Christian Doctrines, Egalitarianism, theology

Response to a Complementarian video about why women cannot be pastors- Part 1

I am here responding to a youtube video, “Why Oranges Can’t be Apples.”

Recently, I came across a video arguing why women should not be pastors. I watched it and I have to say that it seems to reflect generally the arguments often used for complementarian positions. I thought it worth responding to this video simply to show how this debate is often focused around preconceived notions of manhood and womanhood instead of the actual Biblical texts.

Here, I will simply quote some of the things Jonathan Fisk claims in this video. Then, I shall respond to the comments he makes. I tried to include times for any of the quotes. They may not be exactly to the second, so I’ll take blame for any of these that aren’t lined up properly.

“God created authority, he made it good.” (3:00ish)

This line is troublesome. Did God create “authority”? Think about that claim. Is it possible to “create authority”? That doesn’t seem to me to be the case. In fact, I would argue that God has authority by fiat. Upon creation, God had authority over creation. Authority requires something to be authoritative over, but it is not created. Anyway, this is a minor point.

“Okay so put that [family roles] into the role of man and woman in Christ.” (4:46-4:48).

Fisk makes this comment after a rather lengthy discussion over authority structures in the family. Again, there are some really major problems with this statement. First, Fisk fails to make the argument that the roles of man and woman in Christ are distinct. Instead, he reads such roles onto the positions of male and female only after assuming them in the family. Fisk made the claim before this that man is placed as an “actual authority over the wife.” But here he must rely upon the interpretation of “head” as “authority.”

Consider the line of reasoning that is happening here: man is the head (authority) over woman in the family; Christ is the head (authority) over the church. Therefore, man should be the head (authority) over the church.

The conclusion simply does not follow from the premises. Even were I to grant that the two premises were true (which I don’t), the conclusion still would not follow. There is no argument here, only an assumption.

Second, reading human relationships onto God and then back onto humans is extraordinarily problematic. Many heresies have developed because humans have  decided to make God in their own image. Fisk is here bordering on that by reading a preconceived notion of family onto God and then from God back onto the church.

“Christ himself, in order to save the world, had to be a man…” (7:03-7:05)

“It’s impossible for a woman to redeem the world.” (7:08-7:09)

Here Fisk claims to be talking about Christology, but I’m hesitant to agree with him. Fisk’s argument is a bit convoluted and he mostly just throws out a number of Christological phrases, so rather than quoting him at length I’ll sum up his argument.

Essentially, the argument is that Christ had to be male because he had to act as the head (here still using head as “authority”) of creation in order to save creation  Because man is the head of the family and therefore somehow responsible entirely for the fall (?) Christ had to be a male.

Now one problem with this argument that should be immediately apparent is that the way Fisk is using “head” to mean “authority” actually undermines his claim that the Redeemer had to be male. Why? Well Fisk’s claim is that Christ had to be male to act as the head over all creation so that He could redeem creation. But in order to make sense of Fisk’s claim, one would have to ground all creation in Christ, which would work only if Christ was the “head” over all creation in the sense of source not of authority. The reason is because Christ would have to have the ontological capability to redeem creation, not simply the authority. This is actually at the heart of Christology.

Why would God have to become incarnate as a human, suffer, die, and rise again if redemption is merely a matter of authority? After all, surely the Godhead would have the authority to forgive sins in the first place! The issue is not one of authority but one of ontology. God simply offering a brute forgiveness of violations of His Law would not adequately bring to fulfillment God’s justice. Instead, God had to become incarnate so that  God could fulfill His perfect Law without sin. The issue was not authority. God had the authority already. So Fisk’s use of “head” as “authority” is inconsistent. When he applies it to Christology, he equivocates on the term, using it as though it means source, despite claiming it means authority. That is the root of the problem with his argument here: he mixes ontology with authority.

But there are still more problems: if Christ had to be male in order to save humanity from sin, does that not speak to something about the nature of maleness and femaleness? If Christ can only be male, does that not mean that males more closely reflect the image of God than females? If Christ had to be male, does that not mean that males are closer to the incarnate deity? It does indeed imply these things, and there’s a reason such thinkers as Augustine explicitly reject this faulty, nigh-heretical teaching.

“This was such a clearly defined teaching… that they [apostles/church fathers] don’t do a lot of talking to say ‘women cannot be pastors.'”

Fisk goes on to say that “the word pastor wasn’t really the common word used for talking about pastors, instead they said things like ‘elder’ or… ‘deacon’ or ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’.”

Let’s turn to a text here really quickly:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon [Greek: diakonon] of the church in Cenchreae. (Romans 16:1)

So let’s just contemplate for a moment what Fisk said. He claimed that the apostles don’t much discuss women not being pastors, in part because they used other words, like “deacon.” But Paul sends a greeting to the churches in Rome, and he talks about “our sister Phoebe” whom he called “a deacon.” Perhaps this explains why we don’t get a lot of talk about women not being pastors; because they were pastors. Phoebe is explicitly called a deacon, the very word Fisk himself cites as an example of a word used for pastor.

But Fisk goes on to say that “they” go on to describe what a pastor should be over in 1 Timothy. This list, he notes, says that an overseer must be a “husband of one wife.” Now, Fisk actually says that this is the “first thing” it claims about being an overseer. Fisk is wrong. The first thing the text says is actually that an overseer must be above reproach.

Fisk’s ultra-literalistic reading of this text is problematic. In order to realize this, it is important to have the text out there:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… [1 Timothy 3:2- note that there are quite a few more requirements of the overseer listed after this verse]

Fisk is trying to read this verse as saying that an overseer must be a man, because after all, how else could the overseer be the husband of one wife? But what of all the pastors who are unmarried? If the text is teaching that an overseer must be the husband of one wife, why is it only the masculine part of the verse that applies today? Why is it not the entire phrase? Why are not all pastors required to be husbands of one wife?After all, that is what the text says.

Before someone accuses me of claiming that the Bible is wrong or diverging from Biblical truth, I should note that the problem is not with the text; it is with Fisk’s interpretation of the text. The problem is that Fisk is reading this text ultra-literalistically only in order to prove his point, but no farther. He wishes to read only that the overseer must be a man, but not that the overseer must be a husband. His exegesis is a mixed approach. Instead, I would point out that the requirement of being a “husband of one wife” shows that pastors should be faithful spouses. If Fisk wants to make his point, he must be consistent in his hermeneutic. He must read the whole passage in the same literalistic manner he has read “husband” to imply absolute maleness in the pastoral office. Thus, all pastors must be married. But they must have children that they keep submissive (verse 4), they must not be recent  converts, etc. Now many of these requirements for pastors can be read literally and work just fine. Pastors should not be lovers of money (heaven help them if they are! they are in the wrong profession!). But the whole point of the verse is general requirements; not explicit, literalistic requirements.

Now  I realize that I’m at about 1500 words and I’m not even halfway into the video, so it looks like this will have to be a multi-part response, if people find this useful. Do you?

Preview of some other issues: the Trinity, more problems with texts, and more!

Further Reading

How complementarianism is getting the Trinity wrong.

How complementarianism undermines the image of God in male and female.

A book review of an excellent work addressing every major text on this issue.

Women teach us all the time, through the Bible.



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


3 thoughts on “Response to a Complementarian video about why women cannot be pastors- Part 1

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I used to believe that women should not hold the position of pastor. However, my beliefs have changed in the last couple of years. (I say this so you know that I am coming from a position of already agreeing with you — although I am not quite grounded in egalitarian beliefs because I have not done enough research in this area).

    I have a question:

    I am aware of a hermeneutical fallacy called “exemplarizing” in which one assumes “that because someone in the Bible did something, it is an example for us to follow” (source:

    Thus, if one points to various female apostles or deacons in the church mentioned in the Bible (Junia, Phoebe, etc.), does this commit to exemplarizing fallacy? One could argue that saying, “Since there were female deacons and apostles mentioned in the Bible, women can hold pastoral positions in the modern church” commits this fallacy.

    Thank you.

    Posted by nathanielmetz | June 17, 2015, 6:42 PM
    • First, thanks so much for stopping by and your kind words.

      One issue that must be remembered is that whenever someone has a list of hermeneutical or exegetical (or any) “fallacies,” there are a number of problems which may go into using such a list as an interpretive norm. The first is that the list may be biased towards a specific interpretation. The second is that the one applying the fallacies may be doing so without examining the allegedly fallacious view thoroughly enough to determine whether it is fallacious. The third is that such lists, when given without nuance, suggest that these rules always apply when often they do not. The fourth is that the word “fallacy” has much of its own baggage and is probably too strong a word to use for things like hermeneutical principles. These are just a few issues.

      None of this is to say that a fallacy like “exemplarizing” is not generally applicable. I indeed take a broader view of the same principle in my post on “Description is not Prescription.” What I said above is just a caution when applying such “fallacies” to be aware of some of the difficulties with using them. They’re generally useful, but should never be the end-all or be-all to whether an interpretation is faulty. What might apparently fallacious should not be dismissed just because an apparent fallacy exists. One must demonstrate that it is fallacious reasoning before moving on, so to speak.

      All of this is to say we should use caution when applying lists of “fallacies” when we’re interpreting the Bible. None of this is to suggest I think that the concept of “exemplarizing” in the sense defined in the link you provided is valid. Indeed, it seems a sound enough principle.

      Now, to the specific issue at hand. The argument is not an example of “exemplarizing,” particularly in the usage you linked. The definition given is “assuming that because someone in the Bible did something, it is an example for us to follow.” Well yes, that would be a poor way to go about interpreting the Bible, but that is not what’s going on when people like Junia, Phoebe, and the like are mentioned. Why not? Well, the complementarian position is that women should not hold such roles of authority. That is a universal principle. Exceptions cannot be borne. Thus, when someone says “Women did not hold positions of authority in the church in the Bible,” and someone like me points to Junia as an apostle, that is a direct falsification of the claim. That’s not “assuming that because someone in the Bible did something, it is an example for us to follow.”

      The complementarian has taken the position which assumes a universal negative: no women may hold authority over men [and sometimes this is restricted to specific spheres like “in the church” or “in the home”]. But if we are then able to point to a woman in the Bible doing exactly that, that principle is falsified.

      More specifically, Fisk actually agrees that pastors are referred to as deacons in the Bible. Okay, let’s go with that. That means, by definition, that if there is a woman deacon, then…. what? He might respond that not all deacons are pastors, but then he has to justify that position and outline what he thinks is a non-question begging way to define pastor while including deacons but still excluding some specific deacons. I have seen complementarians attempt this, but most often it is done through defining pastors as men. Hardly a sound argument.

      Thus, we are left with something like the following list of incompatible statements:
      1. No women may be pastors
      2. The word deacon is used for pastor in the Bible
      3. There is a woman called a deacon in the Bible.

      That’s not “exemplarizing,” that’s demonstrating that the position is unsound. If someone says there are no black swans, we may show them a black swan and thus disprove their position. That’s just how such arguments work. The complementarian must defend a very similar argument: women are not permitted to hold authority. If we then show women holding authority (and indeed being commended for doing so), then that position is falsified.

      That’s not at all similar to “exemplarizing.”

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 17, 2015, 7:57 PM

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