On Gender: What the Bible Says About Men and Women—And Why It Matters (2019) by Renée Sproles is notable because it is actively promoted to church members by a ministry organization that engages in marketing and advertising and is endorsed by two Churches of Christ ministers despite the book arguing against an orthodox Churches of Christ approach. Sproles, a member of North Boulevard Church of Christ, directs its School of Christian Thought.

On Gender argues for a form of complementarianism, one excluding females from some roles and functions in the church, such as senior pastor, elder, and senior teacher, but not from all speaking roles and functions in the gathered church. It pointedly criticizes both traditionalism —which includes completely excluding females from speaking in the assembly, as do the vast majority of Churches of Christ— and egalitarianism —which urges not discriminating against women or girls based on sex relative to any role or function in the church, for example.

Labeled on its cover a “Renew.org resource” and endorsed and assisted by some associated with Renew, On Gender also serves as advocacy for the Renew ministry organization’s Statement on Gender, set out at the front of the book, a statement Sproles helped write. 

After an overview, and throughout focusing on church-related aspects, this article identifies On Gender‘s strengths, including embodying courage to speak out against the orthodox Churches of Christ practice while Sproles remains in a Churches of Christ environment and including its encouraging nature.

This article also identifies the book’s weaknesses, such as avoiding addressing if, why, and how doctrines the book advocates — male headship, “New Testament norms,” prohibitions on female authority over men, etc. — apply to women in the workplace, education, government, and society. And the article analyzes the book’s primary weakness, flawed scripture-analysis at key points.

I. Overview and Strengths

On Gender opens by identifying traditionalism and theological liberalism as “deadly” and as misusing scripture. Egalitarians are introduced as denying the authority of scripture and as picking and choosing from scripture like a “yummy buffet.”  Sproles once declared herself an egalitarian, but after conversations with her minister and study, she decided she was overreacting to the restrictive practice of her church, a Church of Christ.

The book summarizes “my study on gender,” she explains.  Her major themes are that of complementarianism: males have “headship” and women are “strong help” for men, with women excluded from some roles, authority, and functions in the church, including senior pastor and elder, but not from all.[1]

Chapters One and Two: Men Have Headship Because Adam was Created First, Adam Instructs Eve, …

Chapter 1 sets out Sproles’ interpretation of Genesis 1-3, including that God (a) uses creation order—Adam first, Eve second, “God creates man … and woman comes from man”—to “forever connect the sexes in relationship and responsibility,” (b) creates Eve as a “strong helper corresponding to or opposite” Adam, and (c) instructs Adam, thereby delegating authority to him, and Adam instructs Eve, giving rise to a “clear order of authority” that must be obeyed today.  

Adam sins because he “should have spoken up”—he was “with Eve and said nothing …. Adam let the serpent and his lies deceive her,” he “remained silent.”  Eve sins by making Adam “vulnerable to sin” and handing him the fruit, bringing danger to him.  Both violate “their ‘one flesh’ union.”  Evidence of Adam’s “headship” includes God confronting “Adam first …, even though Eve sinned first” and giving him more punishment. 

In Chapter 2, Sproles asserts male headship (and kephale, a Greek term often translated “head”) comprises being an overseeing authority and leader, not a “worldly” kind, but instead a New Testament kind, a kind that “combines mercy and rightness with God,” which includes love, service, and sacrifice.[2]

Chapter Three: Barring Their Visible Participation Today Puts Their Spiritual Well-Being at Risk, Some Participation Allowed, But Women Restricted From Some Church Roles

In Chapter 3, Sproles argues “male headship includes women in prominent roles,” observing “God approves many kinds of female leaders” in the Old Testament, Jesus involves women, and women prayed, taught, and prophesied in the early church in the presence of men.  The early church had female deacons (citing Romans 16:1-2), and Phoebe was probably not just a servant but instead a deacon “in the technical sense.”

Churches prohibiting women from participating in visible ways, she asserts, puts at risk “the spiritual well-being of many of them.”  

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is “[i]n the context of judging prophecy,” forbidding “women asking questions that the elders would be asking because it violates the Old Testament principle of submission.”  

However, she views “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” in 1 Timothy 2:12 as “teaching with teeth in it” such that women should not assume teaching authority over men in the gathered church.  1 Timothy 3 and 2:12 reserve “authority of overseer (elder) and rabbi (senior teacher) to males in the church.” 

Equating senior pastors to rabbis, she says women should not be senior pastors or elders because it “violates creation order,” but women can serve in many ways “with delegated authority, honoring the principles of headship.”[3]

Strengths

Strengths of On Gender include its courage, readability, and relatability.

It advocates against traditional Churches of Christ practice relative to females, calling it “overreaching” and “heavy-handed.”[4]  Courage is required to speak out against such practice while remaining in the Churches of Christ world.  Many who wish to remain employable, socially connected, or invited to speak in the Churches of Christ world will not question such practice out loud for fear of losing their livelihood or such opportunities.

Much of the discussion is engaging and encouraging, offering hope to women completely prohibited from speaking in their church assembly, both for themselves and their daughters, for example.  A high volume of scripture is cited and discussed. Well-organized, it pulls readers along by intermixing scripture commentary with personal stories and observations.

II.      Overview of Weaknesses

On Gender‘s weaknesses include its problem-laden scripture-analysis, failure to engage sources with a different view, vagueness and ambiguity, and side-stepping a critical question.

Scripture-Analysis Problems at Key Points

On key points when discussing scripture, On Gender engages in eisegesis, makes conclusory assertions without citing substantial evidence, interprets out of context, ignores or downplays scripture, and misquotes scripture.[5] This first weakness is discussed in more detail below. 

Tunnel-Vision

This overriding first weakness is combined with the book failing to substantially and meaningfully engage scholarship and evidence besides that which agrees with its conclusions.  For example, while criticizing general Churches of Christ practice relative to female participation as “overreaching,” “heavy-handed,” and putting the well-being of females at risk, the book does not engage with Churches of Christ scholarship (no Everett Ferguson, Wayne Jackson, David Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, etc.). 

Nor does On Gender address that what it advocates—such as excluding females from certain church roles and God-ordained male authority relative to females—is itself criticized by many Christians as overreaching, heavy-handed, and putting the well-being of females at risk. 

And although the book criticizes egalitarians in bold and ad hominem terms, their views are not well represented, and one would not know from reading On Gender that evangelical egalitarian or Biblical Christian Egalitarian sources even exist.[6] 

Sources cited and assertions in the book at key points are nearly uniformly from the same school of thought, that associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, The Gospel Coalition, and The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a school of thought to which the Renew Statement on Gender conforms.[7] 

In this vein, On Gender reads not so much as a study, but instead as a narrative of talking-points and advocacy for the theology and practice urged by that Statement, largely with one-sided, conclusory arguments selected or derived from sources reflecting that school of thought at key points when analyzing scripture.  Thus, a second major weakness is the book’s monolithic, tunnel-vision nature.

Vague and Ambiguous in Several Respects

A third is the book’s vagueness and ambiguity.  Specific on some things it says women cannot do (e.g., Lead Pastor, senior teacher, elder), it is mostly vague and ambiguous regarding what women can do (e.g., sole teacher of a class of men and women? preach? Non-Lead Pastor? lead singing? communion remarks? other roles or functions besides Lead Pastor and elder?).  

Also, is it a sin to exclude women from roles and functions besides the ones On Gender specifies or is excluding women from those roles and functions an acceptable option? And the Renew Statement it endorses says “New Testament norms” must be upheld today, but “New Testament norms” is a loaded and ambiguous term and Churches of Christ generally consider such norms to completely prohibit females from speaking in the assembly.[8]  

Ducking an Important Question

A crucial fourth weakness is On Gender side-steps a crucially important question: if, why, and how the doctrines it advocates — including “New Testament norms,” a prohibition on females having teaching authority or other kinds of authority relative to men, and male “headship” — each are or are not required in the workplace, education, government, society, or other areas beyond church and home under its and the Renew Statement’s theology? This is not addressed in the Renew Statement on Gender, either.

The book might imply that some such doctrines do, indeed, extend beyond church and home, lamenting churches “and schools” that do not follow the “headship” principles the book describes, but it does not address the above question directly or in any detail.[9]

A bevy of additional questions regarding the theology advocated in the book arise from avoiding that major question, such as does a Christian man have headship over Christian women in the workplace and society? Do non-Christian men have headship over all women in the workplace and society? Does God give headship only to Christian men? Are Christian men the head of or authority over Christian women in the workplace or in society due to creation order? Are Christian women prohibited from exercising authority or from authentein over men in the workplace? In Christian schools? Public schools? In government?

III.         On Gender’s Primary Weakness is Scripture Analysis

This section illustrates the book’s primary weakness—its scripture analysis at key points—by briefly describing four examples of problems in On Gender’s scripture analysis of one of its main themes, that males have headship and authority relative to females due to their sex.

As a Main Premise, Claims Adam Instructs Eve

On Gender declares that Adam instructs Eve about not eating from the tree after God instructs Adam.  This instructional chain is evidence of Adam’s authority and headship relative to Eve, it says.[10] 

The Bible, however, does not say Adam instructs Eve about not eating from the tree.  God, Adam, or both might have told Eve directly—the Bible does not say explicitly who did—but a main premise of On Gender’s headship theology is that Adam instructs her, and On Gender does not mention any other possibility.  

The Bible implies God instructs Eve directly, the opposite of what On Gender declares to be true without discussion, as, for example, (a) Eve quotes God, but not Adam, speaking affirmatively and directly, telling the snake “God did say, ‘You must not …’” (Genesis 3:3), not “Adam did say that God did say, ‘You must not …,’”, (b) Eve’s quote of God is different from God’s words to Adam and the Bible does not suggest a misquote or misunderstanding, (c) Genesis 1-3 does not report Adam instructing Eve at all, (d) Genesis 1:27-29 reports God instructing both Eve and Adam, and (e) verse 29 reports God instructs both Eve and Adam about eating fruit from trees (On Gender quotes vv. 27-28, leaving out v. 29).[11]

Claims Eve Sins First: Contradiction, More Eisegesis, …

On Gender also argues a sign of Adam’s “headship” over Eve is God confronting Adam first “even though Eve sinned first.”[12] 

The Bible, however, does not say Eve sinned first. It does not explicitly say who sins first, but strongly suggests Adam did, explaining “sin entered the world” through him in Romans 5:12. 

Indeed, another Renew publication states “the first human sin, committed by Adam ….”[13]  Similarly, On Gender itself contradictorily indicates Adam sins first, that he sins by being with Eve and failing to speak up when he could have preserved her—instead of “preserving” Eve, On Gender says, “Adam let the serpent and his lies deceive her,” suggesting Adam sins by a failure to act before Eve sins, while she still could be preserved.[14]

Gives Adam “Privileges” and “Special Rights” Because …

As a related example, On Gender claims Adam’s “headship” and authority relative to Eve is shown by Adam’s consequences upon sinning—arguing that God confronting Adam first and meting out more punishment when speaking to him indicates God had given Adam “privileges” and “special rights,” which, per the book, shows God had given Adam such delegated authority and headship.[15]

The Bible, however, does not say Adam’s consequences are due to any of that—not to such delegated authority, headship, privileges, or special rights relative to Eve.  

The Bible says instead that Adam’s consequences are due to his sinning by listening to the voice of his wife and eating of the tree about which God commanded him, while he was not deceived, sinning with eyes wide open. (Gen 3:17; 1 Tim 2:14)  The only “voice” of his wife for Adam to listen to that is reported in scripture is when Eve spoke to the snake.  (Genesis 2-3)  And the Bible says “sin entered the world” and “death reigned” through Adam.  (Rom 5:12, 17)

In contrast, Eve was deceived into transgression by the craftiest animal God ever made—Satan—under attack by Satan and not with eyes wide open. (Gen 3:1, 4; 1 Tim 2:14; Rev 12:9; John 8:44). 

Who would you expect to be confronted first and receive greater punishment? —

  1. Eve: attacked by the craftiest beast God ever made, Satan; quoted God’s word in responding; became deceived into transgression by the craftiest beast ever; or
  2. Adam: sins by listening and eating with eyes wide-open, not deceived; the person through whom sin entered the world and through whom death reigned.

That God would confront Adam first and gives more punishment as compared with Eve is not surprising considering the relative culpability the Bible sets out.  It does not explicitly say why.  But Adam listening and eating, sinning while undeceived (as compared to Eve, sinning while deceived by the craftiest beast ever), and sin entering the world and death reigning through Adam is what the Bible highlights. (Gen 3:17; 1 Tim 2:14; Romans 5:12, 17)

It is obviously eisegesis—and privileging males and subordinating females—to claim Adam’s consequences are due to God giving Adam “special rights” and “privileges” relative to Eve.

Scripture Misquote in Primary Theme

A fourth example involves On Gender misquoting scripture and using it in analyzing a key concept.  The Bible says, “… the kephale of every man is Christ, and kephale of the woman is man, and kephale of Christ is God.” (1 Cor 11:3) Man and woman here could mean husband and wife, each sex in general, or something else.  Kephale or “head” could have a meaning in the sense of (a) source, origin, beginning, or representative of a whole (non-hierarchical) (as in head of a river or head of a line of kids at school), (b) overseeing authority and leader (as in head of a company), (c) physical head (head on your body), or something else. 

On Gender argues kephale (head) for gender comprises a kind of authority and leader, rather than source.[16] Its primary argument for this definition includes asserting Christ is called “the head (kephale) cornerstone,” repeating this multiple times with variations.[17]

On Gender misquotes the leading verse on which it relies for this claim, 1 Peter 2:7, though, quoting it as “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the cornerstone.”[18]  

I found no recognized translation or credentialed scholar translating 1 Peter 2:7 as On Gender quotes it, to include “head of the cornerstone.”

The verse says instead “… kephalen gonias,” meaning, word-for-word, “head of corner or angle,” normally translated as “head of corner” or “cornerstone” (not “head of cornerstone” or “head cornerstone”).[19]  That is, “head of corner” means “cornerstone” (or similar term).

What On Gender quotes and emphasizes as proving its point is instead absent from the verse—no “head of the cornerstone,” “Head cornerstone,” or “kephale cornerstone,” there or in the other verse it quotes in this regard, Matthew 21:42.[20]  The book’s use of misquoted scripture is when considering a key disputed point (authority vs. source) relative to its main theme, headship.

Just Some Examples

These four examples are just some of the analytical problems found in just one of On Gender’s arguments relative to scripture (male headship).  As mentioned at the outset, material weaknesses are found at multiple key points of the book’s arguments on scripture.

IV. Conclusion

Not Recommended for Scholars, Ministers, or Church Members

I do not recommend On Gender for the scholar, minister, or church member because its core weakness—scripture analysis—is in the main area in which they need a thoroughgoing and reliable guide.  This is not to say that every item of scripture analysis in the book is erroneous. But that weakness arising at critical junctures and its other weaknesses (e.g., its monolithic nature) result in it offering unreliable scriptural help on key points.

Since On Gender is marketed and advertised to church members by a ministry organization whose Statement on Gender the book advocates (and who sometimes offers the book for free), some number of members of the Churches of Christ and the independent Christian Churches in particular might have already obtained the book.  Ministers may want to acquire a copy if their members cite it.

Those seeking talking points in favor of a form of complementarianism that excludes women from some roles and that advocates male headship might find the book provides value to them, giving a female voice to the argument, which is typically not as readily available as male voices advocating such exclusions and sex-based authority. The book’s analytical weaknesses and single school-of-thought approach greatly limit its talking-points value, though.

