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Powerful Beautiful

I recently read an incredibly sad and provoking book entitled ‘Half the Sky’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  It is a book all about women, documenting how women are the most oppressed people on the planet today.  It shows oppression to be not only the horrors of human trafficking, but a wide range of experiences where women are told they are somehow less or smaller than the men around them.  It’s a heart wrenching read, but also one of mobilising the reader to action.  It’s the sort of book that makes you want to stand up and change the world because surely when God created woman, He did not intend for her to be oppressed and held down but rather to lead and shape the world around her.  He did not make her small and insignificant, but placed her in a place of honour in creation – alongside man – to rule the world (Genesis 1:28).

About a decade ago if you had asked me what I believed God’s intention was for women I wouldn’t quite know how to answer you.  As a child I grew up thinking that girls were equal to boys in every way.  I believed that I could be or do anything.  In my late teens I had a conversation at church that shook that belief in me.  A conversation that left me questioning what God’s heart really was towards women.  And that conversation – painful and confusing as it was at the time – was an incredibly helpful one in hindsight as it set me on a journey of study and encounter.  I wanted to come to a place of peace in my heart – to understand what God’s intention is for me as a woman and to understand what scripture says about my role.

I’ve written the points below as a brief summary of some of what i’ve read and understood from scripture.  I hope this post will be an encouragement to many – that the God of the Bible is FOR women and is not interested in holding them back.  I hope also that this post may make some readers think again about some of the scriptures that may have been used to suggest that God has placed a lower ceiling on women than He has on men.  In the end, I hope that whatever your view on the role of women, you will find me not to be offensive but rather passionate and ultimately full of love for both those who agree and disagree with me.  I think that God is much more interested in us loving each other within our different opinions than proving our point to be correct but doing so in a way that lacks love for one another.  I hope the former will be true of me.

Please bear in mind that i’m not trying to write this post as a conclusive thesis on the matter – i’m writing with my two children under two around me… makes for a somewhat chaotic writing process!

For the purposes of brevity, i’ve summarised my view on the role of women down to three main headings:

1. Equality from Eden to eternity

2. Jesus loved to liberate women

3. Paul loved strong women

Equality from Eden to Eternity –

In Eden we see that Adam and Eve both had a mandate together to rule over and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). Adam didn’t rule Eve to then rule the earth.  They were equal co-rulers.  Before the fall, men and women were created to rule alongside one another.  There’s no hint of hierarchy.  There’s no hint that Adam was the main ruler and Eve the subordinate.

Some have tried to use the word describing Eve – a helper (Genesis 2:18) – to insinuate that her role was somehow a deputy to Adam.  But if we look into the word helper (in Hebrew: Ezer) we realise just how absurd that insinuation is.  The word does not have the connotation of inferiority but rather of adding strength.  In the Old Testament, the word Ezer is most consistently used of God – the point being that it is a word describing someone who is bringing much needed strength rather than someone who isn’t important enough to be the main leader.

Others have tried to use creation order as their basis to prove that Adam had more authority than Eve.  There’s not much logic to this however.  If anything, creation becomes more complex and authoritative the further on in order.  The animals came before both Adam and Eve.  That doesn’t give them greater authority, but rather the opposite!  I certainly don’t claim this to prove that Eve had more authority than Adam, but neither do I find justification for claiming the opposite.

Jumping ahead from Eden, right through to eternity, we catch a glimpse in the New Testament again of God’s desire to see men and women standing alongside each other – together in equality to rule and reign.  Men and women are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), seated in Him (Ephesians 2:6) and reigning with Him (Revelation 5:10), the focus no longer our gender but our one-ness in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

I wonder why, when God created men and women to rule together from Eden to eternity, we would think that His intention for our present age is any different?  Why would we think that God would introduce hierarchy as His intention now when hierarchy is not His intention either in Eden or in the Kingdom fully come?

