Category Archives: 1 & 2 Timothy

Meaning of 2 Timothy 2:15

A stonemason and his tools

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The verse states: ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (NKJV).

1. ‘Rightly dividing’

What is its meaning? The Greek, orthotomounta (from orthotomew), who is “rightly handling” (found only here in NT), is a metaphor that means “holding a straight course” in the word of truth. Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon refers us to the only other places where the word appears (the LXX of Prov. 3:6; 11:5) and is used to mean “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction”

Robertson makes a moving observation:

Theodoret explains it to mean ploughing a straight furrow. Parry argues that the metaphor is the stone mason cutting the stones straight since temnw and orthos are so used. Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor? Certainly plenty of exegesis is crooked enough (crazy-quilt patterns) to call for careful cutting to get it straight (Robertson 1930:619-620). 

2. ‘The word of truth’

So, “rightly dividing the word of truth” means to guide the word of truth along a straight path – like a road that goes straight to its goal without being sidetracked by wordy debates and ungodly talk.

Paul’s context (to 2 Tim. 2:15) suggests that he is warning against the side-tracks of deceiving interpretations in the teaching of Scripture and the proclamation of the Gospel.

“Thus Paul is not urging that Timothy correctly interpret Scripture but that he truly preach and teach the gospel, the word of truth, in contrast to the ‘word battles’ (v. 14) and ‘godless chatter’ (v. 16) of the others” (Fee 1988: 255). 

3. Conclusion

The NIV gives a reasonable translation for the meaning of the verse, ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth’.

‘Correctly handles’ means to refuse to be side-tracked by deceiving interpretations in the teaching of Scripture and proclamation of the Gospel.

4.  Works consulted

Bauer, W; Arndt, W F; & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Fee, G D 1988. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrikson Publishers.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 January 2020.

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Calvin’s appalling interpretation of ‘all men’

(image public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Does God zap people with unconditional election and they are INTO the kingdom, NEVER to be excluded?[1] Is God’s grace extended to all people or are many excluded?

What happened with the Philippian jailer? According to Acts 16:30-31 (ESV), it is stated: ‘Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’. They did not say, ‘Just leave it to God/Jesus; he decides if you are ever going to be saved. He by a sovereign act pulls you into his kingdom – he sovereignly elects you and you have no say in the matter’.

No, these evangelists said, ‘(You) believe in the Lord Jesus’ to be saved. As I understand Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), there is no salvation without the human responsibility of believing. However, we always need to remember that

  •  Jesus said, according to John 6:65 (ESV), ‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’.
  • Matthew 11:27 affirms the same message: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’.
  • Paul’s message to the Ephesians was, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).
  • Titus 1:1 (NLT) confirms that Christian believers are ‘those God has chosen’.


(image courtesy

A. God’s grace to all

I find a better biblical emphasis than unconditional election[2] to be that found in Titus 2:11 (ESV): ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. This does not promote universalism, BUT it proves how God’s saving grace is universal – is available to all – and that grace brings salvation. This is in contrast to Calvin’s limiting grace to only a select number of people, made available through Calvinistic limited atonement.[3]

Here is John Calvin’s interpretation of this verse from Calvin’s commentary on Titus 2:11. He stated of this phrase:

Bringing salvation to all men,[4] That it is common to all is expressly testified by him on account of the slaves of whom he had spoken. Yet he does not mean individual men, but rather describes individual classes, or various ranks of life. And this is not a little emphatic, that the grace of God hath let itself down even to the race of slaves; for, since God does not despise men of the lowest and most degraded condition, it would be highly unreasonable that we should be negligent and slothful to embrace his goodness.

B. Calvin’s shocking eisegesis

What is eisegesis? Berkeley Mickelsen states that ‘eisegesis is the substitution of the authority of the interpreter for the authority of the original writer’ (Mickelsen 1963:158). Lewis & Demarest describe it as the method of people ‘reading their own ideas into the Bible’ (1987:30). The World Council of Churches understood that

there is always the danger of eisegesis, reading into the Bible the ideas which we have received from elsewhere and then receiving them each with the authority with which we have come to surround the book (World Council of Churches Symposium on Biblical Authority for Today, Oxford, 1949).[5]

I find Calvin’s interpretation of Titus 2:11 to be an awful piece of eisegesis. Calvin, a very accomplished commentator, has made ‘all men’ refer NOT to all individual men – meaning all human beings – but to individual classes of people and those in various ranks of life, including the race of slaves.

This is as bad a piece of exegesis that I’ve read in quite a while as he makes ‘all men’ = some slaves and some from other classes and ranks in life. This is what happens when a commentator allows his predisposed presupposition (God’s grace cannot be extended to all, but only to the elect) to intrude into his interpretation. Thus exegesis of this phrase in Titus 2:11 has become eisegesis in the hands of a Reformed Calvinist, the founder of the movement.

Meyer’s commentary states: ‘[pasin anthropois, all men and women] does not depend on [epephane, appeared], but on [sotegios, salvation]…. The emphasis laid on the universality of the salvation, as in 1 Timothy 2:4 and other passages of the Pastoral Epistles, is purely Pauline’ (Titus 2:11 commentaries, Bible Hub).

First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) reads, ‘This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (emphasis added). This is in harmony with Paul’s statement in Titus 2:11 that God’s grace is made available to all people, thus making salvation available to all. These two passages ‘have specific reference to the redemption wrought by Christ, and all posit universality. They are supported by numerous correlative passages which assert God’s will that all men be saved’ (Shank 1970:83). These verses support unlimited atonement. Fairbairn’s assessment is accurate regarding Titus 2:11: The grace of God and its saving design is towards all people; it ‘presents and offers salvation to all, and in that sense brings it…. The salvation-bringing grace of God is without respect of persons; it is unfolded to men indiscriminately, or to sinners of every name’ (Fairbairn 2001:278).

William Hendriksen promotes an opposing view:

Does Titus 2:11 really teach that the saving grace of God has appeared to every member of the human race without exception? Of course not! It matters little whether one interprets “the appearance of the saving grace” as referring to the bestowal of salvation itself, or to the fact that the gospel of saving grace has been preached to every person on earth. In either case it is impossible to make “all men” mean “every individual on the globe without exception”…..

The context makes the meaning very clear. Male or female, old or young, rich or poor: all are guilty before God, and from them all God gathers his people. Aged men, aged women, young women, young(er) men, and even slaves (see verses 1-10) should live consecrated lives for the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to men of all these various groups or classes. “All men” here in verse 11 = “us” in verse 12 (The Pastorals, Hendriksen 1957:93, 371, emphasis in original).

So Hendriksen’s interpretation is essentially that of Calvin’s, as is Matthew Henry’s:

It hath appeared to all men; not to the Jews only, as the glory of God appeared at mount Sinai to that particular people, and out of the view of all others; but gospel grace is open to all, and all are invited to come and partake of the benefit of it, Gentiles as well as Jews…. The doctrine of grace and salvation by the gospel is for all ranks and conditions of men (slaves and servants, as well as masters) (Matthew Henry, Titus 2:11-14).

This cannot be accepted because of the various verses throughout Scripture that promote unlimited atonement (1 John 2:2) and God’s desire for all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).

The obvious question remains:

C. At what point is grace for salvation available to all?

Titus 2:11 makes it clear that God’s grace, his goodness to the ill-deserving, is made available (‘has appeared’ is the language) ‘to all people’. But when is that? Is it at the time of birth, at some time after birth, at the time of the Gospel being presented, or at some other time? Has the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to the drunk on the street, the Muslim in an anti-Christian country, the secular Aussie who doesn’t give a hoot about God, or at some other time?

Titus 2:11 seems to indicate that the grace of God has appeared to all people in some way that we could describe as prevenient grace, preparing the way for salvation when the Gospel is proclaimed to them. See my article, Is prevenient grace still amazing grace? Here I put the case that this means that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. It is not a violation of free will. We know that the will has been freed in relation to salvation because it is implied in these exhortations:

  • to turn to God. (Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; and Acts 3:19);
  • to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30), and
  • to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; John 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 John 3:23).

Prevenient or common grace is no more a violation of a person’s will than their receiving a beating heart before birth and breath after birth.

Exegete, Gordon Fee, explains Titus 2:11:

An explanatory for opens the paragraph and thus closely ties verses 11-14 to 2-10. It proceeds to explain why God’s people should live as exhorted in 2-10 (so that the message from God will not be maligned [v. 5] but instead will be attractive [v. 10]): because the grace of God that brings salvation to all people has appeared.

In the Greek text all of verses 11-14 form a single sentence, of which the grace of God stands as the grammatical subject. But contrary to the NIV (and KJV), Paul does not say that this grace appeared to all men; rather, as almost all other translations have it, and as both Paul’s word order and the usage in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 demand it, what has appeared (see disc. on 1 Tim. 6:14; epiphaneia) is grace from God that offers salvation to all people.

Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace. Most likely he is thinking of the historical revelation effected in the saving event of Christ (v. 14; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9-10), but it could also refer existentially to the time in Crete when Paul and Titus preached the gospel and Cretans understood and accepted the message (cf. 1:3 and 3:3-4). That at least is when the educative dimension of grace, emphasized in verse 12, took place (Fee 1988:194, emphasis in original).

See my article for a further explanation: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people? It is important to note that God’s grace is made available to all but Fee’s insight that ‘Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace’ is important. We do not know the how and when this happens. Fee thinks it could have happened historically when the saving event of Christ was effected (cf Titus 2:14 and 2 Tim 1:9-10). However, I put it to you that this could happen at the time when the Gospel is proclaimed in any contemporary situation. The grace of God is extended to all people in the sound of the proclamation. But that is only a suggestion. We are not told the chronology of when it happens. But we do know that God’s grace bringing salvation has appeared to all people – not just a handful of God’s elect.

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(image public domain)

D. Objections to label of eisegesis

It is expected that Calvinists would object to any attempt to interpret 1 Tim 2:4 (pantas anthropous) and Titus 2:11 (pasin anthropois) as referring to all people. I expect that they would not like my labelling Calvin’s interpretation as eisegesis. I hope the following explanation demonstrates that I do not have a beef over Calvin’s interpretations for no good reason.

Some standard Bible translations of these two verses are:

1 Timothy 2:4,

  • ‘who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV);
  • ‘who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (NIV);
  • ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NASB);
  • ‘who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NRSV);
  • ‘who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth’ (NLT).

Titus 2:11,

  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (NIV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (NASB);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (NRSV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people’ (NLT);

All of these translations take the two verses in which the Greek states ‘all men’ as referring to all people, all of mankind, or all of humanity. However, the NKJV still retains ‘all men’ in Titus 2:11, without explaining the meaning, ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (NKJV). It takes the same approach with 1 Tim 2:4, ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NKJV).

Does ‘all people’ refer to all human beings or does it refer to something else?

Image result for photo William Hendriksen public domain

(William Hendriksen, photo public domain)

William Hendriksen is a Calvinist.[6] In his commentary on Titus 2:11, he stated that ‘all men’ referred back to 1 Tim 2:4 and the explanation of ‘all men’ (Hendriksen 1957:370-371), where Hendriksen wrote at length. Some of my objections to his comments on 1 Tim 2:1 (Hendriksen 1957:93-94) are noted in [square brackets]:

Several expositors feel certain that this means every member of the whole human race; every man, woman, and child, without any exception whatever. And it must be readily admitted that taken by itself the expression all men is capable of this interpretation. Nevertheless, every calm and unbiased interpreter also admits that in certain contexts this simply cannot be the meaning.[7]

Does Titus 2:11 really teach that the saving grace of God has appeared to every member of the human race without any exception? Of course not! It matters little whether one interprets “the appearance of the saving grace” as referring to the bestowal of salvation itself, or to the fact that the gospel of saving grace has been preached to every person on earth. In either case it is impossible to make “all men” mean “every individual on the globe without exception. [N.B. What causes Hendriksen to be so sure that he certainly knows that God’s grace (even prevenient grace that prepares the human race for salvation) is NOT available to all people? There’s an air of Calvinistic firmness (Hendriksen’s theological persuasion) coming through with this kind of comment].

Again, does Rom. 5:18 really teach that “every member of the human race” is “justified”? [N.B. What Hendriksen fails to mention in this context is that Rom 5:18 includes two examples of ‘all men’. The first is, ‘Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men….’ So does ‘all men’ who are condemned refer to all people? Of course, as the following parallel verses confirm: Romans 3:23; 5:12. Hendriksen refers to one view of ‘all men’ but avoids the other use of ‘all men’ in the very same verse. Seems like selective exegesis to me.]

Does I Cor. 15:22 really intend to tell us that “every member of the human race” is “made alive in Christ“? [N.B. I find this quite a unreasonable statement because 1 Cor 15:23 gives the context, ‘Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ’ (ESV). So in 1 Cor 15:22-23, Paul is addressing ALL ‘who belong to Christ’ (v. 23); He is not speaking of all people, non-believers and Christians alike. So Hendriksen’s use of 1 Cor. 15:22 does not prove his point. It demonstrates he has not taken into account the meaning as context determines.]

But if that be true, then it follows that Christ did not only die for every member of the human race, but that he also actually saved every one without any exception whatever. Most conservatives would hesitate to go that far.[8]

Moreover, if, wherever it occurs, the expression “all men” or its equivalent has this absolutely universalistic connotation, then would not the following be true:

(a) Every member of the human race regarded John the Baptist as a prophet (Mark 11:32). [N.B. Part of Mk 11:32 in the Greek is literally, ‘they feared the crowd [the people], for all held….’ Even if one translated ‘the crowd for all men’, the ‘all men’ in context has to refer to ‘the crowd’ (the people of the context), not all people in the world. I find it disingenuous of Hendriksen to want to make ‘all men’ refer to the human race when he, a scholar with excellent knowledge of Greek knew that ‘all’ referred to ‘the crowd’ in context. I find this to be an example of the commentator playing his misleading Calvinistic games. It is a begging the question logical fallacy. That is, if he starts with the Calvinistic premise that ‘all men’ does not mean all men and then ends with ‘all men’ cannot mean the ‘human race’, he has engaged in circular reasoning, a question begging fallacy. So his use of Mark 11:32 is invalid to support his case.]

(b) Every member of the human race wondered whether John was, perhaps, the Christ (Luke 3:15). [N.B. This verse in the ESV states, ‘As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ’. Which people? Verses 7 & 10 call them ‘the crowds’ while v. 12 states that ‘tax collectors also came’ and there were soldiers who asked John the Baptist (v. 14). These are the ‘people’ who came to John the Baptist according to Luke 3:15 (Interlinear). It is obvious that ‘the people’ were not all the people in the world. They were the people in his era who had heard and seen him and were ‘questioning in their hearts concerning John’. Again, I find this to be an unfair way for Hendriksen to push his Calvinistic agenda.]

(c) Every member of the human race marveled about the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:20). [N.B. Hendriksen is again stretching the text to fit his agenda. The verse states: ‘everyone was amazed’ (Interlinear) but the context makes it clear who all of these were. They were in the Decapolis’ (Interlinear). We use the same kind of language today, say, when we are attending a fruit and vegetable market. We say things like, ‘Look at all the people buying lady finger bananas on special’. No person in his or her right mind would think that ‘all the people’ meant all the people in the entire world. So when ‘everyone was amazed according to Mark 5:20, it was referring to the amazed people in Decapolis who had seen evidence of the demon-possessed person set free by Jesus’ exorcism. Again, Hendriksen is stretching the imagination to arrive at a conclusion that is unrealistic in the context.]

(d) Every member of the human race was searching for Jesus (Mark 1:37). [N.B. Mark 1:37 (Interlinear) has the statement, ‘Everyone is looking for you’. There is not enough information in the immediate context to determine who the ‘everyone’ refers to, but the context in the Gospel of Mark 1:32-34 (Interlinear) indicates that the people were bringing the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus for healing and deliverance. The language is, ‘The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases’ (NIV). Therefore, there is a strong possibility that ‘everyone’ who was looking for Jesus could have referred to the sick or demon possessed because of Jesus’ reputation for healing and exorcism. To make this refer to the entire human race in this context is quite a nonsensical intent. Context in Scripture snuffs out that idea. So it is possible for ‘everyone’ to refer to everyone in a group that is seeking Jesus. But to make Mark 1:37 apply to ‘all men’ regarding the offer of salvation, is stretching my theological logical thinking.]

(e) It was reported to the Baptist that all members of the human race were flocking to Jesus (John 3:26). [N.B. The Interlinear gives the translation, ‘Everyone is coming to him’. What does the context tell us about the ‘everyone’? People were coming to John the Baptist to be baptised (John 3:22-24) and then there was a discussion between some of John the Baptist’s disciples and a Jew about John the Baptist’s baptism and the ‘all’ who were now coming to Jesus to be baptised. It is obvious in context that the ‘all’ are those wanting to be baptised. It is a very local understanding of ‘all’. Context demonstrates that].

And so one could easily continue. Even today, how often do we not use the expression “all men” or “everybody” without referring to every member of the human race? When we say, “If everybody is ready, the meeting can begin,” we do not refer to everybody on earth!

Thus also in the present passage (I Tim. 2:1), it is the context that must decide. In this case the context is clear. Paul definitely mentions groups or classes of men: kings (verse 2). those in high position (verse 2), the Gentiles (verse 7). He is thinking of rulers and (by implication) subjects, of Gentiles and (again by implication) Jews. and he is urging Timothy to see to it that in public worship not a single group be omitted. In other words, the expression “all men” as here used means “all men without distinction of race, nationality, or social position,” not “all men individually, one by one.”

Besides, how would it even be possible, except in a very vague and global manner (the very opposite of Paul’s constant emphasis!), to remember in prayer every person on earth? (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1966:93-94).

What is Hendriksen trying to demonstrate? The verses he plucked from the New Testament are meant to try to prove his Calvinistic presupposition that when Scripture states God desires ‘all people to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), it does not mean all human beings but only some from all races, classes, tribes, etc., i.e. God does not really desire all people throughout the entire world through all ages to be saved. He also is trying to show that Titus 2:11 does not refer to God’s grace appearing and bringing/making salvation available to all people. I find his argumentation to contain some flaws that I’ve attempted to expose here. This is unfortunate because I have the Hendriksen-Kistemaker New Testament Commentary Series in my personal library and I find many helpful explanations in them.

However, it does demonstrate the need to be discerning when reading any material – commentary or other Christian literature (including all of my writings on this homepage) – according to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV).

E. Did Jesus die for all people?[9]

First John 2:2 would seem to be an excellent verse to establish Christ’s unlimited atonement – dying for the whole world of sinners: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice[10] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world, (NIV).

How does R C Sproul, a Calvinist, interpret this verse? He admits that ‘this text, more than any other, is cited as scriptural proof against definite atonement’. His view is that if this verse is taken in this sense, ‘it becomes a proof text for universalism’. His way of viewing the text is

to see the contrast in it between our sins and those of the whole world. Who are the people included in the word our?…. In this text, John may merely be saying that Christ is not only a propitiation for our sins (Jewish believers) but for the elect found also throughout the whole world…. The purpose of God in Christ’s death was determined at the foundation of the world. The design was not guesswork but according to a specific plan and purpose, which God is sovereignly bringing to pass. All for whom Christ died are redeemed by His sacrificial act….

The Atonement in a broad sense is offered to all; in a narrow sense, it is only offered to the elect. John’s teaching that Christ died for the sins of the whole world means that the elect are not limited to Israel but are found throughout the world” (Sproul 1992:176-177, emphasis in original).

Talk about confusion. There is not a word in context of 1 John to speak of the elect as limited to Israel. What does the Bible teach?

By contrast, Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski (1966:399-400), while preferring the term expiation to propitiation, states that the Righteous One (Jesus, from 1 John 2:1) ‘suffered for unrighteous ones’ and this is ‘effective … regarding the sins of the whole world’. He goes further:

John advances the thought from sins to the whole world of sinners. Christ made expiation for our sins and thereby for all sinners. We understand [kosmos] in the light of John 3:16 and think that it includes all men [meaning people], us among them, and not only all unsaved men [i.e. people]…. [As in 2 Pet 2:1]: the Lord bought even those who go to hell. “The whole world” includes all men who ever lived or will live (Lenski 1966:400).

Lenski appropriately states that ‘Christ’s saving righteousness and expiation are the basis for his action as our Advocate’ and that we Christians have him as one who is called to our side, our Advocate. ‘John does not say that the whole world has him in this capacity’ (Lenski 1966:400-401).

1. Calvin on the atonement

Did John Calvin (AD 1509-1564) support limited atonement? In the early days of his writing when he was aged 26, he completed the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the Institutes, he wrote:

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice (Institutes 3.23.5).

Here Calvin affirmed that God willed the destruction of unbelievers. Calvin continues:

Their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed (Institutes 3.23.8).

While this description is tied up with Calvin’s view of double predestination, it is linked with the doctrine of limited atonement in that it would be impossible for God to predestine unbelievers to eternal damnation and yet provide unlimited atonement that was available to them, with the possibility of salvation. That is the logical connection, as I understand it.

Roger Nicole, another Calvinist, has written an article on “John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement”. This indicates that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement, but that it was a doctrine originated by Calvinists following Calvin.

Calvin’s first edition of The Institutes was in Latin in 1536 and this was published in a French edition in 1560.

John Calvin did progress in his thinking when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible later in life. His first commentary was on the Book of Romans in 1540 and his commentaries after 1557 were taken from stenographer’s notes taken from lectures to his students. He wrote in his commentary on John 3:16:

Faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….

And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (emphasis added).

Thus John Calvin himself is very clear. He believed in unlimited atonement.


(image courtesy ChristArt)

The following verses also affirm unlimited atonement:

clip_image003_thumb John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (NIV).

clip_image0031_thumb John 4:42: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (NIV).

clip_image0032_thumb Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV).

clip_image0033_thumb Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (NIV).

clip_image0034_thumb 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (NIV).

clip_image0035_thumb 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (NIV).

clip_image0036_thumb 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time” (NIV).

clip_image0037_thumb 1 Timothy 4:10: “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (NIV)

clip_image0038_thumb Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (NIV).

clip_image0039_thumb Hebrews 2:9: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (NIV).

clip_image00310_thumb 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (NIV).

clip_image00311_thumb 1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

clip_image00312_thumb John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Arminian-leaning theologian, Henry C. Thiessen’s, summary of the sense in which Christ is the Saviour of the world is:

His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his wilful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the Cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who die in infancy, and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself (Thiessen 1949:330).

Limited or definite atonement is clearly refuted by Scripture. See this external link, ‘A letter to a limited atonement brother’ (Timothy Ministry 2011).


Calvin’s shocking commentary on Titus 2:11 that makes ‘all people’ equal ‘all classes of people’ is an example of how a theologian’s Calvinistic presuppositions are imposed on a text to arrive at an interpretation consistent with his premises. This is an example of eisegesis – imposing Calvin’s predetermined view on the text. It also is a question begging logical fallacy.

An exegesis of the text discovers that God’s grace appears to all people with the view to salvation. We don’t know when that happens as it is not stated in the text. But we do know that all people who have ever lived have experienced this grace to make salvation available to them when the Gospel is preached.

We further uncovered the fact that Calvin engaged in eisegesis of the text of Titus 2:11 to impose his view on the text, rather than allowing the text to speak for itself in exegesis.

William Hendriksen also imposed his view which was challenged to demonstrate that ‘all people’ means exactly that – all of the human race and not all tribes or groups of people.

It was demonstrated from Scripture that Jesus died for all human beings and not only for the elect. This unlimited atonement is the view that Calvin also supported. A range of biblical verses was presented to demonstrate that unlimited atonement is clearly taught in Scripture.

In summary: The grace of God has appeared to all people everywhere and making salvation available to them. Jesus died for all people, not just the elect. We don’t know the time at which God’s grace and its availability for salvation comes to all people. The Scripture does not reveal the precise time of that grace being extended to all. This we know from Titus 2:11: That grace of God appears to all people without exception – unto salvation.

Second Corinthians 5:19 affirms that ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation’ (ESV) and ‘the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people’ (Titus 2:11 NLT)

 Works consulted

Fairbairn, P 2001.[11] Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers.

Fee, G D 1988. I and 2 Timothy, Titus. W Ward Gasque, New Testament (ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hendriksen, W 1978. The Covenant of Grace. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (© 1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Lewis, G R & Demarest, B A 1987. Integrative theology, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Olson, R E 2006, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Shank, R 1970. Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election. Springfield, Missouri: Westcott Publishers.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] I included some of the following explanation as OzSpen#959 in Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The doctrine of OSAS’, available at: (Accessed 17 September 2015).

[2] For contrasting views, see: Arminianism: Roger Olson, ‘Election is for everyone‘; Calvinism: J I Packer, ‘Election: God chooses his own’.

[3] See R C Sproul’s Calvinistic explanation of limited atonement in ‘TULIP and Reformed Theology: Limited Atonement’ (Accessed 18 September 2015).

[4] Calvin’s footnote at this point was:

‘“We now see why Paul speaks of all men, and thus we may judge of the folly of some who pretend to expound the Holy Scriptures, and do not understand their style, when they say, ‘And God wishes that every person should be saved; the grace of God hath appeared for the salvation of every person; it follows, then, that there is free-will, that there is no election, that none have been predestinated to salvation.’ If those men spoke it ought to be with a little more caution. Paul did not mean in this passage, or in 1Ti 2:6 anything else than that the great are called by God, though they are unworthy of it; that men of low condition, though they are despised, are nevertheless adopted by God, who stretches out his hand to receive them. At that time, because kings and magistrates were mortal enemies of the gospel, it might be thought that God had rejected them, and that they cannot obtain salvation. But Paul says that the door must not be shut against them, and that, eventually, God may choose some of this company, though their case appear to be desperate. Thus, in this passage, after speaking of the poor slaves who were not reckoned to belong to the rank of men, he says that God did not fail, on that account, to show himself compassionate towards them, and that he wishes that the gospel should be preached to those to whom men do not deign to utter a word. Here is a poor man, who shall be rejected by us, we shall hardly say, God bless him! and God addresses him in an especial manner, and declares that he is his Father, and does not merely say a passing word, but stops him to say, ‘Thou art of my flock, let my word be thy pasture, let it be the spiritual food of thy soul.’ Thus we see that this word is highly significant, when it is said that the grace of God hath appeared fully to all men.” — Fr. Ser.

[5] Cited in Bob Utley’s 2010 article, ‘The contextual method of biblical interpretation’, available at: (Accessed 17 September 2015).

[6] Hendriksen’s Calvinistic emphases are explained in, The Covenant of Grace (Hendriksen 1978).

[7] This, in my view, is a reasonable point, but does that follow through with 1 Tim 2:4 and Titus 2:11?

[8] That is not what these passages teach. It is Hendriksen’s Calvinism that is intruding into his interpretation.

[9] This section is taken from my article, Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

[10] A better translation for ‘atoning sacrifice’ would be ‘propitiation’, but many everyday readers do not understand the meaning of propitiation as appeasing the wrath of God. The ESV and NASB translate the word as ‘propitiation’ while the NRSV, ISV and NET follow the NIV with ‘atoning sacrifice’ and the RSV uses ‘expiation’.

[11] This was previously published in 1956 by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 October 2015.

The heresy of women preachers?

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[1] 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’,[2] 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’.[3] 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?[4]

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?[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

How should I respond?[8]

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.

He stated:

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.


The Salvation Army logoThe Salvation Army logoThe Salvation Army.svg

(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’.[9]

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 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”’.[10] The same person spoke of ‘your inconsistent hermeneutic and lack of appreciation of 2000 years of Church Tradition’.[11] 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.[12]

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

(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?’

Church of the Nazarene in Australia

Church of the Nazarene in Australia

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:

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.

clip_image001Photo 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..JPGJohn 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

NTWright071220.jpg (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’.[13]

My response was:[14] 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.


I’m of the view, from a careful exegetical and contextual examination of 1 Tim 2:11-15, that it has been used as a defining section of the NT to close down all women in public ministry among men. Instead, it was addressed to a specific circumstance in the Ephesian Church. It was never meant to apply to all women in ministry since the time of Christ’s passion-resurrection, 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.

In addition, N T Wright has summarised the other influence at Ephesus so well. There was a dominant religion in Ephesus with the biggest Temple associated with a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (called Diana by the Romans) dominated the area. The worshippers of a female deity were assisted by priests who were all women. The women domineered the men. It would be strange for Paul to write to Timothy about an issue in the Ephesian Church and not raise the matter of Diana in the Ephesian culture and the problem with the female deity and female priests. Wright has nailed it: ‘I believe we have seriously misread the relevant passages in the New Testament, no doubt not least through a long process of assumption, tradition, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity’ (Wright 2004).

I’m not going to allow the traditional teaching against women in ministry in the centuries prior to my lifetime 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.

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

3d-red-star-small Anti-women in ministry juices flowing

3d-red-star-small Women in ministry in church history

3d-red-star-small Women in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages

3d-red-star-small Women in ministry in I Corinthians: A brief inquiry

3d-red-star-small Women wrongly closed down in ministry

3d-red-star-small Amazing contemporary opposition to women in public ministry

3d-red-star-small The heresy of women preachers?

3d-red-star-small Women bishops – how to get the Christians up in arms!

3d-red-star-small Are women supposed to be permanently silent in the church gathering?

3d-red-star-small Must women never teach men in the church?

Works consulted

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).


[1] Christian and Christian are two examples.

[2] I participated in these 2 threads as OzSpen in Christian

[3] abacabb3#109, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Can women hold office in the church even pastors?’ Available at: (Accessed 7 January 2015).

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#113.

[5] Some of this material is in ibid., OzSpen#119.

[6] 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.

[7] Ibid., James is Back#167.

[8] This is my response at ibid., OzSpen#173.

[9] 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: (Accessed 8 January 2014).

[10] Ibid., abacabb3#86.

[11] Ibid., abacabb3#100.

[12] Ibid., abacabb3#155.

[13] Ibid., abacabb3#163.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#164.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 May 2018.

Something’s gone wrong with the contemporary evangelical church

(Os Guinness, photo courtesy

A review of Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness

By Spencer D Gear

A Christian friend who is a musician said to my wife recently, “We sing no song in our church that is more than 2 years old.” The pastor of my church, at the traditional service, spoke of “silly old hymns.” This trend for relevance and debunking of our history and theology in song, is creating a new kind of evangelicalism that is far removed from biblical Christianity.

Once in a while a new book comes along with a prophetic edge in nailing what is wrong with the evangelical church. Os Guinness’s book (2003), is one of them. Guinness, a Brit now living in the USA, shows how the contemporary evangelical church, in its attempt to be relevant, has not only become irrelevant, but also has departed from historic Christianity.

In this short book (123 pp.), Guinness, a former associate of the late Francis Schaeffer and now Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum, Washington, D.C., attempts to answer a “disconcerting question”: “How on earth have we Christians become so irrelevant when we have tried hard to be relevant?” (p. 11)

What is happening to the church?

Evangelicals used to be known as “the serious people,” but “it is sad to note that today many evangelicals are the most superficial of religious believers—lightweight in thinking, gossamer-thin in theology, and avid proponents of spirituality-lite in terms of preaching and responses to life” (p. 77).

What has gone wrong? Guinness remembers his tutor at Oxford University, a prominent European scholar who made this statement in a social science seminar in the 1970s: “‘By the end of the 1970s,’ he asked, ‘who will be the worldliest Christians in America?’ There was an audible gasp when he eventually answered his own query: ‘I guarantee it will be the evangelicals and fundamentalists'” (p. 52). What has been the result? “The years since the prediction at that Oxford seminar have shown beyond question that evangelicals and fundamentalists have embraced the modern world with a passion unrivaled in history” (p. 53).

Without giving away all of the prophetic content of this book, Guinness names these things, amongst others, that are contributing to the demise of what was formerly the Bible-believing and Bible-practising churches.

1. Irrelevance. Church leaders are “solemnly presenting the faith in public in so many weak, trite, foolish, disastrous, and even disloyal ways as today” (p. 11). These disloyal ways include:

a. Faithfulness has been redefined “in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ” (p. 15).

b. “We have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance. Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant” (p. 15).

2. The tyrant of time. Filipinos say that “Westerners are people with gods on their wrists” and the Kenyans believe that “Westerners have watches but no time. Africans have time but no watches” (p. 28). This commitment to the clock leads to precision, co-ordination and pressure: “This manic speed is affecting our faith as much as our blood pressure” (p. 36).

3. The worldliness of the church. The church should be “against the world, for the world” (C. S. Lewis). This means that “all truth is God’s truth” (the best, good, true and beautiful can be supported wherever they are found) but “whatever law or practice [that] contradicts God’s law or principles must be confronted” (p. 50).

4. The faith-world of evangelicals is crumbling. In place of the biblical faith of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Catherine Booth, Charles Spurgeon, Carl Henry, John Stott and others, is “a new evangelicalism” where “therapeutic self-concern overshadows knowing God, spirituality displaces theology, end-times escapism crowds out day-to-day discipleship, marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls out-weigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfulness, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and the characteristic evangelical passion for missionary enterprise is overpowered by the all-consuming drive to sustain the multiple business empires of the booming evangelical subculture” (p. 54).

5. “But evangelicals are blind to the sea change because they know only the present and have little sense of history, even their own” (p. 54). Instead, evangelicals have rushed headlong into unfaithful adapting to the world through accepting the world’s assumptions, abandoning what does not fit these modern assumptions, adapting traditional beliefs and practices to fit the worldly way, and assimilating the world’s ways. “The result is worldliness, or Christian capitulation to some aspect of the culture of its day” (p. 62). The World Council of Churches in 1966 “adopted the bizarre dictum, ‘The world must set the agenda for the Church'” (p. 63). The evidence points to an evangelical church that also has bought into this world’s agenda: “For all the lofty recent statements on biblical authority, a great part of the evangelical community has made a historic shift. It has transferred authority from Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) to Sola Cultura (by culture alone)” (p. 65). In so doing, these evangelicals are recycling “the classic error of liberalism” and are courting “the worldliness, irrelevance, and spiritual adultery that it represents” (p. 66).

Guinness is convinced that these misguided approaches of history and theology among evangelicals and liberals “are a key part of the story of the loss of the West by the Christian church” (p. 66). What have these churches lost? Courage! Continuity! Credibility! Identity!

6. The siren call to captivity to worldly thinking involves conformity to the lure of others, the power of approval, and the seduction of timeliness. These evangelicals “put other gods before God” and choose “other gods beside God.” This is leading to “the loss of the Christian gospel in much of the Christian church in the West today” (p. 66).

That’s the bad news! Is there a way out?

There are solutions.

Guinness believes relevance is correct for the church as it “is at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus and is the secret of the church’s power down through history.” We have seen this in the witness “of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, writers, scientists, poets, painters, and reformers—Augustine, Dante, Pascal, Rembrandt, Newton, Wilberforce, and Dostoyevsky. Each of them was as faithful to Christ as he was fresh in his times” (p. 13).

The answers are found in

(1) the courage of “prophetic untimeliness” (a term he borrows from Nietzsche and shapes it with “the precedent of the Hebrew prophets”, p. 19); these people are not at home in the present age but belong elsewhere; and

(2) to develop the art of “resistance thinking,” a term from C. S. Lewis, which “is a way of thinking that balances the pursuit of relevance on the one hand with a tenacious awareness of those elements of the Christian message that don’t fit in with any contemporary age on the other” (p. 20).

The author warns that history teaches that “there is a clear link between each messenger’s perspective and each messenger’s pain.” For Christians to speak up about “the church’s deepening cultural captivity” will mean that their “prophetic untimeliness carries a clear cost” They will:

(1) Be “misfits in an ill-fitting world” (p. 86). They are maladjusted enough to know that something is seriously wrong with the church. They will march to the beat of “a different drummer” and will be like a C. S. Lewis who referred to himself as an “Old Western man”, a “dinosaur”, and a “Neanderthaler” (p. 87).

(2) Have “a sense of impatience.” Why? “When society becomes godless and the church corrupt, the forward purposes of God appear to be bogged down and obstructed, and the person who lives by faith feels the frustration” (p. 89). Their natural cry will be, “How long, O Lord?”

(3) Have “a sense of failure.” With the march of a godless society and the evidence of church corruption, “the prospects of good people succeeding are significantly dimmed and the temptation to feel a failure is ever present” (pp. 91-92).

Guinness suggests ways of “escaping cultural captivity” by “untimely people” with their “resistance thinking.” Among other things this will involve “the challenge of the difficult” with “a radical obedience.”

I especially liked Guinness’s emphasis on the church that loses its perspective on history and the eternal, as a loser: “Only the wisdom of the past can free us from the bondage of our fixation with the present and the future. . . . In [C. S.] Lewis’s words, ‘The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of history blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books'” (pp. 104-05). However, in the words of French philosopher, Simone Weil, “To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal” (p. 105).

To redeem the time and to be prophetically untimely, Guinness believes that cultural “progressives will always prove stagnant while resistance thinkers will be fresh and creative” (p. 116).

What are you called to? To be a resistant thinker or a cultural absorber?

Gems from Guinness

“The place of the prophet as the one who speaks the word of the Lord is too important to give up, even with the threat of counterfeits” (p. 21).

“I have been in megachurches where there was no cross in the sanctuary and no Bible in the pulpit, and where the sermons refer more to the findings of Barna and Gallup than to those of the Bible and God” (p. 110).

“When was the last time a sermon ended and you just wanted to sit there and ponder what God had just said to you?” (p. 111).

“The fact is, 99 percent of what we know about the future is the past. Far better too the astuteness of Billy Graham who, when criticized for ‘setting the church back fifty years,’ answered that he was sorry he had not set it back two thousand years” (p. 116).

“Of all the cultures the church has lived in, the modern world is the most powerful, the most pervasive, and the most pressurizing. And it has done more damage to Christian integrity and effectiveness than all the persecutors of the church in history” (p. 51).

“In swapping psychology for theology in their preaching and enthroning management and marketing in their church administration, the evangelicals were making the same errors as liberals had earlier. Whatever the newly sharpened statements about biblical authority, the real authority of the Bible has been eclipsed in practice by the assumptions of the modern world” (p. 60).

“Without the decisive authority of the word of God that defined the true prophet, false prophets were simply captive to the culture they reflected. They were popular, they were entertaining, they were soothing, they were convenient, they were fashionable—and they were utterly false” (p. 63).

“What followers of Jesus need is the freedom from the forces of the modern world that prevent independent thinking and living with integrity” (p. 71).

Many years ago, Dean Inge of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, spoke what has become “the epitaph for many trendy church leaders, ‘He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.’ As with great art, faith that lasts is faith that answers to standards higher than today’s trends” (p. 78).

“Our ‘failures’ may be [God’s] success. Our ‘setbacks’ may prove his turning points. Our ‘disasters’ may turn out to be his triumphs. What matters for us is that his gifts are our calling” (p. 94).

“What, for instance, would John Wesley or Charles Haddon Spurgeon have made of evangelicals who read their horoscope as well as their Bible? How would Jonathan Edwards and D. L. Moody have responded to evangelicals who believe in reincarnation as well as the resurrection?” (p. 98).

“C. S. Lewis counseled, ‘It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between'” (p. 104).

Questions about his view

There are very few areas of this book with which I disagree. I consider the diagnosis and remedy have hit the mark. The book is brief but punchy!

While referring to Old Testament and New Testament examples of people who challenged the status quo, this book is not a profound exposition of the Scriptures but is an example of the need for and practice of cultural apologetics – a defense of the faith that addresses the cultural challenges, biblically. It is an insightful assessment of how the evangelical church’s popularisers have bought into cultural values of the “emerging church,” the “seeker sensitive church,” “the doing church.” the “intentional” and “on-purpose” church (p. 64). This has led to a demise in biblical Christianity in such churches.

As a minor point of discomfort, I question Guinness’s use of a person such as Friedrich Nietzsche, German atheistic professor of philosophy in the 19th century, who called himself “the Anti-Christ,” as an example to follow in some areas. How could Nietzsche’s world and life view provide some illumination on Guinness’s thesis about the worldliness of the church today? Perhaps this is Guinness’s way of showing how “world-denying” and “world-affirming” (“all truth is God’s truth”) views need to be happening in a healthy, biblical church! However the author is clear on the antidote: “It only takes the real Word to speak to wake up the church and the world” (p. 109).

There is a possibility that his support of the C. S. Lewis dictum, “against the world, for the world,” may seem to promote integrationism, like psychology’s amalgamation of secular philosophies with the Word of God.

“How long, O Lord?” will it be until You descend on a decadent church and provide a heaven-sent revival of orthodox, biblical Christianity, empowered by the authentic Holy Spirit’s ministry?

Also recommended

There’s a popular-level book that provides a parallel emphasis to Guinness’s articulate assessment. This provocative piece of “resistance thinking” shows where the evangelical church is going: Gary E. Gilley, This Little Church Went to Market (2005). Tim Challies wrote of Gilley’s book: “He concludes that churches built on seeker sensitive model will be built on the wrong foundation, will teach the wrong message, will focus on the wrong need and will misunderstand preaching and worship. In other words, these churches will bear little resemblance to a New Testament, Christian church.”


Gary E. Gilley 2005, This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out?, Evangelical Press, Faverdale North, Darlington, UK.

Os Guinness 2003, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.