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Complementarians & Bible Commentaries Written by Women

Complementarians & Bible Commentaries Written by WomenI was surprised recently to read Mark Driscoll’s statement that, in his opinion, the best commentary on the book of Esther is the one written by Karen Jobes—a woman. (Source) This is surprising because Driscoll is outspoken about his view that women can’t teach men or hold certain influential leadership positions in the church.

I would think that a woman who writes a respected commentary on a book of the Bible has, potentially, a strong influence on the beliefs of whoever read it.

I was also surprised to learn that Moore Theological College in Sydney, which mostly fosters patriarchal views on gender roles in marriage and ministry, trains women who want to be Bible translators.

Surely the Bible translation that a person reads can have a powerful affect on one’s faith and spirituality.

And well-known complementarian Bible scholar Wayne Grudem felt he had to defend himself recently when it was revealed that he had read a book written by a woman. He defended himself by saying, “I prefer to think of reading a book by a woman as having a chat over a coffee than as teaching.” (Source)

If I read a non-fiction book I do it with the hope that I will learn something. And, in my church, we listen to the main message after morning tea, and some of us bring our coffee cups with us as we listen.

Complementarians & Bible Commentaries Written by WomenComplementarians (i.e. hierarchical complementarians)[1] are Christians who hold to patriarchal and hierarchical views on gender roles in ministry and marriage. They believe that only men can have spiritual authority in the church and in the home, and that women must not teach a man “authoritatively”. How “authoritative teaching” is perceived, and how this belief is applied, however, varies greatly from church to church.

Dan Philipps is a blogger who appears to hold complementarian views. Dan sees the discrepancy between the belief and practice of complementarians who use commentaries written by women. Dan wrote an article back in 2007 with the clever title of “Girls Gone Exegetical”[2] about the use of Karen Jobe’s commentary on 1 Peter.

In his article Dan asks some hypothetical questions about his real concerns:

Say you pastor Karen Jobes’ church, and you teach a Sunday School class on 1 Peter. There she sits, authorette of a complex, in-depth commentary on 1 Peter. How does that work? If someone asks you a question you can’t answer, do you ask her about it? Do people start looking to her for answers when the questions are asked? . . . What about a man leading a Sunday School class, using a textbook written by a woman?

Dan’s questions, and the actions of the other more well-known complementarians, reveal the untenable beliefs and values of complementarianism. The inconsistencies in complementarian beliefs are further highlighted when we consider that they regard spoken words as having more authority than written words in a book, but, at the same time, they recognise that God primarily reveals himself to us today through the written words in a book—the Bible.

I have some hypothetical questions about women whose words have been recorded in the Bible, words which have the authority of Scripture.

If Deborah was in a church meeting would she be allowed to expound on the words of her and Barak’s song recorded in Judges 5:1ff? Would Hannah be allowed to preach on her prayer recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10? Would Huldah be allowed to elaborate on the advice she gave to Josiah recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:23-28? Would King Lemuel’s mother be allowed to teach on the advice she gave her son recorded in Proverbs 31:1-9? Would Mary be allowed to teach on Luke 1:46-55 or teach about her son? And what about Sarah, Miriam, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, etc? Would Anna be allowed to tell us what she said to the people in the Temple (Luke 2:38)?  Would Priscilla be allowed to explain what she told to Apollos (Acts 18:26)?

Women did and said important things in Bible times. And God is still using women to do and say important things on his behalf.

Complementarians, however, believe that it is not God’s will for a woman to speak authoritatively about God and Christian doctrine. Dan Philips, for instance, states that women cannot be pastors, or more specifically, “God-honoring, Biblical, Christian pastors”. Yet the many women in the Bible who displayed spiritual authority, and spoke with authority, continue to inform our understanding of theology with their stories and words.

Like Mark Driscoll, most of the faculty at Moore Theological College, and Wayne Grudem, I believe that it is fine for a godly and gifted woman to write a Bible commentary, become a Bible translator, or write a Christian book. I also believe it is fine for a capable and called Christian woman to be a pastor and a Bible teacher.[3]


Endnotes

[1] I am an egalitarian, or more precisely an egalitarian complementarian (as opposed to a hierarchical complementarian.) I believe that men and women have some basic differences, but that we have many more things in common. I believe that men and women are different and equal—completely equal, no buts.

[2] A play on words of the  title of complementarian Mary Kassian’s book and blog “Girls Gone Wise”.

[3] I am bothered by the fact that some complementarians think that a woman leading a church is a dangerous, rebellious person. “I can’t help but feel that there is something askew with a view that places gender above character, calling, godliness and giftedness: a system where, potentially, every man can be considered for ministry, but every woman is immediately disqualified.” from Can a woman be a Pastor? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? here.]

I understand that many complementarians believe they are being obedient to God by prohibiting women from teaching men because they see 1 Timothy 2:12 as having a universal and permanent force, but many of these same people choose to ignore and disobey the instructions in 1 Timothy 2:8-9.

Postscript (4.4.13):  Here is a link to a brief podcast entitled Do You Use Bible Commentaries Written by Women? where Complementarian John Piper says that a woman can teach a man if it is done indirectly and impersonally. For example, he states a woman can teach a man through the medium of a book or commentary; she can teach him as long as she is not standing in front of him. I’m pretty sure Deborah, Huldah, King Lemuel’s mother, Priscilla, and other Bible women were facing men when they gave them instructions and directions. Unlike John Piper, Barak, Josiah’s all-male delegation, King Lemuel, and Apollos did not see these women solely in regard to their sex. These Bible men , and others, respected the women and knew they had something important to say and teach them. Gender was not an issue.

Post Script (13.8.13): I read the following quote from I. Howard Marshall today. He sees the inconsistencies in Complementarians using books written by women and poses the question, “How can it be right for complementarians to read and cite books on Bible and theology written by women and disallow them from saying the same things in a church meeting?” From “Women in Ministry” in Women, Ministry and the Gospel, ed. Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), p.63.  I. Howard Marshall is just one of many prominent biblical scholars who do not support restrictions on ministry on the basis of gender. (Marshall is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, and former chair of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research.)


Related Articles

Michael Bird on Conflicting Complementarian Attitudes to Women Teachers
Women Bible Scholars and Translators
Female Bible Translators
Women, Teaching and Deception
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
1 Peter Bible Studies

Posted October 21st, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, Women in Ministry, , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

16 comments on “Complementarians & Bible Commentaries Written by Women

  1. I wondered the same things myself. She isn’t just teaching ‘women’ – as the normal excuse goes either.

    I have to wonder how long it will be until they attempt to remove the rug underneath her feet so to speak. They would look completely stupid if they do that, and I hope they don’t. In time I would not doubt they minimize her work sadly.

    Maybe – just maybe the Holy Spirit is working within them to show them its not a teaching issue – but a personal ‘pride’ issue. To them its a ‘power struggle’ issue, which always seemed to blow my mind. When they will learn it is about the Lord, and not about ‘power’ or position of men?

    If they take the bible literally? The position of pastor, teacher, etc is seen as a demotion – not promotion. I’m speaking from a secular view here – one they tend to use more often than they would admit. One that wishes to be first should be last. Teaching and Pastoring is serving, and in that realm they are actually NOT allowing 1/2 of humankind to serve. You have to wonder if they stopped to think of it like that.

    I hope they continue to allow other women to serve now.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Many comps try to be consistent, but do not see the final result of where their teaching leads, into application gymnastics and inconsistency.

    And all because of a few puzzling verses that they CHOOSE to interpret in a way to restrict women and all the while the best of them know that egals have ways of interpreting those same verses that do not lead to such inconsistencies and application gymnastics.

  3. Sarah says:

    “He defended himself by saying, ‘I prefer to think of reading a book by a woman as having a chat over a coffee than as teaching.'”

    How can someone who claims he is a scholar not realize how illogical he’s being?! So written words and talking one on one don’t count as teaching but spoken words in a classroom/pulpit setting do? That book was written with every intention to teach – you can’t pretend it doesn’t just because the author is a woman. You don’t get to change reality because you “prefer” it to fit your beliefs. You either admit that women have valuable things to teach men or you admit that you were wrong to read her book/she was wrong to write it. You can’t have both.

    I bet he would never say, “I prefer to think of reading a book by a -man- as having a chat over a coffee than as teaching.”

  4. Marg says:

    I’m studying 1 Peter at the moment and I’m using Karen Jobe’s commentary as one of my main resources. She is absolutely teaching me about the Bible and about Christian doctrine. There is no doubt whatsoever about that.

    I hope that the Holy Spirit will remove the complementarian blinkers, and that people will see that it is indeed pride (male ego), and not a supposed scriptural mandate, that is preventing women from being seen and treated as true equals.

    As a woman, Jesus is just as much my Lord and Saviour and friend as he is to my brothers. The Bible is just as much mine to read and study, and teach, if that is where my gifting lies.

  5. TL says:

    It seems to me that they may be trying to please both sides of the issue by explaining tentatively that reading some books by women is somewhat OK, “like having a chat over coffee”. But the thing is that one of those guys, in having a chat with a woman over coffee regarding theological issues, would not be willing to be taught, corrected or directed by that chatting woman. 🙂

  6. Marg says:

    I actually don’t get a sense that anyone is trying to please both sides of the issue. I think these people are resolute in their stance that a woman cannot teach a man. Even if the practise of their conviction is compromised.

    The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not represent a biblical consensus on this issue. I really think it is the male ego that is stopping some men from appreciating and listening to what women have to say.

  7. Sharon Letchford says:

    Gee, Wayne, tell us chicks what you REALLY think of us!

  8. Marg says:

    I think Wayne comes pretty close to admitting that he thinks women are inferior to men in his ridiculous article entitled, “But what should women do in the church?”

    I’ve have a critique of his article here.

  9. Heather says:

    I always find it amusing when a man talks about what a woman can and cannot do , like HE is the one who makes the rules over what another human being is allowed to do . Seriously , we are not animals! This kind of garbage makes my blood boil ! I just wonder how Mr. Grudem would feel if he were treated this way ?

  10. […] Marg Mowczko at her blog New Life considers Bible translator “Karen Jobe’s scholarship and expertise in understanding and explaining 1 Peter 3:19-20″ (in Marg’s post “The Righteous for the Unrighteous – 1 Peter 3:17-22“). Marg also startles us and expresses how she herself “was surprised recently to read Mark Driscoll’s statement that, in his opinion, the best commentary on the book of Esther is the one written by Karen Jobes” (and she explains why in her post, “Complementarians and Women Bible Commentators.” In a related post, on equality and gender issues, Marg asks important “Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12.” […]

  11. Marg says:

    I just found this direct quote from Grudem in an interview from October 2006 here.

    “When I read a book written by a woman, it’s a much closer analogy to a private conversation between the author and me.”

    We all know that when an author writes and publishes a book he or she hopes for much more than a private conversation with one reader. A writer hopes to inspire, influence and/or educate many readers with their written words in much the same way as ministers hope to inspire, influence and educate many people with their spoken words.

    Grudem also makes comments in the interview about Priscilla and Aquila, including a comment about the Greek verb for “instruct” (in Acts 18:24) that is just plain wrong. I look at Priscilla and Aquila and the verb for “instruct” here.

  12. […] Complementarians and Women Bible Commentators; The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club; Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias; […]

  13. […] More and more Christian women are obtaining academic qualifications and scholarly expertise in theological and biblical studies.  Women scholars are involved in most of the English translations of the more recent Bible versions, and some scholars, such as Karen Jobes, are writing superb Bible commentaries. […]

  14. Bill Derham says:

    Every time a woman publishes a bible study blog, book, ebook or journal article for the general public, she is teaching men. It makes me think of the way Jesus destroyed the silly logic of the Pharisees over swearing of oaths. Matthew 23:16-22 (NIV)

    16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’
    17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
    18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’
    19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
    20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.
    21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.
    22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

    • Marg says:

      I love your analogy, Bill. It’s good fit.

      When I read some of the arguments that hierarchical complementarians use to support their ideology I’m often reminded of “straining gnats” and “swallowing camels” (Matt. 23:23-25).

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