Two Views on Women in Ministry – a review

Women in Ministry


In his book, Two Views on Women in Ministry, Dr. James Beck provides access to two sides of a centuries-old debate that is a hot topic in much of contemporary evangelical Christianity.  This extensive volume on the topic of women in ministry showcases, in Beck’s words, “the current state of NT scholarship” on the issue in a manner that is highly detailed and balanced in its approach.

The editor of the volume, Dr. James Beck, is a counseling professor at Denver Seminary with special interests in the areas of “mental health on the mission field and the particular needs of missionary children.”[1]  He has a Ph. D. from Rosemead Graduate school of Psychology, has authored many books, and served for several years as a pastor in Corvallis, OR.[2]

The book itself is made up of essays and rebuttals from Linda L. Bellville, a professor of biblical literature at North Park Theological Seminary, Craig L. Blomberg, a professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Craig S. Keener, professor of biblical studies at Palmer Theological Seminary, and Thomas R. Schreiner, associate dean of Scripture and interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.[3]  The varied approaches of the book’s contributors provide a good cross section of the debate over women’s role in ministry.  While there is much that may be written on this topic, this paper will focus on the quality of scholarly debate and the level of persuasion offered by the various contributors.


Two Views on Women in Ministry seeks to provide insight into the age-old question, “Does the Bible impose some limits on women in ministry, or are there no limits?”.[4]  Compiled by “six friends” who “enjoy one another’s company and strongly respect the scholarship of each,” the battle waged is one amongst comrades in biblical scholarship. [5] This is the tone set by Beck’s introduction to the work and, though some rebuttals are quite critical of the others’ opinions, the mutual respect shines through throughout.  The two perspectives presented, albeit with points of disagreement even between those in the same camp, have been designated “egalitarian” and “complimentarian,” with the former arguing for women in ministry and the latter arguing against.

The egalitarian position is represented by Linda Bellville and Craig Keener.  From this perspective, they present their arguments for why ministry in all its forms should be open to women as well as men.  Representing the complimentarian perspective as “traditionalist”[6] and ”hierarchial,”[7] they criticize it as being rooted in selective interpretation, rooted in “one or two highly debated passages (first and foremost, 1 Tim. 2:11– 15), with little acknowledgment of the roles of women in Scripture as a whole,”[8] and “debatable on biblical grounds.”[9]

The complimentarian perspective, presented by Craig Blomberg and Thomas Schreiner, argues that ministry roles should be restrictive.  Both authors allow for the ministry of women, but restrict them from the roles of “senior pastor” (Blomberg and Schreiner) or from any role where they teach men (Schreiner).  Calling the egalitarian perspective “feminist,” these authors’ criticism of their opponent’s exegesis and worldview varies from very conciliatory (Blomberg) to outright dogmatic (Schreiner).  They contend that the Bible teaches strong male headship from the beginning and that admonitions to women warning against exercising authority over a man are timeless (especially Schreiner).[10]



Linda Bellville

In Chapter 1, Linda Bellville presents her egalitarian perspective.  Charging that the difference in evangelical scholarship today “is not that of women in ministry per se,” but of “women in leadership.”  Identifying the “traditionalist,” or complimentarian position as being rooted in a patriarchal mindset that perceives the male-female relationship in hierarchical ways, she structures her argument around “four basic questions.”  1) Does the Bible teach a hierarchical structuring of male and female relationships? 2) Do we find women in leadership positions in the Bible? 3) Do women in the Bible assume the same leadership roles as men? And 4) Does the Bible limit women from filling certain leadership roles?[11]  Giving significant weight to biblical examples such as Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), and the various “overseers of house churches,” she presents a compelling case for female leadership in the Bible.  One of her most compelling arguments is in her treatment of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, where she argues for the occasional nature of Paul’s admonitions regarding women, citing the influence of the Artemis cult which she perceives as having great influence in first century Ephesus.[12]

Dr. Bellville’s essay is very well argued, for the most part.  She presents exegesis that is convincing to the reader, particularly in the creation narratives, where she asserts that man and woman were both endowed with “what it takes to rule and subdue the entirety of what God has created”[13] and “If there is any subordination in the creation accounts, it is not that of the female to the male but that of both the female and male to God.”[14]

The main criticism in Bellville’s essay, which her detractors share, is in her treatment of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  Bellville presents the argument that Paul’s admonitions to women were tied to the Artemis cult that was prominent in Ephesus.[15]  While this has the potential to be a great buttress to Bellville’s argument, her lack of source documentation and internal evidence leave her conclusions open to serious critique.  Were this corrected, it would greatly increase the effectiveness of her argument.


Craig Blomberg

In Chapter 2, Craig Blomberg takes a different approach.  He sets the tone for his essay with an important statement that “[t]here is not legitimate place in this debate to impugn fellow evangelicals who differ from one another.”[16]  He then proceeds to offer an evaluation that places him, in his own words, “about as close as you can get to being a full-fledged egalitarian without actually becoming one.”[17]  Surveying the Scriptures, Blomberg affirms that “[m]en and women alike . . . bear God’s image equally as his unique stewards over creation,”[18] that the fall “shattered” the harmony between man and woman, thus distorting the relationship of “divinely intended male headship, ”[19] and that “Jesus never promotes full-fledged egalitarianism” in the gospels.[20]  He concludes that “the biblical restrictions on women [are] exclusively to. . . an office,”[21] and that women should not be restricted from exercising any ministry gifts, but only from holding the highest office in their given church’s structure (i.e. Senior Pastor).[22]

Blomberg’s exegesis and explanation are well stated, and of clearly high caliber.  The chief difficulty lies in the one exclusion that he decides is appropriate.   While he does not have a problem with women teaching per se, as does Schreiner, his recommendation for female exclusion from the “highest office” is problematic, as he admits, in that it is so variable across ecclesiological models.  If indeed the congregational model is the most biblical, as he believes, then his solution of a group of male elders serves either to undermine true congregational polity, or confuses teaching with authority in a way he discounts earlier in the essay.[23]


Craig Keener

The third essay in the book, by Craig Keener, presents another egalitarian perspective.  A former complimentarian, Keener addresses well the problem that arises when well-intended, God-fearing Christians study the Bible and come to different conclusions.[24]  He begins by observing that “some of the roles by which women carried out ministry in the Bible were more authoritative than the offices from which they are now restrictive.”[25]  Analyzing much of the same evidence as the previous two scholars, Keener makes much of the apostleship of Junia (Romans 16:7), and argues that the roles of apostle and prophet in the New Testament were more significant than many modern readers recognize.[26]  In assessing Paul’s admonitions to the churches on which, Keener believes, we often impose unfair modern concepts, he observes that “[m]any women Sunday school teachers may in fact be exercising more teaching authority today than many first-century elders did!”[27]  After a very cogent discussion of the transferability of New Testament teachings to other times and cultures,[28] and an analysis of historical interpretational precedent, he gives a solemn warning to those holding a dogmatically complimentarian perspective: “Our personal experiences may differ, but in the end is it not as dangerous to risk forbidding what God endorses as to risk promoting what he forbids?”[29]  Ultimately, he concludes that “[w]e should, therefore, not allow our traditions or an (at best) uncertain (and most likely mistaken) interpretation of a single “passage to deny the calling of women who otherwise prove themselves fit for ministry.[30]

Keener’s essay is, in this writer’s opinion, the most aptly presented.  His argument regarding transcultural relevance, both in his review of Blomberg’s essay, and in his own piece, is very persuasive.[31]  While his treatment of the 2 Timothy passage rests on similar principles as Bellville’s (see above), he does not rely as heavily on the Artemis cult, and this strengthens his argument.  Keener’s past as a complimentarian contributes nicely to his work, rounding out a very cogent discussion of the topic.


Thomas Schreiner

In Chapter 4, Thomas Schreiner offers the most restrictive of the views presented . While Blomberg’s complimentarian perspective bordered on egalitarianism, Schreiner holds taut the traditionalist line.  Appealing early on to history, he holds that his position “has stood the test of time and been ratified by the church in century after century.”[32] Tying the egalitarian position to the feminist revolution, he proceeds to accuse the egalitarian camp of importing modern notions into the Bible, resulting in seemingly contradictory statements by the writers of Scripture.[33]  Arguing strongly for his thesis that “women are not appointed to the pastoral office,”[34] he concedes that women were significantly involved in ministry, and that women served as deacon in the NT, but downplays the role of the office in favor of elders/overseers as the leaders of the church.[35]  In turning to the role of women in the family, Schreiner makes much of the first few chapters of Genesis and its establishment of the headship of Adam, citing and expositing “six indications Adam had a special responsibility as a leader.”[36]  Ultimately, Schneider concludes that “we fulfill the admonition of 1 Timothy 2:12 when we prohibit women from filling the pastoral office and when we restrict them from regularly teaching the Scriptures to adult males,” and that “the leadership of the church belongs to men.” [37]

Schreiner’s analysis of the issue is very well put together, reflecting his outstanding level of scholarship.  While he presents his argument at least as well as those of his contemporaries, he is the least accommodating to divergent opinions on this highly-debated issue.  One of the greatest weaknesses of his argument (and Blomberg suffers from this, though to a lesser degree) is his exclusion of women from specific church offices that did not exist in the first century.   Bellville calls this an “anachronism fallacy” and this writer agrees with her critique.[38]


James Beck’s book Two Views on Women in Ministry is a refreshing compilation presenting counterpoint-arguments from four very adept exegetes.  While all of the arguments presented are of high caliber, those presented by “egalitarians” Linda Bellville and Craig Keener are the most persuasive.  The chief difficulties with the “complimentarian” arguments are twofold.  In the first place, both Craig Blomberg and Thomas Schreiner argue for the exclusion of women from filling the office of senior pastor or its equivalent.  Given the descriptive, rather than proscriptive, nature of the New Testament when it comes to church polity, and the necessary imposition of modern ideas of church leadership structures that these positions require, it is difficult to be enthusiastic about their viability.  Secondly, the complimentarians fail to address what seems to this writer to be a critical issue: namely, the question of “why.”  If God acts in ways consistent with his nature, then a rigid male headship in the church is difficult to reconcile with the New Testament’s other teachings of a God who is not a respecter of persons.  This is not to say that everything God does will make sense, or that “we who see now dimly as through a glass” will be able to discern his ways with anything but a rudimentary level of clarity.  However, the “egalitarian” position leaves less apparent gaps between the revealed nature of God and the doctrine at hand.

[1] (Accessed August 7, 2013).

[2] Ibid.

[3]James R. Beck, Two Views on Women in Ministry, Kindle ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), loc, 6694 ff..

[4] Ibid., loc 6665.

[5] Ibid., loc 179.

[6] Ibid., loc 227, 4958 et al.

[7] Ibid., loc 253, 3975 et al.

[8] Ibid.,  loc 225.

[9] Ibid., loc 4453.

[10] Ibid., loc 5926.

[11] Ibid., loc 263.

[12] Ibid., loc 1357.

[13] Ibid., loc 298.

[14] Ibid., loc 365.

[15] Ibid., loc 1169 ff.

[16] Ibid., loc 2329*.

[17] Ibid., loc 2355.

[18] Ibid., loc 2412.

[19] Ibid., loc 2467.

[20] Ibid., loc 2654.

[21] Ibid., loc 3243.

[22]Ibid., loc 3243-3251.

[23] Ibid., loc 4243.

[24]  Ibid., loc 3993.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., loc 4113.

[27] Ibid., loc 4211.

[28] Ibid., loc 4605 ff.

[29] Ibid., loc 4620.

[30] Ibid., loc 4660.

[31] Ibid., loc 3714 ff and 4278 ff.

[32] Ibid., loc 5107.

[33] Ibid., loc 5148.

[34] Ibid., loc 5183.

[35] Ibid., loc 5334-5376.

[36] Ibid., loc 5470.

[37] Ibid., loc 5935-5960..

[38] Ibid., loc 6350-6358.


About Christopher J Ray

Blogger, avid reader, banker, father.
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Two Views on Women in Ministry – a review

  1. Pingback: Why I am an Egalitarian | The Patriot Principle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s