Culture

Does the Church Need to Give the Apostle Paul a 21st Century “Refresh”?

Amy Simmons

Book Review: Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament  by Dr. Sandra Glahn

As we begin a new year, we begin to reflect on the state of the world and make predictions about 2024. A look at the year’s top earners in the creative arts is often an accurate gauge to ascertain the philosophical mood of our society. First, the top-selling movie of 2023: A subversive live-action Barbie movie that lured in millions of mothers and daughters with its sparkly pink veneer only to be sermonized on the evils of patriarchy (see any male leadership) and the admonition to be their creator (i.e. choose your gender, claim your “reproductive rights”, etc.). On the music front, we have LGBTQIA+ crusader Taylor Swift, who serenades the masses with catchy pop ditties with all the wisdom and insight you can expect from someone brought up with Barbie and Disney princesses as role models.

In the 2023 Evangelical realm, the largest conservative Christian denomination in America found itself debating on the meaning of the word “pastor” and whether women could serve in a functionally pastoral role with a different nomenclature. Once staunchly complementarian institutions, like Dallas Theological Seminary, are changing their stance on ministry roles. A 2022 update to their doctrinal position statement on The Christian’s Service has changed from “In the apostolic church there were certain gifted men—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers—who were appointed by God for the perfecting of the saints unto their work of the ministry” to “certain gifted people.This gender-neutral language is of course not a capitulation to the spirit of the Age, but to a “fresh look” at the Scriptures.

Enter Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament, the latest work of DTS professor, Dr. Sandra Glahn. Glahn spends 3/4 of the book entailing her research though the records of antiquity that shed light on the true identity of Artemis (Spoiler: She wasn’t a fertility goddess) and how this may have influenced Paul’s purpose for the letters to its original audience, particularly in 1 Timothy. But does Nobody’s Mother provide a necessary update to how we read these scriptures? Alas, there is nothing new under the sun. What follows are three major errors Glahn falls into and why this book brings more confusion than clarity.

1. Reading Experience into Scripture

Glahn begins by sharing her painful journey through infertility and how it caused her to question her purpose in life. Motherhood, she was led to believe, was “the one thing for which she was created” (E-book, pg. 10). Thankfully, she later learns that motherhood does not determine her inherent worth. However, when she is affirmed in her gift for teaching, she encounters a crisis about how she can be used by God outside of domesticity. She was taught that verses like 1 Timothy 2:12, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (LSB) meant that her teaching gift would be relegated to the home rather than the general church body. But does Scripture teach this, she wonders, or could it be that this interpretation misses the true historical context of Paul’s intended audience? Are modern-day conservative interpreters trying to set up male power structures that Paul did not intend?

Glahn, of course, is reading her own egalitarian perspective into the text as evidenced by how she frames her argument using a victim-oppressor model. She uses the same approach in her previous publication which seeks to bring power-dynamics to the forefront of the biblical narratives. Though she explicitly distances herself from the likes of second-wave feminist Betty Friedan, she assumes a dearth of “men and women partnering to do ministry” today is a sign of inequality. “This book is for the listener who wants to avoid sacrificing a high view of scripture while working to reconcile conflicting narratives about God’s view of women” (pg. 18). She goes on to give examples of women serving alongside the Apostle Paul in ministry, such as Junia (Rom. 16:7), whom she names as a female apostle (pg. 14).

Acknowledging that her detractors would point out this subjective viewpoint, she retorts with, “Everyone looks at the text through the grid of personal experience,” but we must “view our experience through the grid of the biblical text, not the other way around” (pg. 19). This is sound advice. The problem is when she relies on archeological research to guide her interpretation.

2. Using Historical Records as an Interpretive Lens

Glahn argues that a fresh look at the topic of women in ministry is necessary due to the prevalence of Aristotelian notions of female inferiority throughout church history. She goes on to list Augustine, Luther, and Knox among the most prominent adherents of this view. According to Glahn, what many call the “traditional view” of gender roles in the church has long gone unquestioned due to their historical primacy. However, the advent of the internet, more female representation in academia, and newly discovered archeological data offer a more inclusive vision for women in ministry.  With a more accurate context, Glahn asserts, biblical scholars, especially ones focused on the female perspective, can now clearly see Paul’s viewpoint of women in the church.

In her pursuit to present a historical-cultural interpretation of 1 Timothy, Glahn superimposes a female-centric view of the scriptures dealing with the authority structures in the church. The book’s long and winding trek through the historical, cultural, and anthropological records of the Ephesian context, namely its chief goddess Artemis, seeks to convince the reader that they “need an update” on how they read Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Identifying Artemis as a protector in childbirth, the leading cause of death for women at that time, rather than a fertility goddess, explains why Paul would give the consolation to women in long-debated 1 Timothy 2:15 verse: “But she will be saved through the bearing of children…” Glahn surmises that conservative bible interpreters have used this verse as a prooftext for universally restricting women’s roles in the church, when Paul is actually arguing for the supremacy of Christ as eternal Savior, as well as provision through all life’s trials, childbirth included. Glahn concludes that “Paul saw himself as speaking wisdom for specific circumstances rather than making decrees for all people at all times” (p. 128).

By framing all of Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2 as a response to a “local issue,” Glahn allows her research (and personal experience) to take precedence over a literal interpretation of the scriptures. This follows the same template used by some to pronounce Sodom and Gomorrah’s primary sin as poor hospitality, a major faux pas in the Ancient Near East culture, rather than rampant, unrepentant homosexuality. When we begin interpreting God’s timeless Truth through a grid that aligns with the orthodoxy of the secular world, there is no limit to what we allow ourselves to do, which leads to the final error – reinterpreting spiritual gifting.

3. Conflating Official Church Roles with Spiritual Gifting

Glahn ends her book by reiterating that she did not set out to prove why women should be able to teach men. Indeed, she benignly states in her introduction that she wrote it for those who have “a hunch they’re supposed to use [their spiritual gifts] far beyond the nuclear family, as important as it is” (p. 18). The reader may ask, how far beyond the family does she mean? When attempting to refute the creation order argument, she cites examples of women prophesying (1 Cor. 11:5) to support women preaching to men in the church. “Wasn’t a ‘thus sayeth the Lord’ more like preaching than teaching?” (p. 14) To Glahn, the passage of central concern is 1 Tim. 2:15 on childbearing. She recalls how this passage once made her question if God is “saying women should refrain from teaching truth in the presence of men because of a woman’s role of quietness is rooted in the creation order as God’s original ideal?” (p. 14). Of course, she is referring to women teaching authoritatively in the context of a church service.

Indeed this last argument has been made more frequently by those who espouse a “broad/soft” complementarian approach to women in ministry. Many in this camp championed prominent women’s bible teacher Beth Moore after she announced that she would be preaching at a Sunday worship service. Former SBC President JD Greear’s Summit Church’s statement on the role of women in ministry reads “Women are expected to exercise the spiritual gifts of teaching, leading, and prophecy, just as men are. Often those gifts will be exercised in the single-gender environment we call “women’s discipleship,” but not always.” Greear, standing alongside past SBC presidents James Merritt and Ed Litton, was also one of the detractors of the 2023 Law Amendment, which sought to clarify the constitution’s language to state only men can serve as pastors. Glahn uses the same rationale in Nobody’s Mother: Should we further marginalize women, who throughout church history have been denigrated as “less than,” by preventing them from exercising their spiritual gifts in the same capacity as men? So far, this strategy is working.

Conclusion

The average layman may think that all this talk of Artemis and “biblical anthropology” has very little to do with what happens in their churches; however, just as the arts and media have shaped the broader culture, what is taught in seminaries shapes the theology of future generations. Unfortunately, men in church leadership have neglected their role of shepherding the flock, especially as it relates to women’s bible studies and conferences. The more Christian institutions compromise biblical principles to appease the demands of social justice activists, the greater the need will be for church leaders to practice spiritual discernment which will entail taking bold, public stands for the truth, no matter the cost.

Though most of Glahn’s work in Nobody’s Mother has been criticized in this review, one statement she makes that all Christians can agree upon comes from a quote she attributes to noted Greek scholar Daniel B. Wallace, which states, “‘If Jesus is the truth, we should never be afraid to explore where the truth may lead.'” (pg. 36)  Of course, she meant this as a way to justify an egalitarian view of Scripture, but it can be taken to mean that in the current battle over the meaning of “woman” and the definition of “pastor,” we do not need to fear the reproach of the world. Nor do we need to fear the attempts of the Christian intelligentsia to discredit a historical and biblically faithful adherence to male-female roles in the home and church. History may prove that Artemis was nobody’s mother, but God’s authoritative word, faithfully interpreted, should be all we need “to fight hard for the faith that… is good for all time.” (Jude 1:3, ESV)

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