This week in the light of the recent supreme court Roe V. Wade overturn, I have had several people ask if the Torah really supports abortion. The answer is clearly no.
One of the most important parts about theology is making sure your views within the complete lens of scripture agree. This is partly why denominations exist. The theory is that a denominations theology and doctrinal positions should agree with each other. Unfortunately, they usually don’t agree causing even more problems behind denominational lines. For instance, if you interpret one place in the Bible such as Exodus 21:22-25 to say that life must begin at physical birth there are simply way too many verses to try to reconcile to fit this idea (see the partial list below.) Therefore, you have to go back and ask how else might the one verse that doesn’t seem to agree or fit with the rest may be misinterpreted or reinterpreted to fit within the understanding of the rest of the verses that so plainly seem to describe humanity beginning at conception.
Many pro-choice advocates (especially within traditional Judaism) have tried to use Exodus 21:22-25 to prove that the Bible (and specifically Torah) would not hold life before birth equal to life after. This unfortunately is based on terrible translations. I am most surprised by traditional Jewish sources that seem to advocate for this as when you read this text in Hebrew there is nearly zero grounds to understand the text that way.
The RSV is one translation that supports the pro-choice conclusion. If you follow my Youtube channel or many of my posts you will know that I typically do not prefer the RSV, it reads,
When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
There are some theological problems with the RSV interpretation. The RSV assumes that a “miscarriage” happens, and the fetus is born dead. The text doesn’t say that. The NIV does not assume that a miscarriage happened. The NIV translates the text like this:
If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life . . .
The difference is significant. The NIV implies the child is born alive. But when you read it in Hebrew, even using a good interlinear, you would even read it significantly more in this way. Remember when most of these translations were written, abortion wasn’t a debate or option. In many ways we are trying to read our modern view, or problems into an ancient text.
Consider this interlinear translation: And when men fight and strike a pregnant woman (‘ishah harah) and her children (yeladeyha) go forth (weyatse’u), and there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the husband of the woman may put upon him; and he shall give by the judges. But if there is injury, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
The phrase translated as “and the children go forth” the RSV translates this as a miscarriage while the NIV translates it as a premature live birth.
When looking at the Hebrew and perhaps the NIV translation you might consider the Hebrew verb for miscarry or lose by abortion or be bereaved of the fruit of the womb, namely, shakal. It is used in Exodus 23:26, “None shall miscarry (meshakelah) or be barren in your land.” But this word is NOT used here in Exodus 21:22-25. We have very specific words in Hebrew unlike English which only has a couple options. (For instance, in English we say worship, in Hebrew we have at least 7 specific words for types of worship.)
The Hebrew word for birth here is “go forth” (ytsa’). Nowhere else in the Bible or anywhere else in extra biblical sources does this word ever refer to a miscarriage or abortion. In other words, treating it this way is terrible theology and has no hermeneutical grounds. When it refers to a birth it refers to live children “going forth” or “coming out” from the womb. For example, Genesis 25:25, “And the first came out (wyetse’) red, all of him like a hairy robe; and they called his name Esau.” (See also v. 26 and Genesis 38:28-30.)
Furthermore, the common Hebrew word for miscarry is NOT used but a word is used that elsewhere does not mean miscarry but ordinary live birth. If the text meant to say or imply this, there are other words in the Bible that clearly mean this that would have been used such as (golem, Psalm 139:16) or nephel, Job 3:16; Psalm 58:8; Ecclesiastes 6:3).
Rather here, the ordinary word for children is used in Exodus 21:22 (yeladeyha). It regularly refers to children who are born. “Yeled only denotes a child, as a fully developed human being, and not the fruit of the womb before it has assumed a human form” (Keil and Delitzsch, Pentateuch, vol. 2, p. 135).
In other words, when you study the Hebrew, (even if you don’t know Hebrew but simply use and interlinear), there is no miscarriage in this text. The child is born pre-maturely and is protected with the mother. If the child is injured there is to be recompense as with the injury of the mother.
The RSV translation has caused some issues with modern world abortion problems, but when you read the Hebrew it comes off quite differently. As I also mentioned, we need to be very careful we don’t read our modern ideas into the ancient text. This would also be poor hermeneutics.
This said, the church could do better. We need to care for the marginalized much better. Love Grace and Mercy to all our neighbors.
-Dr. Will Ryan
ProLife Bible Verses
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. (Psalm 139:13,15)
“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27)
“Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3)
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name… And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength. (Isaiah 49:1,5)
“Be fertile and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)
“And Isaac besought the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and he heard him, and made Rebecca to conceive. But the children struggled in her womb…” (Genesis 25:21-22)
“In the womb he supplanted his brother, and as a man he contended with God.” (Hosea 12:3)
“But when Rebecca also had conceived at once of Isaac our father. For when the children were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil (that the purpose of God according to election might stand) . . .” (Romans 9:10-11)
Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalms 22:9-10)
“God… from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace” (St. Paul to the Galatians 1:15)
“They mingled with the nations and learned their works…They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, and they shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, desecrating the land with bloodshed” (Psalm 106:35, 37-38)
“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17)
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)
Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:12)
‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deuteronomy 27:25)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 )
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, Luke 8:1 NASB
Matt and I are preparing for a new in-depth multi-part upcoming series on the church. In preparation I have been posting in large part about the problem of modern western culture church, or at least what we have evolved church into. I have identified some issues with hierarchy instead of equality, hiring kings to run our churches instead of worshiping THE ONE king, and business models replacing the family within church politics. But there is another area that likely trumps all of these. Matt and I have touched on this many times in several different videos.
The primary message of Jesus was for all to leave the world and completely be immersed in His kingdom. This was his definition of a disciple. In my mind the main problem with the modern western church is that we have missed or forgotten the pre-emanate calling of Jesus and replaced that calling with a lot of things that don’t fit, and in many cases are actually the opposite of what Jesus asked us to do.
At the beginning of Luke 8 we get a picture of what Jesus wants for His disciples and how the church will come together. He uses the expression the “kingdom of God.” Matthew’s circumlocution is very similar, “king of heaven.” I want you to stop and consider something that you may have never thought of.
Jesus wasn’t preaching a good life, he wasn’t even necessarily preaching the salvation of the world, or the desire to give you miraculous powers and gifts; He didn’t even really seem to be to bent on getting you to heaven. Jesus simply invited people to experience His kingdom. Today the church has sadly wandered from this invitation.
The Old Testament set the picture for what the message of Jesus would bring. But we have gotten way off track. Roman Catholicism turned Christianity into a celebrity religion that isn’t in the Bible. Rather than realize this is wrong and not advocate it, the modern evangelical church has continued to attempt to turn Christian leaders into celebrity saints. The modern-day lead pastor has become the icon of a celebrity saint to be nearly worshipped as a god-king for all within the political church. This has come full circle back to the ancient problem of Genesis. Humankind wants to worship themself not God. I have written enough about this though, let me continue with how this affects the kingdom.
When you walk into any synagogue during any place in time you won’t find great people (celebrities of the faith) on display like you do at a catholic church. The Hebraic way of thinking was on the central message not those associated with bringing the message. To esteem them equal to the message would make them idols which God clearly warned about in the Torah. What mattered was the message not the messenger. This is why even Messianic Jews consider Jesus a bit different than our modern evangelical friends do. Jesus brought the message of His father’s Kingdom.
“The kingdom of heaven [of God] resembles a concept in rabbinic Judaism called tikkun ha-olam, which literally means ‘mending the world.’ When one enters (or joins) the kingdom of heaven, one becomes a partner with God in spreading redemption throughout a hurting world. That person goes out and feeds the hungry; clothes the naked; visits those who are in hospital and prison; prays for the sick and defends the rights of the orphan and widow. A person who has entered the kingdom of heaven gets involved in people’s lives. He or she pursues a lifestyle characterized by mending our world: where there is hatred, he or she bestows love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.”
I have for many years said that modern evangelical Christianity is bi-polar. If you came to Christ through a step plan of salvation like the Romans road, or a colorful bracelet that tells a story of PSA/ECT style “abusive” thinking your likely in need of therapy. Too many have tried to make this plan of salvation fit with the overall message of Jesus and it simply doesn’t. It’s cut up and re-arranged to fit an agenda. My main problem with presenting the plan of salvation (and hell) this way is that it frames God as worse than Hitler (in being the judge that chooses to send people to what sounds like a never-ending torture chamber rather than the author of love, grace and mercy. It’s simply trying to preach or promote a bi-polar version of Jesus or His message. It’s messed up, but that’s humankind, not God.
Christianity’s eschatological focus is on the afterlife. We have made Christianity a religion of death not life. What originally drew me into the Old Testament was the emphasis God gives in the Torah to live here and now, and the theological idea that God will reign on this earth. That was also the culminating message of Jesus. “Unto the least of these” is a kingdom attitude and that kingdom is here on earth.
When you study the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible, we find that there are 17 different terms that describe what evangelicals simply call the church, bur what we make out the church to be is closer to some concoction or pieced together potion than it is the picture that Jesus painted for us. The transition from the first century Hebraic minded church to the modern evangelical, dare I say Roman Catholic version of Jesus, has nearly destroyed the message Jesus preached and His kingdom. The fact that that ekklēsía doesn’t mean “church,” and brings imagery that isn’t biblical is just the beginning of our modern problem. Ekklēsía is but one of dozens of significant problems that is affected by our birth culture thinking. Faith, salvation, obedience, law, gospel, kingdom, sin, forgiveness, repentance, grace, and love need to be interpreted within the meaning of Jesus and His kingdom message, the meaning of God’s word in the lives of the men who heard them and what it meant in their context. We have evolved the church and its terms to mean things far different than what they meant when Jesus proclaimed them to His first century disciples.
Let’s get back on track with the central message of the scripture and Jesus, to be fervent disciples and proclaim His kingdom in all of life. Some of us need a total reset.
 Joseph Frankovic, The Kingdom of Heaven (HaKesher, Inc., 1998), pp. 31-32.
We have spent our lives trying to be good Christians that “go to church”. However, you would be hard pressed to find anything that looks like modern day American church anywhere in the pages of the Bible. It might even surprise you to know that the word “church” isn’t in the Bible. We have created the traditional concept of what we call church.
What about the texts where we literally read the word church in nearly all translations such as the infamous Matthew 16:18 in the NASB? “Upon the Rock I will build my church”? Or how about the beginning of Philemon when it clearly states the church as a home meeting? Let me better explain.
In the greek we usually see the word ekkelsia/ekklésia and in Hebrew the word typically translated as church is qehelah. But Jesus never used these words to describe the congregations of people that came to Him. One of my life Mantras has always been to try to figure out exactly what God desires of us. I have written books and countless articles on the subject; what are God’s ideals in our life? If we were to follow exactly what God is asking and Jesus’ calling to live as wholly devoted disciples what would it look like; specifically in this article what would the coming together of believers and the unity of the body best look like. Would it still resemble and Old Testament torah observant festival schedule or perhaps look like a more evolved version of family meetings in people’s houses? Or if the great commission is successful, would we naturally arrive at the concept of the great American mega church?
In the Old Testament we have Torah. Torah explains how the community of believers might live towards a life that points to holiness and purification and eventually to Jesus. There were 7 festivals that the family attended, 3 of which were pilgrimage large community meetings and then the idea of coming together as a family each sabbath to stay on track with what Yahweh desired of you. It was a great mosaic life picture to stay on track with God as a stop Gap until the Messiah would once and for all act as atonement for sin. But the Torah continually encouraged all of life to surround God.
