Part 1: History and Confessions
Part 2: Priesthood of the Believer
Part 3: Spiritual Gifts
Part 4: Offices in the Church
Part 5: Ministries
We move from “office” to function. As we have seen, the restrictions regarding the roles of women in ministry nullify the Great Commission of Jesus. Christ said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In the New Testament we find examples of women speaking in churches and teaching. We must understand those passages that prohibit these practices as particular to a certain time and place; either that or we are forced to say that in the New Testament churches we have examples of women breaking God’s universal laws. More on this subject later.
What then is teaching? Someone with some specific knowledge informs another without some specific knowledge that specific knowledge. But if a man asks a woman about directions to a library and she informs the man has she sinned by giving him information? Has he sinned for asking her in the first place? One responds, “That is not ‘teaching,’ as the Bible means it.” How so? “The Bible is referring to the church setting.” Or, “The Bible is referring to matters of doctrinal truth.” These are two counterarguments that are usually given. If a man learns in church something from a woman, however minute, like directions to the library, has that woman sinned? If, while in church, a woman informs a man that in the doctrine of the atonement, the “penal” in penal substitutionary atonement means that Christ bore a penalty when He died, has that woman sinned? Some will say, “Yes, the woman sinned for informing the man of the doctrinal truth. The man may have sinned in asking her. She should have directed him toward another man who could answer his question.” But what if the woman had said, “I’m sorry, I cannot answer your question. Doctrinally, I am not allowed to answer doctrinal questions.” If the man responds, “Gee, I didn’t know that,” the woman has sinned again. The strict among us would answer,” She should have kept silent. When a man asks you something concerning doctrine, keep silent.” But in John 20:17, Jesus tells Mary “go to my brethren, and say to them, “I ascend to My Father.” Jesus asked her to inform the disciples concerning the doctrine of the ascension. And implicitly she informed them concerning the doctrine of the resurrection. Would Jesus tell Mary to sin? “No,” responds the strict among us, “that was not teaching; that was informing.” A woman can inform a man of non-doctrinal matters. A woman can teach a man of non-doctrinal matters. A woman can inform a man of doctrinal matter. But a woman may not teach a man of doctrinal matters.
In Acts 18:24-26 we have a story concerning Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila. “Now a certain Jew named Apollo, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the Synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
The word used for “explain” in the Greek is ektithemi. This word is only used by Luke and exclusively in Acts. It means “to place, or set out,” “to expose,” “to exhibit,” and metaphorically “to set forth, declare, or expound.” Luke uses the word in Acts 11:4 to describe how Peter “explained” his vision at Cornelius’ house to the Jerusalem Church. This was the vision that led the church to realize that God was not limiting Himself only to Jews.
The other time Luke uses ektithemi is in Acts 28:23 to describe how Paul explained to the leading Jews in Rome by “testifying about the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the prophets.”
If we take these verses at their face value, along with the qualifications of elders and elderesses, is apparent that women are allowed if not required to teach men if the circumstance warrants it. The complementarian rebuttal would be that in the case of Priscilla, either 1) she was not teaching (didache) only expounding/explaining, or 2) she was teaching but complementing Aquila, i.e. he had the authority in the situation.
The response to both of these assertions: 1) ektithemi and didache appear to be synonymous. Didache may refer to doctrinal teaching, but as the above examples indicate, so can ektithemi; 2) the text does not say that Priscilla complemented Aquila anymore than Aquila complemented Priscilla. Such an interpretation must be forced into the text, it does not naturally occur. Also, to say that Aquila had authority in the situation is also tenuous. The text does not say so, and any assertion to the contrary is based upon ideas of “natural male authority” and not upon the Scripture. More on this later.
But who did have the authority in this situation? Aquila or Priscilla? Both? The Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit and Aquila? Could we say that if authority existed in this situation (and nothing in the text explicitly or implicitly states so) that this authority came from the Word of God? Does the Word of God only have authority when a man speaks it? Does the Word of God lose its authority when spoken by a woman? What does this say about the Word of God? What about the written Word? Few people today would prohibit women from writing books that men read, even doctrinal books, although that is undoubtedly a powerful form of teaching. Some complementarians appear to be on the verge of neo-orthodoxy. The objective word of God becomes real only when spoken subjectively by a man but not subjectively by a woman.
In most Baptist churches ordination is understood to mean the choosing of certain individuals to occupy positions of authority within the congregation. This qualifies them to preach, administer the ordinances and supervise the affairs of the congregation. Because of the special place of preaching in Baptist churches, the issue of ordination is very closely tied to that function.
One of the spiritual gifts of Romans 12 is prophecy. Some today would relegate this charismatic gift to be synonymous with preaching. This is unfortunate. The word we translate as “prophesy” is propheteuo. It is the Greek translation of the Old Testament word for “prophecy,” (naba). A Old Testament prophet (nabi) was “one who carried the word of God.” Part of his function was to also proclaim the word of God he carried. Now a prophet does proclaim or preach the word of God, but a preacher does not necessarily prophesy. The New Testament does make a difference. There are two words that we today translate as “preach.” The first is kerusso. It means “to proclaim, to herald.” The other word is euaggelizo. It means “to preach the gospel.” These words can be synonymous but do not have to be. One could “proclaim” themselves dictator. A woman could “proclaim” that a house is on fire. The term need not be doctrinal. And complementarians admit that there concern is doctrinal. We then focus on euaggelizo – this word always means “preach or proclaim the gospel.” It is the word we get evangelist from: “one who preaches the gospel.” But the clear distinction between prophesying, preaching, and preaching the gospel is not a necessary point to argue that a woman may do all three.
The Bible clearly states that women were prophetesses: Miriam (Ex. 15:20, 21), Deborah (Judg. 4:4, 5), Huldah (2 Kin. 22:12-20), Isaiah’s wife (Is. 8:1-3), Anna (Luke2:36). According to the prediction of Joel (Joel 2:28), the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophecy (teach?). This prophecy came to fulfillment on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In Acts 21:9, “Philip the Evangelist has four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” And women continued to prophecy from what Paul says (I Corinthians 11), where he lays down rules to regulate this part of their conduct while ministering in the Church.
Now, does a woman prophetess carrying the word of God have “authority” over a man? She does not have “authority” because she is a woman but because of the word she carries and preaches. Does a pastor have “authority” because he is a man? No, he has “authority” because of the position in which he functions and the word he preaches.
Now if we do distinguish between prophesy and preaching the gospel we must then deny women from proclaiming the good news. A woman could not recite John 3:16 to an unbeliever. But, again, in John 20:17, Jesus commands Mary to tell the male disciples that He has risen. In terms of Christianity, Mary was the first evangelist preacher.
Some have objected that though one can argue that scripture allows a woman to preach, prophecy, teach, have authority, and hold positions of minister, deacon, and elder, nevertheless, the verse of 1 Timothy 2:12 cannot be ignored. This is certainly true. Objectors state that this verse (or at least the traditional interpretation of this verse) outweighs all other verses that seem to contradict the traditional view of this verse. An appropriate analogy would be to argue that despite numerous versed to the contrary, Jesus was not deity because of Mark 10:17-18. These verses recall that when a man addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” Jesus responds to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” While this verse does not directly reject Jesus’ deity it implies that He is not good. Since He is not good and only God is good Jesus therefore is not God. Now one can take numerous verses from throughout the Bible giving evidence for Christ’s deity. One can build a case from the Gospel of Mark! But despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Jesus never directly identifies Himself as God and Mark 10:18 cannot be ignored. Now obviously few but the most liberal theologians would hold to this hermeneutic. To do so would be to stubbornly hold to a preconceived notion as authoritative like a life raft in a sea of authoritative contradictions. We cannot construct our theology around one verse. We certainly cannot build and teardown the lives of other Baptist ministers based on one verse. And if Scripture overwhelmingly contradicts our established interpretation of a verse, we must then call into question the validity of that established interpretation.
Susan Foh explains: “If the Biblical material is in the form of a command to the church as a whole … it ought to be seen as valid for all time. If there is nothing in text to indicate that a command is limited to a special case or circumstance, we cannot presume to limit the text or to read Paul’s mind.
Unfortunately, those who espouse this view are unable to carry it out. For example, five times Christians are commanded (in the imperative) in the New Testament to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” There is nothing in any of the contexts to indicate that this command is limited to special cases or circumstances. Yet traditional churches rarely carry out this command. Furthermore, those who believe that 1 Timothy 2:12 forever bars all women of all time from teaching or having authority over men usually ignore the commands in the other six verse in this section. This is a classic case of “selective literalism.” If this passage is universal for all Christian women of all time, then no woman should ever wear pearls or gold (including wedding rings) or have braided hair or expensive clothing.