CBMW (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) has set itself up as a go-to organization for those complementarians who have not been able to figure out from the Bible which things are allowable for women and which things are not. But does their counsel exceed the Bible? I would like to present the evidence and then let you decide.
In a sermon preached by J Ligon Duncan III and reproduced on CBMW’s website, Ligon Duncan writes that the “teaching office” of the Church is restricted to men. But what is the “teaching office” of the church? According to Ligon, the “teaching office” is the ministry of preaching and teaching in the church that is undeniably “vested in the men who serve as the elders of the church.” So the on-going preaching and teaching to the body of Christ is to be done by men. The problem really gets sticky for complementarians when it comes to women teaching other women.
According to Ligon Duncan, the place for women is that of receiving teaching.
Paul is saying that he wants an all male teaching office in the church. He wants the women to receive that teaching; he wants them to be disciples-that was revolutionary in and of itself in his own day and time-but, he wants the eldership to be the ones who are responsible for doing that teaching.
So what CBMW and Ligon Duncan are doing here is defining a regular teaching ministry as the work of elders alone. And since they say that elders can only be male, there is no room left for women to be the primary teachers for other women in the church.
Women are not to be the givers of instruction as the church gathers and as the word is authoritatively proclaimed. They are to receive that instruction and godly men, elders are to be giving that instruction.
Notice here that this is not just about women teaching men, but women teaching anyone. According to CBMW the “teaching office” of the church is not allowed for women to authoritatively proclaim the Word of God period. What about a woman who regularly teaches the Word of God to other women in a Bible study or in a Sunday School setting or even a women’s only weekly service?
According to John MacArthur (on CBMW’s Board of Reference) women cannot teach the Bible authoritatively because they are not allowed to have the position of ultimate responsibility of God’s Word. Instead of having responsibility, MacArthur says that the woman needs men to be a savior for her as well as a spiritual protector because the woman has “an inability to act independently of her protector”. MacArthur preaches in his series on God’s High Calling for Women part four:
But woman…woman who is designed by God to be under a head and a leader and a helper and a protector and a savior, when she stepped out on her own and acted independently of the headship of Adam, when she acted without his leadership, without his counsel, without his protection, she became vulnerable. And it is inherent in the nature of woman that she should not find herself in that position of ultimate responsibility. For woman has a deceivability when out from under the headship of a man. So the woman then in verse 14 was deceived. She showed by that her inability to lead effectively. She met her match and more than her match in Satan. She shows an inability to act independently of her protector. And by the way, the term for being deceived is very strong, it is stronger than just a common word for deceived, it is a word that means because it has the addition of a preposition on the front of it, it means to be fully deceived, to be thoroughly deceived, to be completely deceived.
Where does the Bible say that women cannot teach the Bible authoritatively to other women? Where does the Bible say that women need men as a spiritual protector and a savior? Is this Scriptural?
Let’s work through John MacArthur’s view of Genesis to see if he has added to God’s Word.
MacArthur says that the woman was designed to be under:
1. a head
2. a leader
3. a helper
4. a protector
5. a savior
Where is any of this listed in Genesis in the account of the creation? If we take the complementarian position that “head” means “authority over”, in which verse does God make Adam an authority over Eve? In which verse does God make Adam a “savior” of Eve or the leader over Eve? How does MacArthur read into the pre-fall account any of these things? We can get “protector” of the garden but none of the other terms are in the text at all and no leader of the woman was a position assigned to Adam.
MacArthur says that Eve acted independently of Adam when she acted without his leadership. So what do we gather from this teaching? Apparently, a woman is not allowed to speak about God to anyone who questions her without the man’s permission. She is also not apparently able to make a decision about her own spiritual welfare without his permission. Certainly, if the woman was incapable of thinking for herself, making a decision for herself and giving God’s Word to an animal, then wouldn’t this also make it apparent that she isn’t capable of giving out God’s Word to women either without supervision? And God forbid what she might do without supervision with little children!
