Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Women Leaders: Romans 12:4 - 8

I received an email recently from someone who had seen some comments of mine deleted elsewhere. He asked me several specific questions. This is part to of what he wrote. The further questions are more difficult and may be considered another time.

    Why, when discussing the role of women in prophesying and teaching men, are the examples of Mary, the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth and Anna not mentioned? Mary’s magnificat, though not delivered in a church or temple, is nevertheless considered one of the most eloquent and theologically sound teachings on the nature of God recorded in the NT. For the last two thousand years men and women have been instructed by this prophecy. Elizabeth ’s prophecy concerning the Christ is one of the most dramatic, accurate and poignant prophecies concerning the Christ. Again, men and women for two thousand years have been instructed by her prophecy. And Anna the prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, was living and speaking in the temple when she spoke to “everyone” concerning the true identity of baby Jesus.
I wish to thank the writer for these comments about Mary, Elizabeth and Anna. There is little that I can add to this on the level of translation from the Greek. Mary's prophecy and Elizabeth's witness were memorized and repeated and taught throughout the time of the early church.

Throughout scripture women were prophets. There were women prophets in ancient Israel, including Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. There were women prophets in Jesus lifetime, Mary, Elzabeth and Anna. Women were the first witnesses of Christ's resurrrection. Women were prophets in the early church - Phillip's daughters. Women prophesied in the church at Corinth.

The writer goes on to ask,

    When teaching about spiritual gifts, does the Apostle Paul distinguish between genders? The texts I have seem to indicate that the gifts are given to all believers without regard to race, social status or gender. But I can’t read Greek. Are the words translated as “man” or “men” in Roman’s 12:6 and Eph. 4:8, and the words “to one…” and “to another…” in I Cor. 12:7-11, gender specific?
Let's look at Romans 12:4 - 8 first and leave the others for later.

    4For as in one body we have many members,[e] and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,[f] with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ESV

    For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your [a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, [b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. TNIV
Here the two versions are extremely close. The TNIV uses the generic 'you' which is very common in English. The ESV uses the generic 'he'. The Greek uses the generic 'the same one' with a masculine grammatical ending. I don't think any translator would suggest that this passage does not apply to women. There are few translation issues in this passage - it seems to be a clear instruction to exercize your gift, whether that be the gift of prophecy or service or teaching or leadership.

I would like to add that the word for 'service' is the same as the word for 'ministry' and, in fact, the KJV had 'ministry' in this passage.

I think we can go through the Christian scriptures and find corroboration for women exercizing all these gifts. We have already discussed women as prophets.

Women were also 'ministers' or 'servants'. Phoebe was the διακονος of the church of Cenchrae. The Greek word διακονος is usually translated into English by minister, servant or deacon. The exact same word is used for men and women; there is no such word in Greek as deaconess. That developed separately as an English term. The term deacon is a general word and not much can be made of it except that it did not differentiate between men and women.

Regarding teaching, we have Lois and Eunice teaching Timothy in the home. There is Prisca teaching with her husband. Most people recognize that women have the gift of teaching. The prophecy of the mother of Jesus was learned and honoured, the witness of the women at the tomb was revered, the desire of Mary to learn at Jesus feet was respected. The woman at the well asked men to come and hear Jesus speak.

I don't know of anyone who would hold a woman back from giving generously, or encouraging. However, the next term is more interesting. Are there women leaders in the early church?

First, the word here for leading is προϊστημι - to exercize a position of leadership. To the native Greek speaker this is an obvious cognate of the word προστατις, which is the word used for Phoebe and usually translated as patron or benefactor.

These words may not look close enough to a reader of English. However, in Greek there is a series of verbs which have a pattern of reduplication. The first consonant is repeated at the beginning of the word followed by an 'i'. Here are a few others διδωμι, τιθημι, γιγνομαι, and ἱστημι. In some cases the consonant was altered but in every case this alteration would be clear to a Greek speaker. The connection between ἱστημι and στατις would be obvious and therefore the connection between προϊστημι and προστατις would also be obvious.

This does not prove anything but it does suggest that Greek readers of the epistles to the Romans would recognize that the word used to describe Phoebe was cognate with the word used to for leading in Romans 12:6.

