What the example of Deborah reveals about gender authority: As women have gained increased influence in society, and as Bible scholars offer a consistent egalitarian interpretation of Scripture, gender traditionalists have had to work harder and more creatively to justify the subordination of women within the church and family—even to themselves.
Stereotypes say women are too emotional to lead, while men are clear and logical leaders. But when we look at the Bible, we find that these stereotypes are not only incorrect, they are also unbiblical.
The battle over women leaders and the church continues to rage unabated in evangelical circles. At the center of the tempest sits 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Despite a broad spectrum of biblical and extra-biblical texts that highlight female leaders, 1 Tim. 2:11-15 continues to be perceived and treated as the great divide in the debate. Indeed for some, how one interprets this passage has become a litmus test for the label “evangelical” and even for salvation.
I foresee days when the gift of words will feel like a curse. On mornings when the labor is hard, I must remember to hold on to the hope of the joy. I must remember that I’m not alone. Annie Dillard reminded me of this: “At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace...you search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then—and only then—it is handed to you.”
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
For today’s “traditionalists,” 1 Timothy 2 mandates the subordination of women to men in the church because the headship/submission principle is grounded in the created order, an order that Christianity redeems, but does not alter. Today’s traditionalists/male hierarchists also claim to be upholding the historic interpretation of this passage. New research on early Protestant beliefs concerning natural law and the spiritual and civil kingdoms, however, brings their claim into serious question.
Context matters. I heard it all the time in seminary. It’s no small thing to translate biblical passages from Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek into English. This requires getting into the minds of the biblical authors to figure out what they intended to say to specific people in certain situations at a specific time in history. Academics call the science of interpretation hermeneutics. The goal is to know what God is saying about faith and practice in a certain context.
Hearing ambulance sirens was nothing out of the ordinary when I worked as a nurse in the emergency department in Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital. But, although I didn’t know it at the time, the sirens blaring one day were signaling a major change in my life. Through the emergency doors came a woman and her 12-year-old daughter. The mother—a single mom— had killed her son, wounded her daughter, and stabbed herself with a knife.