How They Changed Their Mind about Women

How They Changed Their Mind about Women January 17, 2011

Alan Johnson, well-known and much-loved professor at Wheaton, has edited a collection of stories of well-known evangelicals who have in their own ways changed when it comes to women in ministry. His book has a great title: How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Every person who is either “for” or “against” increased roles of women in leadership needs to read these stories. Before I get to the names and the stories, I want to sketch Dallas Willard’s introduction.

First a question: Who wants to tell a story about change? What were the “factors” that led you to shift your mind on women in ministry? What do you think of Dallas Willard’s three points?

Dallas Willard, in fact, didn’t change his mind because he always believed in the legitimacy of women in leadership in the church. He grew up in churches where both men and women taught — though the preaching pastors were male. Dallas thinks the passages used by the complementarians are not “principles” but expressions of the principle that all Christians should be all things to all people. (I don’t entirely agree with that term the term “complementarian” is accurate for those who use it since I think most everyone would want men and women to work together for the gospel in a complementarian way. More importantly, that term today means “hierachicalist in role.”)

Willard makes three points:

1. Those gifted by God for any ministry should serve in the capacity of that gift and churches (“human arrangements”) should facilitate their service. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that gifts are distributed along gender lines. Go ahead and read the gift passages — says 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5, 1 Pet 4 — and show how gifts are connected to gender.
2. It is misleading to deal with this issue along the lines of rights and equality alone. When it comes to talents and gifts people aren’t “equal” and it’s not about “rights” but about gifts and our obligations.
3. Excluding women leaves women generally with the impression that there is something wrong with them. They may be mistaken in that but Willard makes the important observation that if God excludes them there must be some very good reason — God doesn’t just flip coins. And the so-called complementarians can’t find clear passages where such things are clearly taught.

And I would add my own two cents here. A fundamental principle in Bible interpretation is that we can’t read the “restrictive” passages in the New Testament in ways that fundamentally deny what the NT shows that women are already doing. I wrote about this in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.

Now back to How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals by Alan Johnson. Those who tell their stories are John Armstrong, Ruth Haley Barton, Gil Bilezikian, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Tony Campolo, Robert and Alice Fryling, Stan Gundry, Bill and Lynne Hybels, Alan Johnson, Walt and Olive Liefeld, I. Howard Marshall, Alice Mathews, Roger Nicole, John and Nancy Ortberg, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Carol and James Plueddemann, Minette Drumwright Pratt, Ron Sider, John Stackhouse Jr., John Bernard Taylor and Bonnie Wurzbacher.

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  • This is an endearing read and well worth the time. Any/everyone should read–even apart from the sad polarization that has so infected our churches. If anything, the so-called complementarians will come away with an appreciation of what women may have incurred as a result of a male-only leadership.

  • Just a brief comment. From what I understand, the church we attend, Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC (and others we’ve attended over the years) does not allow, recognize or endorse women in teaching roles for mixed classes. However, a woman leads the children’s ministry which I find interesting. A woman can lead a ministry that is responsible for building a foundation of faith in the church’s youngest population in hopes that they will make a decision for Christ early in their lives, but then somehow a woman – even that same woman – cannot teach them once they arrive at adulthood.

  • T


    In addition to this (and in line with Scot’s own point in the post), it is undisputed from the scriptures that women prophesied (spoke at God’s direction and leading) in the New Covenant era. Of course, for folks who believe that no one prophesies today, it’s perhaps easier to sweep all that under the rug. But it’s more appropriate to take such a powerful reality into account when deciding God’s intentions for women in the church.

  • Not exactly on topic, but:
    I just found this book last night on for anyone who likes to listen to their books. (Also noticed Scot’s new book there as well.)

  • Pat Pope

    Norm, my denomination has long affirmed women, however my local church for many years was led by a pastor who did not affirm them as elders or pastors (unless of course it would have been pastor of singles or women. I know because those are the roles he spoke to me about.) However, he always had a woman leading the children’s ministry, which is of fairly substantial size. After he left, I was elected as an elder. Now, 2.5 years after serving in the role, there has been a bit of division among some about women elders and one couple has already left the church over it. It’s a sad day right now.

