Equal But Not Identical: Men And Women In The Local Church

July 21, 1991 | Ray Pritchard

In this day of social upheaval, many traditional views held by the Christian church are being questioned. Not the least important of these is the issue of women in ministry. During the past several decades, the feminist movement has had significant impact on the church; this impact is such that the issues feminist scholarship has raised simply cannot be ignored or avoided. (H. Wayne House, The Role of Women in Ministry Today, p. 11)

With those words, Dr. Wayne House begins the introduction to his recently-published work, The Role of Women in Ministry Today. To say the least, he has not understated the case. On every hand, long-held views and traditions are under fire. Nowhere does the battle rage with more intensity than in the area of the respective roles of men and women in the local church. There was a time when the evangelical consensus was solid in this area; such a time is no more.

Today if you visit many American churches—especially in the mainline denominations—you are likely to find a woman in the pulpit preaching the Sunday morning message. It is not unusual to find women serving as pastors, elders and deacons. A generation ago, that would not have happened.

But much has changed in America in the last few decades. Since the turbulence of the 60’s, we have seen wave after wave of social change. Some of those changes have been good—racial integration, equal pay for equal work, the opening up of corporate boardrooms to qualified women, the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court, a new sensitivity to minority issues. Other changes have produced a mixed bag—the sexual revolution, the rise of abortion, the Gay Rights movement, the scourge of drugs in America, the loss of community moral standards, divorce made easy and acceptable, latchkey kids, and the continued secularization of our culture.

The Rise Of Evangelical Feminism

The rolling tide of change reached the evangelical church about 15 years ago. At first the Women’s Liberation movement was roundly rejected. Over time, something called “evangelical feminism” developed. It was—and is—a sincere attempt by godly men and women to merge the positive insights from the Women’s Liberation movement with a strong commitment to biblical authority.

It would be fair to say that the “evangelical feminists” have made great headway in the last 15 years. They have challenged in print and in person many of the long-held beliefs and traditions of the evangelical church. Some questions we once considered “settled” are settled no longer: Can a woman serve as an elder? What about women pastors? Who says women can’t teach adult Sunday School classes? When are we going to elect some women deacons? And while we’re at it, why don’t we ever ask women to pray from the pulpit on Sunday morning? Or be an usher? Or help serve communion? Or serve on the church board?

Those are good questions. Let us be frank and say that we have not always been quick to respond to them. But stalling for time has not served us very well. In the end, the questions have to be answered one way or the other.

A Personal Statement

And that brings us to this particular paper. Several weeks ago I was asked to be a guest speaker for the “Current Affair” Sunday School class. To be truthful, speaking on the role of women in the church was the farthest thing from my mind. My first thought was speak on something like “Why I am a Dispensationalist,” a topic of interest to me but one that is hardly a burning issue at Calvary. When the request came that I speak on the role of women in the church, I initially declined—partly because the subject is so controversial and partly because I felt I had plenty of other things to do right now.

After strong urging, I agreed to take up the subject. This paper is the result of my own study in this area. It should go without saying that I am not speaking ex cathedra. Only the Pope can do that, and even his words are often ignored.

I also wish to add two other comments: First, I have tried to approach the Bible with an open mind, seeking to know the answer to the question, “What does the Word of God say about this?” I have used a number of books in preparing this paper (some are listed in the bibliography), but my pre-eminent concern has been accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible. Second, it will soon be clear that I have strong convictions about what God’s Word actually teaches in this area. While I make no apology for having strong convictions, I wish to say that I have deep respect for those who may disagree with me. Believers often disagree on sensitive subjects. I hope to model in my own life the biblical balance of “speaking the truth in love.” Since I am going to put forth my views in the strongest possible terms, I ask only that those who read my words study them carefully to see if what I have said is truly biblical.

I. A General Statement

If you want my view in compressed form, it is as follows: I believe that God has laid the burden of leading his people upon men. From Genesis through Revelation, God consistently laid that burden upon men, not women. [1] I further believe that the same principles that call forth godly men to lead the nation of Israel are the same principles that call forth godly men to lead the Christian church. I believe those same principles are at work in the marriage relationship, which is why the husband is the head of his own home.

