In the ongoing debate about women’s ordination (in the Anglican realm and beyond), I keep hearing oversimplified claims from hierarchicalists (or “complementarians,” but that’s not the most helpful term in this debate) that they have the entirety of the Bible and Church tradition on their side.
Therefore, we mutualists (or “egalitarians,” but that’s not the most helpful term in this debate), it is argued, have arrived at our positions for various reasons—perhaps capitulation to liberal cultural trends and hermeneutical methods—but not because we’ve read Scripture or studied the history of the Church very carefully.
This is patently false. It is a refusal to admit the complexities of this debate. It is a violation of the hermeneutical principle of charity.
I would also suggest that this uncharitable claim that the mutualists don’t have a high view of Scripture or Church tradition is what Will Witt has labeled a “non-theological argument against the ordination of women.”
NOTE: I am *not* suggesting that hierarchicalist’s Scriptural arguments are non-theological. To do so would be exactly the same kind of uncharitable dismissal that I have a problem with. Each scriptural argument, each passage in question deserves careful debate.
But what I am claiming is that it is a serious mistake—one which derails the possibility for a legitimate conversation to continue—for hierarchicalists to simply ignore or impugn the careful work of mutualist biblical scholars and theologians.
Hierarchicalists ought not to claim that the mountain of biblical, historical, and theological work that’s been done in support of mutualism doesn’t at least represent an attempt to take the Bible and tradition seriously.
Consider, as a starting point, the mutualist work in the following resources.
First, if you don’t have a lot of time, then just look through Pierce and Groothius (editors), Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Second Edition (InterVarsity Press, 2005). That’s a good one-stop-shop if you’d like to actually engage with biblical and theological mutualist arguments, (instead of pretending like they don’t exist or impugning their motives).
Here’s what’s in the book:
- Introduction, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Ronald W. Pierce
- I. Setting the Stage (The Historical Backdrop)
- 1 The Changing Roles of Women in Ministry: The Early Church Through the 18th Century, Ruth A. Tucker
- 2 Evangelical Women in Ministry a Century Ago: The 19th and Early 20th Centuries, Janette Hassey
- 3 Contemporary Evangelicals for Gender Equality, Ronald W. Pierce
- II. Looking to Scripture (The Biblical Texts)
- 4 Equality With and Without Innocence: Genesis 1–3, Richard S. Hess
- 5 From Old Testament Law to New Testament Gospel, Ronald W. Pierce
- 6 Women Leaders in the Bible, Linda L. Belleville
- 7 Jesus’ Treatment of Women in the Gospels, Aída Besançon Spencer
- 8 Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, Gordon D. Fee
- 9 Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, Craig S. Keener
- 10 Male and Female in the New Creation: Galatians 3:26–29, Gordon D. Fee
- 11 Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18–19 and Ephesians 5:21–33, I. Howard Marshall
- 12 Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11–15, Linda L. Belleville
- 13 A Silent Witness in Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1–7, Peter H. Davids
- III. Thinking It Through (Logical and Theological Perspectives)
- 14 The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry, Gordon D. Fee
- 15 The Nature of Authority in the New Testament, Walter L. Liefeld
- 16 Biblical Priesthood and Women in Ministry, Stanley J. Grenz
- 17 God, Metaphor and Gender: Is the God of the Bible a Male Deity?, R. K. McGregor Wright
- 18 “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role”: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis
- 19 The Subordination of Christ and the Subordination of Women, Kevin Giles
- IV. Addressing the Issues (Hermeneutical and Cultural Perspectives)
- 20 Biblical Hermeneutics: Basic Principles and Questions of Gender, Roger Nicole
- 21 Hermeneutics and the Gender Debate, Gordon D. Fee
- 22 A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic: The Slavery Analogy, William J. Webb
- 23 Gender Equality and Homosexuality, William J. Webb
- 24 Feminism and Abortion, Sulia Mason and Karen Mason
- V. Living It Out (Practical Applications)
- 25 In Search of Holy Joy: Women and Self-Esteem, Joan Burgess Winfrey
- 26 Marriage as a Partnership of Equals, Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick
- 27 Nature, Culture and Gender Complementarity, Cynthia Neal Kimball
- 28 Helping the Church Understand Biblical Equality, Mimi Haddad and Alvera Mickelsen
- 29 Toward Reconciliation: Healing the Schism, Alice P. Mathews
Then, take a look at the following resources (although many more could be added to this list):
- Bauckham, Richard, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. Eerdmans, 2002.
- Beck, James R. and Blomberg, Craig L., eds., Two Views on Women in Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001. (See the Revised Edition, published in 2005.)
- Clouse, Bonnidell and Robert G., eds., Women in Ministry: Four Views. Downers Grove: IVP, 1989.
- Cohick, Lynn H. and Amy Brown Hughes, Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries, Baker Academic, 2017.
- Cooper, Kate, Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women. The Overlook Press, 2013.
- Fee, Gordon D., 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. Baker Books, 2011.
- Keener, Craig S., Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Hendrickson Publishers,1992.
- Kroeger, Catherine Clark and Richard Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence. Baker Book House, 1992.
- Macy, Gary, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West. Oxford University Press, 2008.
- Mickelsen, Alvera (editor), Women, Authority & the Bible. InterVarsity Press, 1986.
- Payne, Philip B., Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. Zondervan, 2009
- Peppiatt, Lucy, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in I Corinthians. Cascade Books, 2015.
- Peppiatt, Lucy, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. IVP, 2019.
- Thiselton, Anthony C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Eerdmans, 2000: in The New International Greek Testament Commentary).
- Westfall, Cynthia Long, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, Baker Academic, 2016.
- Witherington, Ben (III), Women in the Earliest Churches (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series), Cambridge, 1991.
- Witherington, Ben III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on I and II Corinthians. Eerdmans, 1995.
- Witherington, Ben III, Women and the Genesis of Christianity. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
- Wright, N.T., “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”
- Wright, N.T., 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. InterVarsity Press, 2009 [Here’s the commentary. Here’s the study guide.]
Furthermore, Will Witt’s series of blogposts on the topic of women’s ordination cannot be ignored.
- Concerning the Ordination of Women: Preliminaries
- Non-theological Arguments Against the Ordination of Women
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument “From Tradition” is not the “Traditional” Argument (***This post is especially relevant for hierarchicalists who claim that they have the entirety of Church tradition on their side.***)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Hierarchy and Hermeneutics
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Beginning with Genesis
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Disciples of Jesus
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Mutual Submission
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women in Worship and “Headship”
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Speaking and Teaching
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: A Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 1: Old Testament Priesthood)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (Biblical and Patristic Background)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ordination and the Priesthood of Christ (in persona Christi)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism Part 1 (God, Christ, Apostles)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: The Argument From Symbolism (Part 2: Transcendence, Immanence and Sexual Typology)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Office)
- Concerning Women’s Ordination: Women’s Ministry in the New Testament (Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons) or a Presbytera is not a “Priestess” (Part 2)
Are hierarchicalists free to disagree with the mutualists on particular points and texts? Of course!
As a mutualist, I will freely admit that this is a complicated debate. Because neither side has 100% certain, knock-down arguments for their position, both sides would benefit from charitable, robust engagement.
But, for the sake of that charitable, robust engagement, please quit claiming that we mutualists don’t care about the Bible or Church history. That’s every bit as unfair and uncharitable as if we mutualists claimed that all hierarchicalists are misogynists.