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Ben Witherington on Women in Ministry

Ben Witherington is taking on Biblical arguments against women in ministry in an article titles Why Arguments against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical. (HT: Dr. Platypus.)

I personally find his first and second arguments quite good, while I tend to be less convinced by his arguments regarding the specific texts. It seems to me that if, as he notes at the beginning of the argument, the New Testament is moving away from patriarchy, that is the overarching argument. Witherington says:

… As I have argued at length, the patriarchal family was the existing reality in the NT world, and what you discover when you compare what is in the NT and what is outside the NT, is that Paul and others are working hard to change the existing structures in a more Christian direction….

Thus I would regard his point #2 as the controlling factor in reading the texts cited in #3. The exegesis seems a bit too tortured for me, even when I want to agree with the conclusion. I’d prefer to say that these instructions were correct for the churches and the times to which they were addressed, and did mean that Paul did not permit women to teach at those places and times. I think Witherington’s argument in point #2 suggests that those commands do not apply universally, as the trajectory is toward more rather than less equality.

I’m glad to see someone of Dr. Witherington’s stature address this issue. Too often those of us who are in churches that accept women in ministry as a matter of course don’t bother to even examine the Biblical arguments. As long as this is not discussed, we have no way to build unity with those of our brothers and sisters who disagree.

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  1. There are other very worthwhile arguments for women in ministry from the hard texts on women (my own web site http://www.strivetoenter.com/wim is filled with the arguments that are on my DVD on this subject) but the logical arguments such as Ben’s about the trajectory going from freedom to more freedom rather then freedom to less freedom is very helpful too.

    Yet those who hold tightly to the complementarian view because of the hard passages on women are unlikely to reject that view merely from logical arguments. They need to know what the hard passages mean and what they don’t mean.

    Did Paul create a brand new law that forbids women to teach men? There was no such law in the Old Testament so either Paul created a new law or we have misunderstood Paul’s prohibition to be universal when it is a specific situation at Ephesus. There are so many problems if it is a brand new law.

    No other law was spoken in the words of a man rather than God “I am not permitting…”
    No other law is without a second witness to establish it. 1 Timothy 2:12 is never repeated or explained nor does any other apostle confirm a universal application.
    Universal laws are given for universal application. If God wanted to give a brand new law through Paul, why would He have Paul write it in a personal letter written to only one person rather than a letter written to an entire church? Why would women from creation until Paul have freedom to teach without sanction by God and then suddenly it becomes a sin for women to teach men without a word of explanation by God as to why women had freedom before Paul? How come this one law is one that satan loves? He loves it when part of the body of Christ is stopped from using their God-given gifts for the benefit of others. Satan’s purpose is to silence all of us so he is especially pleased with a “law” that silences some.

    There are more problems with the view that Paul created a brand new law that forces women to be prejudiced against their brothers in Christ and to refuse to teach them. Those who believe that women are restricted by the hard passages should be willing to answers these problems.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think that Ben Witherington’s second argument is the overarching argument for all others. If there was a trajectory going the other way, I think many egalitarian arguments would be in trouble. As it is, I think he has nailed the direction of the law.

      I do like your point on “I do not permit.” That does sound like advice or directions to a particular congregation rather than the opening of a universal law.

      PS: I’m a subscriber to your blog and appreciate your writing.

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