In the New Testament we get similar pictures of keeping your family on track and functioning in one accord as the body of Christ. But what we have turned this act into, (what we refer to as church), is likely far from what Jesus was asking. Did his disciples regularly attend church as we know it? Was Jesus commissioning Peter to build the modern church brought to us by Catholicism?
We have all heard and probably studied that the word mostly translated as church in the Bible is is ekklēsía, an assembly, but you might find it interesting that this Greek word is more accurately described in Greek as a non-religious assembly. Consider its use in Acts 19:32 and other verses. So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. Acts 19:32 NASB It is described as an angry confused mob. Well that actually might be a pretty good definition for most people’s modern day church experiences ha ha.
When we read the word ekklēsía in Greek you find it starts with the Greek word kaléō which means to call or invite, which better translates to Hebrew as qārāʾwhich is the more common word for being called. In Hebrew religious assemblies were synagogues, but this carries a problem in the first century. Synagogues became associated with Greco-Roman pagan connections to the extent that most Jews stopped using the word to describe the place where Yahweh was met. In the Greek it specifically does not mean “a religious assembly.” Synagogue meant any religious assembly; it is used far more in first century literature to describe temples for Athena or Zeus than for Yahweh. As a result, the word synagogue just migrated into a Jewish term just like ekklesia, it wasn’t Jewish to begin with.
The reason the word ekklēsía is (rightly) used is because it meant “the called-out ones.” It is an invitation, particularly focused on God’s provision of salvation (which in Hebrew is better described as an exodus or rescue). To be part of the body that was summoned and invited by the sovereign God for the purpose of rescue from immediate danger. But Paul repeatedly uses the term such as in 1 Corinthians 1 to take on an exodus motif. There are several modern day Biblical scholars that have picked up on this such as Frank Viola and Francis Chan. Mark Nanos offers this:
“It is widely recognized that the first appearance of christianos postdate Paul and that he never refers to himself or anyone else by this term or its cognates.”
“ . . . the term ekklesia, from which the translation ‘church’ derived, has also come to represent something that is by definition distinguishable from ‘synagogue.’ . . . ekkelsia was a term that, if not also qualified as being specifically Christ-following, would naturally be understood to represent synagogue gatherings of Jews that were not assumed to be affiliated with Christ-followers: the ekklesia were not yet what ‘church’ came to represent. Thus it is anachronistic and unhelpful for understanding Paul in his own context to use the translation ‘church’ when reading and discussing Paul and his Jewish ‘assemblies.’”
What Mark, and most theologians will tell you is that church as we know it, was a religion of later gentiles, most probably the Roman Catholic Church. Paul and Jesus and the first century disciples didn’t practice this form of “church”.
Skip Moen suggests that as “This may seem bold, unsettling, even heretical. But it is heresy only if you accept the revised history of the Church. What actually happened is a matter of historical investigation. What the Church teaches is something quite different. So, who’s the heretic? Was Paul a Christian? The historical record strongly suggests that he was not, and neither were any of his compatriots. The historical record suggests that Paul never converted; he was always a Torah-observant Jew with a Jewish Messiah. The historical record recounts the creation of the Christian Church with a separate theology, Christology and ecclesiology in the mid-third and fourth centuries. So it’s time to correct the text and remove all those terms whose meaning was determined by men who never shared the faith of Paul or his Messiah.”
My problem with the great American church is that it is more worldly than it is Biblical. Didn’t Jesus preach the opposite?
Against Christianity by Peter Leithart is a penetrating examination of the difference between the post-modern view of the world and the biblical view. According to Leithart:
Modernity refers to the civilization of the West since about 1500. Culturally, modernity is characterized by “value pluralism,” which entails the privatization of religious institutions and religious claims. Every individual and every group chooses its own shared values, and civil society is the arena where those values enter into combat. Politically, modernity is shaped by “liberalism,” the political system dedicated to the one proposition that political systems must not be dedicated to one proposition.
Through its roots in the patristic period, Christianity in its more developed form is the Church’s adjustment of the gospel to modernity, and the Church’s consequent acceptance of the world’s definition of who we are and what we should be up to. Christianity is biblical religion disemboweled and emasculated by (voluntary) intellectualization and/or privatization.
Christianity is not merely haphazard embrace of the values and practices of the modern world. Worldliness in that sense has plagued the Church since Corinth and will be a temptation to the end of time. Christianity is institutionalized worldliness, worldliness accepted in principle, worldliness not at the margins but at the center, worldliness build into the foundation.
Some don’t like the term Christianity anymore and I can see why. It is unfortunate that the name so closely associated with Jesus has been perpetrated by the world to represent something near counter to what Jesus taught. Leithart picks up on this. Unfortunately, Christianity is tied to the systems of the world which is what Jesus routinely spoke against. Jesus wasn’t interested in joining any systems other than the His own, the kingdom of God. Jesus calls for radical discipleship, kingdom living, and challenges the message of this world and people’s allegiances to systems, structures, and ideologies.
Church as we know it has become much of what Jesus spoke against. It is big business with a worldwide, organized hierarchy that resembles pharisaical tradition more than anything.
Skip Moen makes another point that I have to completely agree with, “Just consider the almost universal acceptance of democracy as the proper political system of Christianity. Nothing in the biblical record supports this idea. Where did it come from? From the Greeks. The Church is not a democracy. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. But most Christians have accommodated to the state by accepting democracy as the correct political system.”
Jesus spoke of a radically different culture. It was family based with regular teaching and accountability to the body of and fellowship of believers (not the church leadership) in Him and only Him. It wasn’t about routine programming, or a schedule of events driven by what the world looks like. It was the opposite of that. Today Christians act more like Greeks following a pagan God in a pagan Temple than they do theocratic followers of the one king. Being a follower of Christ was never supposed to be aligned with being a morally upright member of a political nation. To Jesus that was described as having two masters and being a slave to something of the world. The central message of Jesus was to not conform to the world, yet this is exactly what modern American Church has done. We have built churches that look desirable to the world. Rock and roll light show events, cool Christianity, and events geared towards entertainment or prosperity over discipleship.
A BETTER VIEW
What is the answer, what is the solution? How do we get back to Jesus in one accord? Is there any room to migrate from the Torah or the New Testament Biblical model? If you want to follow God’s ideals I am afraid the unpopular answer to these questions is likely, “NO.” We were given similar models in both the Old and New Testaments and are simply asked to follow them, but in typical human fashion we think we can build a better model than what Jesus asks for. God offers a theocracy, man demands their own king, Jesus says he is the only king, we try to hire pastor kings, Jesus says leave the world on the beach and completely follow me, we want to enslave ourselves to the world for 40-50 hours a week with mortgages of enslavement up to our eyeballs. How is that God way?
In the Torah dedication to a holy God is the meaning and source of life. Nothing can take precedence over this. Everything about life itself pointed to life in Yahweh. You were surrounded by Him and the body of His people. In the first church we get the same idea. Your life existed to promote Jesus as king and deny the ways of the world.
Home church, church underground, whatever you might call it is a better picture than big business church. I like some of the aspects of American church. Perhaps some people come out of the world and find God at a traditional church first. I consider myself a missionary to the evangelical church in hopes of shepherding those that realize they are looking for a better picture of dedicated discipleship in Jesus.
The better goal of following Jesus is to live every day live as if your mission of holiness for your spiritual family was/is all you are concerned about. It is hard to imagine this calling in our American lives, in fact it would be a complete paradigm shift, totally radical. But guess what, it was the same thing in the first century. It was totally radical and completely counter cultural; yet the first century church embraced it. Today I think most evangelical Christians desire the world more than we desire Jesus.
How do we get there? Let me paint a picture.
Every day is completely, wholly given to Jesus and the calling to be a disciple and make a disciple by Jesus’ definition not the worlds
You don’t give your time, treasure, and talents to the world in any way, they are reserved solely for Jesus
You train up your kids as your primary responsibility and your core act of making disciples
You live intimately with Him and present deeper devotion to the king and His kingdom within your family and surround yourself with one accord of a body of believers that think the same way.
Don’t be immersed in the world, let the world find Jesus through you. Offer living water at each and every opportunity. You don’t need to drink the worlds water anymore.
Bring your gifts to and for the body each and every day
Meet regularly as a spiritual family communing with Jesus as a central strand of life together
Your best should be given to Jesus, everything points that way
Work repeatedly and regularly to present yourself completely devoted to Him (a living sacrifice) and your spiritual family of disciples
Get back to God’s ideals, perhaps 7 feasts for 7 days and each sabbath together; or perhaps that was just the beginning of what God wants. Eventually in a recreated heaven and earth we are going to be in fellowship not just 7×7 but completely. That should be the goal today too, not once a week, but wholly given in complete life pursuit. That is the thrust of the New Covenant disciple, not just a tithe, or a first fruit, but all in all the time.
What would it look like if your spiritual family lived this way. Can you imagine it? Could you survive in America? What if you had 10 families that made this commitment. Your gifts enabled housing out of debt. (pipedream, impossible? I think your limiting yourself and God) You shared what was “needed”; you provided for not only your own but the others. You all learned to live this way. I would actually venture to say that it is not only possible but is the ONLY Biblical model and is a recipe for amazing life in Jesus. You might conduct a business but it is surrounded together in Jesus. Maybe the Amish building houses together weren’t too far off from a New Testament picture of working together, they just got hung up on legalism along the way.
or the body is not one member, but many. 1 Corinthians 12:14 NASB
Modern church looks very different than New Testament church did. 2-3 times a year we have an EXPEDITION 44 range night loosely associated with the Hebrew calendar and based on a more Biblical style of worship (such as God instructed during the OT festivals) and the NT church continued. This year we have shifted the date to this Friday Night June 3 as Shavuot this year is recognized from Sunset Saturday June 4 until Monday Evening June 6.
But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost. 1 Corinthians 16:8 NASB
Pentecost or Shavuot? Most people have never stopped to consider this simple statement. Devout Jews calendar things different than the rest of the world. Everything is in reference to the OT calendar that God gave in the Torah, the Jewish sequence of Festivals. Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals from Exodus 34. It is 50 days after the start of Pesach (Lev 23) which is when the Torah was given on Sinai.
When you pause to consider Paul’s statement above, you probably go right to Acts 2 and pentecost. The crowd was gathered to celebrate Shavuot which is where the spirit chose to descend and give us the New Testament idea of Pentecost (which wouldn’t be widely celebrated by the church until 200 years after this was written.) Interesting that After Paul clearly becomes a “CHRISTIAN”, yet he is still celebrating the Shavuot. You see Paul (and Jesus) never abolished Torah or God’s ideals. In fact, Paul is always considering how to live as a set apart person only given to what God desires of him.
Just to be clear, Paul and Jesus were both clear that Christians not be legalistic in following tradition. The focus is that they both recognized that they needed to be immersed in God’s ideals and His world and not the ideals of the world. Jesus isn’t simply better, Jesus’ way is the ONLY way.
As we meet again at the EXPEDITION 44 Range worship nights this is and has always been our focus. Let’s get back to what God says is His way.
