The role of women in local Christian assemblies has been a matter of debate within Christendom for many years. Yet within the past 25 years, this issue has risen to a climax not only in several mainline Protestant and Orthodox denominations but also in evangelical churches as well. The issue of the role of women in the church served as a matter of contention at the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 1998 when the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches voiced their displeasure of the fact that the majority of the WCC's member churches and denominations ordain women as ministers and priests.1 In the United States, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church USA, The United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Reformed Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Church of the Brethren and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are only a few of the many mainline denominations that ordain women into ministry and encourage them to serve as pastors and bishops of local congregations.
In a recent study of denominations that ordain women, researchers found that the number of ordained women ministers in 15 large Protestant denominations grew exponentially between 1977 and 1994. A Hartford Seminary study discovered that within this time period, the number of female clergy increased from 157 to 712 in the American Baptist Church USA, from 94 to 1,394 in the Episcopal Church USA, from 388 to 988 in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), from 73 to 1,519 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, from 350 to 2,705 in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and from 319 to 3,003 in the United Methodist Church.2 It is also interesting to note that approximately 25 percent of the female clergy and 19 percent of the male clergy who participated in the study were divorced. The survey concludes as follows: "Clergy women are reinventing ministry for the future, refusing the old definitions and expectations. Clergy women are expanding the very essence of Christian ministry and guiding the whole church to rethink and renew its leadership and membership."3
Not only are clergywomen growing within liberal denominations in the United States but also within Evangelical and conservative churches and denominations as well. Notice the following facts about these popular denominations and associations:
Not only have denominations and local churches advanced the cause of women clergy, but notable religious figures have done their part to popularize this trend as well. Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, is now one of the most popular woman preachers in the world. Lotz recently told one television news program that her parents used to disapprove of her ministry until they heard her preach. "They saw that my home was clean, my children were well-behaved, my husband was happy and very supportive," she said, "And they just backed off and could see that God had called me."9 One group of prominent "evangelical" theologians has formed Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), an organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that zealously promotes equal roles for women in the church and home. Notable theologians who comprise CBE's Board of Reference include Tony Campolo, Vernon Grounds, Roberta Hestenes, Millard Erickson, Gordon Fee, Myron S. Augsburger and John R. Kohlenberger III. The Dallas Morning News, which recently featured a story on the CBE, reported that Charisma editor J. Lee Grady is also a supporter of CBE.10 The article also noted that Promise Keepers, another "evangelical" parachurch organization, has refused to take an official stance on the role of women in the church and stated that, in turn, "CBE leaders are cautious about criticizing Promise Keepers."11
Clearly, with the growth of the Charismatic and Pentecostal Movements which advocate female clergy and the increasing ecumenical inclusiveness of many evangelical churches, it is vitally important for the Fundamentalist Christian to know what God's Word teaches regarding this issue so that he might know how to answer those who question his position concerning the role of women in the ministry of the local church. It is evident that the majority of professing Christians and Christian churches today allow women to fill positions of pastoral leadership in the local church. This serious issue will remain with the church and continue to permeate all realms of Christian thought and practice as women's roles of pastoral leadership in churches and denominations continue to become more accepted and commonplace in the Christian community.
In their simplest form, the views concerning the role of women in local church ministry are most often broken down by scholars into two distinct groups: those who believe women should be permitted to hold positions of pastoral authority in the church and those who believe that only men are permitted to hold such positions in the local church. Those who believe women should be restricted from holding an authoritative, pastoral role in the church embrace what is known as the "historic" or "traditional" view. On the other hand, those who believe women should possess the ability to occupy all positions of leadership within the church embrace what is referred to as the "egalitarian" or "progressive" view.
Obviously, pastors and theologians do not always subscribe solely to all aspects of one view or the other. Various nuances of these views exist among those who have studied the issue. For example, some might hold to the position that women cannot serve in the local church as senior pastors but are permitted to serve as assistant or associate pastors. Others might believe that women should not serve in any form of pastoral role in the local church but are free to teach men and women in an adult Sunday school class. In any case, for the purpose of clarification within this article and due to the limitations of space and content, this article will simply define those who permit women to hold any form of pastoral role within the local church as ones who hold the progressive or egalitarian view and any who forbid women to hold a position of teaching authority over men as those who hold to the historic or traditional view.
