A Woman’s Right to Preach: Is It Biblical? – Part 2

4. Argument From Historical Precedence

a. Summary of the argument

"Who would dare to charge the sainted Madame Guyon, Lady Maxwell, the talented mother of the Wesley's Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Whiteman, or Miss Marsh with being unwomanly or ambitious. . . . Yet these were all more or less public women, every one of them expounding and exhorting from the Scriptures to mixed companies of men an women.

"If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt themselves constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? Surely there must be some mistake somewhere, for the Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other. Either the Word does not condemn women preaching, or these confessedly holy women have been deceived. Will anyone venture to assert that such women . . . have been deceived with respect to their cal to deliver the Gospel messages to their fellow-creatures?" (Booth, Female Ministry, pp. 6, 17-18).

"When the true light shines and God's words take the place of man's traditions, the doctor of divinity who shall teach that Paul commands women to be silent when God's Spirit urges her to speak, will be regarded as we should regard an astronomer who should teach that the sun is the earth's satellite" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 4).

b. Main points and responses

1) Surely all the godly women who have preached over the years can't be mistaken about their calling.

Response:

We disagree. They most certainly can be mistaken. And if our conclusions are correct, they are mistaken. For example, a man may feel "urged" or "called" by the Holy Spirit to be an elder in a church. Further, he may desire to serve in that capacity. Although it is a good thing he desires to do (1 Tim. 3:1), he must also meet the objective qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. If he doesn't meet those qualification, God has not called him to be an elder, no matter how strongly he may desire to serve. Similarly, if Scripture doesn't permit women to preach, the Holy Spirit will never urge them to do so, regardless of how strongly a woman may feel called to that ministry.

2) If God's Word forbids women to preach, how is it that the Holy Spirit prompts them to do so? Are the Spirit and the Word somehow at odds on this issue?

Responses:

a) The answer to both questions is no. The Holy Spirit never prompts a Christian to behave contrary to God's Word, and the Spirit is never at odds with the Word. However, being "urged by the Holy Spirit" is very subjective, so if there is a conflict between His apparent urging and what Scripture teaches, those involved must search the Scriptures more diligently to understand God's will more clearly. And Scripture, which is God's objective and authoritative counsel, must have the final say in the matter.

b) One of the challenges in resolving this issue is that some of the Bible passages addressing it are not easy to interpret. But it is every Christian's responsibility to be a diligent student of the Word and to yield to its authority as he or she gains more understanding. That is especially true of anyone desiring to be a preacher or teacher (James 3:1).

c) However, we should not assume that every woman who preaches does so from convictions shaped by a careful study of the applicable Bible passages. Often their reasons are far more subjective (e.g., "God has called me to preach.". Sometimes, as in The Salvation Army, the organization's policy that its women officers must preach may be the primary factor.

3) Many godly woman have preached the Word with apparent success, which is clear evidence of God's blessing and approval. Go does not bless disobedience.

Responses:

a) This appears to be a strong argument because some women apparently have been used mightily of God in public preaching ministries. However, the apparent success of a preaching ministry is not the key issue her. Ministering within biblical parameters is the issue, and therein is true success.

Even when the Lord is pleased to honor His Word through preaching, that doesn't mean He is pleased with the preacher, or that He is honoring disobedience. That's clear from Philippians 1:15-18, which speaks of men who preached simply to cause the Apostle Paul grief, yet Paul rejoiced because the gospel was being proclaimed. If God can honor His Word through sinful men with impure motives, surely He can honor it through godly women with pure motives. But it is always best to minister within biblical parameters, and never to presume upon God's grace.

b) A woman's right to preach isn't determined on the basis of how many women do it, or who those women are.

Equally godly and gifted women as those listed by Mrs. Booth disagree with her position and would never minister from the pulpit. However, God's will in this matter isn't determined by majority vote, personal experience, or subjective call (i.e., feeling "compelled b the Holy Spirit" to preach). It's determined by divine revelation alone.

c) Questioning the behavior of sincere women who feel called to preach can seem judgmental or divisive. However, Christians doing something doesn't automatically make it a scriptural thing to do. Even godly Peter was rebuked by Paul for inappropriate behavior (Gal. 2:11-14).

Additionally, questioning a woman's right to preach doesn't automatically impugn the motives of women preachers. Certainly motives are important, but our discussion concerns methods, not motives. Sometimes Christians with the best of motives will do something unwise or unstudied. Questioning their behavior doesn't necessarily question their motives.

We hasten to add, however, that motives and overall doctrinal integrity are key factors in evaluating whether or not a preacher's ministry is of the Lord. For example, some of today's most well-known television preachers (both male and female) proclaim Christ but represent theological systems that are novel or clearly unbiblical. Therefore, even though their audiences may number in the millions, they should not be preaching.

Key Principles:

  • God's will in this matter isn't determined by majority vote, personal experience, or a subjective "call." It's determined by divine revelation alone.
  • Because Christians do something doesn't necessarily make it a Christian thing to do.
  • The Lord will honor His Word despite the messenger.
  • To question the right of women to preach doesn't necessarily impugn the motives of women preachers.

5. Argument From Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28 – "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

a. Summary of the argument

Since there is no distinction between male and female in Christ, neither should there be any distinction in the pulpit (or any other ministry for that matter). To prohibit women from preaching is to elevate men over women, thereby violating their equality in Christ.

b. Representative quote

"In Galatians 3:26-28 Paul reminds us that we have all been baptized into Christ and there is no longer 'Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female'; for we are 'all one in Christ Jesus.' Paul is speaking of three different dominant-submissive categories, all of which have been nullified by our being baptized into and clothed with Christ.

"The baptized Greek, clothed with the all-sufficiency of Christ, is as much a son of God as is the previously preferred Jew. Similarly, the emancipated slave of early America, once clothed with Christ, met all qualifications for any church office–contrary to the convictions of many church teachers of that era. Any dissection of this passage that offers less to women than other categories would suggest a prejudiced exegesis. The passage goes on to affirm the purpose of Christ's coming: 'to redeem those under the law [Greek, slave, female] that we [all] might receive the full rights of sons' (v. 5)" (Austin H. Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women:YES", Christianity Today, February 20, 1981, p. 13).

c. Responses

1) In Galatians 3:28 Paul illustrates unity in Christ by contrasting it with three prominent points of diversity of his day (i.e., Jew & Greek = nationality/religion; slave & free = social status; male & female = gender).

2) Paul's point is the spiritual equality of believers, not their functional equality.

(The right to preach and teach is a matter of function, not spiritual equality or inequality.)

a) The context of this verse is salvation, not spiritual gifts or spiritual ministries.

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor fee man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. and if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (vv. 26-29).

b) All who are in Christ came to Him through faith and are spiritual equals. However, not everyone functions the same within the Body of Christ because the Holy Spirit distributes gifts and responsibilities according to His sovereign will (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11). Everyone's role is important, but everyone's role isn't the same. That's the principle Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 12.

c) That point is commonly misunderstood. For example, in the representative quote above, Mr. Stouffer rightly says that Christ came to redeem those who are under the law that all who believe might receive the full rights of sonship (Gal. 4:5). But then he confuses freedom from the Law and equal rights as sons (which is the point of the passage) with equal roles in society and the church (which is not the point of the passage).

Mr. Stouffer's comments (that "the baptized Greek, clothed with the all-sufficiency of Christ, is as much a son of God as is the previously preferred Jew. Similarly, the emancipated slave of early America, once clothed with Christ, met all qualifications for any church office–contrary to the convictions of many church teachers of that era. Any dissection of this passage that offers less to women than other categories would suggest a prejudiced exegesis") would be correct and more consistent with Paul's point if they read "The baptized Greek, clothed with the all-sufficiency of Christ, is as much a son of God as is the previously preferred Jew. Similarly, the emancipated slave of early America, once clothed with Christ, is as much a son of God as is his Christian master. An dissection of this passage that offers less to women than other categories would suggest a prejudiced exegesis."

3) A brief discussion of biblical authority and submission is appropriate at this point because God applies it even to spiritual equals.

a) Authority and submission doesn't imply personal superiority or inferiority. It's a functional distinction intended to maintain harmony and order within human institutions such as society and the family. The church is no exception:

Hebrews 13:17 – "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you."

1 Peter 5:1-2 – "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, s your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God."

b) Jesus Himself submitted to the Father without diminishing His nature, character, or personal value in any way (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Phil. 2:5-11). Therefore, God does not violate spiritual equality or diminish His high calling for woman when He places her under ma's authority in the church. On the contrary, He shelters her by providing an environment in which she can achieve her highest spiritual potential without undue vulnerability.

Key Principles:

  • Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not functional quality.
  • The right to preach and teach is a functional distinction within the Body of Christ.
  • Authority and submission doesn't imply personal superiority or inferiority.
  • Christ Himself demonstrated the importance of authority and submission.

6. Arguments From Joel 2:28-29 & Acts 2:17-18

Joel 2:28-29 – “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Acts 2:17-18 – “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both man and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.'”

a. Summary of the arguments

According to the Apostle Peter, Acts 2:17-18 is the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which says that women as well as men will prophesy (i.e., preach). Women did, in fact, prophesy at Pentecost, and Scripture indicates that they will continue to do so throughout the church age.

b. Representative quotes

1) “God ad promised in the last days to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and that the daughters, as well as the sons of mankind, should prophesy. And Peter says most emphatically, respecting the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, ‘This is that which is spoken of by the prophet Joel,’ etc. (Acts 2:16-18). Words more explicit, and an application of prophecy more direct than this, does not occur within the range of the New Testament” (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 10).

2) “It seems truly astonishing hat Bible students, with the second chapter of the Acts before them, should not see that an imperative decree has gone forth from God, the execution of which women cannot escape; whether they like or not, they ‘shall’ prophesy throughout the whole course f this dispensation; and they have been doing so, though they and their blessed labours are not much noticed” (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 8).

c. Main points and responses

1) In Acts 2:17-18 Peter quotes from Joel to explain the phenomena that occurred o the Day of Pentecost, and declares that the Day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (cf. Joel 2:28-29).

Response:

a) Some aspects of Joel’s extended prophecy were not fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (e.g., verse 30, which speaks of blood, fire, pillars of smoke, the sun turning dark, and the moon turning to blood). Therefore, we believe that Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, which will be completed after Israel’s future repentance and restoration in connection with the Second Coming of Christ (Zech. 12:10; 13:1).

b) Pentecost was a prefillment of Joel’s prophecy rather than its fulfillment. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon some of the “sons and daughters” of Israel at that time, but a time is coming when He will be poured out upon all of Israel.

2) Joel says that women as well as men would prophesy, and women as well as men did prophesy.

Response:

We agree that according to Joel’s prophecy women as well as men were to prophesy, and that some women did, in fact, prophesy in the early church (that’s clear from 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, which we’ll examine later).

3) The phrase “last days” (Acts 2:17) doesn’t refer to Pentecost only but to the entire present age. Therefore women as well as men will prophesy throughout the church age.

Responses:

a) We disagree that women will prophesy throughout the church age (see our response to “4)” below.

b) We agree that “last days” isn’t limited to Pentecost, and that it could refer to the entire church age. However, we do not think that is the case in this context. We agree with those who teach that Joel’s prophecy refers to a time “immediately preceding the return of Christ, when all the particulars (e.g., v. 20 and Rev. 6:12) of the prophecy will come to pass. Peter reminded his hearers that, knowing Joel’s prophecy, they should have recognized what they were seeing as a work of the Spirit, not a result of drunkenness” (Dr. Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, pp. 1646-47).

c) Pentecost was a foretaste of what is to come–a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, which will be completed “after Israel’s future repentance and restoration (Zech. 12:10; 13:1) in connection with the second advent of Christ… The Holy Spirit will then be poured out on all classes in Israel who belong to the believing remnant (Joel 2:32)” (Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1355).

4) To prophesy is to preach.

A “prophet” need not be a foreteller of future events, but is “a person gifted for the exposition of divine truth” (Harper’s Greek Lexicon).

“The scriptural idea of the terms preach and prophesy, stands so inseparably connected as one and the same thing, that we should find it difficult to get aside from the fact that women did preach, or, in other words, prophesy, in the early ages of Christianity, and have continued to do so down to the present time to just the degree that the spirit of the Christian dispensation had been recognized” (Booth, pp. 11-12, citing Phoebe Palmer).

Response:

We disagree that “prophesy” in Joel 2:28 and Acts :17 is synonymous with preaching.

a) Joel mentions prophesy in connection with dreams and visions, which implies that it had a revelatory element to it (i.e., God was revealing something directly to the prophet). That’s the character Paul gives prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:29-33:

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (emphasis added).

b) The Greek word translated “prophecy” is prophemi, which literally means “forth” (pro) to speak (phemi), or “to speak forth. It comprised a predictive element (to speak forth in relation to time–prior to an event) and a preaching element (to speak forth to a group of people, to preach, to proclaim, etc.). It was God speaking through individuals for the purpose of edification, exhortation, and consolation (1 Cor. 14:3).

c) New Testament prophets didn’t always speak predictively; they often reiterated and applied prior revelation. But New Testament prophets always had a predictive element to their ministries even though ever prophecy they delivered wasn’t necessarily predictive.

For example:

  • Agabus “indicated by the Spirit” (i.e., predicted) a great famine (Acts 11:28), and Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21:11).
  • Ananias disclosed the future ministry of Paul (Acts 22:1215).
  • Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament writers recorded past, present, and future elements of God’s redemptive plan.
  • Paul referred to Scripture as “the Scriptures of the prophets” (i.e., prophetic writings – Rom. 16:25).

d) The revelatory and predictive elements of New Testament prophecies are what distinguish them from teaching and preaching. Prophets received direct revelation from God; teachers reiterate what has already been revealed.

“In such passages as 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20, the ‘prophets’ are placed after the ‘Apostles,’ since not the prophets of Israel are intended, but the ‘gifts’ of the ascended Lord, Eph. 4:8, 11; cf. Acts 13:1; …the purpose of their ministry was to edify, to comfort, and to encourage the believers, 1 Cor. 14:3, while its effect upon unbelievers was to show that the secrets of a man’s heart are known to God, to convict of sin, and to constrain to worship, vv. 24, 25.

“With the completion of the canon of Scripture prophecy apparently passe away, 1 Cor. 13:8, 9. In his measure the teacher has taken the place of the prophet, cf. the significant change in 2 Pet. 2:1. The difference is that, whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the massage of the teacher is gathered from the completed revelation contained in the Scriptures” (W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 492).

e) However we define prophesy in Joel and Acts, we must remember that Acts is a book of transitions. In chapter two Peter explains the initial prophetic utterances prompted by the coming of the Holy Spirit in partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, but he does not give guidelines for prophetic utterances in the church. Those are given in the epistles, which are not transitional, but normative and instructional for the church.

For example:

  1. In 1 Peter 4:10-11, Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God.” “Utterances of God” refers to Scripture (cf. Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2). Nowhere are Christians instructed to expect, seek, or teach new revelations.
  2. In the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) great emphasis is placed on elders knowing, teaching, and guarding the “faithful Word which is in accordance with the teaching” (Titus 1:9). However, nothing is said of prophecy or additional revelations.
  3. We believe there are no prophets and no gift of prophecy today.

Key Principles:

  • Joel prophesied that women as well as men would prophesy, and women as well as men did prophesy.
  • Joel doesn’t indicate that prophecy will continue throughout the church age.
  • Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy–a foretaste of what is to come in fullness in connection with Christ’s Second Coming.
  • Joel and Peter don’t comment on the role of prophecy in the church. Paul does that in the passages we will examine later.
  • In the New Testament, prophecy and preaching are not synonymous.
  • New Testament prophecy has a revelatory element to it; preaching doesn’t.
  • All New Testament prophets had a predictive element to their ministries.
  • Teachers and preachers have replaced prophets in the church.
  • Teaching and preaching have replaced prophecy in the church.

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