I Corinthians 12-14 give us framework for coming together under God’s Ideals. He starts out with, “For the body is not one member, but many.” 1 Corinthians 12:14 NASB
Most of us have heard the terminology of the church our entire lives; the church as the bride, one body, the people not the place, we are the church, or perhaps words of order, unity, or in one accord – but we don’t actually believe it or live it. Corinth was a rowdy mess. Yet Paul shepherds the shepherds. He teaches to be like Christ in mercy, grace, obedience, and love. He calls them to order, but by God’s definition to bring order to chaos from the beginning of time; not in the worldly mindset of hierarchy and/or superiority. Their order should be brought according to their gifts, what God designed them to present. He is also clear that anything outside of this form is or will be spiritually abusive. Jesus is the only Head of the church, everyone else is simply a member of the congregation. No one person is spiritually superior over the others. Elders shepherd (verb) those that shepherd. We are all called to shepherd. No one is to “rule over” another. As those of a priestly position in Christ we can only reign and rule in Him. Each member fulfills tasks that together represent the body of Christ through edification, instruction, and the presenting of at least the 22 gifts mentioned (which we pray for a double portion to be applied through God and get 44!) This is the Biblical definition of worship – 44- an expedition of complete lifelong worship.
This Friday night we are asking everyone to consider what they will bring to contribute. How is the Spirit (it is pentecost!!!) leading you to participate as the body? Will you bring food? Will you share a prophetic word? Will you bring edification or healing? Will you admonish with your lips? Will you testify? What has God given you to bring forth?
Too often we have been conditioned by the modern church to think that serving at church means we “work or toil” and aren’t actually part of the church worship “experience” when we are serving. We say things like we are going to serve at the first service and attend the second. Don’t get me started. Ha ha. We are asking for everyone to be “all in” this Friday night.
Let’s take a look at the verse above again, “For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:14). When Paul says “not one” he uses the greek word “ouk.” This is the strongest Greek word possible to mean NOT or negative. In the Bible there are 1634 uses of the word “not” and this is the strongest! Not one but many, “polla.” In other words, Paul is STRONGLY telling us we need to equally come before the Lord bearing what has been uniquely gifted to you to the body in one accord. It is coincidence that the spirit chose the day of Shavuot to “rain” down on us as we “reign” together in Christ and only in Him. You are tailored to bring a gift, and not just one, but many of different flavors, seasons, and descriptions continually. Throw off whatever has been holding you back (hierarchy, ideas of what serving should be, those looking down on you, youth, reprisal of silent encouragement/discouragement); bring what you have been given, and bring it to its best.
Shavuot in the OT was a shadow of what was to come in the Messiah. It was by the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Shavuot) that God inscribed his Law in their hearts. We are called to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and obey him in all areas of our life. From the inside out, he changes us into the likeness of Christ – equally contributing in one accord of the body. The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of adoption who witnesses to our spirit that we indeed have left the world and our past behind and instead now have a new identity as children of God (Romans 8:15).
I did 1000 pushups last Saturday to kickoff summer. Yep, that’s not a typo! Will has done 200 a day for over a year without missing a single day and Ty won the national guard push-up pull-up challenge last year. Kade and Reid are also right there with us! Our family does thousands of push-ups and pull ups every summer. It connects us as a family (and others that join us in our spiritual family in this pursuit); and builds confidence, camaraderie, and “challenge” to our relationships. A few days after I did 1000 one of my best friends (Phil) and his boys that have joined us in this pursuit over the past years decided he was going to match my challenge. I joined Him in the challenge and by 5:00 we had hit our 1000. Then we decided we could do more and by 8:00 we found ourselves spurring each other on to finish 1500 together. This is the kind of challenger that the Bible encourages each of us to be to one another.
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.” Hosea 2:16 NASB
Ishi – “For Hosea, at the core of Baal worship is the primitive idea that God rules the world by force, as husbands rule families in societies where power determines the structure of relationships. Against this, Hosea paints a quite different possibility, of a relationship between marriage partners built on love and mutual loyalty. God is not Baal, He-who-rules-by-force, but Ish, He-who-relates-in-love, the very word Adam used when he first saw Eve. The God to whom we speak in prayer is not the ultimate power but the ultimate person, the Other in whom I find myself.”
God isn’t a cosmic moral policeman, that is an unbiblical pagan idea that is the opposite of what God does and who He is. Jesus continually set the record straight and he deliberately changed the perceived hierarchy of master-slave to teacher-friend in John 15:15. Hierarchy in the church and spiritual family is the world not God.
Hosea 2:16 is a rare occurrence where the Hebrew word isn’t translated in English, we just read the Hebrew and it is intentional as the Hebrew slang. Ish(i) is a Hebrew word of exclaimed joy in the presence of another. It is also the Hebrew word for husband. In this way it is a contronym. It can mean an extreme of something one way or the other. It’s asking God to take your worst curse and turn it into your greatest joy. In a similar way, it can also be used as a slang word in Hebrew for acting childish. Women would roll their eyes an say iiiiish. That’s were we get that expression. The word challenger is also a Biblical contronym. A challenger can be someone that brings out the best in a person or one that reduces them.
Family, specifically marriage under God, (but also within the church family narrative) shouldn’t be based on power. In our spiritual family, push-ups represent the opposite of what they do to the world. They don’t show strength or a challenge to beat someone in our family; they show a challenge to encourage and promote each other. To help each other rise to what others think is impossible. It’s a continual picture (mosaic) of what God wants to do in us. To take us farther in Christ, spurring each other on to be better for the kingdom. In Christ our spiritual family is unified to bring out the best on each other. It’s the opposite of what the world defines as a “challenge;” and in the same way that God challenges opposite of what the world thinks. God isn’t continually policing us, He is continually “challenging” us to be better in Him, and asking us to be like Him in our relationship with others in His kingdom.
The Biblical idea of marriage within covenant relationship and the church as the bride of Christ isn’t based on power. Ish(i) (my spouse) is based on the excitement of finding myself challenged and edified, and admonished by the other person.
I am who I am because of who she/we are in Christ. I have learned a lot from boys. Every person has the ability to bring anyone else to a better place regardless of “status.”
Paul says the same thing when he speaks of mutual submission in marriage (Ephesians 5:21). Domination is not love. God is love and teaches us the opposite… to challenge or lead by edification and servant hood. Lead like Jesus as a backwards picture of what the world says leadership looks like.
Be a challenger today by Jesus’ definition and not the worlds. Challenge others to be more like Him.
 Jonathan Sacks, Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 84.
-Contrasting the New Testament church and the Modern American Church
There are several reasons why the church today, particularly in American doesn’t resemble the New Testament church, but the main reason stems from the top. Let’s start with the idea of the hierarchical Pastor and I’ll briefly touch on a couple other reasons that are also connected.
THE PROBLEM OF HEIRARCHY AND THE OFFICE OF THE PASTOR
The great American church has built a hierarchy within the body of Christ that never existed in the New Testament church. We have senior or lead pastors, administrative pastors, Associate Pastors, youth Pastors, worship pastors, and several others often described as pastors. These are all steps to get to the top as within any American business. Start as the youth pastor and maybe someday you will be a lead pastor. We have almost entirely replaced the giving of gifts by the body of Christ by simply accepting gifts from those we have been placed in positions within the hierarchy of the church. In the Old Testament we have shepherds that were associated with leaders of Men in various ways, but in the New Testament Jesus is the great shepherd. He becomes the only shepherd we are looking for in the same way that our bodies replace the temple as the place His Spirit resides. We aren’t looking for a new shepherd or a new Temple and to do so would be contrary to what Jesus asks of us.
From the first pages of the Bible, humankind was created with the intention to be set apart as a royal priesthood. That meant their job was originally to rule and reign, keeping and cultivating the sacred ways of the Lord God almighty devoted to intimate relationship with the father. The role of the royal priesthood is to bring the people of the world to the Lord and represent the Lord to the world as His ambassadors. All of this would be lost in the fall but will eventually be regained. The Bible is the story of that love plan to regain what was lost. Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 show the bookends, the plan humankind was made for. Everything else in the middle is the downward spiral of what is being claimed by the world in the Old Testament and then the beginning of the upward trajectory of the New Coevenant back to the Edenic like plan in the recreated heaven and earth near the end of Revelation.
The problem is that we get so off course in the middle. Things get far from the ideal plan or picture that God wants and designed for us. But our part as the royal priesthood is to be devoted to God’s ideal plans and not get taken away by the things of the world. The plan of the world and fallen principalities is to take what is holy and decimate and defile it. The greatest thing the devil ever accomplished was to convince the church that the worlds ways could be integrated into the modern church. The devil loves to mimic what is holy with what is unholy. This problem has set the course of the entire church body astray from the plan they were created for. The American Church today resembles a secular business model far more than it resembles the New Testament model church and more importantly, what Jesus asks of us.
One example of this “getting off course” is the way the world and specifically, the American church has turned the humble role of a servant shepherd into a lording worldly king. God’s ways were to use shepherds (those who cultivate) to humbly represent his kingdom in the Old Testament. The picture of this rule is backwards to what man’s idea of ruling looks like. The “backwards [leading] role of a shepherd” will begin to shape the way we think of servant leadership preparing the way for the Messiah. Jesus came and completely gave of himself in humility to the cross and asks us to be the church in the same way. Today the church looks more like “lord” in charge of a castle, an Old Testament king that led Israel away from the Lord, or a modern CEO. You might say most churches and their leadership look nothing like the model given to us in the New Testament of the body of Christ as the church.
In Israel, man wanted their own way and their own people to rule as a king and kingdom. This was a slap in the face to God. If we learn anything at all from the Old Testament and the story of wayward Israel, it should be that the course they chose to take was nearly the exact opposite direction that God had desired for them. The way Israel rejected God would foreshadow the way the world would reject Jesus. When Jesus comes onto the scene, those He had the most difficult time with were the ones that should have loved Him the most, the organized religious systems of His day. Thats because they claimed to represent His father’s name but were actually as far from His father’s ideals as they possibly could be. It was them that inevitably put Jesus on the cross. Today the church isn’t doing much better. We claim the name of Jesus but live nearly entirely by worldly standards. We hire “kings” to “rule” the church using worldly tactics which paints a picture not much different from what Israel chose to do; to replace God with a man and history has proven that this leads away from God not towards Him.
The church didn’t have a singular leader until at least A.D. 120 when Rome decided they should. Unfortunately, the government wanted a say in religion. Up until the 3rd century, churches shared a family atmosphere with more shared responsibilities and no singular leadership. Both Justin (A.D. 155) and Tertullian (c. A.D. 200) refer to the leader of a Sunday meeting as “the president” which during this period was defined as “whoever happens to be presiding at the meeting.”
As churches grew in size, Rome decided they should be ruled by a bishop who would be called from the nearest large city and would serve as overseer of the whole area. Overseers with this kind of territory were called metropolitans. By the time of the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the bishop of Alexandria ruled over all of Egypt and the Roman overseer over an undisclosed area. This marked the end of the first century Christ ordained New Testament model church. This also paved the way for the “modern” hierarchy of pastoral leadership.
PASTOR ISN’T A POSITION OF THE NT CHURCH
I am sure this will come as a surprise to many readers, but the word “pastor” doesn’t exist in the New Testament and arguably in the entire Bible. We get close once and that is in Ephesians 4:11-12. You might notice that when you carefully read this that it is in the plural, might seem like splitting hairs but technically it is a different word. The “S” is important.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. (Eph 4:11-12)
When I read this verse (particularly in Greek), my eyebrow raises. Notice there is a pattern that hinges around τοὺς. It’s the article, the “the.” In Greek this better reads, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor, teacher.” The article is not present before the teacher. Instead, it’s καὶ, which is “and.” Pastor, teacher. Harold Hoehner says this pattern “is to mark out distinctly different gifted people without implying a contrast as it would have in earlier Greek” (Ephesians, 2002). Hoerner also argues that Paul is not listing offices, but gifts. The context of Ephesians 4 is the gifting of the church; the entire section is talking about the gifts of the church not the positions of the church. When you read it this way, pastor because an adjective that describes the gift of teaching. The word we think of as the role of pastor (shepherd) isn’t a position in the new Testament, the only shepherd needed is Jesus. Every believer is asked to take on the person of Jesus and the term shepherd is the adjective that describes what our lives look like when we best reflect him; we become images of the great shepherd.
