Women in Ministry (Part Two)
Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Chapter 12, What Did Women Do in the Old Testament and Chapter 13, What Did Women Do in the New Testament
McKnight begins by questioning the whole way that a lot of people go about discussing the issue of women in ministry in the first place. He dislikes the way people gravitate immediately to what the Bible says a woman can’t do, not what they can or did do. He compares this to going to the Bible to learn what it says about marriage and gravitating towards passages on divorce. He argues the much better approach is to ask “What did women do in the Bible?” Before talking about what women are not allowed to do, let’s honestly acknowledge how God did use women in the Bible and then ask the provocative question, “Do you permit women to do in your churches what women did in the Bible and in the early churches?” (p.164). Then we have to ask ourselves honestly why we choose to let the silencing passages to trump the passages that show women were used in significant ways in the first century. That seems to me to be a very good proposal.
McKnight surveys both testaments in these two chapters highlighting what we do see women doing in the Bible. I felt like he was generally fair in his understanding of the text, though he leaned towards his conclusion a bit more than the evidence sometimes allowed clearly. He started where he argues all narrative understandings of the Bible as a Story should start, in Genesis 1-3. Here we find male and female in a state of oneness and mutuality, made for each other and without competition between each other. Only with the fall into sin do we find dominance and desire for control, as these were a part of the original curse from God:
Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. (Genesis 3:16)
Unfortunately, in McKnight’s opinion, too many Christians are intent on “perpetuating the fall as a permanent condition” (p.165) by maintaining post-fall gender roles. Showing how the Story is supposed to guide our interpretation, McKnight encourages us to be people of the New Creation, who are working to reverse the curse and return from otherness to oneness.
A Jesus community undoes the distortions of the fall because it seeks to live out the fullness of the Story. (p.166)
McKnight then highlights the life of the three women in the Old Testament who had clear roles of spiritual leadership:
- Miriam — Moses’ sister who was the first prophetess, speaking for God and leading the nation in celebratory singing after the Exodus
- Deborah — a judge who “led the nation spiritually, musically, legally, politically, and militarily” (p.169)
- Huldah — the prophetess that Josiah went to seeking a confirmation that the Book of the Law his workers found in the broken-down Temple was authentic, bypassing such male prophets like Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habbakkuk
McKnight acknowledges that each of these examples can be seen as an exception to the male-dominating norm. He also points out, though, that this is also before New Creation comes with Christ and the advent of the Spirit. Exceptions or not, these women were used by God in these ways in the Old Testament.
- Mary — who raised the Messiah and James the biblical author, passing alone her concern for the poor, widows and orphans. Where did Luke get the inside information for his first two chapters if not from Mary herself? McKnight maybe stretches this one a bit, but Mary was truly “blessed among women.”
- Junia — the often-missed female apostle mentioned in Romans 16:7. This passage is not without controversy, but most now acknowledge she was an apostle of the traveling missionary sort and a well-respected one too.
- Priscilla — the wife of Aquila who was almost always mentioned first, an unusual construction that might indicate she was the more esteemed worker. She “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26), moving him from “a John-the-Baptist-faith to a Jesus-faith” (p.182). Best put, she was a teacher of theology.
- Phoebe — this single woman was the provider of funds that bankrolled the work of the church in Cenchreae. She was a “deacon” in this church, a word that typically means one who visits the sick, cares for the poor, and provides financial oversight. She likely carried the letter of Romans to the Roman church (Romans 16:1-2) and would have answered questions about the letter that the audience had, making her “the first ‘commentator’ on the letter to the Romans” (p.184).
Other passages that show women were not as “silent” as sometimes thought will be discussed in the next few chapters as well. One must reckon with these passages, especially if one claims to simply do what the Bible says, as was discussed in the early chapter of the book. What did women do in the Bible? It would seem a whole lot.