Don’t look at me like that. I’m not the one making the arguments.
See how you get?
The three who make the arguments are Ben Witherington III, New Testament scholar, Methodist, author of Jesus the Seer, which I haven’t read but looks really cool; Greg Boyd, open theism evangelical (for lack of a better identifier), senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and author of The Jesus Legend, an excellent history of oral tradition in the Bible; and N.T. Wright, Anglican, former bishop of Durham, author of the magisterial Christian Origins and the Question of God trilogy and at least two more books since I started typing this.
Watch, listen, cogitate:
Now the traditional arguments against women in pastoral/leadership roles include:
1. the fact that Jesus commissioned only men as apostles, which is to say, those entrusted with the original deposit of faith and authorized to teach, preach, and ordain;
2. Paul’s insistence in 1 Timothy 2 that he he “did not permit women to teach or have authority over men”; and
3. the nature of priesthood. Although not really addressed by the men in the videos I linked to, because they are all Protestants, as the ministry slowly began to acquire an affinity to the OT levitical priesthood, the in persona Christi identity of the priest—the groom offering himself to His bride, the church—sealed the maleness of church authority.
(Mark Driscoll has offered another objection: women are uniquely weak-minded and immoral. Or something like that. Talk about the need for context…read 2 Timothy 3:6 again, man. And as someone who has been in publishing for 20 years, guess who pays most of the bills to PUBLISH those magazines. And of course, there are no male equivalents…)
Number three is not relevant for most Protestant and evangelical churches. The idea that Jesus is being offered in a bloodless sacrifice at the altar by a priest, who also is mystically identified with the victim, is meaningless given how the ordinance/sacrament is construed in the Reformation context. Even Lutherans, who embrace the Real Presence, do not share Rome’s theology of sacrifice. And frankly, if the issue is also one of gender confusion, of ontology, with women being unable to assume the “identity” of the Groom and Son of God, what do we do with men as members of His bride, who thus must only receive passively the body of Christ?
Number two seems to be dealt with effectively by the speakers above. But it’s a fraught methodology. Sound biblical exegesis must address the original context in which the biblical authors were writing, teaching, and preaching, and the very specific problems (think Paul and the churches at Corinth and Galatia, or the Johannine literature and docetism) they were attempting to tackle (widows in the church, good order in worship, how money was to be collected and distributed within and among the churches). But once you begin to deconstruct the cultural context, where do you stop? Let’s be frank: first-century people of all cultures were living in a prescientific age and attributed to spiritual forces, including demonic forces, what the overwhelming majority of us today (snake handlers and hyper-Calvinists excepted) know to be natural forces—whether illnesses of a mental or physical origin or weather patterns and the shifting of tectonic plates.
And here’s another issue never sufficiently discussed in understanding “tradition” and culture and how it functioned within the early church: what did the apostles and biblical authors think of the intertestamental literature, specifically the Apocryphal books? What do we make of references to a legend recorded in the Assumption of Moses in Jude (not to mention what appears to be a quotation from 1 Enoch) or echoes of the Book of Wisdom in Romans (or of 2 Maccabees in Hebrews)? Did they believe these books were scripture? (Pace Catholic apologists, the final lineaments of the canon were not fixed until the 16th century, including at Trent.) In other words, is it possible to separate the apostles from their place and time, from the religious world in which they were raised, from the sects and factions that vied for authenticity, from the pagan and polytheist counterculture against which they were constantly pushing back? And from the roles women assumed by default in the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds—and which Jesus seemed to be upsetting in ways we’re still coming to terms with?
And just to make things interesting: is there a reason why denominations that ordain women almost always begin jettisoning what most orthodox churches would insist were the creedal non-negotiables of the Faith: the Virgin Birth, which preserves both the deity and humanity of the God-man Jesus; the bodily Resurrection, without which our faith is in vain; the judgment of sin—both at the Cross and at the end of history; Jesus as the exclusive way to the Father (God, salvation, eternal life), etc.? Is it because the discussion usually begins But they were a product of their era, and people believed stupid things in the first century that NO ONE believes today who isn’t a fanatic or nuts—which is why we don’t reject women from leadership roles anymore?
P.S. A nice discussion of this issue occurred within the pages of FIRST THINGS: Sarah Wilson Hinlicky, who is ordained in the ELCA but identifies as a confessional Lutheran, and Jennifer Ferrara, a former Lutheran pastor and now a Catholic laywoman and editor, were the disputants.
Two quick representative samples of their arguments (and I place them in the order they are made in the article):
Ferrara: “Why can’t we have spiritual fathers (priests) and spiritual mothers (priestesses)? The answer is one that feminists do not like to hear—namely, that the priest is an icon of Christ and acts in persona Christi at the altar and in the confessional. In 1976 the Vatican issued Inter Insignores or “Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood.” As this document says, we cannot ignore the fact that Christ is a man. He is the bridegroom; the Church is his bride. This nuptial mystery is proclaimed throughout the Old and New Testaments. One must utterly disregard the importance of this symbolism for the economy of salvation in order to make an argument for women’s ordination. There are actions “in which Christ himself, the author of the Covenant, the Bridegroom and Head of the Church, is represented.” At these times, Christ’s role (this is the original sense of the word persona) must be taken by a man. This is especially true in the case of the Eucharist, when Christ is exercising his ministry of salvation.”
Hinlicky: “It is not a hysterical overstatement, then, to assert that the ordination of women is closely tied to the salvation of women. If the female cannot represent Christ because of her femininity, it is hard to understand how Christ in his masculinity can represent her in his death and resurrection.”