Can Women be Pastors? (A Semi-Response to Scot Mcknight)

Can Women be Pastors? (A Semi-Response to Scot Mcknight) April 29, 2016

I initially started this piece as a stand-alone response to general, broader conversations on the issues of Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. However, in seeing these two posts (here & here) from Scot McKnight, whom we are privileged to share blog space with at Patheos, I decided to address some of what he brought to light. Most of this post is not geared toward things he raised in his own posts as the body of this was written prior to his posting – yet undoubtedly, some of the counter-points are. I also realize my status as a small fish in the big pond, therefore, I doubt to elicit much of a response to this. While Complementarianism is not the sole focus of this piece, as dictated by the title, I firmly believe that capitulation on the biblical model for headship starts with the office of an elder. If you can prove that women can be pastors and have this authority over men in the church – it is essentially a non-issue to carry this principle through to the household. Therefore, this will be the primary objection within this post.

The Bible is no exception to doctrinal disagreement in the broader church, especially in the debate between Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. Though this is certainly not the most contested set of beliefs drawn from the scriptures, there are plenty of reasons people have not been fond of the teaching followed by those who hold to the belief that, though women and men have equal footing before the cross, men are designated by the scriptures to have authority in their own homes and in the church (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 2:11-15). However, before we venture into whether or not women are to be pastors, this topic deserves a fair bit of initial qualification to some common objections. In spelling these out, we will see that a plain reading of the text doesn’t need much nuance or massaging to draw out the meaning.

What about braided hair and adornments? This is a fairly common objection drawn from the context of 1 Tim. 2 (verses 9-10), yet if we pay close attention to what is being said, the objection falls short of its aim. Paul gives the qualification of modest and discrete choices of adornment, that the Godly quality of the woman would be seen far before her beauty. This passage by no means condemns looking nice, braiding the hair, or wearing any jewelry – however, it does demonstrate that godly character is befitting the woman of God. Some will use this though to utilize the bandwagon fallacy, arguing that many don’t adhere to vv. 9-10, thereby, vv. 11-15 are invalidated, however – disobedience to what the command is perceived to be would not prove the remaining context to be false.

Secondly, people often relegate this passage (specifically vv. 11-15) strictly to the church of Ephesus to say that only the women of this church were forbidden to teach. Nowhere does Paul make mention of this in the letter to Ephesus as a temporal or conditional prohibition – nor does the early church offer a retraction of this statement as the letter circulated to churches in other regions. While the grammatical-historical reading of scripture should be adopted, we also shouldn’t seek to obscure the text’s current applicability – especially when the general, historical trajectory in orthodox Christianity has been in line with biblical headship. Yet we ought to be careful in assuming that even the grammatical-historical reading lends one to say only Corinth faced this command, given contrary evidence to circulation of the epistles in the early church and lack of clear witness to demonstrate the contrary.

What about Ephesians 5:21? Eph. 5:21 states that male and female are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ – yet we must always ask what the context of these passages are. Though many have used this passage to seek to refute male headship, the very next two verses show Paul issuing the statement that wives are to be subject to their own husbands, as to the Lord – for the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church. It seems to go without saying that the church does not have authority over Christ. So what does this passage refer to then when it speaks of mutual submission? This is Paul’s general address to the Ephesian church – he then goes on to show what this mutual submission looks like on the most fundamental levels of structure within the church and households. Husbands and wives, parents and children, servants and master, all show a mutual submission to Christ even though they function with differing roles. In this mutual submission to Christ, they are to act in accordance to what the context of these two chapters is drawing the focus toward: being children of light; imitators of God. Thus, proper headship does not lend itself to domination – but in the husband continually laying his life down sacrificially for his wife.

What about Galatians 3:28? Gal. 3:28 is often used as a defense against Complementarianism as well, seeing that Paul states that there is neither male nor female – but all are one in Christ. Again, this is a matter of looking to the context of what this passage is speaking to; Paul further says, in reference to salvation, that there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female. There is never any question among Christians of the inherent differences of Gentiles and Jews, or for that matter, slaves or free persons. This passage refers in no capacity toward leadership, the structure of the church, or the structure of the household. We do well to understand the focus of the passage if proper exegesis is to take place; soteriology is the focus – not roles.

What about other females who held positions of authority? This generally refers to passages such as Paul’s opening greeting from Romans 16 with the deaconess Phoebe, Priscilla, whom Paul refers to as his fellow worker in Christ, Mary, and others.

Three things must be noted here:

1.) Phoebe, though a deacon, is not an elder (see the Pastoral Epistles, namely 1 Tim. 3:8 & Titus 1:7 where deacons are distinguished from elders).

