Paul’s concern for the women in Timothy’s churches: Notes on 1 Tim 2.8-15

One of the texts often quoted in discussion of the concept of ‘male headship’ is 1 Tim 2.8-15, although,  of course,  the language of ‘head’ comes from 1 Corinthians..  It is presented as a definitive statement of the Apostle’s view about the impermissibility of women teaching or exercising authority over men in the Church.  A common interpretation of this text is the one given in the NIV:  ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.’   The basis for this standpoint taken by Paul, it is argued, is the creation order (‘Adam was formed first’), and that because of the Fall, women are likely to be less reliable teachers than men.

However, there is another way of looking at this text.

The setting to which (according to 1 Timothy) Paul is writing: 

(i)  It is a letter to young Timothy (4.12),  frequently ill (5.23),  to help him in the task of church leadership (1.3) in the church, or  - more likely - house churches, in Ephesus (cf. ‘from house to house’, Acts 20.20).

(ii)  Some people are teaching ‘different doctrine’ (1.3), occupied with various speculations, and they need to be instructed.

(iii)  Some are desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding what they are saying (1.7). There seems to be some teaching around which has grown a morbid craving for controversy and disputes about words (6.4).  Some may even be arguing that the law has no place in Christian faith (1.8).

(iv)  The author is strengthening Timothy in the fight of faith (1.18).

(v)  There seems to be some anger and argument when men are praying (2.8).

(vi)  Some women seem not to be dressing modestly (2.9).

(vii)  Some women seem to be taking a teaching role, and assuming authority in services of worship. (2.11,12).  Some of the widows are living for pleasure (5.6);  some of the younger widows are ruled by sensual desires, are idle, gad about from house to house, gossiping  and being busybodies, saying things they should not (5.11-13).  Some people even forbid marriage  (4.3).  Some have already turned away to follow Satan (5.15).

(viii)  The Letter says that Paul is hoping to visit them soon,  but in case he is delayed he is giving instructions to Timothy about how people ought to behave in church (3.14-15).   The implication is that Paul will sort things out when he comes, but young Timothy needs his hand strengthened in the meantime.

(ix)  Some of the false teaching in the church could be a sign of the ‘last times’.(4.1).

What are Paul’s instructions?

(i)  The first task is prayer for all leaders ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’ (2.1f).

(ii)  Church leaders must have good character and manage their own households well (2.3f).

(iii) Women church leaders must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate and faithful in all things (3.11).

(iv) Timothy is to have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales, but rather train himself in godliness (4.7)

(v) Timothy must insist and teach a good example in speech and conduct;  he is to give attention to the public reading of scripture and to exhorting and teaching (4.13), he is to give honour to the elders and widows, uphold the importance of family responsibilities (5.8), honour especially the ruling elders who labour in preaching and teaching (5.17).  The Apostle would prefer the younger widows to marry and have children and manage their households, ‘so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us’ (4.14).

(vi)  It is important to preserve the integrity of teaching,  even among slaves (6.1), from whom there must be respect and service in the church.

(vii)  Sound teaching is in accord with the words of Jesus and with godliness (6.3).

(viii)  Timothy is to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness,  he is to avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge (6.20).

(ix)  There is other teaching in this Epistle,  not least about the nature of God, and God’s revelation,  and also the temptations which money can bring; but our focus here is Paul’s concern for women.

So what of 1 Tim 2. 8 – 15?

We have in Ephesus a church situation in which some women are dressing immodestly; some are assuming the freedom to teach in church, even ‘lording it over’ the men when they do not understand what they are saying , (The verb is authenteo,  ‘usurping authority’, not the usual word for exercising authority which is exousiazo). Paul is talking about disruptive self-assertion.  Some of the younger widows are going from house church to house church gossiping and causing trouble.  Maybe they think they are expressing their new found freedom in Christ, and disregarding God’s law, but in their self-assertion, they are straying into ways of ungodliness.

So, says this Letter, if anyone is going to teach, (and women could teach, cf.Titus 2.3), they first have to learn. (2.11). Paul does not command all women not to teach, but he does command them to learn.  They are to learn ‘in quietness’ (hesouchia does not mean in ‘silence’).   Their quietness is to be ‘with full submission’ (2.11)  -  i.e. submission to the church in worship (contrast the ‘disobedient’ in 1.9).  Arguing (in men) and immodest dress (in women) both violate the call to mutual submission.  The church should be at peace. So women must be in church ‘in quietness’ (2.11). While they are learning, they are not to ‘domineer’ (‘usurp authority’) over men.

We referred to the interpretation of 1 Tim 2. 12 reflected in the wording of the NIV.   Given the specific situation into which Paul is writing, and his concern about the women causing trouble in the house churches in Ephesus, and his imperative instruction that they must ‘learn’, a better interpretation for 1 Tim 2. 12 is:   ‘I permit no woman to teach, or usurp authority over a man:  they are to keep quiet.’

In its context, this seems to be saying:

We cannot have women who have not properly understood the Gospel and the radical call to godliness assuming the right to teach in church and house groups.  So, Timothy, in order to get things back on an even keel, women who have not ‘learned’ the faith are not to teach – they are to stop gossiping and should remain quiet in worship. They are in danger of leading others into error.  In this connection, we are reminded of the story of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps this is a sort of illustration of the situation at Ephesus:  like Eve, some of the women in the church have been deceived and are leading others astray.  Or perhaps, as seems quite possible, one of the ‘false doctrines’ around was the idea that Eve was formed first and not Adam.  Maybe some of the women were teaching this.  Perhaps they were also teaching that everything was Adam’s fault. No: Eve sinned as well! That is not to say, Timothy, that your Christian young women will not be saved; but against those who forbid marriage (4.3), and against those who make out that freedom from marriage and from child-bearing is part of Christian freedom, we need to reaffirm that having children is part of God’s purpose and does not get in the way of salvation.  On the contrary, child-bearing is fully part of God’s salvation purpose, provided it is linked with faith and love, holiness and modesty.    The crucially important issues for you, Timothy, are to safeguard the integrity of Gospel teaching, and to uphold marriage and family life.  As far as the ministry of women in your churches are concerned, they need to learn about both these things before they can teach.

So, Timothy, these are my instructions for the house churches of Ephesus until I can be with you.   Guard what has been entrusted to you.  Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.  Grace be with you.  (6. 20f.)


It is very far from clear on this interpretation that 1 Tim 2. 8 – 15 supports the concept of what in recent years has come to be called ‘male headship’ in the Church.     When coupled with the ‘multiple meanings’ (to quote Anthony Thiselton’s major commentary on 1 Corinthians: The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians,  Eerdmans/Paternoster, 2000,  pp. 812 – 822) of kephale  - often simply translated ‘head’, as though its meaning is obvious -  in 1 Corinthians 11.3;  and with the dangers of reading 1 Cor 11.3 in support of a subordinationism which borders on heretical Christology,  it suggests that those who claim that ‘male headship in Church’ is a biblical  doctrine need to be very careful indeed about exactly what they mean.

44 thoughts on “Paul’s concern for the women in Timothy’s churches: Notes on 1 Tim 2.8-15”

  1. Hi Bowman, thank you for the clarification. You said, ‘if this is goodbye’, and ‘these may be among your last posts here’, when I had not thought of ceasing to post. So I deduced that you must be planning to say goodbye to me, as it were. It did occur to me later that perhaps they were predictions of the likely course of events. Personally, I find the future so unknowable – apart from what the bible teaches us, needless to say – that I wouldn’t even think along those lines, and predict someone else’s future actions. Perhaps Fulcrum will continue to publish on this topic or perhaps not. Of course there are other important issues, but to my mind it’s like sin in the individual’s life. Until one has dealt with it, one can’t move on with other things. So with the current rebellion by professing evangelicals against the word of God with regard to women teaching and leading in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.


