Believing the words of a donkey

I remember hearing a folk tale from Central Asia, about a well known character called Molla Nasraddin, which went something like this:

One day Molla Nasraddin’s neighbour knocked on his door. “Molla, may I borrow your donkey”, he asked. “I’m sorry, but no”, replied Molla, “my donkey isn’t here.” Just then they both heard a loud “Hee-haw, hee-haw” from Molla’s back yard. “Shame on you, Molla!”, said the neighbour, “You lied to me!” “Shame on you, neighbour”, retorted Molla, “for believing the words of my donkey and not my words!”

I was reminded of this story by a post by David Matthias at The Road to “Elder” Ado, Dudley Outpouring on the BBC, and by the subsequent discussion in the comments. I had already seen this BBC programme (which has probably now disappeared from iPlayer) as my attention had been drawn to it by a comment here at Gentle Wisdom, to which I replied twice.

The issue I take with David’s post, and all the more with the comments on it by Eutychus, is the way that they seem to put more store by the words of the sceptical BBC presenter than by those of the respected Christian leader Trevor Baker. David makes it clear that he believes Trevor’s claims; Eutychus seems to imply the opposite, as I explained in the following comment which I repeat in full here because it has not yet been approved:

Eutychus, sorry if I misrepresented you. I accept that you didn’t exactly suggest that anyone was lying.

But you did criticise the fact that “people automatically assume the reliability of what others tell them”, which implies that you expect people to be sceptical of what others say. That is not a specific accusation of lying, but it does imply that you think that some Christians do lie about such things. The context in which you write suggests that you have Trevor Baker in mind.

Also you DID summarise your position on healing: “it’s become my casual opinion that healing, along with other spiritual gifts, genuinely occurs in christian contexts …”

We can agree on this last point (although not on the continuation of your sentence). So suppose that you, or I, do at some stage witness a notably miraculous healing. We are sure enough of it that we want to tell others of it, to glorify God and bring them to seek him. But we do not have medically verified proof of the healing, or perhaps we do have it but not permission to make it public. Should we keep quiet? If so, why? Only in an attempt to placate scoffers?

So, do we believe the words of a donkey, or of an unbelieving television presenter whose understanding of Christian healing ministry seems about as profound as a donkey’s? After all, as Jesus recognised (Luke 16:31), people like her will not be convinced by any amount of evidence, even if someone rises from the dead in front of their eyes. Or do we believe the words of our Christian brothers and sisters, unless we have good evidence on which to doubt them?

Yes, God can speak through the words of a donkey. He did once, to Balaam, and thereby, in the apostle Peter’s words, “restrained the prophet’s madness” (2 Peter 2:16 TNIV, cf. Numbers 22:28-30). So maybe he will indeed speak to us even through the words of sceptics.

But Peter went on to write that “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires” (2 Peter 3:3 TNIV). The apostle warns his readers not to listen to their scoffing, and writes that he is writing to them

to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.

2 Peter 3:1-2 (TNIV)

The words we should ordinarily listen to are not those of the scoffers, but of the biblical authors and of Jesus himself.

0 thoughts on “Believing the words of a donkey

  1. But you did criticise the fact that “people automatically assume the reliability of what others tell them”, which implies that you expect people to be sceptical of what others say. That is not a specific accusation of lying, but it does imply that you think that some Christians do lie about such things.

    I can’t understand why there seems to be no ground in your view between faithfully reporting the truth and wilful lying. I do think that we sometimes pass on things as true without checking the facts. This doesn’t make us liars, it makes us poor reporters. Most of the time this is inconsequential – life’s too short to go around checking everything! – but sometimes the issues are important enough (in my view) and the person reporting them has influence enough that proper verification is, I believe, a basic issue of responsibility.

    My point on the Elder Ado blog has nothing to do with what the BBC said (I don’t even know what they said!). It was, more generally, that with regard to healing, people who should know better make claims they haven’t made sure enough about, not that they are pathological liars.

