Review of ‘Man and Woman, One in Christ’ by Philip B. Payne

man-and-woman-one-in-chirst Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009). Paperback

In feminist criticism of Christianity, the apostle Paul often emerges as chief among sexists. He subordinated wives to husbands in the home and women to men in the church, enjoining females to be “submissive” to and “quiet” before males. Sometimes, it is conceded, Paul made noises in an egalitarian direction, e.g., Galatians 3:28. On the whole, however, he advocated patriarchy, or as contemporary advocates call it, complementarianism.

In Man and Woman, One in Christ, Philip B. Payne argues that Paul has been misread. Far from being an advocate of patriarchy—in home or church—Paul is an egalitarian. Or rather, to state the matter positively: “Paul repeatedly affirms the equal standing and privileges of women and men in the church and in marriage.”

Payne reaches this conclusion through

  • an examination of the Hellenistic, rabbinic, Old Testament, and early Christian backgrounds to Paul’s teaching (chapter 1);
  • a survey of women Paul names as ministry leaders (chapter 2);
  • an outline of Pauline theological axioms that imply sexual equality (chapter 3);
  • and a painstaking exegesis of the relevant Pauline texts: Galatians 3:28 (chapter 4); 1 Corinthians 7 (chapter 5); 11:2–16 (chapters 6–13); 14:34–35 (chapter 14); Ephesians 5:21–33 and Colossians 3:18–19 (chapter 15); 1 Timothy 2:8–15 (chapters 16–23); and 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9).

Some of the arguments Payne makes will be familiar to anyone who has kept up with the literary debate between egalitarians and complementarians, which has been ongoing among evangelicals for several decades. Indeed, Payne’s own scholarly output on the topic has made a signal contribution to these debates. He states that Man and Woman, One in Christ has been 36 years in the making. (It was published in 2009.)

Payne presents these familiar arguments for egalitarianism with precision and care. They include, among others, the egalitarian implications of Galatians 3:28, the meaning of kephale as “source” rather than “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, the mutuality of submission between husband and wife in Ephesians 5:21–33, the contextually limited (rather than universal) prohibition of women assuming authority to teach in 1 Timothy 2:18–15, and the openness of the offices of overseer and deacon to women in 1 Timothy 3:11–13 and Titus 1:5–9. (English translations do not always make this openness clear.)

He also makes several fresh arguments, however. Commentators often note the sexism that underlies some rabbinic teaching, famously epitomized in the daily prayer, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me…a woman.” They presume that Paul shared this attitude, at least prior to his conversion and call. Payne notes that the “surviving sayings of Rabban Gamaliel I,” Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3), “indicate a favorable attitude toward women in sharp contrast to the rabbinic tradition as a whole.” Could it be that Gamaliel shaped Paul’s more positive assessment of women?

With Gordon D. Fee, Payne makes the argument that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is an interpolation into the text that was not written by Paul. The early Western textual tradition places verses 34–35 after verse 40, whereas the majority textual tradition places it after verse 33. Fee (and Payne) argues that the best explanation for this is that the verses are an early interpolation. What Payne brings to the table now is a fresh examination of distigme in Codex Vaticanus, scribal markings around verses 34–35 that indicate an interpolation, as well as several other early manuscripts that do not have the verses in them. Payne’s argument is impressive, though I must note the countervailing argument: Whether placed after verse 33 or verse 44, verses 34–35 are present in nearly all extant manuscripts.

One final example of a fresh argument (there are other examples, of course): Payne argues that the word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 means “to assume authority,” not “to exercise authority,” and that the Greek word oude in that verse conjoins “to teach” and “to assume authority” as two aspects of a single action, namely, “to assume authority to teach,” rather than to be granted authority to teach by an appropriate body. To my mind, Payne’s lexicographical and grammatical arguments in this regard are probative and definitive.

As noted above, Man and Woman, One in Christ was four decades in the making. Payne, who has a Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge, started out with complementarian assumptions regarding marriage, but changed those through close investigation of the relevant Pauline texts. Far from explaining away Scripture, Payne’s arguments assume its inerrancy and authority. This is important, because it demonstrates the possibility that egalitarianism is not an ideology imposed upon the New Testament text, but a social practice that arises organically from the text, which has the status of God’s infallible Word to humanity.

Some time ago, my neighbor and I fell into a discussion about Christianity. One of her misgivings about the faith had its source in the practice of patriarchy in the Bible and among contemporary evangelicals. As a well-educated, intelligent woman—a writer, in fact—she seemed offended by the notion that men/husbands should possess authority over women/wives simply by virtue of their sex.

I wonder how many women and men share my neighbor’s misgivings about Christianity. Increasingly, women are advancing into leadership at all levels of society—except, it seems, in the church, where leadership is reserved (whether by explicit biblical interpretation or by implicit cultural custom) to men. Is it any wonder that some find the church sexist and hence the faith untenable?

