Wednesday, 13 June 2007

A Personal Perspective on Women Priests

Sadly, the issue of ‘women priests’ divides not only the Church of England but Evangelicals within it. Those who are familiar with the term ‘Open Evangelical’ may sometimes wonder what it means, but one of the key differences from ‘Conservative Evangelicals’ is over women’s ordination.

Yet just thirty years ago, most Evangelicals took the ‘Conservative’ view. In the Nottingham Statement, agreed at the second National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 1977, paragraph J6 states, “We repent of our failure to give women their rightful place as partners in ministry with men.” But then it immediately adds, “Leadership in the church should be plural and mixed, ultimate responsibility normally singular and male.”

For Evangelicals in the late 1970s, the ‘rightful place’ of women in ministry did not include being vicars, rectors or priests-in-charge (and would certainly not have included being bishops).

What has changed since then, of course, is the context in which we read the Bible. The triumph of late twentieth-century feminism has been quite remarkable. Yet we were also being warned in the 1970s that Christians needed to be ‘counter-cultural’, and so perhaps just as remarkable is the extent to which Christians fell into line with the culture at this point.

I am aware that many people, even in the Church, are offended by the Conservative Evangelical resistance to women’s ordination, but that in itself must not influence our theology. People are also offended by the cross and by the notion of God’s wrath.

At the same time, however, the case for the Conservative Evangelical position is not always clearly understood (nor, in my opinion, properly articulated). So here, for the record, is what I think on the subject.

First, I am persuaded that men and women are, as individuals, entirely equal in God’s sight because they are both made in God’s image. In Genesis 1:27, we read this:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

The same point is reinforced in Genesis 5:1-2:

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘Adam.’” (NIV “man”).

Incidentally, the NIV, like the KJV, is much closer to the Hebrew at this point than, for example, the NRSV, where the footnotes betray how much the latter is adapted to modern assumptions about gender and language.

Yet at the same time, it seems equally clear that in relation to one another, male and female are not simply interchangeable. Rather, there is a complementarity which reflects their gender differentiation. However, the relationship in which this matters supremely is that in which their gender also matters supremely, namely that of marriage.

Outside marriage, whether one is male or female should make little difference to how we interrelate, provided common decency is observed. Hence Paul says to Timothy that in his relationship with the opposite sex, he should simply treat “older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim 5:2).

The gender of a sibling or a parent is normally of little consequence to us, except as regards matters of modesty. In the Church, therefore, we are all to treat one another like family — older people as we would our mothers and fathers, contemporaries and younger people as we would our brothers and sisters.

However, regarding marriage things are very different. First, gender is significant because sex is integral to the relationship. Secondly, the marital relationship is itself an outworking of the relationship between the Creator Redeemer God and his created redeemed people. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:23, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour.”

These words are not optional, nor are they mitigated by the statement in v 21 that we should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Rather, 5:21 states the general principle, that we should submit, whilst 5:22-6:3 gives us some of the examples of those to whom we should submit. It would be as nonsensical to suggest on the basis of 5:21 that husbands should sometimes submit to their wives as it would be to suggest that parents should sometimes submit to their children.

As regards the ordination of women, therefore, this imposes certain caveats which we cannot simply ignore. (Of course, there are those in the Church who do ignore them, but I think they forfeit thereby any real claim to be Evangelicals, even if, by God’s grace, they may still be Christians.) One of the most important is indicated by what Paul writes earlier in 1 Timothy, in 2:11-12:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

There are, of course, those who would simply brush these words aside, but part of being an Evangelical (whether Conservative or Open) is to refuse that option. However, we do not find in the New Testament a blanket prohibition on all women teaching any men. On the contrary, in the book of Acts, there is a clear instance of a man being taught by a woman:

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:24-26)

Given that, as a good Anglican, I cannot “expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another” (Article XX), I have to ask how this behaviour by friends of the Apostle Paul can be consistent with his instructions to Timothy. (Incidentally, even if Paul was not the author of 1 Timothy, as some argue, the basic problem remains, since 1 Timothy is still as much part of Scripture as Acts.)

The most comprehensive answer, I suggest, lies in seeing the prohibition of 1 Timothy as relationally based, not simply based on gender per se. Specifically, the context envisaged in 1 Timothy, in which the teaching rôle of the woman is limited, seems to be one where marriage matters.

First, there is the reference to ‘submission’ in v 11. It is very easy to carry out a word search of this an related terms to see how it is used in the Bible. What we find is a range of relationships where submission occurs. Amongst them, we are to submit to God, Christ submits to the Father, servants are to submit to their masters, we are all to submit to earthly rulers, children should submit to their parents and, of course, wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:24; 1 Pet 3:1 — the Peter reference, incidentally, means we cannot reject the latter concept as being ‘just Paul’).

What we do not find, however, is a general submission of women to men, and that, I believe, is because the ‘submission’ in question depends on the marriage relationship: “the husband is the head of the wife”. (For reasons I cannot entirely develop here, I believe 1 Cor 11:1-16 should also be understood in these terms.) I usually find it easy to persuade married Conservative Evangelicals colleagues of this line of argument by suggesting I might otherwise be ‘head’ of their wives, and that their wives should also be in submission to me.

