Towards the end of last semester as I was immersed in studying Greek, I came across the names of a couple of female New Testament scholars.  Naturally my curiousity got the better of me.  My preliminary quest turned up a platform on gender issues amid other publications.  I must say I was disappointed.  I then sought to find a female NT scholar whose research and speciality did not involve gender issues.  Why did it bother me so much that women scholars utilized their platform for gender issues?  As a women with academic and leadership interests, it seems like I would have been pleased to see such efforts.  But I wasn’t.

To be clear, what I am referring to ranges from women’s role in leadership in a complementarian paradigm to full blown support for egalitarianism and everywhere in between.  I am referring to research that specifically addresses to what extent a woman can exercise authority over a man, if at all, and participate in ministry leadership.

So what’s my beef with gender issues?  I know I might get into a bit of hot water with the ladies for this one.  Maybe it’s just me and this is only an opinion, but I think it undermines the legitimacy of female scholarship, particularly in fields where issues are secondary.  I am not saying that Biblical theology of women, and particularly women in leadership should not be explored, but there is something about effort being exerted to promote a cause that can be perceived as self-beneficial.  And especially where the sword of gender issues is optional and research efforts can be focused on other topics.  It might be subtly or not so subtly saying, ‘I’m here and demand that you take me serious.’

I am NOT saying that is the motive behind such a platform but I can’t help but wonder if that is the ultimate impact.  I can’t help but wonder if the perception of self-promotion can be self-defeating, and perhaps undermine the premise that such scholarship aims to promote.

Yes, somebody has to research them.  To be honest, I appreciate the men that take up the cause for gender issues.  I think far too many men, particularly in more conservative evangelical circles, are prone to lethargic study and easy dismissal of understanding a woman’s place in leadership.  After all, why should they be concerned?  But for the ones who do, I think it does give a little more credibility to the issue because it is no longer perceived as a woman trying to insert herself where some believe, she should not be inserted.  Again, I am not saying that those who take up the cause with their research interest and literary publication are doing this, but perception can say a lot.

Why do I have concerns?   While I maintain an active complementarian perspective regarding male headship in the home and church, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that it is not as neatly packaged as the more conservative platforms would espouse.  I don’t believe I will ever accept the abolition of an authoritative order, aka, egalitarianism.  But I do believe there is ample room, in present day context, for women to legitimately hold leadership roles more than some segments within conservative evangelic circles are willing to accept.  I say this not in support of my own ambition, but as a student of Scriptures that seeks to honestly digest what the whole counsel of Scripture would say on a topic.  This also involves evaluating what is contextualized versus commanded.

Yet, there have been solid lines drawn in the sand.  For those that hold to #1-4 in Michael’s chart (here), I think there is the expectation that women will rebel and possibly construed as outward defiance against God’s authority.  A smart, capable, degreed and well-read woman taking up the cause against restrictive views most likely support this expectation.  Moreover, for the stricter conservative branches of evangelicals with low incentive to investigate issues further, I can’t help but wonder if the cause of scholarship in the area of gender issues would not be construed as further motivation for strengthening those lines.

Regardless of one’s position in the complementarian/egalitarian debate, perhaps the best support for the legitimacy of female leadership is demonstrating scholarship in a variety of disciplines within theological study.  Rather than concentrating research on why women can hold leadership positions or to what extent women can hold leadership position, perhaps the greatest proof would be in the pudding of demonstrated capability and meaningful contributions in all areas in the body of Christ.  I know this can mean various things depending on ones position, (whether a woman can pastor, for example) but the argument of the position is not really the point here nor is this post in support of one position vs. the other.   The point is that if there is a place for women in leadership, it might be better to demonstrate leadership in that area rather than proving why you should.

So getting back to my search, I came across Dr. Karen Jobes, a professor of New Testament study at Wheaton College.   No gender studies, only research involving the LXX and New Testament exegesis.  And her commentary on 1 Peter is bar none, where she also gives props to her husband for modeling Ephesians 5.  I do not know much more about Dr. Jobes than is written here but am eager to learn more.  I would like to believe there are others like her, who quietly work out their giftings for expedient contribution to the body of Christ amongst the din of gender promoters.  I am likely to take Dr. Jobes a little more serious because of it.

    59 replies to "Women, Scholarship and Authentic Agendas"

    • Lisa Robinson

      Bridget, thanks for that contribution. You said,

      The tone of this thread (and not all of it is coming from Lisa’s OP) seems to be, “gender studies is not a serious issue and women do not establish themselves as serious scholars when they devote themselves to this topic.”

      I think you missed my point. I never said they were not important and in fact, paragraph#5 supports that. My point is that it gives the perception of selfish ambition. Someone commented that it is also a stereotype for women to pursue gender issues. I would agree with that.

      I also agree with you, that selfish ambition can exist on both sides of the equation, as I noted in an earlier comment.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Eric, I concur that Paul does not mention male headship in 1 Tim 2. But why does he then talk about the creative order in reference to women not exercising authority over a man in a corporate church structure? The same question applies to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 11 of the creative order.

    • EricW

      Re: 1 Timothy 2: You are assuming that he is talking about a corporate church structure. He may be, but he may also be talking about husbands and wives, not men and women.

