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Why Can’t Women Do That? Breaking Down the Reasons Churches Put Men in Charge

by Kristin S. Lassen | April 30, 2022
Cover of Why Can't Women Do That?

We long for connection. We are drawn to love. The book Why Can’t Women Do That? Breaking Down the Reasons Churches Put Men in Charge introduces the reader to two conversation partners—an uncle who has changed his mind about women’s roles and a nephew who is curious yet cautious. The book delivers content from NT scholar Philip B. Payne in the succinct style of computer programmer Vince Huffaker, who condenses Payne’s 500-page exhaustive exegetical book, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan Academic, 2009), into a 175-page readable conversation. I am amazed at the high-level content packed into so few words, all in the style of personal and respectful conversation.

Communication characterized by love leaves the door open for entry and retreat, with an invitation to stay. Payne and Huffaker hope the reader will reexamine commonly held ideas about what women “can’t do.” A pervasive scriptural undercurrent of the Holy Spirit’s gifts, a call to humble unity, freedom in Christ within the preeminence of Christ, and the imperative to spread the gospel—these combine to form their outlook (16). In addition, the authors are concerned that the church loses credibility when women lead well in “every possible role in society” outside the church yet are “ignored, or even limited” in using their gifts to advance God’s kingdom (16–17).

What Is the Book Like?

This review will comment on the book as a whole before walking briefly through each section. The prologue eavesdrops on letters between “Theo” and “Uncle Johnny.” Theo has sincere concerns about women leading at Johnny’s church, given the Bible’s “plain” teaching of male responsibility, the “slippery slope” of compromise, and the “natural” leadership gifts of men. Uncle Johnny sets the premise by explaining his own path for change and affirming their shared faith in God and the inerrancy of Scripture. “Nothing I write matters if it contradicts the Bible,” assures Uncle Johnny (47). The biblical interpretation presented serves to position the church to live out God’s truth in a way that best advances God’s kingdom by fully employing the gifts of women as well as men in God’s mission (16).

The book is inviting, not intimidating! This breath of fresh air summons busy people and others who simply prefer concise reading to take a quick glimpse into a view of Scripture that may be new to them. The manageable length, short chapters, uncrowded layout, and easy-to-read language leave the reader feeling they can both understand and finish the book quickly and conveniently.

This is a different book from Payne’s Man and Woman, One in Christ—especially regarding extensiveness and readability—yet surprisingly equal in soundness of content. Footnotes provide page numbers from Man and Woman, One in Christ in order to guide readers who desire detailed Greek-based exegesis. Each book has its place.

Part One: Leadership Concerns and Church Tradition

The book first addresses cultural and scriptural ideas as well as the “slippery slope” related to sex and gender. In response to assumptions about men as naturally better leaders, facts are presented based on data, leadership traits, and socialization into leadership. While respecting hesitancy to change, examples where women in leadership have enhanced the church’s perspective are given “from Peter’s ministry in Acts to the modern era” (35).

Just as Part One answers sincere questions, short chapters on Gen 1–2, Gen 3, Deborah, Gal 3, Eph 5, 1 Tim 2, and Titus 2 conclude with answers to common objections. Some common questions are answered by straightforward explanations of key Bible passages. As an example, the book explains that the NT teaching that Christian men and woman comprise a “kingdom of priests” had been foreshadowed in the OT (65–66). In some cases, the book’s characters go further, proposing or pondering common objections to egalitarian teaching. For example, Uncle Johnny counters a common objection when he writes, “But if [Priscilla] explaining something more accurately is not teaching, what is?” (143).

Part Two: Old Testament Passages

Proper exegesis begins at the beginning. As the book approaches Gen 1, the authors provide this foundational statement: “Let me start by stating clearly that I believe that the original text of the Bible, properly translated and interpreted, affirms the shared leadership, authority, and gifting of both men and women” (51).

Genesis 2 highlights the woman as man’s “helper suitable.” “A strength corresponding to him” would be a more apt translation of the Hebrew phrase, for “helper” is used of God’s action “as his people’s rescuer, strength, or might” sixteen times in the OT (53).

In Gen 3:13–16, God directly addresses the woman regarding her sin using the same word meaning “desire” in 4:7. Payne explains that this desire will be “to master, control, or manipulate”—both Eve to her husband and sin to Cain (57). Various patriarchal interpreters agree with this aspect of Payne’s view.

Respectfully, in light of the intersection of my experiences as a woman and my study of the Hebrew text of Genesis, I believe this “desire” is to grasp the full attention and devotion of the other. In the case of woman to man, it is to desire that he focus his full self on her just as she turns her full attention from God onto him.1 Despite our divergent interpretations of “desire,” the authors and I converge again with consensus that all “effects of the Fall are clearly contrary to and distortions of God’s intent in creation” and should be “overcome . . . rather than foster[ed],” including man’s rule over woman (58).

Regarding Deborah, the authors emphasize that “Israel was blessed because of her leadership” (62). More space is spent answering common objections than explaining the text itself because there have been so many attempts to explain away what Scripture states in no uncertain terms.

Kings and priests were male; today God’s design for his people as a “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6, Isa 61:6) has been realized (1 Pet 2:9) (65–66). After a short bullet-point description of the woman of Proverbs 31, Uncle Johnny asks, “Theo, does this line up with your beliefs about the roles of women?” (68). This OT section concludes with praise of “many other women—including wives and mothers—who exercised leadership over men,” “with no hint that their gender should disqualify them” (69).

Part Three: New Testament Passages

“Jesus in all his words and deeds left us an example to treat women as equals with men, never subordinated or restricted in role. His treatment of women as equals defied the judicial, cultural, and religious customs of his day” (73). For many who read this claim, warning lights are flashing wildly. This is an invitation to read this book and consider women in light of Jesus’s choice of twelve free Jewish men as his disciples, the Spirit’s work at Pentecost, and Sapphira’s partnership with Ananias in Acts 5 (75–78).

Romans 16 lists seven women in a list of ten total people whom Paul identifies along with their ministry role. Here we find explanation of the biblical text surrounding Phoebe and Junia as well as Paul’s relation to these women (79–82).

First Corinthians 7 is “Paul’s longest and most detailed treatment of marriage,” and Paul writes at length to emphasize equality between wives and husbands (83). A length of only two pages left me wanting more yet evoked appreciation for the pointed brevity of the authors.

Chapters 8–10 of 1 Corinthians place Christ over other concerns (87).

First Corinthians 11’s discussion around heads and head coverings is deeply contextual and exceedingly difficult for modern readers. It is helpful to remember that Paul addressed head coverings in the first place because “men and women were participating equally in the life of the New Testament churches” (96). Payne explains various meanings for “head”—including the body part—concluding that the covering refers to hair and explaining what this means for application (89–107). Andrew Bartlett agrees with this assessment of hair as the covering,2 yet I encourage readers to also consider Cynthia Westfall’s extensive research arriving at a “veil” understanding for the covering.3 I suspect it was a combination of both meanings, using allusions and cultural inferences that the original hearers would have known how to decode. Despite competing conclusions on Paul’s referent, the celebratory point is that, once again, these scholars agree on the text’s broader meaning.

First Corinthians 11:10 is best translated that a woman “ought to have authority over her own head,” which has often been altered into “a sign/symbol of authority on her head” (NIV 1984, ESV), thus conveying the opposite of Paul’s intent (101–2).4 This creative addition to the text—adding “a sign/symbol of” before “authority”—was not introduced to English translations until the 1881 Revised Version.5 This period in Western civilization involved a newly industrialized culture redefining societal roles for men and women. Patriarchal bias was inserted into the translation of 1 Cor 11:10, leaving far-reaching destruction in its wake over the next century. Payne’s assessment fits the context of the passage and the whole of Scripture without creating apparent contradiction—which placing women unilaterally under men’s authority actually does. Another key in 1 Cor 11:12 is that both women and men “owe respect to the other as their source” via creation and childbirth respectively (104).

First Corinthians 12 makes no gender distinction regarding the Holy Spirit’s distribution of gifts. Neither does this passage hint at a gender distinction in using these gifts (109–10).

The authors’ inerrantist position (15) is vital to understanding their approach to 1 Cor 14:34–35 (111–20). In this chapter, Payne presents “crucial evidence,” including evidence based in the investigation of ancient hand-copied manuscripts, to support his view that these two verses are not original to Paul’s letter. He argues that they originated instead as a scribal comment in the margin.6 The authors also reveal that the ways most churches get around applying this passage are not biblical (112).

Galatians 3:28 receives much acclaim as it “asserts a radically new understanding of relationships in Christ” (121). A misunderstanding is that everyone is identical and can do the same thing. This is absolutely not Paul’s (or egalitarians’) point, as explained on pp. 121–23. Pages 123–26 address whether this verse applies strictly to salvation or also to social interaction.

Ephesians 5:21–33 hails back to v. 18’s command to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (129). The radical new life and power provided by the Spirit set the basis for husbands and wives to “fully surrender their lives” to one another (131).