Jesus Loved to Liberate Women –

If Jesus is to show us the heart of the Father, then we see that Papa God loves to liberate women and see them flourish in roles that some would reserve only for men.  Jesus let Mary sit at his feet (Luke 10) – the posture of a disciple – scandalising everyone around Him as He redefined what a woman could and couldn’t do.  He catapulted the Samaritan woman into being the first evangelist (John 4) and used Mary as the first witness to His resurrection (John 20) – completely disinterested in the fact that this would make the testimony of His victory weaker to those who saw women as somehow less able than men.

Jesus’ encounters with women consistently lifted them up and honoured them.  I wonder if this is true of us who represent Him?  I’m not talking about patronising or flattering women.  I’m talking about allowing women to walk in authority – as Jesus did – despite what the traditions around us may think.  His example is both encouraging and provoking.

Paul Loved Strong Women – 

I love reading through Romans 16.  It’s a chapter where Paul honoured those who laboured with him in the gospel.  The chapter is full of affection, admiration and respect.  The remarkable thing about that chapter is that Paul names several women within it.  He is not offended by their strength, not taken aback by their gifting, not scandalised by their positions of authority.  He honours them:  Phoebe, Priscilla (who interestingly is named before her husband Aquila in case you are still adamant that order connotes authority), Mary, Junia (who alongside her husband Andronicus is named as outstanding among the apostles), Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Julia.  Women who were deacons, apostles, co-labourers in Christ.  No hint of hierarchy or male dominance in Romans 16.

It’s interesting to me that we largely ignore how Paul loved and affirmed strong women who had authority in Romans 16, ignore how he didn’t put any gender qualification on operating in gifts of the Spirit including teaching and leadership (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) or in holding offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher (Ephesians 4) all in favour of a handful of verses he wrote to a church that was struggling with false teaching and so needed specific, corrective insight (1 Timothy 2).

I find this sad because 1 Timothy 2 is no more authoritative on the role of women than the other verses, it’s just that it gets much more airtime.  It’s tragic that people defend holding women back by claiming that they are just following the ‘plain reading of scripture’ when what they mean is that they are following an inadequately shallow reading of 1 Timothy 2:11+12 whilst ignoring the ‘plain’ reading of Romans 16 and Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, let alone taking into account the broader brush strokes in scripture of the heart of God and Jesus’ example towards women.

This blog will become far too long if I go too in-depth on 1 Timothy 2 but let me just say a few things to whet the appetite –

  1. The word translated authority in 1 Timothy 2:12 (authentein) is an incredibly complex word.  This is the only time it is used in the Bible.  The normal word for authority (exousia) is used multiple times by Paul elsewhere but here he chooses the word authentein – we would be in error if we did not see this as a caution in how we are to translate the word.  This has led many well respected academics and theologians to point to authentein not being a word meaning just authority but rather a word with the connotation of grabbing or usurping authority.
  2. The word translated as silent or quiet in 1 Timothy 2:11 by many is the greek word ‘hesychia’.  Outside of Paul’s teaching on women, this word, or its Greek root ‘hesychios’ are found in four other places in the New Testament – 1 Timothy 2:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:12, Acts 22:2 and 1 Peter 3:4.  In all these contexts, the word conveys a sense of being at peace/at rest/peaceable rather than having a low level of volume!  It would seem that Paul’s instruction is that women learn in a way that is at rest rather than resisting or argumentative towards instruction (this fits well with the general tone of the surrounding passages about encouraging unity and peace rather than division).
  3. Even without the complications around translating ‘authentein’, 1 Timothy 2:15 should make us aware that this whole passage simply cannot be interpreted at a cursory glance.  There is no way of getting away with a ‘plain reading’ of 1 Timothy 2.  If you walk away at a shallow reading of the chapter, you will walk away in error.  Many have done this with the teaching on women.
  4. The context of the book of 1 Timothy is I believe a great key in its interpretation.  It was written by Paul primarily to correct the false teachings being propagated in Ephesus.  It was not a letter laying out his core, timeless beliefs (which would be more true of the book of Romans for example), but rather a letter trying to correct specific errors in a specific community.  If we mistake Paul’s applications to a specific community as his principles for all communities, we run the risk of falling into great error ourselves.

