles I have read, that opposition to same-sex marriage is homophobia and/or hatred and devaluing of homosexuals as human beings. We have both read or heard that view being expressed. And considering how that tends to put my back up straight away and make me less inclined to listen to anything else a person may say, you can perhaps see why a similar approach to the issue of WO seems unhelpful to me.

But I am open to the possibility that I have not understood your point very well.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn
On the 'homophobia' charge I would distinguish between a way of expressing opposition to legal/civic/ecclesiastical recognition of same sex partnerships (including 'marriages') which receives a response that the opposition involves homophobia, and support for marriage not being extended to include same sex partnerships because of the historic and traditional character of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Agreed, the former is part and parcel of i-conversations, including here on ADU; on the latter I am less able to recall principled support for marriage being marriage inviting the charge of homophobia.

Tim Harris said...

Peter - this is an excellent post, and I think your treatment is spot on - which is to say I agree entirely ;-) Three brief points to add:

1. That Phoebe is the likely conveyer and reader of Romans is in the 'very likely' category. It should be noted that those delivering a letter - and certainly one of this length and complexity - are coached and entrusted with its delivery and meaning. Public reading skills were not common, and given the extent of formal and informal 'diatribe' within Romans, the ability to read such material was only schooled through an advanced level of education (equivalent to our tertiary). It suggests a significantly educated reader (not uncommon among wealthier women).

2. The 'sending out for coffee' line reminds me of the appalling LB translation as 'dear Christian helper' Recent research has established that diakonos often conveyed the sense of authorised emissary (esp. John N Collins - so convincing that the latest ed. of BDAG revised its entry). Rom. 16:1 certainly indicates a significant church role for Phoebe, in addition to be a patroness to Paul.
(3rd point to follow)

Tim Harris said...

3. Much debate also overlooks a significant dimension that is beyond dispute - that women were well recognised as prophets in NT times. The attempt by Grudem and others to strip this ministry of anything resembling 'authority' is quite unconvincing. Through prophecy women (indisputably) had a significant voice and ministry within the church and beyond, and the prioritised list in 1 Cor. 12:28 (compare Eph. 4:11) does suggest that prophets were at the cutting edge and foundational ministry side of things.

The NT evidence makes it clear that prophets were entrusted with communicating messages from God, and with speaking to the 'here and now' on the basis of engaging with scripture. Much of what we see in the NT regarding prophecy is similar to our modern 'pulpit' ministry - applying scripture to present day issues and concerns. The church did not bestow authority on prophets, but (where discerned) recognised the validity and authority of this ministry as bestowed by God.

In the attempt to remove women from anything that resembles an authoritative voice and ministry I do believe - in all seriousness - that churches are in danger of quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19-20).

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Tim!

carl jacobs said...


I am appealing to an observable fact that any one of us, whether or not we have a character defect, may sincerely arrive at a flawed conclusion on the basis of unseen, or unintended faulty presuppositions.

Presuppositions may not be so easily disconnected from character. If a man says "Black men should not marry white women because black people are in fact less than human, a higher form of animal" we do not say that he has arrived at 'a flawed conclusion on the basis of unseen, or unintended faulty presuppositions.' We call him a racist. If a man presupposes the non-existence of God, we do not say he has arrived at 'a flawed conclusion.' Indeed we should call him a fool for that is what the Scripture calls him. God has much to say about those who deny He exists, and all of it reflects on the unbeliever's character. The unbeliever will be judged for it. So when you say of me 'you are making an argument presupposed on a diminution of the value of women as fully human' you are making a statement about my character and not just my argument. You are accusing me of moral fault - whether it be knowing or unknowing on my part. If what you say is true, then I would be bound to amend my life and beliefs to address the moral fault. My argument has not been proven wrong. It has been undermined by the recognition of the moral fault that sustained it in the first place.

You are also working backwards from the argument to the moral fault. This is why Bob's argument may be used to impeach Bill. All you can hear is the argument. You can't see into a man's soul to know his motivations. So if you infer the moral fault on Bob's part, then you will also infer the moral fault on Bill's part. If Bob's argument is identical to Bill's argument, then Bill must likewise be adjudged guilty because there is no way to observably separate the two cases. If you do not understand that this logic is used over and over (and over and over and over...) in the case of homosexuality, then you simply haven't been paying attention. It's also used over and over (and over and over and over...) in the case of WO and for the same reason. Why do you think it is called a 'justice' issue? Why do you think words like 'bigot' and 'misogynist' are so easily cast about?

Your argument is exactly what I said it was: "You are sexists, but you don't mean to be." At which point, I deny the major premise and the dialog ends. Now you can keep hammering on this premise or not. But there is no progress to be made along this line of argument.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
It is you who keeps connecting faulty presuppositions to character.

I in my lifetime of arguing have been forced to realise that I have faulty presuppositions. Generally I do not think they reveal something about my character (as in racist, sexist, etc, though let me be clear that I am more than capable of sinning in those respects). They certainly reveal something about the limitations of my mind.

