Are Women Called to Function as Pastors, Elders, or Overseers in the Church?


Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner: A Complementarian Perspective on Women In Ministry 

I believe the role of women in the church is the most controversial and sensitive issue within evangelicalism today. This is not to say that it is the most important controversy, for other debates–the openness of God, and inclusivism versus exclusivisim, for example–are more central. Nonetheless, “the women’s issue” generally sparks more intense debate, probably because women who must defend their call to pastoral ministry feel their personhood and dignity are being questioned by those who doubt their ordination. Men who support the ordination of women are often passionate about the issue, both for exegetical reasons and because they feel compassion for women who have shared their stories with them (It is clear, e.g., that Craig Keener [Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and women’s ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992] is influenced significantly by the sense of call many women feel). Most women who feel called to ministry have experienced the pain of speaking with men who have told them their desires are unbiblical.

I am as affected by the cultural climate as anyone, and thus would prefer, when speaking with women who feel called to pastoral ministry, to say they should move ahead and that they have God’s blessing to do so. It is never pleasant to see someone’s face fall in disappointment when they hear my voice on the matter. On the other hand, I must resist the temptation to please people and instead must be faithful to my understanding of Scripture. And I understand Scripture to forbid women from teaching and exercising authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12). In this essay I will try to explain what is involved in this prohibition. Following the lead of others, I will view the complementation view, and I will call the view that believes all ministries should be open to women the egalitarian view.

History, Hermeneutics, and Terminology

Before I undertake an explanation of the biblical text, I want to say something about the history, hermeneutics, and accurate terminology.


Throughout most of church history, women have been prohibited from serving as pastors and priests (See Daniel Doriani, “A History of the Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds. Andreas Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995], 23-67). Thus, the view I support in this essay is “the historic view.” I readily admit that those supporting the historic view have sometimes used extreme and unpersuasive arguments to defend their views, and that low views of women have colored their interpretations. Nor does the tradition of the church prove that women should be proscribed from the pastorate, for as evangelicals we believe in sola scripture. Nonetheless, evangelicals must beware of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy [New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1955], 207). The tradition of the church is not infallible, but it should not be discarded easily. The presumptive evidence is against a “new interpretation,” for we are apt to be ensnared by our own cultural context and thus fail to see what was clear to our ancestors. An interpretation that has stood the test of time and been ratified by the church in century and century–both in the East and the West and in the North and the South–has an impressive pedigree, even if some of the supporting arguments used are unpersuasive (Karen Jo Torjeson. When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity. Harper: San Francisco, 1993, 9-87; argues that women actually functioned as priests in the earliest part of church history. Ruth A. Tucker and Walter L. Liefeld [Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to Present. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987], 63, 89-127, who are egalitarian scholars, are more careful and persuasive in their analysis of the evidence).

Moreover, the view that women should not be priests or pastors has transcended confessional barriers. It has been the view throughout history of most Protestants, the various Orthodox branches of the church, and the Roman Catholic Church. All of these groups could be wrong, of course; Scripture is the final arbiter on such matters. But the burden of proof is surely on those who promote a new interpretation, especially since the new interpretation follows on the heels of the feminist revolution in our society. Despite some of the positive contributions of feminism (e.g., equal pay for equal work and emphasis on treating women as human beings), it is scarcely clear that the movement as a whole has been a force for good (See Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism with the Church [Wheaton, ILL.: Crossway, 1992]; Robert W. Yarbrough, “The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis, 155-96; Harold O. J. Brown, “The New Testament Against Itself: 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the ‘Breakthrough’ of Galatians 3:28,” in Women in Church: A Fresh Analysis, 197-211. From a secular point of view, see Nicholas Davidson, The Failure of Feminism [Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1988).


A brief word on hermeneutics is also necessary. We are keenly aware that all interpreters are shaped by their previous experience and culture (For a helpful analysis of common hermeneutical errors on both sides, see Andreas J. Kostenberger, “Gender Passages in the New Testament: Hermeneutical Fallacies Critiqued,” WTJ 56 [1994]; 259-83). No one encounters a text with a blank slate, without presuppositions. A detached objectivity is impossible, for we are finite human beings who inhabit a particular culture and a specific society. On the other hand, we must beware of thinking we can never transcend our culture. Otherwise, we will always and inevitably read into texts what we already believe. If we are ensnared by our own histories and social location, then we can dispense with reading any books, though we may enjoy reading those that support our current biases. If we can never learn anything new and if we invariably return to our own worldview, then there is no “truth” to be discovered anyway. Every essay in this volume (Two Views on Women in Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2005) would simply represent the cultural biases of the contributors, and your response as a reader would be your own particular cultural bias. If we are trapped by our past, we may as well relish who we are–and conclude we’re simply wasting our time in reading anybody else’s opinion.

The idea that we are completely bound by our past is hermeneutical nihilism. Instead, awareness of our cultural background and presuppositions may become the pathway by which we transcend our past. People do change, and we can with diligent effort understand those who are different from us. Similarly, comprehending texts that are distant from us is possible, and we may even accept such a “foreign” world as the truth. Indeed, hermeneutical nihilism is really a form of atheism, for evangelicals believe in a God who speaks and who enables us to understand his words. The Spirit of God enables us to comprehend and embrace the truths of his word (1 Cor. 2:6-16), truths we rejected when we were unregenerate. Christians are confident that God’s word is an effective word, a word that creates life (John 6:63). Naturally, this does not mean Christians now have perfect knowledge, nor does it imply we will agree on everything; neither am I denying that some texts are difficult to interpret. We “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12) until the day of redemption (Unless otherwise noted, Scripture citations are taken fro the New American Standard Bible [NASB]). And yet we can gain a substantial and accurate understanding of the Scriptures in this age. I approach this issue, therefore, with the confidence that God’s word speaks to us today and that his will on the role of women can be discerned.

Another hermeneutical matter must be discussed at this juncture. Occasionally the debate between the complementation and egalitarian views is framed as a choice between fundamental texts. For example, one author using the ordination of women as an illustration in discussing the millennium declares the following about the role of women: “The crucial question becomes which passages control the discussion: the passages where no limits seem to be expressed or those that do. Different sides take different positions based on whether they regard the nonrestrictive texts to be more fundamental to determining the view or the restrictive texts.”

Let me simply say at the outset that I reject the dichotomy expressed here. I do not believe the issue relates to which texts are “more fundamental” or which texts “control the discussion.” Such a view assumes that one set of texts functions as a prism by which the other set of texts is viewed. All of us are prone, of course, to read the Scriptures through a particular grid, and none of us escape such a tendency completely. But this way of framing the issue assumes that the decision on women’s ordination is arrived at by deciding which set of texts is more fundamental. If this perspective is correct, it is hard to see how one could possibly say that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is more fundamental than Galatians 3:28. The game seems to be over before it begins. I am convinced the complementation view is correct, not because 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is “more fundamental” or that it “controls the discussion” when interpreting Galatians 3:28. Rather, complementarians, in my opinion, have done the most justice to both Galatians 3:28 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 when these texts are interpreted in context. Neither text should have priority over the other; both must be interpreted carefully and rigorously in context.

I have often heard egalitarians make another hermeneutical statement quite similar to what is noted above. They will say Galatians 3:28 is a clear text, and the texts that limit women from some ministries are unclear (So Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Equal to Serve: Women and Men in the Church and Home [Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1987], 183-89). Then they proceed to say that clear texts must have sovereignty over unclear ones. Who could possibly disagree with this hermeneutical principle when it is abstractly stated? I also believe clear texts should have priority. However, the claim that Galatians 3:28 is the clear text begs the question. Both Galatians 3:28 and texts that limit women in ministry yield a clear and noncontradictory message. Those who preceded us in church history did not think that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 was unclear and that Galatians 3:28 was transparent. Our ancestors did not perceive the same tension between the two texts that many feel today. The texts strike us as polar because a modern notion of equality is often imported into Galatians 3:28. My own position is the main point of Galatians 3:28 and texts that limit the role of women is clear. I am not arguing that every detail in texts like 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is transparent, but the basic teaching is not hard to understand, nor is the main truth in Galatians 3:28 difficult to grasp.


A word about terminology is also in order. Even though I use the phrase “ordination of women” for convenience, the real issue is not ordination but whether women can function in the pastoral office. The language of ordination is not regularly used in the NT of those who serve as leaders in the church. The NT presbyteroi (“elders”) and episkopoi (“overseers”) who serve as leaders in the early church. That elders and overseers constitute the same office is evident from Paul’s address to the Ephesian leaders at Miletus (Acts 20:17-35). In verse 17 they are designated as “elders,” while in verse 28 the same group is described as “overseers.” The term “elders” probably designates the office, while the term “overseers” refers to function–the responsibility to watch over the church. Verse 28 also contains a pastoral metaphor, for the overseers are responsible to poimainein (“shepherd”) God’s flock . Here we have an indication that pastors, overseers, and elders refer to the same office.

Titus 1:5-9 also supports the idea that “elders” and “overseers” refer to the same office. Paul charges Titus to appoint elders in every city (v. 5) and then proceeds to describe the requisite character (v.6). In verse 7 he shifts to the word “overseer.” The singular use of the word “overseer” (episkopon) does not designate another office but is generic. The “for” (gar) connecting verses 6-7 indicates a new office is not in view, since Paul continues to describe the character required of leaders. Indeed, the very same word (anenkletos, “above reproach”) is used in both verses 6 and 7, functioning as further evidence that “overseers” and “elders” refer to the same office. Peter’s first letter (5:1-4) provides confirmatory evidence as well. Peter addressed the elders (presbyterous) in verse 1, calling on them to shepherd (poimanate) the flock. The participle episkopountes (“overseeing”) is also used (verse 2), and so I conclude that shepherding (pastoring) and overseeing are the responsibilities of the elders.

Nor is it the case that elders and overseers were exceptional in the NT. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church planted on their first missionary journey ([Acts 14:23] – The appointing of elders in “every church” indicates a plurality of leadership in local churches. So also Acts 20:17 refers to presbyterous tes ekklesias, showing that there were plural elders for a single church. This is the most plausible way of reading Philippians 1:1, as well as the other texts regarding elders). “Overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1) comprise the two offices in Philippi. Leaders in the church at Jerusalem are designated as “elders” (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4). We have already seen that Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in Crete (Titus 1:5). The qualifications and responsibilities of overseers and elders are explained in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and 5:17-25. Peter’s reference to “elders” (1 Pet. 5:1) indicates that elders were appointed in churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bitynia (1 Pet. 1:1). When James refers to the leaders of the church, he calls them “elders” (Jas. 5:14). This brief survey reveals that elders and overseers were common in the NT church. Elders are not limited to Paul’s letters but are also found in the writings of James, Peter, and Luke. Geographically, elders and overseers stretch from Jerusalem to Philippi to Crete. The terminology, of course, is not fixed. Leaders of churches are also referred to without the use of the titles “elders” or “overseers” (1 Cor. 16:15-16; Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12-13).

My thesis in this essay is that women were not appointed to the pastoral office. Sometimes we ask, “Are women called to the ministry?” I used that very language in introducing this essay. But such language is too imprecise. All believers, including women, are called to ministry. There are a multitude to ministries women can and should fulfill. Similarly, the question is not whether women should be ordained, since ordination in not the central issue in the NT. The question I want to raise is quite specific: Are women called to function as pastors, elders, or overseers? My answer to this question is no, and this essay will explain why.

The Dignity and Significance of Women

We are apt to misunderstand the Scriptures if we immediately delve into texts that limit women from the pastoral office, for the dignity and significance of women is consistently taught in the Bible. Genesis 1:26-28 teaches that both men and women are made in God’s image, and together they are to rule over the world God created. Not only are both males and females made in God’s image, but also they are equally made in his image. No evidence exists that males somehow reflect God’s image more than females. Stanley Grenz provides no evidence for saying that contemporary complementarians deny that both men and women equally share God’s image (Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry [Downers Grove, IL.: Intervarsity, 1995], 169. Amazingly, Grenz cites Ruth Tucker, who is an egalitarian, in support but cites no primary sources to prove his charge). Anyone who has read the literature knows that such an allegation is not true of the vast majority of complementarians.

The dignity of women is often portrayed in the OT. We think of the courageous life of Sarah (Gen. 12-23), the faith of Rahab (Josh. 2), the commitment of Hannah (1 Sam. 1-2), the devotion of Ruth (Ruth 1-4), Abigail’s gentle but firm rebuke of David (1 Sam. 25), the humble faith of both the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4), and the risk-taking faith of Esther (Esth. 1-10). As the author of Hebrews writes, “time will fail me” (Hebrews 11:32) were I to narrate the lives of these OT women and others I have skipped over.

It has been noted often and rightly that Jesus treated women with dignity and respect and that he elevated them in a world where they were often mistreated. He displayed courage and tenderness in speaking to the Samaritan woman when it was contrary to cultural conventions (John 4:7-29). The compassion of Jesus was evident when he raised from the dead the only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), for that son would have become her sole means of support. He lovingly healed the woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage of blood for twelve years (Mark 5:25-34) and delivered the woman who had been unable to stand up straight for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17), even though he was criticized in the latter instance for performing such a healing on the Sabbath. Jesus’ tender firmness toward women in bondage to sin was remarkable, as is evidenced in the stories of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus healed women who were hurting, such as the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) and Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-31). When suffering agony on the cross, he was concerned for his mother’s welfare and requested John to care for her (John 19:26-27).

Jesus often used women or the world of women as examples in his teaching. He commended the queen of Sheba (Matt. 12:42), likened the kingdom of heaven to leaven which was put in dough by a woman (13:33), told the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13), and defended his ministry to sinners with the parable of the lost coin of a woman (Luke 15:8-10). The necessity of steadfastness in prayer is illustrated by the widow who confronted the unjust judge (18:1-8). Jesus upheld the dignity of women by speaking out against divorce, which particularly injured women in the ancient world (Mark 10:2-12). Nor are women simply sex objects to be desired by men, for Jesus spoke strongly against lust (Matt. 5:27-30). Jesus also commended the poor widow who gave all she owned–more than the rich who gave lavish gifts out of their abundance (Luke 21:1-4).

