On the Ordination of Women (Revised)

Note: This new post is intended to replace the original post of the same name, previously published on July 2, 2012.  I have determined that the previous post, which is archived here, is inadequate for its purpose, contains at least one inaccuracy, and no longer reflects my thinking on the subject.  This new post exegetes the pertinent texts more thoroughly, represents the arguments for the ordination of women more accurately, and evaluates these arguments more critically.

On February 14, 1974, Ministerial Candidate Walter Wynn Kenyon, who had then recently graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with honors, stood before the Pittsburgh Presbytery, seeking ordination as a Teaching Elder in the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) and to be called as a pastor in one of the churches within the Presbytery’s jurisdiction.  When asked if he were willing to ordain women who might be elected to the Session of the church that was seeking to call him, he said no, explaining that on the basis of I Corinthians 14.33-34 and I Timothy 2.12, he did not believe that it was Scripturally permissible to ordain women to teaching offices in the church, in particular the offices of teaching and ruling elder.  Mr. Kenyon stated that he would not have a problem working alongside ordained women in Presbytery or on the Session of the church to which he was called, but he could not, in good conscience, participate in the ordination of women, and if it were the will of the Session to ordain women despite his objection, he would not prevent it and would ask the Presbytery to send another teaching elder to officiate at the ordination.

Although Pittsburgh Presbytery voted to proceed with Mr. Kenyon’s ordination by a vote of 147 to 133, one of the presbytery’s teaching elders, Rev. Jack Martin Maxwell, on February 25 initiated a complaint against the decision.  On March 6, Pittsburgh Presbytery issued a “Stay of Execution,” effectively postponing Mr. Kenyon’s ordination until the case against him was finalized.  The Judicial Commission of the Synod of Pennsylvania and West Virginia tried the case and on April 19 decided that the vote to ordain Mr. Kenyon was irregular and should be rescinded.  Mr. Kenyon appealed the decision, and early the following year the Permanent Judicial Commission of the UPCUSA in the remedial case of Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh sustained the Synod Judicial Commission’s ruling.  The PJC emphasized the following points in its decision:

  1. “Discrimination against women within the United Presbyterian Church on the basis of their sex is forbidden by the Constitution of the Church.
  2. “The nature of the authority of presbytery in the licensure and ordination of candidates.
  3. “A minister’s refusal to participate in the ordination of women has unacceptable implications for the Church at large.”

Regarding the Synod’s ruling, the PJC wrote,

We recognize the heavy burden borne by Synod in overruling the majority vote of a presbytery on a question of ordination.  However, presbytery’s power is not absolute.  It must be exercised in conformity with the Constitution.  In other words, our polity is a government of law, rather than of men.

In considering the gravity of the question, we are mindful that conscience can be in conflict with polity.  But it is important to recall that the decision to present oneself as a candidate for ordination is voluntary.  A candidate who chooses not to subscribe to the polity of this church may be a more useful servant of our Lord in some other fellowship whose polity is in harmony with the candidate’s conscience.1

Mr. Kenyon was by no means the only individual in the UPCUSA who believed the ordination of women to be unscriptural.  Some ordained ministers in the UPCUSA were already facing litigation because of their opposition to the practice, and even those who were not keenly felt unwelcome in light of the PJC ruling.  On July 29, 1975, a number of teaching elders and churches withdrew from the UPCUSA and joined with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a denomination that had come into existence only a year and a half earlier and which excluded women from ordained office in its Book of Church Order (§24-1).2  Other teaching elders and churches opposed to the ordination of women also withdrew in 1981 to form the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which ordains women as well as men who oppose women’s ordination,3 although most of those joining the EPC who opposed the ordination of women were coming from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS).

The Teaching of Scripture on the Ordination of Women

The clearest teaching in Scripture on the subject of the Ordination of Women comes from the Apostle Paul.  In his first epistle to his young disciple and associate, the Evangelist Timothy, he wrote,

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.  Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. —I Timothy 2.8-15

Immediately preceding this passage, Paul is discussing prayer, urging Timothy that his congregation should be making “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for all people,” especially those in places of authority, so “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (vv. 1-2).  On this basis, he teaches that men in the congregation ought to pray peaceably, and the women ought to present themselves modestly and with good works.

He then proceeds to instruct women to learn quietly and submissively in the context of worship and prohibits them from teaching or exercising authority over men, citing the creation order and the Fall from Genesis 2-3 as his reasons for the prohibition (this reasoning will be explained in further detail in the next section).  Finally, he says that the woman “will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (v. 15)  The Greek word translated here as “saved” is σωθήσεται, the future passive indicative form of σώζω, meaning “to save,”4 which Paul commonly uses to refer to redemption from sin and death (Acts 16.31, Rom. 5.9-10, 8.24, 9.27 [Is. 10.22 LXX], 10.1,9,13, 11.14,26, I Cor. 1.18,21, 3.15, 5.5, 7.16, 9.22, 10.33, 15.2, II Cor. 2.15, Eph. 2.5,8, I Thess. 2.16, II Thess. 2.10, I Tim. 1.15, 2.4, 4.16, II Tim. 1.9, Tit. 3.5).  As he elsewhere emphasizes, we are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not by works of the Law (Rom. 3.28, Gal. 2.16, Eph. 2.8-9), so it cannot mean that a woman is saved in this sense by bearing children.  Neither does it mean that she is saved by the birth of the Child (i.e., Jesus), for no one is saved by His birth but only by His atoning work on the Cross.  Rather, this is a continuation of Paul’s allusion to the Creation and Fall accounts in vv. 13-14, specifically to the woman’s created purpose in childbearing (Gen. 1.27-28, 3.16, I Cor. 11.11-12), likely as a remedy for the sins of being idlers, gossips, and busybodies, for which he rebuked the Ephesian women (younger widows specifically) later in the epistle (I Tim. 5.13-14), for he also emphasized the woman’s need to “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

It is no mere coincidence that this passage immediately precedes the qualifications for the offices of elder (or bishop)5 and deacon (I Tim. 3.1-13); thus, it is quite clear that Paul is here exercising the Apostolic authority granted him by God to exclude women from these offices, which are explicitly intended to teach and exercise authority over the Church.  This exclusion is further emphasized in the qualifications for these offices, which require, among other things, that an elder or deacon be “the husband of one wife” (Gk. μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα; I Tim. 3.2,12, Tit. 1.6), literally a “one-woman man”.  The point Paul is making in this specific requirement is that officers in the Church must be monogamous men, faithful and content with their wives, although it should not be construed to exclude single, unmarried men (or widowers), for then it would exclude not only unmarried apostles and evangelists such as Paul and Timothy, but also the Lord Jesus Himself.  However, it should not be missed that the noun used here is ἀνήρ, the Greek word for adult male or husband, not ἄνθρωπος, the Greek word for human being, commonly translated, “man”.

Paul is not here teaching that women should never instruct men under any circumstances, nor is he teaching that women should never instruct males in church settings, as one of the members of Pittsburgh Presbytery examining Mr. Kenyon implied.6  After all, in his second epistle to Timothy, Paul commended the faith of his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (II Tim. 1.5) and enjoined him to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (i.e., his mother and grandmother) and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings.” (II Tim. 3.14-15)  Likewise, Scripture recounts that Priscilla and her husband Aquila, after hearing the eloquent Evangelist Apollos preach at Ephesus, took him aside to explain the Gospel more accurately (Acts 18.24-26).

In a passage similar to his instruction to Timothy, Paul in his first epistle to the Church in Corinth wrote,

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
—I Corinthians 14.33-38

Again, Paul should not here, or in I Timothy 2.11-12, be construed as absolutely forbidding women to speak during the worship service, for elsewhere in the same epistle he wrote, “but every wife (or woman; Gk. γυνὴ) who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (I Cor. 11.5, emphasis added), thus implying that it is not only permissible for a woman to speak during a worship service, but that she is actually encouraged to do so.  Considering his injunction against women serving as elders and deacons in I Timothy 2, it seems likely that Paul in I Corinthians 14 is only excluding women from the task of regularly preaching and teaching the Word of God during a church worship service, which is one of the tasks specific to the office of elder (I Tim. 3.2, 5.17, Tit. 1.9).  After all, he raised no objection to the Evangelist Philip’s four unmarried daughters, who prophesied to him while he was staying for several days with Philip in Caesarea (Acts 21.8-9; cf. Joel 2.28-29, Acts 2.17-18).

Gender Roles in the New Testament

Paul’s injunctions against the ordination of women in I Timothy 2 and I Corinthians 14 must be understood within the framework of what the Scriptures—especially the New Testament—teach about the specific roles men and women in the Church of Jesus Christ are called by God to fulfill.

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife (or woman; Gk. γυνὴ) is her husband (or man; Gk. ἀνήρ), and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short.  But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  That is why a wife (or woman) ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (or messengers; Gk. ἄγγελοι).  Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God.  Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered?  Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  For her hair is given to her for a covering.  If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. —I Corinthians 11.3-16

Paul is here not dictating women’s fashions or hairstyles—or men’s either, for that matter7—for at the end of this passage, he said, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God,” meaning the literal practice of head coverings could be dispensed with if it became a matter of contention.  Moreover, in today’s society we do not think it unseemly of women to worship with their heads uncovered or their hair cut short—or of men wearing a hat or growing their hair long.  His point was that women ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, inasmuch as a man is the head of his wife, and his rationale for this was the order and purposes of God in the creation of man and woman in the Garden of Eden.

Paul’s first statement is, “the head of every man is Christ,” that is, man “is the image and glory of God” and was created directly for His purposes.  Genesis 2 records that God created Adam directly from the dust of the earth (v. 7) and placed him in the Garden of Eden for the purpose of tilling and keeping it (v. 15), whereupon He gave him permission to freely eat the fruit from any of the trees in the Garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was forbidden upon pain of death (vv. 16-17).  Then He declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (v. 18)  Consequently, He brought all the animals dwelling in the Garden to Adam, so that Adam could exercise the dominion God granted him over His creation in Genesis 1.28 by naming them.  “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” (vv. 19-20)

Then Paul states, “the head of a wife is her husband,” that is, “woman is the glory of man” and was created by God to fulfill man’s need of “a helper fit for him.”  Hence, Genesis 2 continues with God’s creation of a woman from Adam’s rib (vv. 21-22).  Then God brought her to Adam, who named her woman, saying, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (Heb. ishshah), because she was taken out of Man (Heb. ish).” (v.23; see also Gen. 3.20)  And just as naming the animals demonstrated man’s dominion over them, so his giving her the name of woman demonstrated his headship over her, even before the Fall.

From the beginning, it was not God’s intention that man’s headship over woman should be onerous.  However, the Fall brought a curse upon the relationship between man and woman: “To the woman (God) said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” (Gen. 3.16)  This same wording is used in Genesis 4.7, where God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  The similarity of these passages indicates that the woman’s desire for her husband is a desire to dominate him, usurping the headship over her delegated to him by God, and that man’s rule over his wife will likewise be afflicted by his own sin.  Hence, in this fallen world in which we live, woman will chafe at man’s headship over her, and man’s headship over woman will be burdensome and onerous, and even abusive, both because of sin.

But this sinful tendency in fallen man’s exercise of authority over woman does not negate the command of God given through the Apostle Paul: Woman is still commanded by God to submit to man’s authority, both within the Church and within the Covenant of Marriage (I Cor. 11.3-16, 14.34-35, Eph. 5.22-24, Col. 3.18, I Tim. 2.8-15, I Pet. 3.1-6).  To be sure, no woman should remain in an abusive relationship.  Paul teaches that, “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. … But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.  In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.  God has called you to peace.” (I Cor. 7.13-15)  For a man to abuse his wife demonstrates that he is an unbeliever and is not willing to live with her, and she should not be enslaved to his abuses.  Nevertheless, Scripture unequivocally teaches that women are to humbly submit themselves to the rule and authority of the men appointed by God both in the Church and in the Christian home.

The Disciples of the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry often disputed among themselves as to which of them was the greatest.  On one occasion, He reproved them, saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20.25-28, Mk. 10.42-45, Lk. 22.25-27)  And at the Last Supper, He demonstrated this type of leadership by washing their feet—a task typically performed by the lowliest of servants (Jn. 13.1-15).  It is this sort of leadership that He expects, both in the Church and in the Christian home.

After admonishing wives to be subject to their husbands, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (I Pet. 3.7)  Paul had even more to say:

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (quoted from Gen. 2.24)  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. —Ephesians 5.25-33 (see also Col. 3.19)

In his Epistle, James, the brother of our Lord, wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (Jas. 3.1)  And as the Lord Himself said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Lk. 12.48)  Authority and leadership is something that the Lord does not give lightly, and of those to whom He entrusts it, He will require a greater account.  It is a tremendous privilege and responsibility to be entrusted with the care and nurture of other souls, and the One to whom we are responsible will require an accounting for the neglect, misuse, and abuse of this authority.

Within the economy of the Christian home, the husband and father is entrusted with the care and nurture of the souls of his wife and children.  He is to love and honor his wife as Christ sacrificially loves and honors the Church.  He is to raise his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, without provoking them to anger (Eph. 6.4, Col. 3.21)  As a husband, he represents Christ to his wife, just as she represents the Church (Is. 54.5-8, 62.1-5, Jer. 2-3, Ezek. 16,23, Hos. 2-3, II Cor. 11.2-3, Eph. 5.22-33, Rev. 19.7-8, 21.2,9-11, 22.17)—and these roles are not interchangeable, as nowhere in Scripture does the wife represent Christ, nor the husband the Church.  And as a father, he represents God the Father to his children.  Fulfilling these roles is a tremendous responsibility and a high and noble calling, as a husband and father must provide for his family.  He must show the love of Christ to his wife, empowering her to exercise her own God-given gifts and talents for ministry.  He must teach his children the ways of the Lord, not only teaching them the content of the Bible, but also teaching them to trust and respect the Word of God, and to live out the teachings of holy Scripture in his daily life with them and their mother.  Much has been entrusted to him, and much will be required of him.

Likewise, within the economy of the Church, the elders and deacons are entrusted with the care and nurture of the souls within the congregation.  Indeed, among the requirements for these offices are that not only must an elder or deacon be the husband of one wife (I Tim. 3.2,12, Tit. 1.6), but also “he must manage his own household well, with all dignity, keeping his children submissive” (I Tim. 3.4-5,12, Tit. 1.6).  Proven ability in representing Christ to his wife and God the Father to his children is a prerequisite for a man to serve as an officer in the Church.

That women are excluded from the offices of elder and deacon, in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, is by no means meant to disparage the value of godly women who have been gifted with the ability to teach, to lead, or to offer wise counsel.  Indeed, they may have superior gifts to many men who faithfully serve as officers in Christ’s Church.  But it is the prerogative of God alone, speaking as He does through His holy, inspired, and authoritative Word, to determine who is eligible to serve as an officer in His Church, and who is not.

