Response to Renew’s Review (Part 4) of Women Serving God

Renew has recently published the fourth part of their review of my book, Women Serving God. This is my response.

Renew’s series responds to the publication of my book, Women Serving God. The following are links to the discussion between myself and Renew in the blogosphere.

  1. Renew’s Review (Part 1): Hermeneutics.
  2. My Response to Part 1.
  3. Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1. (I copied it into #4 below.)
  4. My Rejoinder to Renew’s Reply to my Response to Part 1.
  5. Renew’s Review (Part 2): 1 Corinthians 11.
  6. My Response to Part 2.
  7. Renew’s Review (Part 3): 1 Corinthians 14.
  8. My Response to Part 3.
  9. Renew’s Review (Part 4): 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

This present post is my response to Renew’s Part 4. Renew’s blog is over 8000 words. My response is almost 7500 words.

Once again, there is not much interaction with McKnight’s book but almost wholly with mine. Given that the coming blogs by Renew will address elders and marriage, perhaps McKnight will become their focus because I do not attempt to make any sustained case one way or the other about either of those topics in my book (though I do touch on them in tangential ways when my interest in the assembly overlaps them).

Ten Points of Agreement

Despite a significant difference, particularly in application, Renew and myself share considerable common ground. I will explore this agreement in light of both the blog (Renew Review #4) and the White Station teaching document (SWS), which Renew has consistently quoted not only in this blog but in their previous blogs.

1.  Though 1 Timothy 2:8-15 “likely applies to the assembly” (SWS; emphasis mine), we agree the instructions are not limited to the assembly. In other words, men should always pray with holy hands (and women, too), women should always dress modestly (and men, too), women should be encouraged to learn in every circumstance (rather than simply in the assembly, though this statement “may be focused on the assembly” [SWS; emphasis mine]), and women are prohibited from teaching and authentein  (whatever those two verbs entail) in the assembly as well as in other spaces. Whatever Paul’s point is in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, it is not restricted to the assembly.

2.  We agree 1 Timothy 2:8 does not restrict leading prayer to men alone. As Renew (quoting SWS) says, “Paul’s instruction seeks to reestablish this witness, not by restricting prayer to men, but by addressing the specific issue with the prayers these men were offering alongside their quarreling.” The “purpose” of 1 Timothy 2 “is not to give instruction on who gets to pray and who does not.”

3.  We agree the term for “quietness” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 describes “a quietness of demeanor (a common meaning of the relevant Greek term in the NT) rather than silence.”

4.  We agree there is a significant problem or disturbance among some women in the Ephesian church. This includes some overlap between the women of 2:9-10 and the younger widows described in 5:13 who were going from house to house “saying things they should not say.” These women are associated in some way with false teachers (cf. 2 Timothy 3:7). As Renew (quoting SWS) states, “If these women are to mature in the faith, it is clear their posture must change to one more conducive to learning.”

Note: the historical reconstruction of the origin and precise nature of this disturbance (whether related to Artemis, some kind of proto-Gnosticism, household dysfunction, or “New Women” in Roman society) is uncertain. There are clues, as Rick notes. The women are associated with the upper class, for example. Renew suggests that “Hicks makes much of [Artemis] cult.” Actually, I don’t. I make some suggestions, offer some possibilities, but I don’t provide a precise historical reconstruction nor commit myself to one scenario alone but attempt to work with the explicit evidence in the letter. Whether these women are associated with Artemis or not, to what degree seduction is part of the problem, is interesting, perhaps illuminating, but ultimately uncertain. The primary point—Rick and I agree—is that the context and language of the letter are how we gain insight into the dysfunction present in the congregation among both its men and women. I don’t put much stock in any historical reconstruction (including Hoag), though we often gain helpful perspectives from attempts. Rather, we must work with the letter as we have it and connect it, as best we can, with humility, to the known culture of the first century.

Additional Note: Rick thinks I “painted these women in 1 Timothy to be the most sinister, evil women in the Ephesian church. I know he’s tried to liberate them in a sense, but his path to get there is overdone.” Rick also suggests that if the women were that bad, Paul would have been much more forceful in his condemnation and not nearly “as gentle” as he was. I think Rick underplays the problem here. “Some have already,” Paul wrote, “strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15). I think that says something about how seriously Paul took the danger these women represented. Paul had already turned Hymenaeus and Alexander “over to Satan” (1 Timothy 1:20), and now some of these women were following the path of Satan (much like Eve was deceived by the serpent).

5.  We agree that the invitation for women to learn is an astonishing one for a letter situated in Greco-Roman culture. This highlights a high view of women. Women are encouraged to learn in a submissive and quiet manner, that is, with a humble and peaceable demeanor, which is characteristic of all good learners (male and female).

6.  We agree women are called and gifted as teachers. As Renew (quoting SWS) says, “clearly women are to serve in some teaching responsibilities.” We also agree that 1 Timothy 2 does not prohibit girls from delivering a lesson in the presence of their fathers, women teaching baptized teenage males, or leading prayers. In other words, we agree that 1 Timothy 2 does not support what Reneé calls a “rigid complementarianism.”

7. We agree women were teaching false doctrine in the Ephesian church. Renew (quoting SWS) says, “Paul’s concerns here about women teaching men is not designed only to address a situation in which some women are teaching false doctrine” (emphasis mine). While Paul only names male false teachers who have already been excluded from the community (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18), some women were teaching false doctrine by “saying what they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Some women were teaching in some unacceptable form or else Paul would not have forbidden them to teach.

8.  We agree that whatever authentein means (the word behind “usurp authority” [KJV], “assume authority” [NIV 2011], “exercise authority” [ESV], or “have dominion” [ASV] in 1 Timothy 2:12), it describes the manner and/or content of teaching. This is why, it appears to me, Renew and SWS refer to “authoritative teacher” or “authoritative teaching,” that is, “teachers who determine or communicate the spiritual direction of the church.” We agree that the word authentein, in some way, modifies “teach.” It is a kind of teaching that authents a man. [As in my book, I transliterate the controversial verb authentein (1 Timothy 2:12) because its meaning is disputed.]

9.  We agree creation theology is relevant and contains normative principles. There is no dispute about that, though we do disagree about what use Paul is making of the creation (and fall) narrative in 1 Timothy 2:13-14.

10.  We agree that Paul’s epistles are occasional and the theology present in Paul’s occasional letters are applicable to the church across time. I affirm this in Searching for the Pattern as well as in Women Serving God. I am in full agreement with Reneé’s point that the “goal” is to understand “what Paul is saying in this particular historical and cultural context and how we can obey his teaching today.” I do not suggest—as Rick recognizes—there is an eternal truth that is disconnected from the situation addressed. One must seek to understand Paul’s theology through the situated context of the text. At the same time, everyone recognizes that some applications in Scripture are limited to the situation and not intended as universal, timeless commands. For example, we no longer wear veils, and we no longer prohibit the wearing of pearls and gold or braided hair.

Renew’s (and SWS) Uncertain Conclusion: What is Prohibited?

Reading Renew and SWS, I discovered how uncertain the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 was in their own presentation. In my own work, I recognized that I might be wrong due to the severe difficulty of the text. I think I offered a credible interpretation, but it may not be entirely correct. Renew seems more certain than I do, or do they?

At first, it seems they are rather certain. Renew (quoting SWS) says, “women must not tarnish their witness through authoritative teaching (2:11-15). 1 Tim. 2:12 clearly states, ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent’” (emphasis mine). This, however, is a rather curious descriptor: “clearly.” This is particularly confusing since Renew (quoting SWS) has already substituted “quiet” as a better translation than “silent.” So, it seems it is not exactly accurate to say “1 Timothy 2:12 clearly states” and then quote this particular translation. But that is rather minor. I think the following two points are much more substantial.

1.  Is “teach” so clear? Apparently not.

  • Renew has to sort through all the various uses of “teach” in the Pastorals, in Paul’s writings, and the rest of the New Testament to discern its particular understanding of “teach.” It infers that “teach” means something like an “authoritative teacher” that is responsible for guiding the church.
  • Renew must distinguish between the kind of teaching that is forbidden to women and the kind of teaching women are encouraged to do. “Clearly women are to serve in some teaching responsibility” because “they are gifted to do so” (emphasis mine).
  • Renew must discern how this instruction applies and to what settings it applies—only the assembly, or does it apply to small groups, Bible classes, house churches, and other sorts of meetings where disciples gather to pray and learn? How is “authoritative teaching” defined in terms of house church meetings, Bible classes, and small groups? Or, does it only apply to preaching in the assembly? When does teaching become “authoritative” and when is it not “authoritative”? What text of Scripture identifies that? Do prophets speak authoritatively? Do evangelists speak authoritatively? Do Bible class teachers speak authoritatively? How does one decide?
  • Renew (quoting SWS) understands “teach” as “a spiritual gift and office (see Eph. 4:11) for the expounding and applying of Scripture,” even though 1 Timothy 2:12 does not describe an office or the task of expounding or applying Scripture as belonging to only one, or even two, offices.
  • In other words, “teach” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not clear but has to be interpreted, restricted, and limited in some way. That involves several sorts of judgments about its meaning in the context of the New Testament and the Pastorals in particular. This move from “teach”(1 Timothy 2:12) to teach authoritatively as an elder, teaching pastor, or preacher-teacher is neither a plain reading of the text nor clear.

2.  Is the meaning of “have authority” clear? Apparently not.

  • Renew (quoting SWS) states, “we are not entirely sure how it [authentein] should be translated. It likely means that women should not be in a teaching role” (emphasis mine). Yes, you read that correctly. Renew says “likely” and confesses uncertainty about the translation of this term. Renew, however, provides no detailed discussion of its lexical meaning and the difficulties surrounding this hapax legomenon (only used once in the whole New Testament corpus).
  • Authentein, Renew (quoting SWS) says, “likely means that women should not be in a teaching role.” But “teaching role” has to be defined, and it is narrowed to preaching and/or elders ultimately or is there more or something else? How would we know without an official office of some kind? How does authentein give us this particular meaning?
  • The teaching prohibited women was the sort that was “like priests and rabbis” and involved them in “congregational leadership” (emphasis mine). From where does the comparison to priests and rabbis arise in the context of 1 Timothy 2? Is it only “like priests and rabbis”? How like are they? Were there distinct official (even professional) functions in the Ephesian church that operated the same as priests and rabbis in Israel? How do we know this? This equivalency is simply assumed in this review, and I addressed it previously in my review of #2. Moreover, it is strange to think that the prophets, judges, and queens (where women served in Israel) have no relation to this “authority” (if authentein has a positive or official meaning). Deborah had authority to prophesy, judge, and lead Israel (Judges 4:4-6), but apparently would not have authority to teach in the church today, according to Renew. Esther had authority to institute a new feast (not authorized in the Torah) and command Israel to keep it (Esther 9:29-32), but apparently would not have authority to teach in the church today, according to Renew. [I know Rick made a sharp distinction between prophecy and teaching in this review, but I covered that ground previously in my review of #2.]
  • Renew (quoting SWS) concludes, “In 1 Tim. 2:12, therefore, Paul is likely declaring that women cannot serve in that role” (emphasis mine). Yes, you read that correctly. Renew says “likely.”
  • The word “authority” or “dominion” has to be interpreted, restricted, and limited to the a specific positive function in the community of faith for it mean that Paul “likely” excludes women from the office of elder/pastor/lead minister or from preaching in the assembly. This is problematic because (1) authentein must be restricted to a positive meaning that is equivalent to that function even though there is no evidence that authentein had a positive meaning until centuries after Paul wrote, (2) Paul does not use his typical positive word for authority (exousia) or other similar characterizations in the Pastorals (e.g., Titus 2:15; 1 Timothy 3:4-5), and (3) Paul has a word for these offices or functions but does not use them here and thus does not identify the precise nature of the office or function (e.g., pastor-teacher in Ephesians 4:11) in 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul could have simply said, I don’t want a woman to be a bishop or evangelist [both terms occur in the Pastorals]. That would much clearer than “teach” if Paul intends to exclude women from authoritative functions in the community.

As a result of these uncertainties (among others I could name), Renew states (quoting SWS), “Likely [1 Timothy 2:12] means that Paul permits no woman to serve in the role of authoritative teacher” (emphasis mine). You read that correctly. Renew says “likely.”

I don’t begrudge the term “likely.”  I think it is judicious, though I believe my understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 is more probable and credible. What is important is to recognize that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as plain or clear as many suppose it is on first reading. In fact, the interpretative changes among complementarians over the past thirty years indicate how difficult this text is to understand and apply. 

Hūbner illustrates the notorious difficulty of 1 Timothy 2 in his 2016 essay. The text is far from clear or plain. One example from Hūbner illustrates this (his article has many more). While hapaxes (a word only used once in New Testament) appear once every eighty-three words (1.2%) in the New Testament as a whole, there are six hapaxes (including authentein) in eighty-two words in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (7.3%). That alone signals a level of difficulty that should give us some pause, humility, and circumspection about how we apply this text to the contemporary church.

Yet, according to Renew (SWS included), half of the church (half of the human race created in the image of God) is excluded from “authoritative” teaching among the people of God because it is “likely” this is what Paul means even though Renew (quoting SWS) is not “entirely sure” how to even translate authentein.

Likely” is a precarious and uncertain basis for excluding women from authoritative teaching.

Where we Disagree

While our agreements in reading this text are significant and we share a sense of “likelihood” about respective views, our differences identify the fork in the road between Renew’s perspective that the participation of women in the assembly is limited and my understanding that women are gifted to fully participate in the assembly (which is the thesis of my book).

1.  Prohibition: Authoritative Teacher

As noted above, Renew (and SWS) concluded that 1 Timothy 2:12 “means [a woman] should not be permitted to serve in the authoritative teacher role comparable to priests in the OT.” [Remind me, where does the text make this link to the priests of Israel in the context of church offices or functions? Were priests the only ones who taught Israel? Do women, as priests in the new creation, offer up spiritual sacrifices like the priests of Israel?]

The prohibition, according to Renew, does not rest on the fact that women were teaching false ideas alone, but on the fact that they are women, who ought to submit to God’s design for male headship in the church. In other words, Renew (quoting SWS) says, “Paul’s statement here is not about what a woman might teach; it is about the fact of her teaching at all.”

Rick says, “If these women were false teachers, if they were promoting pagan myths, Paul wouldn’t say don’t let them teach men. He would say don’t let these crazy, heretical women teach anybody.” Is that not the effect of saying, “I do not permit them to teach”? That is exactly what Paul says. The grammatical relation of “authentein over men” to this prohibition is debated. It may very well be that Paul is prohibiting these women (whom I believe are involved in false teaching) from teaching at all. Moreover, we might say that teaching men was exactly what these women were doing, and that is why Paul identifies it specifically (if we take “over men” as modifying “teach” as well as authentein). We don’t know what else they were doing, but they were targeting men (1 Timothy 5:11; see the fuller argument in my book).

But what does “authoritative teaching” or “authoritative teacher” mean? From where is the notion of “authority” derived? It is derived, in this context, from Paul’s use of authentein. Whatever authority is prohibited in 1 Timothy 2:12 is based on this word. But the word, as I noted above, does not carry a positive meaning. It carries the meaning of independence, self-assertion, or abuse. I provide some evidence for that reading in my book, which Renew does not engage in their review.

My point is confirmed by the contrast in the text itself:  “neither teach nor authentein a man, but she is to be quiet.” “Quiet” stands in contrast to teach and authentein. Since the verb authentein modifies “teach” in some way (as Renew and I agree), then, it characterizes the manner of the teaching because (1) authentein contrasts with quiet, and (2) the meaning of authentein is negative or pejorative (it is not peaceable or “quiet”). In fact, the uses of authentein in the century before and after the writing of 1 Timothy have negative meanings (demonstrated by Hūbner and Westfall). What Paul forbids is a style that is bossy or boisterous. In contrast to a gentle, mild, and peaceful demeanor, Paul prohibits a manner of teaching that is abusive and unruly. Or, as Bartlett suggests, it is an aggressive teaching that overcomes or persuades the other through abusive pressures, or the attempt to control, dominate, or gain the upper hand (Belleville). This is the manner in which the women of 2:9-10 were pressing their ungodliness upon men in the community of faith at Ephesus. Whatever word we might use to convey this negative meaning, it is how Eve treated Adam and he listened to her even though he knew better.

If we give a positive meaning to authentein (which I don’t concede), there is still the problem of identifying exactly what kind of authority this is and how it is exercised in the church. Complementarians can’t agree among themselves except that it excludes the function of an elder/bishop. As to what happens in the assembly, it is wide open for discussion. This indicates Paul is not as clear or plain as some think he is. Bobby thinks a woman may share the preaching stage but not preach solo. Some complementarians think a woman may preach to an assembly, serve on boards, vote, etc. Some complementarians exclude women from leading worship, speaking words at the table of the Lord, or even leading prayer. In other words, it is difficult to decide exactly who exercises authority, what the nature of the authority is, and what is the line that cannot be crossed in the assembly.

Moreover, even if I grant a positive meaning to authentein (which I don’t concede), the question still remains why Paul does not want women to assume this authority. Is it because of “male headship” or is it because these women have been deceived and are teaching false doctrine? Even if we assume a positive meaning, the prohibition may only mean something like: “I don’t permit these women who dress immodestly and promote ungodliness to teach and assume authoritative roles in the community because, like Eve, they have been deceived and are persuading men to follow them just like Eve did Adam who knew better because he was created before Eve.”

SWS says, “The closest equivalent to the role of Timothy and Titus in today’s churches would be the preacher, who is something more akin to the ‘pastor-teacher’ from Ephesians 4:11.” Or, Renew says, “That would be equivalent to a senior pastor or preacher in today’s context.” Seeking such an equivalency in the modern context is inferential at best. In other words, it is an application of 1 Timothy 2:12 that is far from certain or clear. Indeed, it assumes structures and practices that are not even clearly present in the practice of the church at Ephesus. If it were clear, complementarians would not have a wide disagreement, would they? Unless . . . soft complementarians are actually influenced by egalitarian culture rather than reading the Bible accurately, as rigid complementarians claim.

2.  Rationale: Headship Rooted in Creation.

Renew assumes that Paul teaches women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to submit to men in the assembly. But Paul does not say that. When asked, Rick reminds us that 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 call women to submit based on the creation story. However, 1 Corinthians 11 never uses the word submit, and the submission in 1 Corinthians 14:34 (as I suggested in my response to Renew Review #3) is submission to order within the assembly (just like the prophets in 1 Corinthians 14:32). In any event, Paul does not here say to whom or what women are to submit in 1 Timothy 2:11. I think it is more probably submission to teaching, to sound doctrine, or submission to God. It seems to me they are to submit to what they are learning.

Renew (quoting SWS) says, “It is worth noting that 1 Tim. 2 shares with 1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Cor. 14:34-35 a conviction that the creation narrative is the ground for the biblical doctrine of headship.”

  • It is far from certain that 1 Corinthians 14:34 describes headship (that language is not used in that text) and grounds it in the relationship between Adam and Eve (see my discussion in Response to Review Part 3). It seems to me the principle of submission there reflects the concern for order in the assembly.
  • “Headship” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 does not entail authority (see my discussion in Responses to Review Part 2 and Part 3). The word submission does not appear in 1 Corinthians 11.
  • “Headship” is not mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Paul does not say, for example, “women should not teach a man because man is the head of woman”–which, of course, he could have said if that is what Paul intended.

I suggest in my book that Paul is not grounding his instruction in the principe of primogeniture. Rather, it is a narrative sequence of events from creation (Adam was first formed, then Eve) to fall (Eve sinned) to redemption (Eve—and the women of 2:9-10 [“they’]—will be saved through the childbearing, who is Jesus). I argue this extensively in the book. Renew does not address my argument which seeks to listen closely to Genesis 2-3 (as Rick says we should). Rather, Renew articulates their own argument for a creation norm for male authority over women based on primogeniture.

Primogeniture does function within the culture of Israel and Paul. However, Paul does not name the principle—he only provides the chronological information. Moreover, in the biblical story, especially in Genesis, the rights of the firstborn (primogeniture) are subverted: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Judah over Rueben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. (Renew does not engage the majority of my arguments against the primogeniture interpretation.) The chronological statement does not necessarily entail the ideological principle of primogeniture, but it may be read quite differently as sequential story-telling. In fact, the form of the text uses sequential language (“first . . . then;” note how this same language is used in 1 Timothy 3:10, one example among many). In my book, I argue that Paul’s language is about narrative sequencing to tell the story of Eve’s deception rather than about a normative principle of primogeniture (see the next section for a brief articulation of this viewpoint).

The “biblical doctrine of headship” as male authority over females whereby authoritative leadership in the assembly is invested in men alone is not only a misreading of Paul’s point but fails to make the interpretative move that is part of the historic understanding of this text within the church. I think this is critically important.

If the doctrine of male headship (understood as male authority over women) is rooted in creation, then—as the church for over 1800 years argued—it should apply not only to the home and church but to society. This is why women were excluded from social positions of power in the historic Christian tradition. The church, from early days, understood this text to apply to society as well as the home and the church. Consequently, within the last century many Christians opposed suffrage (the woman’s right to vote) and the participation of women in “secular” careers, including holding political offices as well as professional careers in medicine and law. If male authority is grounded in creation, then it applies to all of life. But the examples of Deborah and Esther demonstrate that it does not apply to political authority. Consequently, to see male authority over women as grounded in creation is problematic within the biblical story itself. When male authority is grounded in creation, there is no room for the divinely sanctioned and honored positions of authority Deborah and Esther exercised over men in both political and religious contexts.

Bobby and Danny suggest Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 concerns all women. But I believe it is about the women described in 2:9-10, which is not all women. 2:9-10 does not describe all women but the women who dressed immodestly and promoted ungodliness. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 addresses women involved in the same agenda because they, like Eve, are “teaching and authenting” men in order to lead them into evil.

And, they ask, “why did Paul ground his statement in the created order itself (2:13)?” Actually, Paul grounded it in the narrative of Genesis where Eve was deceived (which is emphasized by stating it twice) rather than the idea of primogeniture (not stated at all). I argue this extensively in my book, but many of my arguments are not addressed in the review. Reneé asked, “if Adam was persuaded by Eve, who believed a lie wouldn’t that mean Adam was also deceived?” No. Adam was persuaded to disobey, but he was not deceived. He rebelled against what he knew was true and sinned with his eyes wide open.

Reneé reminds us that creation theology is relevant and contains normative principles. I agree. Moreover, I also see authority relations in Scripture (there are proper modes of authority). I have no intention of explaining them away. What I want to see, however, is the biblical text that says men have authority over women in such a way that women are excluded from participation in certain activities in the assembly. I don’t think 1 Timothy 2:12 can supply that, and no other text excludes women from the exercise of their gifts in the assembly. Renew and I agree 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 do not exclude women from the exercise of their gifts.

Bobby and Danny list Grudem’s ten reasons for why gender “roles” are grounded in creation. I addressed almost all of these in my book. There is no interaction in the review with my discussion of these points nor explanation of how each point in the list is rooted in the text to support the theological case. So, I will leave it to the reader of both the blog and the book to make their own assessment.

Bobby and Danny believe Genesis 3:16 did not “create Adam’s headship [by which I assume they mean male rule or authority over women, JMH]; rather, it corrupted it.” Yet, the only time rule, dominion, or authority is explicitly identified in Genesis 1-2 is something the man and woman actually share (Genesis 1:28). Historically, the church believed Genesis 3:16 was the beginning of the rule of men over women. Genesis 3:16 is the first time the word “rule” occurs in the whole of Genesis 1-3 in relation to men and women.

Given the reference to Grudem, I remind readers of something I point out in my book. When Grudem attempts to apply 1 Timothy 2:12 to the contemporary church (first in 1995, then a second edition 2006—with changes that highlight the difficulty of his project), he identified nine governing activities, ten teaching activities, and one “public visibility or recognition” position that are restricted to men, while he detailed nineteen governing activities, twenty-five teaching activities, and nineteen activities related to “public visibility or recognition” that are open to women. This is primarily based on his understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12. The vast majority of churches of Christ would not agree with his distinctions, perhaps many Renew members either (I don’t know enough to speak about Renew’s constituency). In churches of Christ, we have our own lists, and we have a wide diversity among ourselves—both now and historically. Interestingly, Grudem himself has demonstrated how complicated the soft complementarian position really is.

In contrast to Grudem, Paul wants Timothy to entrust both men and women with teaching people. Like men, women learn so they can teach. Just as Paul entrusted Timothy with teaching (1 Timothy 1:18), so Paul intends Timothy to entrust this to others (including women). 2 Timothy 2:2 reflects this Pauline agenda—people learn so they can teach. Paul wants Timothy to entrust the gospel with “faithful people” (anthrōpous) who are “able to teach others.” Paul uses anthrōpous (people) rather than aner (male as in 1 Timothy 2:8). Anthrōpous always refers to men and women in the Pastorals (plural form; 1 Timothy 2:1, 4; 4:10; 5:24; 6:5, 9, 16; 2 Timothy 3:2, 8, 13, 17; Titus 1:14; 2:11; 3:2, 8, 10). Since women are commanded to learn, they are also empowered to teach once they have learned.

3.  Childbearing: Forbidding Marriage and Childbearing

Renew may be correct about 1 Timothy 2:15, or they may not. Who can be sure about this difficult ending to Paul’s rationale for 1 Timothy 2:11-12? Indeed, the uncertainty of the text adds to the problematic nature of applying 1 Timothy 2:8-15 with any certainty, which Renew already recognizes (remember: “likely”).

Interestingly, SWS suggests that 1 Timothy 2:15 reflects the content of some of the false teaching. The false teachers were probably advocating “asceticism” as “a way toward greater piety.” I can see that possibility. Indeed, SWS thinks, “Perhaps Paul is correcting a strain of this heresy in 1 Tim. 2. In view of the kinds of opponents present in Ephesus, it may be that Paul is recasting a statement made by the false teachers” (emphasis mine). In other words, part of Paul’s rationale for 1 Timothy 2:11-12—and this is a significant point—is the rejection of what false teachers were teaching. That is how I understand, in part, 1 Timothy 2:13. I think it likely that Paul begins the sequence here, in part, to oppose what some false teachers were saying. The false teachers, perhaps based on some kind of early Gnosticism or due to the teaching of the Artemis cult, believed women were the origin of men or had some kind of priority over men. If so, part of the point of 1 Timothy 2:13 is to oppose the false teaching present in Ephesus. But who can be certain?

Reading 1 Timothy 2:13-14

Renew and I identify two different principles grounded in two different hermeneutical moves. Neither the ground nor the principle are explicitly stated in 1 Timothy but are inferred from what both think is going on in the text.

  Renew   Hicks
Text (2:13) Adam was first formed. Adam was first formed.
Ground Invests Adam with the rights of primogeniture (firstborn) between the sexes. Appeals to the narrative where Adam, first created, was first instructed but listened to his deceived wife.
Principle Primogeniture entails the principle of male authority over women. Eve functions as a typology for deceived women in order to warn the Ephesian church.
Application No woman should teach men or have authority over men. Deceived women must first learn before they teach; let them learn in quiet respect.

My approach has the benefit of intertextuality as what is explicit in Genesis 2-3 is weaved into Paul’s rationale. The italicized lines below are explicit in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 in the chart below while the parenthetical statements are the background story explicit in Genesis. This flow contains no inferred principle but intersects the text of 1 Timothy 2 with the text of Genesis 2-3—this is an example of intertextuality within the biblical canon. This flow, in fact, reflects the broad biblical drama of creation, fall, and redemption.

Creation                Adam was first formed (1 Timothy 2:13).

                        (The man was formed from the ground, Genesis 2:7.)

                        (The woman was formed from the man, Genesis 2:21-22.)

Fall                        Adam was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14).

                        (He knew the command of God, Genesis 2:15-17.)

                        (But he listened to Eve, Genesis 3:17.)

                  Eve was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14).

                        (The serpent tricked her, Genesis 3:13.)

                  Eve became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:14).

                        (She ate the fruit, Genesis 3:6.)

Redemption          She will be saved through the childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15).

                        (God promised a seed to crush the serpent, Genesis 3:15.)

                  If they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with modesty (1 Timothy 2:15).

Eve is only named in two passages in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. In both texts Eve functions as a type of deceived people, including both men and women in 2 Corinthians. In 1 Timothy, she is a type of deceived women (“they” in 2:15) who were teaching false doctrine (going from house to house “saying” nonsense). Because they were deceived by others, they were teaching pagan myths and behaving immodestly.

Significantly, the only word repeated in 1 Timothy 2:14 is “deceived.” That underscores the point—it is a deception problem, not a male leadership or authority problem. Eve represents the women in the Ephesian house churches who had been deceived by false teachers. She illustrates the danger of listening to deceived women. The specific situation in Ephesus involved deceived women, not deceived men. Paul is neither describing every woman nor the nature of women but identifying one woman from the Biblical story who was deceived in order to highlight the local problem in Ephesus. Deceived women were going house to house teaching pagan myths and cultivating relationships with men. It is not a universal statement about women any more than some who had been, similar to Eve, deceived by Satan in the Corinthian church is a universal statement about men and women (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Just as some Corinthians had been deceived by some who taught a different (heteron) gospel, these Ephesian women had been deceived by those who taught a different (heteron) doctrine.

False teaching is the context of the whole letter (1:3-4, 18; 6:2-4, 12), and the specific context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Some insist nothing is said about false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:8-15. This fails to recognize how the letter flows from “therefore” to “therefore” (2:1, 8) as well as how the whole letter is framed by the concern about false teaching.

Fight the good fight, Timothy (1:18-20).

“Therefore, I urge prayer” (2:1-7).

“Therefore, I want men to pray . . . likewise women to . . .” (2:8-15).

Paul wrote 2:8-15 because of what he said in 2:1-7. He wrote 2:1-7 because of what he said in 1:18-20. In other words, given these causal connections, what Paul wrote in 2:8-15 is directly related to the false teachings about which he charged Timothy. Whatever is happening in 2:8-15 and whatever Paul meant by those instructions, they are part of his response to the presence of false teaching in the Ephesian house churches. The topic of false teaching is integral to 2:8-15.

When Paul addresses the situation envisioned by 2:8-15, he is well aware of the false teaching, who is involved, what is happening among the house churches in Ephesus, and who the excommunicated protagonists were (e.g., Hymenaeus and Alexander). Far from a digression about prayer and public worship or an intentional blueprint specification, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 develops the letter’s theme—opposition to the presence of false teaching and associated behavior in the Ephesian house churches.

Some women were promoting ungodliness, and they were teaching false doctrines. Consequently, Paul does not permit these deceived women to teach and authent (overcome, persuade in a negative, controlling, or abusive manner) men. It is not because they were women but because they were acting like Eve who was deceived by the serpent and persuaded Adam to share her transgression. That is what Paul wants to stop.

Thirst for Power?

Bobby and Danny write: “And here we arrive at an important truth that we all need to pay attention to: Nobody naturally tends toward the kind of biblical, sacrifice headship described throughout the Bible. Do people thirst for power? Absolutely. But as both head of the church and submissive Son of God, it is Jesus who teaches us what actual headship and submission look like. None of it look like the ugly power plays of Genesis 3:16 which come so naturally to us humans.”

There are several dimensions of this paragraph that I find probematic. For example, I don’t see “headship” as authority. But we have covered that ground previously.

This language, however, draws an analogy that I find disturbing. If men are the head of women (in the sense in which I think intended), then it is men who exercise power sacrificially just as Jesus does as head of the church. Women, then, sacrificially submit to men just as men (and women) submit to Christ as the head of the church. In other words, men rule and women submit, just as men submit to Christ as the head of the church, and the Son of God submitted to God as his head. That analogy is open to significant abuse, and, in my opinion, misses the whole point of headship in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. But that is not really my main concern with the paragraph.

The “thirst for power” is certainly part of the brokenness of the world, and it is reflected in Genesis 3:16 to one degree or another. But I do wonder to whom (if anyone) or what specifically (if anything) Bobby and Danny are referring. They may have no specific reference in mind. I accept that. At the same time, I have heard many make this point in the context of women who “thirst for power” because they seek to use their gifts in the assembly. Bobby and Danny are clear that “nobody” escapes this fallen desire that comes “naturally to us humans.” So, I accept this is not their charge here.

Nevertheless, in the context of our present discussion, it raises an important question. Do women who seek to use their gifts in the assembly reflect a “thirst for power”? What if the problem is not so much women who have a thirst for power as it is men who want to maintain power. But that is unfair, one might say. Perhaps men are not so much concerned about maintaining power but obeying God’s directives. Exactly! That is exactly what interests me and interests the women whom I know that seek to use the gifts God has given them but are constrained by the exercise of male power and authority in the church. Consequently, the discussion must stay at the level of what does the text mean rather than who is thirsting for power.

Everyone in our discussion wants to live according to God’s intent in creation and God’s design for the eschaton. I don’t find it helpful, in this context, to quote some as saying, “This is unfair. It can’t possibly be right. We have to look like the world.” No serious disciple of Jesus that I know talks like that. Rather, it is a matter of what is the divine intent, what does Paul actually teach, and how do we love one another in healthy ways that reflect the gospel and its norms? This is, it seems to me, where the discussion ought to lie.


It seems to me that the bottom line for Renew is something like this: “teaching” in 2:12 is the function of a person in authority (perhaps an “official” capacity?) invested with the responsibility to guide the church and protect it from false teaching, and this is restricted to men because men are the head of women by virtue of God’s creative act in Genesis 2.

There are many assumptions embedded in that statement as well as concepts imported into 1 Timothy 2:12 that are not explicitly there. Here are a few.

  • Definition of “teach”
  • Identification of the “authoritative teacher”
  • Definition of authentein
  • Definition of headship (the meaning of kephale)
  • A particular interpretation of Paul’s use of Genesis 2
  • A particular interpretation of Genesis 3:16 as the corruption rather than the beginning of the rule of men over women.

None of these are absolutely clear, and taken together it is difficult to even use the word “likely.” There are too many assumptions to be certain. Renew’s conclusion is an inference rather than something explicit in the text. The text does not explicitly say what Renew claims the text means.

In fact, Renew’s conclusion is a reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that explains away the traditional and historic understanding of the text that the church has held for centuries from near its beginning (I was charged with reinterpretation and explaining away texts in Renew’s first review). Renew’s blog contains many reinterpretations. Here are five.

  • “Teach” as a specific office or status (“authoritative teacher”) that permits some women to teach some men in some circumstances when the historic interpretation is the exclusion of women from any teaching of men in assembled groups.
  • “Authority” as a specific modifier for the kind of teaching Paul envisions when the historic interpretation is the exclusion of women from any kind of leadership in the assembly (including serving at the table of the Lord or leading worship, even prayer) or within the church body (voting, business decisions, etc.).
  • Eve’s role as an example of the negative impact of female leadership in positions of authority when the historic interpretation is that women are too gullible and weak, too easily deceived for leadership.
  • The application of 1 Timothy 2:12 to only the home and church when the historic interpretation is that women are excluded from leadership in society as well as the home and church because this is rooted in God’s creative act and thus applies to this relationship within the whole of God’s good creation.
  • The judgment that Genesis 3:16 is a corruption of God’s design for male authority when the historic interpretation is that it is the beginning of a male rule divinely prescribed as a punishment of Eve.

I wonder if these reinterpretations are also due to “egalitarian notions of humanity” dominating the current culture, which is the implied accusation against my position. For example, 1 Timothy 2:12 was once used to deny women the right to vote less than a hundred years ago. Did the church change its understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 under pressure from the suffrage movement (the first wave of Feminism)?

As Rick says, perhaps “with some historical and cultural background” and more careful exegesis, we can see “what is happening here.” Exactly! That is my claim as well. So, let’s discuss the details of the text rather than project a claim of egalitarian cultural influence. I might say as well that each of the above five reinterpretations also reflect the influence of egalitarian cultural influence in the last hundred years–I am fairly sure that is what rigid complementarianism (the historic traditional position) would say. It is good to remember that the soft complementarian position is itself of rather recent origin.


1 Timothy 2:12 remains the only text that explicitly identifies a gender boundary in the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts. Renew agrees that 1 Corinthians 11 requires different clothing but does not restrict the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts. Renew agrees 1 Corinthians 14 does not restrict the exercise of the Spirit’s gifts but forbids disorderly conduct. Only 1 Timothy 2:12 remains as a potential text that provides a boundary for the exercise of gifts.

Renew, it seems to me, never really answered the question I asked in my response to Part 3.   What, precisely, is the difference between a leadership function and a headship function? What plain reading of what text clearly identifies that distinction? 1 Timothy 2:12 does not clearly do that, and its plain reading does not fit the soft complementarian position.

Remember, Renew says (emphasis mine),

  • Likely, it means Paul permits no woman to serve in the role of authoritative teacher.”
  • “It likely means that women should not be in the teaching role.”
  • “Paul is likely declaring that women cannot serve in that role.”
  • “we are not entirely sure how [authentein] should be translated.”

Given all the “likely”s and uncertainties present, how can this be a certain conclusion, and how can it be taken so seriously that it excludes half the church from teaching authoritatively in the assembly?

For me, to exclude half the church whom God has gifted for the edification of the body of Christ from full participation and “authoritative teaching” in the assembly on the basis of a “likely” (according to Renew) interpretation of a single text in Scripture is unsafe and dangerous, especially in light of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Anna, Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian prophets, Philip’s daughters, Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, and others I could list. I can no longer do that as I once did.

May God have mercy. Peace to my siblings and friends at Renew!

One Response to “Response to Renew’s Review (Part 4) of Women Serving God”

  1.   Mark King Says:

    Plausible and probable. I will seek God’s clarity about the impact of this. Paul in Philippians 3: 15 b – 16 refers to a principle of God will enlighten one wherever differ in a point!

Leave a Reply