Those of us who minister and teach the Word of God need to exercise due diligence when it comes to controversial passages in the apostle Paul (or anywhere else in Scripture). We need to make sure that our conclusions are thoroughly rooted in the Greek text, not in English translations, let alone contemporary prejudices of one sort or another. What is impressive about Man and Woman, One in Christ is the thoroughness, depth, clarity, and charity of Payne’s scholarship. If I were to recommend just one book to pastors and Bible teachers regarding Paul’s theology and practice of male-female relationships, this book would undoubtedly be it. At times, it is a tough slog to read because it is so thick in its discussions of textual criticism, grammar, lexicography, and syntax. Nonetheless, the intellectual reward is worth the slog. More important, however, is biblical foundation it lays for the equality of women and men in Christ.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Review of ‘Jesus Feminist’ by Sarah Bessey

Jesus-Feminist Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (New York: Howard Books, 2013). Paperback

You know our mothers told us never to judge a book by its cover? I ignored that advice when I saw Jesus Feminist on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Yellow is not my favorite color. I didn’t like the juxtaposition of the Cross and the Venus symbol. And despite being theologically egalitarian, I don’t like the word feminist. So, I left Sarah Bessey on the shelf and exited the store sans book.

Then my wife told me I needed to read Jesus Feminist. Her sister had read and loved it. A good friend had read and loved it. And the kind of books I liked to read were nerdy, she said, and no one other than me cared about them. So why not read and review something normal people actually liked?

As per usual, I listened to my wife, returned to Barnes & Noble, purchased a copy, and started reading. Although Sarah Bessey writes well and although I pretty much agree with her, I found reading the book’s initial pages to be a long, hard slog. She tells stories where I would assert propositions. She asks questions where I would offer answers. She assumes conclusions where I would make long arguments. Her authorial voice is so different than mine. I would approach the topic of “the Bible’s view of women” in such a different way.

Midway through chapter 2 (or was it 3?), I realized what the problem was. It wasn’t her, it was me. Here am I, a man, having a hard time listening to a woman make a case in her own voice on an issue where we agree. Let me repeat that for my male readers: I wasn’t listening to what a woman was saying because she was a woman.

Now, I realize that I am probably not Sarah Bessey’s intended reader. My guess is that she wrote this book for Christian women, not so much to argue for their equality with men from a biblical viewpoint as to assume it and urge them to get on with the Kingdom work God has called them to do. That being the case, good on her!

Still, it’s pretty hard on a guy to realize that his egalitarianism is theoretical rather than practical. That it exists in books and arguments rather than in his willingness to listen to a sister. For Sarah Bessey’s unintended effectiveness in exposing my, well, sexism, good on her!

Back to what the book actually says rather than its effect on me: Jesus loves women. Patriarchy is not God’s design for relations between the sexes. Husbands and wives need to figure out how their relationship works for them through trial and error, rather than based on rules that are allegedly exported from the Bible. Churches need to fully deploy (and employ) the feminine half of the congregation. Women’s ministries need to be missional, since God calls them to change the world, not make a craft. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Christians need to do the hard work of addressing the lack of justice and peace in the world, much of which centers around the ill treatment of women and its side effects. And women don’t need permission; they just need blessing.

To which I say: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, respectively.

Is Jesus Feminist a great book? I don’t know. It’s not the kind of book I normally read, so I don’t have a metric.

Is Sarah Bessey’s a needed voice? Yes. On behalf of women such as my wife, sister, and friend. And to men like me as well.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Review of ‘The Resignation of Eve’ by Jim Henderson

Unknown Jim Henderson, The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? (BarnaBooks, 2012). Paperback / Kindle 

Women are the backbone of the American evangelical church. They constitute the majority of its attendees and volunteers. Absent their participation, all churches would shrink in size, and most ministries would dissolve for lack of both interest and involvement.

And yet, many—if not most—American evangelical churches have a stained glass ceiling beyond which women cannot rise in leadership. This is true whether or not the theology of the denomination or local congregation is explicitly complementarian or egalitarian. Women are allowed, by conviction or custom, to go thus far and no farther.

In The Resignation of Eve, Jim Henderson asks American evangelical women how they feel about this. Drawing on interviews with 15 women, he organizes their responses into three categories:

  • Some of the women have resigned themselves to their churches’ positions on women;
  • others have resigned from their churches because of those churches’ positions on women;
  • and, finally, some women have “re-signed”; that is, they’ve reengaged in their churches or in other churches, leading and influencing despite opposition (2).

Henderson describes himself as a “spiritual anthropologist.” That is, he asks people how their spirituality helps them navigate life’s issues. This is a descriptive task rather than a prescriptive one, which can be frustrating for readers who want to know what they should think on the issue of women in the church, not merely what some women in the church actually do think.

