A Closer Examination of Junia, the Female Apostle

Part 1: Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women’s Leadership
Part 3: Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives

Yesterday I posted on the subject of women leadership, and also posted links to some reposted posts from Matt Colvin’s old Fragmenta blog. Matt has since reposted some further old posts, a couple of which dovetail nicely into some of the points that I made in my post on women’s leadership.

Within my post I argued that there is no reason why we should be at all reticent to speak of Junia in Romans 16:7 as a female apostle. It is by far the most natural reading of the verse. Although we have no evidence of other female apostles, I believe that a better understanding of ordination and Church offices within the Bible will help us to appreciate why: a) Junia can be spoken of as a female apostle; b) why we should not be that surprised that we do not see other female apostles being mentioned; c) how this is quite consistent with women not teaching or exercising authority over men.


Matt, taking two articles by James Jordan on eldership and maturity as his starting point, provides some insights that help to unlock this particular subject. One of the key observations in Jordan’s approach concerns the place of deacons:

Modern Presbyterianism has invented the office of deacon. The deacons are a group of men, they say, who handle the physical side of Church life: maintaining the property, carrying out works of charity, and controlling the money. This notion is based on Acts 6, taken out of its Biblical context.

In reality, and this is pretty obvious from the Bible as a whole, a deacon is an assistant and/or apprentice elder. Joshua was Moses’ deacon; Elisha was Elijah’s deacon; Gehazi was Elisha’s deacon; Baruch was Jeremiah’s deacon. The Twelve were Jesus’ deacons, and after they became elders, they enlisted other men as their deacons.

The deacons of Acts 6 took care of physical needs under the oversight and direction of the elders, the apostles. The diaconate is not a separate office, but the training ground for the office of overseer. Elisha “poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Ki. 3:11). According to 1 Kings 20:21, Elisha “ministered to” Elijah. The Twelve fed the 5000 while Jesus taught them, and then cleaned up the loaves and fishes.

If the elder is the Jedi Master, the deacon is his padawan. The deacon is the assistant and the apprentice of the elder. In the case of someone like Elisha we see that Elijah is given a commission in 1 Kings 19:15-17. As part of his task, Elijah has to be anointed as the prophet in his place. Elisha becomes the padawan of Master Elijah, serving his needs and supporting his mission.

In many respects the two become a single unit, Elisha represents Elijah and participates in his mission. Elijah never personally performs the first two items on the to-do list that God gave him in 1 Kings 19:15-17. It isn’t until 2 Kings 8-9, a while after Elijah’s ascension, that these tasks are performed – by Elisha. When Elijah ascends, Elisha receives a double portion (the lot of the firstborn) of Elijah’s spirit, and continues Elijah’s mission. As Master Elijah’s padawan, Elisha doesn’t receive a distinct commission of his own, but serves as a helper, and later successor, to Elijah in the performance of his.

Taking up Jordan’s observation, Matt remarks:

…calling a man a διάκονος is rather like calling him an “assistant”: such a title ordinarily involves attachment to some other person or institution, whose ends the διάκονος is devoted to: “Is Christ a διάκονος of Sin?” (Gal. 2:17). Within the church, the natural assumption is that a deacon is an assistant to an elder, which fits with the pattern Jordan identifies with the prophets and their pupils. We might also note that the qualifications for the two offices (given in the pastoral epistles) are virtually identical, for this very reason.

The point that the deacon is one who is closely attached to another person or institution is crucial for our purposes here. The diaconate is not a self-standing office, but an office that receives its rationale and character from the person or institution with which it is aligned and which it serves and helps.

Matt relates this to Jewish practice:

But first, let me reiterate the historical background. The Jews of Jesus’ day had an institution in which the laying on of hands (semikah) could effect the authorization of a new Rabbi by an existing one. The act was conceptualized according to the OT pattern established by Moses, who laid his hands on Joshua. Because the verb samakh denotes a forceful leaning, not a mere laying, the metaphor is that of pressing one’s personality and power into one’s emissary. The Rabbis state that (y. Meg. 74a) “a man’s shaliach is as if he were the man himself” – so that Eliezer of Damascus had full authority to ask Rebekah’s hand for Isaac, without her parents needing to worry that Abraham might rescind the offer.

He also, contra Jordan – on this point I side with Matt – argues that those traditionally understood to be deacons in Acts 6 are not deacons, but elders, representing the people, rather than the apostles. The apostles do not lay hands on the Seven, but the people. The Seven do the work of the people, as the representatives of the people, they do not represent and directly serve the apostles in their mission. From that time onwards, the book of Acts speaks of the apostles and the elders.

The Apostolic Shaliach

In his second post, Matt examines the case of Timothy, questioning whether he was the bishop of Ephesus, during the period of Paul’s ministry, as tradition has suggested. He argues that Timothy’s ministry does not seem to have been the geographically bounded ministry of a regular pastor. Rather, Timothy is Paul’s ‘shaliach’, the one who personally represents Paul where Paul himself cannot be. As such, Timothy participates in the exercise of Paul’s apostolic ministry. He is the co-author of epistles (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1), Paul’s personal emissary (Acts 19:22; 1 Timothy 1:3), and the one who served Paul, so that Paul could give himself to his primary task of preaching without any distraction (cf. Acts 18:1-5).

Here we see that Timothy participated directly in Paul’s exercise of his apostolic power. Paul and Timothy are a pair, bound together in a single apostolic mission. On occasions the distinction between them is made plain – only Paul is the apostle proper – while on others their alignment is stressed – Timothy is a co-worker, helper, and sharer in Paul’s calling. Relative to the churches to which they were ministering Timothy was to be treated as a bearer of Paul’s own authority. However, relative to Paul, Timothy was a subordinate, without an independent commission of his own, but rather a share in Paul’s.

The relationship between Paul and Timothy is exceptional close, and Paul speaks of Timothy as his son. This language is not merely that of emotional closeness, but of representation: the son represents the father, his authority, presence, and interests. It also points to a relationship similar to that which pertained between Old Testament leaders and prophets and their shaliachs. In Numbers 13:16 we see that Joshua’s name was given to him by Moses, who also lays his hands on Joshua in Deuteronomy 34:9. A similar relationship exists between Elijah and Elisha: Elisha receives a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit, the inheritance appropriate to the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17), and, as Elijah is taken into heaven, Elisha addresses him as his ‘father’ (2 Kings 2).

