Most of us handle polite
disagreement well, but attacks on us personally are another matter.
The biggest problems come when the one is confused with the
One reason why the
discussion surrounding women bishops is so emotive is because, for
many, it is a question of identity: who do we think women are?
While I don't personally think it is helpful to root my identity in
the part I play or the job I do, I recognise that many feel
differently. As such, some may hear my polite disagreement about
whether women should be made bishops as an attack on them
It isn't. To explain, I
would like to begin with another identity question: who is God?
The God we worship is
Trinity, which means that he is like a family. Everyone in this
family is of equal worth and ability (the three persons are "one
being"), but each has a unique part to play. They are not three
identical clones. In eternity, the Son always sits at the Father's
right hand, never the other way around (for example, Ephesians
1.20), as all three of the ecumenical creeds confess.
It is unthinkable that
the Father would die for my sins. It is unthinkable that
the Son would command the Father. It is unthinkable that
the Spirit would become incarnate as a man. This is the
God we worship, one and many all at the same time, and I love
People slap different
labels on this relationship: "submission", "headship", "eternally
begotten of"; but I don't care what you call it. It's
We were made as family in
God's likeness. Women and men were created in the image of God, and
so Genesis 1.27 affirms that all humankind is totally equal, but at
the same time differently male or female. Genesis 2 then goes on to
show that men and women are equal (made of the same stuff), but
different (one is made after, and from, the other).
For Paul, it is precisely
because God created man before woman - before the Fall -
that he argues that men and women have different parts to play in
Christ's Church: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise
authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2.12-13). Throughout 1 Timothy
2-3, church and home are closely connected; so much so that the
Church is even called God's household (3.15).
1 Timothy 2 is not a lone
rogue passage. The roles of men and women in church and home
reflect the relationship of the Church to Christ (Ephesians
5.21-33; Colossians 3.19) and of Christ to his Father: "the head of
every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the
head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11.2-16).
Paul grounds his view in
creation's order (not in culture), and the apostle Peter
agrees (1 Peter 3.1-7). All over the Bible, husband and wife are an
analogy for God and his people, especially in the prophets (for
example, Isaiah 54.1-8; Jeremiah 3.1-10; all of Hosea; Revelation
Furthermore, I find it
puzzling that some who claim that Paul's language in 1 Timothy 2 is
obscure insist that they definitively see a female apostle hidden
within Paul's greeting in Romans 16.7. The Greek phrase Paul uses
(the adjective "hepisēmos", followed by the
preposition "en" and a personal dative) has no parallel in
the Bible, the Apocrypha, or almost anywhere else, and its
translation is contested. Some are very keen to translate it "Junia
. . . outstanding among the apostles," but if so, I would expect to
see a simple genitive, not the odd construction that Paul uses.
One parallel does exist
in the Psalms of Solomon 2.6 (a first-century Greek text, written
anonymously in Solomon's name), where Israel is "prominent" among
the Gentile nations, but is not itself a Gentile nation. This
suggests that the Bible versions which translate Romans 16.7 as
"Junia . . . well known to the apostles" may perhaps be a touch
But, besides, the
definition of an apostle is by no means certain, and if Junia was
an authoritative apostle (not merely someone commissioned by a
church), then why does Acts never mention a female apostle?
I don't think this
understanding is undermined by Galatians 3.28: "There is neither
Jew nor Greek . . . neither male nor female." Paul is not demanding
that all Jews become Greeks, or all Greeks become Jews - rather the
Both in Galatians 5.2,
6.12, and 1 Corinthians 7.18-19, he insists that Christians remain
Jewish or Greek. It is racist to suggest that, to be a Christian, I
must shun my ethnic identity. Galatians 3.28 shows that, despite
our real differences, we are still one in Christ Jesus. This
applies to gender as much as to nationality.
Debating aside, let's put
this issue in perspective: our faith rests on the resurrection, not
this. A comparison could be made with another secondary issue that
Christians disagree on: baptism. Many of my family and friends
believe that it is wrong to baptise their children. Being an
Anglican, I disagree: I have baptised my own children, and I'm
teaching them the Catechism in preparation for confirmation.
I have worked alongside and under advocates of
believers' baptism, and would be happy to have them playing a
significant part in my congregation, or even on my PCC. We can
charitably overlook this disagreement for the sake of gospel work.
But I would never pressure people to baptise their children against
their conscience, and believe that it is wrong to pres- sure me not
to baptise my children.
Evangelicals can cheerfully work alongside female ministers and
bishops. But being made to submit to a woman - actively to do
something that we believe is unbiblical - is, for many, like
preventing our baptising our children rather than just living
cheerfully alongside those who believe in adults-only baptism.
The comparison between
baptism and male/female roles is also helpful because the Bible
does not explicitly describe the pastoral consequences of getting
either doctrine wrong. As with baptism, we must speak in tentative
generalisations, and we will always be able to find exceptions.
My biggest pastoral
1) that women's
ministries are not considered valuable unless they take on male
roles (you would not believe the permanent flak that female deacons
2) that playing male
roles leaves many women stressed, burnt out, and their gifts not
In contrast, large
conservative Evangelical churches employ many women in
non-administrative ministry positions and on senior staff, in roles
designed for them. Many women thrive in these settings, and their
gifts are fanned into flame.
Some say that this is
sexist. But women in churches throughout the country find a
positive description of their identity in 1 Timothy 2, 1
Corinthians 11, 1 Peter, and similar passages. I think that telling
conservative Evangelical women who have spoken in this debate to
"be silent" is sexist, besides misrepresenting our theology and
I have spent the past six
months helping a friend take her bullying and abusive former
husband to court, because I'm a human being who cares about women.
Please stop drawing me with horns and a pointy tail.
Above all, let's stop
being so emotive, and not disparage women on any side of
this discussion. Let's realise that we care more about the people
with whom we disagree than we do about our disagreement.
If I am wrong, and the
passages above are merely an accommodation to the surrounding
culture, then distinguishing gender roles in church and home still
cannot be a "sexist" denial of the created equalness of men and
women. Paul and Peter would never sacrifice equality for the sake
of cultural "relevance". These passages at least demonstrate that
our consciences on this have always been accommodated within the
Some might ask that if
distinguishing the roles of men and women on the basis of their
gender is not sexist, then what is? I would answer: pornography,
rape, the apathy people show to my abused friend's suffering, and
other such horrors.
I also hate what
Fifty Shades of Grey is doing to the idea of
submissiveness. I hate the way our culture sexualises everything in
a way that degrades women, treating them as objects rather than
people who are made in God's image.
This is what we are, men
and women together: humankind made in God's image. We are equal but
different, just as he is.
Pete Myers is a
member of the council of the Church Society, and the campaign
co-ordinator for Together4ward (together4ward.wordpress.com).
I HAVE said that Genesis 2
shows us that men and women are equal (made of the same stuff), but
different (one is made after, and from, the other). Others,
however, understand the two Hebrew words for "man" in Genesis 2 to
refer to two different "beings".
The first word
"'ādām" is translated "man", or the name "Adam". It's the
masculine form of "'adāmâ" translated "ground". Hebrew
names often serve the story, and the similarity of "man" and
"ground" highlights Adam's being made from the ground (Genesis
The second word
"'îš" is translated "man" or "husband". It is the
masculine form of "'îššâ" translated "woman" or "wife".
This highlights the woman's being made from "'ādām", and
then her coming to him as a marriage partner (Genesis 2.21-22).
The words "'ādām"
and "'îš" are often used interchangeably throughout the
Old Testament, and I would argue that in Genesis 2, they cannot
mean two different beings, but must be the same person:
• 'ādām sings
about his new companion, referring to himself as 'îš: she
is called 'îššâ because "she was taken out of
• Both 'ādām and
'îš are the "source material" for the woman. She was made
from the rib taken from 'ādām (v. 22), and she was taken
out from 'îš (v. 23).
• Both 'ādām and
'îš are used of the same person in verses 24-25.
What changes in v. 23 is
that Adam is now a husband. This is why the word
"'îš", which also means "husband", is used of Adam only at
the end of the chapter: v. 24 goes on to talk about marriage.
Reading Genesis 2 in Hebrew
affirms what any English translation appears straightforwardly to
say: man was created first, then woman from man. Yet more
significantly for us as Evangelicals, however, is how Paul
understands Genesis 2 in both 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5.