Now and Zens [2]

Since the brouhaha has already kicked off in the meta, getting back on-track here might seem a little anti-climactic. However, the original Jon Zens essay posted at Wade Burleson's blog still deserves some thorough going-over, and I intend to get after it beginning here.

The first thing I have to say about the essay is this: I think it asks a good question. If Pastor Zens is concerned about, for example, whether or not women can be teachers of Hebrew or Greek rather than whether women can be teachers of Theology or doctrine, I think he may be on to something. And in that, let's make sure we can see the whole map of my concerns together for a moment.

In the last post on this subject, I said
However, over the handful of years we have been open, I have taken a small amount of grief for promoting books by Kay Arthur and Beth Moore -- because they are women who are plainly teachers. The admonition goes along the standard lines regarding why women ought not to be pastors or elders in the church.

Fair enough: I'm in. I agree with the "pastors and elders" argument, so I accept the admonition that women writing books on spiritual formation veers into the theological red-light district.

How does this standard apply to women bloggers? Does it apply? We're going to finish up on that Wade Burleson-linked article, and then approach this related topic with fear and trembling.
I'm sure I'll get a lot of heat for the term "theological red-light district", but I'm not worried about that. What I'm worried about is that some will think that I am saying all women should never say or do anything in the church – and that idea is utterly ludicrous. Women are believers; women are called to Christ-likeness and participation in the local church; women are clearly part of the plan for the church in the NT.

I omit the blogospheric-requisite proof text references for one simple reason: I don't think anyone is denying these things. These would be common ground issues. What's at stake here is whether or not there is a difference between, for example, teaching Greek to men who will be pastors (which is an academic task; I don't think anyone would call foul if a woman was teaching math or science to men, would they?) and teaching men the exegetical meaning of the book of Acts. The latter is a pastoral activity; the former is not.

Some may disagree with me – because it is hard (and perhaps some will argue "impossible") to separate the translation of the Greek language and the application of such a skill to exegesis. I will be glad to field those questions from those who have them.

Whew. That said, let's get to Pastor Zens' essay with gusto.

As we read his paper, let's remember that his own thesis is founded on what he say we ought to think of 1Tim 2:11-15. I think it's a fine idea to invest all kinds of time on a few limited verses, and it's also a fine idea to see how those verses exist in the whole body of Scripture – that is, how do these statement s measure up to or nuance a broader idea overall in Scripture?

My first concern, however, is that Pastor Zens has not produced "the overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham's daughters painted in the New Testament". He lists 20 specific examples of this picture, but unfortunately he doesn’t devote a lot of exexgtical energy to spell out his interpretations for us. It would probably be useful to examine all 20 examples, and that will take more than one blog entry. I'll tackle the first 6 here, and continue with the rest as this series plays out.

His first example is this:

** Neither the Gospel narratives nor the recorded words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of women.
What it interesting here is that this is an unsubstantiated generalization – it speaks to something which the Gospels never mention, and uses that as evidence of something affirmative. Using this logic, we can say that the Gospel narratives nor the words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of children – so if someone has a bright child who seems good at public speaking, perhaps this child ought to be in pastoral ministry.

What is at stake here is not whether women are like children: what is at stake here is if we can use Scripture's silence on a matter to make an affirmative statement about that matter. This is a mistake in reasoning, and obscures Pastor Zens' point.

His next affirmation is this:
**Jesus fully accepted women as his disciples and they accompanied him in his travels with the male disciples (Luke 8:1-3). These women also supported the mission of Jesus with their own resources. These facts may be much more significant that it initially appears. In the first century it was unheard of for a Jewish rabbi to have female followers. Luke reports this rather matter-of-factly, yet this band of women, men and Jesus was hardly kosher to the curious onlookers as they went from city to village.
What is odd here is whether or not anyone credible is denying that women can be disciples of Christ: I don't know anyone who is a responsible preacher or teacher who is saying that women cannot be disciples; I don't know of anyone who says women shouldn't give of their resources to the church or the work of the ministry.

But there is a rather large gap between saying "women can be disciples" and "women can express teaching authority over the broader body of Christ". If we confuse what is at stake by equating examples of one thing with examples of another, we will come to false conclusions about our actual thesis. That is the type of reasoning we are encountering here.

