Posted by: vicholdsforth | January 20, 2010

A Theology of Woman (Part 1: Can women speak, teach, and lead?)

Yesterday, I was involved in two different facebook threads regarding the biblical teaching on gender.  It came up at our church meeting on Sunday, too.  I thought this was rather coincidental.   Since there isn’t really enough space on a facebook thread to do the topic justice, and our church group doesn’t want to waste too much time going down theological rabbit holes, I thought I’d take it up here.  In the interest of readability, I plan to take this topic a little bit at a time, and perhaps allow the comments to direct future installments.  I may not change any minds, but I hope that I can at least impress upon my complementarian brothers and sisters that the case for the egalitarian position is the result of a sound exegesis of Scripture, rather than an attitude problem, insubordination, or some other profound character flaw embodied in those who embrace it. Moreover, I would like to extend hope and encouragement to women who have been wounded by those who embrace complementarian theology.  You are not a bad person.

Let’s get down to business.

The Bible has several passages that, at first blush, would seem to pretty clearly limit women at home and in the church (Col 3:18, 1 Tim 2:11-12, e.g.).   I submit that there are several considerations that must be examined before we conclude that these instructions are binding upon all Christians in all places and times.   Let’s start with 1 Tim 2:11-12:  “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. ”  (NIV)  While few modern churches require their women to remain silent, many prohibit them from teaching men, being ordained into ministry, or occupying a position of leadership, such as serving as a board member.

I think the most important consideration when interpreting and applying this text is the whole counsel of Scripture.  If Paul meant that no woman could ever instruct a man, what are we to make of Acts 18:26, in which Priscilla instructs Apollos?  If he meant that no woman was to speak in the assembly anywhere, ever, why did he give instructions for women who pray & prophecy in 1 Cor 11?  If women not having authority over men was an eternal and universal injunction, then what do we do with Deborah, Judge of Israel, who settled disputes that could not be resolved by the undoubtedly male tribal leaders, and “sent for” Israel’s general (Judges 4:5-6)?  Or Phoebe, whom Paul describes as a prostatis in Rom 16:2?  While this Greek word is usually translated “helper,” the Strong’s definition of the root (4291) clearly denotes leadership, and is the same word used in 1 Tim 3:4 & 5.  The only way we can resolve these apparent contradictions without either discarding portions of the Biblical text or characterizing God as side-stepping His own mandates, is to regard this injunction as temporary and local.



  1. Vicki: Congratulations! I wish you all the best on your new blog. May I recommend Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard as a great pol/relig. source for future blogs. I will be dealing with it on VIDBIZ extensively this spring. Now you owe me a comment! 🙂

  2. Hey Vickie…at least you’ve been delivered through child bearing! 😉


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