A common argument for limiting the pastoral ministry to men only is to cite a number of texts where the requirements for elders/overseers/etc. are given. Among these, one which allegedly shows that women are not to hold positions of authority in the church is the statement that the holder of such a position is to be the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; 12; Titus 1:6).
On the face of it, this seems to be a pretty telling argument. After all, if someone is the husband of one wife, then that would certainly seem to exclude women! So what’s the problem?
Is your pastor married?
You see, if someone wants to take the statement in its most literal sense, it isn’t merely, abstractly stating that the overseer/bishop/deacon/elder is supposed to be a man; it is actually saying he is supposed to be a husband.* So if one wants to take the Bible in its most “literal” reading, then one must argue that not only may women not be pastors; neither may any unmarried (or remarried, or divorced, or widowed, etc.) men. Period.
So what’s the problem with this? The problem is that once we get to this level, it should be pretty easy to see how absurd the argument is. What the phrase is intended to convey is monogamy. That is, church leaders are to be monogamous. The teaching is pretty clear when understood in this light. If one is to be a leader in the church, it should be easily observable that they are monogamous and celibate apart from marriage. There are to be no exceptions.
If someone wants to dispute this and press that the real point is that one must be a man, then they must equally argue that no church leader should be unmarried. Considering Paul himself extolled the values of remaining unmarried (and was himself unmarried), such a reading of Paul is problematic, at best.
All of this is to set aside the other difficulties with using passages like this to restrict women from the ministry. One example is the excessive addition of male pronouns into the English translations which are not present in the Greek (see Philip Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ, 445 [I have reviewed this book here]). Another problem is that they seem to be teaching against polygamy as opposed to any type of gender restrictions (ibid). Finally, the lists of requirements are stated in such a way as to make it actually open for women to hold such offices (Payne, 448-452).
Even if one disagrees on the last paragraph, it should be clear that one cannot use these passages to restrict women from the ministry. They simply do not have the data in them to allow for such a restriction.
*(Yes, I am aware that it may be translated “man of one woman,” but that just makes it extremely clear that the meaning is supposed to be referring to husband and wife. After all, what other reason could there be to be “of one woman”?)
Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).
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The debate over women’s roles in the home and in the church rages on. A large part of the debate has focused upon the Bible verses that either side raises in defense of their view. Little of the debate has focused on the philosophical implications of either position. Rebecca Groothuis’ Good News for Women offers a different approach. Groothuis integrates extensive philosophical arguments into her Biblical case for the egalitarian position.
Groothuis first turns to a Biblical case for the equality of men and women. She bases this notion on several Biblical texts. She refers to God’s creation of both male and female in the image/likeness of God (21ff). Her argument also goes into Galatians 3:26-28 and notes how it again draws out the equality between male and female. Regarding the discussions of women’s silence in the churches, Groothuis parallels these passages to those about slaves submitting to their masters:
[T]he strategy of the New Testament church was to tolerate the social subordination of slaves and women so as not to risk alienating non-Christians from the gospel, and yet to modulate and moderate these customs, and ultimately to point beyond them to God’s original intention for human relations. Today, however, when non-Christians are not likely to be offended by an equalitarian gospel, but are likely to find a hierarchical gospel offensive, we have no reason to perpetuate the cultural practices that were intially intended for Christians living in patriarchal societies (25).
Groothuis concludes that throughout the Bible, there is a pattern in which male and female are equal in being. They are, in other words, ontologically equal. Neither is more valuable than the other.
It should be noted that most complementarians today are willing to grant this case. They agree that women and men are indeed created equal and should have equal rights. Groothuis then turns to a series of philosophical arguments which seek to demonstrate that the complementarian position cannot consistently hold that women are equal to men while holding that they are excluded from the ministry. Her argument, therefore, goes deeper than an exegetical challenge. Instead, her argument undermines the theological core groundings of complementarianism.
The very core of Groothuis’ argument is that complementarianism is grounded upon an ontological difference between male and female. The reason she holds that complementarinism must hold this position is “[b]ecause a woman’s traditionally inferior status follows necessarily from the single fact of her essential, female nature, her status is itself a function of her ‘being’ [ontology]; it is determined by what she is, not by what she can do” (53). Complementarians hold that women cannot hold certain offices of the church due only to the fact of her femininity. It is not based upon a functional subordination in which the female chooses to take up a role that is subordinate (62ff); instead, it must be grounded upon the female’s nature as a female. There is nothing about the female which limits her from being a pastor, on most contemporary complementarian positions (that is, those which no longer hold that women are excluded from the ministry simply because she is not as smart or gifted as men in general). Instead, it is exclusively her feminine nature which determines her role as subordinate. Therefore, it is part of her essential nature. I have argued this point myself elsewhere: “Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails.”