Matt writes:

Timothy is sent. This is the hallmark of an apostle or shaliach — indeed, both nouns have their roots in the respective verbs “to send” (Hebrew shalah and Greek ἀποστέλλω). Phil. 2:20: “I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Τimothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state.” Paul sends Timothy to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 16:10, stating that he is to do the same job as Paul himself: “If Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do . Therefore let no one despise him.” Timothy’s work is the same as Paul’s. On several other occasions, Paul mentions that Timothy is doing “the work of the Lord” or is a “fellow-worker with me” or a “fellow-worker with God.” I would suggest that these terms should be taken as vivid expressions of the shaliach role, first of Paul, as an apostle sent by God or Christ to do Christ’s work, and then by Timothy, who, sent by Paul as Paul’s own shaliach, is likewise engaged in the same work as his master, and is thus, as it were, a second-order shaliach of Christ. (My wife wisecracks: “Yeah, he [sc. Christ] is so important that his secretary has a secretary!”) He is referred to by Paul as “my fellow worker” in Rom. 16:21. 1 Tim. 4:6 refers to Timothy as a διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, a servant of Christ Jesus. It is unclear whether this is a more general appellation, or refers to his role as the delegate of Christ’s delegate. Nonetheless, the point is clear: Timothy is Paul’s plenipotentiary emissary, not a local pastor. He stands on one side with Paul as Christ’s representative, not on the other side with the Seven and other elders as the Church’s representative.

He proceeds to observe:

That Timothy is a virtual copy of Paul is underlined by 1 Cor. 4:16-17: “I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”

The charge to imitate Paul is accompanied by the sending of Timothy towards the fulfilment of this end, as the son is the pre-eminent imitator and representation of the father. As a participant in his father’s ministry, and Paul’s right hand man, Timothy had immense authority to wield, even being given the commission to choose and appoint church officers as Paul’s representative. As the apostolic ministry was temporary, upon Paul’s death, Timothy would cease to be the Apostle’s apostle and would presumably have become a bishop.

Woman as Deaconess in Genesis 2-3

How does this relate to the question of Junia, with which we started? To address this question we should return to Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, God creates man and woman. However, the order of events here is significant. God creates the man first, and gives him the task of guarding and keeping the garden (v.15). He gives him the commandment concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is the law that Adam has the duty to uphold (v.16-17).

The Garden is the prototypical sanctuary, the place of worship. The parallels are numerous. As in the temple of Ezekiel, the Garden is the source of a river that waters the earth (Genesis 2:10; Ezekiel 47). Like the Holy of Holies, the entrance to the Garden comes to be guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24; Exodus 26:1). As in the sanctuary, the garden is the site of the sacramental food, the forbidden food of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the life-giving fruit of the Tree of Life. Adam was given the task of guarding and keeping. These tasks correspond to the task of the priests (the lexical parallels are worth observing in this context), who had to do the service of the tabernacle and temple, tending and maintaining the Table of the Presence, the Golden Lampstand, and the Altar, and also had to guard the holy place and things from trespass.

After Adam has been created and commissioned, God declares Adam’s need for a helper in his ministry in the garden-sanctuary (the use of the noun סמך to refer to the ‘helper’ in the Targum Onkelos is very interesting for our purposes, given its relationship to the verb used for the laying/leaning on of hands [e.g. Deuteronomy 34:9]). Eve is created and then brought to Adam to be his helper. The attentive reader may observe a parallel between the way that the Levites are brought to Aaron to minister to him in Numbers 3:5-7 and help him to fulfil his commission.

The pattern of Genesis 2 is thus that of the divinely commissioned priest in the sanctuary, who has a liturgical helper brought to him, in order to help him to fulfil his commission. The role of the liturgical helper is not an autonomous office, but is a participation in the ministry of the commissioned priest, under his leadership. As the priest, the man is the one who ultimately is accountable for the fulfilling of the charge, not the liturgical helper. When the task isn’t achieved, it is the priest who will be called to account. Adam is the priest and Eve is his deaconess.

The Fall is a failure in the sanctuary. Adam did not guard the holy things from trespass. He stands by while his liturgical helper took the lead, under the instigation of the serpent, and then blames her when it is done. He does not teach the law as a priest should do. The law was not delivered to Eve, but to Adam alone, and it was his duty to play the priestly role of giving authoritative teaching to Eve in regard to the holy things. Eve, being misled by the serpent, and seeing that Adam is saying nothing, is confused. She is going by hearsay. She has not heard the law for herself, and must rely on the word of others. As Adam fails to oppose the false teaching of the serpent, Eve is deceived and takes of the forbidden fruit. She takes the liturgical lead in the distribution of the holy food, and Adam goes along with it. Integral to Adam’s sin was that he listened to the voice of his wife and followed her lead, rather than upholding the law and doing his duty as a priest (Genesis 3:17).

The most basic difference between male and female prior to the Fall in the story of Genesis 2-3 is not a biological one. Procreation is not mentioned in Genesis 2-3 until after Adam and Eve have sinned. The fundamental difference between male and female in the fundamental text for the biblical understanding of male and female is the difference between Adam as the commissioned priest, and Eve as his deaconess. An understanding of this is fairly important for understanding the logic of what comes next in the account of the Fall itself.

Once this has been grasped, we will see that the ordination of women strikes at the very heart of the biblical teaching about male and female. At the heart of the human task in Genesis 2-3 is not procreation, but the running of the sanctuary – the task of worship. To ordain woman as leaders over men in worship is to get the first lesson about the sexes wrong, and in effect to repeat the sin of the Fall.

Paul’s Use of Genesis 2-3

Unlike far too many Christians today, the early Church knew their Old Testament. Hence, Paul could point to the pattern of Genesis 2-3 and the hearers and readers of his epistles would grasp the logic, logic that would have been blindingly obvious to anyone familiar with the Old Testament. When dealing with the differing roles of men and women within the life of the Church, Genesis 2-3 is Paul’s first port of call. In 1 Corinthians 11:3-9, he writes:

But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.

Paul’s point is fairly plain: it is not right for a deacon to act the part of the priest. The role of the deacon is defined relative to that of the priest. The woman was created as the minister to and co-worker for the man, helping him in the fulfilment of his charge. While the man is defined relative to God, who commissioned him, the woman is defined relative to the man, as whose helper she was created, and who named her (Genesis 2:23, much as Moses named Joshua in Numbers 13:16). Man is the head of the woman, as the deacon is under the headship of the elder.

All of this means that a distinction needs to be made between the way that men and women dress and act in worship (Matt discusses Paul’s teaching regarding headcoverings here). As in the case of the apostle and his serving apostle, the serving apostle can represent the apostolic authority in his actions, as he participates in the ministry of the one he is deacon to. However, only the lead apostle can image the apostolic authority. This is the logic that Paul applies to male and female here. Only the man images the authority of the divine commission in relation to the primary worship task of humanity; the woman participates and can represent this authority, but she cannot be treated as though she possessed the divine commission in the manner that the man can.

This is related to the Trinity. The Son is sent by the Father, and is the image and representation of his authority. This should alert us to the fact that this is not all that should be said about the role of men and women: Peter Leithart makes some very helpful observations on this front. We should also notice that Paul immediately goes on to make counterbalancing statements in verses 11-12:

Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

Paul’s point here in relation to the role of men and women is twofold. First, men and women cannot be rendered independent. The relationship between priest and deacon, with the priest as the commissioned one and the deacon as the one helping the priest to fulfil his commission might suggest that the priest could just dispense with his deacon, should he so choose. Paul’s claim is that cannot be the case: the woman is essential for the man. Second, even though there is a clear differentiation between male and female that excludes women priesthood, for instance, there is also a clear yet asymmetrical reversibility in the relationship between them, whereby the woman takes the priority over the man in certain respects. I would once again direct you to Leithart’s insightful remarks on this matter, remarks that cut to the heart of the problem with many complementarian views in this area.

