Some Christians think that only people who have a “loose approach to scripture,” or who reject its authority, can believe that women should be leaders and teachers in the church. I doubt any evangelical Christian would regard these scholars and theologians as having a loose approach to scripture, yet each of them believes that appropriately gifted women can and should be leaders and teachers in the church. Here is a sample of various statements made by these prominent scholars some of whom are now deceased.*
F.F. Bruce (1910–1990)
F.F. Bruce was the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester and belonged to the Open Brethren.
An appeal to first principles in our application of the New Testament might demand the recognition that when the Spirit, in his sovereign good pleasure, bestows varying gifts on individual believers, these gifts are intended to be exercised for the well-being of the whole church. If he manifestly withheld the gifts of teaching or leadership from Christian women, then we should accept that as evidence of his will (1 Cor. 12:11). But experience shows that he bestows these and other gifts, with ‘undistinguishing regard’, on men and women alike―not on all women, of course, nor yet on all men. That being so, it is unsatisfactory to rest with a halfway house in this issue of women’s ministry, where they are allowed to pray and prophesy, but not to teach or lead.
Bruce, “Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey,” Christian Brethren Review 33 (1982), 7–14, 11–12. (Source)
F. F. Bruce is a signatory to Christians for Biblical Equality’s statement, “Men, Women, and Biblical Equality.”
Gordon D. Fee (1934–2022)
Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College, ordained in the Assemblies of God.
It seems a sad commentary on the church and on its understanding of the Holy Spirit that “official” leadership and ministry is allowed to come from only one half of the community of faith. The New Testament evidence is that the Holy Spirit is gender inclusive, gifting both men and women, and thus potentially setting the whole body free for all the parts to minister and in various ways to give leadership to the others. Thus my issue in the end is not a feminist agenda—an advocacy of women in ministry. Rather, it is a Spirit agenda, a plea for the releasing of the Spirit from our strictures and structures so that the church might minister to itself and to the world more effectively.
Fee, “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry,” Discovering Biblical Equality Complementarity without Hierarchy. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee (eds) (Leicester: IVP Academic, 2005), 254.
Gordon D. Fee endorsed the organisation Christians for Biblical Equality. See here.
Craig S. Keener (b. 1960)
President and program chair of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 2020, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, ordained in the National Baptist Convention.
Pentecostals and charismatics affirm that the minister’s authority is inherent in the minister’s calling and ministry of the Word, not the minister’s person. In this case, gender should be irrelevant as a consideration for ministry–for us as it was for Paul. … Today we should affirm those whom God calls, whether male or female, and encourage them in faithfully learning God’s Word. We need to affirm all potential laborers, both men and women, for the abundant harvest fields.
Keener, “Was Paul For or Against Women in Ministry?” Enrichment Journal (Spring 2001). (Source)
Craig Keener has endorsed Christians for Biblical Equality. See here.
I. Howard Marshall (1934–2015)
Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, belonged to the Evangelical Methodist Church.
Much anguish is felt by women whose God-given talents have been denied expression. This is due to the inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these [ministry] positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so. … [Anguish is also caused by] the arbitrariness of the way in which the ruling is put into effect, with all the going beyond what Scripture actually says and the casuistry that is employed regarding the limits of what women may and may not do.
Comments made at a panel discussion at the Evangelical Theological Society 2010 meeting. (Source)
Leon Morris (1914–2006)
New Testament scholar, ordained Anglican minister.
Thomas Schreiner has written that Morris “stood out in his generation as one of the great evangelical scholars” and that “he was an advocate for women serving in all ministry positions.” (Source). Morris wrote essays advocating for women in ministry, and he welcomed women at Ridley Theological College, Melbourne, where he was Principal from 1964 until his retirement in 1976.
In his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Morris stated that “Phoebe is certainly called a deacon” in Romans 16:1; and that Junia along with Andronicus (mentioned in Romans 16:7) were “outstanding among the apostles which might mean that the apostles held them in high esteem or that they were apostles, and notable apostles at that.” Morris adds, “The former understanding seems less likely …”
Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 529 & 534.
John Stott (1921–2011)
Anglican minister, theologian, one of the principal authors of the Lausanne Covenant in 1974.
If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), the Church must recognize God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should ‘ordain’ (that is commission and authorize) them to exercise their God-given ministry, at best in team situations. Our Christian doctrines of Creation and Redemption tell us that God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled, not frustrated, and his church to be enriched by their service.
