Philosophy of Hermeneutics and the Hermeneutical “Spiral”

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The Origin of This Study

This study is essentially a sequel to my master’s dissertation, entitled “A Case for Female Deacons,” presented on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC in 2012 (and under contract for publication by Wipf and Stock). When I started the graduate research on women deacons, I was generally against the idea of women pastors. There was also no desire to pursue the subject of women in ministry any further. But the study of women deacons inevitably led to research in women elders, and after researching 1 Timothy 2:12 and other resources more thoroughly, it became evident that not only were women pastors theologically and biblically justified within the basic assumptions of my faith, but there was much room for improvement in going about arguing for such a conclusion. The affirmation of women elders went against my theological traditions, the teaching of my seminary professors, and the position of my thesis advisor.


6 The term “Evangelical” broadly delineates a branch of Christianity that identifies with the Protestant tradition. The “Protestant tradition” is typically defined as that third branch of Christianity that stems from the time of the Reformation, with Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism being the two other major branches. Due to the similarities in beliefs and emphases, “Evangelicalism” and “Protestantism” are often paired together in the phrase label “ProtestantEvangelical.” In any case, it is not necessary to fully define all of these terms, but only to define what is meant by “Evangelical.” The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA, established in 1846) is a global organization dedicated to uniting various denominations and organizations that have the same basic purpose and confession of faith. The “Statement of Faith” on the WEA website (, accessed November 5, 2013) will suffice to generally define what is meant by “Evangelical” in the title of this study: “We Believe in …in the Holy Scriptures as originally given by God, divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct… One God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Our Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, His virgin birth, His sinless human life, His divine miracles, His vicarious and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension, His mediatorial work, and His Personal return in power and glory… The Salvation of lost and sinful man through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith apart from works, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit… The Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the believer is enabled to live a holy life, to witness and work for the Lord Jesus Christ…


“Reformed” is a more specific branch under “Evangelicalism.” It is a theology sympathetic to the Reformed tradition as expressed throughout the various Reformed creeds and confessions since the 16th century (Westminster Confession of Faith, Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Canons of Dordt, Heidelberg Catechism, etc.). Broadly speaking, an intentionally Godcentered and Bible-centered theology is part and parcel of the Reformed emphasis. It is common to speak of the “Five Solas of the Reformation” when discussing Reformed theology. The Five Solas are five Latin phrases that emerged out of the Reformation to distinguish Reformed theology from Roman Catholic theology: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Sola Deo Gloria. Below is my own summary of these teachings (for a similar summary, see Boice 2009).

The Meaning of “Reformed” Summarized

The present author generally holds to the five Solas as described above, but with some qualifications—one being that the biblicist version of the doctrine of Scripture outlined above (which strongly overlaps with Sola Scriptura) is not adopted. For example, I would not affirm a position that says “The autographic text of the Protestant canon is the ultimate standard for truth claims.” I also would tend to avoid unnecessary and misleading phrases such as “the Bible says,” because of my view of Scripture and also theory of hermeneutics (see below), though I sometimes capitulate for the sake of simplicity and familiarity. This does not detract from the importance of exegetical and biblical theology, but it does raise questions about the value of “biblical views” on certain topics and what that means (see Smith 2012:111)—subjects that need not be explored here. Also, I do not exhaustively and absolutely subscribe to any of the Reformed creeds listed by the WRF, though I agree with their broader emphases on a Godcentered, Christ-centered theology.

“Female Elders”

This work also presupposes that the two main, general “offices” or “positions of ministry” in ecclesiastical affairs and in the Scriptures are “elders” and “deacons” (to adopt the language of the New Testament.) “Elders” in the NT are essentially the same as “pastors” (White 2004a:272- 279) and function as the primary leaders and teachers of the church; deacons are generally servants of the church (1 Tim 3; Tit 1). A “Case for Female Elders,” then, is simply a technical way of saying “An Argument for Women Pastors.” This work is also limited in that it will not address the subject of “ordination” (if one considers ordination in its own category), mainly because it is highly questionable whether ordination is even a legitimate theological category. As such, this study does not address the legitimacy of ordained or non-ordained Christian women, but focuses on whether it is legitimate for Christian women to function as pastors regardless if they are “ordained.”


  • CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    • 1.1 The Problem
    • 1.2 The Origin of This Study
    • 1.3 Content
      • 1.3.1 Language
      • 1.3.2 Subject Matter
      • 1.3.3 Perspective and Presuppositions
    • 1.4 Conceptual and Theoretical Framework
      • 1.4.1 “Evangelical”
      • 1.4.2 “Reformed
      • 1.4.3 The Meaning of “Reformed” Summarized
      • 1.4.4 “Female Elders”
      • 1.4.5 “Complementarianism” and “Egalitarianism”
      • 1.4.6 My Own Perspective/Presuppositions
  • 1.5 Outline of Chapters
  • CHAPTER TWO Literature Review
    • 2. Introduction
    • 2.1 Formative Works
    • 2.2 Works During and After the Formation of the CBMW and CBW (1988-2004)
    • 2.3 Recent Works: Relevant Works After
    • 2.3 Concluding Evaluations
  • CHAPTER THREE Methodology
    • 3. Introduction
    • 3.1 Research Method
    • 3.2 Theological Loci
      • 3.2.1 Theological Loci in General
      • 3.2.2 Theological Loci More Specifically
    • 3.3 Hermeneutics
    • 3.3.1 Philosophy of Hermeneutics and the Hermeneutical “Spiral”
      • 3.3.2 Feminist Hermeneutics
      • 3.3.3 An Evaluation of Feminist Hermeneutics
      • 3.3.4 The Hermeneutics Debate Within the Reformed and Evangelical Church
      • 3.3.5 Köstenberger’s Critique of Feminist Hermeneutics
    • 3.4 Constructing a Case for Women Elders
    • 3.4.1 “General Arguments”
      • 3.4.2 “Targeted Arguments”
        • Wright’s Argument
        • Giles’ Argument
        • Keener and Belleville in Two Views
      • 3.5.1 Shaping the Argument
    • 3.6 The Proposed Argument
    • 3.7 Conclusion
  • CHAPTER FOUR Conceptual Framework
    • 4. Introduction
    • 4.1 Complementarianism and Egalitarianism
      • 4.1.1 The Danvers Statement and the Emergence of “Complementarianism”
      • 4.1.2 The Evangelical Feminist Response to the CBMW and The Danvers Statement
    • 4.2 Feminist Theology
      • 4.2.1 Contours of Feminist Theology: Exposing Patriarchy and Androcentricity
      • 4.2.2 Contours of Feminist Theology: Women’s Experience and Liberation
      • 4.2.3 Contours of Feminist Theology: Christology in Feminist Theology
      • 4.2.4 An Evaluation of Feminist Theology
    • 4.3 Roman Catholic Theology
    • 4.4 Conclusions
  • CHAPTER FIVE Primary Premise (Women are Not Forbidden to be Pastors)


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