A Trinitarian Perspective
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (US 1776)
These famous words come from one of the greatest documents ever penned in our country; the Declaration of Independence. A document drafted by our forefathers to shake off the tyranny and oppression of Great Britain, and become a sovereign nation. Since that time we have seen our country’s fair share of revolutions that sought to abolish oppressive laws that violated the rights of the people of this great nation. One such revolution was the Women’s Suffrage Movement which won it’s victory on August 26, 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed which guaranteed women the right to vote. This was a great victory for women who believed that the words of the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal”, included them as well. But this battle did not end there.
The Feminist Movement of the 1960’s and 1990’s demanded equal rights for women in all aspects of the home and workplace. They claimed that the gender roles that elevated males to positions of authority within the marriage and the work place, and degraded females to the roles of submission had to be redefined. Total equality was the cry. This same revolution is being played out in the church today in the role over women pastors. Within the church, one side claims that gender roles should not define ones ability to lead God’s people, and therefore women should be permitted to take on pastoral roles just as men do. The battle is over certain passages in the Bible that forbid women to take on such roles and many view these passages as destructive to their “unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (US 1776). But it is this writer’s strong conviction that the Bible clearly states that God has created men and women with specific roles that function on the basis of authority and submission. Therefore, when a woman undertakes the office of pastor/elder, she violates the biblical principles of authority and submission that are clearly displayed in the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Institution of Marriage, and Church Government.
DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
These principles of authority and submission are clearly seen in the doctrine of the Trinity. Although the word Trinity does not appear in Scripture, the concept is crystal clear. God exists in the Persons of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet is but one God. The Ontological Trinity teaches that the three Persons are equal in nature, essence, and attributes (Shed 959). In his book, Systematic Theology, theologian Louis Berkhof writes on the characteristics of the Ontological Trinity:
“The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons. This means that the divine essence is not divided among the three persons, but is wholly with all its perfection in each one of the persons” (88).
In other words, all three members of the Godhead are fully divine, each fully possessing all the attributes of Deity. Yet, when it comes to the Economic Trinity, which teaches that each Person of the Trinity has different functions (Shed 954), we clearly see distinctions. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes:
“When Scripture discusses the way in which God relates to the world, both in creation and in redemption, the persons of the Trinity are said to have different functions or primary activities” (248).
Diversity is clearly seen in the Trinity, being equal in nature, yet working together in while performing distinct functions and roles. For instance, the role of the Father is one of authority. It was the Father who, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world…he predestined us for adoption” (Eph. 1:4-5). The Father sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption, “I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do…. I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of he world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:4-6). The Father chose to save some and sent his Son to accomplish that work. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). The Father is clearly seen, as the one who exercises authority, chooses to save, and sends the Son to accomplish his will.
But regarding the Son, we see a distinct role from that of the Father in salvation. A role that consists of complete submission to the Father’s will. Jesus came willingly, and not under compulsion. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:7). As to His ministry of redemption Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19). And speaking of the Father Jesus says, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). The Son’s role was to accomplish redemption for God’s elect, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mat. 20:28). Jesus was born, lived, and died on the cross while being completely submitted to the Father’s will. That will was accomplished on the cross where Jesus uttered his final words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
And finally, we that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father in John 14:26, and by the Son in John 15:26. Wayne Grudem further explains the work of the Spirit in salvation:
“It is especially the role of the Holy Spirit to give us regeneration or the new spiritual life (John 3:5-8), to sanctify us (Rom. 8:13; 15:16: 1 Peter 1:2), and to empower us for service (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11)” (249).
The doctrine of the Trinity gives us a clear picture of the Godhead working in complete unity in the roles of authority and submission to accomplish redemption. In his song “Mission Accomplished”, Christian rap artist Shai Linne clearly explains just how this process works:
“The Father elects them, the Son pays their debt and protects them; the Spirit is the One who resurrects them. The Father chooses them, the Son gets bruised for them; the Spirit renews them and produces fruit in them.”
What a beautiful picture of the Godhead working together in distinct roles to accomplish God’s one perfect will. There is no struggle for position or self-promotion. The Son and the Spirit never try to usurp the authority of the Father, nor do we see the Father trying to fulfill the roles of the Son and the Spirit. Three Persons. Three roles. One God. So now that we have established a framework of authority and submission within the Godhead, let us move on to examine these roles within the context of God’s creation.
INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE
Speaking on the Institution of Marriage, Wayne Grudem writes:
“Because God in himself has both unity and diversity, it is not surprising that unity and diversity are also reflected in the human relationship he has established. We see this first in marriage” (256).
Marriage is a one-flesh union between one man and one woman as ordained by God, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24, Mat. 19:5, Eph. 5:31). This oneness in marriage is symbolic of the oneness that is found in the relationship between the Father and the Son, a relationship, as we have seen in the previous paragraph, is based on equality and authority. Paul, in writing to the Corinthian church says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Wayne Grudem says of this verse:
“Here, just as the Father has authority over the Son in the Trinity, so the husband has authority over the wife in marriage. The husbands role is parallel to that of God the Father and the wife’s role is parallel to that of God the Son” (257).
What an awesome reality! Both husband and wife, made in the image of God, are placed in a one-flesh union to reflect the image and glory of the Godhead. To the Church of Ephesus Paul writes, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church,” (Eph. 5:22-23). The husband is called to be the head. God has created the man in such a way that he is built for this role as the head of the wife. God created Adam first, and then he created Eve as his helper, not as his leader. The bible has no qualms about acknowledging the woman as the weaker vessel. And therefore, God commands the husband, who might forget this fact, to treat her with understanding, respect, and tenderness lest he incur God’s displeasure. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). We clearly see from scripture the aspects of authority and submission in the Institution of Marriage. God has ordained the husband to be the authority and leader of the home, and not the wife. Male headship in the home is the only biblical model that the Bible teaches. Therefore, when a woman takes an authoritative role over her husband she is direct violation of God’s will. There are simply no other scriptures that suggest another design for marriage but God’s design, and that design calls for male headship in the marriage.
Finally we come to the topic of Church Government. It would seem rather strange and inconsistent that God would go to such great lengths to establish and record in the Scriptures the roles of authority and submission that are found in marriage, which reflect the relationship of the Godhead, and then set aside those principles when it comes to Church Government. But it is exactly here, in the church, where the real controversy lies. Many can accept the idea of authoritative roles within the Trinity, and even within marriage, but they will not have it in the church. The Bible is completely silent when it comes to appointing female leaders in the church. In fact the only thing that the Bible does say regarding woman in authority is:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man;
rather remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12.).
Paul does not see this as a temporary cultural issue but as a permanent theological one, and therefore, in the next verse he goes back to Genesis, and appeals to God’s created order:
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:13-14).
Paul’s prohibition was not one of personal opinion. The idea of a woman exercising authority over a man in God’s house was unacceptable to Paul because it ignored the roles of authority and submission that God has set forth in creation and Paul clearly understood this. And what makes this crystal clear is the following passages, where Paul gives Timothy a detailed list of qualifications that must be met by all who aspire to the office of a leader:
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” (1 Tim. 3:1-2).
Even though this section is marked by a new chapter in the Bible, it is a continuation of the previous portion of scripture. Paul just stated a prohibition regarding women who might aspire to take on an authoritative role in the church. He then goes on to state that if anyone aspires to an authoritative role in the church, he desires a noble task and must be above reproach and be the husband of one wife. This qualification is very specific, it does not say wife of one husband, it specifically stresses “husband of one wife”, which limits the office to a male. In the remaining verses of 1 Timothy 3:2-13 and in Titus 1:5-9, not one verse provides qualifications that include stipulations for women leaders. Paul clearly teaches that roles of authority within the church are reserved for men only. For this was God’s pattern from the beginning of creation. Paul understood the Trinity. He understood the roles of authority and submission. After all, it was Paul who penned the Carmen Christi (Phil 2:5-11). The greatest example of submission to the will of the Father that this world has ever known.
So it is evident to see that when a woman seeks to undertake the authoritative roles of leadership within the church, she is clearly violating the biblical principles of authority and submission, and is committing a gross sin against God’s created order. But not everyone will agree with this. There are some who put up arguments against this position. They ignore principals that were just presented in this essay and grab for proof texts to make their case.
NO MALE OR FEMALE IN CHRIST
Some of these apparent objections are based on the verse, “There is nether Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). But to use this verse to claim that Christianity has abolished gender roles simply does not work. John Piper and Wayne Grudem explain:
“The context of Galatians 3:28 makes abundantly clear the sense in which men and women are equal in Christ: they are equally justified by faith (v. 24), equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25), equally children of God (v. 26), equally clothed with Christ (v. 27), equally possessed by Christ (v. 29).… Galatians 3:28 does not abolish gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ” (71–72).
If Galatians 3:28 is teaching that gender roles have ceased, then there would be no prohibitions for same sex marriages within the Christian community. And in fact, those who argue for the right of women pastors are using the same flawed hermeneutic as those who argue for the right of ordaining homosexual pastors. So we must clearly set aside this argument since it lacks biblical support and move on to the next one.
DEBORAH IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Another argument that is noted is the story of Deborah in the Old Testament. “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (Jug. 4:4). But again, this verse does not speak to the issue at hand. The issue is not about God using women but about women being pastors. Deborah was not a pastor or an elder. She did not serve in God’s Temple. She held no priestly office. The irony of appealing to Deborah to support the Egalitarian position is the very reason the story appears in Judges, it a rebuke to the male leaders and call for them to take their God ordained leadership position. Deborah was not trying to undermine male-headship by taking the role of a leader, but called Barak to take his God-ordained place. Nowhere in scripture do we find God ordaining women leadership in Israel. But what we do find is God’s displeasure when women are ruling over God’s people:
My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths. (Isaiah 3:12 ESV)
In the following article entitled, “The Womanliness of Deborah” on the author states:
If Deborah had been egalitarian, her goal would have been to take Barak’s job, not exhort him to do it. Her goal would have been to arise as a deliverer, not as a mother. She would have exploited Barak’s invitation to the battlefield, not reproved it. She would have battled for equal opportunity for Israelite women in the combat arms, not praised a homemaker. She would have filled her hymn with her own achievements, not those of men at arms. Her goal would have been to have her name in Hebrews 11, not Barak’s.
| CBMW | The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
PHOEBE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
And finally, we have the case of Phoebe in the New Testament, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church” (Rom. 16:1). Another controversial Scripture that those who support the role of women pastors point to in order to prove their case. But again, this verse fails to prove their case. The Greek word diakonos is translated deacon, or deaconess, and it simply means servant. If Paul acknowledged Phoebe as a Deaconess in Romans 16:1, it would seem to be in direct contradiction against Paul’s prohibition for women, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12); and qualifications for elders and deacons, “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:12). So we can dismiss this verse as well.
The burden of proof rests on those who are in favor of women pastors and elders in the church due to the simple fact that there isn’t a single verse in all of scripture that suggests, directs, or commands a woman to pursue or hold the office of authority or leadership in the church.
Throughout scripture and church history God has always used women in great ways. He still does. But this issue is not about God using women. This issue is about women pastors, and the bible is crystal clear on this issue. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man”.
There are some who have an erroneous view of scripture and will argue, “that was Paul’s view on woman, but not God’s”. I leave you with the following verse from Paul:
“Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God,
the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:8)
Further Reading Recommendations:
God’s Good Design by Claire Smith
Complementarianism for Dummies by Mary Kassian
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism
True Womanhood Books @ Revive Our Hearts – Nancy Leigh DeMoss
CARM – Women in Ministry
Berkhof, Louis, “Systematic Theology” Carslile, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005
Grudem, Wayne, The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, October 23, 2011. Web. October 23, 1011.
John Piper and Wayne Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 71–72.
“19th Amendment adopted.” 2011. The History Channel website. Oct 27 2011, 7:22 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/19th-amendment-adopted.
Linne, Shai. “Mission Accomplished.” The Atonement. Lamp Mode Recordings, 2008. CD.
Shedd, William Greenough Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Ed. Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003.
“Declaration of Independence, United States.” Encyclopedia Americana. 1987 ed.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: