Women in the Pulpit V: What Does the Bible Say?

The Granddaddy of them All

This is the final blog post in the series on women in the pulpit, and is the most important. Although a lot of ground has been covered, none so much is important as how the two sides deal with the text of Scripture.

Since I very much prefer arguments which go from the lesser to the greater, we will begin with 1 Corinthians 14, and then move into the text that I find stronger and clearer, 1 Timothy 2.

1 Corinthians 14: 34-35

Boyd has a very brief discussion on this passage. His position is that the cultural context of women being disruptive to the church service due to their constant question asking, necessitated by their lack of education, makes this command to be silent and submit relative to this culture only.

“Writings from first century rabbis confirm that when uneducated women came to a synagogue they often had a hard time understanding what was going on. So women would ask their husbands in the middle of the sermon when the rabbi was up there trying to talk. It was distracting because women and men were segregated, so they would shout their questions to someone across the room. So the rabbis made a rule that there couldn’t be any questions in church; you had to wait until afterward. The transcultural principle here is this: don’t cause disruptions during the service.”

I offer four responses to this assertion. First, Boyd and Rachel Held-Evans (RHE) regularly appeal to extra-biblical sources such as writings from the second temple era of Judaism, and other Rabbi’s and Jewish Traditions around this time. It is apparent that according to their interpretations of both of the texts at hand that the New Testament is utterly unknowable to any person without a sophisticated, academic knowledge of second Temple Judaism and extra-biblical Rabbinic literature. That presents a serious problem to the modern lay Christian.

Second, Boyd misses the important qualification of verse 33, “as in all the churches of the saints.” Paul explicitly makes the following prescription for women, not bound to the question-obsessed women of Corinth, but to every single local church.

I understand there is some debate among Greek scholars of whether that phrase should be tied with that which precedes it, “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” or with what follows it, “the women should keep silent in the churches.” However, the context seems to vindicate what the ESV does, tying it to the commandment for women. For one, it seems a bit obvious that the description of God not being a confusing God is true everywhere. It does not seem to need qualification. Two, God being a God of peace and not confusion is an abstract principle about the nature of God, not something which directly applies in the local assembly as the phrase demands. Paul cannot command God to be a God of order in all the churches, he can command all the women in the churches to refrain from certain things. Third, the text in view ends with the prepositional phrase “in the churches” directly tying it to the original phrase in verse 33, “as in all the churches of the saints.” All signs point to Paul making this a prescription for women in every and all churches of the saints.

Third, this understanding seems hard to reconcile with the women who were allowed to prophesy earlier in the book (1 Corinthians 11). The complementarian position has already provided a sound and consistent reconciliation of this. One has to wonder how Boyd reconciles the idea that women were not allowed to ask questions or speak, but were allowed to pray and prophesy. If their education level is the issue, why would the church accept their uneducated prayers and prophesies?

Lastly, Paul grounds his teaching in the Law. Paul states that women must be silent and submissive “as the Law also says.” Thus, Paul could not be more clear that this is not some arbitrary, unfortunate prohibition against a particular group of loud, uneducated women, but is in fact a teaching God has implemented in both covenants. Paul believes this is one aspect of the Old Covenant which carried into the New, obviously refuting the idea of this being a culturally conditioned response to an archaic problem.

1 Timothy 2: 11-14

By far the most important text to this conversation is 1 Timothy 2: 11-14. Greg Boyd and RHE simply do not do justice to the text as they advocate for women elders. A close examination will expose the imposition of a modern social position onto the text, rather than a position derived from a clear reading of the text.

The claim is made that Paul’s prohibition against women teaching or having authority over men was a command only to this one church, and was only binding for this particular time period. In other words, this is a relative prohibition that is no longer binding due to the change of culture. Boyd and RHE both presented two of the most common reasons for this egalitarian position. The first is that Paul was being influenced by a prevalent, regional, fertility cult which worshiped goddesses and had exclusively women leaders. The other was that women were barred from teaching and exercising authority because women were not allowed to be educated. In short, because we no longer live near the modern fertility cult, and because women can now be educated, there is no reason to assume Paul’s words are still binding.

Women Fertility Cults

Boyd says,

“Many women were involved in worship ceremonies that surrounded this goddess [Artemis] and the cult was associated with all sorts of sensuality and bizarre teaching, such as fertility worship. A person in Ephesus would probably associate a female leader with that kind of pagan worship.”

Along the same lines, RHE states:

“Many scholars believe the women [in Timothy’s church] were likely influenced by the popular Roman fertility cults of Artemis that encouraged women to flaunt their sexuality and freedom to a degree that scandalized even the Roman establishment, hardly known for its prudish morals. Worship involved deviant sex, shirking off marriage and childbearing, possible abortions and infanticide, and immodest dress that made adherents indistinguishable from prostitutes…It seems that enough of these women had joined the church to tarnish its reputation, repelling potential converts and giving Roman authorities yet another reason to be suspicious of the church…I suspect Paul didn’t want the church, so full of unmarried women, to be seen as just another Greco-Roman cult.”

There are many issues with this proposition. The strongest one, verse 14 of the text, will be addressed later in more detail. For starters, there are a few logical problems with these assertions.

artemisFirst of all, would not the mere presence of these women accomplish all of the bad reputation Paul is so worried about whether they were in leadership or not? To put it another way, any church that has a bunch of out of control, immodest women dominating the church could have its reputation ruined, even if these women are not in leadership. It seems like Paul (assuming the context presented is historically accurate and relevant to Paul) handled this issue by commanding the women to be modest in dress, and to wear good works. Why was that command not enough to tame the accusations? Why did he have to go one step further and ban them from leadership? Why could he not have had modest, educated women running the church? That certainly would not have appeared to look anything like the fertility cults around him.

Second, the modesty passage which precedes Paul’s prohibition (9-10) is not addressing the kind of immodesty represented by fertility cults. Paul is clearly not upset with the women for over-sexualized or sensual dress, but rather flamboyant, expensive, and showboating dress. The women in Ephesus looked far less like prostitutes and far more like medieval British royalty. Thus, it hardly seems to be Paul’s concern that the women are dressing like the fertility-cult pagans, it appears to be quite the opposite.
Lastly, the universal principle underneath this understanding of the passage leads to some pretty bizarre destinations, and one cannot help but wonder if egalitarians believe these consistent applications have ever been practiced or should be practiced. For one example, other religions and cults of the day were very patriarchal. Why did Paul not ban men from leadership in those Christian churches to avoid looking like just another patriarchal cult? Would egalitarians be comfortable today by banning men, on the basis of Scripture, from serving in churches provided they think the patriarchy is predominant in America?

Uneducated Women

The next common claim was that Paul excluded women temporarily from the pulpit because they were uneducated. Once women were educated, they could take over a teaching office.

Boyd says,

“Paul was just getting the Ephesian church off the ground and it faced a lot of challenges including persecution and false teaching. Uneducated female converts brought all sorts of weird ideas in from their culture when they came to the church. So Paul told Timothy to put a lid on this.”

And likewise RHE believes,

“[Paul] also didn’t want pagans unfamiliar with the teachings of Christ and the Jewish culture interrupting services with questions or bossing around other converts. Is it any wonder, then, that he expected some women in Corinth to prophesy, but challenged others to ‘remain silent,’ or that he advised the women at Ephesus not to seize authority over men but to ‘learn in quietness and full submission’? ‘We are thus led to the conclusion that when Paul asks women to be silent . . . he is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind,’ writes Scot McKnight in The Blue Parakeet. ‘His concern is with some untrained, morally loose, young widows, who, because they are theologically unformed, are teaching unorthodox ideas.’ It is reasonable, then, to assume that once these widows were trained, they could resume speaking.”

She concludes by saying,

“I can’t know for sure, but I believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the women at Ephesus were intended to protect the gospel from untrained teachers and to ensure that the Church remain distinct from the cults of the surrounding culture.”

The first thing that must be asked is what Boyd and RHE mean by “educated.” RHE certainly applies that term to very formal, academic settings,

woman preach“In fact, these days, women in the pulpit are more highly educated than their male counterparts. While over three-quarters of female pastors hold seminary degrees, less than two-thirds of male pastors can say the same.”

What then is the 1st century, Ephesian equivalent of a seminary degree? The fact of the matter is, many men were not educated according to the standard of accredited schooling in that culture either. Yet, Paul did not require men who have no degree to stay away from the Elder board. Why were uneducated men allowed in the pulpit, but uneducated women not?

Secondly, if an education in that culture is not seen as some formal, accredited schooling, then the beast devours himself, because biblically it is not true that women in this culture were not educated. For one of the very women Boyd and RHE appeal to, Priscilla, clearly demonstrated a highly sophisticated grasp of theology and an ability to communicate it well. Priscilla managed to be educated without a degree, why do we assume other women could not or would not be? And why would Paul punish all women for the education level of some, but not punish all men for the education level of some?
The problem then is two-fold. Either, this position requires schooling, and it turns Paul into a hypocrite for not requiring it for the men, or, it is simply false since we know women were educated on relevant issues.

However, the problem does not end there. We all agree that Paul did not want untrained, uneducated people in the pulpit. However, how did Paul deal with this concern for men?
1 Timothy 3: 2 “An elder must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” (emphasis mine). Paul simply made education a requirement for the men, rather than barring all men from leadership. Why did Paul not simply say, “Women must be able to teach”? Would that not immediately solve the problem among the women as it did the men?

Paul did not have to keep women as a whole from teaching at all because some of them were not educated or skilled. That was the case for the men too. Obviously, it was for other reasons, and Paul tells us what they are specifically and explicitly. 1 Timothy 2: 13-14, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

This verse is the key to this entire controversy. Rather than speculate about the culture and try to determine Paul’s reasoning, we can simply read Paul’s expressed reasoning. Paul tells us his prohibition against women pastors has nothing to do with education levels, or Ephesian fertility cults, but rather, it has to do with Adam and Eve.

This is a powerful verse because it not only tells us readers Paul’s exact purposes, but it also grounds his in the pre-fall, created order, making this a universal principle, rather than a culturally subjective application.

This then becomes the ultimate down fall of both of the egalitarian propositions above: They effectually delete verses 13-14 from the text and rewrite them.
In other words, Boyd believes the Bible says this:

“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet, for you women are uneducated!

And RHE believes her bible reads this way:

“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet, for I do not want you looking like the Ephesian fertility cults!”

But that is not how Paul filled in the blank. Paul said:

“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet, for it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who fell, but the woman…”

Clearly, one position has pushed a belief into the text, while another is allowing the text to speak.

So that begs the question, if this verse is so strong, how do Boyd and RHE deal with it?

Adam and Eve

I appreciate RHE fair and humble admission about the strength of these two verses,

“Now, I’ll readily admit that the fact that Paul appeals to the creation narrative to support his point about Ephesian women complicates things for egalitarians. References to Adam and Eve certainly give a line of argumentation a universal feel.”

So how do they respond?

Boyd provides one of the most shallow, unsatisfying answers I have ever read, and it certainly serves as a refutation of itself.

“Perhaps the most convincing argument that 1 Timothy 2:11–15 is a universal principle for all churches in all times is the fact that Paul appeals to the creation order in verses 13 and 14. But from the context of the letter it seems more likely that he refers to this in order to refute some of the false teaching that was going on in the Ephesian church.”

That’s it. That is literally all he has to offer. He concedes the strength of the argument against, and then throws out one sentence with no reference, elaboration, or justification at all. How on earth is this an appropriate response? adam and eve

First of all, the only false teachings the letter mentions earlier are myths and genealogies used to promote false usage of the O.T. Law (1 Timothy 1: 3-10). How does the statement that Adam was created first refute the misapplication of the Law by Neo-Jewish opponents? And, why would Paul insert it arbitrarily at this point in the letter, rather than earlier in the letter when the false teachings were actually being refuted?
This is clearly nonsense. Paul is not refuting old arguments he already refuted. Paul is clearly saying the created order of Adam and Eve, as well as how the Fall of man took place, both serve as a justification for Paul to not allow women to be leaders over men in church. Paul could not be more clear.

Unfortunately, RHE does not do any better. In fact, I appreciate Boyd’s brevity and ambiguity over RHE’s tactic: to assault the authority and innerancy of the biblical authors.

“[W]hen first-century rabbis like Jesus and Paul allude to the stories of the Torah, including the creation accounts, they are not participating in ‘straight exegesis’ as we would understand it today. Rather, their creative interpretations of the text are influenced by the hermeneutical conventions of Second Temple Judaism, which allow for quite a bit of ‘play’ with the narrative texts. According to Peter Enns, Paul often uses Adam and Eve as a way of ‘appropriating an ancient story to address pressing concerns of the moment.’”

This statement is outrageous, and whether she realizes it or not, this is a direct attack at the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

Let it first be noted that this does not answer the question at all. It certainly poisons the well, or muddies the water, but it does not, in any way, explain the text.

However, the more serious issue are the ambiguous words used to describe Paul like “creative interpretations” “influenced” and “play.” According to RHE, the apostle Paul was not speaking under divine inspiration. He was instead provided liberal, creative, eisegetical interpretations of Genesis. Literally, the charge is that Paul is playing with the text. And, he himself is not the sole author of these twistings of God’s Word. No, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was actually being influenced by false-teachers in Judaism.
And the most offensive part of all of this is that she lumps Jesus into all of this too. Jesus and Paul are just 1st century liberal Rabbis, being influenced by false teachers. What is this essentially saying? Paul’s appeal to Adam and Eve is simply wrong. It is just the creative playing of Scripture by a Rabbi who is influenced by his colleagues. In other words, just ignore the Adam and Eve account.

It appears that is the length one must go to be an egalitarian in light of these verses, and that is the strength of Paul’s argument. You must either not answer it at all, or find clever ways of saying Paul is incorrect. The weakness and lack of explanatory power of these responses certainly vindicate the complementarian position.


One new argument I have not heard before was a minor Greek detail raised by Boyd. greekBoyd argues that the since the Greek word Paul uses for “authority” in 1 Timothy 2 is a word which occurs nowhere else, and also has disputed meanings, it ought not to be a verse we build such an important case around. He states,

“authentein does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament and is not the usual Greek word for ‘authority.’ In classical Greek literature it had all kinds of different meanings, including ‘to dominate,’ ‘to act independently,’ and even ‘to commit murder.’ It’s never a good idea to base transcultural church doctrines on words that only occur once in the New Testament, especially when they seem to contradict the clear teaching of Scripture in other contexts.”

It has been thoroughly demonstrated elsewhere that the complementarian position contradicts nothing in the rest of Scripture. However, is this a valid concern?
It does not seem to be because, although the word is rare, there is no ambiguity or dispute as to its meaning, neither from the context nor from the Greek.

First of all, in regards to the meaning of the word, every translation agrees. The NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, and HCSB. All those Greek scholars seem to have a firm grasp of the meaning of this word. Many other translations that do not use the word authority render the phrase as “to have dominion over,” essentially the same thing.
As a matter of fact, Strong’s Concordance and NAS Exhaustive Concordance present the word as meaning to domineer over, exercise authority over, to govern, or have dominion over.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon was the only one to mention the bizarre meaning Boyd describes as murder. Thayer’s lexicon describes it as being a word used for murder or even suicide. However, the lexicon also states that this would have been the archaic meaning foreign to the time. And Thayer’s lexicon also states that the modern usage for Paul would have been “acting on one’s own authority, absolute master, to govern, to exercise dominion.”
HELPS Word Study even defined the word as meaning “self-appointed, acting as an autocrat, or acting without authority.”

It seems clear in the Greek, from the scholars themselves, that there is no ambiguity over the meaning of this word. And the fact that it is used only here is not worrisome, since the pastoral epistles themselves do this in other places.

Galatians 3:28

One verse that needs to be dealt with, as it so often is brought up in this conversation, is Galatians 3. Verses 23-28 read:

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 as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Verse 28 being the key verse, the argument is often made that Paul obliterates male and female distinctions here, therefore, we can not have gender roles.

The problem is that of context. The entire chapter is about being justified by faith and not by works of the Law. Paul’s obvious argument is how one becomes Abraham’s offspring, and is justified in God’s sight. Paul was refuting the Judiazers notion that people still need to hold to the Mosaic Law to be saved. And Paul refutes that idea. His purpose is to demonstrate that our ethnic identity has no bearing on how or if we are saved. It does not matter if one is Jewish or not, free or not, male or female, we are all justified by grace through faith, apart from Law, so that no one can boast.

Paul is simply not saying that becoming a Christian erases one’s nationality, gender, and occupational status. Jews who become Christians stay Jews. Women can still give birth, and men still cannot, even when they come to know Christ.

Paul wrote most of his letters distinguishing between Jew and Gentile audiences. To assume these distinctions are erased outside of the spiritual concept is absurd. The burden of proof then lies on the person claiming this to explain all of the gender specific texts in the New Testament, especially since most of the letters were written after this.
Why does Paul command women to love their husbands and teach younger women Christian principles in Titus? Does not Paul know there is no longer male or female? Why does Paul distinguish between Jews and Gentiles in the book of Romans and in Ephesians? Does he not know there is no longer Jew nor Gentile?

And to the point, why did Paul prohibit Timothy from letting women speak? Even given the egalitarian idea that the verse is relative and not universal, while it was being culturally applied, it would have still violated Galatians 3 under this interpretation. The Scriptures and common sense make clear that these distinctions are obliterated in terms of God’s redemptive plan. God shows no partiality; He will save whomever He wants. That is not to say that He does not believe men and women are distinct from one another.


Through the treacherous land of straw-men and misrepresentations, RHE concluded her essay by making one final argument that letting women preach the Gospel will only advance and help the Gospel.

This is certainly true. Women can and should preach the Gospel. One does not have to be an elder of a local church to preach the Gospel.

However, error begets error, and so she argued that our position hinders the Gospel, and asks the rhetorical question of whether or not Paul would ever do something that hinders the Gospel. She writes,

“And while our sisters around the world continue to suffer from trafficking, exploitation, violence, neglect, maternal mortality, and discrimination, those of us who are perhaps most equipped to respond with prophetic words and actions—women of faith—are being systematically silenced by our own faith communities. Scot McKnight has wisely asked: Do you think Paul would have put women ‘behind the pulpit’ if it would have been advantageous ‘for the sake of the gospel’? Or, put another way: Do you think Paul would have prevented women from speaking if he knew it would hurt the gospel? The answer to that question should be a lot simpler than it has become.”

Does not allowing women to be elders in the local church hurt the Gospel? Would Paul ever do that if it did?

Thankfully, we do not have to speculate. Evans got her wish. The answer is far more simple than it has become, because we can consult Paul on this issue. He has addressed this issue and answered this question for us. So how about we just ask Paul?
To do that, I would invite you to turn in your Bible to 1 Timothy chapter 2.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s