Therefore, I believe the strongest churches are those that are led by godly men—men who sacrifice their time and energy for the good of the body of Christ. In such a church, those godly men are supported by, encouraged by, affirmed by the godly women of the congregation. In short, the men lead the church; the women support the men and the work of God goes forward.

Specifically, I do not believe in egalitarian leadership—the view that men and women should share equally in leading the people of God. Such a view is, in my opinion, unbiblical and wrong. It is a violation of the biblical pattern and an unnecessary compromise with the Spirit of this Age.

II. Another Look At Genesis 1-3

What do we find when we go to the first pages of the Bible? It is crucial to answer that question because the pattern for leadership is laid down in the first three chapters of Genesis. Let me list some of the obvious principles:

Men and women share equally in bearing the image of God. [2] Genesis 1:26-27

Men and women are both given the command to subdue the earth. 1:28

As the “king of creation,” man is created first. 2:15

The command to rule the earth was first given to man. 2:15

Woman is created later to meet the need of man’s loneliness. 2:18

The woman is created as a “Helper,” one who completes what is lacking. [3] 2:18

To signify the close relationship, the woman is created from the man’s body. [4] 2:22

To signify his leadership position, the man names the woman. [5] 2:23

The woman sins first, being deceived by the Serpent. [6] 3:6

The man sins deliberately. He bears the ultimate responsibility for the Fall. [7] 3:6

As a result of the Fall, the relationship between man and woman is now changed.

She will suffer in childbirth 3:16a

She will suffer in relation to her husband. [8] 3:16b

Where does all this leave us? I quote now from the “Affirmations” found in the “Danvers Statement” as published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.

Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.

Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not the result of sin.

The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women:

In the home, the husband’s loving, humble leadership tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.

In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.

Such a view is not based upon any supposed male superiority or any supposed female inferiority. As Genesis 1 makes clear, men and women are both made in the image of God. They are equal in worth and dignity. They are equal in bearing the image of God. As humanity comes from the hand of the Creator, it comes as male and female.

But equal does not mean identical. Nor does equal mean interchangeable. As Adam and Eve are created, they complement each other; they do not replace each other. Adam is a man; Eve is a woman. From the beginning, there are vast differences between the two, differences which are much more than simple biology. Adam is called by God to be a manly man; Eve is called by God to be a womanly woman. Adam is masculine; Eve is feminine. They are equal but different.

Adam is the leader in the Garden of Eden. The woman is taken from his side, not him from her side. He names her; she doesn’t name him. All of God’s conversations are with Adam, not with Eve. Why? Because as the theologians have told us for generations, Adam is the responsible head of the human race. God holds him accountable for the entrance of sin into the world.

There is a divine pattern of leadership established in the very beginning of the Bible. Adam is the “king of creation,” the head of his wife, and the person held responsible for Fall. Most importantly, it must be said again that the Fall does not establish Adam’s leadership. That was established long before the Fall. Adam is the leader from the very beginning.

III. The Significance Of Genesis In I Timothy 2

We come now to the crux of the issue. In I Timothy 2:8-15, Paul lays down certain principles concerning the respective roles of men and women in the local church:

Men are be godly models of prayer. 8

Women are to dress modestly. 9

Women are to adorn themselves with good works. 10

Women are to receive biblical instruction with a submissive spirit. 11

Women are not to teach men or to exercise authority over men in the local church. 12

What does this last point mean? It means at least this much. Women—even godly women—are not to exercise spiritual authority over men in the local church. Furthermore, they are not to be in the position of authoritatively teaching the Word of God to men—whether from the pulpit or (I would judge) in a Sunday School class. This means (at the very least) that a woman may not serve as a pastor or an elder in a local church.

Paul then goes on to give two reasons for this teaching:

The order of creation: Adam was created first. 13

The order of the Fall: Eve was deceived; Adam sinned deliberately. [9] 14

It is very, very important to notice that these reasons are not cultural. They have nothing to do with the situation at Ephesus, nothing to do with whether the Ephesian women were rebellious or ill-educated, nothing to do with the status of women in the first century. These reasons are trans-cultural. They apply as much to us in Oak Park as they did to the church in Ephesus. It is still true that Adam was created first. It is still true that Eve was deceived. By their nature, these facts do not change. Thus any attempt to explain away I Timothy 2 on the basis of culture will not work. Paul bases his teaching not on any local situation, but on timeless and eternal principles rooted in Genesis 1-3. We do not have the option of changing or diluting these principles in any way.

Finally, we ought to notice Paul’s promise to women in verse 15. “But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This verse has been interpreted in three primary ways:

That women will physically be kept safe through childbirth.

That women will be spiritually saved through the birth of Christ.

That women will be preserved from insignificance through fulfilling her role in the family.

Along with many other commentators, Douglas Moo opts for the third view. These are his comments:

We think it is preferable to view verse 15 as designating the circumstances in which Christian women will experience … their salvation—in maintaining as priorities those key roles that Paul, in keeping with Scripture elsewhere, highlights: being faithful, helpful wives, raising children to love and reverence God, managing the household … This is not to say, of course, that women cannot be saved unless they bear children. The women with whom Paul is concerned in this paragraph are all almost certainly married, so that he can mention one central role—bearing and raising children—as a way of designating appropriate female roles generally. Probably Paul makes this point because the false teachers were claiming that women could really experience what God had for them only if they abandoned the home and became actively involved in teaching and leadership roles in the church … Against the attempts of the false teachers to get the women in Ephesus to adopt “liberation,” unbiblical attitudes and behavior, Paul reaffirms the biblical model of the Christian woman adorned with good works rather than with outward, seductive trappings, learning quietly and submissively, refraining from taking positions of authority over men, giving attention to those roles to which God has especially called women. (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 192)

IV. The Qualifications For Elders In I Timothy 3

Although the issue would seem to be settled by Paul’s words in I Timothy 2, we should still survey what he has to say about the qualifications for elders in I Timothy 3.

16 character qualifications are given. Most are gender-neutral.

Two gender-specific qualities are mentioned:

Husband of one wife. (3:2)

Able to manage his own household well. (3:4)

Note carefully that although these are gender-specific they are also character qualities:

He is to be “a one-woman” man.

He is to demonstrate responsible leadership at home.

There is no way to twist “husband of one wife” into “faithful to your spouse.” When Paul wants to say “a one-man woman,” he can do so. In fact, he says that phrase in I Timothy 5:9. The phrases are mirror images of each other:

“Husband of one wife” 3:2

“Wife of one husband” 5:9

Paul knew Greek, and knew exactly what he was saying. The only way to escape the men-only meaning of “husband of one wife” is through a form of exegetical trickery.

Thus, Paul’s teaching in I Timothy 3 is consistent with his teaching in I Timothy 2, which is not surprising since he wrote both chapters. Eldership is not open to women—not even to godly women, not even to godly women who desire the office, not even to godly women who may somehow be better qualified than the men who do hold the office of elder.

Elder is a gender-specific term. It is an office reserved for the godly men of the congregation.

V. J. I. Packer’s Argument Against Women Elders

In the February 11, 1991, issue of Christianity Today, J. I. Packer wrote an incisive article on this very subject—”Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters.” I mention it here for several reasons: First, because Dr. Packer is one of the most influential and highly-respected evangelical theologians in the world today. Second, because his article points out that what you decide about women in leadership has great ramifications for other areas of theology. Third, because I would like to whet your appetite to read the article for yourself.

He begins by noting that even though many denominations ordain (or appoint) women as elders, there are good reasons not to do so. Although he does not favor making women elders, he strongly supports the concept of women’s ministry in the body of Christ. “To confine women to domestic or menial roles when God has gifted them for ministry and leadership would be Spirit-quenching.”

Then he comes to his thesis: “By envisioning a presbyterate of manly men, the New Testament indicates that the truest womanly ministry will be distinct from this.” Why, then, do so many people want to ordain woman elders? He offers five answers: A. The impact of feminist ideology that implies that women can and should do anything men can do. B. The impact of social changes as women have entered the workforce in great numbers since World War II. C. The debate over the controversial passages in the New Testament. Are Paul’s words cultural (and thus local and temporary) or are they binding on all Christians in all generations? D. God has visibly blessed the ministry of ordained women. Surely this proves something. Does it prove that God approves? Answer: “Not necessarily. God has blessed his people before through intrinsically inappropriate arrangements and may be doing so again. His mercy in practice does not settle matters of principle any more than majority votes do.” E. Since in many churches administering the ordinances is restricted to the ordained elders, withholding eldership from women leaves them with a second-class status in the body of Christ.

What follows is a most crucial passage:

If the above analysis is right, the present-day pressure to make women presbyters owes more to secular, pragmatic, and social factors than to any regard for biblical authority. The active groups who push out the walls of biblical authority to make room for the practice fail to read out of Scripture any principle that directly requires such action. Future generations are likely to see their agitation as yet another attempt to baptize secular culture into Christ. (p. 19)

What considerations argue against making women elders? Packer offers four considerations:

A. The Authority of Scripture

Scripture must be the authority in everything. Although Jesus affirmed women in many ways, and although women ministered ably in the early church, nothing is said about making them elders. Speculation about what Jesus or Paul would do today is fruitless. All we have to go on is what they actually did do 2000 years ago. Jesus chose 12 men for his apostles. Paul used his apostolic authority to forbid women from exercising spiritual authority over men. No one has the right to second-guess Jesus or Paul on these matters. The only safe course is to agree with Paul. If we overturn Paul’s teaching, in the process we overturn the authority of Scripture, which is precisely what many liberal churches have already done.

B. The Knowledge of Christ

The essence of Christianity is knowing Christ—not just intellectually but personally and relationally. Christ himself is the true minister to his people. “The words and acts of his ministering servants are the medium of his personal ministry to us.” “Since the Son of God was incarnate as a male, it will always be easier, other things being equal, to realize and remember that Christ is ministering in person if his human agent and representative is also male.” This does not deny that Christ ministers through women. He does. The issue concerns the ideal form of the church. One male will always be best represented by another male. Scripture presents Christ always as a man, the last Adam, our prophet, priest and king (not our prophetess, our priestess, our queen). He is all this precisely in his maleness. “To minimize the maleness of Christ shows a degree of failure to grasp the space-time reality and redemptive significance of the Incarnation; to argue that gender is irrelevant to ministry shows that one is forgetting the representative role of presbyteral leadership.” [10]

C. The Significance of Gender

Man and woman are equal before God, but created for different purposes. The difference is shown in creation and in Christian marriage. “The creation pattern, as biblically set forth is: man to lead, woman to support; man to initiate, woman to enable; man to take responsibility for the well-being of woman, woman to take responsibility for helping man.” Where these differences are ignored, both men and women are put under strain. The role of elder is for “manly men rather than womanly women.” “Paternal pastoral oversight, which is of the essence of the presbyteral role, is not a task for which women are naturally fitted by their Maker.”

D. The Example of Mary

She plays a crucial role in Christian thought and history, yet was not ordained. She proves that women can play a most important role without ordination.

Packer points that ordaining women elders has “regularly proved divisive without being particularly fruitful.” There is no wisdom in pushing ahead. What we need to do is rethink our whole approach to women’s ministry.

But should there be a ministry for women in the Christian church? Emphatically, yes. Women are gifted by God and are already filling many vital roles—pastoral assistants, ministers of music, youth ministers, education ministers, etc. Should those women then be made elders? No, because the work of an elder is pastoral oversight of an entire congregation— “which is work for a man, not a woman.”

Packer closes with three final questions:

1. What is the distinctive quality of womanly ministry as opposed to a ministry proper to men? Answer: It is maternal rather than paternal in flavor. The natural differences between fathers and mothers is the proper difference between men’s and women’s ministries in the church. “The roles are complementary, and the true enrichment comes when they are being fulfilled side by side.”

2. In what situation is it most fitting that a professional woman should minister? Answer: In partnership with a male elder, not as a solo pastor. Genesis 2:18 provides the model. “The woman will feel herself, and be felt, to be helping a man fulfill a calling that embraces them both.”

3. Does such a ministry call for ordination? Answer: No. Her particular ministries do not require it. Could she preach or teach? Yes, if she does so where a male minister is in charge and where her ministry has the effect of supplementing and supporting his own preaching and teaching. Packer recommends a title such as deaconness or pastoral assistant.

Final conclusion: “The observed effect of presbyteral ordination of women is regularly to preoccupy them with fulfilling a man’s role and so to divert them from the sort of ministry in which they would be at their best.”

VI. Where Can Women Serve In The Church?

A general answer is possible: Women may serve in any roles which are particularly suitable for them, and which are not forbidden to them by Scripture. Remember the clear pattern: God has laid the burden of leading his people upon godly men. As they pick up that heavy burden, they will rely upon the godly women to come alongside and help them in their task. Godly men will want—and need—the godly women at every point along the way.

What is forbidden? Women should not exercise leadership authority over men and they should not teach men the Bible in the public assembly of the church.

Beyond that, I think Packer’s distinction is helpful: Men fill the paternal roles; women the maternal roles. That is, the same principles that function in a healthy marriage should also function in a healthy church. Husbands are to lead and love; wives are to support and encourage. The same is true in the local church.

What tasks may fit well into the “maternal” role Packer mentions? Such things as caring for the weak, giving special attention to the needs of individuals, pastoral care, counseling, personal discipleship, visiting the hospitals, acts of mercy, the spiritual nurture of children and young people, counseling troubled marriages.

Titus 2:4 – A Sadly Neglected Verse

I think we ought to take more seriously Paul’s admonition that the older women should teach the younger women. (Titus 2:4) Some people laugh this off in a patronizing way, but such an attitude is tragic. Who else can teach the younger women the things they need to know except the older women? By the way, this isn’t limited to women over 60 teaching women under 40. It also includes women under 40 teaching the women who have just gotten married. And why shouldn’t women in their 20s serve as role models for our teenage girls? And why shouldn’t the teenager girls serve as godly “big sisters” for the young girls in elementary school? After all, the young girls already look up to the teenagers. Why not build on that in a positive way?

And what about a ministry like Bible Study Fellowship or the Precepts Bible Study? Here are places where women can plug in right now and serve the Lord. How about the Calvary Counseling Corps or serving in our Shepherding Ministry? What about serving on the Missions Committee or in our Christian Education program?

In particular, I think it is good and healthy when married couples minister together—as they do in our Shepherding ministry. It is also good when our children see couples teaching together in Sunday School. We need more husbands and wives to give themselves as models for younger couples to follow.

In the administrative area, virtually everything is open. The opportunities are almost endless—a Sunday School Department leader (or Sunday School Superintendent), a committee member (or leader). Obviously, women can serve as greeters or ushers. They are invited to sing and give testimonies and reports in the worship services. They can serve as a small group leader, as a discipler, as a writer, as a counselor. On that last point, I think that many times it is better for women to counsel other women, as opposed to having men counsel women.

Wayne House offers a useful test to help us determine what a woman should do in the local church. For any given activity, ask this question: “Is this ministry or activity an expression of authoritative, elder-like teaching or leadership over men? “ If the answer is yes, then it’s a job for the godly men to do. If the answer is no, and in most cases that’s what the answer will be, then let a godly women take up the ministry if that’s what she wants to do.

Hot-Button Issues

What about the two sore spots of women praying in the service and women serving communion? First of all, there is no direct Scriptural prohibition against women praying in public. Neither is it commanded that women should pray in the public services of the church. In my opinion (and this is only an opinion), godly men ought to do most of the praying in public in order to uphold the larger principle that godly men should lead the church. But I do not feel dogmatic about it, and I am happy to comply with whatever our Board decides on this matter.

Second, the question of who serves communion is not really an issue of women’s ministry. It’s a larger question of how the church views the ordinances. The more a church moves toward a Plymouth Brethren approach that the Lord’s Supper is a commemorative meal to be shared by the family of God, the less it matters who serves the actual elements. The more you move toward a Presbyterian view that the ordinances must be administered by the godly elders of the church, the more it matters that men actual do the serving. This is a theological issue that does matter. But it ought not to divide us. Since I lean toward the Presbyterian view of the ordinances, I prefer that men serve communion. But the Bible is silent on the issue. Since the Bible leaves it open, I certainly will not insist on my preferences. If we decide to make a change in our practice, that’s fine with me.

Someone may ask about the appropriateness of having women on our Board. I see nothing wrong with it since our board does not function as a board of elders. This church had elders from 1915 until 1977 when we moved to consolidate our leadership structure. Since that time, the day-to-day spiritual oversight has been in the hands of the staff with the board primarily handling administrative details.

Wanted: Godly Elders

The real problem is that we don’t have elders and we desperately need them. We need good and godly men who will take oversight for this vast congregation. We suffer now because we don’t have men serving in that capacity. Furthermore, we need godly men serving as deacons and godly women serving as deaconnesses.

In order to meet those needs, the Board appointed a committee to produce a preliminary draft of a new constitution. That committee did produce a draft document last November. A second committee is now examining and revising the work of the first committee. I hope we have something definite to report to the congregation at the Bi-Annual Business Meeting in November.

VII. Some Concluding Thoughts

As you can tell, I believe that the issue of the respective roles of men and women in the local church has many profound implications. It touches great theological themes—the authority of Scripture, the historical truthfulness of the book of Genesis, the order of creation, the reality of the Fall, the pattern of the Incarnation of Christ, the nature of Christian ministry, the biblical meaning of manhood and womanhood, the divine design for marriage, the purpose of eldership and the nature of the church.

These are not small issues. They cut to the core of what we believe as evangelical Christians. It should be obvious by now that I profoundly disagree with those who say that the Bible is not clear on this issue. To the contrary, I believe the Bible is crystal-clear on the main issues. And where the Bible is clear, we ought to be clear. Where the Bible speaks, we ought to speak. If we understand it, that’s good. But if we don’t, we are still obligated to obey.

People Of The Book

It is the essence of evangelical Christianity that we are people of the Book. We love it, we believe it, we obey it. We submit ourselves to its teaching. We order our lives (however imperfectly) after its precepts. The Book is our guide, our standard, our rule for life.

That is not a popular position nowadays. It is urged upon us that we revise our view of women because “this is the 90s.” We are told that we need women elders because if we don’t, people will think we are narrow-minded, backwater fundamentalists. Or that we won’t attract the right kind of people. Or that some of our own people will leave us. Or we are told that we need women elders because the women feel oppressed by the men.

There is a kernel of truth in all those things. We need not reject them out-of-hand. The people who say such things do not mean to be rabblerousers. They want their church to be fully biblical and fully relevant to the culture. And it is true that we must minister to the 90s. Therefore, wherever our practices are based more on tradition than on the Bible, we must hold them lightly and be ready to change, if need be. That’s true in every area—not just the women’s issue.

In the final analysis, however, the church is not to be shaped by the culture around it. We are to take Christ to the world. We are not to bring the standards of the world into the church. Those who takes their cues from the world will never appreciate this teaching. If standing for the truth causes some people to regard us as fundamentalists, so be it. We’ve been called worse things.

I hope no one will leave us over this issue. No one needs to leave us. Everybody at Calvary adds to the delightful mix that makes up this church. Our diversity is part of our attractiveness to outsiders. Having said that, I also think we’ve dillied and dallied far too long on this issue. We haven’t said what we truly believe and so we’ve left people in the dark. That has only added to the confusion. I think it’s high time we set our course to follow the biblical pattern of raising up godly men to lead the church. And I think when we do that, the overwhelming majority of our people—men and women alike—will support us. In any case, no one should have to wonder where we stand on this issue.

Holding Humanity Together

Recently I ran across a fine statement by Sheldon Vanauken (author of A Severe Mercy) that sums up—as well as anything I have seen—the biblical perspective on men and women. Although the quote is lengthy, I repeat it here because it expresses my own feelings better than I could express them myself:

I do not for a moment believe that men are superior to women—only different. To me, one of the God-given joys of this life is the radiant, forever intriguing, complementary difference of man and woman, not just superficially sexual but deep and awesome. Man and woman are equal, yes, but equal in importance and value; and not, thank God, identical. Equal in importance as a nut and bolt are entirely equal in importance without being identical—and doing a job that neither two nuts nor two bolts could do, holding something together. Man and woman do what two men or two women cannot do: they hold humanity together. A man and a little pseudo-man won’t do it either. A man and a woman. I can fall on my knees, figuratively at least, before the mysterious wonder of womanhood, even as a true woman sees a splendor in manhood. Masculinity—that which initiates and leads, as the eternal masculinity of God does—needs femininity, feminine response, to complement and complete it. Helpmeet is the biblical word: a suitable or fit help, a completion. Thus man and woman together in that awesome mystery of one flesh is what our Lord ordained for us. (From the article “Uni-sexism” in The Intellectuals Speak Out About God, pp. 325-326)

In short, I am calling our church to reaffirm our belief in the biblical pattern of leadership. In particular, I call upon our men to become godly spiritual leaders at home, at work, and in the church of God. And I call upon our godly women to fulfill their potential in Jesus Christ and to support the godly men as they lead the church. May God help us to love each other, to support each other, to encourage each other as we serve the Lord together.


A. Books written from an egalitarian point of view. I am happy to recommend the following books to you even though the authors would disagree (strongly disagree, I would say) with the position taken in this paper. All three books are written from a strong commitment to evangelical Christianity. If you only have time to read one book, read Bilezikian.

Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles. Baker Book House, 1986.

Hull, Gretchen Gaebelein. Equal to Serve. Fleming H. Revell, 1987.

Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. Gender and Grace. InterVarsity Press, 1990.

B. Books written from a traditional point of view. These books support the position taken in this paper. They are all excellent, but if you can only read one, read Piper and Grudem.

House, H. Wayne. The Role of Women in Ministry Today. Thomas Nelson, 1990.

Neuer, Werner. Man and Woman in Christian Perspective. Crossway Books, 1991.

Piper, John and Grudem, Wayne. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Crossway Books, 1991.

C. I am also happy to recommend a book that has been released in the last several months. Although Dr. Crabb is not specifically writing about “the controversy,” his book is very helpful on the larger question of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.

Crabb, Larry. Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. Zondervan, 1991.


1. The key word is “consistently.” But consistently does not mean exclusively. There are numerous examples in both the Old and New Testaments of women taking significant leadership roles: Miriam the prophetess (Exodus 15:20-21), Deborah the judge (Judges 4-5), Huldah the prophetess (II Kings 22:8-20), Esther who served as queen in Babylon, Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36-38), the loyal group of women who accompanied Jesus on his journeys (Luke 8:1-3), Mary Magdalene who was one of the first to see the risen Lord (John 20:11-18), Priscilla who with her husband Aquilla took Apollos aside and taught him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26-28), The four daughters of Philip who were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9), Euodia and Syntyche who were Paul’s co-workers (Philippians 4:2-3) and Phoebe who was a “servant” (or “deacon”) of the church (Romans 16:1).

However, the pattern remains. God has laid the burden (i.e., the central responsibility) of leading his people upon godly men. Within that pattern – and consistent with that pattern – godly women may take a variety of very significant leadership positions.

Or you can say it this way: There are four things you will never find in the Bible: a woman priest, a woman pastor, a woman elder or a woman apostle. You will, however, find women serving as prophets, as writers of inspired poetry, as co-workers with the apostles, and as very powerful civic leaders. They work alongside the godly men, but they do not exercise spiritual authority over them.

2. This is a most important statement. It is the image of God that differentiates humanity from all other created beings. Genesis makes it clear that “man” or “mankind” really equals “humanity” and consists of two parts – male and female. To be “equal” means that male and female share the same high standing, the same divinely-ordained dignity, the same worth in the eyes of God. Galatians 3:28 is the New Testament equivalent of Genesis 1:26-27.

3. Two points deserve mention: First, the Hebrew word for “helper” (ezer) is very strong. It means “one who supplies that which is lacking.” The word is used for God himself in Psalm 46:1. God is a very present help (ezer) in the time of trouble in that he does for his people what they can never do for themselves. In the same way, the wife supplies what is lacking or incomplete in her husband’s life, and he does the same for her. It is an ennobling concept, and one that is a thousand miles removed from the traditional stereotype of the “helpmeet” as being basically equal to a maid, cook and window-washer. Second, this concept of the wife as the “completer” does not imply that single people are “incomplete” in some negative way, as if every woman needs a man or every man needs a woman. As Bilezikian says,

This does not mean that fulfillment can only be found in marriage … The Bible teaches that believers who can manage singleness find greater fulfillment in lives of celibate service than if they were married. (Beyond Sex Roles, p. 27)

Singleness is a good and holy state (cf. I Corinthians 7:32-35). After all, our Lord himself was single, and no one would call him “incomplete.” It is true, however, that marriage is intended by God as part of the solution to the acute sense of loneliness that many single people feel.

4. It is always worthwhile to repeat Matthew Henry’s famous comment on this verse: The woman was taken from Adam’s side and “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.”

5. Naming does not imply superiority; it does imply leadership. Adam was ultimately responsible for Eve, not Eve for Adam.

6. Werner Neuer offers these helpful comments:

It is not by chance that the snake goes to the woman. The snake addresses her because she is “more receptive to new impressions.” … This fits in with the fact that women have greater receptivity than men… This characteristic of women is neutral in itself and can be used for good or ill. However, it was exploited by the snake. At the beginning of the history of condemnation stands the misuse of female receptivity. At the climax of salvation history God used female receptivity to make the incarnation of his Son possible. The receptive “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) of Mary brings salvation to all humanity, just as Eve’s misuse of receptivity brought condemnation to all. (Man and Woman in Christian Perspective, pp. 77-78)

7. Adam knew what he was doing and did it deliberately. His sin is much greater than Eve’s. It also points out the aggressive tendencies among men generally. Men are more willing than women to break the law if they think they can get away with it. This pattern of willful male lawlessness will be repeated throughout the Bible and, indeed, throughout human history.

The Fall-Redemption parallel holds true for Adam as it does for Eve. Just as sin entered through the disobedience of one man (Adam), salvation will later come to the the world through the obedience of one man (Jesus Christ). See Romans 5:12-21 for an extended list of parallels between Adam and Christ.

The Fall thus reveals something about the basic nature of manhood and womanhood. Adam and Eve act in accordance with their maleness and femaleness. Their roles in succumbing to temptation could not have been reversed.

8. The text has two parts: “Your desire will be for your husband.” Ray Ortlund, Jr., points out the parallel to Genesis 4:7, where God said to Cain, “Sin’s desire is for you, but you must master it”:

Just as sin’s desire is to have its way with Cain, God gives the woman up to a desire to have her way with her husband. Because she usurped his headship in the temptation, God hands her over to the misery of competition with her rightful head. This is justice, a measure-for-measure response to her sin. (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 109)

The second half of the verse says, “He will rule over you.” This is not an additional punishment, but rather a reaffirmation of the original design of creation. “Rule” means something like “the exercise of godly headship.” (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 109)

9. Clearly Paul interpreted Genesis 1-3 as sober history. Unless Adam is a real man and Eve a real women, his argument makes little sense. Those who regard Genesis 1-3 as a “creation poem” or an “inspired legend” will not be inclined to follow Paul’s conclusions in I Timothy 2.

10. C. S. Lewis makes the same argument in his article “Priestesses in the Church?” (reprinted in God in the Dock, pp. 234-239):

Only one wearing the masculine uniform can … represent the Lord to the Church; for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may very often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. (p. 239)

11. Some people have wondered why I want the church to go into a “new” system of church government. Actually, it’s not new at all. I want us to return to the system of government we followed for the first 62 years of our existence. Having a “Church Board” is a 20th century corporate pattern. You don’t find anything about a “Church Board” in the New Testament. What you do find is the divinely-revealed pattern of elders, deacons and (presumably) deaconnesses. If you really want to follow the Bible, I think it does matter who leads the church and how you choose them and whether or not you hold to the character qualities of I Timothy 3 and Titus 3. I think it also matters what you call them – i.e., people who are considered “coordinators” will be viewed (and view themselves) somewhat differently than people who are called “elders” or “overseers.” In my opinion, you are more likely to have biblical church government if you consciously try to follow the Bible pattern – even though in an imperfect world you will certainly fall short of the ideal.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?