The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and Complementarianism3
Two weeks ago, at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Denver, Colorado, I engaged in an encouraging and edifying conversation with three friends: Andrew Wilson, Tom Schreiner, and Ligon Duncan.
I did not have long for my presentation: a mere 20 minutes. But I did take the opportunity to pose a question for Tom and Ligon, both of whom, like Andrew and me, are complementarians.
My question was stirred by something Tom wrote in his book on spiritual gifts. Tom asserts repeatedly in his book that all NT prophets spoke with the same authority as the apostles. “New Testament prophets have the same authority as the apostles,” he says on p. 104. Their words were inspired, infallible, and contributed to the foundation on which the universal body of Christ would be built.
But Tom and Ligon are both complementarians. Both of them believe that Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, prohibits women from teaching men and from exercising authority over them. Yet, both Tom and Ligon believe Paul permits women to prophesy, as in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 11. I also assume they believe that Philip’s four unmarried daughters prophesied (Acts 21).
My question is this: how can they deny women a teaching ministry that entails the exercise of authority, on the one hand, and then affirm that women prophesied with an authority equal to that of the apostles, on the other? It would seem that either they must abandon their complementarian convictions, or that they must recognize that there was a form of prophecy that was not foundational in nature and did not entail an authority equal to that of the apostles. And if they opt for the latter (as I do), there would then be no conflict between the on-going validity of prophecy today and the finality and sufficiency of the biblical canon. There would be no inconsistency in affirming that women can prophesy while at the same time honoring Paul’s prohibition on their teaching or exercising authority over men.
So, again, my question is this: If all NT prophets exercised an authority equal to that of the apostles, and women prophesied, how can Paul prohibit women from exercising the apostolic authority that, according to Tom, is inherent within the NT gift of prophecy?
We continuationist complementarians have no problem with this, for we recognize that not all NT prophecy was foundational and not all NT prophecy carried the same authority as that of the apostles. The spiritual gift of prophecy was not considered by Paul as inherently and immediately authoritative as was the teaching of a biblical text. Therefore, Paul felt free to endorse women prophesying and yet prohibited them from teaching or exercising authority over men. This, in my opinion, is the only way to make sense of those texts which, on the one hand, encourage women to prophesy but, on the other, forbid them to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:11ff.).