Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Women Bishops, Euodia and Syntyche

So the Anglicans in the UK have delayed yet again the vote on female bishops. I find the whole thing bewildering. I have written on this before,, but want to look at Philippians around the question. I know a little about Philippians, having written a few articles, a thesis, and now most of a commentary on the book.

The bishop is drawn from the notion of the episkopos, in Greek, an 'overseer.' The word is found once in Acts (Acts 20:28) of the leaders of the Ephesus church, of Jesus the supreme overseer (1 Pet 2:25), and in Paul three times of church elders (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7; Phil 1:1). It is generally believed that the references in 1 Tim and Titus rule out women in this role, as the overseer is to be a husband of one wife. This may be correct. However, the Philippians' reference is intriguing and raises doubts.

Only in this letter does Paul single out the overseers and deacons (Phil 1:1). He then goes about writing a letter which is dominated by the unity issue. This is seen in Phil 1:5, "the partnership of the gospel;" in his report of his situation in Rome where preachers are divided over him (Phil 1:14-18); in his central proposition of the letter in 1:27 including "standing firm in one Spirit", "contending as one for the faith of the gospel;" in 2:1-4 he gets more direct, appealing for the Philippians with a four-fold emphatic construct to have the "same love, the same mind, to be one-souled, and one minded," they are to be humble and elevate others, being others-centred; in 2:5-8 they are to emulate Christ who embodies unity with God; in 2:14-15 they are to stop complaining and arguing; the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus point to their preparedness to partner with Christ and Paul for the gospel (Phil 2:19-25); in 3:2, 18 they are to shun false teachers, otherwise they are to be unified; in 3:16 he tells the Philippians if there are points of disagreement, God will bring fresh revelation to bring them into unity. Finally, in 4:2-3, he directly addresses the two at the centre of the debate, two women, Euodia and Syntyche. Using language used in 1:27; 2:2 he appeals to them to be unified in their mindset.

This all raises the question of who these women were. For Paul to write a letter dominated by the issues of their relationship suggests they were more than a couple of housewives having a squabble over the carpet or scones. Rather, they are clearly significant people, leaders of some sort with some degree of influence that occasioned Paul's letter all the way from Rome 1400km away. Not to mention that he is prepared to send two of his best co-workers, and come himself to sort it out (see 1:24-26; 2:19-30). This is clearly some issue.

The two women are described as "co-workers", which is Paul-speak for gospel preachers (used of Timothy, Titus, Aquila and Priscilla, Philemon and others). They worked beside him for the gospel, on previous visits. Again this says more than scone making. We know that the church was not led by a single bishop in those days (the word overseer is only plural in the NT). We know that women hosted and likely led churches including Lydia who hosted the first Philippian house-church in Acts 16:14-15, 40, and Nympha in Col 4:15. This all points to these women being at least house church leaders, pastors, preachers, and likely, overseers or deaconesses. A number of scholars suggest the latter. Why not the former? After all, if the church began in the home of a woman, and the letter singles out leaders, why not? So, were these women in fact bishops? It is certainly a good debate either way, if not conclusive.

The debate also hinges on which verses your privilege. If you privilege "husband of one wife" over Phil 1:1 which is ambiguous, you will argue that the Philippians verse should be read through the lens of 1 Tim and Titus. On the other hand, these latter two texts may apply only to Ephesus and Crete, perhaps because of female involvement in false teaching. So one can equally privilege Phil 1:1.

All in all, I don't get the refusal to have woman bishops. There are lots of signals in the NT, like the one above, that women should not to be limited in ministry, even though there are two situations where Paul acts to limit them (1 Cor 14; 1 Tim 2). Neither of these texts, however, state that the limitation is universal for all of time. They could equally be situational. Indeed, 1 Cor 14 follows 1 Cor 11:4-5 where women are permitted to speak in church, so it would seem likely 1 Cor 14 is a situational issue.

Anyway, Paul himself advocated flexibility on non-essentials on the basis of culture (1 Cor 9:19-22). I suspect he would say to those discussing this that in a nation where a woman can lead the nation, why not the church? It is not as if this is a salvation issue Christians should be so determined to split over.

