Homepage: bwp.wardpowers.info

THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

Which way forward?

By B Ward Powers

 

SUMMARY

ORDER

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

B WARD POWERS

 

THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: SUMMARY

A large amount of the debate about women’s ministry results from the fact that we do not always distinguish things that differ. There are two areas in particular of potential confusion in our thinking about the question of the role of women in the church. I want to start by drawing attention to these two areas.

The first area is our frequent failure to distinguish between authority and structure in the church on the one hand, as distinct from gifts and ministry.

In the New Testament the church of God is not a disorganized mob. It has form. It has structure. It has hierarchy. It has differentiated roles. And this goes back to the One who said, “I will build MY church.” It is Christ’s church. He appointed and trained the first leaders in the church - the twelve Apostles. And here is the point to which I specifically want to draw your attention: they were all men.

Now there are some people in the churches today who say, “Of course they were all men. In the culture of the day Jesus couldn’t have six women apostles running around with six men. But today is different, and today in our country we are not bound by such cultural factors. We can and should have women in leadership roles in our church.”

In my view, those who say such things are talking rubbish. Jesus was building his church. He is our example. He was giving us a pattern. It could be anything he chose. And he chose only men as apostles. As for the argument that he was constrained by the society, by the culture, by the religious outlook of his times: these things never stopped him in any other way. Look at the way he bucked the food regulations of the day; and the ceremonial washing before a meal; and the eating with outcasts and tax collectors and sinners, and the taboo on talking with women; and his attitude to teaching women as equals; and fifty other such things, and one in particular: their rigid interpretation of the Sabbath. The Gospels tell us that this was one of the main reasons why the Pharisees determined to have Jesus put to death - he defied their understanding of the Sabbath. Because they had it wrong. And if people now tell us that the reason that Jesus only appointed male apostles was because women were not highly regarded in the culture of that day, and their society would not have accepted women apostles, this is to say that Jesus established the pattern for the church on the basis of what people might think.

And I say to you: this is so much rubbish. The Jesus I find in Scripture is the Jesus who does what is right, whether people find it congenial or no.

Jesus appointed only male apostles. And the early church followed his pattern, and appointed only male elders to have authority in the structure of the church. There are no “apostlettes” in the NT.

But when it comes to ministry in the NT, we find something completely different: women minister alongside men, exercising whatever gifts they have been given.

There is a second area of potential confusion in our thinking: we mix up what Scripture says about the relationship between husband and wife in marriage with the question of the relationships between men and women in the church.

The teaching of Scripture is clear about this, but often we are not: we fail to distinguish things that differ.

Let me spell this out clearly. The basic Scriptural passage is Ephesians 5:21-33E. In this passage we see the Bible’s teaching about male headship: it exists within the marriage relationship: the husband is the head, and the wife is to submit to her husband who is to love her and treat her as he treats himself, as in fact an extension of his own body. This is an outworking (Paul says) of their one-flesh relationship, as Genesis teaches. But the headship of the man and the submission of the woman is only said of marriage - the woman is not told to be in submission to any other male, but only to her own husband.

The biggest place of confusion is regarding 1 Timothy 2:8-15E, which is usually taken as referring to church - though there is nothing in the passage about “in church”, and everything mentioned relates to marriage, home and family.

The problem arises in fact because of a male wish to dominate, which biases our thinking. And because of a factor in the Greek language in which the NT is written. In this passage Paul writes about a gune, a word which can be translated woman but which is also the word for wife, and indeed the only word in the NT for wife. He also uses here the word aner, which can be translated man but which is also the word for husband, and indeed the only word in the NT for husband.

So how do you know when a writer is talking about a wife and a husband, or a woman - any woman - and a man - any man? Or men and women in general. You should look at the context. So let’s look at this whole passage 1 Timothy 2:8-15E.

First comes - verse 8 - the reference to men praying. Looks like in church, doesn’t it? Well, not especially. It says it is referring to “everywhere”. This would certainly include in church, but as head of the household, men were charged with the responsibility of teaching and praying in and with their family. Such family prayers are standard for godly families from ‘way back in Old Testament times. I doubt I need to quote examples.

Next it speaks about when women get dressed. They got dressed at home, not in church.

