Women and the Public Reading of Scripture

Anyone who says reading Scripture is a teaching ministry is just making stuff up. Reading is reading and teaching is teaching, and preaching is preaching, and prophesying is prophesying, but reading is not teaching, preaching or prophesying. Women were prophets, women were apostles, women were teachers – this is all in the New Testament. That more than qualifies them for the public reading of Scripture.

There is a serious set of scholars who think the first public reading of Romans was by none other than Phoebe, the letter courier. Beside the already-unbiblical notion of prohibiting women from proclamation and teaching and preaching, the biggest error here is the reservation of only male-given gifts for a Sunday morning service. Where do we get Sunday-morning-only gifts? If women can read the Bible at home to themselves (teaching themselves) and to their children (teaching them) and to their Sunday school classes (teaching children), they can read it in the church service.

From Michelle Van Loon:

Should women be permitted to read Scripture aloud in a church service?

Probably for many of you reading this, the answer would be a simple yes. Neo-Reformed church leader and uber blogger Tim Chailles delivers an empathetic “No!” in this post.  In his congregation as well many others in both fundamentalist and neo-Calvinist camps, including this one, only male leaders are permitted to read Scripture:

Because of the importance of the Word of God, at Grace Fellowship Church we ask certain members of the church to be involved in a Scripture Reading Ministry—a ministry of those who are specially trained and equipped to read the Word of God and to read it well. We consider this a teaching ministry, which means that it is a ministry reserved for men.

My husband and I currently attend a church where a male pastor reads the Scripture from which his sermon is based as a part of the message. In the past, we’ve attended churches that used the Lectionary, which allowed a variety of people from the congregation serve as readers. We’ve also attended churches where a vetted reader presents the Scripture(s) for the sermon, and then the preacher follows. (Yeah. We’ve been around.)…

Tim Chailles’ post had some useful pointers about how to prep people for the important responsibility. I can applaud the sobriety with which he encourages his boy congregants to approach this task. However, I can not celebrate the harsh legalism found in the way he applies his complementarian viewpoint to a role that the entire priesthood of believers can and should be taught to do. This debate goes far beyond Scripture reading, of course, and my .02 won’t change those who are bunkered in their theological convictions on the ongoing gender role debate.

But I do offer my thoughts here for those who may be on the fence about this topic, and feel perhaps convinced by the intensity of the convictions that are issued in a vigorous blog conversation from the neo-Reformed world. I write here from my history as a practioner, and am informed on the topic of women proclaming Scripture prophetically by passages like these:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”- Acts 2:17-18 (Peter quoting from Joel 2)

“For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor. 14:31)

Therefore, my brothers and sisters*, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Cor. 14:39)

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  • RJS

    As 1 Cor. 14:34 follows 1 Cor. 14:31 and precedes 1 Cor. 14:39 – and because the change from brothers (adelphoi – one word) to brothers and sisters is one of the reasons people object to the translation used here – I doubt these two citations will actually make much impact.

    The Acts 2 quote of Joel makes more of an impact.

    This I say as one who finds the restriction of lectionary type reading of scripture in a worship service to men only as both ludicrous and deeply damaging to the body of Christ (his church).

    But the arguments have to be made in a manner that helps the conversation.

  • So how does a pastor move in this direction (of allowing women to fill these roles) while serving in a church/denomination that is opposed to women serving this way?

    I know some people would advocate just leaving the denom

  • RJS states it well, though I am less concerned about lectionary readings since I don’t come from such a context.

  • Kristen

    I came across a church a while ago that had traditionally only used men as lectors but they had recently liberalized — they’d never regularly schedule a woman as a lector but women could be substitutes.

    I’m still trying to figure out any possible rationale behind that.

  • David

    Even Tim Keller & redeemer presbyterian where they hold a male elder view sees it as biblical to have women teach and read scripture in public, from what I’ve read they reserve the role as elder when protecting the church or needing to apply church discipline to men, this way a women can do alot in the church but not have authority over a man in discipline.

    It’s sad that this church above only allows men to read the scripture, it not only diminishes the community participation on a Sunday but leans on hypocrisy when women are reading scripture out loud in a church home group, if they allow that.

  • Jason Lee

    “restriction of lectionary type reading of scripture in a worship service”

    I don’t under stand this “restriction of” lectionary reading comment. Plenty of churches that use lectionary readings have women and men doing them (and doing a lot of other things too). In fact, I’d imagine that if you looked at American churches, having lectionary readings (or various liturgical elements) would be correlated with greater gender egalitarianism in church roles. In other words, the more liturgical the church, the more gender egalitarian.

    The issue of restricting women from reading the Bible in church is just one of many ways that some churches restrict women (teaching, preaching, leading groups/ministries, elder/pastor). Some churches do some restrictions, some do them all. But they all flow from a more or less expansive ideology of gender hierarchicalism.

  • gingoro

    “Anyone who says reading Scripture is a teaching ministry is just making stuff up.”

    I would agree that reading Scripture usually is not a teaching ministry but if it is done well then IMO it becomes a teaching ministry. Women in our church often read scripture, often lead the service when the pastor is away and sometimes preach. We have both male and female elders and deacons. And by the way we are Calvinists who are so often reviled on this blog.
    Dave W

  • T

    Wow. This is just silly. Women can prophesy but not read scripture. That just makes no sense at all.

    How is it that a branch of the church that is so dominated by rationality can be so irrational? Is it a forest vs. trees issue?

  • Mar

    I love the beauty of hearing Scripture read by those who are less “smooth” … those with difficulty reading, and children … it shows the accessibility of Scripture to all. Where does the idea come from that if it’s read in public it should be handled by only the most practiced or smooth of speech? That seems to focus on “excellence” rather than love.

