Women Leaders: 1 Cor. 12: 27 - 31
- Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues [d]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire [e] the greater gifts. TNIV 1 Cor. 12: 27 - 31
There are two ways of explaining how this passage supports the exclusion of women from leadership. The first one requires demonstrating that while women prophesied in the early church, they were not actually prophets. This view is held by J.T. Riddle, who recently wrote the following in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
- Women may prophesy in the church, and, indeed, the fact that they do so is a fulfillment of scripture (Acts 2:17–18). They do not, however, fill the role or office of prophet within the early church, since this role requires the authoritative teaching and regulation of doctrine (see 1 Tim 2:11–12). Both the essential equality of men and women and the distinctions in their roles are rooted in the created order (see 1 Cor 11:7–12; 1 Tim 2:13–15). Far from being inconsistent, Paul’s thought is imminently coherent JBMW vol. 11/1 page 28 J.T. Riddle
For Riddle, the role of the prophet requires authoritative teaching and therefore, women are not prophets. He explains that women do prophesy but are not actually called prophets in Acts. This hinges on demonstrating that while Philip's daughters, Acts 21:8-9, prophesied, they were not called prophets/prophetesses.
The activity of Philip's daughers is compared to the event in Acts 19:6, where 12 men who had been baptized, spoke in tongues and prophesied. These manifestations of the Spirit are simply considered to be illustrations of the coming of the Spirit. However, I am not so sure if it is correct to equate the ongoing activity of Philip's daughters with the event mentioned in Acts 19:6.
The use of the English finite past tense, 'prophesied', in both Acts 19 and Acts 21 obscures the fact that in Acts 19 the past imperfect tense is used in Greek, while in Acts 21, the present participle is used. In fact, the NASB translates this verse as,
- Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. NASB
And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. KJV
In Acts 19, a particular event is outlined, but in Acts 21, the term 'who prophesied' modifies Philip's daughters, and does not describe an event. It is difficult to express this difference in English but I believe that it is not appropriate to make a simplistic comparison between the event of Acts 19 and the description of Philip's daughters in Acts 21, based on the English occurence of the past tense verb 'prophesied.'.
The other argument against women in leadership is to bifurcate the roles of teacher and prophet along the folowing lines,
- So teaching in the New Testament epistles consisted of explaining and applying the words of scripture or the equally authoritative teachings of Jesus and of the apostles. In the New Testament epistles, "teaching" was very much like what we call "Biblical teaching" today. Many charismatic and Pentecostal churches today understand this difference quite well: Prophecy, like other miraculous gifts, is subject to the governing authority of the elders or pastors of the church. Prophecy and teaching are different gifts. Grudem 2004, page 229
From Grudem's argument, I would infer that prophets are below, that is subject to, the governing authority of teachers. This appears to directly contradict the passage in 1 Cor. 12.
I have always understood, first, that there were women prophets throughout the scriptures from Miriam to Anna, and that there was no reason to believe that role of prophet was restricted to men with the coming of the Spirit in Acts.
The other concept to explore is the role of prophet itself. What does it entail?
Here are a handful of explanations of the role of prophet that I have been able to find.
- God delivered a message to the prophet, who was in turn to transmit that message to the people. The divine message was always a moral one about how people ought to live. Often the message involved the extent to which people were living up to higher ethical standards. Hanan, A.
A prophet is basically a spokesman for G-d, a person chosen by G-d to speak to people on G-d's behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to G-d. They set the standards for the entire community.
According to some views, prophecy is not a gift that is arbitrarily conferred upon people; rather, it is the culmination of a person's spiritual and ethical development. When a person reaches a sufficient level of spiritual and ethical achievement, the Shechinah (Divine Spirit) comes to rest upon him or her. Likewise, the gift of prophecy leaves the person if that person lapses from his or her spiritual and ethical perfection. Judaism 101
Most of his "words" are addressed to criticizing present wrongdoing. Injustice, oppression, and rich, even luxurious, worship while the poor starve, are the issues he speaks about most.
Popular views of the Bible prophets see them as "religious" figures. This is wrong in two ways. Firstly it suggests a separation of religion and the rest of life which is modern and Western In Ancient Israel there was not a distinct private religious sphere. Secondly it suggests that they spoke about "religious" issues. They did, but they spoke more about what we call politics. Even prophets who had a strong burden to correct false religious practice, like Hosea, addressed political issues strongly too (cf. Hos 5:11 with 5:13; 9:1 with 9:3). Postmodern Bible Commentary
From these few references I understand that the role of prophet is associated with holiness, scholarship, moral guidance, ethics and other qualities which we would normally not disassociate from teaching. I have certainly understood the role of prophet to be distinct from the role of priest. When Christ came to be our permanent high priest, the church was left with apostles, prophets and teachers, roles which are all closer to the role of the Hebrew prophet, than to that of the priest.
Another part of this discussion which concerns me is the dichotomy that we have today between the role of leadership in secular and Christian circles. There are some who teach that women can be leaders in government and the workplace but not in the church. Within this teaching, God has divided human activity into spheres. This sphere assignment is not historically stable so personally I have great difficulty attributing it to God.
I appeal to readers for additional comments on the role of prophets in the scriptures.
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