The masculine noun for this term is προστατης,

1. one who stands before

a) front-rank man
b) leader, chief, administrator

2. president or presiding officer

3. one who stands before and protects, guardian, champion, patron

4. one who stands before a god, suppliant

5. prostate gland

Προστατης was often joined with αρχιερευς to mean high priest. Christ is our prostates and our high priest. Phoebe is Paul's prostatis. I have written at much greater length about Phoebe and prostatis in my Nov. 17, 2006 post, Women leaders: Prostatis.

I think the pasage is clear. If we have been given gifts, whether we are men or women, we are exhorted to use them, in proportion to our faith, with cheerfulness and zeal.

The gifts of service and prophecy and leadership are not given to us in proportion to our sex, but in proportion to our faith. Acts 17:4 refers to leading women, Acts 13:50 refers to leading men. The natural and spiritual gift of leadership is not gendered in the Christian scriptures. There is no division along the lines of men being gifted for leadership and women for encouragement or nurturing. That is simply is not there. The quality of leadership is entrusted to individuals regardless of gender. The quality of nurturing is given regardless of gender. Any organization which proclaims otherwise is not being true to scripture.

There is no indication in any discussion of gifts that women do not have the gift of leadership. There is no indication that women with the gift of leadership can only exercize that gift in some remote sphere such as the government of a country but not in the home or church. Why would God give a person a gift to be used only outside the home and Christian community? Esepecially when women are encouraged to exercize their gifts within these spheres.

This passage is talking about the gifts which we have as members of the body of Christ. To admire the obvious gift of leadership in a woman who exercizes her gift in secular government and then deny that the exercize of that same gift to women who work in the church is to deny the Spirit.

There are passages which mention other words and other structures which some say run counter to this. But one should consider all the scriptures.



At Fri Mar 16, 02:31:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I don't think any translator would suggest that this passage [Romans 12:4-8] does not apply to women.

Maybe not, but in verse 6 NIV reads "If a man's gift is...", with in fact no support from the Greek at all. Now maybe before the mid-20th century this would have been generally understood as gender generic. But long before 1984, when NIV was last revised, "a man" in this context would have been taken as gender specific.

So, although in many ways NIV is one of my favourite translations, I'm sorry to report that this is an indefensible mistranslation. And I don't think it is a unique example; NIV regularly uses "man" for the completely gender generic Greek indefinite pronoun tis. I am afraid to say that this leaves as indefensible Zondervan's commitment not to revise NIV. Should any such commitment be allowed to take precedence over their responsibility not to knowingly distribute a Bible with a significant error in it?

At Fri Mar 16, 02:33:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

there is no such word in Greek as deaconess. That developed separately as an English term.

Actually there is a Greek word, diakonissa, which was used later for the order of deaconesses, but this word is not used in the Bible and may not yet have been coined when the NT was written.

At Fri Mar 16, 03:27:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Suzanne you said "But one should consider all the scriptures."
Yes, one should, and that includes the specific, clear prohibition against women leading the Church.
Strange (or not so strange) that that is the one of the bits of scripture that you always insist on ignoring.

At Fri Mar 16, 06:27:00 AM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Glenn, I presume that you refer to the fragment in which Paul says he was not at that time permitting a woman/wife to teach or to ursurp authority over a man.

There is no scriptural passage that claims any such "clear prohibition against women leading the Churchm," for if there were, it would absolutely contradict the named examples of women leading in the church which abound in the New Testament and for which we also have Old Testament precedent.

You malign Suzanne, and you do so based in part on a seriously incorrect interpretation of one verse.

At Fri Mar 16, 07:34:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I do remember hearing of the word diakonissa, but it developed later and does not occur in any of the classical or Hellenistic lexicons I have. It slipped my mind. Thanks for reminding me.

At Fri Mar 16, 07:39:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I intend to write about 1 Tim. 2:12 in this series. And yes I have written about it before because you have commented on it here recently.

Yes, Psalmist, I am afraid that poor Lydia and Nympha would have been taken to task for bringing people (including men) to a profession of Christ if 1 Tim. 2:12 were to be literally followed in the NT.