  • T

    This reminds me of the post that moving further to the right is never wrong. It seems we can forbid what the NT permits and still be perfectly orthodox and even well respected in the evangelical world. Peter’s experience notwithstanding, calling something “unclean” even after God has made it clean is just being conservative, not actually sinning.

    I realize that it is very unlikely that this church permits any kind of prophetic work by men or women, as far as it can tell. I will say that every time I see something like this I think about how different these issues are in churches that have any shared and open experience with prophecy, healing or miracles. The reason is that these things inevitably don’t stay gender-specific. They don’t even stay adult-specific. Just like that passage in Joel says: young and old, men and women are all intended vehicles of God’s Spirit. When one actually sees the Spirit do amazing and wonderful things through people who we thought were somehow unqualified, it makes a big impact on issues like these, just like it did with Peter and the first churches.

  • I go with the simple yes that was mentioned, because anything more than this comes evil. Although, maybe that’s not the proper application of Matthew 5:37 here. But if we look at the this from either side, we see that sometimes arguments like this can tend to be more destructive than constructive, so maybe it can apply.
    Acts 2:17-18 is sufficient for me personally, but a passage of scripture that makes even that passage of scripture clearer for me is:

    John 14:25-26

    “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (ESV)

    Again maybe a misapplication to some, but at the heart of this passage isn’t Jesus teaching that the Holy Spirit is our ultimate teacher and guide. So with that I will defer to the Acts passage.

    Reader, teacher, preacher, prophet – yes

  • EricW

    Yes, T, “silly” is the word for complementarian patriarchal hierarchical restrictions on women (aka gender-based “roles”) in the church, the Body of Christ.

  • phil_style

    “Should women be permitted to read Scripture aloud in a church service”?

    If the answer is no, then don’t expect to ever see me in a church ever again.

  • Amos Paul


    On a comment for the opener of this piece, I agree with the notion that, “Anyone who says reading Scripture is a teaching ministry is just making stuff up.” At least, I want to agree that reading Scripture is not *specifically* a ‘teaching ministry’ in and of itself.

    However, I do want to push on the notion that, “Reading is reading and teaching is teaching, and preaching is preaching, and prophesying is prophesying.”

    Namely–someone ‘prophesying’ may be teaching in the doing depending on how their gifting is made up in doing so. Similarly, someone simply reading Scripture might be so gifted in the doing that their reading the page actually brings to mind teaching. I’ve heard some people read like this. And, of course we know that teaching and preaching often get integrated… and we know that prophesying and reading can get stuck in preaching as well and etc., etc., etc.

    Basically, while I agree that each is a distinct paradigm theoretically and should be organized as such–the praxis of each paradigm very often can (and should?) get easily inter-mingled with the rest to the point where it’s not always at all clear ‘which’ is going on.

    Of course, this point only re-inforces the idea that, for example, women prophesying may just as well indicate women participating in the other often related paradigms as well.

  • Luke Allison

    Better question: Should women be allowed to use “vocal fry” when reading Scripture during a public service?

  • We just launched a new church, coming out of an a cappella church of Christ heritage, and yesterday at our 1st service we had a woman reading Scripture. It seems silly to even have to debate this topic.

  • John W Frye

    Silly with a capital S. Why don’t these alleged *biblical* guardians just rewrite Genesis 1 so that it reads, “And God created mankind in his own image male and male”? It seems that these misguided folks are obsessed with making women invisible in the body of Christ.

  • If Christ has given any man or woman a gift, he or she will be accountable before Him alone to use that gift correctly. Women should never be afraid to be used in ministry – they owe it to HIM. However, I believe Paul’s teaching to be that women, although “emancipated” in Christ (just as men), must still respect the divine order of creation. So, however mightily used of God a woman is in ministry, it would just not do for her to boss her husband around at home or tell her minister what to do in church! The crowning glory of any woman is to be a good servant of Jesus Christ, a good wife, and a good mother, with all those roles being equally important to God.

  • Every once in a while I have to be reminded of how some sectors of Christianity are still rehashing the fights of the past. The question of women reading, teaching, and even preaching was resolved for most of us when we tried it, and discovered the clear gifts God gave women for such things. (Not all of them, by any means, but then, the same’s true with males.) Now, we’re into a half-century or more of God’s gifts from it. One would think that would mean something for the rest.

  • Amos Paul

    @18 Bob,

    I think it’s a little dis-ingenuous to generally label ‘some’ sectors of Christianity to be struggling with this as though the issue does not still impact all Christendom. I’m currently a part of a denom that has boldly stated their opinion of women in leadership/teaching (very much yes) for quite awhile now.

    The statement both is and has been very front and center as the initiative has asserted itself to be a part of our theological definition as a church. *However*… to this day, we have pastors and whole congregations who’ve worked and planted within that framework then leave after being established on their own for awhile specifically because of the issue of women being in leadership positions. A full theological 180.

    Now, I won’t speak to what that might say about the character of said people (I don’t know the whole of their stories)–but I will say that the issue still rears its head even in groups that have unequivacally said ‘yes’ to women for some time. I think it’s simply honest to say that, whatever your particular church’s position is, friction is still fairly widespread.

  • Larry Barber

    I’m afraid obnoxious silliness like this is only going to die out one funeral at a time. In the meantime I think a simple boycott is in order. No sense in arguing about it, the people who still hold to this view are not going to change their minds, people that could be convinced were convinced quite some time ago.