When most people use the term pastor (that specifically isn’t anywhere in the Bible) they are referring to the Biblical word shepherd. The Greek word for shepherd (poimén) occurs less than 20 times in the Bible and takes on an Old Testament meaning. In the book of Luke the term referred to those literal Old Testamant “shepherds” who visit Jesus at birth, but in every other gospel as well as Hebrews and 1 Peter the term shepherd always means Jesus. Matthew 9 shows Christ as a compassionate shepherd, John 10 identifies Jesus laying down his life like a good shepherd. At the end of John we see Jesus challenging Peter three times to prove his Love. Many see this as Jesus commissioning Peter to lead the church but this is problematic. The text never suggests this. Jesus asks him to affirm three times that he will tend His sheep. Three is a number of completeness. Jesus regularly asks the disciples to be all in, that was His definition to the core of discipleship. Jesus is shrewdly asking Peter to be “all in” as He follows and models Jesus (after His betrayal showed otherwise). He became an intricate part of the first church but not as the main leader or pope or lead pastor. He was simply a disciple asked to model Jesus who along with the rest of the disciples followed through in the commissioning by Jesus.
Paul describing the gifts to be given to the church and in the same way describes a function not a position. This is a good time to mention that there are 22 gifts mentioned here (not just the famous 5 you might here regularly preached as the five fold ministry of the church.) This is also one of the meanings of expedition 44. There are 22 gifts and we pray for a double portion of blessing over them giving us a metaphorical 44. It is also worth noting that the gifts are gender neutral and come with no qualifications.
There is a calling to model Jesus to every believer to “shepherd” those entrusted to them as disciples. That is the Jesus model. To be a disciple and lead others by “shepherding” them to also live by the definition of discipleship according to Jesus. In this sense, shepherding is a description of how we disciple. In a similar way in Acts 20 Paul exhorts elders to watch over themselves and the flock as a shepherd would, but the reference goes back to Jesus. Jesus is the shepherd that is over the church, the elder is simply functioning as one who takes on the example of Jesus in their mentoring roles. I Peter 5 carries the same notion.
In the Ancient Near East shepherds led their sheep to pasture and water and away from harm. They carried the weak and wounded, the sought out the lost and hurting. And when needed, they made the sacrifices for the sake of the sheep. Most Old Testament shepherds WOULD NOT have given their life for a sheep. That kind of thinking was crazy in context. Why would a human give his life for a simple sheep? But this thought gave way to the backward kingdom that Jesus would take on. In this way Elders take on the physical function of what Jesus does as the great shepherd for his Sheep. Why would the almighty God give Himself for meer man, it is crazy backwards of what the world says makes sense. Jesus was setting the record straight. The original function of the humble shepherd was to be a complete instrument of God in physical form on earth. It wasn’t a function of God but rather what God does in and of Himself through humankind functioning as the body of Christ.
It is interesting that the prophet Ezekiel also referred to the political rulers of Israel as bad “shepherds,” and declared that God would take the flock away from them and tend the sheep himself in Ezekiel 34:1-16. Eventually this is Jesus.
The gifts are given to edify the body. Elders were raised up from the church and not imported as missionaries. There is also no reason to believe in the Bible that they were ever supported monetarily. Missionaries were supported minimally to start churches. The Old Testament used the term shepherd that people would have understood the function of as a shadow of the great shepherd Jesus within a counter cultural context of humility to the cross. To take on the term shepherd is actually a form of idolatry, it implies we are “the God.” It also should carry a bad Old Testament connotation; it was a term for the king of Israel that drew people away from God. No one would walk around and say they are “the king” because they are modeling the king (Jesus). That would sound insane! Yet that is what we do when we say we are the shepherd of the church. There is only one king and one shepherd of the New Covenant Church and that is Jesus. You can and should “shepherd” but to call yourself “a” or “the” shepherd is a slap in the face to Jesus. You’re not the king of any castle in the kingdom of Jesus and you’re not the shepherd. You are part of the royal kingdom, and the spiritual great shepherd, but to claim you are the shepherd or the king is idolatry and treason to the only king and shepherd.
Elder and shepherd are two different words in the Bible. They aren’t synonymous, if they were they would be the same word. This is simple hermeneutics. Elders had strict qualifications and were literally “older men.” To be clear an Elder shepherded in the same way as others functioned as shepherds, but likely shepherded the shepherds. They had the experience to model Christ better.
It isn’t simply ironic that the Greek word translated as Elder, presbyteros means exactly that in every extra Biblical and Biblical source of the first century! It literally means older person. We often try to make a position out of the text that would never have been considered that way in the first century church. Those that took responsibility over the house churches and met the Biblical qualifications of purity (and likely had invested the time to be discipled) were given the responsibility to shepherd/mentor those individual house churches. James 5:14 and I Tim 5:17 and every other passage I have ever studied reads this way.
There is an argument here for a “position” of Elder, but notice the text never actually tells us that it is a position. If that was the intention, wouldn’t the Bible be more clear about something so important as the leadership of the church? Personally I don’t think that is the best interpretation. But it’s worth noting. Jesus is the only king and shepherd but never makes claim to be the “ONLY” elder of the church. Some churches make the Biblical word Elder into an office and as it may not be the exact intention of the text, but it is permissible in my opinion. The problem is it continues to create hierarchy in the church that I see as not being the Biblical model. It is better to simply interpret elder to mean an older person who if meets the qualifications shepherds those who shepherd. In other words, not all older people will shepherd the shepherds, but those older people who meet the qualifications will and should. This is set apart (priestly) thinking, not hierarchical thinking. In the Old Testament the original plan was for everyone to be priests, but as a result of fall only some elders functioned this way. In the New Testament Jesus realigns our trajectory to get back to the original ideal that we will all be priests; but there are still effects of the fall being reclaimed. As time goes on we should be getting closer to the picture of the edenic ideals. Logically their should be more functioning set apart elders today that in the first century church.
MATURITY & HUMILITY
The Bible is in complete harmony. Thats a basic tenet within theology. The Bible agrees and if there are instances where it doesn’t seem to then we have to figure out the interpretation that matches the rest of the Bible. Some will argue the above that there seems to be situations of hierarchy in the Bible.
Disciples are commissioned. Commissioned is defined as the authority granted to a person or organization to act as an agent for another. A military definition of commissioned is an appointment to the rank of officer in the armed forces, or a document conferring such a rank. Paul uses this term in 2 Corinthians 2:17 to describe his work on behalf of Christ. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (ESV). When Jesus commissions the 12 it is to be disciples and make disciples.
Paul Planted churches and planned to return later to establish Elders for those that displayed the qualities.
Only Christ can truly commission us. Paul claimed that his ultimate authority did not come from humans but directly from Christ’s revelation to him: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Gal. 1:11-12).
However, Paul also mentions a second trip to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-2 that infers submission to the local church body and likely those functioning as elders:
“Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
In this second visit, Paul mentions that he explicitly brought his gospel before the Jerusalem apostles (Peter, James, and John). He indicates that he had a fear “that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
Interestingly, the apostles respond:
“And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised,” (Gal. 2:9).
There are a few things to note. Peter, James, and John were the original apostles. We don’t have those anymore! Do we interpret their authority as elders in a local church or as original apostles? Perhaps the original apostles had some kind of hierarchy within the church as they were directly commissioned by Jesus, but even then, the model was to follow that of Jesus who was the greatest display of humility the world has ever known.
Paul was mentored for 14 years. Elders should lead humbly and in balance with other elders. Elders should display the fruit they have bore in Christ.
The Bible seems to indicate that the qualifications of an Elder be apparent over an extended course of time in one’s life. It is interesting to dig into the church in Jerusalem and find out that they didn’t have elders for at least 14 years after the church started. It naturally took that long before they had men and women that would rise into these qualified functioning members of the body. There is also a pattern to be learned here. 14 is the number 7 doubled (double portion thinking again and ironically also is a number that with 3, symbolizes a whole or completeness). When we study the life of Paul and most of the New Testament teachers this seems to be a number that comes to head often in terms of years in training. There is a Biblical example for those that lead as elders to be trained for what seems to be at least 14 years.
Everything we read about the qualifications of elders would point to someone who models Jesus and since Jesus’ perhaps primary attribute was humility, that seems to play a primary role in the choosing of Elders. Shepherds that shepherd the shepherds should abound in fruit displayed in their lives, and more than anyone lead out of humility. The problem we run into today isn’t really elders leading out of hierarchy, but usually stems from a lack of elders leading from humble life experience through complete devotion to the Lord.
Today as I lead the Biblical Studies Department at Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS), we have identified that the Biblical pattern for those functioning as set apart elders within the local church comes with many years of training as a dedicated disciples devoted to the Word and calling. It also isn’t ironic that in the Ancient Near East 14 was usually the age that the flock would be entrusted to a young shepherd. At CTS we have identified 14 years as the number that it likely takes someone who is “all in” in their ministry and to complete a doctoral degree. As I have suggested elsewhere repeatedly, a doctoral seminary degree is the closest thing we have today to signify the commitment level of the first century rabbi or elder.
TERMINOLOGY OF A SHEPHERD ELDER
Shepherd is a borrowed ancient Old Testament term that referred to a lowly position. Many churches want to apply the metaphorical spiritual role of the Old Testament shepherd to the New Testament Pastor. The problem (as I have explained) is the only time we read the term “pastors” in the New Testament it is a verb not a noun. It is the “pastoring” of communal body not a position.
In secular classical Greek (Homer, Plato, Socrates etc…) the term shepherd/pastor meant leaders, rulers, and military commanders. In the Ugaritic text of the Babylonians we find the term shepherd/pastor meant a divinity that ruled in most cases. The Old Testament also uses this term the same way when talking about the idolatry and corruption of the rulers of the day referring to them as shepherd/pastors in Jeremiah 25:34-38.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation. (Rom. 12:6-7)
The church has attempted to use the word pastor, shepherd, elder and overseer interchangeably and as a position and it has caused a lot of issues in the modern church that simply aren’t in the Biblical model of the verb that describes how Jesus uses a believer to guide another believer into closer relationship to Him.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered… (Titus 1:5-7 NASB)
From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time… Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Act 20:17-18, 28 NASB)
Notice Elders aren’t called shepherds or pastors interchangeably in these texts, so why would we use the terms like that today? This is really important. If you’re going to use the term pastor today, it should be used as a verb. “To pastor” was “to shepherd” the people of God and could be done by those with this gift “at any time and as the occasion warranted” it never represented a position of hierarchy of rulers in the church that acted like kings, lords, or CEO’s. In 1 Tim 3 we have qualifications for local elders but not for pastors or shepherds because it wasn’t intended to be a position but rather a function of the church. Elders were entrusted to shepherd, but it wasn’t limited to simply Elders, the Elders simply shepherded the body of Christ who were also shepherding others at various stages. They were those identified as living a set apart life as demonstrated by their qualifications and entrusted to shepherd the shepherds.
Every disciple should have their group of disciples that they are shepherding.