Grothuis continues with extensive argument to rebut the notion of servant leadership (78ff). She also deals with various analogies complementarians use to attempt to ground equality and hierarchy, such as the Trinity (55ff–it should be noted that grounding subordination in the Trinity undermines the doctrine of the Godhead). It should become immediately apparent as to how this leads to a problem for complementarians. Biblically, they are forced to concede that women and men are, in fact, equal. However, their position undermines this Biblical position of the equality of men and women. Therefore, it seems their position fails.
Groothuis then turns to a number of strategies that complementarians have used in order to try to tie the subordination of women in to patterns of the Godhead. Unfortunately, many of these strategies end up making God into a gendered creature rather than a transcendent Creator. Some complementarians, such as C.S. Lewis, actually go so far as to make God male (93). Groothuis points out that this gendering of God cannot be affirmed based upon the Bible. One difficulty is that both male and female language is used of God (93-94). Yet she insists that the debate must not become a simple adding up of verses on either side to see how God illustrates either gender. That would turn God into a “God who suffers from some gender identity confusion” (93). Instead:
The view that God is both masculine and feminine confuses and distorts the image of God in humanity. It requires that the divine image be divided between women and men, such that women image God’s feminine aspects and men image God’s masculine aspects. This sexualizing of spiritual attributes renders men and women spiritual ‘opposites,’ creating a need to compartmentalize aspects of spiritual life and ministry into separate masculine and feminine quarters. (98)
Groothuis also spends some time dealing with some of the odd–and frankly, pagan–ideas used by some complementarians. For example, some argue that God must act as a male in the creation event: one who gives so much, while the created world merely receives. To be blunt, they describe God’s creative act as a sexual act, with no Biblical support. Groothuis rightly points out that this idea is little more than paganism dressed up in theism, but goes on to note that “It seems a good deal of imagination and determination is required in order to characterize the strenuous effort required of a woman’s body in nourishing, growing, and delivering a child as ‘overwhelmingly passive,’ while depicting the male role of standing around watching it happen as ‘active’!” (95). Another abuse of gender in the Godhead involves some complementarians arguing that because Jesus was a man, only men can be priests (109ff). Groothuis points out that “If we are to regard maleness as essential to who Christ is as Christ, not only must we question whether Jesus Christ can represent women as fully as he can men… we must also view women as essentially inferior to men. Women lack the Christlike attribute of maleness that renders men best qualified to represent Christ…” (113). Interestingly, then, complementarians who utilize this argument essentially undermine the doctrine of the atonement: for Christ’s maleness is emphasized to the point that Jesus is not an adequate representation of humanity. He is essentially male.
The second half of Good News for Women focuses upon an evaluation of the texts used to support complementarianism. These texts are examined in light of the theological points already established. Namely, women and men are created equally as imagers/likenesses of God; and that any attempt to ground hierarchy ultimate fails because it undermines this Biblical concept of equality. A full presentation of Groothuis’ analysis of these texts would probably triple the length of this review, and I don’t see any way to sum up these arguments adequately in a few sentences, so I unfortunately must leave it to those interested to read the book to see these analyses.
Finally, it would be remiss to go without mentioning the outstanding contribution Groothuis gives to the discussion of egalitarian marriage. Groothuis discusses marriage in detail for over 40 pages of the book. What is astonishing is how lucidly she lays out the principles of egalitarian marriage. She illustrates the nature of marriage and how it is a give-and-take with both persons involved as opposed to one ruling over the other. She also discusses in detail how such an egalitarian system can work without having anyone to have a vote to “trump” the other’s vote. Frankly, the book is worth reading just for her discussion on marriage.
Groothuis’ most important contribution here is in the first part of her book, which establishes a strong theological and philosophical case for the equality of men and women in teaching roles in the Church and equal roles in marriage. However, there are numerous important insights throughout the text, both into specific verses and into overarching themes in the debate from both the complementarian and egalitarian positions. Groothuis’ discussion of egalitarian marriage provides a way forward for discussion on the roles of men and women in marriage and also helps to give insight into the Biblical view of marriage. Overall Good News for Women presents a strong philosophical critique of complementarianism which people on both sides of the debate must consider. I have read many articles and books on this topic, and frankly I have yet to find a book which goes into the ultimate philosophical and theological implications of complementarianism as thoroughly as this book. I recommend it extremely highly.
See my other writings on egalitarianism on my theology page (scroll to the bottom).
I argue that certain complementarian arguments undermine the Trinity.
I review a book which focuses entirely upon exegetical issues related to egalitarianism: Man and Woman: One in Christ.
Rebecca Groothuis, Good News for Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
[Please see note at end of this post for some qualifications added 2/1/15.]
