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Published Date: March 2, 2016

Published Date: March 2, 2016

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Response to Kevin DeYoung’s “Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus,” Part 1

As its title implies, Kevin DeYoung’s article, “Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus,” makes two main assertions. First, Jesus was pro-woman. In support, Kevin DeYoung cites thirty passages from the Gospels. Virtually all scholars agree that Jesus was pro-woman. Second, Jesus was complementarian. DeYoung does not reference a single passage in support of this from the Gospels except, “Jesus never rejected biblical teaching from the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17).” This verse, however, does not even mention women or anything about being “complementarian,” nor does its immediate context, Matthew 5:1-26.

DeYoung acknowledges that the foundation of his argument is his understanding that God’s original design was for gender-based role distinction in leadership and authority: “Jesus’s revolutionary treatment of women was, nevertheless, consistent with God’s original design for role distinctions. The most obvious example is his selection of an all-male apostolic leadership. Granted, that Jesus chose only men to be apostles doesn’t prove conclusively he was a ‘complementarian,’ but it does indicate that his revolutionary attitude toward women stopped short of including them in all forms of leadership.” 

Although adducing no other evidence from Jesus’s life and teaching that might change his earlier acknowledgement that this “doesn’t prove conclusively he was a ‘complementarian,’” DeYoung’s conclusion asserts that Jesus was “unequivocally complementarian.”

DeYoung explains what he means by complementarian: “only men” may be in “positions of leadership and authority.” He does not, however, cite a single passage of the Bible that teaches this or clearly implies it. I have argued in Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan), referred to hereafter as MW, that there is no such passage anywhere in the Bible.

DeYoung assumes that “God’s original design [is] for [male/female leadership] role distinctions.” This, however, is nowhere taught in the account of creation in Genesis. Quite to the contrary, Genesis teaches that God created man as male and female in his image without distinction and assigned “dominion” over the earth, plants, and animals to man and woman without distinction (Genesis 1:26-28). As MW (41-54) argues, nothing in the Genesis account of creation grants man priority in status or authority over woman. To the contrary, it emphasizes their equality.

“He will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16) is a direct result of the fall. Piper and Grudem agree that this “is not a prescription of what should be” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (409). Contrary to their view that this refers to only bad or abusive rule, however, both major Hebrew dictionaries, Koehler-Baumgartner (2:647-48) and Brown-Driver-Briggs (605), analyze every Old Testament instance of “rule” and list no negative meaning for it. “Rule” in Genesis 3:16 is not distinguished as either bad or good, but is simply “rule.”

Since man’s ruling over woman is a result of the fall, man must not have ruled over woman before the fall. Man’s rule over woman is part of the fall that Christ, the promised seed of the woman, overcame (Genesis 3:15).

Nor does the Old Testament ever teach that leadership is limited to males. Quite to the contrary, it describes women in leadership with God’s blessing and no hint that their being women should disqualify them.

God sent the prophetess Miriam “to lead” Israel (Micah 6:4; cf. Exodus 15:20-21). Deborah is one of the judges whom “the Lord raised up” and who “saved Israel from the hands of their enemies” (Judges 2:16, 18; 4:14; 5:1-31), a prophetess and the highest leader in all of Israel in her day (4:4-6, 14). Queen Esther, along with Mordecai, “wrote with full authority…. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations” (9:29-32). The king, the elders, the prophets, and the people accepted the prophetess Huldah’s word as divinely revealed (2 Kings 22:14-23:3; 2 Chronicles 34:22-32), and their obedience to her word sparked possibly the greatest revival in the history of Israel (2 Kings 22:14-23:25; 2 Chronicles 34:29-35:19). Scripture praises Abigail for her initiative over men, and especially over her husband. God blessed her, and her prophesies came true (1 Samuel 25:14-42). Ephraim’s granddaughter Sheerah “built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah” (1 Chronicles 8:24).

Although Athaliah and Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4), like most of Israel’s kings, were wicked, neither they nor any other woman leader of Israel is criticized in Scripture for being in authority on the grounds that this is an inappropriate position for a woman. Psalm 68:11 (68:12 Masoretic Text) reads, “The Lord announced the word; the women proclaiming [feminine plural] it are a great company.” 

