women in the ministry

This tag is associated with 11 posts

Really Recommended Posts 10/21/16- Reading the Bible, a pro-life argument, and more!

postGo Cubs! Enjoy the reads.

The What-He-Did: The Poetic Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith– Cordwainer Smith was a Christian who also happened to be an expert in psychological warfare, among other things. He wrote science fiction that is strange and alluring and poetic all at once, and imbued with his worldview.

Spoilers– Too often, we assume that because we’ve read it before, or know the “spoilers” of the story, we know exactly what the Bible is teaching. Is that really the case?

The Most Undervalued Argument in the Pro-Life Movement– A defense of a rather simple argument for the pro-life position.

Let’s All Be Nicene– The continuing debate over eternal subordination of the Son is, frankly, disturbing to me. I think the call to be Nicene is an appropriate one. This is a post highlighting some of the issues with those who are for eternal subordination of the Son and its problems.

6 Myths About Advocating for Women in Ministry– Don’t be deceived by false arguments that advocating for women in the ministry is somehow detrimental to the church.

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”– A brief account and reflection on Luther’s famous words.


Women in Combat? “Sending” women, women pastors, and feminism- a response to Issues Etc. on Women in Combat and Selective Service

As a Lutheran, a podcast I frequently enjoy is “Issues, Etc.” It continually offers a Lutheran perspective on current events, theological issues, and more. However, there are times where its approach to theology or current events reflects less a Lutheran understanding than a specific brand of theological conservatism. The recent podcast (2/11/16) featured Pastor Hans Fiene discussing “Women in Combat and Selective Service.” I found it to be deeply mistaken on a number of issues, and would like to address just a few of those here.

“Sending” your daughter or wife?

One comment made in the episode labeled any man who would “send” his wife or daughter to investigate a noise downstairs to see if it might be a burglar as a “coward.” There are a number of problems with this statement. First, anyone who “sends” anyone else into a potentially dangerous situation because they don’t want to go themselves might be labeled as cowardly. The way the phrase was said already begs the question. If the situation were reversed, would Fiene say that the wife is “sending” her husband to investigate, or is the husband simply investigating?

Second, suppose that a man is married to a woman who has extensive martial arts training, is a weapons specialist, sleeps with a pistol under her pillow, and immediately leaps into action to investigate such a noise, while the man works a desk job, is of average build and has never used a weapon before. Is it really reasonable to think that the man is cowardly if he allows his wife to investigate the noise? Well, absurdly, others who share Fiene’s view argue that yes, that man has shirked his duty, is cowardly, and probably a wimp. In other words, men are to be shamed and emasculated if a woman is stronger or better at fighting than they are.

The absurdity of such a position knows no bounds. Men are stripped of their manhood if women are perceived as better at things we arbitrarily label “manly.” It gets curiouser and curiouser, as assertions are made that a man ought to intentionally die even if a woman could save him. A reductio ad absurdum is not even required for this kind of position: it demonstrates for itself that it flies in the face of reason.

Women Pastors?

Fiene could not resist the urge to take a jab at those who are for women in the ministry in this discussion, either. He drew a comparison between woeful ignorance of the horrors of war and ignorance of the spiritual warfare that pastors must engage in. In a stunning non sequitor, he stated that “If we lived in a world where pastors were routinely murdered by Pagans who were storming into churches and putting them to death or… where pastors were having to stay behind while everyone was getting the Plague and dying while everyone who was healthy fled… I don’t really think we’d be having an argument over whether or not women should be pastors.”

It is hard to take this kind of statement seriously, and the statement itself is clearly condescension. Fiene assumes that he knows more about his opponents’ sincerity of believe than they do. After all, if only those silly egalitarians really knew what war was like or really believed in spiritual warfare, then they’d clearly change their minds. This leaves no room for sincerity of belief on the part of the egalitarian, and that is extremely problematic. Frankly, I don’t know of anyone who calls themselves an egalitarian who would recant their stance if women pastors were being killed by Pagans or had to deal with Plague. No one wants women to have those things happen to them; indeed, I hope no one wants men to have them happen to them either! The same applies to combat–no one wants soldiers to have to go kill people, I hope. But if difficult spiritual warfare, even death, is what pastors are to endure, and someone genuinely believes women ought to be allowed to be in the ministry, then those are the types of risks that must be taken. And to assume that egalitarians didn’t even think about that possibility or are too timid to even consider it is offensive, to say the least. The only way Fiene can make such a statement is by assuming without any argument that his opponents are insincere.

