This is the third video in our series about the role of women in the Christian congregation. Why is there so much resistance to women playing a larger role in the Christian congregation? Perhaps it is because of this.
What you see in this graphic is typical of organized religion. Whether you’re a Catholic, a Protestant, a Mormon, or as in this case, a Jehovah’s Witness, an ecclesiastical hierarchy of human authority is what you have come to expect from your religion. So, the question becomes, where do women fit into this hierarchy?
This is the wrong question and is the principal reason why it is so difficult to resolve the issue of the role of women in the Christian congregation. You see, we are all starting our research based on a faulty premise; the premise being that an ecclesiastical hierarchy is the way Jesus intended us to organize Christianity. It is not!
In fact, if you want to stand in opposition to God, this is how you do it. You set up men to take his place.
Let’s look at this graphic again.
Who is the head of the Christian congregation? Jesus Christ. Where is Jesus Christ in this graphic? He’s not there. Jehovah is there, but he’s just a figurehead. The top of the authority pyramid is a governing body, and all authority comes from them.
If you doubt me, go and ask a Jehovah’s Witness what they would do if they read something in the Bible that contradicted something that the Governing Body said. Which would they obey, the Bible or the Governing Body? If you do that, you will have your answer to why ecclesiastical hierarchies are the means to oppose God, not serve him. Of course, from Pope, to Archbishop, to President, to Governing Body, they will all deny that, but their words mean nothing. Their actions and those of their followers speak the truth.
In this video, we are going to understand how to organize Christianity without falling into the trap that leads to enslavement to men.
Our guiding principle comes from the lips of none other than our Lord Jesus Christ:
“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NLT)
It is not about leadership authority. It is about service.
If we cannot get that through our head, we will never understand the role of women, because to do so we must first understand the role of men.
I get people accusing me of trying to start my own religion, of trying to get a following. I get this accusation all the time. Why? Because they cannot conceive of any other motivation. And why? The apostle Paul explains:
“But a physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually. However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, 15 NWT)
If you are a spiritual person, you will understand what Jesus means when he speaks of those wanting to lead becoming slaves. If you are not, you won’t. Those who set themselves up in positions of power and lord it over the flock of God are physical men. The ways of the spirit are foreign to them.
Let us open our heart to the leading of the Spirit. No preconceptions. No bias. Our mind is an open slate. We will start with a controversial passage from the letter of Romans.
“I am introducing to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a minister of the congregation that is in Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the holy ones and give her whatever help she may need, for she herself also proved to be a defender of many, including me.” (Romans 16:1, 2 NWT)
A scan of the various versions of the Bible listed in Biblehub.com reveals that the most common rendering for “minister” from verse 1 is “…Phoebe, a servant of the church…”.
Less common is “deacon, deaconess, leader, in the ministry”.
The word in Greek is diakonos which means “a servant, minister” according to Strong’s Concordance and is used to denote “a waiter, servant; then of any one who performs any service, an administrator.”
Many men in the Christian congregation will have no problem seeing a woman as a waiter, servant, or anyone who performs a service, but as an administrator? Not so much. Yet, here’s the problem. For most organized religion, a diakonos is an official appointment within the church or congregation. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it refers to a ministerial servant. Here’s what The Watchtower has to say on the subject:
So likewise the title “Deacon” is a mistranslation of the Greek “diákonos,” which really means “ministerial servant.” To the Philippians Paul wrote: “To all the holy ones in union with Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with overseers and ministerial servants.” (w55 5/1 p. 264; see also w53 9/15 p. 555)
The most recent reference to the Greek word diákonos in the Watchtower publications, that relates to ministerial servant, comes from 1967, regarding the then recent release of the book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God:
“By reading it carefully you will appreciate that in the Christian congregation epískopos [overseer] and diákonos [ministerial servant] are mutually exclusive terms, whereas presbýteros [older man] can apply to either an epískopos or a diákonos.” (w67 1/1 p. 28)
I find it curious and worthy of mention that the only references in the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses linking diákonos with the office of “ministerial servant” date more than a half century in the past. It’s almost as if they don’t want the Witnesses of today to make that connection. The conclusion is undeniable. If A = B and A = C , then B = C.
diákonos = Phoebe
diákonos = ministerial servant
Phoebe = ministerial servant
There really is no way around that conclusion, so they choose to ignore it and hope no one notices, because to acknowledge it means that sisters can be appointed to positions as ministerial servants.
