I don’t think I’ve ever bought a case of the same book, but I’m about to. It will save me from having to write one, and the list of people I want to give a copy to is getting quite long. Needless to say, I recommend What’s Up With Paul and Women? highly, and think it should be required reading for anyone in ministry.
In the United Methodist Church we have had women in ordained ministry for a little over 50 years, and yet there are many church members (and perhaps still some male pastors) who have trouble reconciling a couple of New Testament verses with women in leadership. Jon Zens carefully shows how these verses have been erroneously interpreted – due in part to faulty translation, but mainly to cultural bias – and thus have been used to suppress the role of women in the church.
Many students of the Bible know that the passages showing women in leadership, and in full participation in the ministry of the early church outweigh the couple of passages that seem to restrict their roles. As always, the cultural perspectives we bring to the text greatly influence how we read the Bible. If you believe “there is no longer male nor female” in the body of Christ, or if you have experienced women in leadership, then you should know that you stand on a solid Biblical foundation in your support of women in ministry.
If however, you come from a tradition where women are seen as inferior, or if you have never been blessed with a female as a pastor, then you most likely will turn to the “restrictive verses,” 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. For some, the debate ends there, with a line drawn in the sand and the attitude of “you take your verses and I’ll take mine.”
Enter Jon Zens’ little book. It is a scholarly work, but written for the person without a degree in Biblical studies. And, I like the fact that he comes from a conservative tradition, one that would normally use these verses in a restrictive manner. Zens explains the cultural background of these verses and shows how the restrictions placed on women are not “eternal pronouncements,” but apply to a specific situation.
I don’t want to repeat his work here – I’d rather you read it for yourself, and maybe get your small group or Sunday School class to study it. For too long we have allowed people to live with an erroneous bias against women in leadership. In many places, women are still being denied the opportunity to live out God-given callings to leadership, and their gifts have been pushed aside. It’s time we know the solid Biblical ground upon which we stand in support of women in ministry.