… a strong prima facie biblical case can be made for active female leadership in the church, including a teaching ministry.
Stott, Issues facing Christianity Today (Basingstoke: Marshalls, 1984), 254, 275.
I love Stott’s reasons presented in this book for encouraging women in ministry. He had a few misgivings, however, about women serving as senior leaders in certain contexts.
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951)
Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, ordained Methodist pastor.
We need to keep steadily in mind that what determines or should determine the leadership structures in the church is not gender but rather gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. The family of faith is not identical with the physical family, and gender is no determinant of roles in it. Gender of course does affect some roles in the Christian family, but that is irrelevant when it comes to the discussion of the leadership structure of the church. This is why we should not be surprised to find even in Paul’s letters examples of women teachers, evangelists, prophetesses, deacons, and apostles. Paul is not one who is interested in baptizing the existing fallen patriarchal order and calling it good. One of the tell tale signs of Paul’s views on such matters can be seen in what he says about baptism— it is not a gender specific sign that we have for the new covenant unlike the one for the old covenant, and Paul adds that in Christ there is no ‘male and female’ just as there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free. The implications of this are enormous. The change in the covenant sign signals the change in the nature of the covenant when it comes to men and women.
Why Arguments against Women in Ministry aren’t Biblical, on Dr Witherington’s website The Bible and Culture here.
N.T. Wright (b. 1948)
New Testament scholar, Anglican Bishop of Durham (2003-2010)
It is the women who come first to the tomb, who are the first to see the risen Jesus, and are the first to be entrusted with the news that he has been raised from the dead. This is of incalculable significance. Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles. We should not be surprised that Paul calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7. If an apostle is a witness to the resurrection, there were women who deserved that title before any of the men. … Nor is this promotion of women a totally new thing with the resurrection. As in so many other ways, what happened then picked up hints and pinpoints from earlier in Jesus’ public career. I think in particular of the woman who anointed Jesus (without here going into the question of who it was and whether it happened more than once); as some have pointed out, this was a priestly action which Jesus accepted as such.
Wright, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”, a conference paper for the Symposium, Men, Women and the Church, St John’s College, Durham, September 4 2004. (Source)
Many More . . .
Numerous other evangelical scholars believe that the Bible, correctly interpreted, does not restrict gifted women from any ministry function or position. There are way too many to mention them all, but here is a small sample: Kenneth Bailey, Michael Bird, David deSilva, James G.D. Dunn, R.T. France, Kevin Giles, Joel B. Green, Stanley Grenz, Nijay Gupta, Richard Hays, David Instone-Brewer, Esau McCaulley, Scot McKnight, Roger E. Olson, Philip Barton Payne, Howard Snyder, Todd Still. More in the comments section. (I have chosen to mention only male scholars to avoid an accusation of women being self-serving.)
Furthermore, I count eight past presidents of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) who are mutualists/ egalitarians (or they were before they passed): Roger Nicole (deceased) (year of presidency: 1956), Kenneth Kantzer (deceased) (1968), Richard Longenecker (deceased) (1974), Walter Kaiser (1977), Stanley Grundy (1978), Alan F. Johnson (1982), Millard Erickson (2002), Craig Keener (2020). And members of ETS, including presidents, “must subscribe annually to the Doctrinal Basis of the Society,” including the doctrine of biblical inerrancy in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). (Source)
Finally, a quotation from Dallas Willard (1935–2013).
It is not the rights of women to occupy ‘official’ ministerial roles, nor their equality to men in those roles, that set the terms of their service to God and their neighbors. It is their obligations that do so – obligations that derive from their human abilities empowered by divine gifting.
Willard, from the foreword of How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership, editor: Alan Johnson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 10 (italics by the author).
Who else can be added to the list of well-known respected evangelical scholars who advocate for women in ministry?
© Margaret Mowczko 2015
All Rights Reserved
*I realise the eight men featured in this article are all white. The reality is that until relatively recently—because of the disadvantages associated with the evil of racism in evangelicalism—it has typically been white men who have been able to rise to the top of their professions and make significant contributions to biblical scholarship. Thankfully this is changing, and the longer lists of names in the article and in the comment below it are not all of white men. I have featured the eight men, some of whom are deceased, primarily because their reputations have stood the test of time. I’m thankful for the diversity of biblical scholars, men and women, who are emerging more and more.
The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith … Gender?
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
12 Christian Blogs that Don’t Push Patriarchy
Gender Division Divides the Church