Women wrongly closed down in ministry

Fireball by dear_theophilus - A ball of fire. Burn baby!

(courtesy dear_theophilus)

By Spencer D Gear

(Catherine Booth, courtesy Wikipedia)

Speaking of 1 Corinthians 14, N T Wright wrote that ‘what the passage cannot possibly mean is that women had no part in leading public worship, speaking out loud of course as they did so. This is the positive point that is proved at once by the other relevant Corinthian passage, 1 Corinthians 11.2–11, since there Paul is giving instructions for how women are to be dressed while engaging in such activities, instructions which obviously wouldn’t be necessary if they had been silent in church all the time’ (Wright 2004).

What about 1 Timothy 2? Wright explained that 1 Tim 2:12 ‘is the main passage that people quote when they want to suggest that the New Testament forbids the ordination of women…. There is good, solid scholarship behind what I’m going to say, and I genuinely believe it may be the right interpretation’. He continued:

The key to the present passage, then, is to recognise that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be ‘in full submission’; this is often taken to mean ‘to the men’, or ‘to their husbands’, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel – which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ – the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’ Why might Paul need to say this?

There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion – the biggest Temple, the most famous shrine – was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.

Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them (Wright 2004).


N T Wright (2007), courtesy Wikipedia

That is not the kind of meaning you will get in an ordinary church discussion or on the Internet. If you want to see the heat rise in Christian discussions, raise the topic of women in ministry and especially that of women pastors. I saw this on a Christian forum online. A question was asked about whether Baptist churches ordain women. Here are …

Some samples

  • ‘Women are not ordained in any truly Baptist Church. There is no such thing as a women (sic) pastor. If a “church” has a women (sic) pastor and calls itself Baptist it is deceiving itself and others’.[1]
  • ‘In some liberal Baptist churches, they are, but it’s rare, thank God. The Bible does not allow for women pastors’.[2]
  • ‘The last church I was at had a woman pastor and yes she was ordained in spite of what other (sic) say. Women are allowed to preach, those who object don’t understand what Paul wrote. Women are equal to men they can hold the same positions any one who tells you other wise does not understand God and what He said. I am also in a baptist college being trained for ministry and there are plenty of women being trained with us. upon graduation they will be ordained. So those who were saying no really don’t know what they are talking about and are out of date’.[3]
  • ‘You will not find women pastors/preachers in any Bible believing church. Simple as that. Those who claim that we are out of date don’t really believe the Bible. They, therefore, can make it mean and say whatever they want. They can claim that Paul was speaking in a cultural context all they desire but there were many cultures included during his time and he was very clear in what he said and culture wasn’t an influence’.[4]
  • ‘No true Scotsman. If a woman is being called by God to preach, who are we to stand in her way? It’s not unbiblical for a woman to preach’.[5]
  • ‘It is unbiblical to have female pastors and teachers, and it is not really “their choice”. The Scriptures are very clear about women preaching and teaching in the churches or usurping authority over men. Choosing to violate Scripture is called “disobedience”.
    Autonomy simply means that each local church must be governed from within — not from without — and under the authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit. That puts an even greater responsibility on the local church.
    Every Christian who attends a church which is in any violation of Scripture has the moral responsibility and duty to speak up. If there is no repentance, then the only other choice is to move on.[6]

Baptists in Australia

Karina Kreminski, ordained Baptist minister, lecturer in Missional Studies (from 2015), Morling College, Sydney, Australia (photo courtesy Karina Kreminski official website), Karina was formerly senior pastor at Community Life Church, Cherrybrook, NSW 2014.

Here in Australia, this is the position with Baptists and ordination of women:

As of 2009: ‘Queensland Baptists has (sic) decided that women will not be accepted as candidates for ordination'(Registration and Ordination Guidelines, Adopted by the Board of Queensland Baptists, 25 June 2009, section 5.4, Assembly 22.05.2009).

  • However, the Baptist Union of Victoria (Australia) has been ordaining women since 1978. See, ‘A history of women’s ordination in the Baptist Union of Victoria’, (Darren Cronshaw 1998).
  • The Baptist Union of NSW [New South Wales] and the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] began ordaining women in 1999 (see HERE).

Regarding ordination of women in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa,[7] this is the DRC position:

In 1990 … the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa restored the ordination of women as ministers, probably to divert attention from their racial position and to counteract their image as socially hyper-conservative and patriarchal. However, since this was a decision taken without women, the real struggle for women’s ordination in the DRC only began in 1990. The first woman was ordained only in 1995, namely Gretha Heymans as a youth worker in Bloemfontein. In 2000, the crisis of women being trained as ministers in the DRC and not receiving calls was so huge that a conference was held by female proponente (candidate ministers) under the title “Moeder Kerk en haar dogters” (Mother Church and her daughters) during which the situation was discussed. This led to the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa on 17 November 2000 formally asking the women for forgiveness for having treated them for centuries as second class members. References to “feminist theology” were, however, absent from this conference (Christina Landman, ‘Remembering feminist theology in South Africa‘ pp. 208-209).

