The analogia fidei (“analogy of faith”) was an important Reformational principle of biblical interpretation that claimed, as attested by the Westminster Confession of Faith:
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
Simply put, the analogia fidei assumed that the Bible was consistent in what it taught; therefore, more difficult to interpret passages of Scripture must be interpreted by clearer passages. In other words, you should not just grab a small handful of Bible verses to come to some sort of theological conclusion that goes against clearer passages and the overall narrative of the Bible.
The analogia fidei is especially helpful to address difficult passages that often lead to heterodoxical rabbit trails. But, I believe it is also helpful to address the question of the ordination of women.
Complementarian Texts Are Not Really As Clear As You Think They Are
Complementarianism ultimately relies on a handful of biblical texts that adherents believe are clear about the role of women in the church. Yet, are they really that clear?
Adherents claim, for example, that 1 Corinthians 14:34 is clear that women are to be silent in the church, so they can’t preach. But, earlier in that same letter, Paul gives directives for when (not if) a woman prophesies, assuming that prophetical utterances from women is the norm at the church in Corinth.
1 Timothy 2:12, complementarians say, is clear that women should not “exercise authority” over a man, so women should not have leadership in the church. Yet, the original Greek construction for “exercise authority” is not only the sole instance in the New Testament (hapax legomenon), but instances in which it occurs outside the New Testament around the same time best render it as “lord it over,” with a sense of tyrannical authority.
Ephesians 5:21–33 and Colossians 3:18–19, complementarians claim, are clear regarding the submissive role of women. Yet, even there, it’s not as clear as people would like it to be. You have to then interpret what “submit” and “head” mean and then explain why this “submission” and “headship” extends from wife and husband relationships to church leadership and broader societal relationships.
Other “complementarian texts” have similar issues of being less clear than people want them to be. Further, most complementarians actually don’t take these texts on their “plain reading” (e.g. women would be unable to make a sound at all in church!). In fact, the argument can be made that many of these texts are actually interpreted by a presupposed grid of complementarianism that filters out seemingly contradictory things, like women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11, and smooths out the edges of phrases like “must be silent.” It’s not a simply a literal reading, but it is a hermeneutical obstacle course.
“Complementarian Texts” May Actually Be the Difficult to Interpret Texts
Other scholars have done the heavy lifting to show that the “complementarian texts” are actually quite difficult to interpret (see Further Reading below). Several scholars end up trying their best to ascertain what Paul is actually intending to say in varying degrees of success. The fact of the matter is that these aren’t clear texts, but they are actually the difficult to interpret texts. Everything from the distance from the original historical context (e.g. what was going on in Corinth?) to rare Greek constructions to cultural assumptions that we are not privy to as 21st century readers make these texts difficult to interpret.
What that means, in short, is that we should not be using these texts to try to explain and interpret other passages of Scripture. Rather, we should be looking at clearer passages (and clearer redemptive historical trajectories) in order to understand these passages better. Thank you, analogia fidei.
Ordination of Women as an Epochal Shift of Redemptive History
Within the Old Testament context, which is in fact patriarchal, it is hard to miss the emphasis on the leadership and ordination of women. Scholars of course will point out leaders like Deborah, but the most stunning example to me is Huldah, a prophetess who is summoned by King Josiah to authenticate the rediscovered book of the Law. It’s important to note that Josiah could have gone to prophets like Jeremiah and Zephaniah, but instead, went specifically to Huldah, a female prophetess.
The role of women in Jesus’ life and ministry cannot be missed, especially in the 1st century Jewish context where the testimony of women had no weight in a court of law. The emphasis of women in Jesus’ family tree, women as the first witnesses of the resurrection, and women as close within the inner circle of the disciples demonstrate how central women were in leadership in Jesus’ ministry.
Following Christ’s ascension, Pentecost speaks of the fulfillment of the prophecy from Joel that their “daughters will prophesy” as a sign that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, and we see in many instances prophetesses and women leading men (e.g. Priscilla).
Paul’s letters emphasize the importance of women as co-laborers in the gospel (cf. Romans 16; and even an apostle — Junia!), as those who serve as deaconesses, and as those who prophesy in the assembly of the church. In fact, 1 Timothy 3:8–12 importantly sandwiches the qualifications of deaconesses between the qualifications of deacons. Poor translations will render “women” as “wives (of deacons)” in this passage, which is a strained translation because it leaves readers with the odd uneven requirements for the wives of deacons but not the wives of elders/overseers.
Simply put, the momentum of redemptive history moves toward the leadership and ordination of women. It is the tide that the church has been riding on following the ascension of Christ.
Additional Considerations: Early Church History
As an aside, I would highly recommend that you read books on the role of women in the early church. You may be surprised to hear that the ordination of deaconesses and female priests was attested in the early church. Although it wasn’t common by any means, the fact that it existed at all in the early church means that Christians read the same “complementarian texts” we read and interpreted them in light of the clearer passages and movement of redemptive history. Furthermore, read books like Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood to get a sense of where the ideas of modern “biblical womanhood” find their roots (hint: it’s not from the Bible!).
A Humble Conclusion
I believe it was Tish Harrison Warren who once wisely remarked that at the end of the day, your conviction as a complementarian or an egalitarian can only be 60% sure and 40% unsure due to the complicated hermeneutical considerations at hand. If you are being totally honest as a reader of Scripture, you can’t be 100% sure of your final convictions about the ordination of women. If you think you’re 100% sure, you’re likely not reading Scripture closely or honestly enough.
At the end of the day, I have to be honest and humbly say that I am 60% sure that women should be ordained in the same ministerial positions as men. I am slightly more sure about the ordination of deaconesses. I am still unclear about how to best understand several of the “complementarian texts” and am still studying to understand how they fit within the context of clearer texts and the broader brush of redemptive history. What I am convinced of is that these texts, based on the Reformational principle of analogia fidei, cannot cut against the current of the rest of the Bible.
Where I find rest and comfort though is similar to how I felt when I became a Calvinist and wrestled with the “Arminian texts” — I just need to be as faithful as I can to Scripture, even if I don’t end up reconciling everything in my head in a way that makes perfectly logical sense. God knows and he hasn’t left me in the dark. Following Him where He leads by His Spirit in Scripture is infinitely better than having all of my theological ducks in a row.
Icons of Christ by William Witt
The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison BarrBiblical
Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture by Roger Nicole
Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ by Cynthia Long Westfall