2.) Priscilla, though a fellow worker in Christ, is not given explicit mention of what this work entailed – and neither is the work that Mary partook in.

3.) While some women in the NT may have held churches in their homes, the narrative by no means indicates to the reader that they were the elders of these same churches.

It is generally faulty to assume an argument from silence , especially when we have other, clear passages referring to the structure of church leadership. Another passage generally referred to in this matter would be with respect to Priscilla teaching Apollos in Acts 18:26, however, this event takes place within the home of Priscilla and Aquila and makes no mention of this being under the auspices of an established church. Secondly, as is the case with all narrative literature: narrative does not necessarily establish normative or sanctioned practice for the believer. The case of Deborah in the book of Judges carries this principle, as it is even indicative that her acting as Judge in Israel would come with the consequence of open shame for Barak (see Judges 4:9).

What about slavery? Some (see the second link above to Scot’s post) have seen fit to heap coals upon Complementarianism by alleging that there is abundant silence from complementarians (more notably, many in the early American church holding to a Reformed Soteriology) on slavery. Now, I’m no historical scholar – but even in introductory church history books we will find early on that not a few were outspoken over the matters of Christian slave-owners.

Click here to find a wonderful resource for those looking for many primary sources from the era of colonial slavery and beyond. Now, we can get into the semantics of that and debate the damages and abuses of men, but again, the disobedience of those claiming Christ does nothing to disprove the validity of a doctrine. It is quite clear that this abuse of the doctrine is a shameful disgrace which disfigures it and causes others to blaspheme, but it nonetheless does nothing to revoke the truth of the matter, if indeed it is true. What is does is raise a red-herring to the real question at hand: What does the text say?

What does the Bible teach? Quite clearly, the Pastoral Epistles teach that women are not to be pastors over men. Titus 1:5-9 establishes the precedent over and again using the masculine personal pronoun – yet also establishing that he must be faithful to his [one] wife (v. 6). Secondly, 1 Tim. 3:1-7 is almost verbatim in the qualifications listed for those aspiring to be elders in the church – also establishing faithfulness to one wife. It goes without much qualification that Paul is speaking about men with the office of elder in sight. Yet what is perhaps the most contested part of this teaching is found in Paul’s frank words in 1 Tim. 2:12, saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to use authority over a man…”

While these words are no less easy on the ears for many, it is nonetheless a fairly straight-forward reading of the text, unless one imparts much sentimentalism and other “qualifiers” into the text (i.e – trajectory hermeneutics). The idea for a proper hermeneutic though is not one which we insert potentials or build cohesively structured arguments from silence; this is a statement plainly made that would allow harmony when comparing to the qualifications found in the Pastoral Epistles. It is a misnomer to suggest that though deacons are never forbade from having women serve in this role that the pastoral office is up for grabs as well. The context of 1 Tim. 2 shows this to be clearly false.

Notice though that Paul does not demean or defame the glory of God in women in any sense. Notice that he does not forbid them to serve within the church, or place higher value upon a man than a woman. People continually wish to portray some skewed version of Complementarianism rather than what the text actually teaches. Truthfully, this is quite warranted in some measure simply because of those who have profaned the gift of being a living sacrifice for one’s wife. Make no exceptions – a man cannot lead his household in any sense unless he is dying daily for his wife. Daily. There are much higher standards upon the man and he ought to act accordingly, if not only for the sake of his wife, for the sake of his own hide because of the judgment that awaiting him. If a man abuses his role as husband, he clearly lacks an understanding of the gospel in how it relates to marriage – as the marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride.

Abuse has run rampant and sin has marred what once functioned in perfect harmony. While Gen. 3:16 is equally contested, it nonetheless is a valid reading to understand what sin has done in the union of husband and wife, wherein men have often acted as savages and women have sought to rule over their husbands. The acts of abusive men ought to be brought to light so they can face jail time – let us all be very clear on this. Yet again, the sinful acts of people do nothing to negate the validity of doctrinal claims; wolves coming into the flock to prey upon sheep gives us greater commentary on the need for ever-watchful shepherds rather than sanctioning the demolition of a particular doctrine.

Yet what is perhaps most troubling in this whole endeavor from many Egalitarians is an inconsistent hermeneutic which generally seems to capitulate to the sanctioned cultural mores rather than submit to the text. Ligon Duncan writes, “The gymnastics required to get from “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” in the Bible, to “I do allow a woman to teach and to exercise authority over a man” in the actual practice of the local church, are devastating to the functional authority of the Scripture in the life of the people of God.” Yet this hermeneutical principle, generally, does not stop here.

