What 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Means

What 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Means

This passage is not about circumscribing women’s roles in church life. It is a response to a particular situation among certain Christian women in the Ephesian congregation involving false teachers, moral and sexual asceticism, and a tyrannical and domineering attitude towards men—all of which is causing a disturbance in the force.

Christians should not carelessly impute complementarian or egalitarian perspectives on gender roles to interpreters of this passage—it is not a shorthand for alleged “apostasy.” This is my paraphrase:

Woman must learn in a calm and peaceful manner—with complete obedience. I don’t permit woman to be to be lecturing or being a domineering tyrant to man. Instead, she must be calm and peaceful. This is what I mean—men and women are partners and so a domineering attitude towards men is wrong. Also, Eve was deceived while Adam wasn’t—we need one another!

But women will be rescued from all that false teaching about men and sexual abstinence by embracing their role as mothers—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

What follows is my commentary.

A Third Rail of the New Testament

This passage is the flashpoint of the controversy about women’s roles in the church. It has drawn significant attention over the past generation as the “can women preach?” question has become more pressing. People often take one of these two approaches:

Circumscribing women’s roles

Women must remain silent during corporate worship, may never teach men, ought to be subject to their husbands via a gendered hierarchy, are somehow functionally inferior to men as evidenced by Eve’s deception by the serpent, and women’s primary role and conduit to spiritual fulfillment is to be pregnant.

One representative example is William Hendriksen. He wrote that women do not belong teaching in the church, just as fish do not belong on dry land. Spiritual welfare is imperiled if women give in to this “unholy tampering.” She is a woman; thus she cannot teach. She follows, is receptive, is a user of tools the man invents. To teach is contrary to her nature. She is only a blessing to man to the extent she realizes this fact. Sin entered creation when she chose to lead, rather than follow. Adam was not deceived, but she was—thus Hendriksen hints (but does not say) that she is intellectually inferior. Only by way of bearing children are women truly happy—though Betty Friedan would surely beg to differ.[1]

Solving a local problem in Ephesus

These advocates believe we must interpret the passage in the context of a local situation regarding some Christian women in Ephesus. This framework re-colors the whole thing in a very different hue. This means the translation choices in most English translations can be made better, and that the passage is really about Paul telling Timothy to not let certain spiritually immature female troublemakers cause disturbances in the community. 

One representative example is Linda Belleville. She emphasizes the context of the letter as an aid to interpretation, and concludes: “A reasonable reconstruction of 1 Tim. 2:11-15 would be as follows: The women at Ephesus (perhaps encouraged by the false teachers) were trying to gain an advantage over the men in the congregation by teaching in a dictatorial fashion. The men in response became angry and disputed what the women were doing … Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand and not teaching per se.”[2]

The literature on this passage is immense. Scholars continue to issue dueling essays. And so it goes. But, any competent student of koine Greek can ignore most of the literature. Any trained pastor can form reasonable and well-informed conclusions by consulting lexicons, his favorite intermediate grammar, by minding the context which prompted Paul’s letter … and only then dipping a toe (no more than that—you may not make it out alive!) into the tsunami of literature on this passage. We need not be intimidated by the oodles of paper, ink, and megabytes spilt on this passage.

My Presuppositions

These are some conclusions which guide my interpretation of the passage. In other words, I do not come to this passage as a blank slate. This is not the place to defend these presuppositions, but I do wish to disclose that they exist:

  1. Phoebe was a deacon (Rom 16:1), and thus held an office in a local church. This presumably meant she was articulate, spiritually mature, and a good Christian woman.
  2. The “women” in 1 Tim 3:11 are female deacons.
  3. Aquila and Priscilla were a church planting team; there was no gendered hierarchy at work whereby she merely “helped” her husband.
  4. Gen 2:18 does not say a woman is a subordinate “helper” to the man—an assistant’s role. The word actually expresses something like “help without which a task is impossible.” A figurative extension at Gen 2:18 would be “Eve completes Adam” as a man, because neither is complete without a relationship with the other.[3]
  5. Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche his “co-workers” in the Gospel who have “contended” with him (Phil 4:2-4). The strong “we need to get along” vibe throughout the whole letter to the Philippians may have as its object the conflict between these two women. 
  6. The Philippian church apparently met in Lydia’s home (Acts 16:13-15, 40). She may have been a leader in the church, but in any case was likely influential—Euodia and Syntyche attended worship there.
  7. The gender conflict at Genesis 3:16 is a result of the Fall, not a feature of the good creation (contra. the Danvers Statement, Affirmation 3). This suggests the New Covenant ethos would not accept a construct for the Christian marriage relationship which sees women as functional subordinates—it aims at modeling the better tomorrow (i.e. the original intent of creation) today. The Scriptures do not flatly outlaw slavery, but sane interpreters discern a trajectory which abolishes the concept as the new tomorrow draws closer. I see a similar ethos at work with gender hierarchy.[4]

I cannot accept any interpretation of this passage which suggests the following:

  1. Women are, at an innate level, intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise functionally inferior to men. I have worked alongside women for 20 years in the military and in State government. They are not functionally inferior to men in any manner relevant to the passage. Those who suggest otherwise are either sexist[5] or naïve.
  2. Women literally cannot speak during worship services.
  3. Conflict with other advice Paul has given about women’s roles in the congregation—all the advice must be rationally harmonized.
  4. Any advice that suggests women can only be happy and fulfilled if they have children.

1 Timothy Context

False teachers stalk the land in the Ephesian Christian community:

  • They focus on idle weirdness or absurd speculations, desiring to be teachers but understanding little (1 Tim 1:3-5). Some have departed from a faith centered on love and service in favor of this idle foolishness (1 Tim 1:6).
  • The focus on a pastor’s character qualities is perhaps a corrective to the false teaching (1 Tim 3:1-7), as are those of the deacons (1 Tim 3:8-10).
  • The woman deacons are specifically not to be “malicious talkers, but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (1 Tim 2:12). This focus on temperance comports quite well with Paul’s twice-repeated emphasis on calmness and peaceableness (ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ; 1 Tim 2:11-12).
  • Paul’s warning about not being hasty to lay hands on anyone is a call to be really sure pastors and deacons are stable people with proven character (1 Tim 5:22) (i.e. not like these false teachers or their women converts).
  • Paul gave instructions to Timothy so can explain how believers ought to conduct themselves in the household of faith (1 Tim 3:14-15)—presumably because false teachers have thrown everything into an uproar.
  • A bizarre sexual and moral ascetism has taken root, causing people to depart from the faith (1 Tim 4:1-5). This may be the same sexual ascetism which was at play in Corinth (1 Cor 7).
  • Younger widows are a problem in this Christian community—gossiping, spreading rumors, teaching weird things they do not understand, and some have even departed the faith (1 Tim 5:13-15; cp. 1 Tim 4:7).
  • False teachers likely bring accusations against elders, so Timothy must be cautious before entertaining these allegations (1 Tim 5:19).
  • Love of money is behind at least some of this madness (1 Tim 6:10).

Some commentators believe Artemis worship is behind the false teaching and the women in Ephesus (see Acts 19). The idea is something like “Artemis worship elevated women, and Christian women were being deceived into believing they could take that ethos into the Christian community, and so that’s why the women were being domineering tyrants and lording it over men.”