As an aside, does Fiene completely discount the work of women like Mother Theresa, or Mother Maria Skobtsova (who was murdered by the Nazis), or the countless other women who have done exactly what he thinks egalitarians are silly to think women can do? A lack of integrating church history into an overall worldview might be shown here.


Complementarian (and other conservative) commentators continue to equivocate on the term “feminism.” Instead of acknowledging that there can be any diversity within the group who self identify as feminists, the label is assumed to mean any number of things that many feminists do not put forward. For example, it was not just implied but implicitly stated that “feminism” demanded equality for women by arguing for abortion rights in order to free women from having to deal with childcare. This, of course, ignores the fact that the feminist movement started as strongly pro-life, not to mention the continued existence of groups like Feminists for Life who are out there making a real difference for the pro-life movement.

The use of the term “feminist” as a clobber-word to induce fear is a straw man of the worst kind. It demonstrates either ignorance–a complete lack of knowledge about the breadth of views held by those who call themselves “feminist”–or intentional deceit. Moreover, to lump egalitarianism–the Christian movement for equality of women in the church and home–with this blanket statement of “feminist” as pro-choice, etc. is to obfuscate the issue even further.

Natural Law

I wanted to add a brief note about natural law as well. Fiene and others continue to just throw out “natural law” in an undefined way as though it unequivocally supports their position. Yet one could just as easily appeal to “natural law” to support women in combat roles, for a natural law might just be a threshold of strength and mental endurance that could be seen as suitable for combat roles, and then anyone who meets that threshold is permitted to do so. I don’t want to delve into the deep waters surrounding natural law theory, but the point is that a bald appeal to “natural law” doesn’t do much to support Fiene’s position.


I believe the discussion here has broader application to the discussion over so-called gender roles as well as the debate between egalitarians and complementarians. Fiene’s arguments are the same kind of arguments that are continually trumpeted by opponents of egalitarianism. But, as we have seen here, those arguments are fallacious, they fail to take the opposition seriously, and they rely on ill-defined terms and obfuscation. There is are no reasons provided by Fiene to support his position. Bare assertions, jabs at opponents, and absurdly irrational statements are put in the place of argument.


Hans Fiene, “Women in Combat and Selective Service,” 2/11/16 available at accessed 2/13/16.


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

A Sacramental/Lutheran Response to Women in Church Leadership

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_BreadThe debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.

In the Place of Christ

One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).

The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:

Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.

The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.

The Levitical Priesthood

Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:

[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.

He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.

A Lutheran Appeal

The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments

From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.

The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”

Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.

Responses to the Argument Above

The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.

No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.

Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.

If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.


There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.

We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.


Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at

All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The Image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons and published under Creative Commons licensing. It was created by John Snyder and may be found here. Please appropriate cite if re-used.



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.

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.



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.

Really Recommended Posts 12/30/12

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneAnother round of Really Recommended Posts here. Featured are undesigned coincidences, literary and culutral apologetics, egalitarianism/complementarianism, young earth creationism, and the “Gospel of Jesus’ wife.” I hope you’ll check them out and let me know what you thought!

Tim McGrew replies to Ed Babinski’s Critique of his Discussion of Undesigned Coincidences– I recently wrote on one of the [mostly] forgotten arguments for the truth of Christianity- Undesigned Coincidences. Tim McGrew is the best current proponent of this argument, and here he offers a response to some of the standard objections to the argument, along with a general criticism of trying to rebut the argument based on Markan priority. Check out my post, and check out this post to see the excellent defense of the argument.