    Scot, as to your question about Dallas’ points, #3 is the one that speaks to me the most. It would seem to communicate that women aren’t sufficient in some way when WE say there is an area in which they cannot serve. I’ve often thought of the verse that says, “Your gift will make room for you” (Ps. 18:16). A different context, but I still find the application is valid. So, I accept that some may not accept women in certain leadership roles, but I know that giftedness that Lord has given me and I know that it will not be wasted. If some choose not to affirm me, I will continue to serve the Lord. No one will ever stop from doing that and I specifically said that to the pastor who only was willing to put me in a traditional, stereotypical role.

    As for his first point, I know the gift passages don’t mention anything about the gifts being distributed along gender lines, but then what would be the rebuttal for those who point to I Timothy 3 — the passage recently used by the couple who left our church? I personally think that some people do not take the scripture as a whole, but in part. They find a passage, on either side of ANY argument, and that becomes their proof-text for their point. I think a deeper issue in many of our churches is biblical illiteracy. Maybe if we start there by teaching people how to read and interpret scripture, we might more intelligently approach issues rather than emotionally, because as far as some people go is, “but the scripture says” and that’s all they can tell you. No mention of context or history or culture.

  • smcknight


    I believe the complementarians/hierarchicalists find what they want in the elders/deacons passages, but had Paul really been into their issue he would have overtly said “Elders must be males.” He didn’t.

    That language about elders, as I’ve said before, assumes that the elders are males but does not teach that elders must be males. There’s a massive difference and the complementarians convert the assumption into a necessity.

  • T, as an example of what you’re saying, it’s pretty obvious that women in Corinth were prophesying and praying publicly – why else would Paul tell them to cover their head when they did so in 1st Corinth 11?

  • Phil N


    Another question along this line, specifically the one I encounter often is that there is a natural hierarchical parallel to the trinity, Father and Son send the Spirit, Son is Subservient to the Father, like was men and women have Christ as head, women have men (husband) as head.

    If I try to explain that headship refers to origin (like a river), I get the strangest looks, as if I am trying to twist and rewrite scripture. What other options to I have to understand this order. By the way, it’s not only comp. men that hold this, but the women, and I would say quite vehemently.

  • EricW

    Christian patriarchalism (aka “complementarianism”) is, to use a Yiddish phrase, a shanda fur die goyim. It deserves ridicule from those outside the church, and fortunately it’s starting to be questioned and scrutinized and ridiculed by those in the church as well. That a female cannot have a leadership or teaching position on par with a male solely because she has two x chromosomes instead of one x and one y chromosome is ridiculous. Oh, I forgot – women, unlike men, are deceivable and are still stuck in a state of transgression from which childbearing will save them.

  • T

    Arni (7),

    Exactly. Most Evangelicals are so intimidated by the thought of anyone “prophesying” (it’s generally on a very high pedestal), but then fail to figure the reality of women prophesying into their ‘role’ for women in the scriptures. I like the way Scot poses the question many times, “Is your church allowing/encouraging women to do what the women of scripture did?” Most often the answer is “no.”

  • smcknight


    No one disputes the functional subordination of the Son to the Father in the incarnation; some would say it continues in glory due to 1 Cor 15 — but no one thinks the Son’s subordination is essential.

    Eph 5 does not teach that a woman is subordinate to her husband alone but that they each relate to one another as a species of mutual subordination. The man is not called the leader there. He is called to surrender his life to his wife as Christ loved the church.

    On headship, there’s at least something to be said for Sarah Sumner’s notion that it means unifier rather than hierarchy over. I do think there’s something clear about source in 1 Cor 11 but not in Eph 5.

  • Pat Pope

    @Scot #6, thank you for that. Good point.

    @Eric W #9, LOL!

  • Phil N

    Thanks Scot for the clarification. I have heard the Trinitarian reasoning for Comp. from more than one source. To show my ignorance, what is “unifier”?

  • smcknight

    Phil N, brings unity to.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Eric W,

    I am an egalitarian but I found your comment to be over the top. There are many Christian leaders who hold to a complementarian view whom I respect highly. I disagree with them on this point, but still respect them. What you are characterizing here is a stereotype of a viewpoint, not the actual viewpoint that is held. Complementarian (or hierarachical or whatever term you think best describes it) does not equal misogynist jerk. There are some who probably are, but the truth of the matter is that there are likely some who hold an egalitarian viewpoint who are in their hearts are just as misognyistic and cruel. I used to work on a church staff in a denomination that affirmed and practiced female church leadership in the highest positions available. But the senior pastor whom I reported to treated the female pastoral staff horribly. There was a blatant double standard. I am now a member of a local church that holds to a complementarian point of view doctrinally, but in practice is incredibly affirming of female leadership and affords enormous opportunities for females to exercise leadership. Sometimes the lines are a little blurrier than we think.

