Is God an Incompetent Communicator? : the Question for “Evangelical Feminists”

John Carpenter

Evangelical feminists – often now coloring themselves as “egalitarians” – deal with the passages of the Bible that directly address women in church leadership as if God were an incompetent communicator. That is, they take passages that they admit appear to prohibit women from certain roles and through a mysterious transformation make them come out to say what they don’t appear to say. They put them through a wringer of re-interpretation in which, they claim, “head” in Greek (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) doesn’t really mean “head” (as in chief over); “have authority over” (in 1 Timothy 2:12) really means something so perverse and unusual we have no chance of violating it. Admittedly, there is room for debate on what ministry roles the Bible precisely allows for women.[1] However, it is the position of the “egalitarians,” or “feminists” as they call themselves in certain places, that there are absolutely no Biblical hindrances for women to any ecclesiastical leadership office.

“Evangelical feminists” believe it was God’s eventual plan to have sex be an irrelevant criterion to the selection of a senior pastor. As evangelicals they also profess to hold that the Bible was inspired by God, that God uniquely guided the composition of scripture, and it is therefore authoritative. But these two propositions – that God inspired scripture and that God intended there to be no gender roles in the church or family – are at odds. On the one hand, they have to deal with a Bible that tells us that Jesus selected an all-male apostleship, that “the head of the woman is man” (1 Cor. 11:3), that women are not allowed to judge prophesies (1 Cor. 14:34), that a woman should not have a discipling authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12), that wives are to be submissive to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pt. 3:1), and that husbands are the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head over the church (Eph. 5:23). All this from the book they claim to believe is uniquely inspired. On the other hand, they claim that God intended us to believe in an interchangeability of gender roles. The only way that these two propositions can be held together is if one also believes that God is an extra-ordinarily poor communicator.

Our question is whether “evangelical feminism,” by trying to simultaneously cling to faith in inspired scripture and their egalitarianism, assaults the character of God? Does it make God out to be incompetent?

Of course, the egalitarians/feminists claim that there are contextual reasons for all of the above Biblical statements. They say there were unique problems in those early churches that forced the apostle to write things that sound awfully restrictive but aren’t what God intended for us. However, God, being omnipotent and omniscient, would have foreseen the context in which His Word was written. If that context was going to so radically distort the revelation, He could easily have altered it. He is the God who weighs empires in the balance and finds them to be but dust (Isaiah 40:12). He can certainly prevent a few local customs from obscuring what He intended to communicate.

Patriarchal cultures, so the feminist argument goes, blinded the eyes of believers to the Bible’s true, egalitarian meaning. But if God really intended functional nondifferentiation on the basis of sex, He did a very poor job of getting that meaning through. If the three passages that speak directly to the issue (1 Cor. 11:2-16, 14:33-38; 1 Tim. 2:12), have to go through complicated re-interpretations in which the words in the finest translations don’t really mean what they appear to say, and other obscure references, like to “Junias” (Romans 16:7) are somehow pregnant with meaning that happens to contradict the three passages that speak directly to the issue, then the Bible itself was written badly. For a liberal, that’s par for the course. But for a professed evangelical, it is claiming, implicitly, that God communicated poorly.

The egalitarian/feminist position is that those texts restricting women were exceptions based on situations that no longer exist. Thus, they claim, the restrictions are temporary, contextual, and irrelevant to us. Such claims can’t survive exegesis of the key texts. The apostle, after laying a theological foundation for gender distinction based on the Trinity, creation, angels, and the fall, states, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” (1 Cor. 11:16 ESV.) In another place (1 Cor. 14:33-38), the apostle prefaces his comments about the place of women in worship with “As in all the churches of the saints” and concludes those comments with “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” The question begs to be asked: If Paul had wanted to be more emphatic that God wanted different roles for men and women, how could he have done it? If he was trying to communicate that women can be elders, even senior pastors, how could he have done such a poor job of it?

The Bible is not a blank book. Its words are not infinitely flexible. Certainly, people can misuse the Bible to support any doctrine or practice they want. But they cannot properly interpret scripture to support any idea they like.

I once heard, in the 1990s, a proponent of egalitarianism/feminism state that they will never endorse homosexuality. Now those promises seem naïve. As the water in the kettle got hotter, so did they; they didn’t jump out. To those of us who understand that the egalitarian/feminist position involves a cutting of the line to the Biblical anchor, this is no surprise. Once one can negate so many relatively clear and emphatic Biblical commands, there is no more really effective rule left to the Bible. It becomes a blank slate onto which the fads of modernity may cast whatever fleeting images it wishes. But believers who trust in a perfect God who revealed His will clearly, cannot so easily cast away the Word of God for the trends of men.

Since the Reformation, Protestants have held to the perspicuity of scripture: that the Bible is clear on the points God intended to communicate. Since there are at least three major sections of scripture dealing with gender roles in the church and at least two (Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7) with gender roles in the family, it appears to be a topic on which God was determined to communicate. Each of them puts great emphasis on gender role distinction. Since scripture is perspicuous, egalitarianism is an impossible position to hold as an evangelical.

John B. Carpenter, Ph.D., is pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, in Danville, VA. and the author of Seven Pillars of a Biblical Church (Wipf and Stock, 2022).


[1] For example, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 appears to explain under what conditions a woman can “pray or prophesy” in church. Explaining that text adequately is not possible nor necessary in this essay.