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The most logical place, I originally thought, to start a Bible study on gender roles was the place where gender roles are most explicitly discussed. We all know those landmine verses of Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and more.

Even leaving the verbiage at the most surface interpretations and traditional translations, I still wondered as many do about their intention. These teachings on gender roles are certainly purposed for their time and place, but what about ours? How universal are Paul’s commands on this topic, really? Given the reputation and rights of women in Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, how do we apply such instruction in a time and place where it now feels degrading? And how do we maintain appropriate respect for the authority of the Scriptures in seeking to color them with their historical backgrounds? Again, a total minefield.

The strongest evidence of universal male headship is found, I think, where Paul references Adam and Eve’s creation circumstances as support for his thinking. And it was here, having found nothing too clarifying in the epistles and returning to Genesis yet again, that I realized where we often spin our wheels. When wondering: Why do we understand Paul to mean XYZ about all men and women? The favorite answer is: Genesis says so. And when wondering: Why do we understand Genesis to mean XYZ about all men and women? The favorite answer is: Paul says so.


So let’s get back to where it all started. The gender role conversation makes most sense to me using the creation account as the primary text, isolated for now from the NT passages which serve as commentary. This is far from all my thoughts on Genesis 1-3, but I hope to provide some fruit for thought in these highpoints.

Up to the middle of Genesis chapter 2, the creation story rambles on comfortably, giving humanity an introduction steeped in unity and interdependence.  

When we wonder: Who are we? Genesis resonates: You are MINE. You are living, breathing, walking, talking, loving, feeling, thinking idols of the One True God, and you are good. You each are gifted in your own ways, as groups and individuals, and you’re meant to be a diverse, mutually benefiting body.

When we wonder: Where did we come from, and where are we now? Genesis answers: You are the purposefully planned works of My hands, formed from My works and from each other, sustained by My works and by each other, and dwelling with My works and with each other. You are altogether for each other, and you and your home are very good.

When we wonder: What are we here for? Genesis says: As higher beings instilled with My breath of life and made as My delegates, you are set as the peacekeepers and perpetuators of My creation. Your authority is given for the population, prosperity, protection, and harmony of the world. And your gifts, strengths, and weaknesses are brought together for the continuation, prosperity, protection, and harmony of humankind.

Alongside those big anthropological questions, there’s also a running theme of equality between men and women for questions of gender relations. Men and women are introduced as:

Equal in species
– Equal in essence
– Equal in authority over the earth
– Equally blessed for their joint mission
– Equally responsible for guarding and cultivating creation
– Equally necessary for supporting one another in the human mission

Here at 2:15-17, the basic equality of the sexes in essence, purpose, and value scoots over to make room for a bit of functional hierarchy. This is the moment where God and Adam are depicted alone, and according to complementarian interpretation, God entrusts the man with the moral law of human life. The central question of responsibility I posed in Part 1 finds its answer here: Adam set the pattern of men as the spiritual authorities in homes and churches when he is positioned as keeper of God’s law before Eve’s creation.

Factually, there’s no avoiding the plain events. God delivered the command to Adam first, using singular pronouns for him alone. Eve just wasn’t around. For this moment in human history, the man (if you can call the undifferentiated earthling that) had a spiritual equipping the woman didn’t.

Still, it’s the significance assigned to such circumstances that I’m calling a sour fruit of hierarchical interpretation— so sour that we can’t see straight. Such a lens for Genesis is one that only focuses on the no-no of 2:15-17. Its mistake is not in noting Adam’s primacy (a deeper topic for another day) but rather in positioning God’s rule of limitation as the most important thing He had to give in that moment… and glossing over the most lavish gift ever given: all creation as man’s playground and as his mission, and within that, an especially lush garden for his personal home. There’s that whole first chapter and a half of Genesis, and we still get hung up on the one place God says no despite the many, grandiose ways He says yes.

Walter Brueggeman has our number: “These three verses together provide a remarkable statement of anthropology. Human beings before God are characterized by vocation [v. 15], permission [v. 16], and prohibition [v. 17]. The primary human task is to find a way to hold the three facets of divine purpose together. Any two of them without the third is surely to pervert life. It is telling and ironic that in the popular understanding of this story, little attention is given the mandate of vocation or the gift of permission. The divine will for vocation and freedom has been lost. The God of the garden is chiefly remembered as the one who prohibits. But the prohibition makes sense only in terms of the other two.”

Taking the three gifts of 2:15-17 as a linked set raises an issue of interpretive soundness… if we’re willing to argue that Adam was anointed the unilateral spiritual authority over his wife (and more broadly, church brothers over sisters) because God entrusted him alone with the law prior to her creation, per v. 17, then we should also be willing to argue that he is a higher executive authority over creation per v. 15 and is primary owner of the garden and its food per v. 16. The gifts of vocation and freedom were also explicitly stated to man without woman present, so shouldn’t those too be as weightily interpreted as specially entrusted to men and delegated from them to women? The same way a complementarian approach expects Adam to be Eve’s spiritual leader in teaching and enforcing the law, shouldn’t we expect that it’s also his duty to instruct her in cultivating and guarding the earth, and to give her permission to eat of Eden’s trees? But Genesis 1:26-29’s rendition rules out any such delegation as man and woman are blessed and commissioned directly as God’s living idols.

The application issue in tunnel-visioning on 2:17 is the mischaracterization of God as rule master rather than caring counselor. Rules matter, certainly, but not as the maniacal manipulations of a madman deity. God’s limitations on human conduct are protections, not cheap thrills. To Brueggeman’s point, His prohibitions can only be properly understood with equal emphasis on the bone-deep satisfaction of productivity and creativity gifted through humanity’s vocation, and on the pleasure and adventure gifted through a beautifully ordered creation. It’s these things, and the community in which they’re enjoyed, that the prohibition protects. Anything that divorces the law from the lovingly-designed purpose and freedom for humanity that it protects risks centering our relationship to God on fear of misstep and the drudgery of obedience rather than on His fondness and generosity toward us.

Any ideology that highlights Scripture in ways that reinforce legalism rather than balance our checklist-loving humanness with a heaping load of grace is an ideology worth reevaluating. Ruthlessly so. Losing sight of our Papa Bear God will break us down at the core— more a catastrophe to our faith than a stumbling block. Fittingly, it’s precisely that kind of catastrophe that’s set to strike in the creation narrative.

On to Part 3…

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

When Nehemiah finished building the wall, he appointed gatekeepers to watch over the entrances to the city and Levitical singers to serve in the temple (Nehemiah 7:1). Most of these singers were descendants of Asaph, who was one of the leading musicians and a prophet from the time of David (1 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 29:30) as well as the author of several Psalms (50 and 73, for example). The Levitical singers, including Asaph’s descendants, led the worship of Israel (2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15).

Nehemiah’s singers numbered two hundred and forty-five, and they included “both male and female” (Nehemiah 7:67). Women were part of the Levitical choir that led the worship of Israel at the temple. In other words, women were on the praise team!

New Testament

Why did God incarnate as a male? That is a good question.

Perhaps we don’t really know. Nevertheless, given that God decided to become human, God must become a particular human. That is, God must dwell in the flesh in a particular geographical location, as a particular ethnicity, and as a particular sex. But the point is not that God in the flesh represents only male Jews who live in Palestine but that God in the flesh represents all humans. The incarnate Christ is the image of God, and we are all being conformed to the image of Christ whether male or female, whether Jew or Gentile, whether slave or free. The particularity of the incarnation, necessary for authentic existence as a human being, does not limit its meaning for all human beings.

Nevertheless, whatever reasons we might assign to God’s incarnation as a male, they do not imply that only males are gifted for leadership any more than God’s incarnation as a Jew implies that only Jews are gifted for leadership. Jesus, as human, represents all human beings.


In 1848, John R. Howard published what became a popular and influential sermon entitled “The Church of Christ Identified.” He listed the “original marks” of the true church, including such things as Christ as founder, no creed but the Bible, terms of admission (faith, repentance, confession, baptism), and weekly Lord’s supper. Interestingly, one of the marks “of the true church of Christ” was that it would be organized  with “certain officers,” including “1. Bishops, or elders; 2. Deacons and deaconesses, 3. Evangelists.”

Howard was not alone but stating a common orthopraxy among congregations in the early Restoration Movement (or, Stone-Campbell Movement). Other advocates for deaconesses included Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Tolbert Fanning, Robert Richardson, Robert Milligan, Moses Lard, J. M. Barnes, E. G. Sewell, C. R. Nichol, G. C. Brewer, J. Ridley Stroop, and J. D. Thomas. This was a strong tradition within the Restoration Movement in the nineteenth century, but it died out in the early 20th century even though some prominent ministers thought it was an approved office in the church.

Why did it die out? The influence of David Lipscomb and J. W. McGarvey weighed heavily as they understood only men could serve as such. The rise of women’s suffrage and the emergence of the “New Woman” movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries probably shaped the response of churches who were threatened by those movements. They circled the wagons and excluded women from the diaconate. Yet, the church has always been filled with women deaconesses even if they were not permitted to wear the name. Churches may not have honored the office, but God still gave the gift.

First, A Note on Responsibility:

Before I ever get into the nitty-gritty on women’s roles, I’m careful to frame the entire topic in the idea of responsibility. We’re essentially in a conversation about whether and how men’s and women’s God-given personal responsibilities differ in our communities. Remembering this keeps both sides fair.

It is my firm belief that conversations around authority, leadership, submission, and followership of all kinds could be drastically clearer if we first defined the power at play. It is with power and ability that we are made influential and/or authoritative over folks in our lives, and because of that influence we have to effect change (with or without a designated position), we are responsible for the outcome of that change. When God grants us power or gifts, He comes calling for results. Recognizing and harnessing privilege for God’s glory is the crux of our Kingdom work.

So first off, treating the complementarian position as one primarily concerned with men’s responsibility is the fairest angle of approach. I’ll not pave the easy road from power to abuse as if having power essentially leads to harming with it. Cruddy argument. To take issue with the abusive practices and perverted mindsets of domineering men who misapply their equipping for leadership is not to take issue with complementarianism itself or headship itself. As headship bastion John Piper puts it: “Headship is not a right to command and control. It’s a responsibility to love like Christ: to lay down your life for your wife in servant leadership.” Same goes for men and women heading up the church family.

The solution to the problem of ungodly men is more of the “God” not less of the “men.”

Secondly, as we look at Genesis for gender role commentary with responsibility heavy on our minds, we’re going to come to many more instances where it’s possible to point out, “Look! Adam is especially responsible for Eve here! He has a unique obligation!” I myself pointed and exclaimed for years.


Every time we think we’ve found some sort of obligation (responsibility/accountability/duty), we must also look for some sort of coinciding ascendancy (power/influence/ability/gifting/station/anointing.) It is power that begets responsibility, and this order is essential to a study on executive hierarchy between the sexes. When God grants us power or gifts, He comes calling for results, true. But the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?” hinges on something having been given. If the greater, unilateral responsibility we find for husbands in Genesis is genuine, then we’ll also find some sort of upper hand or greater ability that makes it possible.

While there is no respected complementarian to my knowledge who teaches that women are made more morally corruptible, with less spiritual depth, or with lower potential to know God and be transformed more like Christ, it isn’t a huge leap to hear such implications in the belief that men (be that husbands or male church leaders) are especially responsible to spiritually lead, develop, and discern for their families in ways women just aren’t. Men and women are different, of course. And thank God for that, because diversity makes the Body stronger. But which male attribute, exactly, is the gift that God grants to men alone that makes them most able to respond (response-able) to a calling to spiritual leadership? (or service, depending on how you look at it.)

Fairness to the egalitarian camp means we validate this question and sincerely investigate the answer with them. We don’t summarize the question as an angsty “How dare you?!” We see the heart many investigators like myself come with: one full of questions like “Who am I?,” “What am I here for?,” and “How do I honor God’s investment in me?”

From here, I’ll start with the best answer complementarianism has offered in its interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to explain how exactly men are made responsible for their respective women: Gen. 2:15-16.

It is just as true today as it has ever been, apart from Jesus people are lost. How are we going to reach them? It is also true that God expects us to grow in our faith and maturity in Christ. How are we accomplishing that?

The answer to both questions is the same answer – disciple-making.

There is no more worthy purpose of the church than to make disciples of the nations. One of our biggest hindrances to this is that too few Christians have been intentionally discipled. The result is a generation that has no model in hand to use to disciple other people. This leaves many Christians desiring to make disciples but uncertain of what it looks like.

What are we doing to turn this ship and re-engage our churches with healthy, biblical disciple-making approaches that are simple and reproducible?

Renew’s mission is to fill that gap, answer that question, and help congregations and individual Christians embrace approaches to discipleship and disciple-making for everyday people.

Whether you are just starting out and need some help and instruction or you have made many disciples and need some encouragement, we invite you to Renew’s annual Gathering. This is an event for those who want to turn the corner into a better future that is driven by Christ’s call and commission for us to make disciples.

This event is held November 6th in Franklin, Tennessee and we write this to encourage you to come. We have done our best to keep our cost low (starting at $59) to ensure as many people as possible can attend this event.

You can register here.

Please use the code WINESKINS to get the discount at checkout.

The big point we want you to hear is this. This event is for you. When we hear about events for ministry we think they are events for ministers (paid staff and elders). Christ’s commission to make disciples is for all Christians. If we would all embrace this call and be equipped to carry it out, we would see such an amazing opportunity take shape in our churches and we would each have a front row seat to watch God work!

Come to Franklin this November and hear from people like Dave Clayton of Ethos in Nashville. Dave has made efforts to reach the greater Nashville area, calling on Christians in the city to fasting and prayer. Hear from Jim Putman whose church of over 6000 has planted 10 other churches, 8 of which have grown to over 1000, half of which are formerly unchurched people. Gain insights from Mark Moore, teaching pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley where they baptized over 3500 last year. If you have never heard of Shadonkeh Johnson, we want you to know what he is doing in West Africa. Fourteen years ago God used him to begin a movement that has grown to between 700,000 and 800,000 people, 70% of which were not involved in church before. We could also mention people like Matthew Bates, Orpheus Hayward, and Gary Johnson. Gary is doing much needed work on developing healthy elderships.

This event can change your life and change your congregation as we desire to participate in a movement of God in North American churches. Will you join us? Will you come and see what God is doing and prayerfully consider how you might participate in what God is doing in your city?

This event isn’t just for your staff or your elders. This event is for you and we are fasting and praying that God would use November 6th to help our churches turn corners in disciple making! We ask you to do the same – fast and pray with us and see if you believe God wants you to come November 6th!

If you are interested in this mission and ministry, please see our website for many, many resources about how you can help make disciples and make disciple-makers!

The question came up in my previous article about whether or not Junia was an apostle. I am thankful the question didn’t come up of whether or not she was a she. She most certainly was.

There are two standard works on this subject for further consideration:

Scot McKnight – Junia is Not Alon (2.99 on kindle)

Eldon J. Epp – Junia: The First Woman Apostle

First, we can be sure that Junia was a woman for several reasons. Why this is even in question is because of translations like the RSV which says this in the text,

“Greet Androni′cus and Ju′nias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. “

And the ESV which says this in the footnote on Junia,

“Romans 16:7 Or Junias”

Early English translations have “Junia” (Female). Early translations of the Bible have Junia as a female according to McKnight citing Epp, “First, all early translations of the New Testament into other languages listed Junia as a woman. Epp, a master of the history of our New Testament in all its various translations, says that Junia was a woman in the Old Latin, the Vulgate, Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic and Syriac.” – McKnight, Scot. Junia Is Not Alone (Kindle Locations 121-123). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

McKnight goes on to say it was Martin Luther whose influence solidified the shift from universally accepted Junias (female) to Junias (male),

“Martin Luther played a decisive role in turning Junia into a man. Clearly dependent on Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (or Jacques LeFèvre d’Étaples), Luther gave to the German name Juniam a masculine article (den Juniam [today, den Junias]). Then he said, “Andronicus and Junias were famous apostles” and were “men of note among the apostles.” Luther’s influence is inestimable, and some have suggested that he might be the one on whom to pin the blame for the sex-change from Junia to Junias. We are aware, however, that prior to him by two centuries, back in the 13th or early 14th century, Aegidius or Giles of Rome called Junia a male. Luther didn’t invent the change, but his influence made it significant. – McKnight, Scot. Junia Is Not Alone (Kindle Locations 126-131). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

Second, McKnight shows how the Greek New Testament NA13 made the change by changing Junia to Junias in 1927 and placing Junia in a footnote. This is the text students and scholars typically base their English translations off of. According to McKnight this was taken a step further in 1979 when that edition of the Greek New Testament even removed Junia from the footnotes! This was corrected in the 1998 edition.

This is a huge problem but one that demonstrates the point – Junia was a female in Rome. There isn’t any question about that. If the above evidence isn’t enough let me give you one more detail from Jewett’s commentary on Romans,

“Junia is a Latin feminine name, ordinarly given to slaves or freedwomen of the Junia family, of which some 250 examples have been found in Roman evidence. The modern scholarly controversy over this name rests on the presumption that no woman could rank as an apostle, and thus that the accusative form must refer to a male by the name of Junias or Junianus. However, the evidence in favor of the feminine name ‘Junia’ is overwhelming. Not a single example of a masculine name ‘Junias’ has been found. The patristic evidence investigated by Fabrega and Fitzmyer indicates that commentators down through the twelfth century refer to Junia as a woman, often commenting on the extraordinary gifts that ranked her among the apostles.” (p.961).

The last sentence from Jewett gets us to the second question, was Junia an apostle of some sort or was she notable to the male apostles of Jesus?

Exhibit A: Church history
According to Jewett the first 1200 years of evidence show that not only was she a she but that they considered her to be an apostle. Consider what Chrysostom said about her in the 300s, “Even to be an apostle is great, but also to be prominent among them – consider how wonderful a song of honor that is!” (Hom. Rom. 31.2)

Exhibit B: The Greek
The comments on the previous post both on site and on Facebook questioned her status as an apostle. I agree that the English seems a bit ambiguous, “outstanding among the apostles.” That could mean she was among the apostles and viewed as outstanding or she wasn’t an apostle but among the group who are apostles she was viewed as outstanding.

Jewett: “the adjective επισημος [outstanding/noteworthy] lifts up a person or thing as distinguished or marked in comparison with other representatives of the same class, in this instance with the other apostles.” He gives many instances of this where those being talked about are compared with people or things of the same type or class.

Our being troubled by something does not determine its truthfulness. Let’s back up a bit. We have already shown the assumption that because women cannot be apostles, and she is clearly called an apostle, therefore she cannot be a she so let’s make her a he – is erroneous. Then we have to wrestle with the next issue and that is “what is an apostle?”

Exhibit C: Defining “Apostle”
In Dunn’s Word Biblical commentary on Romans he believes that when Jesus appeared to people per Paul’s comments in 1 Cor 15:7 where it says he appeared to “all of the apostles” that at that time Jesus designated more apostles.

Literally the word apostle means a “sent one.” We might say a missionary or evangelist. Someone who is sent to preach/teach the good news about Jesus. That is the general meaning. We might add more specifically that to be an apostle at this state of the game in the first century would have been someone who witnessed the resurrected Lord. And note she is not alone but her husband is also called an apostle in Romans 16:7. It seems to me apostolicity expanded beyond the twelve for some of those who met the above criteria (witness and sent to proclaim). I would not count her as one of the 12 or them as #13 and #14. I would say Paul can freely call them apostolos and mean it and that shouldn’t trouble us or convince us to finagle a way to make her a man.

Here is Schreiner’s take in Baker,

“Murray (1965: 230) is virtually along among modern commentators in understanding it as ‘outstanding in the eyes of the apostles.’ The consensus view is that the phrase means ‘distinguished among the apostles.’…In saying that they are apostles, however, Paul is certainly not placing them in the ranks of the Twelve. In 1 Cor 15 (vv. 5,7) Paul distinguished between the Twelve and the apostles, and so it would be a mistake to think that the latter are coterminous with the former. Other members of the early church had apostolic authority in addition to the Twelve: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:1-4, 14), and James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). It is improbable, however, that Andronicus and Junia had the same level of authority as Paul, Barnabas, and James. The term αποστολος is not a technical term (cf. 3 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25…), and in the case of Andronicus and Junia the idea is likely that they were itinerant evangelists or missionaries…As a female missionary Junia may have directed her energies especially to other women.” (p.796-797).

We really don’t know about her level of authority compared with Paul and we really don’t know if she solely focused on women (“may have”) but I do appreciate his making clear how we absolutely do have others called apostles who were not of the twelve and what sort of role people like that would have filled. Understanding the passage through this lens I have no trouble calling Junia an apostle and see no need to translate Romans 16:7 in a way that is less accurate and/or negates her role for the sake of upholding my presuppositions or comfort zones. I hope you feel the same way.

I have already touched on two key points in 1 Timothy 2 – silence and authority. If you haven’t read those, I hope you will take a few minutes to consider those two articles.

Next we tackle Paul’s prohibition of women teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 which turns out to be one of the strangest passages in the New Testament, in my opinion,

” 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. “

How are women saved through childbearing and what does it have to do with teaching and deception?

I wrestled and wrestled with this. It just didn’t make sense on several levels. The first level was this – how does Paul prohibit women from teaching men when women taught men in some instances in Paul’s day. We know this is a fact with Priscilla and Aquilla teaching Apollos. This is usually dismissed by Aquilla’s presence. And that may be the explanation. Then there is Junia who is an apostle. That certainly has a teaching function. One might presume she was only to teach women or to teach with her husband present only to a non-Christian per Priscilla/Aquilla and Apollos. We also have public women prophets like Anna (in the gospels pre-resurrection) and Philip’s daughters (post-resurrection in Acts). Some say the prophetic role and teaching role are not the same so that is also explained away per Eph 4:11. Timothy himself was instructed in the faith by his mother (2 Tim 1:5).

The presence of these women teachers in the New Testament at bare minimum gets my attention and leaves me with a few important questions to ask about 1 Timothy 2.

One question is, is this an all-time universal prohibition of all teaching by women to a mixed or male assembly? Or is it situational/occasional to what is going on in Ephesus? That is a very important question to ask. What clues can we get from the text to tease that apart? We do know Paul’s letters were written to address particular issues in particular churches and so we have to learn to listen to the letters through that lens.

Was there something going on in Ephesus (where Timothy is when Paul writes him – 1 Tim 1:3) that led to this prohibition or, again, is Paul intending this to be an all time, every time thing? If so, would Paul have been condemning of the examples listed above, which he doesn’t seem to have been? Again, we have our explanations of those other passages, which I have alluded to above, but are those explanations sufficient?

What would happen if we read 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in light of the entire letter of 1 Timothy? Here is what we notice:

  • False doctrine is being taught by “Christians” in Ephesus – 1:3
  • This teaching includes “myths and endless genealogies” – 1:4
  • Some have “deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions” – 1:6-7
  • “in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods…” – 4:3
  • “Have nothing to do with profane myths or old wives’ tales.” – 4:7
  • Young widows have learned “to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. For some have already turned away to follow Satan” – 5:13-15
  • “Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” – 6:3-5

We get a bigger picture of what is going on in Ephesus. There is false teaching being taught. It has something to do with asceticism (to abstain from certain things/indulgence in pleasurable things – food, marriage/sex, etc). This teaching was catching hold in the church and was being spread by various people but especially by young, childless widows (5:13-15).

Is this false teaching that the young, female, widows, are teaching the impetus for Paul’s prohibition against women teaching? Paul says in 5:15 that some are now following Satan. Does that fit with what Paul wrote in 2:14, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”?

These are important questions, again, are these universal, all time truths or situational to what is going on in Ephesus that Paul prohibits women from teaching when it was the women who seem to have been passing these teachings along at that time?

Paul isn’t saying women are more easily deceived than men as a general rule. We know that is not the case. He is making a parallel between what is happening in Ephesus with what happened in the garden where the women were not just the ones deceived (Adam was too) but the ones who were perpetuating the deception.

But what about being saved through childbearing? This connection was first brought to my attention in Gordon Fee’s book “Listening to the Spirit in the Text,” p.74-75.

How are women saved through childbearing? Paul uses two words for childbearing in 1 Timothy. One is in 2:15 and the other is in 5:14. Both are the only times these two words are used in the entire New Testament. They are rare. They are also connected. He tells how women are saved through childbearing in 5:13-15,

“Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. 15 For some have already turned away to follow Satan.”

Paul notes these women are spreading false teaching. They have been deceived by Satan and are now following Satan (much like Eve in chapter 2). How does this get better? They aren’t married and don’t have kids – they have time to be idle, to listen to the false teachings and to perpetuate the false teaching. So Paul instructs them to get married, have kids, and then they have households to manage which removes them from the influence of the false teachers. Saved through childbearing.

Saved through childbearing isn’t some existential change of status from lost to save when a woman has a baby. It is practical.

What we know for sure is that women were teaching false things in Ephesus. What we are less sure of is whether or not this is all Paul was prohibiting based on this verse alone. What you and I have to wrestle with is whether or not the body of evidence of women teaching and proclaiming freely in the early church is sufficient enough for us to say what Paul prohibited in 1 Tim 2 was universal or occasional.

At least a more coherent picture is formed out of what is going on in these verses than just a slam down proof text to end all discussion, which is how these verses are too often handled.

I hesitate to add my voice to the area of women’s roles in the Churches of Christ.  I say that, as a man, who gets to preach, and has no restrictions placed on him. I feel unqualified to add my words to the already full pools of thought going on in our congregations. Yet, sometimes you must speak.  There are times in our lives where we will feel like Jeremiah when he says, “ But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9, NIV). I believe fear, for the most part has kept me quiet on this issue.  I repent of that fear right now.

In my experience, there are places you don’t want to tread in a Bible study on a Wednesday night or Sunday Morning. The role of women is one of them. I have found that when even when the subject of the role of women is broached from a distance, it is immediately shot down with fury. Immediately the proof texts from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are bandied about and slammed on the table. This is where the terrible way of reading the Bible that says, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” comes into play.

These moments have become gatekeepers in our congregations that we have allowed to persist. Many of our congregations can’t even enter into any sort of meaningful dialogue, let alone serious studies of these passages without it devolving into an argument – an often-times very loud argument. This is tragic among a people who are born out of reconciliation and resurrection.

We’ve held our positions on the roles of women in the assembly and the church for a long time now. I don’t expect my voice to change your mind. Our heritage, which is a beautiful one, has preserved some of our general positions.  That’s commendable. I love our faith heritage and am proud to serve within it. Yet, on the roles of women in worship, let me just ask a simple, yet loaded question:

What if we’re wrong?

No one among us would even hesitate to admit that Jesus elevated the status of women in the first century.  They were integral in his ministry (Luke 8:1-3), and they were participants in some of the greatest moments in Jesus’ ministry. We read that they had an active, participatory role in the early church’s worship services (1 Cor. 14:26). Women even had leadership roles recognized by an Apostle (Rom. 16:1). I’m not advocating crazy changes – not at all.  I’m just asking if we’re honestly reading the text without dodging the uncomfortable parts.

I’m not promoting that churches begin immediately putting our dear sisters at the pulpit or to pass trays or lead singing or pray.  Instead, I’m trying to wrap my head around an idea; a question, really. First, let me bring up another Scripture before I bring out my question.  Writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19, NIV). In context Paul is speaking of not treating the revelations and things of God with contempt.  He’s admonishing the believers to trust the Spirit, don’t block Him. Let Him lead. Don’t put Him in a box of “theology.” I know we’re all guilty of this from time to time, and repentance is required.  Here’s my question:  Are we quenching the Spirit?

Let me ask it in a way that terrifies me:

Are we keeping an entire group of believers from exercising their God-given abilities by hiding behind tradition and comfort?  Are we handicapping our women in their service to God?

These are honest questions.  And, if we find ourselves to be wrong in this, a deep repentance is required. How do we know God hasn’t spoken a word through a sister that someone needs to hear but never will because we don’t allow her to speak in front of everyone?  How do we know God isn’t raising up women with something burning in their hearts that we all need to hear? Are we so arrogant to hang our theological hats on one or two Scriptures that when read in the proper context reveals quite a different picture than we’ve been presented with?

We can go around and round on whether Scripture advocates an egalitarian view or a complementarian view. We can say, “Let’s talk about what women can do, not about what they can’t.”  To me, that’s become a fancy way of dodging the issue entirely.

The role of women in our assemblies will continue to be a contentious issue so long a we hide behind the demonic tyranny of statements like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Being closed-minded or too sure of our positions gets us nowhere.  This is a big issue, church.  It isn’t going anywhere.  Maybe its time we sat down and talked about it. Publicly. Humbly. Together.

Look, I’m not advocating a massive, church-wide change. I’m not saying we throw everything we’ve ever known in the trash and walk away.  I’m not pretending that there aren’t many brothers and sisters who sincerely believe with their entire being that God has set up women’s roles in a certain way. I’m certainly not going to force women into something they don’t want to do.

What I am asking is that we sit down with open Bibles, open hearts, and open ears and listen to God.  We need our sisters.  We need to hear their prayers. We need to hear what God is speaking to their hearts.  We need the collective wisdom God has given His people through His Spirit to guide us in these tenuous days. We need each other!

We must have this discussion.  We must stop labeling each other liberal, conservative, progressive, or traditionalist.  We are dividing the Body when we do that. Instead, we must come together and discern through the Spirit and the Word, what God wants us to do in our congregation – not everyone else’s. We cannot ever change just because.  Yet, we cannot afford to stay the same if we are perpetuating a sinful tradition. This is where clarity and wisdom must come into play. 

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, that we come together and ask ourselves, “Are we quenching the Spirit?” If we find ourselves to be in that position, then it is our Christian duty to change. May we pray that we can empower our sisters and let them be who God created them to be.  May we all humble ourselves and pray for wisdom on this issue.

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our celebrities. 

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our politicians.

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our news organizations.

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our religious teachers, preachers, worship ministers, and pastors.

Jesus is the one who calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisioned regardless of their status or documentation. He’s the one who expects us to forgive our enemies, lay down our plans for others, and go the extra mile. He calls us to love others as he loves us. He builds bridges not walls. He gives justice to the oppressed and makes a way for the unheard. He seeks out those who others hate and grants them victory. He comforts all those who mourn. He delights in the children and severely rebukes those who mistreat them. He crosses party lines and overturns policies. He cares for all people regardless of where or how they live. He is not king of our politics, our congregation, or our country. He is King overall.

Make no mistake, if Jesus were starting his ministry in America right now he would not be popular with the celebrities, politicians, news outlets, or many of our churches. They would look for ways to silence him. They would try to trick him. They would hurl insults at him. They would build his cross. They would crucify him. 

Don’t confuse the Christ with the culture.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 is one of the pivotal scriptures in shaping our view of what women can and cannot do in the assembly. Interestingly enough, it isn’t really an assembly passage, although the instruction there certainly would govern what happens in the Christian assembly (church).

Before we start I want to tell you my intent. I am not going to tell you what to believe. That is between you and God. I am not going to attempt to force anything on anyone. I am going to tell you what is in the text and let you wrestle with it yourself.

Here is the text in question from several translations:

1984 NIV – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

2011 NIV – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

NASB – “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

KJV – “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

There is one word in the Greek text that is translated by 2-3 words in these English translations. The Greek word is “authentein” (which is an infinitive of authenteo) and the English translation of that word is in bold above.

Words Paul uses for authority

There are several words that get translated as “authority” in English translations. The NIV has 21 Greek words translated as “authority.” The word used most often is “exousia” (used nearly 100 times in the Greek New Testament). This word means to be in charge, have power or control.

Obviously the word in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not the word used most often. In fact the word in 1 Timothy 2:12 is only used once in the Greek New Testament. Once! Why did Paul change words? Would this make any difference in our view on women in the assembly?

What does this word mean?

Bauer gives it this definition, “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate”

Because we don’t get any other uses of this word in the New Testament, scholars have to look outside the Bible for help.

Here is info from a chart in “Women in the Church” by Kostenberger (who is a complimentarian and who believes that cultural influences are weighing on Christianity – which is certainly true and always has been so), p.78-79

Extra-biblical usages of authenteo over time
1 – “To rule, to reign sovereignly”
Used this way four times from 1 century BC to 6th century AD

2 – “To control, to dominate”
Used this way from four times from the second century AD to the 12th

2a – “To compel, to influence”
Used this way three times from 27 BC to 690 AD

2b – “In the middle voice – to be in effect, to have legal standing”
Used this way twice – in 235 AD and the 7th century AD

2c – “To domineer”
Used this way once by Chrsostom in 390AD

2d – “To grant authorization”
Used this way three times from 350-638 AD

3 – “To act independently”
Used this way three times from 390-6th century AD

3a – “To assume authority over”
Used this way three times from 390-9th century AD

3b – “To exercise one’s own jurisdiction”
Used this way four times from 2nd century AD to the 14th century AD

3c – “To flout the authority of”
Used this way twice – once in 690 and again in the 10th century AD

4 – “To be primarily responsible for, to instigate”
Used this way three times from 325 to 10th century AD

5 – “To commit murder”
Used this way once all the way over in the 10th century

The noun form of this word can mean murder but as you see above, the verb form under consideration, is rarely ever used that way and when it is, it is 900 years after Paul.

Remember, letters are situational/occassional. That means they are written to group of people with specific issues going on. I want to point out that for most of these definitions, we would all agree that in almost every instance, men shouldn’t do what this word means either. Read all of 1 Timothy to get an idea of what is going on with the women there. This is a necessary step for us to make application today. We cannot understand what a passage means for us now if we don’t also consider what it meant for its first audience.

What does Kostenberger conclude? That the only viable options based on the context are: 2, 2a, 3a, and 3c. Of those only 3a and possibly 2a do not contain a negative connotation in regard to the kind of actions the women are exhibiting.

Rejecting the “it’s just cultural” rationale

Whatever this word means I do not believe we dismiss it as some kind of cultural artifact. Everything is embedded with culture on some level. I believe that even things embedded with cultural meaning and value still have eternal truths we must learn and apply today.

From what you can see above, the word itself typically does have a negative meaning associated with it unlike typical words in Greek for authority. This is noted by Keener citing Scholer in “Paul, Women & Wives,” 108-109. Here is what Keener (an egalitarian) concludes on this matter,

“The evidence is not entirely clear, as Scholer observes, but Scholer is right that this is not Paul’s usual term for exercising authority. The context, which helps us reconstruct the situation, suggests that Paul may here be warning against a domineering use of authority, rather than merely any use of authority.” (p.109)

Here is the point I want to bring up and make you aware of. When people discuss this passage and apply it that rarely ever know that this is a word only used once that typically has a harsh edge to it – not the typical word use for authority.

Here are some questions to wrestle with. I am not going to attempt to tell you what to think. I want you to be informed.

Why did Paul use a different word here?

Did it have something to do with what women in Ephesus were doing?

If this is domineering, does that, as some scholars point out, also tie into the prohibition on teaching since women did teach in the early church, pray, etc – that possibly Paul is saying the teaching has a quality that is unacceptable in Ephesus and then gives a prohibition on it, not because they are women but because the women are the ones doing it (teach/have authority) in a way that is harmful to others?

I am not going to answer those questions for you but I do want you to ponder them.

We must go with Paul says. We must determine the meaning of what he said before we can apply it.Let’s actually look at what he wrote and form our conclusions. There are many things women are not allowed to do because the conversation is had like this word for authority is the same as the word he always uses.

Does anything change in your understanding of what women can or cannot do based on this word? Whatever this word means, women cannot/should not be doing it (and quite possibly men as well). Would violating this word keep women from praying, reading scripture, passing collection, doing announcements (We already dealt with the silence passages)?

Let us humbly and prayerfully consider these things.

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Psalm 68 celebrates the movement of Israel from Egypt (v. 7) to Sinai (v. 8) and then victory in Canaan (vv. 9-14) whereupon God ascends to the throne on Mount Zion (vv. 15-18).

Paul uses Psalm 68 to describe the ascension and enthronement of Jesus in Ephesians 4:8. Jesus, released from the grave, ascended to the throne and gave gifts to the church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:11 reads: “The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings.” In the ancient Greek translation, the word “bore the tidings” is the same word as in the New Testament that describes “preaching the gospel” (euaggelizomenoi). They preached the good news.

In Hebrew, unlike in the Greek translation, that word is feminine. In other words, the Psalm envisions a great company of women who declare the good news! In the light of Paul’s application of Psalm 68 to the ascension of Christ, we may hear an echo of the gifting of women to preach the gospel.

New Testament

Why did Jesus choose only male apostles? This is a good and important question.

It seems rather obvious that twelve is a number that reflects Israel’s twelve patriarchs, the twelve sons of Jacob. Twelve male apostles underscores continuity with Israel and also the renewal of Israel.

The twelve apostles were free Jewish men, and the apostleship before Pentecost was limited to those categories. However, Pentecost changed this. While the twelve retained a unique honor in the Christian community, after Pentecost the gifting of apostles, prophets, and evangelists (preachers of the gospel) also extended to slave as well as free, Gentile as well as Jew, and women as well as men. The pouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, enlarged the community of gifted leadership from free Jewish men to even enslaved Gentile women.

The gifts given to the church in Ephesians 4 include apostles (Junia was an apostle, Romans 16:7), prophets (Philip’s daughters were prophets, Acts 21:9), and women preached the gospel (the men and women who were scattered went preaching the word, Acts 8:2-4).

Pentecost shifted the dynamics. Those once excluded were now included, and those once unchosen were now chosen. Slaves, Gentiles, and women were now empowered and gifted to participate in the mission of God.


C. R. Nichol, a renowned and beloved conservative among Churches of Christ, published an important book in 1938 entitled God’s Woman.

Nichol advocated for female deacons from 1 Timothy 3, underscored that women prayed and prophesied (taught!) in the public assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 11, and affirmed that women have the right to teach men in a Bible class when the church gathered. While he also taught a kind of patriarchy, he did not believe this eliminated the female voice from the assembly or excluded them from teaching men. His book, with a few exceptions, was well-received. But its views did not win out in the end, and most Churches of Christ silenced the female voice in the assembly and in teaching men (including, teaching eleven year old baptized males).