Even though [God the Son] is in all ways equal to the Father and in no way inferior to the Father, he is nevertheless utterly subordinate to the Father… Christ’s relation as Son to his Father is therefore characterized by his subordination to the headship of the Father. (John Kleinig, 222-223 cited below)
In opposition to the above:
The subordination of Jesus Christ is this: it is his freely chosen submission ‘for us and for our salvation.’ The person of the Son is truly subordinate only for ‘economic’ reasons, and only insofar as these reasons entail being subordinate (and even thus far only contingently)–even while his full divinity, equality, and communion with the Father and Holy Spirit continues unabated, world without end. (Thomas McCall and Keith Yandell, 358, cited below)
The doctrine of the Trinity is a subject of enormous theological debate. One of the major debates of our time is social trinitarianism as opposed to substance views of the Trinity or other classical positions. However, another important area to explore is the nature of Christ’s submission to the Father. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:28 “When he [God the Father] has done this [put all things under Christ’s feet], then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” Some have argued that this means that Jesus Christ is eternally into the future, and even from eternity past, subordinate to God the Father (see Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware for two examples of scholars who hold to this view–in fairness to John Kleinig, cited above, I do not include him as one of those who assert these positions because his view of the Trinity was not fully developed in the material from him to which I have access). We shall refer to this position as “necessary role subordination,” following McCall and Yandell.
What does such a position entail about the Trinity? First, if the functional subordination of the Son (and, very often, the Spirit is also said to be subordinate) is indeed necessary, then “it is necessarily true that the Father is authoritative over the Son, and the Son subordinate to the Father” (McCall and Yandell, 354). Why? Because the modal implications of this necessary subordination entails that the Father has, as an essential property, “being authoritative over the Son” (Ibid). Now, this in turn entails that the Father has an essential property the Son (and perhaps the Spirit) do not have. Then, by simple evaluation of the law of identity, the Father has different being than the Son and Spirit. Indeed, the Son would then be “heteroousios rather than homoousios.”
The error can be understood by viewing the Trinity within the substance based metaphysics from which the doctrine has been classically analyzed. As William Alston notes in his study of substance metaphysics and the Trinity, the formulation of the Trinity has been placed squarely within a substance metaphysics, and this provides a grounds for viewing the Trinity as three persons in one being (Alston, 183ff, cited below). Tying this into the laws of identity, one finds that in order for the Trinity of persons to be one being, none of them can lack essential properties of the others. But, as noted, once one asserts that the Son (and/or the Spirit) are necessarily subordinate to the Father, one has separated their essential properties and therefore confounded the Triune nature of God.
The Biblical arguments for such a position are fairly weak. For example, Ware and Grudem (and Kleinig, who does make this argument) argue that 1 Cor. 15:25ff entails the eternal subordination of the Son. But these verses explicitly state that “God may be in all in all.” It does not state “God the Father alone may be all in all” (I owe this point to McCall and Yandell, 342-344).
It may be that these theologians are not drawing this necessary role subordination from Scripture so much as allowing their other theological dispositions to color their trinitarianism. Grudem, Ware, and Kleinig are all explicit complementarians–that is, they restrict women from the ministry. Now please understand I absolutely do not think that complementarianism entails this position on the Trinity. However, I am asserting that complementarianism can color one’s perception of the doctrine of God.
Why think that the correlation between those who hold to necessary role subordination and complementarianism is interesting? First, because necessary role subordination, if true, would give some philosophical bolster to complementarianism; second, because at least one complementarian makes the connection himself.
Regarding the first point, complementarianism has been struggling with a major philosophical challenge presented by Rebecca Groothuis (among others). Namely, the problem of how to ground the subordination of women. Groothuis argues, essentially, as follows: If the permanent, comprehensive, and ontologically grounded subordination of women is justified, then women are inferior persons; Women are not inferior persons; Therefore, women’s subordination is not justified (Groothuis, cited below, 317). Now I’ve defended this argument elsewhere, and I think that some complementarians actually agree with the general argument. Instead of rejecting complementarianism, however, they choose to model their doctrine of the Trinity in order to try to preserve their position. How? By grounding subordination analogously in the submission of God the Son to God the Father. Here, Kleinig is an explicit example of this position. Following the quote at the beginning of this post, he writes, “Those who serve in [the pastoral ministry] pass on what they have received from God the Father through Christ… The exercise of the public ministry depends on this pattern of subordination within the church…” (Kleinig, 223). Now, the subordination of Christ, it is claimed, “has nothing to do with the dominance and power of the Father. It involves and expresses the harmony of the Son with the Father and his love for the Father” (Ibid). Thus, according to Kleinig, the model for women and men in the church is grounded in the Trinity, and because, according to him, the Son is subordinate to the Father yet remains equal, so too should women be subordinate to men and yet remain equal.
Does this complementarian view entail necessary role subordination? It seems so. For what is woman’s role subordinate upon? It seems it must be because of her being (for an argument to that end, see my post linked above and here). Yet her being is, of course, her essential nature. It is necessarily the case, therefore, that she is subordinate.