It is also significant that 1 Timothy 2:13-14 uses the paradigm of Adam and Eve to support that position of vv 11-12:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Adam and Eve were, of course, man and woman, but they were also husband and wife, and what is true of them is in relation to one another is therefore not universally of all men in relation to all women and vice versa. Why does it matter that Adam was formed first? The answer is that Eve was formed for him — to relate to him as wife, and he to her as husband. Hence I would suggest that the marital relationship is certainly in view.

Finally, the argument of 1 Timothy 2 is rounded off in v 15 by a reference to childbearing, and also a switch of persons from singular to plural (though this is obscured in some translations, but compare ESV, KJV):

But she [NIV “women”] will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Childbearing is, of course, expected to take place within marriage. Could it be, therefore, that the emphasis switches from the woman (“she”) to the couple (“they”)? I offer this as a suggestion.

However, we might also notice the reference to “propriety” which looks back to v 9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes ...” What is interesting here is that when Peter offers the same instruction (1 Pet 3:3), he has the relationship of husband and wife specifically in view.

Finally, we may go back to the example of Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos, and consider it in the light of Galatians 6:6: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” Taken together, this suggests that teaching in the New Testament church could be more intimate than the scenario of a talk a sermon given to a sedentary, and largely passive, audience. The persons in Galatians 6:6 are singular: “his” and “instructor”. But likewise the persons in 1 Timothy 2:12 are singular: “a woman” and “a man”.

All this suggests that the overall determining issue regarding women and men in ministry in the Church is the relationship of marriage. For Priscilla and Aquila together to explain the way of God more adequately to Apollos was not a problem, but for Priscilla to do have done this to Aquila, as his teacher or instructor in the faith, would have been a problem because it would have subverted their relationship as husband and wife, as described in Ephesians 5 in terms of ‘Christ (the husband) and the Church (the wife)’.

As regards the ordination of women in the Church of England, then, the issue becomes one of whether this would likewise be subversive of the husband-to-wife relationship. Personally, I find it difficult to see how a woman can be the vicar of a church of which her own husband is a member without this happening. A vicar, rector or priest-in-charge is not merely an administrator. That person is also a pastor to the congregation, both collectively and individually. However, the congregation members are also in other, crucial, relationships, including (in many cases) marriage.

The Bible, however, does not allow us to see marriage as merely one relationship amongst others. On the contrary, it transforms a man and a woman into a husband and a wife — no longer simply individuals made in the image of God, but a one-flesh-union embodying something of the relationship between Christ and the Church. We cannot, therefore, have other relationships within the Church, including pastoral relationships, subverting this relationship.

Two other comments remain to be made. First, this view does allow a certain flexibility about teaching rôles. If it was possible for Priscilla to participate in teaching Apollos, it is clearly not impossible for other women to participate in teaching men. Again, there are some teaching rôles, such as lecturing in theology, where the relational aspect of the teaching rôle might be considered relatively unimportant, and so not subversive of the husband-wife relationship. This might also mean that women could address ‘mixed’ meetings such as a College Christian Union, or speak in Church, under the mandate in 1 Corinthians 11 that allows women as well as men to prophesy.

Secondly, there will undoubtedly be those who find this analysis inadequate. I would only ask that they offer criticism constructively and that, if possible, they present a better synthesis of the biblical material.

Given the divisions this issue is currently causing, the least we can do is try to make progress in our understanding together.

Revd John P Richardson

13 June 2007


  1. but the very fact that Priscilla's name comes before Aquilla's in the Greek language indicates who was considered the more significant teacher in Paul's thinking.

    going with your argument then the husband-wife relationship is already subverted.

    also I see that in your analysis it is acceptable to have single women as priests.

  2. Can a single woman then be a priest in charge? What if her husband belongs to another denomination? Can a woman have authority over her husband in say a doctors partnership? At one time women were expected to resign in some jobs when they married. How do you react to this?

  3. So, women ministers are OK as long as they are single?

    John Foxe

  4. Thanks for these comments. As regards 'priesthood', personally I am persuaded by Luther's argument that all Christians participate in this and that therefore they may also act 'sacramentally'. Regarding 1 Peter 2:5, he writes, "Because the words of Peter are spoken to all Christians, if he wishes the anointed and tonsured priesthood to be comprehended therein, it follows that the holy, pious women and children are also tonsured and anointed priests. For Peter’s words apply to all Christians of whichever priesthood; they make the priesthood common to all Christians." (LW 36:141).

    Again, in his criticism of those who restrict the functional 'priesthood' to the episcopally ordained, he writes, "The second function, to baptize, they themselves have by usage allowed in cases of necessity even to ordinary women, so that it is hardly regarded any more as a sacramental function. Whether they wish or not we deduce from their own logic that all Christians, and they alone, even women, are priests, without tonsure and episcopal “character.” For in baptizing we proffer the life-giving Word of God, which renews souls and redeems from death and sins. To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, for it is the greatest office in the church—the proclamation of the Word of God. So when women baptize, they exercise the function of priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church which belongs only to the priesthood." (LW 40:23).

    This is somewhat different from the view of Calvin, who did not allow women, or laypeople, to baptize (see Institutes IV.XV.20-22). Luther and I may both, therefore, be wrong, but for the moment, here we stand.