Women were also prominently featured in the ministry of Jesus. His ministry was financed by several women of means (Luke 8:1-3), and it is likely that some of these women traveled with him during at least some of his ministry. Jesus commended Mary for listening to his word, in contrast to Martha, who was excessively worried about preparations for a meal (10:38-42). The account is particularly significant because some in Judaism prohibited women from learning Torah, but Jesus encouraged women to learn the Scriptures. His close relationship with Mary and Martha is illustrated by the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) and his anointing for burial by Mary (12:1-8). The devotion of women was also apparent in their concern for Jesus, even on his way to the cross (Luke 23:27-31; cf. Mark 15:40-41). Finally, Jesus appeared to women and entrusted them to be his witnesses when he was raised from the dead (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18), even though the testimony of women was not received by courts. What is particularly striking is that Jesus appeared to women first, showing again their significance and value as human beings.

The importance of women was not nullified by the early church after Jesus’ ministry. Women participated with men in prayer before the day of Pentectost (Acts 1:12-14). Widows who were lacking daily provisions were not shunted aside, but specific plans were enacted to ensure their needs were met (6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5:3-16; see also Jas. 1:26-27). Tabitha was commended for her loving concern for others (Acts 9:36-42), and Luke features the conversion of Lydia, who worked as a merchant (16:14-15). Concern for women is illustrated in the eviction of the demon from the slave girl (vv. 16-18); her owners were concerned for profits (vv. 19-21), but Paul desired her salvation and deliverance.

All of these confirm the teaching of Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Some scholars see this verse as containing an early baptismal formula, but the prehistory of the text need not detain us here). Both women and men, slave and free, are valuable to God. Women are made in God’s image and thus possess dignity as his image bearers. The fundamental purpose of Galatians 3:28 in context is to say that both men and women have equal access to salvation in Christ. The Judaizing opponents had rocked the Galatian churches, causing them to wonder if one had to be circumcised to be saved (5:2-6; 6:12-13). Paul reminded them that one belongs to the family of Abraham by faith alone (3:6-9, 14, 29). One does not need to become a Jew and receive circumcision in order to qualify for membership in the people of God. Nor are the people of God restricted to males. Anyone who believes in Christ, whether male or female, is part of God’s family.

Klyne Snodgrass argues that Galatians 3:28 cannot be confined to salvation but also has social implications (Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution?” in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen [Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity, 1986], 161-81). Jews and Gentiles, for instance, now relate to each other differently because of their oneness in Christ. I believe Snodgrass is correct. The main point of this verse is that all people, including both men and women, have equal access to salvation in Christ. Nonetheless, it also true that such a truth has social consequences and implications. However, we must read the rest of what Paul says to explain accurately what these social implications are. It is extraordinarily easy to impose on the biblical text our modern democratic Western notions of social equality (Rebecca Merrill Groothuis [Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997], 46 – falls into this very error in defining equality. She does not derive her definition from Scripture but from classical liberal thought. For a persuasive critique of Snodgrass and egalitarian interpretations of Galatians 3:28, see Kostenberger, “Gender Passages,” 274-79; and the insightful work of Richard W. Hove, Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute. Wheaton, ILL.: Crossway, 1999). As we proceed, we will attempt to discern Paul’s own understanding of the social implications of Galatians 3:28.

The late F.F. Bruce’s understanding of Galatians 3:28 was fundamentally flawed, for he red into it his own philosophical conception of equality: “Paul states the basic principle here; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus…, they are to be understood in relation to Galatians 3:28, and not vice versa” (F.F. Bruce, Commentary on Galatians [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], 190. Judith M. Gundry-Volf would draw different conclusions than I would from Galatians 3:28, but she rightly argues that this verse does not abolish all gender differences. See “Christ and Gender: A Study of Difference and Equality in Galatians 3:28,” in Jesus Christus als die Mitte der Schrift: Studien zur Hermeneutik des Evangeliums, eds. C. Landmesser, H.J. Eckstein, and H. Lichtenberger [BZNW 86; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1997], 439-77). Bruce’s assertion begged the question. He assumed all the verses to be interpreted through the lens of Galatians 3:28, but thereby he ensured that his own notions of equality would be read into the verse. Nothing Paul writes elsewhere can qualify or limit his view of Galatians 3:28.

Let me apply Bruce’s logic to the issue of homosexuality (I am not saying that the issues of women in ministry and homosexuality are of equal clarity or importance, for I am persuaded that anyone who thinks homosexuality is acceptable is no longer evangelical. The scriptural teaching on homosexuality is clearer than its teaching on the role of women. Nonetheless, the very principle propounded by F.F. Bruce could logically lead to the result I point out above). What if I were to say, “Galatians 3:28 is Paul’s fundamental statement on what it means to be male and female. Any verse written elsewhere on the matter must be read in light of Galatians 3:28. Therefore, those verses in Paul’s letters that proscribe homosexuality are to be read in light of Galatians 3:28. Paul says that whether one is male or female is of no significance to God. Therefore, whether one marries a male or female is irrelevant.” Evangelicals would rightly protest that such an exegesis reads modern notions of sexual relations into the text. My point is that precisely the same kind of question-begging exegesis is being employed in egalitarian interpretations of Galatians 3:28. Women have equal access to salvation, and there are social consequences to this truth, to be sure, but we need to read Paul and the rest of the Scriptures to determine what these implications are.

At this juncture we need to remind ourselves of the teaching of Galatians 3:28. The Bible does not teach that men or masters or Jews are somehow closer to God. Males and females, masters and slaves, and Jews and Gentiles all have equal access to salvation. It certainly follows that we should treat every human being, whether male or female, with dignity and respect. We also proclaim the gospel to all people groups and both genders in the hope of their salvation.

Since men and women have equal access to salvation, they are also joint heirs “of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). Peter teaches here that both men and women have an equal destiny; both will receive an inheritance on the day of the Lord. The Bible does not teach that women will have a lesser place in heaven. Men and women are equally heirs of the salvation God has promised.


It would be a fundamental mistake to so concentrate on the Scripture passages that limit women in ministry that we fail to see the many ministries in which women were engaged during Bible times. My purpose in this section is to show the variety of ministries involving women and also to explain how such participation in ministry does not contradict the view that women are prohibited from serving in the pastoral office.

The Scriptures clearly teach that women functioned, at least occasionally, as prophets. In the OT, Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 4:4-5), and Huldah (2 Kgs. 22:14-20) are prominent. Anna in the NT also functions like an OT prophet, since she exercised her gift before Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 2:36-38). In Peter’s Pentecost sermon he emphasizes that Joel’s prophecy has been fulfilled and that the Spirit has been poured out on both men and women (Acts 2:17-18). Philip’s four daughters were prophets (21:9), and women in Corinth apparently exercised the gift as well (1 Cor. 11:5). The spiritual gift of prophecy belongs to women as well as men (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11). Egalitarians often argue that prophecy is actually ranked above teaching (1 Cor. 12:28), and thus if women have the right to prophesy, they must also be able to teach and preach because they possess all the spiritual gifts.

To handle this issue adequately, we must define the gift of prophecy. Some define prophecy as preaching (See, e.g., J.I. Packer [Keep in Step with the Spirit. Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1984, 215], who essentially defines prophecy as “preaching.” Packer is a complementarian. For this notion of prophecy, see also David Hill, New Testament Prophecy [London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1979], 213; Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, 960-61; Craig L. Blomberg, “Neither Hierarchicalist nor Egalitarian: Gender Roles in Paul,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, eds. James R Beck and Craig L. Blomberg. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001, 344-45). It is true that those who prophesy proclaim God’s word to the people of God. On the other hand, identifying prophecy as preaching is misleading, since those who preach the Scriptures use the gift of teaching in their exposition. Women are banned from the pastoral office, since one of the fundamental roles of elders is preaching that involves teaching men (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9). Even though prophets declare the word of God, the gift of prophecy should not be equated with the regular teaching and preaching of God’s word.

In 1 Corinthians 14:29-32, Paul indicates that prophecy involves spontaneous reception of revelation or oracles from God (For studies of prophecy that support this basic view, see David E Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983]; Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians [Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1982]; Graham Houston, Prophecy: A Gift for Today? [Downers Grove, ILL.: Intervarsity, 1989], 82-86; Christopher Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment [WUNT 2/75; Tubingen: Mohr, 1995], 218-21; Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, rev. ed. [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996], 185-220). This is evident from verse 30, for a revelation is suddenly given to a prophet who is seated. Clearly a prepared message is not involved, for the person sitting down receives a revelation from God without warning and stands to deliver this spontaneous word of God to the congregation. Such a definition of prophecy fits with Agabus’s prophecies in Acts. The Lord revealed to him that a famine would spread over the world (11:27-28), and he also prophesied that Paul would be tied up and handed over to the Gentiles (21:10-11). These prophesies are hardly prepared messages but are oracles that come supernaturally from God.

The oracular nature of prophecy is also evident in the prophecies of Deborah (Judg. 4:4-9) and Huldah (2 Kgs. 22:14-20), for they deliver God’s specific word in response to particular situations. From this I conclude that prophecy is not to be equated with the teaching required of those serving as elders/overseers/pastors. It also follows that prophecy is distinct from the gift of teaching. Teaching involves the explanation of tradition that has already been transmitted, whereas prophecy is fresh revelation (See TDNT, 6:854, S.V. “prophets“; Heinrich Greeven, “Propheten, Lehrer, Vorsteher bei Paulus,” ZNW 44 [1952-53]:29-30; Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech, 225-29; Turner, Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 187-90, 206-12).

It is not the purpose of this essay to resolve whether prophecy still exists as a gift today (For a discussion of this issue, see Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, ed. Wayne A. Grudem [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996]). What must be observed is that the presence of women prophets does not neutralize the prohibition against women serving as pastors. God has raised up women prophets in the history of the church, but it does not follow that women should serve as elders or overseers of God’s flock. In the OT, women served occasionally as prophets but never as priests (For development of this argument, see Gordon J. Wenham, “The Ordination of Women: Why Is It So Divisive?” Chm 92 [1978]: 310-19). Similarly, in the NT, women served as prophets but never as pastors or overseers or apostles. Not a single NT example can be adduced that women served as pastors, elders, or overseers. When we examine 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in more detail later, we will also see that Paul instructs women to exercise their prophetic gift with a submissive demeanor and attitude, since man is the head of a woman (v. 3).

Another difference between prophecy and teaching must be noted. Prophecy is a passive gift in which oracles or revelations are given by God to a prophet. Teaching, on the other hand, is a gift that naturally fits with leadership and is a settled office, for it involves the transmission and explanation of tradition (Previously I argued that a women’s gift of prophecy was not exercised as publicly as it was by men [see my “The Valuable Ministries of Women in the Context of Male Leadership: A Suvey of Old and New Testament Examples and Teaching,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton, ILL.: Crossway, 1991], 216. I know have some reservations about the validity of this argument.). I am not arguing that prophecy is a lesser gift than teaching, only that it is a distinct gift.

Isn’t there a flaw in the above argument? For women have the gift of teaching, just as men do. When the spiritual gifts are listed (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-30; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), no hint is given that women lack the gift of teaching. In fact, Priscilla and Aquila together instructed Apollos more accurately about the things of the Lord (Acts 18:26), and the listing of Priscilla first may signal that she was more learned than her husband. Paul also testifies to the powerful ministry of this couple, calling them fellow workers in the gospel and referring to a church that met in their home (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; cf. 2 Tim. 4:19). Some egalitarians also point to Titus 2:3, where the teaching of women is commended.

In many respects I agree with egalitarians here. Sometimes complementarians have given the impression that women are unintelligent and that they lack the ability to teach. Such a view is clearly mistaken, for some women unquestionably have the spiritual gift of teaching. Men should be open to receiving biblical and doctrinal instruction from women. Otherwise, they are  not following the humble example of Apollos, who learned from Priscilla and Aquila. Moreover, women should be encouraged to share what they have learned from Scriptures when the church gathers. The mutual teaching recommended in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16 is not limited to men. Sometimes we men are more chauvinistic than biblical.

Nonetheless, the above Scripture texts do not indicate that women filled the pastoral office or functioned as regular teachers of the congregation. All believers are to instruct one another, both when the church gathers and when we meet in smaller groups of two or three (1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). To encourage and instruct one another is the responsibility of all believers. But such mutual encouragement and instruction is not the same thing as a woman’s being appointed to the pastoral office or functioning as the regular teacher of a gathering of men and women.

Complementarians can easily go too far and think that women cannot teach them anything from Scripture, when the example of Priscilla says otherwise. On the other hand, a single occasion in which Pricilla taught Apollos in private hardly demonstrates that she filled the pastoral office. Let me use an example from today. If a member of my church named Jim took aside another person in my congregation and explained something from the Bible to him, it does not follow that Jim was actually functioning as a teacher or pastor in our church. Other information would be needed to clarify Jim’s precise role. Egalitarians can be tempted to read more into the Priscilla account than it actually says. And egalitarians are sometimes disingenuous about Titus 2:3, for the context reveals that Paul encourages older women to instruct younger women (See Grenz, Women in the Church, 129). It is eisegesis [reading into the text] to use this text to defend the belief that women can teach men in pastoral ministry, for the ministry of older women to younger women is what is commended here.

Paul celebrates the contributions of women in ministry. One of his favorite terms for those who assist him in ministry is synergos (“co-worker,” “fellow worker”). The lineup of coworkers is impressive: Timothy (Rom. 16:21; 1 Thess. 3:2; Phlm. 1), Apollos (1 Cor. 3:9), Urbanus (Rom. 16:9), Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Aristarchus (Col. 4:10; Phlm. 24), Mark (Col. 4:11; Phlm. 24), Jesus Justus (Col. 4:11), Epaphras (Phlm. 24), Demas (Phlm. 24), and Luke (Phlm. 24). But coworkers are not limited to men. Pricilla is called a synergos (“fellow worker”) in Romans 16:3. Euodia and Syntyche are commended as coworkers in Philippians 4:3, and Paul says they struggled together with him spreading the gospel.

Paul also often uses the verb kopiao (“to labor”) to designate those involved in ministry (1 Cor. 16:16). Indeed, the term kopiaomm often describes his own ministry (1 Cor. 4:12; 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col. 1:29; 1 Tim. 4:10). In some texts, leaders are said to labor, or work hard (1 Cor. 16:16; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17). What is remarkable is that a number of women are noted by Paul as having worked hard: Mary (Rom. 16:6) and Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (v.12). Egalitarians conclude from this that women functioned as leaders in the early church.