MichaelA said...

"It is not a beautiful way to put things to ascribe the apostolic Junia as "someone who was sent for coffee." It sounds belittling to me."

I agree.

Wilson appears to be making the point that "apostle" is used in different senses in the New Testament, which is true, but its not correct at all to equate any of these apostles as people who made the coffee (and let me know I appreciate Wilson was using hyperbole).

The word Apostle in the New Testament doesn't always mean one of Christ's Apostles, i.e. those commissioned to deliver God's word to the Church. The Twelve, and St Paul and the believing brothers of Christ (James and Jude) were apostles in this sense.

But neither is it true that "apostles of the churches" were just "making coffee" for other apostles. These people, like Titus and his brethren in 2 Cor 8:23, still had a very responsible position. They carried messages and collections of money between the churches, and great trust was placed in them.

Their role was not to deliver God's word to the churches, as it was for the Apostles like Paul and Peter.

Peter Carrell said...

So, Michael, using English, there were Apostles (who preached) and apostles (who didn't preach). Fascinating! How strange of the early church to use the same word for very different roles.

No wonder some of us get a bit confused about who is meant to have which role and who is not!

MichaelA said...


It is the same with the words for 'deacon', 'priest' and 'bishop' - these are just the common Greek words for servant, old man, and overseer or foreman. Whether a particular passage means a 'servant' or a 'deacon' for example, is determined by its context.

Tim Harris said...


There are significant studies that challenge the view (actually quite a modern one) that 'servant' and 'deacon' are interchangeable - this is largely a 20th century misconception coming out of German scholarship that is discredited. If you want detail, see the studies by John N Collins, Diakonia, and (independently) Anni Hentschel, Diakonia Im Neuen Testament.

In short, the closest Grk term for 'servant' (actually, better 'slave') is doulos, and applies to all who follow Christ, while diakonos designates some form of authorized 'go between' type of function - from 'waiters' (go between table and kitchen), through to high status ambassadors or emissaries.

The point is that a renewed appreciation for the significant diaconal ministry is reshaping both our reading of the NT, and also contemporary modes of ministry.

MichaelA said...

Tim, I think you may have missed my point, which was that diakonos is a common (in the sense of regularly occurring) Greek word, which does not inherently mean the Christian office.

I agree with your general summary of the distinction between doulos and diakonos, but it is nevertheless the case that the latter word is often translated 'servant' (depending on the context of course). For example:

"For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." [Romans 13:4 NIV]

In both cases the word 'servant' translates diakonos. It clearly doesn't mean 'Deacon'. There are several more passages like this.

My point was simply that whether or not the word "diakonos" refers to a Christian office or order must be determined by the context of the passage in which it appears. The same applies to the common Greek words apostolos, presbyteros and episkopos.

Tim Harris said...

Hi MichaelA,

I do understand - and agree - with your point that diakonos is a common Greek word and does not necessarily designate a Christian office - context needs to determine the sense. My qualification on this is that two extensive studies have argued persuasively that it *never* means 'servant' in any occurrence outside the NT, which suggests that it should not be translated that way in the NT.

The studies are relatively recent (in the past two decades) and most translations are yet to catch up. However, the major NT lexicon (BAGD) has revised its entry in the new edition in 2000.

Your point is however quite valid - the term has a broad semantic domain and does not in and of itself designate an 'office', but it does tend to reflect some form of authorised or commissioned task.

MichaelA said...

"two extensive studies have argued persuasively that it *never* means 'servant' in any occurrence outside the NT"

Tim, that sounds most unlikely, with respect. My background is classical Greek and I have no problem reading things like this. Do you have a link to the two studies?

Tim Harris said...

MIchaelA - as noted above, you can see extensive and detailed study in works by John N Collins, Diakonia, and (independently) Anni Hentschel, Diakonia Im Neuen Testament (do a google search to get full bibliographic details). I think Hentschel is especially persuasive.

Tim Harris said...

MichaelA - having reread my comment, I need to clarify that the sense of diakonia that Collins and Hentschel dispute is 'servant' as someone undertaking an essentially lowly or charitable work. It may apply to anyone given a task or commission (regardless of status, high or low), so it could include servants in that sense - but not servants qua lowly servants, but rather servants who have been given a task. It is hard to summarise the nuances in a brief comment, except to say that the term has a much wider semantic field than our English rendering.

Bryden Black said...

Back to Prophecy and the NT status of prophets. A number of years ago I encountered Thomas Gillespie's The First Theologians: A study in Early Christian Prophecy (1994). It's a refreshing take on what it might mean for the Church to be founded on the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20) - an often missed aspect. Not least as women were seriously represented among NT prophets. And therefore what might be the consequences for later women's ordination?!

MichaelA said...

"I need to clarify that the sense of diakonia that Collins and Hentschel dispute is 'servant' as someone undertaking an essentially lowly or charitable work...."

That's quite a difference to your original formulation which I took issue with, Tim! ;)

Just as well. I wasn't looking forward to reading theology in German - possible, but not pleasant!