What the Bible doesn’t teach:

– the bible does not teach that men are to Lord over women and demean them, but instead, to love them as Christ loves the church. This is the highest call a married man has to his wife; you portray the gospel to the world through how you love your wife. This causes the essence of biblical teaching on headship and submission to be drastically different than patriarchy – as patriarchy dictates the center of the household revolves around the man and his desires, whereas proper Complementarianism in the household revolves around Christ and submits to His Lordship. Proper leadership in the home does not involve a man who dismisses the wisdom of his wife, subjugates her to a lessor dignity than himself, or refuses to be a servant-leader in the manner of Christ.

– the bible does not sanction physical, verbal, or mental abuse over one’s spouse or female congregants. Nor do the scriptures teach sexism, domination, or prideful arrogance to be part of a male leader’s repertoire (or husband’s, for that matter). These sins need to be condemned from the church – perhaps the loudest from Complementarians, and turn those guilty of crimes over to the police. Furthermore, Paul requires submission to one’s own husband. Contrary to some conflated suggestions, women are not required to submit to every male they see.

– the bible does not demonstrate inequality, inferiority, or inability between the sexes; it dictates roles, offices, and service, out of a mutual submission to Christ and His design.

– the bible does not forbid women from teaching other women or children in the context of the church.

– the bible does not forbid women from using their unique giftedness within the church to serve the body of Christ. On the contrary – it calls them into service.

– the bible does not exclude women from evangelism, conversations about the scriptures, or even contributing toward one’s understanding of the faith if they are male.

– the bible does not teach a woman submits to the point of sin, personal detriment (i.e. abuse), or that she cannot confront others in a loving manner over their own sins or false doctrine.

– yet the bible also doesn’t teach that women can be pastors in the household of God.


Image Credit: The Pulpit by Bs0u10e0; CC 2.0

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  • Interested Lay Person

    “If a man abuses his role as husband, he clearly lacks an understanding of the gospel – as the marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride.”

    Would having an egalitarian marriage indicate a lack of understanding of the gospel? If the husband is promoting an egalitarian marriage, then is he abusing his role by not promoting the appropriate marriage type? If so, are egalitarians not saved?

    • Gilsongraybert

      A misunderstanding of the gospel as to how it relates to the marriage union does not necessitate one would not be saved. I do not see license in any sense to say an Egalitarian is not saved – and that is not my intent either. Simply stated: the abuse of role within the marriage reflects upon that relationship to the gospel and demonstrates that. I’ve edited that portion for greater clarity – thank you for bringing that to my attention.

  • John Connor

    MacKnight has claimed that the biblical case for women’s minister is “in one word: Deborah.” I believe that’s called “eisegesis,” because it sure isn’t exegesis. Deborah isn’t even mentioned in the New Testament. His other obsession – Junia – is pretty shaky too.

  • John Gills

    Can you still edit this? It’s elicit not illicit in paragraph one.

    • Gilsongraybert

      Thank you for the catch; I scan through my posts a few times before publishing, but unfortunately I don’t catch them all! Done and fixed – always greatful for another pair of eyes!

  • Darach Conneely

    I appreciate you speaking out against some of the abuses Complementarianism can lead into and trying to find a more balanced respectful version. Thanks.

    “Priscilla, though a fellow worker in Christ, is not given explicit mention of what this work entailed – and neither is the work that Mary partook in.”
    Doesn’t Paul tell the Corinthians they should submit to his fellow workers 1Cor 16:16?

    I don’t think we can escape the implications of Priscilla teaching Apollos because it was at home. Paul doesn’t specify “I do not permit a woman to teach in church”. I am afraid we do need some exegetical gymnastics to understand what Paul was talking about. The word for authority, authentein, in “I do not permit women to teach or have authority”, was never used for authority in the church. It is quite obscure, with a wide range of uses often with strong sexual overtones, enough to be considered unsuitable for students to use in school writing. For a modern equivalent try the word ‘dominatrix’. There may be connections to the Ephesian goddess cult, or a protognostic idea of Eve bringing enlightenment to Adam (hence the rest of the chapter). From Paul’s switch from plural men and women, to the singular, he may have been talking about a wife teaching and having authority over a husband, or a more a woman who is a new convert (v 11) taking on an intimate one to one teaching role with a man who isn’t her husband. At very least we can say Paul’s use of authentein makes the meaning of this verse pretty obscure and not suitable as a proof text against the authority and ministry of women we find throughout the NT.

    I don’t think you can dismiss the significance of Pheobe because she was a deacon instead of an elder. Being deacon meant she had a position of ministry and authority in the church. Paul’s description of her as his patron meant she not only provided for Paul she had responsibility and authority over him when he was visiting the city. A woman deacon also overturns the argument that elders and overseers have to be male because Paul says they should be ‘husband of one wife’. He says the same about deacons 1Tim 3:12. Male language is regularly used in the bible talking about both men and women, or are passages addressed to ‘brothers…’ only for men?