  2. “David Atkinson’s article is the topic. His argument is– (1) given the situation that 1 Timothy addresses, and St Paul’s response to that situation, the ambiguities of the disputed verses can be disambiguated with confidence on the authority of the text alone; (2) when one does so, it seems not to support ‘male headship.’ After weeks of comment, this argument has met no salient and direct objection here. Whether or not it is correct, Atkinson’s argument is as plausible today as it was on publication. Busy villagers should consider the discussion closed.”

    • Bowman writes, provocatively: ‘After weeks of comment, this argument has met no salient and direct objection here.’ To repeat briefly, and try to summarise previous objections, criticisms, and then to add one further point (and I think there may be more important and salient points to be made):

      1) There is an obvious contradiction between David’s translation of 1 Timothy 2.12a – ‘I permit no woman to teach, or ..’; and his statement ‘Paul does not command all women not to teach’. Unless or until this is explained, the whole case is null and void.

      2) David claims that αὐθεντέω means to ‘usurp authority’. This is not supported by the lexicons, nor by an examination of the individual texts, nor by the likely meaning derived from the verb being considered to be a denominative from αὐθέντης.

      3) As Phil points out, if David wants to draw conclusions about male headship from a passage which doesn’t mention it, then he needs to examine carefully the very strong and clear affirmation of it in Ephesians 5. One may add here that David’s single sentence on 1 Corinthians 11.3 is hardly sufficient to refute the obvious and clear statement of that text that the head of woman is man.

      4) It is unreasonable to refer to the godly women of 1 Timothy 3.11 as ‘church leaders’ without providing any justification for it. They are not. Are the male deacons leaders?

      Bowman makes the accurate observation that David reconstructs the situation in Ephesus without recourse to extra-biblical historical information, and only from the text. My further point relates to this reconstruction.

      5) David writes, for example, ‘There seems to be some anger and argument when men are praying (2.8)’. The verse in question reads: ‘I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing.’ Does it follow that the men were arguing when they prayed? Is it a valid inference to suggest, and I think this is probably a necessary part of David’s overall argument, that this was a particular problem at Ephesus.

      I am inclined to think that this is a universal tendency among Christian men, and therefore always a timely and necessary exhortation not to quarrel or dispute in times of corporate intercession.

      When we read say, Romans 12.10 ‘Be devoted to one another in brotherly love’ – and I could take a hundred examples from different letters – Do we reconstruct the situation in Rome and say there was a lack of love among the brethren? If not, why do we do it with regard to Ephesus at the time of 1 Timothy?


      • I have just returned from 5 weeks abroad, and have not until now been able to follow all the comments on my article. I think Bowman has correctly and succinctly summarized what I was trying to do, but I don’t think Andrew (who has raised many objections to detail) or Phil’s long essay really address the primary point I was trying to make. Here, however, are my brief responses to Andrew’s latest set of points:

        1. I don’t see a contradiction between (i) recognizing that Paul was not giving permission to teach to the women in Ephesus that he was concerned about – presumably those going about gossiping and bringing discredit to the Gospel and (ii) denying that Paul is giving a universal command to all church women everywhere to be silent.

        2. Arndt Gingrich lexicon says that authenteo can mean both ‘have authority’ and ‘domineer’ over someone. The word ‘usurp’ is mine, but my dictionary defines ‘usurp’ to means ‘take possession of without right’ or ‘encroach’, among other things. It does seem to me that that is precisely what Paul is saying the women he is referring to should not do.

        3. My opening remark in my article makes clear that I am responding to those who do wish to use 1 Tim 2 as part of a case for ‘male headship’, and to argue that such use is misplaced. I agree, of course, that if I wanted to make a full case against ‘male headship’ I would need to work at many other texts. Incidentally, my ‘single sentence’ about 1 Cor 11.3 deliberately refers to Anthony Thiselton’s magisterial treatment of the concept of kephale = head in his major commentary, and to his conclusion that ‘multiple meanings’ are involved.

        4. The justification for including women alongside deacons as ‘church leaders’ is the force of the word ‘likewise’ in the phrase ‘women likewise’ in 1 Tim. 3. 11. This is exactly in line with ‘deacons likewise’ in 3.8. There must have been a group of women (were they the Order of Widows – which is how I once heard J I Packer describe them– seemingly referred to in 5.9?), who were singled out for particular mention. So the issue is whether ‘deacons’ should be referred to as ‘church leaders’ (which I would tend to do, though if you prefer ‘church official’, that’s OK by me). Donald Guthrie’s commentary includes ‘the women’ under the general heading of ‘Church officials’ in 3. 1 – 13, and suggests that though they might be deacons’ wives, it is more likely that there was at least an informal order of ministry for them (deaconesses?). Certainly it appears from the reference to bishops that the structure of ministry by the time 1 Timothy was written had considerably moved on from the first allusions to deacons in Acts 6.

        5. I won’t lose much sleep about a comma. My NRSV translated 2.8 as ‘men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument’. Andrew prefers ‘ pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or disputing’. I don’t know – and I don’t think it is a necessary part of my argument. But I have also to say that I am not accustomed to ‘quarrel or dispute in times of corporate intercession’ in the churches I have worked in, and not everyone lifts holy hands.

        As I say, I do not think these points have much bearing on my primary argument which was that the situation in Timothy’s churches called forth a very particular and specific response from Paul at that time, a response which does not obviously or necessarily lead to universalization. On Andrew’s other earlier comments: he wants to correct my English (yes, I can tell the difference between apples and bananas); he implies that I have joined a ‘mad desire to throw out Scriptural teaching’ (I haven’t); he also intimates that I may not agree with the Fulcrum commitment to the authority of Scripture (I do); more seriously he says that in my translation of authenteo I am putting forward ‘a lie’ (that’s a strong comment which I hope he might wish to withdraw).
        In actual fact, I wrote this article several months ago, and for various reasons it was delayed in its journey to publication on the Fulcrum website. My primary concerns at the moment are not to defend my article any further, though I hope and pray that it might still be of use, but rather to concentrate on my current work on the environment and climate change in relation to the doctrine of Creation, which is much more pressing. But I am grateful for all the comments that have been made.

        David Atkinson

        • Dear David, Thank you very much for responding to my points in detail. Starting with the point on which I have caused offence:

          2) In your article you said: ‘(The verb is authenteo, ‘usurping authority’, not the usual word for exercising authority which is exousiazo).’ So you have supplied a meaning for the word in its lexical form, αὐθεντέω. Any reader who didn’t know better would think that is what the word means. You now agree that it doesn’t mean that, at least according to the leading New Testament lexicon. So why not change your translation? Surely it is foundational to the evangelical life that we allow the word of God to change us, not the other way around. As you say, the word ‘usurp’ contains the idea of taking illegitimately: ‘To appropriate wrongfully to oneself (a right, prerogative, etc.). [OED I.1.a]’. ‘It does seem to [you]’, you say, that this is what Paul is saying here. But if the word doesn’t mean that, then that is not what he is saying, is it?

          I don’t believe I have implied that you do not agree with the Fulcrum commitment to the authority of scripture. On the contrary, I was suggesting that you are part of the Fulcrum mainstream in this respect. Bowman is not, as I understand it. On a previous occasion, he suggested that it might be worth considering changing the CEEC statement – or rather, presumably, Fulcrum’s adherence to it. I was hoping to engage with someone who does hold to it, so that we would be on the same page, as it were. So I am very glad you have replied.

          1) You rendered the first clause as ‘I permit no woman to teach.’ That’s clear, is it not? That means that he does not permit any woman to teach. But now you say: ‘Paul was not giving permission to teach to the women in Ephesus that he was concerned about – presumably those going about gossiping and bringing discredit to the Gospel’. That’s different. That’s prohibiting certain women, or a certain class of women, from teaching. But that’s not what Paul writes, is it?


          • “Bowman is not, as I understand it.”

            Sorry, Andrew, you really don’t understand “it” at all. And that’s alright. The scriptures themselves are deeper than anyone’s opinion about them, let alone anyone’s opinion about anyone else’s opinion about them.

            On reflection, I realise that Fulcrum may not be publishing much more on the ordination of women, and that these may be among your last posts here. I would prefer that you begin to post on new topics. But if this is goodbye, then please accept my thanks for your many contributions over the past few years. You will remain in my prayers.

          • Hi Bowman, In response to ‘these may be among your last posts here.’

            Is this a threat to ban me from commenting? Do you have the authority to enforce this? Are you a moderator? This is an important practical question to ask when somebody makes threats of this sort.

            What is the problem? I made a series of points and David thought them worthy of answering. Isn’t that sufficient proof that they were suitable for a forum intended for discussion?


          • Clearly there has been some sort of misunderstanding here. No one should be suggesting you cannot post. And I am the moderator!

          • No, Andrew, my thanks for your posts, and my expressed hopes that you will post on more topics after this one were sincere. Why on earth did you think that they were threats? My worry was (and is) that you will stop posting as Fulcrum moves on from the nearly-concluded debates on the ordination of women.

            As an interested reader of David Atkinson’s article, I have responded to comments on the thread by comparing them, as far as one could do, to its core argument. To ask whether they have worth apart from that argument has not crossed my mind.

            Simon, by the way, is a famously hospitable moderator. He is a veteran of far more contentious threads than this one. As you see, you can rely on his fair-minded love of free debate as we all do.

        • It is good that David Atkinson has responded personally to comments on his article. My observation on his response is as follows.
          He states that his primary argument is ‘…that the situation in Timothy’s churches called forth a very particular and specific response from Paul at that time, a response which does not obviously or necessarily lead to universalization’.
          He also says, ‘Phil’s long essay (does not) really address the primary point I was trying to make’.
          Well, the point of my essay was to argue that when we consider all that Paul says in Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11 (with its references to Genesis 2), 1 Timothy 3 alongside 1 Timothy 2, then 1 Timothy 2:12-14 is a universal prohibition. So my essay does address David’s primary point: it says that his point is mistaken.

          Phil Almond

          • In response to: ‘He states that his primary argument is ‘…that the situation in Timothy’s churches called forth a very particular and specific response from Paul at that time, a response which does not obviously or necessarily lead to universalization’.’

            The really strange thing is that he seems to be saying that even that ‘very particular and specific response’ by Paul is to ban only certain women from teaching. Thus he writes in his response: ‘Paul was not giving permission to teach to the women in Ephesus that he was concerned about – presumably those going about gossiping and bringing discredit to the Gospel’.

            The only way I can see of making 1 Timothy 2.12 a partial ban (in that particular place and time) is to try and make οὐδέ do something which it can’t do – that is, to ‘combine two ideas into one’ as Philip Payne has argued for. David leans in that direction with his ‘some are assuming the freedom to teach in church’, which sounds very much like Payne – but in his translation, David gives a normal sense to οὐδέ, with his: ‘I permit no woman to teach, or usurp authority over a man:..’. How can that be understood as addressed to certain women only?!


        • My comment about apples and bananas was in response to your: ‘We cannot have women who have not properly understood the Gospel and the radical call to godliness assuming the right to teach in church and house groups.’ and in particular the ‘assuming the right to teach.’

          I take it that ‘assuming the right’ is here your rendering of αὐθεντεῖν. Your translation was: ‘I permit no woman to teach, or usurp authority over a man..’. These are two things that are prohibited, in their own right, one might say. The bible doesn’t say that it’s just the combination of the two that is prohibited, while each on it’s own is OK. Likewise, with not wanting apples or bananas.


        • 5) In reply to your: ‘ I won’t lose much sleep about a comma. My NRSV translated 2.8 as ‘men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument’. Andrew prefers ‘ pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or disputing’.’

          I don’t know why you say that I prefer the NASB to the NRSV, and make it sound like I am splitting hairs over a comma. You didn’t give a translation – you just referred to the text, so I gave a standard translation. The NRSV for this scripture is fine too.

          My points on this are a) there is less than certainty in any inferences we make to the situation in Ephesus. Maybe if there was a problem, it was that the men weren’t praying at all – hence Paul’s ‘I desire that the men pray.’ Or maybe this wasn’t written in response to a particular local problem. He explicitly places his instructions in the context of the universal church in 3.15, does he not? b) Obviously, the situation in Ephesus was particular in certain ways, but that is true for all the letters. If we are evangelicals, surely we believe that God sometimes used particular circumstances to bring forth words of eternal value and usefulness. I haven’t seen this procedure of inference adopted in the same way for other letters, so as to discount the current applicability of Paul’s instructions.


  3. David Atkinson’s article is the topic. His argument is– (1) given the situation that 1 Timothy addresses, and St Paul’s response to that situation, the ambiguities of the disputed verses can be disambiguated with confidence on the authority of the text alone; (2) when one does so, it seems not to support ‘male headship.’ After weeks of comment, this argument has met no salient and direct objection here, and busy villagers should consider the discussion closed. Whether or not it is correct, Atkinson’s argument is as plausible today as it was on publication.

    Atkinson’s article is about 1 Timothy. Discussions of other passages are not salient here.

    Nor are objections that propose extra-scriptural solutions to the usual ambiguities (eg authentein). The point of this article seems to be that they can be disambiguated with scripture alone.

    Doug Moo (at Anthony Smith’s helpful link) does object to arguments that posit situations for 1 Timothy from general historical knowledge. Even if one agrees with this objection– he himself gives us no robust reason why we should– Atkinson has anyway relied on the text itself for the situation he posits, so Moo’s objection does not apply to this argument.

    Atkinson’s concluding peroration on male headship seems to be mostly beyond the scope of his argument on 1 Timothy.

    Atkinson’s method is the most important result of this article. To disambiguate of the disputed verses (including the hapax legomemon), one must either introduce extra-scriptural matter or else posit an exclusively plausible intra-scriptural situation. The former dilutes the independence of the text; the latter requires certainty that no other situation would disambiguate the text differently. Neither method can yield the high certitude that Protestant evangelicals require to restrict practise.

    • Bowman
      In your latest post you write, ‘Atkinson’s article is about 1 Timothy. Discussions of other passages are not salient here’. I am not quite sure what you mean. I think you mean (please correct me if I am wrong) that discussions of other passages are not ‘most important’ (which is my dictionary’s definition of the adjective ‘salient’) here. I agree that other passages are not ‘most important’. The ‘most important’ passage is the one before us – 1 Timothy, especially 2:8-15. But other passages are important because they give us more information about Paul’s doctrine of ‘male headship’ and help us towards a true understanding of 1 Timothy. These passages, as stated in my other posts on this thread, are principally Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11, Genesis 2 and 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12. (On the assumption, of course, which I assume is common ground, that Paul did write Ephesians, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy).

      Atkinson does not mention Ephesians 5 at all where a wife’s subjection to her own husband is so clearly based on the pattern of the church’s submission to Christ; he does not mention verses 7b-9 of 1 Corinthians 11 which make it clear that 11:3 (which he does mention) ‘…and the head of a woman the man…’ is a feature of pre-fall man and woman as created by God; he does not mention 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12; he just asserts that the women in 1 Timothy 3:11 are ‘woman church leaders’ which begs the whole question; in his assertion ‘(and women could teach, cf.Titus 2.3)’ he omits to mention that the actual phrase is ‘….teachers of what is good, in order that they may train the young women to be lovers of their husbands, child-lovers, sensible, pure, home-workers, good, being subject to their own husbands…’.

      He thus does not face up to the bearing these omitted passages have on the crucial question: the right understanding of 2:12-2:14, especially the link between 2:12 and 2:13-14. Having in view Paul’s doctrine of male headship furnished by these omitted passages it is just speculation, unsupported by anything in the text, to say, as Atkinson does, that 2:13-14 are to counter the errors being promulgated by women teachers before they have learned the faith.