Why should a woman who is a good leader, preacher, administrator and carries a sense of call, not be released into ministry, including that of being a Bishop? Especially so in lands where a woman is queen, where women lead businesses, schools, and become PM's (Thatcher). In fact, it is decidedly ironic that the head of the church is a woman (the Queen), and yet they can't be bishops! Not to mention that the idea of a single bishop is a post-biblical development anyway. Come on!

Jesus on no occasion limits people like this; if anything he went the other way allowing people freedom to serve (e.g. Luke 9:49-50). It is not as if Christian ministry is defined primarily by authority, it is defined by servanthood.

Neither is this issue on the same scale as the gay issue, which seems to be assumed in the debate by many. The whole Biblical Narrative gives no sense that the Law, Prophets, Christ, Paul or any other writer was open to the possibility of gay leaders. So, it is a different discussion.

On the other hand, slavery, gender and race issues we see contrary and subversive notes through Scripture. On slavery the seeds are sown in Philemon and Eph 6:9 which to me anticipate the end of slavery. On gender, in texts like Deborah, Philippians, people like Mary at Jesus' feet, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman of John 4, Nympha, Priscilla, Junia and the women of Rom 16. On race, we see proselytes leading from Acts 6; Luke was likely a gentile, as were many of the leaders of the churches (e.g. Philemon, Clement etc).

I am all for the authority of Scripture, for an evangelicalism based on Scripture, but we have to do it well. I find the whole thing perplexing. There is a time biblical conservatism becomes deeply troubling. 


Gene Lawrence said...

So, do you think that bishops in the Catholic and Anglican church constitute corporate leadership or not?

Anonymous said...

So, mum can't lead the church but dad can? Aren't they both equally good at being parents? Both can lead the family, why can't they both lead the church? This is why the world looks at the church and shivers. The "unsaved" are more attuned to God's call for justice then the church is. God is calling workers to the vineyard, if the servants won't work, God goes out to the highways and byways.

Mark Keown said...

Agree Anonymous. Justice can get lost behind dogma too easily. The Pharisees had this problem too. At a local church (vicar) or diocese level, the leadership is not corporate as I see it. Local churches in the NT always had multiple "bishops"--overseers, presbyters used interchangeably as in the Pastorals and Acts.

Mark Keown said...

Agree Anonymous. Justice can get lost behind dogma too easily. The Pharisees had this problem too. At a local church (vicar) or diocese level, the leadership is not corporate as I see it. Local churches in the NT always had multiple "bishops"--overseers, presbyters used interchangeably as in the Pastorals and Acts.

Gene Lawrence said...

So, if NT church oversight (rather than leadership) is corporate then the UK Anglican church should't be appointing men or women bishops.

Sorry, just stirring.

TheOldBrewer said...

Mark, I am trying to research this subject. My approach is novel and in that my starting point is somewhere before the old testament. Life is not going to be easy because there is not a great deal historical documentation to inform us.

It strikes me that the three Abrahamic religions have actually lost touch with their origins or the origin of their rituals, most of which have a common theme. The rituals now mostly have a meaningful symbolic or spiritual role that is disconnected with their beginnings.

From what I can see the trick is to understand the temple of olden days and its function or more specifically one of its functions and nomadic culture in arid conditions.

There is good reason to believe that women could not perform this function - nor could practising gay men when engaged in temple duties. The issue of circumcision ties into this - the German courts raised the profile of this debate recently. I am working on a theory and have some way to go. For now it points to the ban on women bishops having derived from temple function that is now redundant. Significantly it points to their being no reason why women cannot perform pastoral and spiritual roles in the church on equal terms with men - nor gay men for that matter.

I am not an Anglican and have begun to call myself both a lapsed Christian and a lapsed atheist. I am coming to a view that Anglicanism has a problem. Unlike the non-conformist and free churches it retains a hierarchical super-structure but unlike the Church of Rome is democratic. It is a broad church that tries to encompass a range or ranges of views that are poles apart. I believe that unless its scholarly leaders reconnect with Christianity's roots it will not resolve the current debate. There isn't any room for a fudge.


Mark Keown said...

Hi Bruce. That is a most interesting line of reasoning. Yes, the whole idea of priests is derived from Aaronic and Levitical notions and, yes, they are definitely reframed in Christ the High Priest. Paul studiously avoids the language. The age of the Spirit to me seems to see the structures of Israel reshaped away from specific structures (tithing, sacrifice etc), to a renewed community open to the Spirit with a great deal of freedom for all. Keep up the most interesting line of thinking. Blessings. Mark.

