Robert D. Decker is professor of New Testament and Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

The big issue facing the evangelical church today is that of Holy Scripture. Is the Bible the inspired, infallible Word of God before which all must bow in humble faith? Or is the Bible, a collection of culturally conditioned, time-bound writings of men which may or may not be binding upon all peoples in every age and culture? Nowhere is this point more apparent than in the current discussion among evangelicals concerning the role of women in God’s church. In order to find biblical justification for women serving in the offices of elder, deacon, or minister, one has to make the Bible say precisely what it does not say. One has to “fiddle” with the Scriptures in order to make them teach that women may serve in church office. An illustration of this may be found in the October 3, 1986 issue ofChristianity Today. Although the articles get into some rather technical details of hermeneutics and exegesis, we think the readers can follow them. Walter Kaiser Jr., a professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes:

Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, many evangelicals support male authority in the church because “we’ve always done it that way.” They have deferred to tradition rather than take Scripture at face value. As a result, great numbers of women have been unable to use their gifts in service to the church.”

It ought to be noted at this point that the question involves women in church office. Women are forbidden to serve in church office. They are exhorted to use their gifts in service to the church in many other ways. Women are saved in childbearing. They may teach Sunday School classes or in the Christian Day Schools. They must teach their children and rule them too. Older women must teacher younger women in the church. Widows have a significant calling in the church, (cf. Epistle to Titus). But nowhere does Scripture allow women to serve in church office. Kaiser continues:

Where in Scripture have we fiddled with the meaning of the text? First, let’s take

I Corinthians 11:10:

“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” Since the days of the gnostic heretic Valentinus (d. A.D. 1601, the church has incorrectly agreed. with him on insisting that the “power” or “[active) authority” placed on the head of a woman by our Lord be revised to read a “veil,” substituting the Coptic ouershoun, “veil,” for the proper word ouershishe, “power, authority.” Almost every modern translation perpetuates this gnostic myth in verse 11, saying, “a veil which is the sign of authority.” However, God has given a unique sphere of authority to women; not a veil nor even a sign! This is straightforward exposition; all else is oral tradition. 

The second text is

I Corinthians 14:33-36:

“. . . women should remain silent in the churches . . . as the law says.” Some are willing to risk Paul contradicting himself by forbidding women to do exactly what he had given permission for them to do in

I Corinthians 11:5:

“. . . every woman that prayeth or prophesieth . . .” This price is too high—just to maintain a traditional view of women. 

But the heart of the passage is the Greek term e, which introduces

I Corinthians 14:36.

This particle startles us with its vivid forcefulness and its strong negative reaction. As J. H. Thayer pointed out in 1889 (A Greek Lexicon), e with the grave accent may appear “before a sentence contrary to the one preceding (it). . . .” Therefore,

I Corinthians 14:36

is hardly a summation of verses 33b-35. Consequently Paul rejects the quotation of verses 33b-35, apparently cited from the Corinthian letter and rabbinic law: “What! Did the Word of God originate with you, or were you [men = masculine form] the only ones it has reached?” 

What irony! The very text that has been used for centuries to silence women from joining in the worship of the church, Paul used to establish their equality. 

One more sample of the fiddler’s work must be raised for gentle admonition:

I Timothy 2:9-15,

where Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent” (v. 12, NIV). The imperative verb, however, is in verse 11: “A woman must be taught . . . .” The prohibitions cited in verse 12 follow and are subordinate to it. But the problem is that few pause to listen for the reasons given in verses 13 and 14 where Paul tells us why he “would rather not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority.” It is mainly because Eve had been tricked, deceived, and easily entrapped (v. 14). 

But how could Eve so easily have been duped unless she previously had been untaught? Adam had walked and talked with God in the Garden during that sixth “day,” thus he had had the educational and spiritual advantage of being “formed first” (v. 13). The verb is plasso, “to form, mold, shape” (presumably in spiritual education] not, “created first” [which in Greek is ktizo). Paul’s argument, then, is based on the “orders of education,” not the “orders of creation.” 

Thus, when the women have been taught, the conditions raised in the “because,” or “for” clauses (vv. 13, 14) will have been met and the ban removed even as the Bible illustrates in the lives of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, evangelist Philip’s daughters, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junias, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Euodia and Syntyche.

Joel 2:28-29

bluntly tells us such a day was coming, and

Psalm 68:11

enthuses, “The Lord gives the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host” (NASB) . . . .

If Kaiser’s exegesis of these passages is correct (and it is decidedly in error!), we have some questions. Why did not Jesus have a woman or two among the 12 disciples? Why was not at least one woman chosen to be an apostle or inspired to write a portion of the New Testament? Why does Paul in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus speak only of men serving as officebearers in the church? Why from the apostolic era to recent years (nearly 2000 years!) has the church not permitted women officebearers? Finally what does Kaiser’s “fiddling” exegesis of these passages do to the truths of the perspicuity (clarity) of Holy Scripture and the priesthood of all believers restored to the church by the 16th century Reformation?

In the same issue of Christianity Today Bruce Waltke, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (Waltke holds two doctorates, in Greek from Harvard University and in Hebrew from Dallas Seminary) writes:

“First, the sexes are equal—both individually and interdependently—in bearing the image of God, in their standing before God, and in their spiritual gifts for service from God. God created man and woman in his image. Man’s only words before his fall affirms his wife as equal and adequate to himself

Gen. 2:18, 23.

All saints are children of God regardless of sexual, social, or economic differences

Gal. 3:26-29

. . . If women did not have equal spiritual gifts, there would be no issue. 

Second, husbands authoritatively lead their wives both in the home, the micro-social unit, and in the church, the macro-social unit . . . As Christ is the Head of his church, so the husband is the head of his wife

I Cor. 11:3

. . . Church government must be consistent with the government of the home, for if a woman had headship in the church (the higher institution), of necessity she would have headship in the home. Not surprisingly, the Old Testament (in contrast to other religions) did not provide for women to become priests who taught the Law. Likewise, Christ, who was a revolutionary for the equality of women as God’s image, did not appoint women as apostles, and the apostles did not allow women to rule or teach men in the church. 

In discussing how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household—the church of the living God—Paul does “not permit a woman to teach or have authority over the man; she must remain silent”

I Tim. 2:12

, not for cultural reasons, but rather because of the unchanging order of creation, “for Adam was first formed, then Eve,” and because of the historical order of the Fall. His instruction echoed his earlier ruling that “when you come together

I Cor. 14:26

. . . women should remain silent:” I Cor. .14:34f. In

I Cor. 11:5-16

Paul makes provision for women to pray and prophesy, but he is not expressly speaking about either ruling or teaching when the church officially met. 

Third, the model of servant portrays the manner of leadership. Re-creation in Christ does not seek to remove social hierarchies but to redeem the tarnish of sin’s subordinating drives . . . The Christian symbol of hierarchy is not the scepter but the cross. This model of government stands in stark contrast to that of the world, where men and women seek self-fulfillment and want to dominate. The Bible offers a better alternative . .

Let us understand this is not just an example of a minor disagreement in hermeneutics and exegesis between two learned and competent scholars. The issue is Scripture itself and how we read and understand the Bible. Is the Bible God’s Word and does that Word apply to us in our day and age? Does the Bible mean what it says on this issue of women? Of course it does.

Who’s “fiddling” with the Biblical, text? Certainly not Waltke and those of us who by grace believe that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (II Tim. 3:16, 17).