In this series of articles concerning the role of eldership and women I have undertaken to establish that leadership in the church is male, here; that Scripture provides for us a pattern of male leadership for God’s people, here; and that likewise Scripture actually prohibits women from participating in two of the main activities of elders – teaching mixed groups of adults and exercising authority over the same, here. Finally, here today I will address the common claim that Galatians 3:28 makes all of these previous arguments moot in the entire discussion.
Many egalitarians agree that the instructions provided in 1 Timothy 2 regarding women, teaching, and the exercise of authority are nothing more than the importation of Roman household codes into the church.1 However, it should be understood that a key reason they do so is because of a principle of feminist hermeneutics called the Principle of an Interpretive Center. This principle states that there is one text which provides the interpretive lens thorough which all other passages addressing women’s roles must be interpreted,2 though not all egalitarians would agree to what passage should fill this role a commonly held starting point is Galatians 3:28 which states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In promoting the idea that this passage defines how Christians should view their position in Christ an egalitarian author writes:
Of all the texts that support biblical equality, Galatians 3:26-28 is probably the most important. Unlike the New Testament proof texts traditionalists use to support hierarchical gender roles, this text is not a specific command directed toward a specific cultural situation. Rather, it is a broadly applicable statement of the inclusive nature of the New Covenant, whereby all groups of people, regardless of their previous religious status under the law, have become one in Christ.3
In responding to this assertion of the egalitarian position, a few key observations should be made; 1) this passage teaches the unity of believers – not that we are all the same, 2) the meaning of the text cannot be that role distinctions are now obsolete as there are still other commands in the New Testament outlining the gender specific way men and women are to obey God,4 3) the idea of one passage’s supremacy over another is not consistent with the historical grammatical method of hermeneutics. Each of these observations will now be briefly elaborated upon.
Though it is a frequent claim that since there is “neither male nor female” then all distinctions based upon gender are abolished this is not supportable by the text because this is not what the passage says. Rather, the fact that men and women are one is to say that they are united and that should not be factions, divisions, or disputes among believers because of gender.5
To assert that all gender roles and distinctions are abolished completely ignores all of the instructions given by Paul in regards to conduct within the church and the home.6
Finally, to utilize the precept of one passage’s priority over another and then using that passage’s meaning to override or change the meaning of other texts of Scripture is hermeneutically unsound. Furthermore, this very issue is at the heart of the differences between Covenantal and Dispensational Theologians. When taken to its logical conclusion this hermeneutical approach allows the biblical interpreter to arrive at his or her own conclusions by placing himself/herself over Scripture in order to determine which passages shall rule over the others.
It must be therefore be surmised that Galatians 3:28 does not provide for women to fill the role of pastor within the church, nor does it permit them to take on the singular aspect of that role of teaching God’s Word to the corporate gathering of the same.
The shortfalls of this short series of blog-posts must now be acknowledged. It has not been the purpose of this endeavor to address every argument presented from the feminist or egalitarian position. Rather, it has been an exercise to search the Scriptures to determine what is allowable and what is not within its pages. For this reason many of the aspects regarding the qualifications of elders, especially the requirement of being a “one woman man” have not be dealt with neither the ability to teach. This is because the ability to teach is not a gift this author believes is restricted to the office of elder and therefore is likely to be part of the spiritual giftedness of men and women. Furthermore, it has not been a goal of this paper to establish the ministries in which women can serve, just whether or not they can be the (or a) pastor/elder of a local church. It has likewise not been a function of this series to address submission in marriage, the church, or the Trinity therefore the discussion of this topic has be purposely left out.
In light of the information studied in preparation for this series and the conclusions presented as the body of the same, this author must state that he has arrived at the place from which started. Namely that Scripture prohibits women from serving as pastors/elders within the local church. This conclusion has been derived from the survey of the entire Bible which demonstrates that male headship or leadership is the norm not only for the People of God but is actually a part of the created order God has established for all mankind. This understanding of God’s order is further supported by a proper understanding of both 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Galatians 3:28. Furthermore, and this cannot be stressed strongly enough, the author has found nothing in Scripture or in mainstream complementarian writings promoting the inferiority, subjugation, abuse, or dehumanization of women. Rather, quite the opposite, women are to be valued, honored, loved, and appreciated (Prov 31; Eph 5:25-33; Col 3:19; 1 Pet 3:7). For this reason it must be concluded that anyone believing that distinctions in gender roles necessarily equates superiority or inferiority in one or the other sexes does not understand Scripture.
- Cora Elizabeth Cypser, Taking Off the Patriarchal Glasses (New York: Vantage Press, 1987), 227-30. ↩
- Felix, 133. ↩
- Rebecca Groothuis, Good News for Women (1997), quoted in Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth: an Analysis of More Than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2004), 184. ↩
- Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth: an Analysis of More Than One Hundred Disputed Questions (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2004), 184-85. ↩
- Ibid., 184. ↩
- Ibid., 185. ↩