Women And The Nature Of Ministry -- By: Walter L. Liefeld

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 30:1 (Mar 1987)
Article: Women And The Nature Of Ministry
Author: Walter L. Liefeld

Women And The Nature Of Ministry

Walter L. Liefeld*

The question of women’s ministry has been addressed in recent years from opposite sides with increased intensity.1 As is typical in such discussion, each side begins with its own assumptions drawn from a complex of Biblical texts and personal convictions. There are some conciliatory contributions, but most investigations are openly tendentious. What is sometimes lost in the discussion is a clear understanding of what is meant by “ministry.” This sometimes results in confusion or in inconsistencies that can be embarrassing to both sides.

Questions are often asked that involve not only specific Biblical texts but the whole matter of a theology of ministry. Sometimes the simple questions are the most difficult to answer principially: What renders preaching inappropriate for women, while books or tapes by women that offer opinions on Biblical interpretation are considered acceptable? What changes the rules regarding women’s ministry when the scene moves from a simple celebration of the Lord’s supper in a hut on the Amazon to a worship service in a structure with a tall, white spire? Perhaps the most frequent question is why women can “share” but not “preach,” even when the audience and content would be the same. While some do have clear principles in mind that govern such situations, others have only a vague fear that for women to engage in certain public activities in certain circumstances is somehow against Biblical principles.

I propose, therefore, that the topic of theology of ministry ought to be addressed as one crucial aspect of the whole discussion on women in ministry. I would like to suggest a methodology that might be useful when a proposal concerning the full ministry of women is countered by reference to one or more of the restrictive passages. The procedure could be followed in reverse order, of course—for example, when a position based on the restrictive passages is countered by an affirmative passage such as Gal 3:28. I emphasize this interchangeability to make it clear that the purpose of this paper is to open discussion and probe new avenues, not to argue against one side or the other. We need a more conciliatory approach to this intense issue.

I would suggest that whenever a claim that Scripture accords women full ministry is met by the counter-claim that there are specific passages denying this, four probing questions should be asked. These questions should be integrated into the whole exegetical and hermeneutical procedure. The first three

*Walter Liefeld is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill...

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