“Of course the Bible teaches that in Christ there is no male and female (Gal. 3:28); but does the Bible mean that male and female are alike in every respect? Who is going to bear the babies? Or do I now get my turn? The context of Galatians 3:28 shows the concern in that passage is with justification. In their standing before God, male and female are as one: neither enjoys any special advantage, each is acquitted by grace through faith...According to Luke, Peter cites Joel to the effect that both male and female shall prophesy (Acts 2:17); and certainly in the New Testament women do in fact prophesy (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:2-16). But Peter also says that the woman is the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). Whether this is taken with respect to physical strength or something else, it entails some sort of distinction; and a very good case can be made from New Testament evidence that a distinction was drawn between the gift of prophecy, which men and women could equally enjoy, and the church-recognized teaching authority over men, which only men could discharge” (D.A. Carson, “Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006, pages 92-93).
Today’s fallacy quote by D.A. Carson comes from his labeled fallacy “Failure to Recognize Distinctions.” While Carson is quite the dogmatic Calvinist, he is also a staunch complementarian. You may not believe this, but most of his book spends time critiquing egalitarians more than it does Arminians (which is the other group he attacks).
Carson argues that, since men and women are biologically different, such biological distinctions testify to distinctions of spiritual authority in the church:
“does the Bible mean that male and female are alike in every respect? Who is going to bear the babies? Or do I now get my turn?”
The problem with this quote is that Carson goes from a biological distinction (that women are child-bearers) to spiritual authority without giving any biblical proof. At the most, this is just an absurd inference that the text does not justify. Not even the Scriptures state that spiritual authority is given on the basis of biological distinction. Rather, spiritual authority is given by the decision of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). Carson is really stretching his exegesis on this one. To be somewhat facetious, “Who is going to do sound exegesis? Carson? Or do I now get my turn”?
Next, Carson gives another somewhat biological proof for his disagreement with women teaching men:
“According to Luke, Peter cites Joel to the effect that both male and female shall prophesy (Acts 2:17); and certainly in the New Testament women do in fact prophesy (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:2-16). But Peter also says that the woman is the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). Whether this is taken with respect to physical strength or something else, it entails some sort of distinction.”
What does “the weaker vessel” reference have to do with spiritual authority in the church? When Peter refers to the woman as the weaker vessel, he is not talking about the female intellect. 1 Peter 3:7 discusses the context of marriage (not spiritual authority in the church), so Peter is not saying that women are weak and cannot lead in church. Rather, he is referring to the woman in terms of physical strength, vulnerability in the marriage, etc. This is why men are to give honor to their wives: since Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians that “God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it” (1 Cor. 12:24, NKJV). Women are not only to be honored because God gives them greater honor in their marriages, but also “that your prayers may not be hindered.” Does this mean that the man’s prayers could be hindered if he dishonors his wife in any way? Yes. Could this possibly refer to spiritual gifts: that is, that if a man dishonors his wife in her spiritual calling, he will hinder his prayers? Absolutely! I doubt, however, that complementarians give this any thought. D.A. Carson does not, in his reference to the passage.
A wife desires to be cherished, to be appreciated, to be seen as more than a sex object to be tossed around at will. But how do complementarians justify their treatment of their wives in church when they prevent them to do what they are called to do? I am thinking of a couple at this very moment where both husband and wife have PhDs. The husband is allowed to teach, publish, write, research, and do all that is in his heart...while his wife received a PhD in order to sit by his side and take care of their children. How right is this? What did she get her PhD for if she would do nothing with it? And does the husband in this case not consider that he might be hindering his wife’s progress, the progress of their marriage, not to mention their prayers? It’s certainly something worth thinking about.
Carson ends his assessment with the idea that the Scriptures teach some sort of leadership distinction between men and women (appealing to 1 Timothy 2). The problem, however, is that one cannot just blow off the context of Galatians. Let’s now revisit Carson’s assessment of Galatians:
“The context of Galatians 3:28 shows the concern in that passage is with justification. In their standing before God, male and female are as one: neither enjoys any special advantage, each is acquitted by grace through faith.”
Carson claims that neither male nor female “enjoys any special advantage,” and each person is “acquitted by grace through faith.” But, notice Carson’s “slide” qualification here: Carson doesn’t just say that neither enjoys special privileges; rather, the privilege that is the same for both male and female is “acquitted by grace through faith.” To Carson, salvation is alike for both male and female, but that’s all. Women are not given the same gifts as men for the same places of leadership in the church.
But does not God gives gifts as He pleases (1 Cor. 12:11)? If this be the case, then how can Carson argue that a distinction in gender explains the Holy Spirit’s moving? Don’t you think that the Holy Spirit could have explained this if He desired to? Since the Spirit is the Creator of the early church, could He not have spoken to us clearly about the Spirit giving gifts “according to gender”? Paul clearly knew how to write “male and female” in Galatians 3:28---so why didn’t he write that in 1 Corinthians 12:11?Carson’s exegesis has problems simply because he attempts to make distinctions in gifting a result of gender, not a result of the Spirit’s own decision. I guess the next question becomes, “Does the Spirit desire to gift according to gender?”...and sadly enough, Carson has staked out on a position that is unbiblical. If anyone has failed to recognize distinctions, it’s D.A. Carson himself, the same man (may I admit) that wrote a book explaining the nature and practice of exegetical fallacies.