Guest post by Jon Zens: Selecting Scriptures to silence the sisters (part 3)

This comprehensive list by Jon (see parts one and two) of how God used women in the New Testament is both instructive and far-reaching.  Two passages have been used to muzzle women for centuries–1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. But in the passages listed by Jon, we see that the trend and tenor of Scripture does not support the traditional interpretation of these two passages. And both can be interpreted with integrity in other ways. We are wise not to use individual verses to disprove or negate the general principles and examples of Scripture.

Again, my thanks to Jon.

Here is the completion of Jon’s list.

  • Junia and Andronicus (wife/husband or sister/brother) were greeted by Paul as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom.16:7).  They were his relatives and had been in prison with him.  There were people called “apostles” who were not among the Twelve, like Barnabas.  Junia was also among such apostolic workers.  There is no reason to think that she was the only such female apostle.
  • Among all the people Paul greeted in Romans 16, ten were sisters among whom were “Tryphena and Tryphosa [who may have been twins], women who work hard for the Lord” (Rom.16:12).
  • In line with Acts 2:17-18, Paul encouraged brothers and sisters to prophesy in the gatherings (1 Cor.11:4-5; 14:23-24).
  • The open meeting Paul described in 1 Cor.14 envisioned all the men and women – “the whole assembly” – “each one of you” – “you may all prophesy one by one” – functioning together in an encouraging manner.
  • Gal.3:28 indicated that “in Christ” human distinctions, like male and female, are no longer norms of judgment in the congregation.  In the first century, prejudices abounded in folks’ minds when certain people like “Gentile,” “Jew,” “slave,” and “woman” were mentioned.  Paul stated that in the body of Christ this should not be the case.
  • Women were prominent in the assembly at Philippi, beginning with Lydia’s home.  In Phil.4:3 Paul asked for two sisters – who must have had no small spiritual influence in the body – to be at peace with one another.  He called Euodia and Syntyche “co-workers” and “co-strugglers” in the gospel.
  • 2 John is addressed to “the elect lady and her children.”  This probably referred to a respected sister in whose home the saints gathered.  She had apparently exerted significant spiritual influence upon a number of people.  Women’s homes were mentioned as meeting places for the brethren in Rom.16:5, 1 Cor.1:11, 16:9 and Col.4:15.
  • In Rev.2:20-24 Christ rebuked the Thyatiran congregation for allowing a false prophetess, nicknamed “Jezebel,” to “teach” some of the Lord’s servants to sin grievously.  If it was such a crime for a woman to teach the brethren, why didn’t the Lord just condemn the assembly for even allowing a woman to instruct others?  This incident in Thyatira implies that the assembly permitted other male and female prophets to teach the truth.  Christ’s bone to pick with them wasn’t that a woman taught, but that what she taught was false teaching.

This survey of Biblical highlights concerning women is important because it reveals the freedom of the sisters to function in the kingdom.  In the general flow of the New Testament there are no jitters about “restrictions” upon Christ’s daughters.  Such a survey should also serve as a corrective to those who squelch and intimidate the sisters by using their interpretation of two passages – 1 Cor.14:34-35 and 1 Tim.2:12 – to cancel out the ministry of sisters unfolded in other Scriptures.

It simply will not do to functionally dismiss and throw out as irrelevant all the positive revelation about women that has been presented. We can be sure that the intent of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 was not to silence the sisters. We can also be assured that it is an improper use of Scripture to elevate these two passages in a way that causes all other information about the sisters to be invalidated.

For a detailed interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15, one can read my What’s With Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2 (2010)

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Guest post by Jon Zens: selecting Scriptures to silence the sisters (part 2)

Jon Zens continues his list of examples that reveal the role of women throughout the New Testament. Women should not be silenced by the two “challenging texts”–1 Corinthians 14:34-34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The weight of Scripture demonstrates that women do not have to “tape their mouths.” The first post in the series can be seen here. Jon writes:

  • Jesus applauded the evangelistic efforts of the Samaritan woman (John 4:35-38).  After experiencing a revelation of Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went to her city telling men, women and children about the Messiah (John 4:28-29).  Everyone in Sychar knew about her history of broken relationships, yet she boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah – a Redeemer even for those outside of Judaism!
  • In the context of Jesus’ crucifixion the male disciples fled, yet the women were present and they helped in his burial (Matt.27:55-56,61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:55-56; John 19:25-27).
  • A woman’s testimony was disallowed as evidence in first century courts.  Yet the Lord chose females to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection (John 20:1-2, 11-18; Luke 24:1-11, 22-24; Mark 16:1-8; Matt.28:1-11).
  • After Christ’s ascension, 120 men and women prayed together and chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:14-15).
  • The Spirit came upon the 120 disciples and they spoke the wonderful works of God in many foreign languages (Acts 2:1-4).
  • Some thought that what was occurring on the Day of Pentecost was evidence of too much wine, but Peter insisted that it was a fulfillment of what Joel prophesied would come to pass – “your sons and daughters will prophesy….I will pour out my Spirit on my male and female slaves and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).  There is no suggestion that males may prophesy freely, but that females are restricted in some ways.
  • Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  We would not be wrong in assuming that there were many other sisters who had this gift, not just Philip’s offspring.
  • Paul entrusted his letter to the Romans to Phoebe, and she delivered it.  She was a deacon in the assembly at Cenchrea and Paul had the highest regard for her (Rom.16:1-2).  Paul recognized her as a prostatis, which carried with it the idea of leadership (cf. 1 Thess.5:12).
  • Paul designated Priscilla and Aquila as his “co-workers” (Rom.16:3).  The same word is used with reference to people like Timothy and Titus.

To be continued:

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Guest post by Jon Zens: Selecting Scriptures to silence the sisters (part 1)

I am so grateful to Jon Zens and the contribution he makes to the conversation about women. Jon is a Biblical scholar who has made a long-term study of the Scriptures about women and he carries an authoritative voice on this subject. Jon is author of several books including What’s With Paul and Women? and No Will Of My Own: How Patriarchy Smothers Female Dignity & Personhood Jon is one of the contributors to the book I’m co-writing on women. Here are Jon’s insights.

 Is it right to use two passages to mute the voice of so many others?

 If a person you were talking with about Christ brought up John 14:28 – “because the Father is greater than I” – and used it to prove that He was human, not divine, what would you say? Well, one vital perspective you could rightly raise would be, “Now, wait a minute. You can’t just magnify this one text and negate the input of many other Scriptures that reveal more about the Lord.”

Unfortunately, there are those who do the same thing with regard to female functioning in the body of Christ. They cite 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as if these two passages settle once and for all that women must be silent in the ekklesia.

But is this a proper way to use Scripture? Absolutely not. One must look at all the revelation about a matter, not just a few texts. And when a person pays attention to the flow of Scripture, it is readily apparent that Christ’s daughters do not have to tape their mouths.

Consider the following overview of women’s participation in Christ’s kingdom. It is imperative for us to receive the impact of this overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham’s daughters painted in the Scriptures. This information cannot be dismissed or forgotten when reflecting on the two “problem” passages.

  • Female prophets functioned openly and without issue in Israel.
  • Neither the Gospel narratives nor the recorded words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of women.
  • Jesus fully accepted women as his disciples and they accompanied him in his travels with the male disciples (Luke 8:1-3).  These women also supported the mission of Jesus with their own resources.  These facts may be much more significant that it initially appears.  In the first century it was unheard of for a Jewish rabbi to have female followers. Luke reports this rather matter-of-factly, yet this band of women, men and Jesus was hardly kosher to the curious onlookers as they went from city to village.
  • After Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and saw God’s salvation, Anna the prophetess “gave thanks to God and spoke of him [Jesus] to all the ones expecting redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38).  Anna did not just proclaim Christ to women, but to “all.”

To be continued… 

It’s all Greek to me

There’s a little word in the Greek in  1 Timothy 2:12 that makes all the difference. That word is oude.


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It appears there are two prohibitions for women in 1 Timothy 2:12. The first is teaching; the second, assuming or usurping authority. But they are separated by this little word oude.

Again, I’m indebted to Philip Payne’s book,Man and Woman, One in Christ for this understanding. Philip Payne studied the Bible in its original languages from his youth. His father was a Bible scholar who every day, after breakfast and dinner gave him a fresh translation of a chapter from either the Greek New Testament or the Hebrew Old Testament. Spirited discussions would ensue. In 1973, his assumptions about male headship were profoundly challenged when a scholar stated that “no passage of Scripture properly understood and in its context excludes women from any form of Christian ministry.” To check this out, he read 1 Timothy in the Greek daily for several months. Key word studies led to some shocking discoveries, such as how the English translations introduce masculine pronouns into the list of qualifications for overseers and deacons.

Here’s one of his findings:

In every use of the word oude  (31 times) in the letters that are indisputably written by Paul, the word is used to combine two ideas into one single idea. The ideas may be similar–the one bringing a greater understanding to the other, or they may join conceptually different ideas.  But every time they express a single idea. There is not a single unambiguous instance when they convey two separate ideas. In English it would be like saying “hit ‘n run.” You can’t separate the two ideas to convey the same meaning.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Whom no man has seen and  no man is able to see (1 Tim 6:16)
  • For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel and  not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants (Romans 9:6-7)
  • Paul, an apostle, not from men nor  through men (Galatians 1:1)
  • There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10)
Payne’s conclusion is this: There is only one prohibition for women in 1 Timothy 2:12, the combination of teaching with usurping or assuming authority over a man. There are not two prohibitions:
  1. Women are not allowed to teach
  2. Women cannot have authority over a man

It’s a single prohibition. Women cannot teach with self-assumed authority over a man. I don’t think any of us would disagree with this statement applied either to women or to men. It works grammatically; it fits the context of false teaching in Ephesus and it doesn’t prohibit women like Priscilla, who was in Ephesus at the time, from teaching men



Can women have authority over men?

In his book,Why Not Women, Loren Cunningham tells this story:

Duncan Campbell, who had witnessed an extraordinary revival in the Hebrides, was asked to speak about the revival in a London church that was known for its legalism. After the meeting, the elders expressed their disappointment that he hadn’t talked about a recent dramatic move that had occurred on the Island of Barvas. When asked why, Campbell replied, “I didn’t tell you about that place because I was not the one God used there. My two colleagues whom God used were women.”

There was silence for a while. Then the head elder joked, “If God can use a donkey, then I guess he can use a woman.” He meant it to be funny, to ease the tension.

I’ve had that argument used to me, too.

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1 Timothy 2:12 says that a woman should not have authority over a man.

Or does it?

Jon Zens in his book  What’s With Paul and Women? talks extensively about this.

The word authentein, often translated as to “have authority” (eg, NKJV) or “assume authority” (NIV) is only used this one time in the whole Bible. Paul had many other choices of words he could have used that mean authority in the classical sense, but there was another nuance he wanted to convey.  In the  Greek literature of the time, the word had a more violent connotation, including murder, or contracting for murder to take place. A better translation might be “to control in a domineering manner.”

Philip B. Payne in  Man and Woman, One in Christ puts it like this:

...[Paul] institutes a present prohibition against any woman seizing authority for herself to teach a man. Paul’s goal is to exclude any unauthorized woman from teaching men in the church. This prohibition does not, however, restrict teaching by authorized women, such as Priscilla (2 Tim 4:19), since just such teaching might be critical in influencing deceived women to reject error and embrace the truth.

Paul’s prohibition of women with self-assumed authority teaching men does not imply that he approves of men teaching with self-assumed authority, particularly if they also promote false teaching.

Let’s take the example of a woman missionary who leads a man to Christ. Does this man have spiritual authority over her simply because of her gender? I think not.

What do you think?


And now for a little light relief…

The last few posts have been very heavy on theology, so a little light relief is in order.

This video is a hilarious satire that packs a punch. Produced by some friends of ours in Kentucky, it even shows our book, The Rabbit and the Elephant, now available in paperback under the title Small Is Big! Enjoy!

(If the video doesn’t show you can view it here.)

Confession is good for the soul (sigh)

A friend recently told me this story. He had just started a missional community and the question came up, “Are we a church?” The group decided together that they were a church. One young lady, who previously had taken an active role, stopped speaking. After a while they asked her why.

Her reply: “If we are now a church, then I’m not allowed to speak any longer.”

