Women Pastors: Not the 'Path to Blessing'
A Bible scholar says women who preach to men are disobeying the word of God.
BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen
Your new book is about women’s roles in the church. Can you go over the Bible verses you base your position on?
I base my position on a pattern in the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, where there is never an instance where a woman does teaching of God’s word to an assembled group of men. It was the priests in the Old Testament who did the Bible teaching or the teaching of God’s law, and they were all men.
In the New Testament, elders all had to be men. So that’s consistent with Paul’s specific instruction in 1 Timothy 2:12 where Paul says, “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 who was deceived then became a transgressor.” That is not an isolated passage.
Your book includes specific lists about which roles should be open to women. What motivated you to create those lists? Were people asking you how to address gray areas with women in various ministry roles?
It was more [of a] response to things that were being written and published. But when I would speak about appropriate roles for men and women in the church, I would get a lot of practical questions: Should a woman teach an adult Sunday School class? Should she teach a college class?
The lists go over activities that you think should be restricted to men, like being president of a denomination or presiding over a baptism, and activities that can be open to either men or women, like teaching high school Bible study. Could you explain how you broke the lists down?
The three lists are governing activities, teaching activities, and areas of public recognition such as ordination. I came up with the [first] two lists because they correspond to what Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 2:12, where he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach” (that’s the teaching list) “or to exercise authority over a man” (that’s the governing list). Then [we have] the question of public visibility or recognition, [because] it seems to me there’s some areas of public recognition that should be open to both men and women. And in these lists there are dozens of activities about which I want to encourage churches that both men and women should participate.
I understand that others can differ with me on where they would make specific application. It’s a question of praying for God’s wisdom and seeking to understand scripture as best we can. The application of scripture to specific situations of life not named in the Bible is always a matter for mature wisdom. These lists give my attempt at making a judgment call on these activities in the church. They come out of my experience as an elder in a Vineyard church, a Southern Baptist church, and an independent Bible church. And they come out of 29 years of teaching experience in the classroom.
You say, in general, that it’s fine for women to write books on Bible interpretation, even though you don’t think women should teach, say, Bible classes at a Christian college. It could be argued that some books do have pastoral authority. They might have more teaching or preaching impact than listening to a pastor’s sermon. How would you feel if it were discovered that something like Mere Christianity, which has impacted and taught a lot of people, had been written by a woman?
It wouldn’t bother me--except for the dishonesty in pretending to be C. S. Lewis! In attempting to apply the Bible wisely to life, there are two principles. There is the principle of Acts 18:26, where Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside and together they instructed him in the way of God more accurately. The Greek verb for "instructed" there is plural. That means in a private conversation--something analogous to a home Bible study--there’s approval given to men and women together talking about the meaning of the text of scripture. It’s different from what Paul prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12, which is the public teaching of the word of God to an assembled church. When I read a book written by a woman, it’s a much closer analogy to a private conversation between the author and me.
You write that it’s permissible for women to write study notes for a Bible. Some might argue this would be women interpreting the Bible and instructing numerous readers, for example at a large Bible study.
The question is, again, is it more like a pastor teaching a church, as in 1 Timothy 2, or being an elder over a church, as in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, or is it more like a private conversation with Aquila and Priscilla, as in Acts 18:26? A woman writing about the interpretation of the Bible doesn’t have the recognized authority or leadership role over the congregation that a pastor has. When we invite a pastor to preach at our church on Sunday morning, the leadership is essentially saying, we endorse what this man is teaching, and you should believe it and follow it—not to suspend all judgment, but in general, that his teaching is sound. There’s an endorsement by the church that comes with that preaching and Bible teaching role. That’s not the case with a book written by a woman, which is just her giving her viewpoints, as I give my viewpoint when I write a book.