This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2005 vol. 162 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women: An Exegetical Response to Traditionalism and FeminismXulon Press, Longwood, FL April 18, 2003
This book is an attempt to determine what the Bible teaches about the role of women in ministry. The Winstons, a husband-and-wife team, state, “We wrote … with the conviction that inerrant scripture, interpreted according to straightforward grammatical-historical exegesis provides a coherent total picture and common ground upon which open-minded people from both camps can meet” (p. viii). By “both camps” they mean egalitarians and “traditionalists” (i.e., complementarians). Although they claim to emphasize “grammatical-historical exegesis,” their exegesis is more often a commentary with supporting comments from various sources.
Their attempt at a middle-of-the-road stance is quickly disspelled with the possible exception of the conclusions they offer regarding the husband’s authority and the wife’s submission to him. “If a wife is to show respect for her husband … it is not primarily because she is in the church … but because she is married. We conclude that gender-based distinctions do not apply in the church—only spouse-based distinctions. And even those distinctions apply only to church decorum, not to church order. The Bible disallows gender-based distinctions outside of marriage and affirms role-interchangeability in the church” (p. 281).
Though claiming a stance somewhere between traditionalism and egalitarianism, most of the Winstons’ conclusions are boldly egalitarian. For instance in chapter 13 they conclude that in contrast to the traditionalists’ rejection of “female prophetic preaching today… . no valid reason … [nullifies] the mass of biblical evidence for the preaching of many prophetesses of both the Old and New Testaments before large audiences” (p. 324). This leads to the conclusion “that there is no objective distinction to be made between men and women when it comes to the teaching ministry that should be exercised by all true believers. There is … indisputable exegetical evidence proving that women may teach men both in public and in private, and there is no explicit statement of Scripture to the contrary” (p. 351). Chapter 15 concludes that “women may teach males and therefore teach in public and in church when males are present. Wives may teach their husbands if this does not lead to their lording it over them. Unbiblically defined categories of teaching such as ‘authoritative teaching’ or ‘official teaching’ may not be contrived to restrict teaching by women” (p. 369). In chapter 16 the authors discuss thirty biblical references and conclude that they approve “a ministry of the Word by women in public, to men, or in the church” (pp. 402–3).
Part 5, “Church Office,” asks if a woman may hold a church office such as apostles, deacons, elders, overseers, or pastors. The Winstons give three reasons why they believe the office of apostle is open to women. “First, we saw that apostles are sent ones: missionaries. It was to women that Jesus said, Go and take [the] word to My brethren (Matt. 28:10)… . Second … apostles are sent ones who proclaim Christ… . [Women] became the first preachers of this good news. In this they were apostles even before the twelve males. Third, apostles are sent to proclaim Christ to the unreached… . women were the first missionaries to proclaim the good news of the resurrection… . In this as well, these females were apostles, even before the twelve males. It is therefore undeniable that … the essence of apostleship [is] explicitly predicated of women. The traditionalist conjecture is not only devoid of biblical foundation but also contradictory to Scripture, and must be rejected” (pp. 447–49, italics theirs).
In answering the question “May a Woman Be a Deacon?” the Winstons conclude that if “a woman may exercise the greater authority of an apostle, what objection could validly be made to her exercising the lesser authority of a deacon?” (p. 460, italics theirs). In response to the question, May a woman be an elder? they conclude that 1 Timothy “clearly teaches that women may not be excluded from the eldership on the basis of gender” (p. 480). In chapter 22 the authors conclude that objection to women pastors is “based on indirect deductions, false analogies, ungrounded premises, artificial distinctions, and circuitous reasonings… . We conclude that a fortiori, a woman may be all three [deacon, overseer, and pastor]” (p. 520).
The final chapter calls for the reader to have a “renewed mind,” presumably by accepting the conclusions of the authors. Although the early chapters about the husband/wife relationship may have some constructive material, even these chapters are not without their bias. The chapters on church offices are clearly egalitarian. Therefore the stated objective of the authors, to provide “a coherent total picture and common ground upon which open-minded people from both camps can meet” seems untenable.
—Larry J. Waters