Nonetheless, describing what some women in the church actually do think is a very helpful exercise. For one thing, it turns out that not all women think alike. Some of them are supportive of complementarianism, which is the belief that God has assigned men and women complementary gender roles, with men leading and women submitting in church, home, and society. Others are supportive of egalitarianism, which is the belief that God calls and empowers men and women equally to exercise leadership in home, church, and society. For another thing, it indicates that the question of women’s roles in the church has consequences. Another group of women, tired of the debate about gender roles and wounded by the actions of their local congregation, either drop out of church or leave the faith entirely.

Based on how Henderson arranges his material—on a high note, with women who have “re-signed” to lead—and on remarks scattered throughout the book, it is clear that his sympathies lie with the egalitarians. So do mine. But does this mean that The Resignation of Eve can be easily enlisted in the egalitarian side of the literary battle between egalitarians and complementarians?

No, and for several reasons:

First, egalitarian theology is not a guarantee of egalitarian practice. Even churches with strong beliefs in the equal calling and empowerment of men and women do not necessarily recruit, train, and deploy women in equal numbers or at equal levels of authority. Egalitarians, it turns out, need to be mores self-critical about what they actually do.

Second, while Henderson’s sympathies clearly lie with egalitarians, he does not make a sustained biblical argument for his position, nor do any of the women he interviews. I imagine that complementarian readers will note this right away. Rather than simply dismissing the book for its lack of prescriptiveness, however, complementarian readers should listen to how the practice of their theology makes at least some women feel. One story that stuck with me was that of a interviewee from a charismatic church who was disappointed that a 13-year-old boy could offer a prophecy at her church without asking anyone’s permission, but an adult woman had to ask her husband’s. Even within the boundaries of complementarian theology, do these kinds of restrictions on women make sense?

Third, egalitarianism is not first and foremost about roles but about the dignity we recognize in and the respect we extend to other people, whatever their sex. In some ways, roles at home, church, and society are the easiest things to “fix.” The heart? It’s not so easy. What comes through loudest in The Resignation of Eve is the importance of listening to women’s stories, honoring the desires God has given them to make a difference in the world, and then having enough humility not to get in their way.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

Wives, Submit to Your Husbands? (Ephesians 5.22–24)



Ephesians 5.22–24


Ephesians 5.22–24 reads: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

This is one of my least favorite passages in the Bible for several reasons: First, it seems to teach a hierarchical model of marriage that makes basically egalitarian husbands such as me very uncomfortable. Second, it is sometimes misinterpreted as tacit permission for husbands to bully their wives. And third, as a man and as a pastor, I feel uncomfortable telling wives that they need to be submissive to their husbands.

Whether or not Ephesians 5.22–24 is my favorite passage, it is still God’s Word to us (2 Timothy 3.16–17), so how should we interpret it? Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Do not interpret it away. Yesterday, I wrote about how we complexify the Bible’s simple moral commandments, rejecting black and white for hazy shades of gray. The temptation to do this here is strong, and it should be strongly resisted. Why? (a) Through Paul, God has spoken straightforwardly, and it is our duty to listen humbly. (b) If we interpret away the force of this passage to wives, then logically, we must do the same to Paul’s instructions to husbands in verses 25–33. But what those verses say about a husband’s responsibilities to his wife are revolutionary! If for no other reason than to retain what Paul says to husbands, we must listen to what he says to wives.
  2. Read these verses in their spiritual context. English translations of this passage hide the grammatical connection between verses 15–21 and verses 22–24. From verse 18, the passage reads: “And do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another…, singing and making melody to the Lord…, giving thanks always and for everything to God…, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord….” In Greek, there is no verb in verse 22, so English translators rightly carry the one over from verse 21. But this means that if a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, he addresses, sings, gives thanks, and submits. In other words, submission is a general characteristic of all Spirit-filled Christians, including men. Wives submitting to their husbands is merely a specific example of this general principle at work in household relationships.
  3. This passage is about voluntary submission, not involuntary subordination. Paul directly addresses women in this passage, not men. He does not say, “Husbands, subordinate your wives to yourselves,” or “Husbands, bully your wives into submission.” AND NO MAN SHOULD READ THIS PASSAGE AS PERMISSION TO DO SO. Jesus is not a bully to the church. We husbands should not be bullies to our wives.
  4. And finally, read this passage together with Paul’s instructions to Christian husbands (verses 25–33). The relationship between Christ and the church is the proper model for husband-wife relationships. If husbands acted more like Christ, perhaps wives wouldn’t have such a problem acting more like the church.

I’ll say more about a husband’s responsibilities to his wife in the next Daily Word.

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