Men and Women in Christ, by Andrew Bartlett. An Extended Review.

Engaging in an online discussion can lead to some interesting outcomes.

In early 2022, I corresponded with a Christian author from the U.K., Andrew Bartlett, about the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Earlier I had heard of a book written in 2019, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts. Little did I know that my online interlocutor had written this thorough examination of the Bible’s teaching regarding men and women in the family and the church.1

I promised Andrew that I would read his book, only to discover that while 100 pages into his 648 page book (according to Kindle), that this really is a big book!  Andrew is a lawyer and arbitrator, with a background in theology, so it really should not have been a surprise. I had to put the book down and try to come back to it, every now and then, over the past year and a half. Then an email from Andrew a few months ago convinced me that I should finish the book and offer a review. By the time I finished, I ended up with the following article that best summarizes my reflection on the men/women debate in the church to date, after four years of research and blogging. So, you might want to go grab a beverage, a nice chair to sit in, and perhaps even a Bible before I go on…

The length of the Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts will be a drawback to some readers, who simply will not have the patience to wade through many pages of detailed analysis and argumentation. This is unfortunate since there are many, many rewards the book has for the reader, filled with insights, and being exceptionally thorough, without getting overly technical.  In other words, mere human beings without a PhD can read this book, and walk away with an understanding why this issue is so complex. Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts interacts with a vast array of literature on the topic, published over the last several decades, which makes it essential reading for anyone desiring to dig deep into the debate. Regardless of what one ultimately thinks of Andrew Bartlett’s thesis, Andrew is a great dialogue partner, and he has done the Christian church an invaluable service with his thorough and careful analysis. So, thank you, Andrew (assuming you read this)!!


Men and Women in the Church:  A Sadly Divisive Issue. Can a Common Ground Solution Be Reached?

Men and Women in Christ is important in that the issue of the relationship between men and women, in the home and in the church, is probably the most divisive issue in the evangelical movement today, among those who hold to historically orthodox Christianity…. and this is not just about ordinary Christians in the pew, this involves some of evangelicalism’s finest biblical scholars! Evangelical Christians of good faith will sadly divide over the issue of what is the Scriptural standard regarding how men and women are to relate to one another in local church leadership, and why. Some portray this as a debate between younger Christians, like from GenZ, and older Baby Boomer Christians, but it is way more profound than that, as it gets at the very heart of how we read Scripture, no matter what generation you are in.

What I was impressed with the most is Andrew Bartlett’s sincere efforts to try to bring both sides of the debate closer to one another, by offering a summary of each and every major argument presented by both sides, offering critique of both sides as needed. He writes, “This polarization is disturbing” (p.37). Andrew’s effort towards healing is to be admired. However, the problem is that there are points where certain divides in the debate are simply too wide to satisfactorily resolve to everyone’s satisfaction, a practical problem which the author acknowledges.  The common evangelical motif of “agreeing to disagree,” a phrase attributed to the 18th century evangelist, John Wesley, helps to smooth out a lot of disputes among believers. But with something as deeply significant as the relationship between male and female, “agreeing to disagree” can only carry you but so far. It would require a whole book itself to interact with Andrew fully, but an attempt can be made to interact with some of the main and thoughtful arguments in Men and Women in Christ, putting the nerdy scholarly detail in the footnotes as much as possible.  This review will be long enough as it is!  2 3 4 5

A most helpful component of Men and Women in Christ comes from the seven appendices towards the end of the book focusing on certain special topics. The first appendix is the best and most important as Andrew Bartlett provides a very engaging outline of method in doing biblical interpretation, going over a “toolbox” of seven principles:
  • 1. Primacy of Scripture over tradition.
  • 2. Paying appropriate attention to culture.
  • 3. Going back to the source language in context.
  • 4. Coherence.
  • 5. A Christ-centered canonical approach.
  • 6. Spiritual openness.
  • 7. Practical wisdom.

The principles helped me to navigate the arguments that Andrew seeks to lay out in Men and Women in Christ. The first point is in many ways the most crucial. As Andrew states; “There is a heavy burden of proof on those who seek to overturn a traditional understanding. But if a traditional interpretation of Scripture is convincingly seen to be inaccurate, it must be corrected” (Bartlett, p.445).

Andrew Bartlett’s judgment is sound, but it leaves open the following questions: How do you weigh the evidence at hand, in order to determine if a traditional interpretation of Scripture is correct or not.? What criteria needs to be met in order to confidently conclude that a traditional interpretation of Scripture is inadequate? For example, as Andrew writes, most Christians will now agree that certain early church fathers were wrong to insist on the “innate inferiority to men” of women (Bartlett, p. 445). This can be established by the presence of several important texts in the Bible that indicate otherwise, such as Genesis 1:27, which teaches that both male and female were created in the image of God, and Galatians 3:28, that with respect to male and female, all are one in Christ Jesus. It can be fairly concluded that such church fathers erred by allowing the pater familias ethic of the Greco-Roman world to overly influence how they read the Bible on this matter.  However, when it comes to other areas in the debate, the traditional teaching on how male and female relate to one another is not so easily overturned. 6 7

Should the tragedy of slavery in church history cause us rethink historic teaching on marriage?


Bracketing the Masters/Slaves Teaching from the Husbands/Wives Teaching

In discussing the next principle, that of “paying appropriate attention to culture,” Andrew brings up the topic of slavery as a parallel to the problem of a traditional view of women’s innate inferiority.  While the context of Andrew’s reference yields valuable insight, the analogy of the issue of slavery to the relationship between male and female can be easily and wrongly linked together. For while the order between male and female is in several places linked to God’s created order, the practice of slavery is never linked to creation in the Bible. Male and female reflect the image of God, as God created humanity. But the relationship of master and slave is never associated with God’s creative activity anywhere in the Old or New Testaments.

We can grieve the fact that the New Testaments did not speak out directly in condemning the institution of slavery, but it would be completely inappropriate to try to excuse this silence regarding slavery on the basis of some supposed aspect of God’s created order, as numerous skeptics have often tried to do.  Too often some egalitarian proponents have followed the thinking of skeptics and base their arguments regarding the relationship between male and female, a part of the created order, using the same logic that denounces slavery, which instead is related to the doctrine of the fall.  While Andrew Bartlett does not explicitly run afoul of this logical trap himself, he does not make this observation regarding the created order versus the effects of the fall adequately clear.

For example, in his analysis of the household codes in Colossians and Ephesians, Andrew Bartlett does not sufficiently distinguish between family relationships (husbands and wives, and parents and children), from Paul’s teaching about masters and slaves. While it may seem logical to group the household code teachings regarding husbands/wives, parents/children, and masters/slaves together, the larger theme of creation and fall in biblical theology interferes with this logic. The two former pairings are linked in Scripture with creation, whereas the master/slave pairing is never linked in that way, a serious omission in Andrew’s argument.8


Men and Women in Marriage

It would be best to briefly review the rest of the first major section of Men and Women in Christ, which is less controversial, before continuing onto the more controversial. In the first 166 some pages in Men and Women in Christ there is relatively little to disagree with and much to appreciate in Andrew Bartlett’s analysis. Interestingly, Andrew in many ways comes across as somewhere between being a “soft complementarian” or “soft egalitarian” with respect to the relationship between husbands and wives, in the home.

He repeatedly, and rightly, rejects any extreme complementarian position that argues for the husband’s “unilateral authority” over his wife. In particular, Andrew contends that “the hammer of 1 Corinthians 7 breaks into pieces the rock of marital hierarchy” (p.66). Mutuality is the central characteristic of marital relations, and this would suggest to me that consensus decision making should be the goal in a Christian marriage, wherever practically possible.

Interestingly however, Andrew Bartlett reacts against common egalitarian arguments on the other side, that would insist on interchangeable roles in marriage, stating that “because of the asymmetrical head–body metaphor and the asymmetrical Christ–church comparison, that Paul is calling the husband to go first in self-sacrifice” (p. 107), echoing Ephesians 5. The following statement is something that hopefully any complementarian should support: “The tasks modelled by the Messiah and allotted to the husband… are tasks of saving power rather than tasks of authoritative command” (p. 103). Or to put it differently, husbands and wives are not identical, and husbands are specifically tasked to lead the family in terms of giving one’s life for others.

While I did often wonder if Andrew’s repeated critique against the husband’s “unilateral authority” over his wife was an unfortunate strawmanning of certain complementarian thinking, I suppose such thinking has been a feature in some periods in church history, and sadly still exists today in certain circles. The old mantra of “women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” is about as stupid as it gets, but I am sure you can find some clueless husband out there who refuses to help around the house. The reason why I do not load the dishwasher is not because I refuse to do “woman’s work,” but because my wife tells me that I am loading the dishwasher incorrectly and I frustrate her to no end!!  One of the reasons why I do not seek early retirement is not because I am part of some “oppressor” class bent on keeping women down, but because I want to support my wife’s desire to pursue her dream of getting back into singing professionally. Alas, one can always find an example of some bozo Christian man who misuses complementarian theology to boost his own ego and treat women poorly.

Much of Andrew’s critique is perhaps focused on the writings of complementarian scholars like Wayne Grudem, a leading light of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, with whom Andrew references quite frequently. But it must be recognized that even scholars like Grudem do not necessarily represent complementarian thinking as a whole, but rather as a particular subset within complementarianism. Frankly, the more extreme versions of complementarianism really only exist on the fringes of the little part of the evangelical world that I am in.9

In advancing his critique, what is really odd is that Andrew focuses primarily on the debate between “headship” as “authority” versus “headship” as “source,” thus largely ignoring the notion of “headship” as “preeminence,” which actually reflects the more general tone of the scholarly discussion today, which ironically supports to a certain degree his main argument with respect to the relations between husbands and wives. In fact, unless I have misread him, Andrew Bartlett never once mentions the concept of “preeminence” with respect to “headship” (regarding the translation difficulties surrounding the Greek word, kephale) anywhere in his detailed book, a serious oversight. Briefly put, the concept of “preeminence” suggests that when Paul is writing about the husband as being the “head” (kephale) of the wife, in places like Ephesians 5:23, he has in mind the idea of being at the “head of the line,” as opposed to being at the “head of an army” or “head of a river.”  10 11

The Silence of Women in 1 Corinthians??


“Women are to Be Silent” : The Controversy in 1 Corinthians 14

The more interesting elements of Andrew Bartlett’s discussion relate to the roles of men and women in the church, as found in certain passages in 1 Corinthians and in 1 Timothy (and also Titus 1). I will save the discussion about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to a future blog post series, simply because of the sheer complexity of the text, that befuddles both complementarians and egalitarians alike. But it is worth responding here to how Andrew Bartlett treats the relevant controversial passage in 1 Corinthians 14.

The exceedingly difficult passage of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has its own history of confusing readers, both complementarian and egalitarian alike. But probably more than any other passage in the Bible, the supposedly Pauline instruction that “women should keep silent in the churches” has been perhaps one of the most weaponized passages in the Bible, misused to marginalize the voices of women. Andrew Bartlett discusses the various problems with how the passage has confused readers quite well (in chapter 9).

Many complementarians today argue that what Paul is really doing in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is really an extension of the previous passage 1 Corinthians 14:26-33. Such interpreters contend that Paul’s urging for women to remain silent in the churches is really about the evaluation of prophecy. This is a perfectly acceptable interpretation, as it is driven by the concern that a full, unqualified silencing of women can not be reconciled with the fact that women are allowed by Paul to prophecy in church meetings, as taught several chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 11.

In other words, the silencing of women must actually have some limit to it, and since 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 also addresses the question of prophecy in the churches, the next passage must somehow be related. In particular, the argument offered is that while women may indeed prophecy in church, women are not to be permitted to evaluate such prophecy, whether the source of the prophetic statements come from women or men. This would be consistent with Paul’s instruction for women not to teach men, from 1 Timothy 2:12. But is this interpretation really the best of the alternatives that scholars have considered? 12

Both Andrew Bartlett and I would reject this complementarian interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but for very different reasons. We would both agree that attempts to soften the instruction that women are to remain silent are hampered by the repeated nature of the instruction within the passage. Where we would disagree is regarding what can explain the abruptness of Paul’s instruction.

Andrew’s solution, as outlined in chapter 10 of his book, a common one among some scholars, particularly Philip Payne and the late Gordon Fee, is to say that verses 34-35 are an “interpolation,” a fancy technical way of saying that some later copyist of the New Testament inserted these verses into 1 Corinthians long after Paul wrote this letter.  Therefore, the passage is not truly Pauline and therefore is not authoritative for the church today.

Andrew’s summary of the discipline of textual criticism, in his chapter 10, is actually quite good, and easily accessible to the novice student of the Bible. Where things get tricky is in his analysis of 1 Corinthiains 14:34-35 in particular. Andrew points out that the flow of 1 Corinthians reads much easier, if verses 34-35 were omitted, as an argument from the internal evidence of the text itself. From the perspective of most modern English translations, it sure seems that way. What is really quirky about the history of copying the New Testament is that these verses do not show up in the same place in a number of our manuscripts. Some manuscripts have these two verses after verse 40, though the majority of manuscripts place these verses in the order we have them in nearly all modern English translations today.13

To his credit, Andrew’s argument can not be completely ruled out. I would agree with Andrew that an explanatory note should be made in newer Bible translations today, to demonstrate that there is considerable scholarly debate as to the authenticity of these verses. However, the strongest argument against Andrew’s position is a rather simple one: There are no existing Greek manuscripts that lack verses 34-45, even if these verses do not show up uniformly in the common, canonical order in all of our manuscripts. By suggesting that verses 34-35 are an interpolation, as the best explanation for what is going on with this passage, scholars are making a move that is speculative, and rather inconsistent with how the discipline of textual criticism is normally practiced today. Instead, the quotation/refutation view that I have surveyed before carries with it the best explanatory power of the passage in question with the least amount of difficulties, while meeting the burden of proof in sufficiently demonstrating that more traditional interpretations of the text are inadequate in comparison.14


The Most Difficult Passages: 1 Timothy (and Titus): Where the Debate is at an Impasse

The most difficult part of the New Testament to address concerning this debate is found in the Pastoral Letters, primarily in 1 Timothy 2-3, which is really the bulk of Andrew Bartlett’s discussion in Men and Women in Christ, spanning well over 100 pages of the book. While the most abused New Testament passage in this debate is undoubtedly 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, the most hotly contested verse is 1 Timothy 2:12, and the surrounding passages that provide context for that verse.15

Andrew Bartlett rightly observes that the precise relationship of Paul’s instruction for women not to “have authority” over a man, in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and the appeal to creation in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is not obvious.  The Greek word behind “to have authority” (CSB), “to exercise authority” (ESV), or “to assume authority” (NIV) is difficult to translate. It could mean “to gain mastery” over, which is open to a wide variety of connotations, including “to overpower.” Later in the book, Andrew concludes that Paul’s directive in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is:16

“Not set in anything even remotely analogous to a public assembly of the church, nor is there anything in the story that indicates its application specifically to public worship. It is about transgressive behaviour by one woman and one man” (p.305).

But perhaps the problem here is that sometimes readers tend to over-analyze the text, in trying to discern its meaning. Whatever can be made of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the least complicated solution to understanding verses 13-14  is simply that men and women are different. To try to look for a strict top-down, military style of authority of how man relates to woman is difficult to obtain from the brief “For Adam was formed first, then Eve,” in verse 13 (ESV). Andrew rightly quotes this from John Calvin:

“Yet the reason Paul assigns, that woman was second in order of creation, appears not to be a very strong argument in favour of her subjection; for John the Baptist was before Christ in the order of time, and yet was greatly inferior in rank.”

But perhaps the point that Paul is trying to make is not about hierarchical rank. Rather, it is simply another way of restating the notion of male headship in a sense of preeminence, close to the notion of being at “the head of a line.” This would be consistent with the growing consensus among scholars that kephale ( ‘head’) means preeminence, with respect to Paul’s understanding of what it means to be male and female.

