Perhaps no other question raises the temperature of a room more than, “are women permitted to be pastors in the church?” For centuries, the consensus of theologians has been that the role of elder, pastor, and overseer is reserved for men. Today, this view is seen as archaic and oppressive. In short, this interpretation makes people uncomfortable, so, in order to “fit in” we tend to filter the clear biblical teaching through our feelings, asking ourselves the same question the serpent whispered to Eve, “Did God actually say?”
The Word or the World
So, what does God’s Word have to say about this increasingly inflammatory issue. The famed English philosopher and poet, G.K. Chesterton once said, “whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask why it was put there in the first place.” Today, we rarely pause for anything. The overwhelming influence of our fast-paced culture, coupled with the increasing pressure to “fit in” has led to the church unwittingly adopting several of the secular cultural narratives, one of which says, in order to be considered equal there must be zero distinction between the roles of men and women.
The gender role debates of the twentieth century in the evangelical church produced three primary views that relate to men and women’s roles within the body of Christ: the traditional or hierarchy view, the complementarian view, and the egalitarian view. Although all three views make their claims using Scripture as the basis for their arguments, only one offers a coherent explanation of all that the Bible has to say on authority.
The dividing line when it comes to these views often centers around one’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 where Paul says,
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
The traditional view contends that God has ordained a hierarchy that applies in both the home and the church, where the men lead, and the women follow. This position relies on passages like, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5:22-23), and “women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission” (1 Cor 14:34), as the basis for their beliefs.
The traditionalist also contends, women should be submissive because their nature is somehow ‘defective’ or weak, and that Paul, echoes this when he says, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim 2:14). While it’s important not to read too much into v. 14, that a woman’s nature is somehow more fallen or depraved than man’s and therefore not equal, this verse is imperative for correctly interpreting the argument Paul is making and how he grounds it. It is clear v. 14 is about deception.
Although the traditionalist is in line with the historical understanding that v. 14 is making an “ontological distinction” between men and women, they are incorrect in their assumption that this somehow makes women inferior. However, it is equally incorrect and dangerous to ignore or deny the difference that God has established in creation between men and women and their roles in the home and church due to the discrimination that has resulted from a misogynistic view of God’s intended design. Consequently, even though the traditionalists interpretation of the text is mostly correct, the application is too strongly influenced by the patriarchal societies of the past, and therefore errs where the complementarian succeeds.
The complementarian view shares many of the traditionalist’s views, that women should be subordinate in authority as part of God’s perfect design and intended structure, but do not interpret different to mean less than. The complementarian affirms, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27), and therefore they are both equal in his eyes, but also makes the distinction that God has ordained different but complementary roles for us in the home and in the church. In Romans 12, Paul echoes this, saying, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:4-5).
The case for complementarianism is further strengthened by other passages in Scripture that affirm that an elder or pastor must be, “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6) which is restrictive in that it does not allow the possibility of a woman elder or teacher in the church body. One argument, against the complementarian, is that Paul is contradicting himself or being inconsistent. At first glance, this seems plausible if there were other passages of Scripture that proved he allowed women to teach men “authoritatively” within the church. However, no such passages exist.
The egalitarian view, commonly referred to as “biblical feminism”, also affirms the universal equality of both men and women but is diametrically opposed to any doctrinal view or system that differentiates roles based on gender. The argument is the gospel doesn’t promote or allow for what they would view as discrimination, and in Galatians, Paul, makes an absolute claim when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Additionally, in The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip H. Towner argues, “that the equality statement of Gal 3:28 (1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11) cannot be ignored when attempting to reconstruct a Pauline view of Christian existence and ministry.” He suggests, “three convergent forces lie behind Paul’s prohibition of women from teaching” that include wealthy women being influenced by an over realized eschatology, women being encouraged to teach by some form of promoted heresy, and an increased mobility and freedom by the trend of the “new Roman woman.”
Although women may or may not have been teaching heresy, there is not conclusive evidence one way or the other. Furthermore, according to Dr. Korinna Zamfir, “Heresy is not a major concern. Even in the case of ‘heretic’ women, the main problem is that women teach and seek admission into clerical office. Teaching in and of itself, not its content, is an indication of heresy.”
Universal or Cultural Prohibition
Regardless of one’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14, what should be clear is that Paul is forbidding something. The primary objection to the complementarian’s interpretation of the phrase, “I do not permit” in v.12, is that Paul’s instruction is “cultural”, and therefore temporally and geographically limited to ancient Ephesus. However, this ignores the fact that Paul grounds his argument first, in the order of creation, and second, in the order of the fall- two of the least culturally dependent events in history.
Also, those who affirm this limited view argue that Paul’s use of “I” represents his opinion and not his binding judgement. However, Dr. Mounce in the Word Biblical Commentary, points out that if v. 12 is limited in its scope “then other statements made in the immediate context should be so limited, statements such as Paul’s admonition for women to learn (v11).” If one limits the scope of his teaching by his use of the word “I” or the tense of the verb in, “I do not permit” then all sorts of problems arise with the rest of his writings. For example, in his thirteen epistles, Paul,
“uses 1,429 present-tense active indicative verbs (out of a total of 2,835 indicative verbs). If this objection is true, then almost nothing Paul says can have any significance beyond the narrow confines of its immediate context. To be sure, many of these present-tense verbs refer to a specific historical situation (e.g., 1 Cor 8:13); but the reference is indicated not by the tense of the verb but by the context of the verse. When one looks at the use of the present tense in the PE, the general, universal scope of the tense is continually illustrated.”
As such, it would be intellectually dishonest and problematic to dismiss Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2 as culturally relative and not applicable today. Essentially, one would have to ignore or reinterpret what the rest of Scripture says on the topic of authority and God’s intended design for his church by applying an inconsistent hermeneutic.
We’re All Called to Submit
The teachings of Paul in the pastoral epistles emerge amidst the ongoing gender role debates within the evangelical church today. And while the influence of societal conditions on how we conceive the roles of men and women in the church are inevitable, we must remember that the Bible is methodical, intentional, and coherent in what it presents as legitimate authority both in the home and the church.
Of the three views, the complementarian view is the only one that provides a coherent explanation for the sum of biblical teaching on authority. Despite attempts by the egalitarian camp to conflate passages of the Bible to reach their intended conclusions, the preponderance of biblical evidence clearly supports and confirms the complementarian position. Moreover, it wasn’t a low view of women that led to Paul’s argument that a woman teaching a man in an authoritative position within the church is an illegitimate exercise of authority, he praises their godly influence in the life of young Timothy (2 Tim 1:5); rather it was his recognition that this was, is, and always will be God’s good and perfect design for HIS church.
Lastly, failing to see Christ in complementarianism and the beauty of his submission to the Father as the foundation for the complementary roles of men and women in the home and the church, will inevitably cause us to continue to view submission as a weakness rather than a strength. We must not allow a culture that screams, “exalt yourself” to be of greater influence on our interpretation of God’s Word than the illuminating work of the Spirit through the Scriptures which say, “humble yourself”.
Leave your thoughts, questions, and suggested followups in the comments below.
Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Inyamah, Deborah C. “Contrasting Perspectives on the Role of the Feminine in Ministry and Leadership Roles in John 4 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15.” Journal of Religious Thought 60-63, no. 1-2 (2008): 87-IV. http://exproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest=com.ezproxy.loberty.edu/docview/1313216066?accountid=12085.
Lynette, Sharp Penya, Fournier Macaluso Suzanne, and Garry Baily. “The Attitudes Toward Gender Roles in Conservative Christian Contexts Scale: A Psychometric Assessment.” Review of Religious Research 58, no.1(March, 2016): 165-82. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1962749596?accountid=12085.
Metzger, Bruce M., and Zondervan Staff. Pastoral Epistles. Vol 46 in Word Biblical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2016.
Oden, Thomas C., ed. Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Florence: Taylor & Francis Group, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Zamfir, Korinna. Men and Women in the Household of God a Contextual Approach to Roles and Ministries in the Pastoral Epistles. Göttingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.
Zamfir, Korinna, “Women Teaching-Spiritually Washing the Feet of the Saints?: The Early Christian Reception of 1 Timothy 2:11-12.” Annali Di Storia Dell’Esegesi 32, no.2 (July2015): 353-79. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=Isdar&AN=ATLAn3825181&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Josh wears many hats. He is a husband, father, student, and friend. He and his wife, Kristin live in Boerne, TX with their three kids-Tresley, Trace, and Grayson, and are expecting number four this fall. He is a member of The Bridge Fellowship where he and his wife serve on the first impressions team and lead a small group.