Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gender Roles (6) -- Jesus and Women

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3
Read Part 4
Read Part 5

Review: God created and egalitarian order that was destroyed in the fall. This egalitarian order remained God’s ideal, however. While patriarchalism took hold quickly after the fall, there are indications in the Old Testament that God still saw women as equal participants in His purposes, using them as leaders of His people. While willing to use the patriarchalism of the world to accomplish his purposes, he did not hesitate to use women counter-culturally when it suited his purposes.

The above assessment was arrived at with some hesitation, as there are strong arguments in favor of the complimentarian perspective as well. However, on balance, I believe that the egalitarian interpretation best explains the texts. The strongest part of the egalitarian argument is their ability to explain Genesis 3 and the fall.

Admitting my own fallibility means that my assessment might be wrong. The Gospels and Epistles have not yet even been considered. The light that they shed on the Old Testament could very well tip the balance in favor of complimentarianism. As I stated at the beginning of this study, I have not yet formed an opinion on this issue. Each week enlightens my perspective so that the overall picture could change from week to week. I am simply looking at bite-sized chunks of Scripture and adding them to the “big picture” one bite at a time (mixed metaphor, I know.)

This brings us to the Gospels and the life of Christ. As the image of God, Jesus’ treatment of women will shed significant light on their role in a fallen world. So what do we see in Jesus’ interaction with women.

Clearly, Jesus had a high view of women; much higher, in fact, than the typical Jewish rabbi in his time. His dealings with specific women reinforce this (i.e. Mary and Martha, the Woman at the Well, etc.). About this there is no debate. Complimentarians and egalitarians both acknowledge that Jesus was counter-cultural in his acceptance and elevation of the place of women. The question of our study is specifically how this relates to leadership roles in the church, society, and home.

This is where the picture becomes murky. While women were disciples, and they were among His traveling entourage (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49), those appointed to be apostles were men. Romans 16:7 calls Junia an apostle, but this was clearly in a different sense from the twelve. The ones that Jesus hand-selected to lead the church from its inception were men. In fact, when a new apostle was being selected in place of Judas, one of the requirements was that he be a male (In Acts 1:21, the word is the specifically male aner rather than the more general anthropos.).

Did Christ use men because he only approves of men in these positions, or is there another explanation? To answer this involves a certain degree of speculation, since it is not directly revealed WHY Christ chose men. It is simply revealed that He did. However, the following points from the egalitarian viewpoint are worthy of consideration.

  1. The patriarchial culture cannot be dismissed. In our study of the Old Testament, we saw that God worked within the culture as much as possible, but was willing to be counter-cultural when it suited his purposes. It could be the case that Jesus’ assessment of his culture and society indicated to him that limiting the leadership roles to men would enable the establishment of the church to happen more effectively. Truly, a woman being viewed as the leader of this new movement would have created an additional stumbling block for many.
  2. Women weren’t the only class that Jesus excluded in his selection of the twelve. No Gentiles were chosen. No slaves were chosen. Yet we believe that Gentiles and (theoretically) slaves would be acceptable leaders in the church, the home, and society. If Jesus’ exclusion of women from the 12 shows His desire for exclusively male leadership, wouldn’t His exclusion of Gentiles show His desire for exclusively Jewish leadership, and wouldn’t His exclusion of slaves show His desire for exclusively freeman leadership? Perhaps his choice had more to do with using those people that he felt would most effectively accomplish his will at the time.
Jesus' choice of apostles is a significant part of this discussion. However, the above points make it at least plausible that that the selection was not intended to be a statement about Jesus' will for women throughout the Christian age. Rather, it was His statement regarding His will in that place and time.


Richard said...

I should be commenting more here, but you gave me too much homework to do! Just kidding.

Don't have a lot to say about this. Just wanted to say how much I appreciated the thought that you were putting into this material. It is so easy just to go back to default mode.

I'm still not sure what to think about this issue. Frankly, it is a difficult one for me. Everything in me wants to buy into the egalitarian position, and you have articulated it very well (esp. as it regards or heritage).

Even though my gut is telling me that this is the most sensible approach in many ways, I still have something holding me back (I can't identify it). Perhaps it is just fear. Maybe it's the Spirit, which if so would definitely not be fear because He is not a Spirit of fear.

I'm really eager to see what Paul's take on this issue is. And let me clarify that. As we have read in other places, so often people read Jesus through the eyes of Paul rather than reading Paul through the eyes of Jesus. Combined with this 6th installment, that study might help provide light for the dimness I have on this subject.

It's weird. You can't really avoid this subject. Well, what I really mean is that there is an either/or answer on this. Either Jesus' will gets bungled or women's contribution to the community of faith gets diminished. WOW! That is tough.

If Jesus were here presently in our culture walking about doing ministry, can you imagine him not incorporating women in leadership roles. This is a question that I really haven't asked myself much. But, it would be a missional blunder of mass proportions to leave out women wouldn't it. I am thinking out loud here and not trying to put words in Jesus' mouth. It just seems that if Jesus were incarnated in our culture that he unquestionably would have important public leadership roles for women.

But, then again, maybe he wouldn't. I'm hedging. Maybe he would articulate his reasons because unlike back then, currently it would not be implicitly understood that women were not public leaders. In our day, it is understood that they are public leaders (one is running for president!). So, if they were not going to be public leaders in Kingdom advancement and if Jesus were here today, he would most likely have to spell out why that was the case.

Well, that's all. I'm glad your discussing this. It certainly helps me think.

Jeff said...


Thanks for the comment. I'm also enjoying this study, although I'm finding it difficult to give it the time it deserves. Your comment about it being an either/or issue was spot on. Its the reason why I decided I couldn't put off the study any longer.

Suji (from India) said...

Very nice article. This blog is not active now, where are you n cyberspace, is there somewhere else we can read your studies? Thanks.