Women in the Pulpit II: Are Complementarians Inconsistent?

The introduction to this blog series is crucial to read. It provides the background as well as the links to what I reference in this post. If you have not read it, it can be found here.

I have categorized into four parts Boyd’s essay. Essentially, Boyd’s essay makes nine arguments, which I have combined into four arguments: 1) Complementarians are inconsistent in their application of the texts at hand. 2) Women occupy places of high authority throughout the Bible. 3) Hermenuetics and knowing when a biblical passage is culturally relative or universal. 4) The exegesis of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.

The fourth one is by far the most important, and I want to end with a bang.

The first thing to address is the claim that to take the interpretation I do on the passages excluding women from the role of Elder. The claim is that those who hold the historic interpretation of these texts do not practice them consistently.

Irrelevant Thesis

Before examining Boyd’s specific examples, this can be refuted from abroad. Boyd dug his own grave by making a lesser argument than he could have. Boyd did not attempt to run a reductio ad absurdem. He is not arguing that the interpretation forces one into inconsistency. That would refute the interpretation. His argument however is that the practitioners do not live consistently. Boyd writes,

“I’ll then begin refuting [their] case by showing that very few churches are consistent in the way they apply these verses.”

That is very different than arguing the position itself is contradictory. Essentially, Boyd is making the elementary error that a worldview is true based on the behavior of its adherents.

The Trinity does not cease to be true the moment a Trinitarian church tries to use an analogy to explain it which ends up promoting Modalism. When a Christian does not love his neighbor, Christianity does not cease to be true. The inconsistent practices of a church do not nullify a theological position. Christians can be hypocrites; they can be inconsistent. That does not mean Christianity is untrue. In the same way, even if churches who believe women cannot be elders are inconsistent, the complementarian (CP) position is still true. The exegesis determines or refutes its validity, not the sanctification level of those who accept it.

This logic truly rears its ugly head whenever the Egalitarian (EG) professor brings up head-coverings.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul teaches that women need to wear a head-covering.

headcoveringFew churches today require women to wear head-coverings. Often times Egalitarians will accuse the historic, complementarian (CP) position of inconsistency because most CP churches do not require women to wear head-coverings.

Rachel Held-Evans (RHE) said this,

“Anyone who says that Paul’s instructions regarding women at Ephesus are universally binding because he appeals to the creation narrative to make his point can be consistent in that position only if they also require women in their church to cover their heads, as Paul uses a very similar line of argumentation to advocate that.”

First of all, there are good reasons to believe the principle the head-coverings represent is universal, but the head-covering application is not (for example, the alternative would put Paul at odds with the old Testament mandate that the High Priest cover his head.) Thus, RHE’s assertion is not true on the face of it.

Second, Paul does not appeal to the created order to establish head-coverings, but to establish that “woman is the glory of man” (7). That is what Paul appeals to the creation order to prove, and those of us maintaining the historic position believe that to still be true.

What is important is that even if the argument is granted, it does not disprove the exegesis of 1 Timothy 2.

In other words, logical laws cannot change. What RHE is espousing here is that she is right about 1 Timothy being relative, but once the women of my church put on their head-coverings, then the message of 1 Timothy changes and vindicates us.

Is RHE correct about female pastors in churches without head-coverings, and is she wrong in churches with them? Is truth relative like this?

Obviously, 1 Timothy 2 has a meaning which is independent of whether or not my local church misunderstands other chapters in the Bible.

Applying 1 Timothy 2: 11-14 Consistently

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

The first way Boyd accuses the Complementarian (CP) churches of inconsistency is by allowing women to serve in other roles outside of the elder role. He argues that to allow women to be Sunday school teachers, youth workers, worship leaders, missionaries, etc.” is violating the very principle of male-only pastors. He reasons this saying,

“The distinction between the highest level of authority and other positions is not present in the text.”

Is this true though? Certainly, there are CP churches likely allowing women to serve in roles they should not. I am not claiming no church is inconsistent. But is it true that any church that allow women to be Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, worship leaders, and missionaries are being inconsistent?

The answer is no, because there are distinctions in the text. First of all, Paul limits this authority only to the gathered local church (1 Timothy 3: 14-16). Thus, women are encouraged to be missionaries. Women can write theological books. They can teach in seminary or lead a Bible study. Why? These things are not “the household of God, the church of the living God.”

Missionaries are not elders in the local church. Worship leaders are not elders in a local church. All of these would be available and for women to utilize their gifts in.

Also, Paul makes the distinction of audience, specifically “men.” Boyd himself recognizes this because one of his future criticisms is the issue of knowing when someone even becomes a man. Therefore, women can teach over children. This means women can be children’s ministry leaders, they can teach their own children theology, and can even be youth group leaders (with some debate over the older boys provided they are meeting at church on the Lord’s day).

Thus, important distinctions are made in the text which demonstrates that many CP churches are not inconsistent at all.

1 Timothy 2: 9-10, “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”

The next reason Boyd uses is that we allow women to braid their hair and wear jewelry. Boyd says,

“I don’t know of any churches that consistently forbid women from doing all of the things that Paul forbids them from doing in this passage.”

braidHowever, this too is not true. First of all, even if it were, it would not justify female elders. However, what Paul commands in this text is modesty. Boyd and I alike agree that expressions of modesty change, but that does not mean that the principle is null and void. The principle, that women need to be modest in dress while in church is universal. CP churches still enforce that. Thus, the principle is modesty, the expression was jewelry and braids. Our principle today is still modesty, but perhaps we instead come down on things like yoga pants, sports bras, or elaborate hats no one can see over.

(By way of a side, Paul’s primary concern of immodest dress is not sexual immodesty like we so often discuss it, but rather a flamboyant, boastful immodesty is his primary issue.)

However, once venturing into verses 11-15, the male leadership cannot be an expression of a principle, since Paul grounds it in the creation order of Adam and Eve. Boyd asks the question,

“Why do so many Christians conclude these verses must be teaching universal truth?”

Verses 13-14 are why! This portion of the text must be a universal principle since it is based on the pre-fall created order. The problem Boyd has missed is that the women not being able to teach is the principle itself, not the expression. CP churches can allow jewelrywomen to have braids, and wear some jewelry and still be applying verses 11-15 as allowing for male only elders within the church consistently.

Boyd’s assumption is that if anything in the text is relative, then the entire text is up for grabs. That simply is not true. We have exegetical reasons for applying these portions the way we do; it is not an arbitrary thing.

(More on all of this will be addressed in the last blog.)

Consistently Applying 1 Corinthians 11: 34-35

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

The next portion of Scripture is argued to be inconsistently applied in only one way. Boyd argues that a consistent application would require women to never ask a question during an entire church service, and that single women without husbands could never have questions at all!

But does a literal reading of this actually bear this out? When one allows Paul to define his own terms and harmonize him, rather than just dismiss portions of him, clearly that is not what Paul is saying.

Paul’s prohibitions refer to only one particular time in church, and to one particular kind of speaking. And that is described earlier in the letter as when prophecies are being “weighed” (29). Women are excluded from weighing the prophecies and asking interrupting questions during that time. (Grudem’s theory is that Paul sought to prevent the prophetesses from technically teaching without teaching through the utilization of question asking.)

If we let Paul harmonize with himself, we conclude this from what Paul said earlier in 1 Corinthians 11:5,

but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.

Thus, we know when Paul says women cannot speak or ask questions in church, he is referring to a specific time which the context bears out. Paul already gave women (some translations render the word woman instead of wife since the Greek word is the same for both) permission to speak. A literal application of the CP interpretation would not prevent women from ever speaking, nor from participating in, and even leading aspects of the worship ceremony.

Greg Boyd recognized this, but notice the problem with his interpretation:

“In chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians Paul says that when a woman prays or prophesies in church, she should have a veil on her head. But in order to pray or prophesy in church, a woman would have to be speaking. Apparently Paul was okay with women praying and prophesying in church as long as they are veiled. So what does it mean three chapters later when Paul says that it’s a disgrace for women to speak in church? From the context of his own letter, it’s clear that Paul’s apparent prohibition of women speaking in church is not a universal and unequivocal principle for all churches of all time periods in all cultures.”

Boyd realizes that Paul allowed women to speak and participate in meaningful, edifying ways within God’s household. That leads Boyd to conclude that the portion in 1 Corinthians 14 is relative and not binding. But what’s the problem with that? He still makes Paul contradict himself within the first century.

Boyd’s eisegesis forces him to make Paul contradict himself, while exegesis actually harmonizes Paul.

The CP is consistent with the interpretation from scholars such as John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem, that verse 29 of chapter 14 is crucial:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

We know women can be one of the speaking prophets. But notice that there is a special group, “the others” who are not prophets, who get to weigh or examine the content. That is when Paul immediately moved into the section about women remaining silent and not asking questions. It is perfectly consistent to contextually determine that the silence of women is being held to the weighing and examination of prophecy.

Thus, the CP position is applied very consistently. We allow women to speak, ask questions, and lead aspects of the church worship in very many and meaningful ways. We only have one particular activity not allowed to them, just like the 1 Corinthians church!

On the other hand, Boyd’s interpretation was that Paul did not allow women to speak at all for a relative, specific time. However, during that time, Paul was in contradiction. He told women to prophesy, and then told them not to speak. And the fact that one day the silencing of women would cease, that does not change the contradiction he puts Paul in during the time when it was binding.

By not following the context, harmonizing Paul, and restricting Paul’s message to a particular activity within the church, Boyd forces Paul into a momentary contradiction. And ironically, that is far more dangerous and damaging a place to be in than being wrong about braids and head-coverings. Boyd criticizes his opponents for inconsistency, but he offers no attempt to harmonize 1 Corinthians 11 with 1 Corinthians 14.

In the next blog, we will look at all the women in Scripture, and see if their many high places of authority present a problem to the CP position.

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