Book Reviews, Christian Doctrines, Egalitarianism, theology

“Didaskolos” by Bertil Gärtner, Part 2, 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 Part 2

We analyzed Gärtner’s arguments about the context for women in the New Testament. Now we turn to his notion of “The Basic Concept of Saint Paul in First Corinthians.” First, he notes that 1 Corinthians 12 provides “a distribution, a division… of services and gifts of grace in the congregation.” The point here is quite well taken because it is true that 1 Corinthians 12, especially verse 28 makes explicit a listing of gifts in the church which ranks prophets above that gift of teachers. Yet it is very clear in the New Testament that women may be prophets, and so they may, according to Paul, outrank the role of teacher, which is typically taken as the pastoral role (see my exposition of this argument, below, and more explicitly, with Alice Guinther, here ). (I should note that Gärtner himself maintains that “teacher” is equivalent to pastor on page 37.) This order, Gärtner maintains, remains in the church despite the unity in Christ as seen in Galatians. Once again, I agree, though it is interesting that Galatians 3:28, which he alludes to, explicitly makes it clear that in Christ there is “no male and female,” as the Greek states. Thus, Gärtner’s interpretation has the difficulty of trying to separate what Christ has united, dividing male and female from each other and plugging them into different levels and roles in the church. A better interpretation, and one that does not require one to maintain that 1 Corinthians 12:28 can work against Galatians 3:28, is that the roles of 1 Corinthians 12:28 remain in place, but the artificial divisions that we so often make–Jew-Gentile; slave-free; male-female–are not the basis for those roles.

Second, Gärtner turns to 1 Corinthians 14. He appeals to the notion of order of creation to say that women may not be pastors (33). Yet it is unclear exactly how this connection is made. The notion of “order of creation” is left rather abstractly, and, as we have seen, seems to be confusing on Gärtner’s own account because he inconsistently applies it in different contexts. He then goes on to state that “What women’s duties are in the congregation is not described in detail” (34), though he apparently is certain one of the duties cannot be administration of the Eucharist or some other aspect of the “office” (still undefined). He argues that women being silent is “not a crass command to forbid women from taking part in the service” but rather, like being silent instead of speaking in tongues without an interpreter, is qualified (38). What that qualification is is not derived from the text–for the text does not say anything about the “office” or “ministry” related to silence. Instead, Gärtner assumes that’s what the silences is meant to apply to. He goes so far as to say that it would be “absurd to say that the apostle meant to speak about women who sat and whispered, disturbing the service…” (38). “Absurd”! Yet he himself has already granted that the text must be qualified in its silencing. Why is it then absurd to think that it is about women disturbing the service? I don’t know, and Gärtner doesn’t give any insight into that except for saying that such an interpretation “cannot be drawn from either text or context” (ibid). Why not? Gärtner doesn’t say. But throughout the entirety of 1 Corinthians, we find Paul is interested in order of worship. Over and over again, Gärtner appeals to order of creation, as Paul appeals to order in worship, giving us insight into the roles and spiritual gifts found in the church (1 Corinthians 12) as well how to pray (1 Corinthians 11), etc. So why would it be absurd to think that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, is continuing his thought process, instructing the specific church of Corinth in maintaining order in church by not having women asking questions and disrupting the service, especially when it is followed by an instruction for women to learn from their husbands at home (eg. perhaps saving their questions for a more appropriate time)? I can’t say, but Gärtner seems intent on dismissing it. Nevertheless, it seems clear that rather than being absurd, such an interpretation would be directly in line with the rest of Paul’s purpose in the letter! Gärtner’s thesis about what Paul means in 35 by a “law of the Lord” could just as easily align with order in worship.

Finally, Gärtner ends with a section on the subordination of women. He alleges that “the Christian idea of man and woman signifies something completely new, that is not at all the same as that found in the Jewish conception of woman and marriage” (41). Not at all the same? So when the Jewish conception of woman and marriage included things like… monogamy… the Christian conception is “not at all the same”? Really? I certainly hope not, because that would mean that there is a radical disconnect on the doctrine of humanity between Christian and Jew at the time of Christ, yet most of the early followers of Christ were Jewish. Yes, I agree with Gärtner  that life in Christ changes things and leads to a new creation, but to suggest that Christianity is somehow a complete overthrow of the faith of the Jews at the time–that of the Hebrew Scriptures–seems clearly mistaken. As we have already seen,  Gärtner continues to overstate his case.

Once again, to 1 Corinthians 12:28, Gärtner as almost any interpreter I have read, maintains that “teacher” in 1 Corinthians 12:28 is the role we would take to mean “pastor.” Moreover, he grants that 1 Corinthians 12:28 is a list of roles being differentiated, specifically as an “order” given by God (35). From that, all we have to do is show that women may be in one of the roles above that of teacher. And because women are explicitly stated in both the Old and New Testaments as being prophets, which explicitly rank above teachers in 1 Corinthians 12:28, we find that women may have–and have had–more authority than pastors. Thus, to exclude women from the pastoral ministry due to some notion of “authority” is nonsensical. Nevertheless, Gärtner makes the effort, without apparently being aware of the inherent contradiction in his position.

Now that we’ve finished our look at Gärtner’s arguments, we can return to the thesis he presented at the beginning of the chapter, as we outlined in Part 1. He wrote, “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). Did Gärtner prove this thesis? In the first part, we saw that the only thing Gärtner did was look at the context of the passages, none of which provides a definitive or “unequivocal” verse that has direct teaching about the relationship between man and woman in the office of the ministry. Indeed, the very fact that he spends so long merely on context makes one wonder about his thesis. In the analysis here, Gärtner finally does try to present 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as a kind of proof text, but even there he merely alludes to the order of creation to try to make his point. There is no direct verse that Gärtner presents anywhere, and the one time he finally attempts to site a verse, he doesn’t claim it fulfills his thesis but instead appeals to a completely different context (Genesis) and the assumption that this ties back into women pastors. Gärtner’s thesis does not carry. He has presented nothing to show that the NT contains “direct teaching about the relationship between man and woman in the office of the ministry,” let alone done so “unequivocally.” Yet he claims that is exactly what is there. His claim fails on his own grounds, and, as we have shown throughout these two posts, the few claims he does make have serious issues as well.


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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.

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