A revolutionary book came out in the late 1930s by C.R. Nichol entitled, “God’s Woman”. In that book Nichol challenged many traditional views on women’s participation in the assembly (covering the pertinent New Testament scripture in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians) as well as women in the home. The book was accepted by many people you might find surprising, like N.B. Hardeman. It is also surprising that such a book would have been written by Nichol, who was quite conservative himself.
Gary Burke has written two follow-up books in the spirit of Nichols’ work, “God’s Woman Revisited” and “God’s Woman Revisited Pocket Edition”. This review will focus on the Pocket edition. The lengthier version will be helpful to those wanting a full-on treatment of the passages but I will say that Burke got a lot into the pocket edition, making it the perfect read for someone who wants the gist of the arguments without having to dive into the footnotes. Another helpful aspect of the pocket edition is that it is perfectly suited for Bible class instruction, with each chapter ending with a set of questions to discuss. If you are looking for a book to discuss the role of women in the assembly with your Bible class or small group, I highly recommend this book.
We are going to give away two copies of this book to Wineskins readers. Just comment on this article and two random winners will be drawn this Friday! If you haven’t registered to make a comment, now is the time! It has been a real pleasure to watch our number of registered users climb!
Here is what this book does so well that so few books accomplish – Burke tries to stick with the text. You would be surprised how many things we hear taught are just simply not in the text. They are inferences from the text that become assumed to be what the text directly says. For instance, many people believe the women praying and prophesying in 1 Cor 11 can’t be in the assembly. But the text never says it is or isn’t. The context can point us to a particular conclusion but we really don’t know based on that text alone. There are several instances where the author makes the point of the text and just stops there. Yes, we want more answers…yes we want Paul to address our questions. But often he doesn’t and to pretend that he does can abuse the text. So, kudos to Burke for sticking to the text as it stands.
Before Burke dives too far in he works on some process issues with the reader. He explains why bad interpretive methods have led to a variety of conflicting conclusions and lack of consensus. He then takes the time to walk the reader through what solid exegesis looks like. For many, this will be a great introduction to how to read and study the Bible. That alone is worth the price of admission of the book!
One of the things I really appreciate about this book is the appeal to consistent application of our reasoning. For instance, one argument for the supremacy (or authority) of man over woman is creation order. On page 53 Burke makes the point that if you apply that same argument consistently you would conclude that animals take precedence over humanity since the animals were made first. So simple. So profound.
Much of the women’s role conversation goes back to creation order. That is where Burke starts his discussion of the text coming at it from both directions: as the creation story is told in Genesis and then looking back on it from the connected texts in the New Testament (direct quotations, clear allusions, and possible allusions).
I agree with most of the conclusions on the relevant passages, which would lead us to be more inclusive of women’s participation in the assembly. If there were two small but significant connections I would add to the book it would be these (I realize one can only say so much!): The first is that 1 Tim 2 clearly connects with Genesis but not on childbearing…rather, it connects on deception. Paul isn’t saying women are more easily deceived (he never says that but people infer it), instead Paul is merely saying that women have been deceived in the past and seem to be being deceived in the present in Ephesus. This becomes clearer in 1 Tim 5. That brings about the second point I wish he had made from 1 Tim 2 in how it connects to 1 Tim 5. We learn in 1 Tim 5 that young, childless widows are being deceived and passing along the false teachings to others. In both 1 Tim 2 and 5 Paul uses the word “childbearing” and only uses the term here, nowhere else in his writing. Paul’s solution of being “saved through childbearing” is hard for us to understand but made perfect sense to them – marry and have kids and they won’t be susceptible to the false teachers anymore. This deception and passing along of false teachings also explains why Paul forbids the women in Ephesus to be teaching at that point in time. This isn’t a prohibition for all women for all time, which is how the passage in 1 Tim 2 has traditionally been understood. I credit Gordon Fee with making this connection and I think it makes better sense of the passage as it stands in the context of the whole letter and the situation in Ephesus.
This book directly challenges the traditionally restrictive position held by the majority of churches of Christ and challenges the position from a strictly biblical perspective. It challenges the position that restriction is the “safe” option when in reality if you restrict someone from serving God who God does not restrict that is hardly a safe route. In a sense, what seems biblically conservative can be biblically liberal – adding our presuppositions and inferences as binding conclusions as authoritative as the text itself.
Thanks to Gary Burke for writing these two books. May his tribe increase and may people in Churches of Christ (and any other fellowship who have severe limitations on women in the assembly) read this book and be blessed by it…may we read this book and come to grips with which parts of our view are speculation created from inference and which parts are actually, directly in the text itself…and the need for that is present on both sides of the aisle on this issue!