Female Apostles or Female Apostates?

Octavia, Daughter of GodFor me this was the misprint of the week, at least: I was reading a print copy of The Week, a weekly news magazine, and found in it a review of the book Octavia, Daughter of God, which sounds like an interesting story of an early 20th century cult in Bedford, England. Actually I can’t help wondering if this Panacea Society has now become the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: a matriarchal community of pedantic ex-Anglicans obsessed with doilies, and still in Bedfordshire. Or is the author Jane Shaw, a British Anglican priest who is now Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the real Archdruid Eileen?

The review mentions how the cult’s founder, who called herself Octavia, started by recruiting “twelve female apostates”. Really? Well, these twelve were very likely apostates from the true Christian faith. But I don’t think that is what the reviewer intended. Indeed there is another review of this same book online from the Literary Review, which is extremely similar to the one in The Week but not identical – it lacks the mention of doilies. And the wording in the Literary Review is

soon Octavia had recruited twelve female apostles and many more resident members, establishing a religion with its very own Garden of Eden in the streets of Bedford.

So, female apostles, or female apostates? Or does some sub-editor not know the difference?

Someone else who might not know the difference is David Devenish, whose book Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission is being promoted through a series of extracts on Adrian Warnock’s blog. In the extracts Devenish answers the question “Are there apostles today?”, and in one of the posts he lists among biblical apostles “Andronicus and Junias”. He repeats the name “Junias” in a later post, showing that this is not just a typo. But he shows no sign of being aware that scholars now agree that this name found in Romans 16:7 is in fact a female one, “Junia”, as in NIV 2011 and explained in a note on the verse in the NET Bible. If Devenish accepts Andronicus as an apostle (which the NET Bible does not), then he needs to accept that the woman Junia was also an apostle.

Devenish argues that there are apostles today, and I agree with him. But can there be women among them? I don’t see why not. Even if the positive example of Junia is discounted, I can see no scriptural argument against them – after all, their ministry is not one of teaching or of leading churches.

But, as I discussed last week in my post Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others, the best way to make my point on a matter like this is to tell stories. And I have one to tell here. Recently I met an American lady who calls herself an apostle, indeed uses that as a title, Dr Rebecca Murray. Her web page says that

As a Pastor to Pastors, she operates in the apostolic and prophetic realms.

She is also co-pastor of a church in Virginia, USA. And she is a wonderful lady with a huge vision and the gifting to make it a reality. If anyone doubts whether female apostles exist today, they should meet Apostle Rebecca.

Women and Authority: new Grove booklet

Grove booklet "Women and Authority"Ian Paul has just announced:

My Grove booklet Women and Authority: the key biblical texts is now available (after a small printing hiccup!) from the Grove website.

This is the booklet whose summary I quoted in a previous post. The booklet costs £3.95, in printed form or as an e-book.

Ian is from the Church of England, but in writing this has also engaged with Roman Catholic and Free Church traditions, as well as primarily with the relevant biblical texts. He writes that while working on the booklet

I have been struck afresh by the radically egalitarian and counter-cultural nature of what Scripture says about gender, and the challenge to the church to be constantly reformed and reshaped by Scripture’s perspective, even if that means letting go of cherished traditions of interpretation.

This looks like being an excellent introduction to these issues.

Woman bishop murdered in Oxford

A visiting American woman bishop was found dead at a picnic spot by the river Cherwell in Oxford. Beside her was an empty bottle of wine which had been poisoned. Passing punters had seen her there with a mysterious hooded figure, believed to be a friar. She had been at a colloquium in a college run by these friars, some of whom were traditionalist Roman Catholics. Could this have been direct action against women in ministry?

Lewis (TV series) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThis was the first part of the plot of last night’s episode of the TV show Lewis, a spin-off from the Inspector Morse series also set in Oxford. Matters then got much more complicated, with more deaths. I won’t give away more of the plot because the programme can be viewed on ITV Player (maybe only in the UK, but for 29 more days – more generous than BBC iPlayer). Don’t worry about the over 18 classification for late evening content as this only

Contains one moderate scene of threat and some mild images of crime aftermath.

It was tame compared with CSI. And it was a good Sunday evening’s viewing, although not an in depth exploration of the issues about women bishops.

Ian Paul's Summary: the Bible on women and authority

Revd Dr Ian PaulIan Paul has summed up his series on what the Bible teaches on women and authority. This material is due to be published as a Grove Booklet. In a previous post I referred to what Ian had written on 1 Timothy 2. The summary in Ian’s new post is presumably intended to sum up the series, and the booklet. Here is my summary of the summary, quoting Ian’s words:

  1. The creation accounts offer no evidence of hierarchy in male-female relationships as part of the original created order. …
  2. The gospel accounts appear to show no embarrassment about the commissioning of women to roles that would normally be restricted to men …
  3. The evidence from Acts and Paul goes further. …
  4. The critical texts in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and 1 Timothy are best understood as offering a corrective in particular contexts in the light of the outpouring of the Spirit …
  5. There is no textual evidence that the New Testament envisages any permanent prohibition on women exercising authority or a teaching role on the grounds of their gender. …
  6. The nature of the texts on women’s roles sets this issue at some distance from current debates on same-sex relations. …

In other words, there is no biblical leg to stand on for the complementarian position that women must not exercise any kind of authority in the church.

For the full summary read Ian’s post.

Women in 1 Timothy 2: sense from Ian Paul

Revd Dr Ian PaulIt was only this morning that I discovered Psephizo, the blog of Revd Dr Ian Paul, who describes himself as

on the staff of St John’s, Nottingham (one of 11 Anglican colleges in England), currently as Dean of Studies and teaching New Testament and Practical Theology.

This morning I borrowed from Ian Paul for my post The Rapture? Why I want to be Left Behind. His similar post Why I want to be Left Behind was the first I had seen on his blog, but there is a great deal of other good material there.

Of particular interest to me was his series Can women teach?, in three parts: part 1, part 2, part 3. This is in fact part of a longer series, for as Ian writes at the start of each post in the series,

I am in the process of writing a Grove Biblical booklet with the title ‘Women and authority: key biblical texts’ which aims to explore all the key texts in 28 (or more likely, 32) pages! Due out this month.

The material on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is apparently a section from the Grove Booklet, or a draft of it. As such it is an eminently sensible brief introduction to the main issues with this passage. It interacts in scholarly but concise way with the main arguments for and against taking this passage as prohibiting women from teaching. The discussion fully justifies the conclusion concerning

the picture emerging from careful exegesis of this text, as a corrective that, far from suggesting hierarchical order of men over women, is restoring equal partnership in the face of arguments for a hierarchical ordering of women over (or independent of) men.

NIV 2011 Update: first impressions

In September last year I was one of the first bloggers to comment on the announcement of the NIV 2011 update, first briefly at Better Bibles Blog and then in more depth here at Gentle Wisdom. See also my post the following month about Bill Mounce joining the committee preparing this update.

Fourteen months later, to the day, the text of the update was released online (it will available in print next year), and I have been much slower to write about it. It was left to David Ker to announce this text at Better Bibles Blog – although I did manage the first comment there. Indeed it is so long since I have posted on this blog that some of you may have thought it was dead. But it was only sleeping, and this issue has woken it up at least for a moment.

So here are my first impressions of the NIV 2011 update. These are based not on extensive reading or other use but on reports and discussion of individual verses and translation decisions. I have found Robert Slowley’s detailed analysis especially helpful.

It seems that the 2011 update is indeed more or less what I predicted last year that it would be. I wrote:

I expect the 2011 NIV to look very like the current TNIV, with at most a few minor concessions to those who have persistently condemned its gender related language. There will of course also be some small improvements of the kind one might expect when updating a translation a few years old. But I am expecting the new version to be much more like TNIV than the current NIV.

And that is indeed more or less what it has turned out to be. According to Slowley’s figures, 60.7% of verses in NIV 2011 are identical to both NIV 1984 and TNIV; 31.3% are the same as TNIV but different from NIV 1984; 7.5% are different from both NIV 1984 and TNIV; and only 0.6% are the same as NIV 1984 but different from TNIV. That shows that the new version is much more like TNIV than like NIV 1984.

Nevertheless, in as many as 8.0% of verses NIV 2011 is different from TNIV. This is perhaps rather more of a change than I had predicted. I am glad that the translation committee has made changes, no doubt many of them in response to the consultation which they held late last year. But I am not happy with some of the changes made. While I did not much like the old NIV (and TNIV) rendering “sinful nature” for Greek sarx, mainly in the letters of Paul, I consider the change back to the traditional “flesh” (2011) to be a step in the wrong direction, making this important concept more obscure to readers who are not theologically trained.

Concerning gender related language, I predicted “a few minor concessions”. I think what we see in the update is a little bit more than that. But it is very much less than the full return to traditional but misleading language which some had feared. Slowley’s analysis of “word changes relevant to the gender language debate” is interesting here. He notes changes in the frequencies of certain words. Here I present some of these data with groups of words combined:

Male words sometimes used generically:

  • Brother(s): 1984: 788; TNIV: 614, down 174; 2011: 633, up 19.
  • Father(s): 1984: 1572; TNIV: 1274, down 298; 2011: 1280, up 6.
  • Forefather(s): 1984: 112; TNIV: 4, down 108; 2011: 13, up 9.
  • He/him/himself/his: 1984: 22675; TNIV: 19686, down 2989; 2011: 19880, up 194.
  • Man/mankind/men: 1984: 4090; TNIV: 2278, down 1812; 2011: 2489, up 211.
  • Son(s): 1984: 3227; TNIV: 3115, down 112; 2011: 3131, up 16.

Gender generic words:

  • Ancestor(s): 1984: 8; TNIV: 336, up 328; 2011: 325, down 11.
  • Human(s)/humanity/humankind: 1984: 51; TNIV: 316, up 265; 2011: 223, down 93.
  • Mortal(s): 1984: 20; TNIV: 58, up 38; 2011: 50, down 8.
  • People: 1984: 2224; TNIV: 2727, up 503; 2011: 2717, down 10.
  • Person(s): 1984: 111; TNIV: 203, up 92; 2011: 329, up 126.

Unfortunately Slowley’s data do not include some words which might have been of interest such as “sister”, “they” and “child”.

These results are interesting for their consistency. From NIV 1984 to TNIV there was a significant increase in the user of gender generic words and a corresponding drop in the use of words which are usually male but sometimes used gender generically. Of course the latter words are still used in TNIV when their referents are clearly male. From TNIV to NIV 2011 there has been a consistent reversal of this trend (with the one exception of “person”, sometimes used in 2011 where TNIV has “human being”) but the size of the reverse change has always been very much less than that of the change from 1984 to TNIV – in most cases less than 10% of the change.

Now figures like this can only give a very rough estimate of how many of the gender related changes in TNIV have survived in NIV 2011. But they reinforce the impression I have gained from looking at some verses with specific changes, that the great majority of the changes have survived, sometimes with improved wording, and only a small proportion have been reversed. The reversals, I have noticed, tend to be in sayings which have a proverbial character; probably the translators considered that generic “man” and “he” are still used in such contexts. It is interesting to see that the singular “they”, which some had predicted would be purged from the 2011 update, has in fact been used more in the new text.

Unfortunately the result of this partial reversal has been inconsistency which may cause confusion. Users can get used to a text like NIV 1984 in which “man” and “he” are consistently used in a gender generic sense. In the 2011 version these words are used in this way, but only rather rarely. The danger then is that in those few places the generic sense will not be recognised and the text will be misunderstood as making a point about gender. An example of this might be Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2011 = 1984), one of the few uses of generic “man” in the Gospels.

Related to this is the use of Bill Mounce’s favoured word “mankind”, 61 times in NIV 2011, compared with 36 in 1984 and none in TNIV. This is often used where NIV 1984 had “man” or “men” and TNIV has “human beings”, e.g. Genesis 1:26,27 and 1 Timothy 2:5. “Mankind” is a great improvement on generic “man” or “men”. But sadly this word has become something of a shibboleth among feminists, and so its use is likely to ensure that this group of people in need of God’s word will reject the NIV 2011 update. This problem could have been solved easily by the substitution of “humankind”, used 14 times in TNIV but not at all in the 1984 or 2011 versions of NIV. But then perhaps “humankind”, which Mounce rejects with “What an ugly word!”, is also a shibboleth among anti-feminist conservative Christians to the extent that they would not accept a translation using it.

One rather odd change I noticed, which some might attribute to political correctness: in Matthew 5:32 the “adulteress” (1984, TNIV) is no longer a wrongdoer but has become “the victim of adultery” (2011).

I have been encouraged to see no strident general rejection of the NIV update on the blogosphere. I hope that is not just because I haven’t been looking very widely. All I have found is Denny Burk’s predictable complaint about the rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12, to which Douglas Moo, the chair of the translation committee, wrote a gracious response which really should put this matter to rest. We can hope and pray that those who made such a fuss about the TNIV will this time keep quiet, or at least express their opinions in more measured tones.

I do not want to welcome this new version unreservedly. I do not like a number of the rather few changes that have been made to TNIV. But if, as I hope, this version can become one around which evangelical Christians can unite, rather than dividing and fighting, then it will be a great step forward for advancing the kingdom of God.

Review: What's with Paul and Women?

Jon Zens kindly sent me for review a copy of his book What’s With Paul & Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Tim 2 (Ekklesia Press, 2010).

Zens starts his book with a quotation dated 1709 from a vicar of Dedham in Essex, UK, teaching (in fact quoting KJV) that women should learn in silence. So it is fitting that I write from Essex to examine Zens’ argument against that position as traditionally understood.

The book is a brief one – barely 60 pages of large print in its eleven chapters, and another 40 or so (of pages without numbers!) in three appendices (which I have not yet read). It is largely concerned with just two verses in the Bible, 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

In chapter 1 Zens shows how the New Testament as a whole views women. He notes how Jesus went completely against his culture by allowing women to travel with him, and put no restrictions on what they could do. He describes how women like Phoebe, Priscilla and Junia were church leaders. He makes a good point that “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:20 is not condemned for being a women teacher, but for being a false teacher. Thus, Zens writes,

The general flow of the New Testament reveals no need for females to walk on eggshells because of any alleged “restrictions” put upon them by the Lord. (p.32)

In the very brief chapter 2 Zens explains the purpose of the letter:

1 Timothy is not a universal church manual for a pastor. It is a mandate for an apostolic assistant to deal with serious issues involving false teaching in Ephesus. (p.34)

In chapter 3 Zens discusses the background to his passage in 1 Timothy 2. He notes how the same Greek word hesuchia is used in verse 2 as well as in verses 11 and 12 and so cannot mean “silence”. (Actually in verse 2 the Greek word is the adjective hesuchios, but the underlying meaning is surely the same.) Thus Zens sees the thrust of the chapter as teaching to avoid the kind of disorder that was common in Ephesus.

In chapter 4 Zens brings in the cultural background of Ephesus, with the strong influence of the Temple of Artemis. He claims that the women of Ephesus sought favour from Artemis “by donning and presenting expensive attire and ornate hair” (p.40, quoting Frank Ames). He sees Paul’s instructions to Timothy in verse 9 as in deliberate contrast.

In chapter 5 Zens shows in more detail that hesuchia in 2:11,12 does not mean silence, despite the KJV rendering. It is somewhat ironic that he quotes Leland Ryken in support of his point that some people wrongly assume that their preferred Bible translation is “completely accurate and trustworthy”. Zens then looks at the word “submission” in 2:11, and notes that this is not a requirement only for women, as elsewhere in the New Testament all Christians are taught to submit to one another. Then he notes that women are told to learn – a surprising point in the cultural context. Unfortunately he compromises his logical argument in this chapter by twice digressing into polemics.

Chapter 6 is also something of a digression from the main discussion as Zens describes “Post-Apostolic Mistreatment of Women”. His approach is summarised in his first sentence:

The retrogression that occurred with reference to women in the post-apostolic age can be compared to what happened in other doctrinal and practical areas. (p.53)

Zens suggests that Paul’s words about men as the “head” were misunderstood in terms of the mind-body dualism of classical Greek philosophy. Thus he distinguishes the apostle’s teaching from that of the church fathers, and indeed from that of much of the church through the ages up to today.

In chapter 7 Zens returns to the exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:12. He argues that Paul’s words which he renders “I am not now permitting…” are to be understood not as a command but as a shift in strategy in response to false teaching. He then moves on to the double infinitive construction, and cites Philip Payne in support of an understanding that

Paul in this Ephesian situation where some women were propagating error does not want them to teach with the purpose or goal of getting their way with [or dominating] a man. (pp.65-66, parenthesis as in Zens’ text)

Concerning the infamous infinite authentein Zens, citing Linda Belleville, writes that the word

simply does not have the meaning “exercise authority over.” (p.68)

He then looks at Jesus’ teaching on authority, and concludes from it that

we must rid ourselves of the traditional idea that some kind of inherent authority resides in the position of “teacher” [or, in our day, “preacher”]. (p.69, parenthesis as in Zens’ text)

This of course completely undermines the understanding of 2:12 as teaching that women must not be in such positions of authority.

In chapter 8 Zens moves on to verse 13 of 1 Timothy 2, and sees Paul’s teaching that Adam came first as polemic against the teaching of the Artemis cult that the female came first. In chapter 9 Zens discusses verse 14 and notes close parallels with Revelation 2:20-24, suggesting that this verse is Paul’s teaching against a specific woman false teacher.

In chapter 10 Zens attempts to meet the objection that he is not upholding this passage as “timeless gospel truth”. He points out that all the New Testament letters are in response to specific local issues, and that they all have to be interpreted in the light of their cultural contexts.

Zens sums up his argument in chapter 11, and concludes that

to use 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as a basis to completely silence the sisters in Christian assemblies is hardly an accurate way to handle Scripture. It uses one context to cancel out the revelation of many others. … those who persist in using 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as a means of subordinating women in the body of Christ may be guilty of continuing in and perpetuating a false teaching. (pp.89-90)

Strong words! Has Zens justified them? He makes no claim to have done original research for this book. Rather, he writes of his own method that

in most cases I am just calling attention to some foundational points others have unearthed through diligent research. (p.43)

The book comes across as based on a clear but not very detailed exegetical discussion of the verses, based on a variety of sources. This was then expanded to be thick enough for a kind of book by adding some extraneous polemics, and matter from church history, also the appendices. Although the subtitle is “Unlocking the Cultural Background…” this background is in fact only a minor theme.

The arguments made in this book and good and thorough for a popular presentation, although not rigorous enough to convince scholars. I also doubt if it would convince those initially opposed to Zens’ conclusions, not least because the polemics in chapter 5 would alienate them. But this book will be helpful to those who are unsure of their own opinions, and for those who tend to share Zens’ position but want good material to back it up in argument with others.

I don’t think I would go quite as far as Zens in using the provocative words “false teaching”. But he is right to conclude that this passage in 1 Timothy cannot properly be used to stop otherwise well qualified people from active service in the church just because they are women.

Women as Bishops: The Recording

Now available at my church’s website: an audio recording of last Saturday’s Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association meeting about Women as Bishops, together with Lis Goddard’s PowerPoint presentation.

The main speakers are Rev Lis Goddard and Bishop Wallace Benn, with Gordon Simmonds, a lay member of General Synod, in the chair. During the question session I was carrying around the roving microphone, so my apologies for any imperfections. I also asked the question about the meaning of “statutory” – a rare chance to hear my voice.

See also my reflections about this meeting.

Women as Bishops: Reflections

The meeting Women as Bishops which I advertised in my last post here was very interesting. We were pleased to have about 60 people present for the discussion led by the Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, and Rev Lis Goddard of AWESOME. At the request of several people on this blog and elsewhere, the meeting was recorded. The recording, over two hours long, and Lis Goddard’s PowerPoint presentation will soon be available on my church’s website, for convenience as our building was the venue. As soon as I can give you a URL I will post it here.

What follows is not intended as a summary of the meeting (I’m afraid you will have to wait then listen to the recording for that), but as my personal reflections following it.

Lis Goddard is known as a proponent of the ordination of women, although AWESOME of which she is the Chair is not a campaigning organisation and has no official position on the issue. Indeed the ordained evangelical women it supports include “permanent deacons” who have chosen not to be ordained as priests. She made clear that some of what she said was her personal position.

By contrast, Bishop Benn is a council member of Reform which takes a clear stand against women in church leadership. At the meeting he outlined briefly why he believes this: he holds a complementarian position on the role of women, as equal but different.

But the point of yesterday’s meeting was not to debate the main issue of whether women should be made bishops. It was to explore how evangelicals in the Church of England can remain united in a situation where their Church is clearly moving towards having women as bishops. On this there was a surprising and welcome unity of opinion between these people who disagree fundamentally on the underlying issue.

Benn and Goddard agreed that definite special arrangements should be made for those in the Church who cannot fully accept women as bishops – against the radical egalitarians who would make no concessions and might privately welcome the defection of conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. They also agreed in rejecting arrangements like a separate diocese for traditionalists, which would tend to divide the Church into separate camps, and would have some serious practical and financial consequences.

Their preferred solutions were almost the same. Goddard preferred a statutory code of practice whereby women bishops would be obliged to delegate their authority to male colleagues under certain circumstances. Benn’s preference was for Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA) whereby this delegation would be more formalised, but would also accept a statutory code of practice.

The decision on what arrangements will be made is likely to be taken at the General Synod in July this year. It seems likely that some kind of statutory code of practice will be proposed by the committee working on this, but this solution will meet opposition from those who reject any formal concessions. So, to avoid massive divisions in the Church of England and especially in the evangelical part of it, we should hope and pray that something like a statutory code of practice will be accepted. I say this although I object to the “statutory” aspect of this, as I explained in this post.

I think it was Wallace Benn who suggested that a wrong decision on this matter might lead to the Church of England losing both its evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings. I couldn’t help thinking of the Church as an airliner in the air – a slight change from last week’s image of flying like wild ducks. The airliner has lost power, perhaps from flying through an ash cloud, and is gradually losing height. If it wants to continue to fly it needs to restart its engines – and it can do that only by turning to God. But the worst decision it could make is to cut off both its wings. Without them it cannot even glide to a relatively soft crash landing; its only hope is to plunge straight to disaster. So please, Church, let’s avoid that, stop bickering about side issues, and look to God to regain the power to fly.

Women as Bishops

This post is not more of my own thoughts. It is an announcement of an opportunity to hear some other thoughts on the subject “Women as Bishops: what next for Evangelicals, what
do we need from each other?” (Here “Evangelicals” should be understood as “Evangelicals in the Church of England”.) This is a meeting of the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association, like the last one I advertised here, and will be held at the same venue, which is my home church, on this coming Saturday morning.

Again this will be a chance for you, my readers, to meet me. It will also be a chance to meet two leading activists for and against women bishops. But the intention is not so much a debate on the issues as a discussion of how evangelicals can remain united on the fundamental issues while being divided on this one.