Squeezing Harder Than That

The Church of England just recently said no to women bishops. There were howls of outrage from all the predictable quarters, for whom such a troglodyte move is just smack-the-forehead baffling.

Now I can understand a vote against women bishops as a preliminary move to try to undo the ordination of women priests. And I can understand a vote for women bishops as the next logical step after having established the practice of ordaining women priests. What I don’t get is the affirming the ordination of women priests and opposing them as bishops. The pig, once swallowed by the python, has to move on down the line.

Also what I don’t get is the attempt by men like N.T. Wright to pretend that women’s ordination is a matter of biblical obedience, as opposed to floating down the Whig view of history on an inner tube, right over the falls of progress. He attempts to do that here — read the whole thing.

Wright tries to be the crusty conservative, saying, “bah, humbug” to all this progressivity n’ stuff, and then says that if we just reject the myth of inevitable modern progress, the arguments for women’s ordination will shine forth in all their pristine biblical glory. In the course of all this, he says . . .

“The other lie to nail is that people who ‘believe in the Bible’ or who ‘take it literally’ will oppose women’s ordination. Rubbish. Yes, I Timothy ii is usually taken as refusing to allow women to teach men. But serious scholars disagree on the actual meaning, as the key Greek words occur nowhere else.”

Having banished the Whig view of history out the front door, here we find it banging in an agitated manner at the back door, demanding entrance. What is the password that Wright demands before he lets the progressives skulk back in? You guessed it! Serious scholars disagree.

Well, then, I guess that it is time for us unserious types to pack up our “lies” and go back to our house on the wrong side of history. Wright likes to pretend that he is not surfing the mavericks of the zeitgeist, but he is one of the best at shooting that curl. You see, serious scholars are the ones who graduate from Whig-accredited seminaries.

As for the biblical passages he did refer to in more than a dismissive manner, a couple of quick thoughts. He cites Mary Magdalene, Junia, and Phoebe.

He says that God entrusted Mary Magdalene with telling the other disciples about the resurrection. He fails to distinguish possessing news, on the one hand, from ordination and commissioning to declare that news authoritatively on the other. Mary was undoubtedly a witness of the resurrection, which is not the same thing as being a preacher of the resurrection. Merely possessing firsthand information that Jesus rose does not constitute an automatic ordination — otherwise all the bribed guards who were witnesses of the resurrection were the first apostles (Matt. 28:4). If simply being a witness was sufficient, then what did the disciples think they were doing when they filled the slot left by Judas? And why did they have to choose between Justus and Matthias when God had already picked Mary Magdalene (Acts 1:23-25)?

Wright also says that Junia is listed among the apostles (Rom. 16:7). He earlier was dismissive of the unusual words in 1 Tim. 2, but here is apparently unaware of the common uses of the noun and verb forms of apostello. An apostle is a “sent one,” and the verb means “to send.” Jesus was an apostle of God (Heb. 3:1), the twelve were apostles of Christ (Luke 6:13), and Paul and Barnabas were apostles of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:2-4). How much authority is involved is a pure function of the sending agency, and what the sent one is commissioned to do. Of course Junia was a sent one. But whose? To what purpose? The mere use of the word gives us no basis for promoting someone who was sent for coffee to the ranks of the Twelve.

And then he says that Phoebe was an “ordained travelling businesswoman” (Rom. 16:1) and that, having delivered the letter to the Romans, she was the one who read and explained the letter. Let us simply hope that, when she explained it, she did not make up things as she went along that were nowhere included in the text — like Wright just did. I have had plenty of folks deliver messages to me that did not then exposit the message for me. But Wright says that “normally” the letter carrier would “explain its contents.” He has also discovered, by some psychic means, that Phoebe was a businesswoman. Now she could have been, because the Bible doesn’t say she wasn’t, but we should want more of an exegetical guard rail than that, shouldn’t we? I mean, it doesn’t say that she wasn’t a seller of Rolex watches either. The Bible doesn’t say that the tongues of fire at Pentecost weren’t green, right? Does that give me leave to teach that they were?

We know that Phoebe was a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1), and I think it is likely that she delivered the letter of Romans to the Romans. What was her job description as “servant” (diakonos)? We don’t know. The word servant is like the word apostle — a church secretary is a servant of the church, and so is a church planting missionary.

If Wright wants more out of Rom. 16:1, and these other passages, he is going to have to squeeze harder than that.

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