Pursuing Partnership, Part 14B: What Does the Bible Say? Interpretive Traditions

Pursuing Partnership Series: Men & Women in Leadership

Part 14B: What Does the Bible Say? Interpretive Traditions

By Heather Althoff, ThM (Dallas Seminary), LifeWay Church – Missions Pastor


“Nothing helps more powerfully against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than occupying oneself with God’s Word, having conversations about it, and contemplating it.”   Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, p. 187, in Krey, Luther’s Spirituality.

Last week, in Part 14A, I proposed that the traditional biblical passages used to speak to the topic of women’s leadership deserve a second look. I suggested that we must understand our own interpretive traditions, in addition to exploring those less familiar to us, as we seek God’s heart regarding men and women in the body of Christ.

I believe it is important to do this for several reasons:

  • This debate is about the interpretation, not the inspiration of Scripture. While proponents of specific viewpoints have argued that one cannot possibly hold another and still adhere to the inspiration of Scripture, the fact is that many well-respected theologians and scholars within the inerrancy camp have come to different conclusions. Historical practice has also varied widely based on the cultural, political, and theological trends of the day. We would be unwise to assume that our interpretations stand outside of these factors.
  • The passages that often seem clear in our English translations are not as clear as we might think.While passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…” (ESV), may seem plain, simple, and clear on the surface, there are often significant exegetical and interpretive questions that significantly affect the meaning and application. In the case of 1 Timothy 2:12, Craig Blomberg (a complementarian scholar) has said that it is, “the single most scrutinized verse of Scripture in recent scholarship.” We would be unwise to enact restrictive applications without exploring the significant questions surrounding such a widely cited passage and the others like it.
  • The debated passages are often given greater weight than other clear, but overlooked, parts of God’s word. Our western tradition values logical argument over lessons conveyed in narratives, poetry, and other literary forms. Throughout the Bible, we see cases of women who prayed, led, taught, prophesied, and took initiative in biblical narratives. However, in the West, we often treat those as exceptions or aberrations, rather than counter-culture redemptive statements, and emphasize what appear to be commands or prohibitions, rather than praises. If we acknowledge that those statements are not always as clear as we would like, we must also consider what we might have missed in these other genres of inspired Scripture.
  • The very heart of God’s mission is affected by the way that we answer these questions. Our partnerships, training, and encouragement of God’s people affect both the message that we bring to a broken world and the method by which we bring it. Do we preach a message that affirms the calling of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in every one of his image-bearers? Are we appropriately equipping every saint to do the work God has called his Church to carry out? Does our partnership witness to the centrality of God’s glory and the redemption he offers to every person in every situation in every corner of the world?

Let’s be sure. It’s worth a second look. I’m convinced the Bible is big enough and strong enough to withstand our questions. I’m even more convinced that God himself will strengthen us as he transforms us with the answers his Scripture provides.

Next week, I will introduce some of the exegetical and interpretive issues that guide our understanding of God’s design for human relationships in Ephesians 5.


For discussion: What point(s) in this article

intrigued you . . .

confused you . . .

concerned you . . .

inspired you . . . WHY?