Paul once again refers to the logic of Genesis 2-3 in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, in a part of the text that seldom receives the close attention that it deserves:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

Once we appreciate the biblical logic underlying Paul’s position, we will begin to see that egalitarian arguments that focus on quibbling over the fine grammatical details of verses 11-12 are really missing the powerhouse of Paul’s argument, which is found in verses 13-14. The importance of Genesis 2-3 in Paul’s argument is further underlined by the manner in which he draws women into the story of Genesis 3, where the curse is attended by a promise of salvation in the context of childbearing (see Tim Gallant’s discussion of this verse here). Genesis 2-3 is absolutely paradigmatic for Paul’s thinking on such matters.

It might be worth drawing a connection between our earlier discussion of the role of Timothy and the teaching of 1 Timothy 2. If, as we have argued above, Timothy is not just a pastor in a particular geographical region, but is the personal emissary of Paul himself, what we see in the book of Timothy are not just some pointers on how a local pastor and his congregation can raise their game, or correctives to some local abuses, but something of the fundamental logic and pattern of church life, the pattern according to which churches must be founded. Paul’s authority is vested in Timothy and it is crucial that Timothy gets these things right and knows the reasons why he is doing what he is doing. You can’t rip this logic out of the Bible without gutting the whole thing.

Junia as Apostle

By means of this long discussion of Genesis 2-3, we finally find ourselves back with Junia. The key point that we have observed is that the man is the priest, and the woman is his deaconess. In contrast to deacons, who were sharers in ministry, helpers, and apprentices, the deaconess is not an apprentice to the priestly role. The woman does not become a man. However, Jordan suggests that we need to recognize the role of the ‘elderess’ here and here. Within the church there is a crucial ministry that older women can exercise in relation to younger women, a ministry that, while under the authority of the leading man, can parallel his role (e.g. Titus 2:2-6 – Titus teaches the younger men, the elder women teach the younger women).

As we have seen, the deacon/ess was intimately identified with the mission of the one that they served. As a deaconess, in many situations the wife can represent and act with her husband’s authority in his absence, much as Timothy could represent Paul’s authority in the places to which he was sent. The deacon is not able to do everything that the one that he serves can: there are some tasks that are only proper to the leader in such a relationship. For instance, Aaron couldn’t get a serving Levite to perform his liturgical duties for him, as it was his duty to represent and image God’s authority in that activity, and the serving Levite was not able to image God’s authority in the manner that Aaron could.

My argument is that Junia was a helping apostle to her husband, Andronicus’s apostle, representing his authority in particular situations. Andronicus and Junia would have come as a unit, just like Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, or Paul and Timothy. Just as Timothy could share in Paul’s apostolic ministry and act as an extension of Paul’s own ministry as his right hand man, even putting his name to epistles with Paul, so Junia helped Andronicus in the performance of his apostolic task.

Junia’s role would not merely have been one of being Andronicus domestic help so that Andronicus could be involved in full time ministry. She would have personally performed acts by which Andronicus discharged his duty as an apostle. While she could not play the role of imaging God’s authority, and taking the lead in worship, she was able to represent and minister Andronicus’ apostolic authority in other respects, most notably in teaching, overseeing, and evangelizing women. When she performed such tasks she was doing the work of an apostle, and she would be associated in the very closest of ways with the role of the apostle, even to the extent of being rightfully termed an apostle of types herself. She was an apostle’s apostle, or a helper apostle. She wasn’t merely externally affiliated with an apostle, but participated in and personally enacted his authority and discharged his ministry in certain contexts. Given how integral she was to Andronicus’s discharging of his apostolic ministry, it was perfectly natural for Paul to say that Andronicus and Junia were of note among the apostles, no less than it would have been for Peter to make the same statement of Paul and Timothy.

This may seem incredibly speculative, and to an extent all claims about Junia must remain speculative. However, we are not without supporting evidence for this understanding. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul writes (Young’s Literal Translation):

have we not authority a sister – a wife – to lead about, as also the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

Here Paul speaks of the apostles (and his mention of Barnabas in the context suggests that he is not merely referring to the narrower circle of the Twelve) as if they were exclusively male (οι λοιποι αποστολοι). This fits well with our picture: only males were apostles proper. The men led about their wives as co-workers. This wasn’t an egalitarian form of apostolic ministry, but one in which the husband took the lead. However, nor was it one in which the wife was merely the drudge of her husband, but rather one in which she participated as a fellow-worker in his ministry.

The wives of the apostles who travelled with them would, like other apostolic helpers, have ministered to their material needs, as Timothy enabled Paul to take a break from tent-making to give himself wholly to preaching (as Acts 18:1-5 suggests). However, they would also have ministered with them and, more importantly, in their names. Andronicus and Junia would be a husband-wife apostolic team, each discharging certain parts of Andronicus’s apostolic duty.

Writing at the beginning of the third century, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 3.53.3) writes:

But the apostles in conformity with their ministry concentrated on undistracted preaching, and took their wives around as Christian sisters rather than spouses, to be their fellow-ministers in relation to housewives, through whom the Lord’s teaching penetrated into the women’s quarters without scandal.

Putting to one side Clement’s suggestion concerning the celibacy of the apostles, we find support here for a picture in which many threads are brought together. For Clement, the apostles’ wives were genuinely sharers in their ministry and not merely support staff. Their work was focused upon housewives, fulfilling the apostolic commission delivered to their husbands in that particular context.

The question at the heart of the women’s ordination debate is that of whether women are permitted to teach and exercise authority over men. A female apostle is commonly assumed, by persons on both sides of this debate, to imply a figure who does exercise such authority (although there have been some who have praised Junia as a women, while giving no ground to this supposed implication – Calvin and Chrysostom being examples here).

What our lengthy discussion has provided us with is a clear biblical framework within which a form of female apostleship, or at the very least, participation in the discharging of apostolic ministry, can be articulated. By virtue of a firmly established, clear, and repeatedly stated biblical logic this female apostleship can be seen to exclude the exercise of leadership over men. This approach to female apostleship provides a better account for why apostleship seems to be treated as if it were exclusive to men in certain contexts, and why Junia is the only female apostle mentioned. It removes any tension between Romans 16:7 and the biblical teaching concerning the leadership of men in the context of worship, while permitting us to maintain the most natural reading of Romans 16:7.

Implications for Complementarians

Before concluding, however, it is important that we recognize that this reading, if it is correct, presents a challenge not merely to egalitarians, but also to most complementarians. I have argued above for the possibility of a deep participation of a wife in the authority and enacting of her husband’s ministry, as his personal representative. Although the wife cannot exercise teaching authority over men in the context of worship (although there is no reason whatsoever why she can’t instruct men in an informal context), she can often represent the authority of her husband in relation to others. When ministering to women, the apostles’ wives were not merely undertaking their own personal ministries, but were exercising apostolic authority on behalf of their husbands in that context. I believe that the implications of this for our churches are worth reflecting upon.