  • Bill Donahue

    The issue for critics is twofold: a desire for control and the need to exercise power (closely related and both a result of the curse in Genesis 3). Giving up power and control is scary to people who make a living exercising it over others in churches, seminaries and other institutions. And giving it up to women is downright unimaginable — unless they are sending them to the mission field. Amazing, schools and pastors I know who are anti-women-in-authority-and-teaching often have no problem sending a woman to preach the gospel in Africa, India, etc. This is just plain racism. You can plant churches and evangelize and teach “those people” but not us. Shame on them.

  • Percival

    Luke #15,
    Thanks. You made me laugh, but of course when someone asks, “Do you want fries with that?” I always say no!

  • Brian Wiele

    Reading Tim Chailles’ blog and the other one cited, I sensed that this was exactly the type of conversation the Pharisees would have had. instead of sabbath regulations, it’s splitting hairs over who can speak or even read in worship. to paraphrase Matt 23:15, they shut the kingdom of heaven in “women’s faces”. Very maddening.

  • DRT

    Larry#20, yes, they will eventually leave us, but they are teaching others while they are here. I think this requires active dissolution attempts.

  • Michael J. Teston

    As Scholar Walter Bruggemann often said at many of the lectures I attended over the last decade or more, “the era of the white male hegemony” is OVER. It is painfully true, as Larry points out in #20, that only funerals will end this silliness. And this male/female issue is not the only issue to have to die unfortunately. Its all quite embarrassing anymore. No wonder it becomes harder and harder for those not a part of us to entertain any notions of joining us in the faith. Talk about majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors.

  • I question the efficacy of arguing against some of these practices as well. I mean, if it was someone I knew personally that would be one thing, but someone like Challies? Honestly, I’ve just been learning to stay away from discussions with reformed folks.

    This sort of patriarchal rule in churches is just worldly.

  • E.G.

    Larry #21: “I’m afraid obnoxious silliness like this is only going to die out one funeral at a time. In the meantime I think a simple boycott is in order.”

    I agree with both statements; although my agreement with your second statement has only been I recent.

    My rationale has now become as follows: If you are going to actively seek to silence half of the image bearers in Christ’s Church, then I shall equally silence you in the only way that I can…. I will silence your influence on my mind. I will not i buy your books. I will not read your blog. I will not follow your tweets. Etc.

    So, into the boycott bin go the likes of Challies, Francis Chan, MacArthur, and others. These are all men with good things to say in other respects. Although I don’t agree with them on various issues, I have also learned from them in the past.

    But I now see this viewpoint, and practice, as unrepentant sin. And, specifically, an ongoing sin that affects so many others. Until they do repent, their ministries are tarnished and I shall not let them influence me.

    On the other hand, there are many who still struggle and journey with this issue. And I am more than willing to continue in dialog with those, even of their view is different. At least they are still working through it and are not using considerable influence to harm others.

  • Barb

    women and men, boys and girls,–every week reading to us the word of God–makes me glad to be a Presbyterian.
    If a woman’s class met on Sunday–would they have to have a man come and read to them?

  • Robin

    The thing that has struck me about this comment thread is that Challie’s position has been viewed by most of the posters as so beyond the pale that it doesn’t even merit discussion or dialogue, it is enough to write-off the position and write-off anyone who holds to it. THe time for understanding and dialogue has left the station.

    I think that is a fair summary of the comments, and it reminds me of two recent episodes that had the same feel.

    The first was the recent decision by a KY church to ban interracial couples. I live in KY and my first reaction was “I don’t care what they do or say from here on out, it isn’t a Christian church in any meaningful sense, and there is no point reasoning with them or trying to have fellowship…they are officially outside the tent of Christians I care to have interactions with.”

    The second was when Rob Bell posted his controversial promotional video and John Piper responded with “Bye, bye, Rob Bell” implying that Bell’s statements were extreme enough that we could just assume he had left evangelicalism, we didn’t even need to wait for the book to come out.

    It seems that Challies’ statement has been met here with the same dismissiveness; I am not surprised the Jesus Creeders take the position that they have, but I am surprised that the position is being taken without any attempt to engage the issue(s), that it is enough to just say “that is a crazy position and isn’t worthy of any serious response”

  • E.G.

    Robin #30 It’s pretty disingenuous to say that we don’t engage the issue. This blog has a theme of engaging the issue.

    In my case, I am simply tired of engaging with those who seek to rigidly ban a segment of the Church from having a voice.

    There are others (e.g. Tim Keller) who hold nuanced views with which I don’t fully agree, but who do not seek to silence others. I’m perfectly happy to dialog with those folks, as I think that we can all learn from each other.

    But as soon as you silence a group from reading Gods word or praying or prophesying… well, you are caught in sin and need to repent. And, as such, your teaching ministry is deeply flawed.

  • Dang. I wish that Paul would have just clarified that the spiritual gifts were for men only. That would have made things so much easier.

    The further I get from this viewpoint, the crazier it seems.

    A God who gifts women (spectacularly, sometimes) who also restricts them from serving, fulfilling, and using these gifts? Wha??? How silly is that?

  • T


    I agree that the tone of these comments has not welcomed discussion on the topic, and I’m typically one who can see value in discussing just about anything.

    That said, I am having difficulty with taking this position seriously. You know I’m a prima scriptura guy, so if you can make an argument that a woman shouldn’t read the scriptures publicly as part of a worship gathering, I’m game to hear it. I just don’t know how, at the end of the day, we can acknowledge that women prophesy in the NT churches (with heads covered mind you :D), but that scripture reading would be unacceptable.

    I guess I just tend to see it as especially tragic when Christianity of all things–the Way–is used or presented in a way so as to create or sustain a kind of class system, or with a kind of formalism that would be foreign to the ragamuffin band of disciple/missionaries that Jesus changed and sent out as his witnesses and with his Spirit, who is poured out on “all flesh.”

    Why stop at public scripture reading, why not also prohibit female prayer and singing in Sunday gatherings? Don’t we “teach” one another with hymns and spiritual songs according to the scriptures? Therefore, women should stop singing too if there are men in the room so that they would not be teaching them. I see no reason to stop merely with scripture reading if “teaching” is the concern, given the explicit connection of singing and teaching. Plus, if we’re going for “silent” in the churches, then stopping the singing is a must. We know that women prophesied in the NT, we don’t know if they sang. So if we’re willing to shut down the prophesying today (despite biblical precedent), why would we not stop the singing for which we have no NT female example, and explicit links with teaching?

    Don’t feel the need to respond to this, but you should be aware of how silly I still see this policy. My own experience of seeing women powerfully prophesy (sometimes quoting scripture!) is admittedly part of my perspective, in addition to the scriptural promises and teachings.

  • E.G.

    #33 T: “…why not also prohibit female prayer…”

    Ummmm, that’s been done. I’ve witnessed it personally. And I’m sure that I’m not the first to have seen it practiced.

  • T


    You’re right. I saw that one myself–even among children. In one such gathering, only boys (!) were chosen to pray, since they were going to be the spiritual leaders. Ugh.

  • Scot McKnight


    You’re just carping without reading the post or the thread … I offered clear categories of reading, teaching, praying, prophesying; Michelle offered Scripture references. Others offered other logics and arguments.

    While some may be dismissive, it’s not cavalier but rooted in conviction based on Scripture, previous logical and theological arguments, and the thread as it unfolds.

  • RJS


    I do consider this beyond the pale … because it involves not original teaching, not authority, not leadership …it involves speaking the translated words of the writers of scripture without interpretation or elucidation.

    Would you prohibit a woman soloist from singing in church? From singing the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23?

    Some do even prohibit this singing … but I consider this damaging to the church, and I don’t apologize or step down from that position.

  • E.G.

    Scot #36: “…but rooted in conviction based on Scripture, previous logical and theological arguments, and the thread as it unfolds.”

    And, I might add, previous experience as well.

    In my case, experience growing up in a patriarchical, hierarchical setting that could barely even be called “complementarian,” in which I saw strong, faithful women being restricted from using their obvious gifts.

    Experience in a current church struggling with these issues and whose wrong decisions on this in the past have greatly affected current ministry.

    And experience of being under the Godly leadership of a number of women in different situations (including as senior pastor).

    As such – and along with study of Scripture, my God-given reason, and with care toward past and developing tradition – I have simply lost patience for the extreme ends of this view and for those who continue to spread such views through the Church.

    Wesley’s quadrilateral at work, I suppose.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Well, at least we’re clear now that you guys think women-in-ministry is a first-order issue.

    But I’m not sure you’re engaging Challies’ argument. He wrote a follow-up post on this subject, explaining his rationale for considering the public reading of scripture in the Sunday service as a teaching position. If you’re going to anathematize him for this, at least try to accurately understand his argument, rather than relying upon a hostile link.

    I don’t agree with Challies that the public reading of Scipture is only a position for those able to hold teaching authority in the Church, but it’s certainly not an unreasonable one to take.

  • Scot McKnight


    I beg to differ: Michelle’s post is not a “hostile link” but a genuine, charitable disagreement.

    What’s the link to Challies? Or, better yet, summarize it for us here…

  • Ben Wheaton

    To quote Challies,

    “If you read through the article in which I described how we go about preparing to read Scripture, you will see that we expect those who read to understand that this is a teaching ministry. The preparation is meant to be preparation to teach—not just to read well, but to read in such a way that the reader is a teacher.

    In this way we see the public reading of Scripture as being in the same category not as singing or praying, but as preaching. It is a teaching role.”

    That is the key to his argument; not that women can’t read Scripture aloud, period, or can’t sing, or pray in public (Challies’ church has women pray publicly in the service at times). Like most complementarians, he believes that the teaching authority in an ecclesiastical setting is reserved for men. Most of the comments just go back to square one: egalitarianism vs. complementarianism.

    Here is the link, for those who are interested:

  • Scot McKnight

    Ben, that’s not an argument; it’s an assertion of an assumption.

  • Ben Wheaton

    What assumption? That women shouldn’t hold teaching authority? Or that reading scripture publicly in a service is a teaching office?

    At any rate, read the link.

  • Sterling

    On Sunday in my congregation, I had all the women and girls read the Song of Mary from Luke chapter 1 in unison. The woman who led them did a great introduction to the scripture and explained why Mary was expressing these words. Almighty God entrusted a woman to bear the Word made Flesh into the world. If God doesn’t want women leading and preaching in worship, why has God continued to equip for centuries so many of them with wonderful gifts in these areas?

  • Scot McKnight


    What the Bible says about who can read the Bible in public is in the brackets at the end of this sentence [].

    The assumption is that reading the Bible in public is teaching. It’s not.

    Those who want to hold the Bible so high that they want to follow it need to support from Scripture what they are doing, and there’s not one word at all in the Bible about who can and who can’t read the Bible in public. Ben, this is about the sufficiency of Scripture to speak where God wants us to know.