There is much more that I could say on these headings, let alone all the other headings i’ve left out!  But, let me finish this post by saying this:

The more I read and study scripture, the more I realise that God loves women.  God’s heart is to liberate women.  He wants full expression of life in women as much as in men and has put His incredible authority on women as much as on men.  He has called men and women together to manifest Kingdom life all over the earth.  He is not the author of misogyny but rather is a proud Father cheering on His daughters (and sons!) to bring heaven to earth as heirs of His Kingdom.  Isn’t it time we as the church joined the cheers of our Father for women to be powerful and beautiful and all they were created to be?  Isn’t it time we honoured the Priscillas and Junias and all the rest among us?  Romans 8 tells us that all creation is longing and waiting for the full revelation of the children of God.  I think it’s time to set our women free.

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About Katia Adams

10 comments on “Powerful Beautiful

  1. July 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Loved this post and your encouragement.

    I was fortunate enough to come across this reading of scripture (for the first time) hanging out with some amazing women in the Anglican Church (in the UK) last year. Some did apply the theory to cover what might be called ‘eldership’ as a form of Church leadership (although they don’t use that term in their denomination). I wonder what you thought about that?

    Thanks again for your post! Loved the picture of your kids crawling around your feet whilst you typed too 🙂

    • July 13, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Charlie,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad that you’ve come across this teaching before – there are some wonderful men and women leaders in the Anglican Church!

      In terms of eldership, I would look at the broad brushstrokes of scripture as well as the specific passages in the New Testament about elders. If we see from scripture that women were created to be rulers, that women can hold offices of apostle/prophet/evangelist/pastor/teacher and that women will co-lead alongside men in eternity, I think it makes passages on elders less about gender and more about character qualifications. It certainly seems challenging to say the Bible shows women can be apostles but not elders…. I believe Gordon Fee points out that making character qualifications in the masculine in the greek simply makes sense in the language, but is not necessarily an attempt by Paul to be gender exclusive (any more than when he says elders should be the husband of one wife, he’s not necessarily wanting to exclude those who are single, but rather make sure any married elders are not polygamous).

      In the end, I think the battle for women goes so much beyond whether they can be elders or not to a broader understanding of whether women are allowed the same influence and governance as men. I believe the Bible teaches that the door is as open to women as it is to men 🙂

      Hope that helps!

  2. July 13, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Katia-Thank you for your post! I love your heart and i love reading how you share your view and revelation on Gods heart for us as women! I often feel so un-done…due to chaos of life with my 2 under 2 kids situation and thyroid issues, trying to keep a business running well… its crazy. But to sit back and read how God champions women with LOVE…. it matters! It gives us that push to keep swimming! thank you xxx

    • July 13, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      Hi Debbie,

      I’m so glad that this has been an encouragement to you! Keep hearing Him cheering you on!

      God bless!

  3. July 14, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Hi Katia,

    I came across your post on Facebook. As one who teaches complementarity, I thought I’d offer a few (brief-ish!) observations on your points, although I appreciate that this might not be the forum for discussion…

    That God loves women isn’t in question, and His instituting of husbands as servant leaders in the household is intended for the flourishing of the wife and the imaging of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33)
    With this in mind, we should resist ‘ironing out’ the excellencies of each gender under the pretence of equality – that just results in an asserted equivalence which ends up doing injustice to the realities of women as women and men as men. There is a glory and an aspect of imaging necessarily unique to each.

