Beth Allison Barr: The Role of Women in the Church

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This is a podcast episode titled, Beth Allison Barr: The Role of Women in the Church. The summary for this episode is: <p>On this week's episode of Truth Over Tribe, Patrick talks with Beth Allison Barr. Dr. Barr is associate professor of history and associate dean of the Graduate School at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She specializes in medieval history, women's history, and church history. Today, the two discuss the role of women in the church, including a friendly debate where Dr. Barr shares her history expertise that supports her view. As a whole, this conversation promotes the types of discussions we hope to have inside and outside of this podcast: an open dialogue with a shared belief about Jesus's authority. Tune in now!</p>
What is complementarianism?
01:32 MIN
Beth's experience in a strict complementarian church
02:44 MIN
Why Beth left the complementarian church
02:54 MIN
History on ordaining women in the church
05:14 MIN
Understanding passages in the New Testament differently considering historical context
04:24 MIN
What shaped Beth's position and views?
03:00 MIN
"The problem isn't God, the problem is us."
03:33 MIN
Getting women into leadership in the church
03:12 MIN
00:43 MIN

Beth Allison Barr: My name is Beth Allison Barr, and I definitely choose truth over tribe.

Patrick Miller: Are you tired of tribalism?

Speaker 3: I think a lot of what the left supports is Satanic.

Speaker 4: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.

Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?

Speaker 5: If they don't like it here, they can leave.

Speaker 6: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.

Patrick Miller: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?

Speaker 7: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican Party? And the answer is absolutely no.

Speaker 8: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote democratic.

Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant. This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals. I'm Patrick Miller.

Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon and we choose Truth Over Tribe. Do you?

Patrick Miller: As an interviewer, my goal is to ask questions. It doesn't always mean easy questions. In fact, it often means probing questions, but I want every person who is on this show to feel as though our questions help them present their view in a accurate and articulate way where they feel like, hey, my personality, what I believe has actually been represented here. So my job is to ask good questions and then just get out of the way. It's not part of my job to answer questions or even worse sink into a debate. And on most occasions, when that actually happens, it's a total disaster, but every now and then it can be a gem. This podcast is one of those times. Dr. Beth Allison Barr, she wrote the book The Making of Biblical Womanhood. And the minute I read her book, I knew I wanted to talk to her. And I didn't know that when we talked, we'd get into a lively conversation, but an incredibly respectful and thoughtful one. And so I'll be honest, I didn't come into this conversation prepared to debate one position or another. And that's what happens a little bit. But I think as you listen in, you are going to hear the exact kind of conversation that we hope this podcast actually creates a lively, gracious, thoughtful, honest, open dialogue, which is rooted in shared belief about Jesus' authority. So it might help to say what Dr. Barr and I agree upon because we have a lot of things that we agree upon. We agree that the Bible teaches that men and women can exercise all of the same gifts. We agree that there are examples of women teaching like Priscilla expositing, like Phoebe church planting, like Euodia overseeing house churches, like Lydia, leading worship and prayer and giving prophecies like the women mentioned in 1 Corinthians. We agree that women like Mary were among the first messengers of the resurrection and that Paul list at least one female eyewitness named Junia as an apostle of Jesus. Both Paul and Jesus subverted Greco- Roman patriarchy in shocking ways. And it's true that today a lot of Christians misread these texts and almost take them in the exact opposite direction because we're reading it in our historical context not the original context. And I know this means that Dr. Barr and I, we agree that women should be encouraged and equipped to exercise every gift in the church. They should teach, preach and lead at every level. We also agree that theological systems, which reinstate patriarchy by suggesting that all women should be subject to all men or that men may never be under the authority of women or that women should yield to whatever their husband says in marriage. We'd agree that these systems are demeaning to the dignity of women and that they also part ways with Paul and Jesus' teachings. We also agree that these can create fertile ground for abuse or even mishandling abuse. I will never forget picking up Grudem and Piper's book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. And inside of that book, there's this section where they give a list of things that women can do and a list of things that they shouldn't do. And on the list of things they shouldn't do is that women shouldn't be bus drivers, for example, because they would be forced to take authority over men by driving a bus. Now I remember reading that and thinking, I don't know what in the heck this is, but I don't want anything to do with it. And the truth is it just hasn't matched my experience in the church. During my time at the church I've worked in, I've been managed by multiple women. And to this day, I'm under the authority of a woman who's on our church's five person executive team. In seminary, I had female professors. And one of them, by the way, was one of my all time favorites. I've read commentaries and books by women. I've read at least 20 books in the last year by women. I learn a tremendous amount from women. I work alongside women who are tremendous coworkers and assets to our team, and they are more knowledgeable and more skilled than I am in many key areas. So I'm constantly learning from them and often following their leadership. So the idea that that men should oversee all women is absolutely anathema to me. Okay. So if we agree on all this, you're wondering, do I even need to listen to the podcast? What's left to disagree on? Well, we do disagree on one thing. I believe that women should not be ordained as elders or in the podcast, we'll call them elders, presbyters, pastors, we mean the exact same thing. And this debate, it circles around three different passages, two of which lay out the qualifications for elders and include husband of one wife. And this seems to strongly imply that the elders must be men if they have one wife. The other one is 1 Timothy 2: 12, in which Paul says, " I do not permit a woman to teach authoritatively over a man. She must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." Now this passage needs to be taken in context, but it seems as though there were a few women inside of the church in Ephesus where Paul wrote this letter to. And it seems like they were taking priority over the elders. They were taking over the elders job. Now the question becomes if Paul only wanted to stop a few women from taking the priority of the elders, why would he ban all women? The most reasonable explanation is that he knew that there were no women who were elders. The other problem with the New Testament is that while it shows women in all different kinds of roles and women expressing every imaginable gift, there's one role which women are never described in. And that would be the role of elder or pastor. Now all of this to say, I think Dr. Barr and I actually share an ocean of agreements, both practically and theologically. And I think we share a much smaller area of disagreement and I'm not sure if she'd agree with me on that assessment and that's okay. And you're going to see that dynamic play out as I agree with many of her ideas, but don't always grant that they make the actual argument she says they're making that they make the argument that we should ordain women. And you will also find out as you listen to this that she is a brilliant and thoughtful person. And she makes incredibly persuasive arguments, which I am definitely wrestling with. So I hope this is a chance for you not to throw stones, but to wrestle with both of us. One last thought before we jump in, this is an issue I care about deeply, both in word and deed. There's a risk to publishing this by the way for both myself and for Dr. Barr. There are going to be people on both sides who want us to try to slam dunk on each other to disrespect one another, but neither one of us do that. We had a two hour long conversation and it never happened once. I think that we both had a lot of fun, and I know that I learned a ton from Beth during this interview. She was gracious, persuasive, thoughtful, and she is obviously a high caliber academic to boot. So let's hop into the interview. Beth Allison Barr, it is great to having you on the show. Thanks for being with us today.

Beth Allison Barr: Oh, thanks for bringing me.

Patrick Miller: I want to start off with your story, but before we hop in, you're going to use some terms that maybe some of our audience will be unfamiliar with. So it might help us to define the terms. In your book, you talk about complementarians and complementarian churches. Could you define complementarian for our audience?

Beth Allison Barr: Yes, indeed. Complementarianism is a pretty new term. It actually was born in the late 1980s in a hotel outside of Wheaton.

Patrick Miller: You make that sound really seedy.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. Well, it's true. They were at a conference and a bunch of them are now the founders of The Gospel Coalition and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. And they wanted a term that sounded better than patriarchy. And patriarchy is that historical constructed system that places women underneath the leadership of men in almost every area of life and limits women's opportunities. So they wanted a better term than that to talk about what they believed to be was women's divine role in the Bible ordained by God to be under the authority of men. And so they thought patriarchy had a negative connotation. They also thought it was too associated with second- wave feminism. So they came up with the term complementarity, which is really interesting. It's sounds nice. It's a pretty term. It says, no, women are not under men, women complement men. And they also derived it from in Genesis with Eve being the helpmate, which they also interpreted as sort of this complementarity. I hate that word. I really have a hard time saying it. I think I have a mental block against it. But anyway, that women complement men and that their subordinate status is not actually demeaning to them, but it is simply their role that God has given them that complements men's roles. So if that helps a little bit.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, that helps. And to state the obvious, I can imagine that if we had 10 different people in the room who are self- identified as complementarian, you might get as many as 10 different definitions of the term.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah, I guess I will say that the term itself has been defined by complementarians within the Danvers Statement. And in the Danvers Statement, what they say is they say that women are divinely ordained equal to men in image, but with separate roles. And the role of a woman is to be under the leadership of a man, the male headship of a man in church and the home. This is also reiterated in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. And so the language in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 pretty much comes from the Danvers Statement. The same people were behind both of them.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. So obviously the other term that gets thrown around here is egalitarianism. So I don't know if you want to define that one as well, but maybe along the way, would you say that you fit into one or the other camp or do you want something else?

Beth Allison Barr: So I resist being pigeonholed in terms. And this has actually been a problem for me all along with writing this book, because I really think that both complementarianism and egalitarianism have become known for this very modern concepts, both of them, these very modern concepts that have become so polarized.

