Arise: I. Howard Marshall

Arise: I. Howard Marshall December 13, 2010

This post is written by Alan Johnson and summarizes a recent panel discussion at ETS, with final comments by I. Howard Marshall. This is Johnson’s summary of Marshall’s comments.

Alan Johnson (ThD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Christian Ethics, Emeritus Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) at Wheaton College, and editor of How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals.

In the final panel discussion, each author reflected briefly on how the pain and suffering that many women feel when their gifts and callings are muzzled can legitimately lead to correcting our reading and/or application of Scripture. Perhaps the concluding remarks of Professor I. Howard Marshall, from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, will sum up some of these contributions:

Much anguish is felt by women whose God-given talents have been denied expression. This is due to:

1. The inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so.

2. The irrationality of the traditional position. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how the patriarchal/complementarian position glorifies God or fulfils his moral and spiritual purposes for his children.

3. The arbitrariness of the way in which the ruling is put into effect, with all the going beyond what Scripture actually says and the casuistry that is employed regarding the limits of what women may and may not do.

4. The lack of any positive remedy in terms of alternative types of behavior and action that can be taken up by women in the church, since no clear complementarian tasks that women should do but men should not do are proposed.

Is this anguish a legitimate stimulus for asking whether we have interpreted Scripture wrongly? Anguish itself is not necessarily a reason for change but an important symptom that something deeper may be needing attention for good theological and practical reasons.

Our problem is how to understand Scripture in the context of this anguish as people who place ourselves under its authority, and who are perplexed if being scriptural makes us not only unhappy but also irrational in terms of the godly use of our minds.

One partial way ahead is to ask positively what the teaching has to say to us if we extend its application. The teaching addressed to women can and should also be applied to men and vice versa. Men should also act modestly and women should not quarrel when they pray. Is there not a need for submissiveness in learning in all of us? Are male teachers allowed to domineer or act in authoritarian ways? Do husbands and fathers need to devote more attention to their families instead of spending undue time at church?

The biblical teaching was given in the context of a society that was patriarchal. Does not a literal application of the subjection passages produce effects which are rather different from what was originally intended, as when the wearing of a hat is a sign of being fashionable rather than honoring to a husband? What message does the silencing of women teachers and leaders convey?

But a warning may also be needed. All of us, men and women, need to beware lest we be motivated by a worldly desire for success and adulation rather than by a desire to be good servants of a Lord who will give us his ‘well done’. What we are to seek for is a way of living in the church and in marriage that glorifies the Lord and commends the gospel and helps to realize the kingdom of God in an anticipatory manner here in this world and specifically in the church.

There was no spoken opposition to the stories and panel though I know we had some complementarians present. A close friend of mine, who tends toward a complementarian view, said she was deeply impressed with the genuineness of each story teller and the love that seemed to come through so strongly.

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  • Luke

    Excellent points by professor Marshall that I fully agree with. In trying to wrap my head around this whole issue, I’ve often asked the question, “But why? Why shouldn’t a female be allowed to teach males? Preach? Pray from the pulpit? Shepherd a congregation?” This is often met with a, “Well, women are capable of this. Well, it has nothing to do with if they’re able to do it. It’s just what the Bible says!”

    I’m left scratching my head. What is left is a law devoid of any type of spirit. There’s really no other reason than “The Bible says not to”? God doesn’t seem to be in the business of giving arbitrary laws. On top of this, they’re incredibly inconsistent with their hermeneutic. If they want to be “biblical,” or even “Pauline,” then they should make women wear head coverings and shouldn’t even allow them to say a word during the worship service. That means no singing, asking questions, or telling their kids to quit drawing on the offering envelopes. If they don’t understand something, then they can wait until they get home and ask their husbands. I don’t see many complementarians advocating for this behavior.

  • rjs

    The first point, if it were true, would be a good one – and I think it is true of many, especially those who take a more moderate complementarian position. The reason for complementarianism within church structure is simply that Paul made this command.

    Those who take a harder position however, often see the need for a coherent and persuasive reasons based firmly in ontology, the nature of woman as opposed to man. Since such a reason must exist they find (invent, take from tradition) one through a patronizing and degrading form of logic. This is why the conversation often leaves me feeling a bit sick.

  • Paul

    I know this is meant to be a sumamry, but the way the first two points are written above, I found this hard to agree froma civility standpoint (and BTW I am an egalitarian)

    To say that there is an inability to “provide any coherant…reason” and to say the “irrationality of the tranditional position” is for me unhelpful.

    This language (again, in the first two points above) seems too harsh & too demeaning of “the other side”. You get the impression that only fools would be a complimentarian. This is not what leads to helpful discussion in my opinion.

  • smcknight

    Paul, I think Howard is expressing the exasperation of some women egalitarians. So, I’m not sure it is uncivil so much as sharp and direct and leading to anguish …

  • garver

    There are some who would limit the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament to men, but base that not only on some particular texts, but also in a wider biblical theology of masculinity and femininity, grounded in theology proper and the doctrine of creation.

    For them, images such as Christ as Bridegroom and church as Bride express something about the structure of reality itself, the femininity of creation in relation to God. Biological gender within the feminine creation is then a relative and symbolic expression of this fundamental reality.

    This is a rather different approach from evangelical complementarians who tend to take a more exclusively “prooftext” approach to the issue. Whatever one may think about these approaches, it’s my experience that those who take a more “symbolic structure of reality” approach are often much more open to the positive ministry of women as church leaders, vestry members, spiritual directors, theologians, seminary professors, pastoral counselors, deacons, liturgical leaders, etc.

    I’m not sure what to make of that.

  • rjs


    I don’t think you are right about those who limit offices.

    I suggest that the so-called “wider biblical theology” is in fact firmly grounded in proof texts and it is this very rationalization that makes the entire discussion intensely painful and damaging to the very being of people, especially women.

  • Paul

    Scot that is helpful for understanding this…thanks

  • If it is true that women cannot teach as some proffer, then they must follow the rest. No single men, no childless men, no men whose children get in trouble (and this would certainly leave out a lot)… you get my point.

    Consistency of belief would be required, and it is not. The same way in seminaries. If we will not let women into the programs (and there are those) then why do we let men who do not fit nicely into “married, never divorced, men with great kids”?

    Also, I’ve never understood how women can teach Sunday school to young impressionable children (some who are male)yet not men who are suppose to be able to reason more cogently. Especially with what we know about child development and the early formative years. Or could it be that we can’t get the men to teach the children so it is ok for women to take on the job? Again, consistency.

    I so appreciated “Why Not Women” by Hamilton and Cunningham when I was trying to understand as they lay out the argument well.

  • Jinny

    I’ve been told there is a thesis being written about separating the discussion of male-female imagery in marriage from the discussions on church order. I think thoughtfully looking at passages and the genre categories is helpful. As a single female, one of my frustrations has been the mix of marriage and church order issues. How can woman without a husband to act like a wife when she doesn’t have the experience? Or has this been interpreted backwards, and the marriage is supposed to follow the form of the kingdom of God, and is therefore not based on the male-female interaction, per se?

    I am presbyterian; our form of government is not top-down, but requires mutual submission in the Elder’s council, called Session (which includes the pastor, but the pastor is not the Clerk of Session, who moderates the meetings). Decisions are made by the group, not individuals, and because it’s presbyterian, execution of the decisions is usually done by the Deacons and people, rather than the ruling and teaching Elders.

    It doesn’t make sense to me to ask a minor to be the ‘head of household’ just because the only adult(s) is(are) female. Leadership should be based on maturity and gifting, not necessarily gender. Deborah (Judges 4-5) had a husband, yet it was she, not him, named as judge. There were no shortcomings of his named in the Bible. To say she was an exception to leadership because of Lappidoth’s and other men’s sin is not a reason from the Bible, but speculation.

  • If you go back to before the early 20th Century, the reason for women not being in leadership is clear: Women are the weaker sex, less rational, more emotional, more easily deceived and likely to lead men astray.

    The predicament, as you move into the mid-20th Century onward, is that it is no longer valid or socially acceptable to hold such views about women. The prohibition of women seemingly remains while the justification has vanished. You can either re-evaluate what you thought was prohibited are you can forge on by rebuilding a new bullwark to re-enforce the traditional practice.

    Complementarians criticize egalitarians (neither label is that great) for innovating and not staying true to Scripture and historic teaching. But complementarians have been every bit as innovative. They have dropped the language of women’s inferiority that has been integral to the traditional practice and tried to repackage it in a more sterile, seemingly gracious, tone. (ex. Equal in being, unequal in role.)

    Let me be clear that I’m not claiming a conspiracy theory here. There isn’t a secret cabal masterfully manipulating the subjugation of women. Rather I’m suggesting that there are a great many people who are troubled by the implications of what it might mean for other aspects of their faith and practice if they were to change on this issue. There is considerable motivation to reconcile the traditional model with the modern context.

  • Thomas

    I am a complementarian but open to finding as many avenues as possible for women to use their gifts in the church.

    I wonder though what it looks like from an egalitarian perspective to articulate what the differences actually ARE between men and women. I mean in no way do I want to assume that egalitarians believe in androgyny, but I am quite fuzzy on what an egalitarian would say the Bible teaches for it to be a man and a woman.

    It might be helpful for egalitarians to provide some practical Biblical theology on gender distinctiveness that would actually connect with people in churches.

    Basically I am trying to ask what an egalitarian would say the Bible teaches in what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman? How are they different? Why did God create to genders to fully reflect his image in humanity? Even Hollywood that is as egalitarian as you can imagine, still makes romantic comedies that show a common storyline of men pursuing and initiating. They do this because it seems to connect and more fully resonate with the hearts and minds of the wider culture.

    Any thoughts on this would be very helpful.

  • EricW

    I’d submit this:

    ISTM that where “the rubber meets the road” when it comes to “Egalitarianism” and “Patriarchalism” (aka “Complementarianism”) is what females (versus males) can and cannot do in the church as members of the Body of Christ.

    So I would ask re: the following “roles” or operations in the church (“gifts” in this list are from Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12):

    a) Overseer/Bishop
    b) Elder
    c) Deacon
    d) Apostle
    e) Prophet
    f) Evangelist
    g) Pastor
    h) Teacher
    i) Giver of Word of Wisdom
    j) Giver of Supernatural Knowledge
    k) Exerciser of Faith
    l) Gifted Healer
    m) Worker of Miracles
    n) Prophesier
    o) Discerner of Spirits
    p) Glossolalist
    q) Interpreter of Glossolalia
    r) Helper (αντιλημψις – antilêmpsis)
    s) Administrator (κυβερησις – kubernêsis)
    t) Exhorter
    u) Giver
    v) Leader (προιστημι – proistêmi)
    w) Mercy-doer

    1. Which of the above can be filled/held/done by either sex, and why?
    1.a. For those that can be filled/held/done by females, also list any required or necessary restrictions for females in those roles/operations (versus lack of such restrictions for males in that same role/operation), and why.

    2. Which of the above can be filled/held/done only by males, and why?

    3. Which of the above can be filled/held/done only by females, and why?

  • EricW

    That should be:

    s) Administrator (κυβερνησις – kubernêsis)

  • DRT

    As a father of a wonderful daughter I find the complementatian position to be well captured by the author’s bullets. I would like to add that men (like me) can feel great anguish at the suffering endured by women they know.

