Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Full Stature of Women as Servants of Christ in His Church - Part 10


Paul's instructions for choosing elders/overseers fuel our case that, contrary to traditionalist interpreters, Paul not only saw women as vital participating church members, but that he actually had both genders in mind for the jobs of pastors, elders, and deacons.

 We looked at 1 Timothy 2 in the last few blogs. In the next chapter, 1 Timothy 3, and in Titus 1:5-2:5, Paul gives us  lists of qualifications that most churches today include in their pastoral selection process.

After asserting in 1 Timothy 2 that women will be restored by faith and faithfulness, he goes on in chapter 3 to say, literally, "Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task." It does not say, as some translations have it, "If any man desires" but it says literally, "if anyone" does.

Examine the Greek in the lists that follow of qualifications for elders and deacons (also rendered "ministers") and you will discover another remarkable fact obscured by most modern translations. Namely, each trait Paul lists for can apply to women as well as to men. There is nothing gender-specific here. Philip Payne's illuminating research on the Pauline use of pronouns reaches a revolutionary conclusion:
"The Greek ... has not even one masculine pronoun or possessive, nor any other grammatical specification that Paul had men and not women in mind" (Trinity Journal, 2NS, 1981, p. 195).
This should not surprise us since elders are called to be examples to all the flock (1Pe 5:3). What they are, each us should aspire to become, whether male or female. It also should not surprise us that the same is true of Paul's qualification list for deacons, since the only deacon named in New Testament is a woman named Phoebe (Ro 16:1).

Yet, the obvious gender inclusiveness of Paul's speech would never be known if all we had was traditionalist translations! In fact, the only thing that might suggest Paul had men instead of women in mind comes from his reference to eac elder needing to have on wife. But there is no good reason to insist that this is anything other than a general requirement of monogamy in marriage. If we take the statement with strict literalism, then even Paul, a single man, would have to be ruled out. But Paul's concern is for monogamy, not for restricting gender or excluding someone who is single. Note that Paul uses the same standard for the order of widows in 1 Timothy 5:9.

In fact, Phoebe's status as a deacon (not deaconess; the title is masculine) shows that Paul did not mean by these lists to exclude women. (Consider first that the requirements for deacon are almost identical to those of elder.) Whatever we decide about the qualification lists, we cannot say they exclude women candidates since Phoebe was a woman highly esteemed and commended by Paul in Romans 16:1. In calling her a deacon he points her out as as an example of someone who satisfied these very lists and was deserving of her title. And she is the only New Testament example we have!

Since Paul, when speaking of a woman, used the masculine form of the word deacon/minister, this shows that we cannot argue on the basis of masculine wording that he (or the NT) means to exclude women by using masculine speech. Women were, as shown here, included by Paul's own practice! Any masculine orientation in these lists, then, should be viewed as being more incidentally due to the unintentional limitations of language than due to any intentional "language of limitation."

Paul uses another interesting title for Phoebe in Romans 16:2 that is often overlooked. He calls her "prostatus," a word that means "one who protects, presides, or sponsors as a patron." It is used of elders elsewhere (1Tm 3:4-5;5:17) and if Phoebe were male, we can be sure many translators would not hesitate to translate this word -- and justifiably so -- as elder, minister, pastor, or even as presiding elder. Since she is not male, most English translations hedge on this. But Paul does not hedge. He calls her a prostatus to many, including himself.

Paul's lists in Titus are similar to 1 Timothy 3 but in Titus a discussion takes place regarding "old men" and "old women" that does not have a parallel in 1 Timothy. What our modern translations don't tell us is that the word for "older men" (presbutas) in Titus 2:2 comes from the same word for "elders" (presbuterous), which Paul told Titus to appoint in 1:5. The word presbutidas ("older women") in 2:3 is simply the feminine form of presbutas.

Louis Berkhof comments:
"The term presbuteroi is used in Scripture to denote old men, and to designate a class of officers somewhat similar to those who functioned in the synagogue." - Systematic Theology (1938, Eerdmans, p. 585)
In other words, "older men" and "older women" could easily be rendered "elder men" and "elder women," respectively. Translators fail to do this partly because of traditional biases and partly because they note that the words in 1:5 and 2:2 for "elders" are different. This difference is easily explained, however, if we consider that in 2:2 Paul was speaking of males only (which is clear from the context) but in 1:5 he had both genders in mind!

In the same way, just because in some contexts Paul contrasts these older men and women with young men and women, he may still be referring to elders. Berkhof, for example, suggests that presbuteroi were distinguished from hoi neoteroi as early as Acts 5. He says the term hoi neoteroi, meaning the young men, may have referred not only to young people but to disciples preparing for leadership roles. They may even have been forerunners to those who were later called deacons (Berkhof, p. 586).

Remarkably, when Hebrews 11: 2 proceeds to give a list of great forerunners of the faith, it refers to them collectively as "presbuteroi" in the masculine. This is same word Paul uses for "elders." Yet the masculine form of that word does not prevent the Hebrews writer from including a number of women in that chapter's list of "elders," even two by name (Sarah & Rahab). A similar usage occurs in Acts 2:17.

This is simply how the ancient languages work. When speaking of men and women collectively, the masculine is always used. If there is one man and 100 women, the group will still be spoken of in the masculine. But this does not mean the women are excluded or not part of the group!

And so I repeat:

Any masculine orientation in these lists, should be viewed as being incidental and the result of the unintentional limitations of language; they are not due to an intentional "language of limitation."

Coming Up:  Conclusions and What's a Search Committee to Do?
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