Amy Evenson: Why do Christian’s believe the Bible limits the involvement of women in ministry?
Dr. Heath Lambert: Well, because the Bible does limit the involvement of women in ministry. If you think about a passage like 1 Timothy 2:11-14 it says, “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 Bible here makes it clear that women are forbidden the work of teaching men with authority; so the work of pastor would be reserved for men. Many people would say here that women are forbidden from teaching a Sunday School class with men in it and things like that, but women are forbidden certainly the role of the pastoral office. We know that not just from this text, but in the very next chapter as Paul is giving the qualifications for elders, overseers, and pastors, he says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” This is saying that an elder must be the husband of one wife; women cannot be the husband of one wife. This is another place where the Bible forbids women from being at least in the pastoral office. This is a teaching in the Scriptures that is very controversial, it is very counter cultural, but it is also some of the clearest language we see in the Bible about any topic, and so Christians need to believe it.
Amy Evenson: I think that is right, but what would you say to a woman who thinks that women are inferior to men?
Dr. Heath Lambert: I think that is a great question. I think it is important that Christians not make it sound like the limiting of the pastoral office to men is in any way sexist or chauvinistic. The instructions in the Bible about women learning quietly and not teaching or having authority over men do not come in the context of a book that is being sexist or chauvinistic; God loves women and His teaching about their roles in the church come in the context of His great love and care for women. The Bible teaches what we call complimentarity; that there is a complementary relationship between men and women. The Bible teaches that we are equal in essence but we have different functions. What that means is that men and women are fully equal in their essence in what it means to be a human being. God made man and women in the image of God. At creation men and women are fully equal and in redemption men and women are fully equal. There is no distinction between men and women when it comes to who is saved in Jesus Christ; that’s what Galatians 3:28 says. So at the level of creation and redemption, men and women are fully equal. They are called in creation and redemption to different jobs. We are seeing one of those differences when we talk about this, that men and women are fully equal but the pastoral office is reserved for men. It is very possible for two people to be fully equal and yet one of those people called to be in a role of submission to the other person. The main reason we know that is because of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible teaches that God exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and that each of those Persons are fully God. Yet, the Bible also teaches that the Son, Jesus Christ, for example, submits to the Father; He does what the Father gave Him to do and said what the Father gave Him to say. Jesus submission to the Father does not in any way indicate that He is any less God than the Father, it just indicates that in the work of the Trinity He is called to different things. We don’t have to look any further than the doctrine of God to see that persons can be fully equal and yet have submission within that full equality.
Amy Evenson: What should women do when they hear this and believe that it restricts their ability to serve in the local church?
Dr. Heath Lambert: So, this does restrict the involvement of women in ministry. When it says that women should not teach or have authority over men, it is restricting the options that are available to them in ministry. But I think we need to understand that even though the Bible prohibits women from being involved in this one activity, it doesn’t mean that the fullness of Christian ministry is not still open to them. Most of the work that is available to be done in the local church is available to women because it doesn’t fall underneath the category of teaching men with authority; they can teach women, they can teach children, they can serve in any other area in the local church. I think what might be helpful for some women is to consider what my wife actually says, which is that this is actually a kind grace of God to women. The Bible teaches this in James 3:1, that not many should be teachers because teachers get a stricter judgment. My wife, for one, believes that this provision is one way to protect her from a more strict judgment; that is an accountability that she will never have and this is actually a kindness of God to women.
Here is the other thing I want to say about this: everybody has restrictions that are placed on them in ministry by the Bible. We are talking about a restriction that is placed on women who would serve in ministry in the local church. In the passage that I referenced before in 1 Timothy 3, it is not as though any man is allowed to be a teacher. There are lengthy restrictions that are placed on men in order for them to be serving in the role of pastor. And so, the reality is that there is no difference between men and women on this issue. God places restrictions on all of us with regard to what roles we will play in the church. We should not be upset that the Lord would do this, but we should see in this the good care of God for us as individuals as we seek to serve the church and we should see in this the good care of God as He seeks to provide the best possible opportunities of service for His church in its entirety.
For helpful resources on the biblical roles of women and men, check out The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.