For example, when travelers line up (or queue up, as they might say in the U.K.) to board a bus, the one at the head of the line is not inherently of superior rank to the one behind. Rather, the process of lining or queuing up is a principle of orderly movement, that need not imply an oppressive hierarchy. Two people cannot squeeze through a tight space together in some uncomfortable or chaotic fashion, as might be implied from some egalitarian assumptions. Different situations call for different types of ordering.

When a married couple approaches a door, the gentlemanly thing to do would be to first open it so as to allow the lady to go first. In a situation where the couple is in a burning building, it would be orderly for the husband to take the higher risk, sacrificing his own safety first, and go through the smoke-filled hallway, so that the wife can follow along safely afterwards. A couple can try to come up with a complicated, elaborate scheme for deciding who goes first in certain situations, or they can follow the simpler pattern of Adam first then Eve as the general orderly principle, without overthinking the situation.

Interestingly, Andrew appears to somewhat concede the point of verse 13:  “Paul’s point is about timing (‘Adam was formed first’), not source (he does not say that Eve was formed from Adam)” (p. 248). But as Andrew continues his argument, it is apparent that Paul’s appeal to creation in verses 13-14 are largely irrelevant to the case he is trying to make. This is a bit odd since the argument from creations appears to be central to the entire passage.

Thankfully, Andrew Bartlett sees through absurd and faulty logic made by some complementarians that because verse 14 says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (ESV), therefore women are more easily deceived than men, therefore women should not teach.  Several reasons that Andrew gives for exposing the faulty logic of “women are more easily deceived than men” can be noted: First, Paul elsewhere lays the blame for the Fall on Adam’s shoulders, and never mentions Eve (Romans 5:12ff).

Secondly, all Christians, both men and women, are susceptible to deception, according to Paul (2 Corinthians 11:3). Most importantly, the fact that Adam was fully in Eve’s presence while the serpent was deceiving her does not present Adam in a favorable or more competent light. So, while Paul is highlighting Eve’s sin in this particular passage, Adam does not get off scot-free (see Genesis 3:6). Adam knew full well what God said and what was going on with Eve’s deception and did nothing to step in to rebuke what the serpent was trying to do. As Andrew wisely quotes from another interpreter, James Hurley, “‘Would you rather be led by an innocent but deceived person, or by a deliberate rebel?’ (p. 285). My response is this: How about “neither one of the above?”

For years as an egalitarian, I was won over to the arguments of Catherine Clark Kroeger, who suggested that Paul’s appeal to creation in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 was really a rebuke to the female false teachers in Ephesus, who were preaching a kind of Christian Gnosticism; that is, suggesting that it was Adam who was deceived and not Eve. However, this proposal is rejected by Andrew Bartlett (p.283ff), and rightly so, since the context for such a Christian Gnosticism only makes sense, according to the evidence we possess, in the second century. A second century, or even a late first century date for 1 Timothy is too late for us to be confident about Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters. There was an incipient Gnosticism in the first century, that eventually fed into the fully developed heresy of Gnosticism in the second century. But Paul’s encounter with a more sophisticated Gnosticism in the first century, which might be congruous with 1 Timothy, simply did not exist yet. Andrew Barlett and I are in agreement here.17

To his credit, Andrew Bartlett has done a very detailed job in outlining the difficulties of both the complementarian and egalitarian attempts to make sense of 1 Timothy 2:12, and the supporting context for this verse. At one point in his initial analysis, he readily admits that “the debate is at an impasse” (p. 300). Andrew however, wishes to suggest a “fresh start” (p. 302). His efforts focus on the assumption, commonly shared by both complementarian and a few egalitarian scholars alike, that 1 Timothy 2 is primarily concerned about the behavior of men and women in public assembly. Instead, Andrew Bartlett argues that such an assumption is false.

How does the Gospel empower women? Andrew Bartlett offers his analysis of Scripture to show how. Does the evidence support his view?


A Fresh Start? Re-Thinking the Public Worship Context of 1 Timothy 2??

Andrew Bartlett’s “fresh start” is to challenge the traditional view that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is concerned about order in public Christian worship (pp. 304ff). For if the matters being discussed in this passage are not about the activity when a local church gathers together, then it could be argued that the controversial subject of a woman not teaching, etc. a man in verse 12 is not really about any universalizing instruction on how a local church functions. How does Andrew make his challenge?

Consider 1 TImothy 2:8 :

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (ESV)

Andrew contends that the “in every place” is not restricted to the gathering of men and women together in public worship. True, translations like the NIV render this phrase “everywhere,” which could imply a non-local, non-worship context.  But does it make sense to say Paul does not have a local Christian gathering, as in “every local church,” in mind?

Andrew rightly argues that the overall context of 1 Timothy is trying to address the problem of false teachers corrupting the minds of the believers. But this need not be mutually exclusive from describing how Christians should function together when they gather for worship. Yet 1 Timothy 3:14-15 also identifies the context for the letter, at the conclusion of the most controversial chapters 2 and 3, which pertains to how Christians are to gather together in community for worship, and thereby explains :

“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 the truth” (ESV).

This passage near the end of 1 Timothy 3 offers a perfect bookend at the end of Paul’s discussion that begins around 1 Timothy 2:1. Yet notice Paul’s reference to the “household of God,” which suggests the context of a public, local church assembly of believers. It is Andrew Bartlett’s contention that such a conclusion is misguided. What should we make of his argument?

Granted, the common notion that men and women in the early church did not worship together in separate partitions in the earliest Christian communities is incorrect, as acknowledged by Andrew (p. 304), but this has little bearing on the topics at hand in 1 Timothy 2. 18 Furthermore, there is nothing explicit in the text that limits the setting for Paul’s instruction to only Ephesus, which is a key underpinning for all egalitarian arguments, which contends that Paul is dealing with a specific church or cultural situation, and not a set of universal  principles.19

Moreover, there are plenty of indicators in the text that support the traditional view. Paul urges believers to offer prayer for all people, including government leaders, which suggests a local worship context. It would seem obvious that for men to pray, by its very nature, requires men to gather together, just as Paul’s instruction in the next few verses, starting at verse 8, for women not to adorn themselves immodestly or ostentatiously, implies a public worship context.

Andrew Bartlett is right to suggest that the behavior of Christian men and women is not strictly limited to gatherings for public worship. For example, women are to do “good works” not only in church gatherings, but elsewhere outside the church worship service (verse 10). No interpretation associated with a traditional view that I am familiar with would suggest an oddly restricted application. Rather, Paul has the local Christian worship gathering primarily in mind, though not exclusively, particularly in view of the challenge presented by false teaching in the church. So, it is strange for Andrew to conclude that Paul “is mainly thinking of the good works that women do, or should do, away from the assembly” (p. 304).  On what basis does Andrew conclude this? Where is the evidence to show that Paul is “mainly thinking” of a non-worship gathering context? Andrew attempts to muster up evidence for his case, as we shall see.20

Andrew brings up an important issue as to why Paul shifts from the plural reference to women prior to verse 11 to the singular reference to a woman (p. 304). Andrew recognizes that this shift sets up his discussion about Adam and Eve, which are singular references.However, Andrew suggests that the reference to Adam and Eve, in the singular, in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, “is not set in anything even remotely analogous to a public assembly of the church, nor is there anything in the story that indicates its application specifically to public worship” (p.305).

I would like to ask, “What keeps Paul from trying to link the doctrine of creation to order in public worship? For if Paul imagines the local church to be a family, why would he not appeal to the doctrine of creation in describing how a local church should be organized?” The original community in Genesis 2-3 is a human community of two. Adam and Eve were the original local church. For the moment, assume that Andrew is correct that 1 Timothy 2:8-10 is about a specific group of Ephesian women, and not women more broadly speaking: While Andrew’s point might be cited as evidence for the context of marriage in this passage, instead of public worship, it hardly seems exclusive of public worship, particularly when the next passage in 1 Timothy 3 is specifically about the offices within a local church assembly context. For if Andrew’s point is correct, it begs the question as to why the early church did not see it.22

Even if one were to accept that 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is about the husband-wife relationship, and not the order of the local church, it does not adequately explain why Paul launches into a discussion about the qualifications for church office in 1 Timothy 3. To insist on a husband-wife context for 1 Timothy 2:11-14 effectively breaks the flow of the letter, from chapter 2 to 3. Admittedly, Paul’s selection of content in his letters does at times jump around a bit from passage to passage, but there does not appear to be a need to break the flow in these chapters, as 1 Timothy 2 and 3 appear to be deeply connected.

To reiterate, I would concur with Andrew Bartlett that the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and in 1 Timothy 3, is not strictly about the actual public gathering for worship. Rather, it is about how the local church does life together in community. 1 Timothy 3 is not just about the roles of the elders and deacons in a worship service in particular, but rather is about the life of the community more broadly speaking. However, the instructions about elders and deacons in 1 Timothy must be compared with how Paul views “teaching” in his other letters. Because both women and men were encouraged by Paul in other letters to offer instruction and teaching to one another (Colossians 3:16 — notice that elders/overseers are never mentioned in Colossians) , this would suggest that the function of teaching with respect to elders/overseers is focused on a particular kind of teaching, not teaching in general. 23

So while the public worship gathering is part of the focus of Paul’s instruction, it is not limited to that aspect of local church life. The local church is meant to mirror God’s purposes for marriage by actually being a family with both fathers and mothers. This aspect of being a “father” is particularly dear to Paul. Paul comes to the Corinthian church, not simply as a guide, but as a “father” (1 Corinthians 4:14-21). It would stand to reason that in Paul’s absence he would want “father figures” to stand out in the life of a local Christian community, which would explain the instructions given by Paul in 1 Timothy 2 and 3. This sense of family fits perfectly with the language of the gathered Christian community being described as “the household of God,” as Paul wraps up this entire passage (1 Timothy 3:15). It would further explain why for centuries older Christian traditions have looked up to presbyters (elders) in their local churches as “fathers,” and referred to them as such.24

Yet what is so peculiar about Andrew Bartlett’s argument is that in his chapter 12, he develops his argument by suggesting that it is false teaching that is causing men to be angry and encouraging women to wear overly extravagant dress (1 Timothy 2:8-10, see Bartlett, p. 320). True, Paul’s concern over false teaching is the main preoccupation of the letter, and it is possible that the men in Ephesus were angry about the false teaching or angry at the women, because of the false teaching. However, Andrew does not adequately show how false teaching in any particular Ephesian context is related to the behavior Paul is critiquing. Men can get angry and women can be ostentatious with their dress due to sin generally speaking, without any particular appeal to a form of false teaching specific to Ephesus. But Andrew is not finished in making his case yet.25

Here is where Andrew Bartlett begins to try to connect the dots. Andrew seeks to make use of Paul’s teachings concerning widows in 1 Timothy 5:1-16 to try to illuminate the meaning of the controversial 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (p. 325ff). There is good reason to try to make this association between the two passages, as it is quite possible that the problem of false teaching is having a negative impact among the Ephesian church widows. The challenge here is trying to discern what exactly is the nature of the false teaching, and who exactly is promoting such false teaching.26

For example, Andrew Bartlett urges for a better translation of 1 Timothy 5:13, which warns against certain widows who engage in “gossip,” by affirming the NIV 2011 translation instead of “gossip” to be “talking nonsense.” In Andrew’s view, these “busybodies,” are better associated with those who practice “magic arts” in Ephesus (Acts 19:19), which uses the same Greek word. Good point! But while his proposed linking of “talking nonsense” with the underlying concern about “false teaching” in Paul’s letter is indeed possible, it still seems a bit of a stretch. The connection that Andrew is trying to make would make better sense if these practitioners of the “magic arts” in Acts 19 were specifically women, which they are not. 27

Furthermore, despite Andrew’s enlightening discourse on how the Greek authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12 (“assume authority over“, in the NIV translation) should be translated (see Bartlett, chapter 15), Andrew’s proposal up to this point does not fully explain why Paul would make an appeal to creation in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 for not having these supposed Ephesian female teachers teach, if the main charge against them is the advocation of the “magic arts” and sorcery.

Questions flare up at this point: Why does not Paul not jump out and clarify his thinking at this point, and condemn these women in Ephesus for their sorcery? Why these Ephesian church women, and not women more generally? Why are these Ephesian church women not permitted to “exercise authority” (ESV translation of authenteo) over men specifically? If they are false teachers, should they also not be permitted to have authority over other women newly coming into the church as well? Why would the Ephesian men in the church be more at risk from certain women spreading sorcery than other women not infected by the heresy? Perhaps, is it something about the young widows of 1 Timothy 5:11-16, driven by their sorcery, having some uncontrolled sexual desires for men? If we only had better evidence that such a false teaching movement within the church, that made use of the magic arts, was actively the thought in Paul’s mind when writing 1 Timothy 2:11-15,  then Andrew’s proposal would have more persuasive power. But there is more to Andrew’s argument to explore.28

Andrew rightly argues that the other controversial verse in this passage, 1 Timothy 2:15 (p. 342ff), is about the messianic promise that women are to be saved through “the childbearing“; that is, that the privilege given to Eve to participate in ultimately bringing the Messiah into the world, through Mary, the New Eve. This verse demonstrates that women serve a unique and treasured role in God’s redemptive plan. It does not necessarily mean that all women will be physical mothers through childbearing, as infertility was not unknown during the time of Paul. But it does suggest that the role of being a mother, either physically or spiritually, is the unique privilege of women. The idea that women would be “saved” through childbearing, a translation found in many Bibles, is inadequate in that it smacks of undermining Paul’s teaching elsewhere that we are saved by grace through faith, and not through our works. The other alternative, which translates “saved” in more of a temporal sense, that of being “preserved,” as in women being preserved through childbirth, is not satisfactory either. It would just seem strange for Paul to teach that Christian women would all survive childbirth, if they held onto the true teaching of the apostles, knowing full well that Christian women have died during childbirth, while still holding onto orthodox teaching.29

One further point should be considered, which thankfully, Andrew Bartlett did not try to aggressively argue for in his book (though he does mention it).  Some egalitarian commentators argue that when Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man,” in 1 Timothy 2:12, the present tense of “permit” could be better interpreted as “I am not now permitting a woman to teach….”

This interpretation would suggest that Paul’s directive is merely temporary, and that Paul might change his mind later, thus indicating that Paul’s directive is neither universal nor timeless in scope. However, other scholars strongly disagree, saying that this way of re-translating the verse violates a key principle of Greek grammar. Unless there is a clear contextual reason for limiting the time scope of the Greek present tense, translators should not violate this grammatical rule that the Greek present tense is timeless in principle. Andrew does briefly contend for the egalitarian argument on this point, but it is good that he does not press the argument. For he might face some strong opposition from well qualified Greek grammarians!30


Paul in prison, by Rembrandt (credit: Wikipedia). Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are under scrutiny when it comes to women serving as elders in the local church. Can we make sense of what Paul is teaching?


Qualifications for Being and Elder/Overseer: The “Husband of One Wife?”

A further point of agreement can be found in 1 Timothy 3 regarding the qualification for deacons, as distinct from elders/overseers. Both women and men can indeed serve as deacons. The only real point of contention is with the qualification for elders/overseers in 1 Timothy 3. In agreement with Andrew Bartlett, a moderate complementarian position of the type which I hold would posit that aside from the office of elder/overseer, both men and women are free to serve in leadership in the church in an almost endless variety of ways: deacons, missionaries, church planters, administrators, theologians, bible teachers, bible scholars, small group leaders, mission team leaders, parachurch ministry workers, academics, ministry directors, educators, coordinators, vestry and board members, church human resource personnel, treasurers, music ministry and worship leaders, etc., etc., etc. Did I miss anything? 31

The real sticking point comes in what 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 says about the office of elder/overseer. When we come to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Andrew Bartlett is correct to note that the masculine pronouns commonly found in many modern translations were not present in the original Greek text. Many complementarians make great use of the masculine pronoun argument, but they sadly base this on English translations and not on the New Testament Greek! This is misleading and complementarians should refrain from appealing to words in the Bible that simply do not exist in the original text.