The problem is that I have not personally found any evidence to support the idea that Artemis worship taught women to elevate themselves while simultaneously denigrating men. A coterie of scholarly, reliable, general bible reference tools fails to mention this idea, which indicates this point is not as settled as its advocates would have us believe. If one must dig into specialist journals to substantiate this claim, then is it really an argument with traction? This does not mean the idea is wrong, but it should give one pause before pegging the false teaching as being connected to Artemis worship.

We can say at least this for background:

  1. Artemis worship suffused Ephesian culture.
  2. It was a major engine of the local economy.
  3. It focused on a female, virgin goddess likely linked to a fertility cult.
  4. Male eunuchs worked as priests in the Artemis temple (Strabo, Geography, 14.1.23)

One need not posit an “Artemis + female exaltation + male denigration = Ephesian false teaching” nexus in order to understand what is happening, here:

  1. Certain women are being disorderly, ostentatious, domineering.
  2. These traits are fruit of the false teaching in the church, which is characterized by idle speculations, old wives tales, asceticism, and love of money.
  3. Pastors are being accused of error, likely by the false teachers and these tyrannical women who are immature and unstable in their faith.
  4. So, the believing community is generally quite unsettled and messed up by all this.

Craig Keener’s summary is correct: “In 1 Timothy, false teachers advocating asceticism (4:3) based on the law (1:7) are undermining the work of Paul and his companions in Ephesus (1:3).”[6]

The first thing Paul wants Timothy to do is re-center the congregation around prayer, so the community can lead quiet, peaceful lives.

1 Timothy 2:1-10

1-2: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (NIV)

It’s the duty of the Church to pray on behalf of two groups; (1) all people, and (2) people in “high positions.” The two prepositions (“ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων ὑπὲρ βασιλέων …”) suggest these are two groups.

The purpose of these prayers (“ἵνα … διάγωμεν”) is so that Christians might lead peaceful and quiet lives, for the spread of the Gospel.

3-4: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (NIV)

Again, this quiet life is an aid to evangelism—a strategy so the church can be the church and get on with its mission.

5-7: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles (NIV)

This is an aside about Christ, which stems from the discussion of the church’s mission in vv. 1-4.

8: Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing (NIV)

Paul returns to his charge to Timothy that he wage the good warfare” against Satan by “holding faith and a good conscience,” (1 Tim 1:18-19). He begins with advice about the men, and here we have the first evidence about the specific problem in Ephesus which bears on our passage. The men are angry and are quarreling—but why?

There was evidently something in the air which prompted Paul to offer this advice—sane men do not generally go about being angry or disputing about stuff without some perceived justification. There is an unmentioned “something” there that is causing problems. Some disagree and think Paul is just giving instructions about prayer for no pressing reason.[7] This is simplistic—why are the men upset and the women acting the way they are? There is an elephant in this room! There is something wrong.

9-10: I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God (NIV).

Now, to the women. The Ephesian Christian women are being materially ostentatious when they ought to be modest women known for their good deeds—for Christian fruit.

Again, something is happening here that prompts Paul to write what he does. Are these twin issues—male hostility and female outward showiness—related? Because what follows centers on female Christian behavior (the men are not mentioned again),[8] they likely are related, and certain ladies are the culprits.[9] This is a uniquely Ephesian problem, and what follows ought to be interpreted in light of the specific local situation which prompted Paul to write what he did to Timothy.

I once heard an impassioned sermon where the preacher made this verse about how women should dress modestly. It is true this command is in the text, but there is something more going on. 

1 Timothy 2:11

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission (NIV)

γυνὴ ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ μανθανέτω ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ. Woodenly, this is rendered, “The woman must learn quietly, with complete submissiveness.” The ESVs rendering turns the verb into a second-person imperative directed to Timothy (“let the woman …”). This is incorrect—it is a third-person imperative with “woman” as the subject of the verb = “the woman must learn …” The NIV is correct, here.

v.11 is Paul’s summary statement, with vv. 12-14 fleshing out the issue. Women’s actions in Ephesus are a threat to the congregation, in some form or fashion. Paul is talking about women in general, not wives.[10]

Should ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ be rendered as “in quietness”? This word can refer to:[11]

  1. demeanor—an inward calm[12] or a quiet, peaceful manner[13]—in which case it means something like “without causing a disturbance”, or
  2. it literally means the woman must say little or nothing.

Due to 1 Corinthians 11:5 and to practical experience, it likely means the former. The women in Ephesus must not create disturbances, be loud, disruptive, be a loud distraction. “In the present context listening quietly with deference and attentiveness to the one teaching is indicated.”[14]

ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ (“in complete submission”). To whom must the ladies submit? Likely either to their pastors, or to God. Perhaps it is best to leave it open, but my money is on their pastors.  

We are left with a translation that reads something like, “Woman must learn in a calm and peaceful manner—with complete obedience” (ἐν conveys manner in both instances, here).

This command about manner—“in a calm and peaceful manner, in complete obedience”—suggests there is something going on in the Ephesian Christian community which prompted Paul’s remark. He is calling for a peaceful demeanor or attitude among certain ladies—something is wrong. This will be fleshed out in the verses to come.

1 Timothy 2:12

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (NIV)

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλʼ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ. “In fact (conjunction of emphasis),[15] I do not permit (verb) woman (direct object) to be teaching (infinitive direct object #1, complementing the verb) or exercising authority over (infinitive direct object #2, complementing the verb) a man.

Paul does not permit the disruptive women in the Ephesian congregation to do two things:

  1. “teach,” and
  2. αὐθεντεῖν

The word αὐθεντεῖν (in any form) occurs only here in the NT, and nowhere in the LXX or the apostolic fathers. This word’s meaning is a point of great contention in the church gender debates, but it isn’t nearly as difficult as some would have it be. One scholar suggests that standard lexicons expunge any meaning which suggests a negative sense (“domineer,” etc.).[16] This cannot be taken seriously. Still, we ought to be cautious about what this word means:

  • BDAG: “to assume a stance of independent authority.”[17]
  • Louw-Nida 37.21: “to control in a domineering manner.”
  • Liddell-Scott: “to have full power or authority over.”[18]
  • Friberg suggests, “strictly, of one who acts on his own authority; hence have control over, domineer, lord it over.”[19]
  • Mounce: “to have authority over; to domineer.”[20]
  • Moulton and Milligan suggest “master, autocrat.”[21] This analysis is likely better because it goes beyond the single NT usage.

I take Moulton and Milligan as definitive; the word does not mean “exercise authority,” here. The NIV is incorrect. It means something like “to domineer.” Context is determinative for me. Because I think certain women in Ephesus are being disruptive, disobeying their pastors, I believe a negative connotation of “domineering tyrant” is best.

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός. This is an objective genitive, with “men” acting as the implied object of the infinitives. So, we ought to render it something like “I do not permit woman to be teaching or being a domineering tyrant to man.”

What does “teach” mean? διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός.

Paul does not permit the disruptive women to be teaching or being domineering tyrants. Because I interpret “domineering tyrant” as a negative connotation, the “teaching” must also be rendered in a negative fashion.[22] The prohibitions are either positive or both negative. The negative conjunction οὐδὲ joins negative clauses of like kind together—examples abound in the New Testament where it essentially functions as an “or” to connect two negative things (Mt 6:20, 28; 1 Pet 2:22, etc.) In these circumstances, the conjunction follows on the heels of a preceding negation, and that is what we have here (οὐκ … οὐδὲ).

