© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

[1] There are three main questions involved in the debate, each with associated secondary questions, and each requiring definition of key words:

(1) Does the Bible teach male/female equality?

In Genesis 1 and 2?
After Genesis 3?
After redemption?

(2a) Does the Bible permit women to teach men? [which requires a biblical definition of ‘teach’]

In any context including public worship?
In any context except public worship?

(2b) Does the Bible permit women to occupy positions of authority in the church?

All positions of authority at any level?
Any position except key leadership positions?

[2] Two further questions that need to be considered are:

1. To what extent have changes in contemporary Western secular attitudes generated the current Christian debate about gender roles?

2. To what extent should the movement in secular attitudes be considered by Christians debating the issue?

To what extent should the Church alter its practice to remove perceived stumbling blocks to faith?

Is the gender roles issue one that can be accommodated so that the Church, like Paul, becomes all things to all men? Or is it biblically non-negotiable?

What is the biblical ‘bottom line’ which must not be moved?

[3] An important consideration when assessing various viewpoints is: What is this person’s position concerning the nature and authority of the Bible?

The answer to this question is not as simple as may be thought, because even within evangelicalism there are different views. The presence of Charismatic Christians in the debate, with their perceptions of contemporary ‘prophecies’ as God giving ‘revelation’, raises questions about their understanding of the finality, and therefore the reliability, of the Scripture, regardless of any formal affirmation of that reliability. Indeed, Charismatics of the ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ persuasion openly and unashamedly teach the incompleteness and limited relevance of the written Scriptures for the twenty-first century, and openly claim that God is giving fresh authoritative revelation today.

[4] It is also important to note that scholars engaged in the debate validate their interpretation of biblical texts on the basis various ancient, historical and contemporary Christian and secular documents. These documents give a very mixed message about both the cultural practices of the New Testament era, and the biblical and secular usage of the words used by Paul in the debated verses. Scholars soften, harden or completely change their position because of these non-canonical documents. Although research and scholarship are to be commended, we must remember that God has given us both his Word which contains all that we need for truth and godliness, and his Spirit, who opens our understanding of the Word.

Traditionalist – usually applied to the historical view that men rule, women submit, before the current debate emerged. Some held that women were created inferior to men. This fitted well with historical secular views and practice (when women were uneducated or denied higher education), and in patriarchal cultures.

Complementarian – (a more recent term), generally not as hard line as traditionalists, affirming ontological equality, but sustaining a clear distinction of role and/or function between male and female in the church on the basis of their interpretation of biblical texts. [There are significant differences among them concerning what women are permitted to do.]

Egalitarian – holding total equality of being (except physical), and of roles and functions that can be occupied or engaged in by women within the church.

Positions range from extreme emphasis on male dominance and superiority to extreme emphasis on equality. These positions are briefly identified below:

Extreme emphasis on male dominance and superiority
(This is mostly, but not exclusively, seen among unbelievers.)
Men: Abuse of women, sex slavery, basic rights of women denied, women seen as sex objects, women seen as the possession of men.
Women: Female attitudes of servility, manipulative weakness, uselessness, etc.

Traditionalist attitudes within the church
Women are forbidden [1] to hold any position of authority in the church and [2] to teach men in any context within the fellowship of believers.

Reduced restriction on women in the church
Women are permitted to speak to mixed gatherings but not in church worship services.

Further reduced restrictions
Women can fill speaking roles in church services, except preach the sermon, or, in some denominations, officiate at/lead the Lord’s Supper.

Mild complementarianism
Women can fill all roles and speaking functions except that of elder/pastor or lead elder/ lead pastor, and/or ‘teaching’ in a very limited, technical sense.

Mild egalitarianism
Believes the Bible makes no restrictions on women serving in the church in normal circumstances, but prohibits certain functions in exceptional circumstances.

Extreme egalitarianism in the church
Women are permitted to hold any position of authority in the church and to teach men in any context, without restriction or limitation.

Extreme emphasis on equality
(This is mostly, but not exclusively, seen among unbelievers.)
Radical feminism. Abortion on demand. Transgenderism. Homosexuality. Same sex marriage. Male passivity. Men abdicate their leadership role.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Allow – 1Corinthians 13:34; 1Timothy 2:12 – epitrepo.
This refers to giving permission or liberty, or having permission or liberty.

To have authority - 1Timothy 1:12 – authentein.
Infinitive of the verb authenteo. Not a noun. Not the normal NT words for ‘authority’ or for exercising authority, and has no relationship to any of those NT words. This word 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’, ‘kill with one’s own hand’, ‘had my way with’, ‘dominate/domineer’, and ‘author’. The composition of the word is auto [a reference to self] and hentes [an obsolete word for ‘worker’ or ‘working’]. This suggests an attitude of working/acting on one’s own initiative, instead of acting in keeping with the appropriate order. [It is in the far distant etymological background of our words ‘authentic’ and ‘authenticate’.]

Authority - 1Corinthians 11:10 - exousia.
Power, particularly the power of right/position, freedom of action, delegated authority. [Unusual use of the word in 1Corinthians 11]. [NIV has added ‘a sign of’.] [But note the freedom of action evident in the woman of Proverbs 31 – see notes below.]

Disgraceful - 1Corinthians 11:6; 14:35 – aischros.
Adjective. Opposed to modesty or purity. Interpreted by some to mean opposed to the appropriate order.

The NT uses the nouns elder and overseer [episkopos] interchangeably, and refers to them as ‘shepherding’ God’s people.

Head - 1Corinthians 11:1ff – kephale.
Head, that is, the physical head of a physical body. It is used almost exclusively in this literal sense in the Gospels and Acts; the only exception is reference to Christ as ‘head of the corner’ (see also 1Peter 2:7]. In Revelation it refers only to physical heads – of Christ, or of various characters in visions. Paul uses it in 1Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 in reference to the male/female relationship; in Ephesians 1, 4 & 5 and Colossians 1 & 2 in reference to the relationship of Christ to (1) Christians and the Church, and (b) principalities, powers, and all things. Historically Paul’s usage has been understood to refer to the position of ‘authority’.

More recently the concept of kephale as ‘source’ has been proposed. This is used in the egalitarian argument about the male/female roles/relationship, and has limited support among complementarians. If there is any sense in which ‘source’ is a valid meaning, the context of some of Paul’s use of ‘head’ makes it impossible to make ‘authority’ and ‘source’ an either/or question; they can only be both/and.

Husband - aner,
Husband; also the only Greek word for the male human, as distinct from the female human.

A reference to the male human, as distinct from the female human; it is also the only Greek word for ‘husband’.

Man = ‘human being” as distinct from animals etc, inclusive of both male and female.

Only used of Christians in Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts given to the church. However in 1Peter 5 the cognate verb poimaino is used of elders/overseers. [Complementarians tend to see ‘pastor’ ‘elder’ and ‘overseer’ as the one position.]

Prophesy [Prophecy, Prophet]propheteuo [propheteia, prophetes].
Literal meaning: to tell forth, to speak openly. Prophecy is the declaration of the will and counsel of God. [Among the Greeks prophetes referred to a person who interpreted the oracles of the gods.] There is a wide disagreement among complementarians and egalitarians about what prophecy is. All agree that both men and women prophesied in both the OT and NT. Some see prophecy as similar to preaching – proclaiming the Word of God - and conclude women can preach sermons. Some limit prophecy to spontaneous ‘inspired speech’, communicating new revelations from God, quite a different action from presenting a prepared talk or sermon, - and therefore having an inbuilt limitation of what women were doing. [But if that is what prophecy is, then it is far more open to deception than carefully prepared sermons.] Some see it as one of the gifts of the Spirit that ceased with the end of the apostolic age – making it irrelevant to the current debate. Some see it as an on-going gift of the Spirit given to both men and women for the edification and encouragement of the church, and therefore bearing God’s authorisation of women speaking to men. Traditionalists limit female prophecy to all-female meetings.

Quietness - 1Timothy 2:11 – hesuchia.
Not the absence of sound, rather the absence of clamour: it means ‘peaceful, peaceable, undisturbed, undisturbing’. See verse 2.

Silent - 1Timothy 2:12 - hesuchia
See ‘quietness’ above. Same noun. Women are ‘to be in’ this peaceful, undisturbing state.

Be silent - 1Corinthians 14:28,39,34 – sigao.
In most of its NT uses this verb is used to refer to what happens when people who are talking stop talking. The KJV often translates it as ‘hold (or held) their peace’. It seems to refer not so much to the absence of talking as to the stopping of talking.

Speak - 1Corinthians 14:34 – laleo,
‘To make vocal utterance’, ‘to exercise the faculty of speech’. Variously translated ‘speak’, ‘say’, ‘talk’, ‘utter’, ‘tell’, ‘preach’; used in both personal and public contexts. It is a very general word; just about anything involving the act of talking is covered by it.

Submission - 1Timothy 2:11 – hupotage.
Derived from the verb hupotasso – see below. This noun is only used here in the NT in relation to women, and it is here about how women should learn – ‘a woman should learn in ... full submission’. Sometimes translated ‘obedience’ or ‘subjection’. Used elsewhere only in: 2Corinthians 9:13 referring to the right response to the Gospel; in Galatians 2:5 of Paul not giving in to Judaisers; and in 1Timothy 3:4 of an elder’s children being under his authority/control.

Submit - 1Corinthians 14:34 – hupotasso [hupo – under; tasso – to arrange].
The word is ‘primarily a military term, to rank under’ (Vine). It is thus a reference to the appropriate order. It is variously translated ‘subject’, ‘submit’, ‘be obedient’, ‘subdue’ ‘put under’. 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 – it is an action they choose, not what the men enforce. A correct understanding of the Middle Voice removes any preconceived or male-dictated notions of female inferiority, subjection, subordination. A woman who, like Christ, willingly puts aside the ‘rights’ indigenous to her equality of essence and her equality in Christ, is not a victim. By this choice she seeks the well-being of her husband, the well-being of the male leader of the church, and in doing so, the advance of the Kingdom of Christ.

Teach - 1Timothy 2:12 – didasko.
To give instruction. [There are also other verbs for ‘teach’.] John Dickson, supported by other scholars, suggests that in the Pastoral epistles [1 & 2 Timothy, Titus] Paul uses didasko not in its broad, all-inclusive, sense, but in a technical way to refer to passing on and preserving the apostolic teaching. He maintains what Paul is forbidding to women is not teaching in its ordinary sense but teaching in this limited technical sense, which was of critical importance in the early church when there was no New Testament. (See Dickson: Hearing Her Voice available as a free pdf.)

The only Greek word for ‘wife; also the only Greek word for ‘woman’.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

A. GENESIS 1:26-28

These verses clearly teach male/female equality:

1. Both male and female are created by God
2. Both male and female are created in the image of God.
3. Male and female are given the same blessing.
4. Male and female are given the same responsibilities.

While there is obvious differentiation [‘male’ and ‘female’], there is nothing in Genesis 1 that directly teaches male headship or male/female inequality.

These verses clearly teach male/female equality:

1. Both male and female are created by God
2. Both male and female are created in the image of God.
3. Male and female are given the same blessing.
4. Male and female are given the same responsibilities.

While there is obvious differentiation [‘male’ and ‘female’], there is nothing in Genesis 1 that gives even a hint of gender hierarchy.

Some older, and old-school, traditionalists deny this essential equality, teaching that females are ontologically inferior. They support this from Eve’s innate vulnerability to deception supposedly taught by Paul in 1Timothy 2:13.


B. GENESIS 2:18-25


1. Primogeniture: God made Adam first, therefore man is the head. The Old Testament confirms the authority of the firstborn.

2. Eve was made from Adam, therefore Adam is more important.

3. Eve was made to be a ‘helper’ for Adam, which infers gender hierarchy - male headship/female subordination.

4. Adam named Eve; this is an indicator of rule/authority, just as his naming of the animals is evidence of his authority over them.

5. God gave the Genesis 2:17 prohibition to Adam, not to both together. This points to male headship/authority.

Note: Some contemporary complementarians do not agree with some of the five above points.

1. It is very clear in the Old and New Testaments that ‘first’ does not automatically mean most important, and that neither does it automatically confer authority.

2. The fact that woman was created from man confirms essential equality, not inequality. The Genesis narrative depicts Adam seeing the woman as his equal – ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’. Male headship is not stated here; it can only be seen in this chapter because of Paul’s statements. The creation of Eve from Adam supports the understanding of ‘head’ (kephale) as ‘source’.

3. In the OT the most common use of the word ‘ezer’ (‘helper’) is in reference to God as the helper of his people. It cannot therefore be understood to automatically indicate the subordination of the woman. ‘Helper’ does not infer subordination; rather it refers to a strong support. The translation ‘partner’ is preferred over ‘helper’. The woman, the helper, completes (complements) the man.

4. The Bible nowhere uses Adam naming Eve in support of gender hierarchy. The OT frequently records the naming of people or places, but as a promise/hope of things to come or a commemoration of things events – both point to the faithfulness of God. It is not an indication of power.

5. Genesis 2 does not connect the prohibition in verse 17 with male headship.

6. Jesus used Genesis 2:23, 24 to affirm the ‘functional “oneness”’ of male and female, not ‘hierarchical “twoness”’, when he grounded his teaching against divorce in the Genesis 2 narrative.

7. In Genesis 5:2, which is very similar to 1:27, both the male and female are called ‘adam’ by God. The word means something like ‘red earth’. In this context ‘Adam’, therefore, is a combined reference to ‘human’, and affirms male/female equality.

Note: Egalitarians tend to see Paul’s references to primogeniture & Eve’s creation from Adam as analogies applied to specific situations, rather than seeing Paul’s creation-based statements as universally relevant truth.

On #1 & #2:
While Gen 2 does not mention male headship, Paul uses these two complementarian points to affirm male headship [1Corinthians 11:8,9; 1Timothy 2:13]. Male headship cannot therefore be avoided here simply because it is not clearly specified. [It does not, however, define ‘headship’.]
Nor does woman’s creation from man indicate whether ‘source’ excludes or includes ‘authority’.

On #3:
True biblical ‘complementarianism’ is defined in this verse: two equal, but distinct, persons, each making the other complete. It is not about inequality, it is about necessary innate distinction or differentiation. [See 1Corinthians 11:11,12]. Further, if woman is God’s intended ‘helper’ for man, total exclusion of woman from all speaking/ leadership deprives the man of this God-intended help. It was not God’s intention for man to act alone.

On #4:
Genesis 2:23 gives the real reason Adam names Eve ‘woman’. [See also 3:20.]

On #5:
It is possible, even probable, that the complementarian inclusion of this fact is valid, but not their conclusions. Complementarians connect this fact with God addressing Adam first in Genesis three, and with Paul’s references to Adam as head of the human race. However to conclude authority/subordination/inequality from this fact is to confuse representation [and its associated responsibility] with superiority and authority. [Such a confusion of meaning is readily exposed by the fact that Jesus had to become fully human in order to represent us. Unless he shared our nature he was unqualified both to die as our substitute and to mediate for us in the presence of God. This is clearly attested in Philippians 2 & Hebrews 2.]

Egalitarians and contemporary complementarians agree that these two chapters affirm male/female equality – in essence, in blessedness and in the two responsibilities of filling the earth and ruling over the created world.

Historically traditionalists have found ontological differences here, including female inferiority.

Egalitarians usually limit the male/female distinction/differentiation to physical (and psychological) differences, denying any differentiation in role or function. This denial is based on a restricted application of Paul’s use of two facts from these chapters to affirm male headship – the fact that Adam was created first, and the fact that the woman was created from the man. [The Bible student/teacher has to decide when Paul’s use of the Old Testament is a limited, culture specific analogy, and when it is trans-cultural.]

Genesis 2, while clearly affirming equality, gives more definition to the distinction that was deliberately mentioned but not defined in Genesis 1. While Genesis 1 defines the man and woman as they stand as equals before God and before the created world, Genesis 2 defines them as they relate to each other. From the Genesis 1 and 2 text, however, there is nothing, other than the physical differences, that enables us to define any key component or the extent of the biblical male/female distinction.

One thing is quite certain: that whatever the status or description of the male/female distinction in Genesis 1 and 2 it was neither threatening nor diminishing to either the male or the female, nor was it confrontational, divisive or competitive. The sense of being personally threatened, of being personally diminished, and the divisions and the competition [power struggle] only began in Genesis 3. In the perfection of Genesis 1 & 2 the male and the female each sourced their identity and their significance in God alone, not in their mutually dependent relationship to each other. God was their all in all. [This is perhaps in Paul’s mind in 1Corinthians 11:11,12. See below.] There was absolutely no need, nor any awareness of any need, to compete with each other in order to preserve personal identity and significance.


1. Some complementarians say Eve’s desire for the fruit was actually her desire to dominate the man.

2. God addressed Adam first [3:9]. This means that God held Adam as the one in authority, accountable/responsible.

3. ‘...your desire will be to your husband...’ [3:16b] is understood by complementarians to mean that the woman desires to usurp the man’s headship role.

4. ‘... and he shall rule over you.’ This is understood by complementarians to be a clear factual statement recording the divine intention/command for male authority. It is prescriptive not descriptive.

Some complementarians see the male rule as necessary to keep the female, with her (supposed) innate vulnerability to deception, under some sort of control.

Some (traditional) complementarians understand ‘rule’ as ‘dominate/subjugate’.

5. Genesis 3:16 is a disruption of the God-intended male headship/female submission that was part of the order of creation, not the beginning of male/female hierarchy.

1. According to the text, Eve desire was to be ‘like God, knowing good and evil’, so the complementarian view cannot stand.

2. God also rebuked Eve and held her accountable for her action. In the Bible ‘first’ is not a prescription of superiority or authority; it simply describes the sequence of events. In fact those who think of ‘first’ in terms of hierarchy, superiority and position are rebuked by Jesus.

3. ‘...your desire will be to your husband...’ Egalitarians limit this clause to refer to sexual desire, connecting this with the child-bearing reference in the previous clause.

4. ‘... and he shall rule over you.’ Egalitarians reject any thought of ‘divine intention’ prescribing/commanding male/female hierarchy, seeing it rather as descriptive of the ‘gender dysfunction’ resulting from sin. Because of its connection with the previous clause some egalitarians retranslate this to ‘and it shall rule over you’ [which is an equally correct translation] – expressing their understanding that together these two clauses refer to the female being ruled by sexual desire for the male. They compare this with the similar construction in Genesis 4:7.

The word translated ‘rule’ is masal, (rule, reign), not the harsher words used of the joint male/female dominion over the earth in 1:26,28: radah (tread down, subjugate, have dominion) and kabash (tread down, conquer, keep under).

On #1:
The egalitarian point is valid.

On #2:
Paul’s teaching in Romans 5 and 1Corinthians 15 supports the complementarian view that God held, and continued to hold, Adam responsible/accountable. This representative function, however, does not automatically infer a ‘gender hierarchy’ that involves female subordination or inferiority, male rule or superiority.

On #3 & 4:
Both arguments on 3:16 seem to do less than justice to its significance in the Genesis context. Verse 16 stands in stark contrast to 2:25 – ‘they felt no shame’ - and it has already been experienced in the destructive self-awareness of 3:7, the self-focused guilt of 3:8,10 and the self-centred, self-justifying attitude of 3:12.

I would suggest that it is both descriptive and prescriptive: both the unavoidable and inevitable impact of severance from God and God’s judgment on the sin that chose that severance. It is part of the ‘you shall surely die’ of 2:17. It is both an expression of the fall and judgment on the fall. It is not a command to the male; it is simply stating how things will be.

If 3:16 is understood as a prescriptive command so also must 3:17-19 be understood as a command.

Regardless of whether God addressing Adam first can be interpreted as confirming male headship, Paul grounds his contrasts between Adam and Christ and ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’ [Romans 5; 1Corinthians 15] on what happened in Genesis 3. This fact makes the complementarian argument here closer to the truth than the egalitarian argument. But Paul’s teaching in these chapters gives no hint of gender hierarchy or male rule. His reference is purely to the representative identity, responsibility and function of both Adam and Christ. The ‘in Adam’ reality began here in Genesis 3. The ‘in Christ’ reality begins when an individual person is united to Christ (and his death and resurrection) through faith by the Holy Spirit. This raises a very important question: to what extent does the ‘in Christ’ reality remove/dissolve the ‘in Adam’ reality? And what is the implication of this for our perceptions of male/female roles in the church? [Galatians 3:26-29 should be considered here.]

But a second truth has to be included: that Genesis 3:16 refers to the way things are in a now fallen world. Although Christians are ‘in Christ’ we are not yet enjoying the full reality of that: we still sin; we still live in a sinful, suffering, cursed world; we still die physically. It is not the same world as Genesis 1 & 2. Although we have as believers returned to God neither our faith nor our obedience are perfect. The believer is caught in the already/not yet tension caused by sin, that is so evident in Romans 7:13-25, and the already/not yet tension caused by suffering, that is addressed in Romans 8:17-39. In this context, where we are already members of the kingdom of Christ but not yet experiencing the final reality of that kingdom, ‘law’ is still necessary to prevent chaos and preserve life. In this overlap of the ages somebody must ‘rule’ in a way that was totally unnecessary pre fall when God was perfectly obeyed, and in a way that will be totally unnecessary in the eternal state when God is perfectly obeyed. It appears quite clear in 3:16 that God states that that ‘somebody’ is the male. [But it is also quite clear elsewhere in Scripture that other males are also subject to whichever males are ruling.]

If we look at Genesis 3:16 in the context of the perfection and absence of any defined ‘gender hierarchy’ in chapters 1 & 2 it is easy to understand why egalitarians use the word ‘dysfunction’. The entrance of sin, the severance from God, generated dysfunction at every level of human relationships, including the male/female unity expressed in 2:23. But the egalitarian application of ‘dysfunction’ is misplaced in its exclusive focus on sexual desire. The bottom line is that God was previously the one who ruled, and he ruled over both of them with a perfect rule. But now that God and his rule have been discarded all the woman has left is the man, and the man’s rule will never be for her what God’s rule was – strong, unfailing, utterly trustworthy. And now the man has to fill for the woman the place previously filled by God ... and it is beyond him. The woman is constantly unsatisfied and disappointed: what she expects of him he cannot provide. He is not God, he cannot be for her all that God was. The man is constantly frustrated by his knowledge of the woman’s expectations and his knowledge of his own inadequacy. He is not God, and he cannot fill God’s role, regardless of the tempter’s promise.

These frustrations of both the female and the male are here as part of the ‘curse’. Given that Jesus came to redeem us from the impacts of Genesis 3 it is important to consider to what extent both the man and woman are released from Genesis 3:16 by the redemptive work of Christ, both as a given of salvation, and also as redemption from this aspect of the curse of Genesis 3 is worked out in our Christian lives. If there is any sense in which this ‘male headship’ is still in place, and I believe there is, then the onus on Christian women is to relate to that headship with redemptive grace so that men are liberated from its unbearable frustrations; and the onus is on Christian men to exercise that headship with redemptive grace so that women are liberated from its unbearable dissatisfactions and disappointments. John Stott asks an important question: which male/female distinctives ‘are due to creation (and therefore to be preserved), and which to the Fall (and therefore to be overcome)? [p264, Issues Facing Christians Today].

This leads to an important question: If we look at Genesis 3:16 in relation to the following verses describing the curse on the ground and the resulting difficulty of survival we find a significant problem for the complementarian position on this verse: If it is okay to ease the heavy load of the male, described in Genesis 3:17-19, by constantly improving farm machinery, pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, irrigation systems, etc, and if we ease and try to minimize the woman’s pain in childbearing described in 3:16a, why is it not also okay to ease the burden of the female described in Genesis 3:16b? What gives anyone the right to leave this particular suffering as it stands when we spend millions of dollars relieving the other sufferings described in this context?

This question is intensified by the fact that nowhere are Paul’s directives about male headship in 1Corinthians and 1Timothy based on Genesis 3:16.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2017


A.1 References to various women in the roles of prophet, leader, judge, etc [Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, as chief examples]

Complementarians, affirming patriarchy as God’s design, generally hold that when women occupied these roles it was the exception to the rule.

Some complementarians suggest that women occupied these roles only because men defaulted.

The fact that women held these roles in an obviously patriarchal culture, and that their holding such positions was accepted without question, challenges any thought that this was against what God prescribed. Their advice was sought by kings, they were held in esteem by both their contemporary and subsequent generations.

The fact that God tolerated patriarchy does not mean that he approved it; he also tolerated polygamy and slavery, both of which the church outlaws today.

Some roles held by women were more authoritative than those from which they are restricted today.

It is fairly easy to see weak points in both arguments. Complementarians err in their ‘by male default’ concept. [Barak defaulted regarding the battle, but Deborah was leading Israel before this.]

Egalitarians fail to consider that Miriam, although a leader of Israel, was herself under Moses, the male leader, and that the kings who sought advice from female prophets were the male leaders.

A.2 The male-only priesthood
Complementarians make much of the fact that only males could serve as priests, concluding that this sets a precedent for only males in pastor roles in the church.

The relevance of this to the debate is questionable. Not only females were excluded from the priesthood but also all males except those descended from Levi. If we apply the argument about male priests we must also exclude all non-Levite males from ministry or leadership positions in churches. In addition, priests were neither rulers nor primarily teachers: their key role and function was mediation and representation. Their New Testament equivalent is not the person who preaches or teaches the word of God, nor the people who run the church, but Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.
Further, the cross of Christ has made all who are united to Christ, regardless of gender, ‘priests to serve his God and Father’ [Revelation 1:6; 5:10; see also 1Peter 2:9].

A.3 The kings of Israel and Judah
The complementarian use of male kingship to confirm male headship in the New Testament has the same kind of problems as using the male-only priesthood: [1] the legitimate kings were limited to the descendents of David [tribe of Judah]; [2] their New Testament fulfilment is Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Lion of Judah, the eternal King, not people who lead or speak in the church; and [3] all believers, both male and female are ‘kings’ [same references as priests above].

A.4 The woman Proverbs 31:10-31
This passage about a praiseworthy woman appears to attract only superficial comment by either side of the debate. Yet it may hold important keys to a resolution of the debate.

[1] Verses 11 & 12 state ‘Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.’ This very closely parallels the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. It is surely an example of what biblical ‘submission’ looks like.

[2] So great is her husband’s confidence in her that she goes about her life in the home and the community with an extreme liberty, engaging in actions and operations that are traditionally male tasks. [Which parallels the Father’s entrusting the Son with divine prerogatives – see below on John 5:19-30.]

[3] This woman’s life brings honour to both herself and her husband [verses 23,32]. Again, this parallels the impact of the submissive life of Christ [John 17:4]. It also provides a basis for understanding Paul’s comment that ‘woman is the glory of man’ in 1Corinthians 11:7.
Here we see a woman so totally trusted by the man, and so totally committed to the man’s well-being, that she lives and acts with an incredibly broad liberty that could easily be mistaken for usurping authority! This woman, not a weak, subjugated, dominated woman, brings honour not only to herself but to the man.


B.1 Women in the Gospels

1. (mild complementarian) The songs of both Mary and Zachariah are included by Luke, putting them on an equal footing. [Luke 1:46ff; 66ff]

2. (mild complementarian) Anna and Simeon are paired together by Luke, putting them on an equal footing.

3. Jesus appointed only male disciples/apostles. This sets a precedent for church practice.

Jesus was not bothered by cultural considerations; his appointment of only male apostles, was not because it was too radical in that culture, but because it was a male only role.

4. John 4: Jesus treated women with dignity and respect in a world that often mistreated them.

5. Luke 10:38-42: while Jesus commends Mary for her desire to learn from him, this says nothing about authorising her to teach or lead.

1. No specific comment

2. Luke 2:36-38: Anna, the prophetess, spoke about Jesus to people in the temple.

3. While the 12 were only male, females were included in the 72. [Found in written church traditions dating from Ambrose (4th century) to Lombard (12th century).]

Jesus excluded women from the Twelve because female teachers and learners were a rarity in Judaism; their inclusion would have been too radical.

In addition ‘many’ women are reported to have accompanied Jesus [Luke 8:1-3]. This was quite counter-cultural. Yet, in restricting the Twelve to free Jewish males, Jesus avoided the radical counter-cultural move of including slaves, females or Gentiles.

4. John 4: The Samaritan woman evangelised the people of her town.

5. Jesus’ approval of Mary’s desire to learn was quite counter-cultural. Traditionally only males were educated and only males were teachers. Sitting at a teacher’s feet was the posture of a disciple, a male role. Jesus defended this against Martha’s preoccupation with a traditional female role.

On #1 and #2:
While these suggest equality, neither contributes anything about male headship.
They do, however, show women engaged in verbal/speaking activities whose audience included men. [Mary’s song instructs every man who reads it!]

On #3:
The women in Luke 8 are not reported to have preached, only to have accompanied and supported him. But neither is it stated that ‘the Twelve’ did any preaching in this context.
It is also important to note that the Twelve were under the authority of Jesus Christ. They were not autonomous.
Jesus’ exclusion of slaves & Gentiles from the Twelve, as well as women, may be an important point. If the Church includes slaves & Gentiles as leaders/teachers, on what basis does it not also include women? All feature in Galatians 3:28.
[The two sides of the argument re cultural appropriateness indicate the difficulty of resolving the issue from the perspective of culture. Both sides try to use it to defend their viewpoint.]

On #4 & #5:
Both complementarians and egalitarians agree that Jesus lifted the status of women and obviously acknowledged their capacity to learn theological truth.

If we understand Jesus’ instructions here to the eleven disciples to apply to all believers, which most Christians do, then women are here obviously commanded teach ‘all nations’, regardless of gender. This raises the question: do we modify our understanding of Jesus’ commission so that it reflects the traditional understanding of 1Timothy 2:12? Or, do we understand 1Timothy 2:12 in the light of Jesus’ commission, and therefore give Paul’s ‘teach’ a restricted meaning?

B.2 Women in Acts

1. No specific comment.

2. Mild complementarians believe that Acts 2 confirms women in mixed-audience public speaking roles.

Some who recognize that both OT and NT report women prophets deny that prophecy is exposition of God’s Word.

3. Priscilla taught Apollos in the home, not in a church meeting.

1. Acts 1:14: the 120 disciples included women. Assuming that the whole 120 spoke in languages in Acts 2 [‘all’ in verses 1 & 4], This affirms women teaching men.

2. The quote from Joel in Acts 2:17-21 speaks of both men and women enabled by the Spirit to ‘prophesy’. This affirms women in mixed-audience public speaking roles.

3. Priscilla clearly taught Apollos, who is described as ‘a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures ... instructed in the way of the Lord ...’ [Acts 18:24-26].

On #1:
This is a questionable argument. It is the ‘eleven apostles’ [1:26] who are mentioned immediately prior to the ‘all’ of 2:1, not the 120. In addition those who taught in languages are referred to as ‘Galileans’ [2:7], and verse 14 states ‘then Peter stood up with the Eleven’, which suggests that it was only the apostles who were involved, not the 120.

On #2:
It is necessary to define ‘prophesy’. It is to speak forth the word of God, and clearly includes a significant teaching element. It of necessity includes also an element of authority derived from the fact that it is God’s truth. [This innate authority is present regardless of the gender of the speaker or the recipients.] In Acts 15:32, Judas and Silas, who were ‘prophets’, ‘exhorted the brethren’ – which clearly indicates that prophecy included exhortation/ encouragement. And in Ephesians 4 ‘prophets’ are included in the gifts given to the church for its instruction and growth towards maturity and unity and its protection against false doctrines.

Additional comment:
That the above [and Philip’s four daughters who were prophets] gives a fairly clear indication that women engaged in public speaking in the presence of men is acknowledged by contemporary complementarians as well as egalitarians. However, this has nothing clear to say about [1] women speaking in church meetings, or [2] women in positions of authority over men in the church. Complementarians tend to make it exclusive of these; egalitarians understand it inclusively.

On #4 & #5:
The differentiation between teaching a man and teaching men in church gatherings is rather arbitrary. Probably more to the point is that it seems Priscilla taught Apollos with the approval of her husband.

B.3 Women in the apostolic letters

Women filled roles of prophet and deacon, and were fellow-labourers with Paul in the Gospel [most likely in evangelism].

Some complementarians hold some restrictions on the ministry of women in these roles.

The egalitarian position re Junia [Romans 16:7] is questioned. Those who believe Junia is a woman, believe that Paul used ‘apostle’ in the sense of ‘missionary’ or ‘messenger’ [as in Philippians 2:25; 2Corinthians 8:23].

Women were deacons, evangelists, prophets and apostles. Junia is understood to be a female apostle, of the same kind as Paul and the Twelve.

There is debate over ‘Junia’ in Romans 16:7. Some complementarians believe this is a male name, but there are clear references to Junia as a woman and an apostle in early church writings.

It is probable that there is a distinction between the foundational Twelve, plus Paul, and others who were called ‘apostle’. The word means ‘one who is sent’. Regardless, Junia was some kind of apostle, and therefore engaged in a speaking role.

On the basis of the NT records:

Traditionalists maintain that when women occupied these roles it was in women-only contexts. This is difficult to sustain on the basis of the NT records.

Complementarians hold a range of positions, some maintaining that women occupied these roles in mixed contexts, others excluding some roles, especially those with authority, in mixed contexts.

Egalitarians see no restrictions on women in these roles.




© Rosemary Bardsley 2017


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

This verse rules out gender hierarchy and all role distinctions

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.



[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.

[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.

[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])

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.

[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.

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

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.

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’.

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.


[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.]

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’.

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.

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.

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.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

A. JOHN 5:19-30

[Note that I have not found this passage used in any complementarian/egalitarian discussions that I have read.]

Jesus stated that the Father [1] has entrusted all judgment and the authority to judge to the Son and [2] has granted the Son to have life in himself, and to give life to whoever he pleases. Here we see the Father, who is ‘the head of Christ’ [1Corinthians 11:3] authorising the Son to engage in roles that belong to the Father. We also read ‘whatever the Father does the Son also does.’ In this same passage Jesus expresses his dependence on the Father [verse19,30] and his perfect submission to the Father [verse 30]. In this passage and its context Jesus also expresses his equality with the Father [verse 17,18,23a] and the fact that when he is honoured the Father is honoured [verse 23b].

Here we have a clear and perfect demonstration of the factors involved in the ‘women in ministry’ debate. Here is the supreme model of both equality of being and headship/submission. Surely this should set both a definition and a boundary for our interpretation of specific verses elsewhere in the NT. Headship does not mean excluding others from tasks that are your responsibility – it includes delegation [see also John 3:35]; submission to authority does not mean inferior tasks; equality does not exclude submission – willingly seeking to do the will of another.

And the dynamic that holds this altogether is ‘... the Father loves the Son’ [see also 3:35] and the Father seeks the honour of the Son. And, as we will see below, the Son seeks the honour of the Father. There is no competition here, no division. There is perfect equality of being and there is obvious ‘hierarchy’ of role.


The headship of the Father and the submission of the Son to the Father are repeatedly mentioned in John’s Gospel [3:17,34; 4:34; 5:19,30,36; 6:38,57; 7:16,18; 8:16,26,28,29,42; 12:49,50; 13:3; 14:24,31; 15:10,15; 17:2,4,7,8,22; 18:11]. Many of these texts, or their context, also state the equality of the Father and the Son, and the Father as the source of the Son and of all that the Son says and does. In Hebrews we see a similar submission of the Son to the Father [2:10; 10:5-9]. The relevance of this to the debate is evident from Paul’s reference to it in 1Corinthians 11:3 where he refers to this divine analogy as the theological basis for his references to gender roles.

This divine analogy over-rules some of the things that are said by both sides of the complementarian/egalitarian debate. It demonstrates:

[1] Equality and identity of being do not negate role distinction and hierarchy, and role distinction and hierarchy do not negate equality and identity of being.

[2] The concepts of source and authority are not either/or but both/and. Indeed they exist together of necessity.

[3] Role differentiation does not diminish one and exalt the other: both are glorified together.

The verses in this section, together with those in the section immediately above, present a very different picture of headship and submission in the context of equality from what is usually perceived and discussed in the male/female debate. There is a union [of mutual love and trust] between the Father and the Son which makes the Son’s willing and complete submission to the Father the totally natural thing for the Son to do. Each seeks the glory of the other and in doing so is himself glorified. A similar unimpeded relationship existed between Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 & 2: the headship/submission there [unmentioned, uncommanded, but identified later by Paul] was natural and spontaneous, imaging the Father/Son relationship.

A further fact, which challenges our human logic, is quietly present in many of the above references, and very explicit in 1Corinthians 15:24-28 and John 14:28: that, alongside the undeniable equality, unity and identity of the Son with the Father, and the Father’s authorization/delegation of total authority [‘all things’] to the Son, there is still a very clear hierarchical distinction that we cannot argue away by limiting it to the period of Christ’s incarnation. The point ought to be quite clear: how can we humans be offended by a hierarchical structure when such a hierarchical structure is embedded in the very nature of God? The offence ought not to be because of the existence of such a structure, but because of the way that structure is expressed by humans, including Christian humans. Our goal ought not to be to do away with the structure but to emulate the way this perfect structure [both the perfect headship and the perfect submission] is revealed and exemplified in Jesus Christ.


Both the healing miracles and the nature miracles of Jesus are a clear intervention in, and temporary/micro reversals of, the impacts of Genesis 3. Jesus reversed sickness, physical imperfections and death; Jesus calmed and mastered the destructive force of natural elements; Jesus reversed the struggle to survive physically. The miracles of Jesus, although not directly addressing Genesis 3:16, give us a clear message: it is okay to interfere and intervene in human lives to undo, even in a micro and temporary way, those aspects of human life that began in Genesis 3.

In addition, while Jesus referred to Genesis 1 and 2 as normative for human life and for the male/female marriage relationship, he nowhere referred to Genesis 3:16 as normative.

D. 2CORINTHIANS 5:14-6:1

There are several important principles in these verses that are not immediately obvious in the English translations.

[1] Because of the substitutionary death of Christ with which every believer is identified [verse 14], we are to regard no one kata sarka – according to flesh [verse 16], that is according to what they are in themselves, apart from Christ.

[2] When people are ‘in Christ’ there is a whole new set up – the old set up has gone, the new has come [verse 17]. [The Greek says ‘new creation’, not ‘new creature’.]

[3] Paul implores us not to receive this grace ‘in vain’ ... that is, in a meaningless, empty way that has no impact on our relationship with God and with each other.

The sum of these is that the Gospel legally annuls and revokes the Genesis 3 separation between man and God, and that we are to live in a way that reflects the new reality in which we now live. This truth challenges us, not only to no longer view our relationship with God in terms of Genesis 3, but also to no longer view each other in terms of Genesis 3 [see verse 16]. We cannot exclude Genesis 3:16 from this ‘the old has gone, the new has come’. Given that Paul nowhere bases his arguments for male headship in the church on Genesis 3:16, we should be very careful that we do not define this headship in Genesis 3 terms, but in terms of the new ‘in Christ’ order.


Apart from reference to the general principle of Christians’ mutual submission to each other in verse 4, this passage appears absent from the debate. But like the verses in A and B above, it teaches us about equality, headship and submission from the example of Christ, and is therefore a significant contribution to the biblical definition of each. Christ, ‘being in very nature God’ did not view this equality with God ‘something to be grasped’, but ‘made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant ... humbled himself ... became obedient ...’ This [in association with Ephesians 5:22ff] instructs men about how they are to view their ‘headship’. It instructs women about how to view their ‘submission/obedience’. It also makes it very clear that total equality does not exclude differentiation of role/function/responsibility.

At the very least, it teaches us two things: [1] it teaches women not to so define and hold on to their equality that they deny anything that looks like gender hierarchy or a denial of equality. [2] It teaches men not to so define and to so hold to their position/power that they avoid anything that looks like a practical denial of that position/power. It outlaws all hierarchical and power/position coveting/grasping attitudes in the same manner as Jesus in John 13 [‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example ...]. The fact that Paul includes this extended reference to Christ as an example of how interpersonal Christian relationships should function validates, even necessitates, its inclusion in the egalitarian/complementarian debate. We cannot look at Philippians 2:1-11 and apply it to Christians, exclusive of the male/female power/position question.

F. EPHESIANS 5:21-6:9

This passage about submission is sometimes referred to in the debate. While egalitarians hold that this passage is about the mutual submission that characterizes those who are living under the control of the Holy Spirit, complementarians hold that the general submission mentioned in verse 21 does not, in verses 22ff, apply to husbands, parents and masters, only to wives, children and slaves. Such a position robs verse 21 of its clear meaning. Complementarians do, however, see the headship/submission described of husband/wife as a demonstration of the headship/submission required of males/females in the Church.

There are two key disagreements about this passage.

[1] The relevance of submission in these interpersonal relationships to the male/female issues in the Church. I suggest that it is extremely relevant, firstly because whatever this submission is, it is an expression of being fully responsive to the Holy Spirit [verses 18-21]; secondly, because the general submission in verse 21 is ‘out of reverence for Christ’; and thirdly, it is grounded in the example and Lordship of Jesus Christ [verses 22-33]. Each of these three motivations for ‘submission’ is universally relevant for Christians, regardless of the context and regardless of the relationship. The church, of all places, ought to be striving to be filled with the Spirit, to express reverence for Christ and to be following his example and submissive to his common Lordship. Any concept of male headship in the church must be within these boundaries. It is Jesus who defines both submission and headship, and for him they were never mutually exclusive – as evident in Paul’s teaching here.

[2] The extent of the ‘submission’ to one another [verse 21] described here by Paul – is it one-sided, or mutual? Paul does not say ‘submit to one another, but I’m not talking to husbands, parents and masters’. His words are all-inclusive. While it is easy to understand Paul’s instructions to wives, children and slaves as ‘submission’, it is not so easy to see his instructions to husbands, parents and masters as ‘submission’, particularly if our definition of ‘submit’ is wrongly limited to ‘obey’. But consider the example of Christ: Christ, who is ‘head of the church’ ‘gave himself up for her ...’ That is ‘submission’ of the highest order, far, far more demanding than the submission required of the wife. That is the submission described in Philippians 2. That is what Jesus spoke of when he said ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many’ [Mark 10:45]. That is submission, not only to the will of the Father, but also to the eternal well-being of us, his ‘bride’, the church. He, the Head, put aside his rights and his glory, for the church. That is the kind of self-sacrificing submission required of the husband towards the wife, the parent towards the child, and the master towards the slave. The church is ‘the bride’ of ‘the Lamb’ – the Lamb who has the marks of slaughter upon him.

Transferred over into the church, and to the question of the roles of men and women in the church, the example of Christ instructs the male heads of the Church. This love, this self-denial, this self-sacrifice is what ‘submission’ looks like for those in a headship role. Although 5:22-33 begins with instructions to wives, it actually has much more to say about what submission looks like for husbands, and by extension, for the male leadership in the church. [Peter writes of this servant headship of elders in 1Peter 5:1-4.]

The concept of the representative responsibility of the head, mentioned elsewhere above, is deep in this passage about what ‘submission’ looks like for the ‘head’. Adam bore that responsibility by default. Christ bore it by choice – a choice made before the beginning of time. Husbands, and, by inference, the male leadership of the church, are commanded to carry that responsibility, and, whether they choose to or not, God holds them so accountable. It would be far, far easier not to, and therein lies the heavy reality of the ‘submission’ Paul here requires of the man.


In 2:13 Peter commences an extended series of instructions about submission. His motivating premise is ‘for the Lord’s sake’. His frequent introductory phrase is ‘in the same way’. Hence we find:

2:13 – ‘submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted by man’ [anthropos]
2:18 – ‘slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect ... because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps’ [2:21]
3:1 – ‘wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands ...’
3:7 – ‘husbands, in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect ...’
5:1 – ‘To the elders among you ... be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers ...eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’
5:5 – ‘young men, in the same way, be submissive to those who are older’.
5:5,6 – ‘all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another ... humble yourselves ...’

The repeated ‘in the same way’ [which grounds everything in the submission of Christ] and the repeated references to submission connect all of these instructions, requiring an expression of humble ‘submission’ of every category of people named. That submission will look different in different roles, but it is still submission, it is still following the example of Christ in his humility and his willing suffering for us. Headship [whether husband or elder/overseer/pastor] does not mean privilege, prestige or power; it means self-denying humility, just like Jesus.


Various verses command Christians to teach or to speak, regardless of gender:

Matthew 10:27; 28:19,20; John 20:21; 1Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; (possibly 2Timothy 2:24); Hebrews 5:12; 1Peter 4:11.

If we apply these verses only to men, we are left with the problem of applying their context also only to men.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Some Old and New Testament passages affirm women involved in speaking and leadership roles in mixed gender contexts. Other Scriptures, in particular 1Timothy 2:11,12 (in its literal meaning, and apart from its context) appear to forbid this. What are we supposed to make of this apparent contradiction? Who decides which texts should take precedence over the others? Or is there something we are missing?

Keener, a (mild) egalitarian who was formerly a complementarian, says there are four options:

1. ‘One group of texts is mistaken. (This is not an option for conservative evangelicals, including the contributors to this book.)’
2. ‘The Bible permits to women some kinds of ministries but prohibits others.’
3. ‘The Bible prohibits women’s ministry under most circumstances but allows exceptions in specific cases, in which case we should allow such ministry today in exceptional cases.’
4. ‘The Bible permits women’s ministry under normal circumstances but prohibits it in exceptional cases, in which case we should allow it under most circumstances today.’

I would suggest an important perspective relevant to the discussion:

That perhaps the historic interpretation of the two key New Testament texts has been conditioned by our historical context of a patriarchal and male-dominated culture/society, which viewed women as inferior to men and less intelligent than men, less educated than men, restricted to extremely limited roles in the workforce, without the right to vote, and whose possessions automatically and legally became the property of their husbands upon their marriage. All of this has obviously changed. But the historic Christian writers and preachers from that era reflected without question the mindset of their age, and have moulded the Christian mindset.

Keener sums up the egalitarian/complementarian debate this way: ‘... in the end is it not as dangerous to risk forbidding what God endorses as to risk promoting what he forbids?’

The current complementarian and egalitarian debate challenges us to revisit the Scriptures and to carefully consider how many of the church's interpretations of key verses are a hangover from a past era of our own history and how many actually, accurately and honestly reflect the meaning of those texts in their own historical NT context.



Married women first permitted to hold property in their own name [instead of husband’s] – 1890s.
Women’s right to vote: Australia 1902, Queensland 1905
Universities open to women: Australia: 1880; Queensland 1911
Women’s right to stand for Parliament: Australia 1902, Queensland 1915
Women in wide range of positions in the workplace: 1940 onwards [impact of WWII].
Equal pay for work of equal value: 1972 [but not mandatory equal pay]
Freedom to get a passport without husband’s authorisation: Australia 1983



The resources consulted during the preparation of this study include: -

John Dickson (mild complementarian): ‘Hearing Her Voice’
John Dickson: ‘How can one guy be so wrong in so many ways?’
Craig Bromberg (mild complementarian): ‘Women in the pulpit?’
Ian Powell: ‘Personal reflections on a misplaced personal reflection’
Andrew Judd: ‘Wrong in the right way’

Barclay, William: The Letters to the Corinthians [not really helpful]
Bardsley, Rosemary: Women in the Church and Biblical Foundations of Marriage and Studies in Genesis [mild complementarian]
Calvin, John: Sermons on Ephesians
Dickson, John: Hearing Her Voice, Australian print edition [mild complementarian]
Gundry and Beck, (Ed): Two Views on Women in Ministry, revised edition. [two complementarian views; two egalitarian views]
Powers, B. Ward: The Ministry of Women in the Church, [Appendix to Notes on the Pastoral Epistles]
Schaeffer, Francis: Genesis in space and time
Stott, John: Issues Facing Christians Today
Vine, WE: Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
Wuest, Kenneth: Word Studies in the Greek New Testament
Young, Edward J (old school traditionalist): Genesis 3