Michael Bird on inconsistent complementarian attitudes to women teachers

Written by Margaret Mowczko. Originally posted at newlife.id.au here.
Margaret Mowczko is vice president of CBE-Sydney. She has a theology degree and is currently studying for a master’s degree with Macquarie University, specialising in early Christian and Jewish studies. Margaret writes on the subject of biblical equality for her website newlife.id.au. Her work has appeared in several publications of CBE-International, and one of her articles recently won an award in the 2014 Evangelical Press Association Awards held in Anaheim, California. Margaret is a leader of her church on the Central Coast where she regularly preaches.

Michael Bird

The acceptance or rejection of women as Bible scholars, translators and commentators varies widely among complementarians.  The acceptance and even the endorsement of women scholars and teachers by some complementarians seems to contradict their basic stance that a woman cannot teach a man.  This stance is based on one verse, 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul says that he is not allowing a woman to teach nor “to usurp authority” of a man.[1]  1 Timothy 2:12 is used to keep women out of influential teaching ministries in the church and has become the sticking point for many Christians on the issue of women in ministry.

Australian scholar and theologian Michael Bird has published an ebook where he discusses the issue of women in ministry.  He has a paragraph on the discrepancies between the ideology and practice of some complementarians who allow women to lead and teach men in some instances.  I really like what he has to say about this, so I’ve quoted this paragraph here:

As to the complementarian and egalitarian application of this text [1 Timothy 2:12], I am going to try to thread an exegetical needle between them. I think it is worth pointing out that complementarians themselves qualify or tone down the full implications of their view, and herein is the weakness of their position. For example, some complementarians allow a woman to teach men indirectly through books, radio, and websites but will not permit them to teach men in person. A woman can write a commentary on Hebrews to be read by men but cannot preach or teach men on Hebrews. A woman can be president, a prime minister, a CEO, a general, or a police officer, but she cannot serve as a pastor.  A woman can teach men French or piano lessons but not the Bible or theology. A woman can teach Bible and doctrine to unbelieving men but not to Christian men. The problem I have here is that some complementarians appeal to Genesis and the order of creation to show that it is inherently wrong for a woman to be in a position of authority over a man, and yet they only apply that restriction to church life or Sunday worship.  But that is like saying that it is okay for someone to commit adultery as long as they do not do it on Sunday or in the church auditorium. Or it is like saying that it is okay to commit adultery as long as you do it with an unbeliever. If it is such a clear violation of God’s ordering of creation for a woman to have authority over a man, then this should apply to all spheres of life whether it is business, government, politics, civil service, or church because God is sovereign over all institutions, and all of life is lived before God and under God.”

Michael F. Bird (2012-12-25) Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) (Kindle Locations 516-526) The ebook can be purchased very cheaply here.

What do you think of Michael’s statements?


[1] The precise meaning of the Greek word authentein which is translated as “to usurp authority” in the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:12 is uncertain.  I have written about authentein here and here.

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