We ought not to miss the point both egalitarians and complementarians agree on: women were obviously significantly involved in ministry. And they worked hard in their ministries. But the evidence does not clearly indicate that women functioned as leaders, for the terms are fundamentally vague on the matter of leadership. We know women worked hard in ministry, but these terms do not tell us they functioned as pastors. The flaw in such reasoning is easily apparent if we consider the case of the apostle Paul. Let me construct a simple syllogism:

Paul the apostle often describes his ministry as labor, or hard work. A number of women are said to labor in ministry. Therefore, women functioned as apostles. The logical flaw here is immediately apparent, for “labor” is not unique to or distinctive of apostles. People can labor in ministry without being apostles. Similarly, women labor in ministry without necessarily functioning as leaders. In my own church, many women are working hard and laboring in the ministry, but they do not fill pastoral leadership roles. The reader should note carefully what I am not saying. I am not arguing that the terms “fellow worker” (“co-worker”) and “labor” (“work hard”) clearly exclude women from pastoral leadership. I am merely saying the terms do not demonstrate they functioned as such.

Did women serve as deacons in the NT period? The debate centers on Romans 16:1 and 1 Timothy 3:11. Many complementarians are persuaded that women were not deacons. Unfortunately, the text is unclear, so certainty is precluded, and we are limited to a study of two verses! On balance I think women did serve as deacons, and I believe we should encourage them to fill this office in our churches. The word for “deacon” (diakonos) often refers to service in general, with no specific office being intended. Nevertheless, it seems that Phoebe filled an office in Romans 16:1, for she is spoken of as a “deacon of the church at [TNIV, “in”] “Cenchreae” (NRSV). The addition of the words “of the church at Cenchreae” after diakonos suggests an official position, for it appears she filled a particular role in a specific local church.

It is possible 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to the wives of deacons instead of women deacons, but a reference to women deacons is more likely for a number of reasons. First, the women in verse 11 are introduced with the term “likewise”–the same term used to introduce male deacons in verse 8, so it is most reasonable to think Paul is continuing to describe offices in the church. Second, some English versions translate the word gynaikas (“women”) here as “wives” (KJV, NKJV, NIV), but the Greek language does not have a separate word for “wives” and the term could just as easily be translated “women” (NASB, NRSV, RSV, TNIV). In fact, the reference would clearly be to wives if Paul had written “their wives” (requiring simply the addition of the Greek auto) or “the wives of deacons” (requiring simply the addition of the Greek diakonon). Since neither of these terms is used, women deacons rather than wives are probably in view (In support of a reference to wives, see George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992] 170-73). Third, the qualifications for these women are identical or similar to the qualifications of male deacons and elders. The similarity of qualifications suggests an office, not merely a status as the wives of deacons. Fourth, why would Paul emphasize the wives of deacons and pass over the wives of elders, especially if elders (see below) had greater responsibility in the act of governing the church? Failure to mention the wives of elders is mystifying if that office carried more responsibility. A reference to women deacons, however, makes good sense if women could serve as deacons but not as elders (more on this below).

I conclude that women did serve as deacons in the NT and that they should serve as such in our churches today. We see once again that women were vitally involved in ministry during the NT era, and churches today are misguided if they prohibit women from doing what the Scriptures allow.

But if women served as deacons when the NT was written, how can they be prohibited from governing and teaching roles today? One of the problems in contemporary church is that many churches have deviated from the biblical pattern in which there were two offices: elders/overseers and deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-13). In many modern churches the deacons function as the governing board of a church. This is unfortunate, for deacons are nowhere identified with or made a subcategory of elders in the NT. The offices of deacon and elder are distinct.(I discussed the evidence for elders previously in this essay).

And appointing women as deacons does not affect the validity of the complementation view at all, for elders/overseers–not deacons–are responsible for leadership and teaching in the church. Two qualities demanded of elders, namely, being able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9) and governing the church (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; Acts 20:28), are nowhere required of deacons. The elders, not the deacons, have the responsibility for the doctrinal purity and leadership of a church. The deacons are responsible for ministries of mercy and service in the church, and they do not exercise leadership in teaching and governing the church. It is significant, then, that 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits women from teaching and exercising authority over men. Notice that women are prohibited from doing the two activities that distinguish elders from deacons (teaching and exercising authority). I conclude, then, that women can and should serve as deacons, but they should not occupy the pastoral office, which involves teaching and exercising authority (Some people appeal to the NT accounts of Stephen and Philip and argue that their ministries show that deacons functioned as leaders and were not restricted to “service” ministries [Acts 6:1-8:40]. Let me make a few brief comments. First, we’re not absolutely sure Stephen and Philip functioned as deacons, for the title is not used of those appointed in Acts 6:1-6, though the noun diakonia is used of the need [v. 1] and the verb diakonein [v. 2] of the task to be fulfilled. On balance, I think the Seven were deacons, but certainty eludes us. Second, the preaching ministry of Stephen and Philip hardly proves it is part of the ministry of deacons to preach, for the Seven are appointed so that the Twelve will not abandon the ministry of the word [vv. 2,4]. Third, simply because some deacons did more than required [Stephen and Philip served and preached], it does not follow that all deacons can or should teach and preach. Luke features Stephen and Philip precisely because they were exceptional).

Egalitarians are convinced women did serve as leaders in the early church. They identify Junia as a woman apostle in Romans 16:7. Some women functioned as leaders because John wrote in his second letter to “the chosen lady” (2 John 1), and this lady is understood to be an individual woman leading the church (See Aida B. Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry [Nashville: Nelson, 1985], 109-12; Tucker and Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, 74-75). Others think women served as elders because Paul refers to women elders in 1 Timothy 5:2 (cf. Titus 2:3). Many egalitarians point to Phoebe in Romans 16:2, understanding the word prostatis to refer to a leader (See Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 238-40; Spencer, Beyond the Curse, 113-17). Still others say women must have functioned as leaders because churches met in their houses, and as the patrons of these houses they would have been leaders–for example, Mary the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12-17), Lydia (16:13-15), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-5), and Nympha (Col. 4:15) [This appears to be the view of Grenz, Women in the Church, 90-91].

The arguments of egalitarians in the preceding paragraph are unconvincing. Some argue that women should preach because they bore witness to the resurrection. We should reason, however, that Mary Magdalene was qualified to be a leader because Jesus appeared to her (Contra Grenz [Women in the Church, 79], who also supports women as leaders on the basis of Rhoda’s telling the others that Peter was at the door of the house [Acts 12:14]!). Nor is there any evidence elsewhere that she functioned as such. Seeing the risen Lord and bearing witness to his resurrection was a great joy and privilege, to be sure, but it doesn’t logically follow that such women should serve as leaders or teachers. Indeed, if Jesus had appointed female apostles, then it would be clear that all ministry roles are open to women. We know however, that Jesus appointed only male apostles. Now I do not believe a male apostolate settles the issue on the role of women. But if Jesus were as egalitarian and bold and radical as egalitarians make him out to be, it is passing strange he did not appoint any female apostles, especially since these same egalitarians see Paul as commending female apostles (Rom. 16:7). Jesus seems to accommodate to the culture more than Paul–when he could have made a bold statement that would resolved the whole issue definitively. A male apostolate does not prove that women should not serve as leaders, but when combined with the other evidence, it does serve as confirmatory evidence for the complementarian view.

Nor is it at all compelling to say that women patrons functioned as leaders of house churches. No convincing evidence supports such a view. Does anyone really believe that Mary the mother of John Mark was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem simply because the church met in her house (Acts 12:12)? Acts makes it clear that the leaders were Peter, John, and James the brother of the Lord (in addition to the other apostles and elders). No correlation can be drawn between the church’s meeting in Mary’s house and the assuming of a leadership role.

Similarly, not even a hint is given of Chloe’s functioning as a leader in Corinth. The church, in fact, is exhorted to be subject to the house of Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:15-16), and Chloe is left out. Nor is it persuasive to define prostatis as “leader” in Romans 16:2. What Paul says in this verse is that the Romans should parastete (“assist”) Phoebe wherever she needs help because she has been a prostatis (“helper”) of many, including Paul himself (For further discussion on Phoebe, including a bibliography citing alternative views, see my Romans [BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988], 786-88). The play on words between parastete and prostatis is obvious. Phoebe is commended here as a patroness. Paul is scarcely suggesting she functioned as his leader or as the leader of the church. Paul did not even agree that the Jerusalem apostles were his leaders (Gal. 1:11-2:14) and so it is impossible to believe he would assign such a role to Phoebe!

The evidence that women served as elders is practically nonexistent and unpersuasive. For example, it is obvious in Titus 2:3 that the office of elder is not in view, for Paul refers to older men (v. 2), older women (v. 3), younger women (vv. 4-5), and younger men (v. 6). The mention of the various age groups reveals that Paul refers to age rather than office. The same applies to 1 Timothy 5:2. In verses 1-2 Paul gives Timothy advice about how to relate to older men, older women, younger men, and younger women. Any notion of office has to be read into the text here, and virtually all commentators agree that age (not office) is intended. Nor does “chosen lady” in 2 John refer to a woman leader or elder (Grenz, Women in the Church, 91-92. Grenz admits the evidence is ambiguous, but he fails to inform the reader that virtually all the commentators agree a specific woman is not in view. The sources he mentions [see his p. 242, nn. 95, 96] are a commentator from 1888, another commentary without a date, and Spencer, Beyond the Curse. The standard commentaries all stand in agreement against him. See, e.g., Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John [AB; Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1982] 651-55; Stephen S. Smalley, 1,2, 3 John [WBC; Dallas: Word, 1984], 318; John R.W. Stott, The Epistles of John [TNTC; Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1964], 200-201). Almost all commentators agree it is a reference to the church as a whole. The plurals in verses 6, 8, 10, and 12 indicate that John writes to the church as a whole, not simply to one person. Referring to the church as a “lady” comports with the rest of Scripture, for both Paul and John describe the church as Christ’s bride (Eph. 5:22-23; Rev. 19:7). And Israel is also portrayed as a woman in the OT (Isa. 54:1; Jer. 6:23; 31:21; Lam. 4:3, 22). readers would naturally understand the metaphor of the church as a lady to refer to Christ’s church. The distinction between the lady and her children should not be used to say a woman was the leader and the children were the congregation. The lady designates the church as a whole, and the children refer to the individual members of the church.

The support for women serving as elders or leaders vanishes when closely examined. The most plausible argument for the egalitarian view comes from the example of Junia, for she and Andronicus are identified as apostles in Romans 16:7 (For a careful assessment of the evidence, see Andreas J. Kostenberger, “Women in the Pauline Mission,” in The Gospel to the Nations: Perspectives on Paul’s Mission, eds. Peter G. Bolt and Mark Thompson [Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity, 2000], 221-47. For further discussion on Junia see John Thorley, “Junia, A Woman Apostle?” NovT 39 [1996]: 18-21; Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16:7,” NTS 40 [1994]: 464-70; Schreiner, Romans, 795-97). But the verse is far too ambiguous to make a case. It is hermeneutically akin to finding support for baptism for the dead from 1 Corinthians 15:29, for the purpose of the verse is not to speak to women in leadership roles. The text is ambiguous at three levels: First, is Paul referring to a man or a woman? Second, are Andronicus and Junia(s) outstanding in the eyes of the apostles, or are they outstanding apostles themselves? Third, is the term “apostle” used as a technical term, or is it used nontechnically to refer to missionaries? Scholars continue to debate whether the reference is to a man or a woman (Junias or Junia). If it is the male Junias, then we have a contradiction of the name Junianus. Personally, I believe a woman is in view. This was the majority view in the history of the church until at least the thirteenth century. Moreover, a contradiction of Junianus is nowhere else found in Greek literature, and so I think we can be confident Junia was a woman.

Second, is Paul saying Andronicus and Junia were :outstanding among the apostles,” or “outstanding in the eyes of the apostles”? The former is the view of almost all commentators. Michael Burer and Daniel Wallace, however, recently conducted an intensive search and analysis of the phrase, compiling evidence to support the idea that “noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles” is the best translation (Micahel H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Reexamination of Romans 16:7, “New Testament Studies 47 [2001]: 76-91. See now Richard Bauckham who has raised serious objections about the interpretation of the evidence proposed by Wallace and Burer in his Gospel Women: Studies of the named Women in the Gospels [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 172-80).

Their research indicates it is unlikely that Junia is identified as an apostle here, and hence the verse says nothing about women serving in the apostolic office. Further research, however, may indicate Burer and Wallace are mistaken, and support the conclusion that Junia is identified as an apostle. If women served as apostles, can any leadership role be ruled out for them?

But here a third consideration arises. Paul is not assigning Andronicus and Junia a place with the Twelve. The term apostolos is not always a technical term e.g., (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25) [See Wolf-Henning Ollrog, Paulus ind seine Mitarbeiter: Untersuchungen zu Theorie and Praxis der paulinischen Mission [WMANT 50; Ne ukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1979], 79-84). It can also be used in a nontechnical sense to refer to missionaries. Biblical commentator Rudolph Scnackenburg wrote, “The apostles referred to in Romans 16:7 without further qualification, could hardly have been anything else but itinerant missionaries” (Rudolph Schnackenburg, “Apostles before and during Paul’s Time,” in Apostolic History and the Gospel, eds. W.W. Gasque and R.P. Martin [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], 294 so also E. Earle Ellis, Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 66).

In the Apostolic Fathers, apostolos is used of itinerant evangelists (Did. 11:3-6; Herm. Vis. 13.1; Herm. Sim. 92.4; 93.5; 102.2). If Junia was an apostle, she probably functioned particularly as a missionary to women. Ernst Kasemann observed that “the wife can have access to the women’s areas, which would not be generally accessible to the husband  (Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 413; so also Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul’s Letter to the Romans [Louisville, Ky.: Westminster, 1994], 249). In the culture of Paul’s day, the reading of Kasemann and Schnackenburg is much more likely than the modern view that Junia was an apostle in the technical sense. To sum up, the verse does not clearly identify Junia as an apostle, and even if this view is incorrect, “apostle” is not used in a technical sense.