Nor for Classroom Use

The book did not seem aimed at the academic classroom.  Permeating weaknesses in its scripture analysis and the monolithic nature of On Gender render it not recommended for church-classroom use.      

Appreciation for Sproles and Her Work  

While I have spent a substantial portion of this article discussing the weaknesses of the book, I want to say, as I conclude, that my criticism is meant to further God’s kingdom and all of our work in that regard. 

Despite the book’s weaknesses, Sproles should be appreciated for sharing her thoughts and insights with us and for challenging us to think about these issues.  It is courageous to speak out against discrimination and potential harm against women and girls while remaining affiliated with a group that argues that its prohibitions on women and girls are God-ordained.

Even while she herself argues for maintaining some prohibitions against females and argues that the prohibitions she advocates are God-ordained, recognizing that there are serious and significant issues associated with prohibitions on women and girls and giving voice to them in such an environment requires recognition of needed change and personal fortitude and risk-taking.

I thank Renée Sproles for her work and for being dedicated to the kingdom of God and addressing the topic of Biblical teaching on women.


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Sources & Notes

This article is derived from a paper presented in September 2020 at the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference that reviewed three books on the subject of Biblical teaching on women. The review’s components largely follow the journal’s guidelines on book reviews (usually much shorter). Articles reviewing the other two books will be published in the coming weeks.

[1] This essay focuses on the aspects of the book related to women’s and girl’s participation in the church. The book also discusses marriage relationships. The essay’s footnotes generally come at the end of a paragraph or a group of paragraphs, with cites for consecutive sentences often separated by semi-colon, rather than after every sentence or paragraph. Initial paragraphs: Renée Sproles, On Gender: What the Bible Says About Men and Women—And Why It Matters (Self-published, 2019), pp. 7-20, 94-95, 102-103, 113-115, and front and back cover. Sproles also appears to refer to traditionalists as “rigid complementarians,” though it is unclear whether she is making any distinction between the two labels. See, e.g., ibid., at 88.

David Young, Senior Minister at Sproles’ congregation, North Boulevard Church of Christ, and Geoff Giesemann, Spiritual Growth Minister at Burnt Hickory Church of Christ, are the two ministers endorsing the book on its back cover. John Harris, a former professor of education at Samford University also endorses. It is also worth noting that the book credits two professors from universities affiliated with the Churches of Christ as assisting, one from Harding University (Dr. Rick Oster, thanking him for reading two drafts of the book and correcting and encouraging Sproles) and one from Amridge University (Dr. Michael Strickland, for editing the Greek and Hebrew and encouraging).

[2] On Gender, pp. 25-35, 36 (citing Gen. 3:17; emphasis in original), 41-42. Sproles defines kephale / headship throughout, see, e.g., ibid., pp. 7, 18, 20, 45-46, 57-58, 61-62 (emphasis in original), 78, 81, 94-95, 109 n. 34.

[3] Ibid., pp. 83-85; 86-87; 88; 91-94; 94-95 (asserting v. 12 is a hendiadys (words working together to mean one thing) rather an inclusion meaning to teach men or to assume authority over men as separate concepts).

[4] See, e.g., ibid., pp. 7-9, 17-18, 86-87, 99, 102

[5] For example, see multiple points in its discussion on “headship” (e.g., infra, section III), 1 Cor 14:34-35 (e.g., On Gender, p. 88 on judging prophecies), 1 Tim 2 (e.g., on gathered church (cf. centuries of church teaching), authentein, and 2:12, pp. 91-95), and 1 Tim 3 (e.g., p. 94); see also eisegesis (e.g., infra, section III, throughout); conclusory assertions without substantial evidence (e.g., primogeniture discussion, pp. 25-26; Adam responsible for what Eve did, p. 32; 1 Tim 3 discussion, p. 94); out of context (e.g., kephale, pp. 58-63, and infra in III); ignoring or downplaying scripture (e.g., section III (e.g., Gen. 1:28); downplaying Gen. 1 (cf., e.g., ibid., pp. 22-23 with ibid., pp. 24-80); dismissing evidence contrary to its primogeniture eisegesis with “exceptions, however, do not make the rule” in an endnote (19); not engaging passages reflecting women teaching assembled men with its interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12; Eph 5:21 (mutual submission) not reflected in “very helpful” passages summary at chap. 2 opening, but “Husbands are the heads of their wives (Eph. 4-6),” while eventually acknowledging “[h]usbands and wives are to submit to one another,” p. 53, while privileging other texts; not engaging partnership nature of ezer or opening paragraphs of 1 Tim; not engaging, relative to its 1 Tim 2:12 analysis, scripture showing women with teaching and other authority over men (see, e.g., passages cited in Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” Authentic Theology (Sept. 3, 2018)); scripture misquote (see infra, III).

[6] See, e.g., On Gender, pp. 9-12, 99-103; Benjamin R. Knoll & Cammie Jo Bolin, She Preached the Word, New York: Oxford U. Press (2018), pp. 119-235 (women having only male congregational leaders growing up had, as an effect, (1) lower self-esteem (associated with more depression, anxiety), (2) less education, (3) higher unemployment, and (4) more authoritarian and judgmental view of God, on average, than men and than women who had influential female congregational leaders growing up); Kelly Ladd Bishop, “Male Headship Theology Enables Abusers,” Huffington Post (March 15, 2016); Mikaela Bell, “The Consequences of Soft Complementarianism” CBE International (June 24, 2020); Kevin Giles, “The Headship of Men and the Abuse of Women: Are They Related In Any Way?” (Cascade Books, 2020); Scott McKnight, “Complementarians and Abuse of Women: Kevin Giles’ Newest Book,” Jesus Creed at Christianitytoday.com (July 2, 2020); Kristin Du Mez, “Is Complementarian Theology Abusive to Women?,” Patheos (April 6, 2017). For additional criticism and egalitarian scholarship, see, e.g., margmowczko.com; cbeinternational.org; Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Pierce et al., eds. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2010); Linda L. Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry (Rev. Ed.), Stanley N. Gundry, ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2005); Women Serving God, pp. 267, 270; articles under “Women” at my site, e.g., Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” Authentic Theology (Sept. 3, 2018). On Gender also fails to note on what points egalitarians and traditionalists would agree with its discussion, likely much.

I use “complementarian” and “complementarianism” in this article as those terms are most frequently used, to refer to what is sometimes called “hierarchical complementarianism,” “hierarchicalism,” and “authoritarianism.” Used in their plain, ordinary meaning sense, “complement,” “complementary,” and similar terms would not necessarily include hierarchy or authority, as the traditional, plain, ordinary meaning of such terms does not include hierarchy or authority. “Non-hierarchical complementarianism” is the same as egalitarianism, for example. But those advocating for a “male headship” that includes authority relative to women, for God-ordained male authority relative to women, barring women from having some forms of authority relative to men, etc., have used “complementarianism” and forms of that term to refer to their version of complementary (with male authority, etc.). Use of that term to have its current beginning is largely a phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly by the efforts of Wayne Grudem et al. Essentially, forms of the word “complementary” has been re-defined by those advocating for an exclusion of women and the like to include forms of hierarchy, God-ordained authority over women for men, etc., when its plain meaning does not include such things. Its non-descriptive use by them appears to be mainly for advocacy and marketing. To give you a sense of how new the term is as used the way modern complementarians use it, neither complementarian nor complementarianism (or a definition that includes such authority or hierarchy) appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most complete, actively updated dictionaries (if not the most complete). You can see this, too, by typing complementarianism into Google Books’ Ngram Viewer. A more accurate term for what those arguing for exclusion of women from church roles, male headship, and the like is “hierarchicalism” or “authoritarianism.”

Of course, complementarianism is nearly solely applied to religious views, while egalitarianism is used more broadly. Ultimately, it is not the labels that guide. Essentially, egalitarianism within the church means having the view that church leaders and members ought not engage in discrimination against girls and women based on sex, just like they ought not engage in discrimination against black people based on race. Many view engaging in sex discrimination and race discrimination in the church as sins.

Similarly, “headship” is most frequently used in this context by complementarians to include hierarchy and male authority, but non-hierarchical, non-authority-based kephale, and thus “headship” in that sense (in the sense of “one flesh,” husband and wife as the origin and source of one another, for example) is consistent with mutual authority, mutual submission, mutual love, non-exclusion, not blocking females from worshiping God with all her heart, soul, mind, etc., not blocking females from serving their neighbor in the church in the manner she is called, not blocking females from part of the Great Commission, etc., as taught by the scripture.

[7] See, e.g., On Gender, pp. 105-112, 117-118; 7. The book is labeled a “Renew.org resource.”

[8] Ibid., p. 7, et seq. Another point of ambiguity and vagueness, for example, is the book’s discussion regarding deacon. It appears that On Gender asserts females can and should hold the church office of deacon, be designated by a congregation as a deacon, and the like, ibid., pp. 84-85, but the language the book uses (e.g., “technical sense,” “Phoebe held the official work of the deacon” (cf., office of deacon), “if there were women deacons in the first century church”)) is vague and ambiguous. Yet another example of ambiguity and vagueness is that the book asserts women can serve in many ways “with delegated authority, honoring the principles of headship.” (see supra footnote 3 and accompanying text) Delegated by whom? Is that claiming that women can serve if they have delegated authority from men? There are other examples.

Moreover, asserting “Lead Pastor” and senior pastor as a “New Testament norm” as the Statement and On Gender do, respectively, is striking given the absence of “lead” and “senior” pastor from the New Testament (and many would make the same comment regarding “pastor”). “Pastor” is generally not a term used in the Churches of Christ. It is a term used by many independent Christian Churches and Southern Baptists.

[9] See, e.g., ibid., pp. 7, 95-97; cf. ch. 1 (“life”: vague), 2-3 (“marriage,” “Christian Community”: application, rules); 86-87 (mentioning schools).

[10] See, e.g., ibid., pp. 25, 31-33. This is an example of eisegesis, ignoring/downplaying other scripture, not engaging contra views, conclusory, etc. Such chain-of-command arguments urge hierarchy within complementarianism. Such an argument about Adam instructing Eve after God instructs Adam is often made in support of the traditionalism Sproles criticizes, so it is surprising that it is made in her book.   

[11] Ibid., pp. 25, 31-33. These are examples. When discussing Gen. 1, On Gender quotes vv. 27-28 but not v. 29. See ibid., pp. 22-23.  Also note the snake asks Eve what God said in Gen. 3:2, not what Adam said.

There are other examples. One is that, in the instruction given to Adam, the relevant verbs are singular (translated “thou” in the KJV), indicating God giving the instruction to just one person, Adam. See Gen. 2:16-17. If God instructed Adam about Adam and Eve in 2:16-17, one would expect plural verbs (you all — or y’all if you are, like me, from the south). But it is singular. In contrast, the instruction Eve says God gave includes plural verbs (you all or y’all, translated “Ye” in the KJV). See, e.g., https://margmowczko.com/eves-statement-to-the-serpent/ (discussing this).

Those who argue for restricting women will sometimes argue that male headship is proven because God instructs Adam and then has Adam instruct Eve — when the Bible does not say that at all — but, in stark contrast, will downplay the Bible explicitly saying that Jesus (God) instructs women (including Mary), both verbally and non-verbally, about the resurrection, and then has the women instruct, proclaim, and teach men (the assembled disciples), e.g., to go to Galilee and about what the Word (Jesus; John 1) revealed to those women and what the Word wants the men to do.

