A recent blog post by Alastair Roberts, “Why a Masculine Priesthood is Essential,” has recently stirred up fresh controversy and heated debate among egalitarians and hierarchical complementarians regarding the nature of Christian ministry and leadership, due to the promotion of his unique model of “masculine priesthood” which goes beyond the usual concept of a “male priesthood” to that of a warrior priesthood. Such is the confidence of Mr. Roberts in the arguments of his presentation that he asserts: “I believe that opposition to women in priesthood should not merely arise from the interpretation of a few isolated verses, but that it springs up from the very core of biblical anthropology, something that is reaffirmed throughout the biblical narrative. Genesis 1 and 2 are far more central texts for opposition to women in priesthood than 1 Timothy 2 could ever be…I believe male dominance in power and authority in society isn’t just something biblically authorized or mandated—it isn’t just that women lack permission—but is an inescapable fact that God has established through his creation.” And so on the basis of this supposedly superior model of Christian leadership, he seeks to give the impression that he, more than other complementarians, has taken the higher ground in this debate.
In response to this assertion, two things need to be said. First of all, while progressive revelation of any theme in Scripture involves an ongoing process of greater elaboration and clarification of that theme as it is found in some original and seminal text, later progressive revelation never contradicts the clear and fundamental teaching of the original text out which it flows. Therefore, Roberts’ model of Christian leadership as a warrior priesthood must first be demonstrated as the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2; then it must be demonstrated as being central to the teaching of the Law and the Prophets regarding the primary nature and function of the Levitcal Priesthood. Secondly, this model of warrior priesthood must also be demonstrated as being central to the teaching of both Jesus and his Apostles regarding the nature and function of Christian leadership. Unless Mr. Roberts can demonstrate his model on this basis, all that he has built is a house of cards that cannot stand up under close scrutiny. And that is the main purpose of this series: A critique that highlights key aspects of his paradigm and supporting argumentation as being without any biblical warrant, and hence a theological construct built on presuppositions foreign to Scripture itself.
Robert’s Assertion: Non-Biblical and Fallacious
Now while it is Roberts own unique understanding of male priesthood as a warrior priesthood that has stirred up the waters of controversy, since it appears to be a concept of religious leadership more compatible with Islam than it is with Christianity, there are problems with his supporting argumentation as well. And though we will lay the ax to the supposed roots of his position in Genesis 1 and 2, here we will saw off some of this bad tree’s main branches by showing how several of them are not only non-biblical but also logically fallacious.
Roberts begins with the tactic of definitive stipulation, where he defines all other paradigms of Christian leadership as foreign to “the priestly leadership” paradigm of Scripture. Of course, this argument is in violation of the law of affirming the consequent, since it assumes as its conclusion the very premise Roberts is trying to prove: That warrior priesthood, as taught in the OT, is the only true paradigm of Christian leadership warranted by Scripture as a whole. The main problem with this argument is that even though it were true that this paradigm of religious leadership was taught and approved by the OT, Roberts does not demonstrate that it is indeed the paradigm of leadership Christ himself taught and modeled in his own life and ministry, and which he expected to be characteristic of all who would be leaders in the new community he was founding.
Then, in a brief reference to Judges 4-5, in which he seems to equivocate the nature and function of the leadership the Levitical Priests with that of the Judges, he then goes on to argue that since this type of leadership involved the strength of will, courage, and ability to wield the sword and execute enemies of Israel—an aspect of leadership for which women have neither the physical strength nor the psychological fortitude—this automatically denies women from priestly leadership today, since it too, is combative in nature. Here we have the logical fallacy of begging the question, for Roberts does not demonstrate that leadership of the Priests and the Judges was the same in every way, nor does he demonstrate that warfare was essential to both forms of leadership. Moreover, even if it were true there were combative and confrontational elements in the leadership of Israel by either the Levitical Priests or Judges that involved the wielding of a sword and the actual slaying of enemies, Roberts fails to prove that this is true of Christian leadership. After all, did Jesus himself not tell Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36, NIV)?
In addition, he ignores the fact that as pictured in the NT, the warfare that Christians now engage in, whether or not they are leaders, is spiritual warfare, not physical warfare. As Paul so clearly says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5, NIV). And then in his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul clearly teaches that those whom are called and gifted by Christ to be leaders are responsible for training and equipping God’s people, both men and women for works of service—which also includes training and equipping them for spiritual warfare (cf. Eph. 4:7-10 with 6:10-18). The bottom line, then, is that whether one is a leader or not, if they are true followers of Christ and are involved in any ministry that advances God’s kingdom, spiritual conflict and battle with the Enemy is inevitable.
Lastly to buttress these arguments, Roberts uses three old, but invalid arguments that have been addressed and refuted in other contexts: 1) The “creation order” of Genesis 1 and 2 supports “male dominance” in both Society and Church; 2) that the facts of both Western civilization and Church history support the “naturalness and recurrence” of male dominance; and 3) that the principle of “one’s biology determines one’s destiny” also confirms male dominance, with weaker women being dependent on the stronger male’s support and protection. And once he completes these arguments, he rests case his case for masculine priesthood as being a warrior priesthood from which women are forever barred. Nevertheless, I do not believe he has made any case at all. For all the assertions he has made, Roberts has failed to truly and honestly answer these two questions: Is male dominance in power and authority truly taught in Genesis 1 and 2? And is it really true that male dominance is constantly reaffirmed throughout the Scriptures? In this section, we have answered the second question by showing both that Scripture does not, as a whole, support this model of warrior priesthood: and that a number of key arguments for this model, in addition to being without biblical support, are logically fallacious as well. Next week, we will venture into Genesis 1 and 2 in greater detail.