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ALL THE WORLD WAS CREATED IN, THROUGH AND FOR CHRIST: GUESS WHO’S IN CHARGE?

One of the most fundamental misunderstandings, in what calls itself church, is the notion that somebody in the church – usually the pastor – has to be “in charge.” Jesus taught just the opposite. He made it clear that He was in charge, and each person in His body on earth has a unique Spirit-driven contribution to make for the building up of the ekklesia.

Closely linked to the mistaken idea that there has to be one leader, where the buck stops, is the tradition that males are to have center stage in all areas of life. For Harry Bethel, life boils down to the title of his booklet: It’s A Man’s World: A Fresh Look at a Truth Obscured by the End-Time Apostasy (3rd edition, 1996, 16 pages).

“Male Dominance”
Harry believes that a man is “to be the dominant figure in the family, in the work place, and in the church.” He is sure that any person who is honest with Scripture will arrive at this same conclusion. However, it would seem that Mr. Bethel is very selective in his use of Scripture, and that his dogmatic perspectives are, in fact, the exact opposite of Christ’s will.

Before the Fall
He points out that before Adam and Eve’s transgression “there was a proper and perfect relationship with man and his wife and his God and with all other creatures of the earth.” He admits that the situation before sin entered was God’s highest ideal. But, then, it must be asked – was the earth a “man’s world” before the fruit was eaten? The answer is a resounding “No.” Genesis 1-2 portrays Adam and Eve as partners and equals, not as a hierarchy of male over female. God spoke to “them,” not “him.” In fact, the very name “Adam” embraced both male and female – “He called them Adam” (Genesis 5:2).

Of course, all of this was a profound mystery concerning Christ and His ekklesia (Ephesians5:32).

Mr. Bethel’s contention that our planet has always been “a man’s world” by God’s design is manifestly incorrect from the outset.

Woman Created for Man?
Harry maintains that “the woman was created for the man and not the other way around.” “In fact,” he goes on to say, “she is not even the glory of God, but rather the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). It is the man who is the glory of God.” But he totally misses something vitally important in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul is headed toward a conclusion in his line of thought here, and it comes in verses 11-12 – “nevertheless, neither [is] wife without husband nor husband without wife in the Lord, for as the wife is from the husband, so also [is] the husband by the woman – but all things [are] of God.” Paul’s bottom-line “in the Lord” is a relationship of mutuality and interdependence, not female subordination.

“The Head of the Woman is Man – Not Christ”
Mr. Bethel makes the astounding claim that “Christ is not even the head of woman – man is! . . . And the head of the woman is the man [not Christ].” This illustrates how far he will stretch to make his unfounded conclusions. Ephesians 5:23 affirms that Christ is the Head of the ekklesia, which clearly indicates that He is Head over both the men and the women in His body.

Women Prophesying
Further, Mr. Bethel fails to point out the obvious fact that in this passage Paul has no issue with women praying and prophesying in the assembly. He uses 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to enforce the silence of the sisters, but never deals with the female functioning unfolded in 1 Cor. 11.

Philip’s Virgin Daughters Prophesied
Acts 21:9 mentions Philip’s four virgin daughters that prophesied. Harry replies by saying, “one thing is sure – they did not prophesy in the churches and be in the Lord’s will, because it was a commandment of the Lord that women were not to speak in the church (1 Cor. 14:34-37).”

However, it must be asked, then, where did these sisters prophesy? For several reasons “in the ekklesia” would be the correct answer. First, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul makes it clear that prophecy is to be central in the gathering. There Paul speaks of the “whole church” (men and women) coming together to prophesy. Paul’s flow of thought from 1 Cor. 11 to 1 Cor. 14:33 clearly assumes the participation of both sexes.