The great command is to make disciples, and many people within the body and within different stages of their faith relationship with Christ can fulfill the great commission. This isn’t just for the Elders of the church but is intended for every functioning person in the body of the church. A disciple by Jesus’ definition was one that checked everything of the world at the door (actually the beach) and completely followed the way of their Lord. They fulfilled the function of shepherds and a royal priesthood each and every day. A shepherd in the Near East was responsible for watching out for enemies trying to attack the sheep, defending the sheep from attackers, healing the wounded and sick sheep, finding and saving lost or trapped sheep, loving them, and sharing their lives and to earn their trust. (Blue Letter Bible) This is the context of the shepherded within the Old Testament Narrative and when it is applied in the New Testament it needs to be interpreted the same way. We have no grounds Biblically to interpret it any other way or imply a different title, role, or office to the function or gifting of the original term.
One of the problems we have in today’s modern church is that we have very few people that meet Jesus’ definition of a disciple let alone that of a Biblical elder. We have churches full of fans and followers but not disciples and elders. In John 6 Jesus explains to the thousands of fans and followers what He defines a disciple as. This was counter cultural to the world’s definition of a disciple. The thousands exclaimed that this was a hard teaching and then walked away. When Jesus went to the cross, the Bible indicates that from the thousands who “followed” him only about 70 would be counted as disciples. Those disciples would eventually become the first “elders” of the New Testament church, but they weren’t the only disciples or one’s “shepherding” within the church. The only singular lead shepherd is Jesus, but we are all instruments that can be used to shepherd as Christ is in us and working through us.
ELDER RUN CHURCH
Should elders lead or run the church? Something tells me if you’re asking the question this way, you’re asking the wrong question. The body should function as one accord, and that symphony is Jesus. If you’re not looking to Jesus, you’re looking to the wrong place. Id this possible in American church? It is sad that today we think we need someone to lead us other than Jesus. Shouldn’t Jesus be enough?
A few other problems that come with the hierarchy pastor problem
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll come back to where I started. The king or ruler (which is often translated as a job or office of the shepherd/pastor) was man’s way not God’s. God established a theocracy, but man’s way was a king and earthly kingdom. 1 Samuel 8:7-22 makes this really clear. Kings led the people away from God, which was the exact opposite of what the original plan for the royal priesthood of believers was to do. It was those that were supposed to represent God who were leading the people even further away from God. Today I regrettably say that the American church is likely guilty of the same thing. Jesus wanted complete commitment to Him and His kingdom, there isn’t room for another “leader” (king – shepherd) other than Jesus.
The American church seems to enable people to continue to be in the world and encourages them to prosper by worldly standards to bring the money back to pay the pastors salaries and large debt on church buildings and structures needed to fund the unbiblical American business of “church.” We never see this model or anything close to it in the New Testament church. There aren’t salaries to fund the hierarchy of “pastors”, there aren’t elaborate buildings, and the messages are never directed towards anything other than Jesus’ message of becoming a disciple and bringing others to that place, which usually meant getting rid of your possessions of the world and just focusing on things of Jesus’ kingdom.
There are other issues besides the Pastor Leader in the modern church. Here are a few other issues:
A SPECTATOR EVENT
What we have in the great American Modern-Day church is man’s visions over Gods. Our pastors preach “at people” rather than teach face to face interactions as walking together communally as Jesus encouraged. We don’t ask the body to bring their gifts to be used, we ask the singular pastor to bring his gift to an event for show and tell. If we are lucky, we get to experience a few peoples “giftings” to set up the promotion of the main event. That sounds more like what the Roman Catholic church designed than what God asked of the New Testament body of Christ. It was never about singular events; it was about the community of those who were like minded in their complete pursuit of Jesus as the only definition to life. Worship, teaching, and accountability were simply natural proponents of regular life in Jesus.
The story of Israel showed us that when kings replaced God, they became corrupt and led the people away from God. That seems to be a great picture of the American church today. We use the name of Jesus to take people farther from what Jesus taught rather than closer. We convince people that coming to the modern temple building is what satisfies Jesus. Even just saying it this way sounds so messed up.
We are the temple of the Lord. Creating any other “temples” for God to be worshipped in is contrary to what He asks of us. Perhaps we need a roof over our heads, or enclosed walls so that we can experience God in more worshipful ways, (I can’t imagine meeting in Wisconsin in the brutal cold winters for hours on end.) In the New Testament we get the picture that they met in larger homes. I think there is a Biblical argument for believers to meet in this way but perhaps that means in smaller groups and homes. I don’t see the multimillion-dollar arguments to build New Testaments temples. When Jesus preached to large crowds it was open air and usually on a mountain podium.
To put this in perspective, God’s plan for his original creation in Eden was to “shepherd” the people to God and introduce God to the people. The fall happened and started the downward spiral. Israel is the archetype of this failure. They were supposed to reclaim what was lost but instead, basically became the example of those who rejected God and did the exact opposite of what God asked of them. Instead of leading the people to God they lead their own nation far from God and put many gods before him. Jesus came as the final shepherd to set the record straight and begin the trajectory back towards his ideals.
Many modern Christian practices, particularly regarding institutional authority, are not reflected anywhere in Jesus’ teachings. Among those practices are tithing; ordaining ministers, pastors; and other customs that enforce separation and hierarchy. In addition, Jesus criticized religious institutions as seats of hypocrisy, stating: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Matthew 23:8)
CHRISTIANS AS FAMILY
The first century church regarded each other as family within a community of one accord. Jesus and Paul invited a context for the sons and daughters in Christ to extend far beyond your nuclear family and included people of every race and social strata who placed their allegiance in Him. We get the idea that they were so close that they regularly at meals together daily.
Acts 2:46-47 says,
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
The modern-day salaries, mortgages, and cost of “ministry” don’t look anything like the New Testament church. Most churches are lucky if 5% of their budget goes to benevolence or to help the poor. There isn’t one mention in the New Testament about using what people give to build a building. Tithing is taught at nearly every church, and you would be hard pressed to find any New Testament teaching or instruction that affirms the continuation of tithing into the New Testament. When the New Testament talks about giving, it refers to redistributing money to the poor (Romans 15:22-29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9). When Paul declares “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) for instance, it was in the context of Gentile churches giving money to poor Jewish believers living in Jerusalem. Paul devotes more of his time instructing giving to poor people than he did on the doctrine of justification by faith. Jesus also promoted giving to the poor (Luke 12:33, 14:33, Matt 19:16-30) and the primary means by which the wicked will be split from righteous on Judgment day (Matt 25:31-46).
MILITARISM AND POLITICAL TIES
Today Christianity wants to be Militant. They want to stand proudly. They want America to be treated as God’s country and justify the need for war through these glasses. Many misunderstand Expedition44’s tie to Psalm 144:1. To David this was a contronym. He avoided war with Saul who was His enemy. War and battle for David were given to the Lord. Early Christians clung to the cross where evil is conquered not by swords and spears but by suffering and love. Today Christians cry out for justice not Grace. There might be a time when we need to literally fight for Jesus, but there also might not be a time. Did Jesus ever prescribe violence as a last resort to defend the innocent?
The early church didn’t think this way, their allegiance to God’s Kingdom demoted their allegiance to Rome’s kingdom. They knew you couldn’t serve two leaders, and Rome wasn’t an option. In the same way, neither was a king that led in the same way as a worldly emperor. Jesus can be the only king of that kingdom.
WE HAVE LOST THE INTIMACY TO KNOW THE COVENANT WORD
Today Christians have more “Bible” at their fingertips than any other time in History. Be that as it may, Christians today exhibit an unprecedented Biblical illiteracy despite owning dozens of Bibles. According to one statistic, 60 percent of confessing born-again Christians can’t name five of the 10 commandments, 81 percent don’t believe (or aren’t aware of) the basic tenets of the Christian faith, and 12 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. The early church knew God’s word. Most children by the age of 14 had most of the Torah memorized. The book of Revelation doesn’t contain a single direct quotation from the Old Testament yet has more than 500 allusions to words or phrases from the Old Testament. These allusions could only be picked up on by readers who were intimately familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. Many scholars consider these short Hebrew word plays or idioms to contain complete understood messages in a single phrase. When Jesus told His disciples to teach others “all that I command you,” He meant it (Matthew 28:20).
I have to admit that today, 2000 years after Jesus sets the record straight, things look about the same as when Jesus came. The religious culture of the day seems as corrupt now as it was then and appears to be failing about as bad if not worse than Israel did. Is the American church the second Israel? I am praying that we get on the trajectory back towards the calling of discipleship to Jesus within my lifetime. I am praying that you and I are the agents to bring discipleship by the terms of Jesus back to the people of this world and begin to live out the royal priesthood we were called to be.
Jesus became the only shepherd we should be looking for. Any other pastor shepherds are counter to what he taught in John 10:11-16.
Notice that Jesus states that there is only one flock, and only one shepherd. This is almost identical to the prophecy of Ezekiel written above “I will place over them one shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:23) We are not dealing with a plurality of shepherds in these texts. Jesus is making claim to being the owner of the flock, and the one shepherd. Throughout the New Testament (specifically in Hebrews 13:20-21 and 1 Peter 2:24-25), the only person referred to by name with the title “Shepherd” or “Pastor” is Jesus Christ.
In other words, if you want to call yourself pastor you might actually be committing adultery with the bride of Christ. Jesus warns against using titles like this in Matthew 23:8-12.
Pastor is never attached to anyone’s name outside of Christ, leading one to believe that the use in Ephesians 4:11 was a function, and not a title (as I mention earlier.) Consider John 21 where we find once again that the sheep are Jesus’s as the great shepherd, they don’t belong to the Sr. Pastor. There is only one flock, and only one shepherd/pastor.
Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”(John 21:16)
It is also eye opening when you start reading the Bible in this context and read in John chapter 10 when Jesus refers to the others who tend the sheep as either thieves and robbers, or “hired hands.”
I am afraid that the American church hierarchy of the pastor as king, lord, and CEO is exactly what Jesus was teaching against. The “lead” pastor of a church is claiming to be what only Christ can be to his church.
If your attendance goes down when the Sr pastor isn’t preaching it would make me ask, who is your church really worshipping?
Perhaps we can have a humble senior pastor that leads like Christ, but why? Seems like this has been a major problem in the church. Why would we do that? Why wouldn’t we just stick to what Jesus and the New Testament teaches.
Let’s get back to the model Jesus asked us to follow.
In my 2022 book, “This is the Way”, in Chapter 10 talking about hell and framing the theory of eternal conscious torment I mentioned an ancient god or type of sacrifice named Molech (technically, it is unclear according to the texts if Molech is the act of sacrificing babies or the god himself, but I think translating Molech as a “god” is the most accurate interpretation instead of the “act”). It seems that many of my readers are/were unfamiliar with this god or term in the Bible and recently with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Leak I have gotten several emails asking if I would expound on the correlations between “Molech” in the Bible and the ramifications it may play on modern day abortion.
History is filled with barbaric cultures. One of the worst, though, has to be the ancient Canaanites, but I am actually not convinced that modern America will be viewed much differently in history books hundreds or thousands of years from now, as a nation we have slaughtered Indians, funded terrorists, stole what we wanted, and killed millions of babies in the womb. That sounds pretty bad to me. In Canaan it was customary for parents to offer their newborn children as sacrifices to their god Molech, I wonder if hundreds of thousands of deaths by abortion each year will go down in history the same way, as an utterly evil barbaric culture.
Here is the excerpt from my book:
Many people when talking about the problem of evil ask “why does God allow all this evil to happen in the world?” and “Why does he not put a stop to it?” I hear people asking that question all the time as if they think that they are qualified to somehow question the morality and doings of God. But what is interesting about the story of Israel and the Canaanites is that we have a situation where God was patient for 400 years and then decides it’s judgment day. It is one of the times in history that God actually does choose to NOT allow the evil that pervades in the world and utterly decimate it.
The Canaanites were particularly Evil. Sometimes we get stories in the Bible of Extreme cases. Abraham as we have mentioned, is our extreme faith person; the most faithful archetype of all Humanity. In the same way the Canaanites are our archetype of the most extreme evil. Just to give you an example, one of the things the Canaanites would regularly do was offer their babies as sacrifices to Molech. It is unclear whether Molech is actually the name of the god or the description of the style of sacrificing babies to any foreign God; but either way we see it as the extreme archetype of evil.
It has been recorded by the Greek writer Plutarch that when they offered the babies as living sacrifices burned to death the drummers would have to pound their drum so loud that you couldn’t hear the screaming of the babies. The statues resembled an incinerator with arms out-stretched and the babies would be placed on the arms exhibiting a slow horrendous death. What I want you to note is that God obviously had a major problem with this. It is presented as the Archetype of EXTREME EVIL within the entire context of the Bible.
Why would God allow such evil? Well, in this case he doesn’t. He says it needs to be completely Annihilated. As you can see there is a conundrum. Many ask, “why does God allow such evil atrocities to continue on earth?” But then, if God destroys such evil, as He does in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah and Canaan, people say, “Why is God so violent?”
In the case of Molech in the Bible, God decided enough was enough and obliterated or annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah. Sort of, you see the region that was stomped out by God in Genesis 19 would be rebuilt, actually several times but throughout history will prove to always be a place of evil. Within a few hundred years it will emerge again as the land of Canaan. Eventually it would be destroyed again, and some Biblical scholars believe it would even be an act of God to eventually cover it with water under the dead sea to ensure it would not rise again, but that is merely a theory. In (Deuteronomy 9:4–5) God did not decide to command the Israelites to destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan simply because He promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit that land that had now been overrun; He commanded them to do it because the Canaanites were utterly wicked and evil people. Canaan is the arechetype of Evil in the Bible. (An archetype is a word used to describe the most extreme example of something.) If there were a more evil place on earth, that is what the story of Israel would be about, decimating the evil in the name of the Lord, reclaiming what was defiled and bringing it back to the holiness of God.
In other words, God was getting two birds with one stone here. He was using Israel to do His will by attempting to blot out the most evil thing in all of the world, the example of utter evil. But He was also doing what God does and what is the main story of the Bible. He was taking what is ugly, destroyed, or decimated by the world and attempting to purify (sometimes through fire) and renew it for good. This is ashes to beauty. That God wants to take something that is the major example of the most ugly, heinous, horrific thing on earth and turn it to beauty for his kingdom. There is a lot more that I could write here and I have gotten into more of the evil of Cannan in other videos, but I think you get the point.
The problem is Israel failed. They didn’t complete the task and today many people think that is the reason why the world is such a mess. Through Jesus and the New Covenant we as Christians are now called to a similar calling to be the agents or ambassadors to bring the earth and all in it back to purification in the Lord. We are God’s tools to reclaim what has been utterly lost and decimated. How are we doing? If you look at American Christianity I might argue we are failing as much if not more than Israel did at the same task. Will we be handed over to an exilic judgment in the same way Israel was?
If you’re connecting the dots… the ugliest most horrific thing in Genesis is the nation of Canaan. Why are they horrific? Because they sacrifice babies. Because of this, God sought to wipe them out. Israel was meant to purify and bring peace to the nations yet failed, we as Christians of the New Covenant are now called to the same commission. Have American Christians utterly failed?
A God of Genocide? Total annihilation?
Maybe. We actually don’t know the answer to this question. I would point you back to my book for a more thorough answer to this question. The Bible uses a lot of figurative language and so do we. For instance, I say my 11 year old Reid’s soccer team annihilated their opponent 10-0. Did they really? Did Reid bring a sword to the game and cut off the heads of all the defeated 11 year old’s and march through town parading the severed heads of the young corpses? Of course not, that sounds completely twisted and barbaric (I am having a hard time even writing that) as it is totally not within the character of my sweet young boy. Well, the same answer falls with God. We don’t know the whole story but we have to trust in the character of God and what we know of that character for sure. God is Grace love and mercy and even though we don’t have all the answers of an event that took place 4-5000 years ago we can trust the nature of God to be complete and holy and acting for the good of humanity, His treasured possessions. Often times things aren’t likely what they might seem to us in our humanity when we fail to see through the eyes of God. Much of the narrative of the story is that we enter into intimate relationship with God and learn to walk in this trust and obedience for our lives. This is beauty from ashes and holy transformation.
The Bible mentions Molech about ten times. Here are a couple of them.
“Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molech is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.” — Leviticus 20:2
“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded — nor did it enter my mind — that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” — Jeremiah 32:35
This sounds absolutely hideous. We read the story and think what culture would do that? How could they? But maybe at the time it didn’t seem so bad. Throughout history many females were killed upon Birth. It was almost the norm for several thousand years and is still common in China according to Mungello-1. They also lived in a culture where they believed the gods controlled things about life and that the people would benefit or be cursed by the actions of the gods towards them. As wrong as it sounds, many people and cultures still operate this way today.
Do you think America isn’t as bad? The majority of states leave the abortion law up to the doctor’s discretion described as to restrict abortion by gestational age. In New York and 4 other states a woman can literally kill her baby at nearly any time based on the same doctor’s discretion. In the same states if she kills her baby possibly less than twenty-four hours later when it’s made it outside her womb, she’ll go to prison. Who gets to decide where the lawn is drawn?
Babies screaming to Molech sounds terrible right? More studies than I can count demonstrate that babies at a very early stage can feel pain, not to mention taste food, hiccup, smile, dream, kick, and bond with their mother.
In Exodus 21:22-25 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely, but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is a serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
The Bible interprets a baby as a baby
Luke 1:41-44 tells us that When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb. When I read the story in Greek (the language it was written in) something jumps out. The unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb is called a baby (Greek, brephos). It’s the same Greek word used to describe children outside the womb (Lk. 18:15). And we see that this same baby was already able to recognize Jesus’ presence. It is also worth noting that Elizabeth, recognizes that Mary is the “mother of my Lord.” That is, she recognized Mary’s status as a mother despite the fact that Jesus was still in the womb.
Is there another side to this?
Well, if you know me at all, you know I try to be a completely unbiased seeker of truth. So, let’s ask the question is there another side to consider? The answer is yes. Let’s consider it. Within traditional Judaism most have affirmed that there are 40 days of gestation, Yevamot 69b even asserts that prior to 40 days the fetus is “mere water.” Most ancient rabbis since the time of Christ regarded a fetus as part of its mother throughout the pregnancy, dependent fully on her for its life. But that seems to be a “worldy” notion of first century religious hypocrisy as earlier Rabbinical source would point to Genesis 9:6 prohibiting the shedding the “blood of man within man.” This is a bit grey though. In Hebrew man is better interpreted “humankind” by the Hebrew “adam” being used not “ish” which would mean man or husband, meaning that in Gen 9:6 it is naturally masculine but could mean man or woman; it is commonly regarded as gender neutral similar to how we would use the term “he” generically in English. Furthermore, it is used continually for centuries as a phrase understood by nearly every Rabbinical source to refer to a fetus.
But it still isn’t that simple, both Judaism and Christianity teach that the body is ultimately the property of God and is merely on loan to human beings. There are multiple Old Testament Laws with prohibitions on suicide, wounding oneself, and many other things that collectively serve to reject the idea that individuals enjoy an unfettered right to make choices regarding their own bodies. Your body isn’t your own, it is the Lord’s and a temple unto Him. In that scriptural sense, the baby inside of you isn’t truly yours either. God and God alone retains the right to give and take human life. In an effort to be unbiased I don’t see a valid Biblical argument that we ever have the right to decide to take the life of a fetus, that is left to the authority of the Lord only. When humankind attempts to take on this role they are actually attempting to operate in the place of the authority that is granted to only the Lord in scripture.
What about Contraception?
This is really another post (that I am not planning on writing) so let me briefly touch on it. Contraception of some sort has been around since the early pages of the Bible. Are we attempting to play God here as well if we interfere with Life? Are we trying to be the arbiters of giving life and if we are ok with that than why not control the taking of life as well? What about elderly genocide? That doesn’t sound so terrible, at very old ages most would choose that option as a humane one. Does the Bible or God pass on or give us any right to such choice of contraception? Thats a harder topic that may influence your thoughts on the above perspectives. There is an idea that God doesn’t take joy in the act of a person deciding on whether to tamper with the creation of natural life as established order by God, but it also doesn’t seem to sin. Some theologians would consider it more of bringing order to (natural) chaos which is what God calls us to do in partnership with Him as a royal priesthood. The Bible doesn’t address this subject straightforward and as some has used Genesis 38:9 to try to say that God didn’t approve, that statement hermeneutically would be out of context. The text wasn’t teaching on contraception. The Judaic approach suggests that any interference with pregnancy constitutes a violation of the commandment in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. However, the text doesn’t go there; so that is a lot to read into it. Throughout ancient Jewish history there are various circumstances signifying the need to limit family size once a man has fathered at least one child of both genders. The Bible seems to leave this one open to natural occurrence. This becomes a conversation in human control and trusting God as well as what is natural and unnatural before the Lord.
Where do we go from here? Well first, everyone I know is a sinner, but some worse than others! (That’s another post on the problems of thew Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity though). We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s grace. We need the continued transformation to be more like Jesus each and every day. Luckily, the Lord’s arms are always open and outstretched to return to Him for healing. So, if you have made poor decisions, then you should seek to reconcile them before the Lord. Your already forgiven for them but sometimes there is some continued work to be done that comes with real healing.
Unfortunately, many Christians forget what the Love of Jesus looks like. They represent hate, hostility, and animosity more than they represent the love of Jesus. Jesus makes it clear that judgment and life in the kingdom are antithetical to one another. Every judgment we have toward others undermines the thing that we as the people of God are to offer them. Jesus came to free us from judgment and to restore our capacity to love the way God loves.
You can change the culture. You can be the advocate that brings the Lord. You can be the ambassador that brings life. You can be agent of healing. You can lead Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus. And you’re not alone. Together as a royal nation, a kingdom set apart we are called in Jesus in one accord to first bring life to ourselves and our families and then to the world. The Refining fire of the unity of believers modeling the love grace and mercy of Jesus.
It is no secret that I am a strong Egalitarian when it comes to the Biblical sense of the word. An article here explains why and I will continue to give a short response to each complementarian point in this article. However, I see this as an issue that has good reasoning from both perspectives. I deeply respect and have lots of friends and colleagues that hold to a soft complementarian perspective. Personally, I tend to look for what God’s ideals are which we get in Eden and the recreated heavens and earth. (This is represented in the beginning and end pages of the Bible which scream equality not separated by gender roles; and display giftings are different for each person regardless of gender, but there isn’t a hierarchy according to specific gender). I think we are better placing our trajectory towards what we know God says is His way or ideal, rather than pursue what we might see in the messed up middle pages of the Bible where we see God continuing to simply meet people in whatever muck they might be found in and pulling them one step at a time towards a better place in Him. However, in defending my egalitarian view, I believe I likely also have crafted the best perspectives to be a complementarian at the same time.
Unfortunately, in our world the term complementarian has become almost a nasty word, especially from the world looking into the church. It has become associated with gender bias, abusive male dominance, and churches (and men) using the Bible to Lord over women. Those are “poor” complementarians in my opinion, but nonetheless, still complementarians. That isn’t a Biblical view. What I want to express in this article is what a “good” or Biblical complementarian view represents even though I don’t go that way. The truth is, whether you consider yourself a complementarian or egalitarian, in many ways if you simply follow scripture, both perspectives are going to have similar looking end results. Some might even say it is a matter of semantics particularly in regard to marriage. The church has the distinct difference of whether or not women are viewed as able to “lead” in positions of authority within the church.