Egalitarians, however, detect a contradiction when complementarians say women can function as missionaries but not as pastors. I think Romans 6:7 and Philippians 4:2-3 indicate that women did indeed function as missionaries, and complementarians should celebrate and encourage such a ministry. But I fail to see the contradiction, for the very same Paul who celebrated women missionaries also prohibited them from serving as pastors/overseers/elders. If there is a contradiction, it exists in Paul himself, and no evangelical would want to say this. Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, barred women from the pastoral office and permitted them to be missionaries.

Many women missionaries in the history of the church have agreed with the complementation view, and once a church was planted in a particular mission field, male leaders were appointed. I am not, however, baptizing everything women missionaries have done in the field throughout history. Very likely some roles were fitting and others were questionable. We derive our view of what women missionaries can and should do from Scripture, not from what they have done. We would not want to claim that everything male missionaries have done has been right either. Nonetheless, many women missionaries throughout history have actually held the complementation view and ministered and preached the gospel in such a way that this view was not violated.


Established in Genesis 1-3

We have already seen that men and women equally are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27) and are thus of equal value and significance as God’s creatures. But I would also contend there are six indications in Genesis 1-3 of a role differentiation between men and women. By role differentiation I mean Adam has the responsibility of leadership and Eve has the responsibility to follow his leadership. Before explaining these six points I must make a crucial comment: Equality of personhood does not rule out differences in role. For moderns, the tension between these two truths (equality of personhood and differences in role) is nearly unbearable. For instance, the basic point of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s book Good News for Women is that one cannot logically posit both equality of personhood and differences in role. Groothuis, however, simply reveals that she imbibes the modern enlightenment view of equality, which insists that equality must involve equality of function. Anyone familiar with American society knows that this notion of equality continues to exert tremendous influence.

The biblical view, however, is very different. God is not an equal opportunity employer–at least as far as installation into ministry is concerned. God decreed that priests could come only from the tribe of Levi, but all Israelites had equal worth and dignity before God (See James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981], 44-45). Similarly, the pastoral role is reserved for men only, and yet women have equal dignity and value as persons created in God’s image. Groothuis and other egalitarians are faced with the daunting prospect of saying that Israelites who could never serve  as priests are of less dignity and value than those who were qualified for the priesthood. (Grenz [Women in the Church, 152] faces the same problem. Complementarians are spared such a problematic conclusion, for we acknowledge that a permanent difference in role (the tribe of Joseph could never serve as priests) does not mean those who cannot fill that role (descendants of Joseph) are of lesser worth or dignity. The six indications Adam had a special responsibility as a leader are these:

1. God created Adam first, and then He created Eve.

2. God gave Adam the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

3. God created Eve to be a helper for Adam.

4. Adam exercised his leadership by naming the creature God formed out of Adam’s rib “woman.”

5. The serpent subverted God’s pattern of leadership by tempting Eve rather than Adam.

6. God approached Adam first after the couple had sinned, even though Eve sinned first.

I am not suggesting every one of these arguments is of equal weight or clarity. Arguments two and five, for example, are plausible only if the other arguments are credible. They cannot stand alone as decisive arguments for the interpretation proposed. Each argument needs to be investigated briefly.

Adam Was Created Before Eve

First, the responsibility for leadership belonged to Adam (and hence to males) because Adam was created before Eve (Gen. 2:7, 21-24). I am unpersuaded by those who argue that Adam was neither male not female–a sexually undifferentiated being–before the creation of Eve (Phyliss Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978], 80, 98). When Yahweh fashioned the woman out of man, he made a person who was suitable for man (v. 18), and Adam recognized her as a fitting counterpart (v. 23). What the text emphasizes is the creation of Adam first and the act of the woman being formed from man’s rib (vv. 21-23). Nothing is said about ha-adam suddenly becoming male. Nor does the creation account in Genesis 2 abandon the theme of equality, for, as Adam said, the woman was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23). The man and woman were united in a love relationship as partners (v. 24).

The narrative in Genesis 2, however, adds a dimension that is missing in chapter 1(I believe the two creation accounts are complementary, not contradictory). Contemporary scholars rightly emphasize that the narrative was written carefully and artistically to convey a message to readers (See Robert Altaer, The Art of Biblical Narrative [New York: Basic Books, 1981]). The discerning reader observes that the man was created before the woman and that the woman was even fashioned from part of the man. The narrator writes with great skill, summoning us to ponder thoughtfully the elements of the story. Why does the narrator bother to tell us the man was created first then the woman? That the woman shares full humanity and personhood with the man is evident, as we have already seen, from 2:23-24. But if the only point of the story were the equality of men and women, then creation at the same point in time would be most fitting. An egalitarian message would be communicated nicely by the creation of man and woman at the same instant. I believe the narrator relays the creation of man first to signal that Adam (and hence males in general) had a particular responsibility to lead in his relationship to Eve. Correspondingly, Eve had a responsibility to follow Adam’s leadership.

Egalitarians object to this interpretation by saying such logic would lead us to think that animals should rule over human beings, since animals were created before humans (Paul Jewett, Man as Male and Female: A Study of Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975], 126-27). This objection has always struck me as a clever debating point instead of a substantive argument. The narrator did not worry about readers drawing such a conclusion, since it is patently obvious human beings are distinguished from animals, insofar as humans are the only creatures made in God’s image (1:26-27). But readers would be inclined to ask this question: “Why is the human race differentiated into male and female, and why is the male created first?” A more serious response could be that females were created last as the crown of creation, and if anything, females rather than males would assume leadership. Such a reading would fit the pattern of Genesis 1, where human beings are created last and are responsible to rule the world for God. This latter reading suffers, however, from imposing the narrative pattern of Genesis 1 on Genesis 2. Instead, the Hebrew reader would be disposed to read the second creation account in terms of primogeniture (See Hurley, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective, 207-8). The firstborn male has authority over the younger brothers after the father dies. The reversal of primogeniture explains why stories of Jacob’s primacy over Esau (cha. 26-36) and Joseph’s rule over his brothers are so shocking (chs. 37-50).

Egalitarians of course, face another problem with their particular reading of Genesis 2–a canonical one. Paul forbids women to teach and exercise authority over a man because Adam was created before Eve (1 Tim. 2:12-13). Many egalitarians, when interpreting Genesis 2 fail to mention 1 Timothy 2:12-13. The most natural reading of the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 supports the complementation interpretation of Genesis 2: men bear the responsibility to lead and teach in the church because Adam was created before Eve (see also 1 Cor. 11:8-9).

The Command Was Given to Adam, Not Eve

Second, the command to refrain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was given to Adam, not to Eve (Gen. 2:16-17). This argument for male leadership is not decisive but suggestive. God likely commissioned Adam to instruct Eve about this command, signaling Adam’s responsibility for leadership and teaching in the relationship. Closely connected is the injunction given to Adam to cultivate and take care of the garden of Eden (v. 15). It is possible, of course, that nothing should be made of the fact that the prohibition in verses 16-17 was given only to Adam. On the other hand, the story could have been constructed so that the command was given to the husband and the wife. I believe the narrator is providing a hint of male leadership by revealing the restriction was communicated only to Adam.

Eve Was Created to Be a Helper

The third indication of male leadership is that Eve was created as a “helper” (ezer) for Adam (vv. 18, 20). The standard egalitarian objection is that Yahweh is often designated as Israel’s helper, and yet he is clearly not subordinate to Israel (Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, 90). Yahweh surely is Israel’s helper in that he saves and delivers Israel–so how can complementarians possibly think that describing Eve as Adam’s helper supports the case for male headship? If anything, it seems the argument could be reversed. Yahweh was Israel’s helper and leader. The objection appears to be a strong one, and it has the merit of precluding a simplistic argument for the complementation view.

The egalitarian interpretation, however, is also in danger of promoting a simplistic argument that is not contextually grounded. Anyone who has read the OT knows that Yahweh was often portrayed as Israel’s helper, and thus the term “helper” alone does not signify male leadership in Genesis 2. And yet words are assigned their meanings in context, and in the narrative context of Genesis 1-3, the word “helper” signifies that Eve was to help Adam in the task of ruling over creation. Indeed, in some contexts in the OT, the word “help” designates those who assist a superior or ruler in accomplishing his task. (See David J. A. Clines, “What Does Eve Do to Help? and Other Irredeemably Androcentric Orientations in Genesis 1-3,” in What Does Eve Do to Help? and Other Readerly Questions in the Old Testament, ed. David J.A. Clines [JSOTSup; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990], 31-32). For instance, in 1 Kings 20:16, thirty-two kings who have less power than Benhadad helped him in war. Indeed, the verb “to help” is used of warriors who helped David militarily (1 Chron. 12:1, 22-23), and it is clear that David was the leader and they were assisting him. Similarly, David exhorted leaders to help Solomon when he was king (22:17), in which case there is no doubt these leaders were assisting Solomon in his leadership over the nation. An army also helped King Uzziah in a military campaign (2 Chr. 26:13) Yahweh pledged he would nullify those who helped the prince in Jerusalem (Ezek. 12:14; cf. 32:21), and those who helped were obviously subordinates of the prince. These examples show that context is decisive in determining whether the one who helps has a superior role or inferior role. Egalitarians cannot dismiss the complementation view simply by saying that Yahweh helped Israel, for in other texts it is clear that leaders were helped by those who were under their authority.

I believe there is contextual warrant in Genesis 1-3 for the idea that women help men by supporting the leadership of the latter. If we read Genesis carefully, we see that the rule of human beings over creation, which is a call to careful stewardship (not exploitation), is combined with the injunction to have offspring who will, in turn, exercise dominion over the earth for God’s glory (1:26,28). One of the ways women help men, therefore, is by bearing children, as David J.A. Clines rightly argues. I am not suggesting this is the only way women function as helpers, but the difference in roles between men and women is established at creation in that only women bear children. We are not surprised to learn that the curse on Adam focuses on his work in the fields, so that thorns and thistles grow as a consequence of his sin (3:17-19). Correspondingly, Eve is cursed in her sphere, so that she experiences pain in the bearing of children (v. 16; Ibid., 33-36). It is important to notice that the distinct role of women–bearing children–is not the result of the fall. The consequence of the fall is an increase in pain during childbirth, but the actual bearing of children, which is the distinct task of the woman, was established before sin entered the world.

A contemporary observation is appropriate here. The support of abortion rights by radical feminists is closely linked with the goal of changing the role of women. Radical feminists rightly perceive that pregnancy and giving birth to children distinguish women from men. If women are liberated so that sexual relations are severed from motherhood, then women can enjoy the same rights as men. I would contend that such feminist aspirations run counter to God’s created intention, for God himself decreed that women, and not men, would bear children.

Once again, a canonical reading of Scripture confirms the interpretation adopted here. In 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, Paul reflects on the narrative in Genesis 2, for in 1 Corinthians 11:8 he observes that man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Then in verse 9 he declares, “For indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” How do we explain Paul’s words in this verse? I think it is quite likely he was reflecting on the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18, 20. We know the creation account in Genesis 2 was in his mind, and the notion that woman was created “for the man’s sake” is almost certainly a Pauline commentary on the word “helper.” The woman was created for Adam’s sake to help in ruling the world for God’s glory. Such an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:9 fits the context of that chapter nicely, since man is designated here as the “head” of the woman (v. 3). We have strong Pauline evidence, therefore, that “helper” refers to the subordinate role of women.

The Woman Was Named by The Man

I am now prepared to assert my fourth argument from Genesis–the naming of the woman by Adam. A prefatory comment is in order. For clarity each of the arguments presented is separated from the other, but we need to remember that each one is closely linked in the narrative. For example, the narrator linked the naming of the animals with the man’s need for a helper (2:18-20). The narrator wanted us to perceive that a suitable helper was not found among the animals. Adam needed a partner who was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh (v. 23) to assist him in his task of cultivating and caring for God’s garden. A unique creative work of God was needed in order to provide a woman for him. Adam perceived, when naming the birds, wild animals, and domestic animals, that none of these were suitable partners. The intertwining of the various parts of the narrative actually functions as an argument for the complementation view, for we must see that the word “helper” appears in a context in which animals are named by Adam.

What is the significance of the naming of the creatures God made (vv. 18-20)? The link in the text is obvious, for this was certainly one of the means by which Adam exercised his rule over the creatures according to God’s mandate (1:26, 28; 2:15; See Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, 210-12). God exercised his rule and sovereignty in calling the light “day” and the darkness “night” (1:5), and in naming the firmament “heaven” and the dry land “earth” (vv. 8,10). Similarly, Adam exercised his rule, under God’s lordship, by naming all the animals. Even today the scientific study of species consists in classification and naming. We distinguish dogs from cats and whales from seals. Naming the animals was not a whimsical and arbitrary game for Adam. He named the animals so that their names corresponded to their nature. It is significant that Adam named animals, and not vice versa! The narrator signals that Adam was beginning to fulfill God’s mandate to exercise dominion over the world and God’s garden.

The naming of the woman occurs in 2:23, suggesting that Adam had the responsibility for leadership in the relationship. It would be easy to misconstrue my argument here. I am certainly not suggesting Eve was comparable to the animals! The very point of the narrative is that she was remarkably different, wholly suitable to function as Adam’s helper. Contrary to the animals, she was taken from the man and was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. The man instantly and gladly perceived the difference (v. 23)! As noted before, the mutuality and equality of man and woman are also communicated in the narrative.

Nonetheless, the leadership role of Adam is also reflected in the narrative. He perceived she was different from the animals and qara (“called”) her by name ‘issa (“woman,” v. 23), using the same verb for the naming of animals in verses 19-20. The assigning of a name to the woman in such an abbreviated narrative is highly significant. Yahweh could have reserved such a task for himself and removed any hint of male leadership. Of course, the woman is remarkably different from all the other creatures God made, but Adam’s naming of the woman signifies that he bears the leadership role. There is no exegetical warrant for assigning a different significance to the naming of the animals and the woman. We need to be very careful here. In both instances naming is a symbol of rule, but it would be unwarranted to deduce that the rule is precisely the same or that women are like animals. The entire narrative illustrates there was both continuity and discontinuity between Adam’s rule over woman and his dominion over God’s creatures.