Now let’s move to verse 2. The key word in verse 2 in the New World Translation is “defender”, as in “…for she herself also proved to be a defender of many”. This word has an even wider variety of renderings in the versions listed on biblehub.com:
There is a huge difference between “leader” and “good friend”, and between “patron” and “helper”. So which is it?
If you’re in a quandary over this, perhaps it is because you’re still locked in the mindset of establishing leadership roles within the congregation. Remember, we are to be slaves. Our leader is one, the Christ. (Matthew 23:10)
A slave can administrate affairs. Jesus asked his disciples who would be the faithful and discreet slave that his master appoints over his domestics to feed them at the proper time. If diákonos can refer to a waiter, then the analogy fits, does it not? Are not waiters the ones who bring you your food at the proper time? They bring you appetizers first, then the main course, then when it is time, the dessert.
It would appear that Phoebe took the lead in acting as a diákonos, a servant to Paul. She was so trusted that he appears to have sent his letter to the Romans by her hand, encouraging them to welcome her in the same manner as they would have welcomed him.
With the mindset of taking the lead in the congregation by becoming a slave to others, let us consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians and Corinthians.
“And God has assigned the respective ones in the congregation: first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then powerful works; then gifts of healings; helpful services; abilities to direct; different tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
“And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers,” (Ephesians 4:11)
The physical man will assume that Paul is laying out a hierarchy of authority figures here, a pecking order, if you will.
If so, then this creates a significant problem for those who would take such a view. From our previous video we saw that female prophets existed in both Israelite and Christian times, putting them in the number two spot in this pecking order. But wait, we also learned that a woman, Junia, was an apostle, allowing a woman to take the number one spot in this hierarchy, if that is what it is.
This is a good example of how often we can get into trouble when we approach Scripture with a predetermined understanding or on the basis of an unquestioned premise. In this case, the premise is that some form of authority hierarchy must exist in the Christian congregation for it to work. It certainly exists in pretty much every Christian denomination on earth. But considering the abysmal record of all such groups, we have even more evidence that our new premise is the right one. I mean, look at what those worshiping under an ecclesiastical hierarchy; look what they have wrought in the way of persecuting the Children of God. The record of Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many others is horrific and evil.
So, what point was Paul making?
In both letters, Paul is speaking about gifts being granted to different men and women for the building up in faith of the body of Christ. When Jesus left, the first to do so, to use these gifts, were the apostles. Peter predicted the arrival of prophets at Pentecost. These helped with the development of the congregation as Christ revealed things, new understandings. As men and women grew in knowledge, they became teachers to instruct others, learning from the prophets. Powerful works and gifts of healing helped to spread the message of the good news and convince others that this was not just some band of wide-eyed misfits. As their numbers grew, those with the ability to administrate and direct were needed. For example, the seven spiritual men designated to oversee the distribution of food as recorded at Acts 6:1-6. As persecution increased and the children of God were scattered into the nations, gifts of tongues were needed to quickly spread the message of the good news.
Yes, we are all brothers and sisters, but our leader is only one, the Christ. Notice the warning he gives: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled…” (Matthew 23:12). Recently, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses exalted themselves by declaring themselves to be the Faithful and Discreet Slave appointed by Christ over his domestics.
In the last video, we saw how the Governing Body tried to minimize the role Judge Deborah played in Israel by claiming that the real judge was the man, Barak. We saw how they changed their translation of a woman’s name, Junia, into the made-up male name, Junias, to avoid admitting there was a female apostle. Now they hide the fact that Phoebe, by their own designation, was a ministerial servant. Have they changed anything else to support their ecclesiastical priesthood, the local appointed body of elders?
Look at how the New World Translation renders this passage:
“Now undeserved kindness was given to each one of us according to how the Christ measured out the free gift. For it says: “When he ascended on high he carried away captives; he gave gifts in men.”” (Ephesians 4:7, 8)
The translator is misleading us by the phrase, “gifts in men”. This leads us to the conclusion that some men are special, having been gifted to us by the Lord.
Looking at the interlinear, we have “gifts to men”.
“Gifts to men” is the correct translation, not “gifts in men” as the New World Translation renders it.
In fact, here’s a list of over 40 translations and the only one that renders this verse as “in men” is that produced by the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society. This is evidently the result of bias, intending to use this Bible verse as a means to bolster the authority of the Organization’s appointed elders over the flock.
But there is more. If we’re looking for a proper understanding of what Paul is saying, we should take note of the fact that the word he uses for “men” is anthrópos and not anēr.
