Monday, July 21, 2008

My Position on Women in Ministry and a Biblical Justification

I recently had an interview with a church where I was asked what my position was on women in ministry. I answered with what I thought to be biblical, though I knew that it would be an unpopular answer. I tried to be gracious and loving, yet I do not thing that I could avoid offending some that were in the room. Later, someone who I love very much and who loves me very much asked me how the interview went, and they were shocked to find out what my position was. So I thought it would be good to post on my blog what my answer to that question is.

My Position

The first thing that I must say is that I believe that there are countless opportunities for women to minister in the church in a biblical way. I believe that the Bible permits women to serve in just about any serving capacity that you can find within the church. Teaching children, teaching women, hospitality, and even counseling other women are all biblical ways that women can serve. However, I do believe that the New Testament gives a limitation when it comes to certain things—that is, teaching or exercising authority over a man. Basically, I do not believe that the Bible permits a woman to be a pastor, or an elder. I also believe that in regard to Sunday School or other discipleship classes within the church a woman should not be put in a position of teaching or exercising authority over men. There are those that take offense to that saying, “why do you think that I can only teach other women and children?” However, I don’t believe that teaching women and children is any kind of put down. That kind of ministry is vitally important and of great value to the church and to the kingdom of God—it should never be looked down on as if it were subordinate to the teaching of men.

Biblical Justification

Brace yourselves. To modern and post-modern ears that have been thoroughly saturated with the feminism of our day, the biblical text that I’m about to quote is quite possibly one of the most offensive passages in the Bible. I must remind you that this is a direct quote and it is not my own words. This is what Paul said to Timothy:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
(1Ti 2:11-15)

What are we supposed to do with a Scripture text like this? There are really only three options available:
1) You could say that Paul is saying exactly what it sounds like Paul is saying—that women are not aloud to teach or exercise authority over a man—but that we know better now and that Paul was wrong. This is often the tactic that liberals will try to take. After all, to a liberal, the Bible is a human document where men wrote about their experience with God. If our experience with God is different then the Bible must be outdated. However, I don’t think that this position could be accepted by those who want to accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Those who want to allow women to teach men in the church today, but who still hold that the Bible is authoritative will usually go with option number two below.
2) You could say that this passage in 1 Timothy doesn’t really mean what it says. Commonly they way that this works out is there will be the explanation that Paul was dealing with a church that had some women that were being disruptive, so he was writing to correct that specific error. Since we don’t have that problem today, then what Paul said must not apply to us. I think that the problem with this is that nowhere in the text does it ever tell us that the church was having that kind of problem. This solution is merely a conjecture. Modern interpreters have accepted that we know that it is perfectly ok for a woman to teach men, so they read back into the text a hypothetical situation in order to get around the plain meaning of the text. Another way of saying exactly the same thing is that Paul’s situation was culturally conditioned. According to this view, there were cultural reasons in Paul’s day for why he said what he said. However, this is problematic because Paul actually gives his reasons for saying it in the next verses. He does not name anything to do with culture but he grounds his teaching in the created order, and in the order of the Fall. This is extremely unpopular and offensive to modern ears. We just don’t argue this way anymore, but this is what Paul said, and I believe that he was inspired by God and inerrant when he wrote those words. Therefore, I believe that option number three is the most tenable option available if we want to be faithful to Scripture.
3) Paul meant exactly what he said, and that is still authoritative and binding for the church today. Therefore, any role within the church that consists in teaching or exercising authority over men ought to be limited to men only.


At the heart of this issue is not a chauvinistic agenda to keep women in their place, and it is not about who can teach a mixed Sunday School class. The heart of the issue is the authority of the Bible. If I didn’t believe that the authority of the Bible was at stake I would drop the issue and I wouldn’t care at all. But at the heart, I don’t think we can get away from the fact that we have a clear statement in the Bible about the issue. If we want to go along with our culture into the blurring of gender roles so that there are no distinctions, then we have to follow one of the two first options I gave. Either we must say the Bible is wrong, or we try to find some explanation of why we don’t have to obey this clear command.

I know that my position is unpopular, and I know that I’m at disagreement with some of the people who have always been closest to me throughout my entire life. However, in order to be faithful to the Bible and to my Lord Jesus who inspired those words, I must submit to him and not to social, traditional, or even familial pressures.

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