Being sorta Reformed (Presbyterian, Calvinist, even a supralapsarian sort) I've tried to keep some track of what's gone on in the last month on complementarian debate about the nature of the Trinity.
This, then, is the tragedy of the moment in the reformed evangelical world—and I don’t think that’s too strong a word for it. We are master Bulverists. In one sense, this makes Trueman and Goligher’s initial posts even more inexcusable, of course: If they are right about Big Eva, then all the more reason to be careful in how they structure their criticism. Even so, there is absolutely no reason for us to still be talking about that after the more even-handed critiques raised by other scholars. (Dr. Trueman’s response to Dr. Mohler was also quite restrained, it should be noted.)
One of the troubles with formulating the debate between different modes of complementarian thought is that by sticking with a debate at the level of the Trinity complementarians seem determined to not pay any attention to the narrative literature of the Bible to see what that might tell us about what options were considered possible/acceptable to women in the pages of the biblical narratives.
The reason CBMW and Team Piper can seem so remarkably stupid when holding forth on the topic of what women should or should not, or can or cannot be able to consider with respect to respecting male authoritah is that it seems as though these are guys who have immersed themselves in dogmatics that have willfully steered clear of the biblical narrative literature. As in just about any of it. I remember slogging through that foreward to that book about biblical manhood and womanhood and other than reading an incoherent tautological swirl I can't remember either of the two concepts being defined except in some nebulously dynamic relationship to the other.
But somewhere along the line that Sarah Palin running mate thing inspired some guys to say that women having those kinds of roles was a sign of a failure of some kind in society.
As Barry Webb put it in his NICOT commentary on the book of Judges, the book of Judges never actually TELLS US that ANYONE thought Deborah was not supposed to be judge over Israel or a prophetess.
There's another observation Webb made about how prophets didn't really predict anything in the book of Judges but rebuked Israel for disobedience but that might be for some other time; the observation that there was no remotely eschatological component to prophecy in the book of Judges and that it was generally tied to judicial activity is something we can get to later. For now, let's repeat again that Deborah was not described as judging Israel or being a prophet counter to some otherwise disclosed divine plan for a patriarchal alternative. Didn't the Lord say back in Deuteronomy that the Lord would raise up a prophet? Who's going to tell God it shouldn't have been that woman Deborah? Apparently today's super-Calvinists who have a thing for complementarianism of a stripe.
That debates about the Trinity are so prevalent in the Reformed blogosphere seems completely embarrassing. I've found it sad that the Trinity is being invoked because it's not like we "have" to go to that level of Christian doctrine.
Complementarians who are concerned about enforcing womanly docility ... you know, it's like for them Numbers 27 just isn't in the Bible. Does that story not instantly spring to mind the second I mentioned it? Let's revisit how the daughters of Zelophehad went to Moses and Aaron and Eleazar and the elders of the congregation and made a case to make an exception to land inheritance laws. And the Lord said what the daughters had said was right. So ... change the inheritance laws. Should a man die without sons, daughters get the inheritance. God introduced an exception to the existing laws after women petitioned for a change in the precedents because of a unique case. Where John Piper's posse had that thing about whether or not a woman should be a police officer because that might involve saying stuff of some kind, the daughters of Zelophedad petitioned for (and got) a change in the Mosaic laws regarding inheritance and daughters from Moses who, in turn, got the changes ratified from God according to Numbers 27.
There are other narratives in the Bible where women are shown as not settling for mediation and enquiring of the Lord themselves. But we'll just allude to those cases. Ideally you should already know about those.
In the course of blogging and interacting with some bloggers, I've commented a little bit over at Wendy's blog this year. One of the questions that came up was whether there was anywhere in the NT where women are described as teaching in authority over men. I proposed over there what I'll briefly repeat here, the conflation of "prophecy" with pastoral activity such as preaching and teaching is a basic category mistake. In the Old Testament the responsibility for educating the people at large is designated to the priests. Prophets play and advisory, ad hoc judicial role. Someone proposed along the discussion at Wendy's blog that Moses was a prophet who publicly instructed. Well, yes but no. Moses was a prophet but for everyone who doesn't remember Numbers 11-12 off the top of their heads, God said that prophet was at one level and Moses was at a higher level. MIRIAM was a prophet, MOSES was the lawgiver.
