Kingdom Women

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.

Photo credit: Elevation Church (Creative Commons)

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?


28 replies on “Can women have authority over men?”

no jesus has authority over all of us–he is god and he is not sexist–we are sexist and when we come to Christ we should be liberated from sexism–but because of the bible and our culture influence we remain in our sexism–when god took me off of biblisism and started to relate to me being to being that’s when I got delivered from sexism.

You make an important point, Kenneth, when you say that Jesus has authority over all of us–both men and women–and he is not gender-biased.

This is a good word for people to be hearing. Arbitrary lines are often drawn that limit the potential and God-giftedness of women in ministry. I hope that we can soon break these sad lines of gender distinction and more fully live as the body of Christ.

Thank you, Justin. I believe this is something the Lord is doing in our day. We’ll see the fulfillment, not just of “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free,” but also of “neither male more female” (Galatians 3:28).

Thank you, Felicity. I imagine it’s not easy for any woman to make points like this, but it’s important that you do and important that people hear what you are saying loud and clear. Kudos for your courage in tackling the topic head on, firmly and graciously.

Jon Zens’ book is very good, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of Paul’s teaching on women in church life.

And I think your point about a woman missionary is excellent 🙂

Thank you, Chris, for your support and encouragement (as always). I’m very aware that I’m tackling a controversial topic, but I believe it’s one that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the fore–my hope, belief and prayer is that be will be one of the next Kingdom movements.

I have several guest posts by Jon Zens coming up next week. They are excellent, and like you, I highly recommend Jon’s book, “What’s with Paul and Women.”

A very interesting book on this topic is “The Christian Woman Set Free” by Gene Edwards. Edwards offer a practical look at possible reasons for Paul including these difficult passages in his letters.

Felcity, I once was listening to a broadcast on Christian radio, and the host, a mega church pastor, was interviewing the head of NOVA, National Organization for Victims of Abuse. He said that next to the military and police that professional pastors were third on the list it came to spousal abuse. Boy, was the host caught off guard and flummoxed. Of course, this all stems from how authority is abused, and mis-understood in the church. Thanks for this post. It brings even more clarity to the issue.

Hi Felicity,

I read the book “What’s with Paul and Women” and it is a masterpiece. What is disappointing is that this type of exegetical work is dismissed because it doesn’t come from the mainstream mega churches pastors. I was truly blessed by this post and the book but it becomes very challenging to keep our minds clean when you are in a community that sends other messages. Granted, sometimes the messages is not as obvious and blatant but we know how they feel when the ministry heads and pastors are only men.

MIE:) I haven’t been part of a large church for a long time, but when I view conferences and look at the lineup of speakers, it speaks for itself. (Having said that, I see the speakers at Catalyst this year include a large number of women.

Jon Zens is a genuine scholar, which makes him far more reliable than a mega church pastor. He also has vast experience in scriptural forms of church. I agree it’s sad that he does not get much hearing.
Quite a few other genuine (male) scholars have written books that say similar things. Anyone with an open mind/heart and a few bucks can find plenty of stuff on Amazon. The trouble is stubbornness.
I find it quite telling that many truly great Christian ministers have been profoundly influenced by great woman and were not ashamed of it. In our own stream Watchman Nee and Gene Edwards come to mind, and the women involved in the Welsh revival and Keswick conferences. In my own life, my mother was greatly used of the Lord and every pastor she ever had (she was always in a traditional church setting even though she mostly ministered outside of it!) leaned on her wisdom and my brother (an evangelist/pastor) considers her his greatest mentor. None of these women seemed to have a domineering bone in them. Such is not of Christ.

HI Angela! I agree. I have been ministered greatly by Watchman Nee’s work and it is so rewarding to know that he was not ashamed to say the truth; women ministered into his life. I personally have been ministered by great women and men of God. Gender was never an issue in my life until now, that I see the injustice left and right.

Angela, these are very helpful examples.I love the fact that you have such a godly and influential mother. Spiritual authority is purely based on our relationship with Christ, and people instinctively recognize and respond to it–no need to try to exert authority.

And you’re right. There are an increasing number of really good books on this subject out there.

Another point that needs to be considered when trying to understand this Scripture is the context of the whole letter – and I do not only mean the cultural or geographical context, but additionally the greater scope of what Paul is writing about here. It is worthy to take the time to analyze what Paul is actually commanding in this letter, it may put yet a different light onto this “women having authority over men” thing.

So here are the points Paul is making, for quick and easy understanding listed in telegraph style – you can see they form a beautiful logical thread:

Timothy was to stay in Ephesus to fix problems

the problem was that “certain persons” involved in different doctrines, genealogies and myths

this resulted in speculations being promoted

what Paul wanted promoted as a result of instruction was love from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith

some don’t promote this love, but want to be teachers of the law

the law is good but not for the saints but for the sinners

Paul himself was appointed to service even though he was himself such a sinner, even the worst of all

but saving such sinners is exactly what Jesus came for

Paul was chosen as an example of the greatness of that mercy for all to see

therefore, Paul has a commandment for Timothy in regards to that salvation

by this commandment Timothy will make good warfare in good faith and conscience

others have rejected this commandment and shipwrecked their faith and become blasphemers

Until here it is pretty much an introduction, and the real point, the actual commandment that Paul wants to give to Timothy, is coming now:

Paul urges that prayer is offered for all people, mostly for those in high positions

such prayer should let the church can live in peace

such prayer is good in God’s eyes who wants all people to be saved and know the truth

this truth is there is one God and one mediator, Jesus, who gave himself up for all

Now this is important. Paul does not write about a “normal church meeting”, not even for a “prayer meeting at church”. He writes for a specific kind of prayer that should lead to people getting saved, authorities being blessed, and thus the church having a good reputation so that it can live in peace. How does this have to take place? Publicly! Paul gives these specific instructions for the offering up of prayer for all people:

the men are to pray in all places

they are to do it without anger and quarreling

the women are to dress godly

Now imagine a church starts to reach out publicly to its city, a city where there is a very popular cult based on female domination through religion and sensuality. Confrontation with the followers of that cult, especially the priestesses, are inevitable. Therefore it is very important to make it very obvious for everybody watching that the church and the cult of the city are not the same – and have actually very little in common! Therefore women are to display grace and humility as a stark contrast to those belonging to the goddess Diana.

But here is another thought that could be considered: What if Paul was not even speaking about the behavior of the women of the church at all? He said women shall “learn quietly with all submissiveness”. On a public prayer outreach, who is learning? The church? Or the unbelievers? Rather the unbelievers – the whole thing is about God wanting all people to learn the truth and come to salvation! Could it be that Paul meant to say this: if you get engaged in conversations with followers of Diana, especially female ones, then here is how you behave:

to the men, plural, obviously the disciples: do not get angry at them and quarrel with them; this means, avoid arguments and fights not to spoil the churches’ reputation and put off people from coming to be prayed for

to the women, plural, obviously also the disciples: do not dress in a way that you could be mistaken for one of them

now interestingly for “a woman”, singular: let her learn quietly in submissiveness; could that be an instruction for the case that an unbelieving woman approaches the church there in public, that the church will only engage with those willing to learn, open for the Gospel, and not with those who want to discuss and argue, which could get messy in a city with such a religious background?

now again for “women”, plural: do not let them teach or exercise authority over a man; could this be a warning not to let women involved in the worship of Artemis take the initiative and turn the tables, starting to teach the men, seduce them sensually, and try to exercise spiritual power and witchcraft over them?

I don’t want to present this as clear doctrine. But I dare say it is a possibility, given the context that shows about what kind of meeting Paul is writing here.

We must also not forget one other important thing.

The early church did not know anything like our contemporary church services or programs. They did not hold church services, Bible studies, prayer meetings or whatever. For certain occasions, there was something like a council. But almost all of the church life consisted of organic together-life, a shared life, coming together daily, and abiding in the doctrine of the apostles, prayer, eating together etc. There was nothing like a time when “the service starts” or ends, or “the official part is opened” or whatever. They were always “in church” – they were church, they did not attend it or participate it! What would that imply for the commandment for women to be silent? As soon as a woman is in the presence of other disciples, she would have to be silent! Could that actually be the case? What if a woman makes a man a disciple of Jesus? She would have to tell him the Gospel, then she can baptize him, and as soon as he is a disciple, they are two together in the name of Jesus, and they are church – so as soon as he rises up from the baptismal waters, she has to shut up!

I imagine what I write might be against established doctrine, and I do certainly not want to present this as new doctrine. But given the church environment of those days, the context into which Paul’s letter was written culturally, and what the letter to Timothy was all about in full scope – could it not be possible that what I wrote are valid points? I am very interested to hear everybody’s thoughts on this, I do not want to step over the boundaries of healthy interpretation and violate Biblical truth, but I do not fear to think “out of the box” of established theology in search for truth!

And finally – I apologize for this extremely long comment!!!!!!!

Heiko, thanks for a helpful and informative comment. And an interesting theory on the instructions being to unbelievers!

I think this has some merit. I think we must always put the scripture in cultural/time context. Good points to consider.

I think in order to really understand this passage we need to examine the basis for Paul’s teaching of women not teaching or exercising authority over a man. He does not anchor his argument upon cultural norms, but upon God’s created order and the tragedy of Eve’s deception. God created man, and then created woman to be his helper. There is an order within equality there, much as there is order within the equality of the trinity, which Jesus never usurps. Furthermore, Paul says that it was the woman who was first deceived and not the man. The greatest strength of a woman can be her weakness when seeking to discern truth, generally speaking. Women have the capability to become very emotionally invested in things. That’s why you rarely see women abandoning children, but men will. But becoming too emotionally invested with a particular viewpoint on the scriptures is not a good quality to have. We must be willing to be reproved and corrected as we grow in our knowledge. Generally, men seem to be able to have this aloof sense of objectivity more than women do, which is good. Truth must stand on it’s own objective merits, and not our emotional preferences.

Jim, thank you for commenting. I know and respect the fact that you represent the traditional way of thinking within the church. I do plan to look at the issue of God’s created order in the next few posts because it is an issue that often comes up.

I think we need both male and female attributes within leadership. A predominantly male leadership has produced the church we see at present with many leaving because of the disconnect they feel.

Here’s what Alan Hirsch has to say about this in the book I’m writing/editing about women:

In the recent book, On the Verge which I wrote with David Ferguson, we refer to Daniel Pinks A Whole New Mind in which he talks about the need to cultivate a much more right-brained approach to leadership in ourselves and in our organizations. In right-brained thinking, beauty and esthetics bring a more artistic and emotional quality into the equation of design, narrative in story, seeing patterns and discernment. Empathy, playfulness and heart connection are
very important too. These characteristics demonstrate a more feminine side of
the brain. We need to somehow integrate a much more right brained, feminine
style and approach into organizational leadership. Yes, we certainly need
masculine technique and structure, but our movement needs to be more fluid and responsive and intuitive . If we’re going to develop fully we need the
right-brained side too.

Including women in leadership will enrich the church.

Why are you using your book or someone else’s book to discern what God clearly tells us in the bible concerning women? That’s the only authoritative book we’re to go by, not yours or anybody else’s book! The bible clearly tells us women are not to have authority over men in the church and he tells us why! But you’re thick headed enough to still go against Gods authority! What you think does not matter, it’s what God commands! That’s why we’re living in a fallen world, because men desert God’s authority and decide what they think is more important than what God says!

It was people taking the Scriptures literally who stood for slavery. It was people who stated that a few Scriptures that apparently encouraged slavery stood against the whole tenor and trend of the Bible who brought about the abolition of slavery. You’re welcome to disagree with me, but it would be appreciated if you kept your comments polite!

After so much thought and discussion on the issue of women who serve as pastors and through my study of God’s Word, my conclusion is that God’s Word has been established as the source of truth and authority by which the Christian will govern their life by.
The Word is clear that women are not to teach or lead men but that men are to step up to the plate and lead them. This is not a dictatorial position for men to assume, but of the one who will take the leadership God had authored for Adam to take, and that in which Adam had failed miserably.
Although women can exegete the Word and preach a sermon, it is not God’s plan – no matter what opinion or position we might take.
For the woman to learn in submission to a godly man and leader is to be a blessing.
Yes, all too many men have abused the text to say that women are to be subservient to men. That is not what the Bible teaches. I believe that the Word teaches that men are to accept their role as leader, provider, protector and guardian of his wife, his family, his church family and even his community.
This is not happening because of sin and because women, through a concern for the continuity of the church, have assumed the role of overseer in a church in spite of what God has given in His Word.
What should people do in the absence of a man willing to come and preach in their church? Get on your knees and pray for a godly man to come and assume the responsibility of overseer/pastor of that church.
There is not substitute for God’s Word or His will.

Rich, Would you be open to reading a book written by a theologian on this topic? I’d love to send you one.

What I see on this thread is people ignoring the written word of God and pointing us to books written by men!

It is hard for me to understand why we as Christians won’t just accept God’s Word as authority instead of putting our own spin on it and being caught up in our emotions. We must obey God’s created order, whether we disagree with it or not!!! My mother was a famous pastor and evangelist and at the end of her days she said “Son, I should have obeyed your father and raised you kids instead of abandoning my responsibilities.”

Thanks for commenting, Robert. I’m interested in your comments about your mother. Obviously for all of us there are times and seasons, and too many pastor’s kids suffer from having absentee parents, whichever one of them is “pastor.” That, however, ties into a misunderstanding of church. I don’t believe God intended the traditional church as we see it today. Yes, he uses it, but I see very little evidence for the pastor dominated, Sunday service oriented tradition that we have inherited. In the NT, church was more like family, and often was described as being the church in someone’s home—usually a woman’s.

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