Mark Keown said...

Hi Gene.I think it depends at what level you are thinking. At a local church level (vicar), diocese (bishop), region and national (archbishop), it is not corporate in that these individuals can make decisions as per their sense of God's leading. But they are linked with other bishops under a higher level (e.g. archbishop), so it is then corporate. In the NT, there is no instant of an individual episkopos except Jesus in 1 Peter. At a local church level, they are corporate. At a wider level, there is no idea of an archbishop. So, while there is a corporate dynamic, its essential nature is an individual charged with individual decision making over a body. Well, that's how I see it.

It seems to me that Christian leadership has two equal and opposite dangers--excessive individualism (which episcopalian and extreme Pentecostal groups tend toward), and excessive democracy whereby leadership is cramped (congregational, presbyterian can be like this). I think the Pressies are closest to what I sense in the NT in that we have corporate leadership at every level. It breaks down at Presbytery and Assembly because the leadership groups are too big and clumsy. There is no perfect system.

TheOldBrewer said...

Hi Mark, I've just remember to bookmark this page. Thank you for the supportive words.

I mentioned "one specific function" of a temple. You mentioned "sacrifice". That's my direction of travel. What do we mean by sacrifice? What was its significance in OT times and before?

My feeling is that if we can crack that we get close to solving the meaning of the three Abrahamic religions. The Higgs boson springs to mind. It could be the keystone that, according to Masonic tradition, was thrown out with rubble and without which the whole edifice was unsound.


Anonymous said...

Hello folks.

I think what has been omitted is that St. Paul who was personally supervised by the Lord Jesus from the day of his conversion, insists that the instruction for women to remain silent in the mixed congregations was if fact a "Commandment of the Lord"

Indeed, he is so concerned about it being understood as such, that he put's a persons spiritual integrity on the line.

"As in all the churches of God's holy people, 34 the women must keep silent. They don't have the right to speak......It's shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Did God's word originate with you? Are you the only ones it has reached?
37 Whoever thinks that he speaks for God or that he is spiritually gifted must acknowledge that what I write to you is what the Lord commands."
1 Cor 14:33-37 (GW)

As it is the "Commandment of the Lord" it must remain firm and irrevocable as it has done for nigh on 2,000 years of Apostolic tradition.

"As in ALL the churches of God" including "Whomsoever calls on the name of the Lord"
therefore includes all churches for all centuries while ever the Lord remains away.

"2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and
called to be holy, *together with all those everywhere* who call on the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ*--their Lord and ours" 1 Cor 1:2 (NIV)

It's plain and simple enough then as it has been since the Apostles first taught God's Truth.

Mark Keown said...

So Anonymous, what exactly is the truth that 1 Cor 14 tells you in terms of women? It can't be silence, as in 1 Cor 11:4-5 they are allowed to speak in church. What does it tell you about leadership? What evidence do you have that God said this to Paul at his conversion? In the report of his conversion in Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal 1:14-15 there is nothing about women in ministry. He met Jesus. Are we reading the same Bible? Your comment illustrates a lack of biblical understanding and knowledge.

Mark Keown said...

Hi Again. I think there are a range of institutions in the OT cult that have been transformed. Tithing has become generous giving for poor and ministry without the percentage. Priesthood is now in Christ, and the whole body who have various roles. Temple is now Jesus and his people. Circumcision is now of the heart by faith. The whole sacrificial system is fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ. We are called to live out the pattern of his self-giving with giving ourselves as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). This is to live what I call the pattern of the cross--selflessness, service, sacrifice, suffering in humility and love. His sacrifice is all-sufficient for our salvation--and he works in us bringing his redemption as we live out of his pattern. Cheers. Mark.

TheOldBrewer said...

Thank you Mark. I now have a British Library card and am extending my reading.

That summary of the transition from the OT to the NT is succinct and shows how spiritual Christianity is.

The question I am investigating is what was the purpose of sacrifice in pre-Biblical days. We think of the wanton slaughter of animals just to please our god (or gods). I am beginning to think that we've got wrong.

Right now I am looking at a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't have a starting picture and very probably has many, many pieces missing. It will be a challenge.

For now many thanks for your kind words.


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