    If you want to defend Challies’ argument then admit that you are going beyond the Bible into the realm of a new tradition. Then we talk about how to do that, but for now all I see is an assumption (Bible reading is teaching) asserted. Assertion is not argument, even if clothed and zipped up with reverence and devotion, and I do not question Tim Challies one bit when it comes to those last two. What I see here is devotion ratcheted beyond what the Bible says, and if we go to the right of the Bible we can’t be wrong. I say this is wrong because there’s nothing in reading that necessitates teaching.

  • Susan N.

    Only having skimmed through the comment thread, the most succinct and profound word spoken, imho, was by Mar (#9):

    “I love the beauty of hearing Scripture read by those who are less ‘smooth’ … those with difficulty reading, and children … it shows the accessibility of Scripture to all. Where does the idea come from that if it’s read in public it should be handled by only the most practiced or smooth of speech? That seems to focus on ‘excellence’ rather than love.”

    I too was reminded of these words from 1 Cor. 13: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing…etc., etc.” (v.1,2 NLT)

    Innocence and wonder are so under-rated, aren’t they? Golly, does anyone feel awed around this time of year at the concept of “Immanuel” — God with us, come in the form of a tiny, helpless baby of poor estate? Those without (earthly) status or power might also have something of value to say to us? God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us in surprising ways, and through people we might not expect, can’t He? I think we tend to narrow the possibilities in our minds of the “sacred” in our lives (people, places/spaces, times).

    Lord, expand our hearts and minds to see You in the ‘ordinary.’

  • Ben Wheaton


    I mentioned that I didn’t agree with Challies’ statement that Bible reading was teaching. You’re right: he’s taking it too far and should reconsider.

    But that’s not the debate I’m seeing in the comments. Once again, people should read his follow-up post for the argument.

  • DRT

    Ben, the link you provide does no better. He says:

    Our Scripture reading will often be lengthy—an entire Psalm or a full chapter of the Bible. We preface the reading by declaring, “This is what Holy Scripture says” or something similar. We conclude it by again declaring, “This is the Word of the Lord,” to which the congregation responds, “Amen.” We build that formal structure around the Scripture reading to set it apart and to give it weight. We expect people to understand that this is not mere formality and it is not merely words they are hearing. Rather, they are hearing the very words of God.

    And then the kicker in contradiction to what he just said:

    If you read through the article in which I described how we go about preparing to read Scripture, you will see that we expect those who read to understand that this is a teaching ministry. The preparation is meant to be preparation to teach—not just to read well, but to read in such a way that the reader is a teacher.

    OK, the first section says that they are explicitly saying that this is what the Holy Scripture says. In other words, this is not what the speaker says.

    I hope I was objective, because I feel that the complementarian position is an abomination.

  • Larry Barber

    Ben, whether or not public Bible reading is “teaching” is beside the point, women, who bear the Imago Dei as much as men, should not be banned from teaching positions on the basis of their gender. It’s outrageous, obnoxious and unscriptural and I’m tired of wasting time on the issue that could be better spent doing other things to advance the Kingdom.

  • DRT

    …and I forgot to finish, I find the complementarianism position an abomination, but I believe that I need to work on loving my enemies and try to engage objectively. I don’t think that the complementarians are trying to be evil in any way. When I am not, I ask my friends here to tell me. Thanks.

  • Ben Wheaton


    Well, that’s a whole other debate; I was under the impression that the post in question raised the issue of whether or not scripture reading was teaching, and engaged with it on that premise.


    You are not objective. Your previous comment threatened to essentially call in the cops on those with whom you disagreed.

  • Robin


    You and a couple of others have engaged the article in a substantive way, but by far the majority of commenters essential response has been “this is crazy and not worth a substantive response.” It has just been a blanket dismissal.

    I do not hold to Challies’ position, but there are very few issues where I feel comfortable just writing off a position altogether in the way that has been done here (on the average). It is difficult for me to think what “liberal” positions I could advocate that would generate the same level of dismissiveness. Someone above mentioned that this appears to be a “first-order” issue for the majority of the commenters and I think that is the astounding thing. I could deny the trinity, deny the divinity of Christ, deny that he came in the flesh or that he was really raised from the dead and I would get a more sympathetic hearing from most of the commenters than I would if I advocated Challies’ position.

    All of that isn’t to suggest I support his position, just my amazement at the complete disregard for engaging the discussion by most commenters. I mean, even the normally nuanced “T” dismissed with his moderate pragmatism and Wesleyan Quadrilateral for once.

  • E.G.

    Robin #52: “I could deny the trinity, deny the divinity of Christ, deny that he came in the flesh or that he was really raised from the dead and I would get a more sympathetic hearing from most of the commenters than I would if I advocated Challies’ position.”

    I would doubt that.

    In any case, as I’ve already mentioned, complementarianism is not the issue. For instance (as I’ve already also said) there are nuanced positions in that realm that are not sinful.

    But, the extreme end of it that results in practices as we’ve seen outlined on Challies’ blog is sin. There’s no other word for it.

    It’s no better than folks who tried to use Scripture to justify slavery or other forms of classism. And it has to stop.

    And that means that it has to stop being promulgated by those with a loud voice within Christendom.

    If the only way for those with the megaphone who are in that camp to see their error is by a strong response that says “if you silence women, your words will also be silenced,” then so be it.

    As I also said, I have learned a lot from many of these men. So it pains me to silence them in terms of influencing me. But there comes a time when to ignore sin hurts more than just the sinner, but also so many others. That time – that line – has been crossed in my mind.

  • Larry Barber

    I could deny the trinity, deny the divinity of Christ, deny that he came in the flesh or that he was really raised from the dead and I would get a more sympathetic hearing from most of the commenters than I would if I advocated Challies’ position.