So, I think we are on safe ground to render the generic “to be teaching” as something more negative, like “to be giving lectures” or “to be giving diatribes.” Linda Belleville suggests the “neither … nor” construction in this case further defines a shared purpose—women should not teach with the aim of domineering over a man.[23] I am skeptical.[24] Regardless, I do not think I even need to go there if I render “teach” in the negative manner which the construction suggests.

Instead, Paul says, ἀλλʼ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ—which NIV translates “she must be quiet.” We now meet our friend ἡσυχίᾳ once more, and again it can carry one of two meanings; (1) complete silence, which is impossible to harmonize with Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 11, 14, or (2) a demeanor marked by calm peace. Because this v.12 continues on from v.11, I take the word to have the same meaning of demeanor as it did previously—it is not about “silence.” So, we are left with a phrase that means something like “Instead (a strong adversative conjunction), she must be calm and peaceful!”

So, in full, v. 12 reads: “In fact, I don’t permit woman to be to be lecturing or being a domineering tyrant to man. Instead, she must be calm and peaceful.”

Who is this representative “man” to whom the generic woman must not modify her behavior? Because the discussion of pastoral leadership follows right on the heels of this discussion, I presume the Christian women in the Ephesian congregation are being unruly, disrespectful, and abusive towards their pastor—Timothy.

What is it that they cannot teach? Likely the Gospel and its implications, because these confused women do not understand it—they are immature. The issue is that of immature Christians (who, in this specific context, happen to be women—likely younger widows) who think they know something when they in fact do not. They want to lecture, harangue, or push their diatribes onto the pastor, and they must stop. Paul will not permit it to continue, which means Timothy must end it. The issue is not “women can’t teach.” The issue is “Christians (who, in this case, happen to be women) can’t act like this!”

Where is this haranguing not to occur? I think it is best to see this as a general prohibition that it must not happen in the gathered life of the congregation. This means Sunday morning, at the Lord’s Supper, at bible study, at any event where the congregation is present or otherwise invited. To make it just about “Sunday morning” is restrictive in an artificial and cardboard manner.

1 Timothy 2:13-14

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (NIV).

Paul provides two reasons for his instructions about demeanor (the conjunction is explanatory for what came before)[25]—reasons why women must be calm and peaceful, must show full obedience, mustn’t lecture/harangue, or be domineering tyrants towards men:

  1. because Adam was made first
  2. and because Eve was deceived, and Adam was not

The difficulty is understanding what on earth Paul means to say. Are women intellectually inferior? Is Adam somehow better than Eve, because she was created after him? We must dive into the text a bit more:

πρῶτος. “Because Adam was made first, then Eve.”

This can mean either[26] (1) “first in a sequence,” which means Adam was created before Eve, or (2) “most prominent/important,” in which case Paul would mean something like “Adam was made foremost.”

The first sense is correct. This does not mean Eve is ontologically inferior. It either suggests (1) some kind of hierarchical ordering between men and women,[27] or (2) a simple sequence of events to advance a simple explanation for Paul’s prohibition on domineering conduct—Eve completed Adam as his partner, not as his domineering boss.[28]

I do not believe a hierarchical ordering is in the cards because it has a poor connection to what Paul is saying. Women must not be domineering tyrants towards pastors, must be calm and peaceful in church, must not lecture and rail at their pastors … because of male headship in the marriage relationship and the church? Would it not be better to simply say “don’t do it because it’s wrong”? That is essentially what Paul is saying in the second option, explaining the statement in v.11. He is saying, “You can’t act that way. I won’t permit it. Men and women are partners—a team!” The false teaching is producing an attitude among certain women that must be stopped!

Admittedly, this position depends on the reader importing theological freight from Genesis 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 11:11. This doesn’t mean it is wrong, but it does require one to discount the “plain meaning” in favor of a “deeper” analysis.[29]

Both perspectives believe the women are acting wrongly. Some believe the wrongness is their rebellion against male headship. I say the wrongness is their spiritual attitude of haughtiness that (for whatever reason) denigrates men, making them angry and argumentative. This is the fruit of a toxic atmosphere of false teaching + sexual and moral asceticism—something foul is in the air in Ephesus!  

ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἐξαπατηθεῖσα. What is Paul’s point when he says Adam was not deceived, but the woman was? There are at least five options available:

  • Women are spiritually or morally weaker. Allegedly, if the woman had listened to Adam, her functional superior, all would have been well. Harvey writes, “Eve, the first woman, is here regarded as representative of her sex, showing in her weakness the relative inferiority of woman in that form of intellectual and moral strength required for leadership and the exercise of authority …”[30] Women make up most of our churches. They also likely pray more. This option is incorrect. I admit I refuse to accept this option on principle.
  • Women are emotionally fragile. You can try and make that work for 1 Peter 3:7, but it will not work here. The implication is that women are intellectually stunted, no matter how hard you nuance it. Eve was too emotional to sort the thing through; she got confused. Paul never says anything about that here. He simply says she was deceived, and Adam wasn’t. There was no emotion clouding Eve’s judgment.
  • Women are intellectually inferior. No nuance, Eve just was not as smart as Adam. I work with female investigators and attorneys every day in my other life. To believe women are intellectually inferior is sinful, absurd, and insulting.  It is ridiculous. It is wrong and I refuse to accept it.
  • This is what happens when women ignore male headship. Schreiner takes this position, disclaiming any implications of functional inferiority. “In approaching Eve, then, the Serpent subverted the pattern of male leadership and interacted only with the woman. Adam was present throughout and did not intervene. The Genesis temptation, therefore, stands as the prototype of what happens when male leadership is abrogated.”[31] I simply do not see this as reality in the world, and therefore cannot take it seriously. With no malice intended, it makes as much logical sense as arguing that burgers must always be served on pretzel buns. My response to the pretzel bun and to Schreiner is to ask, “says who?” In my professional life in civil service in federal and State government, I have seen no ill-effects from a lack of “male headship,” and my own marriage has never adhered to the Danvers framework.[32] I simply see no warrant for Schreiner’s position, or for pretzel buns. And, to be blunt, the text says nothing about Eve sinning because she failed to let Adam lead her—nothing at all. To adopt that interpretation is to predicate it on something that does not exist (see Linda Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, rev. ed., James R. Beck (ed.) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 91).
  • Paul is basically saying “women aren’t always right—remember Genesis!?” In the context of criticizing certain domineering tyrant women in the Ephesian church who are influenced by false teaching, Paul points to the penultimate example of woman making an error. This need not be a sexist remark. Paul may simply be saying, in essence, “Hey, anyone can be wrong! When we go it alone we can make bad decisions—just look at what Eve did. You guys are making the same mistake!”[33]

There are no good options. I cannot accept any position which emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually denigrates women. This leaves me with no choice but to accept the last option, even though I admit it is not perfect. I think this is the best option. The others simply make less sense experientially and logically.

The true meaning in vv. 13-14 (as I understand it) cannot be brought out in translation unless you opt for a paraphrase. Here is mine: “This is what I mean—men and women are partners and so a domineering attitude towards men is wrong. Also, Eve was deceived while Adam wasn’t—we need one another!

1 Timothy 2:15

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (NIV)

This is a very difficult verse. The conjunction marks a contrast; instead of being a domineering tyrant who harangues her pastor, women will be saved through childbearing, etc., etc.

What does “saved through childbearing” mean?

  • The act of giving birth accomplishes salvation. The preposition expresses means. This is absurd and cannot mean that.
  • A veiled reference to Jesus. She will be saved by the childbearing; that is, the birth of Jesus.[34] The preposition expresses means. In this case, Eve morphs into Mary (Eve’s offspring; cp. Gen 3:15), who brings the Messiah into the world and is thus spiritually saved. This is such a veiled reference that I find it improbable. Also, Paul is writing after the cross, so this future assurance (the verb “will be saved” is indeed future) would be functionally meaningless to Christian women in Ephesus—Jesus has already come and gone! Some try to drive a wedge into the middle of the verse, whereby the “will be saved” refers to Eve (cp. Gen 3:15), and the present “if they continue” teleports us to Eve’s collective offspring in the here and now. This seems forced, but the closest antecedent to the verb “will be saved” is indeed Eve, from v.14.
  • A reference to proper roles. The women will be rescued from this aggressive and domineering ethic in connection with bearing children. The preposition is attendant circumstance, and the “saving” is not spiritual but temporal—there is no way on earth the “saving” could be spiritual and still fit the rest of Scripture. So, this would be a summary swipe against the entire worldview of these immature Christian women, who are evidently embracing the sexual asceticism Paul will soon mention (“they forbid people to marry,” 1 Tim 4:3). It is tempting to see a proto-feminism at work here, but I think that is too fraught with anachronisms and the potential for misunderstanding and knee-jerk rejection to use profitably, even if it does communicate well when properly understood. The fact is that these women are being domineering, arrogant, overbearing, contemptuous of men, and do not respect authority—they do not know what they do not know. They can be saved from this road that leads to misery by embracing their role as prospective mothers rather than shunning it.[35] This does not mean a woman is only complete if she is pregnant; it just means it is wrong to deliberately hate the gender God gave you, and the defining characteristic of female gender is the ability to conceive life.
  • Childbearing as a temporal trial to be overcome. Henry Alford suggests this one. This childbearing is a woman’s particular cross to bear (Gen 3:16), if she passes through this test and yet perseveres in faith, love, etc. The childbearing is the woman’s hinderance in the way of salvation, but if she pushes through (no pun intended) she shall be saved. 

The third option is the best, because it fits contextually, but it relies on a bit of work from the reader. However—and this is critical—it would not have been a chore for Timothy to get what Paul meant! After all, it was a letter to him, about his problems, in his church. He knew exactly what Paul meant. We must put ourselves into Timothy’s position, in light of the context we can glean from the letter, to discern what Paul must have meant. Of these three options, the third is frankly the only one which makes sense.

A rendering would look like this: “But women will be rescued from all that false teaching about men and sexual abstinence by embracing their role as mothers—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

My Rendering of the Passage

Here is my full rendering of 1 Tim 2:11-15, in light of everything I have discussed:

“Woman must learn in a calm and peaceful manner—with complete obedience. I don’t permit woman to be to be lecturing or being a domineering tyrant to man. Instead, she must be calm and peaceful. This is what I mean—men and women are partners and so a domineering attitude towards men is wrong. Also, Eve was deceived while Adam wasn’t—we need one another!

But women will be rescued from all that false teaching about men and sexual abstinence by embracing their role as mothers—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

Dangerous Waters?

It is difficult to analyze this passage and set aside the freight which comes along with it. One the one hand, Wayne Grudem declares “evangelical feminism” is the slippery road to ruin. “[T]he egalitarian position ultimately bears various kinds of destructive fruit in people’s lives.”[36] On one recent podcast featuring two speakers from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and a seminary president, one man remarked that egalitarianism had its “toes pointed” in the direction of another religion.[37]

On the other hand, the editors of Discovering Biblical Equality protest that males do not have unilateral leadership authority simply because they are males—“[t]hat is the main argument of this volume.”[38]

Grudem (et al) suggests liberalism and sexual and gender confusion await us all if we fail to hold the line.[39] This is perhaps why like-minded scholars have banded together to produce three editions of a book devoted to 1 Timothy 2:9-15. The barbarians are at the gates, and so the complementarian fort must be held. Au contraire, I’m not convinced that one’s interpretation of this passage is a short-hand for liberalism, a slippery slope to drag queen story hour, or imputes the full freight of complementarian or egalitarian perspectives.


[1] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, in NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1957), pp. 108-112.

[2] Linda Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies In Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Priscilla Papers 17:3 (Summer 2003), p. 9.

[3] “The naming of the animals, a scene which portrays man as monarch of all he surveys, poignantly reveals him as a social being, made for fellowship, not power: he will not live until he loves, giving himself away (24) to another on his own level. So the woman is presented wholly as his partner and counterpart; nothing is yet said of her as childbearer. She is valued for herself alone,” (Derek Kidner, Genesis, in TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 70).

For examples of where this word certainly doesn’t connote a subordinate assistant kind of role, see (1) Ex 18:4: God is Moses’ “helper,” which surely doesn’t indicate a subordination; (2) Deut 33:7 (cf. 33:29): Moses blesses tribe of Judah, and prays for God to be its “helper”―again, not a subordinate concept; (3) Isa 30:5: Isaiah taunts Israelites for seeking “help” from Egypt―not a subordinate relationship!; (4) Ezek 12:14: God taunts the King of Judah and promises to thwart all his “helpers” who plan to help him escape the coming captivity―not a subordinate relationship = he is lost without them; (5) Hos 13:9: God is Israel’s “helper” = not a subordinate relationship; (6) Ps 20:2: God sends “help” from his sanctuary when God’s people pray = not a subordinate relationship; (7) Ps 70:5: God is the psalmist’s “help;” (8) Ps 89:19: God gives “help” to David when He chooses Him to be king; (9) Ps 121:1-2 (cf. Ps 124:8; 146:5): The psalmist lifts his eyes up to the hills and wonders from where his “help” comes = it is from God!; (10) Dan 11:34: God will give the wise ones “help” during the time of tribulation.

I could go on, but this sampling makes the point. The woman is not a “helper,” but a partner without whom the other is incomplete—and vice versa.

[4] This is a redemptive-movement approach. “Relative to when and where the words of Scripture were first read, they spoke redemptively to their given communities. Yet, to stay with the isolated words of the text instead of their spirit leads to an equally tragic misreading. To neglect reapplying the redemptive spirit of the text adds a debilitating impotence to a life-transforming gospel that should be unleashed within our modern world. Such an approach truncates the application process; it severely dwarfs the positive potential of Scripture,” (William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001), p. 50).

[5] By this, I mean prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against women on the basis of sex. See “sexism, n.2”. OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/177027 (accessed December 02, 2022). 

[6] Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), p. 600.

[7] Walter Lock, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastor Epistles, in ICC (reprint; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1959), p. 29. 

[8] “The passage addresses women (2:9-15) in considerably more detail than men (2:8) here, perhaps because women are erring more severely in this congregation,” (Keener, Bible Background, p. 605).

[9] Thomas Schreiner says we lack enough information to make this conclusion (“An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in Women in the Church, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Andreas Kostenberger (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), p. 125). I think Schreiner is being rather too careful, here. 

[10] Schreiner’s analysis is correct (“An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” pp. 126-127). Lock disagrees (Pastoral Epistles, p. 32).

[11] BDAG, s.v. “ἡσυχίᾳ,” p. 440.

[12] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), s.v. “ἡσυχίᾳ,” p. 193.

