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June 01, 2006


Without commenting on whether he's right or wrong, I read Dever's post yesterday and read his argument distinguishing (by way of example) infant baptism and women's roles as one of how clearly it is spelled out in Scripture. He reads Paul's admonition, "I do not permit a woman to teach," as a very clear statement on a specific subject; whereas no such clear statement prohibiting infant baptism appears in Scripture. I thought his argument was that since it is so clearly spelled out in Scripture any attempt to rationalize our way out of or around it is a denial of Scripture, based more on the seemingly unequivocal statement by Paul than on the basis of doctrinal hierarchy.

I read Dever's post the same way. The question-- which you explicitly say you don't want to comment upon-- is whether Dever's assertion about the clarity of the complementarian position is correct or not. If 1 Timothy 2:12 were the only text in Scripture that speaks directly or indirectly to the issue of women, that assertion would be more plausible.

When one considers differing understandings of the nature pre- and post-lapsarian humans, the nature of the Curse, and the nature of Christ's work vis-a-vis that curse, not to mention other passages such as Galatians 3, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, one can appreciate different ways of putting all these texts together.

Add to that the scholarship that skilled and faithful exegetes like Gordon Fee have rendered in dealing with Paul's first letter to Timothy in its own right, the picture moves from stark, unequivocal clarity to one that has at least a degree of ambiguity.

Why must everything fit into a "first order" or "second order" system?

Surely, women's issues are not essential to salvation. But the NT seems to address women's issues much more specifically and certainly than mode of baptism. Dever's point is made that Paul specifically forbids a woman to have authority over a man but nowhere speaks specifically to forbidding a mode of baptism. There is more certainty to women's issues than mode of baptism.

Seems to me that he is saying, that a lot more hermeneutical gymnastics must be done for women's issues than mode of baptism that potentially do undermine the authority of Scripture.

All scripture is God-breathed, so whether it's first, second, third, or fourth order is irrelevant. Inerrancy and infallibility don't just refer to the essentials of salvation.

Some doctrines can be clear without being essential. Essential does not equal clear. Adam was the first man, but that doesn't mean believing in Adam as the first man is essential for salvation but denying that Adam was the first does undermine the authority of Scripture.

Dever does not see women's issues as a matter of interpretation so it is consistent with his "best and sober judgment" for him to assert that the issue of complentarianism is an undermining of the authority of Scripture.


Thanks for the comment. Your suggestion that not everything be rendered in 1st, 2nd, etc orders gives me something to ponder. Thank you.

You close by writing, "Dever does not see women's issues as a matter of interpretation so it is consistent with his "best and sober judgment" for him to assert that the issue of complentarianism is an undermining of the authority of Scripture."

You may be correct about this as well, but my hunch is that Dever considers all Scriptural topics as matters of interpretation. When we deal with words, we deal with meaning, and when we deal with meaning we deal with interpretation. I'm open to hearing counter perspectives, but it seems to me that we cannot escape interpretation on any communication.


I appreciate your gracious response and I understand your well spoken point that all words deal with interpretation. I agree that we cannot escape interpretation on any communication (just ask my girlfriend). But not all words are equally or unequally interpretable. There are levels of certainty of interpretation.

I could be wrong, but it seems that Dever is asserting that women's issues are more clear than mode of baptism (but not essential for salvation).

Is the statement "Jesus is the son of God" set in the context of Scripture a highly debatable matter of interpretation (except maybe for the council of Nicea)?

"Is God's truth knowable?" seems to be the larger question you are raising with your statement of interpretation.


And in turn, I thank you for your gracious demeanor in this discussion. I realize some who might see this will mock because they prefer their discourse more barbed, but I am grateful for your humility and your perspective.

The way you sum it up-- Dever seems to think the women's issue more clear than the disagreements on baptism-- I think an appropriate summary. I suspect he'd say "Yes," that you have gotten to the heart of what he was writing in the T4G post.