    Deborah was God’s anointed Judge of Israel long before she summoned Barak and commissioned him to lead the army against Sisera. Barak’s shame was because he refused to carry out the instructions God gave through her unless she came along too.

    There are problems with the concept of headship being applied to church leadership, not just because it is hard to figure out what ‘head’ means. It is never used about church leadership except for Christ being head of his body the church. That is a role Pastor and elders simply don’t have.As far as I can figure out Paul is speaking allegorical Adam and Eve as a picture of husband and wife and applying it to Christ and his bride.

  • Will Berger

    eeeeeeeee….give me a call when you actually have a conversation less quaint

  • Heather Rose

    I see that all your references are from the epistles… Good thing Paul isn’t, like, God or Jesus! Wait. Didn’t Jesus first appear to Mary & tell her to go tell the disciples, only those silly men didn’t believe her? Maybe THAT’S why women can’t be pastors!

    • Gilsongraybert

      If this response is supposed to imply that the epistles are any less inspired than the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we are altogether on a different foundation. They aren’t.

      • Heather Rose

        Oh, I agree that Paul was inspired, however, Paul was not & has never been God. Therefore, Paul, like the rest of us, was subject to error & bias. To believe otherwise is a form of idolatry.

        • Gilsongraybert

          Then you have a radically different understanding of what “inspired” means with the biblical text. Of course Paul was not God, nor was he free from error – yet the biblical text is. Otherwise, your statement and the logic within flows to the gospels as well (which contain the words of Christ) – because Jesus didn’t sit down and write them; fallible men were guided by the infallible Spirit to pen God’s revelation, and in that writing, the original texts are free from any error, including the epistles. You can’t have one without the other.

          • Heather Rose

            LoL okay. I get your point, but I don’t agree that the Bible in its current form is infallible. Do you condone slavery? I hope not, but Paul sure does!

          • Gilsongraybert

            Roman slavery was radically different than the slavery we know stateside from that horrible era; they were treated much, much differently – yet in that still, Paul gives guidelines on how those relationships ought to function (masters yet being servants even to their slaves in submission to Christ, treating them as blood-bought children of God). There are some really great resources that are available for Greco-Roman era slavery, Paul’s writing concerning these things, and above in the post – there is a link which directs people toward a page which holds a tremendous amount of resources to go through from the era of colonial slavery in the States (from those who were against it).

            There is also a wonderful amount of info through textual criticism and the doctrine of the preservation of scripture, that we know the errors in manuscripts we do have, is less than a 2% margin of error (over 5,000 NT evidences). Yet we take no issues with the writings of Plato which have far fewer copies and a far greater measure of error. The majority of errors are found in punctuation variances, numerical values, and a few textual variants – yet it inhibits none of the meaning of those passages. To sum of the doctrine of the preservation of the scriptures is essentially to ask the question: is it so radical to believe that God, who saves man from their sins through the person of Christ and has created all things, is unable to guard and guide His truth through the course of history?

          • Heather Rose

            Hmmm… so you do you condone slavery, at least Greco-Roman era slavery. At least I know where you stand.

          • Gilsongraybert

            It is clear that you are just seeking to argue for the sake of arguing and using red herrings right and left. Deal with the text at hand and draw out the meaning, regardless of it makes you feel well. That is the job of any who read the text – me included. I’m done at this point interacting because it has become relatively fruitless. Grace and peace.

          • Heather Rose

            Please identify one or more attempts to draw attention away from the argument at hand. You obviously are very invested in the idea that women are subjugated to men, so you are right that it is fruitless. God Bless

          • Heather Rose

            Do you mean the Red Herring is Paul’s complicity of slavery? I think it is germane, but, yeah, there is no use reasoning with someone who doesn’t want to change their mind!

          • Heather Rose

            Ah, but we are in a fallen world! Does anything escape the taint of sin?

          • Heather Rose

            Moreover, you employ a faulty analogy since there is no claim that Plato’s writings are inerrant or God’s Word.

          • Gilsongraybert

            You can deny inerrancy all you wish, but all it does is undermine your own red-letter position like we already covered.

          • Heather Rose

            I don’t follow. Undermine my red-letter position? Never mind.

          • George

            Oh come on. Not writing the equivalent of The Emancipation Proclamation is NOT the equivalent of condoning slavery! I’ve heard this argument often, and frankly it is a horrible argument that is lacking virtually everything that would make it a good argument.

          • Heather Rose

            Condone – accept and allow (behavior that is considered morally wrong or offensive) to continue. I thought maybe you would like to read the definition, because clearly you do not know it’s meaning.