[13] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), s.v. 88.103, p. 753.

[14] I. Howard Marshall and Philip H. Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, in ICC (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), p. 453.

[15] I’m tempted to see the conjunction as explanatory, but Richard Young cautions that this is a very rare usage (Intermediate Greek, p. 183). BDAG doesn’t even list the category (p. 213).

[16] Al Wolters, “The Meaning of αὐθεντεῖν,” in Women in the Church, p. 80.

[17] BDAG, s.v. “αὐθεντέω,” p. 150.

[18] Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised by Henry Jones and Robert McKenzie (Oxford: OUP, 1968), s.v. “αὐθεντέω,” p. 275.

[19] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), s.v. “αὐθεντέω,” p. 81.

[20] William Mounce (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), s.v. “αὐθεντέω,” p. 1101.

[21] James H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 91. See also (1) G. Abbott-Smith, Manual Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1937), p. 68; (2) A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4 (Nashville: Broadman, 1931), 1 Tim 2:12; (3) Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers: A Critical and Explanatory Commentary, New Edition., vol. 2 (London; Rivingtons; Deighton, Bell and Co., 1872), p. 521; (4) Marshall and Towner, First Letter to Timothy, p. 457; (5) also the discussion by Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, pp. 210-221; (6) Lock, Pastoral Epistles, p. 32.

[22] “In the context the fact that Eve was deceived is cited as a parallel, and this strongly suggests the conclusion that behind the present prohibition lies some particular false teaching by some women. Otherwise, the reference to Eve’s being deceived and sinning is pointless,” (Marshall and Towner, First Letter to Timothy, p. 458).

[23] Linda Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, 3rd edition, ed. Ronald Pierce, Cynthia Westfall, and Christa McKirkland (Downers Grove: IVP, 2021), pp. 222-223. 

[24] Some scholars also claim the two infinitives (“be lecturing … being a domineering tyrant”) convey a single idea. This is desperate reasoning. The concepts Paul communicates are separate, though related. They are certainly not the same. 

[25] Efforts to make the conjunction not be explanatory are very weak and cannot be taken seriously. 

[26] BDAG, s.v. “πρῶτος,” 1, 2; pp. 892-894.  

[27] William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, in Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 46 (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), p. 130.

[28]  “If the sense of verse 12 is that women are not permitted to teach men in a domineering fashion, then verse 13 would provide the explanation, namely, that Eve was created as Adam’s ‘partner’ (NRSV Gen 2:24) and not his boss,” (Linda Belleville, “Exegetical Fallacies In Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Priscilla Papers 17:3 (Summer 2003), p. 8).

[29]  Schreiner remarks, “The complementarian view has the virtue of adopting the simplest reading of the text,” (“An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” p. 138).

Some interpreters think Paul is correcting a proto-gnostic heresy that perverts the real creation story and may be the root of the false teaching. This may be possible, but I’m not convinced. See Marg Mowczko, “Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature and 1 Timothy 2:13-14,” 09 March 2015. https://margmowczko.com/adam-and-eve-in-gnostic-literature/.

[30] H. Harvey, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, First and Second Timothy and Titus, and the Epistle to Philemon, in American Commentary, ed. Alvah Hovey (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1980), pp. 34-35. 

[31] Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” p. 145.

[32] I disagree with the concept of male headship as described in Danvers, Affirmation 5. Rather, I agree with Application 3 from the “Men, Women, and Biblical Equality” Statement from CBE International (https://bit.ly/3isOyyZ).  

“In the Christian home, husband and wife are to defer to each other in seeking the fulfill each other’s preferences, desires, and aspirations. Neither spouse is to seek to dominate the other, but each is to act as servant of the other, in humility considering the other as better than oneself. In case of decisional deadlock they should seek resolution through biblical means of conflict resolution rather than by one spouse imposing a decision upon the other.”

This is not the forum to litigate this understanding of mutual submission, but it informs my rejection of Schreiner’s “this is what happens when women ignore headship” proposal.

[33] Marshall and Towner propose much the same thing. “Later Gnosticism is not necessary as a basis for this in view of the foundation that a realised resurrection doctrine might provide (see Schlarb 1990). If it is teaching in a way that misuses authority and domineers and if women were forcing their way into the teaching rota on the basis of an enthusiastic understanding of the reversal of fortunes connected with the Eschaton, then v. 13 merely calls for balance and a respect for their first-created male counterparts (cf. Witherington 1986:123). If a claim to the women’s right to teach was being defended by appeal to the Adam—sinner representative model (Rom 5), then v. 14 counters with an effective illustration of longstanding precedent that parallels the Ephesian women with their present state of deception at the hands of false teachers.

The conclusion to be drawn is that two closely related things were happening. The women were associated with the heretical teaching of the opponents and they were exercising their role as teachers in a way that was not acceptable and that appears to have been based on the heretical teaching with a bizarre interpretation of Gen 1–3. The author responds to them by insisting that Gen 1–3 does not support their claim to have authority over men,” (First Timothy, pp. 466-467).

[34] Lock, Pastoral Epistles, p. 33. 

[35] Marshall and Towner write, “The point is probably directed against a belief that women should abstain from childbirth, just as they should abstain from marriage (cf. Kimberley*, who reads the text against a later Gnostic background). Though they may not teach, women will still be saved by fulfilling their Christian duty in motherhood,” (First Timothy, p. 470).

[36] Wayne Grudem, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), p. 301. 

[37] Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, “Complementarianism in the Church,” timestamp 14:30 – 16:00, 27 October 2022. https://spoti.fi/3ufe2Cl.  

[38] Ronald W. Pierce, Cynthia Westfall, and Christa McKirland (eds.), Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural & Practical Perspectives, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2021), p. 6. 

[39] Grudem, Countering the Claims, pp. 282-284. 

Telling the Better Story: Christians and “Pride Month”

Telling the Better Story: Christians and “Pride Month”

Introduction[1]

Fade in on the little town of Bomont, presumably in rural Illinois. At a pulpit in a small local church is the Reverend Shaw Moore. He’s fond of crazed pastoral rants against dancing. You may recognize him—he’s the angry pastor-dad from Footloose.

There are still some Reverend Shaw’s around—less than there used to be, but still plenty everywhere. He epitomizes the wrong way to think about the sexual and gender confusion in our society.

What should Christians think about Pride Month?

This article is not about “why it’s wrong.” It’s not a list of “unstoppable” answers to “destroy” the opposition. Instead, it’s a proposal for a better way to think about these issues. It proceeds in five stages:

  1. A snapshot of reality in 2022—a quick assessment for the church
  2. Stories or scripts … and you
  3. The LGBTQ script
  4. The Christian script
  5. What should Christians think about Pride Month?

Where We Are—A Frank Assessment of Reality in 2022

I’ll share three snapshots of the reality of life in the West, in 2022. These are not crazed stories from dark corners on the web. They’re from mainstream news outlets:

Trans people are … cathedrals?

The first anecdote is a short video from Middle Church, in New York City. This church has a pastor on staff who boasts in his bio that he won the seminary drag contest. The video’s thesis is that “trans people are cathedrals.”[2] Like cathedrals, trans people are always in flux, always being remodeled, expanded, contracted—being restored. And like cathedrals, the narrator intones, trans bodies are sacred, holy spaces.  

Sarah and Dickie

In Dusseldorf, there lives a 23-year-old woman named Sarah Rodo, who wishes to marry her toy Boeing 737, which she’s named “Dicki” (for reasons about which I dare not speculate).[3] One news article features Sarah clad in lingerie, bathed in a deep red light, cradling Dickie in her arms. The caption notes, “Sarah says she is particularly attracted to Dicki’s face, wings and engine.”[4]

Sweet Miku

Thirdly, I present a Japanese man who has married a plush doll depicting a fictional anime character:[5]

… life with Miku, he argues, has advantages over being with a human partner: She’s always there for him, she’ll never betray him, and he’ll never have to see her get ill or die. Mr. Kondo sees himself as part of a growing movement of people who identify as ‘fictosexuals.’

What does this reality mean?

It means people increasingly have no idea what Christianity is or what it means—it’s parallel to us recoiling at Sarah and poor Dickie! And, because nothing is more personal than sex or felt identity, this means there will only be increasing confusion and anger at Christians as we oppose the sexual redefinitions entrenched in our society. So, we need to explain the Christian story to them like they know and understand nothing—because they probably don’t. We need more than, “Jesus loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That means nothing to many people, today.

If that is the case, then I suggest three wrong approaches that will likely have to die, especially regarding sexual ethics, because of this reality:

First: a retail (“come to me”) evangelism model is weak, and it always has been.

The “if we have the event at the church building, they will come!” mindset needs to die. If you are in the rural or semi-urban Midwest or South, this may not apply.

Second, the death of the confrontational model.

Because of the cultural disconnect between Christ and culture, “one off” evangelistic encounters are likely not enough by themselves to be successful[6]—the “gap” is too much! Could one conversation with Sarah (the plane girl) convince you to initiate a sexual relationship with a toy plane? That’s the “gap” you’re dealing with, in some cases. This gap will only grow!

Salvation is a cultivating process[7] (e.g. parable of the sower, Mt 13:3-8—see also the Rainer model[8]), so relationships and roles are important. When you have a relationship with people, you earn the right to speak truth. In this cultivation cycle, you don’t always know your role—you’re likely a waystation on the person’s spiritual trajectory.   

Third, lots of law, but little or no grace.

This is Rev Shaw’s way. The vibe is not evangelism, but disgust and distance. You change your statement of faith to “keep the gays away.” You amend your by-laws so “they” can’t “force you” to use your church building in a way you disapprove. The goal is isolation from “those people.” This is the default model in many traditional churches—usually led by older pastors from a different era

So, we need something more—we need to “tell the better story.”  Accordingly, there are at least two wrong attitudes that achieve nothing that we ought to throw overboard:

First, don’t be full of anger and outrage.  

This common attitude is directly opposite to what the parable of the weeds and the wheat tell us (Mt 13:24ff).[9] In that parable, the field is the world. Jesus likens the kingdom situation to this world. What’s the situation? The world is a mess—a mixed bag. Good wheat is intermingled with the weeds. The kingdom’s servants ask whether they ought to go pull the weeds up. Jesus says no—wait until the end, and the angels will harvest the field appropriately. Until then, this world will remain a mess.

This false model assumes:

  • The world should be a pure world—a Christian world,
  • But, it ain’t like that,
  • So, that makes us mad,
  • So, we wage a crusade to “take America back” for God.

This is a lie. The true model, from the parable, is that this world is and will remain very messy. So, sexual and gender confusion reign. Big surprise! The second wrong attitude is just as deadly:

Second, don’t be warm Jello.

In our quest to “listen,” we forget God really does have something to say about sexual ethics—and has a message of liberation from wrong ideas and desires.

What’s Your Story?

Everyone has a “story” or a “script” that shapes their view of the world. The filter thru which they interpret things, understand themselves, and their place and role in the world. It answers the “big questions” of life. This “script” also answers more immediate, practical questions:

  • Who do I love?
  • Who can I love?
  • What is a man?
  • What is a woman?
  • How do I know who am I?
  • What’s expected of me and how do I live up to it?

So, the Japanese guy who married a doll has a story.

Sarah Rodo, the plane girl, has a story.

People confused by their gender have a story.

People confused about their sexual feelings have a story.

You may not like it or understand it, but they each have a script that they’ve made up or adopted that makes their choices “make sense” to them and gives them an identity.

Mark Yarhouse, a Christian psychologist out of Wheaton College who specializes in sexual and gender issues, identifies three stages for identity:[10]

  1. Dilemma. My experiences and feelings are not what’s “normal” or “expected.”
  2. Development. The business of finding, sorting, and weighing answers to these dilemmas.
  3. Synthesis. Your solution to the problem—you figure out “who you are” and come to some conclusions.

How you sort all this out depends on what “script” or “story” you find most persuasive about life. Like actors with their scripts for their roles, our “script” gives us our cues, tells us our lines, and lets us know what’s expected of us—“this is your part, this is your role, and this is how we expect you to play it.”

For example, in some generic flavors of American culture today:

  • A 19-year-old boy can’t come back to live at home, because that would make him a loser. But, a girl of the same age can come home without stigma.
  • A man who sleeps around is a hero, but a woman who does the same is morally bankrupt.
  • A man “should” like hunting, fishing, shooting guns, and grilling. A woman “should” like Hobby Lobby, journaling, and Lifetime movies.

None of these are biblically mandated, but they’re real, they’re out there, and they’re “the script” many of us accept as “the way things are.” We learned the script at home, at school, from friends, from family, from experience. They’re baked into everything. The key tell is that these scripts are more felt or implied, than explained.

We have “lines” for sexual feelings + gender, too—but what if these roles don’t fit you very well? Someone’s gonna hand them a new script, a different script—one that claims to “explain” their feelings. It’ll either be the world’s script—the LGBTQ script—or it’ll be Christ’s script. Or it’ll be both. But someone’s gonna hand them a script.

The LGBTQ Script[11]

The LGBTQ community has a script to hand to confused people.[12] I present to you the Gingerbread Person:

Here’s a precis of the LGTBQ script:

  1. Your feelings are natural, good, and healthy.
  2. You need to discover “who you are,” and working out your true “gender identity”[13] is the key to your self-discovery.
  3. Your sexual attractions and/or inner feelings about your gender are the core of who you are as a person—it’s your identity!
  4. So, your sexual behavior and/or gender expression is the fruit of your identity.
  5. The only way you can be “true to yourself” is to live out that identity before the world

This is a very powerful script. If you’re a confused 15-year-old girl, what do you think she’ll find more compelling?

  1. Embrace sexual attractions or inner feelings to “discover who you really are?”
  2. Or, a guy with a “Footloose preacher” vibe: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”

The Better Story

Taking a strictly defensive “Alamo approach”[14] is the wrong way to respond. This includes (but is not limited to) sermons from Leviticus, amendments to the doctrinal statement to “protect” the church, and anger and rage a la Rev. Shaw.

The right way is to tell a different story; a better story! Identity is not about  feelings as the pathway to self-discovery, but a choice about love and loyalty—will you follow your feelings or will you follow God?

What does God’s story say about identity? The best synopsis is from 1 Peter 2:9-11:

  1. You can be a part of something infinitely larger than yourself.
  2. Part of a chosen people.
  3. Part a royal priesthood to show and tell God’s story of love to the world.
  4. A citizen of a holy nation—one that transcends any nationalist loyalties from the here and now.
  5. Part of God’s special possession to tell about His mercy and love.

God came to rescue us from ourselves, give us a new name, a new family, a new heart, a new mind, and a better tomorrow. This identity is part of a story:

  1. God is making a community,
  2. thru Jesus the King,
  3. for His coming kingdom

You think the bible’s story is about salvation? Covenant? Kingdom? Promise? No—all these are waypoints in aid of something fundamentally simpler—a community, a restoration of the fellowship we were made to have with God and with each other.

This story has at least three plot moves:

  1. Creation. God made everything, and He made it good.
  2. Fall. Our first parents ruined it all, when Satan deceived them.  
  3. Rescue. God’s plan to fix the mess, thru Jesus the King.

What place does Jesus offer us in this story?

  1. Identity—join me!
  2. Peace—reconciliation!
  3. Purpose—to be royal priests!
  4. Renovation—to remodel our hearts and minds to mirror His!

Tell the Better Story

Think with me, now—isn’t this such a different story than the LGBTQ script? Isn’t it such a better response than to only circle the wagons and preach angry sermons from Leviticus 18?

There is a concept in military strategy called “peer competitor,” which refers to an evenly matched geo-political foe. For example, China is a near peer competitor with the USA and some believe they will likely outmatch us within one or two generations.  

The Footloose preacher is not a peer competitor to the LGBTQ script. He’s a babe in the woods, ranting at the sky—an artifact from very different era. He isn’t interested in telling the better story—only in the “purity” of his tribe.

But, the Christian story is more than a “peer competitor” to the LGBTQ script. It’s an alternative story—a better story. So, churches and their people must tell that story, persuade, make people think, beg them to see Jesus and His love.

We must give people real answers to real questions about a sexual or gender script that don’t feel they fit into very well. Basically, we need to tell the better story—the Gospel story.

For the sermon from this material, you can find the audio version here:

You can watch the sermon here:


[1] See also my sermon of the same title from 26 June 2022 at https://youtu.be/rSkL0WWhbDs.

[2] See “Trans Cathedrals: Beauty in Becoming,” (23 June 2022) on Middle Church’s (https://www.middlechurch.org/) YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/_jy1YnrGK54.

“Cathedrals are trans bodies—beautiful and holy in every inch and in every moment of existence. They are beautiful and holy when they are first built, and beautiful when they are altered and edited, and they are beautiful and holy in the midst of that change. Even engulfed in scaffolding, even in the midst of a collapse. And their holiness and beauty is reflected in the lives of trans people—who do not only mimic the form of Christ on the cross but contain in their bodies the holiness of creation”

[3] Liam Coleman, “ AIR YOU JOKING? I’m turned on by planes and one day want to marry my toy Boeing,” The U.S. Sun. 30 May 2022. https://www.the-sun.com/news/5455665/turned-on-planes-marry/.

[4] See https://nypost.com/2022/05/31/woman-sexually-attracted-to-planes-wants-to-marry-toy-boeing/. This is a re-print of The U.S. Sun’s article, but it contains an additional photograph with the caption which I quoted. 

[5] Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno, “This Man Married a Fictional Character. He’d Like You to Hear Him Out,” New York Times. 24 April 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/business/akihiko-kondo-fictional-character-relationships.html.  

[6] “Many Christians learned a mechanical, aggressive approach to evangelism. We attended workshops and read books based on techniques developed by people who have the gift of evangelism. That is the problem. When those of us who are not gifted evangelists muster up the courage to try these techniques, the results are usually disappointing—which makes us feel guilty and often offends others. We begin to think of ourselves as substandard disciples who are simply not able to share our faith. Although we want to see friends and colleagues come to Christ, we stop trying out of fear and frustration.

The problem is one of perspective, not inability. We tend to think of evangelism as an event, a point in time when we explain the gospel message and individuals put their faith in Jesus on the spot. Done!” (Bill Peel and Walt Larrimore, Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work (Longview: LeTourneau Press, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 196).

[7] Peel and Larrimore, Workplace Grace, KL 258.  

[8] Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages as Keys to Sharing Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003; Kindle ed.), KL 863. 

[9] See my sermon, “Cosmic Risk—The Parable of the Weeds.” 03 April 2022. https://youtu.be/RcBJnM9da1I?t=3251

[10] Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), p. 46.

[11] The approach here is inspired most directly by Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian, ch. 2. A good deal of what follows is from his work.   

[12] See, for example, the latest discussion of the Gingerbread Person at https://www.genderbread.org/. See also the Gender Unicorn for a similar discussion, at https://transstudent.org/gender/.

[13] See “What is Gender Dysphoria?” at https://psychiatry.org/Patients-Families/Gender-Dysphoria/What-Is-Gender-Dysphoria

[14] See my article “Christ, Culture, and the Church,” EccentricFundamentalist.com. 06 June 2022.  https://eccentricfundamentalist.com/2022/06/06/christ-culture-and-the-church/.

Review: The Making of Biblical Womanhood

Review: The Making of Biblical Womanhood

Beth Allison Barr’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood released on 20 April 2021. It provides a historical argument for egalitarianism and it has taken the evangelical world by storm. Many are not pleased. On 30 April 2021, one Twitter user who sports an avatar of John Calvin in a suit asked, “Why do all the anti-patriarchy chicks seem to cut their own hair?” James White liked the tweet.

The same day, Desiring God sallied forth with an article arguing that a man is a prophet, priest and king to his wife.

On Mother’s Day 2021, three Southern Baptist seminary presidents felt compelled to tweet about women preachers by quoting various 19th century theologians who supported slavery. Adam Greenway cited B.H. Carroll, who served in the Confederate Army for two years. Danny Akin replied to Greenway and declared, “He is correct my friend. 100%. The Bible is crystal clear.” Al Mohler quoted John Broadus, who was a Confederate Army chaplain. Beth Moore replied, “Happy Mother’s Day, Al.”

Barr’s book released not long after Kristin Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, and together they offer a formidable scholarly critique of complementarian theology.

Barr takes a risk by not making her book cold and formal. It is academic, but colored throughout by her very personal story. Early on she declares “my husband was fired after he challenged church leadership over the issue of women in ministry,” (p. 3). She lays her cards in the table and states “Complementarianism is at its root misogynistic … based on a handful of verses read apart from their historical context and used as a lens to interpret the rest of the Bible. The tail wags the dog …” (pp. 5, 6).

She recounts her years of quiet frustration as her own views on women in the church shifted. “I stayed silent when I wasn’t allowed to teach youth Sunday school because the class included teenage boys. I led discussions with special permission when no one else was available,” (p. 5).

Barr is not an angry “feminist” with a “radical agenda.” She is an evangelical Baptist who is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at Baylor University. She holds both the MA and PhD in Medieval History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Barr spends little time exegeting biblical texts; there are many resources which fight that battle.[1] But, she is impeccably credentialed to speak to this issue from a historical perspective and that is her unique contribution to the discussion. “It was historical evidence that showed me how biblical womanhood was constructed—brick by brick, century by century,” (p. 10).

Barr uses the term “patriarchy” throughout her book, rather than “complementarianism.” Patriarchy is “a general system that values men and their contributions more than it values women and their contributions,” (p. 16). She observes that Russell Moore claims Christian patriarchy is different, in that women only submit to their own husbands. But, Barr says, this is a distinction without a difference―patriarchy is still patriarchy. “It cannot be peeled off suit coats like a name tag as evangelical men move from denying women’s leadership at church to accepting the authority of women at work or women in the classroom,” (p. 18).

What if, Barr suggests, we ought to flip the narrative? “Instead of assuming that patriarchy is instituted by God, we must ask whether patriarchy is a product of sinful human hands,” (p. 25). This is not a new question. Is female submission an original aspect of creation, or is it result of the Fall?  But how to move this conversation forward? Both sides are well-entrenched. Barr declares, “Historical evidence about the origins of patriarchy can move the conversation forward,” (p. 32). She then spends the rest of her book doing just that.

Patriarchy is not part of God’s good creation. The fact that some flavor of patriarchy has always existed is a clue for the Church. “Isn’t it ironic (not to mention tiresome) that we spend so much time fighting to make Christianity look like the world around us instead of fighting to make it look like Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t it be the other way around,” (p. 37)?

In her second chapter, Barr suggests we misread Paul if we see him upholding patriarchy. Rather, Paul pushes against that construct from within that world. “[W]hat if Paul was teaching Christians to live differently within their Roman context? Rather than New Testament ‘texts of terror’ for women, what if the household codes can be read as resistance narratives to Roman patriarchy,” (p. 46)? She offers numerous quotations from medieval sermons to suggest modern evangelicals read Paul as they do because their ecclesiastical culture blinds them. She especially takes issue with attempts to interpret Ephesians 5:22ff as a separate paragraph from Ephesians 5:21 (p. 50f).

Barr’s third chapter is perhaps her most powerful, because here she is in her element as a medieval historian. She introduces the reader to several women preachers and their “cloud of witnesses.” Her argument is not, “See, women have preached before, so it must be ok!” Rather, she argues, “You’re interpreting the bible wrong. See, look at all the other voices from the Church that have seen it differently. Grudem doesn’t have the last word!” She observed,

I knew the problem wasn’t a lack of women leading in church history. The problem was simply that women’s leadership has been forgotten, because women’s stories throughout history have been covered up, neglected, or retold to recast women as less significant than they really were (p. 84).

Patriarchal tendencies have always led church authorities to push back. “The problem was male clergy who undermined the evidence,” (p. 87). She then follows with a delightful chapter on the Reformation’s impact on women, and how the role of “being a wife” was redefined as the highest ideal. “As the household became more firmly established as a woman’s space, professional work became more firmly identified as a man’s space,” (p. 109).

Her fifth chapter tackles the issue of gender-inclusive bible translations. She notes the ESV had its genesis in a kerfuffle about “changes” to the NIV. “The uproar among evangelicals was instantaneous. Gender-inclusive language was no longer just an argument over proper translation; it was the slippery slope of feminism destroying biblical truth,” (p. 131). Barr writes:

The ESV was a direct response to the gender-inclusive language debate. It was born to secure readings of Scripture that preserved male headship. It was born to fight against liberal feminism and secular culture challenging the Word of God.

As a medieval historian who specializes in English sermons, the debate over gender-inclusive translations amuses me. It amuses me because the accusers depict gender-inclusive Bible translations as a modern, secular trend fueled by the feminist movement. Yet, as a medieval historian, I know that Christians translated Scripture in gender-inclusive ways long before the feminist movement (pp. 132-133).

She then chronicles the rise of the cult of domesticity and its emphasis on saving men from sexual immorality by emphasizing female purity. Barr draws on work by other historians and summarizes this mindset as consisting of piety, purity, submission, and domesticity (pp. 165-166). Women are naturally more religious than men and are thus ideally suited to pass these values on to children. Women are not sexual creatures and must be protected from predators. Real women are not emotionally or temperamentally suited to be leaders and will want to follow a strong man. Women are not meant to work outside the home, so women’s education should focus on domestic skills (e.g. home economics).

“Indeed,” Barr argues, “doesn’t biblical womanhood just seem like an updated version of the cult of domesticity? Instead of biblical womanhood stemming from the Bible, it stems from a gender hierarchy developed in the wake of the Industrial Revolution to deal with the social and economic changes wrought by work moving outside the home,” (p. 166).

Thus,

Instead of just being something that women usually did, domestic prowess in the home (centered on the family) now became something that good Christian women should do because it is what we are designed to do. It is our primary calling in this world. Domesticity, for evangelical women, is sanctified (p. 159).

In that vein, Owen Strachan, a theologian at Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, recently tweeted this:

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I do not believe Barr would argue domesticity is bad. But, I do believe she would insist it does not have to be the only sphere in which women can meaningfully contribute to Christ’s coming kingdom.

Patriarchy, Barr argues, adapts to changing circumstances. “Like racism, patriarchy is a shapeshifter—conforming to each new era, looking as if it has always belonged,” (p. 186).

She identifies eternal functional subordination as heresy.[2] “Arianism, like inerrancy, proved the perfect weapon against women’s equality, the perfect prop for Christian patriarchy. Except it is still heresy. Arianism repackaged,” (p. 196).

This is an extremely well-researched book. Each chapter is replete with copious footnotes and historical examples. Indeed, perhaps her book’s greatest strength is its role as a tour guide to a world of scholarly historical monographs on gender roles in the West. Populist readers may dismiss Barr out of hand. More careful readers will see her arguments deserve careful consideration.

We all know pre-understanding clouds interpretation. I once had a woman tell me she believed someone who did not believe in the pre-tribulational rapture could be a Christian. This woman did not know other eschatological frameworks existed. Has our cultural heritage blinded our interpretation on the role of women in the Church?

I have two critiques. Barr’s definition of “patriarchy” is abstract, and thus I believe she erred by not using the “Danvers Statement” to better define her target. It would have been helpful if Barr had aligned herself with some mile marker in this debate. Perhaps CBE International’s Men, Women, and Biblical Equality Statement” would have been appropriate. Also, her attempt to tie the fundamentalist-modernist controversy to patriarchy is an unfortunate misstep,[3] and Barr seems out of her element here.[4]

Should you read the book?

If you are a conservative, theological populist, then you will probably not like this book. If you follow and enjoy Tom Buck, Denny Burk, Tom Ascol, Owen Strachan, and self-proclaimed “1689 Baptists” on social media, you will probably not like this book. This is why you ought to read it anyway.

If you want to hear a scholarly, reasoned, and formidable historical argument for egalitarianism, read this book.

If you want to explore a path less traveled than arguments about the grammar of 1 Timothy 2:12-14, read this book.

If you want to read some of the best of what the other side has to offer, read this book.

If you enjoy reading substantive arguments that challenge you, read this book.

If you believe women are called to do more than work in the nursery, teach elementary-age children, and teach younger women in the church, then read this book.

Notes

1 See (1) Ronald Price (ed.), Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005) and (2) John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds.), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, rev. ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021).

2 For context to this issue, see Millard Erickson, Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordinationist Debate (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009).  

3 “… the early twentieth-century emphasis on inerrancy went hand in hand with a wide-ranging attempt to build up the authority of male preachers at the expense of women. As we have seen, preaching women peppered the landscape of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America: they flooded the mission field as evangelists and leaders, and they achieved popular acclaim as preachers among Pentecostal and even fundamentalist denominations. As these women rose in prominence, so too rose inerrancy teachings. And these teachings buttressed male authority by diminishing female authority—transforming a literal reading of Paul’s verses about women into immutable truth,” (p. 189).

4 Barr admits she knew little about the fundamentalist-modernist battles and had to receive a crash course from a colleague at a conference (p. 187).