According to author Daniel Doriani, those who hold to the historic view of women in ministry can claim the support of traditional Christian thought and teaching throughout church history.12 In fact, one author, Robert Yarbrough, has conducted an insightful study on the hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in which he concludes that the "progressive" view has been shaped more by the social climate of the mid-20th century rather than the Biblical text itself.13 He cites, "It strains credulity to the breaking point to maintain that it is mere coincidence that 'progressive' readings of I Timothy 2, which were virtually unheard of in church history prior to the women's movement of the 1960s, are not indebted to that movement in fundamental respects for their plausibility."14 Although Doriani did cite three feminist writers from the 19th century who pioneered a progressive understanding of women's role in the church (Catherine Booth, Frances Willard and Katherine Bushnell), clearly the majority of the shift from traditionalist to progressive writings and beliefs concerning the woman's role in the church appeared during the 20th century.
While a variety of arguments promoting the progressive view exist, the scope of this article does not allow room for an extensive examination of each view, nor will it attempt to provide a rebuttal for every argument. Rather, this section of the article will simply, but carefully, determine the intent of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 within the confines of the Pastoral Epistles (First and Second Timothy and Titus) while referring, as necessary, to other New Testament texts regarding the Bible's teaching concerning the role of women within the local church setting. Several principles will be set forth and supported by the Biblical text as well as by theologians who have carefully studied the Biblical text and arrived at what the writer believes to be a sound conclusion.
Yet before noticing what God's Word says about this important issue, the reader must decide whether or not he or she will accept the very words of Scripture as the inspired and inerrant words of God. Many who espouse a progressive view of women in ministry hold a low view of Scripture, viewing the Biblical text as the ideas, philosophies and musings of men (such as the Apostle Paul) rather than the very words of God given to men by the direct act of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. If one concludes that the words of the text under consideration simply reflect the cultural milieu of the apostle Paul and therefore cannot be considered authoritative for the 21st century, then no other argument or investigation into the topic can proceed, for one's beliefs are subject to the conclusions and judgments of men rather than the absolute and unchanging truth of God Himself.
However, if one accepts the Bible as inerrant, authoritative and "God-breathed," then he will know that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine and he will refrain from discarding those portions he does not believe to be relevant or applicable to his own situation.
Paul's New Testament epistle to Titus contains instruction concerning Titus' need to "set in order the things that [were] wanting" (Titus1:5) in the local church and his need to "ordain elders in every city" on the island of Crete. Paul specifically instructed Titus to "speak thou the things which become sound doctrine" (Titus 2: 1), the very "things" that were being perverted by the false teachers influencing the church at Crete. Within the confines of the local church ministry, one area of "sound doctrine" that Titus was to emphasize was the truth that the older women of the congregation were to be "teachers of good things" (Titus 2:3). Specifically, these women were to "teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands" (Titus 2:4-5). Such teaching concerning obedience and morality was vitally important to the health of the body of Christ. Why? So the Word of God would not be "blasphemed" or reproached (Titus 2:5).
From this text, it is evident that women are to teach other women and that God has prescribed an order of conduct for women which, if followed, glorifies Him and causes His name to be glorified rather than reproached or blasphemed. The exact nature of this "teaching" ministry of women is not explicitly stated, but certainly this ministry could be advanced in either a classroom setting or on a personal discipleship arrangement. Thomas Oden, one who holds an egalitarian view of women in ministry, notes, "Mature women were specifically designated in Titus 2:3 as teachers (kalodidaskalous, teachers of what is good). Mature women are the natural counselors of the young. Their teaching of virtue is best done by example."15 Whether women teach other women at the local church (as is the case in many of today's Sunday school class arrangements) or whether they teach them outside the confines of the local church, the command remains the same: Women are to teach other women, at the very least by their own example if not also by verbal instruction as well.
In 1 Timothy 2:1-15, Paul gives instructions for public worship by believers. Within this context, Paul instructs women in the congregation to dress modestly rather than in an ostentatious or ornate manner (vs. 9-10). But rather than writing simply a legalistic style manual for women, Paul penned these verses by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in an effort to lay down a Biblical principle for corporate worship in the local church. The principle is this: A woman's character is more important than her apparel. Homer Kent writes, "She is to adorn herself with good works. Her adorning, that which gives her attractiveness, is not to be costly array but exhibitions of Christian character ... Every Christian woman should prize more highly a testimony to her Christian labors than a reputation as the best-dressed woman in the congregation."16 Kent cites the Scriptural examples of Phoebe, Lydia and Dorcas as those whose works were edifying to the body of Christ and left lasting impressions not only on those with whom they came into contact but also upon the entire church unto this very day.
Even today, women have a responsibility within the local church to minister to others through their good works and to be known for who they truly are through their Godly Christian character. Women can demonstrate their good works within the local church body through a variety of ways. Showing hospitality, encouraging others, teaching other women and keeping believers up-to-date on the ministries of the church and the church's missionaries are just a few ways in which good works and Godly character can be revealed in the local assembly on the part of Christian women.
Not only are women in the local church to teach other women and maintain good works and Godly character, but Paul also commands them to be learners. In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul states that the false teachers had influenced some of the women in the Ephesian church (2 Tim. 3:6-7). Ann Bowman notes that "it seems [Paul] knew it was important that they be well grounded in the Scriptures."17 Of course, in order to be grounded in the Scriptures, it was imperative that the women learn sound doctrine and obey that which they had learned.
First Timothy 2:11 delineates how the women were to learn in the local assembly: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection." It is important to note that this statement does not imply that the woman is to completely keep silent within the entire public worship service of the local church. Rather, the woman is to keep silent only in the process of learning, that is, when the male leader of the church is authoritatively teaching the doctrine found in the Word of God. Schreiner says, "The focus of the command is not on women learning, but the manner and mode of their learning."18 Bowman describes the manner of learning as having two parts: First, women are to learn in silence, or quietness, which denotes outward manner. Second, they are to learn in all submissiveness, which denotes the attitude of the heart that must accompany leaming.19
This in unction demonstrates Christianity's high regard for women in contrast to much of the New Testament culture as well as the Judaic tradition. In many cultures, women were prohibited even from learning, much less teaching or reading in public. Donald Guthrie writes that "the equality of the sexes... received little recognition in ancient times. Not only was the prevailing Greek attitude against it, but Hebrew thought was equally unsympathetic."20 For example, Guthrie states that "Rabbinic prohibitions were much more severe than the Christian prohibitions," for women were not even allowed to teach small children. In contrast, the apostle Paul commands women in the local assembly to listen attentively and to quietly submit their thoughts and hearts to the teaching of the Word of God.
It is evident from the aforementioned principles that women possess a role and function in the church that brings glory to God and benefits the entire body of Christ. In his book, What's a Woman to Do ...In the Church?, David Nicholas lists a variety of ministries that women could fulfill not only in the church but also in the community as they teach other women, learn God's Word and adorn themselves with good works. Such roles could include:
Certainly a woman can fill a variety of roles that would bring honor to God and would edify the entire body of Christ. Yet while women can serve in a variety of areas in the church, the Word of God sets forth a final principle that forbids women to exercise one particular function in the church.
An accurate understanding of 1Timothy 2:12-14 is the key to a proper understanding of a woman's role in the local church. Verse 12 states, "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." At this point it is necessary to note two prevalent, but inadequate, arguments that promote an egalitarian view of women in the local church. First, some claim that this verse is simply an opinion of the apostle rather than an authoritative proclamation of God for all ages. However, as previously noted, such a view falls short and must not be tolerated by those who accept the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. Nicholas does a superb job addressing this issue in his book, What's a Woman to Do ...In the Church?, and concludes by stating that "what really is at stake in the evangelical egalitarian controversy is not women's liberation" but, rather, "the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, since the most ardent advocates of egalitarianism in marriage and the church reach their conclusions by denying the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible."21
A second argument prevalent among egalitarians is that Paul was simply giving a temporal, local command only for the church at Ephesus due to the culture in which this church was enveloped. In other words, this injunction only applied to the local church at Ephesus. Some argue that Paul's command was issued to the church as a result of the status of women within the Ephesian culture and the prominence of the pagan fertility cult within the city. S. M. Baugh answers this argument in an article entirely devoted to the question of whether or not Ephesus was as "feminist" as many think. He compellingly debunks this view of Ephesus and the egalitarian argument by concluding,
Paul's injunctions throughout 1 Timothy 2:9-15, then, are not temporary measures in a unique social setting. Ephesus's society and religion-even the cult of Artemis Ephesia-shared typical features with many other contemporary Greco-Roman cities. ... Hence, we have every reason to expect Paul to apply the restriction of women from teaching and exercising official rule over a man to "every place" (v. 8). ...Exegetical treatments can proceed with the assumption that Ephesus was not a unique society as we read today...22
Another author agrees and notes that the context itself reveals that Paul's statement is not directed only to a local assembly, for Paul supports his command regarding a woman's role in the church by way of a universal principle. T. David Gordon writes,
It is crucial to note the causal relation of verses 13 and 14 to the preceding verses. Paul grounds his comments in a reality that exists outside of Ephesus: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." This is sufficient reason to recognize that some enduring principle is applied to this specific situation. The convergence of norm and occasion that we expect to find in Paul's letters is expressly communicated in the present passage. There is a command, and there is a norm, and these are connected by a causal particle (gar).23
So what does 1 Timothy 2:12 mean? The answer lies in the word teach (didaskein). Bowen writes that the word "refers almost exclusively to public instruction or teaching of groups."24 She cites a study by Roy B. Zuck in which he found that out of approximately 100 occurrences of the word in the New Testament, only three times does the word refer to the teaching of individuals (Jn. 8:28; Rom. 2:21; Rev. 2:14). So in this instance, to "teach" involves the public pronouncement of the Word of God.
Yet the word teach is even further confined to its meaning within the Pastoral Epistles. Robert L. Saucy penned a helpful article detailing the meaning of teach in 1 Timothy 2:12 and its meaning within the entire context of the Pastoral Epistles.25 Although Saucy falls short of actually concluding that women should refrain from any pastoral role in the church, he aptly argues that to "teach" in this verse involves the passing down, guarding and keeping of the doctrine that had been entrusted to the church. That which was to be taught is described in the Pastorals as "doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:10), a "faithful saying" 1 Tim. 1:15; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8), a "true saying" (1 Tim. 3:1), "faith" (1 Tim. 4:6; Titus 1:13), "sound doctrine" or "good doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:6; Titus 1:9; 2:1), "wholesome words" or "sound words" (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13), "the truth" (2 Tim. 2:18; 4:4), "the word" (2 Tim. 4:2) and "the faithful word" (Titus 1:9). It is important to note that these vital truths from God Himself were to be taught "with all authority" (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 2:15). Saucy writes, "The emphasis on teaching and the vital importance of its function in maintaining true Christian doctrine already suggest that considerable authority is attached to this ministry in the pastoral letters."26 He adds, "The strong relationship of the function of teaching to the leaders in the pastorals clearly suggests that there is an authoritative element attached to it."27 Kent agrees yet broadens the scope of the term to relate to its context within the entire New Testament. He writes, "The role of teacher in New Testament days was an authoritative office."28 This understanding of "teaching" in the pastoral epistles is tied to the further injunction to refrain from "usurping] authority over the man." It is evident, then, that women are prohibited from preaching, that is, exercising the ministry of authoritative proclamation of the Word of God over men in the local worship assembly. This would, however, allow for women to fulfill a variety of ministry opportunities in the church as long as they did not authoritatively teach the Word of God to men.
First Timothy 2:13-14 gives the reason why this command is set forth and necessary in the local church: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." The Divine command in no way denotes any form of inferiority of women. Rather, this text reminds the reader that God has determined an order for the institutions that He has established. Paul's reasons for prohibiting a woman from authoritatively teaching the Word of God to men in the local assembly were based upon two historical events: the creation and the fall. Concerning creation, Kent writes, "The very chronological order of creation proves that Eve was not intended to direct Adam."29 Bowen agrees, noting that Adam's "chronological primacy in creation carried with it some degree of authority."30 Notice Brown's observation concerning the theology of the Progressives in relation to their view of women in the church:
The rejection of the special and separate creation of man and of woman is so common in our day that many may not even notice the psychological pressure placed on them to deny every principle of order derived from it. It is in this climate that rejects (or ignores) the fundamental doctrine of creation in which egalitarian (re)interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12 have flourished. It seems hardly promising to dispute the details, for it is often the fundamental principles that effectively control the outcome of one's interpretation.31
Such is certainly the case! If the Progressives do not even accept the literal, special and separate creation of man and women, then the very underlying principle of why men hold a position of authority within the home and church is worthless, and no practical implications can be built from it.
Yet not only are women to refrain from authoritatively proclaiming the Word of God to men due to the very order established by God from the time of creation, but they also must heed God's order as a result of the very nature of the fall. Again, verse 14 does not in any way denote the idea that women are less intelligent or even more easily deceived than men. Such is obviously not always the case, for men and women are equal as individuals in the sight of God, though each has been entrusted with a differing function or role. Rather, this verse relates the fact that Eve usurped authority over her husband by partaking of the fruit in disobedience to the clear command of God. Kent writes, "Thus the fall was caused, not only by disobeying God's command not to eat, but also by violating the divinely appointed relation between the sexes. Woman assumed headship, and man with full knowledge of the act, subordinated himself to her leadership and ate of the fruit (Rom. 5: 19)."32 Bowen calls this the "reversal of roles" and says that "Paul's point is that this role reversal that caused such devastation at the beginning must not be repeated in the church."33 While such a standard of male headship might not be popular or politically correct within today's culture, such are the norms God has established for His church, and those who are His children will only honor and glorify Him by subscribing to His standards with a willing heart and mind.
If one accepts the inerrancy and historical accuracy of Scripture and correctly interprets 1 Timothy 2:9-15, then all portions of New Testament Scripture that address the role of women in the local assembly will fall into place. For example, one will understand what Paul meant when he commanded women to "keep silence" in the local church (1 Cor. 14:33-34). One will also understand why the proscriptive nature of the Pastoral Epistles declares that a pastor/bishop/elder must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2). The reader of the Pastoral Epistles must understand that Paul is giving direct, divine revelation concerning the roles and behavior of men and women in the local church, and women and men both possess certain ministries and responsibilities to fulfill. However, the woman is forbidden from preaching, or authoritatively proclaiming the truth of the Word of God, to men in a local assembly of believers. Today, this authoritative proclamation of the Word of God would include any form of pastoral ministry or the holding of any ordained office. The reasons for this divine injunction stem from God's prescribed order in creation, in the family and in the local church.
1 Eva Stimson, editor. Together on Holy Ground. Geneva,
Switzerland: WCC Publications, 1999, p. 21.
2 The book which contains the citation as well as the conclusions of the Hartford Seminary study is Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling by Barbara Brown Zikmund, Adair T. Lummis and Patricia M. Y. Chang. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, p. 138.
3 Ibid, p. 133.
4 Ibid, p. 155.
5 Bruce A. Robinson, "Women Clergy in Orthodox and Protestant Christianity, and Other Religions." http://www.religioustolerance.org/femclrg4.htm.
6Shelly Steig, Finding the Right Church: A Guide to Denomination Beliefs. Iowa Falls, LA: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1997, p 110.
7 Assemblies of God position paper. "The Role of Women in Ministry as Described in Holy Scripture." August 1990. This document can be found at http://ag.org/top/ position_papers/0000_index.cfm.
8 Steig, p. 166.
9Interview with Anne Graham Lotz on CBS's "60 Minutes," June 3, 2001.
10Susan Hogan/Albach, "The Bible Tells Them So: Evangelical Group Embraces Gender Egalitarianism as the Only Scriptural Way." The Dallas Morning News, June 16, 2001.
12Daniel Doriani, "A History of the Interpretation of I Timothy 2,"Appendix 1 in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1Timothy 2:9-15, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, pp. 213-267.
13Robert W. Yarbrough, "The Hermeneutics of I Timothy 2:9-15," Essay in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1Timothy 2:9-15, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, pp. 167-171.
14Ibid., pp. 169-170.
15Thomas C. Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989, p. 116.
16Homer A. Kent Jr., The Pastoral Epistles. Winona Lake: BMH Books, 1986, P. 106.
17Ann L. Bowman. "Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15," Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June 1992, p. 198.
18Thomas R. Schreiner. "An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15: A Dialogue with Scholarship," Essay in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1Timothy 2:9-15, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, p. 122.
19Bowman, p. 198.
20 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990, p. 86
21David R. Nicholas, What's a Woman to Do ...In the Church? Scottsdale, AZ: Good Life Productions, Inc., 1979, p. 107.
22S. M. Baugh, "A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century," Essay in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, pp. 49-50.
23T. David Gordon, "A Certain Kind of Letter: The Genre of I Timothy," Essay in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, p. 61.
24Bowen, p. 200.
25Robert L. Saucy, "Women's Prohibition to Teach Men," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 37:1 (March 1994), pp. 86-97.
26Ibid., p. 88.
27Ibid., p. 89.
28Kent, p. 108.
29Ibid., P. 109.
30Bowen, p. 205.
31Harold O. J. Brown, "The New Testament Against Itself: 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the 'Breakthrough' of Galatians 3:28," Essay in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1Timothy 2:9-15, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, p. 204.
32Kent, P. 109.
33Bowen, p. 206.