Who Shall Serve for YHWH? Gender Debates and God’s Sovereign Appointments in the Old Testament

A number of debates have reignited in the last several years regarding egalitarian or complementarian readings of Scripture. Denominations are revisiting the question of whether or not the Bible permits women serving in pastoral roles. Recent monographs from Beth Barr, Aimee Byrd, and Nijay Gupta (among others) have challenged arguments from complementarians that the Bible and the church historically has forbidden women from serving in these capacities.

While historians and theologians have considered the roles of men and women in ministry, and biblical scholars have weighed in on the biblical passages discussing these matters, this presentation would seek to examine the Old Testament texts more generally to consider YHWH’s assignment of individuals into specific roles in the Israelite community. The ability of a man or woman to minister rests fundamentally on God’s sovereign choice to assign persons to specific roles as he sees fit. Thus, YHWH decides who will serve him, and he stipulates what each person will do. This presentation will not seek to determine “which side” is correct in gender ministry debates, but would instead seek to provide biblical data of God assigning roles to individuals and groups. This data would serve to reframe gender discussions in light of God’s past activity and New Covenant expectations of God’s ministers. Particular attention will be given to God’s choice of individuals outside the pattern or expectation (e.g., Deborah as a prophetess, the younger child rather than the older, the Spirit on all flesh, etc.). This analysis would also examine situations where the entity embraced, rejected, or transgressed those assigned roles and God’s response to them.

Preliminary passages considered:
God has assigned all humans as male or female (Gen 1:26-27). YHWH assigned Abram and his descendants to be his treasured possession (Gen 12), distinguishing them from the nations, and choosing Sarai to be the mother and Isaac the son of promise (Gen 17). Moses is appointed as Israel’s deliverer and YHWH’s prophet (Exod 3-4) and confirmed when Aaron and Miriam oppose him (Num 12). The firstborn is set apart to the LORD (Exod 13). Israel will be God’s kingdom of priests and holy nation (Exod 19). Aaron and his sons are chosen as priests (Exod 28). The Levites are set apart to care for the holy things and are not given a land inheritance (Num 1). Only those between 25 and 50 years old may serve (Num 8). The LORD rejects Korah and his followers (Num 16). The LORD will choose Israel’s kings and prophets (Deut 17-18). Deborah serves as a prophet (Judg 4). Samson is appointed as a Nazirite (Judg 13). Saul is chosen and rejected, in spite of his desire to remain king (1 Sam 9-15). David is chosen to be king and retained, in spite of his sin (1 Sam 16; 2 Sam 12). Job is put forward by God for Satan to test him (Job 1-2). Joel announces that sons and daughters will prophesy as the Spirit is poured out on all (Joel 2).

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