On Women Baptizing and Teaching in Light of the Great Commission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20a

The imperative to “make disciples” is part of Jesus’s last words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. The following two participles (baptizing and teaching) are instrumental in this process. In part, disciples are made by baptizing them into the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and they are also continuously formed (made) by teaching them to follow what Jesus taught.

Baptism is a dynamic movement into the life of God. Disciples are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a movement into (which is literally what the text says; e.g. ASV) the communion of God, which gives disciples a sense of belonging to the family of the one (“name,” not names) God of Israel. Baptism is our entrance into the community of God to live among the people of God in the church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).

Teaching is also a dynamic activity. Discipling is a process that not only begins before baptism but continues after it. Disciples are formed by teaching that is based on the life and words of Jesus. This includes—if it is not, in fact, the focus—the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which concludes with a call to the wise living, which is obedience to the words of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus teach the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-29).

Discipling is not limited to one class or group within the community of God.

The heirs of the Restoration Movement have long recognized that baptism is not a clerical act, limited to the clergy in the community. We have wonderfully modeled the priesthood of all believers by affirming everyone’s privilege to baptize another, particularly one whom they have led to Christ. As Alexander Campbell said, “When then any one desires baptism, any one to whom he applies may administer it” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 580).  There are no clerical boundaries to baptizing another, though pragmatically this often fell to the “preacher” in many congregations.

But the priesthood of all believers disappears when gender is introduced into the discussion. And the exclusion of women from baptizing anyone has a long history in the Restoration Movement. For example, Campbell also said, “We never, by word or action, sanctioned either females or minors as baptists” (p. 584). There are, it is argued, no examples of women baptizing anyone. Therefore, women are excluded. (We might remember there are no examples of women eating the Lord’s supper either.)

In effect, this limits Matthew 28:19-20a to males. If women cannot baptize anyone, this means they cannot obey the command of Jesus to “make disciples” in the way Jesus told his disciples to make disciples. Are not women as well as men told to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing. . .”?

Further, to “make disciples” is not only to baptize them but to continue to teach them as well. Yet, the practice of many congregations is not only to exclude women from baptizing but also to exclude them from teaching. This exclusion comes in many forms, and not all exclusivists agree on the degree of the exclusion and its particulars.  This excludes women from private teaching, leading small groups, instructing Bible classes where men are present, and sermons as well as other forms of teaching. Some, however, only exclude women from sermonizing in the assembly, or perhaps even more narrow—speaking authoritatively for the church. In other words, when it comes to identifying the teaching from which women are excluded, it is a continuum of judgments, inferences, and applications.

If women are to make disciples, it is difficult to exclude them from the very process Jesus identified for disciple-making. If Matthew 28:19-20a is a call for disciples to make disciples, it is a call for both men and women to make disciples by baptizing and teaching the discipled.

Women, then, are invited to baptize and teach as part of the discipling ministry of the followers of Jesus.

I realize that the previous sentence is relativized by some who maintain that 1 Timothy 2:12 not only prohibits women from teaching men (in whatever form such teaching is envisioned) but also from having authority over them. Consequently, it is suggested by some that baptism is an authoritative act (bordering on a clericalism) within the community and women cannot, therefore, baptism anyone and certainly not men. A single text, it appears, delimits the disciple-making Jesus commanded on the part of women in the community of God. For some, it excludes them from baptizing anyone, and for many it only excludes them from representing the church through authoritative speech (whatever form that may take).

While this is not the place, due to limitations of space, to seek a better understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12, a few comments are appropriate. The sort of teaching envisioned in 1 Timothy 2 is not disciple-making but abusive domination of another. Paul, it seems to me, forbids some women, who had been deceived by false teachers, from aggressively attempting to persuade men. They were belligerently overwhelming others and leading them into the clutches of Satan by spreading false myths rather than submitting to the truth of the gospel, the mystery of godliness. (For more on this way of reading 1 Timothy 2:12, see my video here.)

To use 1 Timothy 2:12 to limit women in disciple-making, whether in baptizing others or teaching others, is not only to abuse 1 Timothy 2:12 but to subvert the commission of Jesus intended for his disciples, both men and women. I see no reason to delimit or restrict the meaning of the word “teach” in Matthew 28:20. Women are authorized to teach, and the only text that might say otherwise is filled with difficulties of language, grammar, context, and meaning. It seems to me, Matthew 28:19-20 provides the horizon for all disciple-making, baptizing and teaching.

In answer to the call of Jesus, everyone, both male and female, may baptize and teach others. Everyone is called to make disciples.

3 Responses to “On Women Baptizing and Teaching in Light of the Great Commission”

  1.   PAT FLYNN Says:

    Good for you, John-
    I’m in agreement all the way, but transparency disclaimer:
    I still look exclusively to men for Preaching and Teaching….
    There are a few women authors that I’ve read that have been beneficial
    spiritually, but I would never choose a woman to be instructed by Theologically….
    I guess this is where my mind agrees in principle, but in real time I’m not comfortable
    with it…..makes me a hypocrite, I suppose-

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      You are not alone, which is unfortunate in my opinion. At the same time, I understand.

      Nevertheless, there are other considerations. Can we imagine being instructed theologically by Anna in the temple, or the Samaritan woman re-entering the city to tell others about Jesus, or one of the Corinthian female prophets instructing us?

      Peace, my friend.

      •   Dee Says:

        As far as the Samaritan woman , she went to the city and spoke of Jesus. This was not in a church setting of believers .
        She is an aware human being with thoughts and feelings .
        Women in the christian church setting are allowed to have feelings and opinions . They have a testimony and have discerned that they need salvation through the blood of Jesus. Being able to eloquently explain that at some level is important while bringing the Gospel to everyone they can. Whether planting the seed of the gospel or watering it etc…
        As far as Anna is concerned : “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37)
        Says nothing about her preaching or teaching openly which being in a Jewish synagogue would have excluded her from doing so.
        I believe all believers in Jesus Messiah have responded to the call of the Holy Spirit.
        I believe God can and does speak to us all as believers .
        I believe that God can and will use individuals and prophesy through us.
        This may be for the individual only not that it must be shared with the world or cannot be shared with the world.
        I think the prohibition against women asserting themselves over men has more to do with original curse on women from the fall of Eve in the garden . That being that women will want to assert themselves over men and that is their position .
        In my opinion ,Women many times , perceive a spiritual ineptness in men when actually men dont always talk about what they think or dont communicate their feeling or thoughts.
        The point is women are to help the man in his role as spiritual leader .
        No matter how inept a man may seem , if this same man honestly seeks God and the woman holds back and humbly allows him to do so .
        Then God shows up and glorifies both openly , man after all is to be the spiritual leader.
        When the man is failing this then the woman sees this and trys to take control but this may be an inaccurate perception . The man and God may be exactly where they are supposed to be but the woman thinks she knows better.
        I believe and have believed about the instruction of women not to teach men.
        It has nothing to do about being fair it has to do with being humble.
        The spiritual responsibility has to do with the Bishop and the Deacons both to be the husbands of one wife .
        There is a lot of responsibility in the modern church and the head pastor is the CEO and the women helping are no different than an executive secretary.
        Their testimonies are real , God is real in their lives and that is exactly why they have a roll in support .
        They also have the ability to get discernment from God , advise their husbands of their thoughts and feelings . But as long as their husband is trying to honor God women have no place to be demanding of them .
        I think that in a church setting maybe if there is a good time to share their feeling and thoughts privately then no problem.
        But if woman demand they be acknowledged openly in front of others in a group setting purposely putting people in a place of who is right on a situation then they would be wrong.
        Bible says all authority comes from God so the church you are in was put there by God and regardless if you agree with the men the pastors confidence may have more to do with God speaking to him than he just believing some way willy nilly.
        So the truth is I believe women can be insiders of praying about and sharing their thoughts in a corporate meeting about decisions in a church.
        They do not belong as the lead person to access God for a body of believers.
        I think a single mom would be an exception where somethings would be obvious where others may need intervention and guidance from a pastor.
        I believe woman can consul other women but at times will need the consul of a pastor .
        I think women should avoid consoling men and give their thoughts and suggest they speak to a man.
        I think if you put women in responsibility of pastoring or being a deacon in a church send the wrong message to other women and the young that this is acceptable. Creating confusion in the church.
        Even if a woman can eloquently preach a sermon about the gospel , it should never be from a pulpit . It can be one on one , a street ministry or out reach etc…..
        The man is to be the spiritual contact to God in any corporate worship setting whether from a pulpit or in an individual family.
        God can use women but in a subservient position to men and never push to place themselves above men.

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