          • George

            Your constant misuse of hyperbole, and your admission that you don’t believe what the Bible says, puts you in a rather precarious position. You’re certainly not in a position to condescend to somebody who knows multiplied times more about this than you do, despite you being a young know-it-all.

            Let’s start from the beginning: Please explain what you know about the various forms of slavery that were present during the various eras of Bible history. That would be a good place to start.

          • Heather Rose

            I admitted that I don’t believe the Bible? I don’t think I did. I did, however, make a distinction between the Apostle Paul (man) & Jesus (God). I do believe there is a difference.

          • George

            You have just restated your belief that the Bible is not to be believed as divine. Thank you for that admission.

          • Heather Rose

            You’ve just admitted to many a logical fallacy! Also, I don’t mean to be snide, but just because you use a big word like hyperbole doesn’t mean you know what it means. Show me the constant ‘greatly exaggerations.’

    • George

      Did Jesus condone (or even mention) women being Elders?

      • Heather Rose

        Did Jesus condemn (or even mention) homosexuality?

        • George

          Answer the first question.

          • Heather Rose

            That’s begging the question! When did Jesus ever talk about the church hierarchy? Did I miss something?

          • George

            Obfuscation noted. Thank you.

            Now… I can talk in circles all day, if that’s what you want to do. And I’ll guarantee you that I’m better at it than you are.

            On the other hand, you could drop the arrogance, the condescension, and the snark, and try to have a conversation rather than a pushing of your own angry agenda.

          • Heather Rose

            You’re in way over your head, buddy. Enjoy your ignorance!

          • George

            Enjoy your snotty arrogance. You’ll grow up one day.

          • Heather Rose

            How patronizing. Is there hope for you, too?

          • Heather Rose

            p.s. I’m not angry. On the contrary, I’m slightly amused.

          • Heather Rose

            p.p.s. How did this devolve into a squabble? I thought Christians were above that sort of thing! I, for one, am. God Bless You!

  • mattgrainger

    The Galatians verse, “neither male nor female,” has to be the most misinterpreted verse in the Bible. I think you explained it beautifully. It’s worth remembering that one of Christianity’s rival religions in those early days was Mithraism, which was for men only. Paul would have been familiar with Mithraism, which was open to all social classes, including slaves, but it excluded women.

    • George

      You’re certainly right about Galatians 3:28 being horribly and relentlessly misquoted and misapplied. There are still men, there are still women. There are still Jews, there are still non-Jews. There are still slaves, and there are still non-slaves. How anyone could make that verse in to an argument for egalitarianism is beyond me.

  • mosessister

    Following your exegesis of Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Tim 3:1-7, it would seem that these passages also require pastors/elders to be married, with children. Do you agree with this? Why, or why not?

    Thank you.

    • Gilsongraybert

      The assumption in the text is pointed toward those who have a wife and children and is seeking the office – yet does not seem to necessitate that one have a wife and child(ren) in order to do so. Rather, it seems to indicate a focus upon sexual purity and ability to lead and maintain the health of the household in that current state. The list of requirements in either passage give moral commands rather than situational. 1 Tim. 2:12, however, does clearly necessitate that the pastorate cannot be held by women.

      • mosessister

        Ok, I agree that the list of elder requirements are universal moral requirements (sexual purity, competence to lead) rather than situational mandates (gender/marital status/fatherhood).

        What is the basis for your conclusion that 1 Tim 2:12 is a universal mandate, rather than a culturally-bound one?

        • Gilsongraybert

          We know the epistles were circulated among the churches for the edification of the church; in later epistles, the early church, and through the years up until recently, we do not find contrary evidence for this, save some fringe movements in the historical church (i.e. Anabaptists). The question at that point would be what basis do we have to conclude that it is a culturally bound mandate – especially given the context of the passage in reference to Creation and the Fall.

          • mosessister

            Yes, I agree that the reference to Creation and the Fall points to the passage being a universal mandate. The reference to the Creation account should point us to the reason for the mandate, given the use of γάρ at the beginning of v. 13. Assuming you agree with that, what then do you believe is the reason Paul is implying here?

          • Gilsongraybert

            From the passage, it seems fairly straightforward: Adam was created first and he did not fall into deceit as Eve did. This is same inference by which Federal Headship is drawn (Adamic Nature/inherited sin-nature of Adam a la Rom. 5:12).

          • mosessister

            Hmmm…so are you drawing a parallel between the imputation of Adam & Eve’s sin to all humanity, and an imputation of Eve’s deception to all women?

          • Heather Rose

            Adam was created first, but was he tempted first? No. Eve was & both were deceived.

          • Gilsongraybert

            Which is precisely the reasoning Paul uses through the inspired text to dictate why women shouldn’t teach or have authority as an elder.

          • Heather Rose

            You don’t get it.

    • George

      Actually, you’ve committed the classic fundamental error of speaking where Scripture is not speaking. Then we have the irony your claim being one that would bar any and all priests – and even the Pope – from leading in the RCC.

  • George

    Is a pastor a “preaching elder” (1st Timothy 5:17)? If the answer is “yes” then women are not to be pastors.

  • Elliott May

    I don’t wish to be unkind in my critique here, so I will say that I grew up as a complementarian, and I still know many complementarians who are beautiful, Christ loving people (including many family members of mine). I also, like the author, attended Moody Bible Institute, which boasts many wonderful traits, but sadly, also closes their students off from much excellent Christian scholarship that doesn’t fit their doctrinal purposes. I think we see some of that here in the author’s article.

    The author did a nice job of speaking to the abuse of the doctrine of complementarianism, but we need to go farther. If one commits to following where logic and sound Biblical exegesis lead, it becomes clear that the issue is more complex than the pat answers offered by complementarianism. A commenter in this thread already did a nice job of speaking about the issues surrounding the usage in 1 Timothy 2 of the word “authentein,” but I want to touch on it a bit, too. The irregularity of this usage should by itself should exclude that passage from conversations about this issue, because the context around the passage is clearly specific to the situation. Authentein is so unusual compared to Paul’s other references to authority that he could not possibly have been talking about normative church leadership structures. It is disappointing that even though most recent credible scholarship confirms that in Paul’s time authentein referred specifically to abuse of authority, some prominent complementarian scholars (Wayne Grudem, for example) refuse to correct publications that were written before this came to light.

    Moving beyond authentein and getting to the hermeneutical method used here, we find more puzzling information. The fact that the rest of the passage is generally ignored in this discussion speaks to the selectivity of complementarianism thought on the role of women in Christian life. The author raised the issue of hermeneutics on multiple occasions; as a graduate student, he should be able to tell you that to apply one hermeneutic to one part of a passage, but not the rest of the surrounding scripture is shoddy work at best, intellectually dishonest at worst. It is amusing to see him speak of egalitarians only conforming to “sanctioned cultural mores” and using an “inconsistent hermeneutic,” only to turn around and do this very thing. I would be interested to hear the author speak to whether or not women need to sit in a separate section at church, ask permission from a man to speak, and whether or not it’s true that women are saved through childbirth specifically. I hope he is prepared to speak out against every Christian woman he sees wearing gold jewelry, too.

    It is clear from these strange statements in Paul’s message that he is giving specific advice to Timothy regarding specific issues occurring in Ephesus. This conclusion takes much less than work than doing the gymnastics required to arrive at the conclusion that Paul is trying to build universal church doctrine, particularly around issues that virtually no one teaches (role of childbearing in saving faith, etc). Why? In 1 Timothy 1, the chapter immediately preceding this one, Paul is speaking to Timothy about false teaching occurring in Ephesus specifically. There is no declaration of universal church polity; to say that these letters were circulated for encouragement and instructions doesn’t mean that you can extrapolate one or two verses (again, pulled out specifically from the verses around them) and indicate that this is law for all of Christ’s church, now and forever (but not any of the verses around them). This discussion would be different if Christ’s teaching bore a similar tone, or even if the rest of Paul’s writing reiterated this idea. This simply isn’t true- sit down and read all of Paul’s writings, and it’s clear that he supports leadership of women in the church. The author tries to create distinctions by doing things like separating the office of deacon from elder, but this is illogical- what if, in her role as deacon, Phoebe correctly identified sinful behavior in one of the males in the congregation? Is she ineligible to speak truth to him, because that would mean that she was exerting leadership over a man?

    Much more could be said about some of the things raised in this article, but I will close by saying to anyone considering these ideas to set ideas of truth and falsehood aside for a moment and consider the logic alone. It quickly becomes clear that the doctrine of complementarianism is not even cogent. Think of how selectively this doctrine is applied in the church (particularly in the U.S.), and with what disparate interpretations. There are huge discrepancies. In some churches, women can hold all offices except senior pastor. In others, women can’t teach mixed gender sunday school classes for high school students. Questions abound, of course: how do we define when a boy becomes a man? Do we use ancient Greek or Hebrew definitions, since this is the context of the passage? Do we use those of our own culture? If this is the case, can women teach boys until they become men? But what is meant by teaching? What constitutes authority? I would also remind complementarians to make sure and apply the whole passage to the church, if you truly believe this passage is truly reflective of Paul’s beliefs on universal church doctrine.