    One thought from a father’s perspective (2 boys and 1 girl). My kids are fairly main stream from a stereotype perspective. My daughter actually thinks of others, is warm and not egotistical. My boys, well, are definitely boys (more confident, assertive, loud and generally a higher self image).

    These boys do not need any additional help in making them feel they are better than the girls. I find it amazing that adult complementarians can possibly think that their policy is beneficial when there is in fact great harm that is done in the name of this policy. It is harmful to both the boys and the girls due to the irrational gender based behavior that effected kids carry with them into the world. Why can’t complementarians submit to a loving approach? Why isn’t it plainly obvious that Jesus would prefer an approach that does not cause harm like this? Isn’t that more important than some technicality that may not even be correct? What about Mercy?

    I spend great amounts of time building up my daughter so that she has the confidence to go out there and compete with the boys. To have someone in a position of authority say she is not able to do something because she is a girl causes me pain to the point of great sin.

    The complementarian position causes boys (and girls) to sin. It is hurtful. I think there is a big problem with pushing policies that cause children to sin.

  • DRT

    Thomas#11, I think the issue is not that there are differences on average between men and women, but the issue is that at an individual level there is wild differentiation. There are effeminant males and masculine females. There are even people whose sex is ambiguous. Therefore, to typecast people based on a group behaviou and not on their individual merit is just plain wrong. What do I care what the average guy or gal is like? What matters for me is what I am like.

  • Kay

    “Therefore, to typecast people based on a group behaviou and not on their individual merit is just plain wrong. What do I care what the average guy or gal is like?”

    Has anyone ever met “the average” guy or gal? And on this wise, I would love for complementarians to reveal to the rest of us those/any men and women that fully exemplify the ideal they uphold.

  • Thomas

    To subjective DRT and does not answer the question of what the Bible teaches on what it means to be a man and a woman. Obviously the Bible speaks to this issue and complementarians have written numerous books on the matter, but I never hear anything from egalitarians on the topic.

    I have a daughter also DRT, and I would say I would never let anyone teach that she is less valuable or important than a boy. But is it is also clear ontologically and Biblically to me that she is different, but no less in value, than boys. I wonder if the arguments that egalitarians make to say that men and women are completely equal and therefore should have equal access to church leadership roles, applies to how they date, marry, and relate to each other. If that is the case I am not at all interested in handing my daughter to a guy who does not practice chivalry toward her and only wants to go dutch in life.

    These are just my thoughts and questions that I have of the egalitarian perspective and would sincerely like to hear their teaching on these topics.

    BTW, it grows very tiresome for complementarians to hear caricatures of their views in that they somehow don’t believe man and women are equal in dignity value and worth, just because they serve different roles. I have always found it hard to swallow that our worth would come from anything other than we are made in the image of our Creator, not in what we can or can’t do.

  • Sue G

    What made the difference to me was to prioritize what we learn about Jesus’ view – after all, if he is the image of the invisible God, then how he behaved and seemed to think about women ought to be paramount. Jesus did not seem to have categories into which men and women must fall (the sole exception is that the Twelve are all male – and yet, there were women who followed (literally), too). When he spoke with the woman at the well, he was not concerned about what anyone thought. He pushed both men and women to take courageous faith risks and to be in restored relationships. As a result, I’m not even comfortable discussing what the Bible says men and women ‘should’ be – Jesus was not interested in that gender bifurcation.

  • EricW

    BTW, it grows very tiresome for complementarians to hear caricatures of their views in that they somehow don’t believe man and women are equal in dignity value and worth, just because they serve different roles.

    But it’s this idea that in the Church, the Body of Christ, there are gender-specific or gender-differentiated “roles” that “men” vs. “women” are to serve or serve in that egalitarians would consider to be a caricature or distortion or misrepresentation or misuse or misunderstanding or misapplication of the Gospel.

  • DRT,

    I think it would maybe help the discussion if you didn’t accuse complementarians of being unloving and causing people to sin. I understand you have strong feelings here but it tends to shut down conversation or turn it into a shouting match if you make those kinds of statements at the outset.

    To the original post, I think critiques 1-4 should be considered by complementarians. However, point 1 seems a bit weak. There are quite a few things in Scripture that people don’t understand, but trust God in them anyway. I don’t think that should be a defacto disqualification.

    Point 2 seems similarly weak. It seems like it is begging the question a little bit. If one’s view is that complementarianism is in accordance with God’s instruction for church and life, then of course it glorifies God.

    Point 3 is, in my opinion anyway, a much more serious problem. As Michael W. Kruse pointed out, often enough the application of complementarianism is based more on socially accepted views of women and not on Scripture (or a particular interpretation thereof), and that doesn’t reflect well.

    Point 4 seems like another decent critique to me, but I wonder if it is too bound by a pretty narrow view of complementarianism. Michael Patton had a post earlier in the year about a more broad view of complementarianism, it’s entitled What Complementarianism Is Really All About. There he even makes the claim that it is possible to be a complementarian and believe women can serve as pastors.

  • Michael # 10 –

    “Women are the weaker sex, less rational, more emotional, more easily deceived and likely to lead men astray”

    Do you believe this is so? It’s hard to tell from your post.

  • Thomas

    Sue I think you post does a good job highlighting the frustration of so many complementarians. I find it hard to take seriously the egalitarian view of the Bible when you claim it leads you to be uncomfortable even articulating a view of what it means to be a man or a woman.

    Obviously God created two genders, and to not be willing or able to give a doctrine as to what this is or means is highly reductionistic and unsatisfactory to many including non-Christians.

  • Thomas #11

    I think your question about what egalitarian means is a fair one. It also points to the reason I don’t fully embrace the term. Equal is an adjective in need of subject. Here is what I mean by equal.

    Francis Schaeffer used to compare two lists:



    The first one illustrates that we are created beings and therefore very unlike God. The second illustrates that there are other ways in which were very much like God and unlike nature. What qualifies us for the second list? I’d suggest it is things like reason, language, discernment, the capacity to learn and to teach, and the capacity to exercise dominion over creation and over human affairs. I’m saying men and equal in all these things that put us above the line. We are equal in that sense.

    Probably the best term I’d use to describe myself is a nonhierarchical complementation. There are some ways, in the aggregate, that men and women behave differently (usually in the sense of bell curves with significant overlap.) The issue is not that women and men need to the same (or identical or equal) in all traits but that they need to be equal in consideration for opportunities to serve, teach, govern, and otherwise exercise dominion. They will each bring their unique perspectives to bear in the areas where they serve. The perspectives of both men and women are to be included in the mix.

    The problem I have with what is usually called complementarian, is that it is complementary. The popular characterization is “Equal in being, unequal in role.” Taking a world where just men run the world for a moment, all of us are better at some things, and less capable at others. We take the lead in some things and differ to others on other things. So we are subordinate to others in a limited capacity for a specific purpose and for a limited time. You could say we are equal in being but unequal in role.

    Complementarianism says that women are subordinate to men in ALL things ALL time. That is the precise definition of not being equal in being. Furthermore, the very language of “roles” is a development from about the 1970’s going forward. It was borrowed directly from the Structural-Functional school of sociology. Envisioned here is the idea of independent actors who then “play” roles.” This is not historic Christianity. Men and women did not “play roles.” Men and women were to do certain things because it was in their nature to do so, not because there were roles that to be heeded. Gender roles … in the sense of some culturally transcendent mandate … are not even in view in Scripture. What we have is the gospel breaking into a specific time-space cultural context and being processed in that context.

    Gender differences are a mixture of nature and nurture and they can vary from culture to culture. What I take as given is that men and women are equally gifted and called to all human dominion and ecclesial modes of service.

  • Kate #21

    Not in the least. I’m merely articulating the historical justification which has evaporated.

  • EricW

    If one’s view is that complementarianism is in accordance with God’s instruction for church and life, then of course it glorifies God.

    If one’s view is that:

    – slavery
    – the killing of homosexuals
    – financial prosperity and blessings for all believers
    – there needs to be a human priest mediating between God and the congregation
    – women should not be allowed to speak in church
    – there should be no interracial marriages
    – etc.

    is in accordance with God’s instruction for church and life, then of course it glorifies God.


  • Anna

    Actually for me #1 and #2 were and are quite compelling, but then I am female, so being on the receiving end of those arguments was always, er, interesting. (If we use Scripture to say that women cannot be ordained, or preach, or teach, why don’t we follow Scriptures that forbid us to eat shellfish, or that permit polygamy or slavery?)

    I was raised Catholic. When I was small, I wanted to serve God by being a priest, but it wasn’t long before I found out that that was not allowed. Nor was I allowed to serve at the altar. When I was a teenager, I asked a number of priests why women could not become priests, and the answer I got was that Jesus was a man and chose men as apostles so therefore women could not be priests. You could read the gospel and preach and preside over communion if you were male, but not if you were female. But it left me feeling like a second-class citizen in the eyes of God. It left me feeling like God must see me as unclean, unfit to approach the altar, not as good as a man. It left me feeling that if God really loved me, God would have made me a male.

    Then I noticed that the pews had plenty of women in them and I noticed that although women were not allowed into the church’s decision-making hierarchy or allowed into the priesthood, it was perfectly fine for the all-male leadership to take women’s money and women’s volunteer time. Our money and volunteer time apparently was not unclean. Just our persons, just our selves were unclean . . . anywhere near the altar (except when performing janitorial services; it was of course all right for women to tend the altar linens and clean the sanctuary).

    This is when I dropped out of organized religion for a few decades.

    I am now in a denomination that ordains women, because, frankly, it is hurtful to sit in a pew where I know I could never be welcomed behind the altar.

  • DRT


    you said “I think it would maybe help the discussion if you didn’t accuse complementarians of being unloving and causing people to sin.”

    I understand that except the a big part of the basis for my position is the complementatianism is unloving in many cases and causes people to sin. That is the basis for why we should not do that. If you like I can illustrate more vividly why it promotes sin.

    EricW#25 provides a great perspective on this. Why aren’t those things allowed/supported?

    The reason I am opposed to complementarianism is because it is harmful to people. The support I get for the position of not harming people is prevelant in the bible. Therefore I feel it should be outlawed.

  • John I.

    I’ve got the opposite problem from complementarians who don’t know how egalitarians distinguish men and women. I think it’s pretty obvious how egalitarians distinguish men and women, but it’s not obvious to me how complementarians do so within their hierarchalist structure. That is, morally men may and can do anything that women can do (except the biologically impossible of bearing and nursing children); they are without restrictions. Women are the only sex with restrictions on what they may and can do. That doesn’t seem complementarian at all to me, but merely hierarchical.

    John I.

  • DRT

    …and I am sorry if I hurt your feelings, that is not my intent. My intent is to make this policy change. I think this is exactly the type of thing Jesus is talking about in Matthew 23 in general and this one in particular:

    Woe to you, experts in the law 24 and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth 25 of mint, dill, and cumin, 26 yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You 27 should have done these things without neglecting the others. 23:24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!


    This is the biblical justification for eliminating the practice.

  • John I.

    I’m very wary of the use of “harm” or “anguish” arguments as a basis for theology (as is I.H. Marshall). However, as a reason to reexamine theology it’s fine. But often our anguish and hurt is not because our theology is wrong, but because our sin results in us crashing headlong into correct theology. We don’t want to give up our sin and it is painful to do so. Moreover, there seem to be many complementarian (hierarchical) women who experience no anguish or hurt when they function in the lesser position and are subject to many restrictions. So, should we then argue that the complementarion position is correct because many complementarian women do not feel hurt or anguish? The whole hurt and anguish thing is a non-starter for me (and I’m egalitarian). Furthemore, if we apply that principle here, then we should also do so with respect to homosexuality (and many do), and other difficult issues.

    John I.

  • Anna

    re hurt, anguish and sin; when we start talking about sin like there are special sins for special classes of people, I see that as a non-starter.

    Why is it inherently sinful for a woman to aspire to lead a congregation, but it is not sinful for a man to do so?

    I think the idea that there are sins that only women can commit but when men do those things it is not wrong or sinful, is the problem here.

  • Thomas

    Thanks Michael for the thoughtful response and I think you raise some very good points. You said that complementarianism is often phrased as, “Equal in being, unequal in role.”

    This is the problem. Complementarians do not hold to unequal in role, rather different in role. No one in a Western democratic culture such as our which tends to glorify the business accomplishments over the familial one’s thinks men are unequal to women because we can’t participate in the role of birthing kids. Why is this? I do not believe that it is coincidental that Paul speaks of this very matter in 1 Timothy along with the role distinctions in church.

    Also, I have yet to hear anyone egalitarians on here articulate or answer any questions I put forward about what egalitarians believe the Bible teaches in what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. As I noted earlier Sue’s comment is often the norm of egalitarians being unable or willing to thoughtfully engage the Bible in the area of what it teaches on gender.

  • Obviously God created two genders, and to not be willing or able to give a doctrine as to what this is or means is highly reductionistic and unsatisfactory to many including non-Christians.

    I present: An egalitarian doctrine of gender.

    “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

    Notice that it doesn’t say that we are all equal–it says that we are all one. As in, the same.

    But is it is also clear ontologically and Biblically to me that she is different, but no less in value, than boys.

    Thomas believes in separate but equal gender roles.

    If that is the case I am not at all interested in handing my daughter to a guy who does not practice chivalry toward her and only wants to go dutch in life.

    This is an interesting point because it’s a rare area where complementarianism gives men the shaft. An unemployed (or just poor) man would feel like he couldn’t date or get married because he couldn’t fulfill the requirements demanded of him, even if his significant other is in a perfectly fine financial situation. That’s an awfully callous way to treat unemployed men–all 7.5 million of them.

  • DRT

    John I. #30 – I see your point regarding harm or anguish not be sufficient for theology because we are sinful and may not be able to tell we are being sinful.

    I have a difficult time with that idea. Yes I agree that it does not make sense to have harm as the critereon for everyone to use, but there is a process of discernment that can be applied with regard to harm to determine adequacy. I am comfortable with that.

    I would imagine that we would have to have good justification and discernment for doing something harmful. And that is where the complementarian argument falls apart in my view. I think the 4 points in the OP do a good job of eliminating good cause.

  • Thomas


    What your advocating is androgyny. I am trying to give the egalitarian view of the Bible the benefit of the doubt and assume it has more to offer than that.

    Also, I would encourage you to do more research on the Galatians passage you cite as you are taking it out of context and making it say something it does not mean to say. I would be interested to hear your thoughts Colleen though on the Imago Dei if you really believe we are all “one.” Why did God create us male and female, to fully reflect his image in humanity?

  • DRT

    Colleen, That is great. Let’s get rid of it for the terrible way it treats men. Awesome.

  • DRT

    Thomas, God created us male and female to fascillitate natural selection of traits that allow us to survive and avoid genetic disorders that happen in asexual reproduction. It provides the best way to evolve.

  • EricW

    I do not understand why Protestants who believe in the priesthood of all believers continue to hold to the idea that only a male can officiate over the reading and preaching and teaching of the Scriptures to the congregation or that only a male can officiate over communion and baptism, etc. This seems to me to be a holdover of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches’ teaching that the priest stands in persona Christi – something I thought such Protestants firmly rejected – coupled with the idea that since Christ was a male, priests have to be male.

    ISTM that the point of the incarnation is that the λογος became σαρξ, not that the λογος became ανδρικος.

    So why do such Protestants reject the RCC/EOC concept and function of the priest, yet retain its outward form and practice when it comes to presiding over the sacraments of preaching and communion and baptism?

    The λογος became ανθρωπος. And ανθρωπος – αρσεν και θηλυ – is made in God’s image.

  • smcknight

    Thomas, one of the issues is that commenters aren’t really asking the questions — and we know at this blog that it is easy to get distracted from the questions of the post. This post is about what Marshall said in summarizing how women experienced the conference and how they have expressed anguish and why — over what they perceive to be their calling. The post was not about the difference between men and women — and by the way I’ve done some serious reading on this one and the studies are anything but clear. What I see is that most throw up their hands on this one. Which might be the major point … still, not the topic at hand today. It is also unwise for a commenter to demand others to answer his questions.

  • I’m sort of feeling like complementarianism isn’t getting much of a fair shake in this thread today. There is a pretty broad spectrum of complementarian positions. The thread so far has been about “do’s and don’ts” regarding what women can and can’t do, but there is a whole lot more to it than that. Though I wouldn’t really claim to be a complementarian exactly, I see it as being more of an anthropology based on male and female genders being distinct beyond body parts. How that ends up in who can do what where varies tremendously.

    EricW (#25): I wasn’t arguing for the truthfulness of complementarianism, just that it would be certainly rational to complementarians that their position gives glory to God.

    DRT (#27): A great many things can be harmful to people if not used properly, I’m not sure that makes a great argument.

    EricW (#38): I’ve never been in a complementarian church that believed any of what you say. No doubt some churches do, but I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a universal complementarian position.

  • Thomas

    With all due respect Scot this is just dodging. I have observed enough threads on the blog to see people have fruitful conversation that are not the exact topic of the blog post.

    I will end here since you are not wanting this topic posted here, but I do find the silence on the matter from egalitarians to be troubling and an intellectual dodge. As I said before I am sincerely wanting to learn more as to how an egalitarian approaches these issues and have not been able to find anything to this point. Even if you could highlight some resources out there or anyone could, that would be helpful.

    You speak of people throwing up there hands on this issue but I just don’t think that is the case. Kent Hughes and Darin Patrick have both written about it just recently from a complementarian perspective. I am wondering if the egalitarian view has something more to say than androgyny, that’s all.

  • Well, I guess in reading #39 and the purpose of the post better I should maybe just say instead of #40 that I think that complementarians should consider these women and their anguish, even if they do not change their theological position. I don’t think anguish should be a litmus test for our theology, but it should make us think and it should drive us towards love and gentleness.

  • smcknight

    Thomas, I don’t know what Hughes and Patrick have written, and I have lectured on this topic at times, but the only thing I’ve read that really gets after the issues — and it requires theology, philosophy, anthropology, history, sociology, and some downright common sense — is Harvey Mansfield, Manliness .

    But please avoid saying people are being dodgy because they don’t answer your questions. Silence might mean nothing — that folks aren’t interested in the topic, that they don’t know the topic, or (like me) that the topic is not what is going on here today.

  • Shirley

    Some thoughts:
    1. I’m thinking through the various parts of the Bible, about whether there is a Bible “doctrine” of what a man is or what a woman is. I’m pretty familiar with the contents of the Bible, but it doesn’t seem to me that Jesus or Paul or Moses or David or Isaiah actually defined “male” or “female”. The closest thing to a possible definition of “woman” might be Proverbs 31, the description of the “valiant (chayil) woman”. This woman does it all, she trades, she makes, she instructs, she commands, she sells, she’s very much in control; in fact, it sounds like she does a lot more than her husband does.
    2. All my life I have wanted to be treated as a human being not as a gender. In most respects, men & women are more alike than they are different. There are the obvious physical differences. However, most of the supposed psychological differences are probably cultural. I have an XX chromosome pattern (& I’m married to a person with XY chromosomes), but in a great many respects my interests & thought patterns, likes & dislikes reflect those more common to XY people. Does that make me bad? Should I feel ashamed or guilty? It does not make sense to emphasize the differences. We have polarized the sexes too much.

  • EricW

    “Is this anguish a legitimate stimulus for asking whether we have interpreted Scripture wrongly?”

    My apologies for going off-track from the question and responding more to a discussion of whether complementarianism is irrational and arbitrarily applied.

    As for the question itself: Yes.

    “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

    “God is love.”

    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


  • Jordan #40:

    While it’s always good practice to correctly characterize an opponent’s position or range of positions, in this case it doesn’t really matter.

    All complementarians believe that there are some things that one gender (virtually always women) shouldn’t do, and therefore in complementarian circles there will always be people (virtually all women) who want/are gifted to do certain things but aren’t allowed to, hence the anguish. What the exact positions are isn’t really important.

  • Colleen,

    Well, I see your point but I don’t think it’s really that clear cut either. When Anna says that she was told “Just our persons, just our selves were unclean . . . ” I can understand anguish for sure, but surely there is a big difference between that and many complementarian churches where women are not treated as unclean.

    I don’t want to push this too much but my experience certainly has been that it’s pretty much impossible to say “all complementarians believe” about anything. There are any number of ways that the “equal but different” position can be applied and interpreted.

  • Dana Ames

    at the risk of being declared off topic, I will attempt to answer your questions.

    If you are really asserting that the egalitarian view is mere androgyny, then it seems you have not understood it. I have not read Johnson’s book, but I have read the writings of other biblical egalitarians, and they are very clear that they are not advocating androgyny (or secular feminism or homosexual marriage). Please see G. Bilezikian, S. McKnight, K. Bailey, K. Giles, G. Fee, and particularly outstandingly, M. Volf, “Exclusion and Embrace”, ch 4 (all authors are men). If you don’t want to buy any books, go to the Christians for Biblical Equality web site and read the abundance of free articles available there.

    Egalitarians believe that the issue in scripture is not about finding any kind of “list” as to what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman; such “lists” are actually not to be found. I’ve never run across one in all the years I’ve been reading the bible… Rather, with regard to men and women, scripture is concerned primarily with what it means to be a human being, as Michael Kruse explained above, rather than about the differences between the sexes. Further, our connection as human Persons is not about any “role”, but rather about relationship and communion between unique human Persons, and trying to fit into a role actually restricts and diminishes the extremely important relational aspect of our existence.

    If careful extrabiblical information means anything to you, it has been demonstrated in metareviews of sociologic studies that, if one is looking at “masculine” and “feminine” traits, the differences among women and the differences among men are actually greater than the differences between women and men. (I hope that makes sense.) That is, men and women are, aside from biology/chemistry, more alike than different. Each human Person is unique. See; scroll down to the Review.

    I offer you a quote from a great 4th century Christian thinker, Gregory of Nazianzus, who knew his bible very well: “I have known men and women who have sentiments that are entirely in heaven and keep a perfect purity of body; if there is a difference between the sexes, it is visible only in that men have a stronger, more vigorous body. As for the rest, the cultivation of virtue is the same; they march together on the road leading to life eternal, and in this no one has anything more than the other except the difference of his merit and his toil.” (Carminum Liber I, ii, 645)

    Finally, though it is the usual reasoning given by both complementarians and egalitarians, I don’t believe that God created two genders in order to fully reflect his image in humanity. Garver’s thoughts above are closer to what my church teaches, which actually makes the best sense to me. The two genders reveal something about reality: it is both material (“feminine” principle – “gives body to” – which is fully expressed in union with the non-material), and non-material (“masculine” principle – “gives energy/spirit to” – which is fully expressed in union with the material). (***Neither of these concepts has anything to do with our strictly cultural notions regarding “masculine” and “feminine” traits, which actually arose in the Victorian era in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the huge social changes it ushered in. It’s about Symbol, which is how scripture communicates that which is ultimately unable to be put into words.***) If all things are summed up in Christ, then in Christ is to be found the True Reality: the union of the non-material (uncreated God) with the material (created humanity). IOW, the two genders point to the Incarnation, which is the beginning of salvation/healing.

    Hope this helps.


  • I find the anguish argument compelling. And from everything I know of our God and savior, it bears consideration by anyone who claims to love their neighbor. In addition to the passages cited by Eric, Luke 10:25-37 and it’s relation to Lev. 19:18 come to mind. If you care to consider how this conversation feels to many Christian women who lead and teach, consider the feelings and needs of the traveler in the story.

  • Thomas … let me just say that it may be that those who would defend an “egalitarian” outlook (and I join Michael Kruse here in feeling that this is the wrong word to use) may have “issue fatigue” — there are those of us who have gone around and around for over three years now at Jesus Creed (check out the archives on Women and Ministry) … and to enter the fray again, with “fresh blood”, can be exhausting and we have either moved on (as in “thrown our hands up”) or do not have the emotional energy to comment at length.

    That being said, I would point you to this excellent and extensive article by Dr. S. Scott Bartchy, especially 2/3 of the way through where he explain why “egalitarian” is not the right word to use. And I think you will also find some answers to your questions concerning how women and men are supposed to be acting in the Family of God.;col1

    I think Dr. Bartchy brings some important perspective — indeed, paradigm changes — to this conversation.


  • I don’t want to push this too much but my experience certainly has been that it’s pretty much impossible to say “all complementarians believe” about anything.

    All complementarians believe that men and women should have different roles in some way, no?

    Otherwise they’d be egalitarians.

  • Anna

    Jordan at #47,

    Just to clarify — I was never, ever told in so many words that I was unclean or that women were unclean or “less than” in the eyes of God. But that was how the messages from the church made me feel. No matter how sweetly it’s put, if you’re told you’re not allowed behind the altar even though you feel God is calling you there, you have to wonder what’s wrong with you.

    What I was told — often very kindly, by well-meaning complementarians — was that women had very special callings from God that were just as special and valuable as being a priest. That women were just as loved and valued in God’s eyes, except of course that God never called women to be priests.

    The trouble was, I felt called to the pastoral role and was consistently told that my calling could not really be from God, because God only called men to be priests. However, to the best of my ability to discern, my sense of calling did seem to come from God (and my gifts seemed to match with that). But of course I kept getting told it could not possibly be coming from God, because God would never call a woman to a pastoral role. Quite a Catch-22.

    So at first I became angry with God for making me a woman. Then I became angry with my church, for taking women’s money and time while ensuring that women were excluded from pastoral or leadership roles.

    And finally, I decided the priests must be right: I wasn’t hearing God correctly.

    Unlike the priests, however, I decided that the reason I wasn’t hearing God correctly was that actually, there must not be any such thing as God. I decided that the reason my internal sense of call was in such huge conflict with the message of my church was that God actually did not exist and that religion was all a bunch of wishful thinking and/or powermongering. So I was an atheist for many years.

    In my case, being told that women were very special in the eyes of God yet could not serve as priests (even those who felt called to a pastoral role), led me to:

    1) self-hatred, then
    2) anger at God, then
    3) deciding that God was not real and that the church was just there to exploit people (particularly women, whose money and time it seemed to extract quite effectively, without giving them the power to make decisions).

    Quite literally through the grace of God I have been drawn back into a life of faith, and a life in a church community, which I now consider to be a great blessing. But certainly in my case, the message I took from the very kindly messages from very well-meaning complementarians about how special women were, was that somehow — as a woman who felt called — I was in fact deeply disordered, because such a thing (a woman genuinely called to a pastoral role) simply could not be.

  • EricW

    All complementarians believe that men and women should have different roles in some way, no?

    Are there any complementarians who believe that women can teach and preach from the Scriptures to a mixed congregation without being under some form of male authority?

    Are there any complementarians who believe that women can be deacons or elders or pastors or bishops in a church or denomination without being under some form of male authority?

  • Thomas

    Thanks for your comments Dana. I will refrain from engaging though as I gave Dr. McKnight I would not do so here in this thread.

    I think people on both sides have fatigue when it comes to the issue. I want to be clear though I was not asking how egalitarians argue the family should be structured, for I have heard and read very clear teaching on this subject from egalitarian scholars. I am more precisely asking is what does the Bible teach from an egalitarian viewpoint that it ontologically means to be a man and a women in light of the Imago Dei.

  • Eric #53: In what way would they be complementarians if they believed that? If they don’t believe in different roles at all, then they’re egalitarians even if they don’t call themselves that.

  • EricW

    I am more precisely asking is what does the Bible teach from an egalitarian viewpoint that it ontologically means to be a man and a women in light of the Imago Dei.
    So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  
    So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

    The new creation – Christ – is the basis of the Christian’s ontology.

  • EricW

    @Colleen 55:

    I was more responding to the person who you responded to, who suggested it was impossible to say anything that would be true of “all” complementarians. And his response to my questions would likely either affirm or challenge that statement.

  • Thomas

    This is not the context of the passage you are quoting Eric. Paul was not trying to say we lose our gender, just that it does not give us greater worth or status in the Kingdom/salvation.

    We are made male and female in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). All I have asked is what does this mean from an egalitarian take of Scripture. Though I have a seminary education I am sometimes convinced that the people I pastor might be better off in someways. They can look at passages like Gen. 1:27 and believe it to mean there are two genders, different, and for a reason. It takes the academy to confuse this.

  • EricW


    I quoted several passages. The ontology of the Christian is the One New (Hu)Man, Christ Jesus. He is the κεφαλη and we, the persons in the church, are μελη of His σωμα and of one another. We are the body of Christ and individually members thereof. That is who and what Christians are. That is their ontology. That is where their being and existence is. In Him there is not “male and female.” That was the OLD creation. He is the New Creation.

    Or so I think, and how I explain egalitarian “ontology” from my viewpoint.

  • Thomas


    What you are advocating is not the traditional understanding of the doctrine of union with Christ. Notice once again that gender is pre-fall (Gen. 1). There is no indication whatsoever in the New Testament or the book of Revelation that gender no longer matters, exists, or will exist in the new Heavens and the New Earth.

    I want to make sure I am understanding you correctly so let me ask. Are you actually saying that once we become Christians we lose our gender? Or that in eternity we will be de-gendered? For that matter does this mean that Jesus is now no longer male? I am very confused by your theological attempt here to use the doctrine of union with Christ as a way to dismiss the God-given reality and nature of gender.

  • EricW and Colleen:
    Sorry, I’ve been offline this evening.

    Colleen asked:
    All complementarians believe that men and women should have different roles in some way, no?

    I would think so yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything with regard to church offices, which seemed to be the particular question of the post. I know of well respected complementarians that believe the gender-based roles are only in the context of marriage, for instance, to answer EricW’s question. I know others who have no issue being members in egalitarian churches or serving under female pastors, nor do they think it is sin.

  • smcknight

    Thomas, I think EricW is saying that Gen 1:27’s language is overturned by Gal 3:28. The words Paul uses in Gal 3:28 are “neither male and female” and this is a quotation from Genesis.

    Paul is saying that Gen 1 condition is no longer the case “in Christ.” Maybe I’m not representing EricW accurately.

  • Jordan:

    True, but the same kind of tension can still arise; a man who wants to be a stay-at-home parent, for instance.

  • EricW

    @Scot 62: No, I don’t think you’re misrepresenting me, as that is part of what I’m saying.

  • ao


    As others have said, at the risk of engaging a dialogue that’s off topic, I would like you to answer your own question first. How are men and women different? What does the Bible say?

    It’s interesting. The complementarians I know will say that men are leaders and women are followers. They will then cite all the Bible passages that appear to support the idea that ontologically, men are made to have authority, and women are made to submit to male authority. Indeed, I’ve noticed that this is exactly why they freak out and accuse me of androgyny when I say that I believe that leadership/followership are not inherently masculine and feminine characteristics. They believe, and they have said this explicitly, that if we take away the leadership/followership distinction between genders, then we remove the only meaningful distinction between the two.

    So let me ask you, other than male=more authoritative and female=more submissive, how do you think men and women are ontologically different? And where does the Bible explain these differences?

    I have some ideas. Most of which are based social and behavioral science research. As others have pointed out, a few generations ago churches would teach that men and women are ontologically different and social scientific evidence backed it up: Men=more authoritative, aggressive, assertive, intelligent, rational, cognitive, better at leading, decision-making, and managing. Female=more submissive, less intelligent, less rational, more emotional, better followers, more submissive, less aggressive, poorer decision-makers, more gullible, poorer leaders, etc. But now we’re finding that qualities like intelligence, rationality, cognition, emotionality, decision-making skills, and leadership skills have more to do with level of education than anything else.

    I do believe men and women are ontologically different. And I do believe that social scientific and biological scientific evidence supports that claim. I do not believe the Bible spells out these differences. So why don’t you tell me how you think men and women are different, other than the subordination of female to male. I’ll tell you what I agree or disagree with in your statements.

  • Colleen:

    Sure, there’s always going to be tension in relationships, I’m just saying that complementarianism is pretty broad. Even Mark Driscoll is okay with stay-at-home dads in specific (for him, fairly limited) cases. For many complementarians it’s about norms rather than strict boundaries. For them it is about a model of living, but I think most are aware that there are always practical concerns (female missionaries pastoring the absence of male leadership, for instance). When it starts becoming a legalism then of course you can run into serious problems, but that is the case with almost everything in church life.

  • Dana Ames


    I think your analysis is good, and in my thoughts I am also asking the question you ask Thomas. Perhaps your understanding of the word “ontology” is different than mine, but if men and women were ontologically different, then one of them would not be human, and the union between them that scripture seems to reveal as desirable and important would be impossible. True union requires sameness as well as difference. Such a sharp division based on differences leads to a question of value. In our culture, in spite of what people **say**, “leadership” is valued much more than “followership”, and in those terms it’s very easy for Relationship and Union to be thwarted, or dissolve.

    That’s why EricW and Scot and I, and others, in our own ways in the comments, have pointed to the shared humanity of both men and women.

    For me, the major problem with the complementarian view, -though held by many good and sincere people- focusing on Difference and minimizing Sameness, unable to hold the tension of this Paradox, is that, when followed to its conclusions, it leads to both the dehumanization of women and the dissolution of the Trinitarian Godhead.

    It is their dehumanization that the women quoted in the OP are lamenting, and the truth of their ontologic humanity that they are fighting to recover.


  • Even Mark Driscoll is okay with stay-at-home dads in specific (for him, fairly limited) cases.

    True, but consider the tension. If you’ve had “men who don’t earn an income for their families are worthless” hammered into your head that many times, then if you get injured and can’t work, you’re going to feel worthless, even if Driscoll assures you that it’s okay in your case.

  • Anselm in “Why God Became Man”

    “If he creates a new man, who is not of Adam’s race, he will not belong to the human race which was born of Adam. In that case he will not be obligated to make satisfaction for it, because he will not come from it… Thus, just as sin was transmitted to all men from Adam and Eve, only they or someone born from them ought to make satisfaction for the sin of men… Moreover, when God first created human nature in Adam alone, and did not choose to create woman – so that mankind might be multiplied from two sexes – except from him, he showed clearly that he wished to create what he was going to create to come from human nature, from Adam alone. Therefore, if the race of Adam is raised up through some man who is not of the same race, it will not be restored to the dignity it was to have had if Adam had not sinned.”

    I take this to mean that if Eve did not come from Adam, there would have been two races and God wanted one race to procreate and one race to have the same nature and Christ came to redeem one human race. Ontologically, we have the same nature, male and female, in God’s design.

  • ao


    Usage of the word “ontology” aside, I agree with you completely. Great thoughts.

    By “ontologically different” I really just meant that men and women are made differently. And while we’re all human beings, males and females are inherently different (N. T. Wright’s chapter “Made for Each Other” in Simply Christian was extremely helpful for me in thinking this through).

    I think the Bible narrative is definitely on your side when you make the argument that the oneness or shared humanity of males and females should be emphasized. And I want to emphasize that, too. It’s just that Thomas’ question challenged Biblical egalitarians to explicate differences between the sexes, so in my response I had to point out that I affirm that there are differences.

    Interestingly, when controlling for education, social scientists are finding that women and men are not inherently different on things like intelligence, decision-making, leadership skills, and gullibility. The variation within sexes is greater than the variation between sexes.

    Among my complementarian friends who actually accept this evidence, they now say that the Bible never said that men and women should be different along these dimensions; the only difference between men and women is that God gave them different commands re: authority and submission.

    Either way, I’m with you on this.

  • And did God give them different commands? When he said be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth and its creatures, he was talking to both male and female.

  • ao

    To keep a side-topic from creating another side-topic, let’s just ignore the word “ontological(ly)” in my #65. I won’t use it in subsequent responses.

    I don’t want to get hung up on semantics with people I agree with, and it’s entirely possible that my usage of the word wasn’t the best for that situation. Plus, I’d rather just push forward in Thomas’ “how are men and women different?” side-topic. Hopefully by #70 you know what I really meant to say. I like Dana’s #67 and Kate’s #69. Sorry for the confusion.

    Either way, question in #65 still stands.

  • BradK

    On the subject of the differences between men and women, I just wanted to note that Stephen Pinker in his book The Blank Slate discusses quite a few biological differences between men and women and cites quite a few references in his chapter on gender. There are obviously a lot of other references for this kind of thing, but that one came to my mind. The book can be previewed on amazon and most of that chapter is available. No differences mentioned there seem to imply that men would be biologically better equipped for leadership in the church (or anywhere else) than women. Fwiw, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an egalitarian make a claim that men and women are identical or advocating androgeny. They just don’t see gender differences as support for gender-based hierarchy in the Church.

    On the topic of the original post, I find the first point…

    “The inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so.”

    …to be a bit weak even though I agree with Marshall’s conclusions. There are several scriptural commands for which I don’t fully understand the underlying reason, yet I believe that God’s people are obligated to obey in spite of a lack of understanding. The problem I see related to his Marshall’s point is that I don’t see complementarians providing persuasive reasons for reading the scriptures the way they do. It’s not a lack of understanding of the reason behind the commands that is the problem. It’s a lack of understanding the commands themselves. I.e. I don’t find scripture to be saying what complementarians say that it says.

    Side note: “You are posting too quickly. Slow down.” It tells me this even though I haven’t posted in a week or so? 🙂

  • DRT

    ao said:

    Interestingly, when controlling for education, social scientists are finding that women and men are not inherently different on things like intelligence, decision-making, leadership skills, and gullibility. The variation within sexes is greater than the variation between sexes.

    My three teens say it is obvious that chicks are better than guys because chicks typically know how to sit down and concentrate. This is being seen in the workplace too now since that is a big part of many jobs today. (no offense with the “chicks” I hope, it is a term of endearment for me).

  • DRT

    OK, I won’t talk about gender differences anymore in this post..

  • DRT


    There are several scriptural commands for which I don’t fully understand the underlying reason, yet I believe that God’s people are obligated to obey in spite of a lack of understanding.

    For instance? I can see not fully understanding but I think the point here is that there is no understanding, at least for me. I see absolutely no basis for it.

  • Thomas’ ontology question feels a bit Scotsman-like to me. Several people have suggested egalitarian ideas of what gender means and he has rejected these as not answering his question. I get the impression that his own answer is the only one that he would say answered the question.

  • Kriste

    In regards to the what do egalitarians believe about gender question: CBE did a whole conference on gender difference in 2009. You might find some more specific answers there.

  • R.C.

    Boys and Girls, Men and Women, are called in Christ to different destinies and different roles of service.

    Girls are called to many things, and none of them are less high, less graced, or less noble than the things to which Boys are called.

    But only Boys are called to be Daddies.

    History is written by the Great Author of History. Nature is painted by the Great Artist. Like any good author, the Great Author prefigures the main themes of His great work, pre-echoing them in smaller ways throughout the entire story. Like any good artist, the Great Artist prefigures the main motifs of His great work, pre-echoing them in smaller ways throughout the entire design.

    But God made us male and female. What does this signify? God made us able to cooperate with Him in the production of eternal souls who will outlive the natural universe through the consummation of loving male-female complimentarity and unity. Surely this theme — apparently one of the most loudly and oft-played motifs in the symphony of the human soul — must prefigure something astoundingly important at the spiritual level?

    Church pastors are not meant only to be shepherds in reflection of the Good Shepherd who is Christ, and not only ministers in reflection of the Encourager and Comforter who is the Holy Spirit, but also to be fathers in reflection of God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

    But God the Father is masculine in such a way that we are all feminine in relation to Him. That is the meaning of sola gratia: His grace precedes our every good work, enabling us to will and to do whatever is according to His good pleasure. He initiates, we respond cooperatively.

    When a church pastor prays the petitions of the people, he acts as the representative of the people. And these petitionary prayers might without violence be performed by a any minister who was not also performing the role of father. (Is this, perhaps, a role that ought always to be assigned to women rather than men?)

    But when a church pastor teaches, and even more when he leads self-sacrificially; when he gives up all he has for the sake of his congregation, and when he distributes the consecrated elements of communion, he acts as the representative of either God the Father or Jesus the Son. These are masculine roles and cannot be portrayed by a woman without violating and contradicting the feminine genius which God has created in every woman.

    Thus God has ordained that men alone — and not all men, but only those who are called — may be the daddies of the congregations in these particular areas which require not mere ministry, but fatherly attributes.

    The ancient Jews were entirely alone in the ancient world in refusing to have priestesses. Priestesses were the norm in the ancient religions: But the Jews received from God an object lesson in their sexist-seeming insistence only on priests. So too with Christian pastors: God is a daddy, not a hermaphrodite, and not a mommy. There is nothing wrong with mommies; God created them and they are “very good”: But God has not assigned them the role of episkopos, who is to symbolize God the Father to the church.

    We would be free to say that we cared nothing for this symbolism had we made it up to begin with, like a script for a play. But we did not make it up; we received it. It comes to us from the apostles, who bring it to us from Jesus who is the author not only of it, but of everything. He has author’s rights over this symbolism. He holds the copyright, the trademark: It is His intellectual property.

    We can write our own work if we like, but we cannot try to pass it off as His: That’s a trademark violation. We can alter His work, but unless we’re trying to make a joke of it, that’s a copyright violation. He has authority over it because He is the author of it. The notion that we His servants can futz about with it, even for the very best of intentions, is pretty dubious: Like a housekeeper who orders his employer’s house repainted because he’s sure his employer will like the new color better.

    Jesus had only Jews about Him, so it is reasonable to say that non-Jews could be selected as Christian church pastors even though the Apostles were only Jewish. But it is not as if Jesus lacked female options to include among the Apostles. Mary Magdalene? His own mother? It is not as if the Apostles couldn’t have ordained women. Priscilla? Lydia? It is not as if there were not women among the early martyrs. Why didn’t the early Christians ordain them? Once Christianity was among the very urbane Greeks and Romans, one cannot blame it all on Jewish patriarchalism.

    But that is not what happened. Christian pastors were not only always men, but they were generally addressed as “father” or “papa” as we find among Catholics and Eastern Orthodox today.

    So historically, the argument is closed: If the same Christians who gave us the canon of Scripture, who gave us the traditions of the apostles, who gave us the early church councils, who gave us the formulations of the Trinity and the Fully-God, Fully-Man nature of Christ, are so utterly wrong about this, we have little reason not to open up to question all the other teachings on which we have heretofore affirmed their good judgment. Perhaps The Shepherd by Hermas and The Didache and Clement’s letter to the Corinthians should be in the canon after all? Perhaps Revelation and Jude and Second Peter and Hebrews and Second John and Third John should be excluded after all? Perhaps we should just stick with Marcion’s canon and teachings? With Tertullian’s? Perhaps God is not three persons, but three parts after all? Perhaps the Docetists were right about Jesus? Perhaps the Arians?

    We forget that because “we do not know the day or the hour,” the Church must be built to last for anywhere from the next ten minutes to the next ten million years.

    But the sentiment that men and women are utterly interchangeable in all roles, and thus in the pastoral role, is a sentiment confined to the last three or four decades, solely in the most decadent and spiritually ignorant corners of the rotting post-Christian corpse of Christendom. And it is a message not gratingly opposed to the zeitgeist of the post-Christian West, like a prophetic jeremiad could be expected to be, but which is rather smoothly in tune with the contented babble of academic deconstructionists inside the church and out.

    What is the likely origin of such a message? Is it not far more likely that this is a symptom of decay, than that the Holy Spirit was either (a.) asleep at the wheel or (b.) a big beer-drinking chauvinist for the last one thousand nine hundred and fifty years?

    Since a change from all male pastors to mixed male and female pastors is tantamount to making the Jews adopt a mixed male-female priesthood, and since the urge to do so is so recent and comes of such a dubious provenance, and stands in contradiction to the understanding of the church pastor role in the minds of all the holiest saints, doctors, and martyrs of the vast majority of Christian history, it is only prudent that the notion of female church pastors be examined for a much longer duration — say, a good five hundred years, just to keep things proportional — before enthusiastic adoption. That way we can avoid being “swept along” by every faddish “wind of doctrine.”

    But I do not anticipate the Holy Spirit putting a stamp of approval on it, even after five hundred years. It would require serious miracles — something perhaps on the order of the sun standing still — to consider such a profound change to have been ordained by God. He may choose to do it. But at the present time there is no sign He has, and ample reason to believe that to do it is a kind of unauthorized tinkering with what is, after all, His church.

    Have we forgotten that it is His, not ours?

    One other thing: I do not see that the women who agitate for ordination as pastors are particularly saintly and particularly orthodox in all other ways. Many of them support legal abortion; many of them support remarriage for Christians in utter defiance of Jesus’ words on the subject; many of them would see mutual masturbation between same-gendered persons normalized in Christian ethics as morally equivalent to the marital lovemaking of husband and wife; and many of them fall rather short of St. Jerome in respect for and knowledge of the Scriptures in general. They seem not transformed by the renewing of their minds, so much as transformed by the tutelage of feminist university professors. They seem so often more to be walking around with a chip on their shoulder, demanding opportunities for self-actualization, than wowing the world with humility and self-sacrifice and saintly inattention to “getting their fair share.”

    I consequently view them in contrast, if not opposition, to the actual and recognized women saints of the last two thousand years, all of whom had dynamic ministries to the body of Christ without needing to masquerade as spiritual fathers in the liturgical side of the life of the church. They seemed to have challenged backsliding and corruption and other wrongful norms in the church, without ever feeling the need to challenge that norm.

    My feeling is that when the supporters of female pastorhood become saints and champions of orthodoxy and great teachers of the Scriptures, the rest of us will be willing to emulate them and trust their opinions and be taught by them.

    Until then, I prefer to be taught by nineteen centuries of actual saints and actual champions of orthodoxy and actual lovers of God’s Word.

  • “One other thing: I do not see that the women who agitate for ordination as pastors are particularly saintly and particularly orthodox in all other ways”

    Let me say this another way…

    I do not see that men who [are ordained] as pastors are particularly saintly and particularly orthodox in all other ways…

    and I do not believe that THAT is the reason you would not want to follow.

    Further, your statement that “Until then, I prefer to be taught by nineteen centuries of actual saints and actual champions of orthodoxy and actual lovers of God’s Word.” implies that women who seek ordination and equality for women are NOT lovers of God’s Word and for that I take offense. It is not often that I am so angered by a blog comment… but today you have proven that you do not think of women as being equal with men. (and you might want to keep in mind that part of Scripture is written by Mary (transcribed by a man)and that Deborah was a fine spiritual leader to her people. So let me end with this…

    I do not see that your attitude is particularly saintly and particularly orthodox in all ways

  • and sorry, the above was to R.C.

  • Scot, sorry for the viceral response. If I am over the top I apologize.

  • TL

    “My three teens say it is obvious that chicks are better than guys because chicks typically know how to sit down and concentrate. This is being seen in the workplace too now since that is a big part of many jobs today. (no offense with the “chicks” I hope, it is a term of endearment for me).”

    DRT, the term “chick” is a demeaning term toward women infantalizing and objectifying them. Teens who are hormonally challenged do not have accurate views of who men and women are supposed to be. Such statements don’t do anything positive for women or men.

  • R.C.

    In reply to Kate:

    I agree that the men who are ordained as pastors are often not saintly.

    But why should that be relevant? We are not talking about whether either men or women are “good enough” to be pastors.

    For of course no human being has ever been “good enough” to be a pastor. The pastor stands as God’s representative, fathering a local congregation. Can either man or woman truly fill God’s shoes, even in this ambassadorial or adoptive capacity? Of course not.

    So it doesn’t argue either in favor of women’s ordination, or against it, that there are un-saintly male pastors. It argues solely in favor of all the humans who are pastors being more saintly.

    Moreover, in my experience, those men who are the most saintly are the least likely to support women taking holy orders. So indeed I should not have said only that the women who are most saintly do not support female pastors; rather, I should have said that the persons who are most saintly do not support female pastors. I apologize for the inaccuracy.

    But the argument is about whether women are called, as part of God’s design for the liturgy of divine worship, to represent God the Father or Jesus the Son — Catholics would say in persona Christi or something like in persona Patri I suppose — to the flock. My argument is: Jesus apparently thought not; the Apostles apparently thought not; the early Fathers apparently thought not; the saints and martyrs and great scholars of the last two thousand years thought not. And I argue they are safer authorities on this topic than three decades of faddish academics writing, as I have said, from the midst of one particularly confused and ignorant corner of the decaying corpse of the post-Christian West.

    In contrast to those who argue that it all comes from Jewish patriarchalism, we find in historical fact that the notion of a male-only priesthood is a reflection of the doctrine of God’s uniqueness and was thus intrinsic to the theology of Judaism, explaining why they went against the trend of all the peoples around them who, being pagan and having many goddesses, had priestesses.

    But Christianity, if it is true at all, is merely fulfilled Judaism. The male priesthood of Judaism comes not from the surrounding culture, but in opposition to it, as a revelation from God. So too the Christian.

    And it is no use arguing that the Romans and Greeks were likewise patriarchal, such that the early Christians would have been confused on the topic of gender roles. They simply weren’t as a matter of history, and even a Jew from Tarsus like Paul would have dealt with accomplished women like Lydia. In the urbanity of the Roman Empire, the all-male fatherhood of each church episkopos over his local flock would have been contrary to the culture, as it is in our day.

    It is indeed probable that women, within their natural gifts, would make better church pastors than men. While no generalization is true of all women any more than it is true of all men, one can think of various relational skills and multitasking skills, sensitivity to spoken nuance and diplomatic ability, and the sheer toughness to working long days with little thanks which might show women naturally superior to men in pastorhood.

    But we are not dealing with a matter of nature, but of supernature, wherein God frequently calls the least naturally-capable persons to do the tasks He has assigned. He does this for reasons which are His own, but we suspect He so often calls the incompetent precisely so they are required to lean on Him or else fail. Thus stuttering Moses is made God’s spokesman to Pharoah (and thus the anger about Moses needing Aaron for a security blanket). This Saul the Persecutor becomes Paul the Apostle. Thus Simon the unreliable reed becomes Peter the rock, and when he turns around and gets his act together, he strengthens his brothers.

    So it is no surprise when God assigns men to exercise leadership in their households (is there anything the modern man-boy would is less interested in doing?) and assigns wives, who obviously have twice the skill in keeping a family operating efficiently, to a sort of executive-officer role. Men are utterly incapable of doing what God has asked them to do; they may even protest that here beside them is another person who seems to do everything better; and God answers with a smile: “Exactly.”

    Or, if the women who feel frustrated and stymied by this arrangement must complain to God about it, then let them complain as Job complained. Let them complain to God, let them call God to account for it. And God will do as He did with Job, asking the woman seeking ordination whether she can catch Leviathan with a fishing line. From both men and women, commenting on this seemingly unfair arrangement which God has thrust upon us, the complaint is the same: “I don’t understand!” And the answer, while frustrating in one way, is comforting in another: “Yes, child, you are right. You don’t understand.”

    It is, as I said before, particularly suspicious that this push for women pastors should come now, just when the world’s influence would have us do it.

    Were we in the midst of a misogynistic age, with men lording it over women and women oppressed and maligned, and suddenly there was within the body of Christ a move to have women ordained as pastors, I would be far more inclined to believe it was the Holy Spirit. For God’s prophetic utterances are always out-of-sync with the surrounding culture. The Holy Spirit swims upstream. The Church, when it is authentically the Church, is always “a sign of contradiction.”

    But it is utterly out-of-character for Christianity that just at the time when sexual confusion and immorality have broken down the last shreds of the dignity of human sexual differences, that the Holy Spirit would now say, “Gee, what was I thinking all this time? Yes, these academics have now convinced me that women should be ordained.”

    You mention Deborah, Mary, and others. Well, of course! These facts are in evidence: But have you considered the implication of them? There were prophetesses in Israel. There were merely courageous women in Israel. Some of them were Rambo-like (I think of Jael and Judith). And because they were faithful to God, He glorified them and we know their names today. And who more than the Theotokos, she whom “all generations will call blessed?” Look at every manger scene! Mary was apparently made Gebirah of Heaven and is the New Eve and the Ark of the New Covenant (see Revelation 11:19 – 12:17)!

    But Mary never made Apostle. Why so?

    Deborah won the victory when the men all wussed out, but was not made High Priest. Why so?

    And we know the names of some prominent women in the early church in Acts, but they were not made episkopoi or presbyteroi. Why not?

    The Holy Spirit led the church in a certain way; the apostles taught the church in a certain way; and despite every opportunity to do otherwise, men were made the pastors. Why?

    Because God has a certain way he wants things done, and His pattern prohibits both maternal men and paternal women. These distinctions were His idea, He invented them, and He thinks them very good: Ought we not honor them?

    I think we need to worry about getting caught up in Korah’s rebellion, here, when we assert that just because God has made us equally loved with those He has selected for a particular role, and granted us the Holy Spirit, we must therefore be permitted to exercise every role in His Kingdom.

    And if we could exercise every role, what difference would that make between the parts of the body? What sense would there be in the passage which says the hand cannot say it has no need of the eye, or the eye no need of the hand, if all the parts of the body were simultaneously hands and eyes?

    I do not think your response to me was over-the-top, by the way. I didn’t know you were angry until you said so: I don’t write with emotion, and so don’t notice it in writing unless it is particularly obvious.

    And I hope you won’t mistake my tone for anything other than cool and precise. I may of course be wrong about all of this. Perhaps Jesus was a misogynist and so were the Apostles and the Church Fathers took their cues from them and gradually conquered the comparatively more egalitarian Roman Empire with a creeping misogynism. (How this isn’t also an argument against Christianity altogether is hard to see, but that’s by-the-way.)

    All this may be, but I wouldn’t bet five dollars on it. One has ultimately to make one’s bets based on the best available information, and take one’s chances. So I wanted to register my bet in favor of the notion that women have great, all-surpassing dignity in God’s creation, and are naturally gifted with everything it takes to be pastors, but that God, for reasons of His own, has selected otherwise. And as it’s His church, not ours, we are morally obligated to follow His pattern in it, even when we think we know better.

    I thank you for responding to my post Kate, and while we disagree, I think we could do so amicably. But there is one remark you made which puzzles me. You said: “…today you have proven that you do not think of women as being equal with men.”

    How so? Firstly, I know myself well enough to know this isn’t the case, but you don’t, so I must ask how you got this mistaken impression. And there, I am puzzled: I don’t detect any such statement in either my first post or this one. As I have said, God created these differences; He calls them “very good”; He elevates women to exalted positions in many ways, but merely does not make them priestesses in the Old Covenant or pastors/elders in the New, because these are fatherly positions, and while He has so graced motherhood as to allow Himself — and indeed every other eternal human soul! — to become flesh through it, He nevertheless also thinks highly of fatherhood, and has called men to exercise it. This seems to me not an insult to women, but a visual symbolism of His eternal Fatherhood. (And anyway, His thoughts are above mine; He may have other reasons I know nothing about.)

    The only reason I can think of that you would have arrived at this conclusion about my character is that you have a pre-determined conclusion that those who take my side of the argument cannot do so for legitimate reasons, and thus must do so for nefarious reasons. But isn’t that a bit like a Christian assuming all atheists are amoral libertines, because they disagree about the existence of God? (Or conversely, like an atheist assuming all Christians are inquisitorial close-minded theocratic fascists?)

    Anyway I apologize, because apparently through some un-diplomatic turn-of-phrase I have given offense. I can on occasion be a little insensitive about such things. But really all I wanted to do was vigorously present an argument on the merits.



  • Don Johnson


    To speak on some aspects of what your wrote.

    The Bible was written in a patriarchal culture. It is true that the Bible uses both paternal and maternal metaphors to describe God and certainly uses paternal ones more often so that some seem to miss the maternal ones. But that is what these descriptions are, metaphors. I pray to Abba, but that does not mean God fertilized my mother to produce me, so I can see that it is a metaphor. And one thing we know about metaphors is that they can be taken too far.

    Yes, Jesus/Yeshua was a male, but it was important that he was a human to save other humans, including males and females.

    Yes, the priesthood in the Mosaic covenant were all males, they were also all descendents from Aaron and to serve had no active blemishes. Can a pastor have a bad case of acne today? I think so. If you agree he can, why are you being inconsistent? Every believer in the new covenant is a priest, at least this is whay my Bible tells me.

