Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders in Church? My Journey to Discover What the Bible Says About Gender Roles by Bill Rudd

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Bill Rudd recently retired after serving as a pastor in four conservative churches over a period of 50 some years.  He has also been an adjunct professor in two seminaries.  Toward the end of his pastoral ministry Rudd shifted from the complementarian to the egalitarian position on the role of women in the church and in the home.  This book chronicles that journey, defending egalitarianism through his new interpretations of pertinent scriptures and support of modern egalitarian scholarship (for example, N.T. Wright is quoted often, pp. 38-39, 104-106, 179, 233-234, 261, 263-264, 274, 341, 343, 345).

This is a long book which details many reasons for the author’s radical shift in theology but, when the smoke has cleared, three biblical arguments and one prominent motive emerge.  In my reviews I virtually never ascribe motives, but Rudd reveals his own repeatedly.  He believes complementarianism, often referred to as patriarchy (and always defined in the most negative way as abusive dominance of males over females), is ludicrous to unbelievers in the western culture and is even the cause of some Christians losing their faith.  Since it is a detriment to the advancement of the gospel (pp. 5, 8, 9, 23, 28, 96, 129, 130-131), harms the faith, and is a sin (pp. 130-133), we need to drop patriarchy (p. 134) (cf. 181, 206, 207, 222, 238, 262-263).  He also repeatedly lamented that complementarian churches leave out 50% of adult membership in ministry and leadership (pp. 29, 44, 95, 326, 385).  Admittedly complementarianism is both misunderstood and despised by our culture, but we must not allow culture to dictate our understanding of Scripture, nor the beliefs of our churches or personal lives.  Once we allow sola cultura to dominate sola scriptura we are on a slippery slope with no guardrails to keep us within biblical boundaries.  With pragmatism being Rudd’s stated motivation dozens of times, it is not much of a leap to suggest that his shift in thinking on the issues addressed is either due to such pragmatism or at least had its genesis there.

But it would be unfair to reduce Rudd’s newly-embraced views to culture and pragmatism, even if he himself implies such.  Rather, his arguments run much deeper and emerge from his exegesis and interpretation of Scripture.  His three primary arguments are:

  1. Patriarchal commands (e.g. Eph 5: 23ff) were temporary concessions made to promote peace and advance the gospel in the first century. The imperatives calling for male leadership and women’s submission in the home and the church were never meant to be part of the permanent framework of God’s people beyond the immediate cultural needs of biblical times.  Therefore we are free to ignore, adjust, or dismiss these commands in accordance with our immediate cultural systems (pp. 18-22, 76, 81, 88, 125, 128-135, 138-139, 143, 282, 342).
  2. Key New Testament texts have been mistranslated in all the major English Bibles. Rudd strongly implies, and even states, that all translation teams have mistranslated the pertinent scriptures due to patriarchal bias and deception (pp. 45, 50, 52, 95, 208-213, 229, 334-246, 290-294, 323, 343, 345, 360).  He goes so far as to accuse translators from early church history to the present of conspiracy in attempts to silence women (pp. 231, 343). He writes, “The misleading translations expose the possibility that hundreds of years ago a conspiracy to silence women in the church influenced the translation of key words.  These misleading translations may have been born out of widespread patriarchal prejudice and practice…” (p. 213).
  3. Some vital texts are not even part of inspired Scripture. Modern egalitarian scholarship, he claims, has revealed that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, in particular, most likely was added by scribes and was not part of Paul’s actual writings (pp. 217-218, 248-249, 254-257).

Rudd believes the complementarian position rests on only two highly disputed passages in the Bible (p. 6).  Thus he spends much time on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (pp. 66, 102, 268-295, 298-324, 350-352) and 1 Corinthians 11 (pp. 182-221, 235-246, 260, 268-270, 284-287).  But the author also addresses numerous other texts and issues including:

  • Rejection of hierarchical distinction at creation and the fall (pp. 50-58). Interestingly, he never attempts to explain why Adam was held accountable for the fall and not Eve who actually sinned first (Rom 5:15-21).
  • Rejection of six-day creation and acceptance of a softer view of homosexuality, implying that Paul condemned homosexual pedophilia and prostitution, not homosexuality (p. 153) in general.  This view might be expected in alignment with his accommodation view of Scripture but hopefully Rudd has not accepted his own suggestion.
  • Misunderstanding and out-of-context interpretations of Galatians 3:28 (pp. 103-111) which is common with all egalitarians.
  • Makes a case for female elders from a highly doubtful interpretation of 2 John 1 claiming the “chosen lady” was the lead elder of a local church (pp. 355-362). He also believes that there is evidence of other women elders in the New Testament (pp. 352-355) and even an apostle or two (p. 341).
  • Traces the ministry of women throughout Scripture to debunk the complementarian view (pp. 326-366). Rudd fails in this attempt because he does not distinguish ministry the Lord has given women from the leadership role assigned to men in the home and church.  For example, he often attempts to prove that women can be pastors based upon women prophesying in Scripture (pp. 56, 182, 201-202, 310, 312, 331-332, 340), but no complementarian denies that there were women prophets in Scripture. However, prophecy (a direct message given by God to an individual) is not the same as preaching, teaching and leadership.  Not only are the words different but so are the roles.
  • Ephesians 5:21 is used, as is in all egalitarian arguments, to teach mutual submission of husbands to wives and even fathers to children and masters to slaves (pp. 81, 119-145, 148, 163). Of note is that Rudd never really defines submission, which by definition is placing oneself under the authority of another.  Understood this way, submission of a father to a child must be rejected.
  • In contrast with normal lexiconal understanding, Rudd claims “head” in Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not mean leadership but source. This is a common egalitarian assertion that is deeply flawed (pp. 166-192).
  • Correctly defines “keep silent” which does not mean to stop talking altogether but rather to cease endless talking and disruption (pp. 217, 220-221, 235-246, 260, 268-270, 284-287). I think Rudd is correct at this point.
  • Claims that Jesus was taught by a woman (p. 85), but fails to distinguish listening from teaching. And He chose male apostles only to accommodate culture (despite Jesus often breaking cultural rules).
  • Claims apostles, specifically Paul, did not support gender roles but maintained the appearance to aid in outreach (pp. 143-144). Actually Paul, the author states, was a radical advocate of gender equality (p. 223).

Rudd writes, “This study proposes to present a careful interpretation of the relevant texts to provide a consistent and comprehensive advocacy and defense of an egalitarian position leaving no exceptional passage that contradicts this conclusion” (p. 11).   In this attempt Rudd did not add any ideas not found in previous egalitarian teachings.  These interpretations have been thoroughly addressed and debunked many times by excellent complementarian scholars.  Therefore I found it disappointing in a book of over 400 pages that this author very rarely engaged any of these scholars.  Another disappointment was that Rudd rightly called for kindness, humility and a teachable spirit for all participants in this debate (p. 27), yet viciously violates this throughout the book (pp. 36, 37, 107, 116, 155, 164, 201, 323).  He calls complementarians hypocrites, abusive, evil, in sin and worse (pp. 95, 99, 164).  He closes by discussing how to change a church toward an egalitarian position or how to leave if you can’t (pp. 383-391), and expressing his excitement about looking forward to changing other views of Scripture that he now holds.

I am certain that Bill Rudd is well-intended and sincere.  He has done his homework and offers a solid argument for egalitarianism.  None of his views is new and represent well the position.  However, I believe he has bought into arguments from other egalitarians, such as N.T. Wright, that cannot be maintained from a proper interpretation of Scripture.

Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders in Church? My Journey to Discover What the Bible Says About Gender Roles by Bill Rudd (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2018) 408 + xix pp., $19.95 paperback

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel

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