“Full Dark, No Stars”: Stephen King’s Worlds of Night– An excellent blog that often looks into cultural apologetics, “Empires and Mangers,” Anthony Weber’s Blog takes a look at one of Stephen King’s work from a Christian perspective. It’s a very intriguing read. Anthony Weber is the author of “Learning to Jump Again,” which I reviewed.

It’s About the Bible, not Fake ideas of Progress– NT Wright is one of the most lucid Christian thinkers with whom I have ever interacted. Here, he takes a look at some strategies of those who are both for and against women in the ministry and evaluates the arguments. He offers a way forward in the discussion.

How prestigious evangelical scholars helped debunk the Jesus wife myth– Did Jesus have a wife? Some recent controversy occurred over the alleged finding of a fragment purporting to tell the truth on this exact detail. However, it has come to light that the fragment is almost certainly a fraud. Wintery Knight’s post looks at how evangelical scholars helped to expose this fraud. I have linked to a number of posts about this “Gospel” myself. For those wondering: even if it were not a fraud (which it is), it is a late fragment that doesn’t tell us much other than what some heretics believed at the time.

The Call to Adventure– Why is it that we are so intrigued by stories of adventure? Garret Johnson at Hieropraxis–one of my favorite websites–offers a look into this theme.

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana– I found this post extremely interesting. It is often alleged by young earth creationists that old earth proponents and “secularists” follow a strict uniformitarianism. Unfortunately, this definition of uniformitarianism is outdated by a couple hundred years.The GeoChristian offers a response to this YEC argument. Yes, this is part 3 of a 5 part series, no you don’t have to read them all to make sense of it. But do check out the whole series, because it is interesting!

Nonrandom Mutations Scramble the Case for Common Descent: Reasons to Believe, my favored resource for science-faith discussions, is chock-full of excellent articles like this one, which argues that mutations are not necessarily always random, but rather take place in such a way that reflects design.

Book Review: “Good News for Women” by Rebecca Groothuis

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.

Women, Complementarianism, and the Trinity- How getting subordination wrong has undermined the Trinity

[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.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails

The argument advanced in this post will make the following claim:

If women are excluded from the ministry solely due to their nature as women, then women are ontologically inferior.

The argument entails:

If complementarianism (the position that women should not be in the ministry) is true, then women are ontologically inferior to men.

Some may note that this doesn’t necessarily imply that complementarianism is false, but astute readers will note that there is one further implication, namely:

If complementarianism holds that women are ontologically equal to men, but the position entails that women are inferior to men, then complementarianism holds contradictory propositions to be true.

And this would entail that complementarianism is false.

The Argument

Argument 1:

The argument is directly from Rebecca Groothuis, “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role,” 317 (full citation below). She writes,

P1: If the permanent, comprehensive, and ontologically grounded subordination of women is justified, then women are inferior persons.

P2: Women are not inferior persons.

Conclusion: Therefore, women’s subordination is not justified.

Premise one is contentious. Complementarians often anticipate such arguments and counter by asserting that women are “equal in being, unequal in role.” Groothuis has cogently argued that this is merely a semantics game. First, she notes that “functional differences often are compatible with personal equality…” (“Equal in Being…” 315). The problem for those who wish to exclude women from the ministry is that the role of women is not simply functional. Rather, it “differs from functional subordination in its scope, duration, and criterion” (316). Women’s subordination is permanent, because women are subordinate throughout their life, and it applies to all women at all times (Ibid). The subordination is comprehensive in scope because everything a woman does must be done in submission to males (if one disputes this they need only browse complementarian literature: see John Piper, cited below, 50ff). Finally, the criterion for women being subordinate is not analogous to functional subordination (wherein the subordinate member enters the functional relationship either willingly or through need) because the subordination is based merely on the woman’s unalterable female being (Groothuis, 317).

P2 is almost universally acknowledged as true. Unless the complementarian is willing to swallow the pill and affirm that women are inferior persons, they must grant P2.

The conclusion follows from P1 and P2. Therefore, it seems that women should not be made subordinate to men. There are, of course, many objections to this argument. We shall turn to these below.


Objection 1: The argument above is all well and good, but it is a philosophical argument. We all know that it is Sola Scriptura, and your argument assumes that philosophy can trump the Bible, which it doesn’t.

There are a number of clarifications required to respond to this objection. First, those who assert Sola Scriptura are themselves making a philosophical claim: that Scripture alone is the basis for our faith. Second, if one wishes to jettison philosophy because they hold a position which is philosophically untenable, then they cannot coherently assert “My position is true.” Why? Because when one throws philosophy out the window, one throws logic out the window. Thus, the principle of non-contradiction would also be false. If that is true, then when one says “My position is true” they could be both right and wrong, and therefore their position could also be false. This is absurd, and it undermines every single truth claim. Those who reject philosophy must also reject truth.

Finally, even those who argue that philosophy and logic must have a “ministerial role” implicitly accept that their claims are governed by logic. I can think of at least two extremely plausible reasons for this to be true. First, those who want philosophy to occupy a “ministerial” place argue that because they have come to the logical conclusion that the Bible must govern reality. Here’s the problem: they also seek to reconcile contradictions in the Bible and draw out its claims–and this is a philosophical endeavor. Thus, those who argue in this fashion are, themselves, doing philosophy and logic. Second, those who argue that philosophy must be “ministerial” often do so because a position they hold is logically untenable. But if philosophy (and, by implication, logic) must function underneath Biblical truth, why reject logic to begin with? If philosophy and logic don’t apply to Biblical teaching, then there’s no reason to reject it, because things can be true and false!  Yet those who argue this way realize that their claims are philosophical (without using that word), and so reject the counterarguments by trying to make the logical move of throwing philosophy out the window. It’s incoherent.

Objection 2: P1 is false because ontologically  grounded subordination does not imply inferiority.

Clearly, this objection is more thought out than objection 1. Those who object in this way accept that logic governs these disputes, and instead set on rejecting a premise of the argument so that the conclusion will not follow.

I cannot answer this objection without a bit of philosophical development, so my readers will have to forgive me.

Adam Omelianchuk addresses this objection head on in his article “Ontologically Grounded Subordination” (full citation below). He writes that “the central metaphysical concern is over whether subordination is essential to the personal identity of woman” (169). He goes on to introduce the notion of “proper function” (well known in philosophy due to Alvin Plantinga’s series on “Warrant”). Proper function “means something is functioning properly if it is doing what it is supposed to do” (170). Now, on complementarianism, women are designed in such a way as to be subordinate to men, while men are designed to be the leader. Thus, the woman’s proper function is to be subordinate by nature, while the man’s function is to be leader by nature. When a woman tries to become a minister, she is violating her proper function. She is, by nature, only functioning properly when subordinate. Now, we’ve already addressed the notion of unequal roles, but here we are trying to establish that a woman is, in fact, ontologically inferior if complementarianism is true. Omelianchuk writes:

[I]t is not plausible to believe that men and women are ontologically equal, because manhood and womanhood are not ontologically equal. Obviously, manhood and womanhood are “different,” so they are not equal in the sense that they are not identical. But if we differentiate manhood and womanhood by hierarchical features essential to manhood and womanhood themselves, and if we maintain that God designed men and women to fulfill these functions of manhood and womanhood, then we have a prima facie reason to believe that women are essentially inferior to men. Hence, complementarianism fails. (174).

In other words, the very nature of manhood and womanhood is such that man is at a greater position on the hierarchy of authority than woman. They are not equal. Again, as Omelianchuk writes, “[Women] simply are not equal in being, and their ‘role’ obtains just because their being is fit for subordination” (176-177).

Finally, those who continue to object may assert that I have not yet made explicit how women are inferior to men.  It seems to me to have already been made fairly explicit–men, by nature, are higher in authority than women–but some persist in this objection. Perhaps a thought experiment may help illustrate my point. Complementarians hold that women should also be subordinate in the home to their husbands. Consider Jackie and Jim. Jim gets a job offer in Alaska which pays about the same as Jackie’s current job, but is something he would enjoy (as opposed to the job he currently has, which he hates and pays much less). Jackie loves her current job, but would have to work at a job she didn’t like were they to move to Alaska. They argue about whether or not to move to Alaska. Finally, they get to the point where they are at an impasse, and neither is willing to budge. Jim, on complementarianism, is the leader of the home, and Jackie is subordinate. So, when push finally comes to shove, Jim decides they will move, and Jackie, on complementarianism, should submit with all due respect and go to Alaska without further debate. Jim has asserted his role as the leader of the home, and therefore they must move.

It seems clear to me that this story may not make explicit how subordination entails inferiority, but it does seem to show that the woman has a clearly inferior position. If an argument comes to the point where neither side will go one way or the other, the man always gets his way. Now I realize that complementarians often argue that men should be loving leaders, should not use their leadership role to trump their wife all the time, etc., but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details, Jim in the above story was acting in his role as the leader in the home. His decision is the one which must be followed. Perhaps Jim later grants Jackie’s requests to visit friends and family “back home” and does all sorts of other things for her to make her comfortable in Alaska, but that doesn’t change the fact that her position is inferior to his–at least in the sense that whenever a decision is made about which they are split, his choice wins out.


[Thanks to one reader who was kind enough to point out I hadn’t properly drawn my points together, I have added this conclusion a few hours after this post originally went up.]

The argument I have written above shows that on complementarianism, women are ontologically inferior. Why should that entail that complementarianism is false, as noted in the introduction? Well, there are few (if any) who actually assert that women are inferior. In fact, the Biblical teaching on this topic is extremely clear. God, throughout His Word, affirms the equality of man and woman. Galatians 3:28 is one oft-cited example, but one can also look at Genesis 1:26-28, wherein male and female are created equally in God’s image. Groothuis addresses the notion of Biblical equality more in her chapter, so I won’t expand much more.

We therefore have issued a major challenge to complementarians: Women, according to Scripture (and essentially universal affirmation of all involved), are equal to men in being. Yet complementarianism entails that women are inequal in being–they are, in fact, inferior. If that’s true, then complementarianism affirms contradictory truths: women are equal and inequal, equal and inferior. Thus, complementarianism is false.


Adam Omelianchuk, “Ontologically Grounded Subordination,” Philosophia Christi 13-1, 2011, p. 169-180.

John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Comlementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 31-59 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).

Rebecca Groothuis, “‘Equal in Being, Unequal in Role’: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination” in Discovering Biblical Equality ed. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis, 301-333 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005).



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.

Book Review: “Man and Woman: One in Christ” by Philip Payne

Philip Payne’s book Man and Woman, One in Christ (hereafter MWOC) is a monumental volume arguing for the equality of man and woman both in the church and in the home. At over 500 pages (including index and bibliography), it comprehensively covers the range of arguments and presents egalitarianism in a thoroughly Biblical manner.

Summary of Contents

Paul’s Background

Payne notes that Paul was taught by Gamaliel, who was far more egalitarian than his contemporaries. Given this background, it is implausible that Paul had a low view of women (37).

Galatians 3:28

Those opposed to egalitarians (basically, egalitarians are people for women pastors, complementarians are those opposed to women pastors) often portray the position as having its only support in Galatians 3:28. Philip Payne does not base the egalitarian position on this verse alone, but he does argue that the passage provides a strong basis for the egalitarian position. Payne writes, “The natural implication of the equality of male and female in Paul’s teaching is that the gifts of women for ministry in the church should be recognized, welcomed and exercised in all areas of church life, including… church leadership” (104).

1 Corinthians 7- the equal rights of men and women in marriage

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul explicitly parallels the obligations, rights, and conditions of men and women in marriage. Payne notes a large number of verses in which Paul uses the same language for both men and women (105-106). Not only that, but Paul specifically challenges the concept that men should be the spiritual leaders in the home in 1 Cor. 7:14 (107).

