In a recent Twitter burst, Southern Baptist pastor and fellow Southern Seminary graduate, Andrew Hebert, offered this biblical survey of women.
In all, Hebert points to 37 ways the Bible speaks about women. As he admits, this is not a complete list, but in the current debate about men’s and women’s roles in the church, it is a list that misdirects the conversation and at points misleads the readers. In particular, many of these points neuter the conversation by pointing to things true about all Christians, or they press against the typical biblical arguments related to women’s roles in the church or the home. Interestingly, in over three-dozen Scripture references about women, the role of mother is mentioned once, and the role of wife not even once. How odd!
From his list, it seems that one of the goals of this tweet is to present a mountain of evidence that overwhelms the point at issue—namely, are there any biblical roles that are limited to men-only? Looking at this list, the cumulative takeaway would be “no.” As Rick Warren has just argued, and Denny Burk has just responded, the particular issue of female pastors and preachers confronts Southern Baptists. Yet, Hebert’s list obscures that issue. And it does so by forging a list of Scriptures that are equal parts biblical and equal parts badly applied.
Let the reader understand, not every prooftext is proof. And while some prooftexts are agreeable to all who read the Bible, the context often contains passages that work against the grain of this list. And so, in what follows, I want to show the places where Hebert misrepresents Scripture and other places where greater context is needed. In all, I am asking the reader to go back to the Bible and see what it says in context, and not to assume that a list like this one has accurately captured the warp and woof of the Bible’s teaching about women.
Enumerating his bullet points, I will list his tweet in quotations and then give a brief response.
Reading in Context . . . 37 Verses about Women in the Bible
- “They bear God’s image (Gen 1:27)”
Amen. This is not controversial. And they also bear God’s image in different ways than men. We see a picture of this in Genesis 2, where the woman is created as a helper to the man according to God’s good design.
- “They speak God’s name (Gen 16:21*)”
(*I assume Hebert refers to Genesis 16:13, since there is no Genesis 16:21.)
This passage is true, and what a kind God we have to see and respond to those in affliction (Gen. 16:10–13). And in context, when we turn from Hagar to Sarai, they also tempt their husbands to wrongdoing (Gen. 16:2), and earn the praise of God (1 Pet. 3:5–6), by calling their husbands “Lord” (Gen. 18:12).
- “They protect God’s leaders (Ex 2:2)”
This is misleading, because Moses was an infant at this point in his life. Moses’s mother was not protecting him from physical harm when he led God’s people. A more accurate description would be: They protect their children, some of whom grow up to be leaders.
- “They save God’s servants (Josh 2:15)”
Yes. And they also need to be saved by a man named Joshua (Josh 6:25).
- “They lead God’s people in worship (Ex 15:20–21)”
Or in this instance, they echo the praise of God to other women (note that Miriam is singing to the other women—“them”—in verse 21), which is led by the leader of the congregation. Compare Exodus 15:1, 21.
- “They prophesy to God’s people (Ex 15:20; Judg 4:4; Lk 2:36–38; Acts 2:17)”
Amen. As Andreas and Marny Köstenberger demonstrate, the role of prophet is fundamentally different than that of priest and king. In Israel, women could be prophets, but not priests or kings. In Acts, the gift of prophesy is poured out on men and women (Acts 2:16–18), but this is not the same thing as preaching.
- “They deliver/judge God’s people (Judg 4:4)”
Yes. And is Judges the best book for developing ministry practices? Moreover, Deborah went up with Barak because of his cowardice (Judg. 4:7–9).
- “They kill tyrants (Judg 4:21)”
Yes, we see one woman who killed a tyrant when a man failed to lead (Judg. 4:9). Additionally, it is good to recognize that the woman in question, Jael, took a tent peg to Sisera’s head when she was in her house, not on the battlefield.
- “They write & sing God’s praises (Judg 5:1–31)”
Amen. “Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day” (Judg. 5:1). Would that more women (and men) write and sing praises to God!
- “They receive God’s promises & answered prayers (1 Sam 1:16–17)”
Yes, and wonderfully, the trouble that Hannah had with blind Eli, an unqualified evil priest (1 Sam. 2:28–36), whose sons should have been removed from office, is resolved in the new covenant by Spirit-led churches who appoint biblically-qualified pastors and remove unqualified ministers. The gift of the new covenant is a true priest in heaven, and shepherds after God’s own heart on earth (Jer. 3:15).
- “They raise kings (2 Sam 12:24)”
Not exactly. Solomon was not a king when he was raised by Bathsheba. And when Solomon became king, his mother did not have authority of command over him as when he was a child. At one point Bathsheba unwittingly supports a rival to the throne against Solomon (1 Kings 2:19–25)!
- “They teach wisdom to kings (Prov 31:1)”
Or rather, they teach their children, such that they grow up to be wise kings.