How far this represented authority extends may not be immediately clear, but it should be explored. For instance, in the Exodus Moses led out the people, but Aaron and Miriam were his right and left hands (cf. Micah 6:4), in a similar manner as some have regarded the relationship between the Father and the Son and Spirit. Miriam’s role seems to have extended to the liturgical realm, as she led the women in worship (Exodus 15:20-21). While the overall leadership role belongs to the man, there are also women leaders in the Church under their authority. I see no reason why male lead priesthood need rule out elderesses leading the women in their worship and service under and as a representation of the priests’ authority. In fact, I see good reasons why this is something that ought to be encouraged, not least as it would highlight both the distinction between the sexes in the task of worship, and their full participation within it.

Part 1: Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women’s Leadership
Part 3: Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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38 Responses to A Closer Examination of Junia, the Female Apostle

  1. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    This is a fascinating hypothesis, that Adam was priest and Eve, as ezer, was deacon, under Adam. However, I want to suggest that the Greek for these terms doesn’t support your thesis. We have this passage in Clement of Rome, a very early writing, almost contemporary with the NT.

    The Greek word for ezer is boethos, and this is used of Christ as our ‘defender” or “helper.” It is used in line with “high priest” both referring to Christ. What this says is that Christ as our high priest, is our ezer. Ezer is used of Christ our high priest. In addition to this, we also see the word prostates, which in the feminine is used of Phoebe.

    Αυτη η οδος, αγαπητοι, εν η ευρομεν το σωτεριον ημων, Ιησουν Χρστον, τον αρχιερεα των προσφορων ημων, τον προστατην και βοηθον της ασθενειας ημων.

    This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation; even Jesus Christ, the high priest of our oblations, the champion and defender of our weakness. tr. Charles Hoole 1885

    This is the way, dearly beloved, wherein we found our salvation, even Jesus Christ the High priest of our offerings, the Guardian and Helper of our weakness. tr. J. B. Lightfoot.

    If we bo by the original languages we read

    “This is the way, dearly beloved, wherein we found our salvation, even Jesus Christ the High priest of our offerings, the Guardian (Phoebe) and Helper (Eve) of our weakness.

    I hope you don’t mind my suggesting that you take this into account.

    • Suzanne,

      I really don’t see what relevance the use of a Greek term of an early Christian writer in an unrelated context has to a question that depends upon conceptual connections that are fairly obvious within the original Hebrew texts of Genesis 2-3.

      Your approach here strikes me as a fairly extreme example of illegitimate totality transfer. There are many types of ‘helper’ in English. A helper can be anyone from a menial drudge to God himself. The term ‘helper’ tells us little beyond the fact that one person is assisting or supporting someone else. If we want to know what a particular use of ‘helper’ means, we will have to examine its use in context. The same range of uses can be observed with both רעז and βοηθός (and the bare assertion that these two terms are complete equivalents strikes me as an incredibly fishy approach to language). Even the use of סמך, despite its close relationship to more technical terms used in the context of ordination or hand-leaning rites, tells us next to nothing by itself.

      There are several contextual clues for the type of helper being envisaged:

      1. The helper is created after Adam, for the purpose of being his helper. While God is our helper, this is not his purpose.

      2. As Paul observes, the woman is created for the man, not man for the woman. She is created out of Adam’s side, not as a detached creation.

      3. Adam is the only one given a commission in Genesis 2.

      4. As a helper, Eve is like Adam.

      5. Eve is named by Adam, both as Woman, and later by her personal name.

      6. Adam is the one held accountable for the Fall, and the curse of death is delivered to him.

      7. God deals with Adam as the representative of the couple after the Fall, calling to Adam, not Adam and Eve.

      8. The garden is marked out as a prototypical sanctuary in several ways, and Adam’s task is priestly in character. The bringing of Eve to Adam parallels the bringing of the Levites to Aaron.

      9. Paul appeals to this passage on two occasions, on both occasions placing restrictions on the activity of women in the context of worship.

      Taking these considerations together, I think that the meaning of ‘helper’ in this context is fairly apparent.

      I don’t know anyone who adopts my understanding of ‘helper’ who would be at all reluctant to employ the term of Christ, God, the high priest, or all sorts of other characters in different contexts. Much the same thing can be said about your treatment of the name Phoebe.

      I am no Greek and Hebrew expert – not by a long stretch – even though I did well in a few semesters of the subjects in the past, and still have enough to scrape by. However, in this entire discussion I have been struck by the way that you continually retreat from any discussion of the larger picture, and by the manner in which your arguments from the Greek have become increasingly forced and far-fetched. My impression is that your desire is to make it out that this entire debate hinges on fine technical readings of obscure passages, technicalities that consign relevant texts to supposed ambiguity or disqualify all but the most advanced Greek experts, kicking the ball of the argument into the long grass, so that we can conveniently ignore the debate and get on with our lives.

      I have consistently challenged you to engage with the big picture account that I have presented. The fact that you continue to avoid it makes me suspect that you can’t.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I know you don’t read Greek so let me try this,

    boethos (ezer) is translated as “helper” and “defender” – used of eve
    prostates is translated as “champion” and “guardian” – used of Phoebe

    Both of these terms are applied to Christ in his role as high priest.

  3. Pingback: Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives | Alastair's Adversaria

  4. Pingback: Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women Leadership | Alastair's Adversaria

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Alastair, do you by any chance read Hebrew? I don’t, but use a few more literal translations (Buber/Rosenzweig, Everett Fox) of Genesis that radically alter my understanding of the relationship between Adam and Eve. I don’t think that God created Adam as “male” from the get-go, and that women are essentially derivative of men as a somehow subordinate gender. I’d look at the second retelling of the creation myth, “male and female he created them”. After all, before God, we are all his children and sex does not matter (Galatians 3:26-28)

    • Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I do read some Hebrew, although it is rustier than it ought to be.

      Whatever a reading of the text of Genesis might permit (and I think that a pre-male Adam – except in a very qualified sense – is a very natural reading), a Christian reading of Genesis needs to take such verses as 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13 seriously, both of which speak of a male Adam being created first.

      I completely agree that before God we all enjoy the favour of God in a manner that pays no respect whatsoever to person, sex, or status. Also, within the body of Christ, although differences persist (we don’t shed our sexed bodies), we are all one in a manner that rules out the possibility of these differences being rendered as divisions.

      I don’t believe that opposition to women’s ordination actually undermines any of this (if I did, I wouldn’t hold the position), and believe that such a position is perfectly congruent with an assertion of the equal dignity and even equal primacy of all persons within the body. I have sketched what an argument for such a position might look like in the post that follows this.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I have completely misunderstood the purpose of your posts. You wrote,

    “(the use of the noun סמך to refer to the ‘helper’ in the Targum Onkelos is very interesting for our purposes, given its relationship to the verb used for the laying/leaning on of hands [e.g. Deuteronomy 34:9]”

    So I thought that I would write about the word boethos, which is the Greek word used in the Septuagint to translate ezer. Since the Septuagint predates the Onkelos by about 600 or 700 years, it seemed relevant to me. Boethos or ezer are usually used for the person that one addresses a supplication to.