    And why did God choose a male priesthood in the Mosaic covenant? The Bible does not tell us, it just commands it when instituting the ministry. So would we not expect similar when new covenant ministries are instituted? But there is nary a mention of gender restriction in the context of mentioning the varieties of Spirit-gift ministries in the NT, just a few opaque passages in letters to Corinth and Timothy.

  • KR Wordgazer

    RC, may I suggest you learn more about church history before making the kinds of comments you have made? I would reommend “Daughters of the Church” by Tucker and Liefield for a comprehensive treatment of how God has used women in Christianity from the beginning, as well as for information on 1st-century attitudes towards women among the Greeks and Romans (they were even more patriarchal than the Jews!), and for possible reasons why Jesus might not have chosen women apostles.

    This book is was written by evangelical historians and is neither egalitarian nor complementarian, but seeks to be as objective as possible in presenting both sides of the major issues. But I think if you read it, you’ll find that women had a lot more to do with leadership in the Church throughout the ages than men like to acknowledge. And God does not seem to restrict Himself to using only men in leadership, whatever the men have to say about it.

  • R.C.,

    “One other thing: I do not see that the women who agitate for ordination as pastors are particularly saintly and particularly orthodox in all other ways. Many of them support legal abortion; many of them support remarriage for Christians in utter defiance of Jesus’ words on the subject; many of them would see mutual masturbation between same-gendered persons normalized in Christian ethics as morally equivalent to the marital lovemaking of husband and wife; and many of them fall rather short of St. Jerome in respect for and knowledge of the Scriptures in general. They seem not transformed by the renewing of their minds, so much as transformed by the tutelage of feminist university professors. They seem so often more to be walking around with a chip on their shoulder, demanding opportunities for self-actualization, than wowing the world with humility and self-sacrifice and saintly inattention to “getting their fair share.”

    “My feeling is that when the supporters of female pastorhood become saints and champions of orthodoxy and great teachers of the Scriptures, the rest of us will be willing to emulate them and trust their opinions and be taught by them. Until then, I prefer to be taught by nineteen centuries of actual saints and actual champions of orthodoxy and actual lovers of God’s Word.”

    Thess would be the statements that imply you do not think of women as equal to men. You have painted broad stroke judgments about women’s motives, would you attribute these same the motives to men who are equalists?

    And your last post states, “Were we in the midst of a misogynistic age, with men lording it over women and women oppressed and maligned, and suddenly there was within the body of Christ a move to have women ordained as pastors, I would be far more inclined to believe it was the Holy Spirit.” RC, we are still in that age. Progress has been made, yes, but women are still oppressed.

    I do not think I have misunderstood you, but if I have, it is comments like these to which I have pointed.

    And I have read Augustine, the Didache, St. Gregory, Gregory of Nanzianzus, etc. etc. I leave you with a quote:

    St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote: “If there is a difference between the sexes, it is visible only in that men have a stronger, more vigorous body. As for the rest, the cultivation of virtue is the same; they march together on the road leading to life eternal, and in this no one has anything more than the other except the difference of his merit and his toil.” (On God and Christ)

  • R.C.


    Thanks for your reply.

    While it is true that on occasion a maternal metaphor for God is found in Scripture, you are correct to say that the paternal metaphors predominate. More importantly, the paternal metaphors come down to us in the apostolic traditions transmitted through practice and instruction: (We know what the early Christians thought on the matter because they told us, and we know they received this perspective from the apostles because they told us that.) And most importantly, the paternal metaphor is how Jesus identified His Father to us.

    But I am suspicious of the use of the term “metaphor.” It suggests the way humans describe unfamiliar things by means of that which is familiar, which results in metaphors which can be “taken too far.” We should instead realize how God uses “metaphors,” which is that God describes His unseen self to us by creating visible realities which reflect His unseen nature. These metaphors cannot be “taken too far” in the same way because they are watered-down reflections of the Creator in Creation. The problem with them is that we do not take them far enough.

    To put it another way: God is not like a human Father. Rather, human fathers — and human pastors — are a little bit like a watered-down, half-baked dim reflection of God’s majestic, golden-bearded, kingly, fatherhood. He walks the earth with His powerful feet sinking deep into the turf; when He breathes the mountains shudder and skip like goats. When He bares His holy arm, He is rolling up His sleeves to flex His mighty biceps, and “when He rolls up His sleeves He ain’t just puttin’ on the Ritz.” (Our God is an Awesome God.)

    You are right that God did not fertilize your mother to conceive you. He is too powerfully fatherly to be so little involved as that. God did not do less than that; He did more. He took care that every quantum ejected from the Big Bang — a thing fine-tuned, but empowered by no more than the flick of His Littlest Finger — had the perfect trajectory to provide the atoms which made up your human father’s seed and your mother’s ovum, and then at the moment these two conjoined, He created your immortal soul and fertilized that unliving matter with it, breathing life into you. Your human father, though a true father by human standards, was, by comparison to all this fathering done by God, very nearly a passive bystander.

    So when God invented human maleness, He did so that we might see a glimpse of His masculinity, but human males deliver the signal of masculinity as a very low-power signal, lest our equipment for comprehending such things be overloaded. But God’s masculinity is the full signal, at infinite decibels of signal strength, with a total harmonic distortion of zero.

    But what of womanhood? Whence femininity? Well, the church is the Bride of Christ, and the invitation to eat the Bread of Life who is our Passover Lamb is also called the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. And the cosmic union of Christ and the Church is so complete that we can say that the two become one flesh, making the Church also Christ’s Body. And these are the realities which of which human sexuality and marriage are the dim adumbrated after-echo. We are all therefore the Bride; we are feminine in relation to our Husband.

    Now these are great mysteries, as Paul says, “speaking in reference to Christ and the Church.” But we have two ways to respond to them: To ignore this pattern as irrelevant to modern life, or to live out the mysteries obediently…no, wait; that doesn’t do them justice.

    Let me say rather that we can ignore the pattern, or that we can dance it out obediently, treading the steps of the great dance in such a way that the life of the Trinity and the nuptial dance of Christ and His Bride are reproduced in us. (It’s a wedding feast, and we’re all invited to dancing at the reception.)

    The former option seems, to me, to be too dismissive of this grand male-female theme with which God has inundated so much of creation, and so much of our own lives. Again, it is not that we are the real masculine and the real feminine. It is that we are so nearly nothing at all save when God gives special grace to be anything, whereas the masculininty of God the Father is far more crushing than the weight of the oceans and far more solid than a granite mountain, and as His Church our femininity receives Him (and without Him we can do nothing) the way a fertile field receives the falling of rain and the sowing of seed. That’s the real masculinity and femininity; our biological maleness and femaleness are mere Cliff’s Notes. (Which is why we’re so nearly indistinguishable sometimes.)

    So between ignoring the nuptial dance and dancing in it, I opt for the dance. But in a court-dance such as this, it is no surprise that men and women should have different steps. To say that the women’s steps are less dignified does insult, I think, to women and to God’s design. To demand that they dance the men’s steps — or that the men dance the women’s! — merely means we shall all be colliding with one another and stepping on one another’s toes. (And God is not a god of disorder.)

    Don, you are correct to note that the priests of the Aaronic priesthood were all descendants of Aaron. But we see why that part is no longer true; namely, because the Aaronic priesthood, which came later, has been superseded by the original priesthood, that of Melchizedek king of (Jeru-) Salem, which was open to all the nations, and foreshadowed Christian communion by offering bread and wine, and in which priesthood and kingship were combined, as they were in Jesus.

    So just as, when an observant Jew asks us when the dietary and circumcision restrictions were lifted, we can point to scripture in Peter’s vision and the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, so too we can point to the priesthood of Melchizedek in changing the requirement of the Aaronic lineage.

    As for blemishes?

    Well, we don’t have a specific passage in Scripture about that. But that is no different than infant vs. adult baptism, baptismal regeneration, Real Presence, Apostolic Succession, Congregational vs. Episcopal governance, or any one of a hundred things that are intrinsic to the daily operation of Christian churches, about which the Bible says nothing or nothing definitive. (At least, nothing sufficiently definitive to prevent well-meaning, earnest erudite, Greek-and-Hebrew-trained, spirit-filled men of God disagreeing with one another about what Scripture truly said.)

    If one had no source at all but Scripture for any of these oft-debated topics among Christians, then one would be helpless to resolve them. And of course folk with different opinions inevitably form separate communions. I grew up as a Southern Baptist, so I was among people who noted without irony that they “multiplied by dividing”: A dispute of sufficient force resulted in a split, and soon the Second Baptist Church was a block down the street from the First.

    But purely as a matter of historical inquiry, I think it plain that when (as is often the case) the Apostolic and Early Fathers are unanimous about a particular doctrine they received from the Apostles, this can help us resolve points about which Scripture might be vague. Who better than Ignatius of Antioch (disciple of the Apostle John, and Episkopos of Antioch after the death of Evodius, who was the first Episkopos to lead the church in Antioch after Peter founded it) to tell us what the Apostles taught him about the fundamentals of the faith? Who could know better?

    Even when the Fathers report a dispute, it can be informative for us because the nature of the dispute rules out certain interpretations of early Christianity which would not otherwise be ruled out, were we to examine the Scriptures in a vacuum. When we hear that first-century Christians were regularly arrested by the Romans on suspicion of cannibalism, it tells us something about how they described the Lord’s Supper in their teachings. When we hear that there was a question whether Christian babies were required to wait until the eighth day before being baptized, or whether they could be baptized before that if an early death was feared, it teaches us that they viewed baptism as being parallel to Old Covenant circumcision, which was conventionally performed on the eighth day.

    I bring this up to say: The early Christians leave us no notion of skin-blemish-based restrictions on the selection of leaders/bishops, elders, and deacons. They do, however, firmly come down on the side of a solely-male pastoral office. There were apparently either deaconesses or deacons’ wives or prophetesses who went by the name of deaconess but who were not ordained, or widows under the care of the church who went by that designation. But the presbyterate and the episcopate were viewed as paternal offices exclusively. That is the witness of history.

    And I do not think the requirements listed in 1st Timothy and Titus are particularly opaque. But if you regard them such, then research the matter among the Fathers: Ignatius of Antioch in his letters to the churches and Clement of Rome in his letter to Corinth for a start.

    Hippolytus of Rome also states, in his listing of liturgical traditions handed down from the apostles, that of women, widows alone were designated to a special role in the church, but that “she is not to be ordained, but is designated…by words alone. Hands are not imposed upon her, because she does not offer the oblation and does not conduct the Liturgy. Ordination is for the clergy because of the Liturgy, but a widow is appointed for prayer, and prayer is the duty of all.” That’s circa 215 AD, long prior to the canonization of the New Testament, and from a man in the process of recording the unbroken and consistent traditions “of the Holy Apostles.” As “imposition of hands” referred in all the early church to ordination of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and as the context here is following a discussion of the ordination of bishops, the meaning is unambiguous.

    And again, it is not as if there weren’t priestesses all throughout the religions of the Roman Empire, and high-born women of serious prestige and power. Yet in all those centuries, the closest thing to a Christian priestess was Prisca (one of the two false prophetesses who accompanied the charismatic heretic Montanus), who claimed that she, personally, was “word and spirit and power,” and that Christ had appeared to her in female form.