  • EricW

    @Steve Billingsley 15:

    I am ridiculing/criticizing/opposing the idea and practice and belief, not the persons who sincerely teach it or hold it. Sincere people can be wrong, just as many godly and sincere Christians were wrong about segregation. I didn’t say that patriarchalists were misogynist jerks or held a monopoly on being such. But gender hierarchicalism in the Body of Christ is wrong and, to repeat myself, ridiculous and a scandal, or at least should be.

  • smcknight


    OK brother. We are all in the family of Christ. And you and I see this one in similar manners, but I can’t say the other side is “ridiculous” and I’d only hint that it is a scandal because I know the history and respect the many who don’t agree with me here.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Interesting that the study only looks at stories going in one direction: towards acceptance of women in ministry. The title would more accurately be: “How they changed their minds from complementarian to egalitarian.”

  • steve_sherwood

    Scot, are you right when you say that NOONE holds a view of the Trinity where the Son is subordinate to the Father in a substantive way? I was listening to a public radio interview with Paul Young of “The Shack” a couple years back and during the show they played an audio clip of Mark Driscol condemning the book as heresy. One of his criticisms was it taught an “egalitarian view of the Trinity, in contradiction to scripture.” It seems to me there ARE folks who hold to a fundamental subordination in the Trinity. I am not one of them, so I don’t know why or even what theological strains would be most likely to do so. Am I misreading them?

  • EricW

    Did Evangelicals teach the Eternal Subordination of the Son before the Egal-Comp debate had Comps pointing to the Godhead for support for their hierarchicalism?

  • Scot McKnight

    EricW — I don’t think so. Kevin Giles studies this question.

  • MarkP

    Paul, in 1Tim 2:11ff states that he does ‘not suffer a woman to teach or have authority over a man’. If that were all, it might be enough, however a cultural/context argument could be made for this being a temporary direction – but he proceeds to ground his teaching in creation and the fall.
    It is granted that women were praying in church, and indeed prophesying. But this passage teaches that they are excluded from _something_ that men are not. What exactly is that something?

    The problem for me in the ‘egalitarian’ position has always been the clarity of this passage. It is a more certain path to ground foundations here, than in some of the descriptive passages telling of the practices of the church. (For example, we do not baptise our dead, though it is a practice present in the NT church, and never squarely condemned by Paul). To explain away clear words such as this interferes with our reading elsewhere, and makers interpretation subjective to cultural whim.

  • smcknight

    MarkP, but do you think it is possible that Paul said that and undercut women prophesying or Priscilla’s teaching or Phoebe “deaconing”?

  • JohnM

    A couple contrarian (in more ways than one) observations:

    I wonder if we haven’t come to bank too much on the concept of “giftedness”. I know the verses and conventional thinking on the subject, but I’m not so sure gifts are other than natural proclivities and aptitudes (which may or may not coincide), products, like gender, of how we are made. Even if I’m wrong, claiming a gift or calling is too easy and evangelicals are conditioned to never question anothers claimed calling.

    Leadership is a rubber word in contemporary usage – we stretch it to cover as many activities and circumstances as possible. That way everybody gets to be a “leader” and we’re also conditioned to think we should all want to be leaders. The truth is, being good at something doesn’t make one a leader. The fact that you may, and do, speak out in church does make you a church leader. Being given a job to do along with the authorization do it does not equate to a leadership role.

  • pepy

    I have a dream.

  • EricW

    @MarkP 22:

    That passage in the Greek is fraught with difficulties and complications, and “the clarity of this passage” is something that, upon examination, is not so clear – at least not to me. E.g., the switching from plural to singular to plural, the question of whether gynê and anêr mean woman and man or husband and wife, the use of the perfect tense to describe the woman’s condition, the use and meaning of sôzô, that he grounds it in part of the creation account and the Fall, which raises a question of what state does Christ restore mankind to – i.e., post-Fall, Genesis 2 pre-Fall, Genesis 1 where male and female are both in God’s image and in authority over all, etc.

  • JoeyS

    It should also be mentioned that in the creation narrative the hierarchy between a husband in wife is a result of the fall and not something inherent in creation.

  • MarkP

    @smcknight Hi Scot, I’m not sure I completely understand your question. I presume you are not questioning that Paul said it, just my interpretation of it. So assuming the latter – each of the examples you give are descriptive passages of what was happening or had happened – side-comments in effect. No one would argue – I hope – that if a man asked a woman the path to Christ she ought in all obedience to refuse to answer on the basis this might break the commandment. And whatever Paul is saying here he cannot be speaking against prophesy and prayer by women in the church as these are encouraged elsewhere. But my point is that he _must_ be saying something, and that something must be important given the care with which he explains the implications of creation and the fall as its foundation. The ‘egalitarian’ preaching on such texts as this must necessarily explain them away, or ignore them. (I would be most willing to hear a teaching of the ‘restrictive texts’ from an ‘egalitarian’ perspective that is edifying to the church and does not consist solely in explaining what it does not mean).

    As a general interpretation then: teaching authority in the church is given to men. This text may be handled this way without any need to explain away the examples you mentioned. Perhaps those examples you give aid us in the outworking of this understanding and prevent a too burdensome, narrow, interpretation?

    I suppose we are quibbling over where to start our biblical interpretation; I would argue that we start with what is most clear, and then allow what is less clear only the power to nuance our first view. Perhaps I need to read your Parakeet book to understand your starting points; I had not thought about starting from the point of church practice. By the way, thank you for the time you put into this blog. As a scientist I have always found it a great resource.

  • MatthewS

    reading through the comments, including #23…

    Dan Wallace’s words resonate with me:
    Again, as I mentioned early on, I have problems with the complementarian position. I am sometimes embarrassed to be a complementarian. It would be a whole lot easier if I weren’t! But I can’t go against my conscience. And my conscience tells me that after all the exegetical dust has settled, to deny some sort of normative principle to 1 Tim 2:12 is probably a misunderstanding of this text.

    This is a really frustrating issue for me. I grew up in an environment that many would consider verbally, emotionally, and even somewhat physically abusive. I know what it is to be torn down as a person, gasping for breath and dignity. It doesn’t mean I fully understand the plight of women who are held down in the church but I do believe I can empathize at least as well or better than most males.

    I don’t know how to make it all fit but as I say, Wallace’s words seem to me to carry weight on this.

  • T


    “No one would argue – I hope – that if a man asked a woman the path to Christ she ought in all obedience to refuse to answer on the basis this might break the commandment.”

    Really? You hope that a woman would not give the good news to a man on the basis that such “might” break the commandment? Wow. What about the commandment to love? What about the commandment to make disciples? And not to slice it too finely, but would you allow a woman to evangelize a man as well as prophesy to him, but only forbid teaching?

    I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint your hopes. I think the passage to which we’re referring has to be taken along with all the NT data to understand it (including women prophets). Given that data, I would argue that a woman can certainly evangelize, even to men.

  • MarkP

    Sorry T. Perhaps that sentence is a little unclear. I meant in the opposite sense of how you read it, in other words, “I hope that noone would make that argument viz. that a woman should stay silent at that point”. I absolutely think she should evangelize him!

  • T


    Very, very happy to have misunderstood you! 🙂 I’m glad.

  • MarkP

    @T, but I think your last paragraph demonstrates one of the problems of ‘egalitarian’ exegesis. In practical terms, ‘taken along with al the NT data’ usually means explained away.
    I was interested in your comment that this will ‘disappoint my hopes’. I am not sure that I have any hope here except a scripture that can be understood by the milk-maid and the theologian. Actually, my real hope is for a scripture that can be understood by me, on my knees, in my study.
    Many things in scripture grate against my 21st C mind. I sometimes wish to give up certain passages in order to align with the prevailing culture. But I find I cannot give them up without giving up God’s word written for me – the trust that God has delivered a word that can be understood in its essentials by all. So no, it is not my hope that I am *right* about this text. I’d give up the interpretation gladly if someone could show how I will not lose so much more.
    The biggest mistake of the ‘egalitarian’ is to think that the ‘complementarian’ views this as anything other than an issue of scripture. Gender does not enter into it.

  • smcknight


    On #33, first paragraph. Please recognize that mutualists like me (I don’t like “egalitarian” as a term) see your view as explaining things away, too. It cuts both ways.

    The apostle Paul used the very same creation text of Genesis 1 to show that the “male and female” was now no longer the case “in Christ” in Gal 3:28. The statement is an incredibly radical statement; incredibly radical.

    The appeal to creation and fall has a contested interpretation and many today, e.g., Fee and France, would argue that this text has a set of specific suggestions at Ephesus. So the principial interpretation to which you allude is not for some of us at all as compelling as it is to you.

    We’ve all been around this block having this conversation many times. It can get wearying to people like me who have written on it, largely convinced ourselves of a given view, but have to keep returning to the same old spot. I’m sure you feel the same way at times.

  • Dean

    Very interesting that this discussion is taking place on MLK, Jr. Day.

    I personally have respect for the persons who hold a “complentarian” view but truth is truth, it is simply hierarchalism by any other name.

    As a male ordained pastor, I personally will not join the membership or missional life of a covenant-based community that segregates in such ways.

    This minimizes my options but I am willing to experience that loss in the interest of a more important example and witness.

  • MarkP

    @smcknight None of us like the names we are given – that starts with our ‘nickname’ in the schoolyard 🙂 I am a little wearied, though I’m not sure I’ve reached the convinced stage yet. I suppose I am convinced that God’s truth must be teachable – I forget the word the reformers used to describe the comprehensibility of scripture, can someone remind me?

    As the mutualists are seeking to provide a new understanding of a commonly held interpretation, the onus is upon them to show how this truth is teachable from the pulpit, and does not make one part of scripture “repugnant to another” (a childhood spent flipping through the BCP during dull moments of the service).

  • MarkP

    Perspicuity of scripture

  • smcknight

    Mark, do you think Anne Graham Lotz should be evangelizing? Or Morna Hooker writing commentaries on biblical books? Or Beth Moore teaching mixed audiences?

    On perspicuity two comments: (1) that doctrine does not pertain to difficult texts but to the belief that average Christians can make sense of the basic message of the Bible. Mueller worked on this doctrine. This doctrine is too often invoked by those who fear the other side’s got something new to say. So could the Catholics have said of Luther and Calvin on any number of points. (2) It cuts both ways too. Just as many think the strong restrictivist view of 1 Tim 2 is no longer “perspicuous” to them.

  • MarkP

    These examples are difficult to comment on. Many things I do not know! They teach and we choose to listen or not. If my minister teaches I consider that I commanded by God to listen and respect his authority. More certain: a church seeking to appoint a pastor to preach, teach, and lead the congregation, should appoint a man.

    In regard to perspicuity “(1) that doctrine does not pertain to difficult texts but to the belief that average Christians can make sense of the basic message of the Bible.” Had this text been thought difficult until culture made it so?

  • JohnM

    I don’t care if I’m called a hierarchicalist. I’m not sure it’s a particularly apt term for what I believe, but then I’m not so sure complimentarian is either. The latter seems calculated to soft-sell something that shouldn’t need it. The former is likely used also with calculation because the idea of hierarchy is offensive to our contemporary sensibilities. It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t have a problem with heirarchies pers se, and neither does scripture.

  • Elaine


    Do you take literally Romans 16:16 greeting all your “brethren with a holy kiss?” That’s a verse for the milkmaid isn’t it? What could be more plain and easy to understand and practice? Do you practice foot washing according to John 13:14? – “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” – it’s as plain as day. Isn’t it?

  • Elaine


    Pardon my bluntness @41. However, I hope you see my point -even the seemingly plainest of things aren’t really that plain at times. And certainly not every “plain” thing in the Scriptures is practiced plainly.

  • RJH

    This conversation (and what I see as its younger sibling regarding homosexual practice and leadership) make me want to convert to Catholicism – not so much for the positions themselves, but to avoid the acrimony. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I’m sort of surprised this issue is still being discussed with such vigor – I guess I thought the various denominations and churches and finished their split over this issue and moved on to other things.

  • When I was a teen there were a fair number of single (maiden) women who were called to the mission field. There just weren’t that many men or even couples that went. I make note of that because many of those same churches would forbid women from teaching men in the American church, but have no problem with those same female missionaries preaching to non-American/European men.

  • EricW

    Somewhere along the way the church got the idea that it needed a human priesthood standing between the believer and Christ. Coupled with the idea that since Jesus was a male, and the priest stood in persona Christi, the idea became firmly established in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches that only males could be priests.