Whatever prophecy was it apparently wasn't exactly public teaching. Let's not ignore the seventy elders from Numbers 11 who were appointed to do what? Help Moses adjudicate the case law and handle legal issues. They prophesied, but for a little while. Moses wished that all Israel might prophecy. Why? Well, here's a suggestion, if they could also prophecy to the point of knowing the will of the Lord in a particular context then Moses would certainly not have to keep adjudicating every single case they'd previously been bringing before him.
As I pointed out in conversation at Wendy's blog (and will have to repost here some time) the prohibitions in the New Testament epistles make it impossible to suppose prophecy would really mean preaching. Why? Because if women were barred from speaking at all in the churches yet could prophesy with a head-covering AND the daughters of Philip the evangelist became famous for being gifted in prophecy then prophecy had to be something besides public/group instruction. The prohibitions regarding women (setting aside the debates about the possibilities of interpolation/redaction for the moment) clarify what prophecy could NOT be based on the claims that women could not do X in groups. For instance, if you read through this ...
I would say that a fifth (kind of) view alternative to the four presented at CBMW is not hard to come up with. The daughters of Philip the evangelist were regarded as having recognized prophetic ability and taken seriously enough to merit mention by Luke but that since prophetic gifting did not necessarily entail either an apostolic level of authority (Paul basically ignores Agabus' warning, for instance) or the requirement of public instruction that the complementarian, the daughters of Philip could have an advisory role not just for the disciples but for others. Since prophetic activity in general (as distinct from explicitly canonized prophecy) was pretty easily observed to be advisory there's room to modify the "complementarian" view presented by CBMW to cast off any potential conflation of prophetic activity with what Mark Driscoll so lazily called "writing books of the Bible".
Going back to the Old Testament to survey the sweep of prophetic activity (and by this I mean narratives about prophets, not just the prophetic books, which need to be regarded as distinct by virtue of canonicity within the larger range of descriptions of prophecy), we see that nobody seemed to have any intrinsic problem with women being prophets. If Josiah's court consulted Huldah for the reliability of the book of the Law it's because they trusted her judgment. 2 Kings 22 shows Josiah rending his clothes and asking the priest to enquire of the Lord. What does the priest do? He and others go to Huldah. Huldah tells the group that to the man who sent them, wrath was coming but to the king, things would go better.
One of the things here that seems puzzling is why Huldah would address "the man who sent you" (the group) in a dramatically different way than she addressed the king. My only guess here, not being a textual scholar, is that the narrative seems vague as to what the priest may have said. Josiah sends the priest and the PRIEST chooses to go see Huldah. If the priest himself doesn't recognize the book of the Law for what it is, would he want to admit in front of a known prophetess he doesn't even know the book is what it is? Perhaps Huldah, getting the sense that the priest wouldn't come by to verify the credibility of a possibly canonical law book unless he himself didn't know, makes a sideways rebuke to him before addressing the king. That's just my best guess.
Let's not undersell the point here, when Josiah rends his clothes and tells the priest to go enquire of the Lord about that book of the law that the priest himself doesn't recognize to be a legitimate book of the law, the priest goes to the woman who is known to be a prophet. The Josiah-era reforms happened because of a prophetess.
If there are complementarians who would insist that Deborah was not "supposed" to have been judge over Israel or a prophetess because in the time of the Judges Israel was far from God, should Josiah have not heeded the words of Huldah the prophetess? Should Josiah have just held out for some dudely bro prophet to confirm that this was, in fact, the book of the law? The absurdity of the alternative seems obvious to me but it probably won't be to the types of complementarians who are already committed to the idea that Deborah was in some sense a providential back-up. The kinds of young restless Reformed dudes who would endorse meticulous sovereignty in defending John Piper talking about a collapsing bridge think that God somehow didn't exactly want Deborah to a be prophet and judge, or Huldah to verify the book of the law? I'm not that kind of complementarian (I'm not particularly keen on complementarianism or egalitarianism as I believe they're both just pissing contest teams about how can grant or gain access to institutional power within 501(c)3s in the United States at the moment).
