can women be pastors and write Bible commentaries

I was surprised recently to read Mark Driscoll’s statement that, in his opinion, the best commentary on the book of Esther is the one written by Karen Jobes—a woman.[1] This is surprising because Driscoll is outspoken about his view that women can’t teach men or hold certain leadership positions in the church.

I would think that a woman who writes a respected commentary on a book of the Bible has, potentially, a strong influence on the beliefs of whoever reads it.

I was also surprised to learn that Moore Theological College in Sydney, which mostly fosters patriarchal views on gender roles in marriage and ministry, trains women who want to be Bible translators.

Surely the Bible translation that a person reads can have a powerful effect on their faith and spirituality.

And well-known complementarian Wayne Grudem felt he needed to defend himself recently when it was revealed he had read a book written by a woman. He responded to critics by saying, “I prefer to think of reading a book by a woman as having a chat over a coffee than as teaching.” (Source)

If I read a non-fiction book I do it with the hope I will learn something. And, in my church, we listen to the main message after morning tea, and some of us bring our coffee cups with us as we listen.

Complementarians (i.e. hierarchical complementarians) are Christians who hold to patriarchal and hierarchical views on men and women in ministry and marriage.[2] They believe that only men can have spiritual authority in the church and in the home, and that women must not teach a men “authoritatively.” How “authoritative teaching” is perceived, and how this belief is applied, varies considerably from church to church.

Dan Philipps is a blogger who appears to hold complementarian views. Dan sees the discrepancy between the belief and practice of complementarians who use commentaries written by women. Dan wrote an article back in 2007 with the clever title of “Girls Gone Exegetical”[3] about the use of Karen Jobe’s commentary on 1 Peter.

In his article Dan asks hypothetical questions about his real concerns:

Say you pastor Karen Jobes’ church, and you teach a Sunday School class on 1 Peter. There she sits, authorette of a complex, in-depth commentary on 1 Peter. How does that work? If someone asks you a question you can’t answer, do you ask her about it? Do people start looking to her for answers when the questions are asked? … What about a man leading a Sunday School class, using a textbook written by a woman?

Dan’s questions, and the actions of the other more well-known complementarians, reveal the untenable beliefs and values of complementarianism. The inconsistencies in complementarian beliefs are further highlighted when we consider that they regard spoken words as having more authority than written words in a book, but, at the same time, they recognise that God primarily reveals himself to us today through the written words in a book, the Bible.

I have some hypothetical questions about women whose words have been recorded in the Bible, words that have the authority of Scripture.

If Deborah was in a church meeting would she be allowed to expound on the words of her and Barak’s song recorded in Judges 5:1ff? Would Hannah be allowed to preach on her prayer recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10? Would Huldah be allowed to elaborate on the prophecy she gave to Josiah recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:23-28? Would King Lemuel’s mother be allowed to teach on the advice she gave her son recorded in Proverbs 31:1-9? Would Mary be allowed to speak on Luke 1:46-55 or teach about her son? And what about Sarah, Miriam, Rahab, Ruth, etc? Would Anna be allowed to tell us what she said to the people in the Temple (Luke 2:38)?  Would Priscilla be allowed to explain what she told to Apollos (Acts 18:26)?

Women did and said important things that are recorded in the Bible. And God is still using women to do and say important things on his behalf.

Complementarians, however, believe it is not God’s will for a woman to speak authoritatively about God and Christian doctrine. Dan Philips, for instance, states that women cannot be pastors, or more specifically, “God-honoring, Biblical, Christian pastors.” Yet the many women in the Bible who displayed spiritual authority and spoke with authority continue to inform our understanding of theology with their stories and words.

Like Mark Driscoll, many of the faculty at Moore Theological College, and Wayne Grudem, I believe it is perfectly fine for a godly and gifted woman to write a Bible commentary, become a Bible translator, or write a Christian book. I also believe it is fine for a capable and called Christian woman to be a pastor and a Bible teacher.[4]

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[1] The article where Driscoll made the comment is no longer online. The web address was <>

[2] I am an egalitarian, or more precisely a non-hierarchical complementarian, as opposed to a hierarchical complementarian. I believe men and women have some basic differences, but that we have many more things in common. I believe men and women are different and equal. (My understanding of Christian egalitarianism is here and here.)

[3] A play on words of the title of complementarian Mary Kassian’s book and blog “Girls Gone Wise”.

[4] It’s concerning that some complementarians think a godly woman leading a church is a dangerous, rebellious person. “I can’t help but feel that there is something askew with a view that places gender above character, calling, godliness and giftedness: a system where, potentially, every man can be considered for ministry, but every woman is immediately disqualified.” From Can a woman be a Pastor? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? here.
I understand that many complementarians believe they are being obedient to God by prohibiting women from teaching men because they see 1 Timothy 2:12 as having a universal and permanent force, but many of these same people choose to ignore and disobey the instructions in 1 Timothy 2:8-9. (My articles on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are here.)

Postscript (April 4 2013)

Here is a link to a brief podcast entitled Do You Use Bible Commentaries Written by Women? where John Piper says that a woman can teach a man if it is done indirectly and impersonally. For example, he states a woman can teach a man through the medium of a book or commentary; she can teach him as long as she is not standing in front of him. What does this statement reveal about Piper’s view of real-life women? Is he uncomfortable or threatened by their presence but not their words?

I’m pretty sure Deborah, Huldah, King Lemuel’s mother, Priscilla, and other Bible women were facing men when they gave them instructions and directions. Unlike John Piper, Barak, Josiah’s all-male delegation, King Lemuel, and Apollos did not see these women solely in regard to their sex. These Bible men and others respected women and knew they had something important to say and teach them … in person. Gender was not an issue. (More on Bible men who were guided by godly women here.)

Postscript (August 13 2013)

I read the following quote from I. Howard Marshall today. He sees the inconsistencies in complementarians using books written by women and poses the question, “How can it be right for complementarians to read and cite books on Bible and theology written by women and disallow them from saying the same things in a church meeting?” From “Women in Ministry” in Women, Ministry and the Gospel, ed. Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 63.

I. Howard Marshall is just one of many prominent biblical scholars who do not support restrictions on ministry on the basis of gender. (Marshall is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, and former chair of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research.)

Postscript (February 11 2014)

Karen Jobes has also written a commentary on John’s epistles. More information here.

Related Articles

There are Women Pastors in the New Testament
Michael Bird on Conflicting Complementarian Attitudes to Women Teachers
Women Bible Scholars and Translators
Female Bible Translators
Women, Teaching, and Deception
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
More articles on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 here.
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
1 Peter Bible Studies
My articles on Queen Esther, with quotations from Karen Jobes, are here.