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Can Women Be Ministers?

Ben Witherington has written a concise summary and refutation of the most prevalent arguments against women in ministry.

As I have learned over many years…. the problem in the church is not strong and gifted women.  We need all those we can get, and were it not for them, many churches would have closed long ago. I remember so vividly meeting the babooshkas—the grandmothers in the Moscow Baptist Church, who had stopped Stalin from closing the church by standing in the door and not letting his troops enter and close it down.  Thank God for strong, gifted women in the church.   No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in  the church.

Witherington is a biblical scholar, and his arguments are based on careful exegesis of biblical texts. Anyone who would appeal to church tradition to override reasonable interpretations of what the Bible teaches will presumably be impervious to his arguments. More’s the pity.



  1. mike says:


    Don’t you think the Fathers and Doctors of twenty centuries included a biblical scholar or two? Do you really want to dismiss contemporary Catholic and Orthodox biblical scholars as automata, “impervious,” programmed to allow tradition to “override” Scripture — unlike those free spirits who keep their distance from Romish intimidation?. The same argument can be turned right around. Those who are faithful to tradition’s exegesis of Scripture keep a certain immunity against the fallacies of the passing age.

    There are better ways to disagree with your friends.


  2. Paula says:

    When centuries of scholarly opinions are shown to be wrong, then honest and competent scholars will not hesitate to admit their error. When one is grounded on scholarship instead of ideology, one has nothing to fear from cross-examination and thus does not lash out with anger against those who disagree.

    History is replete with cases of mistaken but sincere experts, theologically or otherwise. Sadly, it is also replete with cases of suppression of ideas which threaten the careers of those in positions of power or influence. So I might turn Mike’s question around as well: Don’t you think the Fathers and Doctors of twenty centuries included an unwillingness to give power to the common people, a belief that the masses must be governed by their betters, or unwillingness to let the Holy Spirit do the leading? Read quotes from Luther or many other “fathers” for what they thought of Jews, women, and the priesthood of all believers. There is no restraint, no civility in their words; couldn’t they of all people find “better ways to disagree”? And is there a single topic in church history that ALL “fathers and doctors” have agreed upon?

    The fact is that there are competent scholars on both sides of this issue, such that appeals to authority are not going to settle the question. One must honestly and openly study both sides of the debate and then make a personal decision– one which cannot be forced upon others. And if, in the end, that means yet another split in the Body of Christ, so be it. After all, how can women whose calling to ministry is no less verifiable than that of men, who believe on the basis of scholarly opinion and personal study that they are free to do so, coexist with those who would forbid them this service?


  3. SingingOwl says:

    Well said, Paula.

    And this ” After all, how can women whose calling to ministry is no less verifiable than that of men, who believe on the basis of scholarly opinion and personal study that they are free to do so, coexist with those who would forbid them this service?” is becoming more proglamatic for me by the day…sigh. But it is true. To “peacefully coexist” is just no longer possible. Not that I won’t be peaceful, but I will not coexist. At least not in my heart.


  4. SingingOwl says:

    “Proglamatic” sounds like someting pertaining to frogs. Of course, I meant “problematic.”


  5. mike says:

    The Fathers — and their opponents — most certainly did not live by the rules we observe today for civil discourse. We shouldn’t expect them to. And we shouldn’t follow their lead in matters that are not essential to the deposit of faith. The options and inessentials have varied from time to time and place to place. But (here I speak as a Catholic) sacraments are central, are essential. We believe there are sound exegetical reasons why the apostolic churches have always reserved the offices of priest and bishop to men. These reasons have been examined rather profoundly and quite freely in books by Sr. Sara Butler, Manfred Hauke, Jean Galot, and many others. These are no minor-league scholars.

    Priesthood is not a prize, and it implies no more holiness than I have received in baptism. It is a different call, a different kind of holiness. There are sound reasons why, in the order of creation, God barred me from motherhood. I may feel I lack something because I can’t experience what my wife can. But I don’t. God gave me what I need.