Anthrópos refers to both male and female. It is a generic term. “Human” would be a good rendering since it is gender neutral. If Paul had used anēr, he would have been referring specifically to the male.
Paul is saying that the gifts he is about to list were given to both the male and female members of the body of Christ. None of these gifts is exclusive to one sex over the other. None of these gifts is given exclusively to the male members of the congregation.
Thus various translation render it this way:
In verse 11, he describes these gifts:
“He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16 WEB [World English Bible])
Our body is made up of many members, each with its own function. Yet there is only one head directing all things. In the Christian congregation, there is only one leader, the Christ. All of us are members contributing together toward the benefit of all others in love.
As we read the next part from the New International Version, ask yourself where you fit into this list?
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:28-31 NIV)
All of these gifts are given not to appointed leaders, but to provide the body of Christ with capable servants to minister to their needs.
How beautifully Paul illustrates the way the congregation should be, and what a contrast this is with the way things are in the world, and for that matter, in most religions claiming the Christian Standard. Even before listing these gifts, he puts them all into the right perspective:
“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26 NIV)
Is there any part of your body you despise? Is there any member of your body you’d like to lop off? Maybe a little toe or a pinky finger? I doubt it. And so it is with the Christian congregation. Even the smallest part is extremely valuable.
But what did Paul mean when he said we should strive for the greater gifts? Given all we have discussed, he couldn’t be urging us on to acquiring more prominence, but rather greater gifts of service.
Again, we should turn to the context. But before doing that, let us bear in mind that the chapter and verse divisions contained in the Bible translations did not exist when those words were originally penned. So, let us read the context realizing that a chapter break does not mean there is a break in thought or a change of topic. In fact, in this instance, the thought of verse 31 leads directly into chapter 13 verse 1.
Paul begins by contrasting the gifts he has just referred to with love and shows they are nothing without it.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and understand all the sacred secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all the faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I do not benefit at all.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NWT)
Let’s be clear in our understanding and application of these verses. It doesn’t matter how important you may think you are. It doesn’t matter what honor others show you. It doesn’t matter how smart or well educated you are. It doesn’t matter if you are a wonderful teacher or a zealous preacher. If love doesn’t motivate all you do, you are nothing. Nothing. If we don’t have love, everything we do amounts to this:
Without love, you are just a lot of noise. Paul continues:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous. It does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NWT)
This is love of the highest order. This is the love that God has for us. This is the love that Christ has for us. This love does not “seek its own interests.” This love seeks the best for the loved one. This love will not deprive another of any honor or privilege of worship or deny another the kind of relationship with God that is her right.
The bottom line from all this is apparently that striving for the greater gifts through love does not lead to prominence now. Striving for the greater gifts is about striving to be of better service to others, to better serve the needs of the person and the entire body of Christ. If you want to strive for the best gifts, strive for love.
It is through love that we can take a firm hold on the eternal life that is offered to the children of God.
Before we close, let us summarize what we’ve learned.
- Women were used by God in Israelite times and in Christian times as prophets, judges, and even saviors.
- A prophet comes first, because without the inspired word of God spoken through the prophet, the teacher would have nothing of value to teach.
- God’s gifts of apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, et cetera, were not given just to men, but to both men and women.
- A human authority structure or an ecclesiastical hierarchy is how the world rules over others.
- In the congregation, those who want to lead must become the slaves of others.
- The gift of the spirit we should all strive for is love.
- Finally, we have one leader, the Christ, but all of us are brothers and sisters.
What remains is the question of what constitutes episkopos (“overseer”) and presbyteros (“older man”) in the congregation. Are these to be considered titles referring to some official office or appointment within the congregation; and if so, are women supposed to be included?
However, before we can tackle that question, there is something more pressing to deal with.
Paul tells the Corinthians that a woman should be silent and that it is disgraceful for her to speak in the congregation. He tells Timothy that a woman is not allowed to usurp the authority of a man. Additionally, he tells us that the head of every woman is the man. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Timothy 2:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 11:3)
Given everything we’ve learned so far, how is this possible? Does it not seem to contradict what we’ve learned to this point? For example, how can a woman stand up in the congregation and prophesy, as Paul himself says she can, while at the same time remaining silent? Is she supposed to prophecy using gestures or sign language? The contradiction that creates is obvious. Well, this will really put our powers of reasoning using exegesis to the test, but we’ll leave that for our next videos.
As always, thank you for your support and your encouragement.