In Colossians 3:18–4:1, Paul taught people entrenched in culture and used their familiar framework to introduce a marriage entrenched in Christ. Colossians 3:18 must be set in the context of 3:12–17 as well as Paul’s longer sections on marriage in 1 Cor 7 and Eph 5 (135–37).

First Timothy was written to address false teaching, both due to willful blasphemy and to ignorance, in which case “a woman should learn” (1 Tim 2:11) (139, 144). Paul’s work alongside Priscilla, men and women returning to humility and Christ-focus, the pagan goddess Artemis, Gen 3, and childbirth are all addressed in Paul’s words of correction (139–49).

First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 offer guidance for “whoever” desires to be an overseer (151). Do not be misled by English translations that insert “him/he/his” into these discussions up to seventeen times (151)! The fourth-century Greek-speaking theologian and archbishop John Chrysostom states that the phrase “men of one woman . . . is appropriate to say regarding [monogamy for] women deacons also” (156).

The book concludes by addressing what Titus faced in Crete, instructions to men and women elders, husbands and wives, life in a pagan culture (1 Pet 3), and leadership choices from Jesus to Billy Graham.

Conclusion

Loving relationships can quickly take a back seat when firmly held convictions about biblical interpretation and callings to ministry are at stake. Payne and Huffaker seek to begin again on a different foot. Their love for people and Scripture shine forth the joy of the Lord. 

“A biblical view of manhood and womanhood is one that encourages all people, regardless of gender, to develop their God-given gifts to their fullest potential” in order to “complement each other” and “build a unity that reflects the love and unity of the Trinity” (22). The goal should be seeing one another as true and equal partners in God’s kingdom with “common sense, respect, and personal integrity” overtaking suspicion and distrust (174).7 Healthy identity grows when we conform to Christ, and this kind of discipleship fosters healthy male-female relationships (175).

Do you want love to guide the discussion of God’s truth? Are practical concerns as well as the full context of the Bible’s teaching holding you back from fully affirming women? Do you want top quality with a readable style and manageable word count (that doesn’t take a degree in Greek to follow)? You have found the right book!

Notes

1. One reason this desire is harmful is that it does not respect personal boundaries, growth, and agency. Much like codependency, it is a desire that the man abandon other (healthy) interests to be consumed in reciprocal desire. See Kristin Lassen, “A Ladder Leans ‘Against’ A Wall—and more about Genesis 3:16b,” CoffeeWithKristin.wordpress.com, posted Oct 22, 2020, updated Mar 19, 2022, https://coffeewithkristin.wordpress.com/2020/10/22/a-ladder-leans-against-a-wall-and-more-about-genesis-316/.

There is also a sense of “turning” in teshuqah, as shown in the Septuagint’s rendering it as apostrophe. See Marg Mowczko, “Teshuqah: The Woman’s ‘Desire’ in Genesis 3:16,” https://margmowczko.com/teshuqah-desire/.

2. Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (Inter-Varsity, 2019) 115–59.

3. Westfall discusses Roman law and culture, Greek philosophical schools, sexual behavior of women in Corinth, class distinctions, the symbolism of modesty and rank by veiling, and even head coverings for men (25–43). She points out textual ties between 1 Cor 11 and 1 Esdras 4:14–17 that shed light onto Paul’s allusions and the qualification “nevertheless” in 1 Cor 11:11 (67). She discusses male control and women’s own self-perceptions related to veiling (96–99). Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Baker Academic, 2016) 25–43, 66–70, 96–99.

4. If taken out of context, this verse could be read as ambiguous regarding whether a woman ought to have authority over her own head, meaning her husband, or over her physical head, but only the latter fits with the reciprocity of vv. 11–12.

5. See Andrew Bartlett’s guest post at Jesus Creed: a blog by Scot McKnight, “Worst NT Translations Relating to Women, 1” (Oct 26, 2020) https://christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/october/worst-nt-translations-relating-to-women-1.html.

6. Payne is well-published on this topic; see for example “Is 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 a Marginal Comment or a Quotation? A Response to Kirk MacGregor,” Priscilla Papers 33/2 (Spring 2019) 24–30. Historian Beth Allison Barr provides a helpful quotation from the Roman senator Cato the Elder: “Could you not have asked your own husbands the same thing at home?” Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (Brazos, 2021) 59. While Barr differs from Payne by suggesting that 1 Cor 14 here may be a quotation-refutation by Paul, this citation offers evidence for what was written in the margin and why: it was a popular saying.

7. Payne and Huffaker here quote Leanne Weber, “Moving Beyond the Billy Graham Rule,” Mutuality (Jan 29, 2020) https://cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/moving-beyond-billy-graham-rule.

Book info
Author:
Publisher:
VInati Press, LLC
Year:
2021