Can women prophesy in silence?

A woman provided a link to American Baptist Churches that ordain women:
Women In Ministry | American Baptist Churches USA.[8]

My response was:[9]

I noticed that this person’s link is to American Baptist Churches USA. When my wife, children and I lived in the USA and Canada for 7 years, we noted that the American Baptist Churches tended to have more churches and preachers of theological liberal persuasion – with a lower view of the Bible. I wouldn’t expect these to be too adamant about what the Bible says about women pastors. Some Baptist churches with a higher view of biblical authority object to female pastors, particularly when I Cor 12-14 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 are in the mix.

I’m not of that persuasion. I have a high view of Scripture but my exegesis of Scripture in context does not support an absolute silence of women in ministry – even mixed ministry to men and women.

Mission work around the world would be in a sad state if women missionaries were prevented from ministering publicly to women and men. I’ve seen situations where conservative Western congregations have a very strict view of women missionaries not allowed to minister publicly in a mixed congregation when they return home on furlough, but when these same women go back to the mission fields, it is straight back into mixed ministry. I find that to be hypocritical. If it is good enough for mixed ministry in Africa, it surely is good enough for mixed ministry in Australia.

The issue does get down to biblical interpretation and I’m of the view that for too long women have been silenced in ministry because of a skewed and false understanding of certain Scriptures (e.g. I Corinthians 11-14); 1 Timothy 2:11-15).

Just one example: It is claimed in some churches that women must be absolutely silent in public ministry to a mixed congregation because 1 Cor 14:33b-34 states, ‘As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission as the Law also says’ (ESV).

How is it possible to have women to ‘keep silent in the churches’ when the very same book of 1 Corinthians 11:3-5 speaks of ‘every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head’ (ESV). The context is wives (who are women) prophesying in the church publicly. Women can’t prophesy with their mouths shut. We either have a contradiction (which I don’t think it is) between 1 Cor 14:33b-34 and 1 Cor 11:3-5 or we have the ‘silence’ of women in 1 Cor 14 to be addressing a different issue in the Corinthian church.

What about female apostles?

I responded to a fellow who was opposing women in leadership positions in the church.[10]

I asked: What about apostles after the time of the 12 apostles? Do they have authority in the church?

Let’s examine Romans 16:7. This verse reads: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me” (ESV). The NIV translates as: “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”

These two different translations show some of the dimensions of the difficulties in translating this verse. Literally, the Greek reads, word-for-word (English translation): ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia/the kinsmen of me and fellow-captives of me who are notable among/in/by the apostles who also before me have been in Christ’.

The controversy surrounds the gender of Junia, relating to the phrase, ‘among the apostles.’ If Junia is feminine and she is among the apostles, this makes her a female apostle.

So is Junia a male or female apostle? See my article: Are there apostles in the 21st century?

First Timothy 2 and the quagmire

I experienced further opposition from a person who is antagonistic to women pastors. He wrote:

I’ll be honest, I don’t know Greek (though I wish I did!) So I can’t claim any knowledge on that one way or the other. However, if you’re stating that Junia is a female apostle and held a position of authority, it would contradict Paul’s own words that state a woman should not be in a position of authority. He does not qualify the statement by saying “in your church” or “in your province”, etc, but simply “I do not allow a woman to…” So now you must ask, where was Paul correct, or incorrect. Where was he inspired, or not inspired. Is this a contradiction, or not?[11]

My response was:[12]

Could it be that there is another possibility? I’m thinking that this person’s understanding of ‘position of authority’ as applied to all churches, based on 1 Tim 2:11-15 could be incorrect. Has that thought ever come to him?

Since this person doesn’t understand Greek, could that not be a possibility? I’ll cite a contemporary Greek expert who is an evangelical, Dr Gordon Fee, from his commentary on 1 Tim 2:12:

(Photograph Dr Gordon Fee, courtesy Faithlife)

Verse 12, which begins with Paul’s own personal instruction (I do not permit; better, “I am not permitting,” implying specific instructions to this situation), picks up the three items from verse 11 and presents them with some further detail. I am not permitting a woman to teach corresponds to a woman should learn. Teaching, of course, is where much of the problem lay in the church in Ephesus [where Timothy was located]. The straying elders are teachers (1:3; 6:3); the “worthy” elders, for whom Timothy is probably to serve as something of a model (4:11-16; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2), are “those whose work is teaching” (5:17). Indeed, Paul calls himself a teacher in these letters (2:7). But he is here prohibiting women to teach in the (house-) church(es) of Ephesus, although in other churches they prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5) and probably give a teaching from time to time (1 Cor. 14:26), and in Titus 2:3-4 the older women are expected to be good teachers of the younger ones.

Part of the problem from this distance is to know what “teaching” involved. The evidence from 1 Corinthians 12-14 indicates that “teaching” may be presented as a spiritual gift (14:6, 26); at the same time, some in the community are specifically known as teachers (cf. Rom. 12:7), while more private instruction is also given (Acts 18:26; here by a woman). Given that evidence and what can be gleaned from the present Epistles, teaching most likely had to do with instruction in Scripture, that is, Scripture as pointing to salvation in Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17). If that is what is being forbidden (and certainty eludes us here), then it is probably because some of them have been so terribly deceived by false teachers, who are specifically abusing the OT (cf. 1:7; Titus 3:9). At least that is the point Paul will pick up in verses 14 and 15′ (Fee 1988:72-73, emphasis in original).

This kind of information from a Greek exegete just might provide some possible challenges to the position this person was advocating – if he were open to this challenge.

Women excluded from ministry because of faulty interpretations

Marianne Meye Thompson, Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

I find that one of the saddest outcomes for women is the closing down of their ministry by a comprehensive false understanding of Scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Is this meant to be applied to all of the churches since the time of Christ?

This fellow wrote: ‘While anything is possible, and I admit my ignorance of Greek, I cannot, in good conscience, simply take your, or this one source’s, word for it. Give me some time to prayerfully study what you’ve brought up, and seek other references’.[13]

This was my response:[14]

One of the toughest verses to interpret in the context of 1 Tim 2:11-15 is v. 15, ‘Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control’ (ESV). What does that mean when there is the singular ‘she’ and the plural ‘they’? How can a woman be ‘saved through childbearing’ when that would be works and there is the practical issue that some women have died in child birth?
In 1 Tim 2:12, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man’ (ESV), there are three verbals:

  • ‘I do not permit’, epitrepw, is Greek present tense which indicates continuing or continuous action. It means, ‘I am not permitting’, so it seems to be addressed to a situation in Ephesus where Timothy is. What is Paul not permitting?
  • ‘a woman to teach’. ‘To teach’, didaskein, is a present tense infinitive, so again the present tense means, ‘a woman to continue to teach’, thus inferring a contemporary situation in the present time in Ephesus.
  • ‘to exercise authority’, authentein, is a present tense infinitive so it is talking about a woman continuing to exercise authority and she is not permitted to do this.

So the meaning is that gunaiki (a woman, not the definite, the woman) is creating an issue with her teaching and she is not being permitted to continue teaching and to continue exercising authority over andros (a man, without the definite article).

So, this verse is not making a general application to ALL women in the church but to a particular woman in the church at Ephesus – probably a house church or in house churches. What could she have been doing for Paul to close her down in teaching and exercising authority? We know from 1 Tim 1:3; 6:3 that there were certain people who were teaching false doctrine. Could this woman have been one of them and she was silenced by this instruction? It was meant for her, a singular woman, and not for all women throughout NT history.

Applied to ALL women when ALL were not intended

Therefore, I’m of the view that 1 Tim 2:11-15 has been used as a defining section of the NT to close down all women in public ministry among men when it was addressed to a specific circumstance in the Ephesian Church. It was never meant to apply to all women in ministry, but to all women who were promoting false doctrine. By application, the same should apply to men who promote false teaching. They should be silenced in the church by not being permitted to teach.

This is a range of my articles on women in ministry (there will be a repeat information in some of them):

Work consulted

Fee, G D 1988. W W Gasque (NT ed). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Wright, N T 2004. Women’s service in the church: The biblical basis, a conference paper for the Symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’ (online). St John’s College, Durham, September 4. Available at: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm (Accessed 16 December 2014).


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Women’s pastors, Twin1954#5, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7856138/ (Accessed 16 December 2014).

[2] Ibid., South Bound#6.

[3] Ibid., Bluelion#11.

[4] Ibid., Twin1954#13.

[5] Ibid., Ringo84#14.

[6] Ibid., Job8#77.

[7] The thread was started by a woman from South Africa who was inquiring about Baptists and their views of women pastors.

[8] Women’s pastors, Blue Wren#65, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7856138-7/ (Accessed 16 December 2014).

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#73.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#79.

[11] Ibid., Metal Minister#80.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#82.

[13] Ibid., Metal Minister#83.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#94.

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 July 2019.