Perry Noble, pastor of New Spring church in South Carolina, has recently defended the idea that women should preach. You can read his defense here.
He writes in a friendly spirit and says that he wants to clarify the situation rather than argue about the matter. Such friendly discussions are important, and I hope it should prove helpful to clarify why I think Noble’s reasons fail to persuade.
Let me begin by summarizing Pastor Noble’s reasons for thinking that women can preach. First, women were commissioned by Jesus to preach that he was raised from the dead. Second, women were among those who preached on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Third, some passages in the Bible (like Deut. 25:11-12) no longer apply today. Fourth, many women had leadership positions: Deborah was a judge and spoke God’s word; Esther was a queen; Philip’s four daughters prophesied; Phoebe was a deacon; Priscilla was also clearly a leader. Fifth, it is inconsistent to allow a woman to teach Sunday School and then forbid them to preach. Sixth, we should be focusing on more important things when there are more than 3 billion people out there who don’t know Jesus.
Reasons to Dissent from Pastor Noble’s View
Let me take up the last reason first. Yes and yes to the priority of proclaiming the gospel. And yes to his statement about unity in the essentials. But Pastor Noble should be more careful in what he says. Pastors have a responsibility before God to proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Surely, some doctrines are more important than others, but it doesn’t follow from this that other doctrines don’t matter at all. Historically, there would be no Baptist churches at all if all one wanted to say is that there should be unity in essentials. I can imagine someone saying to Baptists in the 16th century: “let’s not dispute the matter of baptism. After all, there are many people to be reached with the gospel. Let’s not waste our time on this issue.” Unity on the essentials of the gospel does not and should not lead to the conclusion that other biblical teachings are inconsequential. The call to reach the world must not be used as a trump card to nullify what the scriptures say.
It is also noticeable that Pastor Noble gives no explanation for the texts that prohibit women from teaching or exercising authority over men (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:2-16; 1 Tim. 2:11-15). It isn’t helpful to say that there are only five passages on this issue. There are only two texts in the NT that say believers shouldn’t marry an unbeliever. Is this an indifferent matter then? There are a handful of texts that prohibit same-sex relationships. Can we then ignore them? The texts where Paul gives instructions about women teaching must be explained, especially since Paul grounds his view in the created order, in the good and beautiful world God made (1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim. 2:13). They can’t be waved off without even giving an explanation.
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Thomas R. Schreiner