The Day of Pentecost
Secondly, when Jesus came to the ekklesia on the Day of Pentecost, 120 men and women prophesied, and Peter announced, right off the bat, that this was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that both sexes would prophesy by the Spirit. For some reason, Mr. Bethel never mentions Acts 2, and does not wrestle with the implications of the female functioning in Christ’s body found in that passage.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5
1 Cor. 7:1-5 is the only place in the New Testament where the concept of “authority” is linked to marriage. However, contrary to Mr. Bethel, it is not the authority of the husband over the wife that Paul mentions, but a mutual authority over each other’s body. Couples are not to physically separate unless there is “symphony,” or mutual consent. Read over this passage and see if it sounds like “a man’s world” to you.

How could 1 Cor. 7:1-5 be reconciled with Harry’s bold remark that “there is no higher human authority on this planet, according to God, than that of a husband and father of minor children.” The New Testament never attaches “authority” to a husband, and when this word is used in the setting of marriage, it is applied to both the wife and the husband – it is mutual, not one-way.

Only Male Deacons?
Mr. Bethel believes that only men can be deacons. He skips over the fact that sister Phoebe brought Paul’s letter to the Roman believers and she was “a deacon of the ekklesia of Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1-2).

Only Male Apostles?
“Why did Christ,” Harry asks, “when He chose the Twelve, choose men?” But, there is more to the story than that. Romans 16:7 mentions Andronicus and Junia, who were Paul’s relatives, had been jailed with him, and “were outstanding among the apostles.” So, in Romans 16 we discover a female deacon and a female apostle! Paul called several sisters “co-workers,” which is the same word used to describe his relationship with Timothy, Titus, Barnabas and Aquila.

What Do We Know About the Twelve?
Harry makes a big deal out of the fact that in the record of the apostles’ work and writings, “there is nowhere in the Scriptures even the mention of one of their wives’ names including that of Peter.” The truth is, however, that the New Testament reveals more about the service of women in the early church than it does about the work of most of the Twelve!

Divorce
On the topic of divorce Mr. Bethel asserts that “nowhere in the Old or the New Testament does God allow a woman to divorce her husband for any reason.” Indeed, in the covenant life of Israel there was no provision for a wife to divorce a husband. But Jesus made a radical statement in Mark 10:12 in which He envisioned a wife divorcing her husband — “And if a wife shall put away her husband . . .”? Jesus mentioned a scenario that before was not viewed as an option.

“Brothers”
Mr. Bethel finds great significance that in the letters to the churches, the “brothers” (Greek, adelphoi) are mentioned, but Paul “did not address the sisters,” and “had nothing to say to the sisters.”

When the King James Version says in Acts 17, “God commands all men to repent,” are only males being addressed? No, it is supposed that women are included in that statement. “Men” back then was a generic word, and encompassed both sexes. Likewise, “brothers” is not limited to males. As J. P. Louw and Eugene Nida point out, “adelphoi [brothers] can mean both ‘brothers and sisters’ . . . . The masculine form adelphos may include both men and women” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Vol. 1, pp. 118, 125).

The Scales Are Tipped Toward the Men
In Harry’s world, women get the short end of the stick. If they divorce their husbands for any reason, they are guilty of “rebellion,” but “this being a God-ordained man’s world, Scripture nowhere prohibits a man whose wife divorces him from remarrying.” The way Mr. Bethel sees things, “there are many God-given prerogatives for husbands and fathers that women do not have, if for no other reason than God ordained it so. It’s a man’s world.”

The fact that God has used women does not impress Harry, for “God uses Satan.”

“Test the Spirits”
It’s A Man’s World is a glaring example of how people can use selected Scriptures to spin a devious, hurtful tale that demeans the body of Christ.

This booklet also emphasizes the important fact that we as God’s people, need to see the red flags that the Holy Spirit reveals when an author tells us that we are “apostate, in rebellion akin to witchcraft, and in cahoots with the devil” if we do not become comfortable citizens in the male dominated “man’s world” that he has created in his own mind. To put it simply, gender bias opposes God’s eternal purpose in Christ.

Mr. Bethel cloaks his prejudice by saying that he “without bias in this treatise want[s] to present the whole counsel of God regarding the truth that this is a God-ordained man’s world.” I have tried to show briefly, however, that his presentation has omitted significant chunks of New Testament material that would call his conclusions into question.

The Notion That “It’s A Man’s World” Is Widespread
Many who would sympathize with It’s A Man’s World’s perspective may not express their views as boldly and vividly as Mr. Bethel did. That does not mean, however, that such opinions are not to be found in many quarters. Usually, such views are stealthily hidden within well-mannered language.

Even the well-known John Piper has echoed the essential sentiments of It’s A man’s World, as when he suggested in 2012 that:

 

Deborah the prophetess under her palm tree judging Israel (painting by Charles Landelle, 1901)

God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And, being a God of love, he has done it for the maximum flourishing of men and women. He did not create women to languish, or be frustrated, or in any way to suffer, or fall short of full and lasting joy, in a masculine Christianity. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families where Christianity has this God-ordained, masculine feel. (Address on J.C. Ryle)

It would seem that in his ideal world men would accomplish the bulk of what needs to be done (What’s the Difference?,  pp. 60-64).  What are women supposed to think when they read statements like, “it is simply impossible that, from time to time, a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men . . . . To the degree that a woman’s influence over man is personal and directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order . . . . The closer they get to the personal side, the more inappropriate it becomes for women to exert directive influence” (What’s the Difference?, pp. 60,62)? 

“Women Must Be Silent”
For further exploration of Mr. Bethel’s use of two passages – 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 3:11-12 – to completely silence the sisters in church, I highly recommend Also, you may find some help in my What’s With Paul & Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2.   

– Jon Zens, March, 2013

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Comments

  1. Chris Jefferies says:

    Thanks for this post, Jon. I love the fact that you combine good scholarship with wisdom, judgement and sheer, dogged determination to continue to express the truth about leadership and women in the church.

    And we do need to keep saying these things, because there seem to be so many who continue to teach and demand the opposite.

  2. Jon,
    Thanks for this critique of what seems to be a very unbalanced, and finally erroneous book. I like that you stand on the scriptures for both the church as an body of organic relationships responsive in service (in love) to each other and to Christ as leader and to the unity of service between men and women.

  3. CatherineS says:

    Jon, thank you for continuing to be a voice of truth and balance regarding the male egocentric view that permeates so much of Christendom. While this is just one of many areas that too many believers study only to find support for their own views and teachings, it is one of the most damaging to the entire body of Christ. Brothers like you who lay aside their egos, champion the truth of scripture, and walk in partnership with sisters in Christ will never know how much you are appreciated, and how greatly we — and His ekklesia — are blessed by you.

  4. In the paragraph Divorce, you mention Mark 12 and a phrase “a woman put away her husband”. I don’t see it, can you point me to the correct scripture you are quoting? Thanks.

  5. Jamal Jivanjee says:

    Jon,

    Thank you very much for your vitally important work in shedding light on this subject. It is truly heartbreaking that the very scriptures that were written to reveal the One who is freedom, are used to enslave our precious sisters. I pray that the bride of Christ would soon be set free from this kind of thinking.

  6. Kathleen Ward says:

    Thank you, Jon, for your voice standing up for women in Christ. Some of the teaching out there is a bit weird, and sometimes ugly and hurtful. We women appreciate Godly men speaking out for us against this backdrop.

    – Kathleen

  7. Milt Rodriguez says:

    Another great article on the constant attacks of the evil one to hold women down. Thanks brother for sharing this! It’s way past due that the sisters take their place in the body of Christ!

  8. Marperor says:

    Here’s something I like to point out:
    Ephesians 5:28 says “husbands are to love their wives” & 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “love does not demand its own way.” God didn’t put husbands into roles where men are allowed & encouraged to demand their own way. The bottom line with the case for “the man/husband is the spiritual leader” is that he gets “final say,” thus he can demand his own way, refusing to cooperate with (submit to) his wife. That is not loving thus the entire construct of the husband as “spiritual leader” is false.

  9. Michael Young says:

    Great post bro. A needed wake up call for us all.

  10. Jayne Otterson says:

    “Love” does not “Lord over” the person…instead it respects and cherishes. Christ proved that with His very life. Thanks Jon for the wisdom that comes forth in your writings on this topic. This is a topic that could radically change the Ekklesia –setting her free from the lies of the man-made Institutional Church, thus helping her to come if full unity and in one accord. All of this is what so many of us long for… where Jesus will be in HIS rightful place as our HEAD. :)

  11. I have mixed feelings on this. Overall I tend to agree with Mr. Bethel’s general position with two extremely important clarifications. First, there is a distinct difference between POSITION and WORTH. Second, if you don’t have real love, then it doesn’t matter what you DO in life, it doesn’t have any meaning at all.

    It’s clear that man is POSITIONALLY the head of the woman, but they are of EQUAL WORTH in the eyes of God. It really is separate but equal. And in that case, not any different that the private who reports the sergeant who reports to the lieutenant etc. up to the President. Everyone has their job, but that doesn’t make one of more value in the eyes of God even though the President has more value in the eyes of the world than the private. I think that the example of Deborah in the Bible she was a prophetess in the period of the judges, but remember that Barak led the army. God used her because the men of her generation who refused to submit in that way, and God used her to do what had to be done.

    Regrettably we see the same in our culture today … very many ‘baby daddy’ absentee fathers who physically abandon their families leaving the (single) mother to fend for everything. That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, nor for the mother to abandon a (single) father to fill both roles either.

    Regards love, I also find it interesting that husbands are commanded to love their wives … but you don’t see the reverse command. Likewise wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, and you don’t see the reverse command either. It is the nature of people that when husbands love, wives want to submit; and when wives submit, husbands want to love. That’s just the way we are built.

    So, while overall I do think it’s a mans world — who wants it? In the long scheme of things what’s really more important: to conquer ‘the world’ or to raise and love your family? It’s a no-brainer in my book and I think that even to have the debate that both men and women have to be ‘out there’ somehow to have worth is a lie that has us off-track and focused on the wrong things.

    Give me a person who loves and cares for their family any day. That’s the way God really wants it to be.

    • Thank you, Timmy, for your comments. You say that man is positionally the head of the woman, and compare this to a military chain-of-command (the authority of one over another). Your assumption that “head” = authority over is very questionable. To see “head” as “source” is just as viable, and in line with organic relationships. Are you really prepared to compare Christ/church, husband/wife to a sergeant being over a private? Living relationships are incompatible with chain-of-command structures.

      There is nothing in Deborah’s story to suggest that God had to use a woman because no competent men were found. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. Under her palm tree, she applied the Torah when Israel came with issues/questions. You say Barak led the army, but you left out that Barak would not proceed without Deborah’s presence. And in the end the hero was a woman who nailed the enemy leader!

      You suggest that women are not commanded to love their husbands, and that husbands are not commanded to submit to their wives. Jesus’ new commandment is for believers to love one another “as I have loved you” — wouldn’t that mean that wives are to love their husbands as Christ loved us on the cross? In Eph 5:21 all believers are told to “submit to one another” — wouldn’t that mean that husbands are to submit to their wives?

      You think overall it is a “man’s world.” Better, I think it is the Lord’s world and He gave dominion to humans — male and female. Moses said that dominion was given to “them,” not “him.” Gen 5:2 says that He created male and female, and called “them” Adam.

      A fuller treatment of these and many related issues can be found in my book, “What’s With Paul & Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2.”

  12. Daniel Passini says:

    Good stuff! It can be disheartening to still see male chauvinism within the body of Christ. Your Biblical and scholarly breakdown and defense was excellent.

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