I really hope that people aren’t looking to weblogs for answers to questions like these, but since many probably are, I think it’s worthwhile to respond to a series of questions that came up in the comments section of a previous post. I think that someone wrestling with these issues should ask themselves this question: which position (women can be elders—egalitarian, or women should not be elders—complementarian) would be the easiest position to take given our culture and the spirit of our age.
I think the clear answer to that question is that it fits better with our culture to say that women can be elders (even though some people may be uncomfortable at the thought of actually having a woman as their senior pastor). In theory, at least, it’s easier to take the egalitarian position.
The next question, it seems to me, should be this one: why is it that some people don’t take the egalitarian position? Setting aside the possibility that they are un-enlightened (which is to say, stupid), and the possibility that they are just plain mean, let’s grant that they must have good reasons for taking this position that makes them seem mean and stupid and fundamentalistic. Why would anyone be a complementarian?
Anyone who wants to understand why some people hold so firmly to the complementarian position should check out what complementarians say for themselves. So I suggest you browse the website of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pick up a copy of Wayne Grudem’s book, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, see the excellent book by Schreiner and Köstenberger, Women in the Church, or even read my essay, “What Women Can Do in Ministry: Full Participation within Biblical Boundaries.” If you want to understand complementarians, these are the kinds of things you should examine.
As I mentioned, several questions were posted in the comments section of this blog on a recent post, so here are my brief responses to those questions:
Deon asked if the complementarian position means that women cannot be called of God and are in direct rebellion against the Lord.
Women can be called of God to teach. Paul instructs older women to teach the younger women (Titus 2), and obviously women should teach children (young males who are not considered “men,” as in “adult men”, see Proverbs). But everyone who has a calling must pursue what they have been called to do within the instructions given by God. Nadab and Abihu were called to serve the Lord as priests. They didn’t bother with God’s instructions and got struck dead (Lev 10). If the Bible says that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men, then the women who feel called to teach and lead cannot teach and lead men. If they do so, they are not obeying the Bible.
Micah asks whether the cultural attitude toward women influences what Paul says.
Again, note that when Paul explains why women should not teach and exercise authority over men in 1 Tim 2:13–15 the reasons he gives come from Genesis 1–2. Paul appeals to the pre-fall created order, which indicates that his instructions are based on the nature of God’s creation rather than on societal norms. Paul’s teaching here is trans-cultural.
Micah also comments on the fact that women are to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.”
Note that the same Greek word for “quietly” in 1 Tim 2:11 is used in 1 Tim 2:2 when Paul refers to a “peaceful and quiet life.” I do not think that Paul is saying that women should never utter a syllable in church, because living a peaceful and quiet life doesn’t mean never speaking! Also, I think the instructions for women to remain silent in 1 Corinthians 14:34 refer to the time when the prophecies are being evaluated spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14:29. Paul has already said in 1 Corinthians 11 that women can pray and prophesy in church, and I don’t think he forgot what he said in chapter 11 when he wrote chapter 14. So I think he means for women to be silent when the prophecies are evaluated, lest a woman exercise authority over a man by evaluating his prophecy.
Micah asks about the case of Deborah.
The book of Judges is not exactly a how-to-manual for Christian worship. It’s a book that describes a period in Israel’s history when the nation was wicked and “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25). Deborah tells Barak, a man, that he’s the one who should be leading the people, and that since he won’t do what he should, “the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judg 4:9). Deborah herself chastises this man because he lets a woman lead. So the example of Deborah doesn’t override the explicit command to the Christian church in 1 Timothy 2:12. In fact, I think the story of Deborah actually argues more for the complementarian position than the egalitarian, given Deborah’s perspective on the matter (see Judg 4:9).
Micah asks about Galatians 3:28.
This verse is not saying that all role distinctions are abolished. It is simply saying that everyone who believes in Jesus is united to him by faith in the same way. Paul had not forgotten that he had written Galatians 3:28 when he wrote 1 Timothy 2:12. Everyone is on equal footing before the cross. Everyone is united to Christ by faith. But this doesn’t obliterate gender roles and racial distinctions. Paul is talking about being justified by faith in Jesus in Galatians 3:28. He is not addressing whether women can teach men or exercise authority over them. He addressed that in 1 Timothy 2:12.
As for slaves, it seems that Paul addresses them where they are. He instructs them to glorify God through faithful service, and he instructs masters to fear God and treat slaves well. He does indicate, through a book like Philemon, that Christians should move beyond slavery. By contrast, he never indicates that Christians should move beyond gender. Rather, he explains that gender roles are for the glory of God.