In fact, there is only one reason given in the text that might give us a clue as to the gender requirement of the office of elder, and that is the controversial phrase “husband of one wife.”  The Common English Bible (CEB), a translation quite friendly to the egalitarian position, and popular in mainline Protestant circles, reads as follows for the first few verses of 1 Timothy 3, with the correct use of pronouns (if only English had an adequate specifically gender-neutral first person pronoun!):

This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor in the church, they want a good thing. So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching…. (1 Timothy 3:1-2 CEB)

Here the CEB translates the word for “elder” or “overseer” as “supervisor,” thus designating an officer position in a local church. There are no specifically masculine pronouns in this passage, and no other specific reference to gender, with the possible exception of “faithful to their spouse.” Most other Bible translations render this phrase as “husband of one wife,” or more accurately, a “one-woman man,” or better, a “man of one woman.”

How then are we to best understand the meaning of this phrase? Is the CEB correct to assume that to be “faithful to their spouse” is non-gender specific?

Every commentator would agree that the reverse formulation, as in Paul’s instructions for widows, “wife of one husband,” is gender specific, and refers to a woman:

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband (1 Timothy 5:13 ESV)32

But what about “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2? While not entirely conclusive, a number of scholars agree that “husband of one wife” is not gender specific, and that there is a parallel in English. When English speakers use the word “she,” a woman is always in mind. Yet when English speakers use the word “he,” the “he” could be either male or female, depending on the context. As in English, so it is in Greek. The context is key here. So while it can be argued that “husband of one wife,” as an idiomatic expression, does not in and of itself designate any particular gender, we should look to the context of the passage to determine if the author has a specific gender in mind. Just as in English, the same applies in New Testament Greek.33

As noted earlier, Andrew Bartlett accepts that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 flows right into 1 Timothy 3, and that there is no break between the chapters. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 can give us the context for the “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3.

For if Paul is not permitting a woman to teach, or overpower a man, it only makes sense to say that this context determines the gender of “husband of one wife,” thus designating the gender as male, and not female. For Andrew Bartlett to instead conclude that “husband of one wife” is not gender specific, and therefore include men and women as possible candidates for being elders/overseers, Andrew has to somehow divorce 1 Timothy 3 from the context given in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, something that he himself already rules out.

Andrew Bartlett attempts to make this move because he has already ruled out the public assembly context for 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which for him, excuses him from applying the contextual flow in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 from being applied to the qualifications for elder/overseer and deacon in 1 Timothy 3, which does assume a public assembly context.  For if Andrew’s argument is indeed correct, one wonders why no one in the early church was able to see this. Instead, the early church understood the qualifications to be an elder in the local church to include being male. As a result, Andrew’s argument on this point comes across as stretching the evidence he musters together in service of his overall argument to the breaking point.

Likewise, the same expression “husband of one wife” is found in Titus 1:6, a parallel passage, which should be interpreted the same way; that is, that Paul is instructing Titus to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5), and one of those characteristics is to be male.34

Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century C.E. (credit: Wikipedia). A goddess of virginity?  Yes. A goddess of motherhood? No, not at all. Were there women in the Ephesian church who allowed Artemis-inspired sorcery to bewitch them, such that the Apostle Paul sought to rebuke them for their false teaching?


Reconstructing the Central Argument of Andrew Bartlett’s Men and Women in Christ

A reconstruction of Andrew Bartlett’s argument runs something along these lines:

  • (a) The context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is not about the public gathering of believers for worship.
  • (b) Rather the context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is about certain wealthy, provocatively-dressed women in the Ephesian church community, who were promoting the magic arts among the believers, as mentioned in Acts 19, and looking for men with whom they could manipulate and fulfill their sexual desires.
  • (c) 1 Timothy 2:12 is therefore instructing these sexually wayward women in the Ephesian church to refrain from trying to dominate the men of the church, which makes Paul’s instruction culturally bound, as opposed to being a universal standard for all Christians.
  • (d) The instructions of Paul regarding the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 (and Titus 1) are not gender specific, due to the conditions described above in points (a), (b), and (c) above.

In this review, several issues with Andrew Bartlett’s thesis regarding points (a), (c), and (d) have been discussed. But it is important to conclude with a critique of point (b). Andrew is trying to link the context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 with the magic arts (or sorcery) false teaching, associated with Acts 19, to suggest that certain women were seeking after men to pursue their sexual desires.

The major problem here is that this historical reconstruction is inconsistent with what we know about the cult of Artemis, from evidence unearthed in Ephesus and in the literature. But let us give Andrew Bartlett’s argument a fair hearing:  Acts 19 links the practice of “magic arts” (ESV) or “sorcery” (NIV) with the cult of Artemis. In Acts 19:18-19, we read about believers who confessed their involvement with the “magic arts” and repented:

“Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (ESV)

This act of repentance, sometime later, infuriated Demetrius, a silversmith, who surely profited from the pagan practices, and he was angered that Paul’s teaching had taken business away from him. Yet more than that, he believed that if Paul was not stopped, the reputation of the cult of Artemis would be harmed. In response to Paul trying to intervene in the dispute, the crowd chanted for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  (Acts 19:21-40).

Yet the cult of Artemis, contrary to some popular misinformation, did not associate Artemis with being a goddess of motherhood or fertility. In fact, the opposite is the case. Artemis was a virgin. If indeed Andrew is correct and the Christian women of Ephesus were still under the influence of the magic arts and sorcery associated with Artemis, they would be pursuing virginity, and not pursuing men in the church in an effort to fulfill their sexual desires. It therefore baffles me as to how Andrew can confidently connect the dots in his thesis. It creates a serious roadblock for Andrew Bartlett’s otherwise fascinating, detailed, and well-considered argument.36



A Better Way to Reconstruct Paul’s Teaching in 1 Timothy 2 & 3, and Titus 1, On This Issue

There is a better way to reconstruct Paul’s teaching on the relationship between men and women in the church, from these complex passages. First, it should be acknowledged that Paul’s primary directive in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” probably would have raised some eyebrows in Timothy’s mind, and others who had read the letter. In Galatians, an earlier letter of Paul’s, the famous line that there is no male nor female, for all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28), would have caused admirers of Paul to wonder if the great apostle had somehow changed his mind.

Some might pushback to say that because this was a personal letter to Timothy, such instruction was never meant to read by other readers. But it is unlikely to think that no one would have read over Timothy’s shoulder, when there were important concerns over false teaching and church leadership structures. Yet it might have caused some to scratch their heads, wondering why Paul would be restricting a particular kind of leadership activity to only certain qualified men.

First and foremost, Paul’s concept of being an “elder” in a local church is not some top-down, military-style authoritarianism. Rather, it is following the way of Jesus, that of being a servant, to equip and lift up others.  Paul explicitly recognizes this servanthood approach to Jesus’ leadership in Philippians 2:5-7:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (ESV).

This is consistent with Paul’s view of marriage, where the husband is to be the one who gives up his life for his wife, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Paul’s imagery takes the focus off such unhelpful concepts as “who is the boss?”, and instead reminds us of the importance of emulating the character of Christ, humbling oneself before others.

Secondly, Paul has indeed gone to great lengths in his other letters to show that women indeed were partners in his ministry (see Romans 16, in particular). Other New Testament writers acknowledged the leadership roles of women. Women like Lydia and Nympha (Colossians4:15) had churches meeting in their homes. Tabitha, named as a “disciple” according to Luke, “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36-43) . Clearly, women had been involved in various forms of leadership in the New Testament, and Paul was actively supporting them. So then, what did Paul really have in mind in 1 Timothy? The issue comes down to identifying who the “woman” and who the “man” is in 1 Timothy 2:12., as well as what is meant by the terminology of “elder/overseer.”37

Andrew Bartlett’s solution is to limit the “woman” to the wealthy women, perhaps some who were widows from 1 Timothy 5, who were specifically engaging in seductive behavior with certain Ephesian men, seeking to overpower them, wrapped up in the false teaching of sorcery. Again, if Andrew’s thesis is correct, we would expect to see at least some evidence, either a direct reference by Paul about Artemis, or else some other early church record or Ephesian inscriptions to confirm that this was what was on Paul’s mind, when writing his letter to Timothy. However, nothing else in our early church record shows this. Instead, the more convincing solution to how such passages should be read can be found in the more universalizing scope accepted by the early church. 38

However, certain extreme versions of complementarianism that appeal to church tradition do not stay true to the text. It simply does not fit with Paul to say that every woman must submit to every man. If anything, the egalitarian instruction in 1 Corinthians 7 rules that out, a point that Andrew Bartlett rightly raises. Furthermore, if we understand the public worship assembly context of 1 Timothy 2:8ff, then this would rule out the relationship between husbands and wives solely within marriage. What then does Paul mean? 39

Before Paul describes what he means, he seeks to give a reason, a rationale for why he gives this directive in verses 11-12. Verses 13-15 give the theological reasoning for Paul, grounded in the doctrine of creation, even though it is quite brief. It would have been much better if Paul had given us more to go on, but this is what we have to work with. Commentators have struggled with what Paul was getting at with bringing Adam and Eve into the picture. But three observations stand out:

  1. Adam and Eve are different.
  2. Adam has some sort of primacy in relation to Eve.
  3. Adam and Eve represent the covenant of marriage, and Eve embodies the positive virtue of motherhood.

Taken altogether, within the larger discussion about the local church in 1 Timothy, Paul sees a relationship between the covenant of marriage, as in the Christian family, with the structure of a local church. This is not merely some cultural pattern that can change from time to time and place to place, as the reference to Genesis is concerned about creation, which transcends all cultures.

Paul then proceeds to describe specifically the identity of the “man” in 1 Timothy 2:12. It is the office of elder/overseer, and only that. To reinforce his point, Paul makes a distinction between the office of elder and that of being deacon, where women and men are both permitted to serve as deacons.40

This identity of elder/overseer is vitally important. Note that it is highly restrictive. While elders/overseers can do many things in the local church, an elder has but one particular, unique role and responsibility in the life of the church.  Unfortunately, too many Christians simply have a fuzzy definition of “elder” and blur it into other categories, including deacon. Or they may even blur it more to say that Paul is restricting “women leadership” more generally, which he is not. Too many Christians also routinely interchange the language of “elder” with being a “pastor,” despite the fact that an “elder” is an office, and a “pastor” is a gift (Ephesians 4:11-16). All “elders” are called to have the gift of being a “pastor,” but not all “pastors” are “elders.” By using such fuzzy definitions of “elder/overseer,” Christians are inadvertently rendering Paul’s logic mute.

A local church does not need an army of elders to serve in the church. Furthermore, the role of elder should not be elevated above other roles, as it is typically done. Doing so threatens to undermine the other New Testament principle of the priesthood of all believers, men and women together (1 Peter 2:5-9). It borders on the ludicrous to assume that the only persons capable of ministry or leadership in a local church are the elders. That type of mentality only serves to disenfranchise other members of the local church from doing that which all believers are called to do. For example, I have served in leadership in multiple contexts, leading small group Bible studies, etc., and to date I have never been designated as an “elder” in any local church.

The elder has but one primary job, that of defining the doctrine of the church, and making sure that such doctrine is being properly taught and handed down faithfully from one generation to the next. In his farewell address to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:13-38), Paul is acknowledging that he had spent several years building that Christian community and that he was not planning on returning to Ephesus. He needed elders to make sure that his work and teaching would remain pure and faithful. But Paul is not about reducing the non-elders of the church to being merely spectators watching the elders do their thing.

Notice that in being “elders” Paul is not assigning tasks that go beyond that primary job. Surely, elders can do other things in the church, but they should not be doing things that can more easily be delegated to others, who can then lead in other areas of ministry in the local church. Furthermore, Paul is not saying that men are the only ones who can teach in the local church, as there are different kinds of teaching, the one kind which is what all believers are called to do with one another, and the other kind which is specifically the responsibility of elders.

But why specifically limit the office of elder to men? The debate is not entirely settled, but perhaps the best clue is found in 1 Timothy 2:15, where the role of bringing children into the world is acknowledged as a particular characteristic of women. In other words, there is one thing that women can do that men simply can not do; that is, to bring children into the world. Since Paul is connecting a theology of marriage and family with a theology of the local church, this would indicate that the calling of women to be mothers is a great honor and essential task, which is exclusive to women.  In other words, there is one thing that fathers simply can not be. They can not be mothers.

Not only are mothers needed in the home, they are also needed in the local church. If anything, the presence of having spiritual “mothers” in the church, to mentor other women, is something Paul wishes them to excel in, a vital expression of what the local church is to look like. What is so liberating about Paul’s message is that this concept of spiritual “mothers” also applies to those married women who are infertile, or otherwise unable to have children, as well as single women. All women are called to participate in the spiritual “motherhood” of the church, either in terms of being discipled or in the discipling of others, regardless of whether one is specifically designated as a spiritual “mother” or not.41

Likewise, Paul believed that having men serving as elders in the local church balances that out, to suggest that this is the one thing qualified men are to do, and not place additional burden on women. In other words, not only does the church need “mothers,” the church needs “fathers.” Like marriage, it is a great mystery that a local church is to celebrate, not denigrate. Either way, to make any more of this by over-emphasizing a man’s leadership role in the local church to the detriment of women simply undercuts the rest of Paul’s teaching, which leans towards an egalitarian ethic in the other writings of Paul.  In other words, to be an elder is not a top-down, military style of leadership, involving a unilateral imposition of authority. Rather, it is to be a father within the local Christian community, modeling what true fatherhood should look like in a Christian family, working alongside women who model what true motherhood should look like.42


Does a theology of sacrament help us to better understand what Paul is getting at when he is teaching about the qualifications for elders in a local church?



A Sacramentalist Reading of 1 Timothy 2:12, Along with 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1

This is what a sacramentalist reading of Paul actually means. The local church needs both fathers and mothers, working together, to model what God intended family to be and function. Marriage is ultimately a mystery, which is the very essence of what sacrament is trying to demonstrate through various practices in the church, including baptism and the Lord’s Supper, just as a start.  We actually get the English word “sacrament” from the Latin word “sacramentum,” which is translated from the Greek, “mysterion.”  It is not a coincidence that Paul uses the terminology of mystery/sacrament in Ephesians 5:32, to express the relationship between Christ and the church, and the relationship between husband and wife. The life of a Christian family is deeply connected to the life of the local church.

Just as we need physical, concrete reminders regarding our membership in Christ’s body (baptism) and thankfulness and gratitude for Christ’s atoning work on the cross (the Lord’s Supper), so we also need a reminder that the church is meant to be an expression of family, brothers and sister, fathers and mothers (male-only eldership as “fathers,” serving alongside the “mothers” of the church). We must resist the urge to fix the relationship between husband and wife, and male-only eldership within a local church body, into logical categories of thought that attempt to “solve” such mysteries. Instead, the mystery of eldership is a spiritual, supernatural mystery to celebrate and not something to critique purely from the perspective of human logic.43

Sadly, we live in a day and age where both fatherhood and motherhood are looked down upon. Instead, much of contemporary critical theory teaches us that we are to view the world in a fixed state of hierarchies, where everyone is either in an oppressor group or in an oppressed group. In this ideological framework, men are oppressors and women are oppressed by them. While certainly examples of such oppression can be readily found, and such disparities addressed and resolved, to reduce all men/women relations to fit within such a paradigm is a rather sad and destructive way to view reality.

