From comments I have received I present these brief responses in question and answer format. For a fuller presentation of my position, see my essay, “What Women Can Do in Ministry: Full Participation within Biblical Boundaries.” For answers to other questions, see Schreiner and Köstenberger’s
1. You say that you don’t think women should teach or exercise authority over men because of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, but which part of that passage is normative? Do we forbid the wearing of expensive clothing?
If a woman were to obey 1 Timothy 2:9 and wear inexpensive clothing, but fail to obey 1 Timothy 2:10 and not adorn herself with good works, would she be doing what Paul wants? Here’s my point: when Paul says that women should be adorned with good works not expensive clothing, he is not saying “no expensive clothing for any women under any circumstances.” Rather, he is saying, “women should be marked by their deeds not their apparel. Women should be known for what they do not what they wear.” A woman who scrupulously avoids any expensive apparel but is not adorned with good deeds would only be obeying this command in a Pharisaic sense.
Is it possible for some things that are relatively expensive to actually help women adorn themselves with good works? I am not justifying worldliness, but to some degree we have to be contextualized. Missionaries to Japan are funded such that they can live in a society where the cost of living is higher than other places.
The point is not “never wear anything expensive under any circumstances” but “be known for what you do not what you wear.” When we compare 1 Timothy 2:9–10 with 1 Peter 3:3–4, we see that Peter makes the same point. In 1 Peter 3:3 Peter says “do not let your adornment be external . . . the putting on of clothing.” Obviously Peter is not advocating nudism. He is saying the same thing Paul is saying: be known for what you do not what you wear.
This is an important word for our culture, and it is indeed normative. If the women in our churches are known more for what they wear than for their good deeds, we have a problem that must be addressed through the formative and, if necessary, corrective discipline of the church.
2. Jesus overrides Sabbath regulations. The Sabbath was a “created ordinance,” and his answer to those who question what his disciples did on the Sabbath (appealing to David eating the showbread), indicates a hermeneutic that trumps arguments from the created order. Don’t you think Jesus would allow women to teach men and exercise authority over them?
Jesus argues that he is Lord of the Sabbath, and he says that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. So it seems that Jesus’s point is that the Law is for life rather than life being for law. The authors of the Gospels do not appear to be laying out a hermeneutic that trumps arguments from the created order.
Paul leaves Sabbath-keeping up to the conscience of the individual Christian (Rom 14:5) and says that Christians are not to allow people to pass judgment on them with respect to the Sabbath, which is a shadow whose substance is Christ (Col 2:16–17). So it looks to me like Jesus and Paul are in agreement about the Sabbath.
I don’t see an analogy between the creation of gender and the Sabbath. Jesus teaches women, but he nowhere indicates that women should teach men or exercise authority over them. So I don’t think what we see in the New Testament should lead us to set Jesus against Paul on this issue. Paul does not enjoin Sabbath keeping on Christians.
Some people base their view that women can teach men or exercise authority over them on the basis of what they think Jesus “would have done.” But the Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus, and the Spirit inspired the authors of the NT to say exactly what Jesus wanted them to say. So because I believe in inspiration, I do not believe that Jesus would disagree with what Paul wrote.
3. Is Paul the only NT author who says this kind of thing about women not teaching men or exercising authority over them?
The relevant Pauline texts include: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16; 1 Corinthians 14:34–35; Colossians 3:18–19; Ephesians 5:21–33; 1 Timothy 2:9–15; 1 Timothy 3:1–13; and Titus 2:1–6.
Other texts include Genesis 1–3 and 1 Peter 3:1–7.
With these, I would argue that the whole Bible is written from the perspective that God made gender, that he assigned roles that match gender, and that these are good gifts God has given to us.
4. What about Galatians 3:28?
Galatians 3:28 is not saying that gender and race are now obliterated; it is saying that people from both genders and all races can be united to Jesus Christ by faith. Paul wrote 1 Timothy well after he wrote Galatians, and there is no indication that his mind changed on the subject of the roles given to males and females.
5. Isn’t 1 Timothy 2:12 culturally constrained?
Paul appeals to the pre-fall, edenic state of affairs to buttress his prohibition of women teaching or exercising authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:13–15. This appeal to the created order makes his statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 trans-cultural.
6. But come on, nobody believes women are saved through child-bearing.
On the contrary, many of us do believe this—noting, of course, that Paul adds “if they continue in faith” just after the statement about child-bearing in 1 Timothy 2:15. So Paul is not making child-bearing a meritorious, salvific work. I agree with many others on the point that Paul has picked out the most feminine thing a woman can do—something men simply cannot do—and he puts this forward as an example of what women who embrace their femininity do. So I would take Paul to mean that women are saved by faith, and one form of evidence that women are truly believers is that they are glad God made them women and embrace the roles God gave to women. A woman can do this and be single and never bear a child, and she will be saved.
7. So does this only apply in the church?
Complementarians (people who believe that the roles given to men and women are complementary) differ on this issue. Some think that since Paul appeals to the created order on the point that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men, it should apply everywhere. Others think that since Paul is writing to Timothy about what Christians do when they gather for worship, that’s the context these statements should be applied to. All complementarians agree that what is said in these texts applies in the home and in the church. In my view this is something that women have to wrestle with before God. A women may be able to embrace her gender and be the president of her company or teach English Lit. to college students in explicitly feminine ways. One other point, Jesus did not commission us to moralize unbelievers but to make disciples of them. If unbelievers believe the Gospel, these things will take care of themselves.
8. So what about seminaries and Bible colleges?
Complementarians agree that the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12 means that women can’t be pastors, in part because the two things 1 Timothy 2:12 says women are not to do are the two things pastors/elders are described as doing in 1 Timothy 5:17.
Seminaries and Bible colleges exist to train pastors. If a place is training pastors, and if only men can be pastors/elders, I agree with many others in thinking that it’s not best to have women teach men how to be male pastors/elders.
9. What about reading books and articles written by women?
The most recent issue of JBMW is subtitled “by women for women,” and Pete Schemm addresses this issue admirably in his editorial. He suggests that since writing is non-personal and non-directive—in contrast to pastoral teaching and authority which is personal and directive—it is acceptable for men to read the writings of women.
I would add two things: first, the context of 1 Timothy 2 indicates that Paul is addressing what happens when Christians gather for worship. This means the teaching and authority under discussion is teaching and authority that happens when Christians meet for and function as a church. Thus, I see no problem with men reading things written by women. Second, if a man feels that these suggestions that would allow men to read the writings of women are inconsistent, and if no other suggestion is found to be satisfactory, I would think that man would choose not to read the writings of women rather than reject this part of the Bible’s teaching.
10. What is at stake in this whole debate about whether women can teach men?
On the theological level, what is at stake is the authority of Scripture to determine what Christians believe and do.
On the practical level, what is at stake includes the way we refer to God (are we going to continue to call God “Father” and Jesus “the Son of God” or move with the egalitarians away from gendered names for God); whether we will say that homosexual behavior is sinful (many of the same arguments used for the view that women can teach men are used by those who want to legitimate “alternative lifestyles”); and whether the glory of God will be displayed in the way that men and women embrace the roles given to them as gendered people. The Word of God shows us the way to life and freedom. Choosing the broad, easy path leads to bondage and misery.
Psalm 119:103 “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”