What the scholars say ….

Following are very brief excerpts from the published views of some internationally respected evangelical scholars on the subject of the role of women. There are others, not included here, whose theological qualifications and teaching led me to change my mind on a subject that is the cause of division in Christ’s church.  The eye-opening book referred to below: `How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership’, was published in 2010 by Zondervan and includes submissions by 22 leading evangelicals.   Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and Paul through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey, who spent 60 years in the Middle East, were published in 2008 and 2011 respectively.  Underlined and red highlights mine.


Dallas Willard

Served on the Board of the C.S. Lewis Foundation

Excerpt from the Foreword in How I Changed my Mind … (pg 9):

It is not the rights of women to occupy `official’ ministerial roles, nor their equality to men in those roles, that set the terms of their service to God and their neighbors. It is their obligations that do so – obligations that derive from their human abilities empowered by divine gifting.


John H. Armstrong

BA and MA, Wheaton College; D.Min Luther Rice Seminary

President of ACT 3 ministry for equipping leaders for unity in Christ’s mission

An extract from How I Changed my Mind…: (pgs 21-34)

N.T. Wright, in an oral presentation titled: The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church, is correct to warn us that there are many varieties of feminism.   Wright suggests that we have become so polarized over these issues about women in society that the mind-set we embrace is one that creates a checklist of opinions…  You must be wholly right or wholly wrong. But such absolutism will not work if you live in the world of the biblical text.

What it creates is sub-Christian since it has no real place for the hard work of ongoing interpretation and the dynamic, personal ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When this hard work is not done, the result is a whole checklist of arguments that have little or nothing to do with the gospel or Scripture. ….  It is precisely this point that helped me finally to change my mind.


I. Howard Marshall

Former President of the British New Testament Society; Chair of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research; author of several Commentaries and other books on the NT 

An extract from How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership (pgs 143-154):

Further, It has become clear to me that the term complementarian is inappropriate since upholders of this view are able to produce lists of what women may not do in church but which can and must be done in a complementary fashion by men, whereas there is no corresponding list of what men may not do in church but which can and must be done by women. The complementary notion, in other words, is one-sided and inappropriate.


Stanley N Gundry

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief for the Zondervan Corporation.; served as pastor, taught theology and church history at Moody Bible Institute; served as adjunct professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School etc 

Concluding comments from his contribution to How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership: (pgs 93-106):

My journey to biblical egalitarianism was essentially complete……But there was one more important piece to my journey.  In 1974 I was preparing a doctoral field exam in American church history by reading selections from ….primary source documents…   I was immersed in the literature surrounding the questions of slavery and abolition.  The defenses of slavery by leading theologians and churchmen from the southern states (and all denominations) were especially fascinating.

The defenders of slavery within the churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point, and all developed their defense by appealing to Scripture in much the fashion I have summarized [in previous pages regarding the subordination of women].  With one voice Southern churchmen defended slavery and charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God.   …  I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority.  

Then on one cold, wintry day …it dawned on me that I had heard every one of those arguments before.  In fact, I had at one time used them – to defend hierarchicalism and argue against egalitarianism.      I still remember the exact spot on Manchester Road in Wheaton, where it hit me like a flash.  Some day Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defense of slavery.


Prof. James Plueddemann    

Professor and Chair of the Missions and Evangelism Dept at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; International Director of SIM 1993-2003

An extract from How I Changed my Mind … (pgs 197-208):

…. (my wife and I) especially appreciated the insights of F.F.Bruce and his teaching on the priesthood of all believers.  We were encouraged that this respected Brethren scholar supported women in ministry, and we resonated with his teaching.  The priesthood of all believers taught in 1 Peter 2:9-10 sees God’s people as ministers to each other.  This understanding of mutual service and mutual submission blurs the gender distinction in leadership.  It even blurs the clergy-laity distinctions to some extent by seeing God’s people as ministers to each other. Galatians 3:26-30 and related passages give strong biblical support for both men and women serving equally in the church.


Cornelius Plantinga Jr

President and Charles W. Colson Professor of Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary, Michigan; Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary from 1979-1996; former editor of the Calvin Theological Journal

An extract from How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership (pgs 197-208): 

…it hit me (in 1970) with the force of a revelation that the female subordination texts and the slave subordination texts were in the same hermeneutical boat. The texts were sometimes in the same book of the Bible or even in the same chapter.  In both cases you could maintain an egalitarian position only by going to the spirit of the Bible, the general direction of the Bible, the doctrine of the image of God in the Bible, the majestic assertion of the Bible that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28) F.F. Bruce, a world class Paulinist of impeccable evangelical credentials, once made a telling remark in this connection.  After stressing that Galatians 3:28 and kindred passages are the “foundational principles” of Paul’s teaching in the light of which problem passages on female subordination must be understood, Bruce added this: “In general, where there are divided opinions about the interpretation of a Pauline passage, that interpretation which runs along the line of liberty is much more likely to be true to Paul’s intention than one which smacks of bondage or legalism.”

