WAMS 2018: Women Usurping Authority or Not

[AssemblyHUB’s mission is “to facilitate open and honest interest and discussion about assembly principles, practices and the Christian life. To encourage acceptance and appreciation for the views of others in relation to personal conviction.”

In this Women and Men Series, we are introducing, what are to some, controversial topics. We intend to foster discussion not to come across as absolute authorities on any subject.]

What’s a usurper?

Historically, there have been many usurpers. William the Conqueror set a great precedent in England. Subsequent English history is rife with contenders for the throne-a perennial struggle between usurpers and more legitimate claimants.

The term usurper is always used for those who seize or exercise authority wrongfully, illegally or by force. Generally usurpers have some claim to the throne, though not as close or legitimate as the person they are seizing power from.

This is a valid point as we consider church order and men and women and their God-given roles.

Biblical usurping

I’ve been wrestling lately with the one and only use of the word usurp in the Bible. Contrary to normal usage, it’s not about a seizing a throne, it’s about women and men and authority. I’m sure if you are a good KJV-er you know exactly which verse I mean.

And while we don’t take our cues from other denominations, obviously many evangelical denominations see more freedom in the given scriptural parameters. They allow women to exercise their gifts in a more public way than most assemblies. When godly men and women see things a bit differently than a traditional reading, it raises questions.

Here’s the verse (in case you are unfamiliar)

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14)

We usually couple this verse with others from 1 Corinthians 14.

“Women are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission as the law says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

These two very short passages (less than 80 words combined) shape so much of our church practice.

And yet, there’s way more to the Biblical narrative.

Created in God’s image

Men and women are both created in the image of God. Furthermore, both were given the responsibility to fill the earth, subdue and have dominion over it. (Genesis 1:26-28) As you can see from these verses, ruling is in the woman’s blood. It was God’s original plan. Obviously there were definite dominion spheres, even in Genesis 1. But it’s still an indisputable point.

God created a perfect world, with perfect people. But sin was introduced, and not far behind sin came the friction between ruling and submission. It’s part of the curse.

“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

This struggle between the sexes has been going on since the fall. Some women are better at submitting than others, but most women balk against submission at some point or another.

Biblical narrative

In our focus on woman’s roles, we often ignore the verses that talk about women being made in the image of God. About women who are part of the body of Christ, and as such have spiritual gifts to use for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12) The Bible makes no gender distinctions for any of the spiritual gifts. It follows that there must be Biblical ways for women to use their spiritual gifts to benefit the body of Christ. Even the more verbal gifts like teaching and prophesying and evangelizing.

We seek to delegitimize the prophetesses Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and Philip’s daughters with caveats. Yet, the Bible doesn’t. As much is implied in the simple title of prophetess, as in the actual record (or not) of their words. These women heard God’s words and spoke forth those words to both men and women. If they weren’t prophesying they wouldn’t have been known as prophetesses.

(continued here)

Bernadette Veenstra


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