Patrick Miller: So what's the modern part with the egalitarianism?

Beth Allison Barr: Well, egalitarians, essentially that term, I would agree with what that term is supposed to mean and the premise behind it, which is that women and men are created equal on the side of God. And God doesn't limit his calling on women or men by gender. And so egalitarianism says, women are called just like men are called and can be called to the same roles as men in both the church and the family. And so it would call for an equality between women and men's roles in the home. I would agree with that, which is why I let people put me in the egalitarian camp. The problem is is that I think egalitarianism has become equally polarized as complementarian has. And so I'm uncomfortable with that because I think that really what I am arguing for is that we just let God call people to do what they are called to do and that we don't try to limit God's calling based upon our human preconceptions.

Patrick Miller: That's a statement I think I could agree very strongly with myself. I remember Michelle Lee Barnewall's book, Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian. And that title, I thought, well, that's my perfect summary. I don't know what I am, but it's neither of those things.

Beth Allison Barr: I've read a little bit about her book and I think she's great. And I think what she was going for was really good, but at the same time, I think I would push a little further in that I really do think that God does not limit women by our sex. I don't know if beyond complementarianism and egalitarianism goes quite that far. So I would put that in a little bit is that I do not place limits on women.

Patrick Miller: I want to circle back to that, you in your book write about how you grew up in strict complementarian churches, and eventually your husband ended up pastoring at one of those churches, but after 14 years there, you ended up leaving. It was a very painful process. Could you just walk us through your story, why you left, how it happened?

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah, sure. So I did, I grew up in a family strong of faith. I don't ever remember not knowing Jesus and my parents were very strong in their faith. My parents actually were not strict complementarians. My mother grew up North American Baptist, which is a different sort of Baptist. My father grew up way out in West Texas sort of a mixture of Methodist and Baptist, very small town. So it didn't really matter which church you went to. It was just everybody went to church. So they both grew up with much sort of looser denominational, I guess, ties in that sense. But we ended up in a small Texas town and we ended up at the Southern Baptist Church that was in that small Texas town. And during our time at that Southern Baptist Church, complementarianism was beginning to get a stronghold. And this is after the conservative resurgence in the late 1970s. I was growing up in the'80s early teen years and the'90s. And this was a time when complementarianism is really coming into its own. It's when the term is coined, it's when the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood formed, it is when the Baptist Faith and Message begins, the early rewrites that are going to lead to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. It is also when John Piper and Wayne Grudem publish Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. And so all of these things begin to filter into the church that I was growing up in. James Dobson had a stronghold in conservative Southern churches.

Patrick Miller: And did you want to get those little magazines where it had like the movies that were coming out and it was telling you whether your kids could watch? My mom became a Christian when I was in fourth grade. I wasn't a Christian, but she started getting these little magazines and they would tell her I couldn't watch movies. I thought this is the worst thing in the world. I don't know who this James Dobson guy is, but get him out because I want to watch those movies.

Beth Allison Barr: That is exact, it had the rating on it, the family rating and the things that they thought. And if you actually go back and look at some of those movie descriptions, some of the things it talks about are the movies that don't display traditional gender roles. And so even in the way that they talked about what movies were good or bad, they were already starting to give this message that women belong in the home raising the children, men belong in the public sphere providing the paycheck. And that was very much a part of James Dobson's vision for how the household should work. So all of these things begin feeding into my childhood and into, especially my early teen years. And by the time I got to college, complementarianism was in the water everywhere. It was in all of the women's Bible studies that were held in my college dormitory. It was what all of the college women who were strong in their faith would talk about yielding to Male headship and being prepared to yield to the leadership of their husband. Now I heard that term all the time, yield.

Patrick Miller: Were you uncomfortable with it when you were in college or where were you at?

Beth Allison Barr: So on the one hand, I grew up with parents who are very committed to education. There's four of us in the family, three of us are daughters. It was never a question that we were going to go to college. It was never even a question that we would go to grad school if we wanted to go to grad school. It wasn't ever a question in that if we wanted a career, we would have a career. So I grew up on the one hand with that side. And then on the other hand, this influence that was coming from the church, but I didn't really see them as incompatible because I had my parents who modeled this relationship, they functioned very egalitarian. And so I don't think I saw it as incompatible because I didn't see it, I saw the lip service to male headship, but yet I still saw women in my world being empowered to do what they felt called to do. I never saw women preaching, but I didn't feel called to preach. So it's one of those things that didn't hit home for me because I didn't feel called to do that. And so it didn't really bother me so much. I would sometimes when I would read some of those Bible studies, like I never liked Elisabeth Elliot, Elisabeth Elliot's everywhere. I remember picking up Passion for Purity and being like, " Oh my gosh, what is this?" And so I just stopped reading it. So something about it was off for me. And there were also Elizabeth George. Everybody was reading Elizabeth George's Bible studies. And I had the same reaction to Elizabeth George. So I'm not sure I wasn't vocal against complementarianism at the time. I hadn't really unpacked it. But I also was suspicious of some of these Bible studies that all of my friends were reading. So I don't know, but I still bought into it.

Patrick Miller: But obviously you end up getting married, your husband ends up becoming a pastor at a, again, more strictly complementarian church, you're there for 14 years. So what happened? Why did you leave?

Beth Allison Barr: So when my husband and I got married and we started off our journey together, him at Southeastern with Paige Patterson and me at Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, very different worlds, it was really during that time that both of us began to think hard about women's roles. And my husband actually even turned in a paper at Southeastern arguing for women's ordination on the very practical ground that women couldn't get the tax breaks that men could while they were serving because they weren't ordained. So he actually argued for it on that very practical ground, still would be arguing that women shouldn't preach. But nonetheless, we were aware of this. And in my women's history classes, and I talk about this in the book, one of the main things I began to see was how similar Christian patriarchy looked to the rest of the world. And this bothered me. This really bothered me. I was like, " Why are we treating women no different from the way everybody else treats women." And we try to make it look better and look prettier, but is it really? And so I was asking myself those questions. And I was also watching Paige and Dorothy Patterson. And Paige and Dorothy Patterson never sat well with either me or my husband. The way they acted, they had a kingdom that they ruled, the rules that they put in place, I remember the flyers about the pastor's wives classes. It was always unsettling for us. However, it was still not a hill on which we were going to die. We believed in church, we still believe in church, we believed that there was really no perfect church. And when we began looking out, we were in these conservative circles, we are still very moderate in our theology. And so we felt comfortable in these conservative circles. And so when we got called by a church that we knew was complementarian, but we'd seen women very active in this church, we decided it wasn't a hill that we were going to die on. We were okay with this. We could support male headship and we would do that. So we signed on. And over our 14 years we were there, the landscape got grimmer for women. Women began to be pushed out of all of those roles that they had once played, women stopped praying in front of the church, even stopped leading worship for a while.

Patrick Miller: Was that a change in leadership?

Beth Allison Barr: It was a hardening and attitudes in leadership. So over the time we were there, the elders then did start to be changed, they started rotating in new elders. The pastor who was there was pretty new when we got there. And so was still following the way things had always been done. And then didn't really start changing things until after kind of he got his firm footing too, and started to feel confident. Although we actually found out years later that right before we got there, a woman had been ousted from teaching high school Sunday school. And we actually didn't know that story until years later. So it actually had started before we got there, but we didn't know it. So we finally got to the point, I described this in the book, we got to the point where it became a hill on which we were going to die because we saw the damage it was doing to women and we saw the damage it was doing to the gospel.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. As I read your story, I had a, well, I'll put it this way, I had a lot of cringing moments. And then over time, they changed from cringe just into sadness where I thought, oh my gosh, I can't believe this kind of thing is happening. And I agree those kinds of incredibly strict gender hierarchical environments, I do think can be incredibly spiritually damaging to women. And yet, as I was reading your book, again, I can imagine some complementarians reading it and think, yes, those kinds of complementarian churches, those are damaging, but that's a caricature of my own church's practice. So they would say hearing your examples that you just listed women not being able to teach high school boys. I mean, when you told that story, I thought, oh my gosh, here's a Baylor professor who can't teach high school. It's that outlandish, women not being able to pray in public or lead worship or even teach or preach in public. There's complementarian churches that allow all of those kinds of things to happen. And so I'm curious, you're obviously talking about your experience, but do you think that your book is deconstructing a particular kind of complementarianism or do you think it's deconstructing the whole thing? And if it's deconstructing the whole thing, do you think you've dealt with this steel man version of it, like, here's the best version of complementarianism out here and here's why I reject that?