Professor Ronald J Sider 

Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy and Director of he Sider Centre on Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary and President of Evangelicals for Social Action.  

An extract from How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership (Pgs 223-224):

'I found solid historical evidence for the claim that Jesus clearly rejected the prejudice against women that was so widespread in his day.  Jesus treated women as equals.  The conclusion seemed obvious to me: if the one I confess as God Incarnate lived and taught the equality of women, I had better do the same.


C.S. Keener 

New Testament Professor  

From an article in The Later New Testament (IVP):

Earliest Christianity reflected the most socially progressive alternatives on women’s roles in general circulation in its day, but in time much of the church began to reflect the more conservative values of the majority culture.  The step from Jesus’ practices to first-century epistles containing household codes was a large one, but it was a cultural accommodation that most early Christians apparently felt necessary in order to survive in a hostile environment.  

Even these codes were qualified, but in time a church increasingly at home in its culture became increasingly estranged from the more radical elements in its roots, and the dominant culture of late antiquity overwhelmed the incipient egalitarianism argued by Jesus and preserved in Pauline and Petrine qualifications.  


Robert (and Alice) Fryling

Publisher of Intervarsity Press and vice president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Concluding comments from his contribution to How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership (pgs 81-92)

My journey, then, of changing my mind about women in leadership began with observing the great difficulties – if not the impossibility – of applying a restrictive position on women in leadership in a biblically consistent way. 

I also became more aware of the cultural influences in interpreting the Scriptures and especially specific difficult texts.  I then discovered that the broader biblical themes of God’s creation and redemption and God’s gifting and calling to both men and women was consistent with what I was experiencing in my ministry and my marriage. 

Most of all I discovered that my change of mind was closely connected with a change of heartAs I have been able to better receive God’s calling to leadership as a call to humility rather than supremacy, I have also been able to receive women in leadership as well.  It is here where I believe that my mind and heart and the Scriptures are most connected.


Tony Campolo

Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University, Pennsylvania

An extract from Is Evangelicalism Sexist?  in the book How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership (pgs 67-80)

To these women (who have been called) to be barred from that calling….it means the destruction of who they are as persons.   


Alan F Johnson

Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Christian Ethics, Wheaton College; Adjunct Professor of Christian Ethics, Wheaton Graduate School; Emeritus Director of the Centre for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) at Wheaton College; etc.etc.etc!

Extracts from his contribution to How I Changed my Mind … (pgs 121-130)

In the early seventies my academic associations at Wheaton College brought me into contact with other conservative evangelical biblical scholars and theologians whom I deeply respected (9 are named, including F.F. Bruce and others)  These deeply committed orthodox Christians had come to a different reading of those few restrictive biblical texts on women that had been my main defense.  They found that these passages, when understood in their literary and cultural context, did not teach the severely limiting view of women’s ministries that I had assumed the Bible clearly taught.

I began to re-examine ….. and found eventually that without any Scripture twisting or abandoning of biblical authority I could now without reservation support and advocate the full participation of women as whole persons in all aspects of the gospel ministry without male oversight or permission, including the highest pastoral and leadership positions in the church.

Gilbert Bilezikian

(ThD, Boston University) is a Professor Emeritus of Wheaton College, and a former charter elder of Willow Creek Community Church.

Extracts from Renouncing the love of Power for the Power of Love, his contribution to How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership: (pgs 93-106)

There was no hierarchy between my best friend and myself. I wondered why God would want me to treat my future wife as a subordinate best friend.

The more I advanced in the study of the Word of God, the more baffled I became at the suggestion that God would divide his people right down the middle, half chiefs and half Indians…..   Leader if male, subject if female. Such a simplistic separation seemed to violate what I was learning about the character of God and about the flow of his redemptive activity through history.

A long process of arduous and reverent study of Scripture finally led me to see. It was the same kind of error as the loss of the doctrine of salvation by grace had been for the church during a thousand years of its history.

…my turnaround was based on an intense study of the subject in Scripture ….rather than caused by cultural pressures or desires to conform to worldly fads.

NB:  Gilbert Bilezikian’s family experienced the Armenian genocide and the Second World War.  He taught Palestinian refugees following the Six-Day War of 1967, and lived in Beirut, where his 9-year-old daughter was shot in the back. 

…the life experiences described above have contributed to make me cautious about the easy acceptance of entitlements, responsibilities, and privilege that claim for justification the incidences of destiny such as birth, gender, class, color or race.  According to the New Testament, the functions of leadership and responsibility for welding authority in the communities of home and church are uniquely based on appropriate qualifications and spiritually derived abilities.

God does not deal with humans through Christ on the basis of race but of grace.

I ponder philosophically, the wisdom for anyone to claim racial privilege or, similarly, gender-exclusive leadership, all based on controversial and debated portions of Scripture.

Is it any wonder that I feel pain today when I learn from professional counselors that the rate of domestic violence is as high, if not higher, for Christian hierarchical households as it is among the general population?    ….  Under alleged biblical sanction, the euphemistically self-styled “servant leader” of his spouse can quickly turn harsh disciplinarian and violent enforcer of his infallible decisions.

The easy transition from benevolent hierarch to violent ruler is the real slippery slope fundamentalist vigilantes need to be concerned about.

Domestic violence statistics, plus massive evidences of unreported cases, denounce the one tangible slippery slope that should be a matter of conscience to every proponent of female subordination.

Stuart (and Jill) Briscoe

Author and Senior Pastor, Elmbrook Church, Wisconsin

Jill: Exec. Editor of Just Between Us; Board member World Relief and Christianity Today

An extract from Buried Talents in the book How I Changed my Mind on Women in Leadership 

(pgs 67-80):  

…the result…after many hours of digging into hypotass (“to submit”) and kephal (“head”) and related subjects, consulting with exponents of various sides of the issue, reading a shelf full of literature, was that I could argue either way. But one thing I could not escape was that I was in daily contact, not only with a gifted wife, but also a church full of gifted women and a gifted daughter, who earned a doctorate at NY University. Her grandmother Mary had been told by her Victorian father, “No, you can’t train as a nurse. A girl’s place is in the kitchen helping her mother!” 

Then one day I read again the parable of the man who misunderstood his master and buried his gifts.  Like a thunderclap the thought occurred to me: What does the Master think of those who bury the gifts of others!  I prayed to the Lord, “Whatever else you can accuse me of, please deliver me from ever being guilty of burying the gifts of those over whom I legitimately exercise some degree of spiritual oversight.”  And that was the tipping point for me.   

John Stott 

Issues Facing Christians Today, 2006:  

What is forbidden women is not leadership but domineering over men 

(1 Tim.2:12) for this not only undermines the created complementarity of sexual roles, but is also incompatible with the fundamental humility of the kingdom of God The central issue is not what offices are open to women (presbyter, rector, bishop), but whether their leadership style is consistent with Jesus' teaching on servanthood. The image of the prelate lingers and must be abolished.

I conclude with some central simplicities. If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), then the church must recognize God's gifts and calling....   God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled not frustrated, and his church to be enriched by their service.


Kenneth E Bailey

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes     Excerpts (pg 208) re the Woman at the Well:

The woman is issued three commands. She is to go, call and bring. These commands require that she, a woman, become a witness to a man.   …

The next time Jesus makes this type of request  …to Mary Magdalene, `Go to my brethren and say to them…(Jn.20:17)  You, a woman, go and tell the men.

(Pg 210)  Jesus treats the woman as a serious theologian and reveals to her the most important teaching on worship in the entire New Testament. Once again he elevates her as a person – and in the process all women with her.

(Pg 211) Jesus said to her, “I that am talking to you, I AM.” (Jn.4:26, Bailey translation)  The phrase that appears here in the Greek text of John is the exact phrase that is used in the Greek Old Testament to translate the Hebrew of what God said to Moses at the burning bush. The Gospel of John records a list of “I AM” sayings …(7)  Amazingly, this famous series opens with the self-revelation to the Samaritan woman.

(Pg 215) Women: The new movement, centred on Jesus, elevates the position of all women. …. The gender barrier – the social “separation wall” between men and women is destroyed.  … Theology -The nature of God as Spirit is revealed to the community through this woman.  A focus of mission – Jesus accepts, cares for, takes seriously, challenges, recruits and inspires a simple Samaritan woman with a life-changing message centred on himself. A rich harvest results from this unique “sowing”.

Paul Through Mediterranean EyesCultural Studies in 1 Corinthians.

Excerpts pgs 299-313: The Corinthian church had both male and female prophets and both genders were participating in worship leadership. ….   From the outset, it is clear that the issue is gender distinctions, not gender subordination. ….  Greek women of high standing would not have been attracted to a movement that did not treat them as equals.  …  

Paul emerges as a compassionate figure who boldly affirms the equality and mutual interdependency of men and women in the new covenant. ...    In conclusion, we can here see a finely tuned theological discussion on the place of men and women in Christian leadership that needs to have some ancient barnacles scraped from its surface so that its original intent can shine forth with grace and power.


Irene Voysey