    None of those positions deny the humanity and equality of half the human race. They are abstract beliefs that don’t directly impact living, breathing people. That’s why I’m so quick to dismiss garbage like this, it is not just a theological game.

  • Nick


    Let me first say that I have been a member of the same church as Challies’ for 5 years and am now a member of a church they have planted in the east end of Toronto where my wife helps me to ‘lead’ worship. I am taking your criticisms to heart and think you have a point. But….

    Here’s a question. You said:

    “Reading is reading and teaching is teaching, and preaching is preaching, and prophesying is prophesying, but reading is not teaching, preaching or prophesying.”

    What about singing? Is singing just singing? In Colossians Paul says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col 3:16)

    Here Paul explicitly relates teaching to singing. So it’s possible that reading is teaching and prophesying is teaching as well.

    So I think it might be more proper to charge Tim’s church with inconsistency more than anything else as I know that women sing (which is teaching) and even sing at the front of the church (which is leading the church in singing/teaching). Just a thought. 😉

  • DRT #50 “I don’t think that the complementarians are trying to be evil in any way.”

    Ahem. I do.

    It’s hard to give up power and admit that you might have been wrong, particularly when you have built such a big blog and following by being spectacularly and vociferously *right.* Power within the church is a cherished thing, and very difficult for many to give up. If you give up the *women reading scripture thing,* you have to give up women teaching, then preaching, then heirarchy of the Trinity (immanent not economic, per Roger Olson) and then, by Golly, it all falls down and what are you left with? What can you be in charge of at home, let alone church? You’re left standing on the street corner, without power or prestige. Too much to lose.

    Do I sound dismissive? Yes, I suppose. Flippant, too. I also grew up with Wesley’s quadrilateral. (Love it – even though it is more like a table with a central pillar and three supportive legs….) But this? This is based upon life experience and even more so – logical conclusions about the character of God. If the complementarian view of God is correct, what does that tell me about God? (That He is petty and illogical, for two…) And if God – through Scripture (the central pillar)-wanted to be more clearly restrictive, He could have been. As it is, He left quite a bit open, quite a bit of evidence that He valued women and was moving humanity into a broader welcoming of all “who would” come and who would serve under His kingship. Paul’s restrictions *had* to be cultural/situational, or else clearer distinctions would have been made over specific giftings only being given to one gender. Also? Why would he gift women? If God doesn’t seem to make sense, we owe it to ourselves and to our times and our world to at least give it a try.

  • Nick


    I understand that you disagree passionately about Tim’s position but to accuse him of trying to be evil is wrong and not very Jesus Creedish. He is one of the most humble men I have ever met who just never stops serving his church. I disagree with the position they have taken but it is not about power at all. They are trying to be faithful to what they think is biblical. Maybe it is wrong maybe. Maybe it is harmful but to make accusations about the man like you have done is like a digital outburst of anger.

  • Don Johnson

    The question is what are we to think of people like Challies who want to be a better comp than most comps?

    I think they are deceived and Challies even more so and in this case deception leads to sin, abuse of power is only a temptation for those that have it. Yes, Challies and his ilk need to repent, but does that mean they are evil? Misguided, yes; evil, no.

  • Jonathan

    I would have put this comment on Tim Challies’ most recent post on the subject (http://www.challies.com/articles/men-women-the-public-reading-of-scripture), but the comments there are closed.

    In that post, Challies says:

    “This puts me firmly in the complementarian camp which says that God has created men and women equal in value and dignity and worth, but different, complementary, in function. Men have been called to exercise headship in the home and in the church while women are called to different and complementary functions.”

    My question to Challies and other complementarians is this:

    Complementarianism says that men and women have complementary functions. In practice, this means that there are certain functions which only men are permitted to perform, and women are forbidden to perform, regardless of interest or gifting. These functions center around leadership and teaching.

    If this is truly a complementary scheme, there should be a symmetry to it: I would also expect there to be certain functions which only women are permitted to perform, and men are forbidden to perform, regardless of interest or gifting. My contention would be that if there are no such women-only functions, the term “complementarianism” doesn’t represent what the scheme actually involves.

    I would like to hear from complementarians like Challies what these women-only functions might be. Again, these functions must be forbidden to men, irrespective of interest or gifting.

    For the more mathematically minded, if M is the set of functions which men are permitted to perform and W is the set of functions which women are permitted to perform, are M and W complementary or is M a superset of W? Is there anything in W which is not also in M?

  • Oh, I’m genuinely sorry about that. I do see how my words indicate that view. I didn’t mean “personally.” I’m sure Tim C. is a wonderful guy, although he does have much impact online. I meant – the view itself. I do think it is an evil view. And I do think that the broad reluctance to allow women out of the church box *is* a power struggle in many contexts.

    You know how when a white person tries to speak about the lack of oppression for black people in our current time – the “other side” quickly corrects them and says, “Oh….you don’t see it because you haven’t lived in this skin?”

    Well….yes, fellas. I’ve grown up woman, evangelically – as a pastor’s kid and then as a pastor’s wife – my whole life. I know it inside and out. I know whereof I speak. Very little gets men in leadership riled up like the “women in ministry” issue. They will fight to the death to make sure it doesn’t happen.

    And as a woman who has past forty (when, oddly enough, I find that I’m more able to speak my mind….why is it considered an outburst when someone speaks their mind? That’s almost the equivalent of being patted on the head…) I just find it consistently more and more ludicrous that my Christian brothers can sincerely stand, look me (digitally, online, or in person) in the eye and say, “God does not approve of you reading scripture.” And? Expect to be taken seriously?