    If the advocates of women’s ordination should choose to base their argument on that early tradition, why then they will have defeated my argument limiting their ideas to a narrow span of the last three decades. (But it isn’t the kind of historical precedent to which I’d ever proudly lay claim!)

  • R.C.


    You ask, “[Two statements which I, R.C., made] would be the statements that imply you do not think of women as equal to men. You have painted broad stroke judgments about women’s motives, would you attribute these same the motives to men who are equalists?”

    As a general rule, yes, I do attribute those same — well, not motives, just observable attributes — to the men who support women’s ordination.

    I’m not sure I would call them “equalists” inasmuch as that term seems an Orwellian begging of the question. I believe women are equal in dignity to men, and their gifts are superior in some ways — even, I suspect, in some ways seemingly pertinent to pastoral office. So I am in that sense an “equalist”: Men are not “better,” women are not “worse.” All are identically beloved by God.

    But I happen to believe that God has, for reasons of His own at which I make informed guesses, called only men to Holy Orders. I have a sneaking suspicion, already voiced, that God may select the less qualified gender (from a human perspective) for that purpose. But human wisdom is not at issue. God is the authority, and has author’s rights over how He builds His Church. I think that Korah son of Izhar (Numbers 16), and also a brief rebellion by Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12), provide illustrations of how particular God is about doing things just so, through the people He authorized, and no others.

    Anyway, it is not that I doubt that women are the equals of men. It is that I doubt that we 21st century Americans, with our penchant for needless innovation, are the exigetical or spiritual equals of the early Christians, let alone of the Apostles, let alone God! We think we know better than they? I say we do not.

    And again, yes, I say the same things about men who propose women’s ordination: That I believe that they have not seen clearly, that they do not grasp the implication of Christian history and tradition on the matter, that they are too easily dismissing the importance of God as Father and Jesus as Son and how the transcendental becomes immanent in the Liturgy, and that I notice they often hold other heterodox views, besides.

    So I do say the same things about the men. (As a general rule, of course, and with exceptions, which I am sure someone will be kind enough to list for me in short order!)

    But even if I hadn’t? How would that imply that I thought women somehow to be generally inferior to men? Does observation of a character flaw’s presence in a particular group logically entail believing that group inferior to an alternative group? If I believe men are, as a general rule, more prone than women to inattentively scratching their crotches while watching football, does that imply I believe men are generally inferior to women? Must I, when observing something uncreditable about white folk, immediately search for something uncreditable to say about black folk or tan folk, lest I be thought a bigot?

    I think the answer to these questions is simply “no”: These conclusions do not follow. That is why I was surprised to see you accuse me as you did.

    I made the observation, both about the men and the women on that side of the debate, in support only of the notion that if by some chance I am in error on this issue, I would rather be taught by the unambiguously saintly, than by folk with spottier records (like my own spotty record, I hasten to add!). But as I know of no sufficiently saintly and learned and orthodox persons who take the view opposite to mine, I find myself without such an instructor. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, is someone I would have heeded on such a topic. (But she stood on my side of the line; or rather, I stood on hers, and she, I believe, on God’s.)

    Kate, I applaud you on the quote from St. Gregory of Nazianus! But as before, I don’t find it to the purpose. No one is saying that women’s overall gifting is inferior, nor that they aren’t as capable of virtue as men. (How could I say that, when I appealed to the testimony of women saints, doctors, and martyrs on this topic earlier?)

    Let me put it this way: Were I casting director for a passion play, and I had to cast an actor to play the role of Jesus, and the only two people who tried out for the part were David Lee Roth and Helen Mirren, despite all Dame Helen’s wonderful gifts, I would opt for Diamond Dave and pray for the best. He’s male, and the part calls for masculinity. It has nothing to do with who’s “better.” It has nothing to do with who God loves more.

    God chooses whom He wishes to choose and the Holy Spirit directs the Church as He wishes to direct it, and after two thousand years of unchanged direction, I don’t see a compelling argument for alteration.

    Whenever the pastor holds up the bread and says “This Is My Body” he is performing the Todah (in Greek, Eucharist) like Melchizedek and the Passover like Jesus. He is in the role of Christ the Bridegroom, celebrating and consummating the spiritual marriage of the King to His Bride, giving Himself to her in a receiving kind of way (and she receives Him into herself in a giving kind of way). It is a great mystery, as Paul said. But put a woman in Jesus’ role, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb becomes…what? A lesbian civil union? Is that what all that majestic imagery in the Revelation to John is supposed to boil down to? It is not for nothing that Jesus tells us that “He who has seen the Son, has seen the Father” and to His Apostles “He who hears you, hears Me,” and “Even as the Father has sent Me, so I send you,” and that in unbroken continuation from this, the bishops of early Christianity are addressed as “father.”

    So I affirm wholeheartedly that women can be saints, that they can be prophetesses, they can be teachers, they can outclass the men around them in every way: But I hold that God has reserved a particular role for men, and that is centered around that portion of the Liturgy in which ordained clergy act in the role of the Father in Heaven or Jesus His Son.

  • R.C.

    In response to KR Wordgazer:

    KR, I can only say that I do not find your (or rather, Tuckery and Liefield’s) characterization of the Romans of the first and second centuries AD to be “more patriarchal than the Jews” plausible.

    I find Richard P. Saller more believable on this topic when he writes:

    According to the Roman writers of the first century BCE and first century CE, divorce became increasingly frequent after 200 BCE, initiated easily by the husband or the wife. In addition, wives had their own property, which they could sell, give away or bequeath as they liked. As a result, women became more liberated and less dependent on their husbands. In fact, by the late Republic a rich wife who could divorce and take her wealth with her had a real threat against her husband and could wield influence over him. The sense of independence also showed up in increasing sexual promiscuity and adultery.

    Roman men deplored the fact that these rich women were more concerned with their own figures and luxuries than with their families. Unlike the good, old-time matrons, according to the historian Tacitus around 100 CE, these modern women did not spend time with their children and did not nurse their infants but left them to slave wet nurses. Furthermore, children were handed over to be raised by child-minders, usually the most useless slaves of the household.

    The “About the Author” section at the bottom of the above-quoted piece, titled “Family Values in Ancient Rome,” notes the following:

    Richard P. Saller is the provost of the University of Chicago and Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History and Classics. Saller earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1978 and has developed field specialties in Roman imperial society, especially family history, Roman law and ancient economic history. His research has concentrated on Roman social and economic history, in particular patronage relations and the family. He is interested in the use of literary, legal and epigraphic materials to investigate issues of social hierarchy and gender distinctions.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this; I’m just not seeing the “more patriarchal than the Jews” thing.

  • DRT

    TL, sorry if my use of the term chick offended you, but there is good reason for its use. There is a pretty wide cultural use of the phrase “Chicks Rock” whick is how a somewhat demeaning phrase has been adopted by the one put down by it and then adopted as one of their own. So my use of chick was an allusion to this widespread usage of Chicks Rock. Its kind of like Christians adopting the cross as their symbol.

    As far as my kid’s comment being relevant, I beg to differ with your point. I was merely illustrating how in modern high schools there is at least anecdotal evidence that females are known for being smart and are, perhaps, leading boys. I did not feel confident enough to make the statement that the females are universally seen as more suited to higher education, but I thought it was a good bet. I believe females greatly outnumber males in many colleges today.

    During my career I have seen the professional workforce move from a wildly male dominated place to one where some professions are dominated by women. That’s why I said I see evidence for my teen’s experience in the workplace.

    Chicks Rock!

  • DRT

    RC – I feel your arguments neglect the fact that no one in the bible said that women have to be depricated like that forever. There are plenty of things in the bible where it is said that for all future generations and such, but I don’t recall those type of proclamations ever being gender specific.

    I also don’t see how we would ever convince you to change your position since it seems to me that you feel perfectly comfortable with judging people based on something other than what they individually have thought, said, felt or did. Until you feel it is wrong to do that, I doubt you will change your mind.

  • sol

    Thanks RC for your post and your patient responses to all of the challenges. They are very helpful to the discussion. I would hope they put to rest I.H. Marshall’s complaint about Traditionalists lacking any “coherent” or “rational” responses to the innovation of womens ordination (asking them to be “persuasive” in I.H. Marshall’s eyes seems to require a rather subjective criterion that the innovators are certainly reluctant to demand of themselves).

    Even if not persuasive, I would hope all here (even Prof. smcknight?)would concede that a coherent and rational (if not rationalistic)argument was made. May we all also concede that even fuller responses and cases have been made in the past prior these posts? I sure hope so.

    Having read much of Prof. Marshall’s writings and been helped by him in many ways, it was very disappointing to see such an uncharitable and condescending charge against Complementarians/Traditionalists. He’s not persuaded. We get it. It would be helpful to see what Prof. Marshall would require for him to grant coherence and rationality to a position he still is not persuaded by.

    Finally, I would hope all of us Christians would at least be a bit uncomfortable with the underlying assumption of Prof. Marshall’s first point:

    “The inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so.”

    I’m not sure we should require God to persuade us before we are obedient to His will. There will be many things that we will not understand about our faith. I’m not sure the onus should be on the consistent practice and teaching of the church for 2,000 years to come up with the persuasive arguments before the innovators not just come up with coherent and rational arguments (for Arius’ arguments were coherent and rational) but also persuade the church that She has been wrong for so long. The requiring of God to make us “see” before we can obey is a dangerous road, one we too easily choose already without the encouragement of church leaders. God help us.

  • rjs


    We shouldn’t require God to persuade us before being obedient to his will – but we should be persuaded that we are actually being obedient to his will. We should be persuaded that we understand his will.

    On this one – there are aspects of the complementarian/egalitarian debate where it is quite clear that the church has been very wrong in interpreting “ideal” relationships over the millenia and has encoded these wrong views of relationships in law and practice. Most notable these come in the idea of wives (or people in general) as property of sorts and in the notions of submission to individual authority even when such submission is in an abusive relationship.

    There are other areas where the issues are not as clear and it warrants more discussion.

    God help us actually discern his will. Obedience to tradition is nowhere a command.

  • Lydia


    How can women be Christlike since Christ came as a male? Who are we to strive to be like if not the “male” Jesus?

    If gender differences are so important to the Body of Christ with specific roles and rules, this becomes a huge problem for women. Who are they to look to in scripture if not the male Christ?

    There are obvious biological differences in gender. Perhaps you could tell us the spiritual differences between male and female? Does the Holy Spirit indwell women differently? Is the path to salvation and sanctification pink and blue?

  • Good question, Lyda. And it still amazes me that so many can take what is surely a sign of Adam’s open-eyed rebellion as a badge of honor. Or that they think Jesus’ “not so among you” no longer applies when women are present. But I’ve decided that instead of posting a book-length comment here that I would post in my own blog, where I can guarantee that comments will not be censored out except for vulgarity, proselytism of other religions, spam, or trolling:

  • R.C.


    I did have another reply here, to DRT.

    It seems to have vanished. I don’t know of any reason it would have been objectionable (the tone was moderate and analytical), so I don’t think it was “moderated” out of existence. Have we reached a limit to the thread-length?

  • rjs

    Moderate in tone, but perhaps hit a limit on individual comment length…?

  • R.C.


    Now that is plausible! (The verbosity is congenital. Really. I hope to get it under control with diet and medication.)

    But, it seems to have been here for several hours, then gone away…? I’d have thought a post which exceeded a length-limit would have been rejected outright.