    On the sections in your post:
    1) Creation – before eschewing the idea of pre-Fall difference in the roles of the man and the woman, we shouldn’t overlook the significance of naming (Genesis 2:19-20, 23, 3:20) as part of Adam’s God-given responsibility initiated at creation and maintained post-Fall. It seems better to say there are distinctive male and female roles given pre-Fall which are then twisted by it (see Genesis 3:16b). So the differentiation itself is not inherently bad but becomes a field of conflict.
    2) Jesus’ commendation of women – yes all good points.
    3) Paul – I don’t think that Paul’s commendation of great female colleagues needs to be set in opposition to his argument against women as Elders. That would only make sense if Elders were somehow more intrinsically worthy than other people but that’s not the case. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, an elder is just a good Christian who has shown himself to be a servant leader in the home so that he can be a servant leader in the house of God.
    In 1 Timothy 2:12 it’s not so much that ‘authentein’ is complex as that it is rare, but when paired with the other verb ‘didaskein’ (teach) and taken in the immediate context of the subsequent points Paul wants to make in 1 Timothy 3, I think it equates to Eldership.

    With regards to leadership in the home and church, it is not an issue of ceilings being placed and doors being closed: We really should not think of families and churches in terms of the ‘career ladder’. Similarly, with regards to gifting, the church needs to recognise and nourish every member of the body in bringing their gifts to bless the body of Christ (Colossians 1:28, Ephesians 4:7, 11-12)

    • July 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      Dear Tim,

      Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I think there’s plenty that we can both agree on –

      I agree that it would be very sad to iron out the differences between men and women – each gender has something beautiful and unique to bring in how they reflect the Trinity. I love being able to minister and lead fully as a woman – celebrating my femininity – rather than trying to lead in a masculine way. In fact when I started in leadership I felt God speak specifically to me about this – embracing my call, but doing so fully as a woman.

      I also fully agree that church leadership should not be seen as a ‘career ladder’ of sorts and that there is incredible value and worth on people no matter what role or function they have in a church setting. One of my passions is to see people released into pursuing their call in understanding the Kingdom of God – beyond the walls of a church, but rather influencing every sphere of society in whatever way and measure God has called them to.

      There are a couple of things in your comment however, that I can’t fully reconcile –

      1. I’m not convinced it’s fair to say that gender based role differentiation is seen in Eden. Yes, absolutely Adam named the animals, not Eve – but that was before she was created… your point would be much more convincing if Eve had already been created, but without that I think asserting clear differentiation of roles from Genesis 1-3 is more conjecture than exegesis. Once Eve is created, we see no differentiation of their roles whatsoever and the same mandate is given to them both (pre-fall).

      2. It seems an oversimplification to see 1 Tim 2:12 as purely indicative of eldership. Given the fact that both authority (if you are going to translate authentic neutrally, which is in itself in question) and teaching are not exclusively roles of elders, and that the deeper context of 1 Timothy – much more than defining eldership – is about false teaching and the correcting of it, it would seem more logical in the context to attach the verse to the context of false teaching than eldership.

      To make an in depth response, i’ve asked my friend and well-respected New Testament theologian Sean Du Toit to add some of the more detailed points to my comments above:

      1. Richard Hess points out that the text nowhere states that the man exercised authority over the animals by naming them. Rather, he classified them and thereby continued the work of the first three days of creation in chapter 1, where God divided the elements of matter. Second, there is no obvious way in which the man exercised any authority over either the animals or the woman. Third, Genesis 2:23, where the man designates the woman, begins with an affirmation of equality, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Fourth, the second part of Genesis 2:23 is a chiasm (concentric structure) in which the words for “woman” and “man” are positioned at the center, suggesting a corresponding and equal relationship to one another.

      2. Jesus commendation of women is exceptional in that he allows women to be disciples. The force of that radical move is not fully appreciated by complementarians.

      3. This is crucial. Paul’s commendation of female colleagues is in opposition to a complementarian view of 1 Tim 2:12. Rom 16 names Phoebe as a minister of the church, Junia as an apostle, and several women as co-workers. Such roles indicate both authority and teaching roles. Phoebe, as the letter-carrier is likely the first person to help answers questions about Romans (that was the function of letter-carriers in the ancient world) and there is nothing in the text to suggest Andronicus and Junia are married, they could be a team like Paul and Phoebe or brother and sister. And church history unanimously affirms her apostleship.

