The following is a book review of Women in the Church's
Ministry, by R. T. France.
Should Women Be Pastors?
Since many women are becoming pastors in churches in our day, many
Christians are discovering how important it is that they study the
scriptures in order to determine what they believe is God's will
concerning whether or not women should serve as pastors. In his
in the Church's Ministry, A Test Case for Biblical
Interpretation, R. T. France offers an argument in favor of the
ordination of women as pastors.
In order to prepare the reader for his views, France offers his view of
Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) in Chapter 1. He
argues that we can't assume that the New Testament epistles apply to
20th century Christians, due to the following reasons:
France argues that just because the apostles gave certain commands to
1st century churches, that doesn't mean that they apply to
us. He says that we should not "enshrine a permanent
principle which must apply to all church contexts in all times and
places, and which rules out the holding of authoritative office in the church by
any women anywhere. . . we are not at liberty to infringe (God's)
provision, whatever may happen in society at large" (pg. 21).
- We must consider "the changing context of Christian discipleship" (pg. 22).
- We must consider our "very different times and culture" (pg. 23).
- We must question the "relevance to our own situation" (pg.23).
- Scripture cannot be assumed to have "application to
any and every church context" (pg. 24).
- "The horizon of the biblical writers is different from ours" (pg. 24).
- We must consider the "changing world order" (pg. 36).
However, a liberal use of this method of interpretation quickly
endangers the very core truths of Christianity. For example,
1 Corinthians 6:18 instructs the reader to "flee from sexual
immorality." Using France's method of liberal interpretation,
one could deduce that this only applied to the members of the 1st
century church at Corinth, and not to us today. We all know
that the Corinthian church had some major problems. The
argument would then continue that Paul only meant for them to flee from sexual
immorality until they resolved the other problems in their
those were resolved, a little sexual immorality never hurt
anybody. This doesn't apply to me because my church doesn't have a
reputation for sexual immorality. To restrict me from any and all sexual
immorality would be to limit my freedom in Christ. Can you see how
dangerous and absurd this becomes? In fact, France uses such means to
even suggest that salvation is by works, and not by faith
alone, when he cites salvation for women through child-bearing (pg. 69).
France tries to justify his principles for interpretation by somehow
comparing them to dispensational truths (although it's difficult to
believe that he is a dispensationalist). He cites animal sacrifice (pg.
25) as an example of how we don't apply all scripture to everyone
throughout time. However, he fails to mention that Christ brought us
the age of grace wherein we are no longer under the law, but under
grace (Romans 6:14). Christ was our ultimate sacrifice, so we no longer
need to bring animal sacrifices. France tries to invent an
ultra-dispensationalism where we can just pick and choose
which passages apply, without scriptural support for our decisions.
In particular, relative to women as pastors, France cites two scripture
passages which he believes must mean something different than their
traditional interpretation, in order to justify his views.
As in all the
congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the
churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as
the Law says. If they want to inquire about
should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to
speak in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35
This passage indicates that in all churches, women should be silent and
submissive. For a woman to assume the role of pastor
would be disgraceful. France offers the following possible
It's obvious that France just wants to justify what he believes by
inventing new meanings for scripture.
- The relevant issue here may only be "how a married
behave in church" (pg. 47).
- This imperative was necessary only because there were some
"married women behaving inappropriately" in the church at Corinth.
- This is referring to speaking in tongues, not normal speech (ppg. 54-55).
- This only meant that the women should stop "asking unnecessary questions" (ppg. 54-55).
- This only meant that the women should stop their "loud chatter and gossip" (ppg. 54-55).
- This imperative was necessary only because some women had
apparently been "questioning what prophets had said" (ppg. 54-55).
- This only meant that the women should stop
"interrupting instead of listening" (pg. 54-55).
A woman should
learn in quietness and full submission. I do
not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must
be silent. 1 Timothy 2:11-12
This passage is probably the most adamant in unconditionally denying
women the office of pastor unconditionally. Since the role of a pastor
is obviously an authoritative role of teaching (Ephesians 4:11),
including the responsibility of teaching men, then women cannot occupy that
office. In other words, since women cannot teach men (1 Timothy
2:11-12), and pastors are teachers (Ephesians 4:11) of both men and
women, then it follows logically that women cannot be pastors.
In France's view, this passage could mean:
Although all of these interpretations are flawed, the last one is
particularly absurd. If Paul meant "wife" and "husband" instead of
"woman" and "man," he would have used the Greek words for "wife" and
"husband." Furthermore, this interpretation would imply that it was OK
for a woman to usurp authority over other men, but not her husband. In
other words, if her husband were sitting in the congregation, she couldn't teach, but if he left, then she could.
- Some women were "teaching with improper authority"
(as in the
female-dominated worship of Artemis) (pg. 61-62).
- Some women were just ignorant would-be teachers
- These women just needed "to learn first," then they
could teach (pg. 61-62) schools, universities, Sunday School (pg. 64)
- This only meant that these women should "stop shouting and calm down" (pg. 66).
- It meant that these women could teach, but with a "restful, non-argumentative attitude" (pg. 66).
- This only meant that a wife was not to have authority over her husband (pg. 66).
Finally, France simply discounts these verses as "an obscure passage"
(pg. 70). After all, he argues, what about some of the other
imperatives for women such as the braiding of hair, the wearing of
gold, pearls, and expensive clothes, and head coverings (pg. 71)? We
don't see many churches adhering to these imperatives, so we must
assume them to be obviously outdated. France is saying that since some
churches violate these imperatives, it must be OK for us to violate the
imperative against women pastors. However, this logic is the same as I
used to teach my young children when they argued for certain rights
based upon the behavior of their friends. "If your friend jumped off a
bridge, would you do it too?" Just because Abraham slept with his
housekeeper, does that mean we should sleep with ours?
France also says, "First-century society was of course strongly
male-dominated, . . . but the New Testament writers nowhere state that
this fact of society is either inevitable or a part of the divine
purpose" (pg. 36). To attempt to illustrate his point, he compares the
issue of slavery, "which is neither commended nor directly disputed,
but which will in due course be undermined as Christian people are
enabled to apply the wider principles of New Testament ethics in the
context of a changing world-order." However, this is not a
valid comparison with the issue of women serving as pastors. The comparison breaks down when
we, in fact, do see explicit imperatives concerning women in ministry,
as is clearly seen in the above passages.
Women in Ministry
In Chapter 4, France cites many of the various roles of women in the
New Testament churches (ppg. 79-88), including the following:
France goes on to say that there no second-class citizens in the
kingdom of God (pg. 90), and there was an increasing prominence of
women in the New Testament church (pg. 91).
He is apparently confusing any church
activity with the scripturally specific role of pastor. I
agree that women should meet with
the other church members, be hospitable, be entrepreneurial, be kind,
play important roles in the church, be prominent, pray, struggle, and work
hard. These are all things that are commended in the New testament for all
Christians. However, when it comes to the role of pastor, there are
specific qualifications. Not everyone is qualified to be a pastor,
including all women, and many men. However, none of them should feel
slighted, because we all have different gifts, and we're all part of the body (1 Corinthians
- Women met together as part of the church, including
Mary (Acts 1:13-14).
- Converts included women (Acts 5:14).
- Women provided premises and hospitality (Acts 12:12).
- Lydia, the first convert in Europe, was a successful
business woman (Acts 16:14-15).
- Tabitha provided good works and acts of charity (Acts
- Priscilla probably played an important role in the
of the church (Romans 16:3).
- Women prayed (1 Corinthians 11:5).
- Euodia and Syntyche were fellow strugglers in the
work of the gospel
- Phoebe probably took a letter from Rome to Corinth
- Phoebe was a deaconess (Romans 16:1-16).
- Paul greeted many women (Romans 16:1-16).
- Mary worked very hard (Romans 16:6).
- Tryphaena and Tryphosa were workers in the Lord
- Peris worked hard in the Lord (Romans 16:12).
- Paul called Prisca a co-worker (Romans 16:1-16).
- Junia was in Christ before Paul was (Romans 16:7).
- Junia was prominent among the apostles, probably as a
messengers or an envoy (Romans 16:7).
Now the overseer must be
above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate,
self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,...
1 Timothy 3:2
One of the main oversights by France is the fact that he fails to
discuss 1 Timothy 3 where Paul is giving explicit qualifications for
pastors. In order to understand the imperatives of this passage, we
must first consider the people and positions whom the Bible calls
The most revealing passage here is Acts 20 where Paul addresses an
assembly of elders from the various local churches in the city of
Ephesus, just before his final departure from that city. In verse 17,
these men are called "elders" (transliterated "presbuteros"), meaning
"old men" or "spiritually mature men." Then in verse 28, these same men
are called "bishops" ("episkopos"), meaning "overseers". Also in verse
28, we see that these men are charged to "feed" or "oversee" the
"flock". The Greek word used here for "feed" is "poimaino", meaning "to
shepherd", and the Greek word used for "flock" is "poimnion", meaning,
those whom the shepherd oversees. Therefore, this
elder / bishop is also called a pastor ("poimen"), meaning "shepherd",
as in Ephesians 4:11, since it is his duty to "shepherd the flock" by
teaching and explaining the Bible to them. This is also
obvious from the very words themselves: the bishop is called
an overseer, and what he is overseeing is called a flock, and the job
description of a shepherd is to oversee the flock. This same
argument applies to 1 Peter 5:2, where elders are commanded to "be shepherds"
("poimaino"), . . . "serving as overseers" ("episkopeo"). Based upon this
logic, the terms elder, bishop, pastor, and overseer are synonymous.
Having shown that the term "overseer" is synonymous with the term
"pastor," it cannot follow that a woman can assume the role of
pastor. The Greek language in this verse, and subsequent verses,
clearly indicates that the pastor is to be a man. Furthermore, he is
to be the husband of one wife. In other words, the following test must
be passed by the person aspiring to be a pastor: Is this person the
husband of one wife? Obviously, no woman passes this test. In addition, 1
Timothy 3 is in agreement with many other supporting passages including 1 Corinthians 11:3 and
When 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which states that women should not teach or have
authority over men, it makes this statement unconditionally. It does
not specify this directive only for
certain types of ministries, certain services, certain times of the
day, or certain teaching techniques.
This argument can also be defended based upon a principle of protestant
hermeneutics whereby scripture is used to interpret scripture
(Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Bernard Ramm, page 104). Since
women cannot teach men (1 Timothy 2:11-12), and pastors are teachers (Ephesians
4:11) of both men and women, then it follows logically that women cannot be pastors.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, is very
definitive on this point in Volume 7 of his Systematic
Theology. Chafer says, "Woman, as her position has been defined by the Scriptures, is in
great peril when out of her sphere which never becomes that of leadership" (ppg. 310-311).
Jerry Falwell contributes to this argument in the Liberty Bible
Commentary. Referring to 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Falwell says, "The woman
being deceived or beguiled by Satan indicates a fundamental tendency which shows the
woman should not be the leader in the home or the church. Paul speaks
later (2 Timothy 3:6) how women are susceptible to be 'led away'" (page 2499).
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, ". . . women are not to assume
either leadership or the teaching office in the church. To
illustrate the principle of masculine leadership, Paul cites the order
of creation as establishing the man's natural headship (1 Corinthians 11:8,9)" (Page 1373).
Conforming to the World
One of the great dangers here is submitting to societal pressure in
order to appease the world and conform to its views (Romans 12:2).
Judge Robert H. Bork touches on this issue in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Bork
describes the radical egalitarianist who "resents any distinction among
people or forms of behavior that suggests superiority in one or the other" (page 5), and
insists that both sexes should be "represented proportionately in all areas of
endeavor" (page 10). Bork cites the sin of envy as the root of this rebellion
against authority, defining it as the dissatisfaction produced "not by what they lack but by what others
have" (page 70).
Bork also refers to radical feminism whereby "feminist theory provides
a doctrine of original sin: The world's evils originate in
male supremacy" (page 196). Bork argues that "the contention that
underneath their cultural conditioning
men and women are identical is absurd to anyone not blinded by
ideological fantasy" (page 198). Furthermore, Bork warns that "radical feminists have very
little use for religion or churches as they are, but they do not leave the
churches whose doctrines and liturgies they find objectionable. They work
from within to change the churches so that the final product will bear little resemblance to
Christianity. The feminists call for 're-imagining' the Christian
religion, which means rejecting all traditional doctrine" (page 287).
Owen Weber 2009