      Re: 1 Corinthians 11: It’s too vague and confusing to understand WHAT Paul is saying. E.g.:

      a. One cannot clearly tell which parts of what Paul wrote there are from himself, are his quoting of what someone else said or wrote to him, or are his response(s) to what someone else said or asked.

      b. One can’t tell from 11:16 if he’s referring to the custom of women not being covered when praying or prophesying or the custom of women being covered when praying or prophesying.

      c. If nature has given woman long hair in place of a “covering” (11:15) and if a woman is to cover her head when she is in God’s presence, that could support a long-haired woman NOT having to cover her head when praying or prophesying.

      d. While one can find support for translating 1 Corinthians 11:10 as “[a sign of] authority on her head,” this is not at all certain. It could mean a woman has her own authority over her own head. See BDAG on εξουσια, #7.

      e. One can’t determine what Paul is finally concluding or affirming or rejecting here, or what he is telling them to do or not do.

      f. Due to the confusing nature of the passage, the vagueness of some of its statements, and the vast cultural differences and assumptions and practices that separate us from Paul and his readers, which add to our confusion about his intended meaning, I cannot find support in this passage for concluding or insisting that men today are to pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered and women today are to pray or prophesy with their heads covered.

      g. Some argue that κατα κεφαλης εχων (lit. “downward-from head having”) in 11:4 is referring to (long) hair, and not to an additional head covering, and that the adjective in 11:5,13 from ακατακαλυπτος (its component parts can literally mean “not-downward-covered/hidden”) is referring to the absence of long hair. The verbs in 11:6-7 from κατακαλυπτω have the literal component parts meaning “to downward-from cover/hide,” and also don’t specifically refer to a covering other than one’s own hair. Such an interpretation perhaps explains the comments about κομαω (“to wear-long-hair/let-hair-grow”) in 11:14-15. If this understanding is correct (though it is not without its problems, and no version I know of translates the passage this way), then the debate on whether or not women should cover their heads in church is based on a misunderstanding and mistranslation of this passage.

    • EricW

      (cont’d) And because of the confusing nature of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and our inability to understand exactly what he is saying, I think it’s risky to take his statement in 11:3 about the man being “the head of a woman” and extrapolate or conclude something about male headship vis-a-vis women from that. The verse/statement has a context, and in this case, we don’t understand the context (and I suggest that with our current level of knowledge of this passage, we can’t understand it), so if 11:3 is used to support a position about male headship, it could very easily become an example of D. A. Carson’s father’s statement: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.”

    • Moara

      Lisa said:
      “I think you missed my point. I never said they were not important and in fact, paragraph#5 supports that. My point is that it gives the perception of selfish ambition. Someone commented that it is also a stereotype for women to pursue gender issues. I would agree with that.”

      This reminds me of a study I read about a while ago. It was addressing the wage gap between men and women in professional environments. It found that a large portion of the difference came from men asking for a higher starting wage during job interviews, and women accepting the first offer. But, it also found that women who haggled over their wages during interviews were less likely to be hired, because they were perceived as being overly self serving. Kind of a catch 22.

      I think it’s the same situation here. If people don’t do gender studies, there will be fewer opportunities for women in perceived “harder” theology. But, when women do those gender studies, it’s perceived as selfish ambition.

    • dcljoy


      I have enjoyed reading your articles (esp. the one on women and theology) … so I was saddened by this one.

      Have you considered that women scholars bring up the gender issue because there is a genuine point which needs godly, bible-believing Christian men and women to really think about, and not just to follow what has always been taught in our churches.

      I know all the arguments because I was taught them from the moment I began going to church as a young child. It wasn’t until I actually read what some of these women scholars (and some male scholars too) had to say that I began the long, slow, and sometimes painful journey of thinking differently. …. and it took a while.

      From the other side, some of those arguments are almost nonsensical … like the order of creation for instance …. if taken to its logical conclusion, then using the argument of prior creation, animals are superior to humans …. from the other end, using the argument of progressive creation, then woman is the pinnacle of God’s work. All this proves is that we can always argue for our own point of view.

      But when reputable male scholars of the caliber of F.F.Bruce, R.T.France, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington111 and Gordon Fee say that the translation of these “proof” verses is not as cut and dried as we have been led to believe, then we should begin to look into the matter.

      To say nothing of the wonderful women scholars who are a blessing to their sisters in Christ, and to the church.

      Have you read any of Rebecca Groothius’ books or articles? She has a quite brilliant article on logic.

    • Lisa Robinson

      dcljoy, I think you may have missed my point. I didn’t say the studies have no value. But it is the perception of women engaged in the study of gender issues that is problematic. It can actually undermine the point that is intended to be proven.

      And this comment here is in line with what I was saying: “But when reputable male scholars of the caliber of F.F.Bruce, R.T.France, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington111 and Gordon Fee say that the translation of these “proof” verses is not as cut and dried as we have been led to believe, then we should begin to look into the matter.”

      It is a catch 22 as somebody else mentioned. How do you investigate the matter without it appearing like self-promotion. No easy answers. It is also is very stereotypical for women to be engaged in gender issues.

    • Bonnie


      I appreciate your concern. Yet I wouldn’t say that the perception that women who study gender issues are self-promoting is necessarily the problem of those women. It might be the problem of those perceiving it. The implication of the former would be that women shouldn’t apply their talents to such studies. Yet (in response to the latter) any work should be examined to see what value it actually has, whether it could be said to be self-serving or not.

      Any significant conflict sees lots of words and ink spilled over it; gender issues are no exception. It is a topic of great interest to a great many people, and, I think, rightfully so. Yet it does seem that most of the women who have written on these issues have also done high-level scholarly work in other areas.

      I also see gender issues come into play in areas in which they needn’t, and in which they are considered to be more primary, and less secondary, than they actually are. I’ve found this out the hard way. And wish it weren’t so.

    • […] it got little notice. But the post also pointed to an article I wrote three years ago on why I don’t get into the gender debate.  Unfortunately accusations of self-serving motives quickly arise at the mention that there might […]

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