Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected in 2006 as the first female Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church and also the first female primate in the Anglican Communion (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
By Spencer D Gear
Go to one of the conservative Christian forums on the Internet and raise the issue of women in teaching ministry in the local church. If you support women in this kind of ministry, as I do, expect a tirade of invective (covered with Christian jargon) from traditionalists who oppose women teaching men in the local church. I experienced this when I participated in two threads on Christian Forums: (1) ‘Women’s pastors’, and (2) ‘Can women hold office in the church even pastors’. There were so many inflammatory comments in these 2 threads that the moderators of the forum closed the threads permanently after many posts.
One person stated that liberal theology was associated with a more liberal view of women in ministry. I asked him, ‘Are you affirming that those who support women in ministry are promoting “liberal ideology”’? A person responded, ‘I would answer in the affirmative. Liberalism has risen mainly out of the 19th century, it denies the authority of the Word of God, and it is heresy’. Since I’m a supporter of women in teaching ministry, even female pastors, he accused me of promoting theological liberalism, denying the authority of Scripture, and heresy.
My response was:
I do not deny the authority of the Word of God. I support the inerrant Scripture. I am not promoting heresy when I support women in ministry because I’m convinced – THROUGH EXEGESIS – that God has not excluded women from preaching and teaching ministries. I am NOT a heretic; I do NOT promote false doctrine. I come to a position different from your traditional view of women in ministry.
Are you telling me on this forum that I’m a heretic because of my support for women in ministry?
Inerrancy is the biblical doctrine that teaches that ‘being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives’ (The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Short Statement #4).
A controversial verse
One verse seems to be used as a shot-gun approach of conservative Christians. It is First Timothy 2:12, which states: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet’ (NIV). This is the verse that the traditionalists use to close down the teaching of women over men.
International Greek scholar, exegete and specialist in biblical criticism, Dr Gordon D Fee, in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, wrote of 1 Timothy 2:12:
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).
So, no matter how many supporters of the traditional interpretation that may be included, there are others who disagree. Gordon Fee is one of them and so am I. N T Wright is another (see below). I’m encouraged to know that there are others in the evangelical community who support women in ministry.
What does 1 Timothy 2 teach?
While I affirm the inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts, I find it difficult to determine from the New Testament where ‘ordination’ of either men or women is taught, as experienced in our 21st century church. Where is the language of ordination to the pastorate in the NT?
First Timothy 2:8 reads, ‘I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling’ (ESV). What the ESV has translated as ‘then’ is the Greek connective ouv, meaning, ‘therefore’. This means that the sentence of 2:8 is linked to what precedes it and what is said in v. 8 goes back to the subject of the paragraph that begins in 1Tim 2:1 (‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings’ etc. God desires all to be saved (2:4).
So in v. 8, Paul is saying to Timothy in Ephesus and dealing with what is happening in the Ephesian house church(es), (this is my paraphrase): Therefore, while we are dealing with prayer, God’s desire for all people to be saved, one God and Jesus the one mediator (v 5), Jesus who gave his life as a ransom (v 6) and Paul appointed as a preacher and apostle (v7), therefore while we’re dealing with the subject of prayer, I urge that people pray with lifting up holy hands and ‘without anger or quarrelling’ (v. 8). This was the demeanour in prayer in Judaism and early Christianity.
Where should that be happening? It is to be everywhere in and around Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) in the house-churches – everywhere where believers were gathered in Ephesus.
Please remember that when this book was written there was no NT canon of Scripture. However, the book could have circulated to other churches in the region around Ephesus. First Timothy was written to Timothy to deal with a particular church or group of churches dealing with various situations. There was false doctrine being taught in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). The ESV reads, ‘that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations….’ It does not say that these are specifically men or women who are doing this. They are ‘certain persons’. In 6:3 it is ‘anyone’ who ‘teaches a different doctrine’. However, 2:12 indicates something was happening with women and their domineering authority and these women had to be quietened down. Their false teaching had to cease.
First Timothy 1:6 refers to ‘certain persons’ who have ‘wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law’ (1:6-7).
Who were some of these wondering off into false doctrine, getting into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers? Could they have been the women spoken about in 1 Tim 2:12 who had a domineering authority and were usurping authority (not church authority as the word used is authentein and not exousia)? What had to be done with these women promoting false doctrine? They had to learn quietly and with submissiveness (2:11) and were not to teach but to remain quiet (2:12).
This is not a closing down of all women down through the ages from preaching and teaching men (the traditional view) but is a practical issue to deal with the false doctrine being perpetrated in the house church(es) in Ephesus.
Another slant: Opposing what Paul said
This was an interesting approach to oppose women in ministry:
I think those who are opposing what Paul said [1 Tim 2:11-15] should read that article I posted earlier. It seems those who are opposing are weighing in the internal evidence which there is none. If Paul meant something other then (sic) what he wrote in scripture there would be evidence to the contrary but there isn’t. Scripture clearly prohibits women teaching spiritually above men. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and I know people have a hard time with scriptures like that but the Bible can be a source of comfort and a source of seriousness and we have to accept that.
How should I respond?
I don’t understand why this person is putting it that I am ‘opposing what Paul said’ when in fact I am AGREEING with what Paul said. I’m disagreeing with his interpretation because I do not see it as being consistent with the exegesis, context and culture Paul was addressing in Ephesus (for the 1 Tim 2:11-15 passage).
He stated that there is no internal evidence (Is he referring to 1 Tim 2?). There is a stack of internal evidence that I have provided in both of these threads on the two related topics.
If Paul meant something other then (sic) what he wrote in scripture there would be evidence to the contrary but there isn’t. Scripture clearly prohibits women teaching spiritually above men.
I do wish he would differentiate between what Paul stated in Scripture and his interpretations – his hermeneutics (interpretation) and mine. The way he has written this indicates that his is the only correct interpretation and mine is contrary evidence, so it cannot be accepted. That is not the case. We weigh the evidence and come to different conclusions.
I support the inerrant Scripture but have rejected the traditional interpretation against women in ministry – for exegetical, contextual and cultural reasons.
He stated that ‘Scripture clearly prohibits women teaching spiritually above men’. No it doesn’t. In the Ephesian church of 1 Timothy 2:12, it states that women must not authentein (the only time the word is in the NT), i.e. not have domineering authority over a man but must have a quiet demeanour. The context seems to indicate that women could have been involved in disruptive behaviour, including the promotion of heresies (perhaps Gnostic-related or Diana-related) and these women were told to ‘learn quietly with all submissiveness’. The examples of Adam and Eve in 2:13-14 and the woman being deceived suggest that women in Ephesus were being deceived and they had to be told not to teach but to remain quiet. She must ‘learn quietly with full submissiveness (2:11).
The fellow online stated: ‘I know people have a hard time with scriptures like that’. No, I have a hard time with his conservative, traditionalist interpretation of Scriptures like that because I do not find it to be consistent with the exegesis, context and culture of Ephesus.
I urged him not to place his view as the only correct one in opposition to those who disagree with his position as ‘I think those who are opposing what Paul said’. I am one who is opposing what he said. I’m not opposing what Paul said. I’m agreeing with Paul’s teaching, but that is contrary to this person’s teaching.
Let’s get this clear. I have a very high view of Scripture and in 1 Tim 2:11-15 I’m agreeing with Paul’s teaching.
(image courtesy Wikipedia)
There are some extremist views that arise when discussing this topic. Here is one that I encountered. He stated that this ‘is part of the reason why I will not give to the salvation army. Almost all the heretical groups in modern history were started by women. Both Booths hated the God of the Bible, Calvinism and vehemently wrote and spoke against Him’.
My response was that this is an inflammatory statement. This biographical piece, ‘Founders William & Catherine Booth’, refutes his view. Since the Booths were not Calvinists, does that make their views heretical?
I’m not a Calvinist. Does that make my views heretical also? Do I not worship the God of the Bible because my theological conclusion is not that of his Calvinism? Is he telling all those who are not Calvinists, including all the non-Calvinists on Christian Forums.com that they are not worshipping the God of the Bible and are thus heretics?
He wrote: ‘You folks can twist and skew and spew all the nonsense that you want to justify an unbiblical position’ of supporting women in teaching ministry. I consider that this also is flaming others and me. The citation is no longer available online at that Christian Forum. It seems as though the moderators could have removed it as it violates their ‘flaming’ code.
Examples of women in ministry
A standard line by traditionalists is that we must use 1900 years of teaching on the subject (against women in ministry) to define orthodoxy. One fellow wrote: ‘Interesting, the view point that was not heretical for 1900 years is now supposedly “heresy”’. The same person spoke of ‘your inconsistent hermeneutic and lack of appreciation of 2000 years of Church Tradition’. He continued:
If we go by what the Scripture says, how the earliest Christians that actually read and wrote in Koine Greek interpreted, and how Christian tradition for nearly 2,000 years interpreted until people 50 years ago thought they knew better than all those people read the same Bible, then know women should not be ordained pastors.
(image courtesy The Nizkor Project)
This argument, based on 1900-2000 years of practice commits a logical fallacy: Appeal to common practice. In this Nizkor Project link it is stated this way:
The Appeal to Common Practice is a fallacy with the following structure:
1. X is a common action.
2. Therefore X is correct/moral/justified/reasonable, etc.
The basic idea behind the fallacy is that the fact that most people do X is used as “evidence” to support the action or practice. It is a fallacy because the mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.
Today we can see examples of women in ministry. Dr Marianne Meye Thompson is George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m encouraged to know that there are others who have investigated the role of women in ministry and have come to a different conclusion to the traditionalists. But the more important issue is, ‘What does the Bible teach?’
From its inception, the Church of the Nazarene has recognised from Scripture and history that God calls women to preach and pastor. Brad Mercer has expounded on this in his article, ‘Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene’ (Mercer 2013). In this article Brad states the Church of the Nazarene’s stance clearly:
From its very beginning the Church of the Nazarene has recognized from both Scripture and history that God calls women to preach, to pastor, and to other positions of leadership. Many Christians today contend that the Bible teaches the opposite, that women are forbidden by Scripture to preach, or to pastor, or be in any positions of authority over men in the Church….
In light of the opposition to women in ministry from some branches of evangelical Christianity, the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene adopted an official statement in 1993. This simply put into writing as official policy what had been practiced in the Church from its inception.
904.6. Women in Ministry
We support the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church. We affirm the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene. (1993) [From the Manual, the official statements of doctrine and polity of the Church of the Nazarene] (Mercer 2013).
Nazarene researcher, Richard Houseal (2003), has presented an analysis of ‘Nazarene Clergy Women: A Statistical Analysis from 1908 to 2003’. How is it that you have ‘certified membership’ in the Church of the Nazarene when you have this resistance to what the Church of the Nazarene affirms, the promotion of women in ministry?
In the Baptist denominations in the States of Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, women are ordained to ministry – pastoral ministry. See:
- ‘A history of women’s ordination in the Baptist Union of Victoria‘;
- ‘Stories from the first women ordinands‘ – NSW.
However, as for my home state of Queensland, it has reached a different conclusion. As of 2009: ‘Queensland Baptists has 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).
Carolyn Osiek’s research has uncovered support for silence and non-silence of women in ministry in the early church fathers. See: ‘The Ministry and Ordination of Women According to the Early Church Fathers‘.
Elizabeth Hooton (1628-1671) was the first Quaker woman preacher and she lived in the 17th century. That’s a long time before the last 50 years.
William and Catherine Booth (evangelists and pastors) founded the Salvation Army in the UK. Catherine was a co-founder, a prominent woman in ministry who was gifted by God. Today there are Salvation Army female officers around the world who are functioning – yes, functioning – as women pastors.
Photo of Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army (image courtesy Wikipedia)
See ‘The Women in Leadership‘ emphasis in the Salvation Army in Australia.
The fact is that Catherine Booth is a female example, NOT of somebody who called herself a pastor. She was one with an evangelistic-pastoral gift as the co-founder of the Salvation Army. No matter how some want to brush aside God’s gift of women to public ministry, Catherine Booth is an example of how defining away the supposed ministry doesn’t work. If there was anyone who was a demonstration of a female Christian woman in active ministry among men and women, it was Catherine Booth. History demonstrates it. It is too late to try to convince me that ‘a woman can call herself a pastor but that doesn’t make her one either. It is a deception and biblically impossible’.
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 return to the mission fields, it is straight back into mixed ministry. This is 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 traditional, but distorted, understanding of certain Scriptures.
Here is another example that is trotted out in this controversy: 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 11:4 speaks of ‘every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours 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 11:4 or we have the ‘silence’ of women in 1 Corinthians 14 to be addressing an issue specific to the Corinthian church.
However, I emphasise that even though 1 Corinthians is addressing issues in the Corinthian Church, it has broad application – yes, application – if those kinds of issues are happening in any churches from the first to the twenty-first century. However, the issues of 1 Cor 14:33-34 are not designed to close down all women in ministry for all time in any church anywhere in the world.
John MacArthur Jr’s view
John F MacArthur Jr (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
You may be interested in John MacArthur’s traditional view against women in ministry from 1 Timothy 2. See: God’s High Calling for Women, Part 4.
MacArthur, in expounding on 1 Tim 2:11-12, stated in this article:
Silence, you’ll remember, refers to not teaching. It refers to not teaching. Subjection refers to not ruling. That is, women in the church are not to be the teachers when the church assembles itself in its constituted worship, women are not to be the teaching persons, and they are not to be the ruling ones. The context makes it very clear that that’s what he has in mind because verse 12 says, “I permit not a woman to teach,” and therein does he define the kind of silence he’s talking about, nor to usurp authority, and therein does he define the kind of subjection he is talking about. In the assembly of the church women are not to teach and preach, and they are not to rule. Now, there’s no doubt that that’s exactly what he is saying. Obviously in Ephesus some were seeking to do both of those things and that’s why he has to deal with this….
It does not mean that women cannot teach the Word of God to children or other women. It does not mean they cannot speak out for God the gospel of Jesus Christ on every occasion that they are given. It does not mean that cannot contribute in a Sunday-school class, or in a Bible study, or in a home fellowship meeting. What it is saying is that in the duly constituted worship and service of the church, there is to be clear line of distinction between the role of men and women that God wants established as His pattern, and that is that men do the leading, and the teaching, and the praying, and the preaching, and women learn in silence with all subjection.
The major problem I have with MacArthur’s exposition on women in ministry is circular reasoning (begging the question fallacy). Before he begins his exposition on 1 Timothy, we know what his view as a conservative expositor is on women in ministry (no women in public ministry among a mixed audience) and that is where he concludes (no women in public ministry among a mixed audience). We can’t have a logical discussion when this kind of logical fallacy is used.
A better understanding by N T Wright
(N T Wright, photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Why don’t you take a read of this article by N T Wright (2004) for an alternate view: ‘Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis’. In this challenging and thought provoking article, Wright wrote of 1 Timothy 2:12,
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.
Is my view egalitarianism in disguise?
A fellow made this accusation against me: ‘You probably don’t really care about how the vast majority of interpreters for all time have viewed the subject. You are more concerned about modern notions of egalitarianism than the view that is in simple terms presented in the Bible’.
My response was: I am not the slightest bit interested in ‘modern notions of egalitarianism’ – a secular approach to egalitarianism. I’m interested in the equality of men and women before God.
I support a high view of Scripture and I try to engage in careful exegesis of the text, including culture and context. When I pursue this approach, I come out with a version of women in ministry that is different from the one that is promoted by traditionalists.
I’m very concerned that God’s gifts should be allowed to function and not be closed down by faulty hermeneutics. I find it interesting that you claim that I’m interested in modern notions of egalitarianism. I wonder what the interpreters of the traditional way would have thought about the history of interpretation when Martin Luther promoted justification by faith and nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. I wonder what had been taught in the centuries preceding Luther about justification by faith.
This person’s accusation of egalitarianism did not come through dialogue with me on whether I supported egalitarianism. It came by his imposition by assertion about what he thought my views were. He, in his judgmental view, arrived at a totally wrong understanding of my view.
I’m not going to allow the traditional teaching against women in ministry in the centuries prior to my lifetime to stop me from carefully examining the biblical text to find what it states in the inerrant text (in the autographa). I’m excited about what I’m finding from the biblical text that contradicts the traditional view. It gives me insights into how Martin Luther might have felt after he discovered in Scripture justification by faith after centuries of a different interpretation.
Fee, G D 1988. W W Gasque (NT ed).1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.
Mercer, B 2013. Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene, The Voice (online), March 25. Christian Resource Institute. Available at: Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene (Accessed 23 December 2014).
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: Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis by N.T. Wright (Accessed 16 December 2014).
 I participated in these 2 threads as OzSpen in Christian Forums.com.
 Ibid., OzSpen#113.
 Some of this material is in ibid., OzSpen#119.
 Here James is referring to the article, ‘Women pastors / preachers? Can a woman be a pastor or preacher?’ for which he provided the link in ibid., James is Back#154.
 Ibid., James is Back#167.
 This is my response at ibid., OzSpen#173.
 This post was by twin54 but at the time of preparing this article, I was unable to locate his original citation. It may have been deleted by the moderators because of its inflammatory nature. Here I’m quoting what he stated as OzSpen#284, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Women’s pastors’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7856138-29/ (Accessed 8 January 2014).
 Ibid., abacabb3#86.
 Ibid., abacabb3#100.
 Ibid., abacabb3#155.
 Ibid., abacabb3#163.
 Ibid., OzSpen#164.
Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 May 2018.