FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–There were rumors that women would not be allowed to take classes with men at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when Paige Patterson became president just over a year ago. In fact, there were rumors that women would be drummed out of the theology school altogether.
Patterson said he knew he would have to speak to the rumors one day. “But I sort of enjoyed watching the rumor mill work for a year,” the Texas seminary president said in chapel Oct. 19. “Every once and awhile I’ve been known to feed one and watch how far it goes.”
Patterson said he purposefully scheduled a discussion of the issue of women in ministry because others often misrepresent his views on the subject, calling such misrepresentation a “diatribe and lie of the left.”
“No Bible-believing, evangelical Christian and follower of Jesus Christ has ever believed anything else other than that women are equal with men,” Patterson said.
Patterson said that the story of creation in Genesis 2 and the Apostle Paul’s words to his young protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 2 demonstrate the equality of women in creation and their assignment in the body of Christ.
In Genesis 2, God paraded all of creation in front of the man he had created and watched as Adam named the creatures. But God said it was “not good under any circumstance” that there was not another special creation like the man, Patterson said.
“By the time all those animals had been named and viewed, it was apparent to Adam that each one had a suitable helper. He was the only one in the world that was alone. God was preparing his heart for a wonderful blessing that was about to happen to him,” Patterson said.
God caused Adam to sleep deeply and then He took part of Adam’s “side” — not necessarily his “rib” — to fashion the first woman. Patterson said the word used to describe the creation of the first woman means to “beautifully and artistically construct.”
“I wish I had $5 for Southwestern Seminary every time a well-meaning preacher or Sunday School teacher said it, but it is not true that women have one more rib than men,” Patterson gibed. “If I am in a car accident and lose one arm, it doesn’t mean all of my kids are going to be born one-armed. The genetic code is in place.”
Beyond what is contained in Scripture, Patterson said there is no way to know for sure what Adam thought of his helpmate when he awoke. “What do you think he said? We don’t have it all recorded here folks. But we have what is necessary for faith and salvation and our understanding of creation.”
Genesis 2:23 records Adam’s description of Eve as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, and she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.” Patterson said that Adam was saying, “Whatever it is I am, there is another one … with certain notable improvements.”
“Every woman, like every man, is made in the imago Dei, in the image of God. Every woman has the right and responsibility to come to God for herself. Every woman, like every man, has the right to study God’s Word and apply it to her life. Every woman is fully equal and quite a lot of them more than equal to any man I ever saw,” Patterson said.
Patterson asked if the equality of women with men means that a woman can do anything she wants to do in the church.
For the answer, he turned to 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Patterson described the passage as “one the most hated in all of Scripture” because it runs counter to an American culture that drives women to succeed in business and other endeavors while spending less time concentrating on family.
“What can a woman do in the church?” Patterson asked after reading the passage. “Anything she wants to. Anything she wants to that is not expressly prohibited in Scripture.”
The portion of the passage referring to submissiveness drives many people away because they assume submissiveness indicates a lower order of being, Patterson said. But there are examples in society that disprove such thinking, he said, noting, for example, that in an encounter with a police officer, he and the officer would be equal before the Lord.
“However, he is above me,” Patterson said. “God gave him an assignment that affects me and made him a minister of God to correct my evil ways. I am obligated to submit to him, not because he is a superior human being, but because his assignment from God is such that it is.”
Patterson said the same principle applies to the relationship of children and their parents. The children are fully equal to their parents as human beings, he said, but placed by God under their parents’ supervision and authority so they will grow into godly, respectable citizens.
“It is in the obedience that we all have to somebody that we learn how to obey God. That is why God placed those positions of authority all throughout society to begin with,” he said.
Jesus exemplified this principle during His earthly ministry, Patterson noted. “Ontologically, the Son is always equal with the Father, but from eternity past He is positionally subordinate to the Father and so shall He ever be. If it is not too good for Jesus, it is not too good for us. Every human being on the face of the earth is accountable to somebody…. We are told to submit ourselves to those to whom He has made us accountable.”
The same rule, Patterson said, is to be applied in the body of Christ, the church. Of the many attempts to explain what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote the passage about the submission and silence of women, Patterson said, “Oftentimes, the answer of the evangelical world is that a woman cannot serve as a senior pastor.”
“Would somebody please find that in the text? It is not in the text. That is not said. There is no mention of occupation in this text at all. This is not a question of occupation. It is a question of an assignment from God, in this case that a woman not be involved in a teaching or ruling capacity over men,” Patterson said. “It is a prohibition of a woman teaching or ruling over a man in the church,” which would necessarily mean that women cannot serve as pastors, he said.
The words of the apostle do not make any man a dictator, a supreme sovereign or a “be-all, end-all,” Patterson said. The words mean that men are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the home, he said.
“Wives are told, ‘Submit yourself.’ No one makes you do it. That’s a voluntary matter,” Patterson said.
“It means voluntarily to line up in the right order that God has given, and the husband is loving his wife sacrificially as much as Jesus Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, so that all the husband can think of is, ‘Honey, what can I do for you? What can I do to serve you? How can I make your life better?’ And all the time she is submitting herself to her husband and saying, ‘You just lead and, honey, I’ll follow.’ Would you tell me how any kind of fight could develop in that situation? It will just be heaven on earth. That’s all. God knew it and He wants the church to be an example of it. That is the reason He said ‘no’ to a woman having a ruling or teaching position over a man.”
Patterson said that revisionists approach the passage in Timothy and say, “Yes, that’s what it says, but.” Others, who see the passage as providing commentary on practices limited to a specific culture, believe it was meant only for that time. However, these overlook the inherent connection to the created order referenced in Genesis 2, Patterson said.
But the passage is very clear, Patterson said. The passage does not mean that a woman cannot say anything in church. “In that case, we would have Paul contradicting Paul. There is an appropriate time for women to pray and prophesy,” he said. Instead, the injunction for women to learn in “silence” means to have an attitude of meekness, respectability and godliness.
The role of women in the church, Patterson said, is bound up in the enigma Paul wrote about when he said that women would be “saved in childbearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15.
“She will find her greatest contribution and impact through the children she bears,” Patterson said. He said that many women do not view rearing children as an honorable profession. Many women who fill out paperwork write their occupation as “homemaker” in small letters.
“Ladies, the highest and noblest calling of God is mother and grandmother. Equal to men, yes, but do what God has called you to do,” Patterson said. “Write it in bold letters with a big magic marker.”
Patterson said he believes a seminary education is perfectly suitable for women. “Any woman who loves Jesus is welcome at this school. We have even established a full women’s studies program here. We will raise a generation of women committed to doing it God’s way. They will shake the world in ways a stumbling old preacher never could.”