Unlike much of Jewish thought in the centuries before him, Paul has a higher view of women, which is consistent with certain strands of thought in Second Temple Judaism, as found in Old Testament apocryphal texts closer to the time of Christ, like Judith and Tobit. Contrary to popular opinion about a misogynistic Paul, Paul has a more liberating message for women than what could be found in certain other strands of Jewish thought and in the typical Greco-Roman thought of the day. Paul’s message is consistent with the one who calls him to be the one to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, the Lord Jesus himself.44 45

The real question has to deal with how the passages regarding the church office of elder, as found in the pastoral letters, are to be understood within Paul’s largely egalitarian framework. Did Paul lose his nerve in the pastoral letters by restricting the office of elder to only qualified men, and fall back on more misogynistic views held in certain corners of his Jewish background? Or was there something else to it? In the judgment of the early church, there was something else to what Paul is getting after, and this is the sacramental character of how the local church models for us what fatherhood and motherhood look like.

Coptic Christians celebrating Christmas Eve in Cairo. Men and women  separated from one another during a church worship service. Not a practice of the earliest Christians, but an ancient custom, nonetheless, despite no direct Scriptural reference. But is there something prescriptive in the New Testament that communicates the nature of how men and women differ from one another, while still being equal before God? (photo credit: Associated Press, Amr Nabil)


A Summary and Reflection

As I end this book review, I would like to offer some concluding observations up to this point regarding my study of this issue since the spring of 2019, when I first began this blog series.  Some of this is relevant to Andrew Bartlett’s book, but a good bit of this is relevant to the larger conversation going on about complementarianism versus egalitarianism. I have gone down the rabbit hole on this far enough to gain a respectful appreciation of different perspectives, while landing in a place that I conclude is the most faithful to the witness of Scripture.

Having said all of that, it is important to emphasize yet again that the question of women serving as elders in a local church is a secondary-order issue, and not a primary-order issue. I could be very much wrong on this issue. Yet at the end of the day, not all interpretations of the Bible can be correct. There is but one view out there that is correct, and all of the others are wrong. Perhaps we have not yet figured out what that one correct view is. Therefore we should act in humility, and not out of hubris. What we do need is evidence to fully support a robust interpretation of Scripture, and not some wishful thinking that sidelines parts of the Bible we do not like, or we would rather not think about.46

YouTube apologist Mike Winger has coined an expression, that Galatians 3:28 acts as a kind of “silver bullet” verse for evangelical egalitarians, as this particular verse is used often as an interpretive grid for evaluating other New Testaments texts regarding the relationship between men and women in the Bible. Other Christians might look to other verses as “silver bullet” verses, but Galatians 3:28 seems to be a favorite. Numerous progressive Christians, who do not necessarily hold to evangelical convictions, will use this verse as well to try to override much of historically orthodox Christian convictions.  While complementarians might be just as likely to be faulted for using 1 Timothy 2:12 as their “silver bullet” verse, I would suggest that the greater source of mischief is in the hands of those who favor Galatians 3:28 as their “silver bullet” verse.47

While many Christians have come to the conclusion, after much diligent study, like Andrew Bartlett, that the Bible does allow for women to serve as elders in the local church, thus respectfully calling into question a largely 2,000 year consensus on the matter, there are others who favor egalitarianism because they simply do not like some of the statements made by the Apostle Paul. Therefore, they would rather set aside, or more likely, simply ignore those parts of the New Testament that offend them, and never bother to consider that in doing so they are setting a precedent that might lead the next generation to have a more diminished view of Scriptural authority and reduced vision for sacramental theology. My experience in evangelicalism sadly is that only a minority of egalitarian proponents, like Andrew Bartlett, have done the hard work in trying to ascertain the true meaning of the Scriptures regarding how these difficult texts are to be interpreted. For this reason, I appreciate what Andrew Bartlett has attempted to do with Men and Women in Christ.

Yet my concern is that Andrew Bartlett is in the minority. Most others have simply gone along with the flow because the cultural tide supports them, and not because they have been convinced in their own minds (Romans 14:5) that the Scriptures actually support egalitarian readings of texts like 1 Timothy and Titus. For example, when Anglican theologian, N.T. Wright, who has been (and still is) one of my favorite theological heroes for several decades now, explained his view for “Why women should be church leaders and preachers,” it left me frustrated and discouraged. Wright’s response for advocating for egalitarianism was uncharacteristically weak for such an exceptional scholar, in saying that an egalitarian reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is “just as good a way of reading the passage, as any I have come across.” For every Andrew Bartlett I know I can think of many other egalitarians, including the ever-remarkable,  erudite, and normally persuasive N.T. Wright, who simply throw up their hands, saying that we really have no idea what Paul was getting at with these various texts, and therefore, we can do with them whatever we want. This latter approach to Scripture is devastating for the future of the church.

While passages like Galatians 3:28, and Andrew Bartlett’s key passage, 1 Corinthians 7, are highlighted as interpretive keys for unlocking the conundrums of Pauline theology regarding male and female, other passages, namely 1 Timothy 2:12, and corollary passages found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, remain as a kind of embarrassment for egalitarian-oriented readers of Scripture. The problem is that egalitarian attempts to reinterpret passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 have not proven persuasive to other Christians.

What if I am wrong? What might change my mind?



What Might Change My Mind??

There is something to be said about making modest claims for the Christian faith, as opposed to overextending those arguments. For example, certain traditional reports claim that all of the apostles died deaths as martyrs, with the exception of John. However, some of these reports only show up in the historical record over 400 years after the events took place. For example, reports about the martyrdom of Paul and Peter show up relatively early in the historical record, within a hundred years, or even just a few decades after those events occurred, giving me a high degree of confidence in those reports. However, the claim that Bartholomew was skinned alive does not appear until centuries later, around 500 A.D. So while it is still possible for Bartholomew to have been martyred, my confidence in the reliability of that Bartholomew report has decreased substantially once I began digging into the actual evidence, due to the lateness of that report.

We have no report of any apostle recanting of their faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which is a very strong positive data point for the truthfulness of the Gospel. But it does bother me when Christians repeat over and over the claim that “all but John” died as martyrs, without acknowledging the problems associated with such an immodest claim. While I wish this claim were true, I still need to stick with the evidence and not lapse into wishful thinking.

Likewise, the problem with much of egalitarian theology is that it makes claims that are difficult to substantiate with the available evidence. While complementarian theology is regarded by some as objectionable, it is a much more modest claim, and therefore, is more easily defensible.

I have arrived at my conclusions reluctantly on the complementarian/egalitarain debate, as I really, really wanted to be fully convinced by the entirety of Andrew Bartlett’s thesis in Men and Women in Christ. After all, I grew up in a cultural moment when full equality and even interchangeability for men and women seemed like an axiomatic way of viewing reality. For a number of years, I was adamantly committed to an egalitarian reading of 1 Timothy and Titus, since I simply accepted the prevalent view that these texts were primarily culturally-limited in application, and not relevant today. It was only upon a serious re-examination of those of texts that I came to the conclusion that the “culturally-limited” interpretation was weak and not fully supported by the evidence.  To that extent, Andrew Bartlett’s work should be highly commended for not advocating a vague “culturally-limited” perspective on 1 Timothy and Titus, and instead seeking to ground his work on the exegetical details.

Many evangelical egalitarians to this day accept this “culturally-limited” line of reasoning uncritically, without a careful study of whether or not this reasoning is actually biblically warranted. For a period of time even, I accepted this quasi-egalitarian mode of thinking that reminds me of Andrew Bartlett’s position, of being somewhat a soft complementarian with respect to marriage and yet an egalitarian in terms of church office, but I have since found that position as well to be inconsistent and exegetically unsustainable. Futhermore, as I have written about at length before, egalitarian marriage principles are simply impractical, unless you happen to be among the tiny, tiny percentage of Christians who manage to find a spouse who agrees with you on just about everything, but there is no need to belabor that argument further here.

Nevertheless, in reading Men and Women In Christ, I wanted to be open to see if there was something I was missing. Overall, Andrew’s reconstruction of the historical context for 1 Timothy (and Titus) is indeed possible, and even plausible. But that which is possible is not the same as that which is most probable. Alas, the evidence for Andrew Bartlett’s in my analysis comes up short. Our differences will come down to determining what sources one should trust and how we weigh and highlight various pieces of evidence.

Nevertheless, a set of good questions that I am trying to ask myself on a regular basis are these: What would it take for me to change my mind on this particular issue? What evidence would I need to see to reduce or lower my confidence in my view?

For example, what evidence would I need to see to change my mind to believe that women should properly serve as elders/overseers in a local church, in accordance with the Scriptures? If there was more substantial evidence to show that the female false teachers in Ephesus were into sorcery, bent on dominating and sexually exploiting men, and that the cult of Artemis was not really about upholding virginity as a primary virtue, I might be won over to Andrew’s view. Do we have archaeological evidence in terms of inscriptions, etc. to support Andrew’s assertion that Paul had this perspective in his mind? Any early church writings that have not been adequately assessed? Any other particular features in the New Testament that might provide clarity?

While Andrew Bartlett’s analysis fails to convince, I do think that there is a better case to be made for the egalitarian view. In my review last year of Lucy Peppiatt’s work, she makes the case that the women Paul is urging not to teach or have spiritual authority over men are actually false teachers in Ephesus, and that Paul’s explanation for this admonition is grounded in the fact that these female advocates of a syncretistic theology of the Artemis cult into Christianity contradicts the teaching regarding Adam and Eve in Genesis. These women are not permitted to exercise authority over the men, because their particular brand of heresy is a form of a radical feminism based on a false creation narrative, directed at diminishing men in particular, in a culture where elsewhere the Greco-Roman pattern of pater familias; that is, the male head of household’s absolute rule, reigns supreme. As a result, Paul’s instruction about women here is simply limited to the situation in Ephesus, a culturally-conditioned one, that is not binding on the church broadly speaking in all and every age.

Peppiatt’s argument, in principle, is actually a very good one, perhaps the best egalitarian argument of them all, as it does well to try to situate the writing of Paul’s letter into the historical conditions in Ephesus. However, while Peppiatt’s argument is quite attractive, it primarily relies on circumstantial evidence and not direct evidence. Thus far, we have no clear direct evidence to suggest that the Artemis cult brought about a radical feminism in the Roman Empire’s fourth largest city, such that it made a significant dent into the predominant pater familias ethic of the larger Greco-Roman world. Furthermore, we have no direct evidence to indicate such a radical feminism of Artemis crept into the Ephesian church, neither in any statement in the New Testament, nor in any extra-biblical source. Such an argument was unknown to the early church, which explains why the early church insisted on a male-only eldership in local churches, as opposed to recognizing an Artemis heresy at work in Ephesus that provoked Paul. In fact, we only see evidence for the Artemis influence on the Ephesian church until well after Paul’s time, as the cult of Mary became prominent in Ephesus as a reaction against the syncretic influence of Artemis philosophy into the church. What we really need for Lucy Peppiatt’s thesis to hold is for us to have direct evidence supporting her case, and not merely circumstantial evidence.48

If such evidence could be presented, then that would be sufficient enough to probably change my mind. Name-calling, the abusive use of postmodern critical theory, and stuff like that is not going to move me. I need to see evidence and data, framed within a high view of Scripture, to convince me that egalitarian theology is correct. That being said, I still believe that this issue is a non-essential matter for faith, and that other Christians, like the fair and balanced Andrew Bartlett, Lucy Peppiatt, and Beth Allison Barr, whom I will reference below, are still my brothers and sisters in Christ. I rejoice that we can all serve and worship Jesus together, enjoying our fellowship, even if we do not see eye to eye on this particular issue of bible interpretation. If I can only persuade them of the sacramental character of male-only eldership, then I believe that the church of Jesus would be better served.

The same could be said of those on the other side of the argument, with whom I disagree, such as Kevin DeYoung and Wayne Grudem. I might be terribly wrong about this, but try as I might, I am not sure I could easily convince a Kevin DeYoung or Wayne Grudem or Bruce Ware (or even a Denny Burk), or other luminaries associated with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,  that having women bible scholars around, having a woman teach an adult Bible class under the authority of elders, having women and men serve together on a local church board that does not refer to themselves as “elders,” or occasionally having women giving an exhortation-type sermon on a Sunday would be actually a good thing sanctioned by Scripture. But we still all share a love for Jesus, and that matters the most.

There is much to be said about how the Bible has been used to silence or marginalize women, and to excuse or hide abuse. However, we also have way too much virtue signaling going on in the supposed “defense of women,” resulting in a complete misrepresentation of a truly robust complementarian reading of Scripture. Furthermore, the growing acceptance of egalitarian thinking among evangelicals also threatens to widen the gap between evangelical Protestantism from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, where women historically have not served as elders, thus hindering advances that have been made in recent decades for the ecumenical movement. The global church is divided enough as it is: To press for something that unnecessarily brings about more division weighs heavy on my conscience. For those of us who pray for the reconciliation of the churches, egalitarian theology burns more bridges than building them.

Furthermore, younger generations have apologetic concerns that would suggest that women are still part of an oppressed group, marginalized by men, as a matter of principle. But we must not allow an ideological commitment to critical theory to blind us from accepting the Scriptural truth that we are all created in the image of God, male and female, and that God did not create us to live in some unalterable matrix of men oppressing women everywhere all the time. There is plenty of blame to go around on all sides of the extremes in which the unity of Christ’s global church is being undermined.49

I am not interested in “bashing” other Christians who believe that the Bible allows for and supports having women serve as elders in a local church, nor am I seeking to “bash” Christians on the other side of the debate who do not even believe that women should serve as deacons, much less as elders. I have wonderful friends on either side me on this issue, with whom I differ, and yet we are friends still!

I have friends of mine who are convinced egalitarians, and I also have complementarian friends who do not think that women should serve as deacons. No local church is perfect, and I am willing to worship in a church that does not reflect my views on this issue. However, I do believe that we need more dialogue on this issue, and I am discouraged when some Christians have a “stick their head in the sand” approach to such dialogue. When this type of dialogue avoidance happens, it tempts us to close off certain parts of the Bible from being discussed, which is not healthy for the church.

If someone is convinced in their mind that their position is correct, then they should follow their conscience on the matter. What I do hope for is an irenic discussion that seeks for a third way that looks for as much common ground as possible, grounded in evidence-based reasoning and Scripture, that does not succumb to extremes, but that does foster good faith conversations. If we do not try to do this, we face a future where more and more local churches will continue to divide over this issue, and thus harm the witness of the church. That being said, here is my summary response specifically to Andrew Bartlett.50

Response to Andrew Bartlett

When I run into an issue in biblical interpretation, among Christian believers of good faith, it can be difficult to figure where to land on the issue. But a good remedy for such a paralysis for me is to consult biblical scholarship among those who have no vested interest one way or the other, to determine what “the Bible really says” about an issue. There are non-believing scholars who study the Bible, not because they believe its message, but because the Bible is interesting to them.

This does not mean that we should simply accept what a non-believing scholar tells us, without a careful review of the evidence. The work of the Holy Spirit should never be minimized when it comes to properly handling God’s Word. Everyone has a cognitive bias, whether they be non-believing or believing scholars. For example, an agnostic or progressive Christian scholar will probably be just as skeptical about the viewpoint of someone like an Andrew Bartlett or myself. On the other side, as an evangelical Christian, who holds to historic orthodoxy, I am more skeptical of the skeptic’s critical bias. But this does not mean we should ignore the scholarship coming from a non-believer.