Believe it or not, we haven't even remotely exhausted case studies from the narrative literature in which women said things authoritatively to kings and were taken seriously as having a prophetic and judicial prerogative. How about the woman from Tekoa who rebuked David?
How about the woman of Abel Beth maacah? Don't remember her? 2 Samuel 20 ... When Joab besieged that town a wise woman bargained with him to end the siege in exchange for the head of one usurper. Joab was willing to suspend the siege to talk with her because, as she pointed out in her case for clemency on the city, her hometown was known as a place of wisdom. Joab's reply was that he wasn't there to destroy the town but to seek one man. So Sheba lost his head.
One of the reasons I can't take complementarians from the CBMW/John Piper side seriously when they talk about the Trinity is because if they were going to make a case for their side, invoking the Trinity is an idiotic way to do that. Carl Trueman and others have been making that point in a variety of ways. Aimee Byrd and Wendy Alsup have been addressing other elements. Wendy and I are in agreement that while the NT does not show women operating in priestly roles there's no indication they weren't taken seriously as able to work in prophetic roles--we've got some consensus about the basic idea that prophetic activity was not necessarily priestly instruction. As I hope has been cleared up here with reference to Numbers 11-12 prophetic activity can be pretty broadly connected to judicial/policy matters and establishing veracity of religious polity in consultation with nobility and the priestly class. This isn't just observably the case in Judaism ... by the way.
Divination, Politics and Ancient Near Eastern Empires
The seventy elders were described as prophesying in Numbers 11, If complementarians took seriously the ad hoc judicial aspect of prophecy throughout the OT and took more seriously that prophetic activity was generally advisory and that this is strongly implicit in the arc of Deuteronomy 16-18 then it might be easier to make some kind of consistent case for why women can prophecy but not necessarily take on the priestly role of instruction.
Trouble is, a lot of Protestants have insisted that prophecy is preaching and preaching is what pastors do and after a few centuries of that, well, you might as well concede the whole argument to egalitarians if that's what you honestly think the Bible says about prophecy. Or it also might mean you don't actually know what the Bible says at all regarding prophetic activity ...
This admittedly rambling blog post has touched on just a few cases from Old Testament literature discussed in this book by Esther J. Hamori that was published last year.
Women's Divination in Biblical Literature: Prophecy, Necromancy, and Other Arts of Knowledge
Esther J. Hamori
Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library
(c) copyright 2015 by Yale University
It's not a difficult read and while I didn't quite agree with Hamori on a few points (I don't take it as given that Huldah's initial rebuke was to Josiah as she seems to, for instance), her book is a useful overview in case anyone wasn't familiar enough with the Old Testament to know of the stories she discusses from the narrative literature. I haven't seen any indication that either the Gospel Coalition or the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has reviewed Hamori's book. They will probably not care for her take on the necromancer of Endor. I found it improbable that she proposed the necromancer isn't in any way condemned in contrast to Saul. Condemnations of necromancy are abundant enough in Jewish literature that some things didn't have to be explicitly condemned to carry an implicit rebuke. When Saul was warned that rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft the author of Samuel seems to tip us off to an irresistible irony--having stubbornly declined to carry out instructions from Yahweh when given them in more direct and unsolicited ways, at the end of his life Saul seeks a word from the Lord but only finds one after he has embraced the use of necromancy and this gets him yet another rebuke and a confirmation of his rejection. It's one of the thematic ironies of Israel seeking a king in Samuel, they sought a king like other kings and God warned them that their punishment would be that they would actually get what they wanted.
To bring back an reference to Barry Webb's commentary on Judges, it was interesting Webb proposed that when we see how the later judges appointed their sons to rule after them or with them, and when we consider how bad the judges themselves became, it's possible to have some sympathy for Israelites wanting to make things official.
So far it can seem as if CBMW is more dedicated to explaining away cases like Deborah or Huldah in light of Baptist complementarian commitments in 21st century America rather than dealing with the narratives on other terms. It could seem at first blush that women in Iron Age patriarchal monarchies had more freedom to question generals and kings and priests as to their knowledge of the scriptures and the ethics of their decisions and commitments than CBMW seem to want from women at blogs. Hamori's book might be a useful contribution to evangelical discussion ... if any evangelicals would bother to read it. Well, okay, one has, and is currently recommending it be read.