Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender?

The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender

One Body, Many Members

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5 NIV

In Romans 12 Paul uses the “one body, many members” metaphor that he had used in an earlier letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 12:12ff). Paul uses this metaphor to illustrate that we do not all have the same function, or the same ministry, even though we all belong to, and are united in, the one universal Christian community (i.e. the “body of Christ”).

All followers of Jesus, male and female, are members of this body, yet some Christians maintain that only men can have a legitimate leadership function or ministry. Some go even further and state that all men are leaders by divine design. These Christians believe that only men may be leaders (or senior leaders) and teachers in the “body of Christ”.[1]

You’d think that if this was the case, Paul might mention it in his discussions on ministries in Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, as well as in Ephesians 4:4-13. Paul, however, says nothing at all about gender in these passages. Rather, he mentions gifts, grace, and faith as being the prerequisites and means of ministry.

Grace and Faith

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us . . . Romans 12:6a NRSV

Paul points out to his audience, both men and women, that we have been given different gifts (charismata) (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4; domata in Eph 4:8). But he doesn’t write that these gifts differ in accordance with our gender. Instead he writes that our gifts “differ according to the grace given to us” (Rom. 12:6 cf. Eph. 4:7).

The word “grace” (charis) is frequently used in the New Testament in the context of divine power, strength, and ability. It is God’s grace working within us, through the Holy Spirit, that equips us to be effective ministers in the church and effective agents of Jesus Christ in the wider world. The Holy Spirit (and not masculinity) is the source of empowerment in genuine ministry.

If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith . . . Romans 12:6b NIV

Our level of faith also plays an important part in how we exercise our ministry gifts and functions. Paul explicitly connects faith with the prophetic ministry, and he tells those who prophesy that they should do so in accordance with their faith.[2] It is possible that the idea of faith continues implicitly in the other functions that Paul lists in the following verses: ministry (NRSV), teaching, exhortation (or encouraging), giving, leading, and doing acts of mercy (Rom. 12:7-8). Faith has no gender preference or bias.

The Gift of Leading, and Phoebe

Even though “leading” is listed as one of the ministries in Romans 12, Paul gives no indication that it is restricted to men only. The participle proistamenos in Romans 12:8b comes from the verb proistēmi.[3] This verb can mean “lead”, “preside”, or “act as patron”. (Leadership and patronage were closely associated in the first century Roman world.) A cognate of proistēmi occurs a few chapters later in Romans in reference to Phoebe (Rom. 16:2). Cognates also occur in 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12; 5:17; and Titus 3:8, 14. These verses are all about church leadership and engaging in “good/noble works” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1).

A cognate of the word for “ministry” (diakonia) used in Romans 12:7a is also applied to Phoebe (Rom 16:1).[4] This woman was a minister in her church at Cenchrea. It is also widely believed that she was entrusted with Paul’s letter to the Romans. Part of the job of letter carriers was to pass on verbal messages from the sender, and help explain the contents of the letter to the recipients. Michael Bird even teaches that Phoebe was the first person to read Romans aloud to the Christians at Rome.[5] Paul trusted and valued women ministers.

The Gift of Teaching, and 1 Timothy 2:12

With the exception of 1 Timothy 2:12, nowhere in the New Testament does it state that any of the ministries Paul lists in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, or Ephesians 4:11 are off limits to women. 1 Timothy 2:12 is where Paul writes that he is not allowing a woman “to teach” a man. The Greek word didaskein (“to teach”) in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a cognate of the Greek words for “teaching” and “teachers” found in each of Paul’s three lists of ministries.

If Paul didn’t want any women to teach, why didn’t he make this plain in his earlier letters. Why does he only bring it up later in First Timothy?[6]

Didaskein is connected by a conjunction to the Greek word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12. Authentein is often translated as “to domineer”. (It is not the usual word for “authority”.) I think there may be more sinister nuances in this word, but even if authentein does simply mean “to domineer”, then Paul is not prohibiting a woman from teaching a man;[7] he is prohibiting a woman from teaching a man in a domineering fashion. Neither a man nor a woman should teach this way in the “body of Christ”.

