Kingdom Women

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!

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?

33 replies on “Confession is good for the soul (sigh)”

I’ve got to say, Felicity, that I can’t help feeling this is way to complicated to be the answer to something so important. I think deep theological and textual analysis can be useful for getting deeper meanings, but I don’t think such a basic question should require such a complex explanation.

I still feel that both sides on this debate can find justification for their views in scripture, and God must intend some other way of resolving it. And as I’ve said before, I think that was is prayer and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I think that needs to be received via consensus and supported by scriptural analysis.

I think, in fact, that is sort of what we all do already (look for passages to support what we intuitively feel is correct), we just need to consciously involve the Spirit more in that.

Sorry to disagree. : )

I agree with you UnkleE. If I hadn’t messed up in the last post, I wouldn’t have used this at all. I’ve had it as the backdrop of my understanding of this verse for some time, and when you’re used to it, it doesn’t seem so complicated.

Hi Felicity,

I have become acquainted with your blog through Frank Viola’s Beyond Evangelical Blog. To be honest, I have been troubled by this topic for a while now but it gets more troubling as time passes by and I mature more in the Lord. I have heard all sorts of things, being brought up in the Gospel but just as Gordon Fee’s experience, I was brought up in an Pentecostal environment where Men and Women had strong roles and exercised their gifts freely. It is now in the United States that I am confronted with inequality due to gender.

Both sides have valid points and even I tend to agree sometimes with the complementarian because of the traditional views we have been so accustomed too. I struggle with myself as I feel as if I am sinning trying to find truth… It is a bad feeling. Anyhow, Thank you for your posts. I would love to email you at some point, Is that possible?

Warm Regards,


I’d be interested to know where you were brought up. In talking with Alan Hirsch, he says that in most Western countries gender just isn’t an issue in the church. It’s here in the States that the gender debate rages.

It’s amazing how teaching from the past influences us. I resonate with your struggle to find the truth–but I’m sure God will lead you clearly as you seek him on this topic.

I would love to continue this discussion further. Feel free to email me at

Every blessing

Surprisingly I was brought up in Puerto Rico.
My grandmother (from my mother’s side) was the first female pastor in
Puerto Rico within her denomination. I thought Spanish culture was more
conservative but it is quite the contrary. The largest churches in Puerto
Rico are currently pastured by women. I had never seen so much oppression and differences in theology and opinions, maybe
because I was younger and didn’t notice. I had never been so conscious
of my gender until I started working in ministry here. It’s really sad.

How interesting. We have a number of Hispanic women pastors in our city too–way more than male ones.

I was brought up in England, and although in my early days as a Christian, there was no question that men lead, women follow, that has totally changed.

Oh yes? And what about the rubbish that is so often preached as being the teaching or leading of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who brings a prophecy or a teaching that purports to be from the Spirit must check the message against Scripture as the Word is our only reliable guideline to the will of God. Even Satan can present himself as an angel of light! Felicity is on the right path; the only reliable interpretation of Scripture is Spirit lead exegesis that follows the rules of context, culture and not contradicting the rest of the Word. At least Felicity seems to be an honest seeker after the truth and her thesis is credible. (By the way, I have no axe to grind; I just want to be obedient to God’s will, and the only source is His Word.

The apostles for the most part were “unlearned men”. When they spoke they didnt have a clue about sentence structure, etc. The just plainly spoke. Maybe they just meant what they said. Granted, we’re trying to figure that out through translation.

True, although Paul had studied a lot under Gamaliel. I wonder whether the other disciples wrote in Greek or Aramaic and it was translated. I’ve never thought about that before.

In fact, I just googled it and the answer is that Jesus and the disciples probably spoke in Aramaic. Paul may have written his letters in Greek because he was an apostle to the Gentiles. The earliest manuscripts of the NT that have been found are mostly from the second century (Greek) but there are early ones in several other languages too.

Thank you for this great explanation to a theme that has been sorely abused in the Body of Christ. I know many will be very literal on the english translation but I believe that God knew what He was doing by prompting the writers to use ancient Greek. This is possibly one of the most precise languages and was meant to be able to convey minute detail in it’s structure, even inflection. Greece was not a multimedia society and writing was their only medium beside theatre. So getting the details right are important and I believe you have done this well. Please continue your work and I will pray for you as often as possible.

Thank you for your encouragement–that’s huge. I’m interested in your comments about the Greek–I’d not thought about the importance of its precision before. And thanks, more than anything, for your prayers, especially as I tackle a potentially contentious topic. I believe the Holy Spirit is on the move in this matter, and I long to see women set free to co-labor alongside men in the Kingdom.

Felicity, I appreciate the effort you’ve gone to here. I actually have “Why Not Women” on my kindle and haven’t read it yet. I will have to get to it. But this isn’t a big problem in our group so my motivation isn’t of the greatest.

One of the brothers said, “I was reading that passage and the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘That’s wrong.'” And he was a baptist youth pastor before becoming an OC guy. When he said that, it resonated with me, as I had always known it in my heart — that there was something there I wasn’t understanding. I’m grateful for folks like you and Cunningham and Jon who have the resources and know-how to look into this. We have this tendency, since the Reformation, to think the bible should be self-evident. It’s a great idea, but it isn’t the case. Yes, God can speak to any and all of us through His written word by His Holy Spirit, but often there’s a great deal more work to be done than just reading it for face value. If we have the means and the ability to dive below the surface, we should do so. We are not persecuted Christians hiding our copy of Mark in the walls or under a rock in the back yard. We can study; we should study.

I’m reading a book by Kenneth E. Bailey, “Through Peasant Eyes” about the literary structure of the 1st century Jewish culture and about the society into which most of the NT was written. It’s amazing how much more depth of understanding is available through the knowledge of the times and the poetic and balladic forms and more.

It’s time we faced up to the fact that the bible was not written to 21st century Americans, Britons, Europeans, etc. Yes we need it; yes we benefit greatly from it, but the letters to Timothy were written to a young man ministering in a 1st century Greek city whose culture was so far and gone away from ours that they might as well have been from another planet. Not only that, but it was written to address specific situations we can often only infer from the text. Paul didn’t tell Timothy what Timothy already knew — that is, the situation on the ground which he is addressing. If we had Timothy’s correspondence to Paul, I feel certain things would be a great deal more clear. Paul was not writing to us. He was writing to Timothy and we get to look over his shoulder, but we shouldn’t assume that what he said to this situation is prescriptive to all situations — especially since we can only guess at what the situation was.

In fact, as you’ve pointed out elsewhere, Paul’s usual MO was to assume that women WOULD be speaking (albeit with a scarf over their hair!) Junia certainly must have spoken, and we know Priscilla taught Apollos (who might have been the author of Hebrews — unless it was Junia — an idea I’m rather fond of 😉 ). Yet we insist on the literal translators’ version of this passage, and that with little or no exegesis of the passage. It does seem so plain — but it contradicts other scriptures. Paradox is fine, but God is not ‘yes and no’. He doesn’t contradict Himself. If there’s a seeming contradiction, that’s a cue to look deeper because there’s something here we’re not understanding.

Sorry about the soapbox, Felicity, but this exegesis thing is a big deal for me. It’s worth taking the time to do our best to discern what the original author meant when he said the things he said. Thanks so much for all your hard work on this topic, and for your open door to commentors.

Hi Cindy

Thank you for your encouragement. I think you’ll love Why Not Women. It’s a clear and well-written book, and doesn’t come with any agenda except for setting women free to fulfill their destiny in Christ.

You are very right when you talk about the Bible being relevant to different cultures and how an understanding of the culture really helps. For example, I, as a Western believer, tend to skim over the passages about idols and eating food offered to them, but in India, that’s a big subject and very relevant for them.

I’ve not heard the idea before that Junia wrote Hebrews, but I like it a lot!!!

I guess that I am truly out of fashion, but I still believe that Hebrews was written my Paul – He just used a different amanuensis! However, I go along with cultural background. Bible history is my passion and so much becomes clearer in the light of history and past cultural practices – including some of the things that we do in Church! Just check out Fran’s book “Pagan Christianity” to see the tip of the iceberg.

Who wrote Hebrews will be one of the questions I ask the Lord one day–along with a number of others!

I have been in union with the lord for 37 years and I went thru the fist 27 years thinking I was to be governed by the bible and the church–then in 2001 at the attacks on new York and Washington god woke me up to be regulated by his indwelling being–now when I have an issue about some particular subject that people fight about over their ways of biblical interpretations I just simply ask him to show me the right understanding–he told me that females cannot be anymore deceived than males and that’s why all of us must not rely on our own wisdom but on his wisdom that is living inside of us–I know all about this stuff of females having to be silent because I went to a church that practiced it.

Kenneth, I totally agree with you. We have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us. My concern is for the many women who sense God guiding them but then get shut down by well meaning people who tell them to obey the Scriptures.

exactly my point–which came first? the chicken or the egg?gods spirit is first not the bible and until someone who studies the bible without kowing the actual being of god in a real live union will misinterpret the scriptures–I know about this by experience and that’s how I became an egalitarian.

And for the first who knows how many years, the believers only had the Old Testament. It had to be the Holy Spirit leading them.

yea and for most folks in connection with the understanding of male-female positions they start with genesis chapter 3 instead of chapter one–in chapter one and two god said and let them rule over my creation not him meaning todays time with all of the hirarchleal structures in place we will never get this stuff fixed unless we allow gods spirit to rule over both men and ladies–I know all about this battle of the sexes as a result of a divorce–its kind of ironic that my ex-wife is an hirarchalist and im egalitarian figure that one out.

How interesting that your ex-wife is the one who is the hierarchialist!

I’m also interested that God told “them” to rule over his creation (Genesis 1:28). God created a co-equal reign for man and woman together.

I am thanking God for the courage He is giving you (and others here) to seek Him for understanding and guidance. I know you are outside your comfort zone in explaining Greek. I am outside my comfort zone in comprehending it, but I agree with what you’ve written in an earlier post that the living and good God of the church is very much interested and involved with this discussion. Let the captives (any and all) be free!

Thank you so much for commenting. I’m very aware that writing on this is potentially painting a target on my back 🙁 You’ve picked up my heart in that my longing in writing this is that many captives are set free.

I hope that some readers will take your humility about this Greek issue and use it as an example to how they should behave when they realize the truth in your other points….it’s healing to admit when we are wrong. Difficult but good. Thank you for sticking your neck out for us. You are on to something.

Thanks Felicity for the diagram – very helpful and useful.
As ‘Guest’ says we may get stretched beyond our ‘comfort zone’, in getting to grips with the truth of the interpretation of the words we read. But it behoves us to recognise the mandate given to us, includes coming to grips with Eastern culture and thought processes, to help us understand Scriptures.

Graeme, I agree. We need to be diligent students of the Word, and understanding what we can of the culture really helps to earth it in our own experience. For example, it’s helped me to visit other nations where some passages of Scripture that are fairly irrelevant here take on an immediate urgency.

Hi Felicity,

At face value the Bible seems clear that women may exercise any gift in the church as long as teaching of men is not involved. So they could prophesy, teach and preach to women and children, but not to men. This is what most of the churches that we have attended preached, and most people who promote women preachers seem to have more of an axe to grind than to care about what God expects from us… John Piper, whom I greatly respect, goes so far as to allow women deacons, but no elders (elders teach – deacons don’t!) However, one church we attended disallowed women from becoming pastors or preaching, and yet they hosted a brilliant woman teacher who gave us our first insight into how the whole Bible hangs together with the common thread of Jesus.

Since studying for my degree, this matter has been of concern to me and though the weight of evidence seems to be against women teaching, it continues to bother me.

Now I am not a pastor – I did a degree only to learn how to study and learn more of the Bible and about God – but I am webmaster for a seminary and spend large amounts of my time researching credible links for our website and I continue to study the Word in depth. The reason for the seeming ban on women teachers continues to puzzle me as Priscilla apparently helped teach the great orator Apollos! And Scripture is clear that the Spirit gives His gifts as He wills – and surely women are no less subject to sin and stupidity than men . And, asI said earlier, my wife and I learned a great deal from a woman Bible teacher, so your blog makes a certain amount of sense.

Thanks for a very credible assessment of the “no women” Scriptures that seems to be an honest attempt at unraveling a puzzling command. I intend reading all of your posts on the subject and checking out the Greek, but so far you seem to make sense.

Mike, thank you so much for these comments–for your transparency and your insight. And thank you too for your encouragement about my blog. Your first paragraph describes very accurately the traditional view that is held by so many churches in this country.

Hello Felicity,

I have no doubt that Jesus wants all of His children to follow His command in Matthew 28:18-20. But when a woman pastor came into my saved fathers intensive care hospital room and Care Calling, brought up the topic that God is both man and woman. And when an argument pursued she had not the wisdom to drop it. Until a friend of my father came in and told her to get out and called in a nurse because his blood pressure was off the chart. If you are trying to use your logic to eventually create that impression that God is also a woman then please be so kind as to stay out of the emergency room. If you are not then you will have my full support.

Hi Garre,

How unbelievably insensitive of the woman pastor in the ER. If I’d been there, I would have helped your friend to escort her from the premises.

God is neither male nor female but Spirit, though both of us are made in his image. Does that sound okay? Do I still have your support?

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