    Consider John 21:21-22 in this respect:

    Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

    Do you think the “brothers” were “lying”? They simply misunderstood what Jesus said to John and repeated it without checking the facts (presumably because it was quite an exciting concept; certainly more out-of-the-ordinary than getting old and dying) – and here John is, responsibly squashing the rumour.

    As to your question of what to do should one witness a miraculous healing in the circumstances you describe, my view is that healing belongs to God. I might say that God can heal today, but I feel that prerogative belongs to him, not to me, and I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable making the claim that healing is going to be taking place more particularly in a specific venue or meeting, or inviting people to such meetings on that basis.

    There is a view, popularised by John Wimber, that healing forms a major plank of “power evangelism”. That view is disputed by many and at present I do not subscribe to it. I think it was probably born of good intentions, but I think it can lead to a lot of grief – probably more than it leads to genuine healing.

  2. Eutychus, I accept the need for proper reporting. It is indeed good practice to confirm something that one has heard before publishing it, because mistakes and unintentional exaggerations can be made – and because, let’s face it, there are some people who deliberately lie.

    That is not the situation we are talking about. We are talking about cases where (for example) Trevor Baker has spoken widely about healings he has personally witnessed, and of which in some cases he has published YouTube videos. I can understand the BBC reporter seeking additional verification. What I can’t understand is why Christians suggest that Baker’s refusal to cooperate with her attempted invasion of his privacy (as shown on the programme) implies that there is no verification, and even perhaps that the healings are not genuine.

    I’m sure that Trevor Baker is 100% certain about many of the healings he has reported, which have happened before his eyes. I suspect that in many cases he has medical evidence – but not permission to publish this evidence. So your words “people who should know better make claims they haven’t made sure enough about” are irrelevant.

    Thanks for your clarification about healing today. Perhaps my mistake with you was to take your words “healing, along with other spiritual gifts, genuinely occurs in christian contexts” too literally, when you now seem to be backing off from these words, at least to the extent of apparently denying that healing should ever be offered in Christian contexts. Your words “healing, along with other spiritual gifts” made me think that you understood healing as a spiritual gift which humans should exercise. Now you seem to reject that in favour of making healing God’s sovereign act independent of human activity. Or have I misunderstood you again?

  3. My comments were not in relation to Trevor Baker at all, but to the ASA complaint about advertising by an NF church also mentioned in the blogpost. That said, from where I’m sitting I simply don’t have enough evidence to judge the authenticity of the claims. You might find me unduly sceptical but then my level of trust in christians has been severely damaged by my own experience.

    I have no idea what level of verification Trevor Baker engages in, but let me tell another story. Many years ago I heard the death of a church member, who was a long-standing cancer sufferer, announced from the pulpit. It later turned out – several years later IIRC – that she was alive and well. Her non-christian husband had told a visiting church member she was dead to put a stop to the visits. Since then I have never announced a death publicly without independent confirmation, and most times I’ve done a funeral I’ve made sure I’ve got a death certificate with the right name on.

    As to healing and other spiritual gifts, my position today is that posted on Elder Ado: I believe they validly occur in roughly inverse proportion to how much they are talked about (and up). I certainly don’t think it’s possible to exercise a gift independently of God’s willingness to back it up.

  4. Eutychus, thanks for clarifying that you were not referring to Trevor Baker at all. Of course given the title of the post you were commenting on your readers naturally assumed that the Dudley events were at the front of your mind. If you were in fact referring to the North Shrewsbury advertising standards case, that fits your argument even less. The issue there was about healings which were attested by a doctor, albeit a retired one, who is a member of the church and David Matthias’ father. Or will you only believe a doctor who is not a Christian?

    Your own story is about a deliberate lie told by a non-Christian in order to deceive Christians. Of course Christians can be deceived like that. But the Dudley and North Shrewsbury cases are quite different.

    Of course gifts can be exercised only when God backs them up. The work is his, not the gifted Christians’. But Paul does tell us to exercise our gifts (Romans 12:6-8), not to hide them away from public view.

    Chris, no. It is of course right to check new teaching against the Bible. But the issue here is not teaching but accounts of facts.

  5. is the way that they seem to put more store by the words of the sceptical BBC presenter than by those of the respected Christian leader Trevor Baker.

    An interesting accusation Peter!

    1) I visited Dudley and Trevor prayed for me. I, and many others were blessed by his ministry in Telford.

    2) Some of the weaknesses of the approach to giving / the offering etc highlighted by countless other bloggers were used by the BBC as fuel for their fire. That is really sad.

    3) I can understand why Trevor did not speak to that reporter on that day. I do maintain that healing claims need to be verified at some level. Whether they simply refused to work with the BBC because they knew it was going to be a stitch up is a very good point. But even then, a bold public claim without that kind of back up is going to cause this level of questioning. I thnk we need to have an answer when people ask.

    I am not “believing” the scoffer at all. I am wishing there was more water to put out their fire.

  6. Regardless of which incident provoked my initial response, my point is that in my experience, christians all too often make far-reaching claims on the basis of evidence which has not been independently assessed. I believe this is particularly the case in environments in which the supernatural forms a core component of the theology, because of the attendant pressure for reality to conform to theological presuppositions – that is essentially what I said in my first Elder Ado response.

    The “rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated” illustration I gave has nothing to do with the eternal status of the various players and everything to do with people in positions of responsibility getting their facts straight before passing them on, regardless of whether they are christians or not. What difference does it make that the pastor was the victim of a deliberate lie? The point is that he failed to check a story with significant ramifications before making it public. If doing so could somehow be written into Bible college curricula I think it might do some good.

    Nowhere have I suggested Dr Matthias (rtd) is lying or that I would “only believe a doctor who is not a Christian”. However, I don’t think being a christian is a necessary or sufficient criterion for proper fact-checking or objective reporting.

    What does concern me is that however well-meaning and/or convinced they may be, Dr Matthias, Trevor Baker and indeed anyone else with a theological view which makes healing a sort of eschatalogical imperative is highly likely to suffer from Confirmation Bias. Healings are what are believed to happen, so that is what tends to be found. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but it does mean they are liable to be over-reportedn and under-verified, while non-healings or “lost” healings are likely to be not mentioned at all or worse still (in some circles) ascribed to sin, unbelief or other nasties.

  7. Thank you, David. Perhaps I wasn’t being quite fair to you – my main target was Eutychus. What in fact were Trevor Baker’s claims? The BBC report never put them in his words, if I remember correctly, but only reported, presumably inaccurately, that Trevor claimed to have in himself the power to heal. The only relevant claim I can find on their current web page about the ongoing “Dudley Outpouring” is that

    the presence of Jesus displays power and healing.

    They also offer a “Healing Clinic”:

    Come experience the power of God to heal ALL sickness, illnes and disease! no charge.

    But no suggestion that Trevor has the power to heal, only that Jesus and God have power to heal.

    As for the Dudley church’s approach to offerings, I would consider that the only ones with the right to cast stones at that are nothing to do with any church that passes round an offering plate or basket, thereby embarrassing those who are unwilling or unable to give.

  8. Well, since I’ve been so graciously identified as the target, perhaps I can respond a little more…

    the presence of Jesus displays power and healing

    Well, there’s an interesting thelogical assertion. Can you explain that to me based on chapter and verse?

    But no suggestion that Trevor has the power to heal, only that Jesus and God have power to heal

    I think that’s disingenuous in the extreme. Why bother to come to Dudley at all unless they are claiming some kind of edge in access to this power, at the very least?

    Come experience the power of God to heal ALL sickness, illnes and disease! no charge

    Great. I suppose that means I can’t ask for my money back if I’m not healed. I think this only serves as support for my argument that there are environments in which the pressure to declare healing is only too liable to lead to unrepresentative reporting.

  9. Eutychus, if a grieving husband calls a pastor to inform him or her that his wife, a member of the congregation, has just died, do you really expect the pastor to ask for a death certificate? How insensitive can you be? I’m sure any decent Bible college will teach pastors to do precisely the opposite. Yes, the pastor should ask some questions e.g. offering a funeral (why didn’t that happen in the case you mentioned?), and perhaps start to wonder if the response is hostile. But to suggest that sensitive pastoral work should proceed only on the basis of formal medical proof is quite frankly ridiculous.

    As for Dr Matthias, you seem to be suggesting that he was not lying but was biased and so misreporting the events. I don’t think that is an appropriate accusation to make against a medical professional, even if retired, who is also a Christian brother. Of course it is clear that not every non-healing was reported, but what advertiser mentions failures?

    As for the power of Jesus being present in the assembly, see 1 Corinthians 5:4, although I accept that this is not about healing, and compare Luke 5:17. But I am not trying here to defend everything done or said at Dudley.

    Did you miss that there is “no charge” for the Dudley Healing Clinic? So no question of money back. The claim at Dudley is not that Trevor Baker can heal but that God is working there in a special way – again see Luke 5:17. Perhaps the difference is more to do with the situation in most other churches, where there is so much unbelief that even Jesus himself couldn’t do mircales there (Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:5-6)!

  10. Re: the pastor and the non-dead person: I’m not suggesting he demand a death certificate. I’m suggesting he doesn’t make that information public until he has some independent confirmation, which could be in a variety of ways. A lot depends on the circumstances and the social context, but I did this about two weeks ago for a dear friend, who died in complex circumstances, by calling the funeral parlour. I feel entirely justified in having done so. Another funeral I conducted involved someone so badly disfigured by the circumstances of their death that there could be some degree of doubt as to their identity; another involved someone killed in a road accident in a jungle on another continent. I knew all of these people personally, so you might like to reconsider your remonstrations about sensitive pastoral work. To me doing pastoral work sensitively is all the more reason for being sure. I certainly don’t think bandying about unverified reports of healing, which some people undeniably do, is very sensitive to anyone.

    Re: Dr Matthias, you really do like inflammatory language, don’t you? I am addressing an issue, not attacking an individual. Anybody can be the victim of confirmation bias, me included, as the Wikipedia article I linked to points out. You seem to think that being a christian provides some sort of immunity from that. That is precisely the kind of thinking I believe gets christians into self-delusion, and far too many refuse to even envisage the possibility.

    Re: Non-reporting of non-healings… perhaps that’s why I’m not into church “advertising” (sigh). I thought ‘love rejoices in the truth’, not in spin.

    Re: no charge, yes I did read that, which is why I said, sarcastically, that one could not get one’s money back (although, on a semi-serious note, paying, as in a real private clinic, would actually form the basis of a contract and thus of some liability…). In the Dudley case, it would be more honest to add that donations are welcome, apparently.

    Re: theological statements, theirs says that “the presence of Jesus displays… healing”, which is not at all what is said in either of your references and strikes me as either novel or sloppy theology. If you don’t wish to own that statement, that’s fine by me.

    The claim at Dudley is not that Trevor Baker can heal but that God is working there in a special way That’s just more disingenuousness. Either they take responsiblity for what is (or isn’t) happening there, or they don’t. At least John Wimber was reported as saying that he would give God all the glory and personally take any attendant blame… Either it’s just God, or there is a human agency involved. If there is, then I don’t think it unreasonable in layman’s terms to report, as you say the BBC have, that they assert they have “the power to heal”.

  11. Peter –

    That’s a little disingenous; the underlying issue was surely whether or not the Apostles might be misleading – whether deliberately or not.

    I don’t believe that being a Christian automatically means that one is both totally trustworthy and never credulous. Christians are simultaneously righteous and sinners, similiarly non-Christians are recepients of common grace, and may well be more truthful in a particular situation than a Christian.

  12. Eutychus and Chris, I am not suggesting that all Christians are totally trustworthy, just that we shouldn’t go around assuming that they are liars or biased, and implying this in public statements like blog comments, unless we have good reason to do so.

    Eutychus, you were not suggesting that Dr Matthias was a victim of confirmation bias, as he was the one who personally examined the people who were healed, but that he was the perpetrator, which makes him the one who is biased.

    I am very glad that the Dudley church does not say about their Healing Clinic that “donations are welcome”, as that would be the soliciting offerings which you object to. Of course they do accept donations, but it looks as if very properly they do not solicit them from those who receive healing ministry.

    Your last paragraph is complete nonsense. Suppose someone is running a (perfectly legal and registered) clinic which heals people using a novel drug. The doctor advertises that the drug heals people. He of course controls access to the drug, and accepts money in return. He also takes responsibility if the treatment fails. Does that imply that the doctor rather than the drug has the power to heal, or the doctor is making that claim? Of course not! So if this is true of a drug, why not of the power of God?

  13. I don’t think you understand what confirmation bias is. It’s not something one perpetrates. It’s a built-in part of us that looks for things which conform to how we see the world. Simple, inoffensive examples might be the way we tend to notice makes and models of car which are the same as ours or pregnant women when we are one or know one. Again, I see no reason why christians should be immune to this and refusing to accept it just makes them all the less credible. People can be fine and upstanding and honest and saintly but if they have a theology which leads them to expect healing, they are going to be more inclined to see it than a hypothetical purely objective observer. Why can’t they admit that? What would it detract from genuine healing?

    It’s you who keeps asserting I’m accusing people of lying. I haven’t used the word except as required to respond to you. Besides, if you think my comments are out of line, you can’t read much of the blogosphere beyond people you tend to agree with. (Which would be a nice example of confirmation bias in and of itself :P).

    As to donations versus offerings, I freely admit I have not and am not inclined to investigate exactly what happens at Dudley further, but it’s clear to me from what’s been posted that opportunities to give go hand in hand with the offer of healing. If they can hold onto their integrity with that mixture, more power to them, but I think they are naïve to believe they can.

    Your last paragraph completely misses the point of mine. Nobody here seems to be disputing that any healing is by the power of God. What I’m objecting to is that by ascribing this power to God, you appear to be exonerating Baker from all responsibility as well as denying that, however one cares to put this, he and/or his team offer privileged access to that power.

  14. I don’t suggest that Christians are immune to confirmation bias. I do want to suggest that a scientifically trained medical doctor should be aware enough of this tendency to be very careful not to demonstrate it in his public statements – and that to suggest that such a person has not been careful in this way is to impugn their professional integrity. Of course people who presuppose that healing cannot happen will interpret events they see in a different way from those who do not have this presupposition. But as I remember what Dr Matthias said, he simply confirmed that certain people had suffered from certain medical conditions but were now no longer suffering. A doctor with integrity who does not believe in healing would say the same, while perhaps being sceptical about how the change took place.

    I have read plenty of blog posts and comments from people who reject healing ministry, especially that of Todd Bentley. I did think you, Eutychus, were in a different class of commenter, but now I am not so sure. I stopped reading that material because it was not stimulating me to wholesome thinking.

    Then you wrote

    it’s clear to me from what’s been posted that opportunities to give go hand in hand with the offer of healing.

    What have you seen posted that imply that? Links please, and to people who unlike the BBC presenter have actually attended a meeting at Revival Fires. (And yes, I have done.)

    I accept that Baker and his team offer access to God’s power. They claim no uniqueness in that offer. And they do not charge for it, although they accept offerings. They would probably agree that they bear responsibility for any abuse of that power. But that is not what the BBC reporter said, which was, from memory, that Baker claimed to have the power to heal.

  15. For goodness’ sake, I’m not “impugning” anyone’s “integrity”. Why do you persist in talking in such extreme language? I’m willing to assume Dr Matthias is a very nice man and that he witnessed some positive physical effects after prayer for healing. If so, glory to God. Whether this merits the leap to advertising healing, whether he is aware of confirmation bias, and whether the ASA is right in its objection, are all other matters.

    I’m grief-stricken that I don’t correspond to whatever “class of commenter” you had in mind. Then again, if this class is restricted to those who accept every testimony of healing uncritically, I’m glad I don’t belong to it, frankly. And if membership of the class is conditional on liking Todd Bentley, well then I’m ecstatic not to belong. As far as I can see the guy is a complete fraud and I held this view well before his fall from grace.

    You say you stopped reading critical stuff becuase “it was not stimulating you to wholesome thinking.” That sounds to me like a spiritual-sounding way of putting one’s hands over one’s ears and singing “la la la, can’t hear you”. If the only way to defend a viewpoint against criticism is to pretend the criticism doesn’t exist, I think there’s a problem and I don’t think it’s with the criticism…

    As to my claim that healings and offerings are in an unhealthy mix in Dudley, for links you need look no further than comment number 6 above by BWAHOA:

    Some of the weaknesses of the approach to giving / the offering etc highlighted by countless other bloggers were used by the BBC as fuel for their fire. That is really sad.. You didn’t seem to require any further justification from him when he posted that, so why ask me for more now?

    That said, I confess I haven’t been in a Revival Fires meeting, though I did glimpse the building in about April and entertained the notion of going in for a look.

  16. Eutychus, I spent months last year, and early this year, listening to and responding to criticism of Todd Bentley and others, much of it from people who made no attempts to get their facts right. Click the “Todd Bentley” category for details. Eventually I realised they were simply repeating themselves, so I dropped the subject and stopped reading about it. Is that “putting one’s hands over one’s ears and singing “la la la, can’t hear you””?

    David may have referred to “countless other bloggers”, but I have not seen a concrete link to even one such blogger. Yes, I should have called David as well as you to account for that one. Evidence, please. Or shall I just say that there must have been amazing healings because “countless other witnesses” say so?

    Meanwhile if you don’t want to impugn David’s father’s integrity, stop suggesting that what he saw might not “merit[] the leap to advertising healing”. If he was a party to something unmerited he was acting unprofessionally, and to suggest that he did so is to impugn his integrity.

  17. Evidence? Well, my assertion was that

    it’s clear to me from what’s been posted that opportunities to give go hand in hand with the offer of healing.

    One Peter Kirk writes here that

    “Trevor Baker(…) started by giving “words of knowledge” about healing of some quite specific serious infirmities. Those who believed they were being healed were called forward, and quite a lot were invited to give testimonies […]
    At the end of this they took up an offering, which was rather protracted (…) the point of the offering was clearly stated as to benefit others, to build up a “war chest” for future outpouring events.”

    I don’t care what spin you put on it and who it was destined for, by your own account a meeting which included a large section on healing also included a protracted offering which was to come out of the pockets of those in attendance.

    This ties in with what The Simple Pastor says here: “These revivalists still haven’t learned how to take up an offering properly”.

    That’s from two pretty sympathetic sources and I think that’s ample evidence for my assertion.

    Aside from that, I’m tired of trying to spell impugn. You’re the one who’s made this discussion about individuals and individual integrity. To me it’s about the issue of christians in positions of authority making claims they haven’t properly researched, particularly as regards healing, because the imperative inherent in their theological standpoint steers them away from examining any evidence to the contrary too closely. I came over here to spell out that there was ground between faithfully reporting the truth and wilful lying and supported that with a passage of Scripture. I’ve said my piece on that more than enough times and leave it up to any readers to make their mind up as to whether I’m impugning (ugh! that word again) anyone’s integrity.

  18. Yes, Eutychus, they did take up an offering the night I was there. But there was at least an hour between the healing time and the offering, and the offering was not targeted at those who had received healing ministry. This is hardly a case of “opportunities to give go hand in hand with the offer of healing”.

    If The Simple Pastor knows how an offering should be taken up properly, I would be happy if he would let us into this secret. I would be interested to know if his church took up offerings at the healing meetings about which Dr Matthias testified.

  19. Hello Peter, hope you don’t mind me writing. I’ve just noticed a comment you made on someone else’s blog, written 2 years ago, saying that you agreed that women could be apostles, and you support it by saying that Deborah was a leader in Israel. Hope you don’t mind me pointing out the following:

    With reference to Deborah … when we think about leaders in the church, we have to look at how the New Testament defines leadership. And in Acts 20: 17-32, 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 for example, I find that leaders are the same as pastors and overseers and bishops and elders; and this oversight or leadership role involves guarding the flock from false prophets, it involves teaching the flock and exhorting them, and it involves putting Christians out of fellowship if they’re living in unrepentant sin and won’t repent despite 2 or 3 admonitions (however, to some extent these are obligations enjoined on all the church, not just leaders only). Thus, biblical church leadership does not resemble the role played by Deborah. For example, just because someone prophesies in the church does not make them a leader (i.e., an elder/overseer). Prophets are not church leaders (although church leaders could also be gifted as prophets). Prophets are a gift to the church. So, even though Deborah was a prophetess this did not make her a leader with oversight over Israel in terms of teaching Israel right doctrine and guarding her from false prophets etc – which is the biblical definition of church leadership.

    When Deborah gave Barak instructions it was in terms of military matters. Yes, women have authorization from God to lead in military matters, and to lead in a socio-political context. But we cannot use Deborah as an example that women are allowed to lead in the church because when Deborah judged Israel she functioned in the role as ‘magistrate’ who judged issues of right and wrong between people. I.e. where there were disputes, they came to Deborah and she exercised biblical judgment regarding how the matter should be resolved. This is in part what ‘judging’ means. It is not the same as church leadership which carries a mandate from God to oversee the spiritual wellbeing of fellow Christians by teaching right doctrine etc. We don’t have any record of Deborah being a scribe who taught the Word of God.

    Also, even though God indeed spoke to Israel through prophets and prophetesses under the Old Covenant, Hebrews 1: 1 makes it clear that under the new covenant God speaks to us through Jesus. In other words, prophets today have no new revelation to bring. Everything they bring can be found in the Word of God, which is the revelation of Jesus to us. God speaks to us through Jesus, through His written Word. Everything that prophets say can be tested with the written Word, as you’re no doubt aware. And if it isn’t taught by Jesus, we can reject what the so-called prophet says. Yes, prophesying today can include predictions, but there is no new revelation or instruction from God – everything is already in the Word; and prophesying today largely conveys the wonderful truths of God’s Word to encourage, exhort and comfort the church (1 Corinthians 14:3). So again, we can’t compare the role of the Old Testament prophet with the role given to prophets in the church today, because they aren’t the same. They are different in at least one major area.

    Just thought I’d put the case forward that Deborah’s role as military and judicial leader over a nation is not the same as the role given to leaders in the church today. Therefore we can’t argue that women can be leaders in the church on the basis of Deborah’s socio-political leadership.

    After saying all that, I want to continue looking at these things because I realise I could have missed something, and I might be wrong! 🙂

  20. Marisa, I agree with most of what you say. Deborah was more than just a magistrate and a prophetess, she was the ruler of Israel in her time. But I agree that her role was very different from that of leaders in the church. A much stronger argument for women apostles comes from the example of Junia, named as an apostle in Romans 16:7 (yes, there has been a lot of discussion about what this verse means, and I am convinced that this is talking about a woman and calling her an apostle), from the apostolic role taken on by Priscilla, and from the principle of Galatians 3:28.

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