    I apologize for bowing out hurriedly from the conversation. I’m off for a week on the road. I posted only because Darrell’s comment was so out of character for this blog.


  6. Paula says:

    Thanks Owl. 🙂


    “The Fathers — and their opponents — most certainly did not live by the rules we observe today for civil discourse. We shouldn’t expect them to.”

    Why not? Paul was not a product of his time after his conversion. The rules for civil discourse are to be in line with NT teachings for our behavior, and the vitriol some of those “fathers” let fly was nothing of the kind.

    Your mention of sacraments is a prime example of disagreement among scholars and theologians. The NT only speaks of faith regarding what it takes to be saved, and spiritual “fruit” regarding the proper deportment of those having been saved. Yet according to your stated belief, I cannot be saved without sacraments, and am thus bound for hell. Obviously, it follows that there are many, many theologians who are quite simply wrong, and severely so.

    You say that “priesthood… is a different call, a different kind of holiness”, yet I see no such definition in scripture. We all are called “a royal priesthood”. Those who lead, in contrast, are simply those recognized for their spiritual maturity, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit as well as knowledge of the scriptures. And by both the teaching and example of Paul, we see that these leaders are not officials or rulers but lowly servants who warn and teach the less mature.

    That said, it is quite a leap to bring biology into the topic of spiritual gifts. Paul never made such a connection, and Gal. 3:28 means exactly what it says or it does not. But of course we’re not going to conduct this debate in adequate depth via blog comments, so I would just direct you to my documents at Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/SaberTruth .

    As for the character of Darrell’s blog, I think he is sovereign over it and has not violated any standards of Christian conduct.


  7. mikelioso says:

    I have to disagree with Ben Witherington on 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 and 1 Tim. 2.8-15. The text clearly mean that women should not have authority in a church. Not to teach, not to preach. If that seems to conflict with some of the attitudes of Paul in other writings, it’s likely because Paul didn’t write the above passages. Ben’s interpretation is a common instance of twisted interpretation of scripture to suit the changing morals of the world. The person who wrote these passages had the same problem. Not that the morals of the day had changed, but the radical position of Paul, who acknowledged women apostles and said there was no Jew or Gentile, free or slave, man or woman, was was blackening the image of the church to the rest of polite society. Instead of reinterpreting Paul’s words, some well meaning churchman simply invented some new ones. This could be done since what Paul wrote wasn’t really common knowledge. You can’t really get away with that now. The new family values Paul was a hit since it reaffirmed prevailing attitudes on women.

    To a larger issue, why should Paul be the final authority on Christianity? What about the Holy Spirit? Did it only hang around long enough for the forgotten bishops of the 3rd century to cobble together a list of inspired writers? Women should be allowed to be ministers because the highest ideals of our conscience and and revered people of faith say that we are all equal before God. And only God is true, everyone else, including prophets, are subject to error. To say it is disgracefull for a a daughter of God to speak in an assembly of His children is not from the Spirit of God but the Lord of the World, who says the strong rule the weak.


  8. mike says:

    I apologize for posting a persnickety comment. I’m always irritable before long trips.

    I recognize that there are profound differences between the fer and agin on this question. I knew that when I got up this morning. I’ve read the books. I also knew that Darrell and I differed on the question. I’ve read every post that has appeared on this blog down the years. I think, though, it’s important for us to acknowledge that our opponents conclude what they conclude for what they consider to be sound exegetical reasons — not because tradition blinds them to Scripture. This isn’t just a Protestant vs. Catholic issue, but (thank you, other Mike) a Protestant-Protestant issue as well.

    Sorry to be so brief. I’m on the fly.


  9. Mike, I’m always happy to have you comment here, “irritable” or not. You raise important questions, and I do apologize for the snark at the end of my original post. Now, since I’m still pooped from last night’s church carnival, I think I’ll sign off lest I reveal how irritable I can sometimes get!


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