Finally, I am going to keep this article fairly philosophical and not get too much into the specific verses. This may come off as strange to some that are used to watching our x44 videos and exploring every scripture associated with something not leaving any rocks left unturned. It is the x44 way to simply interpret scripture, and that is what I am doing here still, but more of in a philosophical summary. The reason I am approaching things this way is because we have already gone really deep into the scripture! We have a whole playlist getting into every scripture and attempting to unbiasedly interpret. Here is a playlist. I have also found that if someone has a preconceived reason to believe something, they are going to want to go that way. It is difficult to come to a completely unbiased position in theology, but that is what I am asking you to consider.
Complementarians believe men and women complement each other in their giftings and roles but see men to be given a position by God to lead their family and church as the Head. Egalitarians believe men and women are equal to each other in their giftings and roles.
If you can take a Biblical view of either, they will both agree on several points.
Both sides agree that gender is ordained by God, women and men have equal value, and abuse in any relationship is a sin.
Complementarians believe men are called to be servant-leaders within marriage and the church; egalitarians believe women and men have equal authority in the church and marriage.
Complementarians believe women and men have distinct roles; egalitarians believe women and men have interchangeable rolesand each person should function according to gifting that is not determined by gender.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: For nearly all of time Man (with a few very rare exceptions) has led everything from simple family relations to the highest forms of government. Today in 21st century America things are getting more equal. We finally have a female vice president, but still not an American president. There have been queens in charge of countries; but for the most part, for all of history man has been the dominant leader. Is that a reflection on God’s prescription from the beginning or more of a function of depraved humankind and the result of human nature towards the strong to dominate and oppress the weak. This is not a strong Biblical argument and could really be argued either way. But If I were a complementarian, it would at least be an indicator that since for all of time in nearly every culture man has seemingly been the gender in authoritative rule, it might mean that some of that came as a result of God’s design.
– Egalitarian response: Just because men dominate as the strong beings doesn’t make it right or even God’s way. In a backward kingdom this kind of thinking might even suggest that Women will eschatologically out rank men in the new Heavens and earth, which would then make you by definition and egalitarian not a complementarian. Might does not make right, love does.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Men and women are designed sociologically to be different. Their differences surpass simple differences in anatomy. Women think and acts differently than men. Does the Bible suggest that God designed the majority of men to generally lead better? Today in the American culture this statement would probably be deemed sexist. Similar to the first point, this is not a strong Biblical or ontological argument, but may influence you over all feelings.
– Egalitarian response: Women have been overpowered for all of time, they haven’t been given a fair opportunity to lead. Also, Biblically, when we consider the definition of the term “side” you find it is the Hebrew word tsela. Man and woman are cut from the same cloth; two halves of the same coin. This is presenting a “same, but different” picture of man and woman. It doesn’t mean inherent leadership roles. And yes, the above comment should be deemed sexist! There is nothing scientifically proven or in the Biblical text that suggests men are inherently designed as better leaders.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Creation may suggest by Adam being created first to take on a role of the primary leader position. Genesis 1:26-28 suggests that man and women are equal as image bearers. Does it ever seem like Eve was almost an afterthought for God? If I were God and truly had an egalitarian perspective for the male and female that I was going to create, would male and female be created differently and at different times? Wouldn’t I create them exactly the same (perhaps even with dual reproductive ability) and at the same time. But that isn’t the story we get. Adam is created first and Eve seems like an afterthought and is described as a helper to him. Adam even gets to name her in the same way he named the rest of the animals he has dominance over. It would seem that if there wasn’t intended to be a role gender difference that the words of the narrative and the narrative itself could have been crafted better. But this is the story we are given and seems to infer a complementarian relationship.
– Egalitarian response: We don’t know why God has done things the way He has. The story isn’t ours to rewrite and we don’t know all of the thoughts or mind of God. The Hebrew term for side would seem to imply an equal part. The word for “helper” is ezer (ay’-zer). “Deliverer” or “strong rescuer” is probably a more helpful translation. Hermeneutically the text does not establish that Adam is over eve. You might get that “feeling” based on what the world has become, but that would be reading the results of the fall into the text. The text itself doesn’t say or imply that definition.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Throughout the Bible the vast majority of authority both established by man and God seems to denote male leadership. There were women leaders in the Bible such as Mariam, Deborah, Huldah, Mary Magdalene, Percilla, Phoebe, and Junia but they are few and far between. If God’s ideal was truly for woman to be leading wouldn’t God have made sure He established a strong contingency of examples, not just a minor percentage. Why weren’t there Levitical priests that were women? That was an office that seems to have been initiated in the way that God directed close to His ideal. Why didn’t He direct woman to lead here? That would seem to have been an easy thing for Moses to have done, there was no outside culture to influence them against it. Why didn’t Jesus pick half of his disciples to be women if leaders were to be truly equal according to God? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Jesus was already counter cultural to His day and wasn’t afraid to offend people or break the cultural norms. We simply don’t see God going out of His way to establish women as priests, apostles, or elders.
– Egalitarian response: The world in Ancient Near East culture such as the time of the Egyptian Exodus treated woman as nothing. The outside Egyptian culture did influence the Isrealites, and Moses and God’s style of established rule. Frankly it didn’t improve much during the time of Jesus. Woman represented little more than property in nearly all of ancient culture. God’s plan was to reverse the fall. When the fall starts it begins a downward spiral in which woman unfortunately are dominated and ruled over by the stronger men. The scale only begins to tip when Jesus is crucified and overcomes death itself enabling the healing of humanity in and through Christ to begin. But it is just the beginning. God always meets people close to where they are and urges them in a small simple step to Him. At the time of Jesus what He did for women was groundbreaking. The early church took huge strides towards gender equality in a short period of time since Jesus enabled it. 2000 years later I would expect us to finally have equal representation in the field of discipleship within the church. I might even argue that according to the Biblical description of discipleship, woman today appear to be in many ways, fulfilling the calling better than men. Perhaps the backward kingdom scales are beginning to tip.
Furthermore, let’s consider Israel. God continually let’s “man” do what they want to do. He gives in to them. Israel represents the archetype of the worst decision makers in the Bible (possibly second to Judas). Men led Israel, not God, and eventually God handed them over (you might even use the word divorced them.) So, to be clear, the worst failure within the pages of the Bible is a nation that wanted to do things their way which meant establish a kingdom ruled by men that found themselves as far away from what God desired of them as could be imagined. It was eventually men that put Jesus on the cross. Men have been largely responsible for the direction of the world to walk away from God. Perhaps in a backward kingdom it will be the women leading the way to reclaim and restore what was lost by men. It should also be noted that women played a huge part in the lineage and life of Jesus.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Although the Pauline Epistles seem to carry an Egalitarian flavor, the main texts (I Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:33b-35, Colossians 3:18-19, Ephesians 5:21-33, I Timothy 2:9-15 and possibly I Peter 3:1-7) all seem to plainly read (in English) that Men should and do, naturally lead the church.
– Egalitarian response: As an Egalitarian I might concede here… If I didn’t know Greek. I have to admit when read in English by what has been heavily influenced by1611 style (men only) translation, the Bible seems to read plainly complementarian. However, when read in Greek, I would argue the opposite, it reads plainly egalitarian; which is striking considering that men even wrote the Greek texts during times when women in culture were poorly educated and represented. I would argue that if you are truly unbiased and have a decent comprehension of Biblical Greek and Hermeneutics you’re going to come out of this study convinced that Paul was an Egalitarian.
– Complementarian Reaction: This may influence your understanding of inerrancy, but a valid complementarian argument based on Greek translation (possibly in keeping with the overall strongest complementarian argument) is to simply suggest that personally Paul was an Egalitarian, and His writing style simply reflected his personal view, not the inspired perspectives of God’s inherently created design.
-X44 NOTE: Please dive into the x44 video series to get into each scripture here specifically.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Marriage seems to have a head. When I read Ephesians 5 in English and Greek, I get the sense that the responsibilities of a man and women in marriage are unique to gender and different. It goes back to the way the text is written again. If the author was really trying to write that everyone is equal why talk about each one separately? Why not just use the term “husbands and wives” each and every time? It would be much better written that way if that was the intent. For example, Paul nowhere says, “husbands, submit to your wives, as the church submits its (wife?), Christ.” The text doesn’t seem to read both directions.
– Complementarian Reaction: The text is a responsive reading to specific situations in their culture that the author(s) are specifically referring to, but also have the goal in creating circular letters and sermons to benefit other church communities. Gender might mean something in each perspective but should be read in cultural context. We have to trust that the author wrote in a way to best describe the primary mission of the text. We shouldn’t make major doctrines based on minor dynamics of the text.
COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Jesus often set the Biblical record straight and doesn’t come right out and preach an egalitarian view. If Jesus meant to communicate that theory He would have made it known.
– Complementarian Reaction: Jesus doesn’t clarify a lot of things that people wish he would have. Jesus did not put much faith in human systems to fix what was wrong with the world, nor did he try to do so in one swoop of his finger. Fixing the world, helping the poor, and defending the oppressed was His job, and the job He passed on to those who follow Him. This is the partnership that started in Eden and was empowered on the cross through the royal priesthood; that we are His image bearing ambassadors representing Him to the world and the world to Him.
If you follow x44 videos at all it is no secret to you that we are [strong] Biblical egalitarians (careful not to insert the Biblical Definition of an Egalitarian, not the world’s definition). Here is a playlist. I am going to ATTEMPT to make this more of a brief and concise overview of our beliefs with plenty of links to dive deeper.
We firmly believe in striving for God’s ideals. In the Bible we get clear mosaics of what God desired for His relationship to be with us walking in Eden as a partnership with humankind before the fall. We also get a similar ideal picture of His ideal for us in the renewed or re-creation state of heavens and earth when all is reclaimed in a very similar Edenic state of equality before the Lord. That is what God says is good and complete. What happens in the middle of the story is nothing short of the worlds contamination of what was given as pure & holy. Personally, we don’t need any other reasons to consider the office, vocations, and calling of humanity as equal and undivided unto the Lord. But there are some other reasons in the middle that we think also speak to one accord, let’s start at the beginning and walk through this.
Since the fall, it has always been part of human nature to dominate and oppress other humans. This is one of the distortions of humanity’s original purpose in the garden of Eden, which was to flourish and cultivate peace bearing the image of God. Although Adam and Eve were created to equally rule & reign over the earth (to keep and cultivate), sin entered, and we have ever since been trying to rule over each other. Might does not make right, love does. Together, as a team, all men and women are to govern the earth in love, humility, and peace. Hierarchy and power struggles are and always have been a result of sin. Equality is the created order. (Excerpt slightly re-edited from Joy through Christ)
1. Creation teaches mutuality
IMAGE OF GOD -The Hebrew word for “image”, tselem (tseh’-lem) is sometimes translated “idol.” Humanity was created “…in our likeness, so that they may rule…” The NIV catches the chiastic structure (an A-B-A’ pattern) that centers the image of God “poem” around ruling. A chiasm is a common Hebrew structural device, like having a thesis sentence in English literature, it is designed to draw the reader’s attention to the center and interpret everything in light of that key point. In other words, it’s pretty clear that the image of God is deeply connected to humanity’s role to rule over creation.
This is further verified because we know that the image of God was a phrase used by kings in the ancient near east to describe themselves. God has made the radical claim, then and now, that all of humanity is royal. The image of God is the royal task of ruling the earth as God’s physical representatives. We are supposed to rule and subdue like God does, in partnership with Him creating goodness and order and beauty, subduing chaos, so that all things can flourish. The image of what this looks like in Genesis 2 is gardening. The image of gardening as the ideal of rulership and subduing is something you should deeply ponder. Make a cup of tea, go for walk and become a gardener/shepherd.
The image of God is something related to our inherent ontology, in some way, endowing all of humanity with equal value. But, it is also a task and authority that we live into. That’s the foundation in which Jesus was described as the true image of God (ex. 2 Cor. 4:4), the new Adam (adam in Hebrew means “human”) (ex. 1 Cor 15), and the Son of Man, which just means “a human” (ex. Dan. 7, pretty much every time Jesus refers to himself). He was the only one who really lived the human role perfectly. He was the human we all ought to be but fail to be.
RIB/SIDE Genesis 2:21-23 – tsela is the Hebrew word that is often translated as rib, you don’t need to be a Hebrew scholar to recognize the connection to tselem. When we take a look at other instances of this word, we find that it’s a word that’s most often connected to construction, like buildings or things like the ark of the covenant. The next time we see this word come up after Genesis 2, it’s in Exodus 25. And it is used several times from then onward in Exodus as part of the instructions for setting up the ark and tabernacle. In those instances, and most of the one’s after that too, it’s referring to a side, like a half. For example:
And he cast for it [the ark] four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side.
In the second episode of the Bible Project’s podcast series on the Family of God, Dr. Tim Mackie says what God is doing in Genesis is taking one half of the human and making another one. Man and woman are cut from the same cloth; two halves of the same coin. This is truly kenegdo, neged, (neh’-ghed) a suitable helper. This is presenting a “same, but different” picture of man and woman. But I find that complementarians seem to assume one of the differences is our inherent leadership roles. That continues to be absent from the text, and this image of being each other’s “half” resonates much better with egalitarianism. We are so alike that could be considered to have the same “skin” as the Hebrew suggests.
HELPER/HELPMATE -The word for “helper” is ezer (ay’-zer). If you search for every instance of that word in the Bible, you’ll find that Genesis 2 is the only time the word is used, as you’d soon find out, to be describing a female human, as well as the only time it’s used remotely close to a marital context. Furthermore, the vast majority of the time, the term is used to describe God, mostly in military contexts. “Deliverer” is probably a more helpful translation. This is someone coming with a reinforcing army, delivering those they help from the clutches of death. In many of my circles, we’ve chosen to talk about an ezer as a “strong rescuer”. That captures the oomf of the word better, I think.
This conversation also ties into the head, kephalē (kef-al-ay’) appears some 75 times in the Greek New Testament. It is a borrowed word, in Greek it is known as a military term and shares a similar meaning to the more popular word phalanx which was a military formation, usually composed of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, or similar pole weapons. An important aspect was that it marched forward as one entity. The head referred to the first part of the formation, guarding or revering those behind in a place of honor.
The head took the brunt of the attack. If you think of a Vietnam style formation and somebody tells you to take the lead or be the head, it’s the place of great servitude. It is also the place where there was a very good chance that you might be asked to give the ultimate sacrifice of your life itself. Yet how many times in history have we seen the person who supposed to be the greatest, the commander or the general take the lead and urge the troops on towards battle from the head. This is the mosaic of serving from the head.
When you take this mindset & apply it to Christ as the head of the church and the husband as the head of the wife, it takes on a different meaning than what you might consider it traditionally. It’s a position of extreme servitude, not just to the ones you love the most, but to everyone. It’s the greatest measure of honor towards equality within the church. It is the place that not just pastors should lead from, but the place all of us should lead from. It is a calling to the complete priesthood of believers, male and female, children and adults. (This is an excerpt from Dr. Ryan’s follow up Book in the This is the Way series to be released in late 2022 by Crosslink Publishing.)
This makes sense in the Genesis 2:18 usage, too. We are prone to choosing the way of death and destruction. So, we need a strong rescue to save us from death. The strong rescuer that the human needs is one that is “suitable for him,” as the NIV puts it. The ESV renders it “fit for him”. The NLT renders it “just right for him”. The NRSV renders it “as his partner”.
Ezer has nothing to do with women’s roles in marriage or otherwise. Ezer simply does not define women’s roles. It’s about saving each other from death. It is never again used to specifically refer to women and never again used in a marriage context (if you want to argue that Genesis 2 is primarily a marital context; moreover, in the rare occasions after this that ezer is not referring to God, it never has any hierarchical connotations.) If you try to interpret a hierarchical relationship between men and women, it would imply matriarchy. Women would be strong rescue from the top down, like God is. Kenegdo is an inherently egalitarian image. It presents the ezer as one that is the same (image) as the human, his mirror image.
2. Men ruling over women is a result of the fall and desecration of the world
If Jesus’ death and resurrection reverses the effects of the “fall” it disproves complementarian roles. In Gen 3, God is not assigning “roles” of men ruling over the women, but God is explaining the results and the consequences of sinful behavior that “will happen” due to separation. This is quoted in the context of crushing of the serpent. The indication is that all the proceeding consequences (labor, sweat, subjugation, pain, etc) will be abolished when the “seed” has crushed the head of the serpent. We are there! Jesus has put us on this trajectory so we should live as if it is so. Romans 8 says that creation is waiting for the sons of God to be revealed. This is talking about us living our calling as in Eden as it will result in the renewing of creation.
3. The idea of gender “roles” is not biblical. “Giftings” is a more Biblical approach.
The Spirit always gives gifts indiscriminately. Throughout the Bible we see giftings taking precedent over “roles”. The concept of “role” is a very modern point of view that only worked its way into theology in recent years after the enlightenment, it isn’t Biblically in the text. Rather than “biblical manhood and womanhood” we should recognize the giftings of each person and what that adds to the church and a marriage covenant. Body metaphors in the Bible have men and women combined- there’s not a “body” of women and a “body” of men, or even certain parts/gifts that are just for men or women. There is 1 body comprised of believers and gifts. This is equality and oneness of the body in Christ. If you get this wrong, you get the core of nearly all of Pauline teachings wrong. God doesn’t show partiality. To prohibit the living and functioning in Christ based on gender would make Christ divided (as Paul speaks against in 1 Cor 1). It would also make God partial, which is testified against in both testaments.
4. Authority (rulership) and hierarchy are antithetical to the Kingdom of God.
Throughout the Bible we see many instances of God’s ideal that no person have rulership over another, but rather that we rule mutually. We see this in Mark 10 with Jesus saying of James and John, that they are acting like gentile rulers and not kingdom servants. We also get this narrative in Matthew 23 with Jesus and the Pharisees and Peter and shepherds in 1 Peter 1:5. We obey God alone, we submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, our King. When Paul used head in Col. 3 and Eph. 5 it’s talking about the thing on top of your shoulders and not authority. Preeminence. This fits the earlier discussion of Kephale as well. If Paul meant authority, he had other words to use and doesn’t use them. Kephele came to mean authority many years after Paul’s martyrdom. Also, considering marriage in 1 Cor. 7 everything is applied mutually.
5. 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14 were dealing with specific issues, in a specific church, at a specific time. These passages do not prohibit women from speaking, teaching, or leading today.
These passages are descriptive and not prescriptive. The command in 1 Tim. 2 is for the woman to learn which if anything should be exciting for the women, especially in the Greco-Roman context where they were treated as property. The issue in Ephesus was people teaching falsely because they didn’t know what they were talking about. There is a lot of cultural background to this situation as well. (Artemis female cult, myths, etc…) The women here were being like Eve, being deceived, and causing others to fall. Furthermore, Paul has issues with both men and women in the passage- men being angry and causing dissention, and the women being unlearned before teaching and assuming authority violently (authentein).
Not allowing a woman to teach or have authority is a present active indicative in Greek which communicates something for a period of time. He could have used an imperative perfect to make an ongoing law about this but he doesn’t. The Greek structure is important here.
Women being commanded to be silent in 1 Cor 14 must be reconciled with all the other instances of women praying and prophesying in 1 Cor 11, 12, and 14 in the same letter. We’ve talked about how 1 Cor 14:34-35 may not be original to the text, but you’ll need to watch the video series for more on that. We’ve also talked about how women were not as far ahead in education at this time as the men. Paul is wanting the women to learn and not disrupt the service. The entire context of 1 Cor. 12-14 is about using gifts in an orderly fashion. None of these gifts are gendered, they are just commanded to be used in order for the edification of the body of Christ.
6. The Bible teaches a priesthood of all believers (not just men)
Adam and Eve were the original priesthood, Israel was supposed to be a kingdom of priests and they both failed. Now we take on that New Covenant role, are we seeing a current day picture of a third similar failure? In the NT we are called this priesthood of believers in 1 Peter and Revelation (and alluded to all over the NT letters.) 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 2 use neuter (masc/fem) pronouns when referring to the giftings and character of the elders and deacons.
“One woman man” is the only possible argument against mutuality. This is used in 3:2 of elders and 3:12 of deacons. We’ve argued this is an idiom about sexual faithfulness to one spouse and not about gender. All we need to do is find 1 Female elder or deacon in the Bible to prove that this idiom is not gendered… hello Phoebe! How could she be a “one woman man”? She is called a deacon (not a deaconess) in Romans 16:1. Every characteristic for behavior listed in these verses Paul commands of women elsewhere in 1 Tim and Titus. There’s lots of evidence of women leading and exercising their mutual priesthood in the Bible… Here’s a few:
Mariam (led Israel with Moses)
Deborah (Led as a judge)
Huldah (Prophet who explained the law)
Mary Magdalene (first to preach the resurrection)
Phoebe (deacon, house church leader, Roman’s letter carrier/reader)
Junia (apostle/church planter)
Unity and mutuality … All are one in Christ!
7. Biblical Theology and the entire lens of scripture point to God’s ideal of mutuality
We need to view the bible not as a flat text but as a narrative. We can see God’s ideals in the beginning and how they work out in the end. Unfortunately, systematic theology ignores this in a lot of instances which is one of the reasons we aren’t big fans and consider ourselves Biblical Theologians.
God works as a heavenly missionary to bring his creation forward to his ideals and wants to use us as His vocational missional representatives (ambassadors) to do the same. Our favorite line is, the Bible begins and ends with a picture that looks like Eden. If we can’t find gender hierarchy and gender roles in the creation narrative and we do see it in the Fall, why do we think it’s part of God’s ideals for His Kingdom?
Upside-down and backwards kingdom– We should take on the ideals of Jesus, yet today the church looks like the world in this area… and for some, the world is modeling the Kingdom ethic in this area better than some churches (though feminism gets off the rails at times when it flips the tables of power), but we as the church and body can do better to present a Jesus Kingdom perspective.
In the backwards Kingdom we all need to consider a position of better humility towards everyone. Jesus submitted to the Father. Children are to submit to parents. But this isn’t a gender issue anywhere in the Bible. Genesis 1-3 sets the ideal stage by advocating an ideal of men and women having equal value, dignity, and power, and only differing roles (gifts) that are either biologically necessary. Men and women are the same, but different. But there is no difference in inherent leadership roles or authority. In fact, men taking the rulership over women is explicitly stated as a part of our world’s suffering in Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, and in his qualifications for elders and deacons.
Much of this article was rewritten from Aaron at ponderingpeniel. (I apologize for the unscholarly messy quoting.) As I don’t agree with all of His views, I love so much of what he does. Thank you!