Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kenneth Bailey on Women Elders

There has been a heated discussion on complegalitarian regarding women elders. It is clear to me that gender-based leadership should go the way of slavery, dictatorships and lack of proper dental work.

However, for those who wish to discuss this more objectively, there is Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View by Kenneth Bailey. He writes,
We will examine 4:12-5:2 as a unit which focuses on Timothy and the presbuteroi. Once again the presbuteroi are of two kinds. Paul first mentions the elders who have ordained Timothy (4:12-16). Granted, these verses focus on Timothy’s duties as a leader of worship; but the context is that of Timothy’s ordination by elders who are not criticized.

He then discusses the difficult elders (5:1-2). These are obviously people whom Timothy is sorely tempted to attack. He is told, ‘Don’t do it’. Treat the presbutero like a father, he is advised, and the presbuteras (plural) like mothers. Thus the two topics of ‘helpful elders’ and ‘difficult elders’ appear in both paragraph 4 (4:17-20) and paragraph 2 (4:12-5:2). In each case the good elders are mentioned first and the difficult elders second. Thus paragraphs 2 and 4 can be seen as parallel discussions of ministry.

If this is true, then the presbuteras in 5:2 are women elders ordained and engaged in ministry in Timothy’s congregation. The NRSV places ‘or an elder, or a presbyter’ as a marginal note to presbutero in 5:1 but curiously not to presbuteras in 5:2.
He summaries his observations with this comment,
In summary, the NT has clear cases of women disciples, teachers, prophets and deacons/ministers. We have near certitude in perceiving Junia to be a female apostle. It is possible to see female elders in 1 Tim. 5:2. Thus women appear on nearly all, if not all, levels of leadership in the NT Church.
He is tentative about viewing women as "elders" in Timothy 5. However, I am entirely with Bailey in agreeing that women in the NT had all the influence of leadership and intiative implied in the word "leader." There is no difference in the design of women which excludes them from the function of leadership. I do not believe that the doctrine that "women are not designed for leadership" is a tenable biblical position.

Contrary to the traditional churches which maintain male leadership based on a tradition of male priesthood, the complementarian potition attempts to place the reason for the exclusion of women from leadership on the complementary design of women, made explicit in the biblical text. This leads to an attitude of disrespect for women in leadership which counters the biblical record. This also leads complementarians to accuse all who do not hold to their position of being unbiblical, while they are biblical.

While one cannot say that equal participation of women in leadership can be proven from the Bible, we can clearly say that the suitability of women for leadership is clear in the Bible. Therefore, a position which excludes women from leadership based on their design is not biblical and should not be accorded the status of a biblical theology.

Here is Bailey's summary of the biblical positions. In my view, complementarians have chosen #5 to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible.
Faced with both the positives and the negatives, at least five alternatives are available to the reader of the NT.

1. Dismiss the biblical witness as contradictory and thus irrelevant.

2. Take the texts that say ‘yes’ to women as normative and ignore the others.

3. Focus on 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2 and overlook the women disciples, teachers, deacons/ministers, prophets, and woman apostle.

4. Conclude that the NT is at loggerheads with itself and that the Church can only choose one biblical view against the other.

5. Look once more at the negative texts to see if their historical settings allow for more unity in the outlook of the NT than we have suspected.
While I do not think that the text of the Bible can be used to prove egalitarianism, I strongly believe that the complementarian position, the exclusion of women from leadership by God's design of woman in creation, is counter scriptural and anti-woman. It affects every single woman on earth and damages her status in her own home.

1 comment:

G said...

When I read 1Tim.5 I feel as though I am missing some information about what is happening in the church at Ephesus. If the whole passage is referring to church members who have designated positions of ministry, the text seems to flow more smoothly, than if we jump from an older man to the "office of" an elder. In the same way, I am not wanting to understand the instruction about widows as a sudden tangent on the social welfare program of the church, but I would like to think that Timothy is being instructed here about a special ministry consisting of widows, very likely a ministry that is possibly supported financially by the church. If this was only a welfare program, it seems the qualifications are a bit too strict. For example, what about the widow who comes out of a difficult life of multiple broken relationships only to become a Christian in later years. Does her former life of many men disqualify her from the charity of the church or does it only disqualify her of a ministry position similar to the restriction placed on overseers and deacons? What if the case was that the church was happy to hire these older widows that had a life that was above repute to serve in an official work in the church. So in the whole passage we see how Timothy is instructed to act toward the local ministry team at Ephesus: the male elders, the female elders, the younger men and women ministers and the special ministry made up of elderly widows.