    I am also persuaded (albeit with some caution) that the 1977 NEAC was right when it urged that women should be part of the 'presbyterate' of the local church. In paragraph J3, it suggests that "The New Testament pattern is always for a group of presbyters to form the leadership of the local church or group of churches. Accordingly, we invite the bishops to work towards ordaining under license a number of presbyters (non-stipendiary) in each parish ["who may include women", J3, and] who will constitute the leadership of that church [...]."

    I think the use of the word "always" may be tendentious. We cannot always be sure what every New Testament church did. I would also wonder whether formal ordination is appropriate. Personally, I regard the PCC as 'elders', and I have seen the problems that ensue when a second body of elders is appointed with an independent status. So I'm cautious about the application, but less so about the principle.

    The problem for the Church of England is that our order of priests/presbyters doesn't easily fit into the New Testament category. Moreover, ordination to our 'priesthood' confers a permanent authority over others which need not reflect functional ability, and implies availability for a congregational leadership role which, on my understanding of Scripture, is not always appropriate.

    Ordaining a women as a priest/presbyter is not, therefore, in my view, unbiblical per se, but it may have unbiblical consequences.

    I have indeed pondered the question whether a single woman should have "ultimate responsibility" in church leadership, as Nottingham J6 puts it. The Church generally has a long and honourable history of single women in pioneering ministries. However, pioneering is not the same as ongoing. I thus find myself pondering the words of D.B.Knox, an arch-conservative, who nevertheless wrote this: "If ... only those are ordained who are recongized as ministering to a congregaion as their ministers, and they remain ordained only so long as they minister acceptably in that congregation ... then it would be possible for a woman to be ordained, at least in theory, for in practice it would not be often (perhaps never) that a spiritual, Bible-instructed congregation concluded that the circumstances it found itself in meant that it should recongise a woman as its teacher and chief minister." (Selected Works, Vol 1, 169-170)

    For all its cautions, this concedes more than would some Conservatives, but personally I'm inclined to Knox's view.

    The order of "Priscilla and Aquila" may have other explanations than that Priscilla was the lead teacher. Personally, I think of married friends and couples in a variety of 'orders'. And why do we think of "Janet and John" stories, and not "John and Janet"?

    The thing to bear in mind is "What does the Bible teach and how should we apply it to our situations?" If someone has a better synthesis of the material, I will happily set aside my own.

  5. Interesting as your approach is, I'm far from convinced that the phrase in 1 Tim should be viewed through the lens of marriage. The whole section in this epistle is focused on issues of church meetings, worship and organisation. This pushes 2:12 into the broader setting of the relationships and activities of men and women in the congregation.

    This also casts doubt on whether women should be elders/presbyters since this is an authoritative function that can't be squared with 'not having authority over men'.

    Unfortunately, Anglicanism has never done very well in having actual plural elderships and actual functioning diaconates. (I'm not trying to say non-Anglican churches always get it right, but there is an instutionalised problem here.) I do think the difficulties of squaring Anglican ecclesiastical structures with scriptural principles of church government makes it very difficult to work through the issues of women in the church. If you end up with a general solution that only makes sense in an Anglican (episcopal) setting, perhaps it casts doubt on whether the solution really is as general as you hope!

    Perhaps viewing a PCC as a diaconate since they deal with many practical issues, and having an independent plural eldership (limited to men) dealing with pastoral, spiritual issues, would be a good way to go. This eldership could be a subset of the PCC.

    Did Luther advocate a plural eldership? If not, this might have closed off the middle ground that Calvin offers. Due to the connections between the Word and the Lord's Supper I am no fan of lay administration.

    In Christ,


  6. Priscilla's name doesn't always come 1st, but 5/7 times, 4 times mentioned in 1 chapter, introduced Aquila & his wife - but even so it doesn't change the point John is making.

    I wonder, John if what you are saying is a bit complicated. Isn't 1 Tim 2 & 3 about the gathered Church, so we should apply it in that context generally? When people start saying what about at work - not really relavent, it's Church & family that the Bible addresses, it seems rather pragmatic about work.

    So, that still permits women to have teaching roles, but not leadership of a congregation and probably not teaching in the main gathered congregation?

    I suppose this is an issue for listening & helping each other rather than "playing it safe" & just barring women from all ministry (Pharisaism) or just ignoring (or explaining away) the text (liberalism)to help each other honestly apply Scripture, which means we work it out as we go, we may have to say we got it wrong sometimes, but at least we're trying.

  7. John,

    A couple of thoughts:

    i) You wrote: "The gender of a sibling or a parent is normally of little consequence to us, except as regards matters of modesty."

    I am not sure that this works: the Bible does seem to have a particular role for the father as head of a household, which is different to that of the mother (except in the case of one parent families ("the widowed and the fatherless") where one parent has to take on the roles of both). This would seem to be why Scripture calls us to relate to God as Father, but never as mother (albeit that there are places where God's care is compared to that of a mother, but that analogy is hardly of the same order as addressing God as "Abba, Father").

    ii) From the argument here, it is not clear to me why (in your view) women are not to exercise episcopal ministry (provided they are single), if the issue is whether the authority structure within marriage is subverted.

    iii) The quote from Knox is interesting: in what circumstances would Knox (and, by implication, you, since you say: "personally I'm inclined to Knox's view") view it as appropriate for a women to exercise oversight of a local church?

    iv) I absolutely agree that the pattern of women submitting to men is for the context of marriage. As a man, I do not have any authority over my sisters in Christ (other than that of a brother who is called to encourage and rebuke - as well as to receive encouragement and rebuke from my brothers and sisters alike).

    However, I am not sure that that quite captures to whom Paul is envisioning the women of 1Timothy 2:11 submitting. The submissiveness there would seem to be a general attitude (parallel to "quietly") which submits to the pastor-teachers in the church. Hebrews 13:17 would be a parallel verse showing the duty of submitting to one's pastors (and, yes, I am aware that it is a different word for submit used there).

    v) That would seem to fit with the fact that (as pointed up by JF) the surrounding context is about proper order within the church (the "household of God"), rather than marriage. Otherwise the transition to 1Timothy 3 and the discussion about qualifications for bishops/presbyters (with Cranmer and Hooker, I take it that Biblically these are one office) and deacons is somewhat obscured.

    I apologise for such a long comment (and take refuge for that in the final sentence of your post).

  8. As one who thinks the Adam and Eve of Timothy cannot represent men and women but must, in some way, refer to the marriage relationship, I broadly agree with your arguments but don't follow your conclusions. There might well be difficulties if the husband of a woman vicar was also part of her congregation but these can be overcome and solutions found. So why should this possible problem for married women bar single women from leadership roles?

    After all, isn't headship, both in the church and marriage, supposedly about the servant heart? Does a women vicar, the servant of all, somehow undermine men in their supposedly selfless headship role in marriage? If so, how?

    And it always amuses me that the one role even the most arch-conservative has no trouble permitting women to fill in the church is paying for the whole thing. I would love to see women withhold their financial contributions for, say, a year and let your all male PCCs deal with any resulting unviability.

  9. John: I think you meant to say NEAC 2 was in 1977 not 1997?

  10. Very helpful discussion here. Your view, John, makes a lot of sense to me, and it’s refreshing to see it articulated. I’m glad too that some of my questions about polity have been raised in places like NEAC. I firmly believe in shared oversight in the local church, and I agree with JF (if I recall his point right) that Anglican polity as it stands makes it hard to know where to start to tackle this issue. Abp Ussher, and more recently TF Torrance, offer some interesting insights into a possible Anglican-Presbyterian synthesis when it comes to polity.

    I’m in a congregation that takes a strict view of women teaching a ‘mixed group’ and hasn’t apparently given thought to the question about the PCC’s identity – whether it’s a group of elders or deacons. When I’ve assumed the first (and it’s a mixed group), I’ve been told that it isn’t, but haven’t got a clear answer on who the elders are in that case. Default would seem to be that there’s no shared oversight, and that the elders are whoever the vicar thinks they are at any given moment. And I see that as a real problem. As a guest here in England I don’t see it as my job to kick up dust on a secondary issue, and our church has been a great blessing. But at the same time it seems that JR’s view tackles the problem nicely, so I wonder why it’s not being heard. Maybe you can help, JF: what’s at stake if we don’t take the strict view?

  11. Dear Steve,

    which bit of John R's view did you want me to comment on?

    In brief I think the principle of women not having authority over men rules out women elders (but that begs the question of who Anglican elders are). The key exclusion for women teaching is before the gathered church.

    Things, of course, get complicated when you throw bishops into the mix. Especially if you can't agree on what they are for. Any thoughts John R?

    In Christ,

    John Foxe.

  12. Hello John F,

    The wider context for 1 Tim 2:12 is, as you say, instruction on corporate worship, but vs. 11-15 as a whole seem more general. If that’s the case (you may disagree of course), i.e. 2:12 is not necessarily specific to the congregational setting, how do you react to JR’s attempt to square it with the fact that Priscilla taught a man, and from there to open the door to women teaching, and possibly serving as associate presbyters?

    As you suggest, progress here is going to depend on a better sense of what we mean by some more basic things. My understanding is that some evangelical Anglicans went along with the idea of women as vicars/incumbents based on the fact that the bishop, being male, was still in authority. But that’s based on a switch to the idea that the local church is the diocese when it’s convenient for it to be so (and of course on a concession to the artificial distinction between presbyter and bishop). If bishops were seen as representative presbyters, ideally serving as pastors of a local church themselves, we might regain a sense of the congregation as the local church, and from there maybe begin to think about shared oversight a bit more productively.

    I wonder if I can take a stab at responding to your suggestion that the elders (male) ought to look after the spiritual/pastoral things while the deacons (male and female) the practical stuff. The distinction may be a bit artificial. I realize that deacons have traditionally been set aside for ‘table’ and practical concerns. But some have been teachers too, and the lines between service and teaching can get blurry. Teaching about ‘practical’ things, such as counselling or children’s ministry, is not non-theological, and presumably some men will need to be present to hear from the woman invited to speak about these things if they’re to learn how they’re going to go about teaching their Sunday school classes. In any case, according to her gifts and training in Biblical studies, my wife is a teacher. She recognizes that the senior pastor ought normally to be male. But in family Bible study, in a house group setting, or in a Sunday school class, she and I very much lead as a team. And I learn from her insights. I don’t see how it can be otherwise. But I take it that your reading of 2:12 is that she ought to be silent in those settings because they’re ‘mixed’. Help me out.



