Women and slavery

One of the arguments cited against women being free to do whatever the Lord calls them to is that we need to obey the Scriptures, even when they go against our natural inclination. While the argument sounds foolproof–obviously we need to obey the Scriptures–I have considerable reservations about a legalistic application of controversial Scriptures to justify a position that goes against what we see of the nature and character of God.

For example, it was Christians who argued against the abolition of slavery, and they used the Scriptures to justify their position. God endorsed slavery in the Old Testament by giving instructions for slaves, Jesus used slaves and masters in his parables, and Paul gave instructions on the behavior of both slaves and their masters. Therefore, and the Bible is quite clear on this, God must approve of slavery.

NOT!

There isn’t a sane Christian living now who believes that God wants people to be slaves. Why? Because the whole tenor of the Scriptures is towards liberty, not captivity. As Alan Hirsch says in the upcoming book on women that I’m working on:

“I don’t understand how a true evangelical can claim to appropriate the gospel in all its fullness, and countenance, for example, racism. So if someone questions me on issues like these, here’s what I say:

“Can you imagine a situation in heaven, when Jesus is fully king and God reigns completely, where people are traded as slaves, bought and sold as other people’s property?” People reply, “Of course not. There’s no way that would happen in heaven.”

And then I say, “Racism: can we conceive that in heaven there will be some kind of hierarchy of race in heaven?” Everyone says, “Absolutely not!”

Then I take it to the issue of gender. I say, “Can you foresee a situation in heaven when you stand before God, that women are inferior in status or function to men?” It would be very hard to hold a belief in the inferiority of women in light of the weight of glory. Of course I’m reflecting Galatians 3:28 here.

There’s neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but Christ is all in all.”

The whole tenor of Scripture is that God is no respecter of gender. Peter, talking on the Day of Pentecost, quotes Joel in Acts 2:17:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women,  I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

In the New Testament, we see women, filled with the Holy Spirit, functioning in the five-fold gifts, described as beloved co-workers of Paul and the other apostles.

However, there are disturbing Scriptures that apparently contradict this position. But can they be viewed in another light? Further posts to come.

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Tim

    I have read quite extensively on this subject both of the Egalitarians and the Complimentarians, and no one from either camp believes in the inequality of the genders or of inferiority of women. So this is really setting up a straw man that is way too easy to demolish. The issue debated is not one of equality but of roles. It is entirely possible to have two people who are equal but are assigned different roles. That happens every day in the world, and it happens in the church. And it even happens in the Godhead.

    Within the Trinity all members are equal. Jesus is not inferior to the Father and the Holy Spirit is not inferior to either the Father or the Son. So if inferiority / superiority does not exist in the Godhead, what is the difference between them? They have different roles. And in those different roles, there are two members of the trinity that submit. The Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. In other words, it is god-like to submit (jus as it is god-like to lead). Submission does not result in inferiority.

    Over 30 times in the Gospel of John we are told that the Father SENT the Son into the world (John 3:16, 6:38, 10:36 are some examples). And this suboordination was not just while he was incarnate. 1 Pet. 3:18-21 makes it clear that this decision was made before the foundation of the world. In John 8:28 Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me”. 1 Cor. 11:3 states the the head of Christ is God the Father. And it is clear from 1 Cor 15:24-28 that Christ’s submission to the Father will be true of the in eternity future as he claims victory over death only because the Father has given him this highest of all callings and roles. When every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, it will be “to the Glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). Jesus love for the Father was inseparable from his submission to the Father. “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31). Jesus kept his Father’s commandments (John 15:9-10: “just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”). That certainly infers submission, but not inferiority.

    It is also clear that the Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:1214). Just as Jesus said he did nothing of his own authority but did just as the Father taught him, so no whe is saying that the Spirit will do the same for him. Spirit is sent by the Father, but will come in Jesus name to teach what Jesus said. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Jesus says HE will send the Spirit from the Father, and the Spirit bears witness about Jesus, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).

    The Son’s role in redemption was and is quite different from the Holy Spirit’s role in redemption. Maybe they should have a big row about it, and Jesus could say, “Hey, I don’t like the role I’ve been assigned. This is painful. I don’t want to do this job. Father, this isn’t fair. Why can’t I have the Spirit’s role in this thing? He got the better job!” Of course that is stupid, but that is exactly what your post is saying. You’re saying, “We don’t like the roles we’ve been assigned in the Body of Christ. It isn’t fair! Give us a different role to play!”

    • felicitydale

      Tim, I agree with you about submission, although I happen from the Ephesians passage to believe that the submission is mutual–the word is only used once in the Greek–just demonstrated in different ways by the different genders. All of us need to have a willing submission to the Lord in whatever roles he assigns to us.

      Who do you think led the church in Lydia’s house once Paul had left town?