God even used women to communicate key portions of inspired authoritative Scripture, including the song of the prophetess Miriam (Exodus 15:21), the song of Deborah (Judges 5:2-31), the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10), the prophetic words of Elizabeth (Luke 1:25, 42-45), and the Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).

Nor does the New Testament ever clearly teach that leadership is limited to males, as MW argues in detail. As the Old Testament scholar Gordon Hugenberger has shown in his JETS 35 article “Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Timothy 2:8-15” (360), and Jesus’ interpretation of Deuteronomy 24 in Mark 10:12 confirms, it is common throughout the Bible for prohibitions addressing men also to apply to women. For example, “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife” also implicitly prohibits coveting your neighbor’s husband. This applies to the qualifications for overseers and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

The New Testament does not teach what DeYoung alleges. Instead, it repeatedly affirms women in church leadership. Paul’s longest list of greetings commends by name ten of his co-workers in the gospel. Seven of them are women. 

First is Phoebe, “deacon of the church of Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1) and “leader of many, including myself” (Romans 16:2). Although some versions translate, “for she has been a helper of many,” “help” is the verb combining “along side” and “stand,” whereas “leader” is not the noun for helper (one who “stands alongside”) but the noun combining “in rank before” and “stand,” the same combination Paul used for leaders in Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12; and 5:17. Indeed, the only person the New Testament identifies by name as having a local church office is not a man, but a woman, Phoebe, “deacon of the church of Cenchrea.” Paul calls Junia “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7), Prisca, “my fellow worker in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3; Philippians 4:3; Acts 18:26 “explained to him [Apollos] the way of God more accurately”), and Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis “worked hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:6, 12).

One problem with DeYoung’s allegation is that Jesus never hints, let alone states, that the reason he chose twelve free Jewish men to be his intimate companions was that women should not have leadership or authority over men.

Another problem is that Jesus does at times assign positions of leadership and authority to women. For example, he does this after his resurrection by appearing first to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and instructing them to tell the others (Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:14-18). DeYoung does not mention either that Jesus commissioned them or that they fulfilled this crucial commission, or Mark 16:14’s almost certainly later-added report that Jesus “upbraided them [the eleven] for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”

Nor does Jesus ever subordinate women to men or restrict their role as DeYoung’s thesis implies. Consider the ways in which Jesus affirmed the equal standing of man and woman, contrary to his culture. Jesus’s affirmation of the Queen of the South (Matthew 12:42) would be inappropriate if he believed women were prohibited from leadership or authority over men. He affirms a woman for the first time, seventy years before its first rabbinic use (Strack-Billerbeck 2:200), as a “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16). DeYoung notes that Jesus was “placing them on the same spiritual plane as men,” but the context does not limit their equal standing to the spiritual realm. Rather, it emphasizes the transformation of her physical status.

When Mary, contrary to Jewish custom, entered an area being used to teach men, “sat at the Lord’s feet [the posture of a disciple], and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39), Jesus affirmed, “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (10:42). The Babylonian Talmud, Qiddushin 29a-b states, “whoever is commanded to study is commanded to teach,” and Hebrews 5:12 states, “by this time you ought to be teachers.” Thus, this and all the many other instances where Jesus teaches women should be seen in light of the principle that learning ought to result in teaching.

Jesus even implies women’s equal status with men under the law by referring to women initiating divorce (Mark 10:12). DeYoung states, “Affirming true God-designed complementarity has almost always challenged the status quo,” but in Jesus’s day it was the status quo to exclude women from leadership and authority, as DeYoung does.

Why did Jesus choose only free Jewish men for the twelve disciples? He does not give any reason for this, but the symbolism of the “new Israel” is arguably the most likely. Practical issues related to the “supremely personal union” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TNDT] 4:442) of Jesus and his disciples adequately explain why he did not choose women to be in his most intimate circle for three years, including time in the wilderness and late night meetings such as at the Garden of Gethsemane. Moral suspicions would undoubtedly be raised not only about Jesus, but also about his apostles.

It no more logically follows from Jesus’s choice of twelve able-bodied Jewish men that all women should be excluded from church leadership than that all Gentiles, anyone from another ethnicity, and anyone with a disability should be excluded from church leadership.

Part 2