Friday, March 22, 2019

F.F. Bruce on Women Leaders In the Church

Three church women
All of us who went to an evangelical theological seminary in the mid-to-late 20th century faced the writings of New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce. And let's be honest here. Anyone who goes by "F.F" (or "C.S." or "W.H." or "J.P." or "N.T.") must be smart. 

Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? was read by all of us budding young scholars. My copy of Bruce's commentary on the Gospel of John is falling apart. This is due to much use, not poor binding. And his book on the canon of Scripture was, as far as I could tell, the only and best book of its kind at the time.

Bruce was a humble and quiet man. This is how New Testament scholar Scot McKnight describes him when they met. Bruce had just finished his commentaries on Galatians and Philippians. McKnight waited for an opportune time to ask the great NT scholar THE QUESTION. McKnight writes:

"I asked him about women in the church. My question was something like this, “Professor Bruce, do you think women should be ordained?” His response I shall remember forever. He said, “I don’t care much for ordination. But what I can say with regard to the exercise of women’s ministries in the church, is this: I am for whatever brings freedom in the church. I am for whatever brings the freedom of the Spirit in the church of God.”" (McKnight, Galatians, Kindle Locations 5804-5807)

Initially McKnight thought Bruce's response was nebulous, full of holes and replete with problems. And probably correct. McKnight writes: "His answer is very biblical, very Pauline, and very much like Galatians. In fact, his answer is so much like Galatians that his answer must be right." (Ib.)

And uncommon. Yet Bruce's answer "corresponded to Paul's view of the essence of Christian living." His answer was uncommon because Paul's view "is a view that few are willing to live with."

There is a vast open-endedness in the Pauline view of Christian freedom, especially as it is presented in Galatians.

NOTE: There's no "ordination" in the New Testament.