Reasons Commonly Adduced in Favor of the Ordination of Women

In the 20th Century, a tremendous cultural shift occurred in the United States and Western Civilization regarding women’s roles in society.  Whereas women hitherto were expected to aspire to become housewives and stay-at-home mothers, they are now encouraged to pursue careers outside the home alongside men.  Thus, as women began filling professional roles traditionally filled only by men, such as doctors, attorneys, lawmakers, scientists, and the like, the question was raised whether they should not also become pastors as well.

In mainline Protestant denominations, like the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PC(USA)) and its predecessors,8 that had already compromised the authority of Scripture in order to accommodate worldly beliefs and practices, there was little resistance to opening the offices of teaching elder, ruling elder, and deacon to women.  The General Assembly of the (northern) Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) voted to open the offices of ruling elder and deacon to women in 1930 and to likewise open the office of teaching elder in 1956, while the General Assembly of the (southern) Presbyterian Church in the United States voted to open all three offices to women in 1964.9  As noted above, the PJC of the UPCUSA ruled in 1975 that it was no longer permissible to ordain men who opposed women’s ordination to the office of teaching elder, and this precedent continued into the PC(USA) after the 1983 reunion with the PCUS.  Today, the Session (or governing body) of a PC(USA) congregation is required to “consist of equal numbers of men and women,”10 and the attitudes of many teaching elders and seminary students in the PC(USA) are decidedly hostile toward Christians who hold that Paul’s injunctions against the ordination of women are still authoritative for the Church today.

Although mainline Protestant churches that had already compromised the authority of Scripture were quick to embrace the ordination of women, others that still held a high view of Scripture also made peace with the practice.  Some of these, reading Paul’s clear injunction against the practice in I Timothy, reasoned that if Scripture was wrong on teachings, such as women’s ordination, that did not directly impact the integrity of the Gospel message, perhaps it was also wrong on other teachings that did.  Thus, they began descending the perilous slippery slope leading inexorably to Theological Liberalism and the irrelevant cult of the pursuit of relevance.

Still other Evangelical churches and denominations with a high view of Scripture have made peace with the ordination of women but have not followed others, like the PC(USA), down the path to Gospel infidelity.  Such include the aforementioned Evangelical Presbyterian Church and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians,11 a new denomination founded in 2012 as a result of a split from the PC(USA) over the latter’s change in ordination standards to remove the requirement that officers in the denomination “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”12

In support of their position, Evangelicals with a high view of Scripture, who nevertheless endorse women’s ordination, including respected seminary professors and other scholars, cite other passages of Scripture in favor of the practice, and while seeking to respect Paul’s Apostolic authority, they interpret his injunctions against it in light of these passages.  In the debate over women’s ordination, Evangelicals who favor the practice are identified as Egalitarians, for their emphasis on the equal standing of men and women before God, while those who oppose it are identified as Complementarians, for their emphasis on the specific, complementary roles defined in Scripture for men and women to fulfill.

“I Do Not Permit a Woman to Teach or to Exercise Authority over a Man”

The Westminster Confession of Faith admits, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.”  And further, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”13

The clearest passage of Scripture addressing the ordination of women is I Timothy 2.8-15, quoted above, and v. 12 in particular: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”  Naturally, it is the passage most debated between egalitarians and complementarians, and the most contested word in this passage is the Greek word αὐθεντεῖν, the present active infinitive form of αὐθεντέω, which is translated as “exercise authority” in the ESV and the NASB, “usurp authority” in the KJV, “have dominion” in the ASV, “have authority” in the RSV, the older NIV, the NKJV, and the NRSV, and “assume authority” in the 2011 revision of the NIV.  Thayer defines it as, “to govern one, exercise dominion over one.”14  What makes this Greek word particularly contentious is that it appears only here in all of the New Testament (and nowhere in the Greek Septuagint), and there are only five or six extant extra-Biblical Greek texts contemporary with or predating Paul that use the word αὐθεντέω, and none of them seem to have the “neutral” meaning of “exercise authority” or “have authority”, translations that rely more heavily on the relative abundance of αὐθεντέω occurrences in post-Constantinian Greek texts.

John Jefferson Davis, Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, in an article discussing the interpretation of I Timothy 2.12, referenced a 1984 study by theologian George W. Knight, III, noting that of 329 occurrences of αὐθεντεῖν and its cognate αὐθέντης in Ancient Greek texts, “prior to and contemporary with the first century, αὐθεντεῖν often had negative overtones such as ‘domineer’ or even ‘murder’ or ‘perpetrate a crime’; only during the later patristic period did the meaning ‘to exercise authority’ come to predominate.”  Davis then cited a 2004 study in which New Testament scholar Linda Belleville “carefully examined the five occurrences of αὐθεντεῖν prior to or contemporary with Paul and rendered these texts as follows: … ‘commit acts of violence’, … ‘the author’ (of a message), … ‘I had my way with him’, … ‘powerful lords’, … (and) ‘Saturn…dominates Mercury’,” and noted that in all but the second of these examples, “a neutral meaning such as ‘have authority’ is not in view.”15

In December 2011, Al Wolters, Emeritus Professor of Religion at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, published an article, in which he contended that a Greek astrological text called the Methodus mystica, which uses αὐθεντέω, and which Knight had dated to the 15th century AD, ought to have been dated to between 100 BC and about 50 AD, on the basis of its reference to crucifixion (which Constantine had abolished in 337 AD), the absence of “any vocabulary characteristic of later popular Greek,” and the attestation of Greek scholars conversant with Greek astrological texts as to the time in which certain astrological methods referenced therein were in use.  The passage in question states, “one who is superior (αὐθεντοῦντα) to these in his occupation, and yet earns nothing.”  As Wolters observes, “there is nothing in this passage which suggests that αὐθεντέω has either a pejorative or ingressive connotation.  It simply refers to the way a person is superior, in terms of professional expertise in a given τέχνη (trade or craft), to others in the same business.  There is no suggestion that the former is thereby abusing the latter, or doing them an injustice.”  Wolters continued his article with an examination of the use of αὐθεντέω and its cognates in early Greek astrological texts, including the “Saturn…dominates Mercury” quote that Davis and Belleville cited from Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatika (Tetrabiblos), and then concluded,

The foregoing survey of early astrological texts, almost all of them roughly contemporaneous with the NT documents, demonstrates that the use of αὐθεντέω in the Methodus mystica is not unusual.  In fact, it is consistent with the way both the verb and its cognates are generally used in astrological texts before about 200 AD.  The αὐθέντης word family seems to be used throughout to refer to authority or dominance of some kind.  Given the relative paucity of αὐθέντης “master” and its cognates in this time period, it is their use in these astrological texts which is particularly relevant for understanding αὐθεντεῖν in I Tim. 2.12.16

Continuing to cite Belleville’s study, Davis observed,

that a variety of pre-modern versions of the Bible translate this word not simply as “have authority” or “exercise authority,” but with some negative sense, e.g., the Old Latin: “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to dominate (dominari) a man”; the Vulgate ‘neither to domineer over a man”; the Geneva Bible (1560 ed.), “neither to usurpe authority over a man”; the Bishops Bible (1589), “neither to usurpe authority over a man”; and the King James Bible (1611) “nor usurp authority over a man.”  In none of these cases can the translators be suspected of having a modern, “feminist” bias in translating αὐθεντεῖν with a negative sense of “domineer” or “usurp authority.”  These instances show that the “traditional” translation of αὐθεντεῖν as “exercise authority” is neither uniform nor self-evident in the history of interpretation; if anything, it could be argued that the burden of proof is on the (now) “traditional” view to justify its translation choice.

It should also be observed that Paul, had he the ordinary exercise of ecclesiastical leadership and authority in mind, had at his disposal a number of words that could have served in this sense, notably προΐστημι.  This word, occurring eight times in the New Testament and used six times by Paul in reference to church leaders (I Tim. 3.4,5,12, 5.17, I Thess. 5.12, Rom. 12.8), can have the senses of “manage, conduct, rule, direct, be concerned about,” and connotes the “normal” and “expected” type of leadership that should be exhibited by those selected to lead.  The fact that a highly unusual and ambiguous word is chosen in 2.12 would be consistent with an unusual set of circumstances in the context to which the text is addressed.  It will be argued below that these circumstances, as indicated by clear references in the pastoral epistles themselves, involve women who are being deceived by false teachers and, as such, are not suitable for the exercise of teaching or ruling authority in Ephesus.17

After examining Paul’s citation of the creation account of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, both in I Timothy 2 and elsewhere, passages of “clear references in (Paul’s) epistles (that) involve women who are being deceived by false teachers,” and an extensive examination of Deborah’s leadership in Judges 4-5, all of which are assessed below, Davis concludes that the best translation of I Timothy 2.12 is, “I do not permit a woman to teach in a way that domineers over men.”18  However, this interpretation does not fit the Greek grammar of this passage, nor does it fit the immediate context of I Timothy 2.8-12, nor does it fit the context of this passage as preceding the requirements for elder and deacon in I Timothy 3, specifically that any individual who would fulfill one of these offices must be a “one-woman man,” as noted above.

The Greek text states, “διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶτα έν ἡσυχίᾳ,” that is, “I do not permit (οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω) a woman (γυναικὶ) to teach (διδάσκειν) nor (οὐδὲ) to αὐθεντεῖν a man (ἀνδρός), but to be in silence (or quietness; ἡσυχίᾳ).”  Davis’ construction would use αὐθεντεῖν to qualify διδάσκειν to mean that Paul is forbidding women to teach in a particular way, but from the text, it is clear that Paul is forbidding women from both διδάσκειν and αὐθεντεῖν as two distinct but related activities.  In defense of his construction, Davis states, “In the New Testament, pairs of nouns or noun substitutes (e.g., infinitives) connected by a ‘neither…nor’ (δὲ…οὐδὲ) construction can define a progression of related ideas or define a related purpose or goal.”  Again citing Belleville’s study, Davis references Matthew 6.20 and Acts 17.24-25 as examples of this grammatical construction, and says that if this was Paul’s intention, then the meaning would be interpreted as, “I do not permit a woman to teach with a view to dominating a man (or to teach men in a dominating way).”19  Although some neither/nor passages can be interpreted this say, others cannot (e.g., Mt. 10.24, 24.21, 25.13, Lk. 6.44, 12.24, Jn. 1.13, 11.49-50, 16.3, Acts 8.21, 9.9, 24.18, Rom. 9.16, I Cor. 2.6, II Cor. 7.12, Gal. 3.28, 4.14, I Thess. 2.3, 5.5, I Tim. 6.16, Heb. 13.5, II Pet. 1.8, Rev. 5.3, 7.16).  Neither can I Timothy 2.12.

If we insert Davis’ meaning into the text, then we would conclude that Paul is saying that women should dress modestly, adorn themselves with good works, learn quietly and submissively, not teach men in a domineering way, and be quiet.  This begs the question, why, in between admonishments that women ought to learn quietly and submissively and that they should be quiet, is Paul saying that they ought not teach men in a domineering way?  Why not simply say that women ought not to teach others in a domineering way?

Davis claims that Paul’s choice of “a highly unusual and ambiguous word” like αὐθεντεῖν suggests that he was addressing “an unusual set of circumstances” that Timothy was facing in the Church at Ephesus.  However, that is not the Apostle’s stated purpose at the end of Chapter 3: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.” (I Tim. 3.14-15)  In other words, the teachings about which Paul has been writing in this epistle, at least to this point, are intended as normative principles to be applied to all the churches, not instruction on how to address unusual issues that Timothy was facing in the Church at Ephesus.  In defense of his position, Davis points out that Paul, in both of his epistles to Timothy, addresses the issue of false teachers in the Church (I Tim. 1.3-11, 4.1-5, 6.3-10,20-21, II Tim. 3.1-9, 4.1-4).20  However, of the specific names of troublemakers Paul mentions (I Tim. 1.19-20, II Tim. 2.16-18, 4.14), not one of them is feminine.  Neither, for that matter, does Paul identify any examples of women falsely teaching in the Church at Ephesus (compare Rev. 2.20-23).  He mentioned young women—young widows in particular—who were susceptible to false teaching (I Tim. 5.11-15, II Tim. 3.6-7), but he made no mention of women—young or otherwise—who were themselves false teachers.  Elsewhere, he commanded that older women should teach younger women (Tit. 2.3-5), and it is likely that he had this task in mind when he wrote to Timothy about enrolling older widows (I Tim. 5.3-10).

As noted above, Paul’s injunction against women teaching or exercising authority over men immediately precedes the requirements for elders and deacons in I Timothy 3, including the requirement that officers be a “one-woman man” (Gk. μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα).  And preceding this injunction, Paul was exhorting prayer for all people, especially governing authorities, and the proclamation of the Gospel, for such “is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” (I Tim. 2.1-7).  Again, these are normative principles that Paul clearly intended as standard practices in the Church and not to address specific issues Timothy was facing in Ephesus.  It is not in keeping with this context that Paul should be forbidding women from teaching or exercising authority over men in a way that is limited to a specific error that he was addressing in the Church at Ephesus.

Further, Paul is excluding women from the specific tasks of teaching and exercising authority—tasks of spiritual oversight that are particular to the offices of elder and deacon (Acts 20.28, Heb. 13.17, I Pet. 5.1-5), which follow—over men.  Given that Paul had commended women prophesying within the context of worship and of otherwise giving sanction to women teaching men (a subject taken up at greater length, below), it seems apparent that Paul, in forbidding women from teaching or exercising authority over men, just before he gives the requirements for the offices of elder and deacon, is thereby, in effect, forbidding women from occupying these offices—even if he does use the word αὐθεντεῖν rather than προΐστημι.  Even if one agrees that αὐθεντεῖν has a pejorative meaning, like “usurp authority” (KJV) or “assume authority” (2011 NIV), the fact that Paul requires an elder or a deacon to be a “one-woman man” or “the husband of one wife” (emphasis added) means that Paul, by his apostolic authority, is saying that God is reserving these offices exclusively for qualified men, and his proscription in I Timothy 2.12 is meant to emphasize this.

Finally, Davis mentions that if Paul had “the ordinary exercise of ecclesiastical leadership and authority in mind,” he “had at his disposal a number of words that could have served in this sense, notably προΐστημι.”  Conversely, if Paul had the meaning “to domineer” or “to dominate” in mind, he likewise had a number of words at his disposal that had this specific meaning, such as κατακυριεύω or κατεξουσιάζω,21 both of which the Lord Jesus used in reference to the manner in which powerful men among the Gentiles ruled over others, when He was admonishing His disciples who had been arguing about which of them was greatest (Mt. 20.25, Mk. 10.42; for κατακυριεύω, see also Acts 19.16, I Pet. 5.3).

Paul’s Citation of the Genesis Narratives of Creation and the Fall

Paul states that his reason for not permitting women to teach or exercise authority is rooted in the order of creation—Adam was formed first (Gen. 2.7), and then Eve (Gen. 2.21-22)—and in the events of the Fall—Eve was deceived (Gen. 3.13), but Adam was not—indeed, God held him accountable, chastening him for “having listened to the voice of your wife and having eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it.’” (Gen. 3.17)  He not only ought to have refused to eat the fruit himself, but he also ought to have exercised the spiritual oversight over his wife, which God had entrusted to him, by refuting the serpent’s deceitful arguments—after all, he was not deceived, and he was present with her while the serpent was beguiling her (Gen. 3.6)—and thus keeping her from becoming a transgressor.

Again, Paul’s statements in I Timothy 2 must be read in light of what he says about headship in I Corinthians 11, where he likewise grounds his reasons in the order and purpose of man’s creation: Man was created first (v. 8), in order to do the work that God had appointed for him (Gen. 2.15), and then woman from man (v. 9), in order to fulfill man’s need for a helpmate comparable to him (Gen. 2.18,20); and not the other way around.

Within the economy of the family, God created the man to be the head of the wife and the wife to be the helpmate of the man, as illustrated from Genesis 2.  He is responsible for exercising loving, godly leadership of her and their children.  He will be held to account for his exercise of that leadership, to the extent that if he fails to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, if he fails to show honor to his wife or to live with her in an understanding way, his relationship with the Lord is impaired, and his prayers will be hindered (I Pet. 3.7).  Under the old covenant, a man had the authority to nullify any vow made by his wife or unmarried daughters on the day he first heard of it but was otherwise responsible for fulfilling any vow they made (Num. 30.3-16).  And under the new covenant, a man’s godly leadership in the home is a prerequisite for him to serve as an officer in the Church (I Tim. 3.4-5,11-12, Tit. 1.6).  As a husband, a man is appointed by God to the spiritual oversight and care of his wife, even if his wife’s spiritual maturity and gifts of leadership exceed his own, and the Lord will hold him to account.

Likewise, the wife is responsible for respecting and submitting to her husband’s authority, as unto the Lord (Eph. 5.22-24, Col. 3.18, I Pet. 3.1-6).  This does not mean that the husband may force his wife to submit to his authority, nor that he may act toward her in a controlling or abusive way; he is required to love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5.25-33, Col. 3.19, I Pet. 3.7), and what the Lord Jesus told His disciples about modeling the world’s ways of leadership (Mt. 20.25-28, Mk. 10.42-45, Lk. 22.25-29), as referenced above, most certainly applies to husbands.  Nor does it mean that a man should disregard his wife’s gifts in leadership, wisdom, or management, but a wise man should seek to encourage her to develop and employ them in respectful, God-honoring ways.  To be sure, a woman ought not to obey her husband if he tells her to sin, nor should she remain in a home with an abusive husband.  But just as the Lord will call a man to account for his treatment and care of his wife, so too will He call a woman to account for her submission to her husband’s authority.

Again, God from creation has charged the husband with his wife’s spiritual oversight and care; He has not charged the wife with the spiritual oversight over her husband.  It stands to reason, then, that if God has not charged a woman with the spiritual oversight over her husband, he would not charge her with the spiritual oversight over other men either.  And Paul confirms this, forbidding women from teaching or exercising authority over men, citing the creation order for this, immediately before he enumerates the requirements for the offices of elder and deacon.

Now Davis argues that the foregoing argument “fails to take into account the way in which the apostle Paul draws implications from creation texts in ways that are specifically related to his pastoral and theological concerns for specific churches and congregations.”  First, he draws a parallel contrasting how Paul cited Adam’s sole culpability for bringing the curse of Original Sin on the entire human race, with no mention of Eve, in Romans 5.12-21, with how Paul cites the creation accounts in I Corinthians 11.2-16 for defining women’s conduct and apparel in worship, how he cites Eve’s deception as an example of the Corinthians’ susceptibility to false teachers in II Corinthians 11.3, and how he references the creation and fall accounts in I Timothy 2.8-15.  According to Davis, in the early chapters of Romans, Paul “is especially concerned with the ‘global’ and universal relevance of the gospel, and consequently reads Genesis 3 in terms of Adam’s disobedience that led to condemnation for all people.”  In the Corinthian epistles, however, “Paul makes different applications of the creation narratives that are specifically related to the problems of this local assembly.”22  And II Corinthians 11.3 is especially to be contrasted with I Timothy 2.8-15, in that in II Corinthians, Paul cites as an example “the deception of Eve” as a way to express his concern about “the danger of the entire Corinthian congregation (or its [male] leaders) being deceived by false teachers,” whereas in I Timothy 2, he “references…the deception of Eve” within the context of a letter he “is writing to a church in Ephesus in which he is concerned that some of the younger widows have already ‘turned away to follow Satan’ (I Tim. 5.15), and is aware of ‘weak-willed women’ in Ephesus who are burdened by sins and have not learned the truth, their homes being infiltrated by false teachers (II Tim. 3.6-7).”  On the basis of this contrast, Davis concludes,

This comparison of II Corinthians 11.3 and I Timothy 2.12(-15) shows that Paul does not have a “one size fits all” hermeneutic when reading and applying the Genesis narratives of creation and fall: “Eve” can be seen as a figure of women in Ephesus or as a figure for an entire church in Corinth—because the local circumstances differ, though false teaching is a danger in both settings.  Applications are drawn from Genesis in a church-specific and contextually sensitive way.23

Continuing his argument, Davis draws another comparison between false teachers in I Timothy 4.1-5 “who…require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (v. 3), and Paul’s concern in Romans 14 about the unity of the Roman church being imperiled by members judging one another over dietary practices, specifically where “one person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables” (v. 2).  Paul clarifies, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean,” but nevertheless, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14.14,21).  Davis points out that whereas in Romans 14, “Paul urges that a central redemptive concern for the unity of the church and respect for Christian conscience in secondary matters take precedence over any individual’s ‘creation right’ to eat meat, … in Ephesus, Paul (is) more insistent on the ‘creational right’ to eat all foods because the denial of this right is coming from false teachers who are in danger of abandoning the faith and following deceiving spirits (I Tim. 4.1).”

Then pulling the two comparisons together, Davis argues,

Just as in one circumstance a creational right to eat (I Tim. 4) does not lead to an unqualified permission to eat in another instance (Rom. 14), so it could also be the case that a creationally endorsed prohibition (I Tim. 2.12-13) of women exercising ecclesiastical authority does not imply prohibition under different circumstances.  In both cases, it is here being argued, Paul applies creation texts in a contextually sensitive manner and in a way that is concerned to preserve the apostle’s core values: sound doctrine and the preservation of the apostolic deposit of faith, the unity of the churches, and harmony and good order in the Christian family.

On this reading of I Timothy 2.11-15, Paul is indeed prohibiting women in Ephesus from exercising ecclesiastical authority and would not support their “ordination,” the reason being that false teachers pose a grave threat in Ephesus and women are being misled by false teachers and straying after Satan.  Paul sees a parallel between the deception of Eve in Genesis 3 and the deception of women in Ephesus, just as he sees a parallel between the deception of Eve in Genesis and the deception of the congregation in Corinth.  In different circumstances, where women are sound in the faith and their lives consistent with the apostolic core values of congregational unity and harmony and good order of the family, the way would be open for their exercise of ecclesiastical leadership.  The general, “transcultural” lesson that should be drawn, then, from the Genesis texts, in light of their contextually differentiated uses in I Timothy 2 and II Corinthians 11, would be that whenever and wherever either women or men are being misled by false teachers, they should not be ordained as church leaders; soundness in the faith is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for service as an elder or deacon (I Tim. 3.1-13).24

There is a significant difference between Paul’s reference to Eve’s deception in II Corinthians 11.3 and his reference to the same in I Timothy 2.12-15 that Davis overlooks.  In II Corinthians 11.3, Paul is using Eve’s deception as an example to which to compare the way in which the Corinthians were being led astray by false teachers, whereas in I Timothy 2.12-15, he is using it, together with the creation order, as his reason for prohibiting women from teaching.

In this regard, there is a stronger parallel between I Corinthians 11.8-10 and I Timothy 2.12-15 that Davis does not explore in depth.  In both of these passages, Paul is using the creation order of man then woman as his reason to command that “a wife (or woman; Gk. γυνὴ) ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,” in the one case, and that he “does not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” in the other.  It may very well be that Paul in I Timothy 2.12-15 referenced Eve’s deception because of the deception of some of the younger widows in the Church at Ephesus, as referenced elsewhere in the epistle (I Tim. 5.11-15), but this is by no means certain, as he does not reference it in this passage, and it does not explain his reference of the creation order as part of the reason for his prohibition.

Further, Paul’s reference to the Creation and the Fall accounts in I Corinthians 11.3-16 and I Timothy 2.8-15 argues against treating both male headship and the exclusion of women from exercising spiritual oversight over men as limited to addressing specific circumstances in particular congregations, and not binding on the Church of Jesus Christ today.  Unlike the issue of false teachers that Paul was addressing in II Corinthians 11.3-15, these two passages involve commands regarding the relationship of men and women within the context of congregational life, a relationship that was ultimately defined by the Creation and the Fall in Genesis 2-3.  This has far greater bearing on the interpretation of these texts than superficial observations regarding parallels between the contexts in which Paul references creation texts.

False Teachers and the Role of Women in First Timothy

Paul references false teachers in Ephesus in three passages in I Timothy (1.3-11,19-20, 4.1-5, 6.3-10,20-21), and in I Timothy 5.11-15, he says that younger widows “learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not,” and further, that “some have already strayed after Satan.”  In addition, in II Timothy 3.6-7 he says that certain ungodly men in the last days will “creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”  Davis concludes on the basis of these passages that these younger widows have “strayed after Satan” because of the influence of false teachers (although Paul does not draw that specific conclusion, for their “straying after Satan” might very well have been on account of their being “idlers, gossips, and busybodies”), and on that basis urges that Paul’s injunction against women teaching or exercising authority over men must have been made solely to address this issue, and where this issue is not present (as if it were not still a problem in the 21st Century Church), then the injunction no longer is in effect.25

The presence of false teachers in the Church has been a problem in every age and was not in any way restricted to the Church at Ephesus in the First Century, for it is a problem that still persists to this day.  Indeed, other epistles besides I Timothy address the problem of false teachers in the Church as well (II Cor. 11.3-15, Gal. 1.6-9, 5.1-15, Col 2.4,8,16-23, II Tim. 2.16-18, 3.1-9, 4.1-4,14, Tit. 1.10-16, II Pet. 2, II Jn. 7-11, Jude 4-19, Rev. 2.14-16), including one epistle the Lord Jesus wrote to the Church at Ephesus that commends her for how she has addressed the issue of false teachers within her pale (Rev. 2.2,6), and another He wrote to the Church of Thyatira, which was tolerating a woman who was a false teacher (Rev. 2.20-23).  Yet none of the authors of these epistles cited the false teaching within the churches to whom their epistles were addressed—or the susceptibility of women who were members of these churches to false teaching—as a reason to categorically forbid women from teaching or exercising authority over men.  Neither, for that matter, did Paul in I Timothy 2.8-15.

The younger widows to whom Paul referred in I Timothy 5.11-15 had been identified as “idlers, gossips, and busybodies”—character traits that would exclude them from the offices of elder or deacon (I Tim. 3.1-13, Tit. 1.5-9).  Yet of the older widows who were to be “enrolled” were those who had no family to support them, were at least sixty years old, had been the wife of only one husband, had a reputation for good works, had reared children, had shown hospitality, had demonstrated service within the church community, and had cared for the sick (I Tim. 5.3-10).  This “enrollment” may have entailed additional service that Paul mentioned to Titus, that “Older women…are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands.” (Tit. 2.3-5)  They would have met the character requirement for the offices of elder and deacon, Paul’s reference to younger widows “having already strayed after Satan” did not include them, and yet Paul’s injunction against women teaching and exercising authority over men encompassed them as well.

Kenneth E. Bailey, the late prolific author and lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament Studies, agreed with Davis on the provisional/temporary nature of Paul’s injunction in I Timothy 2.12 and the negative meaning of αὐθεντέω, with a similar approach to the reason Paul might have “permitted no woman to teach, or to lord it over the men.”26  After referencing the susceptibility of young widows and weak women to false teaching in the Ephesian church (I Tim. 5.15, II Tim. 3.6-7), Bailey turned to the account in Acts 19 of Paul’s first visit to Ephesus and the great riot the silversmith Demetrius incited among the Ephesians, claiming that the Gospel message Paul was preaching constituted a threat to the worship of Artemis, the virgin Greek goddess of the hunt, the moon, and chastity, which was centered in the temple dedicated to her in Ephesus (not to mention a threat to his own livelihood as a crafter of idols).

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus had a large footprint, measuring 221 feet (67 m) wide × 425 feet (130 m) deep and supported by 127 columns that were 65 feet (20 m) high, architecturally dominating the city.  The Cult of Artemis was ruled by a cadre of virgins and castrated men, who oversaw a caste of virgin priestess/slaves dedicated to the goddess’ service.27  The worship of Artemis was the central reality in the life of Ephesus; Ephesian commerce was inextricably linked to the Temple, and “the entire town set aside one month a year for ceremonies, games and festivities connected to the cult.”

Bailey pondered the type of male/female relationships that might have developed in an environment dominated by a virgin cult, and how that might have affected male leadership and women’s attitudes in Ephesus.  Certainly, we can see how a false prophet, influenced by a virgin cult, might “forbid marriage” (I Tim. 4.3), if given a voice in the Church.  Bailey surmised that, “In Ephesus some women had acquired absolute authority over the men in the church and were verbally (and perhaps theologically) brutalizing them.  Paul calls for a halt to this dehumanizing attack.”28

The underlying assumption behind Davis’ and Bailey’s arguments is that Paul intended the injunction against women teaching or exercising authority over men as a temporary, local injunction, not intended as normative principle applicable to all the churches and not applicable in cases in which the peculiar circumstances facing the church in which Timothy served no longer exist.  However, Paul clearly stated in I Timothy 3.14-15 that what he had hitherto written in this epistle was intended so that, “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.”  Further, the paucity of examples in Scripture of women teaching or exercising authority over men, within either the New Testament Church or Old Testament Israel, also speaks against Davis’ and Bailey’s assumption, and it is to these examples that we now turn.

Biblical Examples of Women Teaching or Exercising Authority over Men

Those in favor of the Egalitarian position urge as consideration for their contention that women, as well as men, who otherwise meet all the requirements for elder or deacon given in I Timothy 3.1-13 and Titus 1.5-9 (the requirement to be “the husband of one wife” being an obvious exception; compare I Tim. 5.9) ought to be considered as candidates for these offices, cite a number of examples in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments of women teaching and/or exercising authority over men, or fulfilling offices that entail the regular teaching and/or exercise of authority over men.  Some of these examples are legitimate cases where women do, in fact, teach or exercise authority over men, whereas others are much more dubious, and those examples in which women demonstrably teach or exercise authority over men will be evaluated for the criteria of whether these women actually exercised regular spiritual oversight over men, which is part of the work to which elders in particular, and also deacons, are called.  These examples, in the order in which they appear in the Scriptures, are as follows:

  1. Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, was identified as a prophetess (Ex. 15.20), and she claimed that the Lord had spoken authoritatively through her, in addition to having spoken through Moses, and on that basis, she contended against her brother for his having married a Cushite woman (Num. 12.1-2).29
  2. Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess whom the Lord appointed to judge Israel, after the Canaanites had been oppressing His chosen people for twenty years (Judg. 4-5).30
  3. Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a prophetess through whom the Lord was pleased to speak His Word to King Josiah of Judah after the rediscovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple, following the idolatrous reigns of Kings Manasseh and Amon (II Kg. 22.14-20, II Chron. 34.22-28). 31
  4. The unnamed wife of Isaiah the prophet was identified as a prophetess (Is. 8.3).32
  5. Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, when she sang the Magnificat (Lk. 1.46-55), thereby became “a teacher of theology, ethics, and social justice,” to not only the women of the Church but also the men, when Luke recorded her song in his Gospel account.33
  6. Anna, the widowed daughter of Phanuel, was a prophetess who gave thanks to God for the presentation of the infant Lord Jesus at the Temple and “spoke of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2.36-38).34
  7. Priscilla (or Prisca), the wife of Aquila, together with her husband, “explained to (the Evangelist Apollos) the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18.26).35
  8. The four virgin daughters of the Evangelist Philip prophesied (and presumably did so before the Apostle Paul; Acts 21.9).36
  9. Phoebe, whom the Apostle Paul commended to the Church at Rome, is identified by him to be a deacon (Gk. διάκονος) of the Church at Cenchreae (Rom. 16.1).37  (The subject of women in the diaconate is addressed below, separate from this present discussion.)
  10. Junia, the wife of Andronicus, together with her husband was identified as “prominent among the apostles” (Rom. 16.7 NRSV).38
  11. The older women (Gk. πρεσβύτερας) identified in I Timothy 5.1-2 alongside older men (Gk. πρεσβύτεροι) ostensibly served on the (council of) elders (Gk. πρεσβύτεροι) that laid hands on Timothy at his ordination in I Timothy 4.14.39

Prophetesses.  Of these examples, slightly more than half of them (#1, #2, #3, #4, #6, #8) are women who are designated prophetesses or women who prophesied.  Apart from Deborah, whose unique case will be examined at the end of this section, there is no evidence that any of them were tasked with exercising spiritual oversight over men, which was what Paul proscribed women from doing in I Timothy 2.12.  Huldah came the closest, through whom the Lord was pleased to declare His Word by means of her private prophecy to Josiah King of Judah, but she neither spoke a command to him, either to do something or to not do something, nor is there evidence that she rebuked him for any sin, nor is there any evidence that Josiah sought regular spiritual counsel from her, as he did from the High Priest Hilkiah.  Similarly, Deborah prophesied privately to Barak when she delivered the Lord’s command to him (Judg. 4.6-9).  And Miriam’s only prophecy was a direct repeat of the first verse of Moses’ song, and it was sung only to the women who followed her with tambourines and dancing (Ex. 15.20-21; compare Ex. 15.1).  None of the prophetesses recorded in Scripture had a ministry where they proclaimed the Word of God publicly to all men and women alike, such as the ministry of the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

Further, it is noteworthy that none of them—not even Deborah—prophesied without the named authority of a man with spiritual oversight over her: Moses was named in Miriam’s case,40 but otherwise either the prophetess’ husband or father was named in each case.41  This is the intent behind Paul’s commands regarding head coverings—the head coverings demonstrated that the woman did not prophesy or pray without “a symbol of authority on her head,” indicating that her father, brother, or husband was a God-appointed authority over her (I Cor. 11.3-16), even if she was a long-time widow, like Anna.  Thus, there is no evidence that any of these prophetesses (except potentially Deborah) had regularly taught and exercised authority over men in the manner for which men called to the office of elder/overseer or deacon are expected to do.

Priscilla.  Likewise, with the case of Priscilla (also called Prisca; #7), who, with her husband Aquila, approached and “explained to the Evangelist Apollos the way of God more accurately.” (I Cor. 18.26)  This couple appears a half dozen times in Scripture (Acts 18.2,18,26, Rom. 16.3, I Cor. 16.19, II Tim. 4.19), and in four of these verses, her name is listed before his.  Egalitarians want to make much of this, implying that she was the leader in the relationship, but far more likely she was the more loquacious and sociable of the two.  In point of fact, when they are first introduced, Aquila is named first (Acts 18.2), and she is never named apart from him.  The passage at hand reads,

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus.  He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.  He had been instructed (Gk. κατηχέω) in the way of the Lord.  And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught (Gk. διδάσκω) accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained (Gk. ἐκτίθημι) to him the way of God more accurately. —Acts 18.24-26

The key points of this are, that Apollos was “competent in the Scriptures, he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, … he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,” and yet, “he knew only the baptism of John.”  To understand the extent of Priscilla and Aquila’s explanation of the way of God to him, we need to understand what was meant by “the baptism of John.”

The phrase, “the baptism of John” (Gk. τὸ βάπτισμα [τὸ] Ἰωάννου), appears eight times in the New Testament (Mt. 21.25, Mk. 11.30, Lk. 7.29, 20.4, Acts 1.22, [10.37], 18.25, [19.3]), and was defined by the Apostle Peter as, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” (Acts 10.38)  In regard to the meaning of this phrase, Calvin wrote, “Luke comprehendeth all (John’s) ministry under this word, not only because doctrine is annexed unto baptism, but also because it is the foundation and head thereof, without which it should be a vain and dead ceremony.”42  John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” in order that they should “believe in the one who was to come after (John), that is, Jesus.” (Mk. 1.4, Lk. 3.3, Acts 13.24, 19.4)

Yet John’s baptism was insufficient, for it only pointed to the Christ who is to come, namely, Jesus.  To be sure, Christ was present at the time John pointed to Him, but His work, which gives baptism in His name meaning, had not yet been accomplished.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6.3-5)  John had been beheaded by Herod while he was in prison, more than a year before the Lord Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead,43 before Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must be delivered into the hands of sinners, killed, and raised on the third day.

When Paul revisited Ephesus during his third missionary journey (he had left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey, while he returned to Antioch; Eph. 18.18-22), subsequent to Apollos’ preaching mission there, he found a dozen disciples—perhaps discipled by Apollos himself—who had only been baptized into John’s baptism and had neither received the Holy Spirit nor even heard of Him.  Upon hearing this, Paul rectified the situation by baptizing them into the name of Jesus, after which they received the Holy Spirit and began exhibiting the charismata—supernatural gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19.1-7).

By Apollos “having been instructed in the way of the Lord,” Calvin inferred, “that he understood the doctrine of the gospel, because he both knew that the Redeemer was given to the world, and also was well and sincerely instructed concerning the grace of reconciliation; and yet had he been trained up only in the principles of the gospel, so much as could be had out of John’s institution.”44  Thus, it seems that Apollos suffered from the same shortsightedness as the twelve Ephesian disciples Paul baptized, namely, that he failed to recognize the significance of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and his own need to be baptized into His name, and it is likely that this was the subject of Priscilla and Aquila’s explanation.

Of I Corinthians 18.24-26, Bailey wrote, “Clearly Priscilla is ‘team teaching’ the theology with Aquila and the student is no beginner, no fledgling catechumen; rather he is the famous, eloquent preacher of Alexandria.”  And further, “Priscilla had theological authority over her student Apollos.”45  Remember that Apollos had been well-trained in the Scriptures and the early proclamation of the Gospel, as presented by John the Baptist, and the Gospel that he was teaching from the pulpit during his ministry in Ephesus was accurate, if not adequate, for it lacked the centrality of the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ and our union with Him through baptism in His name.  Thus, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and expounded (Gk. ἐκτίθημι) the Scriptures to him, just as the Lord Jesus did to Cleopas and another disciple on the Road to Emmaus (Lk. 24.27), “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Lk. 24.46), and that all whom He called should be baptized into His name (Mt. 28.19).  This was a one-time instruction and correction meant to clarify Apollos’ understanding of the Gospel he was preaching.  It was not as if he was submitting to Priscilla regularly teaching (Gk. διδάσκω) from the pulpit, as he had been doing in Ephesus prior to her and Aquila’s arrival, or to her exercise of discipline over him, nor did she have a public preaching ministry, such as Paul’s or Apollos’, as if she were in the office of elder/overseer.

Mary.  Likewise, the simple fact that Mary’s Magnificat is recorded in Scripture for the edification of men and women alike (#5) does not mean that she is in the office of elder/overseer either, regularly preaching and teaching the Scriptures and exercising discipline in the Church.

Junia.  With respect to Junia (and Andronicus) being identified as an apostle in Romans 16.7 (#10), there are a number of interpretive difficulties: Is the name translated Junia feminine or masculine?  Are the pair prominent among the apostles, or well known to the apostles?  And exactly what, in this passage, does Paul mean by “apostle”?

The name Junia, as it appears in the United Bible Studies Greek New Testament (3rd ed., corrected, 1983) text, is masculine in form and as such would be translated Junias (Gk. Ἰουνίας), and is thus found in the ASV, RSV, & NASB, in which case Junias would not be the wife of Andronicus but a brother in Christ instead.  However, Thayer indicates that Junia, the feminine form found in the KJV, NIV, NRSV, & ESV, is linguistically possible.46  Bailey observed that no Latin commentaries on Romans prior to the late 13th century referred to Junia as Junias, and the late eminent Reformed theologian Roger Nicole noted accordingly that the earliest commentator who referred to Junia as Junias was Aegidus de Columna (ca. 1245-1316).  Bailey further observed that the name Junias has never appeared in any Greek or Latin text, that the shift in the European Church to call Junia Junias occurred between the 13th and the 16th centuries, and that the same shift occurred in the Middle East in the 19th century.47  Despite what the UBS text says, the evidence points to Junia being a woman and the wife of Andronicus.

Secondly, are Andronicus and Junia “prominent among the apostles” (NRSV), or “well known to the apostles” (ESV)?  The Greek reads, “ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις.”  According to Thayer, ἐπίσημοι means “marked” and has both positive and negative connotations.  The negative meaning is “notorious” or “infamous,” whereas the positive meaning, which is what Paul clearly intends here, is “of note” or “illustrious.”  The meaning, however, hinges upon the word ἐν, a very common preposition with a great many meanings, depending on context.  One possible meaning, and the one most commonly used in modern Bible translations of Romans 16.7, is “in,” “among,” or “with,” in the sense of, “that with which a person is surrounded.”  Examples of this meaning include: Mark 8.38, “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in (Gk. ἐν) this adulterous and sinful generation;” or Galatians 1.14, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among (Gk. ἐν) my people” (see also Mt. 2.6, 11.11, Mk. 9.50, Lk. 1.1, Jn. 1.14, 13.35, Acts 2.29, I Cor. 3.18, 5.1).  Thus, “ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,” would mean, “illustrious among the apostles,” in the sense that Andronicus and Junia would be included in their number.  Obviously, this is the meaning favored by Egalitarians.  Another possible meaning, and the one used in the ESV translation of Romans 16.7, is “with, among, in the presence of,” with the sense of to.  Examples of this meaning include: I Corinthians 2.6, “Yet among (Gk. ἐν) the mature we do impart wisdom;” or Matthew 21.42, “This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in (Gk. ἐν) our eyes.”  Thus, “ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,” would mean, “of note to the apostles,” in the sense that Andronicus and Junia would be esteemed by the apostles but not included in their number.48

Although the second sense is linguistically possible and coheres with the idea that the word apostle (Gk. ἀπόστολος) in its customary use in the New Testament is synonymous with the Twelve Disciples (with Paul replacing Judas), the first sense actually has greater attestation from the early Church.49  For example, the Fourth Century Church Father John Chrysostom said in one of his homilies concerning the reference to Andronicus and Junia in Romans 16.7, “And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing.  But to be even amongst these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is!  But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements.  Oh! how great is the devotion (φιλοσοφία) of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”50

So then, what, exactly, does Paul mean by calling his kinsmen, Andronicus and Junia, “apostles”?  Does he mean that they are invested with the same foundational authority with which he, Peter, John, and others were invested by the Lord Jesus, such that, “whatever (they) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever (they) loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16.19, Jn. 20.23)?  That they were enumerated among “the apostles and prophets” that constituted the foundation on which Christ built His Church (Eph. 2.20)?

In commenting on Romans 16.7, John Calvin wrote,

(Paul) calls them Apostles: he uses not this word in its proper and common meaning, but extends it wider, even to all those who not only teach in one Church, but also spend their labour in promulgating the gospel everywhere.  He then, in a general way, calls those in this place Apostles, who planted Churches by carrying here and there the doctrine of salvation; for elsewhere he confines this title to that first order which Christ at the beginning established, when he appointed the twelve disciples.51

In its most basic sense, the word apostle (Gk. ἀπόστολος) means, “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders,”52 and it is used in this sense in John 13.16, II Corinthians 8.23, and Philippians 2.25.  It is used of the Lord Jesus in Hebrews 3.1, and elsewhere in the Gospels, Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and Revelation, it is exclusively used of the Twelve Disciples who were later named Apostles, except in Acts 14.4,14, where the Evangelist Luke uses it of Paul and Barnabas.  In Paul’s Epistles, the Apostle sometimes uses the word apostle in this sense, including in passages where he refers to himself as an Apostle, but often he uses it to refer to those engaged in missionary work (I Cor. 4.9, 9.5, Gal. 1.9, I Thess. 2.6), including Andronicus and Junia in Romans 16.7.  Thus, when Paul refers to Junia as an “apostle,” he does not intend it in the same sense of the Twelve Apostles (and those known and endorsed by them) who wrote the New Testament Scriptures that form, together with the Old Testament Law and Prophets, the foundation upon which Christ builds His Church (Eph. 2.20).