At Fri Mar 16, 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Marc said...

I think that there is a distinct difference between leadership within the church and teaching authority. I don't think that anyone would (or should) deny that the gift of leadership is available to women and obviously there are some good examples of women leaders cited in this post. However, I don't think that a case can be made conclusively that any of these women had teaching authority over adult men.

At Fri Mar 16, 08:17:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


A few thoughts. The Danvers statement explicitly gives the role of leadership to the husband. It is difficult for a woman deprived of understanding the value of her leadership potential in the home, being able to exercize that gift in the church.

Leadership should be taken out of the male female role polemic. It is clearly a natural and spiritual gift.

Next, it is one of the gifts. Teaching is another. To restrict a woman who has theological training from teaching any adult men in a church, leaves the woman with a full seminary degree, or the fulltime business woman, with only two options. Join the weekday women's bible study group of young mothers, or teach Sunday School. In these contexts it becomes extremely dfficult because now she is teaching somewhere where the men can't hear her.

Since the men know this women is well-educated, they become anxious that she may be teaching something of which they do not approve. But they can't get into her class.

One end point for this is that a woman with a degree in accounting or law may well be offered a role in church government, but a woman with a degree in theology will have to teach the 5 year olds, where she can do little damage. She will be marginalized because no appropriate role can be found for her gifts.

Since she can't be found a place within the normal structure of the church, she is excluded. This is the only proper treatment for a woman educated in theology.

At Fri Mar 16, 08:20:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Since the men know this women is well-educated, they become anxious that she may be teaching something of which they do not approve

What I meant here is that she may be teaching something doctrinal, which they would need to give approval for. Not that she is necessarily teaching something wrong. But, it is okay if a woman leads a choir, but teaching something of more substance is tricky.

At Fri Mar 16, 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

When will you face up to the fact that the Bible will not change its commands and restrictions just because you think that God got it wrong.
No matter how much you wish otherwise the Bible is clear and unambiguous in its restriction of leadership to men.
You can complain about it and express your personal opinion that you wish it were otherwise, but Gods word will not ever change.

At Fri Mar 16, 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Since the men know this women is well-educated, they become anxious that she may be teaching something of which they do not approve.

Some of the men may just want to hear what the woman has to say so that they can themselves be taught and built up. I have just been in that situation. Some members of my church just went to a conference with some well known and excellent speakers, who happened to be women, speaking on a subject I was interested in. They came back and reported how good it was, and summarised some teaching which would have been very helpful for me. But I wasn't allowed to go because it was a women only conference.

And by the way, none of these people were strictly against women teaching men. I know one of the main speakers is a woman pastor who preaches regularly to a mixed congregation, and the other has spoken to mixed groups in the past. So the issue is just that the conference was set up for women only.

At Fri Mar 16, 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Glenn, if the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12 is "clear and unambiguous", why do some translations (and not just ones which have been accused of a feminist agenda) translate authentein with "usurp authority" or similar, but others with "have authority"? After all, these are significantly different concepts.

At Fri Mar 16, 02:40:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

One of the interesting things that I note here is that Marc has split up leading and teaching autority in such a way that 'leadership' is acceptable for women but not teaching. I would have thought that it would be the other way around.

Usually the teacher or professor is beneath the administrator in authority. Who would deny the woman the right to teach something she knows and yet allow her to have administrative authority.

This sounds backwards.

At Sun Mar 18, 12:44:00 AM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Marc, I was refuting Glenn's insupportable contention in his attack on Suzanne:

"Yes, one should [consider all of Scripture], and that includes the specific, clear prohibition against women leading the Church."

As for "teaching authority over adult men," that distinction is an extrabiblical one, however popular in some religious circles. It is invariably (mis)applied in an attempt to limit women in the use of their God-given gifts of learning and teaching. Biblical authority is God-given power to serve the body, not positional power over others.

I would also remind Glenn that as he observed, God's word will never change. That includes the fact that 1 Tim. 2:12 in no way precludes properly taught women from teaching believers (including men) what they have learned. Now whether certain believers have the necessary humility to learn what is being taught, is a matter between them and the Lord.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home