      4. Paul never makes an argument against female elders. Even Thomas Schreiner admits: “The requirements for elders in 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, including the statement that they are to be one-woman men, does not necessarily in and of itself preclude women from serving as elders….” (Thomas R. Schreiner’s “Philip Payne on Familiar Ground: A Review of Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.” JBMW (Spring 2010) 33–46, here 35.

      5. 1 Tim 2:12 is a specific command that is complex. The complexity is seen in the grammar (is it a hendiadys, why or why not? See the discussion between Payne and Köstenberger for the complexity) and in the use of αὐθεντεῖν, not just in its rarity ( see the discussion between Baldwin and Westfall). This specific command makes perfect sense with the context of 1 Tim, which is a response to the problem of false teachers and false teaching (1:3ff. and 6:20-21). In 1:4, the problem is various “myths” (μύθοις) and in 4:7 “myths” (μύθους) characterise some of the old women. In 1:4, the false teachers “promote controversies” and in 5:14 the widows are instructed not to give an enemy opportunity for slander, with 3:11 stating “women must … not be malicious talkers.” Then in 1:6 “some persons (τινες) want to be teachers of the law but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” While in 2:14 Paul notes that, “the women are deceived.” The problem is acutely stated in 1 Tim 5:13 which describes certain women as, “going about from house to house… talking nonsense, saying things they ought not …” The same situation is described in 2 Tim 3:6-7, where the writer notes that there are those, “who make their way into households and take captive ignorant women.” In 4:1: “some persons (τινες) will follow deceiving spirits of things taught by demons” and in 5:15 “already some [younger widows] have turned away to follow Satan.” They have, according to 5:11 “set aside their first faith.” Thus when Paul states the problem in the opening verse 1:3: “certain persons (τισὶν) teach false doctrines” he has in mind that there are false teachers who have persuaded certain women to believe their false teaching and they are now spreading that false teaching. Paul’s response to this is clear in 2:11, “let a woman receive instruction without disruption” and 2:12: “I am not permitting a woman to teach.” The reason for this is abundantly clear: Women have been deceived, just like the example of Eve in 2:14. Paul’s instruction is that they should receive instruction and not be allowed to presently teach because what they are teaching is false and dangerous. Paul offers a temporary injunction on women teaching so that they can learn the truth of the gospel.

      6. With regards to leadership in the home, Eph 5:21 establishes mutual submission as the norm, and if there was any uncertainty about this, 1 Tim 5:14 notes that younger widows should marry, bear children, and lead their households (οἰκοδεσποτεῖν), so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. Either Paul thinks women should lead the home, or he thinks mutual submission is the way.

      • August 7, 2017 at 3:50 pm

        Katia and Sean,

        Thank you for taking the time to respond and for stating your positions so thoroughly. I understand your readings of the Genesis and 1 Timothy passages as follows:

        Genesis – gender role distinction is not present in Eden pre-fall, naming is non-authoritative, for there to be a clear differentiation between the man and the woman it would have to be made when they are both created, to state otherwise is conjectural rather than exegetical, once Eve is created there is no difference in role whatsoever between the sexes pre-fall, no obvious way that the man exercised authority over the animals or the woman, 2:23 communicates equality through its chiastic structure and the playful use of ish / isha to illustrate the harmony of the sexes.

        1 Timothy – the main concern of the letter is false teaching, 2:12 does not refer to eldership, it is more logical to say the verse is addressing false teaching rather than eldership, the women referred to are occasion-specific rebellious heretics, the prohibition on women teaching is temporary and related to grasping authority and using it to occasion teaching heresy, younger widows should marry so as to lead their homes well.