- “They are clothed with strength & dignity (Prov 31:25)”
Yes. But why only pick out the praise that has the word “strength”? Why ignore the verses that affirm patriarchy (Prov. 31:23), praise home economics (Prov. 31:19, 24, 27), and celebrate motherhood (Prov. 31:28). Let’s read the whole thing and not cherry pick the verse that best complements the spirit of feminism.
- “They prophesy & serve in the temple (Lk 2:36–38)”
Read as a tweet, this sounds like Anna was a priest. Read in context, one finds she was a widow who delighted to spend her days in prayer and fasting, but there is no mention of her serving in the temple with priestly duties. Context matters.
- “They exercise great faith (1 Kgs 17:15; Lk 1:38)”
Amen. And part of that radical exercise of faith includes making bread for her family (1 Kgs. 17:8–16) and having a baby (Luke 2:6–7).
- “They recognize the King (Lk 1:43)”
And can we say that they also recognized that having children was the means by which they would find a gender-specific blessing (Luke 1:42–44, 57–58)?
- “They are filled with the Spirit (Lk 1:41)”
Amen. And, in the new covenant, women are also heirs of the kingdom (Gal. 3:29; 1 Pet. 3:7), which explains why they are called “sons of God” in Galatians 3:26. The point of Galatians 3:28—the locus classicus of egalitarian thought—is not to deny gender roles. Instead, the gift of the Spirit in the new covenant indicates that men and women have a place in God’s kingdom, a place that coheres with God’s design in creation.
- “They magnify the Lord (Lk 1:46–55)”
Hallelujah! And it’s worth recognizing that Mary magnifies the Lord in song, as she fulfills her calling as a mother.
- “They experience redemption (Lk 7:48)”
Amen. And in this situation, the woman’s faith is called on to rebuke Simon the Pharisee. This still happens. Just look up the story of Pietje Baltus. This poor, peasant woman changed Netherlands without ever leaving her home.
- “They set an example for how to be devoted to Jesus (Matt 26:6–13)”
Amen. The church and the world need women who exemplify what Scripture teaches.
- “They serve & support Jesus (Lk 8:2–3)”
Indeed, Jesus loved the women who followed him. He esteemed them, trusted them, and did not shrink back from drawing near to them. Additionally, he did not choose any women to be apostles (Luke 6:13–16).
- “They witness & proclaim the resurrection (Matt 28:5–7)”
Yes. But does this count as teaching? It is a long shot to read a larger theology of women as preachers and pastors based on the blessed witnessing of these women, as Rick Warren does.
- “They make disciples (Matt 28:19–20)”
Certainly, women make disciples, but so do Pharisees (Matt. 23:15), so we need to be precise. True disciples teach others to do all that Jesus commanded through His word. And wonderfully there are some aspects of discipleship that are unique to women (Titus 2:3–5; 1 Tim. 5:14–15; 1 Pet. 3:1–6).
- “They instruct preachers (Acts 18:26)”
Yes, but why leave out the fact that this instance was in person and in private, and in this case, with her husband (Acts 18:26)? Again, Pietje Baltus is an example of someone who corrected one of the world’s greatest theologians (Abraham Kuyper), but she did not do this through preaching.
- “They are co-workers of the apostles & servants of the church (Rom 16:1–3)”
Indeed. Phoebe is a “deacon,” and a woman of great esteem. No problem there. But let’s not build an entire theology of women in ministry from one person, especially when Paul defines his terms for elders and deacons in ways that affirm qualified men as overseers and men and women/wives for deacons (1 Tim. 3:1–13).
- “They mentor pastors (2 Tim 1:5, 3:15)”
Is this serious? If there is any place where Andrew Hebert shows his cards, it’s here. These verses recount the significant impact that Eunice (Timothy’s mother) and Lois (Timothy’s grandmother) had on Timothy. Long before he was a pastor (better: apostolic delegate), they shared the faith with him. In this, they never thought they were “mentoring” a “pastor.” Instead, from Timothy’s “infancy” (1 Tim. 3:15) these women honored God by being faithful mothers. The take away from this verse is not for women to find a pastor to mentor, but for women to faithfully speak God’s word to their sons and grandsons. May modern women examine the lives of Lois and Eunice and imitate their faith too. And may modern pastors stop playing games with words.
- “They disciple the next generation (Titus 2:1–5)”
More accurately, they disciple the next generation of women to love their husbands, their children, and their work at home (Titus 2:3–5).
- “They are the mothers and sisters of the church (1 Tim 5:2)”
And they deserve to be honored and treated as such—with absolute purity, respect, and deference for their manifold femininity (1 Tim. 5:1–3). Equally, pastors are called to correct all members of the flock, even women, if they rebel against God’s Word (1 Tim. 5:11–15).
- “They are equal in Christ (Gal 3:28)”
Okay, but does the text say “equal”? Or is that assumed? The passage actually says of male and female, “you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Unity and equality are not the same, and in a passage like this, the difference matters. In context, men and women share the same inheritance in Christ; they are one with him (Gal. 3:18–29). Moreover, this verse has nothing to do with roles in the home or church.
