The Role of Women in Christian Ministry

women

A number of issues relating to the role of women will be assessed, especially exegesis of the pertinent passages and the meaning of key words. A summary of the biblical teaching and its application in today’s situation will also be attempted. While differing views will be mentioned lack of space prevents a comprehensive rehearsal of the opposing arguments.

1. Introduction

A number of issues relating to the role of women will be assessed, especially exegesis of the pertinent passages and the meaning of key words. A summary of the biblical teaching and its application in today’s situation will also be attempted. While differing views will be mentioned lack of space prevents a comprehensive rehearsal of the opposing arguments.

In grappling with this issue it is important to note a number of more fundamental factors which will influence one’s approach. Some of these are discussed briefly where necessary in commenting on texts below; however they are raised here as anyone reading in this area will soon realise their importance and the variety of approaches they can engender. For an example of the way these issues play into the discussion, and can dominate it, see Giles’ article and the responses.»1 It may well be that the whole debate will move more to these areas than discussion of the texts in question.

 

Hermeneutics

Particularly important factors are:

  • –    the accuracy with which background settings of letters can be determined and the extent to which they should affect our reading of the letter;
  • –    the extent to which the cultural embodiment of a biblical principle and the principle itself can be distinguished;
  • –    the affect of difficult verses within some of the texts in question»2: here we find the difference between saying we may not understand all of a passage fully and saying we therefore cannot understand/apply any of it.

 

Systematics

There is great variation in the way different texts are synthesised: some arguments turn on asserting which are the more ‘fundamental’ texts and reading all others in their light. Typically this involves either taking Gal 3:28 as fundamental and reading equality of roles from it into other texts, or pitting the descriptive texts of what women did against the didactic texts prohibiting ministry.

 

Today’s culture

It is very easy for the changes in today’s culture with regard to the role of women to affect our view on this subject – and this cuts both ways. One side can think that any restrictions on the role of women today are simply hangovers of ignorant male chauvinism, and the other side can see any consideration of change as bowing to liberal feminism. Others still see application of biblical principles as being radically determined by our cultural setting.

 

Related issues

Clearly one’s overall view of Biblical teaching on personhood and sexuality, and also about male-female relationships in marriage come into play in this discussion.

 

2. Meaning of ‘Head’

2.1  Introduction

This is an important issue for understanding 1 Cor 11 (and also Eph 5). The main debate is whether kephale carries a meaning of leader/superior and hence ‘authority over’ or a meaning of ‘source’, especially ‘source of life’, with no connotations of authority. Understanding of Paul’s meaning should come from (a) his own use by examination of each context, (b) examination of the LXX which is the most determinative document for lexical studies outside of the NT, and (c) extra-biblical literature from as close to NT period as possible.

»NOTE: There are no other occurrences of kephale in the NT in other than a literal sense outside of the Pauline literature.]

 

2.2  Pauline literature

There are seven passages in which Paul uses kephale. These are shown in the table below.

Examination of these shows that authority is a common theme to least some of them. It is true that others have an element of ‘source of life’ which needs to be acknowledged. However this is both not as dominant as some claim, and is also a ‘both/and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ situation. Arnold has demonstrated that the references in Ephesians and Colossians are most probably drawn from a physiological understanding of the head functioning as the leader/authority and the source of growth/nourishment.»3

 

Text Summary Comment
1 Cor 11:3 Christ head of man; man head of woman; God head of Christ Passage does involve discussion of origin (v8), but also involves issues of authority
Eph 1:22 God placing all things under Christ’s feet and making him head over everything Superiority and authority are clear from context
Eph 4:15 Growth of the body up into the head who is Christ The idea of growth is present but so is that of leadership
Eph 5:23 Husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church Leadership/authority is clearly present but so is source of nourishment
Col 1:18 Christ is head of the church Firstborn gives idea of supremacy and original source
Col 2:19 From Christ the head the whole body grows Source of growth is clear but so is leadership

 

2.3  LXX

Ro’sh is used of a leader/superior 180 times in the OT.  In the LXX this is often translated as arcon (60%) but another 13 words are used to translate it includingkephale (18 times)»4. Of these 6 are variant readings, 4 preserve a head/tail contrast and 8 are definite examples.

Hence it is claimed by one side that this is an unusual translation so rare that that the metaphorical use of kephale to mean leader/superior is without support.»5Further, given the restriction of most of the occurrences to one section of Judges (10:18; 11:8, 9, 11), it is further claimed to be the result of one particular scribe who was unaware of this inappropriate use.»6

In response:

  • The dismissal of variant readings should not be allowed: while the variants clearly exist they still demonstrate that kephale was used of a leader/superior; more than their presence in some manuscripts, and their meaning in that context, is not being claimed.
  • Ruling authority may still be present in the head-tail contrast; examination of the context suggests that it is.
  • The small fraction of translations of ro’sh by kephale is actually to be expected unless the translators were to preserve a metaphorical meaning every time. Instead they chose words for which the normal meaning was ‘ruler’. This does not demonstrate they thought kephale was inappropriate, only that they did not seek to use a metaphor in the majority of passages.
  • Some of the other words than arcon are used to translate ro’sh meaning leader/superior are found only a handful of times, but no one questions whether the same meaning is intended.
  • No LXX examples of kephale meaning ‘source’ are found. Given the normal rules of lexical study the fact that 18 examples of one interpretation but none of another are found is decisive.

 

Interested in reading further ? Read Here

 

Graham BeynonAbout the Author

This article is an extract from the writing of Graham Beynon who is minister of Avenue Community Church – a recent church plant in Leicester