MacArthur goes on:
So we conclude then, beloved, that when a woman leaves the shelter of her protector and savior, provider and nourisher, she has a certain amount of vulnerability because she is designed for protection. That’s true even in the physical sense, isn’t it? So the Fall then was the result of not only disobeying God’s command not to eat, but the Fall was the result of violating the divinely appointed role of the sexes and woman acting independently of man. Woman assumed leadership, and you know what man did? He messed up his role and then he instead of maintaining the leadership acted in submission to whom? To the woman. And the whole reversal was part and parcel of the Fall. So subordination of women in the church wasn’t invented by Paul, it is rooted in the nature of the sexes and it is confirmed in the Fall.
Now may I say to you that a woman is not more defective than a man? Please. She was deceived and he subjected himself to her deception. The weakness of a woman is that she needs a head. The weakness of a man is he needs a woman. We are not less defective than women, we are differently defective. We’re defective in different ways. We’re temptable and vulnerable in different ways. So that’s the reason that we have affirmed the leadership of men, is in the creation and the Fall. And no daughter of Eve should follow the path of Eve and lead to tragedy by entering into the forbidden territory of rulership which was intended for man.
So according to MacArthur, women are “defective” in a certain way and this defect makes women forbidden to enter the territory of authoritative teaching in the church.
What kind of impression would one get from this kind of teaching? John MacArthur states the obvious:
… It might leave the impression that woman sort of lies under God’s permanent displeasure.
And what is the solution according to MacArthur?
So to avoid that we come to the final point, their contribution in verse 15, and this is just marvelous. I don’t know why people get so mixed up about this verse. They’re contribution, wonderful instructive verse. “Nevertheless,” or not withstanding, or in spite of all that, “she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith and love and holiness with sobriety and self-control.”
What we have to understand here is that all women are delivered. Now listen carefully. All women are delivered from the stigma of having caused the Fall of the race by childbearing. In other words, women led in the Fall but by the wonderful grace of God they are released from the stigma of that through childbearing. What’s the point? Listen carefully. They may have caused the race to fall by stepping out of their God-intended design, but they also are given the priority responsibility of raising a godly seed. You understand that? That’s…that’s the balance. Not soul salvation, not spiritual birth, but women are delivered from being left in a second-class permanently stigmatized situation for the violation of the garden. They are delivered from being thought of as permanently weak and deceivable and insubordinate. Can you imagine what it would be like if men had babies and all women ever contributed to the human race was the Fall. The balance of it, women led the race into sin, but bless God, God has given them the privilege of leading the race out of sin to godliness.
So according to this male teacher, women must bear children in order to be delivered from the stigma of having caused the Fall of the race. They are delivered from been thought of as permanently weak and deceivable and insubordinate by bearing babies.
Where does the Bible say that the woman caused the Fall of the race? It doesn’t say this. In fact, the blame for the Fall is placed on the one who was not deceived by the serpent. It was Adam who ate with his eyes wide open to the truth and he was not deceived. He caused humanity to enter into sin.
But MacArthur fails to preach that truth. Instead he says that there is a role designed for the gender which is weak, deceivable and insubordinate. This role must be accepted and believed by women that she is not allowed to give overt leadership to the church. MacArthur says:
What Paul is saying by the Holy Spirit is that a woman must accept her God-given role and that role is not to give outward overt leadership to the church, …
Paul’s directive here is unmistakable. God’s Word alone determines who may and may not preach in the worship of the church. That’s why our position is what it is. It’s not because we’re mean; it’s not because we’re male chauvinists though some of us may act like male chauvinists, but the fundamental reason is because God’s Word very clearly teaches this.
This blog Women in Ministry is filled with articles refuting John MacArthur’s and other Complementarian’s teaching about women in ministry, but the purpose of this article is not to refute MacArthur but to question how complementarians who believe teachers like John MacArthur can even allow a woman to teach the bible to other women? If she is not allowed to be a regular teacher in the church and she is not allowed to give outward overt leadership as that would be stepping into male territory, why do they even allow women to teach at all?
This all reminds me of the words of the Jewish oral law of the Pharisees now written in the Talmud:
“The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women” (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a)