    You know, I’m just an average stay at home mom. I’ve never desired leadership nor a strong voice in the church (although my church *UMC* would encourage it.) I’m totally content to be a background worker who does bulletin boards and change diapers. I’m about as conservative a woman as you are ever going to find. (Just a little background there…)

    YET – I’m friends with several incredibly gifted women who have dropped out of church attendance because they can’t find a single pastor in a fifty mile radius who thinks they have a God-endorsed role past anything related to nurseries, children, or women’s studies. How sad is that? Is that worth an occasional outburst on their behalf? I think so, even though I would differ and call it an indictment versus an outburst.

    I’m a homeschooler. I’m told by the majority of my peers (males, of course) that I shouldn’t teach my sons after the age of 13, because I am a woman and need to begin to respect their leadership. That is a dilemma. I have six sons.

    I recently read a John Piper post where he supposedly told why women can’t lead men. He didn’t really give a reason, other than to say that “there are plenty of ministry areas to keep you busy without leadership.” The places he endorsed were teaching children (up to the age of 13, I presume) and women’s studies.

    You know, that’s just offensive against a woman’s intellect and giftings from the Creator, God.

    Given all of these boundaries, all of these limitations, would any of you men have liked to grow up women? What would your view of God be if you were told of everything you couldn’t do – only because you were female? How would you think God viewed you? Would you feel loved, or would you think He thought you were stupid because he obviously didn’t trust you? You might even think he was capricious, if he gifted you but told you that you couldn’t use those gifts except in the nursery. (Where, strangely enough for this conversation, is exactly where I have spent every day of my life – I have nine kids – for the past 19 years – and found great fulfillment therein.)

    It comes down to this – and this is why I am willing to say something here: Any view of God that burdens down or creates the boundaries for subjugation and limitation on one-half of His creation (whom I’m convinced He adores….)has to inaccurately represent Him. Any view like that is evil. Good and wonderful men who hold that view and expound on it have certainly come to that view on an intellectual level, and they are responsible for how they articulate that view to the thousands who read their words. It’s not a personal slam – it’s a request to reconsider the view. If they viewed slavery as viable, and expounded on that view, I would call that evil too.

    (p.s. My brother-in-law is named Don Johnson. Donnie, is this you? If so, call me, brother! Let’s not talk here…Ha Ha.)

  • Oh. One more wee outburst this a.m. 🙂

    I had my 16 year old daughter read over this post/comment section. She is in the stage of pondering her life’s direction, thinks maybe God is directing her toward youth ministries. (So, yes, this topic becomes even more personal. Will I encourage her or discourage her toward hearing God’s voice? Will I limit what God might ask her to do?)

    The questions have been brought up above: Are we improperly dismissive of Challies’ view? and If we dismiss that view, how do we handle that?

    In our family, yes, we are “post-Challies,” and “post-God-limits-women” in our views.

    We believe that the coming of the Holy Spirit changed EVERYTHING. The rules were redrawn. This conversation (such as at Challies) is now irrelevant. It’s a time waster. Why read there? Why spend time on it? It’s like going back and learning the times tables again, so it is proper to be dismissive of it. Let’s get on with what the Holy Spirit is doing today! Let’s get on with the kingdom at hand!

    In our family, if you can’t change the other person’s view on something like this, it’s like an obstacle in the road. In effect, you pretend it isn’t there and simply walk around it and go on about your business. If they want to sit in the road (and effectively limit service to God by women they love) let them have at it. We’re over that view. 🙂

  • T

    Robin, Ben, etc.,

    Just to check myself in response to your comments, I’ve taken some time to think about my rather un-nuanced response to the male-readers-only policy. I also read the post for the argument for the policy. In no particular order, here are my (second) thoughts:

    First, on the idea of this policy being “silly” let me add this. Most folks here are aware that I’m not ashamed to call Charismatics not only my brothers, but also ‘right’ on several points. That said, I’ll be the first to say that there has also been and will likely continue to be much, for lack of a better word, silliness in the movement, in both belief and practice. I think that all systems of thought create possibilities for both illumination and blindness. Because our use of reason is no less corrupted than our emotions, my reformed brothers are no exception here, however much they may not want to be. Perhaps reformed folks will take more offense than a typical charismatic to having one of their ideas called “silly” but it won’t change the inevitable reality that even reformed folks will think and do things that, though they make sense from deep within a given set of systematics, are still obviously silly to someone outside of that set.

    Second, I see no one here arguing that this policy is correct, and I know that the conservative folks who have spoken here would not have hesitated to say so if they thought it was correct. So we are talking about a policy that no one here can believe in. While this blog is no bastion of conservatism, the fact that none of our conservatives buy into this policy says something to me.

    Finally, I have two girls whom I am increasingly motivated by in my thinking and acting. If this policy was instituted in a church I was attending, I would have to try to explain it to them. They have already encountered (at age 7) a preference by some adults to have boys pray aloud at gatherings rather than girls, even among children. Is this the kind of “truth” we want to teach and model? “We just can’t risk you girls doing anything that might conceivably be perceived as teaching boys, so you can’t “lead” us in prayer, and you can’t read the scriptures aloud to the church. That looks too much like teaching and leading with authority over men.” This last point brings me to my last ‘second’ thought: Calling this policy “silly” was being charitable. It is a deeply harmful policy, which I’m sure the makers and defenders of it don’t see at all, but I assure you that many a little girl encountering will come to feel acutely, even if she does so quietly and in submission, just like she’s told to do. The line of thinking is so tenuous as to be laughable, but the harm is as subtle as slap in the face, but the sting will be much, much deeper.

  • “… the fact that none of our conservatives buy into this policy says something to me.”

    It says something to me, also–how strong the spirit of the times is. I have not read all the comments here, but those I have reflect to me a model of group think where no one would ever think otherwise. I am willing to give Chailles’ explanation a hearing and thoughtful consideration based on sola scriptura rather than zeitgeist.

  • T


    If you want scripture to guide you on this issue, as I do, you will not be led to prohibit women from publicly reading scripture–because scripture gives no such prohibition. Further, Paul tells women in Corinth to prophesy in their meetings with appropriate (cultural) head-coverings. So it is hard to see how he would allow/encourage them to prophesy to/for the body, but forbid them to read the scriptures.

    If you think that more conservative or more restrictive = more faithful to scripture, I flatly disagree. I’m opposed to the limitation this church puts upon women precisely because I see no such limitation in the scriptures but I do see women doing something (prophesying) which requires far more maturity to do well. The idea that this policy is based on “sola scriptura” or even prima scriptura is a steep uphill climb.

  • T

    By the way, Robin & Ben, I don’t know if you noticed, but apparently you guys only fail to buy into the men-only-public-scripture-reading-policy because of the strength of the spirit of the times on your thinking, which I don’t think Michael means is the Holy Spirit.

    How ’bout them apples!?

  • Wyatt

    Chailles’approach and policy are both silly (and that is the right word) and inexorably stupid (and stupid is the right word). The logic leaps are quantum. I am only mildly sorry I am not as gracious as Michelle Van Loon is.

    I was very concerned and still am about Chailles’ willingness to make something out of Scripture that doesn’t even apply. It just shows you to what extremes some people will go just to be “right.” Scripture is for everybody to read and study and proclaim no matter your age or sex.

    The public reading of Scripture by girls or women does not pollute or corrupt the word. Lousy ideas just might. So Mr. C., sit down and be quiet.

  • T


    I agree with the substance of your point, but I don’t think your tone or choice of words is helpful.

  • Fred

    As usual, I’m late to the discussion so maybe someone has already addressed this.

    But, if I am in a small group situation and a woman makes a comment that causes me to rethink one of my currently held positions on a topic, does that constitute teaching? Or, do I have to actually change my belief based on what she has said? Maybe we should simply bar women from saying anything.

    The whole discussion is tiresome to me.

  • Lmalone

    “43.What assumption? That women shouldn’t hold teaching authority? Or that reading scripture publicly in a service is a teaching office?”

    Ben, Has Challies really thought this through? What does he do with the likes of Huldah? How can he explain that one away?

  • Lmalone

    “I disagree with the position they have taken but it is not about power at all. They are trying to be faithful to what they think is biblical.”

    Nick, which turns out to be more power vested in a few. That is not biblical in the Body of Christ and the Holy Priesthood.

    I can be sincere and be sincerely wrong. What you are suggesting is scary if you think through the implications

    Sincere or not, I think Challies and his ilk are the Nicolatians.

  • Hmmm. It seems that I’m not the only woman around the blogosphere who has decided to simply step around the obstacle and to keep on, keeping on. I think we’ve been told one too many times to not over-react, to not have an “outburst.” Have you (all) seen the female bloggers talking about this? Elizabeth Esther, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah from Emerging Mummy? I am not alone!!! Gentlemen, I think a line has just been crossed, and a tide is going to turn. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit is about to pour out a fresh new annointing on His daughters. If some of His sons want to sit at the table and quibble about silly issues, fine. But His daughters are strengthening their arms for His work, and readying their hearts and tongues for the task at hand. No more being told to be quiet because they are female.

  • Wyatt

    #67 T,

    Too bad. If a lousy idea is a lousy idea and it’s silly and inexorably stupid, why don’t we just say it. With your approach, Jesus shouldn’t have called anybody a hypocrite.

    And if someone with a lousy idea needs to sit down and listen to somebody, he ought to do so quickly and learn some wisdom.

    I’m done. Women, read on and do so with conviction and if need be, volume.

  • D. Stewart

    If women may speak and their words become Scripture as with Mary and many others; and if women may write and their words become Scripture, as with Esther’s letter; and if Deborah and Hannah may sing, and their words become Scripture; and if a woman is the first to witness the resurrected Christ and is told to go and tell Peter … you get the picture: the issue of women’s participation in reading and speaking and teaching has already been settled in Scripture. Paul doesn’t trump so much biblical testimony especially as he is forward in recognizing women leaders such as Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, Apphia, etc. One might ask, why should a verse or two trump all this? Why is one so sure one has interpreted correctly in the face of all the countervailing evidence?

  • lmalone

    so………Phoebe could was trusted to carry the letter but not allowed to read it aloud?

  • Jill Johns

    Perhaps the real issue is whether or not there is any sort of hierarchy in the Body of Christ at all. Jesus, in His letter to the church at Ephesus condemned the deeds of the Nicolations because they practiced a division of clergy/laity doctrine. Paul did not salute one leader(and never a “pastor”) in his letters to the churches. He did use the laying on of hands for eldersip and evangelism. But, elder simply means a more spiritually mature, older person. Jesus Christ is the head of the Body. And the problems in the early churches are the same as now except that now a “pastor” has the first and last say about everything which is totally inbiblical.

  • Jeff

    (Insert tongue in cheek) I’m a worship leader. I’ve recently recruited a woman to make the PowerPoint slide shows for our services. These include song lyrics and biblical texts. After reading Chailles et al. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t let this woman type the scriptures, since they will be projected in front of the congregation on Sunday mornings. Perhaps we need an Evangelical Mishnah to answer such questions.