The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church -- By: N. T. Wright

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 20:4 (Autumn 2006)
Article: The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church
Author: N. T. Wright

The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church

N. T. Wright

N. T.  WRIGHT (D.D., Oxford University) is Bishop of Durham, England. He taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities. He is the author of more than thirty books, including The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

We are delighted to include this paper by Bishop Tom Wright in the twentieth anniversary issue of Priscilla Papers. Bishop Wright is the fourth-most senior bishop in the Church of England, an internationally renowned New Testament scholar, and a convinced evangelical. This paper is adapted from N. T. Wright’s general session at the International Symposium on Men, Women, and the Church, sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), Women and the Church (WATCH), and Men, Women and God (MWG) at St. John’s College in Durham, England, September 4, 2004. As an Englishman and a research-based scholar, he offers some fresh insights into our understanding of key biblical passages much disputed today in evangelical circles, especially in America.

Preliminary remarks

First, some preliminary remarks about this sort of debate. I have read through some of CBE’s literature with great interest, but also with a sense that the way particular questions are posed and addressed reflects some particular American subcultures. I know a little about those subcultures—for instance, the battles over new Bible translations, some using inclusive language and others not. In my own church, the main resistance against equality in ministry comes, not so much from within the Evangelical right (though there is of course a significant element there), but from within the traditional Anglo-Catholic movement for whom Scripture has never been the central point of the argument, and indeed is often ignored altogether.

Second, I do worry a bit about the word equality. I recognize what is intended, but this word can carry so much freight in our various cultures. Not only is the word equality a red rag to all kinds of bulls who perhaps don’t need to be aggravated in that way (though some may), it is always in danger of implying (wrongly of course, but one cannot police what people will hear in technical terms) not only equality, but also sameness. Likewise, to use the word complementary and its cognates to denote a position which says that not only are men and women different, but also that those differences mean that women cannot minister within the church, is unfortunate. I think the word “complementary” is too good and important a word to let that side of the issue have it all to itself.

We must all recognize that the question of w...

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