“As a growing body of theologians is demonstrating these days, there is no such dogma. Reformed theology at least attempts to interpret the whole counsel of God in view of the principle that SCRIPTURE INTERPRETS SCRIPTURE. In other words, that which is clearest and is treated with the greatest significance in Scripture interprets those passages that are more difficult and less central to the Biblical message. At least THE GOAL is to say what Scripture says and to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes” (Michael Horton, “God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, page 12).
I’ve been investing quite a bit of time in the last six months to issues on my other blog, called “Center for Theological Studies.” In so doing, I’ve been reading on the debate between Calvinists and Arminians (for those who wanna see the research, click on the link at the top of this page, on the right). To be brief, covenantal theology attempts to unify all of Scripture around a common theme, which covenantal theologians believe to be covenants. Now most people believe that Christ serves as the unifying theme of the Scriptures, but there are other related themes like the covenant. For instance, if you read Paul’s words in Galatians 3, you will understand that the Spirit desired that salvation would come to not only the Jew, but also the Gentile, through Abraham (“in you ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH will be blessed,” Genesis 12:3). When God told Abraham that “all the nations” would be blessed, He was referring not only to Jew, but Jew and Gentile. Christ serves as the fulfillment of other covenants as well, but there is no time to discuss this further here.
In any case, Horton’s quote above from his book intrigued me about two days ago while sitting in a salon waiting for my sister to get some kind of nail treatment (I am so inept in these things..) The principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture” is one to which the Reformers held to (Luther, Calvin, and others), and one which we should hold to as well. If God has revealed Himself in His Word (which He has), and if He desires to make His ways known to us (which He does), then surely, something in the Bible can help us understand that which we do not!
It is my belief, however, that we apply this little hermeneutical principle to everything else EXCEPT the issue of women in ministry. Have you ever heard contradictions on this subject? Someone will say, “a text means what it means in its context”; and then, he or she will turn around and say, “but the text of 1 Timothy 2 regarding a woman says what it means” WITHOUT REGARD FOR CONTEXT! I’ve heard this before and wondered whether or not the person understood that he or she contradicted himself/herself in two sentences, one right after the other!!
1 Timothy 2 is a hard text to interpret. In all the numerous reading I’ve done on the subject, every writer struggles with how to interpret this passage, and thus, how to apply the passage in the contemporary church. But we are not alone! 1 Timothy 2 is only one passage of a host of passages located in the 66 books of the biblical canon. Using what we know from those other passages, we can interpret 1 Timothy 2.
I could point out the biblical examples of Deborah (prophetess), Miriam (prophetess), Huldah (prophetess), Euodia and Syntyche (fellow laborers with Paul, Philippians 4), and Junia the apostle (Romans 16). While all these examples are valid ones, I will not approach an example of a person in this post, but a Scriptural passage instead. Which one will I choose?
I will choose a passage that I think gets to the heart of women in ministry and leadership in the church—1 Corinthians 12.
In verse 7, Paul writes, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all...” Everyone receives a gift from the Spirit. The gift itself is the manifestation of the Spirit—it is the way that the Spirit testifies to a person being a child of God. It is the Spirit’s presence made known not just to the person, but to everyone in the body of Christ around them. Verses 8-10 lists the various gifts that the Spirit gives to His church. Verse 11 gets to the heart of this post:
“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually AS HE WILLS” (1 Cor. 12:11, NKJV).
I think this is where the rubber meets the road. In most discussions on women in ministry, there is always an appeal to 1 Timothy 3, which states that the pastor (or bishop) should be “the husband of one wife.” This phrase has been taken to say that only men can be preachers, pastors, elders, and so forth. And I’ve even read material on this subject where theologians will interpret 1 Timothy 2 in light of 1 Timothy 3 (which comes after the text in question)—and yet, they do not seem to mind leaving off the material BEFORE 1 Timothy 2 (which is 1 Timothy 1), where we read that the problem in the church at Ephesus involved “myths and endless genealogies” and that Paul told Timothy to stay at this church specifically to put down the false teaching in the church. It seems that even the context is “proof-texted” these days...
Back to 1 Corinthians 12. Notice that the Spirit gives gifts “as He wills.” This is a guiding principle for the church today. The Spirit is the one who decides who gets what gift. But we have forgotten this today. In today’s church, when we set aside who gets to operate in what office in the church, we don’t set aside believers ON THE BASIS of gifts, but on the basis of gender! If the church decides to set aside preachers in the church, those who have an ability to proclaim the word of God, the next thought in the minds of the church is “we have to find men.” Even if there is a woman who is faithfully teaching a Sunday school class, and knows the Word of God, we turn our backs and focus on selecting men to aid the Pastor. No matter how many degrees the woman may have, her level of education and seminary training, we will look for men to aid the Pastor. It seems that, in our minds, “maleness” is the first gift to the church, and all the leadership gifts hinge upon “maleness.” But where is that in Scripture? “maleness” or “femaleness” are not gifts given by the Spirit to the church in 1 Corinthians 12—yet, we act as though they are. Why is this so?
In response to my question just asked, someone would say, “Well, men are to lead in the home.” That is true, and as a conservative evangelical, I will agree with that statement. But my next question would be, “How does leadership in the home GUARANTEE leadership in the church? And how does submission in the home GUARANTEE submission in the church?” And to this, I would wait in vain for an answer. General revelation shows us via everyday experience that every man in every family does not go on to work in a leadership position in the church. But when it gets to women, we ASSUME that every woman is to have a submissive role in the church. But where is that in Scripture? Even Paul allowed women to serve as deacons in the church in 1 Timothy 3. If you’ll notice, the only leadership called in Acts 6 were “seven men.” Paul, however, breaking with tradition, made room for women to serve. There’s a lot I could say about that, but I won’t address it here. The point being here, nonetheless, that there is no one passage of Scripture that ties leadership/submission in the home with leadership/submission in the church. And yet, we claim to be “biblical”...
The church today operates with an asymmetrical standard: when it comes to “men,” men are allowed to work anywhere in the church that God has gifted them to serve; and when they come into our churches, they are welcomed and embraced. But when it comes to women, our gender ELIMINATES many of the positions of church giftedness before the Spirit even manifests in us where He desires us to serve. Once our gifts are narrowed down to “five,” for instance, NOW, THE SPIRT CAN GIFT US TO SERVE IN ONE OF THOSE! Isn’t it funny how we hamper down the Spirit, who, by the way, is GOD? What is it gonna take for us to understand that, by tearing women and their giftedness down, we are SLAPPING GOD IN THE FACE? How much more clearly can this be illustrated?
I’ve written all this to say that Horton is right: we need to return to the principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” When it comes to this debate, we need to remember that, no matter what you or I think, God’s Word is what decides the standard, no matter how right or wrong it “feels” to me. And if it challenges tradition, so what? Jesus challenged tradition. And if I will challenge tradition, and by so doing, become more like Christ, then I’ll do it...I’ll continue to uphold the hermeneutic of hope.