This is the seventh and final part of a series on 'Women in Ministry,' written by a recent graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Later this week I will reveal the identity of this man and direct you to where you can read more of his writings. As I have stated before, I do not agree with every view held by this Southern Baptist writer, but I find it refreshing when a person with a high view of the sacred text defends his egalitarian position with such skill. My point in posting this series is to remind all Southern Baptists that there are conservatives who disagree on various interpretations of the sacred text, but it should not disrupt our fellowship around Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The previous posts include:
Part 1: History and Confessions
Part 2: Priesthood of the Believer
Part 3: Spiritual Gifts
Part 4: Offices in the Church
Part 5: Ministries
Part 6: Objections to Women in Ministry Considered
Now, the last in a series of seven posts:
Part Seven: Creation and Conclusions
Grounded in Creation
Some who would continue to use 1 Timothy 2:12 to ban women from positions of leadership say that this text “is grounded in creation” (that Adam was created before Eve) and therefore is binding for all time.
Verses 13-15 of Timothy has confused many scholars, both complementarians and egalitarians. Is Paul arguing that all women from Eve till today have been easier to deceive than men? If this is true, it would appear that Paul is guilty of reading into the text of Gen. 3 something that is not there. To draw such a conclusion from this text would be improper and illogical. What Gen. 3 justifies the opinion that women are more easily deceived than men? The passage only teaches that Eve was in fact deceived. It nowhere asserts that this weakness has become endemic to the feminine sex.
Any proper interpreter who tried to prove such a disturbing point from an isolated occurrence would be rightly criticized for committing a serious logical error. For instance, it would be as easy to argue that all first-born sons are violent because Cain was. In both cases, a universal trait is being attributed to an entire class of people on the basis of a single incident, without any logical or exegetical reason.
Possibly Paul had a special revelation indicating that women are more easily deceived, but this does not appear to be the case. Rather than appeal to a revelation that he has received, he appeals to Genesis 3 for his evidence, and expects us to understand what he sees there. Thus we would expect to see him exhibit hermeneutical tools to derive meaning from the text.
Furthermore, how could Paul adduce the principle of deception-proneness for women from Gen. 3 when it occurred before the fall of mankind? If women had innately the flaw of deception proneness, then it would seem that they had this flaw by virtue of the way God created them.
Therefore, according to traditional thinking, Eve would seem to be the product of a flawed design by God. But God said that His creation was “very good.” These problems disappear, however, if we conclude that Paul is not arguing that women are more easily deceived than men.
Many egalitarians, Kroeger in particular, have argued that the sitz im leben of the Ephesian church in 1 Timothy focuses on the heresies that had crept into the church. They argue that these heresies were incipient Gnosticisms being taught by the women of the church. Gnosticism and other heresies included many erroneous beliefs about sex and creation. Some Gnostics taught that truly spiritual women should not marry and have children. Others taught that, since matter is evil and spirit is good, what a person did with the body was irrelevant to what went on in the inner spirit. To these Gnostics, sexual immorality was acceptable and could even be pleasing to God. Some Gnostics said that Eve was created before Adam and that she enlightened him by her superior knowledge. If this scenario is the case it would explain why Paul admonishes women teachers and states that Adam was formed first, Eve was deceived, and women will be preserved through childbearing. This scenario may be correct but it appears to be impossible to know for sure.
Isolated, the “rib story” of Genesis 2 does appear, at first glance, to subordinate woman to man; but we do not have this story in isolation. We have it only as it appears in Genesis as a whole. There are at least two creation stories in Genesis, the rib story in Chapter 2 being enveloped by a newer story in 1:1-2:4a, echoed in 5:1. The story in Chapter One is free of any subordination of male and female to the other, and this story gives new perspective on the rib story.
But what then is the purpose of the rib story? The self-evident fact that man is birthed from woman had led to the existence many fertility cults in the ancient world. These pagan religions worshipped mother goddesses and feminine nature deities as mother of all that lives. While still denigrating women, these cults stated the matriarchal view that woman was first and the creator of all the living. This belief clashes with the Israelite belief in primo geniture. In antiquity it was widely held that chronological priority meant superiority. In the first chapters of Genesis, the author or authors are refuting many of these pagan gods and goddesses and simultaneously refuting their creation stories. In Genesis 1, God creates the world not by an epic struggle like the gods in the Enuma Elish but by His deliberate, creative word.
Furthermore, the sun and moon are not regarded as gods, only lights in the sky that God as created and fixed. In Genesis 2, the superiority of woman is refuted by showing her source is from Adam. But in 3:20, the superiority of man is refuted by showing that Eve is the mother of all the living. In no way is this story intended to exhibit superiority of the man and the subordination of the woman. The story is intended to show how God created mankind male and female and how he created them equal. We can see this clearly in Chapter 2. Verse 24 is in two parts, the first part as matriarchal as the rib story is patriarchal, “For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and cleave to his wife.” The second part overcomes the patriarchal and matriarchal perspectives, “and the two become one flesh.” This gives new direction to the rib-story, explaining the drive of the sexes toward one another, this taking priority over even a man’s relationship with his parents. This is also the reason why man has authority of the woman’s body and the reason why woman has authority over the man’s body.
It was the effect of the fall of mankind that led to the subordination of women to men. This is a “curse” that was redeemed for us in Christ. We might expect the unbelieving world to hold to the subordination of women, but for believers in Christ to hold to such a view is unbiblical. If we are to say that a woman must continue to bear the brunt of the fall, we might as well deny a woman’s access to drugs that lessen the labor pains of childbirth. We then should remove all technology that lessens man’s toiling of the ground.