  13. Dear Steve,

    I don't think the context of 1 Tim 2 can be broadened very far even though Paul justifies his comments from creation.

    I see this chapter (and the one that follows on elders and deacons) as being about order in the church, in worship, and in offices. The whole epistle is Paul helping Timothy set things up and running rightly in the churches where he is working.

    Thus the women section appeals to the ordered relationships of creation and the disordered relationships of the fall to indicate that God's newly recreates order in his church, who have been redeemed from the fall and its consequences.

    Viewing 1Tim 2 in a corporate light means that I have no difficulty with Priscilla's private instruction of Apollos (and wasn't her husband there too?).

    Episcopacy might be more attractive if bishops were active pastors over smaller areas, responsible for, say 100 presbyters (a manageable congregation to pastor).

    Women bishops does raise questions for Anglican evangelical theology if they are no longer seen as providing biblical headhip. I suspect many have already retreated into independency with a pragmatic view of Anglican connexionalism as a necessary evil if they are to get on with their task. I understand the reasons for this but find it biblically deficient.

    My comments on the roles of elders and deacons are broad brush principles which do not intend to suggest that either office cannot or should not stray into each other's area from time to time. All elders should have a concern for the material welfare of the church and the world. All deacons should be able to teach informally, in conversation or family worship, at least. (Hey, I'm a preaching deacon so I must believe this!)

    As for your graciously gifted wife, I see no problems arising given my comments on 1Tim 2 and Priscilla above. I don't see any of the situations you list as necessarily involving her authoritatively teaching the congregation. Your family isn't the church and isn't in view in 1Tim 2. Class settings and house groups involve an interactive exchange of views (usually) rather than authoritative teaching. In any case, your doing these things together usurps neither the marriage relationship (on John R's view) nor order in the church (my view).

    Enjoying the conversation.

    Yours in Christ,

    John Foxe.

  14. Thanks, John F, this is helpful.

    Agreed: my family isn’t the church. But my return to a complementarian view (although you may not see it as consistently so) came partly through a recovery of the insight that it’s my responsibility as dad to gather my family for prayer and study and to be ultimately responsible for its spiritual well-being, even if my wife and I are teaching our kids together. So if I’m open to having women as co-presbyters and teachers in the local church, under the oversight of a male pastor, this has something to do with it. But a case either way would have to be made of more solid stuff, so thanks for prompting me to look at 1 Tim more. I wonder, though, whether a major theme like order in the church excludes minor themes and instructions. But I’ll keep working on it.

    On episcopacy: even if we reduce the size of the diocese from 500 congregations to 100, we still haven’t addressed the real problems with the present model. Bishops are still abstracted from their proper setting, and we’re no closer to a proper definition of the local church, or of bishops as representative presbyters -- the local church is still the diocese while congregations are ‘outposts’ of a church that is centred somewhere else, and bishops are still prelates.

    To move things along on the main issue… Maybe we need to clarify two things. One, at what point, in your view, does a gathered group begin to be a congregation, and at what point does it cease to be? Two, at what point does a woman begin to teach authoritatively? I assume that your reading of 1 Tim requires you to protect (if that’s the right word) the congregation from teaching which is not authoritative. But I suppose we have to be clear about what counts as proclamation of the Word too.

    Maybe we can approach things this way, and then take things from there. Assuming that the following groups are ‘mixed’, in which is it permissible for a woman to teach, and under what conditions?

    1. Youth group
    2. Fellowship/cell group Bible study
    3. A Christianity Explored-type course
    4. Adult Sunday School or an evening talk/lecture
    5. Testimony/brief talk during regular worship
    6. Sermon in regular worship
    7. Theological college chapel sermon
    8. Theological college lecture
    9. Conference speaker

    Am I asking too much? Thanks for your insights.


  15. Dear Steve,

    thanks for your kind comments. It's interesting to hear that the responsibility for family worship has altered your views on things. I don't see the family directly in view in 1Tim 2. Other parts of scripture address this. They put the primary onus on the husband though!

    As for lady copresbyters preaching under male authority, it only works if you have a recognised male senior presbyter. That doesn't work in all ecclesiological models. You have to sacrifice the idea of a plural eldership, or even an equality of presbyters between churches.

    I was thinking of an episcopal model in which a bishop was still the senior minister of a local church but had additional responsibility for a modest number of presbyters in the immediate area. I wasn't trying to locate the essence of the church in his person. (Hey I'm supposed to be asking the episcopalians what bishops are for rather than giving reasons to have them!)

    People wanting to take a complementarian view need to work out in their own church situation where the lines are to be drawn. It isn't always going to work out the same way and differences on the precise location of the lines (rather than over the fact there are lines) will occur. I have found the resources available at helpful.

    In my own church situation it is fairly straightforward to see when the congregation is together. Morning and evening services and members' meetings fit the bill. At other meetings, such as house groups, youth groups, Sunday school, only part of the congregation is present.

    As to your second question, I'm not trying to prevent non-authoritative teaching: rather I think all teaching in front of the gathered congregation is authoritative by its very nature and purpose. 1Tim 2 is seeking to limit who may exercise authority in the church. Put another way, if a woman preaches, it is inevitably with authority (that goes with the task of preaching). The problem is that someone is improperly exercising authority.

    Lastly I would distinguish testimonies from preaching, and interactive discussions (facilitating) from authoritative teaching. Thus house groups, bible colleges etc seem to me not to fall foul of Paul's injunction.

    I appreciate I probably won't have answered all your questions. Apologies too if this post is rambling: it's been sitting around for a couple of days waiting for me to have time to finish it off.

    Yours in Christ,

    John Foxe.

  16. I really must apologise for not contributing to the debate on my own blog!

    Several people - not just contributors here - have identified the 'single women vicars' question. Doesn't my analysis raise the prospect that would be OK?

    I hope people will forgive me not making a rushed response that will then be read as definitive (especially as other blogs also clamour for attention on other issues!).

    Certainly this was a potential 'trajectory' of which I was aware, and one which I've mused about.

    I would want to remind myself and others, though, that Anglican Orders cannot simply be laid over the New Testament picture of church leadership. I would commend Roger Beckwith's superb Elders in Every City for a clearer picture, and you need a radically Procrustean approach to make our present situation fit. (Google Procrustes if in doubt.)

    The problem in moving from NT evidence to Anglican structures is that you've already had to swallow some major assumptions. So even if the trajectory might be there, it is not necessarily valid, insofar as Anglican structures don't really belong on the same graph (if you follow me - if you don't, you'll just have to be patient til I've got a bit more time and spare brain).

    Right now, I'm working on the material for Kenya. Thanks to those who've prayed.

  17. Many thanks to both JF and JR for your helpful feedback. I'll check back in in some weeks since I myself will be out of the country for a month or so. Best, Steve

  18. Hi John,
    just a 3 simple questions about an [increasingly] complex discussion.
    1]How much weight can we place on Acts 18: 26? We really don't know the details, do we? It seems unsafe to conclude that Priscilla was actually teaching Apollos.
    2]Is 1 Corinthians 11:3 and the following passage really only about husbands and wives? Isn't it actually about a divine order both within the church and within Christian marriage? Your quip about headship over other people's wives is amusing, but actually as a married man, I'm convinced that our Rector is head over my wife in our church life. He's also head over me in a way that a woman couldn't be.
    3] Isn't the emphasis in 1 Timothy 2: 12 on "teach" [contrasted with "learn" in v. 11]? As Biblical evangelicals we believe that Christ's authority over his church is exercised as the word of God is taught. So in 1 Tim. 2: 12 to teach is the same as to have authority over, isn't it?

    Go well in Kenya, brother,

  19. In response to Dan's questions:

    1]How much weight can we place on Acts 18: 26?

    The point at issue regarding Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila is Apollos's limited knowledge of what he himself was teaching, even though he had already been instructed ('catechumenized'). After inviting Apollos into their home, the text says explicitly, they explained the way of God to him more adequately. The verb is also used in 28:23 of Paul teaching in Rome and in 11:4 of Peter addressing the Jerusalem church. To read it in a way other than of Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos seems to me to introduce an unnecessary complexity.

    2]Is 1 Corinthians 11:3 and the following passage really only about husbands and wives?
    I rather agree with Dan's supplementary question at this point: "Isn't it actually about a divine order both within the church and within Christian marriage?"

    I think a critical issue in the passage is v 5. Who, precisely, is dishonoured by a woman praying or prophesying without her "having down the head" (it is still not absolutely clear precisely what this means). Is it every man universally, or every man in the church, or every man present? All these seem to me problematic conclusions. By contrast, scripture elsewhere (Eph 5) clearly identifies one man as her head, namely her husband. What follows about order in the church follows from this observation, although it has implications for the church as a whole.

    As to 'headship' in the church, it is worth reading Roger Beckwith's Elders in Every City to get an understanding of the likely structures of the early church. What they didn't have was rectors, and the 'archisynagogos', or synagogue ruler, was an honorary figure, not a teacher. Moreover, there is nowhere in the NT that I can see where any human being is the 'head' of the Church, because that post is taken - by Christ, of course. The church eldership are therefore not 'heads' of anyone by merit of their office.

    This is, incidentally, why I can't sign the Reform covenant, which talks about "the divine order of male headship, which makes the headship of women as priests in charge, incumbents, dignitaries and bishops inappropriate". I can't accept that church leadership is "headship", but if anyone can persuade me it is, then I will happily sign the Covenant.

    3] Isn't the emphasis in 1 Timothy 2: 12 on "teach" [contrasted with "learn" in v. 11]?

    I agree with Dan's last point: "As Biblical evangelicals we believe that Christ's authority over his church is exercised as the word of God is taught. So in 1 Tim. 2:12 to teach is the same as to have authority over ..." We don't have two issues: teaching, and 'having authority over', but one.

    However, the question is, does this prohibition mean all men, anything, ever?

    If it does, then women are excluded from teaching anything whatsoever post-pubescent males.

    I'm sure most people would say no to that idea and that it only means 'in the church', but that is to admit that the scope of the prohibition has some limits arising from the overall context, not the mere words ("I do not allow a woman to teach ..."). The question then becomes, what limits?

    It could be suggest it means that no woman should ever teach any adult male any form of doctrine. But that runs into the Priscilla problem, above. It would also exclude the Kirsten Birketts of this world from teaching at Oak Hill and, quite frankly, I want to hear what Kirsten has got to say. It would furthermore mean no man should ever read a theological work or commentary by a woman which purports to inform him. Once again, we seem close to a reduction ad absurdum. I found Susan Foh's article on the woman's desire in Genesis 3 immensely helpful, and I don't think I was disobedient to Scripture in this. And was I under and obligation to look up whether Meredith Kline was a boy or a girl before reading Kline's article on Armageddon?

    By contrast, if the text has a narrower, more specific, focus, it remains intelligible but the application becomes more obvious. The prohibition is on "a woman" teaching "a man". The question is, does that translate simply to "women" and "men"? I am suggesting it does not, but rather it translates via the instance of Adam and Eve to particular women in relationship to specific men: namely wives and husbands.

    This may then have wider implications for male/female relationships in church leadership and eldership, but I want to argue from the specific to the general, rather than see here immediately a general, universal, prohibition.

  20. While reading your original post John I recalled trying to explore the Timothy passage in a general article for our parish magazine. While looking through some old files I found it. Even though I've stripped it down by deleting chunks (and therefore perhaps dropped some steps of reasoning) it is still a very long post, and I quite understand if you prefer not to accept it... It seems to me that the whole passage is dripping with local specifics which make it very hard to draw out universal principles.

    The background
    Timothy has been left behind in Ephesus to sort out some wrong teaching (1 Tim 1:3)
    We learn more about the Ephesian church and the town in Acts 19 and 20 v 13-38. Magic and sorcery were rife, and the whole town revolved around the worship of the goddess Diana who was worshipped in orgiastic rituals involving cult prostitutes. Many converts in this town would have had a background in one or the other or both. Acts 20 shows that Paul had some worries well before this letter that the Ephesian church might be led astray by some of the leaders (Acts 20 v 28-31). Paul’s own ministry there was interrupted by a riot, so he knew how important it was not to give outsiders the wrong idea. Many of the instructions in 1 Tim are about behaving in a way that won’t bring the gospel into public disrepute (e.g. 3 v 7 where leaders must have a good reputation with outsiders, and 6 v 1 where slaves of non-believing masters are urged to be respectful “so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered”.)

    The bible
    Usually difficult bits to understand are clearer when seen in the light of all that the bible has to say on a subject. Some relevant bits are:
    • Galatians 3 v 28 …there is neither…male nor female… for you are all one in Christ Jesus
    • Genesis 1 v 27 God created man in his own image …male and female he created them
    • John 4 Just one of many examples from the gospels of Jesus radically departing from the norm of treating women. A respectable Jew was not supposed to address any woman, even his wife or daughter, in public.
    • Acts 21 v 9 shows that women could be recognised as having the gift of prophecy, as Philip’s daughters had.
    • 1 Cor 11 v 2-16 A passage which raises the same sort of difficulties as 1 Tim 2. But verse 5 clearly indicates that it was permitted for a woman to pray and prophesy publicly in Corinth. And in verse 16 Paul says he is enunciating the practice of all the churches then.
    • 1Cor 14 26-40 says some very similar things to 1 Tim 2. But presumably Paul hadn’t changed his mind in 3 chapters, so whatever he means can’t contradict what he’d already allowed in chapter 11. And verse 26 implies that everyone is welcome to speak. He seems in any case only to be talking about women married to a Christian husband (singles or widows couldn’t “ ask their husbands at home” v 35, and a pagan wouldn’t be much help even if they asked). He may be addressing a problem caused by the new-found liberty of women converts, who had never been educated at all, and never expected or allowed to take a serious part in religion. Perhaps their frequent queries were so holding up worship that Paul wants them, if they can, to ask their questions at home for the sake of order (verse 40).
    • Many texts show the key role of women in the work of the church and the spread of the gospel: e.g. Rom 16 v 1-15, Phil 4 v 2-3.

    The business
    The type of dressing Paul describes, if worn in a public place is that of a prostitute or other sexually available woman. It may have been that some women were dressing for worship as they had previously for the temple of Diana. It may have been that they were being encouraged to flaunt their liberty by ignoring “respectable” conventions. Either way it was open to misunderstanding and liable to distract others at worship. If our church were plagued by a group of worshippers in low-cut tops, leather micro-skirts and the like, Paul’s instruction would be very apposite. But I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that as a problem.
    And why only address the women? Well there just doesn’t seem to have been a similar problem with the men. They were too busy arguing (v 8) and are told to stop that too. (Interestingly, I don't think anyone has ever taken this instruction as a permanent bar on men debating...) And in any case although men have of course often been sexually predatory, there doesn’t seem to have been in most cultures a male equivalent of dressing to show sexual availability. If there were, the principle would apply to men too presumably.

    This is more complex. In view of the other scriptures it would seem unlikely that Paul is commanding complete silence. But he is telling the women in Ephesus to learn, rather than seek to teach. This doesn’t seem unreasonable for women who, prior to their conversion, were completely excluded from education or, if they were Jewish, from learning the scriptures. And in instructing them to learn, he is according them a full place in the community of disciples. When they have done some learning, will it still be appropriate for them not to teach? We aren’t told.
    The verb translated “have authority” appears nowhere else in the NT. In common usage it implied a pernicious domination, often in a context of sexual seduction or even murder. The worship of the goddess may have given some prominence to the utterances of female participants, perhaps in a ritual frenzy. Is it possible that, under the false teachers, seriously dangerous practices were creeping into the church from paganism, with a key part taken by some women, perhaps the same who were dressing provocatively, in going from house to house spreading the teaching. (cf chapter 5 v 13)? If so it would be very understandable that Paul says what he does. But would it be at all clear that something similar applies today?
    We need to take seriously the fact that Paul backs up his argument by referring to Genesis. Some say this answers the point plainly: Paul is giving a permanent principle based on creation and therefore universally valid. But Paul’s point in referring to Genesis is to underline the fact that women are sinners. (Were some denying it? Some modern feminists seem to come quite close to doing so!) But of course men are too. And is Paul arguing that it is all right for a man to exercise harmful, domineering authority over women? The same Paul who, for example, told women (1 Cor 7 v 4) that they had the same rights sexually over their husband’s body as he had over theirs?
    And finally what of verse 15? Who knows for certain? None of the commentators I consulted. But what does seem clear is that salvation for women depends on faith, which needs to be lived out in holiness and right behaviour. Just as it does for men. And Paul wants to underline that, contrary to what the false teachers said (chapter 4 v 3), right Christian behaviour includes marriage (although it’s not compulsory!), and therefore, for most, child-bearing. Which may also be a direct point made against the heretics. If they were forbidding marriage, they may well also have been discouraging sexual relations within marriage and therefore disapproving of the usual outcome. Paul certainly had to correct that error in writing to the Corinthians.

    On balance
    The NT is far more positive and affirming of women than otherwise: which suggests that the apparently tight restrictions are best understood as culturally specific rather than universally valid. In any case a male dominated church has often fallen woefully short of recognising the equality and complementarity of women and men. We need to commit ourselves to seeking to realise that as we try to understand God’s word to us and obey it.

    Paul Godfrey 14/6/99

  21. In response to Paul g's post, it is an interesting thought, and one to which I personally gave more weight in the past, that Paul (the Apostle's) prohibition on women teaching might be with a view to preserving the reputation of the gospel, as per 1 Tim 6:1, "All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered."

    We can see how, today, forbidding women to be ordained brings the church into disrepute within our culture. I have suggested in the past that this might be a reason to permit it!

    One difficulty with this inference, however, is that it still doesn't follow that if, for example, slavery were in the process of falling out of favour (rather than legally abolished), a slave could then treat his master with disrespect because that would win public approval. In other words, we cannot necessarily invoke public approval as justification in itself.

    A further difficulty, though, is the basis of Paul's argument from Genesis in 2:13-14, which is not 'culture specific'. Paulg acknowledges the need to take this argument "seriously", but then he doesn't seem to show us where he thinks it is going with reference to the earlier prohibition. Maybe that was something that got edited out of his original magazine article.

    On Paul g's comments about clothing and the link with prostitution, I would have to disagree. There is a parallelism between 1 Timothy and 1 Peter:

    "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God." (1 Tim 2:8-9)

    "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." (1 Pet 3:3-4)

    Yet Peter is clearly addressing wives. I therefore think there is no reason to conclude Paul is doing anything other than addressing women generally. (There are other striking parallels in the two passage which may repay further study.)

    On the meaning of authentein, lexical studies have apparently moved on considerably, and I would refer readers to a study by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in 2005. They conclude,

    “Though they have expanded and refined Knight’s analysis, the lexical studies conducted since 1985, in the Commission’s view, have strongly confirmed Knight’s basic conclusion. The studies have confirmed that the term ought to be translated “exercise authority over.” In the Commission’s view the English Standard Version accurately translates 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (Bold original)

    They dismiss the stronger tone of 'domineer' or any other suggestions about violence, etc. Go to the website and enter authentein in the Search box to find the relevant downloads.

  22. Just a couple of quick comments John (other points you make will need more reflection than a quick cup of coffee on a working day allows...)

    Don't think I made as close a link as you suggest with prostitution. My point was that there seems to have been a problem with some women (who may well have been married) dressing inappropriately for worship (or generally). I speculated about some possible cultural causes, but the main point was that if the men in that community had been dressing inappropriately, there is no reason to suppose they would not also have been corrected. Just as if the women had been neglecting their prayers in favour of arguing I imagine the apostle would have told them off too. In your pastoral ministry I imagine that, if the MU were getting drunk, or the men's fellowship gossipping, you would address your discipline to those groups, without thereby implying that it was OK for the men to get drunk or the women to gossip.

    And my point (insofar as I had one!) re Genesis was that even though reference to the creation narratives is the nearest you can get to pre-cultural norms, if you refer to them in an argument which is about a cultural context, you may still be making a culturally-specific point. So (I speculate - I admit) if the Feminine were idolised in Ephesus, and some of this were being dragged into the church, Paul may have been going to Genesis for an argument against this (the feminine is no more pure than the masculine, after all look at Eve's role...) rather than establishing a supra-cultural norm about gender roles.