1 Corinthians 11

Payne’s book quickly turns to an extremely in-depth exegesis of the core verses related to the debate over women in church leadership. To put this into concrete terms, Payne’s analysis of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 covers eight chapters and 142 pages; 1 Corinthians 14 has nearly 50 pages dedicated to it, 1 Corinthians 11 is covered by over 100 pages. Payne does not set theology or exegesis to the side in favor of emotional appeals, as some complementarians tend to accuse egalitarians of doing. Rather, he centralizes the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and unswervingly demands that all sides conform to what the Bible teaches, no matter how difficult that teaching may be.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11, Payne notes that the analogy regarding the “head” of woman does not imply authority, as complementarians must hold. Rather, “source” is a better exegetical and philological fit (113ff, see especially 131, 133). Payne further argues that the proper application of 1 Corinthians 11 would draw out the respect and honor men and women should have for each other as equals (214-215).

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Rather than mincing words, I’ll jump right to the point: Payne argues that these verses are an interpolation. I’ll cover my own thoughts in the section below “Analysis/Critique,” but for now, I’ll focus on Payne’s argument.

Payne notes that there are a number of ways offered to interpret the passage, but he argues that the only plausible interpretation of the text is that women must be silent, no matter what, in every circumstance. The reasoning is lengthy, but the primary rationale behind this interpretation as most plausible is the it reiterates the prohibition three times, which, in the 1st Century, would have been seen as an absolute prohibition (218-219). Complementarians who allow women to sing in worship, therefore, are inconsistent in their interpretation of this passage, because they add a qualification which is not in the text (221).

Payne, however, argues the text is an interpolation. The evidence is both internal and external. First, the external evidence. The movement of the text itself hints that it was an interpolation which was placed in different parts of 1 Corinthians depending on the textual lineage (227ff). There is also a distigme which is used elsewhere to mark interpolations that is in the last line of 14:33, the correct place to mark 14:34-35 as an interpolation (232ff). Bishop Victor, between AD 541-544, corrected the text to omit 14:34-35 as an interpolation (246ff). Victor’s acumen for detecting interpolations is noteworthy, because he also omits the Trinitarian interpolation in 1 John 5:7-8 (246). MS88 omits the text, likely because it was copied from a manuscript which lacked the interpolation (249). Clement reflects a text without the verses (250-251). He notes other evidence as well (251ff). Payne also notes 9 lines of internal evidence for the text being an interpolation (253ff).

1 Timothy 2:8-15

These verses occupy the largest treatment in MWOC. The key to properly interpreting this passage, argues Payne, is the context and the church situation to which it is addressed. Context is always important in properly interpreting the Bible, but with letters it is even more important. Payne approvingly quotes Raymond Collins on this point, “…it is the epistolary genre that is most conditioned by the coordinates of time and space, historical and relational circumstances… They are ad hoc compositions whose essential import relates immediately and directly only to the situation that dictated their composition” (291).

Payne asserts that scholars know the situation in Ephesus–there was a preponderance of false teaching (296ff). Because of this, it is important to read the letter as a letter designed to put a stop to these teachings. Paul’s prohibition of women’s teachings is tied directly to the fact that false teachers had been praying upon women (299ff). The phrase Paul uses, “I am not permitting” “indicat[es] a new, case-specific injunction in response to a problem in Ephesus that does not carry the weight of church tradition” (321).

Payne also highlights the importance of the Greek word oude as conjoining the prohibitions Paul makes in this passage. The word is used throughout the Pauline corpus to “join together expressions that reinforce or make more specific a single idea” (338). Because of this, it is important to note that the word is used to conjoin the prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:12. The prohibitions are “to teach” and “to assume authority.” Thus the prohibition is not Paul saying women cannot teach or assume authority over man… rather it is “Women should not teach in conjunction with assumed authority” (348-356).

But does authenteo mean “assume authority”? Complementarians generally must argue that it means simply “have authority.” Payne destroys such arguments, citing etymological (363-365) and document (365-373) evidence to demonstrate the word means “assume authority [to oneself-385ff].” Payne also deconstructs the complementarian argument to the contrary, showing that Paul used other words to refer to authority in a basic sense (373-380).

