INTERVIEW – Wayne Grudem, Part Five – Must a Woman Always Remain Silent in Church?

This interview is being serialised over several days. So far I have published part one, which focused on personal issues, and part two, in which we discussed Systematic Theology. In part three, we explored Grudem’s charge that feminism inevitably leads to a denial of Scripture’s authority. Part four honed in on the “trajectory” arguments used on both sides of this debate. Today, we look at the issue of women addressing church congregations. The interview is summarised in my post Dr Wayne Grudem Interview – Highlights and Reflections.

Adrian
You seem to reserve some of your firmest comments for people who argue that it is all right for a woman to teach if she has the permission of her pastor. I guess it does seem a bit ironic that some pastors today want to permit the precise thing that Paul says he doesn’t.

What would you say, however, to those who claim that there is, if you like, two ways to address a congregation – authoritative teaching and non-authoritative instruction, or perhaps exhortation. Would you be happier with a church that had clear male leadership and reserved the regular preaching ministry for men, but, for example, from time to time had a woman share some thoughts that God had impressed upon her or perhaps a word of encouragement?

Wayne

The question to keep in mind whenever we are applying the Bible to life is, “What was the original setting which the biblical author had in mind?” In this case, a number of factors in the context of 1 Timothy 2 argue that Paul was talking about what should happen when the church comes together as a group. The “teaching” done in that context is the Bible teaching that is given to the assembled church. Paul says he does not permit a woman to do that.

But there were many other speech activities approved for women, such as giving prophecies aloud in the congregation (1 Corinthians 11:5), or praying aloud in the congregation (1 Corinthians 11:5), and this probably implies that many other speech activities were allowed as well. (I think 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 prohibits a woman from speaking up and passing judgments on prophecies that were given in the church, as I explained in my book.)

Therefore, I would be completely happy with women giving personal testimonies or sharing some things that God had brought to their minds (what I would call prophecy), or almost anything else that didn’t involve Bible teaching to the whole congregation.

But I want to be careful. I don’t think Paul says, “I don’t permit a woman to give authoritative teaching, but she can give non-authoritative Bible teaching to the church”! I don’t even know what non-authoritative Bible teaching would be! The point is we should just follow what Paul says, and in that context “teach” means to teach the Bible. That is what women should not do for Paul restricts it to men. But other speech activities are fine and should be encouraged.

And, no, I don’t think a pastor can give a woman “permission” to do Bible teaching before the church, because the Bible says not to do that. Would we say a pastor, or a board of elders, could give a woman “permission” to violate the command, “You should not steal”, or to violate any other command of Scripture? No pastor or elder board has authority to give permission to anyone to disobey the Bible. It’s God’s Word and we need to obey it.

Adrian

There is no doubt in my mind about the level of passion and conviction you feel about this whole issue. You are clearly very worried about the effects that compromise on this issue will have on the church. Would you go so far as to say that feminism is the biggest issue facing the church today? What, if any, other dangers of a similar nature do you feel we face?

Wayne

I’m reluctant to say what are the biggest issues facing the church today. Different churches may face different issues in different areas. I know that this is a very large issue, however.

Adrian

It seems, to me at least, that a lot of these issues hang together. People who are concerned about the direction of evangelical feminism also seem to be concerned about getting an essentially literal Bible translation that is as close to the meaning of each of the actual words of the original languages as possible. Conversely, those who are happier with more readable translations also seem to have a tendency to feel differently about the role of women, and for that matter many other issues that we see arising in the church today. Do you feel there is a definite connection there?

Wayne

Well, I happen to think that the ESV is both highly “readable” and “essentially literal” at the same time! (Just try reading it aloud.)

But, yes, I think there is a connection between evangelical feminism and the push for “gender-neutral” Bible translations. One early mark of a church moving to endorse evangelical feminism is to deny that there are any uniquely masculine characteristics (apart from obvious physical differences). Part of that trend has been seen in the strong push for “gender neutral language” in our culture. Bibles such as the TNIV, the New Living Translation, and the New Revised Standard Version remove thousands of examples of the male-oriented words “man,” “father,” “son,” “brother,” and “he/him/his,” and change them to the gender-neutral terms “person,” “parent,” “child,” “friend,” and “they,” in places where the original Hebrew or Greek referred to a specific male human being or used a masculine singular pronoun (equivalent to the English “he”) to state a general truth. These versions have “muted the masculinity” of many passages of Scripture, and in doing so have contributed to the feminist goal of denying anything uniquely masculine.

The TNIV in particular has changed the translation of many of the key passages regarding women in the church, and I would find it almost impossible to teach a Biblical “complementarian” view of the role of women in the church from the TNIV. It has gone further in supporting an evangelical feminist position than any other translation, as far as I know (see page 260 in Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? for more details). Of course, it is no surprise than that the TNIV has been very popular among egalitarian groups such as the Willow Creek Association.

To take one example: in 1 Timothy 2:12 the TNIV adopts a highly suspect and novel translation that gives the egalitarian side everything they have wanted for years in a Bible translation. It reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” (italics added). If churches adopt this translation, the debate over women’s roles in the church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, “I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders.” Therefore any woman could be a pastor or elder so long as she does not take it upon herself to “assume authority.” Then in the footnotes to 1 Timothy 2:12 the TNIV also introduces so many alternative translations that the verse will just seem confusing and impossible to understand. So it is no surprise that egalitarian churches are eager to adopt the TNIV.

Continued in part six . . .

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and part of the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London for more than ten years, serving alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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