Women Elders in Ephesus.  With respect to older women serving on the council of elders alongside men in the Ephesian Church (#11), Bailey’s argument for this proposition is convoluted, tortured, and by no means conclusive.  It does not flow from a plain reading of the text and depends entirely on fitting the fourth and fifth chapters of I Timothy into an “inverted parallelism:”

In regard to our text, if we observe the larger section in which (I Tim.) 5.1-2 appears, the following outline emerges:

1. These instructions (as a minister) 4.6-11

     2. Timothy and the elders (and the young) 4.12-5.2

          3. Older widows (and the young) 5.3-16

     4. Timothy and the elders 5.17-20

5. These rules (in regard to ordination) 5.21-22

Bailey proceeds to identify #1 & #5 and #2 & #4 as two pairs, based on their indentation in this scheme, with #3 as the center, and his argument is focused on the perceived parallels between #2 & #4.  First, he wants to group the first two verses of I Timothy 5 with the topic Paul is discussing in 4.11-16, which is personal instructions to Timothy, particularly about the example he is to set for the Church in Ephesus, which is under his pastoral care, while 5.1-2 are further instructions on how, as a young pastor, he is to treat older and younger men, and also older and younger women.  The following section, 5.3-16, is a discussion on the enrollment of widows, which is expanded upon above, and while this discussion flows naturally from the first two verses of I Timothy 5, the instructions in these two verses align more with the last six verses of the preceding chapter.  Thus, there is no logical reason that we should not agree with Bailey on this point.

However, Bailey has an agenda behind making this alignment.  In I Timothy 4.14, Paul tells Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders (Gk. πρεσβύτεροι) laid their hands on you.”  And in I Timothy 5.1-2, he is saying, “Do not rebuke an older man (Gk. πρεσβύτερος) but encourage him as you would a father.  Treat younger men like brothers, older women (Gk. πρεσβύτερας) like mothers, younger women like sisters, all in purity.”  Bailey describes this conjunction, saying, “Paul first mentions the elders who have ordained Timothy (4.12-16),” namely, “elders who are not criticized.  He then discusses the difficult elders (5.1-2).  These are obviously people whom Timothy is sorely tempted to attack.  He is told, ‘Don’t do it.  Treat the πρεσβύτερος like a father, he is advised, and the πρεσβύτερας (plural) like mothers.”

Then he draws a parallel between I Timothy 4.11-5.2 and 5.17-20, saying, “Thus the two topics of ‘helpful elders’ and ‘difficult elders’ appear in” both of these passages.  In the first two verses of this latter passage, Paul is enjoining Timothy to honor elders who rule well, especially elders who exercise the ministry of teaching and preaching.53  Then in the latter two verses, Paul cautions him to be wary of charges made against an elder, but then to rebuke those elders who persist in sin before the entire congregation.  Then he concludes, saying, “In each case the good elders are mentioned first and the difficult elders second.  Thus paragraphs 2 and 4 can be seen as parallel discussions of ministry.  If this is true, the πρεσβύτερας in 5.2 are women elders ordained and engaged in ministry in Timothy’s congregation.”54

In making this analogy, Bailey is overly simplistic, reading the “good elder/bad elder” scheme into both of these passages.  While it is true that in both I Timothy 4.14 and 5.17-20, Paul is undoubtedly referring to ordained elders, who have been appointed after having met the requirements detailed in 3.1-7, as opposed to older men (πρεσβύτεροι can be translated as either “elders” [a term interchangeable with “overseers”] or “older men,” depending on context), in 4.14 the elders are not the subject of discussion but are only mentioned with respect to Paul’s instruction not to neglect the gift Timothy received when they laid hands on him, whereas in 5.17-20 the elders are themselves the subject of discussion.  Moreover, in 5.1-2, the natural reading of πρεσβύτερος is “older man,” especially when seen in conjunction with “younger men,” “older women,” and “younger women” in the same passage.  Bailey would have us believe that in 5.1-2 Paul was discussing how Timothy ought to be treating colleagues in “formal ministries,”55 but this is a forced interpretation, when it is clear that Paul is instructing Timothy on how to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (I Tim. 4.12)  Further, if Paul had elders specifically in mind in I Timothy 5.1-2, rather than older men, why would he categorically tell his young protégé there to not rebuke an elder but then in 5.20 to rebuke in front of the whole congregation an elder who has proved himself an incorrigible sinner?  Thus, there is no evidence that women served as elders in the Church of Ephesus, especially given Paul’s proscription of the practice in I Timothy 2.12 and the requirement that an elder be a “one-woman man” in I Timothy 3.2.

Deborah.  What, then, about Deborah (#2)?  Not only was she accounted a prophetess, but she “was judging Israel” during the Canaanite occupation under the command of Jabin, the king of Canaan, and Sisera, the general of his army.  “She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judg. 4.1-5).  She summoned Barak, the general of the Israelite army, and ordered him to assemble the army at Mount Tabor and meet Sisera and the Canaanite army at the Kishon River, where the Lord promised to give him the victory (Judg. 4.6-7).  And after Israel’s victory over Sisera and the Canaanite army (Judg. 4.12-24), Deborah and Barak led the Israelite nation in worship (Judg. 5).  Of her, Davis wrote,

In Judges, Deborah appears as a “second Moses” figure whose authority derives from the God of Sinai.  The case of Deborah poses a special dilemma for the “traditional” reading of I Timothy 2.12: If it is true that Paul’s use of creation texts is intended to prohibit all women in all circumstances from exercising authority over men in the covenant community, then the apostle is forbidding what God has in this instance permitted—and this would amount to a contradiction within the canon itself.56

Deborah alone of all the women in the Bible was approved by God to exercise authority over men in deciding disputes between them.  However, she did so in the time of the Judges, in days when “there was no king in Israel, (and) everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17.6, 21.25), and as John Piper and Wayne Grudem have pointed out, “The period of the judges is an especially precarious foundation for building a vision of God’s ideal for leadership.”57  None of the priests who served in the Tabernacle or the Temple were women.  Athaliah was the only ruling queen in either Israel or Judah, and she attained her position through usurpation and not by the anointment of God (II Kg. 11.1-3).  And although there were prophetesses in Old Testament Israel, none of them, not even Deborah, were invested with the same magisterial authority as prophets such as Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel.

Deborah’s judgeship over Israel was unique in other ways as well.  To begin with, unlike all other prominent judges in the book, there is no explicit statement that God had raised her up (compare Judg. 3.9,15, 6.14, 11.29, 13.25, 14.6).  Instead, the text simply states that she was judging Israel during the time of Canaanite occupation under Jabin and Sisera and gives the details as to where she was when the Israelites came to her for judgment (Judg. 4.4-5).  Further, God had no intention of delivering Israel from the Canaanites by her hand, as He had delivered His people from their oppressors by the hands of other judges—Othniel (Judg. 3.9-11), Ehud (Judg. 3.15-30), Shamgar (Judg. 3.31), Gideon (Judg. 6.14, 7.1-8.21), Jephthah (Judg. 11.29,32-33), and Samson (Judg. 13.5,24-25, 14.4,19, 15.14-17, 16.28-30).  Rather, He chose to deliver Israel by Barak, to whom He delivered His command by Deborah’s prophecy (Judg. 4.6-7).  Yet it was Barak, not God, who wanted her to accompany the army, and he received a consequence as a result, namely that it would be a woman, Jael, who slew Sisera, and he would not get the glory (Judg. 4.9,17-22).

Finally, Davis’ argument that Paul’s prohibition of what God had permitted in Deborah constitutes a contradiction within the canon of Scripture is answered by Calvin, who wrote in his Commentary on I Timothy 2.12,

If any one bring forward, by way of objection, Deborah (Judg. 4.4) and others of the same class, of whom we read that they were at one time appointed by the command of God to govern the people, the answer is easy.  Extraordinary acts done by God do not overturn the ordinary rules of government, by which he intended that we should be bound.  Accordingly, if women at one time held the office of prophets and teachers, and that too when they were supernaturally called to it by the Spirit of God, He who is above all law might do this; but, being a peculiar case, this is not opposed to the constant and ordinary system of government.58

Paul’s “Great Vision” of Gender Equality?

Besides the foregoing, Evangelical Egalitarians will often cite other Scriptures in support of their contention that women ought to be ordained to the offices of elder and deacon.  While there are a number of such passages, many of them are directed toward abuses wrongly perceived in genuinely Biblical complementarianism but present nonetheless in some, if not many, who claim to be complementarians but fail to observe the Lord’s commands regarding Biblical leadership and how men are to treat women, both in the home and in the Church.  But there is one particular passage that Evangelical egalitarians regard as the lynchpin of their philosophy.

In Galatians 3.28, the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Egalitarians latch onto this passage—in particular the third proposition therein—and absolutize it, holding to it as the central passage by which all passages of Scripture touching on the relationships of men and women must be interpreted.  In the context of building his argument that Paul in I Timothy 2.12 was speaking against female-dominance attitudes from the Ephesian culture that were infiltrating the church, Bailey wrote, “Two wrongs do not make a right.  The great standard set in Gal. 3.28 affirms that ‘in Christ…there is no longer male and female’ (NRSV).  Progress toward that goal of full equality cannot be made if either gender is asserting de-humanizing power over the other.”  And again,

Verses 11-12 (sic) are as follows: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”  Difficulties continue: What is meant here?  This text appears to be in direct clash with Gal. 3.28 on the one hand and Rom. 5 and I Cor. 15.21-22 on the other.  Gal. 3.28 (as noted) says that in Christ there is no more “male and female” (NRSV).  Paul is quoting Gen. 1.27 and affirming that in Christ this order is no longer relevant.  Here, apparently it is significant.  This is indeed a crux interpretum.  Yet in this text Paul is angry and is surely not attempting to write a calm dispassionate essay that can be critically compared to what he wrote decades earlier in another time and to another situation.

And Bailey concludes his article by writing, “In this manner all the NT texts considered can be seen as supportive of the great vision in Gal. 3.28 where ‘in Christ…there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”59

Bailey and all egalitarians who use Galatians 3.28 in this manner are taking it out of context and are using it to justify a position that Paul never intended it to say.  In Galatians Paul was writing to rebuke the Churches of Galatia for listening to the Judaizers, who insisted that circumcision (a token representing the principle of keeping the whole Old Testament Law), in addition to faith in Christ, was necessary for salvation.  In Galatians 3.15-4.7 he was emphasizing the priority of God’s Promise to Abraham, which was the patriarch’s by faith, over the condemnation of the Law.  In the immediate context, Paul writes,

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. —Galatians 3.23-29

What Paul is saying here is that Christ has abolished the condemnation of the Law for all who are found in Him.  Men and women in Christ have equal standing before God as brothers and sisters, “joint heirs of the grace of life” (I Pet. 3.7), without one standing to inherit more than the other.  Paul is not saying that Christ has abolished gender roles and responsibilities which were defined for our race by God before the Fall, at Creation.  If that were the case, we would not see such passages as I Corinthians 11.3-16, 14.33-38, Ephesians 5.22-33, Colossians 3.18-19, II Timothy 2.8-15, and I Peter 3.1-7, where such distinctions are maintained in the Church.

In a similar passage, Paul was enjoining the Corinthian Church to unity and rebuking the attitude some of its members had regarding the possession (or lack of possession) of spiritual gifts: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (I Cor. 12.12-13)  Likewise, Paul enjoined the Colossian Christians to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3.5-11)

In neither of these passages did he think it necessary to include the male/female dichotomy, as he did in Galatians 3.28.  It stands to reason that if the abolition of gender roles was God’s “great standard” or His “great vision,” we should see many more such passages in the New Testament.  But it is not, so we do not.

Women in the Diaconate

The argument that women ought to be ordained to the office of deacon is predicated upon two texts.  First, in the middle of his list of qualifications for deacon, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Their wives (Gk. γυναῖκες) likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” (I Tim. 3.11)  γυναῖκες (the plural of γυνὴ), as noted above, can be rendered as either “wives” or “women,” depending on context, and the possessive pronoun “their” is not present in the Greek text of this passage but was added by the translators of the ESV (likewise KJV, NIV, NKJV), who believed that the context of the passage indicated that γυναῖκες should in this case be interpreted to mean the wives of the deacons.  Thus, the verse has also been translated, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” (NASB; likewise ASV, RSV, NRSV, 2011 NIV)

Second, in his greetings at the end of his Epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant (Gk. διάκονος) of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron (Gk. προστάτις) of many and of myself as well.” (Rom. 16.1-2)  Similar to the multiple meanings of γυναῖκες mentioned above, διάκονος can also be translated as “deacon,” as it is in Philippians 1.1 and I Timothy 3.8,12.  Thus, Romans 16.1 has also been translated, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae.” (NRSV)  However, of the twenty-nine or thirty60 instances of διάκονος in the New Testament, the most common translation is “servant.”61  Of Phoebe, Roger Nicole wrote,

Phoebe is called a “deacon” (note the masculine form related to an office rather than the gender of the person who holds it) of the church in Cenchreae, “who has been a benefactor (from προΐστημι, ‘to rule, to help’) of many people,” including St. Paul (vv. 1-2).62

Likewise, Bailey wrote,

Phoebe is called a deacon (διάκονος) not a deaconess.  The evidence for the feminine use of this masculine form is slight.  Most likely this masculine ending is used because Phoebe was ordained to a clearly defined ministry, that of deacon (διάκονος).  Thus the formal title appears.  Another reason is that the Aramaic word is shammash, which is used to describe the High Priest officiating in the temple at the day of atonement.  But the feminine shammasha means a prostitute.  The need for an honorable title would dictate the use of the masculine in the church where a significant number had Aramaic as a part of their linguistic heritage. …

In the contemporary scene Cranfield concludes, “We regard it as virtually certain that Phoebe is being described as a or possibly the ‘deacon’ of the church in question, and that this occurrence of διάκονος is to be classified with its occurrences in Philippians 1.1 and I Timothy 3.8 and 12.”  We would add to this that in I Tim. 4.6 διάκονος is applied to Timothy himself where it is usually translated “minister.”  While recognizing that Romans is written when the church’s ministry was in an early and more undefined stage, Dunn feels that “servant” is inadequate.  He writes, “διάκονος together with οὖσα points more to a recognized ministry…or position of responsibility within the congregation.”  Paul refers to himself and to Apollos as διάκονοι in I Cor. 3.5.  Furthermore, Phoebe is called a προστάτις over/to many.  This word was applied to the leader of worship in Graeco-Roman temple as well as to a governor, a chieftain and the leader of a democracy.  Dunn argues for patron/protector, or leader/ruler.  A ninth century Arabic version translated this phrase, ‘qa’ima ‘ala katherin wa ‘alayya’, in authority over many and over myself as well.63

In addition to egalitarian Evangelicals like Nicole and Bailey, who believe that the offices of both elder and deacon ought to be open to women, there are complementarian Evangelicals who believe that, although the office of elder is denied to women based on the foregoing arguments, Scripture seems to permit, and even commend, women to the office of deacon.  For example, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America deny the offices of teaching elder and ruling elder to women but open the office of deacon to them, and the Presbyterian Church in America, which currently reserves the office of deacon exclusively for men (BCO §24-1), is wrestling with the issue.64

Edmund Clowney, the late Professor of Practical Theology and President of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after arguing against the ordination of women to the office of elder, argued for the ordination of women to the diaconate.  Quoting from the ASV, he said of I Timothy 3.11,

This verse occurs in a passage that gives the requirements of church officers: first bishops (I Tim. 3.1-7), and then deacons (3.8-10,12-13).  Verse 11 is located in the middle of the passage that describes the deacons.  Clearly this is not a description of women in general: the verse describes either women who are deacons or women who are wives of deacons. …

An argument against referring to this text to the wives of deacons is the fact that there is no similar description of the wives of bishops in the preceding verses.  The absence of the possessive pronoun (i.e., “their”) is also significant.  More striking is the use of “likewise” or “in the same way” (ὡσαύτως), which was used in verse 8 to relate the requirements of deacons to those of bishops.  Evidently three parallel sections of qualifications are aligned: for the bishop (3.1-7), for deacons “likewise” (3.8-10), and for women “in the same way” (3.11).  This mention of deacons’ wives comes before the requirements for male deacons are resumed in the next verses (3.12-13).