If you're asking me if "Jesus is the son of God" is highly debatable matter of interpretation for those of us in Christ and submitted to the authority of Scripture, I give a resounding "No!"

And if you're asking me if I think God's truth is knowable, I would say, "To the extent that He has revealed Himself specially in His Son and in His Word, and generally in Creation, I would say He and His truth are knowable."

I would qualify that statement further, though, and say that as finite, fallen creatures we apprehend His truth adequately, but not exhaustively. I suspect you and I would agree that an infinte Being would be required to know the truth of an infinite Being. Thus, we are disadvantaged with respect to a comprehensive knowledge but because of His gracious gifts in imago dei faculties, common grace, the Son, the Spirit and the Word, we are able to apprehend adequately His truth.

Recognizing there are people much more learned than I involved in the present conversation, and noting upfront that I have tremendous respect and affection for Mark Dever (a fellow -- and much more distinguished -- Duke grad), with respect I need to say I am not comfortable with his diagnosis. So -- I may be completely wrong.

First, I am uncomfortable with the assertion that what Paul meant in writing "I do not permit a woman to teach" is plainly obvious. (I agree that in the past this issue has been associated with a rather irresponsible hermeneutic, e.g., "Paul just got it wrong here, and we now know better" -- that is not what I would advocate). What is obvious to one is not to another, and at least some of this is shaped by our locatedness in history and creation. Other points "plainly obvious" are simply not so obvious (believer baptism, literal six days of creation, the rapture, the morality of slavery, "this is my body" (Luther v. Calvin v. Catholicism), "render to Caesar"). There is tremendous need for humility (because of our fallenness and tendency to rationalize, because of our ignorance and distance, because of our high calling to unity and love).

Second, I disagree that, had Paul written "I do not permit an infant to be baptized" we would not be having this conversation. In the hypothetical circumstance we would be put in the same position as the present -- namely a position in which a statement by Paul seems directly contradicted by both the practice of the early church and things which he commends elsewhere. In fact, we would be discussing whether what Paul said there was to a specific congregation at a specific time and place reacting to a specific circumstance, or whether he was laying down a command. If the latter, we would be wrestling with how this fit with the seeming parallel between OT circumcision and NT baptism and how it fit with what seemed the implicit practice in the early church (just as here we are wrestling with how the same Paul could be commending Phoebe as a "diakonos" (Romans 16:1-2), commending Priscilla who teaches Apollos (a man) (Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3) and then say he does not permit a woman to teach.) There are multiple ways out of both tensions (the hypothetical and the real), but it is unfair to pretend the tension is artificial. We look for our answer not to one passage in isolation but to the whole counsel of scripture.

Finally, while the previous generations deserves great respect and deference, we must constantly test their positions -- and our own-- against the counsel of scripture. Semper reformanda does not mean that newer is always better, but it does mean we are constantly being reformed as the Spirit continues to shape Christ's church through his word. The church has had the humility to deal with tremendous "blind spots" of the past (slavery, civil rights) -- this may be such a situation again. It may not. I am fully aware it is dangerous to suggest such a thing -- this line of thinking plainly can be abused -- but an argument against abuse is not an argument against use (or the church would have abandoned its teaching on grace long ago).

In short, I think there is space for orthodox believers of good will to disagree reasonably on this issue and remain in fellowship.

Finally, I would strongly recommend Stephen Holmes' scholarly book, Listening to the Past, and especially his treatment of Baptism in chapter 7, as worthwhile reading to put this discussion in context(noting that the early church did not consider baptism an issue over which to divide fellowship even though differences plainly existed).

That said, I have not made up my mind where I stand on the underlying issue, but I am uncomfortable saying that believers of good will cannot disagree on this issue under the authority of Scripture. Finally, I agree with Mark Dever that there are issues more central to the gospel. But I do not agree that disagreement on this issue undermines the authority of Scripture.

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