      By the way, Atkinson’s ‘…and that because of the Fall, women are likely to be less reliable teachers than men’ in his summary of the ‘male headship’ view he is rejecting is not, as I see it, the best understanding of 2:14. Rather 2:14 is ‘..a reminder of what happens when God’s ordained pattern is undermined’ (Women in the Church, edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner). God’s first words in his judgment on Adam were, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife….’.

      Phil Almond

      • Sorry, Phil. More plainly, the central point* of Atkinson’s article is new, but that point has not been engaged by the criticisms raised here. Thus readers have been given no reason to change their first impression of that point, whatever their impression of it may have been. If the mods deleted this thread entirely, nothing would be lost to readers of the article.

        On theorising “male headship.” I see no conflict between explaining the sense of one text, as Atkinson and Moo have done, and making comparisons or even syntheses of the senses of several texts that have some defensibly posited relationship. (Of course, one would want to avoid the circular reasoning that starts with a synthesis, uses it to disambiguate individual texts, and then reads the retrojected senses back out of the texts as if they were given in the uninterpreted language itself.) So no, Atkinson’s and Moo’s reasonable project of explaining 1 Timothy 2 is not a reason for you to cease your own reasonable project of theorising “male headship” in all texts that you can defend as relevant to the concept. But these are distinct projects.

        Applying Occam’s razor without favour, the evidence suggests that St Paul both (1) retained from his rabbinical sources but modified in Christ some notion of male headship in marriage, and also (2) did not write in 1 Timothy 2 anything that Protestants can recognise as a restriction on evangelical practise. At least some disagreement on (2) seems to be a disagreement on how strong the proof for any constitutive restriction on evangelical practise must be for Protestants to accept it. Some believe that the weak textual evidence can support a robust and universal restriction; others do not. The reason for this a priori difference has not been explored here.

        On “salient.” The nearest received synonym for it has probably been “prominent,” but in neuroscience “salient” is used in a sense closer to “particularly relevant.” Once one understands the controlling metaphor of neural networks activating those neurons and only those neurons that recreate a particular memory trace, the word is useful in a new way. At least in this Cambridge, more of us use the word often than elsewhere, but we do so in the newer sense.

        No resemblance between this semantic complexity in contemporary English and other semantic complexities in biblical Greek is asserted here. But it would not hurt to reflect on them.

        * David Atkinson’s argument is– (1) given the situation that 1 Timothy addresses, and St Paul’s response to that situation, the ambiguities of the disputed verses can be disambiguated with confidence on the authority of the text alone; (2) when one does so, it seems not to support ‘male headship.’

    • Bowman, What do you mean by this:

      ‘Nor are objections that propose extra-scriptural solutions to the usual ambiguities (eg authentein).’

      I suggested looking up the word in a dictionary. Is that what you mean by an ‘extra-scriptural solution’? It can’t be, I am sure, because then the believers would be left with Greek and Hebrew texts and unable to read them. So what do you mean?


    • ‘Nor are objections that propose extra-scriptural solutions to the usual ambiguities (eg authentein). The point of this article seems to be that they can be disambiguated with scripture alone.’

      Another attempt to understand what you mean by this, Bowman: On what basis does David say that αὐθεντέω mean “usurping authority”? Is this by scripture alone?


  4. Personally, I have long been less interested in the fragile arguments of both sides on the ordination of women than in the positive case for “provision” as something more than cool tolerance. My concern is practical.

    On this side of the pond, we have some Anglican Church in North America dioceses that do not have women in orders at all, others that do not ordain but permit them to serve, and still others that both ordain and install women clergy. And all of these clergy interact with their colleagues in dioceses of The Episcopal Church.

    Nobody here expects a C21 Anglican church of either jurisdiction to act like a museum restoration of a C1 house church, so 1 Timothy 2 does not come up, and the ministry of women seems to be respected. But the reverse problem is real: what exactly is the *pastoral* point of having churches with only men in orders? It seems to me that we are likely always to have them, but that it is damning them with the faintest of praise to explain them as refuges for persons who read authentein this way rather than that way. Sensible people will insist that they do some good that cannot otherwise be done. What might that be?

  5. David said, in an explanatory parenthesis: ‘(The verb is authenteo, ‘usurping authority’, not the usual word for exercising authority which is exousiazo).’

    The unsuspecting reader would have reason to think that the primary meaning of αὐθεντέω is ‘usurping authority’. Elsewhere, he gives the meaning as ‘domineer’ or ‘lord over’, and gives the impression that these are all synonyms.

    To usurp authority means to take authority in an illegitimate way. Is it true that this is the primary meaning of αὐθεντέω? It is a denominative verb (derived from a noun), the noun being αὐθέντης, which by the time of the pastoral epistles had come to mean ‘master’. So it can be expected to mean ‘be master of’, or ‘to act as master of’. To get to ‘usurp authority’, you have first to add the ingressive sense of becoming a master, and then secondly to add the idea of illegitimacy. The first seems dubious, the second impossible.


  6. David (on behalf of, or at least given a platform by, mainstream Fulcrum, who accept the authority of scripture according to the CEEC statement of faith “The Bible [is] the ultimate rule for faith and conduct, and the supreme authority by which the Church must ever reform itself and judge its traditions.”): ‘Don’t worry chaps and ladies, 1 Timothy 2.12 doesn’t really mean that a woman shouldn’t teach in the church’.

    Me: ‘Yes it does’, giving a reason or two, to start a conversation.

    Mainstream Fulcrum: SILENCE

    The Fluid Fulcrum Left-Wing (Bowman, who is open to chucking the inconvenient CEEC statement out the window): hey, don’t worry too much about the text, just get in the mood, it’s the Spirit that counts, man (with apologies for a loose and fluid interpretation of Bowman’s text).

    Quote: ‘fulcrum offers an online community for fair and rigorous debate’. (

    To recap, David rendered the first clause (which is a grammatically independent clause, since οὐδέ is a coordinating conjunction here, as even Philip Payne agrees) of 1 Timothy 2.12 as:

    ‘I permit no woman to teach’

    BUT he also stated:

    ‘Paul does not command all women not to teach’

    I say that these two statements are contradictory. What do you say?


    • “Fulcrum Fluid Left Wing” almost fits a tee-shirt, Andrew, and sounds like a position on an Ultimate Frisbee team. But if any classifying wingnuts are following these discussions, they would probably put me on the “Fulcrum Fluid Right Wing.” They would recall my arguments for mild complementarianism, OWE as an adiaphoron, robust provision for those opposing it, and on That Topic, a sexuality more straightforwardly procreation-and-celibacy centred than that of the CEEB. Most often, I feel that I am between warring tribes near the “Fulcrum Fluid Centre.” However, I normally avoid basing arguments on identity politics of any kind.

      • Thanks, Bowman, for the correction on where you stand on the issues at hand. But you agree with the fluid aspect, which relates to your view of the text. You say it would be damning the conservatives with the faintest of praise if they read authentein one way rather than the other. But what if one way is true and way is untrue? Is truth about the text so unimportant to you that you consider it no real commendation to say that somebody prefers the truth to what is effectively a lie?


        • No, the fluidity is in the emergent occasions we face. Because history is not a movie running over and over again, some things are at some times reapplied because they must be. Traditionalists adapt to this, liberals exploit it, and for as long as they can, conservatives just ignore it.

          Presumptively, Protestant evangelicals will only restrict practise where the scriptural warrant for doing so is much more robust than 1 Timothy 2.12 is generally seen to be. That does not tell us whether the ordination of women is a good practise for the Church here or there; it does mean that the text cannot be used– just as equality talk cannot be used– preemptively to circumvent the normal and normative inquiry into what the gospel requires. The avoidance of this inquiry– both sides shy away from it more than they should– is sad.

          Jesus and Caiaphas were both linguistically competent readers of Daniel 7 and Psalm 110. Jesus was right; Caiaphas was wrong. This textual truth seems to be the consequential one.

          • The first thing, as far as the discussion about David’s article is concerned, is that the goalposts seem to have changed. It was David who made assertions about the exact meaning of the text. He raised the meaning of a specific word. I am saying that what he said isn’t true. To add one further means of evaluating my claim, can he – or anyone – cite any Greek lexicon which has the meaning ‘usurp authority’ for αὐθεντέω?

            Surely this matters. I was raised to read Orwell, who had I think seen the dangers in what the Communists were doing in changing the meaning of words. Are we heading down the same path now?


          • “I was raised to read Orwell, who had I think seen the dangers in what the Communists were doing in changing the meaning of words. Are we heading down the same path now?”

            Andrew, a good article about your question could inspire an illuminating discussion. Over here, evangelical scholars began a refreshingly civil discussion this year about the differences between lettrist and narrativist ways of reading scripture, and the visions of scriptural authority to which they correlate. Your question, and others like it, engage these debated differences. To me, it would be interesting to see an Anglican evangelical discussion of them in England.

            Alas, David Atkinson’s article, which is focused on the situation of 1 Timothy 2, is not grist for that mill. And our thread about that article has not been useful to Fulcrum’s readers– its innovative argument has been ignored; some posts strain to pin hypotheticals; others fish for controversy; a few grand ones compete with the article itself. Despite the value of contributions from all who posted, a thread like this one usually strikes readers as boring trolling. Frankly, Fulcrum aspires to be more interesting and useful than that.

            The new WordPress format subtly requires new habits that have not yet formed in those of us who recall the old one. Moreover, to engage your question and others like it, we need a few accessible articles to which it is central. I look forward to both of these developments. Meanwhile, I myself will be looking further into the several excellent articles that have appeared in Fulcrum since this one was published.

            As always, Andrew, blessings on the interests that you have shared with us here. And thank you for engaging my own views as far as has been possible.

          • Hi Bowman,

            Are you the moderator? You keep saying that the discussion is now closed, but on what authority? I hadn’t noticed that there had been a discussion at all. Phil, Dave, Anthony and myself have raised questions but so far I for one have not received any answers.


  7. David’s argument does not explain why Paul mentions women at all. The logical conclusion of his argument is that Paul should have said “no one should be allowed to teach until he has been closely examined by the elders.?


  8. Welcome back, Phil. And thank you for this summary of the debate on the ordination of women as you see it. There is a third view between the two that you oppose to each other. An ordained evangelical woman might agree with your view of Ephesians 5 with respect to the husband-wife relation, but deny that it can be further applied as a men-women relation in the Church or elsewhere. (The koinonia between a husband and wife is obvious, after all, but what is the koinonia between all males as a class and all females as a class?) There are many such women. Why should they change their minds?

    • Bowman
      Yes, that third view you mention was the view of R T France, as I pointed out. To answer your question, “Why should they change their minds?” I will summarise the steps in my case and invite you to say where you start to disagree.

      1 Wives are exhorted to be subject to their own husband’s authority and leadership ‘because a man is kephale of the woman’ (Ephesians 5)
      2 That man is kephale of the woman is a feature of pre-Fall, very good, humanity and this carries with it notions of male authority and leadership (1 Corinthians 11: 3-12, where Paul is talking about men and women in general in the church and not just about husbands and wives)
      3 These notions must be implied in 1 Timothy 2:13 (cf 1 Corinthians 11:7b-8).
      4 The grounds for Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 (where Paul is talking about men and women in general in the church and not just about husbands and wives)
      are the authority and leadership implied in 2:13 and the fact in 2:14 that the inversion of this authority and leadership led to the Fall.
      5 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12 support this prohibition.

      In other words, male authority and leadership in marriage is a particular instance of the more general male authority and leadership in humanity as created by God.

      Phil Almond

      • Answer my questions, Phil, and I’ll gladly answer yours. Again: what is the koinonia in God that every man has to every woman? Naturally, your answer will be most helpful if you explain that in a way that a woman might be reasonably expected to find plausible.

        • Bowman
          After a quick look at Strong I find that koinonia does not appear in any of the key passages that make up my case. To condense my last post even further: In answer to your question ‘Why should they change their minds?’ and ‘if you explain that in a way that a woman might be reasonably expected to find plausible’ I reply thus:
          I regard 1 Timothy 2:12 as a prohibition that a woman should not teach nor exercise authority of(over) a man, and 1 Timothy 3:2 as positively commanding that an ‘overseer’ should be ‘of one wife husband’ (I know the meaning of this is much disputed but one thing is clear – that an ‘overseer’ should be a man). My arguments from Ephesians, 1 Corinthians 11 and Genesis show that this prohibition and this command are rooted in the very good pre-Fall creation of humanity. I regard this prohibition and this command as being essentially the same as all the prohibitions and commands in the Bible about what we are called upon to obediently believe and not believe and do and not do – whether we find them ‘reasonable’ or ‘plausible’ or not. I don’t have to express this prohibition and command in terms of koinonia to hold the conviction that they, like all the others, ought to be obeyed.

          Phil Almond

  9. When Christians reason from scripture as a verbal artifact closed to historical context, I wonder how they distinguish their position from that of those Jews of the C1 who rejected apocalyptic, mysticism, and Jesus, and instead embraced a verbal Torah that could be understood only through the proud rationalism that we see in the Talmud. After all, the rabbis had the courage to follow this thinking to the end– God himself cannot interfere in the rabbinical interpretation of a revelation that has been committed irrevocably to earth as the Talmud famously makes clear. In contrast, Christian faith in the deity of the Holy Spirit seems incompatible with this view. Evangelicals, even when they rely on scripture rather than magisteria for the evidence of assurance, do not seem to be outside the Christian consensus. It seems then, that we cannot read the scriptures as a closed verbal artifact, however wonderful, in a way consistent with the apostolic faith.

    • Bowman, I distinguish myself from the Talmud-ists, as you present them, by the fact that I don’t believe in the authority of the Talmud. It seems to be like asking how I distinguish myself from followers of the Koran – well, they have a different book. I don’t believe that the Talmud is holy scripture.

      ‘Evangelicals, even when they rely on scripture rather than magisteria for the evidence of assurance, do not seem to be outside the Christian consensus.’

      What are saying? It sounds like you are grudgingly agreeing that evangelical Christians should still be considered Christians. But I don’t think you can mean that. Of course, I wouldn’t have thought that many evangelicals would rely on scripture for the ‘evidence of assurance’, for it is the scripture that says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. [Romans 8.16]

      ‘It seems then, that we cannot read the scriptures as a closed verbal artifact, however wonderful, in a way consistent with the apostolic faith.’

      Why not? I don’t understand your argument. And I don’t know what you are suggesting. If not closed, then should the holy scriptures be open to change? God could have done it that way if He had chosen to, giving us an update every couple of hundred of years, or whatever. But he didn’t, did He?


      • Hi Andrew. Thank you as always for your thoughtful contributions, and for your general project of making sense of gender in scripture. My comment was not motivated by your posts. David Atkinson (or, at Anthony Smith’s link, Doug Moo) demonstrates that positing a situation for a disputed text changes the bayesian prior probabilities that readers assign to alternate ways of disambiguating its semantics. That prompted a further reflection on the way Jews in antiquity, either Christian or rabbinical, read the scriptures. You are right that not all villagers have this history at their fingertips, and I will explain further next week.

        • Hi Bowman, I wasn’t particularly thinking you were directing your comments to me, but I decided to own them, as it were, because I could say that I do ‘reason from scripture as a verbal artifact closed to historical context’, more or less. I went to mainly pentecostal churches for years, and there was rarely a mention of historical context – this is the word of God for us here and now is the general attitude, and it brings life and power and conviction of sin, and joy. Hallelujah for His holy word!


  10. David, how do you justify describing the women of 3.11 as ‘church leaders’? Not even the deacons should be called ‘church leaders’ as such. The churches were led by elders, who are also referred to as overseers, so far as I can see. The diaconate had its origin in the seven of Acts 6, whose task was the administration of aid to the poor (see eg Lightfoot, Philippians p.188ff).

    You flatly reject the apostolic prohibition on women teaching in the church of Jesus Christ on the basis of Titus 2.3, which refers to women as teachers of good things, and then goes on to explain that they should train the young women in the essentials of Christian living for their sex – loving their husbands, loving their children, and so on. Is it really so hard to harmonise this with a prohibition on women expounding, say, the book of Romans from the pulpit, as it were? They seem to be me to be vastly different fields of service, and equally vital. Bible teachers have reconciled the two scriptures without difficulty since at least Origen, who pointed out that a different verb (σωφρονίζω) is used in Titus 2.4, and adds that clearly they weren’t teaching (οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἵνα διδάσκωσιν) [his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.34-36].

    κεφαλή is translated ‘head’ because that is what it means – look it up in a dictionary – and the great preponderance of occurrences of the word in classical and koine literature refer to the physical head. In Ephesians 5.22-24, we have the husband as head of the wife and the wife submitting to her husband; and Christ as the head of the church, and the church submitting to the Lord. Hallelujah for His perfect order! So we can hardly be surprised when after learning that the head of Christ is God in 1 Corinthians 11.3, we are taught further that in the end Christ will be subject to the Father (15.24-28). There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 2.5) We come to the Father through the Son (Ephesians 2.18). There is one God, the Father from whom are all things and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things. Great is the majesty of the Lord, and great is His humility. Hallelujah we serve a servant King, the Lord Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God.


  11. Regarding αὐθεντεῖν, I was perhaps over generous, when I said it wasn’t a bad translation. What I meant was that the syntax is OK, apart from your leaving a little ambiguity about whether διδάσκειν might have ἀνδός as an object – I think this is verging on the impossible, and I have found no evidence that the possibility had occurred to anyone before Douglas Moo suggested it c.1981. I happened to read Charles Ellicott (the former bishop of Gloucester and renowned grammarian, to whom Moulton dedicated his translation of Winer’s New Testament Greek Grammar, because of his excellence in the field) on αὐθεντεῖν today, and he says ‘not “to usurp authority,” Auth. Ver., a further meaning not contained in the word.’ He had access to much the same data as we do, with the exception only, so far as I know, of BGU 1208, where it seems implausible that the author was describing his own action in negative terms, and where ‘I exercised authority towards him’ seems better, although I think we need a translation of the whole of the papyus before we can come to any sort of conclusion.

    The occurrence in Ptolemy is important because the verb is taking the genitive, as in 1 Tim 2.12. It can hardly be that one planet ‘usurped authority’ over another, I think. Likewise, in the Aristonicus text, again with the genitive, it can’t mean ‘to usurp authority’. And these are the only two early examples with the genitive, if I am not mistaken – apart from 1 Tim 2.12. Ellicott says that the word ‘involves the secondary and less proper meaning of αὐθέντης’ which I think could be summarised as ‘master’. Thus, ‘to be master of’ or some such. Al Wolters, in his excellent ‘Semantic Study of αὐθέντης and its derivatives’, with access to the latest data, says much the same thing.


  12. Andrew. It is really not helpful and actually quite distressing that you . Cannot see women as equals. Now of all times we need to see and experience people working with each other for peace.There must be no distractions from that aim of unifying people in the efforts to bring about peace The word is indeed a double edged sword with no double meanings. Many things have been promoted in the name of religion but I believe in Christ who said no such thing. You recomended I join a womens group well I dont belong in them I belong where I am called at this moment
    in time that is here and caring for people in my home and being there when people call on me, to which I do respond just think about how much abuse comes from this misplaced. Offensive theology and misrepresentation of what Christ represented. Which wasTolerance. Not to force people into situations where they are frightened and isolated Personally as a women and I am sure like many other women I have no desire to rule over anyone, but also I recognise now they have no right to rule . Over me alongside me yes over me no

  13. Thankyou for this David. I have found it most useful. There is only one point about which I would like to see clarified , that is the phrase “disruptive self assertion” I think that this could so easily be misinterpreted. For all change comes with disruption to some and assertion is a necessary part of that. It can often seem like self assertion when that is not what its about at all. Some may have said that the women who fought for womens godly rights to be heard and seen as messengers of God in the same way as men were already seen as messengers of God were asserting themselves. This largely would not be the case. Some find it difficult and it can feel to them as disconcerting which is not the same as disruptive. One of the phrases that tends to be said at the time of people wanting to make real change in established communities to individuals would be the charge of “do you want to split the church/party etc” but division is a nessesary part of growth, the problem is not division but a failure to keep the “fulcrum” in that division. Central points of reference , a point of return or reunion so that people can support one another in their growth in Christ and in their ministry or role of the growth of others in Chrsit. The disruption is more about disunity. This is biblically backed up many times, from the early days of Gods warnings about usurping to the later times of Pauls missions to Ephasus Corinthia and the other Greek islands mainly but also Malta. I know there are many more places, but it is all the same process .Cross cultural relations and those who try to Lead from a New perspective a new understanding. Yet actually the understanding which was required then is the same which is required today. Whish is why we have hope. Amazing Grace comes to mind!

    Peace be with you


  14. Sometimes in the Christian life we individually (and Churches collectively) make mistakes. And sometimes it takes a while for us to realise that they are mistakes. One kind of realisation is that one of our deepest convictions about the truths of Christianity can no longer survive the challenge of the strongest arguments against that conviction and we are forced, in self-critical honesty, to abandon that conviction. How traumatic and humbling that experience is! It might make us feel that Christianity is not true after all. It might make us feel that we are not Christians at all or that the God and Christ in whom we were believing and trusting and whom we were seeking to obey are not the real God and Christ at all.

    Since 1992 many women have been ordained as presbyters in the Church of England. Many have taken this step believing that the Bible supports the ordination of women (or, at least, that the Bible does not rule it out) and that they have been called by God to this ministry. If any of them with a high view of the Bible become convinced that the arguments against the ordination of women are, after all, much stronger than they thought, indeed conclusive, that would be an utterly terrible experience with a shattering effect not only on doctrine but also on life.

    The only justification for raising such arguments is the conviction that the truth of God, however humbling and traumatic, will do all of us good in the end.

    ‘But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything’ (Ephesians 5:24 in the context of Ephesians 5:18-33).

    The heart of the disagreement about the ordination of women is the disagreement over what it means in the above passage for the church to be subject to Christ and what this should mean in the above passage for the husband-wife relationship in marriage and, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Timothy 3, for the man-woman relationship in the church.

    In the New Testament there are 34 instances (various tenses etc.) of the verb ‘hupotasso’ which is the word translated ‘is subject’ in Ephesians 5:24. One is Ephesians 5:21, of which more later. 4 are about wives being subject to their husbands (the correct understanding of which is at the heart of the disagreement), 1 is about women learning ‘in all subjection’ and the context of the other 28 makes clear that ‘submission’ involves the notion of authority and/or obeying or disobeying that authority. Paul’s letters and his life experience after he met the risen, ascended glorified Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus show that he believed that the church is under Christ’s authority and that all Christians ought to obey his commands and follow his leadership. There is also overwhelming evidence of this in the rest of the New Testament, not least from Christ’s own mouth:

    He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21).

    If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

    Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

    And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority (‘power’ in the AV) is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20).

    In the Ephesians passage husbands are called upon to model their relationship with their wives on Christ; wives are called upon to model their relationship with their husbands on the church. These involve self-sacrifice, love, nourishment, cherishing by Christ towards the church and husbands towards their wives, and involve being subject to Christ by the church and being subject to their own husbands by wives. Because the Christ-church, husband-wife analogy is so closely coupled, and the notion of Christ’s authority in Paul’s thought is inescapable, the notion of the husband’s authority is likewise inescapable.

    There are several attempts by supporters of the ordination of women to counter this conclusion:

    Firstly, the view that verse 21: ‘..being subject to one another in the fear of Christ’ ‘controls’ what follows, so that the husband-wife relationship is one of mutual submission. We reply that this cannot be right since it would imply that the Christ-church relationship is likewise one of mutual submission because of the close coupling of the analogy. In response it is argued by some that the Christ-church relationship is in some sense symmetrical so that the Christ-church model husbands and wives are exhorted to imitate is a mutual submission model. For instance, in a disagreement on the Fulcrum website the Rev Dr Ian Paul argued that examples of this ‘in some sense symmetrical’ relationship are found in the instances e.g. in John 14:12- 21 where Jesus said, ‘if ye shall ask anything in my name I will do it’. If we look at similar passages there is always a condition: ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you’ (John 15:7); ‘Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you…….that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you’ (John 15 14,16); ‘And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight’ (1 John 3:22); ‘And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us (1 John 5:14). In the John 14:12-21 passage, doesn’t asking in the ‘name’ say something about asking according to Christ’s character or will? Especially as the promise is followed by ‘He that hath my commandments’ and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…’ (John 14:21).

    Perhaps the most thorough attempt to show that Christ submits to the church is a book by Alan Padgett ‘As Christ submits to the Church’. The weakness in his argument is his view of the church’s submission to Christ, as follows.

    In his Introduction Padgett distinguishes between ‘Type 1 submission’ which he describes as coming ‘from the realm of political and military struggle. This type of submission is obedience to an external authority, which can be voluntary but often is not’ and ‘Type 2 submission’, which ‘is one that comes from personal relationships and is often based on love and compassion. In this second type, submission is the voluntary giving up of power in order to take up the role of a slave, so that one may serve the needs of another person’. Padgett goes on to say, ‘The first type is external, hierarchical and legal. The second type is internal, personal, and a kind of gift or grace. I will argue that Jesus submits to the church only in the second sense of the word. While those who follow Jesus may submit to the Lord in the first sense to start with, a deeper discipleship will lead the Christian toward the second, interpersonal type’. This view of ‘Type 1 submission and Type 2 submission’ is repeated on page 58, ‘The first type, which includes political and military meanings, is an external and involuntary submission that in practice is pretty much the same as obedience. The second type is more interpersonal. It is voluntary and is motivated by the internal desire of the one submitting to place the needs of the other before his or her own needs’ and (for ‘Type 2 submission’) on page 63, ‘We have analysed mutual submission as a temporary and free gift of service, the taking up of the role of a servant out of self-giving love in order to meet the needs of the other’.

    Padgett’s assertion, ‘While those who follow Jesus may submit to the Lord in the first sense to start with, a deeper discipleship will lead the Christian toward the second, interpersonal type’ is where he starts to go wrong in his view of the church’s submission to Christ. The work of God in our souls to keep us from falling and set us before his glory unblemished with exultation involves us in a lifelong struggle: to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; to put to death the practices of the body by the Spirit; to endure his refining fire; to suffer ill with the gospel as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (note the military (type 1) reference!); to obey Christ when we do not want to (‘For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me’. Who wants to pluck out the eye that offends?). To say as Padgett does that the Christian is submitting to Christ to meet or serve the needs of Christ cannot be right. The Christian submits to Christ motivated by obedience and love to one who is Saviour, Master, Lord and God and who graciously accepts us as brothers and friends.

    Ironically, Padgett’s ‘Type 2’ definition ‘the voluntary giving up of power in order to take up the role of a slave, so that one may serve the needs of another person’ is a good description of what Jesus did when he assumed human nature, lived a human life, and died on the cross for our sins. But Padgett errs in describing this as submission. The examples Padgett gives of what he mistakenly calls Christ’s submission to the church are, which are also given in the Fulcrum disagreements, Mark 10:35-45, Philippians 2:1-11, John 13:3-17. In each of these, Jesus speaks of himself or is spoken of as a slave or servant. But by coming as a slave or servant, by drinking the cup which ‘my Father hath given me’, by becoming obedient unto death, even the death of a cross, Jesus was meeting our needs, doing for us that which was necessary to save us. He was not submitting to our authority. He was obeying his Father. And the exhortation in all three passages to followers of Christ is that they should meet the needs of others by being servant to all. In the John passage Jesus says, ‘Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord, and well ye say; for I am’. The disciples were not Jesus’ Teacher and Lord.

    So how should we understand verse 21? In a long debate on the excellent Fulcrum forum a supporter of the ordination of women posted ‘the NT church found their relationships and the ordering of their common life and ministry, authority and power completely reshaped by the example of Christ – who came not to be served but to serve’. I emphatically agreed with that but pointed out that the supporters of the ordination of women seem to miss that this revolution does not mean that all relationships between Christians are symmetrical in terms of authority. What the example of Christ does mean, however, is that when one Christian submits in obedience to the authority and leadership of another Christian (wife to husband, child to parent, slave to master, younger to elder, employee to boss, church member to pastor) the one to whose authority submission is made, whose leadership is followed, should have the mindset of the one who said, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’. And of course, such authority and leadership should only be submitted to and followed when there is no conflict with submission to Christ whose authority is absolute. The husband’s headship is not about asserting rights, power, privileges and status. He is called to exercise his authority and leadership role in a sacrificial way, contrary to fallen human nature. The wife’s role, which is also contrary to fallen human nature, is to recognize and submit to that leadership and authority. Human authority does not imply superiority nor human submission inferiority. In my view this is how we should understand Ephesians 5:21.

    Also if, as seems reasonable, Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9 is one connected line of thought, the verse 21 argument fails anyway because the parent-child and master-slave relationships are obviously not mutual submission relationships.

    Colossians 3:18-19, ‘The wives, be ye subject to your husbands, as is befitting in the Lord. The husbands, love ye your wives and be not bitter toward them’, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:5-6 support the understanding of Ephesians 5 given above.

    Secondly our view of Ephesians 5 is challenged by appealing to 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. This clearly means that with respect to making love the husband-wife relationship is one of mutual submission. Does that, as some would see it, mean that the husband-wife relationship is symmetrical with respect to authority in all respects? No, because, as a Reform paper pointed out in the Awesome-Reform debate, this would imply contradiction between 1 Corinthians 7 on the one hand and Ephesians 5:22ff, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1ff. “Such a dissonant reading of Scripture is not to be preferred”.

    Thirdly, it is asserted that the fact that man and wife are ‘one flesh’ rules out the notion of the husband’s authority. This does not follow. It is a case of ‘both and’ not ‘either or’.

    Fourthly, it is claimed that the Ephesians passage is addressing the situation in Ephesus created by the Artemis cult and that what Paul says should not be a universal exhortation. Fifthly it is said that Paul was accommodating his teaching to the social mores of the third century and his teaching is not valid for all time. See below for a response to these after the next stage in the argument.

    Sixthly, there is the view that Ephesians 5 is chiastic in structure and so, as a debater on Fulcrum posted, ‘The climax and focus of the passage has to do with Christ presenting the church to himself in splendour and holiness, and the corresponding commands that husbands should love their wives. This is where the real weight of the passage lies. It is as though Paul is saying, OK, if you want to be the “head” then this is what it entails. LOVE YOUR WIVES in the same way that Christ loves the Church!! I suspect this would have been really radical teaching in its day’. When challenged with the question, ‘Why does Paul so strongly compare the Christ-church with the husband-wife relationship?’, this correspondent replied, ‘No, the Christ-church relationship isn’t symmetrical. My answer is that Paul does it so that he can make the much stronger, beyond reciprocal, exhortations towards the husbands, that they should love, cherish, give themselves for, sanctify their wives. He does it so that he can balance the kephale idea with unity, with being one flesh, with mutual submission’. It is as though the alleged chiastic structure has removed 5:24 from the text.

    Seventhly it is claimed by some that Galatians 3:26-29 is the overarching statement which is, as it were, in a privileged position and to which all other statements about male and female must conform. We reply that the Galatians passage is about salvation, not about marriage nor ministry, and emphatically states that all, Jew, Greek, slave, freeman, male and female are ‘sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’ are ‘one in Christ Jesus’ and have equal access to the Father through Christ in the Spirit. But as stated above this does not mean that all relationships between Christians, including husband-wife and man-woman are symmetrical in terms of authority.

    Some supporters of the ordination of women would perhaps agree that in Christian marriage the wife should submit to her husband’s authority, as the husband should love, nourish, cherish and, in some sense, die for his wife; but then go on to ask, ‘But what has this got to do with the ordination of women?’. That would appear to be the view taken by R T France, an early evangelical supporter of the ordination of women, in his book ‘Women in the Church’s Ministry’. After noting Ephesians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 7:4 and Paul’s avoidance of ‘obey’ to describe a wife’s attitude to her husband as factors to be weighed, he writes (page 35), “But, even with this proviso, the apostolic teaching is clearly that within the marriage relationship the husband should exercise authority and the wife ‘be subject’ to it, because that is the way God has designed the relationship of the sexes”. Though of course France goes on to argue that this male authority principle should not for all time be extended beyond marriage to the Church’s ministry. In so doing France is missing the implications of this understanding of Ephesians 5 for the other key passages, to which we now turn.

    In the Ephesians 5 passage the reason why wives are exhorted to be subject to their husbands is ‘…because a man is kephale of the woman…..’ (verse 23). In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul writes an almost identical phrase, and the meaning is identical, ‘…and the kephale
    of a woman the man…’. There has been a great controversy about the right English translation of kephale. But this is a side issue. The key point is that Paul links the submission of the wife to the fact that the man is kephale of the woman. Taking Paul’s thought as a whole, he must surely have had this man-woman authority asymmetry in mind in 1 Corinthians 11:3 as well as in Ephesians 5. However we understand the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as a whole, it is clear that 11:3-9 is a connected line of thought. It is also clear that 11:8-9 refer back to the pre-Fall Genesis account of the creation of man and woman. This means that the man has been kephale of the woman since God created man and woman and that the asymmetry of the relationship has been a ‘very good’ aspect of their relationship from the beginning. Of course, whether the early chapters of Genesis are literally true or figuratively true is another very controversial matter. But what is important for our theme is that they are true.

    That kephale and its implications is a creation fact meets the Artemis cult and first century objections given above.

    There are several attempts by supporters of the ordination of women to counter the conclusion that the man-woman authority asymmetry is a feature of the relationship before the Fall.

    Firstly: It is common ground that if kephale has implications of authority in 1 Corinthians 11 for man and woman it must also have such implications for God and Christ. Some opponents of the ordination of women have used the Father-Son relationship as a model to support their view of the husband-wife, man-woman relationship. It is asserted by some supporters of the ordination of women that the logic of their position means that they are saying that the submission of the Son to the Father is an eternal submission. In his book Padgett gives quotes (pages 12-13) which show that this is the case, and he goes on to say that this is contrary to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The case against the ordination of women made here does not use the Father-Son relationship. Whether the view of Reform and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (who do use the Father-Son relationship) is heretical or not is a question to be considered. But it does not affect the case here. Here the God-Christ kephale is explained by the Son’s submission to the Father for the purposes of his redemptive mission: ‘For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’.

    Secondly, it is sometimes asserted that 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 qualify 11:3-10. Rather, 11-12 state the truth that man and woman complement each other in God’s creation of humanity. Again, as with male authority and one flesh, this is a case of both-and.

    Thirdly and fourthly, in his book ‘Paul through Mediterranean eyes’ Kenneth Bailey gives two objections. He states that 1 Corinthians 11 has a chiastic structure which throws the emphasis on 11:10. But the passage seems to me to make sense when read in a linear way and 11:3 is Paul’s basic theological statement which sets the scene for the rest of the passage. His second objection is that in verses 9 and 10, all four occurrences of the Greek “dia” should be translated as “because of”. Woman was created because of the man, not for the man. ‘Because we couldn’t cope on our own’ as the Fulcrum contributor put it. Again, this ignores 11:3 as setting the scene and contradicts verses 7 and 8.

    This brings us to 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12. Ephesians links asymmetry, headship and authority. 1 Corinthians 11 links headship with the creation of man and woman. 1 Timothy 2:13-14 appeals to the creation of man and woman reinforced by the Fall in which the woman was deceived by the serpent and Adam listened to the voice of his wife, although he was not deceived by the serpent. So Creation, Fall, headship, authority, asymmetry are all implied when Paul writes, ‘…but I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority of(over) a man…..’. This is the clear framework within which the appearance of Christ first to women and their conveying the news to the men, 1 Corinthians 7, the women Paul commends (e.g. Phoebe) etc. should be understood, not the other way round.

    1 Timothy 3:2 ‘It behoves therefore the bishop without reproach to be, of one wife husband…..’ and 3:12 ‘Let deacons be of one wife husbands….’ support this view. In the controversy about the phrase ‘of one wife husband’ note 1 Timothy 5:9, talking about widows, ‘of one man wife’.

    After the entrance of sin into the world, the man-woman, husband-wife pre-Fall asymmetrical relationship, like every other aspect of human thought and attitude and behaviour, is devastated by sin since we are all of our ‘own nature inclined to evil’ (Article 9) and ‘by nature children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3).

    But the death and resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit revolutionise and restore the husband-wife relationship and the man-woman relationship in the family and in the church for those who have submitted to Christ and seek to walk in the Spirit and mortify the deeds of the body through the Spirit. This revolution and restoration is seen in the fulfilment of Joel’s prophesy, in the pouring out of the Spirit on both men and women; it is seen in Paul’s declaration that all are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, there cannot be Jew nor Greek, there cannot be slave nor freeman, there cannot be male and female for ‘you are all one in Christ Jesus’; it is seen in Paul’s exhortation that women should ‘learn in quietness with all subjection’; it is anticipated by the description of ‘The wife of Noble Character’ in Proverbs 31 and by Mary choosing ‘that good part’ by sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing his word; it is seen in the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection being women; it is seen in the clear implication of Ephesians 5 that men should not misuse kephale to exploit, abuse or subjugate women and that husbands are not in charge about when to make love; it is seen in the clear evidence that the ministry of women is vital in the life of the church (Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Julia, Philip’s daughters, Lydia etc).

    But the ‘very good’ overall man-woman, husband-wife asymmetry of humanity as created by God before the entry of sin is re-affirmed, now adorned with the sublime and mysterious Christ-Church analogy. And Paul insists that this asymmetry should be followed in the Church’s ministry and because it was the inversion of this asymmetry which precipitated the Fall (1 Timothy 2:13-14). In an Anglican context this rules out the ordination of women.

    The oppression and devaluing of women, both by non-Christians and by Christians, since the Fall understandably fuels the sense of outrage which has been a factor in this controversy. But the abuse does not (should not) abolish the use.

    It is a pity that this way of looking at this highly controversial and sensitive issue did not prevail at the July Synod.

    Phil Almond

  15. We seem to have lost the capacity to comprehend English in our mad desire to throw out scriptural teaching on women in the church. Let’s take your translation of 1 Timothy 2.12 (διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ) – ‘I permit no woman to teach, or usurp authority over a man: they are to keep quiet’ – that’s not a bad translation, it corresponds to the text fairly well. But, with respect, you seem to have forgotten what the disjunctive ‘or’ means. If I say I don’t want an apple or a banana, it means, first, that I don’t want an apple, and second, that I don’t want a banana. Likewise, your English sentence means first, that no woman should teach, and second, that no woman should usurp authority over a man. This is not complicated.


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