    The fact of the matter is, if you enter in to the discussion without an agenda, it is clear that the issue is AT LEAST more complex than complementarians would have you think. However, I would go farther and say that other sources in the Bible indicate to me that God DOES bless women in authority. This is not an issue of contemporary political and social mores. I would like to hear the author speak to why God ordained prophetesses like Deborah in the Old Testament (Deborah was specifically vested with authority to judge Israel, which sort of sounds like a leadership position to me), why Paul didn’t speak out against women like Priscilla holding leadership positions in the early church, and other examples of female leadership in Scripture.

    • Gilsongraybert

      You’re not a very careful reader are you?

      • Elliott May

        Would you care to elaborate on your comment? Or are you just trying to insult me? I’m not trying to frustrate you, but I do disagree with some of your positions. A few of the things I mentioned in my comment had to do with things you touched on, but in my thinking, didn’t elaborate on. In my reading of your positions, I think that it deserves more discussion. For instance, you say, “This passage by no means condemns looking nice, braiding the hair, or wearing any jewelry.” Why not? I don’t understand why Paul’s injunction against wearing jewelry can be waved away as a general, nonspecific charge toward godly character, if only a verse or two later, you take a highly irregular verb and use it as blanket policy for leadership in the church. Likewise, in your discussion of the case of Deborah, you speak of the danger of taking examples that appear in Biblical narrative and applying them as absolute or universal truth- I very much agree; this is a wise statement. This is one of the primary reasons I think that 1 Timothy 2 can’t be used in this discussion- there are too many irregularities for it to be used as a proof text of anything. Regarding the case of Deborah specifically, I guess I disagree with your reading. It seems to me that Judges 2 affirms that God raises up Israel’s judges, and is therefore an affirmation of her role. We also read 4:9 differently, I guess- Deborah gave Barak a message from God. God intended Barak to lead an army from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon against Sisera, the general of the Canaanite army. God promised to give Barak the victory, but he refused to go unless Deborah went with him. God did not allow Sisera to be captured or killed by Barak. Sisera was killed by the woman Jael. Since Barak put his trust in a woman instead of God’s promise, God gave the final victorious blow to a woman. This seems to me to be not only an affirmation of the value of women in God’s creation (which I know that you believe in and affirmed in your article), but also of the ability of women to play a role in the leadership of God’s people as a whole.

        In terms of your comment about Pheobe and the difference between deacons and elders, I understand your comment, and you are right to raise the difference between the offices of deacon and elder. I think it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue- if the office of deacon was created for the purpose of “benevolence ministry,” which is the term often used (I think of Acts 6), it follows that some administration of resources is involved, and teaching is not precluded. Why would God bless the ability of women to make decisions that affect the whole church in some capacity, but not to offer teaching to the group as a whole? It seems to be a strange and sort of selective use of authority to me. But I concede that this is conjecture, and certainly can’t be used in building church polity.

        Finally, I note your comment about the ability of women to teach other women and children in the church, and I agree- but since the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to the limits of this issue, I find it to be a bit subjective, which is what I was trying to get at in my original comment about the differing interpretations of what this means for the church. My sincere apologies for what seems to have angered you, based on your reply. It was not my intent. If anything I said was made in error, it was genuine; if anything I said was uncharitable, it was unintentional and I apologize. I simply believe that there are very real problems with complementarianism and that more dialogue is needed. No need to get upset. May God bless you in your life and ministry.

        • Gilsongraybert

          There was no intention to insult you, please forgive me if that came across that way. There were points you brought up that were addressed and simply don’t need an in depth commentary on (i.e. Deborah). In reality though, I doubt much of anything I could qualify would convince you at this point. I don’t see the need to do an in depth response, because that would involve much more than a blog space would allow for. I could write enough to fill a book on this discussion, as many others already have – but far be it from me to do it for the purposes here. I mean no offense by that, but the assumption that I’ve yet to interact outside of Moody’s theological views is assumed rather than known. This post was not intended to be a treatise to cover every aspect of the argument at the depth you’re asking for currently. I find it relatively funny to see the assertions here with the Greek, because if you’ve taken Greek – you and I both know this argument does not hinge upon the verbal usage – and even what you and the other gentlemen are bringing to the table on that is somewhat contrived. To say that the gloss is limited to an obscure usage akin to a dominatrix is not only misleading, but not reflective of modern lexicons. The Greek term for “church” was not used in that sense, nor the divine “Logos” – yet here we are with the GNT wherein these words are used for those purposes. In the end, I laid out commonly, yet misappropriated arguments of Egalitarian thought – some of which you dismissed outright as others have as well. I chose not to interact with his post below on the same reason I ceased with another gentlemen on FB; no matter what contrary evidence might be provided and supported, I’m spinning my wheels. What I mean is simply that the conversation has been entered into as a one-sided conversation from the bat. I don’t think dialogue is what you’re looking for, but concession. Simply put: I don’t have the time nor the energy to go for endless blows in order to die the death of a thousand theological qualifications on things you feel must be qualified further on a blog post that was already pushing past 4 pages single spaced. I aim for readability and digestibility, and if the Lord allows, I’ll perhaps be able to publish a book wherein I have the liberty, time, and resources to cover all the bases as much as needed. For now, what you are “requiring” is simply not realistic for the space – but everyone knows that about blogging, so it seems relatively apparent that this would still not suffice if it were given on a silver platter.

  • Jacques Strap

    Then can, but they shouldn’t.

  • Jeff

    If you believe a pastor is a “preaching elder” – aka, the Biblical model – the answer is “No.”

  • rtgmath

    I notice no one talks about Deborah. Or about the daughters of Phillip who were prophets in their own right. Easy to forget, right? Easy to dismiss.

    In Israel, women were left uneducated. They did the harder labor, drawing and carrying water. Boys would be taught a little of reading if their families were rich enough. But men were the Scribes, men held the power, and men wrote the theology.

    Today, women are as well educated as men, and many women are better theologians than the men here dominating Patheos! Many women know the Scriptures better and even can deal with the original languages!

    The commands against women’s participation in I Corinthians was enforcement of cultural bias. A woman prays with her head uncovered? Forcibly shave her like a prostitute! Mind you, that is a command of Scripture! The prohibition against women leadership is no less rooted in the culture–not in relationship with God.

    Complementarianism is a doctrine designed to ensure cultural masculine domination. Just as we have rethought slavery — which is not only allowed, but approved of in Scripture, we can and should rethink the complementarian theology. It will have no place in God’s kingdom where there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, and neither male nor female.

    • George

      Patheos is absolutely no template of how ANYTHING ought to be run or done.

  • Jason Ames

    Coming from a book with magic floods and a God that has no qualms about killing first born sons for the actions of thier mind controlled Pharaoh, I’d question this book’s edicts on female servitude.

    • George

      Oh isn’t he cute – another atheist troll.

  • Vanessa Loy

    I didn’t see head coverings addressed, or the issue of male headship as it relates to widows and single women.

  • rtgmath

    Ahhh, and the Bible doesn’t teach that you can drive cars. Or take aspirin. It does teach that you can beat a slave to death without punishment if the slave lives after the beating for a day or two. It does teach that parents can take their children out in public, accuse them of being rebellious, and stone them to death. It does teach that fathers can sell their children into slavery. And even though the sons might be able to be redeemed, there was no redemption out of slavery for women. It told a slave to return to his master. Even Jesus allowed remarriage after the spouse had committed adultery for men — but NOT for women!

    Conservative theology is much like that of a three-year old child. Follow the rules. These are the only rules. They cover every situation. But as grown-ups we find out that the Law — even the “law” in the epistles — does not cover every situation, enables abuse, justifies prejudice. And as grownups we recognize that we have to make decisions for ourselves. The rule as a three-year old, “Don’t touch the knife,” later is ignored as the child learns to use knives safely.

    Paul, to the Galatians, told them that they were to mature as Christians beyond the schoolmaster or disciplinarian. They were to grow up, to be adults in faith. Adults do not always go back to the schoolbooks to look for the answers, because they know the answers are not always there. Indeed, they know the answers that the adults in their lives gave were often wrong, or were applicable only for a short time in their lives. Both Jesus and Paul detailed deficiencies in the Law — given by God, but still catering to the hardness of people’s hearts. Is it reasonable to think that every instruction in the New Testament then is free from imperfections or misunderstandings?

    As we grow up, we take on new responsibilities, new roles, new understandings. Faith that does not change is stagnant and deadly.

    One can say that Complementarianism doesn’t justify abuse. But it prevents women from getting the justice they deserve and the respect they deserve. So it actually enables abuse. It produces bad fruit, and, “by their fruits you shall know them.”

    • George

      “Conservative theology is much like that of a three-year old child….”

      And liberal theology – like yours – is what has killed literally every single church it has ever infected. Congratulations.

  • George

    If you believe a pastor is a “preaching elder” – which is the only role in the New Testament that’s even close to a pastor – the answer is “No,” women cannot be pastors.

    However, if we’re going to ignore the New Testament, it really doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters, of course, so at that point we just kind of make it up as we go.

  • Tracy Walker Maddy

    1 Corinthians 14
    33For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34women are to be silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.

    So…no evangelizing, testimony, no pastoring, teaching, preaching, leading music, etc. Women are to be silent. Period.