Importantly, Payne draws out the implications of Paul’s exhortations to women to learn quietly. This was the proper position of students. Paul is not telling women they have no place in the church, he’s calling them to learn in a proper fashion before teaching (see 316-317 for an example of this argument).

Thus, Payne concludes that Paul is not prohibiting women from teaching in the church. In the face of the counter-evidence of Paul’s affirmation of women teachers (61-68), the specific context of 1 Timothy, and the proper translation of the Greek words, the text should be read as a temporal restriction on teaching by women in a church struggling with false teachings being spread by women.

…And More

I have not even begun to draw out all of Payne’s arguments in MWOC. There are many more lines of reasoning including Paul’s affirmation of women in positions of ministry, Paul’s theological axioms which imply equality of man and woman, “salvation through childbirth,” Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19 with husband-wife relationships, Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and the requirements for deacons and overseers, etc., etc. I cannot emphasize how broad Payne’s line of argument is, and how lucidly he explains his points. The book simply must be read by anyone interested in the topic.


There are so many points Payne makes in MWOC that it would be impossible to cover them all. I found Payne’s arguments largely persuasive. That said, I have a few minor notes.

First, I am not convinced that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation. I also think Payne dismisses the possible egalitarian readings of the passage too quickly (219ff). That said, Payne’s arguments are extremely powerful. I would have dismissed such arguments before reading this book, but now I’d say I’m very close to agreeing with Payne that these verses are an interpolation.

However, I wish that Payne had did a bit more work on the text to at least investigate the exegetical possibilities. I believe very few complementarians would be willing to accept that these verses are an interpolation, so if Payne had offered other possible interpretations, complementarians might find his case stronger. However, it is the case that complementarians who desire to use this passage to exclude women from the ministry now have the burden of proof upon them to demonstrate that it is not an interpolation, and they must do so with the same careful attention to the internal and external evidence which Payne utilized.

Initially I thought Payne might be overstating the case from Galatians 3:28, but he drew out enough parallel passages that it seems pretty convincing that egalitarians can interpret other passages in light of the Galatians verse (Payne does not use this method–he deals directly with the texts said to undermine egalitarianism… I’m merely suggesting that Payne’s work on Galatians 3:28 would allow egalitarians to be justified in utilizing it as a kind of “proof text” by which others must be judged).


Payne’s sustained positive argument for the equality of man and woman essentially convinced me of the egalitarian position over a year and a half ago. I have only recently finished the book, but when I first got it and skimmed through the arguments, I realized every argument I’d been using as a complementarian had an egalitarian answer. Not only that, but Payne’s critique of the complementarian position undermined the theological position which I’d held my entire life. I think it takes a great deal of intellectual integrity to read books which challenge one’s fundamental beliefs, and I have experienced it firsthand. I challenge readers on both sides of the issue to read this book.

Man and Woman, One in Christ provides an insurmountable challenge to the complementarian position. Any scholar working on the topic in the future must interact with this magnificent work. I simply must recommend it over and over again. I am thoroughly convinced that egalitarianism has a much stronger Scriptural and theological basis than the complementarian position, and MWOC is one of the works which lead me to that position. Payne’s thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the texts themselves demonstrates the Biblical accuracy of the egalitarian position. His work is one with which all must contend. The issue of women in the ministry is one we [the church] cannot get wrong. A thoughtful, open-minded approach to the Biblical issues is necessary. Let us make men and women one again.


Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).



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. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Quick Link: N.T. Wright on Women in the Ministry

Eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham, is an egalitarian. Yes, he knows Pauline writing, and he believes women can (and should) be pastors. Check out his wonderfully lucid article on the topic: here.

Here are some choice quotes:

Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles. We should not be surprised that Paul calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7. If an apostle is a witness to the resurrection, there were women who deserved that title before any of the men.

In regards to 1 Timothy 2:

The key to the present passage, then, is to recognise that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be ‘in full submission’; this is often taken to mean ‘to the men’, or ‘to their husbands’, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel – which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ – the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’ Why might Paul need to say this?

Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.

Really, check out the rest of his article.

Check out my argument for women pastors: here.







Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,546 other followers


Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason