One rule of interpretation is called the analogy of faith (read about it here, or listen about it here). Put simply, the analogy of faith means that, since Scripture is self-consistent, you should interpret Scripture in light of other Scripture. And wherever there is an unclear verse, you should look for a clear verse to explain it.
The problem is that people can disagree about what counts as clear or unclear. What seems clear to me may not seem clear to you, and vice versa.
I recently came across that problem while reading a defense of women in ministry by Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo (see here). I’m reading that book because they say they make a Biblical argument for their position, and as a good Berean, I want to know “whether these things [are] so” (Acts 17:11).
In their chapter on “Women in the Writings of Paul,” Grenz and Kjesbo recognize that Paul seems to place limitations on women in ministry (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3-16; 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15). However, in their opinion, Paul also argues for women in ministry, especially women pastors. How, then, do you reconcile those two sets of verses?
By using the analogy of faith.
Here is the “clear” verse they use for defending women pastors:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
In light of that verse, Grenz and Kjesbo ask:
Which Pauline text(s) carry hermeneutical priority in our attempt to understand Paul’s teaching about women in the church? Are we to look to the egalitarian principle the apostle set forth in Gal 3:28 as the foundation for our understanding of the apostles’ own position? Or do we begin with those passages which seem to place limitations on the service of women…and understand the Galatians text in light of such restrictions? (Women in the Church, p. 107).
They think Gal 3:28 is the clear verse, and they favorably quote F. F. Bruce for their position:
Paul states the basic principle here; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus…they are to be understood in relation to Gal 3:28, and not vice versa” (Q. in Women in the Church, p. 107).
So for Grenz and Kjesbo (and F. F. Bruce), Gal 3:28 is clear, and those other verses about women being silent and not allowed to teach are unclear.
Are they right?
In my opinion, this is an example of the analogy of faith gone wrong. Here are three reasons why.
First, Gal 3:28 is not about church order. In Galatians 3, Paul is discussing justification and whether we are saved through law or through faith. Ultimately, Paul claims that anyone can be justified by faith apart from law, and it does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, slave or free, man or woman. Simply put, Paul is not addressing church offices and who can hold them. Interestingly, Grenz and Kjesbo agree: “Complementarians rightly remind us that Galatians 3:28 is a broad, general statement that occurs in a discussion of soteriology (God’s work in salvation), not church practice” (Women in the Church, p. 107).
Second, since Gal 3:28 is not about church order, it does not conflict with those verses that are. I will admit that Paul’s commands for women to be silent, and so on, do raise some questions that need further clarification. But they don’t need to be swept away or radically reinterpreted to mean the opposite of what they say. Since Gal 3:28 and 1 Tim 2:11-12 (to give just one example) are about two different subjects, it is a misapplication of Gal 3:28 to use it to override Paul’s other teachings.
Third, even if Gal 3:28 and verses like 1 Tim 2:11-12 were both about women in ministry, 1 Tim 2:11-12 is hands down the clearer text. The passage in Timothy gives explicit instructions about women and their teaching role; Galatians does not.
Explicit instructions are clearer than silence.