Next come verses 11 and 12, about a woman learning is quietness and submission, and not usurping the authority of the man - where we have these crucial words gune and aner. Next, Paul attaches this teaching to the relationship of Adam and Eve. But Adam and Eve were husband and wife, not a church: if in verses 11 and 12 Paul was referring to a church assembly, he would need a different illustration and a different basis for what he has said. Finally he refers (verse 15) to a woman giving birth. But women gave birth to their children at home - not in the aisle at church.

There is NO reference in this passage which ties it specifically to what is done at church. Rather, the setting is marriage, home, and family. So, in context, gune and aner in verses 11 and 12 should be seen as referring to husband and wife. What is at issue in these verses is NOT whether women (plural) should preach, or teach men, or pray in church, but whether a wife (singular) should seek to challenge the headship and leadership of her husband (singular) in the marriage relationship.

Now turn to a parallel passage: 1 Peter 3:1-7. You will note many parallels in the points mentioned. Peter uses the same two words gune and aner as Paul does, but the translators here render them as “husband” and “wife”. Why? Good question. I can only assume, from bias. Peter is known as a married man - he would write (they think) about husband and wife. But Paul was not married at the time he wrote 1 Timothy and he would write about the church not marriage (they think), and so they read in a reference to “church” that is not there in what Paul actually wrote, and they ignore the context and translate as “man” and “woman” instead of “husband” and “wife” - and then interpreters take it as forbidding women in general to minister in church, instead of seeing what it is actually saying, that a wife should not take over the headship role in marriage.

Then there is 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. Let me tell you a little more about Greek. There are more than a dozen words in the Greek NT with the meaning of “conveying information”: words for announcing, informing, teaching, preaching, and words for just “saying” in the sense of telling someone something. And then there is a word for “speaking” in the sense of “making noises with your mouth”. It is laleo, and it means to babble or chat or chatter, or converse. Whether you are conveying information is irrelevant.

When Jesus healed a dumb man, and he spoke, what he said when he spoke was irrelevant - it was the fact that he spoke that mattered. And the word used for the dumb man speaking is: laleo. Every time, without exception.

When Paul refers to women speaking in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, what is the word that he uses? One of the dozen or more that mean to announce, or inform, or teach, or preach, etc.? Or laleo, the one word which means to chat or chatter, or converse? If any of you know Greek, look it up for yourselves, and see. But I will tell you anyway: he uses laleo.

What else should we do in clarifying the meaning of a passage? That’s right - we take a careful look at the context.

First, what is it that Paul tells these women to do instead of laleo-ing? (See verse 35.) It is to ask their own husbands at home. This is the right alternative to whatever it is that they are doing. But asking your husband something at home is not an alternative to teaching or preaching in church, if that is what you are doing. It is an alternative, though, to asking the woman next to you in church - or your husband on the other side of the building - if that is what you are doing.

Secondly, regarding context, look at what Paul is dealing with in this section of 1 Corinthians. Look at the beginning of our passage, verse 33: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Now look at the final verse of the chapter, verse 40: “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

What Paul says he is talking about, is: appropriate behaviour in the Assembly. He is saying: “No chattering amongst yourselves, ladies” - even if something is being said or done that they do not understand. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.

Paul is not in this passage discussing ministering in church. He IS discussing chattering and conversing, and thus disturbing the peace and good order of the Assembly.

Incidently, those of you who can read Greek should check and see that the words in 1 Corinthians 14 here for “husband” and “wife” are gune and aner, the very words we were discussing for 1 Timothy 2.

But what does Paul say about women speaking in church, in the sense of participating and ministering? We see in 1 Corinthians 11:5 he recognizes the role of a women in praying and prophesying (or preaching). Then in 1 Corinthians 12 he shows how God’s gifts of ministry are distributed by the Spirit to all members of the people of God, without regard to gender. This was made totally explicit by Peter in Acts 2, in announcing the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. The criterion for preaching, teaching, and ministering generally, is not whether you are male or female, but whether - male or female - you have been given such and such a gift by the Lord. If you have, then it is the role and responsibility of the church to give you the opportunity of training and then using that gift.

The crucial verse in this regard for Paul’s teaching is 2 Timothy 2:2. Do you know this verse? I am astonished at how many men engage in a consideration of Paul’s teaching about women’s ministry and ignore the most important verse of them all, as if it simply wasn’t there.

Let us read it: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” That settles it: Paul gives Timothy instructions as to how Christian teaching is to be passed on. It is to be taught to reliable men, who in turn will teach it to others. No room here for women teachers, is there? - just men.

But there’s a problem: that’s NOT what Paul wrote. If this was his thinking, if this was his teaching, if this was his meaning - that only men were to pass on the Christian teaching - then all he had to do here was use the word aner, which would have made it clear that this was a male-only thing. But the fact is, that he did not say aner. He uses instead the word anthropoi, which means “human beings”, both men and women. [READ the NRSV.] Note: faithful people, reliable people. Timothy is to teach reliable people, both men and women, who in turn will teach others, both men and women. NOT women teaching only women, and men teaching everybody. But both men and women being taught, and then teaching others.

I have examined all these passage in detail in my book The Ministry of Women in the Church - copies are available here today for those interested.

The criterion, as Paul has made clear in 1 Corinthians and his epistles to Timothy, is not whether you are male or female, but whether you have been given by the Lord the gift of leading in worship, or teaching or preaching or whatever. If so, we as the church of God are to help you foster and develop that gift, and then provide opportunities for you to use it.

SUMMARY

ORDER

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

WARD POWERS HOME

HOW TO PURCHASE THIS BOOK

Cost

Note: A flat rate Packing and Handling fee of $10 per order is charged, irrespective of the number of books ordered. This includes surface mail postage from Sydney, Australia (which usually takes about two months to Europe or North America). If you wish the book(s) to be sent by International Airmail.(one to two weeks delivery) please also add the +Air fee shown below.

 

Item       

AUD

USD

+Air

GBP

+Air

The Ministry of Women in the Church

$33

$35

$8

₤16

₤5

 

Payment Options

 

1. Buy this book via PayPal or using your Visa or Mastercard or AmEx (USD):

Surface mail:

Airmail:

2. Send an Australian cheque to Jordan Books, 259A Trafalgar Street, PETERSHAM NSW 2049 AUSTRALIA

3. Send a US check in USD to a bank in Texas (request details to ward@bwardpowers.info)

4. Send a British cheque in Sterling to a bank in U.K. (request details to ward@bwardpowers.info)

­­

­­

In all cases, send your name and address by email to ward@bwardpowers.info set out in a form that can be used to cut and paste for mailing the book!

 

Other Books by B. Ward Powers

You may be interested in adding other books by B. Ward Powers to this order - Click to return to the Ward Powers Home Page.

SUMMARY

ORDER

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

WARD POWERS HOME

 

CONTENTS

 

   INTRODUCTION                                                                                                                                            

1. THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT WOMEN’S MINISTRY                                                                              

1.1 The Three Viewpoints

   1.11 An Identical Ministry For a Woman

   1.12 No Ministry For a Woman

   1.13 A Ministry With Similarities and Differences

1.2 Christ’s Attitude To Women

   1.21 Jesus Accepted Women As Equals

   1.22 Jesus’s Ministry To Women

   1.23 Jesus Appointed No Women Apostles

1.3 Women In The Early Church

1.4 Paul’s Attitude To Women’s Ministry

   1.41 Women Fellow-Workers With Paul

   1.42 The Question of Paul’s Own Marriage

1.5 The Two Key Bible Passages

   1.51 The Passages and Their Relationship

   1.52 Those Who Follow This Teaching For Today

   1.53 Those Who Reject This Teaching For Today

 

2. A WOMAN TEACHING A MAN: THE MEANING OF 1 TIM 2:8-15

2.1 The Usual Approach To Interpretation                                                                                                             

   2.11 Singular or Plural?

   2.12 Inserting a Church Setting into the Text

   2.13 But Does Paul’s Restriction Apply Today?

2.2 Assessment Of The “Public Worship” View

   2.21 A Confusion of the Meanings of “Church”

   2.22 On What Basis Can Its Meaning Be Restricted?

2.3 A Consideration Of The

     References And Allusions In The Passage

2.4 The Parallel With 1 Peter

2.5 The Context Is Marriage, Home And Family

2.6 Assessment Of The “Marriage, Home and Family” View

2.7 Summary And Conclusions

     Additional Notes:

One Flesh And Submission

Being One Flesh

A Woman Being In Submission


 