It’s stories like these that convince me of the need to communicate a different understanding of the challenging Scriptures that appear to limit women. I have read extensively around this topic, and I try to make complicated concepts simple enough that anyone can understand them. In the last post, I overstepped the mark. I should have been more careful and I apologize. (I’ve changed the blog post so that anyone reading it who does not go through the comments will not get incorrect information.) What I implied was that there was no word for “the” in Greek. (I had looked at 1 Timothy 2:12 and that statement is true for that verse). Thankfully someone commented to correct me.

It doesn’t change the basic concept. However, the explanation is a little more complicated. I’m indebted to David Hamilton and Loren Cunningham in their book Why Not Women: A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership for one explanation of this. (If I could have written one book on the topic of women, it would be this one.)

So here goes!

In 1 Timothy, Paul goes continuously back and forth between personal instruction to Timothy and teaching on the ministry of the church. This is called a literary interchange or an A-B-A-B structure.

There are two other forms of communication we need to be aware of in understanding 1 Timothy 2.

  1. Particularization is where a writer makes a general statement that he then illustrates with several specific examples.
  2. A chiasm is where a writer makes several points and then backpeddles through them in reverse order: so Idea A, Idea B, Idea C, followed by Idea C, Idea B and Idea A.

In this passage, we have particularization and a mini-chiasm within a literary interchange!

Have I lost you yet?

Here’s David Hamilton’s diagram:


This is how it works in 1 Timothy 2:

  • The general principle, and the core reason for the epistle is that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2: 1-7, especially verse 4)
  • First example: Paul speaks to men–and how they are to pray  (1 Tim 2: 8)
  • Second example is a mini-chiasm: Paul speaks to:
      1. all the woman (1 Tim 2: 9-10). The women are likewise to pray (implied) and their modest dress (especially in a promiscuous city like Ephesus) is important
      2. a woman (2:11-15a). Instructions are given to a particular woman who was causing problems because of false teachings.  She is not to teach but is to learn in quietness with all submission.
      3. all the women (1 Tim 2: 15b). They are to continue in faith, love and holiness.

Certainly men were involved in deception in Ephesus. Paul mentions two of them by name–Hymaenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20). But the pronouns used in other places in the epistle are gender-inclusive indicating that women also were involved. (If anyone teaches false doctrines; some have wandered away from the faith etc).    The punishment for the two men was that they were thrown out and handed over to Satan so that they would learn not to blaspheme. It makes this woman’s fate seem mild in comparison!

What do you think?





Understanding “I do not permit a woman to teach…”

Firstly, a big welcome to those of you who have come here via Frank Viola’s blog, Beyond Evangelical and his mention of my enhanced e-book on hearing God.  My blog, SimplyChurch, generally looks at different aspects of life in the Kingdom, especially as it relates to the simple/organic/house church movement. However, at present, I’m doing a series of posts on the topic of women because I’m in the process of co-writing a book on this subject. Frank is one of the contributors to the book.

I hate headlines like this one:

In this particular case, the lady, who had been a member at that church for more than 60 years and a Sunday School teacher for 54, was fired, at least in part, because of the verse in 1 Timothy 2:12. The pastor of the church wanted to be sure they were obeying the Scriptures. While I respect him for his desire to be Biblical, it is very sad, not only for the lady concerned, but also because of the negative publicity it engenders for the Body of Christ.

We all want to obey the Scriptures. So how can we understand a verse like this?

I discussed the background to the verse (which is very relevant) in this post. The purpose of Paul’s letter to Timothy in Ephesus was to stop false teachers who were causing problems in the church there  (1 Timothy 1:3-4). We also know that this is the only verse that apparently forbids women to teach–elsewhere there is every indication that women were free to bring a teaching.

Here’s the challenging passage in full:

I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;  in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,  but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.  Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:8-15 NKJV)

Notice that sometimes the word “woman” is singular and at other times plural. Women (plural) are to adorn themselves modestly. However, “a woman” (singular) must learn in silence and is not allowed to teach or have authority over the man.  She (singular) will be saved in childbearing, and women (plural) are to continue in faith, love and holiness with self control.