When Paul alludes to the creation story he is not referring to man’s superiority over woman but man’s equality with woman. If we look back at Galatians 3:28, when Paul says “neither male nor female” not “man nor women,” he is referring back to the Genesis 1 story and mankind’s sexual equality.
In conclusion, it should be clear through history, experience, reason and, all-importantly, Scripture, women are both permitted and encouraged by God to fill any “office” or role that is mentioned in Scripture. Furthermore, it should be evident that despite the lack of recognition given by the church through ordination, the Holy Spirit continues to empower women to serve God in the church in all roles and “offices.”
Complementarians argue that women cannot serve in the ordained office because the pastorate entails a leadership function that is appropriate only to men. In addition, they oppose the ordination of women on the basis of the teaching authority bound up with the pastoral office. Their difficulty here is not that teaching itself is inappropriate for women. Indeed, complementarians know that the Bible encourages women to teach in certain circumstances (see, for example, Tit 2:3-5), and some acknowledge that women can even teach men. Rather, they do not allow women to teach when it violates the so-called biblical principle of male leadership and female subordination. Hence complementarians conclude that the Bible prohibits a woman from publicly teaching men in the religious realm and exercising authority over men in the Christian community. Piper and Grudem write:
“We would say that the teaching inappropriate for a woman is the teaching of men in settings or ways that dishonor the calling of men to bear the primary responsibility for teaching and leadership. This primary responsibility is to be carried by pastors or elders. Therefore we think it is God’s will that only men bear the responsibility for this office.”
Complementarians bar women from the ordained office in the church because it encompasses the authority to teach men. Egalitarians, in contrast, find nothing in Scripture which prohibits women from exercising this prerogative. They also point out the absurdity or permitting women to teach impressionable children and other women but not men who should possess the spiritual acumen to discern heretical statements.
One of the problems that face those who would interpret the Scriptures as forbidding the ordination of women is that no such prohibition is directly made. In each example sited in Scripture the purpose of the verse is concerning an issue unrelated to the topic of the ordination of women. As evidence of the Bible’s prohibition against women’s ordination, at best the prohibition is implied by default.
When studying our history it becomes readily apparent that during times of great Baptist expansion and spiritual awakenings, women inevitably become active in preaching, teaching, and leading the assemblies of believers. It is only during spiritually dead and inactive periods when Baptists fall into extreme liberalism and conservatism that we see a rush to diminish the roles of women in ministry.
We see growth both in spirituality and converts corresponding with a greater role for women during the 17th century, the New Connection, the First and Second Great Awakenings, and the mid-twentieth century. Likewise, we see a decrease in converts and spirituality corresponding with a lesser role for women at other times. This is not to say that the roles for women in ministry are a cause of spiritual rise and decline: it is a symptom.
Success may not be a criterion for sanctifying a task and making it right, but success in ministry can help us to see where and when our interpretations of Scripture may be at fault. When the disciples saw that the Holy Spirit had come to the Gentiles (Acts 11), they were confronted with an experience that made them question their interpretation of the Old Testament and their hermeneutical traditions. The Scriptures were not at fault but there interpretations were. Atheists often laugh at the Bible when it speaks of the four corners of the earth as if it suggests a flat earth, but at the same time use the word “sunrise” as if the sun actually rose. When scientists began to question the Ptolemaic model of the solar system, many Bible-believing Christians yelled charges of “heresy,” saying that the Bible plainly spoke about a geocentric solar system. When new experiences contradicted this interpretation, Christian scholars went back to the Bible, reexamined the Scriptures and came to the conclusion that the Bible nowhere makes the claim that the earth is the center of the solar system. No new form of exegesis uncovered this fact of God’s creation from the Scriptures; experience as a hermeneutical tool (among others) furthered our understanding of how magnificent a universe God created and how amazingly perfect is the revelation of the Bible.
Yet proponents from both sides of the controversy are often guilty of using the question of women in ministry as a “litmus test” of conservative Christian orthodoxy. The expanding gulf over women’s roles is likewise evident in recent decisions by several churches to rescind their previous openness to women serving in lay leadership roles and in professional ministry staff positions. Some groups have enacted stricter limitations on women than at any previous time in their history. New directives prohibit women from chairing committees, teaching mixed gender adult classes, serving on the governing bodies of local congregations or being considered for nay positions on pastoral staff. This stinks in the nostrils of God.
Dr. McBeth wrote in 1979:
“If Southern Baptists wanted to arrive at an official position on ordination of women, it is doubtful they could do so. Southern Baptists accept no ultimate authority this side of the Bible and the lordship of Christ. But those who accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God may yet disagree about its interpretation. Southern Baptists have no official creed or list of accepted doctrines and practices to which all must subscribe. The Southern Baptist Convention is a voluntary body made up of elected representatives (messengers) from churches that voluntarily cooperate in missions, evangelism, and Christian education. The Convention cannot speak officially for the churches; neither can the churches speak for the Convention.
In 1925 and again in 1963 the Convention voted to adopt a doctrinal statement of “Baptist Faith and Message.” However, this is a confession of faith and not an official creed. It was designed as a statement of what a group of Baptists believe and practice at a given time in our history. In no way can it replace or supplement the authority of the Bible, nor was it intended.
This means that any Southern Baptist individual or group has perfect freedom, under the lordship of Christ and their liberty to interpret Scripture, to favor or oppose the ordination of women as they feel the facts warrant. However, such individuals and groups have no freedom to impose their views and practices upon all Southern Baptists or to announce their preference as “the” Southern Baptist position. Ordainers and nonordainers can and should be in full fellowship among us.”
Finally, the current Biblical interpretation concerning women in ministry held by the majority of scholars has moved from a severely limited role in no office to a highly active role in all offices except one. This recent progression suggests that the tide of scholarly influence is on the side of the egalitarians.