THE KEY NEW TESTAMENT PASSAGES INVOLVED IN THE DEBATE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

A. GALATIANS 3:28

COMPLEMENTARIAN POSITION
This verse teaches that salvation is equally available to both male and female.

EGALITARIAN POSITION
This verse rules out gender hierarchy and all role distinctions

COMMENTS ON THE COMPLEMENTARIAN AND EGALITARIAN POINTS
Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of the egalitarian position, the complementarian interpretation of this verse is incorrect. Galatians 3:28 is not talking about the availability of salvation, but about the result/impact of salvation – read verses 26,27,29.

B. 1CORINTHIANS 11:2-16

COMPLEMENTARIAN POSITION
[1] Verses 8-10: Paul refers to Genesis 2 [God made woman for man and from man] to confirm his teaching on male authority. The egalitarian argument re source is not valid. [However, some complementarians acknowledge it has some validity.]

[2] This grounding of male authority and female submission in creation also rules out applying cultural factors to the debate about headship.

[3] Verse 5: Some contemporary complementarians note that Paul takes it for granted that women were praying and prophesying [both speaking roles] in church meetings just as men were [verse 4]. They therefore believe that women are permitted to occupy a range of public speaking roles in mixed church meetings.

[4] Other complementarians, believing Paul does not start teaching about church order until chapter 12, deny that 11:1-16 is about church meetings, and therefore deny that Paul here sees women speaking in a mixed church gathering. They affirm that because 1Timothy 2:11,12 requires women to keep silent, Paul cannot here mean women are speaking in a mixed public worship setting.

[5] Verses 11 & 12 balance the distinction in role [verses 2-10] with equality of personhood.

EGALITARIAN POSITION
[1] Some egalitarians understand ‘head’ [kephale] to mean ‘source/origin’, not ‘authority’. The ‘source’ concept is supported by Paul’s reference to woman being made from man.

[2] Women were praying and prophesying, just as men were, confirming that women engaged in public speaking in mixed church gatherings.

[3] Paul, in 1Corinthians 12 & 14, and in Ephesians 4, lists prophecy as a gift given by God for the benefit of the whole church. To restrict women prophets to women-only contexts or informal mixed gatherings is contrary to God’s sovereign distribution of gifts and God’s intention for the gifts.

[4] Some egalitarians say verses 11 & 12 are Paul correcting what he has just said about male headship.

[5] Paul (just like his use of OT texts elsewhere) is using Genesis 2 creation facts by way of analogy, applicable to a local historic situation, not to define universally applicable trans-cultural truth.

COMMENTS ON THE COMPLEMENTARIAN AND EGALITARIAN POINTS
[1] Paul’s introduction of the passage with reference to the order/headship within the Trinity and the headship of Christ over ‘man’ [verse 3] outlaws any attempt to remove male headship. It does not, however, define headship.

[2] Opinion is divided on understanding ‘kephale’ as ‘source’ not ‘authority’. Two factors are raised against it: (a) some theological difficulties posed in referring to God as the ‘source’ of Christ; and (b) the fact that Jesus is referred to as ‘head’ in several passages where the concept of authority is unavoidable [E.g. Matthew 24:42; Ephesians 1:19b-23; 5:22,23; Colossians 1:18.] In any case, ‘source’ tends to point to a role differentiation even more powerful than understanding kephale as head/authority, even though at the same time confirming equality of essence. If kephale can be understood as source it certainly also refers to authority. Both are clear in the Colossians 1:18. A further limitation of the ‘source’ concept is that Paul points out in verses 11,12 ‘man is also born of woman’.

[In addition, to understand kephale only as ‘source’ makes the woman a passive object; to understand it as ‘authority’ makes it the woman’s responsibility to put herself under that authority- which is what the New Testament does by its use of ‘submit’ in this context always in the Middle Voice.]

[3] The complementarian argument that Paul does not start talking about order in church meetings/ gatherings until chapter 12 is not valid. 11:17-34 is definitely about order in church meetings/gatherings.

[4] The abuse of the Lord’s Supper drew a stronger rebuke from Paul than the head coverings/authority issue. He prefaced the head-coverings/authority issue by praising them for following the traditions he had passed on to them [verse 2]; he introduced the Lord’s Supper issue by rebuking them soundly [verse 17].

[5] It is necessary to come to a biblical definition of ‘prophecy’.

Additional comment:
Verse 10 is commonly understood to teach that women are to be subject and submissive to men. But it can also be understood to mean that the head covering was actually a sign of the woman’s authority to speak. It denoted that she was authorised and delegated to speak. As noted in the section on the meaning of the New Testament words, the word used here is exousia which is never about subjection or submission but about the power of right and authority. The head covering, rather than robbing the woman of power and authority, actually gave her the right, the authority, to speak. And here we are confronted with a real cultural issue: if head coverings conveyed this authorization then, how can this delegated power/right be expressed and recognized today?

Note that the 1984 NIV reads ‘the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head’. The 2011 NIV puts this in its footnote, and ‘a woman ought to have authority over her own head’ in the text. Both the reference to the ‘sign’ and ‘her own’ are interpretations, not translations.

C. 1CORINTHIANS 12:7-11, 27-31; 14:1-40

(about ‘spiritual gifts’ and their purpose [also Ephesians 4:7-16])

COMPLEMENTARIAN POSITION
Some complementarians agree with the first two egalitarian points below.

For example, John Dickson points out that Paul in 1Timothy 2:12 only excludes ‘teach’: he does not forbid women to prophesy, to exhort, to pray, etc in mixed company. He states that Paul distinguishes ‘teaching’ from ‘prophesying’ and ‘encouraging’ (exhorting), in the gift list in Romans 12:6-8. Paul, therefore, is not prohibiting all forms of speaking in church, only ‘teaching’. See below on 1Timothy 2:12.

EGALITARIAN POSITION
[1] No gender-based distinction is made in the distribution of the gifts and their use in the church.

[2] Therefore to restrict female use of their God-given gifts by denying them all right to speak to a mixed gathering of the church is out of order. The purpose of the gifts is the edification of the whole church.

[3] ‘Prophecy’ is listed as a more important gift than teaching, in 1Corinthians 12:28, so if women were engaged in the more important ministry they are also permitted the less important ministry of teaching.

COMMENTS ON THE COMPLEMENTARIAN AND EGALITARIAN POINTS
The non-gender-based divine allocation of gifts is actually a serious hurdle for the traditional and some complementarian arguments against women speaking, given the purpose of the gifts is the edification, instruction, unification and strengthening of the church and the preparation of the church for service.

[See also Ephesians 4:7-16 where ‘gave gifts to men’ has the word anthropos (where ‘men’ means ‘humans’) not aner (meaning ‘man’ as distinct from woman’) for the edification etc of the church].

D. 1CORINTHIANS 14:33-35

COMPLEMENTARIAN POSITION
The phrase ‘as in all the congregations of the saints’ refers to Paul’s following directives about women. Paul gave a similar directive about the role of women 10 years later in 1Timothy 2:11,12. Both of these points mean it is not a question of either culture or historical circumstance.

Paul’s instructions are clear: women are not to speak in church. This is stated several times in different ways: ‘should remain silent’, ‘not allowed to speak’, ‘should ask their own husbands’ and ‘for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church’.

Contemporary complementarians acknowledge that Paul’s confirmation of women praying and prophesying in 11:5 indicates that his prohibition here cannot be understood to include all forms of speaking in the church, and refer to 14:35 for what he forbids.

Some believe Paul’s prohibition of women speaking is related to his previous point that the messages of the prophets should be evaluated [verse 19].

What Paul is prohibiting women to do is to participate in that evaluation, which should be done by the male leadership of the church. This parallels his instruction in 1Timothy 2:11,12 where women are forbidden to teach in a way that exercises authority over men.

Paul’s ‘as the Law says’ grounds the required female submission in the five books of Moses – ‘the Law’. Some complementarians see this as a reference to Genesis 2:18-25. This ‘as the Law says’ parallel’s Pauls references to Adam’s prior creation, and Eve’s creation from and for the man [1Corinthians 11:8,9; 1Timothy 2:11,12,13].

Some traditional complementarians believe the reference to ‘the Law’ is a reference to Genesis 3:16, and that Paul is requiring women to obey this verse.

Some: ‘the law’ is a reference to the Old Testament as a whole.

EGALITARIAN POSITION
The phrase ‘as in all the congregations of the saints’ applies to Paul’s previous instructions – that orderly meetings is a universal practice of the church. Even if it applies to Paul’s following directives, Paul is simply referring to a church practice that was necessary then because of the existing circumstances, but is no longer relevant now.

Paul cannot be forbidding all forms of speaking by women, since he has already confirmed that women were praying and prophesying [11:5], both of which are speaking activities.

Verse 35 gives insight into the kind of speaking that Paul is forbidding here – it was asking questions about what was being said by others, and so disrupting the order that should characterize the meetings. They are obviously not the women who were prophesying or speaking in tongues or evaluating prophecies ... such women did not need to inquire/learn. They are also obviously married women – they are to ask their own husbands at home. Their asking questions was not the problem, but the disruptive manner in which they were asking questions.

About ‘as the Law says’: Neither Genesis 2:18-25 nor Genesis 3:16 actually command female submission to males. In fact, it is not clear that Paul is referring to the law of Moses. He could be referring to the ‘law’ or traditions of the churches to which he has already referred. Or he could be referring to Roman law.

Further, Paul does not mention who or what these women are to be ‘in submission’ to. He simply says ‘in submission’.

COMMENTS ON THE COMPLEMENTARIAN AND EGALITARIAN POINTS
There has been significant shift in the complementarian use of 11:5 in interpreting 14:34,35. Because it is quite commonly acknowledged that Paul in 11:5 confirms that women prayed and prophesied in mixed church gatherings, the question many contemporary complementarians are asking is not ‘are women permitted to address mixed gatherings?’ but ‘which specific speaking roles/functions are not open to women?

The issue is confused by the fact that gune means both ‘woman’ and ‘wife’, and aner means both ‘man’ (as distinct from woman) and ‘husband’. There is no other word for either.

The verb laleo, translated ‘speak’ (used twice) does not refer specifically to public speaking; it is simply the action of talking and is used of both private conversation and public speaking. In itself in is not at all definitive. The egalitarian (and some complementarian) reference to verse 35 follows recognised principles of biblical interpretation when it suggests a meaning based on its immediate context.

Paul’s concern in Chapter 14 is appropriate order [verse 33]. He was particularly concerned about a level of out-of-control verbal/audio chaos that was preventing people from hearing, understanding and learning: too many people vying to contribute and speak; people speaking in languages without interpretation; and in verses 34 & 35, women who wanted to learn apparently discussing among themselves or calling out questions in the meetings.
Paul’s non-specific reference to ‘the law’ makes it difficult to be certain that he is referring to the law of Moses. [The upper case ‘L’ is added by translators.] But this is how he usually refers to Moses. It may be, as some complementarians hold, a similar reference to those he made in 1Corinthians 11:8,9 and 1Timothy 2:11-13 to Genesis 2. Paul, like Jesus, never refers to Genesis 3:16 as normative for male/female relationships, but to Genesis 2:24. Nor is Genesis 3:16 a command.

E. GENERAL COMMENTS ON THE CORINTHIAN PASSAGES:

[1] While 1Corinthians 11-14 is focused on maintaining appropriate order in church gatherings, it is wrong to assume that these gatherings parallel a formal Sunday church services as we understand them today. Many, if not most, were house meetings. It is obvious in chapter 14 that their meetings were quite different from a normal ‘church service’ today. This makes it difficult to find any solid basis for the distinction that allows women to teach in a non-formal mixed gathering but not to preach the sermon in a formal Sunday service.

[2] The focus on enforcing 14:34,35 seems to overlook the fact that Paul gives many other instructions in these chapters, of which only those regarding the Lord’s Supper are given much attention by churches. For example, [1] the church pays very little attention to ensuring that both men and women dress in a manner that reflects the appropriate male/female relationship – even though this somehow impacts even ‘the angels’ [11:10]; [2] the church does not make actively pursuing the ‘more excellent way’ of love mandatory – even though Paul spends a whole chapter writing about it; [3] the church makes no allowance for the person preaching the sermon to be interrupted and displaced by someone else who has a ‘revelation’, or for the theological validity of what is said to be evaluated in the context of the church meeting [14:29-31] even though Paul commands both. There is a questionable selectivity and inconsistency here [and in discussions of 1Timothy 2]. This raises the question: is the strong emphasis on the key verses involved in the debate simply the agenda of people keen to advance their own interpretation of these verses rather than issuing from a sincere desire to obey the Lord?

[3] See ‘Meanings of Words’ in the second study, and ‘comments on 1Timothy 2:22-15’ below, for the meanings of the Greek words translated ‘silent’ and ‘submission’. We should be careful not to impose our common English meanings onto the Greek words.

[4] Complementarians today generally agree that women were engaged in public speaking to mixed gatherings in the NT. They differ in their understanding of which mixed gathering speaking roles are permitted to women, but agree that women are excluded from exercising ultimate authority, prohibiting only such teaching.

F. 1TIMOTHY 2:11-15

There are three points of wide disagreement about this text, not only between complementarians and egalitarians, but also among complementarians:

[1] Is Paul referring to men and women in the context of a church meeting, or is he simply talking about husbands and wives? [This question is raised because the words for ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are also the words for ‘husband’ and ‘wife’.]

[2] What does the word translated ‘usurp authority’ [KJV], ‘to have authority’ [NIV 1984] or ‘to assume authority’ [NIV 2011] mean? authentein is used only here in the Bible, and only rarely in non-biblical Greek. It is difficult, therefore, to determine its exact meaning, and what Paul’s intention was in using it here. Its usage in secular Greek up to this time included the meanings ‘commit an act of violence/murder’, ‘had my way with’, ‘dominate/domineer’, and ‘author’. The breakdown of the word is auto [a reference to self] and hentes [an obsolete word for ‘worker’]. This suggests an attitude of working/acting on one’s own initiative, instead of acting in keeping with the appropriate order and authority. It is in the far distant etymological background of our words ‘authentic’ and ‘authenticate’.

[3] Is Paul’s prohibition of women teaching and of women exercising authority over men to be understood as two separate prohibitions – both this and that, or as one prohibition that prohibits one thing: the kind of teaching that actually exercises authority over men? The Greek construction is a hendiadys. However, a hendiadys [putting two things together] usually has either two positives or two negatives. Here where Paul puts together ‘teach’ and ‘have authority over’ they are therefore either both positive or both negative actions. Bromberg, a complementarian, points out that it is difficult to see ‘teach’ as a negative, so the logical conclusion is that both are positive. This infers that it cannot mean something negative like ‘domineer’ or ‘usurp authority’. What is being prohibited is ‘authoritative teaching’. Here Dickson’s understanding of ‘teach’ in the Pastoral letters has a significant flow-on implication: if, as Dickson holds, the teaching in question is the defining and preservation of the apostolic foundations, then the teaching/authority forbidden to women is the definition and preservation of that foundation. For example: if someone in a church was teaching content that undermined the apostolic foundations [which are now preserved in the New Testament scriptures] then the male leadership, not a woman, must publically and authoritatively expose the error and reaffirm the apostolic truth to the whole church. [Note that such authoritative teaching, in this technical sense, would also be prohibited to men who were not suitably qualified and taught – see 2Timothy 2:2.]

COMPLEMENTARIAN POSITION
What Paul says here is about proper conduct in church meetings [refer to 3:15]. [Note: some complementarians say it is not about men and women in church meetings, but about husbands and wives generally.]

Paul’s instructions here have not changed from those he gave 10 years earlier in 1Corinthians 14:34,35, even though the circumstances are different (with Nero’s persecution). This rules out any idea that either set of instructions was because of existing circumstances. The two passages are very similar, thus confirming each other, and confirming Paul’s teaching that women should be silent, should be in submission and should not speak/teach in mixed church meetings.

Paul grounds his distinction in male/female roles in Genesis 2 – Adam was created first. This makes it impossible to change the relevance/application of this on the basis of culture. Women should therefore not occupy authoritative roles in the church.

Some complementarians limit Paul’s restriction to teaching in a manner that over-rides/usurps the male headship of the church. They believe that the ‘teach’ and ‘have authority’ in verse 11 are meant to be understood together, rather than as two distinct actions. They limit Paul’s prohibition to women occupying key leadership roles such as lead pastor, lead elder, or elder. They affirm women preaching under the authority of the male key leadership.
Other complementarians understand Paul to mean two things: [1] that women must not teach men, and [2] that women must not have authority over men.

Dickson, a complementarian, limits the speaking activity prohibited to women by defining Paul’s use of ‘teach’ in the pastoral epistles as a technical use of the word referring to passing on and preserving the foundational teaching of the apostles. All other forms of mixed gathering ‘teaching’ in its broader sense are open to women, as well as all other speaking roles. He holds that only a very limited number of our sermons today fall under this limited technical sense of ‘teach’, and that therefore women are permitted to preach sermons, which fall more under the categories of ‘exhortation/encouragement’ and ‘prophecy’.

EGALITARIAN POSITION
The dependence of the traditionalists [and some complementarians] on this passage to support their position is out of order. It overlooks other biblical evidence and interprets other biblical passages on the basis of their interpretation of this one passage.

(Some egalitarians): The church in Ephesus was riddled with false teaching. Paul makes repeated reference to this and it is his reason for writing the letter. This explains his prohibition of women teaching, since women were involved in promoting the false teaching [5:13] and male false teachers were targeting women [2Timothy 3:6,7]. For this reason his prohibition of women teaching is situation specific, not a general prohibition for all time.

(Some egalitarians): The church was riddled with false teaching, apostasy, malicious talk, quarrels, etc. In this context, where the whole church was in chaos, and where the women were learning in a disruptive, quarrelsome way, they are commanded to learn peacefully, without disrupting the meetings [the ‘quietness’ and ‘be silent’ in 2:11,12]. Paul’s instructions are specific to this situation.

Some egalitarians believe Paul is talking about wives and husbands. Other egalitarians reject this because of the congregational context.

Some egalitarians point out that, taken in isolation from its context in 1Timothy, the literal meaning of the words is that women should not teach men, and that any complementarian limitation of the application of this to certain public worship roles is just as much an interpretation as the egalitarian interpretation that this verse relates to the existing circumstances in Ephesus.

Paul’s ‘I do not permit’ is present tense, pointing to a specific situation, rather than a general ‘it is not permitted’.

(Some egalitarians hold that) Paul’s instructions regarding older widows [5:9ff] are instructions about the appointment of female elders, largely because of the similar selection/appointment criteria to the appointment of elders [3:2ff]. This puts a fence around the interpretation of 2:11,12 as obviously these female elders hold positions of authority.

COMMENTS ON THE COMPLEMENTARIAN AND EGALITARIAN POINTS
The egalitarians are correct in pointing out that Paul wrote this letter with a specific focus on false teaching, but this does not mean their conclusions are correct. The interpretation that women were being silenced because they were promoting false teaching is difficult to prove; in addition, the false teachers clearly included men, so men would also need to be silenced. Indeed in 1:3 they are to be silenced, and in 1:20 two of them were excommunicated.

The significance of Paul’s teaching being the same despite the 10 year gap between the 1Corinthian and 1Timothy letters may be over-rated by complementarians. Ten years does not necessarily make much change to culture or historical circumstances. Paul makes no reference in 1Timothy to the persecution, unless it is an oblique reference in 2:2. More to the point is that there were problems in both churches – problems of doctrine, problems of behaviour, and problems of order in the church.

The egalitarian position re 5:9ff is difficult to sustain.

Dickson’s view that Paul uses ‘teach’ in a technical sense in the pastoral epistles is supported by a significant amount of recent Christian scholarship, and his arguments in Hearing Her Voice are affirmed by both complementarian and egalitarian scholars. However, some complementarians strongly disagree.

COMMENTS ON 1TIMOTHY 2:11-15
An interesting point raised by Bromberg, a contemporary complementarian, is that in both the Timothy and Corinthians texts there is a focus on women learning. Indeed, Paul commands women to learn. This in itself is counter-cultural. In Corinthians Paul says ‘if they want to inquire about something ...’ in Timothy ‘a woman should learn in silence’ [the verb in both is manthano.] The key emphasis is on how they are to learn, not on forbidding them to teach.

This learning is to be characterised by ‘silence’ [‘quietness’] and ‘submission’. The word translated ‘silence’ [or ‘quietness’] [hesuchia] means not the absence of sound, rather the absence of clamour: it means ‘peaceful, peaceable, undisturbed, undisturbing’ [as in 2:2]. In other words, the woman’s quest to learn is not to be allowed to disrupt or take over the meetings. In both texts the ‘submission’ is not specifically submission to the man, it is simply ‘submission’. As in 1Corinthians 14:34, who or what the woman is submissive to is not stated. It is commonly assumed that this submission/subjection is to men. But it could be a reference to the self-control, as required of prophets in 1Corinthians 14:32 [a cognate word is used] to maintain order in the meetings. Or it could refer to subjection to what is considered appropriate [see 1Timothy 2:10, and 1Corinthians 11:13]. The appropriate attitude of one who is learning is that of submission to whoever is teaching. The disciple puts themself under the authority of the teacher.

Note: The ‘must’ inserted by the NIV in verse 12 is not in the Greek text. There is, however, a strong ‘but’ [alla] between Paul’s prohibition and his ‘be silent’, deliberately contrasting what he does not permit, and what he permits.

The word translated ‘submission’ is hupotage – 1Timothy 2:11. The related verb is hupotasso - 1Corinthians 14:34. It is primarily a military reference to rank. Hupo = under. Tasso = to arrange. Hence: to arrange under. It is thus a reference to the appropriate order. In reference to the place/attitude of women it is always in the Middle Voice, which means it is something done by the women to themselves. It is not done to the women by the men. Women put/arrange/rank themselves under the men (or whatever else Paul might mean here) – it is what they should choose, not what the men should enforce. It is variously translated ‘subject’, ‘submit’, ‘be obedient’. Because of the Middle Voice, it would be more accurate to translate ‘subject oneself’, ‘submit yourself’, or ‘rank yourself under’.

Both egalitarians and some complementarians agree that this text is not prohibiting women from all kinds of speaking in mixed public gatherings of the church.