Here’s the likely scenario that would explain it: There was a woman who was promoting false teaching in the church in Ephesus. Paul wants to stop this, and so he commands that this particular woman is to learn quietly, and is not permitted to teach. This is a disciplinary action against a woman who, like the “Jezebel” mentioned in Revelation 2:20, was causing problems by false teaching. Paul had no intention of it being applied to other women, just the one causing turmoil in the church.

According to Philip B. Payne in his excellent theological treatise, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters,  the verb “permit” with one dubious exception, never refers to a universal or permanent situation. So the chances are that this was a temporary disciplinary measure.

I’ll be looking into other aspects of this passage in future posts, but I’m interested in your comments as to where we are so far.


Women aren’t allowed to teach? Really?

Is 1 Timothy 2:12 an absolute prohibition on women teaching men? People sometimes go to ludicrous lengths to accommodate this verse.

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Renowned Chinese teacher, Watchman Nee, benefited greatly from the teaching of two Chinese missionaries/leaders. So when they visited him one day, he wanted his church to hear them. But there was a problem. They were women, and therefore could not teach the men. In order to “fulfill the letter of the law,” he strung a curtain along the middle of the meeting room. The two Chinese missionaries taught the ladies on one side of the curtain while the men sat and listened on the other side!

Consider the following:

  • 1 Timothy 2:12 is the only verse in the Bible that apparently explicitly states that women cannot teach men.
  • Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some time, and Timothy would have known if Paul forbade women to teach (I Corinthians 4;17). It would have therefore been surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the start in Ephesus, and even more surprising that Timothy was allowing women to teach and the practice needed to stop.
  • Paul acknowledged the very real role that women had in teaching Timothy  (his mother and grandmother).
  • Priscilla (named first) and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos a “more accurate way.” (Acts 18:26)
  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 gives a list of things that everyone is expected to participate in. “When you come together, each one has…” The Greek word for each one, hekastos, is a word that encompasses both genders. This list includes teaching. Several times in chapter 14, the word “all” is used. Verses 24 and 31 both say that all may prophesy, and we know from Paul’s teaching in chapter 11 that this includes women. If Paul really forbade women to teach, why didn’t he mention it ?
  • A number of gifts to the church, including teachers, are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. For some of these gifts there are female examples in the Scriptures (Junia was an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied), but there’s no qualification here that women aren’t allowed to teach. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” While the obvious answer to this question is “no” there is no implication that some of these gifts are gender specific.
  • Colossians 3:16 exhorts us to teach and admonish one another.
  • In Revelation 2, the church in Thyatira is chastised for allowing “Jezebel” to lead people astray. It’s what she teaches that is the problem, not the fact that she’s a woman teaching.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic passage on discipleship. It is often rendered “The things you have heard me say…  entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. The word “men” in the Greek is anthropos, a generic term for humans rather than gender specific.

This verse, then, appears to contradict what Paul says in other places. So is there another explanation for what Paul says in this verse?

Follow the next few posts…

Now for the really challenging passage…

The passage that is most negative towards women and often used to “put women in their place,” comes in 1 Timothy 2. Here’s what verses 11 to 15 say:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

At first sight, the meaning is clear. Women are not to teach or to have authority over men.

The context is important. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus when he traveled to Macedonia. The reason?  Paul wanted him to correct false teaching  (1 Tim 1:3-4).  People were involved in endless discussions of myths and spiritual pedigrees. The likelihood is that some women had become involved in the problem.

It is good to understand the cultural context too. Ephesus was dominated by worship of Artemis or Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Her temple was one of the seven wonders of the world and drew crowds of people to it. The operation of the temple and its associated activities were the primary economic resource of the city, most inhabitants getting their livelihood in some way from the temple. Artemis was also the goddess of fertility, virginity and protection during childbirth. Eunuchs and many young female priestesses served in the temple. Girls were initiated into the cult at puberty, and when they married, had to lay something that symbolized their virginity (such as a lock of hair) on her altar. Worship of her included magical and orgiastic rites.

The Amazons were said to have founded Ephesus. The Amazons were famous female warriors of that region who believed they were superior to men.

It is against this backdrop that Paul wrote his letter to Timothy.

More to follow…


The goddess Artemis

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