        On these I think:
        Genesis 1-3 – Adam receives his charge and prohibition (Genesis 2:15-17) prior to receiving his wife who the joins him in the work and owns the prohibition when tempted by the serpent. It seems arbitrary to suggest the argument for Adam’s primal responsibility would be strengthened by Adam and Eve both being present to name the creatures – to do so one has to willfully deny at the outset any significance that might be intended in Adam’s primacy in the order of human creation (hence, a circular argument). Consequently, it seems unfair to condemn the opposing view as conjectural when it is seeking to make exegetical sense of the text.
        I think there is a deeper problem with seeking to maintain the difference in the partnership without recognising the ‘submit to / love’ asymmetry seen in the Genesis account and further articulated in Ephesians 5. Kuyper recognises this broader principle of flourishing over flattening and particularly that it necessarily entails genuine differentiation which begins in Eden and subsequently unfolds in all sectors of maturing human existence.

        1 Timothy – Thank you for the points on the proposed occasion for the letter, if that occasion was the correcting of particular false teaching, this merely contextualises the statement prohibiting female eldership. The statement itself would still stand under other contextual reading frameworks. My view on the passage is probably closest to Blomberg’s – I affirm women teaching, preaching and leading but hold to male eldership in the church in the same way that I hold to male fatherhood in the home. To the left of me would be more egalitarian views such as those you are articulating and to the right would be more patriarchal views; prohibiting women teaching in church, demanding male leadership in all spheres of society etc. On that point, whilst the examples of Jesus’ inclusion of women and Paul in Romans 16 are problematic for some flavours of complementarian, I find no conflict. Women should be free to lead and flourish. Phoebe is a deacon. I take Junia to be female and described as ‘great among the apostles’ – all portions of which continue to be debated and not unanimously affirmed. Good questions arise if the strong egalitarian reading is correct; why female bishops were not ordained from the outset etc.

        The main picture for reflection of the authority and submission structure in marriage and, by extension church leadership, is Christ and the Church. I’m not willing to read an eternal authority and submission structure back into the Trinity as those speculations tend, at best, to conflate immanent and economic Trinity and are at worst heretical.

        One area of common ground between us would be the desire to see women lead qua women in the church and home. Obviously on my reading this precludes their being fathers in the home and elders in the church, not on the basis of skill or merit, but because this is what leadership in these spheres looks like in a masculine sense under God’s economy. We should be cautious about uncritically imbibing modern ideological currents into our readings of the humanum as portrayed in Scripture. There is much to loose if we adopt a secular dishonesty with regards to the reality of human life as created, redeemed and lived – perhaps particularly at present in affirming the unique role of fathers. A recent popular treatment of the kind of cultural move we think needs to be made on this subject is in Esolen’s two chapters on gender in Out of the Ashes.

        Whilst I suspect we won’t agree further on some of these matters, it is heartening to hear your passion for the flourishing of the body of Christ.

        Every blessing,

        Tim

        • August 21, 2017 at 7:56 am

          Thanks for getting back to me Tim. Whilst I respect your further arguments, i’m not 100% sure they’re really engaging with some of the previous comments and certainly wouldn’t agree with some of your assertions and reading of scripture, but am grateful that you’ve given your time to contribute to the dialogue here. I think we definitely agree with each other in terms of whole heartedly being committed to understand the heart of God on this topic and i pray for continued wisdom and revelation for us both as we pursue Him. Many blessings, Katia

  4. March 28, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Hi Katia,

    I’ve just read this post again and I wanted to say thank you. I don’t have any academic contributions to make, I am simply a woman in the Kingdom who has experienced shame and resistance on account of my sex and/or my strength; so I am grateful for you putting words to cautions, concerns and convictions I have been carrying for a long time.

    I am also a Mama to a little girl and privileged to mentor many young women around me so these things are more important to me than ever before.

    So I am with you, it is time, high time, that we set our women free.

    Thank you again, sending you so much love,

    Kara x

    • April 5, 2018 at 1:09 pm

      So encouraging – thanks Kara!

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