The most significant objection to this interpretation is found in the work of Phyllis Trible (See Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, 99-100). She says the notion of naming is only present when the verb qara (“call”) is joined with the noun sen (“name”), pointing to a number of texts in which “name” is joined with “call” (e.g., 4:17, 25-26). The naming of animals, according to Trible, signified Adam’s power and authority over them, but no parallel can be drawn to 2:23, since the woman was not named there. Trible’s argument is unpersuasive (Contra Trible’s view, see Clines, “What Does Eve Do to Help?” 37-40 [esp. 39, n. 3]. George W Ramsey [“is Name Giving an Act of Domination in Genesis 2:23 and Elsewhere?” CBQ 50 [1988]: 24-35, maintains that naming is linked only with discernment, not domination. But this view ignores the connection between the injunction to rule the world and the act of naming). She is correct that the noun “name” is usually linked with “call” in naming formulas, but she mistakenly concludes the noun “name” must be present in order for naming to occur. Such a conclusion demands more precision from language than is warranted, for we must not demand in advance that naming occurs only when a pattern is followed. The repetition of the verb qara (2:19-20, 23) links the naming of the woman with the naming of the animals, so that the reader naturally recognizes the parallel between the two accounts. Adam perceived she was “woman” precisely because she was taken from the man, revealing that his classification was in accord with reality and that he understood the remarkable difference between woman and the animals.

Trible’s more substantive objection is that calling this person ‘issa (“woman” [v. 23]) cannot be equated with naming, for “woman” is “not a name; it is a common noun, not a proper noun. It designates gender; it does not specify a person” (Cited in Clines, “What Does Eve Do to Help?” 100). Trible’s comment reveals she misunderstood the parallel between the naming of the animals and the naming of the woman. When Adam named the animals, he did not give them personal or proper names. He classified the animals into distinct groups, presumably distinguishing between, say, lions, tigers, and bears. He did not name any tigers “Tony.” He identified them as tigers over against bears.

So too, it is completely irrelevant that a personal or proper name is lacking for the woman in verse 23. In naming the woman, Adam was classifying her–in effete, distinguishing her from the other creatures named. He recognized her distinctiveness and aptly captured it with the name “woman,” thereby noticing how closely related she was to himself as a man. To conclude, male leadership is communicated by the naming of the woman, and the parallel with naming the animals stands, even though the biblical narrator hardly suggests animals and women are parallel in every way (Incidentally, Trible’s view that the naming of Eve [Gen. 3:20] is an inappropriate act of male dominance [God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, 133-34] is unconvincing, for the text provides no clue that an abuse of power is involved. Instead, his word is linked in the narrative with the promise of life [vv. 20-21]. For a critique of Trible see Clines, “What Does Eve Do to Help? 39).

The Serpent Tempted Eve, Not Adam

The fifth indication of male leadership is that the serpent, which was exceedingly astute, approached Eve rather than Adam in the temptation (3:1-7). Thereby he subverted the pattern of male leadership, as Paul himself hints at in 1 Timothy 2:14. I don’t want to make too much of this argument, and my case hardly depends on it. I acknowledge forthrightly it could be incorrect, but in any case it would not affect the other arguments presented. I mention it because I am persuaded that what actually occurred (and what did not occur) in the narrative is significant.

Adam Was Rebuked before Eve

Finally, the responsibility of men is indicated by the fact that Adam was rebuked before Eve (Gen. 3:8-12). If God were truly egalitarian, Eve would have been reprimanded first, since she ate the fruit before her husband and presumably convinced Adam to eat of it as well. Yahweh spoke to Adam first because he bore primary responsibility for what occurred in the garden. In Romans 5:12-19, Paul confirms this reading of the narrative, for the sin of the human race was traced to Adam, not to Eve. I am not suggesting Eve bore no responsibility for her sin. Yahweh censured her actions as well and judged her for what she did (vv. 13, 16). Greater responsibility, however, is assigned to Adam as the leader of the first human couple.

Before the Fall

It is crucial to see that these six arguments relate to the relationship between Adam and Eve before the fall. God instituted role distinctions between men and women before sin ever entered the world. Even the two arguments I presented from Genesis 3 depend on a role difference established before the fall. If Adam and Eve possessed different roles before the fall, then the distinct roles of men and women are not the result of sin; they would stem from God’s intention in creation–and everything God created is good. Male leadership is not the result of the fall, but it is God’s good and perfect will for man and woman.

The doctrine of creation is of enormous significance for the debate on the roles of men and women. From Jesus himself, we know marriage is to be permanent because permanence in marriage was God’s intent in creating us male and female (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:24; Matt. 19:3-12). We know homosexuality is prohibited because it counters God’s creational intent (Rom. 1:26-27). We know food is to be eaten with thanksgiving because God created it (1 Tim. 4:1-5). Similarly, we know role differences between men and women are not the result of the fall but are part of the fabric of God’s good and perfect created order.

Sin has entered the world and distorted how men and women relate to one another. Men transgress by turning their responsibility to lead into a privilege so that they tyrannically abuse their authority or abdicate their responsibility and descend into abject passivity. Women try to subvert male leadership by contesting their leadership or by responding with an obsequiousness that is not fitting (My view here depends on my interpretation of Genesis 3:16, which I do not have space here to explain. See Susan T. Foh, “What Is the Woman’s Desire?” WTJ 37 [1975]: 376-83). Similarly, we can see how sin has thwarted God’s intent that a man and woman should remain married for life, with the result that divorce is all too common. But role differences, like the permanence of marriage, remain God’s intention. And such differences in role are good and beautiful and, through the redemption accomplished by Christ, can be lived out today in a beautiful, albeit not perfect, way.

Confirmed in Marriage Texts

We are debating the role of women in ministry in this book [essay] not whether husbands and wives have different functions within a marriage. And yet this latter issue cannot and must not be neglected for the biblical teaching about the family forms the fabric and background for what is said about women in ministry. If role differences exist in the family, they plausibly exist in the church as well. Indeed, in 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul compares the church to God’s household, and in 5:1-2, Paul exhorts Timothy to treat other church members as he would a father or a mother, a brother or a sister (For an illuminating study on the relationship between the church and the family, see Vern S. Poythress, “The Church as Family: Why Male Leadership in the Family Requires Male Leadership in the Church,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 233-47). We must note that Paul does not instruct Timothy to treat everyone with undifferentiated sameness. The wise person responds differently when speaking to an older man rather than to a younger man, in a way that shows more deference and respect for the older man’s experience. If God has assigned husbands a particular responsibility as leaders of their homes, it would make sense he has also ordained that men should bear responsibility in the leadership of the church. Ministry and family should not be segregated rigidly from one another. The two spheres interpenetrate, and what is true of the one is generally accurate in the other.

When we examine the biblical texts on husbands and wives, it is clear husbands have a responsibility to exercise loving leadership, and wives are called on to submit (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7) Space precludes a detailed analysis of these texts, and thus only a few major issues can be addressed here, particularly those areas where egalitarians question the complementation view. We should note at the outset that husbands are exhorted to love their wives, to refrain from all bitterness, and to treat them gently. The Bible nowhere suggests the husband’s leadership is to be used as a platform for selfishness or abuse of his wife. Rather, the husband should pattern himself after Christ, exercising a loving leadership on the wife’s behalf. I want to add only that the love and tenderness of a husband is still exercised in leadership. Christ served the church by giving his life for it, and yet he remains the leader and Lord of the church. We ought not to think, therefore, that the leadership of husbands is canceled out in the call to serve.

Many egalitarians appeal to Ephesians 5:21 (“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ”) to support mutual submission in marriage, but the argument is unpersuasive (See, e.g., Grenz, Women in the Church, 115, 178; Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 159, 168-72). When the verse is interpreted in context, it is doubtful mutual submission in marriage is intended. Verse 21 is transitional, bridging the gap between verses 18-20 and the household exhortations in 5:22-6:9. It is doubtful, though, that the content of 5:21 should be read into the exhortations that follow. Otherwise, Paul would be suggesting that parents and children (6:1-4) and masters and slaves (vv. 5-9) should mutually submit to each other. It is highly implausible that parents would be encouraged to submit to children, or masters to submit to slaves (Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, 158). While such an idea may appeal to some people today, it would scarcely enter into the mind of someone writing almost two thousand years ago. We look in vain for any clear indication elsewhere in the Scriptures that parents should submit to children, or masters to slaves (Keener [Paul, Women and Wives, 186-88] acknowledges that mutual submission is not demanded of children, showing his inconsistency, for if this is the case, Ephesians 5:21 does not function as the introduction to all of 5:22-6:9. Nor do I find persuasive Keener’s view [Paul, Women and Wives, 206] that 6:9 teaches submission for masters. The persistent fact is that husbands, parents, and masters are never told to submit to wives, children, and slaves, respectively). Nor do the Scriptures ever call on husbands to submit to their wives, but they consistently summon wives to submit to their husbands.

How, then, should we interpret Ephesians 5:21? Two interpretations cohere with the complementation view. Paul may have in mind the relationship we have with one another in the church (see vv. 19-21), one in which believers mutually submit to one another. These words cannot be imposed on the marriage relationship but refer instead to a corporate setting in which believers praise God in song and submit to one another in the community (I am not suggesting, incidentally, that husbands never follow the advice of their wives. Wise husbands do so often. Some complementarians interpret verse 21 to say that only some members of the congregation submit to others [e.g., Wayne Grudem, “The Myth of Mutual Submission as an Interpretation of Ephesians 5:21,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem [Wheaton, ILL.: Crossway, 2002], 228-29; cf. also Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, 139-41]. Such a reading is possible but unpersuasive, for typically the pronoun allelois refers to all members of the congregation [see Ernest Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians [ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998], 516. A call to submit to one another as brothers and sisters in the church does not yield the conclusion that husbands should submit to wives or that parents should submit to children. Verse 21 refers to the corporate life, where all members are enjoined to submit to one another. Daniel Doriani’s article [“The Historical Novelty of Egalitarian Interpretations of Ephesians 5:21-22,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, 203-19] indicates that many scholars throughout the history of the church have understood the text in the way I suggest here). Alternatively, but perhaps less likely, Paul refers to the submission of some to others in the church. According to this view, the subsequent context indicates who is to submit to whom–wives to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters. (Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians [PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 400-404, and previous note above).

Others contest the complementation view by disputing the meaning of kephale (“head”). Egalitarians typically define it to mean “source” instead of “authority over” (See, e.g., Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985], 215-52; Berkely and Alvera Mickelsen, “What Does kephale Mean in the New Testament?” in Women, Authority and the Bible, 97-110; Catherine Clark Kroeger, “The Classical Concept of Head as ‘Source,'” in Hull, Equal to Serve, 267-83. For another complementation view, see Richard S. Cervin, “Does kephale Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” TJ 10 [1989]: 85-112. For the weaknesses in Cervin’s view as well, see the second article listed under Grudem in the next note). The meaning of the term kephale can be established only by careful analysis of its use in biblical and extra biblical literature. Wayne Grudem and Joseph Fitzmyer have demonstrated that “authority over” in many contexts is the most likely meaning of the term (See Wayne Grudem, “Does kephale [‘Head’] Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples,” TJ 6 [1985]: 38-59; Grudem, “The Meaning of kephale (‘Head’): A Response to Recent Studies,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 425-68, 534-41; Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephale (‘Head’): An Examination of New Evidence, Real and Alleged,” JETS 44 [2001]: 25-65; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Kephale in 1 Corinthians 11:3,” Int 47 [1993]: 52-59). It may well be, however, that kephale in some contexts denotes both “authority over” and “source,” as Clinton Arnold argues (See Clinton E. Arnold, “Jesus Christ: ‘Head’ of the Church [Colossians and Ephesians],” in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ. Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, eds. J.B. Green and M. Turner [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 346-66). The definitions “authority over” and “source” make sense of Colossians 2:19 and Ephesians 4:15, where Christ as the Head both reigns over and provides for the church.

In any case, even if kephale should be defined only as “source” (which is very unlikely), it would still support male leadership. Let me explain. In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul exhorts wives to submit to their husbands in everything. What reason is given for such a command? Paul provides the rationale in verse 23 (note the hoti): “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” If the word kephale means “source” then Paul exhorts wives to submit because their husbands are their source. So even if kephale means “source,” wives are to fill a supportive and submissive role, and husbands, as the “source,” are to function as leaders.

The same argument prevails in 1 Coritnhians 11:12-16. If kephale means “source,” then women are to defer to their source by adorning themselves properly. The idea that the source has particular authority hearkens back to Genesis 2:21-25, where the woman comes from the man (see 1 Cor. 11:8). Similarly, children should obey their parents because parents are the source of their existence. Nonetheless, the meaning “authority over” cannot be exorcised from Ephesians 5:22-24, for the call for wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ indicates that the authority of Christ as Head is in view (cf. Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18; 2:10). I am not denying there may be an idea of source as well, since husbands are to nourish and care for their wives, just as Christ has tenderly loved the church. In any case, the husband’s special role as the leader of his wife cannot be explained away in Ephesians 5:22-33.

A few egalitarians have maintained that the word “submit” (hypotaso) does not cannot the idea of obedience. For instance, Gretchen Gaebelein Hull suggests that hypotaso means “to identify with” rather than “to obey” (See Hull, Equal to Serve, 195). Certainly there is no suggestion that husbands should compel their wives to submit. Submission is a voluntary and glad response on the part of wives, and husbands are commanded to love their wives, and husbands are commanded to love their wives, not to see to it that they submit. Nor is it fitting if a wife’s submission is conceived of in terms of a child’s obedience to parents, for the relationship of a husband and wife is remarkably different from the relationship between a parent and a child. Indeed, Paul can speak of the mutual obligations husbands and wives have to one another (1 Cor. 7:3-5), emphasizing that the husband ultimately does not have authority over his own body and that the wife has authority over his body. Complementarians have too often made the mistake of envisioning the husband-wife relationship in one-dimensional terms, so that any idea of mutuality and partnership is removed and wives are conceived of as servants (or even as slaves) of husbands. Such a militaristic conception of marriage is foreign to the biblical perspective, and 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 reminds us that mutuality also characterizes the marriage relationship. Indeed, any marriage relationship that lacks a sense of mutuality has serious problems!

On the other hand, we cannot dismiss the particular calling of the wife to submit, and such submission does involve obedience. In the Bible, submission is required to God’s law (Rom. 8:7), to the government (13:1, 5; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13), of slaves to masters (Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18), and of younger people to their elders (5:5). The submission of Christ to the Father (1 Cor. 15:27-28) and of demons to Christ (Eph. 1:21; 1 Pet. 3:22) is also described.

