I’m not sure why the issue of women in pastoral roles has been weighing on my mind lately but it has. I am a convinced complentarian, which means that I believe that men and women have different and complementary roles in the Church. Women are not to be elders or authoritatively teach men in spiritual matters. Here’s why I believe this.

My reason for being a complimentarian has to do with my view of God’s covenants. First Timothy 2:11-15 is the passage where the discussion usually comes down to. There, Paul expressly forbids “a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” because “Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” I believe that in taking verses 13 and 14 together (they appear to be a single thought-unit) we see that there is more to the argument than just that Adam was created first (fact A) and that Eve was deceived (fact B). The key that draws facts A and B together is when Paul says that Eve “became a transgressor.” There is a lot of theological weight packed into that phrase, more than is obvious from a cursory reading. To burrow into that theology, we need to consider what the scriptures say about the fall.

The Bible says that mankind fell in Adam (Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:22) and yet Paul states here that it is Eve who becomes a transgressor. So why, then, is it not the biblical view that mankind fell in Eve since she ate first (Gen 3:6)? Her being deceived is no excuse (consider Israel’s covenant with the Gibeonites in Joshua 9) and Paul does not extend it as one here. I believe that humanity fell in Adam because Adam represented all of mankind (Rom 5:11-21) when he broke covenant with God (Hos 6:7) and that included his wife. Though Eve was deceived and broke the Law, mankind did not fall in her because she did not represent the human race, but we did fall in our federal head Adam.

The way this informs 1 Tim 2:11-15 is not so much that women are more easily deceived than men (personally, my wife has often rescued me from foolishness), but more that from the beginning of mankind the man was the head, the leader. True, Adam was formed first but the order of creation does not automatically invest authority or else the animals would be in charge! The divinely instituted arrangement was that Adam was given the role of leadership in the garden and in that role he represented all of mankind that came after him, Eve included. Adam’s existence prior to Eve is significant only in the same way it is significant for all of mankind: federal headship in the Covenant of Works.

Taking all this theology back to 1 Timothy we see that Paul does not allow a woman to have authority over a man nor to teach him because in the beginning it was the man who was considered the leader and was held responsible. Furthermore, this was not some arbitrary whim of God in creation; He did it to express the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:25-33, esp. 5:32). Christ represents the Church in the New Covenant (Luke 22:20 & Acts 20:28). The Church is not to have authority over Jesus nor are we going to teach him and so it is with the relationship between man and women in the Church. This situation is much more than just cultural.

My experience with egalitarian (men and women are equal in the New Covenant) hermeneutics has been “interesting.” At the time I was taking a class in which I had to study the issue, homosexual Gene Robinson was being promoted to Episcopal Bishop. These things seem unconnected till I heard Robinson being interviewed on the radio. In defense of his homosexuality, he said:

The other problem there is that homosexuality, as a sexual orientation, is a construct that’s only about 100 years old, so for us to take that construct and read it back into ancient texts just does not do justice to those texts. There’s no question that the seven very brief passages that are seen to be related to homosexuality, in scripture, both Old and New Testaments, are negative, but what I would maintain is that they do not in any way address what we’re talking about today, which are faithful, monogamous, life-long intentioned relationships between people of the same sex. The scripture simply does not address that issue.

When I heard this I recognized that the egalitarian hermeneutic was the same! Craig Keener in his essay in “Two Views on Women in Ministry” claimed that the issue was that women were uneducated and therefore easily deceived. Paul would never have envisioned a situation where women were just as educated as men.

But there are errors with this hermeneutic. The qualifications that Keener and Robinson place on the prohibitions they are responding to are not found in the Bible. History can help Biblical interpretation but it should not set a text on its head. What would happen to Keener’s argument if the ruins of a first century, all-women college were excavated in Ephesus? Even if we allow his premise, the qualifications prove too much. For Keener, are we to assume that all the women and none of the men were being deceived? For Robinson, are we to assume that “faithful, monogamous, life-long intentioned relationships between people of the same sex” never existed in biblical times? Once we embrace this kind of hermeneutic, anything is justifiable and nothing relates to us today, such as something like this:

Jesus and Paul were speaking to Jews who believed that they could be saved by following the Mosaic Law. That is not the situation in Roman Catholicism; they don’t think you can be saved by following the Mosaic law. You cannot take the biblical teaching of that time and apply it to them today, it just doesn’t apply.

In the end, we need to allow the Bible to stand on its own. It may seem archaic and dated, indeed I know some women who would be very good pastors. But God did not say these things to no purpose. If the Bible is authoritative and sufficient then we must abide by its teaching no matter what the conventional wisdom of the day dictates.


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  • Have you read anything on women in ministry by Ben Witherington? I forget his blog address, but it can be accessed through Asbury Seminary’s blog. He has written quite a bit on the role of women and has recently discussed some difficult passages on his blog.
    You wrote that some women would indeed be good pastors. Take that a step further–the Holy Spirit is working through women who are pastors. If you suggest that allowing women to serve as pastors and elders actually disobeys God’s Word…then you must ask why God would bless them.
    I attended a Baptist University with many bright and gifted women. Many of these women felt called into ministry but could only respond by going into something like children’s ministry or going to the mission field. Of course, gifted and called women are needed in these areas as much as men are, but I’ve wondered, why are women allowed to serve as missionaries and teach men who have a different color of skin and speak a different language, but not men of their own race?
    Women may respond to God’s call to spiritual leadership without dismissing God’s Word. Orthodox women preach and teach and lead. And God blesses.

  • Hi Blossom!

    You said “If you suggest that allowing women to serve as pastors and elders actually disobeys God’s Word…then you must ask why God would bless them.”

    If God is clear that women may not be elders/pastors and God has gifted some women then either a) God is conflicted, b) God changed his mind, or c) those gifts are not intended to be pastoral in an official sense. We know that a & b are incorrect so either God didn’t prohibit women from the office of elder or those women have been gifted and called to another role in the church.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you when you said, “Women may respond to God’s call to spiritual leadership without dismissing God’s Word.” However, according to God’s word, those women may not be elders in a church.

    You also said, “Orthodox women preach and teach and lead. And God blesses.” And this is true. However, it is determining church government based on results. That is pragmatism and it is an unbiblical way to determine right and wrong. When God speaks clearly in his word, we can’t disregard it because something else “works”. And God may indeed bless the work of someone working outside of the order he has prescribed. Balaam’s donkey for example. He couldn’t have done it without God, but he spoke and restrained the prophet’s madness. That doesn’t mean we should put donkey’s in pulpits.

    I appriciate your comments, but to my mind, for women to enter the ministry in the role of pastor or elder the Bible must be proven to allow that. And as I’ve shown in this very post, I don’t believe that is the case.

  • Oh and no, I haven’t ready anything by Ben Witherington. I know he made some incorrect comments about the origin of the ESV and got some strong replies from Wayne Grudem and others. But I’m not aware of his comments on egalitarianism. When I get some time, I’ll look them up and maybe I’ll blog on them!

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  • I, too, am concerned with determining church government based on results. What I would rather do is rightly interpret Scripture. Just as no reporter is truly unbiased, neither does any Christian come to read Scripture without predetermined ideas. In fact, we cannot read with understanding the biblical text without coming at it with our own use of tradition, reason and experience. Some may recognize the Wesleyan Quadrilateral here, in which tradition, reason, and experience are all used to interpret and understand Scripture. Scripture is primary, of course.

    My point is that we can then look at the success of women in ministry (more importantly, God’s hand on their work) as sufficient reason to revisit the biblical texts on women in ministry–to question again the texts that appear to be unsupportive of women pastors/elders/leaders as well as to look again at more supportive texts that have been dismissed.

    You write, “When God speaks clearly in his word, we can’t disregard it because something else ‘works’.”
    God’s Word is powerful, beautiful, convicting, and true, but it is not always “clear”. With major denominations (and non-denominations) differing over issues of baptism, communion, salvation issues, determinism vs. free will, and women’s role in the Church, I would have to say that either we are profoundly stupid to not all “get it”, or I would have to say that Scripture is not only to be read with humility, prayer, and reliance on God’s grace, but must be interpreted in the same way.

  • Blossom, I agree that the church is a mess on some of those import issues. Our calling is not to throw up our hands and give up nor is it to bend God’s Word to meet some common ground nor is it even for us to suspend our conscences and go with the lowest common denominator.

    We need to struggle with these questions, it is only in the struggle that we can expect to bear answers. What I’ve done is present an argument from the Bible that supports the traditional position on women in the office of elder. I hope to take a look at Witherington’s blog where I may assess his Biblical arguments against the traditional position. But that is where the discussion must take place. Experience must be placed very far down the chain.

  • Thanks for the post. This issue is one that I’ve been wanting to do more reading in. The church we just left held the egalitarian view and there is a woman on the elder board. I never thought about this issue too much, but with all the other error (at the church), I started questioning this too and now pretty much see tha there is something wrong about woman in this position.

    It was nice to see you Sunday.

  • Yea, it was great to talk to you guys!

    I’ll be sure to pray for Elmer’s employment and your church choice.

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