To me, it is quite telling that I have yet to run across any non-believing biblical scholar (or progressive Christian scholar) who finds the evangelical egalitarian arguments concerning 1 Timothy and Titus to be convincing: Not a single one, and I have personally asked several agnostic, atheistic, and progressive Christian scholars for their view.  Now, when it comes to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, that is another story. While I do not share Andrew’s particular take on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, I do share a view commonly held by a number of evangelical egalitarians as well as certain critical scholars. But in the cases of 1 Timothy and Titus, you would be hard pressed to find a non-believing biblical scholar, someone who has no “skin in the game” concerning the complementarian/egalitarian debate, who would not conclude that “Paul” is advocating for some restriction concerning women in church office. Such restriction is not limited to Ephesus, or even the Crete of Titus. The “culturally-limited” reading of these passages simply has no substance for such scholars. Many such scholars go onto further conclude that the pseudepigraphic and misogynistic author of 1 Timothy and Titus is reframing the authentic, egalitarian Paul, and thereby distorting the real Paul’s message, to make “Paul” sound more palatable to a patriarchal Greco-Roman culture. While I do not share a misogynistic reading of 1 Timothy and Titus, nor do I reject Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters, I do say that the unbelieving and progressive Christian scholars have a valid point to make. For if the egalitarian reading of these texts were indeed correct, then I would expect that at least some voices among secular or other skeptical scholars would chime in with agreement. However, they do not .51

This is a serious issue impacting Christian apologetics: In trying to establish the context of 1 Timothy 2 and 3 as not really being about a universal teaching as to how Christians in a local church should worship together, I found Andrew’s arguments to be awkward and rather stretched. Frankly, in comparison to Andrew’s proposal, it is much easier to accept the claim of the progressive critic who views 1 Timothy as a pseudepigraphic attempt by a later writer to somehow domesticate Paul, and make Paul sound more inline with the dominant misogynistic culture of the day, and thus make Christianity more socially acceptable in a patriarchal age. Andrew’s position can easily come across as a strained attempt to try to rescue 1 Timothy as being authentically Pauline, from the jaws of more secular, scholarly critics.  Andrew purposely never engages with such critical arguments that seek to question Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters, which I view is a serious, serious shortcoming of his book.

Furthermore, I was amazed that Andrew never really capitalized on the cult of Artemis argument for a radical feminism infecting the female Christian teachers in Ephesus, as set forth by someone like Lucy Peppiatt. Peppiatt’s argument has greater explanatory power than the argument that Andrew himself tries to champion, if and only if we had enough direct evidence to accept the cult of Artemis argument itself.

While I do resonate with his modest kind of “soft” complementarian/egalitarian solution as to how men and women are to relate to one another in marriage, my main criticism of Andrew Bartlett’s leaning towards egalitarianism with respect to church office is that it suffers from a kind of wishful thinking regarding how we would have wanted the history of early Christianity to look like. Andrew might push back on me here, but I think I can stand my ground.

For example, at least one historian, Beth Allison Barr, in her influential The Making of Biblical Womanhood, as I have understood her, suggests that the earliest Christians were quite egalitarian in their thinking about men and women in the church and in marriage. However, Barr argues that misogyny crept in fairly quickly in church history, as a male-dominated church sought to find ways to exclude women from leadership, and even to silence their voices, in order to retain control and instill fear in Christian communities.

The problem with this narrative is that it does not fit the data. It simply does not account for the historical reality that wide acceptance of Christianity throughout the history of the first 300 to 400 years of the church was fueled by the attraction to the faith among women. Classical historian Robin Lane Fox argues that “that women were a clear majority in the churches of the third century” (Pagans and Christians, p. 28–281).

It hardly makes sense to say that the Christian faith was both a liberating message to the Greco-Roman world for women, that drew thousands and thousands of women into its orbit, while simultaneously reinforcing a misogynistic worldview that belittled women. Women were serving in the diaconate level of church leadership, with little opposition, from as early as the first or second decade of the 2nd century, through the end of the 4th century. True, certain misogynistic attitudes did creep in from time to time, but it was not until Christianity became the state-sponsored status quo of the Roman empire, starting around the 5th century, that a wide-scale purge of women from the diaconate for the next few hundred years eventually reduced the role of women in local church leadership.

I do not know if Andrew Bartlett subscribes to this view that Beth Allison Barr presents. At least I hope not. But the standard that Andrew himself has set, that we should be hesitant to overthrow a consensus view found within the early church, and that those who wish to challenge such a consensus bear the burden of proof, needs to be taken more seriously.

In the case of certain early church fathers who suggest that men are superior to women, I would contend that the critique that says that such a perspective is nothing more than a non-biblical misogyny has actually met the burden of proof. The same can not be sufficiently made with respect to the early church practice of only having qualified men serve as presbyters. So while the theological reasonings for why only men are to serve as elders was not properly understood by a number of the earliest Christians, the practice of having a male-only eldership is well attested among the earliest Christians. In contrast, it is only among the heterodox Christian groups, like the Montanists, Gnostics, and Arians, where having women serve as presbyters was normally and actively encouraged, in contrast with the historically orthodox, who normally forbade the practice, on exegetical, scriptural grounds. The presence of historical anomalies of such a practice among the orthodox is not sufficient enough to overturn the broader consensus that indicates that the practice was not acceptable.

The weakness in my position is that it is difficult for some to consider why Paul insisted that only qualified men should serve as local church elders, without laying a charge of misogyny against the great apostle, or else conceding that an imposter claiming to be Paul attempted to scale back Paul’s otherwise egalitarian message, by giving us a more socially acceptable 1 Timothy and Titus. Yet I argue that this is because we fail to identify the sacramentalist contours of Paul’s thinking, that he and other New Testament writers apply to topics like baptism and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, it is quite possible that new, more substantial evidence might emerge to better demonstrate that a significant group of women in the Ephesian church were spreading a kind of Artemis-cult syncretism, thereby earning Paul’s judgment against their practice of false teaching.

Alternatively, what drives the impulse of so many Christians to embrace egalitarianism, as it drove me for so many years, when we are honest about it, is the horror of abuse, when men in positions of power use such power to marginalize and even silence women. Whether someone is complementarian or egalitarian in their reading of various Scriptural texts, we need to be honest about the reality of that, and not hide the sad and sordid history in the church when such abuse and injustice has occurred. That sense of horror over injustice is a deeply Christian sentiment, grounded in the very story of the cross. Therefore, while it is misguided in my view,  it is quite sensible and understandable for one to think that if the path to eldership in local churches for women could be opened up, that this would help to correct and undo the abuses of the past, and thereby allow the once voiceless woman to have a voice.

However, if it is to be properly understood that God’s design for the church is to reserve the office of local church elder to only qualified men, then we must trust that what God has revealed to us in Scripture is, in fact, true, beautiful, and good. If we are to be honest in saying that there is really no legitimate, compelling, and convincing way to read the Scriptural text otherwise, then we must in a trusting manner discern the way God set this pattern up for us, and learn how to see it as true, beautiful, and good. Otherwise, we should simply concede that what we have in the Bible has utterly deceived us, and that the only way to rescue faith with that type of judgment is to agree with the critical scholarship that says that certain texts in the Bible are hopelessly misogynistic, and therefore could not have come from the God who is revealed in Christ. In other words, admit that God (or at least the early church) made some serious mistakes in our Bible, and learn to live with that. If it means rejecting 1 Timothy and Titus from the New Testament canon, then so be it.  Simply holding to a wishful thought that the Bible is not saying what it is really is saying simply will not do.

Thankfully though, I would argue that we need not settle for such despairing conclusions. Rather, we do truly need to learn to trust that God is true, beautiful, and good in all that God has for us, in giving us his design for men and women in marriage and in the church, through the whole of the Scriptural canon handed down to us over the centuries.52


A Final Thought

An analogy might help here: In 2022, my wife and I traveled to Europe. We went on several tours that showed us the sad history of how antisemitism was laced at various times into Europe’s Christian history. I recall learning how thousands of Jews were forced into baptism, requiring them to convert, be exiled, or suffer some other punishment. I felt the horror and embarrassment that supposedly God-fearing Christians would terrorize such Jews by weaponizing the sacrament of baptism.

Does it mean that we need to clip out supposed offensive passages, like in 1 Thessalonians?53

Hopefully not.

Furthermore, does this mean that we should jettison the practice of baptism, simply because of the history of its abuse? Hopefully, not. Likewise, if we think of the notion of a qualified, all-male eldership through a sacramentalist lens, then perhaps we can be thankful for God’s good design for leadership within his church just as much as we can be thankful for God’s purposes in baptism.

The weaponizing of baptism has tarnished my understanding of church history, but I still look for God’s good intent in baptism, instead of focusing on the history of injustice. It is very easy for anyone to take certain things that matter to God and become angry and frustrated that something is not fair, as in it is not fair that God would only desire men to serve as local church elders.  But instead what it might really show us is that we are not trusting God enough, and do not have a sufficiently Christian imagination to appreciate God’s good design. We need to learn how to take pleasure in the things that God takes pleasure in. If not, it makes no sense to worship a God in whom we can not wholeheartedly worship as true, beautiful and good.

That is why I continually go back to the analogy of ballroom dancing as the best way of thinking about the relations between male and female, to gain an appreciation of God’s design as true, beautiful and good. I thought about subtitling this book review “Why Egalitarians Dance Alone,” or “Why Egalitarians Hate Ballroom Dancing,” but I thought it too snarky to do so. However, the point needs to be made: The beauty of ballroom dancing is that male and female mutually express themselves towards one another in both equal and yet different ways.

My wife and I do not get to do it that often, but when we do, we enjoy ballroom dancing. It is fun. We also enjoy watching a pair of dancers elegantly and smoothly move across a dance room floor. There is both a mutuality and a difference in terms of how the male and female dancers interact with one another that makes it beautiful and good. That mutuality and difference are not at odds with one another. Rather, they complement one another.

However, for ballroom dancing to be what it is, there is a reality that simply can not be overcome: The man leads the woman in the dance. Yet still, for those who enjoy it, there is an appreciation for ballroom dancing being inherently true, beautiful, and good. To say that the man leads the woman in ballroom dancing is not inherently bad, evil, unfair, or oppressive. It is just simply how ballroom dancing works, for without it, we can not see the truth, beauty, nor the goodness of the dance. In other words, the rumors that the Apostle Paul was a misogynist are entirely misplaced.

If we understand the teaching of the New Testament, when viewed in the best way possible, the dance of male and female finds expression in how local churches function, as well as in marriages. Yes, during the history of the church this truth, beauty, and goodness have become distorted, but to take the rhythm of dance out of the local church and the home is not the answer. Rather, let us celebrate the sacramental mystery of the mutuality and difference between male and female in both the local church and the home as the Scriptures teach us.




1. Three blog posts come to mind, regarding my public interactions with Andrew Bartlett, and/or those who highly praise his work, (though some of the dialogue comments in both cases appear now to have been lost, or else is no longer indexed by Google) first on Michael Bird’s blog, on Ian Paul’s Psephizo blog, and again on the Psephizo blog. Note that Ian Paul disagrees with how I approvingly cite Andrew Wilson’s Beautiful Difference: The (Whole-Bible) Complementarity of Male and Female by suggesting that Wilson contradicts Scripture.  I do not see that Ian Paul is bringing sufficient evidence to bear that Wilson is doing any such thing. Terran Williams, while having written a thoughtful critique of his own, with some valuable corrections, likewise rejects much of Andrew Wilson’s argument as actually spoiling the difference between male and female, by claiming that only having men serving as elders keeps “only men in charge.” (NOTE: this article appears on Terran Williams’ blog, though Andrew Bartlett and Ian Paul are listed as authors, which is confusing, but I will refer to Williams as the author here). Andrew Wilson is a far cry from a Wayne Grudem. Williams says: “While placing no restriction on men, [Wilson] restricts women in ways that God does not.” The qualifications for elders places no restriction on men? Really?  It makes me wonder how Terran Williams defines the term “elder.” Perhaps Terran Williams would offer an opinion as to what the “order of widows” in 1 Timothy 5:1-16 is all about? As I try to argue in this blog post, the claim of Williams that “ [Wilson’s argument]  is unbiblical because Scripture nowhere uses ‘fathers’ as a metaphor for local church elders, or as a description of them,” demonstrates a narrow reading of Paul, an ahistorical understanding of early church history, and a lack of Christian imagination in appreciating the sacramental character of eldership as connecting the doctrine of marriage (and family) with a doctrine of the church.   

2. I could list some of the lesser, but still valuable, subpoints Andrew Bartlett brings up here: His discussion about the use of the Greek word alla in Ephesians 5:24 is quite illuminating (Bartlett, p.97ff), in comparing verse 23 with verse 24: “In the course of stating this additional reason Paul does indeed want to guard against potential misunderstanding. He is anticipating an objection. The misunderstanding he has in view is an erroneous reaction to the husband’s headship being modelled on Christ’s saviourhood. If the husband’s role is merely to be the wife’s ‘saviour’, wives may conclude that they need not submit after all. But (alla) they must. Although Paul is comparing the husband’s headship to only one aspect of the Messiah’s headship, namely saviourhood, Paul nevertheless wants wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to the Messiah. They are to submit despite the fact that in a Christian marriage their husbands are not in authority over them. And one of the reasons encouraging such submission is that their husbands are called to be their heads, their sources of life and sustenance, loving them with a love like the practical, saving love of Christ.” (p.101). Very insightful. 

3. Another helpful subpoint is Andrew Bartlett’s discussion about Peter’s version of the household codes, 1 Peter 2:13-3:17, framed within Peter’s exhortation to live lives that offer a positive witness to those in authority, thus offering an appealing apologetic for the Gospel (1 Peter 3:15).  The “finally” of 1 Peter 3:8 should be better read as a summary of what has preceded regarding the behavior of slaves, wives, and husbands. The repetition of “in the same way” as found in 1 Peter 3:1 and 3:7 suggests a parallel, which emphasizes the mutuality of relations between husbands and wives. Wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to honor their wives. Husbands are not to demand obedience from their wives, just as wives are not to demand that their husbands give them honor. Instead, humility for both husbands and wives is the key virtue. (See p. 156ff). Some are bothered that in Peter’s version of the household codes that wives should be like Sarah who called her husband “lord” (1 Peter 3:5-6).  But this understanding of “lord” should be balanced against Peter’s additional command that husbands are to “show honor to” their wives (1 Peter 3:7). Some manuscripts of that verse read that both husbands and wives are “joint heirs” of the grace of life, which suggests mutuality, while simultaneously recognizing a certain preeminence respecting the relationship between husband and wife. There is no need to suggest a great divergence between Paul and Peter regarding their doctrine of marriage. Furthermore, this suggests that both Paul and Peter held mutuality and preeminence of husband to wife simultaneously. If Paul and Peter think this way, so should we.    

4. Yet another helpful insight comes from Andrew’s discussion about Phoebe being a prostatis (Greek) to many, in Romans 16:2. The ESV translates this as “patron,” which while not really an “elder” nevertheless makes Phoebe a very influential person in the church, capable of explaining Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, an obvious sign of a teaching gift.   (See p. 373). The only major drawback in this portion of this chapter is Andrew’s claim that “Complementarian writers are unable to accept that a woman could be an apostle” (p. 378). This overly broad statement is unfortunate. Many complementarians have no problem believing Junia could have been a pioneering missionary (apostle); that is, “one who is sent out”. Junia is also significant to Paul in that she became a believer in Jesus before Paul did! 

5. Lastly, in this list of short, helpful nuggets from Men and Women in Christ, Andrew Bartlett (p. 483) shows how my old, “trusty” 1984 version of the NIV obscures the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:4 . That version reads “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.”  Compare that to the much improved and more accurate NIV 2011: “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” Sometimes Bible translations can hide the truth! Appendix 7, which discusses various translation issues, some quite controversial, might be worth the price of the whole book!