What is again troubling, however, is the affirmation that Jesus allowing women to be under the teaching of a rabbi makes a positive statement about whether women can actually be a "rabbi" is also an argument from silence. Luke does report the presence of women among the disciples "matter-of-factly": Luke does not report, however, that these women were employed by Christ as teachers or leaders of the church.
**After Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and saw God’s salvation, Anna the prophetess “gave thanks to God and spoke of him [Jesus] to all the ones expecting redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38). Anna did not just proclaim Christ to women, but to “all.”
The question is actually whether or not Anna was teaching doctrine in the pastoral sense or exhorting people with a divine testimony. I am sure one rebuttal to my objection is, "cent, you're slicing the baloney pretty thin here: you're saying that not all prophecies are doctrinal statements? Or that speaking of the truth of the arrival of the Messiah is not 'doctrinal'? Then what exactly qualifies as doctrinal teaching?"

It's a good, fair question. To answer it, we have to consider what kind of burden Pastor Zens is trying to place on this brief passage. What he is trying to substantiate is "the overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham's daughters painted in the New Testament" as it relates to 1Tim 2:11-15 – and ultimately that the restrictions Paul makes there against a woman "to teach or to exercise authority over a man". If Anna is an example which undercuts the idea that a woman ought not "to teach or to exercise authority over a man", then Pastor Zens is here saying that Anna was making authoritative demands on those to whom she spoke. What's interesting is that there's nothing here in Luke to buttress that idea.

Luke wrote this:
    And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The word for "to speak" here is not a word which means "to educate" but to demonstrate or testify – you can compare it to the use of the same word in Heb 12:24 where the blood of Christ "speaks" better things than the blood of Abel does.

I admit it: foundationally, the testimony of women to Christ is necessary and important. What it does not do is establish women in positions of leadership in the church in the sense which Pastor Zens is seeking to establish in this article.

If you will forgive me for jumping around, this is underscored by his #6 example:
**A woman’s testimony was disallowed as evidence in first century courts. Yet the Lord chose females to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection (John 20:1-2, 11-18; Luke 24:1-11, 22-24; Mark 16:1-8; Matt.28:1-11).
This is completely unquestionable – the testimony of the women is what caused the apostles to stop sitting around dumbfounded by the death of their Messiah. But again: even if God accepts women as witnesses and believers, does this establish that women are also established as spiritual leaders and pastors for the church? At best, the answer is "not by any direct statement".

Most problematic of this first set of evidences for me is Pastor Zens' nest affirmation:
**Jesus applauded the evangelistic efforts of the Samaritan woman (John 4:35-38). After experiencing a revelation of Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went to her city telling men, women and children about the Messiah (John 4:28-29). Everyone in Sychar knew about her history of broken relationships, yet she boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah – a Redeemer even for those outside of Judaism!
The underlined text is what I find problematic – that in the events at the well, Jesus is said to have "applauded" (meaning: endorsed and affirmed as an example) the Samaritan woman.

Here's the text he cites, ESV:
    Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Now, who is "you" here? It turns out that "you" are His disciples – the ones who left Him at the well to go into town for supplies. So Jesus is telling the disciples about how rich the harvest is that He is calling them to bring in. In that, he calls all the Samaritans "the fields … white for harvest". He does not mention the testimony of the Samaritan woman at all in making this statement.

Someone might object and say, "cent: the 'others' who have labored must include the woman! She testified about Christ to the Samaritans, and they came to see the Messiah! Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about?"

In the best case for that view, Jesus has made the woman among the many who have prepared the field for the harvest. This positioning might be construed as listing her among the Prophets – just like Anna, above. But the problem is that this role of testifying to people about the fact of the Gospel – which I concede is a role for any and for all believers – is not the same role as pastoring a flock or (as another related example) initiating church discipline. One is a role which is under the broad call of obedience all believers are expected to do, and the other is a narrower role which is actually, affirmatively defined by the New Testament.

To exaggerate Jesus' description in John 4 to "applauding" the Samaritan woman does a disservice to this particular text and makes the overall tenor of this essay less objective than it intends to be.

Last one for today:
**In the context of Jesus’ crucifixion the male disciples fled, yet the women were present and they helped in his burial (Matt.27:55-56,61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:55-56; John 19:25-27).
I don't think there's any question that female disciples carried out this ministry to the crucified body of Christ. I'm not sure who would say otherwise. What is at stake, however, is if this particular event defines the role of women normatively as one of leadership and authority or if it expresses one ministry which women expressly did in one case which does not have any bearing on teaching, preaching, or local church leadership.

There are still 14 more examples from Pastor Zens to consider, but so far his examples do not point to anything approaching the exhortation in 1Tim 2 regarding whether or not to "permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man".

We'll see if further examination provides any richer substance in the rest of this paper.