Jesus, the Word, reveals Jesus’s deity and resurrection to women at the grave, spoke Mary’s name, said “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” and told them “Do not be afraid.”  (John 20:16-17; Matthew 28:10).  Jesus said to them:  “’Go … to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ (John 20:17)  “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:10)  Mary Magdalene went to the assembled disciples with the good news and proclaimed to them: “‘I have seen the Lord!’ … she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:16-18; Matt 28:9-10; see also Luke 24:9, 33; John 20:10, 19)) (the Biblical meaning of preacher is herald (messenger bringing news), messenger, announcer, proclaimer, or the like).

[12] See, e.g., ibid., p. 42.

[13] Michael Strickland, “Q: Original Sin or Ancestral Sin?,” Renew.org (June 2020) (e.g., “first human sin, committed by Adam”; “first culprit in our plight: our forefather, Adam, sinned”), accessed Aug. 23, 2020.

[14] On Gender, pp. 36, 41-42.

[15] Ibid., pp. 26, 32, 42.

[16] See footnote 2 and accompanying text.  The meaning of kephale can vary.

[17] On Gender, pp. 58-63. The book describes some desirable qualities of men or husbands in the Bible and of Christ’s example, and attempts to shoehorn those into a kind and theme of authority for the meaning of kephale or head, see, e.g., ibid., pp. 59-63, 65-69 (“authority of his headship combines mercy and rightness with God”), rather than seeing the qualities as ones of loving others, Christ’s love, following his example, and submitting to others, none of which requires or encourages authority over others (indeed, it discourages such authority), much less authority based on sex or other immutable characteristic, such as race.

[18] Ibid., p. 59 (head is emphasized in bold in the book).  A Google search of “1 Peter 2:7 “head of the cornerstone”” yields 5 results, none applicable and multiple translations can be seen at BibleHub, none as On Gender.

[19] See, e.g., biblehub.com/text/1_peter/2-7.htm. Kephalen, accusative, receives the preposition eis (into). Gonias, genitive, modifies kephalen. Out of about 60 translations at Bible Gateway, for example, a small few say “chief cornerstone” (Amplified Bible, J.B. Phillips NT, New King James Version, Revised Geneva Translation (RGT), Tree of Life Version, and World English Bible) in 2:7, one uses “head cornerstone” there (New Testament for Everyone), and a few use “chief cornerstone” in the other verse cited, Matt 21:42 (NASB plus same ones except RGT), but their use of these phrases appears to be a remnant from early translations of Psalm 118:22, echoed in these verses, and they, too, have kephalen do double duty. Of course, semantic range of chief includes non-authority meanings, including in the sense of first, beginning, origin, representative, etc., such as chief place in line, chief concern, chief of the residents are in their homes, first and chiefest, and the like. See, e.g., “Chief,” Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford:  Oxford U. Press 2020). The vast majority of modern (and not so modern) translations translate it “cornerstone” or “head of the corner.” None translated it as On Gender quotes, “head of the cornerstone.” 

[20] On Gender, pp. 59-60. It quotes 2:7 later from the NRSV, asserting “Peter elaborates on Christ as the head cornerstone …” (60), but the NRSV does not say “head cornerstone” or “head of the cornerstone” there either. A cornerstone is often vital as it begins, originates, and defines an angle, corner, or row, i.e., as a source, origin, beginning, or first representative of a corner, angle, line, or row. It is not an overseeing authority over others, not directing others itself, but serving as a foundational component—origin or beginning—of a row, column, building, or other construction set by one with authority or serving them. Source, origin, or beginning sense of kephalen gonias is also seen by Paul using ἀκρογωνιαῖος (akrogóniaios) in Eph 2:20 to refer to cornerstone, combining ἄκρος (extreme) and γωνία (corner, angle). Note that some other examples are cited in footnote 5, supra.

For more on scripture, see, e.g., Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly  and Elsewhere,” Authentic Theology (September 3, 2018).

The opening picture is of my copy of On Gender. Other images from pixabay. Scripture quoted is generally from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.

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