Further, the requirements listed for the women in 3.11 are remarkably parallel to the requirements for deacons in general (3.8-10).  Paul seems to point out that these requirements apply to women deacons as well to men, before going on to describe the further requirements for men, and then concluding with a statement of the reward of faithful diaconal ministry.65

Another complementarian who agrees that women ought to be ordained to the diaconate, Thomas Schreiner, the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Professor of Biblical Theology, and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees with Clowney that γυναῖκες should be translated as “women,” and that Paul’s use of ὡσαύτως signifies a brief transition to women who serve as deacons.  He then goes on to say,

Third, another argument in support of female deacons is from silence, but it’s an important one.  The argument goes like this: If the reference is to the wives of deacons, why does Paul omit a reference to the wives of elders, particularly since elders exercise pastoral oversight and overall leadership in the church?  It would seem the character of the wives of elders would be even more important than the wives of deacons—and thus focusing on the wives of deacons, but not on the wives of elders, is strange.  Yet if the reference is to female deacons, we have an elegant explanation for why the wives of elders aren’t mentioned—for the wives of deacons aren’t included either.  In other words, Paul isn’t referring to wives at all, but to female deacons.

Fourth, the character qualities required for the women in I Timothy 3.11 are also mandated for elders and male deacons, which makes sense if an official capacity is intended.  Just as deacons are to “be worthy of respect” (I Tim. 3.8), so too female deacons must “be worthy of respect” (I Tim. 3.11).  Elders are to be “self-controlled” (I Tim. 3.2), and female deacons must also be “self-controlled” (I Tim. 3.11).  Two other character qualities are required of female deacons: They are not to be “slanderers,” and they must be “faithful” (I Tim. 3.11).  Such qualifications point to official responsibility.66

Conversely, Guy Waters, the James M. Baird, Jr., Professor of New Testament and Academic Dean of the Houston Campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, disagrees with Clowney’s and Schreiner’s arguments.  Although he notes that γυναῖκες could be translated as either “women” or “wives,” he does not find significance in the absence of a clarifying pronoun (i.e., “their”).

Paul could be referring to the wives of deacons or to a separate group of women altogether.  Conceivably, women in such a group could hold the office of deacon, could hold an office (“deaconess”) alongside that of the diaconate, or could be a chosen body of assistants to the deacons.

It is noteworthy that Paul refrains from assigning a title to these women as he earlier has to elders and deacons (I Tim. 3.1,8).  No matrimonial qualification is assigned to these women, as for elders and deacons (I Tim. 3.2,12).  No provision is made for testing these women, as for elders and deacons (I Tim. 5.22, 3.10).  Paul immediately resumes his discussion of the diaconate in I Timothy 3.12-13.  All these things point away from understanding I Timothy 3.11 as speaking of women holding either the office of deacon or a parallel office.

Paul, rather, may be describing the qualities that must characterize wives of deacon candidates.  In light of the sensitivities surrounding deacons’ work, and in light of the fact that wives may be called on to assist their husbands—particularly in addressing the needs of the church’s women—one could see why Paul might have desired that the church be satisfied with the character of a candidate and his wife as they assessed his suitability for the diaconate.67

Writing on the subject of Phoebe, Clowney said,

C. E. B. Cranfield concludes that the form Paul uses in Romans 16.1 speaks of a “deacon” in the official sense.  The present participle of the verb “to be” is regularly used to identify an office (Jn. 11.49, Acts 18.12, 24.10).  The addition of the name of the church in Cenchreae fits this identification: “Phoebe our sister, being also deacon of the church in Cenchreae…”  If διάκονος were being used in the general sense of “servant” we might have expected “servant of Christ.”

The reference of διάκονος to an office is further supported by the fact that Paul goes on to describe how Phoebe fulfilled the office.  She was a “helper” to many, including the apostle himself.  The Greek term προστάτις was sometimes used in the sense of “patron,” someone with the social position and means to protect the defenseless.  Perhaps Phoebe’s “business” at Rome included the defense of widows or orphans.

The charge Paul gives the Roman church concerning Phoebe does not merely commend a friend to their fellowship.  He formally requests recognition for Phoebe, and full support for her activities.  How do we define “office” if not as a function that requires public recognition for its proper exercise?  If Paul had not called Phoebe a διάκονος at all, the fact of his commending her for support by the Roman church in her work indicates that she was entitled to formal recognition in any case. …

Since Paul excludes women from authority in the church (I Tim. 2.11-15), and presents order appropriate to the “household of God” (3.15), he makes no provision for women when he gives the qualifications for the office of bishop.  Women are not called to rule in the family or in the family of God.  But Paul does make provision for women in the office of deacon, and recognizes Phoebe as active in that office.68

Schreiner has very little to say on Romans 16.1-2.  Because the passage includes the words, “of the church at Cenchreae,” he is inclined to think that διάκονος in this passage means “deacon” rather than “servant,” especially “since Phoebe is designated as a ‘patron’ (ESV) or ‘benefactor’ (CSB), which means she regularly helped, perhaps financially, those in need.”69  Waters likewise has little to say on it, saying only, “It is doubtful the word here bears the more precise sense of ‘deacon.’  The context of Romans 16 requires only that Paul be commending Phoebe as a dedicated servant of God’s people.  It does not require that she was a church deacon.”70

The office of Deacon is an office of service—hence its name.  Although the name is not directly applied to them in the text, it is generally believed that the seven Greek men in the early Church, who were appointed to oversee the daily distribution of the financial support that the Church was raising to support the widows in her midst (Acts 6.1-6), were the first men appointed to this office.  Accordingly, the Apostles commissioned the office, saying, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve (Gk. διακονέω) tables.” (v. 2)  The office of Deacon is a position of responsibility, with the authority to call men and women of the congregation to assist them in their task, as needed.  Thus, they exercise authority over men, as well as women.

Deacons are also required to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (I Tim. 3.9)  Although deacons are not expected to regularly teach, as are elders (I Tim. 3.2, 5.17, Tit. 1.9), two of the seven men first appointed to the office did (Acts 7.2-53, 8.4-40).

Finally, deacons are required to “be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.” (I Tim. 3.12)  As Waters observed, if Paul had women deacons in mind in 3.11, rather than deacons’ wives, one would have expected him to have required them to be “the wife of one husband,” as he did of enrolled widows (I Tim. 5.9).  A wife is called to assist her husband in ruling their household, but ultimately he, not she, is responsible to God for ruling his household well.

Thus, the Scriptures indicate that God, through the Apostle Paul, calls on His Church to reserve the office of deacon, like the office of elder, for qualified men.  That Paul calls Phoebe a διάκονος no more means that she had been called to the office of Deacon than the fact that he called her a προστάτις means that she exercised authority over him, as Bailey suggests.

Conclusion

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
—I Timothy 2.11-15

Paul, in making this statement immediately prior to establishing the prerequisites for ordination to the offices of elder and deacon, both of which require the officeholder to be “the husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3.2,12), is clearly stating that he is excluding women from these offices, which do entail teaching and exercising authority over both men and women.  Further, his statement in I Timothy 3.14-15, that, “I am writing these things to you so that…you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth,” demonstrates that what he has written about men’s and women’s roles in I Timothy 2, as well as the prerequisites for office in the Church, is intended as a normative principle to be applied to all the churches.

Reading I Timothy 2.11-15 in the greater context of the teachings on gender roles in the Old and New Testaments, it is clear that Paul is not saying that women should never pray, prophesy, or speak in church, nor that they should never give instruction to men.  Neither, for that matter, should it be construed that women are Scripturally forbidden from holding places of authority in secular offices.  However, in the context of the Church and the Christian home, woman is placed under the headship, or the servant leader authority, of man, who is commanded to love his wife as his own flesh—and as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5.25, I Pet. 3.7)—and to treat “older women (in the Church) like mothers (and) younger women like sisters, all in purity.” (I Tim. 5.2)  Man’s authority over woman must be exercised with love and gentleness, as the Lord Jesus demonstrated, and not in an onerous, overbearing, or demanding way, as the Gentiles were wont to do (Mt. 20.25-28, Mk. 10.42-45, Lk. 22.25-29, Jn. 13.1-15), for “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14.12; see also Mt. 12.36-37, 16.27, Heb. 4.13, I Pet. 4.5)

The case for the ordination of women to the offices of elder and deacon is weak.  It is predicated upon the assumption that Paul in I Timothy 2.11-15 was addressing a situation in which women in the Church of Ephesus, where Timothy was serving as pastor, were teaching and usurping authority over men, despite the absence of any reference to that effect in either of Paul’s epistles to Timothy, or in his epistle to the Church at Ephesus, or in the Lord Jesus’ own epistle to the Church at Ephesus (Rev. 2.1-7), similar to “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rev. 2.20).  It is further predicated upon the assumption that if these assumed conditions were not present, then Paul’s injunction against women teaching and exercising authority over men would no longer be in effect, and there would then be no Scriptural reason for women not to teach or exercise authority over men in the offices of elder or deacon, despite the paucity of examples in Scripture and Church history prior to the 20th century of godly women actually doing so.

To be sure, there are those within the pale of the Church who disagree with these conclusions.  Some of these loosened their understanding of Paul’s injunction regarding women teaching or exercising authority over men, and that precipitated loosening other doctrines as well, leading down the slippery slope to doctrinal compromise and theological liberalism.  Others had already compromised on other theological doctrines more central to the Gospel, and so compromising on Scripture’s teachings against ordaining women was done without a second thought.  But this is not true of all who have made peace with women’s ordination, for there are still genuine Christians who hold to Biblical inerrancy and the Gospel of salvation from sin and death by the grace of God through faith in the person and atoning work of Christ on the Cross, who nevertheless believe arguments advanced by scholars such as Kenneth E. Bailey, John Jefferson Davis, Walter C. Kaiser, and Roger Nicole that teach that women ought to be ordained to the offices of elder and deacon.  And irrespective of my arguments made against them in this post, I have deep respect for the scholarship of each of these godly men.

It is important to remember that the Scriptures’ teaching that women ought not teach or exercise authority over men, or to be ordained to the offices of elder or deacon, is of secondary importance, not primary importance.  One is not required to believe that Scripture teaches that women ought not be ordained in order to trust in the person and work of Christ for salvation from sin and death.  Neither, for that matter, should the issue of women’s ordination be a cause for separating oneself from a particular church.  And one’s beliefs on women’s ordination—one way or the other—ought not be a hindrance to membership in a particular church or for partaking of the Lord’s Supper at a particular church.  The Lord includes in His Church both men and women who do believe in women’s ordination and men and women who do not.

Nevertheless, gender roles in Scripture have revelatory significance, as representing the union of Christ and the Church (or of God and the Old Testament people of Israel), wherein the man represents Christ (or God) and the woman represents the Church (or Old Testament Israel).  The ordination of women to the offices of elder and deacon cannot but have the effect of diminishing the significance of this aspect of God’s revelation.

The Apostle Paul enjoins us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4.3)  While it is likely that denominations that hold to women’s ordination will never be organizationally united with denominations that do not (at least this side of heaven), Christians who disagree on this subject ought to disagree charitably, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We ought not hold negative stereotypes of one another but make an earnest attempt to understand the other’s viewpoint, even if we do not share it.  And at the end of the day, especially if neither side has convinced the other, we ought to be able to sit down at the table and take bread together.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! … For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133.1,3)


Footnotes

1     G‑6.0106b (2) UPC, 1975, p. 254, Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh (Rem. Case 1); accessed 1 Feb 2021.  Note: Although the PC(USA) was still hosting the transcript of the case of Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh at the time this blog post was being drafted, the PC(USA) has since removed it from its website.

2     “This Day in Presbyterian History: July 29: Ascension Presbytery (PCA)”; accessed 1 Feb 2021.

3     EPC Position Paper: Ordination of Women, Adopted by the Fourth General Assembly, June 1984; accessed 1 Feb 2021.  The EPC holds that, “While some churches may ordain women and some may decline to do so, neither position is essential to the existence of the church.  Since people of good faith who equally love the Lord and hold to the infallibility of Scripture differ on this issue, and since uniformity of view and practice is not essential to the existence of the visible church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has chosen to leave this decision to the Spirit-guided consciences of particular congregations concerning the ordination of women as elders and deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of women as ministers.”

4     Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D., The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (1879; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1979, 1981), pp. 610-611.

5     The name given to this office in Greek is ἐπίσκοπος, which is normally translated as “bishop” or “overseer”.  However, in the parallel passage in Tit. 1.5-9 where Paul again enumerates the qualifications for this office, he wrote, “I left you in Crete, so that you might…appoint elders (Gk. πρεσβύτεροι) in every town as I directed you. … For an overseer (Gk. ἐπίσκοπος), as God’s steward, must be above reproach.”  Likewise, in Acts 20.17-38 Paul “sent to Ephesus and called the elders (Gk. πρεσβύτεροι) of the church to come to him.  And when they came to him, he said to them: … ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Gk. ἐπίσκοποι), to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.’”  Thus, it is evident that Paul uses the two names interchangeably to refer to the same office.  Further, in I Tim. 5.17-18 Paul makes a distinction between elders who rule only and those who labor in teaching in addition to exercising rule: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”  On the basis of this passage, Presbyterians refer to members of the clergy as “teaching elders” and to laymen appointed to assist the clergy in ruling the church as “ruling elders”.

6     G‑6.0106b (2) UPC, 1975, p. 254, Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh (Rem. Case 1).  The exact question was, “If the candidate does not believe that women should teach, I come to the very practical question as to how he would staff his church school?”

7     The practice of Orthodox Jewish men wearing kippah (or yarmulke) skullcaps during worship was developed subsequent to Paul’s teaching in this passage.

8     The PC(USA) was formed in 1983 by a merger of the UPCUSA and the PCUS.  Similarly, the UPCUSA was formed in 1958 by a merger of the PCUSA and the United Presbyterian Church in North America.

9     Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2015), pp. 207-212.

10   “Articles of Agreement between the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America” §8.1 in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Part II: Book of Order, 2015-2017 (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA), 2015), p. A-7.

11   The ECO Essential Tenets document §III.D, which is part of that denomination’s constitution, states, “The ministries of the church reflect the three-fold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king—reflected in the church’s ordered ministries of teaching elders, deacons, and ruling elders.  We affirm that men and women alike are called to all the ministries of the Church.”  And again, the ECO Polity (its equivalent of the Book of Order) §1.0603.c states, “(The session shall) train, examine, ordain and install those men and women chosen to serve as elders and deacons.”  To the best of my knowledge, as of this writing, the ECO has not faced a challenge to this position through either the examination of a candidate for office, or the discipline of an officer, who disagrees with the denomination’s position on the ordination of women.

12   The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Part II: Book of Order, 2007-2009 (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA), 2007), §G-6.0106.b.  §G-6.0106.b was removed from the PC(USA) Book of Order, after three previous failed attempts to do so, by a vote of the 2010 General Assembly (373-323-4) and the subsequent ratification by a majority of presbyteries (97-74), precipitating a massive split in the denomination, with nearly all departing congregations changing their affiliation to either the EPC or the ECO.  At the end of 2009, the PC(USA) had 2,077,138 active members; eleven years later, that number had fallen by forty percent to 1,245,354.

13   Westminster Confession of Faith I.7,9.

14   Thayer, Lexicon, p. 84.

15   John Jefferson Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives” in Tim Krueger, ed., Correcting Caricatures: Revisiting the Biblical Ideal for Men and Women in Ministry (Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality, 2012), p. 20, emphasis original.  Thayer quotes three of these occurrences in his Lexicon (op. cit.).

16   Al Wolters, “An Early Parallel of αὐθεντεῖν in I Tim 2:12” in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Dec 2011), pp. 673-684.  The translation of the text is Wolters’ own.  Alternative translations by other Greek scholars that Wolters gives before his own are, “one who has full command (αὐθεντοῦντα) of everything in an art but gains nothing” (Robert Schmidt), and “one who exercises authority over all in the trade and pays no consequences” (John R. Werner).

17   Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 20, emphasis original.

18   Ibid., p. 23.

19   Ibid., pp. 24,25, n. 18.  Mt. 6.20 states, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  And Acts 17.24-25 states, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands.”  By Davis’ and Belleville’s argument, “where thieves do not break in and steal” (Gk. ὅπου κλέτται οὐ διορύσσουσιν οὐδὲ κλέπτουσιν) becomes, “where thieves break in with a view to steal;” and “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands” (Gk. οὐκ ἐν χειροποιήτοις ναοῖς κατοικεῖ οὐδὲ ὐπὸ χειρῶν ἀνθρωπίνων θεραπεύεται προσδεόμενὀς τινος) becomes, “does not dwell in human temples with a view to being served by human hands.”

20   Ibid., p. 24.

21   Thayer defines προΐστημι as, “to be over, to superintend, preside over, “to be a protector or guardian; to give aid,” or “to care for, give attention to.”  He defines κατακυριεύω as, “to bring under one’s power, to subject to one’s self, to subdue, master,” or, “to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over.”  He defines κατεξουσιάζω as, “to exercise power over, wield power.”  (Lexicon, pp. 332, 339, 539.)

22   Davis apparently overlooks Paul’s “global” use of the creation and fall in I Cor. 15.21-22 in the context of his defense of the bodily resurrection of Christ—hardly a “local” problem limited to the Corinthian Church.

23   Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” pp. 20-21, emphasis original.

24   Ibid., pp. 21-22, emphasis original.

25   Ibid., pp. 20-22,24.

26   Kenneth E. Bailey, “Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View,” in Correcting Caricatures, p. 33.  The translation quoted here is Bailey’s.

27   My original post on the Ordination of Women incorrectly referred to the priestesses of Artemis’ Temple as cult prostitutes.  I apologize for the error.

28   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 32-33.  This is, of course, pure speculation on Bailey’s part, based upon a runaway extrapolation resulting from an insistence that αὐθεντέω must necessarily mean “dominate” or “domineer,” an interpretation that does not at all fit the context of the passage in I Timothy 2, as previously discussed.  It is, however, characteristic of some of the absurd things Bailey puts forth in his argument.

29   Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 22.  Walter C. Kaiser, “Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women,” in Correcting Caricatures, p. 9.  Roger Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” in Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 2, (Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality, 2006), p. 6.  Although the text identifies Miriam as a prophetess, no prophecy of hers is recorded in Scripture.  The words she sang in Ex. 15.21 are identical to Moses’ words in v. 1.  Moreover, although she and Aaron contended in Num. 12.2 that the Lord had spoken through the two of them, no words that He might have spoken were attributed as coming through her.

30   Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” pp. 22-25.  Kaiser, “Correcting Caricatures,” p. 9.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 6.

31   Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 22.  Kaiser, “Correcting Caricatures,” p. 9.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 5.

32   Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 5.

33   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” p. 27.

34   Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 5.

35   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 27,33.  Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 22.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 6.

36   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” p. 28.  Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 22.  Kaiser, “Correcting Caricatures,” p. 10.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 6.

37   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 27-28.  Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 22.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 6.

38   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 28-30.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” pp. 6-7.

39   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 29-30.

40   According to later Jewish tradition, Hur, who assisted Moses in Israel’s early days in the wilderness (Ex. 17.10-12, 24.14), was accounted Miriam’s husband.  However, Scripture neither states this anywhere nor records whether or not Miriam was ever married.

41   Isaiah’s wife, mentioned only in Is. 8.3, was simply identified as “the prophetess.”  Although she may have been a prophetess in her own right, the appellation might have been applied to her simply because she was the wife of a prophet.

42   John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, Volume Second, trans. Henry Beveridge, Esq., in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XIX (reprinted Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), p. 201.

43   The Lord Jesus was crucified on the day of Preparation before the Passover (Jn. 19.14ff.), and He had been informed of John’s death just before the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mt. 14.13), which occurred during an earlier Passover (Jn. 6.4).

44   Calvin, Commentary on Acts, Vol. II, p. 200.

45   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 27,33.

46   Thayer, Lexicon, p. 306.

47   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 28-29.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” pp. 6-7.

48   Thayer, Lexicon, pp. 210,242.

49   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 28-29.  Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” pp. 6-7.

50   John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Homily XXXI, trans. J. B. Morris & W. H. Simcox, rev. George B. Stevens, in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 11: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1889; reprinted Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994,1999), p. 555.

51   John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. John Owen, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XIX (reprinted Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), p. 546.

52   Thayer, Lexicon, p. 68.

53   As an aside, Paul in I Tim. 5.18 cites Scripture as support for financial remuneration for teaching elders, quoting Dt. 25.4 (Old Testament) and Lk. 10.7 (New Testament) and identifying them both as “the Scripture.”  This is an indication that the Apostles recognized each others’ works as Scripture, on the same level of authority as the existing Old Testament Scriptures.  (See also II Pet. 3.15-16.)

54   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 29-30, emphases original.

55   Ibid.

56   Davis, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives,” p. 23.

57   John Piper & Wayne Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers,” in Piper & Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), p. 72.

58   John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. William Pringle, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXI (reprinted Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), p. 67.

59   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 34,35 (emphasis original).  Bailey’s assertion that Paul in I Timothy “is angry and is surely not attempting to write a calm dispassionate essay,” whereas in Galatians, where he wrote, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves” (5.12), he was supposedly being calm, dispassionate, and not angry, is an absurd attempt to eisegete an attitude of anger and frustration into I Timothy 2 that is patently not there.

60   Although the UBS text uses the word συνεργός (translated “coworker” in the ESV) to describe Timothy in I Thess. 3.2, some manuscripts use the word διάκονος.

61   The ESV occasionally translates διάκονος as “minister” (II Cor. 3.6, Eph. 3.7, 6.21, Col. 1.7,23,25, 4.7), and once as “attendant” (Mt. 22.13), but in none of these passages would the meaning be changed if the word “servant” were substituted.

62   Nicole, “Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 6.

63   Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 27-28,35.  Citations in the quoted text are: C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 374; and J. D. G. Dunn, Romans, Vol. II (Waco, TX: Word, 1990), pp. 886ff.

64   On March 13, 2019, the Presbytery of Metro New York overtured the PCA General Assembly to revise portions of the Book of Church Order to allow women to be ordained as deacons.  However, Metro New York withdrew the overture prior to the 2019 Assembly.

65   Edmund P. Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), pp. 232-233.

66   Thomas Schreiner, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.” (The Gospel Coalition, 19 Feb 2019; emphasis original); accessed 15 Apr 2021.

67   Guy Waters, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? No.” (The Gospel Coalition, 19 Feb 2019); accessed 15 Apr 2021.

68   Clowney, The Church, pp. 232,233.  Citation in the referenced text is from C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Vol. II (Edinburgh:T & T Clark, 1986), p. 781.

69   Schreiner, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? Yes.”

70   Waters, “Does the Bible Support Female Deacons? No.”

One Presbyterian Layman’s Journey of Faith

Early Spiritual Formation

I was born into a family of Methodists.  When I was a few months old, I was baptized in the same Methodist Church in which my parents and maternal grandparents had been married, in which my mother had been baptized as an infant and in which she had been raised, and of which my parents and grandparents were members.  Growing up, my family attended United Methodist congregations in Wichita, Topeka, and Rose Hill, Kansas (except for two years in the mid-1970s, when we attended a Presbyterian congregation in Topeka,1 where my uncle’s2 family attended), and I became a communicant member of the United Methodist Church in Rose Hill when I was eleven years old.

In the 1970s, my mother’s parents and siblings left United Methodism for Baptist churches.  My grandmother took a child evangelism class, and I was her first subject.  Thus, at the age of seven I asked the Lord Jesus into my heart.  My sweet, godly grandmother had at least as a strong an influence on the formation of my faith as I was growing up as the churches my family attended, and from her I learned a deep respect for the Bible as the Word of God.

After I graduated from high school in 1985, most of the members in my graduating class who attended the same church as I moved away for college, while I stayed home and attended Wichita State University.  Seeking a church with a fellowship of Christians my own age, I began attending First Bible Baptist Church in Wichita, where my grandmother attended, and where my uncle3 was the teacher of the college-age Sunday School class.  After attending there a few months, I decided to get rebaptized.

This upset my mother.  Rather than risk upsetting her further, I stopped attending FBBC.  My church attendance over the next few years was sporadic, and I mostly attended the Methodist Church in Rose Hill when I attended at all, which was seldom.  After a couple of years, my mother suggested that I start attending FBBC again, which I did for a while.

In December 1987, the Rose Hill Methodist Church wanted to designate the Sunday following Christmas to be led by the college students who would be home for the holiday, and I received a call asking if I would be willing to deliver one of two messages that morning.  I was about to politely decline, but I distinctly recall an inner prompting that I should preach, using a handful of texts that outlined the Gospel message.

I continued attending FBBC afterward, but my attendance began growing sporadic again, and a few months later I learned that my uncle was no longer teaching the college-age Sunday School class, and I stopped attending.

In May 1988, my parents and I visited (on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary) the same United Methodist congregation in Wichita in which they had been married.  I learned that they had a college-age Sunday School class (which was much smaller than the one at FBBC), and so I began attending there and participating in Sunday School.  My church attendance began improving, and I soon transferred my membership from the Methodist Church in Rose Hill.

The senior pastor at this church was very charismatic, and although I enjoyed the fellowship of my Sunday School class, the way the Bible was handled from the pulpit bothered me.  About halfway through the service, the senior pastor would set his own context, into which the associate pastor read the Scriptures, and then after the choir sang the morning anthem, the senior pastor would preach about whatever he wanted to preach about, irrespective of what the Scripture read that morning actually said.  After nearly a year, I visited another nearby Methodist church for a few months, which also had a small college-age Sunday School class; but the way the Scriptures were handled there was not much better than it was at the other Methodist church, and the college-age class there met less frequently, so I went back.  And so this continued for nearly three years after I left FBBC.  I was spiritually hungry but failed to recognize that I was being spiritually malnourished.

Into Presbyterianism

In the Spring of 1991, a few months after I had graduated from WSU with a mechanical engineering degree, I noticed that there was a large Presbyterian church in northeast Wichita with relatively new construction.  So I visited there on May 5, and what I experienced was profound.4  After the choir sang the morning anthem, the senior pastor (Dr. Frank Kik) read the Scripture, and then he preached on it, explaining its meaning in its original context and giving practical application to our lives today.  He preached in such a way that it was clear that he believed the Scripture to be Truth, to be the Word of God.  This was such a radical difference from what I had been feeding on at the theologically liberal Methodist churches over the previous three years.  This was how Scripture was supposed to be treated.  The following Sunday I attended the Methodist church for the last time (because I had a book I was borrowing for the Sunday School class that I needed to return), and after that, I began attending Eastminster Presbyterian Church regularly, transferring my membership there that Fall.

Eastminster was founded in 1957 as a new church plant of the United Presbyterian Church in North America (UPCNA), a theologically orthodox denomination that merged the following year with the larger, theologically liberal Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) to form the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA), which in turn merged in 1983 with the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) to form the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PC(USA)).  Dr. John Gerstner and his more famous pupil, Dr. R. C. Sproul,5 had been visiting theologians there, educating the members on historical Presbyterian theology and helping form Eastminster’s Evangelical and Reformed character.  In 1976, after an earthquake devastated a number of churches in Guatemala, Eastminster, which was then bursting at the seams, gave approximately two-thirds of its building fund to help rebuild the churches in Guatemala, keeping only one-third of what they had raised to fund a modest expansion of their cramped facilities.  But the Lord blessed Eastminster, and in the late 1980s it built a new, larger building on land it purchased in northeast Wichita, donating its old property to the Presbytery of Southern Kansas to establish a new congregation.

When I first started attending Eastminster, the PC(USA) was in the midst of the dispute over the Human Sexuality Report (HSR), a document prepared by a task force commissioned by the 1987 General Assembly to prepare a major policy paper on the subject of human sexuality, including an “understanding of the variety of expressions of human sexuality”.  The sexuality that the HSR promoted was perverse and essentially pagan, advocating that Biblical sexual morality be jettisoned in favor of a “justice/love” sexual ethic that essentially said that human beings should be free to explore whatsoever sexual experiences they desire, just so long as they are consensual to all parties involved.  Eastminster was poised to leave the PC(USA) for the smaller, more theologically orthodox Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) were it to have passed, but in the end the HSR was defeated by 534 to 31 at the 1991 General Assembly, and Eastminster stayed in the PC(USA).

My faith flourished at Eastminster, and I took to Reformed Theology as a duck takes to water.  I got involved in the life of the church, participating in the singles ministry, the chancel choir, Sunday School, and serving on the Adult Education Committee.  After a few years at Eastminster, I began taking distance learning courses from Reformed Theological Seminary.

Also at Eastminster I witnessed firsthand the pain suffered by a split in the Church.  In the late 1980s Eastminster had hired a Director of Adult Education named George Granberry.  Granberry had grown up in the Presbyterian Church6 and had earned a Master of Divinity degree from Denver Theological Seminary, but he was not ordained in the PC(USA) because he disagreed with the ordination of women.  (Indeed, it was partly because of Granberry’s position on the ordination of women and Eastminster’s potential move to the PCA that he had been hired.)  He was also a charismatic teacher and an effective leader who regularly taught one of the adult Sunday School classes.  In 1993 he left the Eastminster staff to start a new PCA congregation in Wichita, and he took a couple hundred members with him.  Several months after his departure, the tension surfaced in an Adult Education Committee meeting, when an elder who agreed with the ordination of women and a deacon who disagreed commandeered the meeting for several minutes when they got into an impromptu argument on the subject.7  In a recent sermon on Philippians 1.12-26, Eastminster’s new senior pastor mentioned hard feelings he had found from members who were still bitter about churches that had come out of Eastminster, but he said that he rejoiced, inasmuch as through them Christ is still being proclaimed, just as Paul rejoiced that Christ was proclaimed by those who preached Him out of envy or rivalry.  Likewise, I rejoice, regardless of the denominational affiliation, that Christ is proclaimed, whether by congregations like Eastminster or by congregations that came out of her, like Heartland Community Church.

In late 1996, a job change brought me to the Kansas City metropolitan area, and the pastors at Eastminster unanimously recommended Colonial Presbyterian Church.  I had first become aware of Colonial a couple years earlier, when The Presbyterian Layman published an article on the largest congregations by average attendance and giving, most of which were (and still are) Evangelical.8

Although Eastminster and Colonial are sister churches in many ways, Colonial had a different origin than Eastminster.  Colonial was founded in 1953 as a new church plant of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), which merged with the UPCUSA in 1983 to form the PC(USA).  When Evangelical PCUS congregations began leaving the denomination in 1973 for the PCA, Colonial elected to remain with the PCUS and the PC(USA) to be “salt and light” to the denomination, despite its growing acceptance of Theological Liberalism.  Although the two congregations are indisputably Evangelical, Colonial is less Reformed in its theology than Eastminster, being more open to staff members who disagree with the historic Presbyterian interpretation of the Doctrines of Grace (i.e., Predestination).  Colonial also leans more toward Baptistic influences, accommodating parents who wish to dedicate their infant children without applying the sign and seal of Baptism.  Colonial has also been active in partnering with other Evangelical congregations in the city, irrespective of denominational affiliation, to present a unified witness to the city of the saving power of Jesus Christ.  Like Eastminster, however, Colonial had suffered through two church splits—the first was Heartland Community Church, which separated from Colonial in 1986, and the second was Covenant Chapel, which split in 1989.  Both congregations affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), although Heartland later transitioned to independency.

Shortly after I joined, Colonial purchased 127 acres of undeveloped land in southern Johnson County, Kansas, where it intended to build a second church building.  At the same time, Colonial established a second worship site that met at a local Catholic high school for several years before the building on the new land was complete.  At first, I worshiped mostly at Colonial’s original campus (the Wornall campus).  Later, I supplemented by also worshiping at the new campus (the Quivira campus) before settling to worship primarily at the Quivira campus.

My faith continued to grow at Colonial as I engaged in the life of my new church home.  Once I had gone through the new members class and had transferred my membership, I joined the choir.  I also participated in several short-term missions trips to Guatemala, to serve a school in the city of Cantel that Colonial supported, and I engaged in a men’s Bible study led by one of the associate pastors that meets every Friday morning at a local restaurant to study different books of the Bible.  I also served as the Deacon of Communion at Colonial’s Quivira Campus from January 2010 through December 2012.  It was also while I was worshiping and serving at Colonial that I met and married (at Eastminster) the love of my life, the former Angela DeYoung, and the first of two daughters was born to us.

Out of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

In January 2010, the Colonial Session went on retreat, intending to talk about the role of elder in the church.  But when they returned, they announced to the congregation that while there, they discerned that the Holy Spirit was calling Colonial to a Season of Discernment, to seek the Lord’s will as to whether the Lord was calling Colonial to separate from the PC(USA) and to affiliate instead with a Reformed denomination more in line with Colonial’s convictions, or to stay and continue to be “salt and light” to Heartland Presbytery and the PC(USA).  The Session also discerned that the Holy Spirit was calling Colonial to get out from under nine million dollars in debt, largely incurred by the purchase of the Quivira Campus and the construction of a new church building there.  The Session decided to address the first of these two issues first, and they approached the Executive Presbyter of Heartland Presbytery to appoint an Administrative Review Committee (ARC) to enter into discussions with Colonial and to participate in four town hall meetings, in which the Session would present a case for Colonial to separate from the PC(USA), the ARC would present a case for Colonial to remain affiliated with the PC(USA), and then the congregation would have the opportunity to ask questions or make statements.  Because of scheduling conflicts, I was able to attend only the third of these meetings, which turned out to be the least confrontational of the four, but I did listen to the transcripts online.9

During the first town hall meeting, an inactive elder expressed a concern that Heartland had not been supportive of the three tenets of the Confessing Church Movement (of which Colonial was a part), particularly the tenet that Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the only way of salvation.  He stated that Heartland’s inability to support this tenet bothered him greatly, so he asked the representatives of the ARC if this were something that Heartland would be able to affirm today.  In response, one of the representatives stood up and said,

Well, I think that the first thing that needs to be said is, as (Executive Presbyter Rev. Charles Spencer) said earlier, there is no one person that can speak for all of the hundreds of members of Heartland Presbytery.  And I think there are a couple of things that come to my mind.  And one is a very important part of the Book of Order, the Constitution of the PC(USA), “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”  There are those who would say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord,” and I would be one who would say that.  One reason being because what I know of God I know through Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.  But am I going to be so arrogant as to say, “I know everything there is about God to say the only way God can reach another human being is through Jesus Christ”?  I don’t know that.  I know that’s how God found me, and I believe very strongly in Jesus Christ.  But I think sometimes, frankly, we Christians—and we Presbyterians—become a little arrogant.  And the fact is, I think there is always something more—whether we’re talking about individuals, congregations, or presbyteries—there’s always something more to know about God and how God is working.  And I become uneasy when any of us—and I’ve been guilty of it myself—put too many restrictions on what we believe Scripture is saying or what God is doing, and that’s one thing I just think needs to be kept in mind and in balance.  I suspect a good number of people in Heartland Presbytery would say, “Absolutely!  The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  But there may be others who see it a bit differently, and I don’t think they’re all heretics.  I just think some of us are at a different place in our spiritual journey and our spiritual growth, and I think we do well to remember, we have to leave room for that spiritual growth to take place wherever someone may be.

In other words, this ordained PC(USA) pastor implied that Jesus’ words in John 14.6 were not to be taken at face value, that it could be that people of other religions could come to the Father through avenues apart from Jesus Christ, and that those who took Jesus’ statement literally were “arrogant”.  Never mind the colossal arrogance that had to undergird the assumption that the Lord’s own words could not be taken at face value because we know better today.  If his intention was to persuade an Evangelical congregation not to leave the PC(USA), calling its plain interpretation of the Lord’s words in John 14.6 “arrogant” was hardly the way to go about it.

After the last town hall meeting, the Session and the ARC polled Colonial’s members with a non-binding survey as to whether they believed Colonial should remain affiliated with the PC(USA).  Out of a total of 1,713 members surveyed, 1,183 (69.1%) responded.  Of these, 1,079 (91.2%) said NO, and only 104 (8.8%) said YES.  Of these 104, 54 said that they would transfer their membership to another congregation, 19 said that they would stay with Colonial, and 31 said that they were undecided in the event that Colonial were to disaffiliate.  A few days after the survey results were published, the Administrative Commission of Churches Seeking Dismissal from Heartland Presbytery (AC), announcing their intention “to pursue reconciliation with ministers, members and congregations.”  On the same day, the AC sent a letter to Colonial’s Lead Pastor and Clerk of Session, reminding them of the PC(USA) Book of Order’s property trust clause,10 and threatening to “ensure that all property of Colonial Presbyterian Church continues to be held in trust for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

Notwithstanding the AC’s threat, Colonial asked for the AC to negotiate in good faith for terms of separation, with Colonial retaining control of its property.  But after two months of no response, the Session announced on August 7 that it had scheduled a congregational meeting on Sunday, August 22, to vote whether to separate from the PC(USA) and if so, whether to affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  On the evening of Tuesday or Wednesday before the scheduled congregational meeting, Colonial’s lead pastor and clerk of session were summoned to appear before Heartland Presbytery, where they were grilled, and the Presbytery threatened to dissolve the pastors’ relation to Colonial, dissolve the Session, and appoint an Administrative Commission to serve as Colonial’s governing body in the event that the congregational meeting were not canceled.  The next day, Colonial filed for quiet title and for temporary restraining orders against Heartland in both Missouri and Kansas.  The congregational meeting took place as scheduled, and Colonial voted 927 to 27 (97.2% to 2.8%) to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and 914 to 29 (96.9% to 3.1%) to affiliate with the EPC.  I voted with the majority on both of those votes.

Subsequent to Colonial’s change in denominational affiliation, Heartland Presbytery took Colonial to court in both Missouri and Kansas in an attempt to uphold the PC(USA) Book of Order’s property trust clause.  On June 9, 2011, the Jackson County, Missouri, Circuit Court ruled that the PC(USA) has no legally-binding trust over Colonial’s property, and that the property belongs to Colonial; Heartland appealed the ruling.  On February 2, 2012, the Johnson County, Kansas, District Court ruled that inasmuch as Heartland and Colonial were Missouri Non-Profit Corporations, the Missouri courts were the proper venue for the property suit, and that the Kansas courts would abide by the findings of the Missouri courts; Heartland missed the deadline to appeal the ruling.  On June 26, 2012, the Western Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Court ruling, that Colonial owned its property free from any legally-binding trust; Heartland appealed the ruling, but the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the case, letting the Appellate Court ruling stand.

In 2011 Eastminster sought and was granted dismissal from the PC(USA) to the EPC by the Presbytery of Southern Kansas.  Eastminster’s situation was different from Colonial’s, in that the PSK was less theologically liberal than Heartland, and Eastminster had given its old property to the PSK to establish a new congregation when it had moved into its new facilities in the late 1980s, which led to a much more gracious separation for Eastminster than Colonial.  Today, both Colonial and Eastminster are in the EPC’s Great Plains Presbytery.

Today

In mid-2014 another job change brought me to Denton, Texas, on the northern edge of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  Denton County has no congregations affiliated with the EPC, and the closest (and the only one in the entire metroplex) is an hour’s drive away in Carrolton.  Highland Park Presbyterian Church, which disaffiliated from the PC(USA) in 2013 to join the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), is also an hour’s drive away.  Given that my daily commute to work is about forty minutes (and the same on the drive home), my wife and I decided against an hour-long drive just to go to church, so we sought a new church home in Denton.

There are five Presbyterian churches in Denton.  Three of these are affiliated with the PC(USA), one with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and one with the PCA.  The three PC(USA) congregations here in town are theologically liberal, meaning that none of them would be a good church home for my family.  The Cumberland Presbyterian Church broke from the PCUSA in 1810 over the latter’s (then) Calvinistic interpretations of the Doctrines of Grace.  The CPC has adopted a semi-Pelagian theology, with which I strongly disagree.  That left Denton Presbyterian Church, a young church planted in 2007 by a cooperative effort between the PCA’s North Texas Presbytery, Christ Presbyterian Church of Flower Mound, Texas, and the Southwest Church Planting Network.  Denton Presbyterian became a particular church in 2011, meeting on the campus of North Texas University in Denton.  Although my wife and I briefly considered a couple of non-denominational churches in Denton, we now regularly attend Denton Presbyterian (although we do make use of some of the programs at the much larger Denton Bible Church).

Such is the outline of my journey into Presbyterianism and out of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Today I am still very much a Presbyterian—just not a typical PC(USA) Presbyterian, which I never was.  My spiritual character was profoundly shaped by the two PC(USA) congregations of which I was a member; but then again, neither of them was a typical PC(USA) congregation either.  Indeed, had Eastminster been a typical PC(USA) congregation, it is extremely unlikely that I would be a Presbyterian today, and had Colonial been a typical PC(USA) congregation, my transition to the EPC or the PCA would have occurred sooner.  Angela and I worship and teach children’s Sunday School weekly at Denton Presbyterian, while we endeavor to raise up our two young daughters to be godly women of grace and a deep, abiding faith.


Footnotes

1     John Knox Presbyterian Church in Topeka, Kansas, was affiliated with the UPCUSA.  It closed in 1987.

2     My father’s (now late) brother.

3     My mother’s sister’s (now ex-) husband.

4     My experience is perhaps best expressed in what Charles Wesley wrote in the third stanza of his classic hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” (The Methodist Hymnal, 1966, No. 527): “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

5     Dr. R. C. Sproul is the founder of Ligonier Ministries and the host of the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast.  Like his mentor, Dr. Gerstner, he was a theology professor at the PC(USA)’s Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  Dr. Sproul left the UPCUSA in 1975 for the PCA after the Kenyon case, believing discipline to be a mark of the true church, and that discipline had failed in the UPCUSA.  Several members at Eastminster provided financial aid to help Dr. Sproul start Ligonier Ministries, long before he became nationally known.  He last taught at Eastminster on a Sunday evening in the Fall of 1991, on his way home from a Ligonier conference in San Diego, which was my first exposure to his teaching.

6     Specifically in Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, where I would later attend.

7     For my own position on the ordination of women, see my post on the subject.

8     Listed by size, Eastminster was ranked #25 on the list, and Colonial was listed at #20.

9     These transcripts, together with other resources, were posted on Colonial’s website during the Season of Discernment but have since been removed.

10    “All property held by or for a particular church, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (USA), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a particular church or of a more inclusive governing body or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (USA).” (The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Part II: Book of Order 2007-2009; Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 2007; §G-8.0201)