      I still think we need to view what the Lord is doing around the earth with a humble attitude that longs to learn from them. The center of Christianity is no longer here in the West. For example, I’ve met two ladies in India, one of whom is responsible for starting around 6,000 churches and the other, 2,000 churches. Obviously they didn’t start all of them on their own, but they’ve taught and trained others in the principles they’ve learned. Are you suggesting that because they train men, this is somehow not the Holy Spirit’s work?

      I’m enjoying our dialog. I hope you don’t mind my disagreeing with you.

      • Tim

        Felicity,
        I do enjoy the dialog, and I’m fine with disagreement. This is one of those hot button issues today, so disagreement is going to be inevitable on this issue. But it is a subject worth discussing.

        I share your earnest desire to see the cause of Christ advance, and I’m very familiar with what is happening in other parts of the world. I have traveled to many of these places you refer to. However, it concerns me that your main argument is that of pragmatism rather than scripture. You cite people like Dr. Cho’s experience or the experience of women in India. But experiences and the opinions of men are not our authority. I have to agree with Jim Wright that this must be a theological issue, not a pragmatic issue. If you can show me from scripture that your position is correct theologically, I’m with you 100%. Jesus Christ is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We don’t have to ignore Biblical teaching to get results. The results are not up to us. Our responsibility is faithfulness. I have seen a number of people (including some close friends) who went down the pragmatism path with good intentions, but in the process started down a slippery slope that led to outright apostasy. And I’m talking about people who were at one time as solid as a rock.

        Now to answer your question, “Are you suggesting that because they train men, this is somehow not the Holy Spirit’s work?” I honestly do not know whether it is the Holy Spirit’s work or not. To start with, it is obvious that perfect obedience is not necessary for the Holy Spirit to use us. It is clear that being filled with the spirit requires our submission to the light that we have, but I don’t know how much these women know about the scripture or doctrine. But it also seems there are several illustrations in scripture of God using people in amazing ways in spite of their disobedience. God can clearly use anyone, including Balam’s donkey. So the fact that God is using them does not constitute a basis for a new doctrine. Felicity, this is the whole issue here. What is our authority? Is it experience or is it scripture? Where do we get our doctrine?

        Now about submission, my reply to your post may have veered off track there. What I was trying to say is that there are different roles in the Godhead, and different roles in redemption for the different members of the trinity. Submission to the father is included in that, but not the main issue. Your comparing the role of women to “slavery” was a bit hyperbole I think. And I was trying to say that no one on the complementarian side of the debate believes in inferiority of women in essense or in roles. They just believe that God has assigned different roles for the genders that are complimentary. The Son’s role was not a desirable role, but the Spirit’s role was very much a “behind the scenes” role. But there was complete equality of all members of the trinity. The inference of your quote from Hirsch seems to be that if someone is given a “behind the scenes” role, they are made inferior, and that just doesn’t line up with scripture.

        Now to answer your question, “Who do you think led the church in Lydia’s house once Paul had left town?” No one today knows the answer to that question because we are not told. But we do know who DID NOT lead it. Lydia did not lead it. We know that because Paul was crystal clear on that issue, as I covered earlier. We don’t know how many men were part of the Philippian church when Paul left town, but we know there was at least one. The Philippian Jailer was a member of that church. Remember, in Paul’s dream that God used to send him to Philippi, it was a MAN of Macedonia saying, “come over to Macedonia and help us”. Was it the Philippian Jailer or a different man that Paul saw in his dream? We don’t know. It is also clear to me that we do not have a full record of everything that happened or everyone that was saved on Paul’s journeys. For instance, he spent 2 full years in Ephesus, but it is clear that we only have a few small snapshots of what took place there, and those snapshots comprise not more than a total of a couple weeks of that time (and even that is a stretch). All we have is the high points. How long was Paul in Philippi? We don’t know, but we know the slave girl with the evil spirit was following them “for many days”. From Philippians 1:1 we know there were “overseers” in the church, and we know Paul did not allow women to be overseers (elders). Epaphroditus was from Philippi, whom Paul referred to as “your messenger and minister to my need”, so it is clear that there were male leaders in the Philippian church, but I’ll grant that the church had likely grown considerably by the time Paul wrote the letter.

        • felicitydale

          Tim

          I think we are going to have to agree to disagree. To my mind, (and I’ll be going into these Scriptures soon) there is considerable room for challenging the traditional view on both the Timothy and I Corinthians passages. I’ll be interested to see what you think of the posts that look into the theological issues that I will be posting at in the next week or so.

          I think you may subscribe to the viewpoint (re women church planters in India) that God only uses women when a man is not available. I just spent a few days with a woman church planter from India, and, if I remember the figures right (I recorded the conversation–just haven’t had opportunity to transcribe it yet) she has seen around 22,000 baptisms over the past few years. It was either that or 22,000 church planters trained. I’m very hesitant to say that isn’t the work of the Holy Spirit. While we were with her, we were training around 250 leaders, both men and women, who are from a security sensitive Asian nation.

          What would you say about the passages on slavery? Do they mean that God condones it?

          • Tim

            Felicity,

            Yous said, “I think you may subscribe to the viewpoint (re women church planters in
            India) that God only uses women when a man is not available.” NO, that is NOT what I think, and that is not what I have said. I think God uses women every day in all sorts of roles. And Paul clearly thought the same. He often speaks of women who are his “fellow workers”. He only restricted women from two roles, and left open a myriad of possibilities.

            You keep citing as your argument the experiences of God using women in various places. I keep going back to the Word. Consider the words of Jesus on this subject:

            Mat 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

            Notice a few simple observations about these people Jesus talks about in this passage. (1) They were workers of miracles. They prophecied, they cast out demons, they did “many mighty works”. (2) They did it in Jesus’ name. They even addressed him as “Lord”. (3) At the final judgement Jesus will tell them, “I never knew you”. (4) He gives us the reason for this. It was because they did not do “the will of my Father who is in heaven.” How would anyone know what is the will of his father who is in heaven? Could it be that the only source of that information is God’s word? Obviously Jesus is telling us that just because someone prophecies and casts out demons and does many mighty works does not make them an example to follow. Your whole argument is that we should ignore scripture and build our practice around what these people are doing because of the result they are getting. Jesus disagrees with you.

            I could give you other Biblical illustrations of this truth but I think the clear teaching of our LORD is enough for now. Felicity, I have repeatedly asked you the question, “What is your authority? Is it God’s word, or is it your experience?” You have not answered that question directly, but you have answered it indirectly. Repeatedly you have gone back to experience to back up your position, and you have never appealed to the clear teachings of scripture.

        • Erin M

          Tim,
          “What is our authority? Is it experience or is it scripture? Where do we get our doctrine?” – you ask. One question I think you’re discussion raises is what is God’s word? God’s Word shows that there are two types of God’s Word – his written word and his spoken word, “logos” and “rhema” respectively. Sometimes we misinterpret his written word based on our filter of experience, but sometimes God touches us by our experience to correct our misunderstanding of God’s written word. God’s written word is supposed to be our anchor, but we’ve got to be open to God’s spoken word to us through others and by him touching us through our experiences to correct our misunderstanding of His written word.

          In other words, sometimes we see something in black and white, but it actually might be gray. “Then he said to the woman, “I was sent only to help the people of Israel – God’s lost sheep – not the Gentiles.”

          These are Jesus’ own words and they seem pretty clear – he did not come for the Gentiles. This was what Jesus’ followers thought, too. Thus the reason for the confusion with Gentiles coming to the Lord later on in Scripture. So Tim, using your own logic, that only Scripture is our authority – it seems pretty clear that assuming you’re a Gentile – that Jesus in his own words said he didn’t come for you.

          End of story.

          Or is it? We know that’s not true. Even as far back as Genesis – God made it clear that he was going to use Abraham’s seed to be a blessing to the nations. And getting even more specific, by looking at Acts 10:1-48, we can see that God does use experience to help us understand Him better (to know Him better as mentioned in your example). First, he gave Peter a vision to help him understand that spending time w/ Gentiles in their homes would not make him unclean – even though it did acc to Jewish laws. Second, the Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles, too. “And there could be no doubt about it, for they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.” NLT version So the Jewish believers used their experience of God at work to change their mindset. Third, Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” “So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Peter did the same – he realized Jesus did want Gentiles to be a part of His kingdom, too.
          In conclusion, Scripture is our authority, but if God clearly contradicts our own understanding of Scripture by his own actions in our lives or this world, we should be humble enough and wise enough to ask ourselves if we’re certain that our interpretation of Scripture is the only way to interpret it.

          • felicitydale

            Erin, thank you for these comments. This is an outstanding explanation of why we need to delve further into the Scriptures that are apparently contradicted by our experience of what God is doing around the world.

  • Jim Wright

    Felicity, I’m tracking with you on your recent blogs, and looking forward to the new book. The reality, however, is that unless there is some hard look at the various passages in the NT regarding women in the church, and doing some solid scholarship in order to create a theological framework for interpreting them, you are not going to make much headway.

    I agree with where you are coming from, and in our fellowships these issues don’t even come up because we just have an open attitude about everyone participating and functioning as God calls and equips. But we started with that open attitude because some of us took the time to really study scripture and come to a Biblically faithful understanding.

    Theology unavoidably shapes practice. Avoid the theology by going straight to practice, any you will make little headway. Provide the theological foundation and then give examples of real life practice, and you will bring significant change.

    Right now, there is no real good book providing both a theological framework and then real world examples. Hopefully, your book will do both.

    • felicitydale

      Jim, thank you for these suggestions. The book is going to take a look at the challenging passages in the Scriptures. I agree with you that without a sound and integrous theological understanding, we would be on very shaky ground. I have various different people assigned to contribute chapters in these areas–all way more theologically trained than I am.

      We are in a very similar position to you in terms of practice. We have studied the Scriptures extensively and several of our daughter churches were started and are run by women. The issue has never come up.