The above examples illustrate that the concept of obedience is involved in submission. Indeed, 1 Peter 3:5-6 removes any doubt, for Peter commends the holy women of the past, who were “submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham.” Notice the “just as” connecting the word “submissive” to the verb “obeyed.” When Peter describes the submission of Sarah, he uses the word “obey” to portray it. Such submission should not be construed as demeaning or as a denial of a person’s dignity or personhood, for Christ himself submits to the Father (1 Cor. 15:27-28)–and as the Son, he did what the Father commanded, yet there is no idea that the Son lacks dignity or worth. To say those who submit are of less worth and dignity is not a biblical worldview but a secular worldview that pervades our highly competitive society (Most egalitarians deny that there is any sense in which the Son submits eternally to the Father. See, e.g., Gilbert Bilezikian, “Hermeneutical Bungee Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead,” JETS 40 [1997]: 57-68. But Craig S. Keener [“Is Subordination within the Trinity Really Heresy? A Study of John 5:18 in Context,” TJ 20 [1999]: 39-51], who is himself an egalitarian, properly suggests that the eternal subordination of the Son, rightly understood, is supported biblically). The example of Christ also clarifies that the obedience and submission of wives to husbands is not comparable to the obedience children should render to parents; after all, husbands and wives are mutual partners in a way parents and children are not.

It is possible, though, that the submission required of wives is an example of cultural accommodation? In the contexts where wives are exhorted to submit to husbands we also see that slaves are commanded to submit to their masters (Eph. 5:22-33 and 6:5-9; Col. 3:18-19 and 3:22-4:1; Titus 2:4-5 and 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-25 and 3:1-7). Evangelical egalitarians accept as the word of God Paul’s admonitions to slaves. In the culture of Paul’s day, submission to masters was fitting, for societal revolution is not the means by which a culture is transformed. Indeed, in Paul’s day, people would reject the gospel if they felt it was overturning cultural norms. So, it is argued, Paul counsels submission to wives “so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 2:5; see Alan Padgett, “The Pauline Rationale for Submission: Biblical Feminism and the nina Clauses of Titus 2:1-10,” EvQ 59 [1987]: 39-52. This view has been advanced further and developed hermeneutically by William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis [Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity, 2001]. For my response, see Thomas R. Schreiner, “William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: A Review Article,” SBJT 6 [2002]: 46-64). Similarly, slaves are to live responsibly “so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10).

In our culture, however, the same norms do not apply. Our contemporaries will reject the gospel, it is claimed, if women do not have the same rights as men, just as it would be a hindrance to the gospel if we recommended slavery. Egalitarians put the point even more sharply. If we insist wives should submit today and women cannot serve as pastors, then we are also recommending the reinstitution of slavery? Many Christians in the 1800s appealed to the Bible to defend slavery, and many egalitarians think those who defend the complementation view on women’s roles are making a similar mistake today (For this thesis, see Willard M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation [Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald, 1983]; Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 184-224; Kevin Giles, “The Biblical Case for Slavery: Can the Bible Mislead? A Case Study in Hermeneutics,” EvQ 66 [1994]: 3-17 [unfortunately, Giles [p.4] relinquishes the Bible’s authority in social relations]. See the critique by Yarbrough, “The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 189. For the ongoing debate see Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Part I,” EvQ 72 [2000]: 151-67; Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Part II,” EvQ 72 [2000]: 195-215; Andreas J. Kostenberger “Women in the Church: A Response to Kevin Giles,” EvQ 73 [2001]: 205-24; Giles, “Women in the Church: A Rejoinder to Andreas Kostenberger,” EvQ 73 [2001]: 225-43).

We must admit this objection is a thoughtful one. I believe egalitarians are correct in saying some of the commands and norms in Scripture are the result of cultural accommodation. Slavery is not God’s ideal, and yet the Scriptures regulate and transform cultures in which slavery is practiced. The Bible does not recommend revolution to wipe out existing institutions but counsels a transformation from within. Paul, for instance, did not require Philemon to give up Onesimus as his slave, but he expected the relationship between the master and slave to be transformed by their unity in Christ so that Onesimus would be treated as a brother in the Lord and not merely as a slave. If egalitarians are correct in saying that the admonitions to wives and the retractions on women in ministry are analogous to the counsel given to slaves, then I would agree that the restrictions on women are due to cultural accommodation and not required of believers today. Nevertheless, I think egalitarians make a crucial mistake when they draw a parallel between exhortations given to slaves and those given to wives. The marriage relationship is not analogous to slavery, for slavery is an evil human institution regulated by Scripture. Marriage, on the other hand, is a creation ordinance of God and part of God’s good will for human beings (Gen. 2:18-25). Thus, the parallel between marriage and slavery does not stand (Craig Keener [Paul, Women and Wives, 208-9] objects that the issue is whether a wife’s submission to her husband is permanently mandated, not the ordinance of marriage itself. But I would contend Paul’s argument in Ephesians 5:22-33 demonstrates that the marriage relationship mirrors Christ’s relationship to the church. In addition, Genesis 2-3 indicates that role distinctions between husbands and wives was God’s intention in creating man and woman).

The weakness of the parallel between slavery and marriage is obvious when the relationship between children and parents is introduced. In the household passages, Paul exhorts husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1). The inclusion of parents and children is instructive. Those who say the admonition to wives is culturally bounded by appealing to the matter of slavery must also (to be consistent) say the admonition for children to obey their parents no longer applies today. But there is no doubt that children are mandated by God to obey parents, and such a command is not harmful for children but is part of God’s good intention for them (Of course, I am not denying that sin has affected the relationship between parents and children, with the result that no parents raise their children perfectly, and, in fact, some parents do great damage to their children). Bearing and raising children is, from the time of creation, part of God’s good intention for human beings (Gen. 1:28). Similarly, the marriage relationship stems from God’s creational intent (2:18-25). The same cannot be said for slavery! Both the marriage and parent-child relationships hearken back to creation, but slavery does not, and hence the appeal to slavery as a parallel to the relationship between men and women fails (Nor is it clear from Titus 2:3-5 that wives submit only in order to avoid cultural scandal in Paul’s day. Padgett [“The Pauline Rationale for Submission”] provides no clear basis by which we can discern whether the admonitions are culturally dated or transcendent, for in these very verses, Paul also summons wives to love their husbands and children, and to be kid, sensible, and pure. These commands are given for the same reasons as the command to submit to husbands, namely, so that the gospel will be honored. But, of course, no one would think these commands no longer apply today).

The analogy Paul draws between Christ and the church and husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 also demonstrates that exhortations for husbands and wives are transcultural. Husbands are to pattern their love after Christ’s love for the church, and wives are to submit in the same way the church submits to Christ. Verse 32 adds a crucial dimension to this argument. Paul remarks, “This mystery if great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” What Paul means is that the relationship of a husband and wife mirrors an even greater reality, namely, the relationship between Christ and the church. It is not the case that marriage was instituted first, and then God decided marriage would function as an illustration of Christ’s relationship to the church (For an analysis of this theme, see Andreas J. Kostenberger, “The Mystery of Christ and the Church: Head and Body, ‘One Flesh,'” TJ 12 [1991]: 79-94). Instead, from all eternity, God envisioned Christ’s relationship to the church, and he instituted marriage as a picture or mirror of Christ’s relationship to the church. The husband represents Christ, and the wife represents the church. We must beware, of course, of pressing the typological parallel too far, for a husband does not die for the wife or cleanse or purify her. But the typological relationship indicates the wife’s submission to the husband is not merely a cultural accommodation to Greco-Roman society. Such submission mirrors to the world the church’s submission to Christ.

Correspondingly, the husband’s loving leadership is not a reflection of a patriarchal society but intended to portray Christ’s loving and saving work for his church. The institution of marriage and the responsibilities of husbands and wives within it are not culturally limited but are God’s transcendent intention for all time, since all marriages should reflect Christ’s love for the church and the church’s submission to Christ. Few believers ever think of their marriages in such terms, indicating that a secular mind-set has infiltrated our view of marriage as well. How glorious and beautiful and awesome it is to realize our marriages reflect Christ’s love for the church and the church’s loving response to Christ.


Women Prohibited from Teaching Men: 1 Timothy 2:11-15

It is not surprising discover that, just as there are distinct roles between husbands and wives in the family, different roles between men and women are also mandated in the church. Women should not fill the role of pastor/elder/overseer. The fundamental text on this matter is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (Some scholars believe Paul is addressing husbands and wives rather than men and women here. So, e.g., Gordon P. Hugenberger, “Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Timothy 2:8-15,” JETS 35 [1992]: 341-60. Such a view is not contextually convincing. For a refutation, see my essay “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15: A Diologue with Scholarship,” in Women in Church: A Fresh Analysis, 115-17). This text is a battleground in current scholarship and entire books are being written on it (From the egalitarian point of view, see Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992]; Sharon H. Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Light of the Religious and Cultural Milieu of the First  Century [Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1991]). In this essay I summarize my understanding of the passage. For a thorough  treatment, I refer readers to a book I co-edited (Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. A new edition is forthcoming, and I have used some of the wording from this new edition in a few of the footnotes below. For a recent attempt to support an egalitarian reading, see J.M. Holmes, “Text in a Whirlwind: A Critique of Four Exegetical Devices at 1 Timothy 2:9-15” [JSNTS up 196; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000]. For a convincing rebuttal, see Andreas Kostenberger’s review: RBibLit [], 2001).

Before examining 1 Timothy 2:11-14, I want to comment on verses 9-10. Some ask why we forbid women from functioning as pastors when we do not prohibit women from wearing jewelry (Alvera Mickelsen, “An Egalitarian View: There is Neither Male nor Female in Christ,” in Women in Ministry: Four Views, eds. Bonidell G. Clouse and Robert G. Clouse [Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity, 1989], 201).  Let me say this: if the Scriptures (rightly interpreted) banned the wearing of jewelry, then we should cease wearing it. The Bible, not our culture, must reign supreme. On the other hand, we must interpret the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context. They were written to specific situations and to cultures that differed from out own. The prohibition regarding the braiding of hair and the wearing of jewelry would not surprise Paul’s readers, for such admonitions were part of the common stock of ethical exhortation in the Greco-Roman world (See Stephen M. Baugh, “A Foreign World: Ephesus in First Century,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis, 47-48; Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 103-7).

Discerning why a command was given is appropriate, precisely because culture has changed. We must distinguish between the principle and the cultural outworking of a principle. We do not practice the holy kiss today (1 Cor. 16:20), but we still derive a principle from it, namely, to greet another warmly in Christ–perhaps with a warm handshake or a hug. We do not demand that people with indigestion drink wine (1 Tim. 5:23), but we do think taking an antacid is advisable for those who suffer from stomach pain. Similarly, the principle in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is that women should dress modestly and without ostentation (For a more detailed discussion of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 see my essay “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 114-21). As a complementation, I do not believe we should try to revert to the culture of biblical times; I do believe we should follow the moral norms and principles taught in the Bible.

So as we study 1 Timothy 2:12, we must discern how its admonition applies to us today. In verses 11-12 Paul exhorts the women to learn quietly and submissively, forbidding them to teach or exercise authority over a man. It has often been observed that Paul departs from some of his contemporaries in encouraging women to learn the Scriptures. The influence of Jesus, who instructed Mary (Luke 10:38-42), is obvious here. Nevertheless, the emphasis in this context is on the manner in which a woman learns, i.e., quietly and submissively. Paul assumes women should learn; what concerns him is that some of the women in Ephesus are arrogating authority to themselves and are not learning with submission. The prohibition in verse 12 further explains verse 11. Paul does not allow women to teach or to exercise authority over a man.

Andreas Kostenbergerhas conclusively shown that the two infinitives–didaskein (“to teach”) and authentein (“to exercise authority”), which are connected by oude (“nor”)–refer to two distinct activities. (See Andreas J. Kostenberger, “A Complex Sentence Structure in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis, 81-103). He establishes this case by consulting verbal forms connected by oude in biblical and extra biblical literature. He also discovered that the two distinct activities are both viewed either positively or negatively when connected by oude; whether the activities are positive or negative is established by the context. Kostenberger rightly notes that the verb didasko (“to teach”) is a positive term in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2), unless the context adds information to indicate otherwise (Titus 1:11). When Paul wants to use a verb to designate false teaching, he uses the term heterodidaskaleo (“to teach strange or false doctrines”) [1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3]) (I.H. Marshall [A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999, 458-60] is unpersuasive in seeing a negative connotation in the terms).