6. The magisterial study by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church, offers a painstakingly precise record of what we know concerning women serving in the offices of presbyters/elders versus deacons. The evidence regarding women as deacons (or sometimes called “deaconesses”) is really without dispute in the early church: many women served as deacons, with the first evidence outside of the Phoebe in the New Testament appearing as early as the first decade or two of the second century. However, the story of women serving as presbyters/elders is quite different. In general, women did not serve as presbyters in the orthodox Christian communities, and where in those exceptional cases that they did, the practice was either short lived, otherwise exceptional, or we simply do not know what these women were doing as “presbyters.” Since the word “presbyter” could refer to an “older” or “elderly” person, a “presbyter” could simply mean a reference to a mature, esteemed member of a community, without any office designation. Essentially, the only clear cases where women were acting as presbyters, those spiritual leaders of the community responsible for passing on the teachings of the faith from one generation to the next, were in heterodox Christian communities.  For example, Madigan and Osiek  document examples of women serving as presbyters in Arian, Montanist, and Gnostic churches, which were all condemned as heretical.  We do have some medieval authors who believed that there were women serving as presbyters in the early church in more orthodox communities. But when it actually comes to the most original, early sources, the evidence of having women as presbyters as an accepted practice in the church is slim to none. To the contrary, several early church conciliar meetings and established leaders condemned the practice as being against the teaching of Scripture: including the Council of Laodicea of 363 C.E., in canon 11. and the Fourth Synod of Carthage of 398, in canon 99., “a woman may not baptize.” Madigan and Osiek conclude their study of women as presbyters in the early church this way:
As is so often the case in Church history, the sources do not tell us what we would most like to know. Conciliar or episcopal prohibitions exist alongside evidence of exactly the practice they are prohibiting, and often the evidence for the continuing existence of practices postdates the prohibitions. It does seem that in some times and places, there were women presbyters in the Church, even in “orthodox” circles, in both East and West, but most clearly in the West. Exactly what they did remains unclear.… (Madigan and Osiek, p. 198)
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of women serving as elders in the early church. Simply because some orthodox communities continued to have women serving as presbyters in exceptional cases did not mean that the practice was endorsed by the historical orthodox movement as a whole. To the contrary, the united mind of early church writings reserved the office of presbyter to qualified men only, despite the fact that some communities ignored this teaching. It is fair to say that the presence of such anomalies would explain why certain canon rules were adopted by these early councils and synods in the first place. To suggest that ambiguity on some of these corner cases can be used to overcome clear prohibitions to the contrary is hardly a defensible standard to follow. So while it can be firmly established that women served as “deacons,” an official church role, along with being evangelists, prophets, and apostles (missionaries), the evidence from early church history is that the early Christians restricted the office of elder/overseer to qualified men only, based on an appeal to New Testament Scripture…… Some have misapplied the research of Madigan and Osiek to make claims that simply lack sufficient evidential support. In short, the exception does not prove the rule. It is the same logic fallacy employed by supporters of John Boswell’s 1994 work, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, to argue that because we have certain exceptional cases where same-sex unions were tolerated in the church that premodern Christianity was in general supportive of same-sex unions. When we see the same type of argumentation used by both egalitarians and revisionists regarding the doctrine of marriage as being between a man and a woman, such argumentative strategies are deeply concerning.

7.  The pater familias of the ancient Greco-Roman world is the ethic that the oldest male in a household possesses complete, autocratic authority over everyone living in that household, from a wife (wives), to children, and to slaves. Unlike Paul’s teaching which indicates that the oldest male’s authority was in some sense limited, the pater familias rule is that the husband, for example, could do practically anything he wanted with anyone in his household. Few restrictions applied, noting that one of these restrictions required each Roman family to produce offspring. The authority of the household was obligated to the Roman state to have children. See Veracity review of Sarah Ruden’s book, Paul Among the People.   

8. See Bartlett, pages 83-85, and elsewhere on pages 87ff. Apologist and pastor Mike Winger, though not an academic New Testament scholar himself, has done the church a valuable service in outlining the various problems with the so-called “slavery objection” to complementarian theology at a popular level. See this YouTube video. … The supposed misogyny and lackluster condemnation of slavery in Ephesians and Colossians has led many progressive and secular bible scholars to conclude that the Apostle Paul never wrote Ephesians nor Colossians. See this previous Veracity blog post that discusses this issue in more detail. …. Again, a lot of problems with linking the slavery and women’s arguments together come from the misapplication of William Webb’s “redemptive hermeneutic” argument from his Slaves, Women & Homosexuals. See Veracity review of Sarah Ruden’s book, Paul Among the People for a more extensive critique of Webb’s hermeneutic.  

9. For example, many complementarians reject the theology of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) thesis that Wayne Grudem seeks to defend. Dr. Grudem responds by saying that critics of his position supporting ESS come dangerously close to bearing false witness against him. Admittedly, I have not reviewed Dr. Grudem’s proposal in-depth. Nevertheless, numerous scholars, both within the egalitarian AND complementarian camps, much more able than a novice like me, have found Dr. Grudem’s argumentation for ESS to be wholly lacking, and downright dangerous at points. The whole fiasco offers substantial evidence that not all complementarians are alike……. As an aside, I am sure that Wayne Grudem does help his wife around the house. I do not find his ESS theology persuasive, but I am confident that he is not some insensitive neanderthal husband 🙂 

10. Pastor Andrew Wilson’s summary of the scholarly discussion regarding kephale, as “authority” or “source, or better yet, “preeminence” (or even “prominence”), as in like being first in a line,  is very helpful when it comes to interpreting the meaning of “male headship”. See  .  Andrew Perriman, an evangelical egalitarian, demonstrates the weakness of the egalitarian emphasis that kephale means “source” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 or Ephesians 5:22-23, when kephale as “prominence” makes better exegetical sense, while likewise rejecting arguments from those like John Piper or Wayne Grudem who suggest that kephale means “authority over” in these passages. I would liken the notion of “headship” to being the first to venture into a dangerous situation, or being self-sacrificial, as in the case of being in a burning building, assuming all other things being equal, the husband should take the lead of the wife in testing out the best route of escape through the burning embers, or like the classic “women and children first” into the lifeboats of the Titanic. This is not a rigid, top-down, military-style rule commonly associated with “authority,” rather it is simply a practical application for resolving difficult situations. Neither is this some vapid notion of headship meaning “source,” which has no evident practical application. The people who perished on the Titanic did not have the time to develop a rank-choice voting method, or some other complex method, in order to determine who would board the remaining lifeboats. “Women and children first” may sound misogynistic to some, but it is the most efficiently practical way of saving the most lives. You can kill off most of the men of a group and still have that group survive. But if you kill off the women instead, you will decimate a population.

11. In contrast to my view, Dr. Philip Payne at the March 23, 2023 Theology in the Raw conference argued that kephale (translated primarily in English as “head”) only acquired the established meaning of “authority” in Greek dictionaries dated back to the 12th century. The earliest Greek dictionary possibly referencing kephale as “authority” is from the 4th century, well after Paul. Payne therefore argues that kephale primarily probably meant “source” in Paul’s day. However, Dr. Payne never addressed the Septuagint’s use of kephale, which suggests otherwise. Some examples: Judges 10:18And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, ‘Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead’.”  2 Samuel 22:44 (David’s prayer of praise and thanks) “You delivered me from strife with my people; you kept me as the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.Isaiah 7:9And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” (Samaria ruled over Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, Pekah, is the person who ruled Samaria.). Note that the Septuagint was translated within about 2-3 centuries before Jesus, several hundred years before the Greek dictionaries Dr. Payne describes. It just non-sensical to insist that the notion of “authority over” in these passages for interpreting kephale is not present, and to insist that kephale as “source” is what is meant here in the Septuagint. The fact that even other egalitarians do not agree with Dr. Payne should be kept in mind. See Glenn Peoples blog. Philip Payne is an amazing scholar, but his argument on this point is amazingly weak. Consult Gerry Breshear’s rebuttal to Dr. Payne from the Theology in the Raw conference, 2023. A more measured conclusion, based on the best consensus of scholarship, that kephale means “preeminence” or “prominence,” by default, except where the context of a passage suggests “authority over” or “source” specifically.

12. See Chris Date’s attempt to qualify the silencing of women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 due to the lack of education often received by women in the 1st century Greco-Roman world. Instead, uneducated women are encouraged not to disrupt the church meeting, but rather are encouraged to ask their husbands at home what was discussed at the church meeting. This argument, too, is admirable in pushing back against the weaponizing of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, yet I do not find it convincing. True, Paul does want order in Christian worship services, and thereby would urge against uneducated outbursts, which would explain much of why 1 Timothy 2:12 encourages women to keep a lower profile in public worship. But to tie this interpretation to the cultural circumstances in 1st century Corinth fails to adequately account for other difficulties in this passage…. AN ADDITIONAL NOTE:  The biggest difficulty with taking 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 at face value as being a teaching of Paul is the silencing of women flatly contradicts 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which specifically acknowledges that Paul accepts the practice of women praying and prophesying in church, which inherently requires speech. Those complementarians who acknowledge some limitation of the silencing of women, with respect to evaluation of prophecy, do so out of the the concern that Paul would not flatly contradict himself within the same letter. Alas, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is probably the most complex passage to deal with, which is why I bracket this off here for a future discussion.   

13. Andrew Bartlett largely follows the argument made by Philip Payne, that verses 34-35 were originally part of a note added by an early scribe who copied Paul’s letter, that eventually got incorporated into the letter as a whole. Andrew makes a very interesting, though quite technical appeal to one later Latin manuscript, Codex Fuldensis, to argue that verses 34-35 were actually an insertion, or interpolation, into the text, whether this was intentionally or non-intentionally done by a scribal copyist, and simply incorporated inadvertently into the text by later copyists. Andrew makes further appeal to some elements in the famous Codex Vaticanus to support the argument. However, making appeals to more recent Latin manuscripts, which are still translations from the Greek, does not sufficiently trump the actual evidence we have in the earlier Greek manuscripts.

14. See my discussion of the quotation/refutation view elsewhere. Andrew Bartlett does not find my solution, of advocating for the quotation/refutation hypothesis, to be satisfactory.  He interestingly cites Don Carson, a complementarian scholar, in advancing the idea that Paul’s reference in verse 37 (ESV) assumes the context of what has just been written in the previous passage:  “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.” However, this analysis does not completely follow, in suggesting that Paul is merely speaking of what he had just written about concerning prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul could easily be referencing the entire content of the letter! Andrew also argues that the use of two clauses starting with “for” here in 1 Corinthians 14 fails to line up with other instances of the quotation/refutation hypothesis in Paul’s letter. I fail to see how any of this nullifies the quotation/refutation view. Such arguments seem weak at best. The irony of Andrew’s argument is that he acknowledges that Paul’s reference to the “Law” in this passage can not be synced up with anything found within the Old Testament, which is the very pivot point which convinced me of the validity of the quotation/refutation hypothesis. It is reasonable to conclude that many in the early church lost sight of this connection as the Jewish influence within the Christian movement began to sharply decline in the early second century, as we know from some Jewish sources (like Josephus and eventually the Babylonian Talmud: a confession here — I do not recall the specific citation for this in the Babylonian Talmud), that the oral law tradition going back to the first century Pharisees urged women to be silent in the synagogues. Strangely enough, Andrew even cites some of the very evidence which supports the quotation/refutation hypothesis, but does not even mention its connection to the argument for the hypothesis. The explanatory power of the quotation/refutation hypothesis is reinforced by better explaining why some copyists of the New Testament in church history had trouble figuring out where to position the controversial verses in their copies. Since the idea that Paul was actually endorsing the notion of women being silenced in the church was commonly assumed to be the case, at least in terms of the function of presbyter (elder/overseer), by a number of early church fathers, it is fairly easy to understand why a copyist might not know what to do with these verses, as it perhaps did not seem to them to fit within the flow of the letter, nor sync well with the presence of women in non-eldership leadership positions in the early church. In other words, they knew that the verses were original to the letter, but the stark statement left them puzzled, wondering where in the letter it actually belonged. The bottom line is the same, namely that Paul was not silencing women in the church, but the path to get there for Andrew and I differs.

15. Andrew Bartlett briefly addresses Titus 1:6, but his analysis there is an echo of how he treats 1 Timothy 3.  Interestingly, Andrew Bartlett suggests that both complementarians and egalitarians agree that passages like Colossians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:26 support the idea of women offering instruction in mixed assembly. However, my experience is that more extreme complementarians prefer to marginalize such texts (see pp. 271-272). Nevertheless, Andrew’s discussion offers the revealing conclusion that the prohibition for women teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12 must be a qualified restriction, even for a complementarian. I would very much agree

16. Andrew Bartlett does discuss the difficulty of translating authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12, an otherwise obscure word that Paul only uses once in the New Testament, that has a wide semantic range of meaning. However, the early church regularly understood this to mean that the man has some kind of authority over the woman, though the sense of what this “authority” is not spelled out by this verse alone.

17. See Richard Clark and Catherine Clark Kroeger I Suffer Not a Woman. The Kroegers were the founders of the most influential egalitarian advocacy group, Christians for Biblical Equality, back in the early 1990s. However, most egalitarians now recognize that the primary thesis advanced by the Krogers, that 1 Timothy 2:13-15 acted as refutation of an advanced Gnostic heresy, does not have sufficient evidential support from the first century, when we would most need it to establish Pauline authorship. The most profound critique of the Kroeger’s in my view is found in S.M Baugh, “The Apostle Among the Amazons,” Westminster Theological Journal, 56 (1994), p. 153-171)…… Furthermore, some might suggest that the message of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is really only tied to a particular cultural situation, that of accommodating to the patriarchal structure of Greco-Roman society. But Paul’s appeal to creation suggests that this argument is not sustainable, since the logic of creation transcends all cultures. Some might then protest why certain complementarians will insist on male-only eldership here in 1 Timothy while rejecting the explicit practice of head coverings for women in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. This will be further addressed in the head coverings blog series, but in short,  1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is difficult for both complementarians and egalitarians alike, and if instruction in favor of head coverings is to be accepted, it is still not directly grounded in creation in the same manner as what we find in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  The argument from creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is instead indirect. See Benjamin L. Merkle on this point

18. I held this notion until recently. The separate partitioning between men and women in churches is a later practice, particularly among various Eastern churches, perhaps a few centuries after the completion of the New Testament. But it was not an early church practice, according to newer research that Andrew Bartlett has rightly identified.

19. See Bill Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, pp. 106ff. Mounce offers a thorough discussion of these issues. Furthermore, I know of no critical scholars, progressive or atheist/agnostic, who have no vested interest in upholding Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, who would agree with Andrew Bartlett’s re-analysis of this passage. See the following interview with Dr. Mounce: 

20. See Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, from above. Behavior within the context of corporate worship has implications outside of corporate worship.

22. The early church did not see 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as being applicable only towards married life. Rather, a public assembly context was assumed. Some scholars contend that the singular references in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, such as “man,” “woman, “Adam”, and “Eve” suggest that the context has shifted from the public assembly to order within the home. Examples include Sandra Glahn and Cynthia Long Westfall.  David Bentley Hart, in his translation of the New Testament, renders v.11-12 as: Let a wife learn in quietude, in all orderly compliance; But I entrust it to a wife neither to teach nor to wield authority over her husband, but to abide in quietude.” Nevertheless, even Hart’s translation is not entirely friendly to the consistent egalitarian position, for it might still assume a potentially dreaded hierarchy in the home.  At best, what we see so far from Andrew Bartlett is an argument for a hybrid of views, which splits as follows: husband and wife relations are to be mildly or moderately complementarian, while men and women relations in the local church are to be egalitarian.

23. See Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher Embracing Complementarianism for a more detailed exposition of this argument. See Veracity book review. There are a number of extreme complementarians who believe that 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man,” is a blanket restriction against any and all teaching, etc. exercised by women whenever men are present. But this view can be easily demonstrated to be false by acknowledging several data points, among these include:  there were female prophets uttering prophecy when men were present (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), the descriptions of Paul’s coworkers in Romans 16 where nearly a third of them were women, Paul’s commendation of Phoebe to the Romans for handling Paul’s letter to a mixed group of mena and women (Romans 16:1), and Priscilla’s and Aquila’s correction, together, of Apollos (Acts 18:24-26).  Such complementarians divorce 1 Timothy 2:12 from the flow of the argument to 1 Timothy 3, which gives the application which Paul has in mind. By doing so, such extreme complementarians are simply plucking 1 Timothy 2:12 out of thin air to make it mean whatever they want it to mean, regardless of other Scriptural texts and the immediate context in 1 Timothy itself. A good example of this misuse of 1 Timothy 2:12 can be found in this 2004 article at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, arguing that women are not to serve “over” men in parachurch ministries. The structure of a parachurch ministry, working alongside the church, is different than a local church setting, but neither Wayne Grudem nor Bruce Ware apparently recognize this distinction. Dr. Ware divorces 1 Timothy 2 from 1 Timothy 3 by saying, “First Timothy 2:12 does not say, ‘I don’t allow a woman to be an elder,’ as if Paul had in mind the church position itself, first and foremost,…. Rather, he said, ‘I don’t allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.’……Women teaching theology over men violates 1 Tim. 2:12 whether done from a pulpit on Sunday morning, or a Young Life Bible study on Thursday night in a college dorm.”   Really? The Scriptural difficulties that Dr. Ware gives us are almost endless. How else does Dr. Ware interpret Priscilla’s instruction of Apollos? What evidence does Dr. Ware provide to argue that 1 Timothy 2 should be ripped out of its contextual flow with 1 Timothy 3?  The argumentation of Grudem and Ware in articles like these stretch the impact of 1 Timothy 2:12 beyond any exegetically defensible proportion, and push the logic of extreme complementarianism to the breaking point. The fact that there is a chapter division between 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 3 only adds to the confusion in this debate. Thankfully, moderate complementarians like Graham Beynon and Jane Tooher avoid this type of extreme. Andrew Bartlett does an excellent job in critiquing the excesses of extreme complementarianism throughout Men and Women In Christ.  

24. One need not appeal to a misguided medieval sacerdotalism as a counter-argument to the notion of calling a local church elder “father.’ In other words, the Roman Catholic notion of elders as “priests” acting as intercessors between God and the people need not burden the main point here. Some may object by citing Jesus’ teaching to “call no man ‘father’” (Matthew 23:9). But this is purely Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric. Jesus is not banning Christians from referring to their biological fathers as “fathers.” What Jesus is concerned about in Matthew 23:9 is the idea of a man usurping the role of “father” from God. Whether or not an elder is called “father” is not the point. Rather the point is that churches need fathers and mothers, in order to model what the family should look like. While Paul’s logic may seem unclear to us, it should be apparent that Paul wishes local churches to raise up qualified men to serve as elders so as to call out spiritual “fathers” for that task. Why Paul does not call out specifically a particular office for “mothers” is a debated and good question, for which we have no clear, undisputed answer, but I will address this issue later in this review (see footnote #28). For a good summary of why the early church called “elders” as “fathers,” Eastern Orthodox priest Josiah Trenham has a thoughtful video examining this issue.

25. Even after considering Andrew Bartlett’s argument, I am still confused as to how Andrew confidently asserts that false teaching relates to men controlling their anger. As an aside, it is important to note that according to this passage that uncontrolled anger would indeed disqualify someone from being an elder in a local church, but ironically, some of the most vocal people against women serving as elders exhibit a lot of this type of anger, and a lot of egalitarian men can get just as angry! Regarding 1 Timothy 2:11 that a woman is to “learn in quietness and full submission” (ESV), Andrew Bartlett rightly notes that the instruction for women to be “quiet” is not about women being silent (p. 323-324). Rather, it is more likely about not being disruptive, or “lack of disturbance,” as some Bible dictionaries put it. It is decidedly not the same thing as “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which uses a different Greek word altogether. Paul’s concern is that such a woman should learn in an orderly, non-disruptive manner. This echoes the same instruction in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to  “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” which by virtue of its context applies to both women and men. Therefore, the instruction to be “quiet” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is simply an application of 1 TImothy 2:1-2 directed towards women in particular. Women are not being singled out in 1 Timothy 2 to be “quiet.”  If anything, the fact that Paul encourages women to learn, in and of itself, puts Paul miles ahead of the Greco-Roman culture of his day.  

26. Dr. Sandra Glahn, teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary, is perhaps one of the most influential evangelical scholars today who specialize in the cult of Artemis research at Ephesus, and how all of this might tie into both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 5.  See the following interview with Dr. Glahn by Preston Sprinkle.

27. Even Philip Towner, the author of perhaps the most useful egalitarian commentary on the pastoral epistles, is not persuaded by Andrew’s logical inference, something Andrew even acknowledges (p. 621). See Philip Towner’s commentary in the NICOT series The Letters to Timothy and Titus.  While Towner admits a linguistic connection to “dabbling in magic” in Acts 19:19, the reference to talking “nonsense” in 1 Timothy 5:13 is fairly broad, and not necessarily as specific as Andrew Bartlett suggests (Towner, Kindle location 7605). Andrew’s proposal would be far more compelling if Paul had explicitly indicated that these women in 1 Timothy 5:13 were practicing sorcery.  

28. Andrew seeks to answer my objection concerning why women are not to teach or have authority of men (and not women) by appealing to what he sees is the non-public assembly context of 1 Timothy 2:8-10, “In verse 12 Paul does not have specifically in mind the public assembly, where there are both men and women. He is concerned about the wealthy women going from house to house, dressed in the indecent fashions of courtesans, each looking for a man who will satisfy her sexual desires, and whom she may overpower with her false teaching” (Bartlett, p. 354). Andrew tries to link this uncontrolled female sexual desire to Paul’s instruction towards young widows in 1 Timothy 5:11: “As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry” (ESV). How is the young widows’ desire “to marry” tied to a practice of exploiting and overpowering men in the Ephesian church spiritually through their sexuality, as part of their sorcery? If anything, Paul is encouraging the young widows here “to marry,” not forbidding them. Is Andrew saying that these widowed women in Ephesus under the influence of sorcery were being promiscuous, thus explaining Paul’s instruction for them to get married? Does a woman need to be influenced by sorcery to be promiscuous? I will leave it to the reader to consider whether or not Andrew’s appeal to the supposed sexual seductive nature of the magical arts-oriented, sorcery laden false teaching of these Ephesian women is convincing.  

29. While many translations omit the definite article applying to “childbearing,” it is nevertheless present in the original Greek text. Some argue that the appearance of the definite article has no bearing on the meaning of the text, but if Bible translators would include the definite article, then English readers would more easily see how the definite article makes sense. The idea of Mary as the “New Eve” was a major theological theme in the early church, and this verse, along with Romans 16:20, demonstrates this idea was no mere speculation in the early centuries of Christianity. See the case made for the messianic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15, by Jared M. August, “What Must She Do to Be Saved? A Theological Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:15,” Themelios, Volume 45, Issue 1. Additionally, Andrew Bartlett gets it right that the phrase “the saying is trustworthy” of 1 Timothy 3:1 actually belongs to and refers back to the prior verse, 1 Timothy 2:15 (Barlett, p. 347). He also gets it right that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 flows right into the qualifications for elder and deacon in 1 Timothy 3 (Bartlett, p. 349). What is a little confusing is how Andrew tries to tie the “they” of 1 Timothy 2:15 back specifically to the extravagantly dressed Ephesian women of 1 Timothy 2:8-10. This reference to “they” could just as easily apply to all women, and not just these certain women of Ephesus.

30. The closest Andrew Bartlett gets to pressing his argument, and thus incurring the wrath of Greek grammarians, is on his page 291: “It is indeed possible for the present tense to be used in a timeless way (as in 2 Cor. 9:7 – ‘God loves a cheerful giver’). And whether it is used timelessly must indeed be determined by attending to the context to determine the writer’s intention. But it does not seem very likely on the face of it that a church leader who is getting on in years and conscious of his mortality (1 Tim. 6:16) is thinking of his own current withholding of a permission as something timeless.” But this is a rather weak way of putting the matter, and Andrew misuses the argument from context.  The rules of Greek grammar  (see Mounce below) indicate instead that the timelessness of the Greek present tense must be assumed, unless clear contextual clues suggest otherwise. Andrew’s stronger argument should be that the limitation in scope is a matter of the specific “woman” Paul is referencing in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and not a limitation in scope of time.
Egalitarians Ben Witherington and Philip Payne both unapologetically and strongly make this kind of argument that Paul’s use of the present tense of “permit” suggests a limited scope in terms of time. However, Bill Mounce, a principle translator of the ESV and NIV bibles, differs and says that this type of reconstruction of the verse is completely “100 % wrong,” without strong contextual reasoning supporting it (see footnote #19 above). In other words, we should never argue for a limited time scope for the Greek present tense by default, and then seek for a contextual clue to establish timelessness. In fact, the correct grammatical move is just the opposite. For if the New Testament use of the Greek present tense can be used in a limited scope by default then the New Testament has really nothing to teach us in the 21st century, as pastor/teacher Andrew Wilson points out as well. Does God wish that all could be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), or might God suddenly change his mind later? Should children learn to show godliness at all times (1 Timothy 5:4), or does Paul suggest that God might change his mind after a while and allow all hell to break loose with children? Bill Mounce writes one of the most widely used New Testament Greek textbooks used in countless seminaries in the English speaking world. Dr. Witherington and Dr. Payne do not. Greek grammar is Dr. Mounce’s bread and butter. Yes, Witherington and Payne surely know their Greek, but since Greek grammar is Dr. Mounce’s speciality, I prefer to respect Dr. Mounce’s expertise in settling the matter. This critique does not prove the complementarian position to be correct, but it at least demonstrates that egalitarians should stop trying to use this particular faulty argument.

31. See blog post on how the New Testament allows for women as deacons. Note here that 1 Timothy 2:12 restriction regarding women “teaching” is not absolute, as there are plenty of examples of women teaching in the New Testament (Priscilla being just one), and instructions for both men and women to teach (Colossians 3:16). The “teaching” restriction is particularly limited to the responsibility of elders; that is, making sure that what is taught in one generation is to properly pass down from one generation to the next, which is also a responsibility of the father in the home. See Paul’s final instructions to the elders of Ephesus, after he had left the city, after ministering there for several years (Acts 20:17-38). Paul was not coming back to Ephesus, so he charged the elders to make sure that his teaching was properly being passed along to the next generation of believers. This does not necessarily mean that these elders could not delegate the teaching ministry to other non-elders (including women). Yet the elders would be held responsible for what is taught, regardless of who else is publicly teaching. Admittedly this will be controversial for more “hard” complementarians, who believe that “pastor” and “elder/overseer” are simply interchangeable offices.  Also, I would also include “pastor” as being open to women, as Sam Storms, a complementarian theologian, has most adequately argued for. For the term “pastor” gets thrown around a lot without regard for its usage in the New Testament…. and I am quite guilty of this myself! While Jesus is described as the good “shepherd,” or “pastor,” the term “pastor” is never described in the New Testament as a description of an “office.” Instead, according to Ephesians, a “pastor” is listed among the gifts. It is not an office. Rather, an “elder” of the church is an office. However, an “elder” should possess the gift of being a “pastor.”  So, in a sense, it is understandable how an “elder” could also be called a “pastor.” But this creates unnecessary confusion when we do that. For while an “elder” is a “pastor,” not all “pastors” are elders. The gift of being a “pastor” is never in the New Testament restricted by gender. In other words, both women and men are free to serve as “pastors,” as long as this characteristic is within their gifting. Despite a few quibbles, I would then largely agree with pastor Andy Wood, the new lead pastor at Saddleback Church, that there is a distinction between elders (men-only) and pastors (men and women). Oddly however, the former pastor of Saddleback, Rick Warren, makes a number of misleading arguments that confuse the role of elder and non-elder, in his defense of Saddleback’s position on women pastors. Perhaps, Rick could have learned something from his successor!!  

32. It is real easy to try to pick off Paul’s directives about widow enrollment at age 60, his request for Timothy to bring Paul’s cloak and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13), etc. as being cultural examples, and not timeless commands of Paul, as the basis for saying that women should not serve as elders, due to the specifically cultural situation in Ephesus.  For none of these culturally-specific instructions are grounded in an appeal to creation, as we find in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  Furthermore, it would be awkward to say that Paul’s teaching about a “widow” in 1 Timothy 5:9, that she had been a “wife of one husband” indicated some type of status, for this would be redundant for someone who was already considered to be a widow. A “wife of one husband” or a “husband of one wife” designates the character of a person as being faithful and not status, as in someone who had to be married.   

33. This may sound picky, but it would be very helpful if some scholar of the ancient Greek classics in these discussions could produce a literary text where “husband of one wife” was used in a non-gender specific manner, and that such a text would not depend upon Paul’s usage of the phrase. In private correspondence, I personally asked egalitarian scholar Philip Payne if he knew of such an ancient Greek text, and the only thing he could reference was a passage from a John Chrysostom sermon attempting to exegete Paul’s letter to Timothy, which was not what I was asking for.  Again, this comes across to me as trying to stretch and push the available evidence in search for a definite conclusion to the breaking point. This is not very helpful. Making an appeal to a particular text in order to understand that same text comes across as begging the question, when that is all you have to work with. In a talk he gave at the Theology in the Raw conference, March 23, 2023, Payne acknowledged that there are inscriptions that testify that “husband of one wife” is a gender neutral phrase. I find that acknowledgement to be curious in that he was not able to produce such an inscription for me in our correspondence. I can still concede his point, but I would still like to see evidence for his case! Furthermore, in that same talk at the Theology in the Raw conference, Dr. Payne came close to misrepresenting the positions of egalitarian scholars, Thomas Schreiner and Douglas Moo, by claiming that “‘man of one woman’ does not exclude women.”  However, upon closer examination both Schreiner and Moo claim that “man of one woman” as an idiom does not by itself exclude women, which is not exactly the position Payne attributes to Schreiner and Moo. Rather, the context of the passage should determine the idiom’s meaning, just as what we find in English. For example, if I use the term “mankind” in a sentence, I could rightly conclude most of the time that “mankind” includes men and women.   However, if I am speaking within the context of men’s basketball, and make the claim that “this is the greatest sport in the history of mankind,” the context would lead me to conclude that the reference to “mankind” is specifically male, and does not include women. Meaning varies according to literary context.  Finally, in that same talk, Payne appeals to John Chrysostom to argue that “‘man of one woman’ also applies to women deacons.”  But this is not as clear as Dr. Payne makes it out to be. In Chrysostom’s commentary on 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Chrysostom comments on verse 11 to say, “some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of Deaconesses.”  Chrysostom then concludes his thoughts about this verse in his comment on the following verse, verse 12: “This must be understood therefore to relate to Deaconesses. For that order is necessary and useful and honorable in the Church.”  While it might suggest that Chrysostom is arguing for a gender-neutral understanding of “man of one woman,” it could also simply be saying that what is said in verse 12 about male deacons should also apply to what is said about the women deacons mentioned in verse 11. In other words, Chrysostom is not firmly making the point that Dr. Payne wishes Chrysostom to make. Again, Dr. Payne is an extraordinarily gifted scholar, so I am surprised by the weakness of his argumentation on this point.  

34. Some other issues in the 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 qualification list will be discussed in another note below. One conclusion appears to be common among great number of scholars: “husband of one wife” is an idiomatic expression that addresses the character of that person, as being the type of person who is faithful in marriage. But it does not require an elder to be married at the specific time they are serving as elders. For if this were true, neither Paul nor Timothy would qualify for the job, for both were single men. The issue under dispute is whether or not “husband of one wife” in this context specifies the gender of the elder candidate or not. See note #42 below  … A somewhat minor point should be addressed in Titus 1, regarding whether Paul instructs that only someone who has “believing” children is qualified to be an elder.  Chris Date’s video on this topic covers the subject in great detail. The bottom line is that the reference to “children [who] are believers” in Titus 1:6 (ESV) should be better translated as “children [who] are faithful,” per a footnote in the ESV. The NIV has “children [who] are trustworthy.”  In other words, the point Paul is trying to make is that while children are in the home, they should behave well and follow the family’s rules. This is not about disqualifying elders whose children reject the faith later in life as adults, living outside of the parents’ home…… Veteran Bible translator, Bill Mounce, actually changed his view, which he originally promoted in his Word Biblical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, as teaching that Paul was requiring the children of elders to be believers, to a view similar to Chris Date’s view, that of Paul requiring the children of elders to be well-behaved kids, thus indicating a consistency between 1 Timothy 3 and Titus  1.   

36. For an extensive refutation of the popular yet erroneous view of Artemis as goddess of “motherhood” or “fertility,” see S.M. Baugh, CULT PROSTITUTION IN NEW TESTAMENT EPHESUS: A REAPPRAISAL. Outside of the evangelical world, critical scholars who are not invested in upholding Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters, agree with the primary contention of S. M. Baugh’s research, namely that Ephesus was not a special haven for radical feminism at odds with the prevailing Greco-Roman patriarchal culture. Granted, Artemis was regarded as a goddess for “midwifery.” But her interest was not in the bearing of children per se, but rather in the survival of the woman who underwent childbirth. For a further critique of the evidence used to support the connection between the cult of Artemis and an egalitarian interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, see this earlier Veracity review of Lucy Peppiatt’s work on the topic.Sandra Glahn, a bible scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary is expected to publish a book on her research into Artemis that might hopefully clear up the confusion. The proposed title for the book is telling, Nobody’s Mother, thereby seeking to establish the fact that Artemis was a virgin who had no interest in motherhood or fertility, contrary to the popular imagination about Artemis found in various textbooks and Internet websites.   

37. The terminology of “overseer” (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and “elder” (Titus 1:5-9) are synonymous. This would indicate that the office of “overseer” and “elder” are the same. 

38. A counter-argument could be raised that Paul never mentions the name of any specific “god” other than the God of the Bible. So we should not expect Paul to mention Artemis in 1 Timothy, because Paul was a good Jew. However, Paul did specifically mention the existence of other beings in the Divine Council, which are set against the God of Israel.  For example, in Colossians 2:8 Paul explicitly mentions the existence of “elemental spirits” of the world, that are set against Jesus. However, in 1 Timothy 2 & 3, and Titus 1, Paul makes no such reference in the context of these passages.

39. One other idea that we should easily rule out is that the “man” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not representative of 14 year old boys, which was the rationale that Beth Allison Barr ran up against in her Baptist church setting, where she was not permitted to teach a high school aged youth group. The “man” of 1 Timothy 2:12 indicates a mature male, not an adolescent.  If Paul intended to include “boys” here, then he would have included a Greek word for “boy.” This type of overbearing interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 is silly at best, and dangerously oppressive at worst. When complementarians resort to this type of logic, it then becomes a recipe for encouraging disgruntled Christians to become egalitarians. See Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood.  See Veracity review of Barr’s work. NOTE:  Even though I was not fully persuaded by Beth Allison Barr’s treatment of Scripture in her The Making of Biblical Womanhood, she was still perhaps my favorite blogger over at The Anxious Bench for several years (with the possible exception of Philip Jenkins). Sadly, Dr. Barr has recently stepped down from her blogging role at The Anxious Bench

40. See earlier blog post at Veracity on the argument for women deacons.

41. It is quite plausible to say that there was an order of “widows”, recalling 1 Timothy 5, distinct from the order of “elders”, such that to be a “widow” for Paul specifically meant an office distinct from “elder/overseer”, which fulfills this spiritual mother function in the church, as a counterpart of elder/overseer. See discussion and my review of Lucy Peppiatt’s work.  Readers wanting to learn more about the order of “widows” should consult Kevin Madigan’s and Carol Osiek’s Ordained Women in the Early Church. However, we have no conclusive evidence to show that such ordained “widows” were authorized to preside over the sacraments. They might have been able to assist, through being deacons, but not preside as a presbyter would. 

42. This association with Eve and “the childbirth” of 1 Timothy 2:15 is not meant to say that women must always bear children. Infertility, health issues, etc. can make it difficult to have children. Instead, it suggests that women can pursue the task of spiritual motherhood, which is not restricted to biological reproduction.  Also, regarding the connection between eldership and family, see the work of Gerry Breshears. Gerry Breshears did an interview with theologian Preston Sprinkle making the argument that 1 Timothy 3 gives us a job description for being a local church elder/overseer which is very specific. Breshears contends that only a married man, presumably one with children, are qualified to be elders, in order to model for the local Christian community what fatherhood looks like. Breshears asserts that neither Paul nor Timothy would qualify to be elders/overseers of a local church, since neither one was married. This seems too much of a stretch to me, as the early church certainly considered Paul and Timothy to possess a kind of spiritual authority akin to being elders/overseers. But what is intriguing about Breshears’ proposal is that his view is completely non-hierarchal. In other words, to be an elder/overseer has nothing to do with establishing a church hierarchy; i.e. where a unilateral authority of men stand over women.  In other words, to be an “elder” is a specific job description for an office which stands alongside other members of the local church community, as opposed to a top-down military style of authority. Kudos to Gerry Breshears!!   

43. See Veracity post on the mystery of eldership. One point could added: the qualifications for eldership are primarily about character as opposed to status, as Bill Mounce has recently argued. We need spiritual fathers in the church who can model for us godly character.  

44. Jesus’ statements regarding the relationship between men and women probably deserve a separate treatment.  The most controversial passages in the New Testament regarding male-female relations are from the Apostle Paul, who was Jesus’ handpicked man to be the apostle to the Gentiles. We should be careful not to throw Paul under the bus, and still think that Jesus gets off unscathed. For if Paul is indeed teaching misogynistic doctrine, then this casts serious doubt into Jesus’ choice for selecting Paul to be his spokesperson to the Gentiles……  As Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levin argues, Jesus was very much a first-century Jewish male, so it does not surprise her that Jesus only selected men to be among “the Twelve.” The Judaism of Jesus’ day was not an “egalitarian wonderland.”  Levine suggests that there were women leading in some Jewish synagogues in Jesus’ day, but they were forbidden to serve as priests in the Temple. Since the early church sought to pattern much of Christian worship services after a revised-Jewish Temple theology; e.g. Paul taught that the Christian church is the “temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16), it is reasonable to conclude that there would be some carry over from Jewish to Christian approaches to worship. However, Levine is careful to push back against some Christian understandings of Second Temple Judaism attitudes regarding women. Men/women relations during the late Second Temple period were far more egalitarian than is often recognized. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish women during Jesus’ day (a) had property rights, and a number of Jewish women were quite wealthy, wealthy enough in certain cases to be patrons for Jesus’ ministry, (b) they were permitted to divorce their husbands, if the need arose, and (c) they were accepted as valid witnesses in legal settings, as opposed to what was often found in pagan practices. Levine attributes popular portrayals of Jewish misogyny during Jesus’ day as examples of using anti-Jewish polemics to criticize the Jews, as opposed to taking a fair look at the actual historical evidence.   

45. Thomas Schreiner agrees that the overall thrust of Paul’s teaching regarding men and women is egalitarian, or mutual in character, and that the “hierarchy” concept is a minimal part of Paul’s message.  See the 57:39 minute/second mark. The best written summary of Thomas Schreiner’s work can be found in the multi-authored work Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15.  

46. This is what grieved me the most in listening to Rick Warren’s defense of Saddleback Church’s change in doctrine to allow a woman to serve as “pastor” of that church. Too many of Rick Warren’s critics have been unable to consider that they might be wrong about an issue. In my view, this partly explains why Rick Warren has decided to dig his heels on this issue, in his battle with other Southern Baptists. On the other side however, it should be noted from Russell Moore’s interview with Rick Warren, that Warren essentially made an appeal to Matthew 28’s Great Commission, the Pentecost in Acts 2, and Mary Magdalene’s proclamation of Christ’s resurrection to the male disciples in order to cancel out 1 Timothy and Titus and support the concept of women “pastors”, which is not an effective way of constructing a synthesized view on this issue.  The Southern Baptist Faith and Message defines “elder” and “pastor” to be synonymous, which is incorrect in my view. To be an “elder” is an office, whereas “pastor” is a gift. A qualified “elder” should have the gift of being a “pastor,” but it is quite possible to be a “pastor” and not an “elder.” But given the Southern Baptist statement, the Convention was well within their right to kick Saddleback out of the denomination. Yet contrary to Russell Moore’s claim, this would not give the Southern Baptists the right to remove a church over differences in eschatology, as that is not spelled out in the Southern Baptist Faith and Message. See my concerns about how churches define what an “elder” is, and Andrew Wilson’s excellent essay on the theology of eldership. My only difference with Wilson is that I do not see Scripture teaching that to be a “pastor” is synonymous with holding the office of being an “elder.” Being a “pastor” is broader than that. Elders need to be pastors, but not all pastors are elders.  

47. See Veracity blog post on how Galatians 3:28 is being abused within the realm of progressive Christianity. If you think your evangelical church is immune to progressive Christianity, you might want to rethink that view. A friend of mine who was a pastor left his church, and one small part of his reasoning was a concern over how one of the elders that had swiftly changed in his theological views: This elder was an advocate for egalitarianism, but his real long term goal was in changing the theology of marriage in the church to accept same-sex marriage.  For if the church would be willing to embrace egalitarianism, this elder believed that it would be a short step further to accepting same-sex marriage. A growing number of evangelical, megachurches are following the same path that the Protestant mainline took in the 20th century. It would be much more honest if such churches would simply state that they do not subscribe to historic orthodox Christianity and instead embrace a more secularized view of Christianity. For example, former megachurch pastor Ryan Meeks led his church in 2015 to becoming LGBT affirming and now has fully gone the deconstructionist route and became an atheist. Ryan Meeks former church lost most of its members and had to lay off a percentage of their staff. Now the church statement of “What We Do” is this: “Throughout the year, we will offer in-person gathering opportunities for those who live in the Pacific Northwest, but we no longer meet in a regular, Sunday morning cadence.” See this Veracity post on progressive Christianity.  

48. See evidence for the cult of Mary superseding the cult of Artemis, centuries after Paul’s death. Prior to this development of the cult of Mary, we have a lack of historical evidence demonstrating an Ephesian-centric syncretism corrupting the early church in Ephesus.  Andrew Bartlett’s appeal to the Acts report of conflict between Paul and the magicians of Ephesus offers an insufficient link towards establishing the female false teachers alone in Ephesus as the source of Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:12.  

49. The recent 2023 Twitter mob freakout over Joshua Ryan Butler’s admittedly awkward article on sexuality’s relationship to salvation is case in point. See Rod Dreher’s analysis of the fiasco.  I would recommend the conversation Preston Sprinkle sponsored with Josh Butler and some of his critics, like Sandra Richter and Brenna Blain. As Preston Sprinkle says, “because conversations are better than tweets.” Well said, Preston!   

50. See Veracity post on conscience. I am greatly bothered when some Christians try to pit the conscience of one believer against the conscience of another believer. This completely misunderstands Paul’s teaching on “disputable matters,”  not simply in Romans 14, but also in 1 Corinthians 10.  If someone believes they are sinning in their conscience, if they go along with something they believe God forbids, we should do everything we can to encourage that believer to not sin in their conscience. If we disagree with that believer’s view, we should do what we can to try to reason with that person, making our case from Scripture, as perhaps that other believer has a misinformed conscience. But we should not be so callous as to disregard the tender conscience of a fellow believer, who is acting on good faith. Practically speaking, if a church has members who sincerely believe that women should not be exercising spiritual authority over men, then for that church to force a woman’s authority over such persons would appear to be a violation of conscience and encouraging those persons to possibly sin in their conscience. We should avoid such situations as much as possible. There are better ways of resolving this!……. Pertaining to the complementarian/egalitarian debate, it might be helpful to consider this thought experiment: What if the Apostle Paul taught that only Jewish persons could serve as elders in a local church? What if Paul taught that Gentiles should not serve as elders? Of course, Paul is NOT teaching this, but what if he did? Should we not seek to be obedient to the Scriptures and honor the teaching given by someone hand-picked by the Lord Jesus himself, as Paul was, even if we do not understand Paul’s reasoning? It would not seem “fair” to us that Paul would restrict Gentiles from serving as elders, but what if he did? Would we still be honoring Paul’s apostolic authority if we were to reject his instruction in this matter? Something to think about!   

51. See Tim O’Neill’s YouTube interview with critical New Testament scholar Joseph A. P. WIlson. A critical scholar like Wilson follows the majority scholarly view that Paul did not write 1 Timothy (though less certain about Titus), not simply due to style and vocabulary differences, which I discern can be accounted for with Paul’s use of a particular secretary (or secretaries). Rather, Wilson sees a difference in theological content of 1 Timothy and Titus which contradicts the egalitarian thrust of Paul found in his undisputed letters, like Galatians and 1 Corinthians. As an evangelical, I do not find Wilson’s approach to the evidence convincing, but he does not go to the lengths that evangelical egalitarians go to stretch the evidence in the pastoral letters to say that Wilson’s pseudo-Pauline author approves of having women serve as presbyters. Other critical scholars that I have corresponded with, such as M. David Litwa and Jennifer Bird, would basically agree with Wilson. Likewise in my interaction with Bart Ehrman, the most well-known critic of evangelical Christian claims about the Bible, Erhman acknowledges that there is no established connection between 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and the cult of Artemis, contrary to what Andrew Bartlett claims. In my view, it is better to make a more modest argument for an evangelical view of Scripture rather than contend for a more socially acceptable view which is increasingly more difficult to defend…. What is also disturbing is when more progressive-leaning evangelicals make arguments that mirror the views of skeptics: For example,  in the 1970s Fuller seminary professor Paul King Jewett in Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View taught that the Apostle Paul changed his view of women’s ordination within his lifetime, from the “egalitarian” view of Galatians and Romans to the “complementarian” (or “misogynist” in the minds of some) view of 1 Timothy, suggesting that either Paul believed he had gone “too far” in his earlier letters, or that he had simply lost his nerve to fall back more on the rabbinic Judaic view of his youth regarding the limited role of women in the synagogue and temple.  Jewett received mild disciplinary action from Fuller for saying effectively that the Apostle Paul was wrong, a statement that went contrary to Fuller Seminary’s statement of faith. But Jewett’s position basically has become a view that more and more egalitarians of a less evangelical stripe are taking today. The idea of a male-only eldership in a local church is increasingly viewed by progressive Christians as inherently misogynistic, despite the protests of responsible complementarians:  In her forward to Jewett’s book, feminist Virginia Mollenkott claims “to my knowledge, he is the first evangelical theologian to face squarely the fact that if woman must of necessity be subordinate, she must of necessity be inferior.” The sacramentalist position which I am advocating is suggesting a different way forward that avoids the extremes of both a “hard” or “broad” complementarian and of egalitarianism.  

52. Not every attempt to try to articulate the beauty of relations between male and female among complementarians succeeds.  For example, there is “THAT” article at the The Gospel Coalition (TGC) that caused a Christian twitter meltdown in March, 2023, forcing TGC to withdraw the article and led to the resignation of the author from the Keller Center. Australian Dani Treweek, a complementarian, offers some valuable insight here. Bottom line:  marriage is the mystery, not sex.

53. See this Veracity blog post on possible antisemitism in 1 Thessalonians, and reasons why such a charge can be rejected.


About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

What do you think?

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: