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A Review of Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet Part V

November 14, 2008

Editor's Note – All this week on Gender Blog we've posted a five-part review of Scot McKnight's "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Dr. Thomas Schreiner. Dr. Schreiner has been the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1997 and serves as the Associate Dean of Scripture and Interpretation.  Dr. Schreiner also serves on the Board of Reference for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The substance of McKnight's argument is his appeal to the actual ministries of women in both the OT and the NT. This is familiar ground in the debate which has been rehearsed many times. McKnight does not actually argue from the "that was then and this is now" principle, which we expect him to do from the earlier part of the book. Instead, he appeals to the ministry of women in the OT and the NT. Apparently, in this instance his argument is that women always served in all ministry positions, and hence they should continue to do so today. So, strictly speaking, the concluding section of the book does not represent an application of the hermeneutical thesis propounded earlier, and is not a legitimate case-study of what was propounded earlier in the book. In other words, when it comes to women in ministry, McKnight's argument is women "were in ministry then, and they should be in ministry now." Therefore, his actual argument for women in ministry does not break any new ground since he does not base it on the conclusions drawn earlier in the book.

McKnight is correct in saying that women were involved in ministry, but the question is whether there are any trans-cultural limitations for women in the scriptures. Women did function as prophets in both the OT and the NT. Even though women functioned as prophets in the OT, they never served as priests. Yes, women prophesied in the NT, but there is no evidence for women who served as pastors, elders, or overseers.3 Similarly, Phoebe, in my judgment, served as a deacon (Romans 16:1-2; cf. 1 Timothy 3:11), but the office of deacon must be distinguished from the office of elder. Elders are distinguished from deacons in that they must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9) and are required to rule (1 Timothy 3:4-5; 5:17). Significantly, Paul insists that women should not engage in teaching men or ruling the church in 1 Timothy 2:12. Hence, women serving as deacons does not mean that they should occupy the pastoral office. Certainly women served in a variety of ministries in the NT: Romans 16 almost serves as a roll call for such noble women. And we must not forget the evangelistic ministry of Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). Still, the example of Priscilla does not mean that women can teach men publicly since she and Aquila instructed Apollos in a private setting (Acts 18:26). The pattern of the NT is more complex than the "all or nothing" approach of McKnight. Yes, women may serve in ministry as deacons, prophets, and missionaries, but they are not to serve as pastors/elders/overseers.  The example of Junia does not advance McKnight's thesis (Romans 16:7), for in calling her one of the apostles, Paul is not identifying her as one of the twelve, nor is he putting her on the same level as the apostolic circle. The word "apostles" is used in a non-technical sense here, signifying that Andronicus and Junia served as missionaries. Indeed, it is likely that Junia's ministry in a patriarchal world was to women (not men). As Ernst Käsemann remarks, "The wife can have access to the women's areas, which would not be generally accessible to the husband."4 So, McKnight's examples do not establish that all ministry positions are open for women. Complementarians, on the other hand, must beware of battening down the hatches in such a way that there is no space for a woman to minister among us. At the same time, we are called to be faithful to the instructions of the scripture, and we are hesitant to differ with the "Great Tradition," especially when the exegetical arguments offered by egalitarians are unconvincing.

Naturally 1 Timothy 2:9-15 plays a major role in the debate. The claim that the text is addressed to the new Roman women is possible but scarcely proven. Too often in NT studies alleged background material is used to "prove" various interpretations. Anyone who reads in NT studies knows how speculative such reconstructions can be. In reading such reconstructions I have often wondered why we complain about systematic theologians being speculative! Even if the situation is as McKnight alleges, Paul grounds his command that the women should not teach or rule on a creational difference between men and women (1 Timothy 2:13). He does not give a cultural reason! The same appeal to creation surfaces in the argument in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:8-9). Remarkably, the singular role that creation has in applying the scriptural word to today is not discussed in McKnight's hermeneutical scheme. After all, Paul appeals to creation in indicting homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27), in justifying eating foods (1 Corinthians 10:25-26; 1 Timothy 4:3-5), in promoting marriage (1 Timothy 4:3-5), and in regard to the role of women. In the same way, Jesus appealed to creation in articulating the permanence of marriage between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). An alleged background to a text must not remove the blue parakeet of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Egalitarians leap over what the text actually says to justify their reading, and allege that the women were uneducated, untaught, or promulgating false teaching. But Paul does not say they were uneducated or spreading false teaching. All the false teachers mentioned in the pastorals are men, and 1 Timothy 5:13 is scarcely strong support for the notion that women were purveyors of false doctrine. Indeed, it is quite implausible to claim that all the women in Ephesus were untaught, uneducated, or advocates of false teaching. The prohibition is grounded in God's created order. Facts are stubborn things, and the argument of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is like a blue parakeet. McKnight doesn't succeed in explaining the parakeet away, and neither should we.

 3I would argue that the terms pastor, overseer, and elder all refer to the same office.

 4Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, translated and edited by G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 413.

Part I, Part II,
Part III,
Part IV

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