Christian women, Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Throwback Thursday ~ Rock Your Role: Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Originally published November 13, 2015

Rock Your Role is a series examining the “go to” and hot button Scriptures that relate to and help us understand our role as women in the church.
Don’t forget to prayerfully consider our
three key questions 
as you read.

she di int

How can you say women aren’t to preach to, teach, or hold authority over men in the church? What about Deborah, Esther, Huldah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and the women at Jesus’ tomb? Didn’t they all preach to men, teach them, or hold authority over them?

That’s one of the arguments often put forth by people who reject what God’s word plainly says about the biblical role of women in the church. And the short answer is very simple: Yes and no, and so what?

But maybe a longer answer would be better.

First of all, there’s a proper way and an improper way to understand Scripture. We want to make sure we understand Scripture the proper way. When we look to Scripture to find out how we should behave – what we should do and not do – we do not look first, or primarily, at the biographies of people in the Bible and what they did or didn’t do, and model ourselves after them.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

And when looking for instruction about the role of women in the church, we look to clear, prescriptive passages which tell us what to do and what not to do, not descriptive passages about various women in the Bible.

Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.

But just for funzies, let’s take a quick look at these ladies so often trotted out in defense of Christian women disobeying Scripture. (If you’re unclear as to what God’s word says about women’s role in the church, you might want to check out this article and this article before reading further.)

Deborah, Huldah, and Esther:

The very first thing we need to remember about these ladies is that they were under the old (Mosaic) covenant of the Old Testament, not the new (grace) covenant of the New Testament. There are a lot of things about the old covenant that no longer apply to Christians in the New Testament because Christ fulfilled the law of the old covenant (Bacon and poly-cotton blends, anyone?). Likewise, there are things about the new covenant that did not apply under the old covenant (The church? Evangelism? Nowhere to be found in the Old Testament), or for which there are no reasonable precedents in the Old Testament because the church is a new covenant institution.

None of these women were pastors. None taught men the Scriptures in the church (or even temple) setting. None assumed authority over men in the church (or even the temple).

Deborah was a judge. She decided disputes between Israelites and discussed with Barak battle instructions that God had already revealed to him. When Barak refused to stand up and fight like a man, God used Deborah, a woman, to show him that another woman, Jael, would get the glory for killing Sisera. In a patriarchal society a woman in leadership and a female war hero would not have been seen by men or women as a positive thing, but rather as shaming men who were too cowardly to step up, lead, and protect their women and children.

Huldah was a prophetess. She was sent for during the reign of Josiah when the temple was being repaired and the priests hadn’t even been able to find the book of the law for years. Again, what does it say about the spiritual condition of the most important men in the country – the king and the high priest – when they, in a highly patriarchal society, have to humble themselves and seek out a woman to tell them what God says? Huldah repeated to them what God had told her, and that was it. Since we now have God’s written word and He no longer speaks through direct revelation this way, there is no parallel between Huldah and New Testament women preaching, teaching, and exercising authority.

Esther, under threat of death, couldn’t even talk to her own husband without his permission, so I’m not really sure why people seem to think she exercised any authority over men. In fact, the writer of the book of Esther several times makes a point of saying how obedient she was to Mordecai. Esther wasn’t a spiritual leader, she was a queen. The word “God” isn’t even mentioned in her book, and she certainly didn’t instruct anybody in the Scriptures. Esther is probably one of the weakest examples you could come up with as support for women preaching, teaching, or exercising authority in the church.

The Women at Jesus’ Tomb, Priscilla, and Phoebe

The women at Jesus’ tomb were sort of Old Testament-ish, too, if you think about it. The church didn’t yet exist when they saw Jesus resurrected and ran back to tell the disciples about it. Still, this was not preaching, teaching, or holding authority over the disciples even in a non-church setting. This was a) giving eyewitness testimony of what they had seen and b) carrying a message from Jesus to the disciples. There was no commentary or instruction from the women to the disciples, just a report on what they had seen and a message of where Jesus and the disciples would meet up. And, really, don’t people usually see “messenger boys” (or girls) as subservient to the people they’re carrying messages between?

Priscilla (or Prisca) might be the best known Christian woman in the church era of the New Testament. When people try to use her as an argument for female preachers, teachers, and authority, they usually go to Acts 18:26 which says that she and her husband took Apollos aside and fully explained the gospel to him. This was a private meeting among the three of them, likely in their home over a meal or other casual circumstances, not preaching or teaching in the church. Additionally, the Bible makes absolutely no mention of how much, if any, of the actual “explaining” Priscilla did. It’s quite possible she just sat by as Aquila did the majority of the explaining and contributed only here and there or when Aquila forgot something.

Phoebe is mentioned once in the New Testament, in Romans 16:1-2. Paul commends her to the church at Rome and asks them to help her out because she has been a good servant of the church at Cenchreae. That the word “servant” can also be translated as “deaconess” in no way indicates that Phoebe (or Priscilla or any of the other women mentioned in Romans 16) preached to or taught men or exercised authority over men, despite the fact that male deacons today might do such things. The Greek word diakonos simply means “servant.” Acts 6:1-6 gives us a glimpse at some of the services the early deacons likely provided- “waiting tables” and meeting the physical needs of the believers. The apostles even drew a distinction between their preaching of the word and the need for others to minister to the material needs of the people.

And one more thing about Priscilla, Phoebe, and the other women of Romans 16: Who – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – wrote the book of Romans? Paul. Who – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-15? Paul. Would the Holy Spirit have led Paul in Romans 16 to praise women who were rebelling against His word in 1 Timothy 2? Have you ever known God, anywhere in Scripture, to praise people who unrepentantly break His word? Would it make any sense, logically, for Paul to praise in Romans 16 women who were habitually and rebelliously disobeying his instructions in 1 Timothy 2?

God does not contradict Himself. God’s word does not contradict itself. If He gives us an explicit command, biographical details of a Bible character’s life do not override that command, and we are to obey it.

While there are numerous, important ways God wants Christian women to serve Him in the church, the Bible is clear that we are not to preach to or teach men or exercise authority over men in the assembly of believers. We are to follow in the footsteps of godly women like Esther, Priscilla, and all the others by humbly submitting to His word and obeying it.


Additional Resources:

Bad Examples of Women Pastors (But Great Examples of Godly Women) by Gabe Hughes

Colossians Bible Study

Colossians: Lesson 7

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Colossians 4:7-18

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. What is the theme or purpose of this passage? With what sort of tone (rebuking, emphatic, compassionate, etc.) does Paul close out this epistle? Thinking back over the previous lessons, give a 3-5 sentence synopsis of Colossians in your own words.

2. List the people Paul mentions by name in this passage, noting the words of praise he has for each. Paul did not take those who served with him in ministry for granted. Are you thankful for those who serve in the various ministries of your church? What are some ways you can show appreciation to others who serve in ministry alongside you (and over you) at your church?

3. What else do we know about Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Barnabas, Epaphras, Luke, Demas, and Archippus? How can cross-referencing give us a fuller picture and better understanding of a passage we’re studying?

4. Examine and describe the ministry roles each person in this passage fulfilled in the Body of Christ in light of 1 Corinthians 12:4-7. How does Colossians 4:7-18 demonstrate the need for various people to carry out various “services and activities”? How does this passage show value for a variety of servanthood roles and ministries, even those we might consider small or unimportant? Think about your church and Christianity at large. Do we place a greater value on those who serve in “spotlight” (“important”) roles compared to those who serve in obscure (“unimportant”) roles? How does 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 speak to this?

5. Note the words “encourage your hearts” (8), “they have been a comfort to me” (11), “struggling on your behalf in his prayers” (12), and “the church in her house” (15). How were encouragement, comfort, prayer, and hospitality crucial to the early church? Are they just as crucial to the church today? Is your church particularly strong or weak in any of these areas? How could your church improve in these areas?

Homework:

How can you serve your church in the areas of encouragement, comfort, prayer, and hospitality? Think of one specific thing you can do for your church or a particular person in your church in each of these four areas, and do them over the next week. For example:

Monday: Write an e-mail encouraging my pastor.
Tuesday: Visit one of my church’s members who is hospitalized or a shut-in.
Wednesday: Pray through my church’s prayer list.
Thursday: Invite the lady who visited my church on Sunday for coffee.

Colossians Bible Study

Colossians: Lesson 6

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Colossians 3:18-4:6

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

4:1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious,seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Questions to Consider:

1. Refresh your memory on the main themes of Colossians so far, noticing how they build on one another:

  • Chapters 1-2- Here’s a correct Christology (who Christ is, what He did, and why)
  • Chapters 2-3- Now that you believe a correct Christology, you’ve died to the world and live to Christ.

Finish the theme of today’s passage:

  • 3:18-4:6- Now that you’ve died to the world and live to Christ, here’s how to__________

2. Notice the structure of verses 3:18-4:1. Do you see a pairing, relationship-wise in verses 18-19, 20-21, 22 & 1? List the relationships (first word of each verse) in each of these pairs of verses. Whom does Paul address first in each of these pairings, the subordinate person or the person in authority? How might this emphasize the responsibility of the subordinate person to act in a godly way in the relationship?

3. Examine the instructions to the subordinates (wives, children, bondservants) in verses 18, 20, 22-24. How does Paul connect submission and obedience to earthly authority with the wife’s, child’s, and bondservant’s relationship to the Lord? Who are we truly serving and obeying when we submit to the authorities God has placed over us? What are the blessings of submission to authority? Examine the instructions to the authorities (husbands, fathers, masters) in verses 19, 21, 1. Does God reassure the authorities in the same way He reassured the subordinates? Is 4:1b (“knowing that you…”) a reassurance or a warning/example to follow? What does this say about the weight of responsibility those in authority have to act in a godly way? Compare this passage to Ephesians 6:1-9 to get a fuller picture of what God is saying here.

4. What does it mean to “continue steadfastly” and “be watchful” in prayer? (2) Paul again mentions “thanksgiving” in verse 2 (See question 5 in lesson 5, link above). Do you make thanksgiving a regular part of your daily prayer life? Why is thanksgiving such an integral part of the Christian’s life? What prayer request does Paul make to the Colossian church? (3-4) Think of all the other things Paul, in prison, could have asked them to pray for him. What does this tell us about his priorities? How could you pray verses 3-4 for yourself, loved ones, your pastor, missionaries, etc.?

5. Recalling that this is an epistle to the church, who are the “outsiders” Paul refers to in verse 5? How would you explain Paul’s instructions in verses 5-6 to another Christian? How do these instructions apply to the church? To individual Christians? Think of an “outsider” in your life who needs to hear the gospel. Give one specific way each that you could a) walk in wisdom toward this person, b) make the best use of your time with this person, c) use gracious, “salty” speech with this person, and d) answer this person.

Homework:

This passage and the Ephesians 6 passage I linked to above are (among others) often used by critics of the Bible to support their accusation that God is in favor of slavery. Is this true? Do some further study on the Bible’s stance on slavery:

The Apostle Paul and Slavery

Doesn’t the Bible Support Slavery?

Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

Colossians Bible Study

Colossians: Lesson 5

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4

Colossians 3:1-17

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Questions to Consider:

1. Remember the “therefore” rule we learned in lesson 4 (link above)? “If, then…” in verse 1 serves the same function as “therefore” and should be treated the same way. Go back and quickly refresh your memory of chapter 2 (especially verses 13-14, 20-23). Because of what Paul said in chapter 2, what is he now saying the church should do? (1-2)

2. How do verses 1-4 echo what Paul taught in chapter 2 with regard to a) focusing on temporal, earthly things (2:16, 21-22) versus focusing on Christ and eternal things, and b) what we die to and live to? What are the “things that are above” (1-2) and why are we to set our minds on them (3)? Does verse 2 support or refute the old cliché, “You’re too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”? How does being heavenly minded make us better at earthly things?

3. Paul has talked a lot in chapters 2 and 3 about what Christians are to live to and die to. Which phrases in verses 5,8, and 9 reinforce the idea of dying to something? Which phrases in verses 7,10,12, and 14 reinforce the idea of living to something? List the things we are to die to, or put off, and the things we are to live to, or put on. Examine the dichotomies of live to/die to, put on/put off, earthly things/heavenly things, and compare these to 2 Corinthians 5:17. How would you sum up this whole general concept in one or two sentences? How does your life before and after salvation measure up to this biblical principle that Jesus is the dividing line between the old life and the new?

4. Compare verse 11 to Galatians 3:28. What do these verses mean? How does the idea expressed in verse 11 serve as the reason (notice the word “then” in verse 12) for what Paul goes on to say in verses 12-17? What can we learn about Christian unity from this passage?

5. Paul talks about giving thanks or being thankful in verses 15, 16, and 17. Considering the persecution and problems of the first century church, why would Paul emphasize being thankful? What did the Colossian church have to be thankful for? Why is it important today for us, as individuals and as churches, to be thankful? How does giving thanks to God set our minds “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”?


Homework:

Re-read verse 16. During your quiet time this week, sing a “psalm, hymn, or spiritual song with thankfulness in your heart to God” every day.

Colossians Bible Study

Colossians: Lesson 4

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3

Colossians 2

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Questions to Consider:

1. A great little heremeneutical rule of thumb is that when you see the word “therefore” in the text, you look at the previous verses to find out what it’s “there for”. The same could be said of the word “for” at the beginning of verse 1. Paul is continuing a thought here that started in the last verses of chapter 1. Read back a few verses and summarize his entire thought in your own words. What else do we know about the church at Laodicea? (1)

2. What are some things Paul hopes to accomplish, via this epistle, in the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and others? (2-7) What is the main goal of Paul’s teaching in this epistle? (4) What is the “therefore” in verse 6 “there for”?

3. Recall that the Colossian church was made up of both Jews and Gentiles, and that the Colossian Heresy Paul was combating with this epistle contained both Jewish and Gentile false doctrine. Examine the terms “philosophy” and “human tradition” (8) Do these seem to describe Jewish or Gentile teachings? What about “circumcision” (11-13), “food and drink,” “festivals,” and “Sabbath”? (16) How can Christians and the church avoid being deceived by false doctrine regardless of its source? (6-7, 19)

4. The Judaizers taught that Christians had to follow the Old Testament Mosaic law. What were some of those laws? (11, 16, 21-22) What did Paul tell the Colossians about the Old Testament law and why Christians are not bound by it? (17, see these verses also) How does Paul describe the “circumcision” Christians now receive? Who performs this new “circumcision” and what is “cut away”? (11) On which “body part” of a Christian is it performed? Compare these verses to Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6. How do all of these passages show that physical circumcision was only to be an outward sign of circumcision of the heart? What is the New Testament outward sign of circumcision of the heart? (12) How does Paul tell the Colossians to respond to the Judaizers’ pressure? (16)

5. Examine verses 20-22. What do believers die to in Christ? Are we to go back to worldly teachings and beliefs, as though we have not died to them, and continue to follow their unbiblical rules and regulations? If we are to be dead to these things, what are we to live to? Compare this passage to Galatians 3:1-9. How would these passages have demonstrated to Jewish believers that keeping Old Testament law was not required of them or of Gentile believers? Does your own church have any rules or teachings that Scripture does not require of Christians? What does following man made rules accomplish? (23)


Homework:

Do you see the similarities between the Judaizers’ teachings and the modern day teaching of the Hebrew Roots Movement? Has anyone ever asked you why you don’t keep Old Testament law? List three teachings from the first two chapters of Colossians that you could use to persuade a friend not to follow the Hebrew Roots Movement or to explain why you’re free to eat lobster and wear poly-cotton blends.