Faithfulness

Like Paul, Peter also connects ministry with gifts, grace, and faith, rather than gender.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace (charis) in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

As faithful stewards, we must not bury our own gifts and talents, or the gifts and talents of others (cf. Matt. 25:14-30), because to deny someone the opportunity to use their God-given gift is to restrict God’s grace and power in the church and in the wider world.

Conclusion

If Paul had really meant for all women to be excluded from exercising certain ministry functions, why didn’t he mention this in his general teaching, and lists, of gifts and ministries? Why didn’t he write one list for men and another for women? Or, why didn’t he include a caveat for women in his lists?

I do not believe Paul ever intended to restrict the ministry of godly, gifted women.

There is nothing whatsoever in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 that suggests gender is in anyway a factor in any of the ministries mentioned in these chapters. Gifts, grace, and faith, and not gender, are the primary prerequisites and the means of ministry, including the ministries of leading and teaching.


Endnotes

[1] Note that the word “office” in the KJV of Romans 12:4 is not a faithful translation of the Greek word praxis.

[2] Faith and grace are both gifts from God. They are the means of salvation and of ministry (Eph 2:8-10).

[3] There are several masculine participles in Romans 12:6-8; however these verses are just as inclusive, grammatically, and in intent, as John 3:16.

[4] Without exception, Paul used the word diakonos for ministers with a sacred commission (diakonia) (Rom. 13:6; 15:8, 25; 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; 6:21-22; Col. 1:7-9, 23; 4:7-9).

[5] Michael Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Zondervan, 2012-12-25) Kindle Location 210

[6] First Corinthians was probably written sometime in 54 AD. Romans was written in the winter of 55-56 AD or 56-57 AD. The letter to the Ephesians (which may have been a circular letter and not written especially for the Christians in Ephesus) may have been written around 60-62 AD. The date of First Timothy is much debated, but it was most likely written sometime towards the end of the first century.

[7] Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus when they instructed Apollos, who was himself teaching (Acts 18:25): they “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy when Timothy was ministering in Ephesus. Paul would not have intended his statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 to silence the instruction, explanations, or teaching of women such as Priscilla. Paul’s friendship and respect for Priscilla and Aquila is evident in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 16:3-5a). More on Priscilla and Aquila here.

The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith, Gender


Related Articles

The Power of God’s Grace
Equality and Unity in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 12
Extra Honour for Underdogs (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
Phoebe: A Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
Paul’s Greetings to Women Ministers
Can a woman be a pastor? Yes or No?
Several articles on 1 Timothy 2:12
Following Jesus, Led by the Holy Spirit

Posted November 22nd, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

24 comments on “The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender?

  1. Lyn Kidson says:

    Quite right Margaret. What is often forgotten in the current discussions on gender is how the NT writers are interacting with the ideas about gender in their cultural context. Benefaction/ leadership was a class thing (your class gave you access to education and those with a certain degree of education were equipped with skills to lead in the church). Women in the educated classes were expected to conduct themselves appropriately as representatives of their class. We see these sorts of expectations in 1 Timothy 2. Wives were expected to compliment their husbands with the appropriate conduct for their class. People with disposable income would act as patrons/benefactors. Women often took on the role of patron continuing the patronage of their fathers and husbands. They would be expected to represent their fathers/husbands suitably as they continued their leadership/influence. Hence carefully delineated descriptions for men and women in 1 Timothy 2: 1-11(but men and women in the patron/benefactor/leadership/influencer roles). In verses 12-14 women are urged not to overstep the bounds of appropriate conduct (as do other Greco-Roman materials giving advice to women on their conduct). ‘To teach’ can have the meaning to persuade (as in lecturing in class/giving advice/ giving a view of a situation), which coupled with the negative ‘to domineer’, gives a picture of a woman not conducting herself appropriately in the 1st century context. Educated women were expected to lead, but in a socially appropriate way that would not defame the gospel. There was no question that a woman, especially an educated woman, would be spiritually equipped to exercise a ministry in whatever way God had called her. The question is ‘what social expectations would a woman need to consider in conducting herself in a ministry in the 21st century in a Western nation?’ Would a Christian woman in a speaking ministry in an Australian church/ministry/public role defame the gospel in such a role? I think the answer to that question is ‘Not at all’. Indeed, quite the contrary.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lyn.

      I think many Christians have been given the impression, and even been taught, that women could not possibly have had leadership roles in the first century. But this was not the case, especially for women in the higher echelons of Roman society.

      I posted an article in September about four contexts where women could exercise leadership in Roman society here. I plan on posting a follow-up article about three devotional contexts which enabled Christian women to be leaders. The three contexts are: charismata, persecution, and celibacy.

      I think your question is an important one.

  2. clive says:

    It would be wonderful if churches used language about organisation that was consistent with Christian teaching: administrator instead of ‘leader’ in many cases would completely disempower the sex-bias in church organisation.
    According to some in my church I ‘lead’ a home group. I keep telling the group that I merely conduct studies and organise things. I ‘lead’ nothing. The Spirit leads, we all follow as per our gifts. Thus I am the organiser of our home group.

  3. […] El Espíritu Santo, no la masculinidad, es la fuente de empoderamiento en el ministerio. […]

  4. Another great post with good points. The bible never actually says women can’t be leaders. There is the argument that Phoebe was a deacon in the early church plus in you last post it’s been pointed out that Priscilla along with her husband Aquilla taught the Apollos. If women wasn’t suppose to teach men ever, than how come this part is mentioned? Thanks again for a interesting article. God Bless.

    • Marg says:

      I’m grateful that women ministers are mentioned in the New Testament, along with ministry descriptions (titles?) that are the same as the descriptions of many male ministers: apostle, minister/deacon, coworker, etc.

  5. […] The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender? […]

  6. […] The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender? […]

  7. […] Moreover, we are all part of the New Creation with New Creation values (2 Cor. 5:16-17), and each person has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, who gives his ministry gifts and abilities without apparent regard for gender (Acts 2:17-18; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27-28; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11). […]

  8. judy says:

    Thanks for keeping up the side of the Gospel. If people would actually read their Bibles seeking the mind of Christ and the heart of God, they would never have come up with patriarchy and hierarchy.

    Where are these in the lists of the fruit of the Spirit of God? where do these fit in with God’s clear antipathy to oppression and bondage. How do these fit with Christ’s cry that He came to SET CAPTIVES FREE? Handel’s Messiah begins with my favourite message from God that is reflected in the messages of Hannah and the Magnificat: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Surely this is the overview of God’s WORK…neither male nor female, bond or free…the equalizing work of God on earth because God had declared “Is not my way equal?” “Is not your way unequal”…KJV Ezekiel 18:25 and 29…and repeated in Ezekiel 33 for emphasis…surely the heart of God is for all to dwell in peace and equality of heart, submitting ourselves one to another in the fear of God!

    • Marg says:

      That is so interesting about the line from the Messiah (which comes from Isaiah 40:4) because just today I read that the word egalitarian comes from the French word égal which means “equal” or “level”.

      • judy says:

        Thanks…I had meant to put in the reference to Isaiah 40 and forgot. The whole Bible seems to emphasize the levelling of humanity…so I suspect this is the mind of God…another verse that tells us this is Jesus’ words “The princes of the Gentiles lord if over one another BUT IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU”…this is the new creation, created in Christ Jesus…funny how little the churches often look level, isn’t it?…in tune with God? no.

        • judy says:

          Oh, and then Jesus said to the disciples “Ye have ONE master even Christ and ALL YE ARE BRETHREN”…again a levelling.

          • judy says:

            sorry to go on …hence Hannah and the mother of Christ were both early feminists…”The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.
            5 They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased : so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble .
            6 The LORD killeth , and maketh alive : he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up .
            7 The LORD maketh poor , and maketh rich : he bringeth low , and lifteth up .
            8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and he hath set the world upon them.
            9 He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail ”

            and the Magnificat is the same message many years later:” And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
            51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
            52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
            53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away .

          • Marg says:

            Beautiful!

            Don’t apologise. This is great stuff!

  9. […] Likewise an overseer (who was often a householder and house church leader) was to be respectable so as not to give the church a bad name. Unlike other lists in the Pauline letters, the list in 1 Timothy 3 is not concerned with ministerial gifts, talents or skills, including the ability to teach. […]

  10. […] The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender? […]

  11. […] The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender? […]

  12. […] The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . .  Gender? […]

  13. […] The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender? […]

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