Guest post by Heiko Poth: Women and the Great Commission

Heiko Poth is a chemist, a musician, and writer. He and his family are involved in simple/organic church in the southwest part of Germany. A few weeks ago, he sent me some comments which were so pertinent to our current discussion on 1 Timothy 2:12 apparently forbidding women to teach men, that I asked him to rewrite them as a guest post. Here they are:

Do women have to obey Jesus? (Silly question, isn’t it?) Are they also entrusted with the Great Commission? Are they authorized to make disciples? Let’s have a look at the Great Commission and its implications, especially in regards to the question of whether a woman can ever teach a man.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus told his eleven remaining disciples (who should soon be twelve again) to go into all the world to make disciples of all nations. In order to do so, they had to

  1.  baptize them
  2. teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded them 

Now let’s play through a possible scenario that results:

The apostle Peter meets a fellow Jew named, say, David. He tells him the Gospel, and David wants to become a disciple. What is Peter to do? He baptizes him, and then tells him to obey everything Jesus commanded. Among many other things, Peter will have to tell him: “David, one of Jesus’ commandments was to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. So you too have to go now and obey that commission. You do that as I do it – baptize them and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”

So David meets Deborah. He tells her the Gospel, and Deborah wants to become a disciple. What is David to do? He baptizes her, and then tells her to obey everything Jesus commanded. Among many other things, David will have to tell her: “Deborah, one of Jesus’ commandments was to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. So you too have to go now and obey that commission. You do that as I do it – baptize them and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”

So, Deborah meets Marcus. She tells him the Gospel, and Marcus wants to become a disciple. What is Deborah to do? She baptizes him, and then tells him to obey everything Jesus commanded. Among many other things, Deborah will have to tell him: “Marcus, one of Jesus’ commandments was to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. So you too have to go now and obey that commission. You do that as I do it – baptize them and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”

What if there was a universal commandment that women are not allowed to teach men? Then the last generation of making disciples as described above could not have taken place, because Deborah would not have been allowed to teach Marcus anything. But does this comply with the Great Commission itself?

The Great Commission is to go and make disciples of ALL people of ALL nations. That includes women. There is no gender discrimination in the Great Commission. Women are to be made disciples, not “just believers or attenders” or whatever. And ALL disciples are commanded to be baptized and to obey ALL that Jesus has commanded.That goes for female disciples as well as for male disciples.

Now ALL that Jesus commanded includes two other very universal commandments: The Great Commission itself again, from Matthew 28:18-20, to go and make disciples of ALL nations. So women are also to go and make disciples of just everybody they can – including men! Another commandment of Jesus is the Great Commission as it was given in Mark 16: To go and preach the Gospel to EVERY creature. Women, as female disciples, are also obliged to carry out this order, as they are to obey ALL that Jesus has commanded. So they have to preach to everybody – including to men!

This means that if there is in fact a universal commandment for women to be silent and not to teach men, they could not obey the Great Commission about half of the time! They could not make a man a disciple! Is that really the case, or are we turning a special instruction, that Paul wrote to a church in a special situation to fix a specific problem, into something more than it was intended to be? Slowing down and delaying the fulfillment of the Great Commission would be the cost of limiting half the harvest workers in what they can do,?

What’s a woman to do?

When I describe some of the amazing things being done by women in the Kingdom of God, or when I explain an alternative understanding of the challenging passages on women, I sometimes hear this comment from both men and women who are trying to be obedient to the Scriptures:

“It’s more important that a woman obey the Scriptures.” The obvious implication from the context of the comment is that a woman should stop what she’s doing if it involves teaching or having any kind of authority over men in order that she can observe 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

So what’s a woman to do?

It gets up close and personal.

Should I stop writing books? Should I stop blogging? (I can’t help it if men choose to read the stuff I’ve written!) Should I stop training church planters around the world? Should I not give advice to men when they write and ask me questions? That’s the logical conclusion of the argument.

I’ve come to peace with it all. The challenging Scriptures are not unequivocal, and they go against the general trend and tenor of the overall message of the Bible. They can be understood, with integrity, to have an alternative meaning that doesn’t inhibit women. I’m free to obey the Holy Spirit’s leading.

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.

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?