Finally, it is interesting to note that even were the egalitarian to grant to Ware, Grudem, and Kleinig their points about the Son’s subordination to the Father, it would not follow that the Trinity is an adequate model for women in the church. Why not? Kleinig essentially says it himself, “Now this call to subordination in the divinely instituted order of the church is based on the willing subordination of the Son to the Father” (Kleinig 223, emphasis mine). Well that’s exactly the point egalitarians make! Egalitarians argue that the roles of subordination in the church are taken willingly by those who serve at various levels. The laity has not been called to the ministry, and therefore willingly cede the authority of the office of the ministry to their ministers. It is a bit stunning to see Kleinig make this remark, for it also undermines his own case. Women, unlike Christ, are not [all] willingly subordinate. Rather, some very much would like to be ordained. Thus, if Christ’s subordination is grounded in his “willing subordination” then it seems that Kleinig’s case has completely evaporated. So too, of course, has the case of other complementarians who make this argument.
Do I think that those who make these arguments are heterodox? I wanted to explicate that I think that Ware, Kleinig, and Grudem are more likely victims of misuse of philosophical theology and their own presuppositions than they are actually trying to claim that the Trinity is not of one being. Certainly, I think, were they to examine their position on the subject, they would distance themselves from such a claim. Instead, as I’ve pressed, I think they’ve allowed their presuppositions–that women cannot be pastors and that they must ground this in the Trinity–to cause philosophical confusion on the topic. Kleinig, for example, almost so much as admits this point when he favorably cites Willliam Oddie, making the claim “that the ordination of women would involve a radical changing in the teaching of the church about the fatherhood of God” (224). It seems that it is not so much egalitarians who are guilty of misconstruing the Trinity, but rather over-eager complementarians who are shaping the Trinity to match their own preconceived notions of subordination and roles. Perhaps it should serve as a warning to take more care when doing philosophical theology and systematics. In any case, I sincerely hope these Christian brothers do not reject the doctrine of the Trinity as one being.
The theological implications of this discussion can now be brought to light. Some complementarians, in their eagerness to support their philosophically vacuous position, have read eternal subordination into the doctrine of the Trinity. I agree that complementarians are correct to worry about the implications of women’s ordination for the doctrine of the Trinity, but I disagree with their conclusions. In their zeal to exclude women from the ministry, they have undermined the doctrine of God. By confusing the willing, economic, salvific role of Christ submitting to the Father in a contingent manner with the eternal, ontological “subordination” of women, complementarians have mounted an attack on the Godhead. Indeed, as has been shown above, their position entails the that the Trinity is not “of one being.” Thus, it is a position that must be rejected. Again, I do not think that all or even most complementarians hold this position in relation to the Trinity, but those who do must consider the theological implications of their position: it entails that God the Son lacks at least one essential property of God the Father and therefore is of a different being; it fails to adequately account for the Scripture related to the Trinity; and finally, it doesn’t even make their case because the subordination is grounded in Christ’s willingness to do so.
In light of these major problems, it seems complementarianism, when tied to necessary role subordination, must be rejected. Should it be rejected outright, even with such ties severed? I certainly think so. Complementarianism is philosophically tenuous and can’t account for all the Scriptural evidence (see Philip Payne’s book, reviewed here). It is time to stop allowing preconceptions to shape all doctrine. Rather than reforming God in the image of complementarianism, we should allow God to shape our image of humanity. God is coequal, with no essential properties split among His being. Similarly, human kind is equal, sharing the image of God. Man and woman: one in Christ.
[It has come to my attention that there is a newer edition of Kleinig’s essay which was published in the 2009 version of the book from which I quoted. A message sent to me on the topic informed me that Kleinig’s essay is substantially different–to the extent that the first four quotes I present from him are not present in the newer edition, which is also a page shorter. I am pleased to note that perhaps this means Kleinig has dropped his original view, which seemed to entail necessary role subordination. Regardless, my points would still stand for any who do hold such a position.]
[NOTE: I complementarians do not necessarily have to hold to eternal subordination; nor do those who argue for eternal subordination have to be complementarian. One can be an egalitarian with gender roles but argue for the Son’s subordination and vice versa.]
William Alston, “Substance and the Trinity” in The Trinity ed. Stephen Davis et al. (New York, NY: 1999), 179-201.
Rebecca Groothuis, “‘Equal in Being, Unequal in Role’: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination” in Discovering Biblical Equalityed. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis, 301-333 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005).
John Kleinig, “The Ordination of Women and the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity” in Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2008), p. 217-225.
Thomas McCall and Keith Yandell, “On Trinitarian Subordinationism”Philosophia Christi 11-2, 2009, p. 339-358.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.