Today, a brief detour before I complete my examination of 1 Timothy 2. This will function as additional foundation for that penultimate installment in my series on gender roles in the church.
This past weekend, my husband and I hosted some dear friends of ours for dinner, friends we don’t get to see nearly often enough, due to distance and ministry responsibilities. It was an edifying time of fellowship with like-minded believers, and over the course of the evening the topic of my blog series on gender roles came up. The wife, like me, is in professional apologetics ministry, and is well acquainted with the various negative attitudes that come from certain corners of the church. At one point, she said something that really resonated with me, and the more I’ve pondered it, the more I’ve realized the importance of her remark. Before I tell you what it was she said, I need to lay some groundwork.
Consider what Scripture tells us about the nature and purpose of woman from the very beginning. Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-28 tell us:
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” 27 God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”
Notice that male and female together comprise the humankind that reflects the image of God, the imago Dei. Scripture does not give us a list of attributes that this “image” includes, but theologians throughout church history have argued that it [at least] includes 1) the kind of rationality that sets us apart from the brute animals, 2) our moral conscience, and 3) our spiritual awareness–what John Calvin called thesensus divinitatis. With these in mind, we have a much richer understanding of the unique fitness of human beings to be joint rulersover the creation.
Genesis chapter 2 recounts the creation of woman in greater detail:
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
Verse 20 says that Adam found “no companion who corresponded to him” among all the other living creatures of the earth. In other words, he found no other image-bearing being to be his counterpart. God had already recognized that Adam’s solitude was not a good situation. When God created woman, the perfect solution, Adam immediately recognized her as bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh; she was his perfect biological complement and his image-bearing equal. She was man’s companion (some translations use the word “helper”). She was the final piece of the created order that was required to bring it to full goodness.
Eventually, there was trouble in paradise. When both man and woman fell into sin through their disobedience, the result was a curse upon various aspects of creation. God said that strife would enter the dynamic of the male-female relationship. He said to her, “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you” (Genesis 3:16b). God’s original intent for a side-by-side ruling partnership would now bear the ugly, corrupting effects of humankind’s sin. There would be clashes between man and woman, born of the selfish desires of each; woman would sinfully crave to rule over her husband, but she would suffer his sinful, domineering actions. A lose-lose situation.
Fast forward to the traditions of the Jewish synagogue, which were not immune to the cancer of the curse. Men would pray three specific blessings, each of which began: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a___________” and ended with “Gentile,” “slave,” or “woman.” These three prayer book blessings illustrate the apparently pervasive sins of racism, the attitude of social status superiority, and misogyny/sexism. [As a side note, I have to wonder what these men thought of Deborah, a prophetess, ruler, and warrior-heroine who held the highest office of leadership over the nation of Israel during the period of the judges–and who arguably outperformed the majority of the males who held the office before and after her.] Women were most certainly viewed by Jewish men as second-class citizens, a sort of property. Female testimony in a court of law didn’t even hold as much weight as the testimony of a man. Women were seen as less intelligent and less trustworthy.
We have already seen the beautiful, powerful ways Jesus turned the world upside down to the great benefit of women. He was an equalizing force during His earthly ministry, but that is not where it ended. His work of atonement set the cosmic wheels of redemption into motion, a motion that is bringing about the very Kingdom of God, the restoration of His good creation, which will culminate in the New Heavens and New Earth. Remember how Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”? He prayed, in his archetype prayer, for the coming of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. We, his children, are on a journey of sanctification, redeemed by grace through faith from our sin once and for all, but we’re working in partnership with God towards further redemption of the creation–the decrease of sin which brings the waning of some of its effects. As heirs to the Kingdom, we are active participants in God’s master plan to bring that Kingdom about. Alleluia! What a privilege!
This brings me back around to the comment my friend made the other night. I’ll have to paraphrase, since I didn’t write it down verbatim. She said, “Woman was created to be man’s perfect helper. She has the same rationality, and can therefore think deeply and rationally about theological matters. Isn’t it absurd to say that it is wrong for women to teach men about things of God, for this is one way we are endowed by our Creator to be a helper to men.”
Yes! This is EXACTLY what we see in Acts chapter 18! Let’s look at the helping role a woman played by teaching a man good theology:
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[d] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed,28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Priscilla and Aquila
Apollos was a competent, eloquent, and anointed preacher of the Word, but his theology was deficient. Priscilla and Aquila (the wife is named before the husband, which is interesting), having discerned this, take Apollos aside and correct him through sound teaching. The result was a flourishing of Apollos’ ministry as a powerful case-maker for Christ. A woman (Priscilla) and man (Aquila) taught alongside of one another, to the glory of God! What a beautiful picture of redemption! Man and woman working side by side for the sake of the Gospel, and it did not matter that Priscilla was a woman, and Apollos was a man. The Kingdom was breaking in, through the earliest church, and diminishing the effects of the curse in a profound, counter-cultural way.