Beth Allison Barr: So as a historian, one of the things that my perspective is the long view. So I'm very much, I'm a social historian by training, I'm concerned about ordinary people and ordinary people's religious experiences. That's what I study. And so one of the things that I pay attention to is continuity and change over time. And one of the things that you find is that there is always a spectrum. It's very rarely everybody's all this or all that. It's always a spectrum. And so when you think about structures and you think about harmful structures, let's think about racism. We think about there's really hard versions of racism, where black people will think about racism in America with chattel slavery. And so we think about that, that chattel slavery, when we think about the most horrific slave movies that we've seen or the books that we've read, that's a very harsh version of it. And then we think about maybe the most benign version of it. And the most benign version of it would be the houses where black people really were treated almost like family and they really were loved. And then the masters would leave them belongings and would free them and free their children do things like that. And so there's this broad spectrum here, but at the same time, within both of them, there is still an overarching attitude that black people are not the same as white people, that there is something about a black person that makes them always have to be in the subordinate role and that they never will have the intellectual capacity or the educational capacity or the leadership capacity to really become the master. I mean, they couldn't swap roles because of race. So I think about that with women in the church. On the one hand, yeah, there are some churches that you would walk into and you might not realize that there are limits on women. Whereas there are other churches where they segregate women, they're very concerned about women's clothing and purity culture. And they even have these conversations about whether or not women can go to college and live outside their father's homes. I don't know if you've seen some of those on chat boards.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, I have. That's what makes it feel so caricature- ish to me in this sense that I agree with your description of slavery and saying, look, slavery is slavery at the end of the day, where they're better and worse forms, sure. But let's not mince our words, slavery is slavery and it was immoral and Christians should have and many did obviously speak up against it. I think where I find the challenge in this particular issue is that, to use the example again of saying that a slave could not change places with a master, again, I think there's lots of complementarian churches that, one, do not hold that men should have a headship over all women, and two, and many of them holding the perspective that in marriages, command to submit to one another is above and ahead of anything in regards to both submission and sacrifice on the part of both, by the way, the male and the female relationship. So you wouldn't have them talking about saying, hey, your husband needs to be the one who's in charge of this relationship or that you need to be submitting to your husband and say, no, there's mutuality and you need to be mutual partners. And you'd find churches where you have women who are teaching classes, who are leading ministries, who are managing men, who are on the even executive boards of churches. The single thing that maybe you don't see would be women are not ordained there. But if you have a church that has a diversity of people using gifts and talents in different ways, that's a somewhat mitigated thing, but it's not that a man and a woman couldn't trade places. I mean, in every example, it's not about a man and a woman. The only exception I guess that you're trying to draw out is ordination. Although I would put the small caveat that by the way, it's not just men and women, there's lots of men who can't be ordained. So it's not a gender thing in that case.

Beth Allison Barr: My question for churches that really are almost functionally egalitarian, my question for them is why do they still put any limits on women? I mean, if you're going to allow women to lead, if you're going to allow women to preach, if you're going to women to sit on the executive board and to be an elder, what is the reasoning?

Patrick Miller: Maybe our church is a bizarre world because we allow women to preach. We've had women preach on stage. That's not our issue. At a church like ours, our only bar, again, would be ordination that we've chosen not to ordain women as pastors in the church. And again, I'm really not trying to dodge the question by pointing out that's not a male- female thing. Now yes, it's one of the qualifications that we have in there that you have to be a male, I agree with that. But to suggest that that means that all males can be pastors, obviously we would both disagree with that. But for me, it also comes down to maybe the element of saying that there's a difference between people expressing and using gifts that they're called to use and people holding offices. And that we can separate gifts in offices and churches somewhat. And once we separate those two things, do we mitigate some of the problems at least that you've brought up and I think rightfully so in your book?

Beth Allison Barr: So let me throw out maybe the historian here. One of the things that as a medieval historian, I can tell you when we started ordaining people, ordination is not something we find in the early church. Now we see the basis for it, what we would consider to be the basis for it. But ordination doesn't happen until the Central Middle Ages when we actually start-

Patrick Miller: I'm just trying to differentiate, are we talking about the right of ordination or are we talking about the office of elder in the church?

Beth Allison Barr: Well, I think both of them are actually sort of the same. I'm talking about the right of ordination. But when we talk about offices, it's historically murky too. If we look back in the early church and we think, okay, well, what are the offices that Paul is talking about here? What do we see? We see the role of apostle, we see the role of deacon and we see the role of teacher. And then we read Roman 16 and we see a woman as an apostle, we see a woman as a deacon, and we see women as teachers. And so it's out of those offices that we evolved the role of bishop and elder. Those were actually taken from the leftover Roman structure that the church adapted onto and grew forward. And then we adapt those back to our reading of what Paul is doing in scripture. So as a historian, I find it really hard because I'm like, everything has a history. And our history of offices has a history and they all derive from what we find in the New Testament. And we find women in all those roles.

Patrick Miller: So just out of curiosity, as the non- historian in the room who has much less education than you, I agree with everything you just said. It seems as though the positions you laid out, we can find examples. And again, that's why I want to affirm in every example you just said, yes, amen over and over, let's allow women to function in those positions. And I'm with you of the murkiness, is that an office? Is that a position? If it is an office, yes, absolutely. So I want to say yes, but obviously the argument that's out is that there is another office that Paul talks about in his pastoral epistles. And so I am curious, what do you do with the position of the elder, the presbyter? So how do we actually engage with that position because you left that one off your map?

Beth Allison Barr: What passage are you looking at?

Patrick Miller: Well, I think you could look at Titus 1: 5 when Paul says, " The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put into order what was left unfinished and appoint." And there we have the Greek word presbuteros or elders, as it's translated to most of our translations. He says, "That you might appoint elders in every town as I directed you." So this is a passage people would say, here's a very explicit example of Paul seemingly telling someone to actually appoint people into a specific office.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. So I do think that too, as I said, we've got to still put this in the context of what we see going on in the early church. One of the things that we certainly see going on in the early church is it still has a background of patriarchy. This is one of the concepts I really tried to draw out in The Making of Biblical Womanhood is that patriarchy is a human construct and it's with us, whether or not we're Christian. And part of it, it has always argued that in some way, there's something about women that makes them unable to lead in the same ways as men. That's sort of a basic component. Usually it has to do with their body, that women bodies are flawed. In the world that Paul lived in, women were considered to be, well, it depends, there was something wrong with their bodies. Women's bodies were not as good as men, they were weaker than men. And it made women flawed. From the Aristotelian point of view, women were actually imperfect men. And the only way that you could become perfect was for women to become more like men. So there's something wrong with women's bodies. So because of that, there is this overarching blanket of men are more likely to serve and to be in leadership positions because of the society in which they live. Yet at the same time, if we think about this role of presbyter or as it's called here, as you're using it here, this role seems to be very similar to what's going on with the apostles and the disciples as they are going out, because what we know from early church history is that it is the apostles that and these house church leaders who are then that Paul goes out on his missionary journey and he goes out and he builds these house churches, which we know are led by men and they are also led by women and not all of those women appear to be married, or at least their marriage partner doesn't play a role in the way Paul talks about them. So we do know that women are functioning in a way that we seem described here with maybe what a presbyter is doing. We also see that this role of apostle, we see this also being used to talk about a woman. So I'm not sure if those really are different roles. There's actually a lot of historical discussion about it. One of the things I think when we go to the Bible is we carry a lot of our own preconceptions to it. So my question would be, are we carrying that to the text? Is this really any different from house church leader, which is really what Paul's planting and sending people out to plant? I mean, we don't have a concept of a bishopric, we don't have a concept of a Pope. That's really late in the game. So what is he sending people out to start? He's sending them out to start house churches.

Patrick Miller: I'm having cognitive dissonance. And it's ironic that we're starting on what we disagree with, because I think we have a ocean of agreement and then some significant areas of disagreement. But on the whole, everything you just said, I have zero disagreement. I'm here you speak, I go, I don't disagree with any of that. Paul sent his letter to the Romans with Phoebe and she was the first person to ever teach and preach on it presumably. We know that the early house churches were often founded by and overseen by women like Lydia. And so everything you're saying, I'm totally on board for. And that's one reason why I believe we should have women at the highest levels of leadership. It does seem to me that conflating apostle, teacher and all those things with elders, again, there's questions of how many of those things are maybe giftings that people have, the ability to teach, the ability to be apostle, the ability to do those things. And again, the office question. And all this comes back to the pastoral epistles, because in the pastoral epistles, there's just no question. 1 Timothy 4: 14, Paul tells Timothy, " Don't neglect the gift that was given you through prophecy when the body of presbyters, elders laid their hands." So there does seem to be this sense of an office there. And then of course there's the passage and where Paul says what I think might be the most cringey verse in all of Paul about, just to be honest, I'm a millennial, I don't want it to be there with anyone else where he talks about men and women. And he suggests that on the one hand, all elders should be men or at least they should have wives. And I'm willing to say that in of itself doesn't close the book on this particular case. And then obviously on the other hand, the passage where he's talking about Adam and Eve and making some challenges about women teaching and having authority over men. Now let me this, I will be the first person to say that in my opinion, and it's a very humble opinion. The arguments on both sides of this exegetically, to me, neither one strikes me as a slam dunk. Like when I hear complementarians say I've got a slam dunk on why women shouldn't teach and preach or do anything, I go, " Well, you really don't have a slam dunk." But on the other side, there are some strong passages that are difficult to reinterpret to mean anything different than only men were ordained as elders. And I think that's been the rub for churches like our own that we're talking about that open up every possible door to women. And yet say this one thing we don't feel like we can open up because we are committed by scripture.

