Book Reviews, Christian Doctrines, Egalitarianism, theology

“Didaskolos” by Bertil Gärtner, Part 1, in “Women Pastors?”edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

Didaskolos: The Office, Man and Woman in the New Testament

Gärtner’s chapter begins by asking and answering a question “Does the New Testament contain any direct teaching about the relationship between man and woman in the office of the ministry? The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes” (27). Such a statement suggests that he will demonstrate that there is a verse, somewhere, that specifically teaches about the relationship between man and woman in the office of the ministry. After all, his claim is that one can unequivocally say that yes, the New Testament does contain such direct teaching. As we explore this chapter, we will return to this question a few times and ask whether Gärtner’s claim is correct.

Gärtner states that the ministry must be set into a larger New Testament context. Addressing 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12, intriguingly again pointed to as the apparent proof against women pastors, he states that a view that teaches that those verses are “intended to correct some irregularities” at the time of the writings of the letters “does not correspond with the material Paul presents” (27). To prove this, he notes that in 1 Corinthians, Paul “deals with a number of questions which have been put to him by the congregation” (ibid). He uses the example of eating meat sacrificed to idols and says that Paul “places the question in the larger context” because it “is considered in relation to the doctrine of God as the only God…” (27-28).

Expanding on the context, Gärtner appeals to the choosing of the apostles, Jesus’ conception of marriage and creation, the Christian as new creation, and heresy in Corinth  in order to make his argument that women are excluded from the ministry. We’ll briefly sketch out his argument. Jesus’ apostles, Gärtner argues, are all men (29). He notes that these apostles are “leaders of the new people of God,” something important we will consider below. He also states that “although the most esteemed women… who were part of the closest circle of disciples, were present in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, it was only the apostles themselves who were invited to be present at the Last Supper… By immemorial custom both women and children shared in this dinner fellowship. Yet, this is the time that Jesus breaks that tradition and gathers only the twelve around Him” (ibid). Regarding Jesus’ concept of marriage and creation, Gärtner walks through Matthew 19:3ff in which Jesus discusses marriage (30-31). The Christian as new creation Gärtner states, after pointing to texts talking about the Christian as new creation, that “in the life of the church, the true relationship between male and female can take place” (31). Regarding Heresy in Corinth, Gärtner paints an image of the Corinthians as seeing themselves getting direct revelation from God and having everything spiritualized such that people could set above “the fundamental command of fellowship and love to the neighbor.” Then, he states that Paul teaches that “salvation rests upon creation” and that the “office” (he doesn’t, on p. 33, specify which one or the definition thereof) “is related to the order of creation; and according to the order of creation, the human race is divided into man and woman” (32-34).

There are already a number of interesting issues to explore in Gärtner’s essay. First, the question of what “office” he is referencing throughout is quite relevant. Though it is possible to divert conversation in important issues by constantly punting to definitions, the notion of “office” is a central aspect of Gärtner’s argument so far, yet it remains undefined. We do not find him providing his own definition of ordination, as Hamann did, and so are left to simply guess exactly what he means by the word throughout the essay. As Hamann found in trying to define ordination and the ministry, it is extremely difficult to find the modern idea of what a pastor is in the New Testament (Hamann ultimately admitted his own definition could not be found therein). But because Gärtner is so focused on showing that women may not hold the “office,” one must ask what that office itself is. One would not find the answer in Gärtner’s essay. The closest he comes is by stating it is the “office of the ministry” (27). Second, Gärtner’s admission that the apostles are leaders of the new people of God is particularly on point because one of the arguments against using Junia (Romans 16:7) as an example of a woman leading is that apostles are merely ones sent by God (turning the Greek literal than using it as it is throughout the NT, as an office. Gärtner here concedes this point, and so the fact that Junia was a woman apostle overthrows his entire position.

Third, Gärtner’s argument about only the Twelve being at the Last Supper is not part of the biblical text. Indeed, he even says that women were not invited to it, specifically (31). Yet in the accounts of the Last Supper, there is no such clear exclusion. Gärtner’s point relies upon an argument from silence, excluding those who were not explicitly mentioned. Yet if we used the exact same kind of argumentation, all kinds of contradictions in the NT occur. For example, Mark 16:5 mentions only one young man (angel) at the tomb of Jesus. Gärtner’s methodology would insist that this would entail there was only one angel. Yet Luke 24:4 and John 20:12 each state there were two. But if we use the lack of explicit mention to exclude those not mentioned, as Gärtner does in relation to the Last Supper, we have a direct contradiction in the Bible. Of course that is a poor argument for a contradiction, because having two angels means that at least one was present. The silence regarding the second angel does not exclude his presence in the tomb. Similarly, just because no women or children or other followers of Jesus are explicitly mentioned in the accounts of the Last Supper (though Matthew and Mark both use the generic term “disciples” and then mention specifically the Twelve as for sure being there, thus making it rather clearly open to others being there as “disciples” who had helped prepare for the Passover), one cannot exclude them any more than one could seriously charge Mark and Luke with a contradiction. Another way to think about it is this way: All of the Twelve were Jewish. Does this mean that pastors must be Jewish? After all, it is quite clear that no Gentiles were among the Twelve. So Jesus only invited Jews to dine with him at the Last Supper, suggesting that no Gentiles may be pastors, right? No. Gärtner wouldn’t agree, I’m sure, but then his point about the Twelve being men must also be conceded as incidental.

Fourth, Gärtner’s point about the new creation is to merely assert his point: that male and female are most exactly expressed in the church. But of course verses like Galatians 3:28, also Pauline, point to the reality that such distinctions as male and female in the body of Christ are not germane. Yet even if one disagrees with me on that point, Gärtner does nothing to make this aspect of his argument anything more than an assertion. Fifth, Gärtner does little to demonstrate that the heresy in Corinth is that which he asserts, and even less to show that even if he is correct that it all goes back to an kind of charismatic overthrow of the order of creation, that that has anything to do with women pastors. He simply assumes his readers will make a connection for him. But there doesn’t seem to be any relevant connection between his notion of the alleged heretical teaching at Corinth and that of women pastors. He doesn’t even argue for it. Sixth, allowing for the heresy in Corinth to be part of the interpretation actually works against him, because, as has been argued, it certainly seems possible that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is part of that heresy that Paul then argues against.

Thus far, context has done little for Gärtner.


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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.


4 thoughts on ““Didaskolos” by Bertil Gärtner, Part 1, in “Women Pastors?”edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

  1. Hi JW,

    I’m very interested in these reviews. If possible, can you tag me on Twitter when you post a new one so I don’t miss it? I’ve read three so far. Have I missed any?

    Posted by Marg | June 4, 2018, 10:26 PM


  1. Pingback: “Didaskolos” by Bertil Gärtner, Part 2, in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - June 18, 2018

  2. Pingback: “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless -a critical review Hub | J.W. Wartick - Reconstructing Faith - May 20, 2022

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