Doriani’s “Women and Ministry”

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. David Nystrom at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class on Women, the Bible, and the Church.


Dan Doriani’s book, Women and Ministry: what the Bible teaches, is not only a good book, but also a good representation of a complementarian or traditional interpretation of the Bible regarding church leadership and women.  The book is well-written and contains some very good analysis in terms of methodology.  Although Doriani produced a well-written book, demonstrated opposing views in a seemingly fair way, and at least gave women the ability to lead in some roles of the Church, he failed to do three crucial things: to address the influence of the Graeco-Roman culture on Paul and on Christians of the first century A.D. and following; to not identify the views and perceptions from the Graeco-Roman culture regarding women; and to indicate the leadership roles that women had during the house-church structure that existed prior to the institutionalization of the Church.  Before we come to terms with the book’s shortcomings, we must first gain a brief understanding of the content of the book.

If we had to break Women and Ministry down into constituent parts, it would be comprised of three parts.  The first section of the book is an argument for the traditional or complementarian  interpretation regarding women, which basically understands that women cannot be elders of a church and must submit to the authority of church leaders as well as their husbands.  This section is made up of eight chapters, in which males are seen as the ones who fulfill the role of leadership within the family and within the Church while women fulfill the role of the caretakers of the household as well as the Church.  The second section of the book is one chapter and it is a comparison of the egalitarian and complementarian views.  That chapter gives a seemingly fair treatment of both sides, but as would be expected the weight of the treatments is given to the complementarian viewpoint.  The third section of the book is the final chapter that deals with a history of women and ministry.  Doriani highlights the major historical thoughts, perspectives and practices regarding women in church leadership in this section, detailing the major influences from Chrysostom to Jerome to Luther and beyond.  These three sections combine to give a decent presentation of the complementarian view.

The constituent parts support Doriani’s idea that women can lead in the Church and can use their gifts in leadership roles, but they cannot have any authoritative positions over the Church as a whole or over men.  They are welcome to serve alongside of men and attend to the members of the Church, but they cannot oversee the Church.  It should be noted that Doriani does argue for women to be able to teach the Church, including men, but only when they are teaching children or, when teaching men, if teaching while under the direct authority of a man or of men.  Therefore, although Doriani is a complementarian, he does argue for women to be actively involved in serving the Church and even leading within the Church alongside men even though they may not oversee the Church.

Now that we have a brief understanding of the content of the book, we can now look at some positive and negative critiques of Women and Ministry.  The following list contains three key positive remarks of the book: one, it is well-written; two, it fairly demonstrates opposing views; and three, it at least gives women the ability to lead in some roles of the Church.

Doriani did a great job of putting this book together.  Overall, Women and Ministry is easy to read.  Sentence structures were simple and not overly complicated, and the chapters were broken down in such a way that the material was easy to work through, making this book quite pleasant to read.  However, easy reading does not indicate a good argument, although it helps in understanding the argument.  What is particularly notable about this book is that it fairly demonstrates opposing views in tandem with the view that is held by Doriani.

Doriani included material–arguments, counter-arguments, interpretations, etc.–from opposing views interspersed throughout the book.  He even included an entire chapter to the comparison between the main opposing view, egalitarianism, and complementarianism.  He clearly articulated the complementarian interpretation, as should be expected, but he also did a fair job of portraying how the egalitarian view regards the issue of women in church leadership.  Granted that it is not the complete and full view of the egalitarian that Doriani portrays, what he portrayed is sufficient enough to give a general understanding of the opposite view to complementarianism.  It was commendable of Doriani to at least wrestle with the opposing views and not just take a streamlined, one-sided approach to the issue at hand.  But this book is not commendable only for its fair treatment of both sides, for it is also commendable for its allowance and approval of women to partake in some forms, although not all, of church leadership.

Doriani nobly argued for women to participate alongside of men in servant leadership.  Although he would not argue for women to be a senior pastor of a church, Doriani made it quite clear even from a biblical standpoint that women should lead in the church to a certain level.  He sees them as able people who, having the same gifts of the Spirit as men, should be using their God-given gifts.  Doriani recognizes the need for women to use their gifts for the benefit of the Church and he urges them to do so.  Women are not simply a complement to men in theory for Doriani; rather, they are complements in practice, but if they do not put their gifts into practice alongside of men, then they have lost their complement.  For Doriani, it is absolutely essential that women be in church leadership with the exception of authoritative, elder or overseer leadership.

This book is commendable for its textual and compositional simplicity, demonstrative fairness of argumentation, and Church utilization of women.  However, the book is not perfect.  The following list is comprised of three key negative remarks concerning Women and Ministry: one, its failure to address the influence of the Graeco-Roman culture on Paul and the Christians from the first century A.D. and following; two, its failure to identify the views of women in the culture of Paul; and three, its failure to indicate the leadership roles of women from the house church structure that the early Christians had prior to the institutionalization of the Church.

Doriani recognizes cultural influences, demands and ideas for our time, but he does not recognize the cultural influences on Paul during his time, which would have impacted what Paul taught, preached and wrote.  The question at stake is if Doriani is being consistent.  On the one hand, he refutes the idea that our contemporary culture should influence how we operate in terms of roles, both in the home and in the Church (cf. 2003, 98).  However, on the other hand, he either fails to realize or chooses to ignore that the culture that Paul grew up and lived in would have influenced his thought process, his presuppositions, his values and his ideals, including, but not limited to, male and female roles.  As a result, Doriani argues that the biblical model as identified by Paul transcends culture and should be the model that we employ today as Christians despite what our contemporary culture says (cf. 2003, 94).  At the least we can say that Doriani is unintentionally inconsistent in this point.  Not only is Doriani inconsistent but his book is also inadequate.

Doriani recognizes that women were not looked upon very well in the Graeco-Roman culture, including in the Jewish culture that resided within the larger Graeco-Roman setting.  He notes that some rabbis exhorted men to steer clear of women, including their own wives, and others basically taught that talking to women was evil (2003, 41).  Although Doriani does well in recognizing that the common perception of women during the time of Paul and even of Jesus was not very good, he fails to address the fact that Paul would have been heavily influenced by this perception and that it would have affected his command for women to keep silent and have no authority over a man (1 Timothy 2).  He demonstrates that in his ministry Jesus called women to discipleship and ignored the common cultural perceptions (2003, 42).  However, he claims that it was not Jesus’ goal to liberate women from these perceptions and roles (2003, 42).  As a result, he argues that Jesus calls women to discipleship while still functioning within the culturally-defined gender roles (2003, 46).  If we cary out his logic all the way through, however, we would also have to accept the ideas that Jesus would have affirmed that women should have less legal rights as men and that he would have upheld the perception that women were “mentally and spiritually inferior to men” (2003, 41) as well.  According to Doriani’s own logic that the Bible forms the model society that Christians are to follow (cf. 2003, 37), we should be operating according to these perceptions today.  His treatment regarding the negative views of women is entirely inadequate for the task, and beyond that problem lies Doriani’s failure to address the fact that women were likely to have been leaders of house churches in the first century A.D. prior to the institutionalization of the Church.

Doriani did not rightly point out that women were co-leaders with men in house churches before the Church became a structured institution starting in the second century A.D.  He did well to show that women were not allowed to be authoritative Church leaders throughout the overwhelming majority of Church history, but he really did not give any good indication that women were house church leaders prior to the institutionalized Church.  If he had, it may have spoken against his argument, even if just slightly, which is probably why he did not address it.  Instead, he explained away any sort of possibility for women to be understood in the New Testament corpus as Church leaders, so that there would not be a need to identify that women and men led the Church in a house-church structure.  In this way, by not entirely giving the full picture, Doriani’s book is misleading.

Women and Ministry: what the Bible teaches is a simple and fair treatment of the complementarian view, which actually argues for women to be utilized in the Church, but it is still inconsistent, inadequate and misleading in the end.  Doriani put together a well-written book on women and ministry, fairly demonstrating not only his own view but also opposing views while giving women some room to lead within the Church under the authority of male leaders.  However, he fell short by failing to address the cultural influences on Paul from the first century A.D., by failing to identify the perspectives from the first century A.D. on women and completely interact with them, and by failing to indicate that women did have leadership roles in house churches in the first century A.D.  Although it is not a perfect book, Women and Ministry is a good portrayal of the complementarian view and is valuable for understanding the overall picture of women in Church leadership.















Doriani, Dan.  2003.  Women and Ministry: what the Bible teaches.  Wheaton: Crossway Books.