3. WOMEN SPEAKING IN CHURCH:

THE MEANING OF 1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35                                                             

3.1 The Problem Of Interpretation

3.2 The Words And Context Of The Passage

3.3 Interpretation In The Light Of Context and Words Used

3.4 Summary And Conclusions

3.5 Other Prohibition Passages

4. HEADSHIP & PROPHESYING: THE MEANING OF 1 COR 11:1-16

4.1 Women And A Covering                                                                                                

   4.11 Paul’s Introduction of the Issues

   4.12 Headship and a Covering

   4.13 The Relationship of Man and Woman

   4.14 The Application of This Teaching Today

4.2 The Concept Of Headship

4.3 Women Praying And Prophesying

4.4 Summary And Conclusions

    Additional Notes:

Headship, And Genesis 1-3

The Difference Between Submission And Obedience

5. GIFTS AND MINISTRIES OF THE SPIRIT:

THE TEACHING OF 1 CORINTHIANS 12-14                                                                

5.1 The Gifts And Ministries Apportioned By The Spirit

5.2 Participation In Meetings Of The Congregation

5.3 Stewardship Responsibilities

5.4 Summary And Conclusions

6. WOMEN TEACHING WOMEN AND CHILDREN:

THE POINT OF TITUS 2:3-5                                                                                            

6.1 A Limited Permission For Women To Teach?

6.2 An Assessment Of This View

6.3 Summary And Conclusions

7. TEACHING THOSE WHO WILL THEN TEACH OTHERS:

THE MEANING OF 2 TIMOTHY 2:2                                                                               

7.1 Paul’s Instructions In This Verse

7.2 Taking Seriously What Paul Actually Says

7.3 Similar Teaching In Other Passages

7.4 Summary And Conclusions

8. THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY: THE MEANING OF GAL 3:28

8.1 A Survey Of Current Views About This Verse                                                                

8.2 The Significance Of Galatians 3:

8.3 The Parallel With Slavery


 

9. THE ELDER IN THE EARLY CHURCH:

THE TEACHING OF TITUS 1:5-9 AND 1 TIMOTHY 3:1-7                                            

9.1 Patterns Of New Testament Ministry

9.2 The Origin Of The Eldership

9.3 The Nature Of The Eldership

   9.31 Oversight in the Congregation

   9.32 Preaching, Teaching, and Worship

   9.33 Pastoring the Congregation

9.4 The Functions Of Elders

9.5 Qualifications Of Elders

9.6 Appointment Of Elders

9.7 Remuneration Of Elders

9.8 The Question Of Women And New Testament Eldership

   9.81 An All-Male Eldership in the New Testament?

   9.82 Women Elders in the New Testament?

   9.83 Junia A Female Apostle?

9.9 Summary And Conclusions

 

10. THE DEACON IN THE EARLY CHURCH:

THE TEACHING OF 1 TIMOTHY 3:8-13                                                                        

10.1 The Origin Of The Diaconate

   10.11 The Technical and General Use of the Term

   10.12 Appointment of the First Deacons (Acts 6:1-6)

10.2 The Functions Of Deacons

10.3 Qualifications Of Deacons

10.4 Appointment Of Deacons

10.5 Elder And Deacon: The Difference

10.6 Women As Deacons

   10.61 Nothing in the New Testament Excludes A Woman

   10.62 1 Timothy 3:11: Wives of Deacons Or Women Deacons?

   10.63 The Status of Phoebe At Cenchreae (Romans 16:1)

   10.64 The Ministry of Priscilla and Aquila

   10.65 The Women At Philippi

   10.66 Roles and Activities of Women Deacons

10.7 Summary And Conclusions

 

11. THE MEANING OF THIS TEACHING FOR TODAY                                               

11.1 Where This Study Has Led Us

11.2 Teaching As An Authoritative Activity

11.3 How Does Scripture Apply Today?

   11.31 The Point At Issue

   11.32 Revealed Religion Vs The Development View

11.4 Why Did Jesus Appoint No Women Apostles?

   11.41 Because of the Possibility of Scandal

   11.42 To Conform to Cultural Expectations

   11.43 Because His Teaching Was Constrained by His Culture

   11.44 Male-Only Elders Today?

11.5 Summary And Conclusions

   11.51 Biblical Recognition of Women’s Ministry

   11.52 Biblical Limitations Upon Women’s Ministry

   11.53 Summing Up Concerning Women’s Ministry

12. THE SHAPE OF CHURCH STRUCTURE FOR TODAY

12.1 Church Organization And Ministry Today

   12.11 The Anglican/Episcopalian Structure

   12.12 The Baptist/Congregational Model

   12.13 The Presbyterian Model

   12.14 The Brethren Model

   12.15 A Pattern For Today’s Church

12.2 Appointment Of Elders

   12.21 Character

   12.22 Gifts and Training

   12.23 Ministry in Teaching and Preaching

12.3 Manner Of Appointment

12.4 Term Of Appointment

12.5 Remuneration Of Elders

12.6 The Role Of Deacons

12.7 Directing The Preaching And Teaching

12.8 Conclusion

13. THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH                                                     

13.1 In A Nutshell

13.2 Women In Ministry

13.3 Women As Elders

13.4 Women As Priests

13.5 Women As Deacons

13.6 Women As Preachers And Teachers

13.7 Married Women And Their Husbands

   13.71 A Married Woman’s Ministry

   13.72 Wives Be Submissive To Your Husbands

   13.73 To Obey Men Or God?

   13.74 Choosing A Way Forward

   13.75 In Sum

13.8 The Conclusion Of The Matter

   ABBREVIATIONS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, AND INDEXES   


 

SUMMARY

ORDER

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

WARD POWERS HOME

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

MINISTRY IN A TIME OF CHANGE

 

We have reached today a point in the history of the church when new and unparalleled opportunities for ministry are being opened up to women. In an increasing number of countries the decision has been taken to extend the full ministry of the church to women on a par in every way with men. And many denominations and dioceses have already begun to act upon this.

Therefore in the minds of many people the issue has been decided. The umpire has given his decision and the players must accept it. The battle has been fought and lost and won, and now the soldiers can leave the field. The matter has been decided, and a policy of ordaining women adopted and implemented, and one cannot put back the clock. Whatever one thinks about the rights and wrongs of the issue, it is impossible to go back to the way it was before — you can’t unscramble scrambled eggs. And similar clichéd comments.

And a huge number of people would be relieved to leave behind them a debate which has proven emotionally draining and extraordinarily time-consuming. The matter is closed — let it lie. Why continue to examine this issue?

For several reasons.

Firstly, because what we do as the people of God must always be kept under the rigorous scrutiny of Scripture. When we embark upon new journeys along untried paths (as many churches are now doing), we do not abandon the use of our map because we have made a decision about where we want to go.

Secondly, because many denominations (and many dioceses of my own Anglican denomination) are still agonizing over how to act in this area. I am acutely aware of the numbers of people — especially including “ordinary” Christians in the pews — who are asking, “What are we to think of what our leaders are reported to be saying and doing?  Especially when they differ with each other so strongly.”  There are a great number of people who still have not come to terms with the issues, and who want to do so.

Thirdly, because for many denominations and dioceses the debate about the role of women in the church is still in progress or has barely begun. These Christians look with surprise at what their cousins have chosen to do, and wonder about — or vigorously deny — its implications for themselves. They will welcome the opportunity for further assessment of the issues at this time.

Fourthly, in those churches where a decision has been made about the ordination of women in the face of strong opposition, there is now a very real danger of extreme polarization, with the two sides taking up positions as far from each other as they can get. Of all the unfortunate consequences of recent developments, this one is the saddest, and most dangerous.

 

 

POLARIZING OPINIONS

 

What is the ministry which women can and should exercise in the church of God, for which the church should prepare them, and to which the church should call and appoint them?

The widespread and long-running dispute concerning the nature and extent of the ministry which women can exercise in the church of God takes different forms from one denomination to another, but the basic issues are the same.

In the Anglican/Episcopalian communion the question at the centre of recent debate has been whether women can be ordained as priests and consecrated as bishops. Many dioceses in parts of the worldwide Anglican communion have now moved to answer “yes” to that question, while the issue is still a matter of hot debate in others.

These matters have been settled for some years in numerous churches around the world in the Baptist, Churches of Christ, Congregational, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Reformed traditions - they accept women as elders and ordain them as parish ministers on the same basis as men. But, as Grenz and Kjesbo 26 note,  Other denominations [in these same and other traditions], in contrast, have staunchly rejected the idea of ordaining women. And still others have been unable to come to agreement on the question.”[1] Some denominations have accepted the ordination of women, and then reversed this decision.[2]

In other Christian groups the question takes the form of asking what kind of spiritual ministry within the church is open to women. Some Brethren Assemblies, for example, are now considering whether women can participate in the Sunday evening meeting, while others, having accepted that level of participation for women, have gone on to ask if it is equally acceptable for women to contribute to the Sunday morning meeting and if not, on what valid grounds a distinction can be made between the two meetings.

Other Christian organizations face the same issue in different forms. Can a Bible or Theological College appoint a woman to lecture to the students, men and women?  Can such a female lecturer then preach in the College chapel services?  Is there any ministry that a man could exercise at such a College that a women must not?  What is to be the attitude to those students who may enrol at such a College and who for reasons of Christian conscience feel unable to sit under the lectures and/or the preaching of such a female member of faculty?

Again, what duties and ministries can a missionary organization allocate to its women missionaries overseas?  Do these differ from what it would be legitimate for that same person to exercise in the church in the homeland?  (Some women missionaries will contrast scathingly what ministry they perform when representing their home church overseas and what they are permitted to do in their home church on furlough, or after returning from the mission field and seeking a ministry within their home church.)  Similarly, what ministry by women is acceptable in parachurch organizations?

In relation to all these questions, the answers of Christian leaders and scholars differ very widely.

The debate has become completely polarized in the treatment of most writers, for whom there are just two sides: those who oppose the participation of women in ministry, and those who support it.[3] There is no ground “in between”. This came home to me with special impact when I recently found myself mentioned by David Scholer in his essay “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and The Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry” (in Mickelsen, Women, Authority and the Bible p.194). Scholer is listing “evangelical articles” about the issue, placing them into two groups, “those who oppose or limit the participation of women in ministry” and “those who support full participation of women in ministry”. My Interchange article on this passage earned me my inclusion in Scholer’s first list, cheek by jowl with the writers affirming the very interpretation of the passage with which I am strongly disagreeing in my article. The reason?  Because I do not “support full participation of women in ministry”, by which Scholer means, without any distinction between the ministry of a man and a woman.[4]

Writing in a recent book (Nichols, The Bible and Women’s Ministry), Kevin Giles identifies the question on which “Everything in this critical debate stands or falls” (77), examines the issues, and then says (83), “When these opposing points of view, both arising out of the creation order, are set out like this we can see there is no middle ground. Each Christian must choose the side on which he or she will stand.”  (Giles’s italics.)

This is where I beg to differ. We cannot bring the whole debate down to one single factor, and then declare there is no middle ground. As those who hold opposing positions grow in understanding of each other’s views, they are finding they can agree in a number of areas. And as for the serious differences that still do remain: these are the reasons for exploring the middle ground.

THE MIDDLE GROUND

As in all controversies of this kind, we must face the question, How can godly students of the Bible reach such opposite conclusions concerning what Scripture says, and what it means by what it says, and how it is to be applied today?

These are the issues which this book seeks to examine.

I do not align myself with one or other of the polarized sides in the controversy. I reject the view that the extremes are the only alternatives available. I reject the assertion that we must choose the one or the other. My own researches over many years have led me to the conclusion that there is considerable force in many of the arguments put forward by both sides, especially where they relate to or are based upon the plain teaching of Scripture. Neither side is wholly wrong. Therefore I am able to quote with approval from writers on both sides of this debate.

But again, neither side (it is my contention) is wholly right. Some authors and teachers have erred in drawing invalid conclusions from the biblical passages upon which they rely; some have been misled by the English translation of a key passage, where the wording of that translation is itself “reading in” the opinion of the translators, so that the conclusion reached is at variance with the meaning which the biblical author’s first readers would have understood him to be conveying. It is my hope that by drawing attention to some of these factors, it may be possible to reduce the spread of differences between the two extreme positions.

This whole question is not just an academic issue — How do we think the Bible should be interpreted on this point or that?  It is also an extremely emotive issue — Am I, as a woman, to be allowed to function as a full equal human being in the Church?  How am I, as a man, to respond to women taking over roles in the church which traditionally have been exclusively male?

From one point of view the issue is indeed a matter of biblical interpretation — what we understand this Scripture and that to be saying. From another point of view, it is a question of how we live and function together in Christian community — a question of our worship and work as the body of Christ. These matters are not separate and distinct, of course. To the contrary: they continuously interact.

This book is written primarily for those who occupy the middle ground, to help them towards a more fully thought-out basis for their views, to give them a better awareness of the ramifications of their position, and to further clarify their understanding of numbers of key issues.

All writers agree that the initial aim must be to examine exactly what the original biblical author said in the relevant passages, paying particular attention to the meaning which would have been conveyed to the first readers of each such passage. Further, I affirm, we must examine what light is thrown upon each of these key passages by other parts of Scripture, and we must be suspicious of interpretations of any given passage which give it a meaning at variance with what we read elsewhere (especially in other teachings of the same biblical author). Some writers put before us the view that a biblical author may be inconsistent, or may change his mind or outlook over time. Certainly we need to examine whether the evidence indicates that this indeed is so: but we do not start from the assumption that this is the case, before examining the evidence.

The wisest methodology is to examine first the passages which all wri-ters and teachers acknowledge to be central to the issue, and upon which the ultimate outcome depends. After seeing what they can tell us, and to what extent they give a definitive answer to any of our questions or leave them open, we will proceed to a consideration of all the other passages which bear upon the issue. We shall be asking, Is there one unified state-ment of biblical teaching with which all relevant passages are consistent, and which they set forth, or do we have inconsistencies between authors or between the one author at different times and in different writings?

My aim is to show that when one takes all the relevant Bible passages into account they do stand together, in harmony with each other, to provide the basis for a “central position” in this dispute. That is, a careful exegesis and exposition of Scripture as a whole brings one (I contend) to a balanced position intermediate between the other views I have mentioned: a position which can agree with much that is urged upon us by all those who have written and taught upon this subject, but which is intermediate between the positions taken by the more vocal advocates on each side of us.

The middle ground is always the most difficult to hold. Initially you are likely to be overlooked (as if your position does not exist), as those on each side of you take aim at each other, and then when you are noticed you are shot at by both sides.

This book seeks to provide a basis upon which we can say to those on each side of us, “You are both right, up to a point — but there are other factors to take into account.”

It is also my hope that this book will be of interest to those who take up positions further out on each side of the debate — that they will find in it reasons, and grounds, for reassessing the more dogmatic approaches to the issues at stake, and will be willing to explore the middle ground. I would wish that instead of those from one camp or the other seeking to be successful in overwhelming the opposite side (and this metaphor is not too strong in depicting the vigour with which the battle is being joined), there can be a less polarized approach to the debate and a greater openness to rapproachment, or at the very least a greater awareness that some strongly held and defended positions for and against wider women’s ministry cannot be sustained from Scripture.

When we have considered the question of what the Bible says, there remains for us the final one: To what extent and in what ways does this teaching (or do these teachings) of Scripture give guidelines today for what should be the practice of the church in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries?

 

SUMMARY

ORDER

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

WARD POWERS HOME

LEARN TO READ GREEK from the New Testament itself! Understanding the Bible's teaching regarding women hangs on understanding the choices translators make in dealing with the ambiguities that are inherent in translating between languages and cultures.

 



[1]For historical details of churches/denominations which have accepted women’s ordination, see Beasley-Murray vii; Torjeson 1-3; Harper 7, 55-57, 89, 139-145, 213; Grenz and Kjesbo 19-32.

[2]For example, the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and the Christian Reformed Church in USA (see Grenz and Kjesbo 30f.).

[3]The recent (1995) book by Grenz and Kjesbo, Women in the Church, identifies three positions which they designate (18, 33) as “complementarian” (the gifts and ministries of men and women complement each other, and women cannot be ordained or occupy positions or roles in which they teach men); “egalitarian” (“the full inclusion of women in ministry”, on an equal basis with men); and “moderate” (those who hold a position between these two). However, the “moderates” do not get a listing in the index to the book, and in fact do not rate any further mention in this 284-page volume. It is entirely devoted to a comparison of the “egalitarian” position (which they espouse) with that of the “complementarians”, primarily Piper and Grudem. (For lack of better ones, I make use of their terms “egalitarian” and “complementarian” in this book.)

[4]For example, Scholer groups me with Moo, the writer who says (82), “The results of the exegetical investigation carried out in Part I must stand as valid for the church in every age and place. Women are not to teach men nor to have authority over men because such activity would violate the structure of created sexual relationships and would involve the woman in something for which she is not suited.” Readers can judge for themselves how valid is Scholer’s polarized division of writers into these two groups — and his classing me with Moo — by comparing these conclusions reached by Moo with what I actually did say about 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (my Interchange article forms the substance of Chapter Two of this present book).

 

Site Statistics

Locations of visitors to this page