Kostenberger’s study is significant for our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12. Paul prohibits two distinct activities–teaching and exercising authority. Both teaching and exercising authority are legitimate activities in and of themselves. He does not prohibit women from teaching and exercising authority as if these actions are intrinsically evil. Both teaching and exercising authority are proper activities for believers, but in this context he forbids women from engaging in such activities. Kostenberger helps bring clarity to the debate on the meaning of the verb auhtentein (“to exercise authority”) in verse 12. In 1979 Catherine Kroeger proposed that the verb meant “to engage in fertility practices,” but scholars of all persuasions dismiss this view(Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Ancient Heresies and a Strange Greek Verb,” RefJ 29 [1979]: 12-15). Now the Kroegers propose that verse 12 should be translated, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to proclaim herself the author or originator of a man” (See Kroeger and Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman, 103. Linda L. Belleville proposes a translation similar to the Kroegers in some respects [Women Leaders and the Church: Three Crucial Questions [grand Rapids: Baker, 2000], 177. Philip B. Payne [“The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: A Surrejoinder,” in What Does the Scripture Teach about the Ordination of Women? [Minneapolis: unpublished paper, 1986], 108-10] lists five different meanings for the infinitive, which does not inspire confidence he has any definite sense of what the infinitive means). Three careful and technical studies have been conducted on authentein, and all three demonstrate that the most natural meaning for the term is “to exercise authority” (George W. Knight III, “Authenteo in Reference to Women in 1 Timothy 2:12,” NTS 30 [1984]: 143-57; Leland E. Wilshire, “The TLG Computer and Further Reference to Authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12,” NTS 34 [1988]: 120-34; H. Scott Baldwin, “A Difficult Word: Authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis, 65-80, 269-305. See my summary and more detailed analysis of this word in my essay “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 130-33). Scott Baldwin, in particular, has examined virtually every use of the term and carefully separated the verb from the noun, for many scholars mistakenly blend the verb and noun together in their study of the term. Of course, it is just possible in context that a term with a positive meaning (“to exercise authority”) could have a negative meaning (“to domineer”; See, e.g., Carroll D. Osburn, “Authenteo [1 Timothy 2:12],” ResQ 25 [1982]: 1-12). But at this juncture Kostenberger’s work applies again, for he has shown in his study of the sentence structure that both terms are either inherently positive or inherently negative. Since the term “teach” has no negative sense into “exercise authority.” I realize the discussion of this point has been rather technical, but my conclusion is this: technical study has verified that complementarians have rightly interpreted this verse. Paul prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority over men 87 (Some egalitarians have appealed to the phrase oukepitrepo [“I do not permit”] to support their case, arguing that the indicative mood demonstrates the exhortation is not even a command and that the present tense suggests the exhortation is merely a temporary restriction to be lifted once women are qualified to teach [see, e.g., Philip B. Payne, “Libertarian Women in Ephesus: A Response to Douglas J. Moo’s Article, ‘1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,'” TJ 2 [1981]: 170-72; Grenz, Women in the Church, 127-28]. Both assertions are incorrect. Paul often uses indicatives to introduce commands. E.g., the famous admonition to give one’s whole life to God [Rom. 12:1-2] is introduced with the indicative parakalo [“I exhort”] It is linguistically naive to insist commands must be in the imperative mood [see 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:1; Phil. 4:2; 1 Tim. 2:8; 5:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; Titus 3:8]. Nor can one appeal to the present tense to say the command is merely temporary. The same argument could then be used to say Paul desires believers to give their lives to God only for a brief period of time [Rom. 12:1] or he wants the men to pray without wrath and dissension merely for the present time [1 Tim. 2:8], but in the future they could desist).

We have seen previously that prohibiting a woman from teaching or exercising authority over a man applies to the tasks of an elder, for elders have a unique responsibility to teach and rule in God’s church. But on what basis does Paul forbid women from teaching and exercising authority? His words in verse 13 provide the reason: “For it was Adam who was created, and then Eve.” The gar (“for”) introducing this verse is best understood as a ground for the command, since a reason naturally follows the prohibition (Egalitarians often understand this verse to be merely an illustration. So Gritz, Mother Goddess at Ephesus, 136; Witherington, Women and the Genesis of Christianity, 194-95; David M. Scholer, “1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry,” in Women, Authority and the Bible, 208; Alan Padgett, “Wealthy Women at Ephesus: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 in Social Context,” Int 41 [1987]: 25; Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 115-17. In defense of this verse functioning as a reason for the command, see Douglas J. Moo, “The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: A Rejoinder,” TJ 2 [1981]: 202-3). Women should not teach men or exercise authority over them because this would violate God’s intention in creation. Since Paul appeals to creation, the prohibition transcends culture. Paul disallows homosexuality because it contravenes God’s created order (Rom. 1:26-27). Jesus asserts the permanency of marriage by appealing to creation (Matt. 19:3-12). There is no suggestion in the 1 Timothy passage, therefore, that the prohibition is temporary, nor is there any indication that the resurrection is somehow due to human sin or to the limitations of women. The restriction on women stems from God’s creation mandate, not from the cultural situation at Ephesus.

Egalitarians often argue the restriction can be explained by the lack of education among the women in Ephesus, or alternatively they suggest these women were duped by false teachers–and thus the women would be allowed to teach once their doctrinal deficiencies were corrected (For documentation of the egalitarian view, see my essay “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 137). Both of these views are unconvincing. Paul could have easily written this: “I do not allow a woman to teach of exercise authority over a man as long as she is uneducated and unlearned.” He gives no indication, however, that lack of education is the problem. In fact, egalitarians skate over the reason given (Paul’s appeal to the created order) and appeal to one not even mentioned (lack of education; see Royce Gordon Gruenler [“The Mission Lifestlye Setting of 1 Timothy 2:8-15,” JETS 41 [1998]: 215-38] argues that the subordination of women is explicable from the missionary situation in 1 Timothy. But he doesn’t really engage in an intensive exegesis of the text, nor does he persuasively demonstrate that the prohibition is due to mission. Once again, Paul could have easily communicated such an idea, but he did not clearly do so). Furthermore, as Steven M. Baugh points out, it is not the case that all women were uneducated in Ephesus (See Baugh, “A Foreign World,” 45-47). Indeed, we know from 2 Timothy 4:19 that Priscilla was in Ephesus, and she was certainly educated.

Nor is the second attempt to explain away 1 Timothy 2:12 any more persuasive. Paul could have written, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. For she is being led astray by false teachers.” There are multiple problems with this hypothesis. First, why does Paul only mention women, since we know that at least some men were being duped by the false teachers as well? It would be insufferably sexist to prohibit only women from teaching and exercising authority when men were being led astray as well (See D.A. Carson, “Silent in the Churches’: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 147). Second, the theory requires that all the women in Ephesus were deluded by the false teachers. Paul gives no indication the restriction applies only to some women, but it is incredibly hard to believe that every single woman in Ephesus was beguiled by the false teaching. Third, egalitarian scholars have been busy remaking the background to the situation in verses 11-15, but their reconstructions have been highly speculative and sometimes wildly implausible. For example, in their work on 1 Timothy (I Suffer Not a Woman) the Kroegers allege that Ephesus was feminist; they appeal to later evidence to vindicate their thesis and ransack the entire Greco-Roman world to sustain it. They have rightly been excoriated in reviews for producing a work that departs from a sound historical method (See Steven M. Baugh, “The Apostle among the Amazons,” WTJ 56 [1994]: 153-71; Albert Wolters, “Review: I Suffer Not a Woman,” CTJ 28 [1993]: 208-13; Robert W. Yarbrough, “I Suffer Not a Woman: A Review Essay,” Presb 18 [1992]: 25-33). They fall prey to Samuel Sandmel’s warning against parallelomania, and they would have been wise to apply the kind of sober method recommended in John Barclay’s essay on reconstructing the teaching and identity of opponents (See Samuel Sandmel, “Paralelomainia,” JBL 81 [1962]: 2-13; John M.G. Barclay, “Mirror Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a test Case,” JSNT 3 [1987]: 73-93. See also Jerry L. Sumney, “Identifying Paul’s Opponents: The Question of Method in 2 Corinthians” [JSNTSup 40; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990]. For a sensible and cautious description of the opponents in the Pastorals, see Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 140-52; cf. also William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles [WBC; Nashville: Nelson, 2000], lxix-lxxxvi). Bruce Barron blithely appeals to second-century gnostic sources and gives no indication that appealing to later evidence is a problem (See Bruce Barron, “Putting Women in Their Place: 1 Timothy 2 and Evangelical Views of Women in Church Leadership,” JETS 33 [1990]: 451-59). In Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus, Sharon Gritz argues that the Artemis cult is responsible for the problem in Ephesus. Her work is much more careful than that of the Kroegers, but at the end of the day she does not provide any hard data from the letter to substantiate her thesis (See my “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 107-12, for a discussion of the setting of the text).

Speculation runs rampant among those defending the egalitarian thesis. I challenge egalitarians to demonstrate from 1 Timothy itself the nature of the false teaching instead of from later and external sources. I conclude egalitarians have not yet provided a plausible explanation for Paul’s argument from creation in 2:13; in fact, they often complain that Paul’s argument in this verse is unclear and hard to understand (For documentation, see my “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 136. Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker [The First and Second Letters to Timothy. ECC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 227, rightly remark that the brevity of the words in verse 13 demonstrates that the truth presented here was both familiar and intelligible). Yet most Christians throughout church history did not think the verse was so obscure, nor do I think it is hard to grasp. I would suggest the verse seems difficult because it runs counter to our own cultural intuitions. But the Scriptures exist to challenge our worldview and to correct our way of looking at the world.

In verse 14, Paul gives a second reason for the prohibition. Women are forbidden to teach because Eve was deceived, and not Adam. Egalitarians occasionally appeal to this verse to say women were responsible for spreading the heresy in Ephesus, and that is why they are prevented from teaching (For a detailed discussion of this verse, see my “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 140-46, though I am less certain about my previous interpretation of this verse). When we read 1 Timothy and the rest of the Pastoral Epistles , however, the only false teachers named are men (1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17). The only evidence were influenced by the heresy, not that they were purveyors of it (2 Tim. 3:5-9). Nor does 1 Timothy 2:14 suggest that women were disseminating false teaching, for to say that one is deceived is not to say one is spreading error, but only that one is being led astray by it. What the verse highlights is what transpired in Eve’s heart, namely, deception, and nothing is said about her giving Adam faulty instruction.

Nor is it plausible to say this verse highlights Eve’s ignorance of God’s command, and then to conclude the women of Ephesus are prohibited from teaching because of a lack of education. The problem with this interpretation is that deception does not equate with lack of education, for the latter is remedied through instruction while the former has a moral component. Nor does it make sense to say Eve was ignorant of God’s command given to Adam. If she were ignorant because Adam had failed to inform her of the command, then the blame would surely rest with Adam. Alternatively, if Adam muddled the command and explained it poorly to Eve, this would scarcely fit with an injunction that encouraged men to teach rather than women. Presumably, Adam explained the prohibition to Eve, and it is hard to see how she could not have grasped it, since it is quite easy to understand what was forbidden. If Eve couldn’t understand it, then she was inherently stupid–which would explain why men should teach. But the deception should not be equated with stupidity. Paul is not saying Eve somehow lacked education or intelligence. He argues that she failed morally and was deceived by the serpent.

Egalitarians often allege they have a better explanation of verse 14 than complementarians. I maintain none of their explanations are persuasive, for there is no evidence in this verse that women were banned from teaching because they were spreading heresy, nor is there any indication they were uneducated, for deception cannot be equated with a lack of education.

What, then, is the point of 1 Timothy 2:14? Let me acknowledge at the outset the difficulty of the verse. I believe the complementarian view stands on the basis of the clarity of verse 13, so that resolving the interpretation of verse 14 is not crucial for the passage as a whole (Craig L. Blomberg [“Not Beyond What Is Written: A Review of Aida Spencer’s Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry,” CTR 2, 1988: 414] intriguingly suggests verse 14 should be read with verse 15 instead of functioning as a second reason for the injunction in verse 12. On this reading, Paul says the woman will be saved, even though Eve was initially deceived. There are at least three weaknesses with this view [cf. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 142]: (1) the kai in verse 14 naturally links verse 14 with verse 13; (2) the structure of verse 13 nicely matches verse 14, for both verses compare and contrast Adam and Eve in an a-b a-b pattern; and (3) Blomberg’s view does not account well for the reference to Adam in verse 14. Any reference to Adam is superfluous if the concern is only the salvation of women. But the reference to both Adam and Eve fits with the specific argument in verse 12 that women are not to teach men. In my view Blomberg does not answer these objections convincingly in his response to Mounce’s objections [see his essay, “Neither Hierarchicalist nor Egalitarian: Gender Roles in Paul,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, eds. James R. Beck and Craig L. Blomberg [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001], 367). In the history of the church, some have argued that women are less intelligent or more apt to be deceived than men. The idea that women are less intelligent is not taught elsewhere in Scripture, and Paul does not argue from lack of intelligence but from the experience of deception. Others suggested the point is that Eve was deceived first, and Adam was deceived afterward (Paul W. Barnett, “Wives and Women’s Ministry [1 Timothy 2:11-15],” EvQ 61 [1989]: 234). As Paul writes to his trusted coworker, he knows Timothy will reflect on the Pauline teaching that sin has been transmitted through Adam (Rom. 5:12-19). So even though Eve sinned first, sin is traced to Adam, pointing to male headship.

We can combine the above interpretation with the observation that the serpent took the initiative to tempt Eve rather than Adam, thereby subverting the pattern of male leadership (See also Gruenler, “The Mission-Lifestyle Setting,” 217-18, 20-21). I argued in a previous essay that perhaps Paul is suggesting women are more prone to deceit than men, but this view has the disadvantage of suggesting an inherent defect in women, for the language of deceit in Scripture always involves a moral failing. Thus, I think Paul likely is reflecting on the fact that the serpent subverted male headship by tempting Eve rather than Adam (Due to space limitations, I am bypassing the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15. For my view, see “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” 146-53. I do not believe my specific interpretation affects the major teaching of the text in a decisive way [contra Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 118; Scholer, “1 Timothy 2:91-15 and the Place of Women,” 196]. For an alternate interpretation see Andreas J. Kostenberger, “Ascertaining Women’s God-Ordained Roles: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15,” BBR 7 [1997]: 107-43). And yet sin is still traced through Adam, even though Eve was deceived and sinned first. On this view verse 14 supports the command in verse 12, providing an additional and complementary reason for male leadership in the church.

Women Exhorted to Prophesy with a Submissive Demeanor: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

One of the most controversial NT texts regarding men and women is 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (For further discussion, see my essay “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 124-39). Several issues need to be examined here, beginning with the custom that is in view. How did Paul want the women to adorn themselves? We must admit immediately that complete certainty eludes us. Scholars have suggested veiling, the wearing of a shawl, or the tying of hair atop the head so that the hair didn’t fall loosely onto the shoulders (Supporting a shawl or veil is Gordon D. Fee, The Epistle to the Corinthians [NICNT; grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 506-12; Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 22-31; Cynthia L. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-Coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth,” BA 51 [1988]: 99-115. Supporting hairstyle is Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, 254-71; David E. Blattenberger III, Rethinking 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 through Archaeological and Moral Rhetorical Analysis [Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1997). Whatever the custom was, the failure of Corinthian women to abide by it was considered disgraceful. The behavior of the Corinthian women was as shocking as if they shaved their heads altogether (v.6).

