Joshua Graves
Exploring the Collision of Culture & Faith
Jesus and Women in the Gospels
September 25, 2012

It seems to me that two basic truths are missing regarding many approaches to understanding the relationship of Jesus and women in the Gospels (and, no, I’m not refering to this bizarre story). Regardless of the implications for today (and there are many), how is that many Christians rarely allow for Jesus to get a say in a very important matter? How are we okay with that? Is it credible to be “Christians who read the Bible” if we ignore the sections of the Bible  in which Jesus (the one from whom Christians derive our name) directly and indirectly addresses this? Doesn’t intellectual honesty demand something different?

Basic truth #1. Many Christian leaders and thinkers don’t think the Gospels count when it comes to this topic (and many other topics). Reasons for this detrimental move: dispensational readings of scripture, unhealthy privileging (misreadings) of Paul over Jesus, complete denial of the real content of the Gospels (that is, the Gospels should get to define the meaning of “the gospel”). Moreover, the gospels were themselves addressed to local communities as teaching documents. The gospels were instructive as Paul was instructive they simply were instructive in a different way (narrative was just as legit a genre in the ancient world as say, a letter, argument, diatribe). Some have argued that Luke, Matthew, and John–written after most of Paul’s letters had been written–were attempts to correct and inspire churches in their mission and their interactions as men and women, Jew and Gentile and Samaritan.

Basic truth #2. Within his social and societal context, Jesus might not have been a total anarchist but he was certainly leaning forward toward the future, not backwards toward the past. He was thoroughly informed by the past (Genesis, Isaiah) but he had this vision of the city to come (Rev. 21 and 22). Say it plain. I don’t believe hierarchy will exist in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s why Jesus started to subvert the notion that someone is not as valid because of their gender. Jesus really believed it was the Spirit, not gender, that called people to roles and tasks in the expansion of the kingdom.

For instance, several passages refer to women “sitting” or “throwing themselves” or “learning” at the feet of Jesus. Sitting “at the feet” is an intentional phrase used by writers of the gospel narratives as means to show that Jesus allowed women to be disciples. “Sitting at the feet” of (rabbi) Jesus showed a person’s deference for Jesus’ authority. For example, the Mary/Martha story in Luke 10 isn’t simply about rest and work, it’s also about a woman “sitting at the feet of Jesus” as a student, apprentice, or disciple in a social space in which women and men were not to mix. Several examples of this are found in the gospel accounts and Acts: Lk. 7:38; 8:35, 41; 17:16 and Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2; 22:3 (Paul and Gamaliel). Some of these texts are about learning, or emotion, or desperation, or gratitude. All acknowledge that Jesus affirmed their trust in his authority–which is the simply litmus test for discipleship.

And I’ve not even mentioned the female disciples of Luke 8:1-3 or the promise that our sons and daughters would prophesy (which means, to talk about the things of God) in Acts 2 or a female apostle (Junia in Romans 16) or women prophesying in I. Cor. 11 or . . . Phoebe as the main church leader, reader, thinker in Romans 16 or two key women leaders in Phil. 4 or females as the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection . . . or the first church planter in John’s gospel is a woman (Jn. 4)  . . . you get the point.

I know what Paul said in I Timothy 2 and I Cor. 14.

But before you tell me what Paul said, can you first tell me what Jesus did?


Labels: Uncategorized

Do you think there is anything to women not being in the 12? Is that hierarchy of any sort? We do have to let Jesus live in the world in which he lived and yet also understand what he challenged and what he didn’t. Thanks for sharing this.

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 25 2012, 2:15 pm)

Don’t forget that the first witness to the resurrection – a woman, one who in that culture was not allowed to be a witness in court. Sneaky.

And Matt – I would never speak for Josh – but I think the question of hierarchy based on Jesus’ teachings is pretty clear – everything is upside down. The last shall be first, the least the greatest, the poor are the rich, etc.

In the garden – there was no hierarchy – only after brokeness enters does that system begin.

by Justin (Sep 25 2012, 3:31 pm)

Paul makes it clear that there are no worldly distinctions between Christians (Gal 3:28). At the same time there is some hierarchy in the church. We have elders and deacons who have authority. We have non-elders and deacons who submit to the authority of those over them. Now, this authority structure is not a worldly one. These “authorities” are called to first and foremost be servants, just like Jesus was. So in some ways there is a hierarchy present, even in the teaching of Jesus…it is just not the hierarchies of the world and not based on worldly standards of who is supposed to be on top and who is supposed to be on the bottom.

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 25 2012, 4:01 pm)

If course the 12 being men is impt but only in relation
To the other 15 things I just mentioned
You got to read it all together and be honest
See #2

by Josh (Sep 25 2012, 6:44 pm)

We can all be tempted to pick and choose the narratives that resonate with the story we want to tell. Unfortunately sometimes the story we are pushing runs counter the Gospel story (which is what you are pointing out so well in your post) that we try to support through picking and choosing narratives that fit our agenda. I appreciate the balance you are bringing to the conversation in this post without completely choosing an alternate story that ignores the tension that is present in understanding some of these things.

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 25 2012, 6:52 pm)


In section 2, you reference Luke 8, about the women with Jesus and the 12 apostles. When I read the verse,”these women were helping to support”, how do we know what role they doing? Were they simply helping like a wife helps her husband or were they helping in teaching?

Additionally, you state about “our sons and daughters will prophesy”, do us as Christians not discuss our beliefs? I don’t see where these verses outline roles or responsibilities.

What I have read and interpreted, the bible states many times about wives submitting to their husbands. In the same sense, why would we treat the church different from our family, especially since we are called to be the family of Christ?

Another aspect to consider, if men and women are equal in their roles in the church, then why in 1st Timothy 3 does it state the requirements of overseers and deacons to be “faithful to their wives”? Should the scripture say spouse instead of wife?

I believe our culture, up until this century, has always been based on a hierarchy. If Christianity has had such an effect on our culture, then why did it take a bout 1900 years, for women’s role to change? I believe women have a tremendous role as Christians. I also believe the role should be limited to where God commands men to fulfill their responsibility, as leaders/head of household.

by Nicholas (Sep 25 2012, 8:49 pm)

I respect your thoughts but will not get into debating you point for point.
I suggest you peruse “A Woman Called” by Sara Barton or “Blue Parakeet” by Sara Barton for thorough and definitive treatments of your fair questions.
What do you do with Phoebe and Junia?
Prophesy in the first century meant preaching not “discussing our beliefs”
Once again, how do you address reality of truth #2?

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 6:54 am)


We also have to deal with the fact that we all read some texts through other texts. If we read the NT based on I Tim. 2 we get a different conclusion than if we read the NT based on Gal. 3:28. It’s about the Spirit’s gifting in baptism. Thanks for your good points.

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 6:56 am)

Matt–Tom Robinson (minister in Manhattan) has done some remarkable work on the role of the 12. Have you seen his work, it’s online I believe: A Community without Barriers.

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 6:57 am)

Seems like Randy Harris made that point about reading texts through other texts sometime recently. Was that at Pepperdine this year? It is a great point. We are always going to read texts through the lens of other texts. There really isn’t any way around that. Try reading Psalm 22 without reading the crucifixion narrative into it. Once you know the whole story you can’t separate those texts very easily. You also have to realize that psalm had an original context that has value as well as the prophetic value of the text pointing to Christ. We do have to be aware of what strengths that brings and what weaknesses of doing that.

I am not aware of Tom Robinson’s work. I will have a look.

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 26 2012, 7:22 am)

Email me josh @ otter creek . org
I’ll send it to you

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 7:25 am)

Nicholas –

Regarding the passages about submission, obviously one of the most difficult things with regards to this discussion, I think in order to understand what’s going on – we have to understand a bit of history. These verses parallel the Greco- Roman household codes… Basically the hierarchical order of the day. The interesting thing is that in that culture, husbands never submitted to wives, masters were under no obligation to treat their slaves well. It seems to me that Paul is tweaking the cultural norms of the day – redeeming them, slowly but surely. Surely one would not use those same verses to give biblical support to slavery, right? 😉

by Justin (Sep 26 2012, 8:22 am)

I use the slavery comparison . . . people get bogged down in slavery/gender instead of the larger “interpretive point”–has that been your experience?

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 11:45 am)

At one time my understanding of this whole issue was shaped by reading all scripture through 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 because that was how I was taught to read. One text that really began changing my views on a lot of things (not just the gender issue) was what was proclaimed on Pentecost because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. That proclamation that the last days had now appeared included the fact that sons and daughters would prophesy (Acts 2:17). But the bigger point of the Pentecost proclamation is that the last age is breaking into history and so God’s people are being called to live in the realm of this eschatological age that is emerging. That allowed me to see a text like Galatians 3:28 as a normative statement and see the passages in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 as corrective to some problematic pastoral circumstances but not a normative statement with universal application.

That is how my view regarding women and Christian ministry began to change. I’m not saying that my understanding removes all the difficulties of biblical interoperation but I do believe it is a much more gospeled way of reading scripture.

It is also nice to minister with a congregation that has granted more freedom to women in ministry than many other Churches of Christ.

Grace and Peace,


by K. Rex Butts (Sep 26 2012, 8:32 am)

the tension is to still let all the different texts have a say
great thoughts

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 11:46 am)

One problem that I wonder if some conservatives and/or complementarians have with a cultural understanding of the Corinthian and Timothy passages is that it opens the rest of Scripture to being interested by the culture into which it was written, rather than being a universal truth that is immutable and unbreakable. And if your entire faith has been placed in the idea that the Bible is the word of God and what has to be followed to the letter, that idea can potentially destroy your faith. (It’s also evidence of Bibliolatry)

And that doesn’t even take the patriarchal power argument into condpsideration.

by Phil (Sep 26 2012, 12:02 pm)

The slavery comparison is certainly helpful, especially when dealing with the naive notion of “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” From the hermeneutical stand point I also think it is helpful to bring up the 5-6 times the NT commands Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss. Very few people, by their action, believe that a literal application of this passage is still warranted yet many of those people want to read other passages (such as 1 Cor 14:34-35 & 1 Tim 2:11-12) with universal application. So how to they decide one command, repeated 5-6 times in the NT, does not require the form in order to carry out the function but another passage does. This is an issue that many Christians have not thought about but is imperative if we are to live out the gospel as local churches in a faithful yet contextualized way.

by K. Rex Butts (Sep 26 2012, 12:26 pm)


There is certainly a tension here. I can hear it in your comment above, “The interesting thing is that in that culture, husbands never submitted to wives, masters were under no obligation to treat their slaves well. It seems to me that Paul is tweaking the cultural norms of the day – redeeming them, slowly but surely.”

I agree Paul is advancing the household code of the day into a redeemed form of the household code. My question would be, why slowly and surely? If there is truly no difference in gender why not go all the way, right now? If it is true, it is true. Why didn’t Paul push for female elders in the pastorals? Why didn’t Jesus invite a woman to be one of the 12 to make that point? Why slowly and surely? If God really wants us to get it why not really show it to us in a more thorough way than the glimpses we do get? I am still struck by Galatians 3:28 but in practice it makes me wonder why that principle doesn’t always present itself evenly. Is there a reason for that?

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 26 2012, 12:30 pm)

Can we get one female to comment? Haha

by Josh Graves (Sep 26 2012, 1:38 pm)

Matt–that quote came from Justin, fyi.

by Josh Graves (Sep 27 2012, 9:02 am)

Matt, one of your questions was: ” Why didn’t Paul push for female elders in the pastorals?”

Paul uses a word that could be translated elders (a church function) or older people several times in the pastorals. In 1 Tim 5:1-2, the male/ gender neutral version of the word is translated as elders, and the female as “older women.” In Greek it clearly refer to females and males of one group.

It may, therefore, not be true that Paul did not have them – biased translation push against them.

Several of your arguments are based on believing your translation, while your English Bible is really less than perfect, even though God wrote the truth in Greek and Hebrews.

by Retha Faurie (Sep 27 2012, 9:53 am)

I would love to comment. I will attempt to respond to several points that have been made. Please forgive me for the length.

With regard to Galatians 3:28, Paul leads up to vs. 28 by saying that all those who have faith in Christ are sons of God. Only legitimate sons inherited—not only the wealth, but also the social status. So I don’t think Paul is saying that there are no differences between the genders, or that there are not differences in social status. There will always be differences in economic and social status in this world (the poor you will always have with you) and women will always be the ones who give birth. Instead, I believe he is saying that gender and social status are irrelevant when it comes to our inheritance in Christ. The gifts, callings, and power of God are freely and fully bestowed on all who believe. And God is no respecter of persons and gives gifts to whomever he chooses.

A case in point is Onesimos. Tradition says that though he was a slave, he went on to become a bishop in the early church and later died a martyr. As far as God was concerned, Onesimos’ social status was irrelevant to the plans and calling that God had for him.

by Liz (Sep 27 2012, 11:43 pm)

With regard to the household codes, I believe that Paul was incredibly radical when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. He is equally radical in his letter to Philemon. Instead of changing the household codes politically, he applies a kingdom paradigm to the existing culture. The household codes were developed to facilitate order in society. The Greco-Roman culture believed that the smallest unit of society was the building block of the larger society, so order in the household was the building block for order in the larger society. The household codes were developed with the comfort of the patriarch in mind and to facilitate order. Legally, he held all the power in the relationships in his household. All of the members belonged to him. In the secular household codes, most of the instructions regarding proper behavior are given to the members with less power; wives, children, and slaves. There is an understanding of reciprocity, but it is not between equals. Slaves, women, and children were considered to not have fully developed souls. Only free adult males had full souls. So it was permissible to dispose of them. It was not uncommon to leave children out to die, and it was the patriarch of the household who decided that.

Into this worldview, Paul comes and turns things upside-down. For example, in his letter to Philemon, rather than coercing Philemon, Paul appeals to him on behalf of Onesimos (Philemon’s slave who had run away). Paul acknowledges that Onesimos has been useless and Philemon has every right to punish him, but then says “If then you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me.” Another translation says, “Therefore since you have me as a partner, take him as a partner like me.” What incredibly challenging words!

Not only is Paul asking Philemon to take Onesimos back and not punish him as he deserves, Paul is asking Philemon to take him as a partner (or receive him in the same way he would receive Paul). This request not only goes against the socially accepted order (and possibly Philemon’s pride), but Philemon would be taking a huge personal risk by doing as Paul asked. You can bet his peers/neighbors would hear about it, and so would their slaves. Philemon’s peers would not be very happy with him for upsetting the status quot—“if Philemon’s slave goes unpunished for running away, our slaves will think they can get away with it too.” Philemon ran the risk of seriously upsetting the community (think Acts 19:23-40). When I stop to think of Paul’s words, “receive him as you would me,” I am stunned by the implications. Paul, like Jesus, is turning the world upside-down.

by Liz (Sep 27 2012, 11:54 pm)

He does the same thing in Ephesians 5. The section begins with “be filled with the spirit.” And what are the actions of one who is being filled with the spirit? Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…always giving thanks for all things…being subject to one another in the fear of Christ…wives to your own husbands…”

“Being subject” is not in the sentence that instructs the wives, but instead comes at the end of the list of behaviors of one who is filled with the spirit. The implication is that all believers who are being filled with the spirit will be subject to one another. The instructions that follow is what “being subject” (or “coming under” or “supporting”) looks like for all of the members of a typical household. In other words, Paul exhorts everyone to “be subject” to one another.

Something to note is, the husband, father and master are all the same person in a Greco-Roman household—there is an enormous power differential between him and all the other members of his household. And unlike the secular household codes which do not require the patriarch to consider more than the basic needs of his household, Paul exhorts him to love his wife the way Christ loved the church, by laying aside his privilege and power to be served, in order to serve. Paul also exhorts him to consider his children’s maturity level and needs so that they do not become discouraged and exasperated. Paul exhorts him to treat his slaves with dignity remembering that they both serve the same master. Paul elevates the powerless members of the household while reminding the powerful member that he must use his privileges to serve.

There is a ton of good stuff in this passage, but it would take too long to discuss it all. Suffice it to say that Paul says some mind blowing things to all the members of the household, but especially to the husband/father/master. In short, he turns the world upside-down.

I don’t think this passage is about roles or fulfilling certain responsibilities (wives submit and respect, husbands love and lead—there is no such thing as love without respect, but that’s a conversation for another day). Rather, it is about living with a different worldview—a “God’s kingdom” worldview where those who have power in this world, lay it down to serve and those who are powerless are lifted up and empowered to serve as co-laborers.

by Liz (Sep 28 2012, 12:03 am)

This is the last comment I’ll make. With regard to why Paul or Jesus didn’t change the social systems right away or all at once, I think it was for a few very practical reasons. For one thing, people and societies are slow to change. It takes time for us to change the way we think and view the world. All new ideas—whether in science (flat world vs. round world), political systems, social systems and more—take time to gain acceptance.

Secondly, we know that Paul was concerned about the reputation of the church to the outside community, not just for the spread of the gospel, but also for the safety of its members. Several times in Acts we see examples of incidents that escalated into very dangerous situations very quickly. To suddenly give women and slaves equal status with free male citizens would no doubt have caused tremendous upheaval. And Rabbi Jesus was very unusual in having women disciples who sat and learned just as the men did.

When it comes to what the kingdom of God looks like in practice, I think that Paul and Jesus were on the same page. Those who want to be great must become the servant of all, and God has chosen the foolish and weak things of the world to confound the wise. So he chooses slaves to be bishops (Onesimos) and women to be apostles (Junia), and young men to be elders (Timothy).

by Liz (Sep 28 2012, 12:16 am)

Just now read through the comments here.
Very interesting discussion. I think your observation about the Gospels is important, Josh. But, it’s also clear that Roman Catholics, who have emphasized the Gospels while we Protestants have emphasized Paul, have also demanded strict division in leadership. And one of their main arguments concerns the point that women were not included in the 12. Here’s an interesting website in which Catholic women provide their reasons in opposition to that argument,
I think it’s helpful to consider their arguments.

Just one clarification – I didn’t write The Blue Parakeet (a typo) – wish I did. But, I did write A Woman Called.

by Sara Barton (Sep 29 2012, 5:18 pm)

To all
Kept the dialog going!
I’m out of town
Will write more when I get back.

by Josh (Sep 30 2012, 8:31 am)

I don’t think the Catholic Church has emphasized the gospels as much as it appears you do
Per life with the poor-yes. But they seem to struggle
just as much with letting the whole gospel speak

by Josh (Sep 30 2012, 8:54 am)

SGB-thanks for the link!

by Josh (Sep 30 2012, 8:55 am)


I don’t really get the Jesus understood that things move slow on issues approach. That doesn’t jive with how Jesus dealt with all sorts of other things. Much of what Jesus and Paul taught were radical departures from the norm. They went “all the way” immediately on so many other things. Why not do that here? I don’t think that argument works on this one. Just my 2 cents.

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 30 2012, 12:37 pm)


I want to say how appreciative I am of your input here. The female input was sorely lacking and I am grateful that you, Retha and Sara have given your perspectives. I really appreciate that. I also want to say that I don’t think I have the answers here. I have more questions than I have answers.

1 Tim 5:1-2 doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not there were female elders. There weren’t female elders. I don’t think anyone is really disputing that elders were male.

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 30 2012, 6:09 pm)

Paul didn’t abolish slavery directly…
Are you for slavery? 😉
If not, what interpretive approach do u employ?
Just curious. Good conversation.

by Josh (Sep 30 2012, 7:45 pm)

In Philemon, he told Philemon to treat Onesimus no longer as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 16). In the household codes he doesn’t abolish slavery (which wasn’t like 19th century American slavery by the way – read the really helpful article in the ABD that helps show the differences). Instead, he tells people how to live out their faith in whatever circumstances they find themselves. In Rome, a huge percentage of the population were slaves (I will have to get that %). People even sold themselves into slavery in order to get a better position/status in life. It wasn’t the brutal system we associate it with due to our own history in America. There were doctors and lawyers who were slaves…it just wasn’t how we see it. They could manumit/buy themselves back out as well. They also had many freedoms we don’t think of when it comes to slavery. All that to say, I am pretty certain if it had been the system we had in 19th century America, Paul would have outright outlawed any Christian from taking part in it. So my interpretive approach on why Paul treated it that way is to understand the historical background and the world in which they lived in order to make sense out of why Paul didn’t condemn it like we think he should have. Hope that makes sense. I am sure none of that is news to you 🙂

by Matt Dabbs (Sep 30 2012, 8:02 pm)

Matt, you say there were no female elders – based on what? How do you know, if the same word is translated differently when it refers to males and when it refers to females?

by Retha Faurie (Sep 30 2012, 8:02 pm)


What case can you make that there were? I am not talking just about elder/older members but the official role of presbuteros as a leadership role in the church that was filled by men only. Of course there were elderly women in the church but no evidence that they filled that specific leadership role of presbuteros. Hope that makes sense. If you know of some evidence that there were women in this role in the early church please fill me in.

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 1 2012, 10:36 am)

By the way, ABD = Anchor Bible Dictionary. Sorry for not saying that above.

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 1 2012, 10:37 am)

Junia was a female Apostle
Romans 16
Does that influence your reading?

by Josh (Oct 1 2012, 1:08 pm)

It doesn’t influence my reading on elders. They certainly had female deacons and seemingly even gave qualifications for female deacons in the pastorals. I never said there weren’t females who had the apostolic gift as mentioned in Eph 4:11. I do not think those 4 gifts are gender specific or have gender qualifications to them. That doesn’t have anything to do with the male elder thingy 🙂

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 1 2012, 2:29 pm)

So, a female apostle but not a female elder in the early church. Have you read modern thinkers’ opinion that Phoebe was the elder/preacher/leader in Rome?

by Josh Graves (Oct 1 2012, 6:11 pm)

I am so impressed that this has stayed so civil. And Liz —— straight baller commentary there.

Matt – while ill agree that 19th century American slavery is not an apples to apples comparison with 1st century slavery – are you arguing that the life of a slave was a good one in that time period? If it was – why would Paul even need to instruct masters to be good to their slaves?

What about slavery of the Israelites in Egypt? Was that a cakewalk? Slavery has a long history among the Jews, much of the OT law being framed by the phrase “remember you were slaves in Egypt”. If anyone was anti institutional slavery, I’d think it would be a good Jew that knew Torah.

But again – Christianity works itself out in the framework of the societies in which it develops. You work to redeem broken systems – but in many cases its done on the DL. Systems aren’t generally dismantled in a day. But over time, through subversion, they can be. I’d argue that’s exactly what Paul is doing with household codes.

by Justin (Oct 1 2012, 6:59 pm)


I wouldn’t say it is impossible but all I know is what I have in the New Testament and the requirements talk about men and the examples that are given are males. Maybe there is some way to read Junia into that role but she is never explicitly identified as such in the NT.


Thanks for your input here. I want to say it again. I have more questions than answers on this one but I will respond where I can.

Justin: “while ill agree that 19th century American slavery is not an apples to apples comparison with 1st century slavery – are you arguing that the life of a slave was a good one in that time period? If it was – why would Paul even need to instruct masters to be good to their slaves?”

This varied on a case by case basis. Some even purposely sold themselves into slavery because it would open up doors for advancement in their society (due to the status of their master) and they had the rights to later buy themselves back out of slavery. So was it good to be a slave? For some it was good enough to purposely put themselves in that position. I am sure others weren’t so fortunate. It is not a one-size fits all situation in the first century but the data we do have tells us it wasn’t always an evil system where people were used and abused. 1 Peter 2:18ff, Peter tells us there are different kinds of masters. He says some are “good and considerate” What? and, of course right, some are harsh and unjust and who beat their slaves. So both types existed but with our American slavery lenses we can’t see anyway to call any slave owner “good and considerate” like Peter did, inspired by the Spirit, in his day and context. So this goes even beyond the household codes/haustafel for you German buffs 🙂

Justin: “What about slavery of the Israelites in Egypt? Was that a cakewalk? Slavery has a long history among the Jews, much of the OT law being framed by the phrase “remember you were slaves in Egypt”. If anyone was anti institutional slavery, I’d think it would be a good Jew that knew Torah.”

That was 1300 years before Paul in another land, under other laws, authorities and societal norms. That isn’t the situation we are talking about here so I don’t really see the relevance of using that as a talking point or leverage in the Paul not straight up condemning slavery discussion.

Justin: “But again – Christianity works itself out in the framework of the societies in which it develops. You work to redeem broken systems – but in many cases its done on the DL. Systems aren’t generally dismantled in a day. But over time, through subversion, they can be. I’d argue that’s exactly what Paul is doing with household codes.”

I have questions about that interpretation. It has been used several times in the comments above and while I get where it comes from I am not quite convinced it fits. I am not saying it is the wrong approach, just that I don’t think it adequately explains what we have in the Gospel. Let me give some examples. Jesus didn’t hold back with the broken systems of the Pharisees. He condemned their broken and dishonest system to their face so much so they wanted him dead. Jesus didn’t take the subtle route. Then when he saw money changers in the temple, I guess he could have taken a slower more subversive approach but he didn’t. He jumped right in and told them how wrong they were. He brought revolution then and there. Resurrection took three days and wasn’t really kept on the DL. I hope this doesn’t sound attacking. I don’t mean it to come across that way. I am just making the point that when Christ or Paul or Peter or whoever encountered broken systems they didn’t quietly subvert. They jumped in and preached the truth right in the middle of the darkness. Paul did it with the Judaizers. You get the point.

Thanks for the great conversation. This is an important one and there is a lot riding on it. It is important we give an honest hearing to what is there (as is what is being attempted by this article and the comments that have followed) and not cherrypick verses that don’t fit our predetermined conclusions that may have been formed more by our culture than by scripture.

I hope you can all read anything I have written in this post through the lens of the utmost love and respect for you all and for all who have shared their thoughts on this post. Thanks for the great discussion and God bless.

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 1 2012, 7:23 pm)

Great convo
Junia is listed as super among the apostles in Rom. 16. It’s now standard interpretation of the original language
How can you say (in a humble question/voice) the NT doesn’t mention this? Phoebe is different but Junia is listed as an apostle.

by Josh (Oct 1 2012, 7:44 pm)

Matt –

Do you not see a difference between Jesus directly confronting his own religious tribe, and confronting the social system of the empire?

I feel like there’s a parable about a little yeast working through all the dough… ( I’m admittedly a hack theologian) – and that’s what I see in the church in the first century. They didn’t go out of their way to pick fights with those who don’t claim to adhere to their standards (back to the difference in confronting the Jewish religious establishment) doing their best to live at peace with everyone. But within their community, things were obviously different. And that got them in plenty of trouble.

Something I’m learning (and Josh can attest to this) is that there is a time to be prophetic, and a time to be subversive. Is it the church’s job to stand up and make its voice heard over culture, to argue with them until things change? Or is it to live the new age right under the nose of the old, overcoming from the bottom up instead of the top down?

by Justin (Oct 1 2012, 8:07 pm)


I did recognize that she was an apostle above. One can be an apostle but not an elder. What I said above,

“It doesn’t influence my reading on elders. They certainly had female deacons and seemingly even gave qualifications for female deacons in the pastorals. I never said there weren’t females who had the apostolic gift as mentioned in Eph 4:11. I do not think those 4 gifts are gender specific or have gender qualifications to them. That doesn’t have anything to do with the male elder thingy :)”

If I wasn’t clear enough what all I meant by that is this, “you are 100% correct in saying she was a female apostle”. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. I am not sure what bearing that has on female elders though.


I was just reading some parables today and thought about that too. There is the parable of the leaven and also the parable of the hidden/growing seed. The seed is sown and then the farmer waits and waits until it does its thing. Now, we can stretch parables too far if we aren’t careful. I think that would be the place to make a case for what you are saying if there is one but I don’t think that is directly what Jesus is saying in that instance. I think Jesus in the case of the parable of the growing/hidden seed Jesus is saying that there is a time when good and evil will stand side by side but don’t worry, God will sort it all out eventually. Otherwise, we miss the point of the parable and think we just have to sit on our hands when it comes to evil and not address it when we have opportunity. Do you think that fits the parable or do you think I am reading my own conclusions into it? I am really asking/not being sarcastic in the least. Thanks for the dialog brother.

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 1 2012, 8:26 pm)

A very interesting (and extremely relevant) conversation. I want to applaud all who’ve posted on this thread for your civility and respect for the opinions and questions of others. We need more of this kind of open dialogue in our churches today.

And Josh, thanks for the recommendation of Tom Robinson’s A Community Without Barriers. I downloaded the PDF file tonight as well as the two podcasts.

I have more questions than answers, so this dialogue has been helpful.

by Darin Campbell (Oct 1 2012, 11:24 pm)

Matt –

I think the parable is saying exactly that – the church gets right in the middle of culture and does its thing. And the culture and the world will follow. That’s not to say its not to address evil specifically, as I mentioned before, there’s a time to be prophetic, and a time to be subversive. Trying to change roman social structures by preaching directly against it probably would have had little effect. But a transformed community living in a certain way, and preaching to those that have ears to hear, is, as I understand it, the way that God works in the world. Jesus never said directly that the power’s use of violence is wrong – but I think he showed us its wrong by the way he lived and the way he died on the cross.

The upside down kingdom doesn’t rule through force and coercion, but through living the new world in the midst of the old.

by Justin (Oct 2 2012, 3:48 am)

Thanks Matt-you are a good man
Darrin-let me know what u think of Robinson’s work

by Josh (Oct 2 2012, 5:23 am)

Sorry! Darin

by Josh (Oct 2 2012, 5:24 am)

Matt, you are shifting the proof of evidence when calling me to provide evidence for female elders.

I already showed there may be female elders in Tim 5 – :1 and :2 are parralels and the word should be translated the same – either both speak of the church office, or both of old people.
You and asserted they could not have been female elders, because, according to you “There weren’t female elders.” That leaves the proof of evidence with you.

by Retha Faurie (Oct 2 2012, 1:58 pm)

“You and asserted”
should be
“You asserted”
The burden of proof lies with Matt, who asserted there were no female elders.

by Retha Faurie (Oct 2 2012, 2:00 pm)

Thanks for commenting and enriching the conversation.

by Josh (Oct 2 2012, 7:31 pm)

Thank you, Josh. I like your blog. I’ll be back.

by Retha Faurie (Oct 3 2012, 9:14 am)


Sorry…I have been out of town this week but will get back with you on this soon. Thank you for your patience and have a good night.

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 6 2012, 6:12 pm)


Here is some evidence supporting the view that there were no female elders in the early church and that 1 Tim 5:2 is not talking about women in the official position of church elder as you have been saying (tentatively) above,

Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary) by William Mounce, 269f

“Continuing from 1 Tim 3:15 the imagery of the church as a household, Paul now says that Timothy should not take an adversarial role with the members of the Ephesian church but should treat them as family — fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters…πρεσβυτερος (presbuteros), “older man” (similar use in Luke 15:25, John 8:9, Acts 2:17) occurs in the feminine form in the next vese as πρεσβυτερας, “older woman” and elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles the word is used to mean an ‘elder’ in the church (1 Tim 5:17, 19, Titus 1:5, cf. 1 Pet 5:5)…Here presbuteros describes not the church office of an elder but simply a man who is older. It is parallel to presbuteras “older women” in the next verse and there was not position of “woman elders” in the Pauline churches or in the second century. The topic of this section is not church leadership but how Timothy is to treat people of different ages and genders. The similarity to Hellenistic parallels suggests Paul is speaking of an older man. The command to encourage instead of rebuke is not appropriate if the audience is the elders since they are a large part of the problem and Paul uses harsh language with them.”

So Mounce says there were no female elders in the early church. He says the context dictates this being older woman and says that Paul would be contradicting himself in the letter if he here says to encourage them and not rebuke them but in other places he personally rebukes them.

In N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: Pastoral Letters he also says this is about the church being like a family with older men and women being like mothers and fathers to Timothy.

Donald Guthrie’s Tyndale Commentary says these are older men and women and not church elders.

JND Kelly’s Black NT Commentary says these are older men and women, not church leadership.

Liefeld’s NIV Application commentary says these are older people, not church leadership.

Ben Witherington’s Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians also says 1 Tim 5:1-2 is about older men and women and not about those in the official leadership position as elders.

I can’t find a single commentary that backs up your view. Take that for what is worth. They could all be wrong.

I looked a little at church history to see if I could find some examples. I can’t. Let me know if you have any. That wouldn’t be as important as scripture itself but would at least be good to know.

There is only one major translation that has female elders here and I think it is the NEB.

Hope that helps. I feel like I am standing on pretty good ground on this one based on the New Testament and church history. We haven’t even mentioned verses like 1 Tim 2:12 – just three chapters earlier Paul tells Timothy to not allow women to teach or have authority over a man but then three chapters later he is referring to female elders? Some will say this is just based on the culture Timothy was dealing with. Even if that is true, it would certainly still apply 3 chapters later in the same letter, right?

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 8 2012, 7:56 am)

By the way, that is every commentary I have. I didn’t leave any out because they disagreed with me. If anyone has a commentary that says these are female elders in 1 Tim 5:2 I would like to hear about that.

Thanks again to everyone for the helpful conversation.

by Matt Dabbs (Oct 8 2012, 7:59 am)

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