    (That, and possibly the influence of anti-female writings from some of the Church Fathers.)

    Supposedly the Reformation restored the NT concept of “the priesthood of all believers” to the Church, and the sacerdotalism and priest-controlled sacramentalism went away, too. Supposedly.

    However, it seems that many Evangelical churches still seem to think that only a male preacher, quite possibly due to the holdover of the in persona Christi concept of the priesthood, is allowed to deliver the sacrament of the Teaching and Preaching of the Scriptures to the congregation, or that only males can hold leadership positions in the Body of Christ – a Body in which “there is not male and female” and upon which God has poured out His Spirit on all flesh, menservants and maidservants alike, and with respect to which all the members of the Body, the Bride, are female in relation to the One Head, Jesus Christ.

  • MarkP

    @elaine I hope that I practice the principle behind each verse that you mention; or, in other words, the authors’ intention in writing them. Careful reading of scripture is not literalism. I also agree that not all is plain, only that the meaning of this passage is plain. Scot has argued against that (34) and I need to consider carefully what he has said.
    @rjh Has this been acrimonious? I hope not. It has been vigorous as important ideas such as this ought to be. What would God have me do? Is there a more important message than that. I view this as a real privilege – where else do these conversations take place, especially with a thoughtful lover of Christ (RMS) moderating?

  • Dinah

    The main problem with all these “plain” verses is that we read our time and culture into them …. if the culture and time of Paul is studied carefully, then it is not quite so “plain” after all … that is why a scholar of the caliber of F.F.Bruce agreed that Paul was not subordinating women permanently, rather either telling them to be patient in the culture of the day (which was strongly Patriarchal), or … not to abuse their new-found freedom in Christ.

    The other problem is that all of Paul’s writings are letters …. which makes it like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. What happens most often is that we put our own construction on what the question was that Paul is answering.

    Finally, the Bible has to be read as an unfolding story – the Story of God and the undoing of the Fall. The whole momentum of the Bible is forward to freedom at last. This forward movement did not finish at the end of the NT, but is still going … a good example is the abolition of slavery in countries where a Christian worldview still prevails. The position of women has also been improving.

    Among Christ’s people all should be done in love of God and each other, with all the various ministries as the Spirit decides and gifts any individual (man or woman) to do.

    Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity” is a good read, and explains where most of our Church customs came from. But very many of these are defended as “plain” from the Bible.

  • leah

    @MarkP re: #28 For an “‘egalitarian’ perspective that is edifying to the church and does not consist solely in explaining what it does not mean” check out ‘Paul, Women, & Wives’ by Craig Keener. Scot also touches on those verses in his book ‘The Blue Parakeet,’ but (as he notes himself) he does brush over them quickly. Keener goes into considerable depth, and comes to the same conclusion: that they are not silencing women, but silencing anyone who is uneducated. It just so happened in the first century that it was mostly women who were uneducated. The whole-church edifying message is that people should be educated and not left in their ignorance.

  • MarkP

    @leah Thank you for the suggestion. I had not heard of this book before. I’ll add it to my Amazon wish list 🙂

  • EricW

    Re: 19. – 21.:

    Here is a blog with links discussing/debating ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) related to the Complementarian – Egalitarian debate.

  • EricW
  • Sue

    I have spent considerable time in email conversations with Dan Wallace and others, and so far, I have not had anyone I was in dialogue with offer an example of authentein in ancient literature that had a positive connotation. There was no example of authentein meaning to lead in church before the time of the popes.

    The word meant either “usurp” or wrest power from someone, rule them to their detriment, or to have absolute power over others.

    The “plain” meaning of 1 Tim. 2:12 is that women should not do that. The “plain” meaning of Gen. 3:16 is that the fall is the cause of a man ruling his wife, and the “plain” meaning of 1 Peter 5:3 is that church leaders should not rule over the flock.

    The scripture is quite consistent in indicating that only God rules over us. Other rulership is civil and though we have to obey it, it is significantly transformed throughout history into a democratic and bureaucratic function into which we have input, and in which there are lines of mutual accountability.

  • MarkP

    @Sue A negative connotation of authentein seems unlikely; that would make didasko negative, and rob the verse of any practical meaning – “I do not permit women to teaching faleshoods in a domineering manner…because of the fall”.

  • Dan Arnold

    MarkP (#53),

    I suspect you and Sue are actually in agreement about authentein if, by negative connotation, she means violent or domineering. My own study of authenteo and its cognates shows it to be used in just such a way when looking at usage prior to the first century.

    shalom uvrecha,

  • DRT


    I have just completed Scot’s book about the Blue Parakeet and would recommend it for all considering this issue.

  • Sue


    Usage from that time of the word itself was in a negative context. Cognate words were even more negative and violent. There is no example of it being used for positive leadership.

    Ruling itself, in a neutral sense, is also highly problematic as a function which operates among Christians.

    The history of interpretation indicates that it was overwhelmingly considered a negative word, in the Vulgate and in the translations of the Reformation.

    Didasko has a negative use in Titus 1. It is possible that didasko had a negative use in 1 Tim. But there is no precendent whatsoever for authenteo having a positive connotation.

    There is no new evidence since the KJV, to significantly change how we understand this word.

    I don’t believe this verse or passage has normative or practical application today, except that women may not, even if so inclined, take over from men. Leadership must be shared in an orderly fashion.

  • AJC

    As a female, I am just so appreciative of men who will stick up for women on this one. I went to Wheaton College, and I can remember the sneers from all those self-satisfied complementarian males toward the feminist females on campus. Even with regard for what I just wrote about men sticking up for women, I know what they would say, “I thought women were just as strong as men? Well, then why should you need someone else to stick up for you? Doesn’t that totally undermine your point? Doesn’t that prove men should lead?” But the reason I think it really does help is that for that type of male, the voice of a woman doesn’t count as much. It is just dismissed because it is not respected, and it is dismissed because the women is believed to have a vested interest in the issue (as if men DON’T!) Yes, I believe complementarians can be sincere in their belief and consider themselves respectful toward and supportive of women, but all that is in the eye of the beholder. And to me, a women, the idea of having to defend one’s right to equal oportunity in the church of all places is just so incredibly demeaning I am not able to talk calmly about it. But that’s what we are expected to do, to calmly exegete the biblical passages, when the actual issue is like being told because you’re black, you have to use the outhouse instead of the indoor toilet, that you see everyone else using. After a few times of that experience, the inconvenience, the loopholes, the way people treat you, you are then expected to just cheerfully and calmly support this institution? When you KNOW the real God, the true God, would have nothing to do with that? These people who are so conVINCed that they are preaching and instituting the “word of God” to others — if they can hold that point of view — they don’t know him at all!

  • Laura

    I am ever so grateful that the first woman called to preach the gospel did not just go home (“well, it’s not my place to preach, so I’d better not do it”), but instead ran and told the disciples. If she had stayed in her culturally ordained “place,” none of us would be Christ-followers today…

  • EricW

    AJC wrote:

    And to me, a women, the idea of having to defend one’s right to equal opportunity in the church of all places is just so incredibly demeaning I am not able to talk calmly about it.

    AJC: You should be just as calm about it as Alice Paul was re: women’s suffrage (watch the movie IRON JAWED ANGELS with Hillary Swank).

    Some people in the comments above say I’m over the line when I say this, but I continue to think that gender hierarchy in the church is ridiculous and deserves to be ridiculed out of existence. (Prayerfully, of course!)

    And now I’ll sit down – calmly. 🙂

  • tpate

    I have just stumbled on this conversation while on sabbatical at the beach. I have been an ordained pastor for 14 years and have kept quiet because my church allowed me to preach, and because, to speak openly and honestly can easily be viewed as “of course she thinks that…she is a woman pastor.” But now I find that I am less able to be silent. The idea that roles in the kingdom could be divided along gender or racial lines flies in the face of everything that Paul fights. He even goes to bat against the longest standing divider-whether or not you were a person of the covenant God made with His people Israel. I could write a book about the individual verses in question but for the purposes of my one comment, let me just say that the “letter of the law” is strangling the church once again.(How odd that literalists don’t recognize this verse as a caution). A good read for anyone on this subject would be the sermons preached in defense of slavery based on the scripture. Are there still folks debating that issue?
    I have friends who are much more liberal than fact, doctrinally I am not always a good fit with egalitarians beyond this women’s leadership deal. I do have great respect for people and their opinions at many points on the spectrum. But the reason this issue is heating up, in my opinion is that the Spirit of the Lord is ready for us to fix what has been wrong since the early church. Take us back to before the fall, Lord Jesus!