    I also am not sure how you have assigned the word deacon to Eve as ezer I actually can’t follow any reasoning in your post at all now. Sorry. I have just misunderstood.

    I did not realize that you had asked me to engage with the big picture. I honestly did not think that you would want my opinion of the big picture. I really want to start at a starting point, and for me, that is the Greek text. If someone really misrepresents it, then I think it is time to go into the long grass, where the ball was kicked by Burer and Wallace, and hunt out the ball. Leaving the ball in the long grass is in some way a cover up of those facts.

    I actually don’t want to exclude anyone from the discussion. I think that anyone can read Burer and Wallaces paper and understand that the Greek does say that Andronicus and Junia are among the apostles. You seem to think that is the case, and I appreciate that. My concern is that the NET Bible and the ESV present something that is less than a literal translation of the Greek. We need to seek that out.

    I think the big picture is our trust in a translation as a fair and honest representation of the original language. For me, male and female relationships are not the big picture. I am a single parent, with no intention of being anything but the main provider and protector of my family. In church I am one of the congregation. There is no need for me to look for gendered guidleines for my Christian life. I need to seek out honesty, reliability, responsibility and morality just like any male. I seek honestly and reconcilitiation, not subordination, and I do not seek a male to be the priest to my diaconate.

    • Suzanne,

      Thanks for your continued engagement. I appreciate your time and input. This will have to be my very last comment.

      The only reason why I mentioned the term סמך was on account of the possibility (probably slight at best, I suspect) that it recognizes a conceptual relation between the helper and the leaning on that creates a representative relationship, by virtue of the verb of the same root. This would provide interesting support for my argument for a representative relationship being established at this point. The relevance of this argument lay solely in the possibility of a more precise and technical term for the relationship between Adam and his helper being introduced into the context. This would provide some background for later understandings of this relationship that might be worth pursuing.

      The behaviour of a term with such a semantic range as βοηθός as it migrates to other contexts strikes me as considerably less likely to prove illuminating as a more precise term being introduced as a replacement. While the terms may indeed most commonly be used for persons ‘one addresses a supplication to’, the terms have such a broad possible range of referent that knowledge concerning the most common contexts in which they occur is unlikely to provide that much illumination of a different context in which the term appears. That illumination is more likely to arise from examining the immediate context.

      I do not translate עזר as ‘deacon’. My argument was that, in the context of the Genesis 2-3 narrative, the sort of relationship that Eve bears to Adam – the sort of help that she provides him – is akin to the help that the deacon (as defined by Jordan and Matt) provides to the one that he helps.

      My point is that study of the Greek text alone doesn’t settle things. The Bible text works on many levels, from the lexical and grammatical to the level of overarching dramatic movements. Determining the meaning of any verse or passage will involve a measure of correspondence and balancing out of concerns on several different levels and not a myopic focus upon a single one. We can’t settle the Romans 16:7 question through Greek alone, even though it may be by far the weightiest consideration in our final interpretation.

      Once again, no one here is supporting Burer and Wallace so we can happily play ball while ignoring them completely. When someone joins this argument who invokes Burer and Wallace to support their position, they can be reintroduced to the discussion.

      Romans 16:7 is hardly the only verse in the Bible that has received a less than literal or faithful translation. Nor would it be the only verse to have suffered at the hands of translators or scholars. As Matt has observed, egalitarian scholars have treated us to some extremely strained renderings of certain texts. However, I don’t see you protesting against less than literal, or rather forced, translations in such cases (and there are innumerable examples of translations that reflect questionable theological prejudices on the part of their translators). All of your protests have been about the treatment of Romans 16:7 and 1 Timothy 2:12 in the NET and ESV. It seems to me that this clearly isn’t really about literal translation but is about the fact that you dislike renderings of the text that favour a complementarian reading. Would you put up such a protest at a rendering of the text that closed off possible complementarian readings of texts that admit various understandings in favour of a reading that you prefer? Would this cause you to lose faith in scholars? If not, why not? Why the inconsistency? Do you really think that only complementarian scholars would translate biblical texts in a way that obscured their literal meaning and interpretative possibilities?

      You have clearly arrived at your own firm conclusions about gender, independent of the biblical teaching, in whose big picture on this matter you seem to have little interest. You also seem to be hostile to non-egalitarian renderings of this big picture, without being prepared to provide and defend an alternative big picture. Yet you protest strongly when complementarians employ this big picture in a manner that weighs in their rendering of certain passages. I respectfully submit that, with an admitted bias against their big picture from the outset, yet a failure either to engage with it or to provide and defend an alternative, you risk becoming the epitome of the stubborn, myopic, and agenda-serving scholarship that you so rightly condemn in others.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Hi Alistair,

    I think we agree then that the notion that Junia was “well-known to” the apostles, doesn’t have much weight. So for some of us, who have been over exposed to the NASB or ESV as literal Bibles, there appears to be a cover up on the issue of Junia. That is the fairly limited point that I was trying to make in support of Scot Mcknight.

    I appreciate Matt’s helpful participation here also, and a general atmosphere of working from the Greek on at least one level. It is highly unlikely, to the point of being unprecedented, that Junia was not among the apostles.

    You also write,

    “All of your protests have been about the treatment of Romans 16:7 and 1 Timothy 2:12 in the NET and ESV. It seems to me that this clearly isn’t really about literal translation but is about the fact that you dislike renderings of the text that favour a complementarian reading.”

    You actually misunderstand my background and scholarly interests. I have an interest in the Latin translations of Erasmus and Pagninus as their translations underlie the vernacular translations of the Reformation and especially the King James tradition. I just feel so distressed when the male complementarian scholars that I have had contact with, aren’t really interested in how translation traditions have developed and don’t really want to engage in the history of translation.

    How it started for me is that I realized that a prominent member of my congregation was editor of the ESV, and a signatory to the statement against the TNIV, and later the NIV 2011. I really don’t understand how anyone involved inthe ESV translation can go public with a harsh criticism of the NIV 2011. It makes no sense. The ESV has many different places where it has wandered as far off as it has in Romans 16:7. Why put the translators of the NIV 2011 through all this public distress. Why would some Christians treat other Christians in this way? This is not rhetoric on my part. This relates to the public disrespect that the JBMW has accorded Gordon Fee and Bruce Waltke among others. It is so painful to see Christians treat each other like this.

    The worst example is that of 1 Tim 2:12. The NIV 2011 uses “to assume authority” which is from Calvin’s commentary and is much more moderate than the KJV which uses “to usurp athority.” But CBMW writers like Denny Burk have intensely criticized the NIV 2011 for their translation of this verse.

    I would like the public disgrace relating to the harsh and unscholarly criticism of the NIV 2011 withdrawn and an apology issued. In the meantime, I cannot accord to those complementarians that I know, even the least amount of respect as Christians. I had to leave my church because this issue could not be dealt with in an honourable way.

    • Suzanne,

      I think that many scholars of all sides come out of complementarian/egalitarian debates looking bad. I don’t align myself with the standard complementarian positions, believing that many of them lean towards serious subordinationist errors in their Trinitarian theology. Egalitarians have huge problems in this area too, losing sight of the differentiation that exists in the life of the Trinity. Both sides have dimensions of biblical truth that they want to hold onto, but which leads them to lose sight of others.

      Fair and charitable representation of others is important. However, I consistently find complementarian views caricatured beyond recognition among egalitarian scholars. I also find non-egalitarian views subjected to the most acerbic of criticism, despite the fact that it is clear that those making the criticisms haven’t made much effort to understand the position that they are criticizing.

      In other words, this whole area is one in which Christian and scholarly behaviour can be poor on all sides. This is saddening, but to use the faults of certain figures to condemn all, or to use such failures as a pretext for lack of serious and attentive engagement with views critical of one’s own is simply condemning one form of failure in Christian and scholarly behaviour by committing another.

      Non-egalitarian positions have been held since the dawn of the Church, and most non-egalitarians have never even heard of CBMW, the ESV, or the brouhaha over the treatment of gender in other modern translations. Many of those of us who have are rather ambivalent on the subject. I never put my name to any condemnation of the TNIV or NIV2011. Nor am I a ESV fanboy.

      You write: ‘In the meantime, I cannot accord to those complementarians that I know, even the least amount of respect as Christians.’

      This strikes me as a devastatingly unchristian statement to make. It stereotypes all complementarians as supporters of a particular form of complementarianism, and as those who stand behind the translation of the ESV and the condemnation of the TNIV or NIV2011. It shows absolutely no desire or even the slightest attempt to believe the best of those who differ with you, even by mitigating the culpability of many by observing their ignorance.

      More importantly, you are treating a small range of issues – largely concerned with questions of scholarship – as matters of such tremendous bearing upon the quality of a person’s Christian faith that you won’t even accord them the love and honour due to brothers and sisters in Christ. You take the perceived faults of a few individual complementarians and project them in the most unsparing and unforgiving light possible onto all other complementarians that you know, without any sign of an attempt to acknowledge the fact that complementarians don’t walk in lockstep on these matters.

      I submit that your own personal experience on this matter and your obsession with one small part of what is a much bigger picture is causing you to lose all form of perspective.

      Your insistence that complementarians must denounce such things before you will take their views seriously is akin to telling every Muslim that they must disassociate themselves from al-Qaeda before you will take them seriously: it is the imposition of an ugly and false stereotype upon people who disagree with you, in order to discredit and compromise their position from the outset.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        What I particularly want, and this is not relevant to you, but is extremely relevant to Denny Burk, is the cessation of nastiness towards the NIV 2011 and acknowledgement of the truth and an apology. That is what I save my most extreme concern for. In this area, some scholars are unjustly criticizing the NIV 2011. It is a matter of justice and public witness.

        I realize that few are able to open the ESV and see all the changes and alterations stand out glaringly, but for me they stand out remarkably. I am shocked and truly disheartened as a woman that the role of women should cause such nastiness and strife. it makes me cringe.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    “you risk becoming the epitome of the stubborn, myopic, and agenda-serving scholarship that you so rightly condemn in others”

    I am super happy that you said “you risk becoming” and not “you have become.” Up to this point I have tried to keep myself to the straight and narrow of what the original languages most obviously say. There are quite a few egalitarian bloggers and commenters who are disappointed that I won’t agree with certain favourite egalitarian interpretations. But the reason that I don’t critique these very often is that none of them, as far as I know, have crept into Bible translations. Therefore, they fall distinctly outside my area of interest.

    I try to blog tightly and honestly on issues of original languages and translation and I don’t respect men for being male in their genetic make up. I respect men for being honest and honourable, as I also respect women. I don’t consider that gender enters into one’s ability to exegete the Bible, so single gender teaching ministries are a limitation.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    • Suzanne,

      It seems to me that you have misunderstood my position on what the teaching forbidden to women involves. I argued in the post prior to this one that we need more female scholars, theologians, commentators, exegetes, lay teachers, etc. I strongly believe that the Church needs women to be active in Christian scholarship, and that scholarship that is largely restricted to men is compromised for that reason. I think that women bring certain insights to our theology that men generally lack, and vice versa. In other words, I don’t believe for an instant that being male puts one at any sort of general advantage in interpreting the Bible.

      I expressed what I meant by the role of priestly leadership in the post prior to this, arguing that it is a far more confrontational and agonistic form of leadership, concerned with guarding the boundaries, upholding norms, defending and establishing orthodoxy in the Church, and leading in spiritual warfare against the world. This is the sort of teaching leadership that is restricted to men. I have no objection to mixed contexts with a woman leading a Bible study on a subject, teaching an adult Sunday school class, lecturing in theology, being an editor of critical Greek texts, writing a biblical commentary, being on a translation committee, delivering an exhortational message in a less formal context outside of the liturgy, etc., etc. The Church needs women to get involved in these areas and clergy should listen to them. However, the Scriptures stand against ordaining women to the priesthood.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        I think women are better at guarding the moral boundaries all around. They have been at the forefront of missions, temperance, anti-slavery, anti-pornography and many other issues. If this kind of teaching were restricted to men, we would lack enormous positive social change.

        Women need to be able to earn a living from exegesis, just as men do, otherwise fewer women will do that. One of the common ways that men get involved in exegesis is by working towareds church leadership and ministry. Women will not participate equally in blogging, and teaching until they are treated as equals, and not as subordinate assistants or helper apostles.

        The entire notion that women function in some sort of auxiliary position to the male has no relevance to me or most women of my aquaintance. We are all of us, major providers for our families, we care for our parents, we save for our retirement, we pay for our children’s college fees, we contribute to our communities, in a way that is totally equal and independent of males. I just don’t recognize anything that you write about the helper role of women as having anything to do with our lives. We aren’t looking for men to be the helpers of!

        We aren’t interested in being men-helpers. We have to provide for our own families. I think that I may have just misunderstood completely what you meant by all you wrote about women, but that is often the way it is in life. There is some cultural thing that I don’t understand in what you are writing.

        I do know and understand complemnetarianism however. I was 50 years in that lifestyle. It was like walking out of darkeness into light when I left. Thank God. I can;t tell you how I weep with relief just to write these words. It ls traumatic and such a welcome relief to have a normal life after that. I went to an excellent complemnetarian church with famous and well recognized leaders. And I am so grateful now to understand now that their complemnetarianism was not what God made women for. I am an older woman and am so relieved to have even some time left to not be complementarian. I thank God for any remaining years.

        I think you write with true feeling and honest attitudes towards women, but it is cultural not universal. It doesn’t relate to the reality of many women, who simply are leaders and boundary keepers, who simply need to engage as adult moral agents in what God wants, and for this, they must disregard men in their context.

    • Suzanne,

      Guarding the moral boundaries should not be confused with lobbying, campaigning, rallying for, or working towards social change. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that women have frequently functioned as the primary conscience of society. I think that you are misunderstanding my position if you believe that I am trying to present an argument against that. Your observation is entirely congruent with my position: in fact, the way that women have functioned in such cases serves as a perfect illustration of my point.

      There are two key roles to be recognized here. First, there is the setting of the boundaries, the authorizing of the ‘thou shalt nots’ of the society. Second, there is the enforcing, policing, defending, and guarding of these boundaries. The first of these roles is the authorizing, commissioning, and naming role. The second of these roles is the one that manifests strength and enacted authority.

      People who play neither of these roles can be socially and legally empowered, even though they cannot symbolize the authorizing power of the legal order (the first role), nor can they symbolize the enacted authority of the second. Such people can petition authorizing powers for the authorizing of better boundaries. They can also call those who enact authority to be firmer and more diligent in their task. However, they don’t symbolize the law, nor do they symbolize its enacted power and authority.

      My contention is that the symbolizing of the law is a peculiarly male role. The man can symbolize transcendent authorization, standing over all other parties and assigning them their proper place within the symbolic order. In other words, the man can symbolize the law in a peculiar way that the woman cannot. The symbolizing of the law is the role of the ‘father’. It is the father who symbolizes the ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’.

      This can be seen in the human household. We are born into the world with an intimate bodily and psychological connection with our mothers. The father figure is more distant, and symbolizes a world beyond the mother to us. Even when no father is present, our mothers alert us to this paternal function, this symbolic world that transcends both of us and in which we have a place. They alert us to this by situating themselves in relation to something beyond them and us. The ‘father’ (not to be confused with our actual fathers, who merely serve as a partial incarnation of this broader principle) represents that which secures this transcendent symbolic realm. He stands for the law, the authorizing and naming of a larger symbolic order in which boundaries are set and we find our places.

      In worship, the male priest can serve as a partial symbolization of a transcendent order and law. Religions based upon goddesses, or with priestesses, almost invariably tend to downplay divine transcendence. This is not an accident. This is where the issue of displaced authority, which I mentioned in my first post, can come into play. Where the father function is not or cannot be denied, women in high positions in society relate differently to the authorizing function than males do. A king, for instance, can symbolize and incarnate the sovereignty of a nation in a more immediate fashion than a queen can. The queen’s relationship to the authorizing function is less direct: she situates herself in relation to something beyond herself – to sovereignty, or the ‘Crown’ – rather than serving as an incarnation of it in the same manner. In short, men can symbolize the transcendent law in a way that women cannot, even though both can be authorized by it.

      The second aspect of the picture is that of enacted authority. One again, this is peculiarly male. Enacted authority polices and enforces the boundaries that the authorizing agency has enjoined. The enacted authority bears the image of the ‘father’ and impresses his law upon society. The enforcers of the symbolic order are the sons. They are the strong right hand of the society. They are agonists who secure the boundaries and struggle against all who resist them. This function is manifested in agencies such as the military and the police force. Once again, this role is peculiarly male. Men represent the strength, authority, and power of the social order. Men are more naturally equipped to enforce the social order, protecting it from its enemies and discontents. The physically strongest and toughest persons in virtually any society are males. The virtues of robust leadership, capable of enforcing the order over people who seek to oppose it are also more powerfully manifested in males.

      The Church is a society with boundaries and an order to be authorized, established, and enforced against enemies without and discontents within. This is where the role of fathers (representing the symbolic law) and sons (the image of the father, the manifestation of the law’s authority and strength) are crucial. Women are not equipped to occupy these symbolic roles in the same way. Close examination of the supposed biblical exceptions such as Deborah merely proves the point. Deborah continually situates herself in relation to an authorizing agency beyond her and does not seek to symbolize or partially to incarnate this herself. Deborah also relies upon the ‘son’, Barak, to act as the guardian figure.

      This symbolic order remains, even in a post-feminist society. The strength of society is still male: it is overwhelmingly males that enforce and guard the social order, and symbolize its power and authority. Likewise, the law and many other key authorizing agencies are still fundamentally and stubbornly paternal in character, even though women can act in terms of a displaced authority and authorizing agency, rather than symbolizing it. There has been a revolt against these paternal agencies within society, which has fostered a sort of relativism, as society un-names itself, ceasing to recognize authorizing agencies and a transcendent law and symbolic order (much of postmodernism is about the un-naming of society and the abandonment of the role of the father who secures a symbolic order to which we are subject – manifested in the ‘death of the author’, for instance). However no female agency is sufficient to occupy this vacated space.

      So how do we fit the women that you mentioned into this picture? Incredibly easily. The women that you mention typically petition the ‘father’ functions of society – the law, the state, actual fathers, etc. – to authorize a better set of norms. These new norms are then primarily enforced by the sons (or within certain contexts by the fathers themselves). Men represent both the symbolic order and its law, and its effective power and strength, but women can be the wise counsellors, who provide wisdom on ways to improve this order. Fathers can ‘authorize’ women, and authority-manifesting sons can, and most definitely ought to, empower them, even though they themselves cannot be the empowering agency.

      If all that the Church needed from its leaders was theological insight, a gift in instruction and teaching, the ability to foster community feelings, and provide spiritual and moral wisdom to the individual soul, women could be perfect leaders. In fact, if this were all that were needed, women might even be better leaders than men. However, it is not. The Church is a society with boundaries to be authorized and enforced, and with symbolic roles to be played. As such, women within the Church function under a masculine authorizing agency, and in relation to masculine enforcing and guarding agencies.

      The areas of gifting mentioned above still qualify women for prominent positions within the life of the Church. However, the formal roles of leadership involve participation in and symbolization of either the paternal or filial functions of society, which means that they are excluded to women. Women are not able to play these roles as men can. This isn’t because they are less gifted, but because they are women, and thus cannot symbolize the same things that men can.

      Admitting women to leadership roles necessarily transforms the character of the entire society, its relationship to an order beyond itself, and its perception of itself in relation to its boundaries. The move towards the ordination of women has gone hand in hand with a gradual abandonment of both the authorizing and authority functions within the Church (and this often starts with male leaders failing to serve in these functions). Churches sit looser on issues of orthodoxy, church discipline, and authoritative teaching. Church can become closer to a glorified Bible study group, with pastors playing more of a therapeutic than a paternal role. Both the paternal and filial characteristics of God – Father, Lord, Master, Sovereign, Lawgiver, Judge, Avenger, Husband, Warrior – are all downplayed in favour of a deity that is mostly about intimacy, and not so much about transcendence.

      Once we recognize what priesthood is about, we will see that there need be no problem with women as theological counsellors, wise advisors, and spiritual examples within the life of the Church. There are contexts in which women can exercise exegetical gifts both within and without the Church, without trespassing on the role of the priest. And I believe that we should be proactive about opening up more contexts in which women can exercise such gifts.

      Women are ‘equals’, but they are not ‘sames’. If they were ‘sames’ they could be in the authorizing and authority roles within the Church. However, since they are different, they have a different place in the life of the Church, places that should be accorded no less honour (and more glory).

      None of any of the above denies that women can be responsible providers, empowered members of a community, full participants in civic society, actively involved in the world of business and the economy, etc. However, I submit that, even though you may have no individual male that you are dependent on, you are heavily dependent upon the operation of the authorizing and authority functions within society.

      This what much of women’s liberation has involved, not the shrugging off of male authority and authorization, but a movement from dependence upon male authority as incarnated in the family, immediate community, the workplace, etc., to a dependence upon the agency of the state and the law, over against these other agencies. Huge rafts of legalization were brought in and enforced to protect and empower women in these realms. However, the underlying legal authorization and enacted authority that this empowerment depends upon is still fundamentally male. This isn’t going to change anytime soon. Patriarchy, in the sense that I describe it above, is a fairly unavoidable logic of human society. The important thing is to ensure that the roles of men are practiced in a way that both authorizes and empowers women.

      I am very sorry to hear about your experiences in a complementarian context, and if the context was as oppressive and abusive as you suggest, I am very glad to hear that you escaped it. I have no desire or intention to be an apologist for complementarianism as it all too frequently functions, finding it unbiblical. I have witnessed poisonous forms of complementarianism in the past and have strongly and openly spoken out against them. However, abandonment of one error does not justify running straight into the arms of an equal but opposite error.

      My concern is that, coming from a context where men have marginalized women, you are merely responding by doing the same thing to men, advocating a form of separatism (‘they must disregard men in their context’?). All you are thereby doing is inverting the theme of the complementarian context that you supposedly left behind, rather than truly unworking or abandoning it. My approach attempts to take seriously the biblical teaching that men and women exist for the sake of each other and that neither sex is sufficient of itself. The message that I am hearing from you is quite different from this. Tragic as the treatment that you have received from domineering men in the past is, far more tragic is the way that this seems to colour your perception of men in general and seems to have left a residue of bitterness in this area. I am sorry that you seem to carry about past pains with you in this manner, and truly hope that you will soon be able to walk free of any such ugly shadow of past hurts.

      I truly believe that this debate should ultimately not be one in which the goods of men and women are pitted against each other, and where either sex, to pursue its own goods, must marginalize or subordinate the other. My conviction is that there is a common good to be discovered, in which all goods are reconciled, and that as the good of men is pursued, the good of women can thereby be served, and vice versa. In such a common good we are not detached from each other, but minister our being to each other. For instance, I do not believe that the authority of men exists to subordinate women, but firmly hold that it exists to serve and empower them. It is such a common good of differentiated mutuality, rather than competing individual goals, that I believe that we are called to pursue. I hope that you will one day enjoy the blessing of a context where such a good truly is achieved.

      I have appreciated the effort that you have taken in dialoguing with me on this issue. It is always good to have sharpening conversation. This week is considerably busier than last was. I trust that you will understand if this is – really this time! – the last comment that I post in response to you. Thank you once again for your time. I hope that you will know God’s blessing this Advent season.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:


        I hope you can somehow appreciate that your discourse, comes across as incredibly abstract. This may have some value, but I just don’t understand your endpoint.

        I think women ought to be presidents, judges, policewomen, and ministers. And I believe that women must have equal authority in the home. I believe that is a necessity. I don’t agree with the role of “priest” for either men or women. This is how I understand the concrete situation.

        But I am not sure what you are saying apart from symbolic male leadership.

        We also need to divide between the leader role, and the warrior role. They are not the same thing. We know, physically that women are not the same as men. However, in all ways that matter in moral leadership and government, women outperform men.

        Women are statistically slightly better emergency room doctors.
        Women are slightly better at investing money and running companies.
        Women are equally able to govern a country.
        Women are better at making decisions in the family that take all sides into account. They work towards the happiness of the family as a whole.
        Women are less risk takers.
        Women have a lower crime rate, and a much lower violent crime rate.

        I am completely baffled at why any would elevate men over women even symbolically. I just don’t understand it.

        I was married with children before marital rape became an offense. I don’t want to give up the gainst in society and law than we now have. I am shocked at the view that women have or should have less authority than men. It is very distressing to me that anyone thinks this way.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    i am going to go try out Hebrew on our blog, bltnotjustasandwich.com

  10. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    When I say we don’t want to be men-helpers, I mean that those of us who are single are morally obligated to our families and don’t seek second marrIages. We don’t reject this, but we don’t seek a second marriage or a relationship with a male as a moral good. We are too busy taking care of business. I feel distressed that you have placed women as auxiliaries to males.

    • Suzanne,

      I think that you seriously misunderstand my position in this area if you take me to claim that women are of secondary importance or subordinated to men. My argument is that as helpers, women cannot represent authority over men, but that they represent glory instead, something that men cannot truly represent. Women submit to men in the office of authority (this is the focus of my argument about woman being the helper), but when we step back we see that men must submit to women in the display of glory.

      The authority of men is to be ministered for the sake of women; the glory of women is to be ministered for the sake of men. Consequently, men does not possess authority as a private right over against women, but rather ought to represent authority in a manner that empowers women (even though women themselves can never represent authority in the same way, just as men can’t represent glory in the manner of women).

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        “(even though women themselves can never represent authority in the same way,)”

        This is where we disagree. Women must, in every way, be full moral agents. Women have full legal and fiscal responsability. In what way do you think women cannot represent authority? Are you speaking uniquely of the church, and not of any other domain?

        I don’t see men and women as intertwined, as one representing authority and the other glory. In what concrete way does a woman represent glory? Why does she surrender authority as an adult for this nebulous thing about “glory?” And does glory feed childen and house parents?

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        “Women submit to men in the office of authority (this is the focus of my argument about woman being the helper),”

        In my view, women need full authority, the same as men, and are not helpers of men – they have to take full responsibilty for their own families

        “but when we step back we see that men must submit to women in the display of glory.”

        This is the part that I don’t understand at all. I don’t have any idea what this means in concrete terms.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I know we can post Hebrew in the comments on our blog. I would recommend that you go to bltnotjustasandwich.com and use the “view source” feature and see if there is something on our blog in the header coding that enables unicode comments.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I hope you can understand that I am not talking abuor marginalising men. Women of my age, over 50, whether in the NT, in Victorian era, or today, are 50 percent single. Men are simply irrelevant in terms of complementary relationships. What should I think about men? Why should I think about men? I have those men who are related to me, and we relate as siblings, parent and child, etc. We do not relate in any way that connects to what you are writing about gender. I can’t even glean one line of what you write that makes me say to myself “oh yes, this could be relevant to my life.”

    I am not saying that your thoughts don’t have value, but only that they don’t have absolute or universal value. With Paul, in 1 Cor. 7, some women have moved on and am not interested in moving back.

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