- “They are ‘precious partners’ (1 Pet 3:7)”
Yes, but why exclude the biblical language of “weaker vessels” here (1 Pet. 3:7)? Is that not true? Or is that a tragic cultural inclusion that Peter makes?
- “They are co-heirs of grace (2 Pet 3:7*)”
(* I assume 1 Peter 3:7 is still in view here.)
Amen. Now, let’s read the whole passage (1 Pet. 3:1–7), which speaks of sex-specific instructions for both wives and husbands.
- “They host house churches (Col 4:15)”
And women still host the people of God in their homes, if they have not left the home to work in the world. More to the point, this verse does not imply a type of authoritative leadership in a church that some egalitarians want to read into these texts.
- “They pray & prophesy in the church (1 Cor 11:5)”
Indeed. And they also are given the blessed, and counter-cultural, gift of learning in the church (1 Tim. 2:11). Still, they are prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12–13). Let us read Scripture with Scripture.
- “They are leaders in the church (Philemon 1:2)”
What? What translation are we using? Philemon 1b–2 reads, “To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your [Philemon’s] house.” A letter written with the name of a woman in the title does not communicate what is communicated here. This is especially true when Philemon is called a “worker,” Archippus a “soldier,” and Apphia a “sister.” Rather, many scholars see Apphia as the wife of Philemon, and thus she would be likewise interested to hear about Onesimus.
- “They are worthy of honor (1 Pet 2:17)”
Indeed, “Honor everyone” necessarily includes women. But if we want more than a contentless imperative, then let’s keep reading 1 Peter 3 which particularly honors the women who love their unbelieving spouses and follow their leadership (1 Pet. 3:1–6). Does context mean anything?
- “They are co-laborers in gospel work (Phil 4:3)”
Hallelujah! The church will collapse without Bible-saturated women serving. Interestingly, this verse comes on the heels of Paul publicly correcting these two “co-laborers.” How do we feel about that? If we let all Scripture speak, this verse rebukes pastors who are unwilling to correct all erring sheep under their care, even otherwise faithful sisters like Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).
- “They reign with Christ (Rev 5:10)”
This is true, but this verse says nothing about women. Like all passages that speak of Christians, there is a blessed hope that anyone who suffers with Christ will reign with Christ eternally (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11–12).
Letting All the Bible Speak
If there is anything I agree with in Andrew Hebert’s tweet, it’s this: these are “just a few selected texts”—and the key word is “selected.” In a tweet pertaining to women, why does Hebert almost completely avoid the language of texts that deal with gender-specific discipleship? Why does he exclude anything about how wives ought relate to their husbands? And why does this list exclude anything from 1 Timothy 2? The attentive reader can see an agenda at work.
What is most glaring in the list above is how slanted it is. Instead of presenting passages that identify the beautiful and unique calling that women have as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers, it plays into the hands of evangelical feminists, who want to overlook the verses that speak of women having unique roles in discipleship as women. Indeed, apart from number 28 (“They are the mothers and sisters of the church”), is there anything that is only true of women as women, apart from historical circumstances? The vision of discipleship that Hebert presents is strangely androgynous, and that seems to be the point—anything men can do women can do too. And this point undermines the wisdom of God in creating man male and female.
My responses to Hebert bear no resemblance to how I would present a biblical theology of men and women. Rather, I would point to the rest of the articles written this month at Christ Over All. Throughout this month, we are showing the goodness of God’s design for his church and for men and women committed to everything—not merely a selection—that Scripture says.
The divinely designed dissimilarities between men and women are both revealed in Scripture and in nature (think: testosterone vs estrogen), and hence, Hebert’s unwillingness to address the differences between men and women leads to a misrepresented vision for women and the men who are their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers.
Indeed, God was remarkably benevolent when he made mankind in his image, and he was eminently wise when he made mankind male and female. As image-bearers, we do well to imitate the Lord in affirming the shared value and inheritance that men and women in Christ have. But we also do well to point out the folly of following our egalitarian age.
Tragically, the Western world is undeniably foolish in the way it thinks about men and women. And it serves no one in the church to list over three-dozen passages from Scripture which do not take into account the beautiful and God-given differences that God has placed in the home and the church and the world.
For that reason, it is necessary to go back to the Scripture and see what it actually says (cf. Acts 17:11). What this tweet gave to nearly 100,000 viewers is the Bible shoe-horned into a functional egalitarian approach to women. Truly, this is the problem today. Pastors, and those they lead, are treating Scripture lightly, tossing it about like a beachball, and pretending that the rock of God’s Word won’t hurt anyone when it is misrepresented in tweets like this.
Students of God’s Word know better. And I pray we may take the time to see all that Scripture says about the important subject of men and women in the church. Christ Over All is committed to that truth, and we will be here all month. And as the Lord allows, we will continue to search the scriptures to present the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26–27).
Will you do the same?