Even if we cannot specify the custom, why would Paul be concerned about how the women adorn themselves?  (Bruce W. Winter [After Paul Left Corinth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, 121-41] argues that the injunction to veil demonstrates that wives and not women in general are in view here, supporting this with evidence from the culture of Paul’s day. Winter’s arguments are quite attractive, but further research and discussion are needed to establish this claim. I have some hesitancy about his view because it is unclear from the text itself that only wives are in view, though perhaps Winter is correct in saying that the reference to veiling indicates such is the case).  We have already noted that honor and shame come to the forefront (vv. 4-7, 13-15). Those who repudiate the custom bring dishonor on their heads. The word “head” in verse 5 is probably a play on words, for the women who adorn themselves improperly bring dishonor on themselves and their husbands. It is evident the women’s adornment impinges on the relationship between men and women, since Paul introduces the whole matter by saying, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (v.3).

I noted previously that the word kephale (“head”) may have both the idea of “authority over” and “source.” The meaning “authority over” is clear in many texts, and whether the term ever means “source” is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, svn if one adopts the translation “source” male leadership cannot be expunged from the text. Paul is concerned about the way women adorn themselves, because shameful adornment is a symbol of rebellion against male leadership. A woman who is properly adorned signals her submissiveness to male headship. That woman was created to assist and help man is clear from the Pauline commentary in verses 7-9: “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” We should note the woman is required to adorn herself in a certain way because she came from the man, showing that even an argument from source does not exclude male leadership (I am not suggesting kephale means only “source” here; both “authority over” and “source” are probably involved. My judgment on this issue represents a change from my “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity,” 124-39).

Paul does not merely impose restrictions on women. He encourages women to pray and prophesy in church if they are properly adorned (v. 5). Complementarians who regulate such prayer and prophecy by women to private meetings fail to convince, because the distinction between public and private meetings of the church is a modern invention; in Paul’s day, the church often met in homes for worship and instruction. Moreover, it is evident that 11:2-14:40 relates activities when the church is gathered together. Paul commends women’s praying and prophesying in church, but he insists on proper adornment, because such adornment signals submission to male leadership.

It is also crucial at this juncture to reiterate what was said earlier. The permission to prophesy does not mean women fill the office of teacher or pastor/elder/overseer. When women pray and prophesy, they must adorn themselves properly, thereby indicating they are supportive of male leadership in the church. Paul encourages women to speak in the assembly, but he forbids them from functioning as pastors or from exercising a regular gift of teaching men.

We should also notice the programmatic nature of verse 3. God is the head of Christ, which signifies that God is the authority over the Christ. The Father commands and sends, and the Son obeys and goes. Even though the Son obeys the Father, he is equal in essence, dignity, and personhood with the Father. A difference in role does not signify a difference in worth. Some scholars are now actually arguing that the Son submits to the Father, and the Father submits to the Son. Stanley Grenz posits such a thesis in defense of the egalitarian view (See Grenz, Women in the Church, 153-54). Amazingly enough, he does not provide any biblical evidence to support his assertion; he simply claims the Father also submits to the Son. There is no evidence in the Bible that the Father and Son mutually submit to one another. Grenz’s interpretation is concocted out of nothing and proposed to the reader as though it were rooted somewhere in the Bible.

The parallel between Christ’s submission to the Father and the deference of women to men is important. For right after Paul sets forth the distinct role of women in verses 2-10, he reminds his readers that both men and women are equal in the Lord (vv. 11-12). Some scholars have interpreted verse 11-12 as though Paul were now denying the male leadership taught in verses 2-10 (Scholars often appeal to verse 10 to support the idea that women have independent authority in prophesying. This interpretation was proposed by Morna D. Hooker [“Authority on Her Head: An Examination of 1 Corinthians xi.10,” NTS 10. 1964: 410-16] and has been adopted by most egalitarians [see, e.g., Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 38-42]. But there are serious problems with this view [see my “Head Coverings, Prophecies, and the Trinity,” 134-37). Such a reading is unpersuasive.

Paul returns to the differences between the genders in verses 13-16, and in verse 16, he reminds the Corinthians that all the other churches practice the custom the Corinthians are resisting (Judith M. Gundry-Volf [“Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: A Study in Paul’s Theological Method,” in Evangelium Schriftauslegung Kirche, ed. O. Hofus, Gotingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997], 151-71, argues that Paul integrates creation, culture, and eschatological life in Christ in a complex fashion in these verses so that he, in effect, supports patriarchy and equality simultaneously. On the other hand, I disagree with her claim that verses 11-12 partially mute the patriarchy of the previous verses. On the other hand, her own proposal is overly complex and doesn’t offer a clear way forward in the debate). The text beautifully balances differences in roles with equality of personhood. Egalitarians have sometimes claimed that Paul corrects in verses 11-12 the focus on submission in verses 2-10. More likely, the themes of submission and equality are complementary. Women and men are equal in the Lord, and yet distinct roles are also demanded. Paul saw no contradiction on this point–and neither should we.

Should women wear veils or shawls today? A minority of complementarians think they should (See e.g., Bruce Waltke, “1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation,” BSac 135 [1978]: 46-57; Robert Culver, “A Traditional View: Let Your Women Keep Silence,” in Women in Ministry: Four Views, 29-32, 48). But we must remember that the Bible was written in the context of particular historical and cultural circumstances we do not necessarily imitate today. As I noted before in the cases of the holy kiss and drinking wine for indigestion, we must distinguish between the principle and the cultural outworking of a principle. Thus, the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is deference to male leadership. In our culture, such deference is not signaled by wearing a shawl or a veil, or by tying one’s hair into a bun atop the head. Women should participate in the ministry, read the Scriptures, and pray in church with a demeanor that illustrates submission to male headship, but they should not be required to wear veils, for to do so confuses the particular cultural practice with the principle.

Am I trying to escape the scandal of the biblical text? In actuality, I believe there is a custom in Western society that is somewhat analogous to the first-century situation. In some cases, women today who refuse to take a husband’s last name signal that they are “liberated.” I realize there are exceptions (e.g., famous athletes or authors who may want to retain name recognition), but I believe if Paul were alive today, he would encourage women who marry to take the last name of the their husband, signaling thereby their deference to male leadership (I am not claiming that taking a husband’s last name should always be required. Our culture may change. In some cultures, retaining one’s maiden name may show respect for one’s father. I am merely suggesting that, in some cases, women are making a statement about their view of gender relations by not taking their husband’s last name). Is it possible the same hermeneutical method I have applied to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 could be related to 1 Timothy 2:11-15? In one of my classes, a woman once said to me, “Is it possible the admonition not to teach or exercise authority over a man has an underlying principle we have missed, so that women can teach and exercise authority over men without denying the principle of 1 Timothy 2:11-15?” I replied, “Of course it is possible. But in this case, it seems the principle and practice coalesce 112 (See Kostenberger, “Gender Passages,” 270. John Stott [Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus [BST; Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity, 1996, 78-80; argues that submission to authority is transcultural but teaching is a cultural expression of the principle that does not apply the same way in our culture. Kostenberger [1-2 Timothy and Titus. EBC, rev. ed.; Zondervan, forthcoming] rightly responds that “v. 13 provides the rationale for vv. 11-12 in their entirety rather than only the sub-mission-authority principle. Moreover, teaching and ruling functions are inseparable from submission-authority, as is made clear in the immediately following context when it is said that the overseer must be ‘husband of one wife’ [i.e., by implication, male; 3:2] as well as ‘able to teach’ – 3:2″). Please explain to me what the principle is in the text if it does not relate to women’s teaching the Scriptures and exercising authority over other believers.”

I have never read any author who has successfully explained what this “other principle.” might be. Thus, I am persuaded we fulfill the admonition of 1 Timothy 2:12 when we prohibit women from filling the pastoral office and when we restrict them from regularly teaching the Scriptures to adult males (Craig Keener [Paul, Women and Wives, 19] thinks that if one abandons the head covering then the limitation imposed by 1 Timothy 2:12 must be surrendered as well. But I believe I am following Keener’s very principle of trying to discern the principle in each text [see Paul, Women, and Wives, 46].

The Principle of Submission Applied to a Particular Situation: 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36

The entire matter of principle and practice comes to the forefront in this difficult text. Gordon Fee has argued the verese are a later interpolation, but this view has been decisively refuted by Don Carson and Curt Niccum114 (See Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 699-705; Carson, “Silent in the Churches,” 141-45; Curt Niccum, “The Voice of the Manuscripts on the Silence of Women: The External Evidence for 1 Corinthians 14.34-35,” NTS 43 [1997]: 242-55. See also Keener’s fine survey of interpretive options [Paul, Women and Wives, 70-100]. Philip B. Payne [“Fuldensis, Sigla for Variants in Vaticanus, and 1 Corinthians 14.34-5,” NTS 41 [1995]: 240-62; argues that evidence from Codex Fuldensis and “bar-umlaut” siglum in Vaticanus indicate that verses 34-35 are a later interpolation. Nicccum demonstrates, however, that the evidence adduced by Payne does not really support an interpolation). On first blush the passage seems to prohibit women from speaking in church at all, but this is an unpersuasive interpretation. In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul has already permitted women to pray and prophesy on the church. He would not bother to explain in such detail how they should adorn themselves if he thought women should desist from speaking altogether! What, then, is Paul prohibiting here? Scholars have suggested a plethora of interpretations that need not be conversed here. For instance, some have said that the text is contradictory, others that women were interrupting the worship service with questions, and still others that women were banned from assessing and passing judgment on the prophecies uttered by the prophets  (For a survey of options and the view that the judging of prophecies is forbidden, see Carson, “Silent in the Churches,” 145-53. For a survey that reaches another conclusion, see Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech, 270-77). Virtually all acknowledge that the specific situation that called forth these words is difficult to identify. It seems most likely the women were disrupting the service in some way (we cannot recover the specific circumstances due to paucity of information), and Paul responds to their disruptive behavior.

Still, we cannot simply say the verses are restricted to the local situation at Corinth. The admonition here relates to what is practiced “in all the churches of the saints” (14:33). Paul summons the women to submit, for this is what the nomos (“Law”) requires (v. 34). Paul does not specify any particular verse from the OT, but “Law” in Paul virtually always refers to the OT, and here we probably have a reference to the teaching of Genesis 1-2. We may have some uncertainty about the particular situation in Corinth, but the principle enunciated here fits with the rest of Scripture. The women are not to speak in such a way that they arrogate leadership. As in all other churches, they are to behave submissively, so that the leadership of the church belongs to men 116 (Keener [Paul, Women and Wives, 87] agrees with me that the principle in the text is submission, though he would apply the text differently to today).


The Bible speaks with one voice on whether women should fill the pastoral office, and it also seems to me it forbids women from regularly teaching men and exercising authority over them. I realize, of course, that even those who ares with my exegesis may disagree on how this would be worked out in the myriad of specific situations that arise in life (I simply could not address the diversity of practical questions in this brief Title: Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism). I want to affirm in closing that the Bible also indicates that women were vitally involved in many other ministry roles in both the OT and NT. Complementarians should celebrate and advocate women’s filling such roles. We must also constantly remind our egalitarian society that differences in function do not signify differences in worth. The world may think that way–but the church knows better.

Source: Thomas R. Schreiner (He is the James Harrison Professor of NT Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds an Mdiv and ThM from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary), “Chapter Four – Women in Ministry: “Another Complementary Perspective.” Two Views On Women in Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2005.

WOMEN IN MINISTRY: What Does the Bible Say?


By S. Michael Houdmann

Question: “Complementarianism vs. egalitarianism—which view is biblically correct?”

Answer: Summarized by “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” complementarianism is the viewpoint that God restricts women from serving in church leadership roles and instead calls women to serve in equally important, but complementary roles. Summarized by “Christians for Biblical Equality,” egalitarianism is the viewpoint that there are no biblical gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church. With both positions claiming to be biblically based, it is crucially important to fully examine what exactly the Bible does say on the issue of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

Again, to summarize, on the one side are the egalitarians who believe there are no gender distinctions and that since we are all one in Christ, women and men are interchangeable when it comes to functional roles in leadership and in the household. The opposing view is held by those who refer to themselves as complementarians. The complementarian view believes in the essential equality of men and women as persons (i.e., as human beings created in God’s image), but complementarians hold to gender distinctions when it comes to functional roles in society, the church and the home.

An argument in favor of complementarianism can be made from 1 Timothy 2:9-15. The verse in particular that seems to argue against the egalitarian view is 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Paul makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 14 where he writes, “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Paul makes the argument that women are not allowed to teach and/or exercise authority over men within the church setting. Passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9 seem to limit church leadership “offices” to men, as well.

Egalitarianism essentially makes its case based on Galatians 3:28. In that verse Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The egalitarian view argues that in Christ the gender distinctions that characterized fallen relationships have been removed. However, is this how Galatians 3:28 should be understood? Does the context warrant such an interpretation? It is abundantly clear that this interpretation does damage to the context of the verse. In Galatians, Paul is demonstrating the great truth of justification by faith alone and not by works (Galatians 2:16). In Galatians 3:15-29, Paul argues for justification on the differences between the law and the promise. Galatians 3:28 fits into Paul’s argument that all who are in Christ are Abraham’s offspring by faith and heirs to the promise (Galatians 3:29). The context of this passage makes it clear Paul is referring to salvation, not roles in the church. In other words, salvation is given freely to all without respect to external factors such as ethnicity, economic status, or gender. To stretch this context to also apply to gender roles in the church goes far beyond and outside of the argument Paul was making.

What is truly the crux of this argument, and what many egalitarians fail to understand, is that a difference in role does not equate to a difference in quality, importance, or value. Men and women are equally valued in God’s sight and plan. Women are not inferior to men. Rather, God assigns different roles to men and women in the church and the home because that is how He designed us to function. The truth of differentiation and equality can be seen in the functional hierarchy within the Trinity (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3). The Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. This functional submission does not imply an equivalent inferiority of essence; all three Persons are equally God, but they differ in their function. Likewise, men and women are equally human beings and equally share the image of God, but they have God-ordained roles and functions that mirror the functional hierarchy within the Trinity.

While he is not the author of every article on, for citation purposes, you may reference our CEO AT LOGOS, S. Michael Houdmann.

*SOURCE: Read more:

                        Recommended Resources  for Further Study:

Two Views on Women in Ministry. Edited by Stanley N. Gundry, and James R. Beck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Women in Ministry: Four Views. Edited by Bonnidell Clouse and Robert G. Clouse. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 1989.

Women and Men In Ministry: A Complementary Persepective. Edited by Judy TenElshof and Robert L. Saucy. Chicago: Moody Press, 2001.

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012.


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