Monday, February 21, 2011

A Review Of Two Views On Women In Ministry

A Review of Two Views on Women in Ministry

Beck, J. R., ed. (2005). Two Views on Women in Ministry. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


     Four authors contribute to this work concerning one of the most hotly debated topics in Christian circles, namely the role of women in the ministry of the local church. The four contributors are Linda L. Belleville, Craig L. Blomberg, Craig S. Keener, and Thomas R. Schreiner. Each of the contributors falls under the category “evangelical” and operates as a scholar in the field of New Testament interpretation.
     Belleville is a former faculty member of Bethel College and Graduate School (Indiana), Calvin College (Michigan), and North Park Theological Seminary (Illinois), the latter two for a period of twenty years as Professor of Biblical Literature. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of Transformed by Grace. She has written a commentary on 2 Corinthians in the IVP New Testament Commentary Series as well as other works such as The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters and Discovering Biblical Equality.
     Blomberg received his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He is a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary (Colorado). He has authored and co-authored over fifteen scholarly works in a broad range of subjects including women in ministry, the historical reliability of the Scriptures, premillennialism, and more. His presence in the academic community is felt through his near 100 journal contributions.
     Keener is professor of New Testament at Palmer Theological Seminary, an extension of Eastern University (Pennsylvania). He received his Ph.D. from Duke University. Prior to arriving at Palmer, he served as a professor of Bible at Hood Theological Seminary of the A.M.E. Zion denomination. He has written commentaries on the gospels of John, Matthew, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. Relevant to this study, Keener has written a book entitled Paul, Women & Wives. In addition to his scholarly works, Keener has some resources made available through his Google homepage including works written on the topic of ethnic harmony.
     Schreiner, who received his Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in California, has been on faculty at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Kentucky) for the past thirteen years. Prior to Southern, he served on the faculty in the New Testament department of Bethel Theological Seminary for eleven years. Most recently, he served as one of the plenary speakers at the 2010 ETS Meeting in Atlanta speaking on the doctrine of justification in the writings of Paul. He has written and co-edited ten books which include Romans in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series, Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, and Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. He has authored many journal articles as well in addition to some unpublished resources available on his faculty website worth reading.
     Churches are made up of males and females, and their various ministries can only be filled by one or both of these two options. This book is written in order to present four main, exegetical arguments representing two general views, the egalitarian and complementarian positions, on the role in which women may or may not play in filling those various ministries.


     The positions, egalitarian and complementarian, are represented equally each having two contributory essays. There is a main argument offered by one of the contributors usually ranging from forty to sixty pages; Belleview’s argument at over eighty pages is the single exception. Following the main argument, the remaining contributors are offered four to six pages each to present rebuttal arguments; Belleview’s responses to both complementarian positions are the two exceptions. So, there are four main arguments, two egalitarian and two complementarian, and a total of twelve response essays. The bulk of the arguments in the response essays is found in greater detail in each contributor’s main essay. The flavor of the responses, in general, is summative, and, with the exception of Belleville, is very gracious.

Belleview’s Egalitarian Argument

     Belleview’s argument seeks to answer four key questions. The first deals with whether or not there is a hierarchy between male and female relationships in the Bible. The second surveys whether women are found in leadership roles in the Old and New Testaments. The third reviews whether men and women share the leadership roles. And, the fourth explores whether or not the Bible limits women from particular leadership roles.
     Her argument concerning gender hierarchy hinges upon the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. If there is a male leadership role, its origin must be in one of two places, before the Fall or as a consequence thereof. There is, she argues, a distinction between male and female that is sexual in nature, a “deliberate” and “calculated act on God’s part” (25). Nevertheless, male leadership is not part of that distinction. The “one flesh” union prior to the Fall consists of something greater than sexual unity; it is the union of two persons. Apart from and in such a union, both equally share the image of God. She cites multiple examples in order to argue that the “primary thrust” of the creation narrative is to demonstrate “sameness” between the two genders, not differences, a point both traditionalists will take aim against later. She gives greater attention to the passages in Genesis 1 that use the second person plural in God’s description of and commands to man and woman. Sameness is argued from the creation of Adam and Eve (both out of the earth), the command to rule (both to exercise dominion and subdue), the participation in child-bearing and rearing, as well as identical accountability before God. Her own argument for sameness is rather brief. The greater portion of her section addressing her first question is retaliatory, arguing against what she calls four traditionalist indicators of gender hierarchy.
     About forty percent of Belleview’s argument is devoted to question number two (and number three by default), the presence of women in the Old and New Testaments who served in leadership positions. Only six pages are devoted to the presence of women in leadership found in the New Testament. There is greater agreement between egalitarians and complementarians with regard to women and the Old Testament than there is with the New Testament. As such, a brief description of her argument from the New Testament is in greater order. There are five roles addressed in her argument: (1) house-church patrons, prophets, teachers, and deacons and overseers (which the latter two she groups together). She gives the least attention to the house-church patrons, most likely because it is of lesser importance in today’s culture, and overseers, the latter being rather surprising since it is the apex of the women in ministry debate. The greatest amount of space is devoted to women and teaching in the New Testament. She cites Priscilla, the female prophets in Corinth, and the women in Crete who were instructed to teach younger women as examples. She also shows that certain words for teaching and instruction in Greek served as synonyms under greater semantic domains.
     Just under another forty percent of Belleview’s argument is devoted to question number four. The greater portion of this section is devoted to working through key NT passages (1 Cor. 14:34-35, 1 Tim. 2:11-15, and Eph. 5:18-21) and the translation of specific Greek words and constructions (ἤ, αὐθεντέω, οὐ(κ)...οὐδέ, and κεφαλή). Concerning 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Belleview believes that Paul is dealing with disorder in the Corinthian church. Women speaking is not necessarily bad or wrong, but Paul is addressing another one of the Corinthian ‘issues.’ She rightly rejects the view that Paul is suggesting that all women should be silent in all churches. Instead, she argues that it is dealing with married women who were interrupting various parts of the gathering with questions that could rather have been asked in their own homes and to their own husbands. Concerning 1 Tim. 2:11-15, Belleview argues that Paul is dealing with an issue in a corrective manner. She cites four uses of references to peace over contention in the prohibition’s immediate context. Paul stresses the quiet manner of learning and behaving which points to the issue that women were acting disruptively. The prohibition from teaching, in her opinion, has nothing to do with any leadership role in the church such as teacher or elder. And, she wrestles with the translation of the infinitive αὐθεντεῖν. She cites the lexeme’s usage in the OT as well as extra-biblical sources, centuries before the cross and centuries afterwards, in order to show that the verb has a negative connotation. The issue is not authority in general but rather a negative exertion of that authority. Based upon this and the οὐκ...οὐδέ...ἀλλ’ construction, she comes up with the following translation: “I do not permit a woman to teach a man in a dominating way but to have a quiet demeanor” (89). Concerning the translation of κεφαλή, Belleview opts for the meaning “source” instead of “head.” She calls this the “real bone of contention” between the two positions (99). She terms the Paul’s language “biological” rather than suggestive of gender hierarchy. Paul’s mention of the church in Ephesians focuses on the church’s origin in Christ and not its submission to him.

Blomberg’s Complementarian Argument

     Blomberg’s presentation is the most gracious of the four. He is mindful of the sensitivity of the issue. He writes:
Almost every egalitarian, and particularly women in church leadership roles, have been personally attacked, often repeatedly, in very sub-Christian ways, by certain complementarians to such an extent that it becomes hard for them even to consider the possibility that a more restrictive position might be correct. (125-26)
In addition to this sensitivity, Blomberg is more open to the use of the secular sciences to addressing the issue, although none of those play a role in his presentation in this work. His presentation, however, consists of a survey of the Old and New Testaments, the intertestamental period and its developments, a look at the “classic controversial” Pauline passages and texts on the family, evidence from church history, followed by some concluding remarks.
     Like Belleville, Blomberg first deals with Genesis 1-3. Unlike Belleville, he identifies some differences, even before the Fall, between man and woman. For example, man exercises his authority and dominion over creation, which was given by God, by naming the animals. God creates a “helper” for man, a word which has an intrinsic element of subordination. He acknowledges that there are instances where a superior being functions in the subordinate role. Nevertheless, man is never referred to being a “helper” of his wife. Blomberg also cites the order of creation as a support for hierarchical relationships.
     Concerning his survey of the Old and New Testaments, the main question is, in his opinion, whether the NT overturns the hierarchy of women in one particular leadership role of the OT, the priesthood. He writes about the priesthood, “Beyond this one office…there do not appear to be any other restrictions on women in public leadership in ancient Israel” (133-34). Women functioned in leadership roles, but God ordered the nation of Israel in such a way that men served in the priesthood. His survey of the OT shows how women served in other ways. His survey of the NT shows the positive presence of women and the special relationship that Jesus had with women during his earthly ministry. Despite all of these, Blomberg concludes that Jesus “never promotes full-fledged egalitarianism” (144). The record of the work of the apostles in Acts affirms this as well.
     In the section reserved for the “classic controversial” Pauline passages, Blomberg deals with Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor. 11:2-16, 1 Cor. 14:33-38, 1 Tim. 2:8-15. In the section reserved for the texts on the family, he deals with Col. 3:18-19 and Eph. 5:21-33 and 1 Pet 3:1-7. In the section dealing with 1 Cor. 11:2-16, Blomberg deals with the translation of κεφαλή, whether it is “head” denoting authority or “source” or “origin” not denoting any authority. He has an interesting observation concerning the egalitarian use of Stephen Bedale’s article in JTS that covered the translation. While Belleview did not cite Bedale’s article, Blomberg’s quote does show that any dependence on this source must take into account the conclusion, one that affirms the translation of κεφαλή intending subordination. Also, Blomberg takes a rather slanted view of prophecy equating it with sermon-delivery. The office, in his opinion, is the only restriction placed on women. Based upon this, he concludes, “One could thus be completely faithful to 1 Corinthians 11:5 by allowing a woman to preach” (158). Blomberg also deals with the οὐ(κ)...οὐδέ construction. He, however, takes the position that this construction joins two verbs into one single element resulting, in 1 Tim. 2:12, in the translation “authoritative teaching.” Then, he equates this with the office that is explained in chapter three. The greater question for Blomberg is whether or not the text reveals anything about whether this restriction is timeless or culture specific. He cites the Greek γάρ and the argument from creation as support for timelessness. Concerning the familial texts, Blomberg recognizes that Eph. 5:21 and following refer back to the command in 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit and the final participial clause speaking of mutual submission.

Keener’s Egalitarian Argument

     In Keener’s own words, he argues that “the Bible permits women’s ministry under normal circumstances and prohibits it only under exceptional circumstances” (207). Keener provides the quickest sweep through the Scriptures to show the presence of women in ministry citing God's use of women as prophetesses, a judge, and “laborers in the Word,” a section totaling just under five pages. For the most part, Keener responds to questions he forms (“Does Paul permit only some ministry roles?” and “Why more men than women?”).
     Concerning the latter question, Keener comments on why Jesus and his disciples had female traveling companions. He notes that the apostle Paul did not have such traveling companions. Why? He answers in a footnote, “Paul had to exhibit greater concern for the scandal factor because he was trying to establish a church within Greco-Roman society…Jesus, by contrast, was deliberately moving toward confrontation with the authorities and his execution” (221). This comment seems a little unfounded. Paul was hardly being more “above reproach” than his Lord. The answer for why there were more male ministers than female rests in the sociological makeup of the locales visited on the missionary journeys. Rome and Philippi, the cities associated with more female ministers, were “locations in which women appear to have exercised greater social mobility than in Greece or in much of the parts of urban Asia Minor influenced by Hellenistic culture” (222). The snapshot of the cultural and sociological DNA of the ancient world provides the parameters for when women were excluded or when they uncommonly served. Remove such cultural and sociological structures and the restrictions disappear.
     His space dealing with the key passages, consisting of seventeen pages which make up the largest section of his argument, addresses the exceptions. Limitations in ministry are based on culture-specific and letter-specific instances. His opening remarks perfectly reflect how he deals with each passage, which include 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-14: “Everything the Bible says is for all time; but not everything the Bible says is for all circumstances, and there is not a single Christian in the world today…who applies every text to all circumstances—not even the straightforward commands” (224). Concerning 1 Cor. 14:34-25, Keener suggests that the women were learning “too loudly” (228). The problem had nothing to do with teaching or prophesying; instead, it had to do with the cultural impropriety. Instead of targeting the women at fault, Paul issues the only gender-related negative command in the NT. With a broad sweep, he solved the issue by then requiring wives to ask their husbands at home. Nevertheless, Keener does not answer the question about how this is a strike against a gender if he appears to only target married women, a huge qualifier. Concerning 1 Tim. 2:11-14, Keener surprisingly writes, “I believe Paul probably prohibits not simply ‘teaching authoritatively’ but both teaching Scripture at all and having (or usurping) authority at all” (231). He is a complementarian—not! Instead, he shows how the restriction is limited to the Ephesian church because of the presence of false teachers targeting women who then went about as ‘busybodies.’ At best, he draws the application that “those most susceptible to false teaching should not teach” (233). And, he believes that in various situations the “those” does not necessarily have to be made up predominantly of women.

Schreiner’s Complementarian Argument

     Schreiner’s argument begins with a few preliminary considerations. The first identifies his position as the historical position, one that prohibits women from the office of pastor (evangelical) and priest (Catholic). The second deals with hermeneutics and the role of presuppositions. He affirms that a person’s past contributes to one’s thinking, but it hardly handcuffs a person to a deterministic way of thinking. In a land that is filled with ideological kingdoms with high walls constructed, Schreiner wisely acknowledges the dignity of women throughout the Scriptures. He affirms God’s use of women in various ministries. He believes women served as prophets; he believes they served as deaconesses; he believes there were females apostles (i.e., Junia). Nevertheless, he does not believe that women were among those given to serve as elders. He considers the evidence for an opposite opinion “practically nonexistent and unpersuasive” (285).
      The remainder of Schreiner’s presentation is an explanation of Gen. 1-3, which happens to be the largest coverage that portion of Scripture receives in the entire book (a total of ten pages). The understanding of this passage is foundational for how he deals with the Pauline passages (1 Tim. 2:11-15, 1 Cor. 11:2-16, and 1 Cor. 14:33b-36). From Gen. 1-3, Schreiner draws six conclusions:
1. God created Adam first.
2. God commanded Adam, not Eve, to not eat from the tree.
3. God created Eve for Adam.
4. Adam named Eve.
5. The serpent went against God’s original design and tempted Eve instead of Adam.
6. And, God held Adam accountable first even though Eve sinned first.
While Adam and Eve had different, God-ordained functions, each of them were equal before God. The most interesting part about these six observations is that only two of them are dealt with by any of the other contributors, namely observation numbers one and three. And, the latter two observations are unique but well-founded. Schreiner, unlike Blomberg, believes that the description of the family unit in Ephesians 5:22ff. is transitional. In other words, once Paul begins the description of women’s role, there is no connection back to the final participle in 5:21 or the finite verb in 5:18. The similar differentiation in roles with wives in the family structure carries over into different roles for men and women, in general, in the local church.
     Schreiner does deal with the cultural argument in the section allotted for 1 Timothy 2:11-14. He writes, “Discerning why a command was given is appropriate, precisely because culture has changed” and “we must distinguish between principle and the cultural outworking of a principle” (308). Citing Köstenberger, he believes that the οὐ(κ)...οὐδέ construction identifies two distinct activities when they are used with infinitives. Therefore, Paul is not referring to “authoritatively teaching” but rather “teaching” and “exercising authority.” These two activities, according to Schreiner, are activities reserved for the pastorate which Paul is prohibiting women from serving in.
     Concerning 1 Cor. 11:2-16, Schreiner affirms that Paul is encouraging women’s role in praying and prophesying while denying that there is any distinction between a private or public setting. An affirmation of their place in the church’s worship service and the permissibility to prophecy and pray does not equal an egalitarian position, however. Instead, women were able to do so without having permission to serve as pastors. His coverage of 1 Cor. 14:33b-36 does well to show that Paul is speaking of something trans-cultural citing 14:33 as the super-clue.


     The point of a book like this is to present strong exegetical arguments primarily from Scripture for more than one position with the aim that the reader can land his or her own plane wherever the evidence is strongest. In this particular book, there are two positions being presented from four different contributors. Each position is presented in two similar yet different ways based upon style and evidence.
     The two egalitarian arguments have a flavor all their own. It is impossible to miss the resentment in Belleville’s argument and two of her three responses. She writes in a manner that the complementarians acknowledge some in their camp have once acted toward egalitarians. Keener presents a case that weakens the authority of Scripture. Every debatable Scripture dealing with this issue is culturally irrelevant today. In multiple places in Scripture, Paul restricts women but the answer is always cultural. The weakest observation which no one mentions in response is that Paul never puts a gender restriction on men despite the constant mention of negative activities associated with them. Keener does provide a good example of a trans-cultural and cultural passage in Scripture, namely the holy kiss—one in which complementarians cannot deny. Albeit briefly, Keener does make the argument that compares the institution of slavery to the institution of hierarchical marriages/cultures. The argument appears strong. If slavery was wrong but permitted, even in Scripture, and if it was eventually abolished, why the resistance to abolishing the gender hierarchy in the church especially after women have won so many rights in the last hundred years? For Keener and Belleville, the point or principle is submission to authority whatever face that authority takes on over the years. As Schreiner points out, one is man-made (slavery) while the other is God-ordained (gender roles and different functions).
     The Belleville argument is much stronger, the evidence and the rhetoric, than the Keener argument. She makes some solid arguments based on linguistics. She wrestles with the biblical texts without incorporating any secular sciences. She works with the contexts of each critical passage and she is confident with the original languages, both Hebrew and Greek. Her observation of the use of אָדָם in Gen. 1:26 and זָכָר and נְקֵבָה in Gen. 1:27 is strong. She shows that the latter two are gender terms while the former is generic. The point is reinforced, yet wide-open for attack, by her observation that the former is translated in the LXX by the generic ἄνθρωπος. Belleville has the better read of the two egalitarian papers. The weight of her argument seems heavier simply because she works with the original languages. Nevertheless, there are some issues. Concerning case made for the LXX translation being generic, one could hardly argue that it is always generic (see Mt. 10:35). The same weakness is found in her exegesis of Gen. 3:16 with the verb תְּשׁוּקָה. She says that the word cannot mean “rule” because that translation would not fit for the use in Gen. 4 where God tells Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you” (4:7). The Cain example needs to think beyond the word to the sentence and the idea. True, lions do not desire per se; they hunger. But, neither does sin sit. The argument falls apart. These language studies are throughout her argument, and they are extensive. She often provides diachronic evidence for the use of rare words.
     Despite Belleville’s noteworthy grappling with the biblical text, the complementarians come away with the pin, particularly Schreiner’s presentation. His argument is rooted on the God-ordained design for man and woman in Gen. 1-3 instead of whether or not woman functioned in certain roles throughout God’s redemptive plan. Those occurrences are secondary to the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. Blomberg rightly draws a distinction between those occurrences and the “office.” But, Schreiner is able to articulately show that the NT does not overturn something that is established in the OT; and, what takes place following the Fall does not overturn what God had established prior to the Fall. His six observations are hardly profound. They need little work in the Hebrew or Greek languages. They are plainly seen in the text regardless of what language they are translated into. In fact, the observations better serve as parameters for how certain words should be translated. Nevertheless, Schreiner, like Belleville, works with those tools in an almost parallel fashion to Belleville’s argument. His argument more than Blomberg’s responds to the cultural setting of the NT letters. And, his distinction between a principle and its outworking is priceless.
     The format is commendable and popular in recent years. In 2001, a 192 page book was put out for four views on youth ministry. In 2007, a book was put out on four views on free-will. More recently, in 2010, a four views book was put out on Hell. Others have been put out on inerrancy (conservative, moderate, and liberal), the Lord’s Supper, eternal security, baptism, etc. This presentation with four contributors, even though there are only two views, is longer than those offered on other topics of interest. Nevertheless, the space is quite limited for any responses. On the one hand, the responses are nice because they allow a reader to see what points of contention or agreement there are. On the other hand, the responses are too brief to allow any serious dialogue/debate. The meat of the book is found in the arguments. Were the responses left out, the book would really not lose very much.


     There are other books on women in ministry. Grenz and Kjesbo released a book in 1995. Duncan and Hunt put out a book in 2006. Husbands and Larsen had one published in 2007. France (2010) has a book that is more of a theological diagnosis than a theological or exegetical discourse. The closest work to the one under review here is a four-views book on the subject put out by InterVarsity in 1989 (see end for bibliographic information). The contributors are different. InterVarsity enlisted Robert Culver, Susan Foh, Walter Leifeld, and Alvera Mickelsen. The first represents the traditional (or, complementarian) view while the last represents the egalitarian view. Foh and Leifeld, however, present two other views called the “Male Leadership” view and the “Plural Ministry” view. The Male Leadership view is still a complementarian view and the Plural Ministry view is still an egalitarian view. It appears that Zondervan has corrected a distinction that may have unnecessarily blurred the issue. The book is marked by a longer introduction from the editors that traces the history of women in ministry through the early American history. Books that present a single perspective are still necessary and valuable. Each of the contributors for the Zondervan publication has written individually on the issue. Their arguments are summaries of what would be found in greater detail in their respective works.
     This book may be good for a spiritually mature layperson that has demonstrated a discerning spirit who desires to get his bearings on what may be one of the most debated issues in the Church today. For the scholar, however, this book is only a beginning point. Pastors and pastors-in-training would find this resource helpful, as well. I would recommend this book to someone who has a working knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages. Because of the dependence on the biblical languages, the lack of such a knowledge would render the book confusing and of little help.


     Clouse, B., and R. G. Clouse, eds. (1989). Women in Ministry: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

     Beck, J. R., ed. (2005). Two Views on Women in Ministry. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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