Beth Allison Barr: What I would say to that, and you are right. As I said, as a historian, you can see all sides of this sort of thing. I don't think all complementarians are abusers or something like that. They're very tolerant. However, I also have come to the points where I think we have to follow our theology to its ultimate conclusion. And that really helps us in deciding what seems to be the better course. I learned that from Lucy Peppiatt, she's a beautiful theologian and she's a systematic theologian. So what that means is that when she thinks about theological understanding, she follows them out, like, where does this take us? That's a question she always asks is where does this take us? So it seems to me that the hangup that I hear you describing is this idea that there is office and this office seems to be separate. And we seem to have these passages that shows we can all envision in our head when somebody goes down to the front and all the men come and lay their hands on them. That happened with my husband when he was ordained and I could see all that. And so we have this we're like, we don't see women in those passages. So my thought is let's step back and let's look back again at the early church and let's look at all of the people who are serving in the early church. And what we do see is that we do see women are part of all of those groups. The only part that we don't see women officially a part of are the 12 disciples. But at the same time, we also know that women follow Jesus as disciples and that Jesus treated them just like he treated those male disciples. So we're looking at this and we're like, " Are the 12 disciples, is that Jesus setting forth offices or is that patriarchy that Jesus is subverting by bringing in Mary and Martha? And so instead of looking at it from the perspective of these verses are setting out offices, what if we look at it from the perspective of what is going on historically and what we see women being put into in ways that are very subversive in this first century world? And so what are we to follow? Are we to follow these offices that historically are a little bit murky about exactly what they are? We like to make them more firm than they are, but they're not. We really don't see clear understanding of what they're until much later and the Eastern Orthodox Church interprets them in different ways than the Western church. There's a lot of interpretation going on there. Or are we going to look and see what is Jesus doing? And what is Paul doing? And they're both using women and appointing women and allowing women to teach, preach and lead.

Patrick Miller: I keep coming back to saying, I agree with everything you're saying right now. I don't know where to disagree. It's difficult for me, because we can go through passage by passage, we can talk about 1 Timothy 2: 12-14, and what Paul says there, I don't permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man. Now I have to deal with that passage. This is where I'm like, I'm always very honest because I'm willing to let women teach. And yet again, I will say, it seems like the authority is the aspect that's unique. But here's kind of where I come at from this. And again, I think it's funny we start with what we disagree with. I'm maybe to a fault willing to be honest that I don't think there's slam dunk arguments and we have to be faithful with what we see. You were bringing up a systematic theologian as an example. I'm a more of a biblical theologian, which to our audience, let me be clear, I'm not saying I believe in theology from the Bible. They're both from the Bible. What I'm saying is I think that theology is done best with the grain of the story of the Bible. And one of the things I do think we see in the grain of the story is when we go back to the Levitical priest in the tabernacle, it's this point where God is rebooting Eden, and he's saying, " Hey, what happened in Eden didn't work out, but I'm going to restart that with you here in Israel." And we see the priest playing the role of Adam in the garden in the presence of God. Now, obviously there were women in the garden and there's actually very good reason to believe that there were women who were involved inside of the tabernacle as well. But obviously we only have men who were playing kind of the proverbial role of Adam. And I do think that there's a case to be made that God as he's rebooting Eden in the kingdom within his church, there are times where just like not every Israelite, if you're from the tribe of Judah, sorry, you can't be a priest, from the tribe of Simeon, I'm sorry, you can't be a priest. There were exclusions to it. And what if someone from the tribe of Judah said, " I feel called to go and be inside of that tabernacle?" The answer is we're going to stone you. You're not allowed to do it. And it was by no means saying that the Levites were superior to other people. And that's what I see whenever I look at passengers like 1 Timothy 2 that I just mentioned that Paul's doing biblical theology, he's talking about Adam and Eve and what was happening in the garden. And then he goes straight from the garden to start talking about what's happening inside the church. I don't think is about male and female relationships. It's about how the church rearticulates this Eden story. And it seems like you could come to the conclusion, which I've obviously come to that maybe he wants men for whatever reason in this idea of retelling the story to play the role of the one who's supposed to in the church protect from the snake.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. And actually what I think you just articulated is the strongest arguments, much stronger than going to any of the Pauline passages on authority, because all of those have to be put within their historical context. And when we put them within their historical context, we quickly realize what's going on, Paul is either quoting the Roman world around him, or he is talking to a specific incidence. So they're all really easily understood within their historical context. So I actually don't think Paul provides any theological reason for why women could not preach, teacher, or lead. So I don't think Paul leads us there. I think the place that might lead us there best is what you just articulated, this image of the male priest. Now what is interesting about this is this is also one that Dorothy L. Sayers actually talks about. And it's interesting because she has this whole conversation with C. S. Lewis. And Dorothy L. Sayers was also an Oxford. She was a great writer. She hung out with C. S. Lewis and with Tolkien and with all of those Oxfordian folk. And C. S. Lewis tried to get her on board with supporting him in not allowing women to be ordained as priests. And Dorothy L. Sayers writes this really interesting response to him where she says, " I understand that because if we were going to write a play, which she wrote plays, she says, it makes sense to put a man in the body of the priest as Jesus." He was like, " That makes sense." She said, " However, at the same time, Jesus isn't just for men. If I think about who Jesus is and who Jesus represents, he represents humanity." And so she's like, " Theologically, I am not going to cast men in the role of Jesus because men don't represent Jesus." She said, " Jesus represents both women and men." And so on the one hand we do have this patriarchal underpinning in the Bible, which points towards Male leadership, just like a everybody else, but also at the same time, those men are always flawed. It doesn't ever work out well for them if you think about that. And at the same time, There is always this pushing backwards in the Bible where in fact, we even see this with Paul where he says, "Okay, yeah, sure. So maybe women were from Adam, but man is born of woman." And then he says, "And everything comes from God." And so, I mean, we see this, this happens over and over again. And we also see in the Old Testament, even though we have these men who are supposed to be leading in this priestly role, we also see women who are raised up who do pretty much the same thing as men that God also pulls up and uses. We see God put women in the lineage of Jesus in a very vivid way that they really shouldn't be in a patriarchal context. And then we also see in the whole creation story when God creates woman. I mean, he really, if you look at that story, there's no hierarchy in that story. Even Russell Moore admits there's no hierarchy in that story. The hierarchy comes after the fall, it's evidence of a broken world. And so my thought is why do we keep trying to emulate the brokenness instead of emulating the vision that Jesus put forth, that we are all one in Christ Jesus and we are all working towards the same goal.

Patrick Miller: Absolutely. Jesus does not just represent men, Jesus is not just for men and anyone who wants to say that doesn't understand who Jesus was or what he did. It's simply that fundamental. And yet I think we could say the same thing about Yahweh. Yahweh wasn't just for men nor did Yahweh just represent men. And yet we have a very clear example that we've been talking about the Levitical priesthood, not just being for men only, remember it's also only one tribe. So there's lots of distinctions that are present. So back to this idea of God telling a story, just like Dorothy L. Sayers said, if you're going to put someone into the role of Jesus, I suppose it makes sense to have it be a man, which is not to say that men are over women any more than Jesus being incarnate as a man says that, right?

Beth Allison Barr: Right.

Patrick Miller: So Leviticus back to that priesthood, there's an interesting law in Leviticus, which says that if a male has crushed testicles, he is not allowed to serve inside of the tabernacle. So you've got a Levitical man who cannot serve for the reason of his sex organs being crushed, unusable. And so there's this interesting question of why is this the one thing that God says if this is true of you, you can't serve in the tabernacle? And there have been commentators from Jay Sklar to Gordon Wenham who have made the argument that it's exactly what I'm saying, the tabernacle is supposed to be a garden of Eden. And so a male without functioning sex organs isn't a proper representation of Adam because Adam was called to be fruitful and to multiply, which is not to say that men who are fertile are better or superior or should oversee men who are infertile. And again, there does seem to be this train of a story. And so when I come in and I say, hey, to say that only men can be ordained is not to say some sort of hierarchical statement of men are better than women, men should have authority over women, men should teach, women shouldn't teach. I deny all of that being a part of what I'm communicating. Instead, what I want to say is God is telling a story and he's chosen in this story for this moment to have men play a particular role, which is very, very limited. It's a constellation of gifts and they won't be the only people who are exercising those gifts by any means.

Beth Allison Barr: So again, I'm going to pose a question here. First of all, does the Levitical priesthood have a parallel with the New Testament church? I mean, seriously, the curtain was torn.

Patrick Miller: But can I go Exodus 19 on you and say that, yes, if we're going to say the body of believers are a priest to the believers, we're all priests in this. I would go back to Exodus 19, which says that by the way, all of Israel is a kingdom of priests. And so Levi was a priesthood within a priesthood. So I do think that you could make the case that the analogy, and actually, if I remember correctly Peter, a quote from Exodus 19 around that passage as well, where he's talking about us being a priesthood, the analogies to Israelites, it's not to the Levitical priests.

Beth Allison Barr: Well, that's because Peter is also speaking, and we have to think about the context that they are speaking from. I mean, this is what they know, this is what they are trained in knowing. I mean, even Peter who is not very well educated, he still understands these Jewish teachings and these Jewish stories. So I do think on the one hand, we do see that reflection. It doesn't surprise me to see this emphasis on men and on the male priesthood in the Old Testament. But again, as I said, we also have this happening over and over again, it doesn't work well and God makes it clear that it doesn't work well. We even think about this with David and with the kings. The Israelites keep clamoring for a king and God's like, " You don't need a king. You don't need a king. You have me." Even with the priesthood, I mean sort of it's like, you don't need this, you have me. He finally gives into them, they get a king. It turns out really badly for them all. And so what is the lesson that we are looking for? Are we looking to continue copying a system that God tolerates, but keeps breaking and doesn't work out well for any of us? Or are we to emulate what Jesus when he came and tore that curtain in half and now we are all have accessible to Jesus? I mean, the priesthood of all believers. I mean, truly, this is a concept that we haven't really totally grasped what this means. They almost got it with the Reformation, but then they were like, " Oh no." I mean, the same arguments that you're bringing up. That's like, oh no, it can't mean that. We have to still put in the safeguards because surely women can't be that. And so they start putting it back in again, when at the same time we still see women standing up, God pulling them up, even in the Judges and putting women in these leadership roles where they perform really well. And they often perform better than many of the men around them. I mean, is God teaching us something with it? I mean, where are we looking for our lessons? Are we looking in our lessons for the systems that are broken? Or are we looking for our lessons in what the vision God keeps calling us to?

Patrick Miller: I think you're making an interesting argument. And I was about to say, if you're going to make the argument that you're making, you have to prove that the problem with the system was gender, that it was patriarchy, or it was the hierarchy. That was the functional problem that was being dealt with. And I'd say like you just brought up, there could be some cases where you might actually be able to make that particular case. And of course, you're going to have people going to counter cases. There's plenty of men who are upheld as righteous examples. And they are patriarchs like Job, like Josiah, like Abraham. Well, go ahead. Is there something else you wanted to add in there? Go for it.

Beth Allison Barr: If we think about what's the picture that God's giving us here? The picture is that in this ancient world, the best, the perfect people were the male bodies. So therefore, if anyone is going to be able to stand before God, it's going to be a male body and it has to be a perfect male body as close as we can get, which is why the crushed testicles, okay? But none of those male bodies cut it. The picture that God is giving us is that we can't do it, even our most perfect, perfect that we put forward isn't going to save us. Can't cut it. What cuts it is God, God is the only one who can save us. And God came in the body of a man, but he came through the body of a woman. And that lesson just keeps getting pushed to us over and over in the Bible that it's not one over the other, it's both in God. So where are lessons from, the imperfect priesthood that can't cut it or from the perfect God who emphasizes that both women and men are always called?

Patrick Miller: We'll be back to our episode really quick. Look, if you're enjoying the content in here, you want to sign up for our newsletter. We like to write little articles every week that are based on our podcast, but they really take one idea that we don't spend a lot of time talking about and expand them not to a super long article, but to an article you could read in 10 minutes and get a good little nugget out of that's going to help you think about what's happening in our world in a more Jesus- centered way. So make sure to go to choosetruthovertribe. com and subscribe to our newsletter.

Beth Allison Barr: Well, I'm hoping I'm pushing a little bit.

Patrick Miller: You are pushing. This is fun. Again, my goal for this interview was not to start where we disagreed, to start where we agreed. I guess here's the irony even of the debate that we're having right now, at least if you looked at a church or other churches like our own, from what you've said, you have issues that you'd want to address if I'm understanding you correctly. But you also seem to be saying, look, I can be charitable and acknowledge there's different ways of doing these things and while I have areas of disagreement, I might not choose to be in church like that. It seems like we have some common ground, whereas there's a whole long, big swath of complementarianism out there that I think both you and I would have some serious issues with and would want to reject and resist. And so my fear in having this debate is that we end up having a debate, especially with someone like me, who's going to be easy to topple into the egalitarian camp because I'm willing to give a ton of miles. If I was a hardcore complementarian, it'd be a very different conversation because they'd want to hammer down on some pastors. So I guess where I'd like to go is I would love to talk about some things we agree about and let you share some of what you wrote about in your book in particular. And I think you've nailed this on the head, by the way, you've said that for many people, instead of letting the original context of the New Testament inform our interpretation of the New Testament, we allow our current cultural context to control what we think the text is saying. Now, obviously this was written in the first century in a Greco- Roman culture. And so we need to read the text in their original context to understand what they said. So can you give some examples of passages in the New Testament that might be understood differently if we read them in light of their historical context?

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. Okay. Let's take Martha. Can we take Martha? She's really fun. So she only appears three times. And out of these three appearances of Martha, we have constructed this image of Martha sort of being this glorified domestic goddess. She's the one who runs the bed and breakfast that the apostle stay in and for Jesus and she cooks them dinner. And all of our images that we have of Mary and Martha, we have Martha busy in the kitchen cooking food or sweeping the floor, or even one picture with bed linens under her arm. Whereas Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus and just completely not doing any of these things that she's supposed to be doing.

Patrick Miller: We have turned Martha into Hestia.

Beth Allison Barr: Yes. Well, if we put Martha in her first century context, what we see here is we see a woman who is in charge of a household. She's a household head clearly. I mean, all of the evidence seems to point towards that, which means that she seems to be of some independent wealth. She is mentioned by her name, Martha. Mary is mentioned by her name, Mary. They are not mentioned in conjunction with their husbands. This is also something really interesting about the Bible is that it doesn't tie women to their husbands or fathers. If we look at ancient texts from the first century Greco- Roman world, it's really hard to find women who are not referred to by their husband's name or assumed under their husband's name. It's just really amazing how much we see women on their own in the Bible. That's something we miss because we are used to people calling us by name. Nobody goes around calling me the daughter of Crawford Allison and the wife of my husband of James Barr. Nobody goes around calling me that. They call me Beth. So this is a modern concept that we see appearing in the Bible where people are recognized for who they are, not what families they're a part of. This is really actually phenomenal even this. So we see Martha and she is called out by name and her house is the one that they come to. And so if we put this in the first century context, we have a wealthy woman who's head of her whole household, probably is in charge of whatever business that her family, the income, whatever her family is doing. There's a lot of historical speculation that she is actually, essentially, she's part of this Jesus movement and that she is involved in a ministry in Bethany that takes care of the poor. And that we know that there was sort of a community of poor and sick in Bethany. So the speculation is is that Mary and Martha were actually, they helped take care of this, they were part of this ministry. Martha would not have been cooking the food. She, first century context, she's a woman, it says that the meal was served in her home, Martha is not cooking it. She's a first, I mean, first century wealthy women didn't cook their own food. It would've been whatever servants they had, the slaves that they had in the household who would've been cooking and taking care of all of this stuff. What is the business Martha is doing? Martha is probably doing ministry business. She is probably checking the books and making sure people are at their jobs in the right way. She's performing the role of somebody running a household and a ministry from her home. That's the work that Martha is doing. And so we completely miss this because we come to this text with these preconceptions of the 1980s Christian housewife. And we read that unto Martha when it is nowhere in the text. We have carried all of that to the text. So that's one that we often don't think about. But when we really put Martha in that first century context, it is radically different than the way that we have portrayed her. And I would argue that we miss so much. I mean, just take Paul. Paul is a trained orator in the Greco- Roman world, he's educated. He intentionally lets people know how educated he is. This is part of the thing that makes him such a powerful force is that he uses his education, he uses what he has been trained to do. And he was trained in the Roman rhetorical style, in which what you do to make a case like any sort of lawyer or you can think about the standardized tests where children have to write five paragraphs to make their case. And Paul does this over and over again. And the standard is to call out what's going on and then say, but the Jesus way does it this way. And this is pretty much what Paul does over and over and over again.

Patrick Miller: Could you talk about the household codes while you're on that?

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah, sure. It is remarkable how we have fixated on the household codes.

Patrick Miller: Maybe explain what they are really quick for our audience.

Beth Allison Barr: The household codes, they come in several passages. Ephesians 5 is the most common one. It's the one that we read at all of our marriage ceremonies and probably a lot of us have memorized. And it essentially, it says wives submit to your husband as to the Lord. And it says, husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church, children obey your parents, slaves obey your masters. That's pretty much that's the household codes. And we see those repeated several times throughout the New Testament. These are a pretty common genre in the Greco- Roman world. In fact, Aristotle has his own household code. Essentially what the household code does is it says the household needs to be ordered for the good of the state. Okay. And this gets picked up again in the post Reformation world like in England and in France, we have all these conversations about the holy household. But a well- ordered household reflects a well- ordered state. In a well- ordered Greco- Roman household, the man is in charge, the husband, the father, he has the power of life and death over everybody in his household and everyone is supposed to submit to his authority, okay? All Greco- Roman household codes outside of the New Testament are written to men by men for men about men. Other people aren't really in the mix because they're not for them, they're not the ones in leadership. Let's take Paul who walks in to this Greco- Roman world in which he knows what is expected and we start having converts. Paul brings in the Gentiles. So he is no longer just speaking to a Jewish context. He is also speaking to this Gentile world. So it's not just Jews living in a Gentile world, but it is Gentiles from a Gentile world that Paul is trying to deal with and address. And the world that they know, the man is in charge of the household, has the power of life and death over the household. And Paul walks in and says, " Wait a minute, this is the world we have to live in this world, but we're going to do it the Jesus way." And in the Jesus way, he starts talking to women first. This is remarkable that he starts talking to women first. Then he even starts the whole thing by saying, usually it says everybody has to submit to the man. And he says, " No, no, no, no. We all submit to each other."

Patrick Miller: Yeah. And that was one of my moments in seminary. I had to do a paper on Ephesians 5 and we had to read it in Greek. And so I'm going through this passage that I've heard preached more times than I could count. And it had the message that you talked about, women submit, men sacrifice for your wives, which that's what I always heard, but I'm reading it. And in my Bible, there's a big gap between Ephesians 5: 21 and Ephesians 5: 22. So I'll just read it for our audience. Ephesians 5: 21 says, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. And then in verse 22, it says, wives submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord." Now actually in my Bible, there's a subheading between those two passages. So they were super separated. But what I discovered when I was reading it in Greek is that the verb in the sentence is actually in the first verse. So literally in Greek, it says, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and wives to your husbands. And if you know Greek, you know that you don't have to have a verb in every single sentence if the second sentence is borrowing the verb from the first sentence, that also tells you those two sentences are interconnected with one another. In other words, I realize, oh my gosh, this passages that I had separated is one passage. The clear command to all people is mutual submission. And then in the context of mutual submission, we get wives submit to your husbands, but the husbands have already been talked to in this context. And it made me realize that my Bible translation in this instance was in a real sense interpreting in a way which Paul could not have possibly intended it to mean.

Beth Allison Barr: That's exactly right. And it's what we carry to the text. We carry these things to the text. And when we read the household codes in the context of the Greco- Roman household codes, we see how really surprising they are. And they're like, okay, yes, patriarchy is the backdrop of them. But first of all, wives, yes, you submit to your husbands, but you submit to the Lord, this sort of thing. It actually is saying, it's not your husband, it's to the Lord. This is it. The Lord is over both of us. And then it also calls husbands instead of having the power of life and death over your wife, you give up your life for your wife. We've really made this servant leadership thing. We've almost, I mean, it really annoys me actually when people use this servant leadership thing in some ways, because we have so completely misunderstood it, we have watered it down significantly. We do not realize the power behind those words that Paul was saying. Paul was saying you do not have the power you think you have because we all submit to each other, and this is to the Lord. Your wive is actually doesn't owe allegiance to you. She owes it to the Lord. You get over yourself. That's what Paul is saying.

Patrick Miller: What does Paul mean whenever he says wives to your husbands, wives submit to your husbands? What do you think he had in mind for the women sitting in that church, here's my takeaway from listening to Paul's letter to us this morning?

Beth Allison Barr: I'm thinking he's telling wives that with their husbands, that they are called to sacrifice for the other people in their lives, that this is called. And you can even think about it in the first century world. These women in these churches do not have the power that men have. They simply don't. And so what Paul is saying is saying, " Yes, in this world in which you live, you have to submit to your husbands, but you realize that you've got God who is over them." And then he says, " And you also know that your husbands, they don't have the power in this world that they had in the Greco- Roman world." They are called to not only submit to you too, but they are also called to give up their lives for you. It would've been radical for those women to hear, especially if we pulled this and we put it in with like 1 Corinthians and we take it with 1 Corinthians 7, which talks about the marital debt that husbands owe their wives, marital debt, sex, but wives owe it to their husbands, but husbands owe it to their wives. And then he says, " Women, your bodies are your husbands, but your husband's bodies are yours." This is radical, this mutual sort of thing. This is not language women would've heard. And so I think women, we hear submit and we're like, " Oh, what does submit mean? blah, blah, blah." I don't know if those women would've even heard submit. What they would've heard is, oh my gosh, my husband is just like me in the eyes of God. I mean, it would've been the, I cannot even imagine.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. We're both called to submit.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah, that would've done. But because of the lens that we carry to the text, we hear hierarchy where there is no hierarchy.

Patrick Miller: And if I'm understanding you correctly, we hear hierarchy where hierarchy is actually actively being dismantled by Paul. And I remember talking to someone, this was years ago and she said to me, " I just don't know why Paul is so few words for women just submit to your husbands. I wish he had told me more." And as I started reading commentators exploring this view, I thought, well, Paul didn't have to say anything more because that was already in some sense expected of women to have a submissive attitude. And so what does he have to do? He has to turn the cannon, so to speak, and look at the men and say, " You think you're in charge? No, you follow the example of Jesus. We all submit to one another, we all sacrifice for one another. We all put the other's interest for our own." And he had to spend a long time doing it, because most of the men in that room are clenching their fist saying, " Hold on here. I didn't sign up for this." I want to ask you different question aside from this. I think one of the points that you make a great case for is that the church has oftentimes been more shaped by the culture than it has been by the Bible. And again, I couldn't agree more with you on that point, but then I always get this uneasy feeling that I know all generations do this. And so I can imagine someone looking at your position and saying, " Well, I think you've shaped by the spirit of the age, maybe not so much by the right, but you've been shaped by the left." And I'm curious how you would respond to that critique.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. That's actually what's really funny is that people keep trying to push me out of the evangelical camp because of where I stand on women. And it's so funny to me because historically, evangelicals used to women in ministry. And there it is. There's just that out there, you can try to deny it. But-

Patrick Miller: To be clear, we wouldn't say all evangelicals, but there was clearly a stream of evangelicalism that did support it.

Beth Allison Barr: Well, so here's my other beef with it is we try so hard to draw lines about what women can't do and to put them in these things. And if we look at history, women mostly just don't care about the limits that men put on them. If they feel really called to God, they just go serve. And I'm even thinking about the TGC review of my book, where he got fixated on Brigit, which I did call out that Brigit was accidentally ordained. But this is actually funny in the medieval text because Brigit didn't need the ordination. She's acting like a bishop. She does all the work of a bishop, everybody recognizes this. And then we have this funny story where this priest accidentally ordains her because he's drunk, but she doesn't need it.

Patrick Miller: I just I got to say, I love the Middle Ages, the stories in the church, it's like then my pastor was drunk and just accidentally ordained her. How does that happen?

Beth Allison Barr: It's hysterical. It is a funny story. Medieval people thought it was funny too. So the point of the story isn't that she's ordained. The point of the story is that her authority is already recognized in what she's doing and that everybody accepts it.

Patrick Miller: The irony for me hearing that, by the way, is that that sounds like my view.

Beth Allison Barr: What does ordination matter?

Patrick Miller: That is a fair, great question.

Beth Allison Barr: Why are we drawing lines when women are just doing the work of God? They're trying to push women out from doing this work. So instead what we do is we see women having to go around all these barriers to be able to do what God wants them to do. They end up often doing it anyway, but their journey is much harder. And it's like, what if we just let them do what God called them to do?

Patrick Miller: Yeah. And I agree with that. I want churches to do that.

Beth Allison Barr: And because I say that, people keep trying to push me out of my evangelical world. And I'm just like, " Y'all, you don't know me. You do not know how much my theology is probably very similar to your theology. You just can't accept that I could be at the place where I am and believe that God calls women and men to serve in the same ways." I mean, that's not conceived. So I would say, first of all, they're wrong about what shaped me, because I'm shaped more by conservative evangelicalism than I am by progressive evangelicalism. So their assumption about what's shaping me is wrong. The other thing is is that I, and this is one of the things I did in The Making of Biblical Womanhood is I came out full force with what my lens is, what my biases are. Funny that I got push back against that. But I'm very aware of what my bias is. And this is where I'm coming from. Most people don't admit their biases. What are our lenses that we're looking at the Bible with? So many people are deconstructing their faith and I'm like, " No, no, no. We're not deconstructing our faith. We are deconstructing the things we have added to faith."

Patrick Miller: It's funny again, as you're talking, it seems like the spirit you just laid out of not being too certain, of being open and honest about your biases, about what you bring to the table is something that we do not want. It's not just evangelical thing, it's a culture wide thing. People are totally unwilling to admit their presuppositions. And I loved what you said because it's great articulation. What we're trying to do in this podcast is we want to be a podcast where we can invite, you and I have disagreement, but I want to bring you on because I think you have some tremendous arguments and I want people to hear it. I very well might see Jesus and be wrong, or my mind could change in the future. I mean, who knows. But I love your spirit of saying let's lay out those presuppositions, let's not pretend like we have more certainty than we have and let's have open dialogues and let's not make it about who's and who's tribe. And now that I know who's tribe you're and I'm ready to kick you out and see you get decimated.

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. And so Scot McKnight has a whole thing too, thinking about tribal Christianity and how tribal Christianity has become. And we use that to not listen to people. In fact, I even posted, like I posted the other day on my Twitter, because I teach women's history and I posted a book that actually is a pretty moderate feminist history book. Just because I posted it, all of a sudden people assume, and I'm like, " Y'all in academia got to read all sorts of things. That's what we do." We read things that we don't agree with. And we think about what we can learn from them. And you can't be tribal and have that attitude.

Patrick Miller: If you can't read something that you disagree with, you have not been honest with yourself. There's no ability to go look in the mirror because, and this is my whole thing, even as we've talked, I've come to my position on this particular issue by reading arguments from people that disagreed with me and saying, " You know what? They're right. I'm wrong." And if my idea doesn't hold water to what they're saying, well, I need to change my idea, I need to change, especially in light of what scripture says. You were just bringing up a moment ago about deconstruction. And that was a question I actually wanted to ask you. There are a lot of people I'm thinking about podcasts like The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which I don't know if you've been listening to that. A lot of people have been listening to it. And there is just a tremendous history of hurt in the church, of spiritual damage that's been done. And as much as I want to say, we'll stop, I know that that's part of being in a human community, there is hurt, but we should resist it. We shouldn't be okay with it. And yet I know a lot of people who even reading books like your book or hearing podcasts like that are turning to deconstruction. And the end game seems to be leaving behind at best Orthodoxy and at worst Jesus all together. And so I'm just curious, what would you say to people who are in that camp who are reading your book? I know people who are reading your book and that's the route they're going down, what do you want to say to them?

Beth Allison Barr: Well, I will say one of the things that I've actually been really happy about with my book is how many people have said that it has brought them back to faith, that they've read it and because my faith comes through so clearly. And so they're like, " Maybe it's not God who's wrong. Maybe it was people who were wrong." And so I think maybe not just putting a plug for my book, but I think my book has been helpful for people who are feeling like the only option is to leave the faith because I so clearly have not left the faith. And I so clearly believe the problem isn't God, the problem is us. And so that's what I ask everyone who comes to me and says, "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. Look at all of this." This is all so horrible." And I'm like, " Where's the problem?" The problem is not with God. The problem is what we have done to God. It is how we have interpreted God, it is how we have used God. And so the problem is people. And people hurt and will do terrible things, but that's not God. In fact, the whole purpose of God coming was to save us from this. We are resurrection people. We have to believe in hope. And God hope is that there is a better way. And that's one of the things that even though I'm tolerant of complementarian, people who argue that because of the male body of Jesus equals a male priesthood and ordination, I can follow that train of thought. But at the end of the day, I'm going to say what it is teaching is that there is something about women that makes them less than men. And you can say all over that women are still just as good as men and that that's not teaching that at all. But if we look at the Old Testament world in which we had that male priesthood, they believed that women couldn't be in that world because there was something wrong with women and they treated women that way. So ultimately, where does our theology lead us? And if our theology says, there's something about women that makes them unable to do this type of leadership role, then that is teaching people that women, at least in some small way are less than men. And that's a dangerous idea. And even though not all people who believe that idea are going to end up being abusers and end up being like Mark Driscoll, that is where that theology comes from, small roots grow oak trees.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, they do. And one of the things I appreciated about your book too, is that you were very honest and aware about the fact that both complementarian and egalitarian churches, you can't just slap a label on it and know this is a good church or bad church. You're going to find abuse in all different places. And a little bit of my context, I became a Christian when I was 19. I've really only been in one church my whole life. And so I have very narrow sphere of what Christianity looks like, and I'm very willing to admit that. But it's funny, in my time at a church, I have been managed by women before. In my time at a church, I've been taught by women, I've been preached to by women. I still have a woman who is above me on an executive board. It's funny for me as I hear this as I thought, my experience in the church has not, now I'm not a woman, but has not communicated to me at least as a man that when I walk into a room with a room full of women, that I'm the one who's right. In fact in my own experience, I've sought quite a bit to bring in women into positions of leadership and other things and hear their voices because they've added tremendous, tremendous, tremendous amounts to ministry. And I love working alongside women. That's my context. And so it's just, again, I have cognitive dissonance when I hear these things and maybe we're some sort of bizarre anomaly. I agree with you on so much of what you're saying.

Beth Allison Barr: If you allow women to preach and to have that type of authority, part of me is just like, it's an artificial limit. So that would be my one response, but that's not for me to deal with. But this is where it really hit home for me was when we were responsible for teaching teenage boys and girls and I was looking at those young boys and what happens to them when we teach this theology and those young girls, when we teach them about church practice and they say, " Well, why can't women do this?" And we say, well, because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah essentially, and they walk away with women can't do this, men can, it's a difference of our sex, there's something about men that makes them able to do this and women not. It creates a hierarchy, even if it's a very small hierarchy. And those young men grow up and those young women grow up and some of them may end up in churches like yours where it doesn't really matter and in relationships that work really well, but others of them carry that theology to those harder places. That theology leads, it may lead to a different place, but it follows the same thread. So we don't know how our teachings are going to impact other people. And we are teaching that there is something that makes women less. So I'll stand on that hill.

Patrick Miller: You stand on the hill. I have a daughter and I don't want her to grow up with those lessons. And I could probably talk about how I think you resolve or absolve that. It might be by not emphasizing the fact that it's a men women thing. So I don't think it has to be emphasized most of my friends are not ordained. But I hear your point, and I do want to resist that within the church. And again, every church is going to handle that differently. This leads to, and maybe we've been going on for so long, but I've really enjoyed this conversation, it leads me to a different question that this is a very sincere wrestling. So remember, tossing out the ordination thing, at our church, women really can do anything. In fact, we have women who have much, much, much, much, much larger platforms, teaching platforms than pastors on our staff, which again, that probably makes us weird and unusual that we have pastors who have smaller platforms than women on staff. We have a podcast called Ten Minute Bible Talks that has a lot of people who download it. And one of our co- host is a woman here at the church who is a great Bible teacher. And we sought her out to come and be on this podcast with us and to teach the Bible with us. She's teaching men and women once a week, every week thousands of them. And again, we have plenty of pastors who don't have that exact same platform. So I hope my daughter grows up hearing Tanya. But one of the problems we have run up against, and maybe you'll say, well, it's because you're a complementarian church. Again, we don't even call ourselves a complementarian church, but I'm willing to let that sit here in this conversation is as you want to elevate women into leadership positions in your church, one of the challenges is finding people, women who want to do it. I want to minimize the distinction between men and women as much as humanly possible. I'm just willing to say like, that's a personal disposition thing I think. I really do want to minimize it. And yeah, I read these sociological studies that suggest that on average, men and women have different interests, on average, men and women choose different kinds of careers. I'm just curious. I know you've seen that research, I know that you have some sort of response to it, and it's from a very sincere wrestler.

Beth Allison Barr: It's the difference between and gender and sex. Gender is culturally constructed. Women are conditioned and taught because we live in a patriarchal society, especially women who grow up in conservative households, they are often conditioned to immediately default. Somebody says, " Oh, you'd be a good preacher." Oh, I'm not preaching, I'm teaching, very, very common female response. We know from a young age, we are taught that women shouldn't aspire to those types of things. We don't see women very often in our world who are behind the pulpit every Sunday as the primary preaching pastor.

Patrick Miller: But if you expand it outside of the church.

Beth Allison Barr: Let's think about evangelicals, there's that great Barna poll that Roxanne Stone wrote a really good article about that showed how evangelicals are the least comfortable demographic with women in leadership roles, where they have authority over men and women are less likely within those households to grow up to aspire to those types of positions, because we are conditioned that this isn't what we are called to do. Our primary calling, this is reiterated to women in complementarian circles over and over again, our primary calling is home and family and everything else is secondary to that. And so if you are calling me or you are wanting me to be a teacher at a church, and I have three small kids at home, if my primary calling is my responsibility to those children and my husband works full time and I don't, then in order for me to come and do that, I've got to put my kids in daycare, I've got to spend the expense on daycare. How much are you going to pay me to come and do this position? Oh, I have to do it for free. Okay. So I have to find a place to put my kids in daycare for this long to pay for it without getting paid for this job that I'm being asked to do in this church to spend all of this extra study time when my husband is gone all day and I don't have any extra support at home. No, I think I'll just wait and not do that job.

Patrick Miller: When I read some of this James Dobson stuff that you referenced or the John Piper, Wayne Grudem, I will never forget reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They create a list of what women can do and I'm laughing, it's not funny, where they suggest at one point that a woman shouldn't drive a bus with a man on it. Maybe to take this example away from the evangelical world, just again, this is a very sincere, I'm not trying to make a case. I'm just trying to understand. Jessica Olien, she writes for Slate magazine, but I Just want to read this little quote and then I'll let you respond. She said that she said, in the United States, the race for equality has gone mostly in one direction. Women want to shatter glass ceilings, reach the top spot in the hierarchy and earn the same respect and salaries that men do. But perhaps the situation is setting us up for a world in which none of us is having any fun. Now I'm not saying having fun is the goal of life, but that's what she's suggesting. After all, studies of female happiness in the US find that even as our options have increased and we have become financially more independent than in any previous time in our history, American women are as a whole not getting happier. If anything, the studies show that we are emotionally less well off than we were before. Wasn't the whole point of the fight for equality in the workplace to improve our wellbeing? Now, again, I hesitated to even bring this out, because I may come across like I'm making some sort of argument, like, let's go back to the 19th. That's not what I'm saying. I just think it's bringing up an interesting point for me that men and women seem again on average to have different interest. And what do we do with that in the church when we're trying to get women into leadership?

Beth Allison Barr: Yeah. Well, on the one hand, what it clearly shows if you go from that is that actually women would be better off as being pastors of churches because we're more relational than men and that we are better teachers through that relational. So if you actually follow it through that way, and that's actually an argument that female preachers made in the 19th century, they said we're better pastors because women are more relational. And because we are mothers, that we're actually better at this than men are. And that was actually bought by many evangelicals. They were like, " Oh yeah, let's let women, this is a women's thing to do, let them do this." So let's flip it on its head there and think about it that way.

Patrick Miller: Oh, I've thought that exact same thought. I've been like, well, yeah. My interest in pastoring is often around ideas and thing- oriented things. And so I'll actually totally agree at that point, but again, I'm just asking the question about what you brought up, which is, if women are saying I don't want to work, well, it might be because I can't get a paying job that allow me to put my kid at a daycare. It might be because you've told me that that's my most important job in my life, or here's a culture where neither of those things are being said and yet women are choosing to work less and they're choosing particular kinds of jobs more frequent. I'm just, that's the dissonance I'm walking in.

Beth Allison Barr: One of the reasons why women are not as happy is because they are wanting to do these things, but we live in a system that disadvantages women. It's very hard to be able to work full time when you are also trying to have children, we do not have good maternity leave, we do not have good areas that we can breastfeed, bring babies to work. All of that sort of stuff. Women would be a lot happier if we could actually do those things, if the world worked that enabled us to not have to do it all. No woman wants to do it all. They want to do what they are called to do and what they want to do. And that may be staying in the home or doing those sorts of things as I said. I don't have any problem with that. I want women to be able to do what they want to do and not have people tell them they can't do that because of their sex.

Patrick Miller: You and me both. That's why I think I don't want to get stuck in the mommy wars.

Beth Allison Barr: The other thing too, is that saying that women are called to preach, teach and lead just like men doesn't say that women aren't different from men. Now I would be careful with that. I think that one of the problems that we have done since really the early modern world is that we have focused on the difference of women and men rather than focusing on our sameness. We are both human. And so even if there are some maybe differences in careers or things like that that we would like to do, women and men are more different than they are alike. So that would be my first hesitation is that where's our focus on that? And I always try to bring it back to that we are human first, God created us male and female, he created us in the image of God. It's not two images of God. It's one image of God. So I would always redirect back to that focus. Could it be the problem with the way that we have structured jobs, where we separate these types of things and where we put hierarchy the more important jobs and the things on what men do and not as much on what women do? There are all those things, how are the jobs that women are doing? How are they perceived? What if we paid teachers the same salary that we paid coaches, especially football coaches in Texas? What if we paid elementary school teachers the same if we put the same equivalency on those two things? Where is our priority?

Patrick Miller: Yeah. And there's definitely a cost that you're drawing at. And it's living in a market economy where jobs and work are evaluated by measures that very rarely map onto actual social utility. And for me as a pastor, I kind of in the same boat of, I don't get paid buku bucks to be a pastor.

Beth Allison Barr: Oh, I totally know that. Yeah.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, you know. But that's fine. I don't take that as any evaluation of my job, doesn't limit the kinds of things. Like I said, my wife and I both work. And so we have to figure out how to put our kids into childcare. And does that affect our lifestyle? Absolutely. Gosh, I think the thing I've tried to wrestle with is I have a lot of people who come into any church, whether they're complementarian or not and it's like they come in with an abacus and they're going to just start ticking off, how many women do I see compared to men? And behind the scenes in my head, what I'm often thinking is that sounds really fair. The problem is you don't know the story of the four or five women. We asked to do that and tried to give everything that they could possibly need to do that. But they just said, " That's not what I want to do. I want to do something else with my life." Which is of course their free choice and their decision to make. And so I wonder whether it's complementarian or egalitarian, is there a way of evaluating empowerment of women in churches that is not related to just counting?

Beth Allison Barr: What I would ask myself is I would ask, why are women turning down these positions? I would go back to all those women and say, " What is it? Is it just because you really don't feel called to this or what else? What is behind this?"

Patrick Miller: Yeah, we do.

Beth Allison Barr: How have you structured these positions that women are turning them down? So that would be a big question because I've turned down a lot of things that I actually felt called to do that I felt like I'd be good at doing and that would, but I was just like, I can't do that. My life doesn't fit where I can add that in into it. It's like, well, what am I going to give up in order for me to do that? And I don't have any room to give up anything. So I'm not going to do it. So I would get behind that and say, " Well, have we created?" And I'm not wanting to call your church out, I'm just saying these are questions in general. It's like, why are certain types of people turning down roles? You could think about this with people of color, bring it into churches, and everybody's like, " Oh, well, we tried, we asked this person, we asked this person, we asked this person." And I'm like, " Well, why?" If no one's saying yes, I would get behind that and say, " What is going on that is creating a system where the type of people that we want in this role are turning it down?"

Patrick Miller: And so, okay, I'll bring in the advocates and say zero, maybe that's a red flag. But we ask a lot of those questions and ironically, we get a lot of the same answers. In fact, what I've discovered is the more we've emphasized some of these things, the less interested people seem to be. Now people do take those positions. So it's not as though it's never happening. That's not the picture I'm trying to paint. I do not want to become a gender essentialist and say, if you're a woman, you will want to do, actually for me and you want, there's always going to be outliers on both sides.

Beth Allison Barr: That's the other thing too, as a scholar looking at things is that you've got to put it all into perspective and the dean of the grad school here is a sociologist, and we have all sorts of interesting conversations because he asks things like sort of what you just asked there. And I'm like, " Usually there is something going on that you can help understand some of these things." What I do know historically is that we have seen a whole lot of women who have pushed against traditional gender norms. And there is a broad history of women who didn't want to do traditional gender norms. But then the other thing is gender is culturally constructed. So I don't know. I mean, it also is when you move work outside the home, it always makes it harder for women. If we could take children into the workplace or we could take work home, that helps a lot. And the other problem with women too, is that if they step out of the workforce because of their children, it's really hard for us to get back in or to get back in at a level where we left it at. And so there are real structural problems.

Patrick Miller: I think hearing some of those things, people could say, those avoidable structural problems or someone leaving and coming back. If I left my job for five years and then came back, it seems to me not quite reasonable to expect I could do at the same level. But again, I agree with everything that you're saying. And I hope that churches are actively creating, but something we, I lead our digital team. And so it's been fun for us because one of the beauties of digital is that it requires a less scheduled nature in many ways than in- person ministry often requires. And so it's allowed us to have women on our team who are able to not only not live in our city, but Zoom in and have their kid on the Zoom call, like their flexibilities. I do think technology is increasingly allowing churches and other organizations to embrace. And we're fighting hard for that. But I have so enjoyed this conversation with you. I love a good sparring back and forth. You've brought up some great points. I know everybody is going to walk away from this and I will be permanently discredited. They will say, " Yep, you were wrong." But that's not a shocker. You're never going to win in a debate with a medieval theology professor.

Beth Allison Barr: No, this was fun too. And I'm really appreciative that you're willing to grapple and consider. And it really sounds like you're doing an amazing thing at y'all's church. I actually would be very encouraged to be there. I mean, there's, I think y'all are anomalous.

Patrick Miller: Well, if you're ever in Columbia, Missouri, if you take a visit to the University of Missouri, you've got our number. You can come check us out. Hey, if you wouldn't mind, I love having our interviewers pray for our audience. If you just pray for people who are listening to this today.

Beth Allison Barr: I would love to pray for people listening to us. Yes. Dear God, I just praise you for this church that is grappling with these heart issues and I praise you for all of these listeners who are just trying to better understand your will and your will for all people. And I just thank you wherever our place is on women and ministry. God, I pray that you will give us compassion. I pray that you will give us ears to hear and eyes to see, and that you will allow us to listen more than we speak, God, and you will help us to always be governed by love so that we are not clinging symbols, but that we are truly representing the gospel of Jesus. And it is in the name of your son we pray, amen.

Patrick Miller: Amen. Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review and make sure it's at least five stars. Stop. No, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us. Okay. Okay. At the very least you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain. And if you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.


On this week's episode of Truth Over Tribe, Patrick talks with Beth Allison Barr. Dr. Barr is associate professor of history and associate dean of the Graduate School at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She specializes in medieval history, women's history, and church history. Today, the two discuss the role of women in the church, including a friendly debate where Dr. Barr shares her history expertise that supports her view. As a whole, this conversation promotes the types of discussions we hope to have inside and outside of this podcast: an open dialogue with a shared belief about Jesus's authority. Tune in now!

Today's Host

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Patrick Miller

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Keith Simon


Today's Guests

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Beth Allison Barr

|PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill