Biblical Egalitarianism of Women and Ministry

From a biblical perspective I would define myself as an egalitarianist.  It existed between Adam and Eve before the fall (Genesis 1:27-28) and was reinstated by Jesus as the second Adam (Galatians 3:26-28).  When it comes to the subject of women today, from a biblical perspective, many self-proclaimed bible expositors are just not honest with the context.  They gloss over vital areas of Scripture giving only a brief mention but ignore the truths surrounding them.  There are several issues which need to be addressed, one is the use of the word “Authority” frequently used and often inserted into many texts concerning woman, in particular, the role of the Husband over his wife, and the role of Church leadership over women in general.  They use this word loosely yet never define exactly what “Authority” is or how it is to operate both in the marriage and the Church.  So, to kick this study off we must first look at what biblical authority is, and define it within the parameters of scripture.  Then we will look deeper at some biblical texts which have been grossly abused by these men concerning women.  We will look first at how Jesus defines authority, how Paul defines authority and look at some examples of how Paul operated withing his authority.  Then we will look at how Jesus viewed women as he is the prime example, we should all follow above anyone else.  Hopefully, when we reach the end you will discover that women are equal with men withing the body of Christ, share the same liberties and responsibilities in ministry, in the home, and out in the world.


If you believe only what you like in Scripture, and reject anything you don’t like, it is not the Scripture you believe, but yourself.  In the last century the framework of authority has been set by controversy between Liberal Protestantism and Fundamentalism, from ecumenicals to evangelicals.  In this debate the lines are drawn, all agree and profess their belief in the inerrancy of the Scripture.  The problem exist on how each side defines inerrancy.  The same is true with “Authority” as it pertains to the Husband over the wife and the “Authority” of church leadership.  Biblically God put husbands as head of their wives (Ephesians 5:23), but that does not put wives at the feet of their husbands. Biblical headship is modeled by Christ’s sacrifice, we will touch more on this later.  So, to get a clear understanding of exactly what authority is we must look to our Lord and what He taught concerning it.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:18; “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth.”  But coupled to His matchless authority is how Jesus embodies servitude.  He possessed all authority yet He came to serve and to lay His live down as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).  This is exactly what He taught as well. 

Matthew 20:25-28

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Interesting the contrast between the world and Christ’s kingdom!  While the world thinks of greatness and authority in terms of rule, in Christ’s kingdom greatness and authority is measured by servitude.  This is the heartbeat of authority, the model that Jesus not only taught but lived.  It is the model that every Husband should have with his wife, it is the model every church elder, pastor, etc. should have in the church.  Anything else is flesh, worldly, carnal.  Even Jesus at His coming will again gird Himself and serve His bride at the marriage supper.

Luke 12:37

“Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching.  Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat and will come and serve them.” 

How antagonistic of any holding and proclaiming God’s Word to think themselves above the menial office that Jesus Christ takes upon Himself.  How remarkable the contrast of rule and service, authority, and subordination, and that of our Lord’s example that many in the ecclesiastical office, even most today scoff at, not in word, but in action.

So, let me pause here with a question, understanding that “Authority” = “Service” as taught by Jesus and demonstrated by His life both past and future, how exactly does this disqualify women from ministry?  The answer is it doesn’t!

NOTE: Authority, whether it be for doctrine, reproof or correction should always have its aim to edification, not destruction.  The ambition of those in Church leadership is to build and unify Christ body, not dismantle and tear down.

The Apostle Paul not once, but twice, mentioned his authority as an Apostle, and with it specified its function and purpose. Paul reluctantly boasts of his apostolic authority because it has been questioned by hecklers said:

“For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed” – 2 Corinthians 10:8

And again…

“Therefore, I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.” – 2 Corinthians 13:10

The Greek word in both verses is exousia meaning one who is privileged, a potentate, and one who has jurisdiction and power.  That jurisdiction and power is solely for the building up and growth in a Christians life to piety and holiness and intimacy with Jesus Christ.  Paul expressed in Ephesians 4:11-12 that Christ Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.  This is the only purpose they serve and the only authority they possess.  And this authority should always, without exception, be in a servant role form as Christ demonstrated both in his life and teachings, He alone is the model!

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, verses 8-14 we see demonstrated a great example of authority at work.  Paul could have commanded Philemon to receive Onesimus, yet instead Paul appealed to Philemon out of brotherly love.  We see the heart of Paul’s apostolic authority here in verse 14; “But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.”  Paul goes as far as to take on Onesimus’s dept to Philemon as his own. Obedience motivated by love for Christ and the saints is the operatio of authority.  Here one can see a servant leader role at work as Paul sought to benefit of Philemon and the reconciliation of Philemon and Onesimus. 

It was important to lay the groundwork of this article with authority first, understanding that Church authority is primarily a servant role position designed and ordained by Jesus Christ for the building up and maturing of His body the Church.  As will be demonstrated later, authority is in no way a dominance or lordship position and as will be demonstrated later, a position that women qualify for.  It will also be biblically demonstrated that there were many women in ministry in the first-generation church, some in fact, were commissioned by Paul and were fellow laborers both in his ministry and abroad.  Before we do, we must first look at Jesus again as our model.  Understanding how Jesus viewed women and how he interacted with them is critical if we are to understand how women are to be treated and recognized in the church.

Women, how Jesus viewed and interacted with them.

Our Lord is both our example and model in all things pertaining to faith and life.  Understanding how Jesus viewed and interacted with women is paradigm to the church.  Jewish culture in the first century was strictly patriarchal, simply meaning, Jewish culture was in step with the world view of women.  Jewish writers of Jesus’ time, prior to and after, such as Philo, taught that women should never leave the home except to go to the synagogue.  Even there, they were never permitted into the inner court but remained outside in the women’s court.  As such women were almost always under the authority of a man rather it be her father, husband, or a relative of her husband if she were a widow.  This was the norm in Judaic culture.  Women were often looked over in matters of religion, they were never allowed to study the scriptures and as Rabbi Eliezer in the first – century said; “Rather should the word of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a women.”  Sadly, many of our esteemed church fathers held to a misogynistic view of women which has been carried through the centuries, such as Augustine, Calvin, Westly, just to name a few. 

Jesus however, rejected cultural norms, and you will not find once occurrence where Jesus stereotypes women, belittles or disgraces them, not one. In fact, Jesus repeatedly affirmed women.  Misogynist today would deem him a feminist, yet Jesus stands alone as the one who never discriminated against women but held them in high esteem.  For example, Jesus cures a woman who had been crippled for 18 years, laying His hands on her in the Temple He said; “Women, you are set free from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12).  The rulers of the synagogue became enraged that Jesus healed a women on the Sabbath, yet Jesus in response says; “So ought not this women, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, think of it, for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”  Notice what he called her, “a daughter of Abraham.”   While the expression “son of Abraham” was often used to indicate the male Jew as bound by covenant with God, women were never called “daughters of Abraham.”  With this title, Jesus recognizes women as having equal value to men.

The gospels of the New Testament often mention Jesus speaking to woman publicly and openly against the social norms of the time.  From the beginning, Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means.  Kenneth E. Bailey who spend 40 years as a Presbyterian professor writes about Christianity from a Middle Eastern cultural view.  He finds evidence in several New Testament passages that Jesus had women disciples.  He first cites the reported occasion when Jesus’ family appeared and asked to speak with him.  Jesus replied:

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, here are my mother and brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” – Matthew 12:46-50

Bailey argues that according to Middle Eastern customs, Jesus could not properly have gestured to a crowd of men and said, “Here are my brother, and sister, and mother.”  He could only have said that to a crowd of both men and women.  Therefore, the disciples standing before him were composed of men and women.1 Jesus’ use of both masculine and feminine words clearly indicates that some of his disciples were women. 

Sitting at the feet of a rabbi meant that a person was a disciple, and in Luke 10:38-42 we see highlighted Jesus’s acceptance of Mary who “sat beside the Lord at his feet and listening to him speak,” learned from him.  Martha, took on the cultural role of a women providing hospitality where Jesus responding to her because Martha was upset that Mary was not helping her said; “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Clearly, Jesus saw that Mary’s discipleship was of greater value than serving a table.  I don’t believe that when Jesus said in Matthew 28:19; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that he meant strictly men, do you?

Considering the cultural norm, when we consider Jesus talking with the woman at the well, he had not one strike against him, but two.  First, she was a woman, worse, she was a Samaritan.  The hatred between Jews and Samaritans was long-standing and the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.  Jesus speaking with her was met with the response, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” – John 4:9. Even His disciples when returning to him, seeing He was talking to a Samaritan woman “marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, what do you seek? Or why are you talking with her.” – John 4:27 Jesus openly accepted not only the Samaritans, but a woman who became the first witness of the Christ to her people.  Jesus in John 4:35 described the Samaritan people as both his Fathers work and a harvest already white for harvest!

Subjection and Egalitarianism

As we have just seen, Jesus never stereotyped women, but instead liberated and affirmed women, and in one occurrence referenced them as equal (daughter of Abraham) to males.  As to the subject of subjection, all, male and female are called into subjection, to Christ as head of the Church and to each other as members of His body (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:21; Phil, 2:3).  As members of His Body all are “one” in Christ.  In Christ Racial and Cultural divides are bridged, in Christ distinction of race, rank, and sex neither hinder fellowship nor grant special privileges. 

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

As it pertains to gender, when it says there is “neither” male nor female, it is saying there is not male and female, there is no male and female.  One gender is equal to the other.  In nearly every case where scriptures speak of the women being subject to the man, the context is surrounding the relationship between the husband and the wife, never women in general.  Fact is, scripture is clear that even in marriage, both the male and female are subject to each other (Eph. 5:22-24).  Marriage then, mirrors the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Even Christ submitted himself unto death:

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient (submissive) unto death, even the death of the cross.” – Phil 2:8 

Likewise, the Husband submits himself to his wife in love, even as the wife submits to the husband with devotion.  Submission, rather it be to Christ, between husband and wife, or to each other as a body of believers, submission is always reciprocal.

“Submitting to one another in the fear of God” – Ephesians 5:21

Within God’s order of things, submission can never be required by one of another, it can only be given on the basis of trust and mutual understanding.  In all things we are called to edify one another, bear with one another and esteem others higher than ourselves.  These are the mechanics of submission.  And it is through our reverential fear of the Lord which is relative to our duties to one another as Christians.  Truth of the matter is, we are all servants and are bound by the royal law of Christ to serve others.  Submitting to one another in the fear of God is an authentication of a Spirit filled life (Eph. 5:18). 

Apostles, Bishops, Elders and women

Ministerial positions are not authoritative but provisional (Eph. 4:11), as Jesus modeled, a servant role station.  And as we have seen, in Christ, neither ethnicity, one’s position or status, nor gender serves as a prominent qualifier for ministry as we are all “one” in Christ.  Despite the overwhelming biblical evidence both in the Old and New Testaments where women play leading roles, misogynism has overruled God’s motif where women serve side by side with men in equality to advance God’s Kingdom.  Misogynism has crippled the church by restricting half of its  membership to that of silence and subordination.

1 Timothy 2:9-15

In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.  Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the women being deceived, fell into transgression.  Nevertheless, she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, live, and holiness, with self-control.”

Here we approach the most controversial and wrested verses in the New Testament when dealing with the subject of women.  As I said at the opening, many are not honest with the text, let alone, the context.  I will admit, these verses are an overly complicated section of scripture and you will be hard pressed to find two people who agree with the many interpretations.  Regrettably, many bible expositors fail the rules of hermeneutics they claim to uphold when approaching this portion of Scripture.  I use a face-value hermeneutic, so I will point out some particularly important points and allow the context to speak for itself.  To do so, we will have to divide these verses into three sections.  Verses 9-10 are one, 11-12 are another, leaving 13-15 as the final.

Vs. 9-10

“In like manner” (vs. 9) in the Greek is an adverb meaning “in the same way,” or “likewise.”  This is important as this context (vs. 9-12) is always used by many bible expositors and commentators from the perspective of the assembly, the congregation of Christ body to worship, at the least, it is simply assumed and implied.  So, we must look at the proceeding verse for a little more context.  “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”  Every where here gives us the position, the location where prayer and the lifting up of holy hands is to be exercised, “every where.”  Some may argue this would include the assembly, and I would agree, but it’s not limited to the assembly as the “πᾶς τόπος  ‘pas  topos’” (every where) is every where, at all places.  “In like manner” “vs 9” recapitulates verse eight adding corrective instruction to women and includes all the verses following the subject content.  The assembly then is not the central theme or focus.  I must add, the “prayer and lifting up holy hands would include women, not exclude them.  And if it is applied to the church assembly, again it is inclusive of both men and women.

Personally, I believe that Paul is speaking more to the godly behavior of women using the metaphor of attire in verses 9-10, but its not restricted to it.  “Modest” in verse nine in the Greek means “orderly, that is, decorous: – of good behavior, modest.  Women are to be respectable, well-behaved, how one dresses herself is simply a reflection of her inner man.  However, as most apply this to what a women wares, I would have to ask a question.  Why do women today attend church with their hair all done up, wearing makeup, dresses, Jewelry, etc., which is a contradiction to the teaching of apparel in these verses?  Well, most will tell you that Paul was addressing a cultural issue which is not applicable to church history.  If that’s true, you’re going to love what comes next because that view would have to apply to verses 11-12 also.  The same people who would tell you that verses 9-10 are cultural will also teach verse 11-12 as an ongoing tenure for women, even though the verse is grossly misunderstood and abused. 

Vs. 11-12

It must be understood that here in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 Paul addresses and corrects problem behavior from men and women in the Ephesian church:

  1. angry quarrelling men (“men” is plural in verse 8)
  2. overdressed rich women (“women” is plural in verses 9 and 10)
  3. a woman or a wife (the Greek word for “woman/wife” is singular in verses 11 and 12, and the Greek “saved” verb is singular in verse 15; it is correctly translated as “she will be saved.” Cf. 1 Tim. 2:15 CSB).

In verses 9-10 “woman” is in the dative plural, “woman” in verses 11-14 is in the nominative singular which would be the subject and her relationship to the verbs ‘teaching’ verse 12, and ‘usurping authority.’  While in verses 9-10 “women” is not the subject but is effected by an action, in this case, adorning themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety professing godliness.  The instruction given by Paul in verses 9-10 is in the plural, this then is speaking to all women in general, or, to all women making up the body of Christ.  Paul’s shift from the plural in verses 9-10 to the singular in verses 11-15, the focus is either on a particular wife and husband abiding in Ephesus who Paul may have in mind, or he is referring in general to the husband and wife relationship within the marriage dynamic.  Either way, the use of the women singular is not an appeal to all women within Christ’s body.  This is further evidenced by the example Paul gives in verses 13-14 speaking of Adam and Eve.  “Eve” is still in the nominative singular.  The assembly of the Church is not in view here, what is in view is the relationship of the “woman/wife” to her husband, single women would be exempt.  The use of the word “authenteo/authentein” (usurp authority), also provides further evidence that it is more likely Paul is speaking of a particular husband and wife since this word is only used here and nowhere else in scripture.

What this is not is a universal and unqualified prohibition of women teaching and preaching in the church assembly.  The text is not saying it, the context does not support it and it cannot be found anywhere else in scripture.   You cannot take a hapax legomenon (authentein) and build an entire doctrine around it nor can you insert a hapax legomenon into a doctrine, especially without supporting passages.  This doesn’t mean it has no value, it certainly does, but its value is determined by the surrounding context.  Secondly, you cannot use the plural in place of a singular impression. Verse 11 is a stand-alone verse; it can only be understood by its immediate context.

So lets look closer at the verb “authentein” (αὐθεντέω) translated “usurp authority over,” beginning with Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on semantic domains.

§ 37:21 αὐθεντέω “to control in a domineering manner” (abbreviated online source here).  If Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12 was simply about exercising, usurping, or even misusing authority, why didn’t he use a more common word that means authority? Why did he use a relatively rare word? Linda Belleville answers these questions: “The obvious reason is that authentein carried a nuance (other than ‘rule’ or ‘have authority’) that was particularly suited to the Ephesian situation.”
Linda L. Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15.”2

Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 may well give the meaning that Paul is not allowing a woman to control, or to bully, or to domineer a man, according to the text, her husband. He is not addressing the exercise of a healthy kind of authority but is addressing the exercise of an overbearing and controlling use of power.3 Additionally, this form of authority is never attributed to men over women either.  In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō refers to a range of actions that are not restricted to murder or violence. However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.4  This gives even further evidence that the church assembly is not in view here as any clergy who would operate under the pretense of such authority as “authentein” disqualifies themselves from ministry based on the mandates of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and could only be deemed cultish.  You will never find in scripture where any relationship, position, or authority, rather it be in the marriage relationship or within the station of clergy to be autocratic.   This behavior is purely arbitrary and contradicts all that scripture teachings concerning the royal law of love.

Vs. 13-15

As I said earlier, 1 Timothy 2:9-11 are difficult to understand, and differing suggestions have been put forth by many commentators and bible expositors to explain Paul’s meaning and intention here.  Unfortunately, many perform exegetical gymnastics in an attempt to make the text fit their presuppositions leaning to a biased view.  Marg Mawezko has written extensively 1 Timothy 2 who I find to have an honest approach to the many difficulties we face on his section of scripture.  It is here I will include a large portion of an article written by her and I have to say, I agree with her conclusions.  I have not included the entire article but will give the link for further study should you wish to venture there.


1 TIMOTHY 2:13-14

“For it was Adam who was first formed and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived[1] but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (NASB)

Many Christians assert that the reason women cannot be leaders and teachers of men is because the man was created first and then the woman. These people believe that implicit in the creation order is a leadership order. Yet neither leadership nor submission is acknowledged or even hinted at in Genesis 2, or in the two other biblical creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 5, and I do not believe this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Timothy 2:13. [My article on The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order” here.]

But before I relate what I think Paul may have been saying in verses 13 and 14, let’s have a look at the creation accounts of the Adam and Eve. (See also Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6-8.)

Genesis 5:1-2In these verses we read that God created “man”, that is, human beings, in his likeness: “He created them male and female and blessed them and named them “adam” in the day he created them” (Gen. 5:2). Note that the Hebrew word adam means a “human being” and does not necessarily refer to a male human being. When used as a proper noun, Adam is a man’s name, but in Genesis 5:1-2, “adam” clearly refers to both male and female humans. There is no hint of a “creation order” here.

Genesis 1:27-28. In these two verses, again we see that humans, both male and female, were created in God’s image. God blessed them and said to them subdue the earth and rule over creation. There is no mention of a “creation order” distinction here either. There is also no mention that humans are to rule each other.

Genesis 2:21-24This passage contains the account of the creation of Eve that Paul is referring to in 1 Timothy 2:13. Here we read that the first woman was made from a part taken out of the first human being (Gen. 2:23b)—she had already been a part of the first human in some way. When Adam woke from his deep sleep, something was missing, something was different. Something of his had been taken and given to the first woman.[2] The first man was no longer exactly the same person as he was when he had fallen asleep![3]

The whole purpose of the narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 is to emphasise the equality and interdependence of man and woman, husband and wife.[4] When the man looked at his new partner he exclaimed that she was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”. How much more equal can you get?

But to further emphasize the point, Genesis 2:24 says that when a husband and wife join in marriage they become one flesh. God’s ideal at creation was that the husband and wife be equal, compatible, and rule over nature together (Gen. 1:26-28). Gender equality, or mutuality, is the godly ideal we should aim for.

To say that Paul is using the creation order of male first and female second to create a chain of command is entirely missing the point of Genesis 2:21-24 which is of equality, affinity and unity. So what was Paul trying to say in 1 Timothy 2:13-14?

I suggest that Paul was using the teaching of Genesis 2:21-24 to correct a few of the false teachings circulating at Ephesus. These false teachings were that the “Gnostic” Eve was created first and then Adam; and that it was Adam who had been deceived. Paul corrects this with: “For it was Adam who was formed first and then Eve, and it was not Adam who was deceived but Eve . . .” (Italics added.)

The “for” (gar) in verse 13 is taken by many to mean that Paul is giving the creation order and Eve’s deception as his reasons for his prohibition in verse 12. However the “for” could also be used to introduce Paul’s correction of aspects of the false teaching at Ephesus. The Greek word gar is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament. It is often used to introduce new information that is obliquely, and not directly, related to the preceding verses (e.g. John 4:43-45, especially v.44; Acts 15:20-21, especially v.21; Heb. 2:5). What a difference it would make if gar was translated as “moreover” or as “now”, as it is in the NIV translation of John 4:44. Or if it was left untranslated, as it is in Hebrew 2:5.5

Gender equality is God’s ideal as seen in the Creation accounts, Jesus demonstrated it in Luke 13, Paul instructed the Galatians on it in Galatians 3:28 so we can with certainty exclude Paul was stressing a hierarchical order here in 1 Timothy 2.  Even in headship of the husband of the wife as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 11 demonstrates an interdependence between the husband and wife; “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord” – 1 Corinthians 11:11.  Notice, “in the Lord,” this corresponds with Galatians 3:28; “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

1 Timothy 3:1-13

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence “for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.  Moreover, he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Likewise, deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.  But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.  Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.  Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.  For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

A few months ago I had a lengthy conversation with a well-known preacher in South Africa in an attempt to debate his view that Church leadership is strictly a male role position.  There is, in my opinion a contradiction, or I should say, a flaw in this view.  His argument as he stated it, is because the Greek word for husband in verse 2 is anēr meaning a man, fellow,  or husband, therefore  the office of bishop is strictly male.   “anēr” is used in this context only twice, once in verse 2, and again in verse 12.

Before I present the contradiction, several issues need to be cleared up.  First, the personal pronoun “he/his” as used in verses 1,4-5 does not appear in the Greek.  The personal pronoun αὐτός “he” in verse 7 is a reflexive pronoun referring to one’s self and is in the third person which can be used for both male and female and is not gender specific.  Secondly, “If any man” as used in verse 1 who desires the office of a bishop in the Greek is  εἴ τις meaning any person, whosoever. This Greek word is an indefinite pronoun simply referring to any person desiring the office of a bishop desires a good work.  The context does not present a prohibition of women serving as a bishop but instead is open to anyone desiring the office, including women. 

The only argument one has here is whether a word is in the masculine or feminine use, which itself is not much of an argument as the word “bishop” is in the feminine.  So, it comes down to one issue and it is this one issue which presents the contradiction, “anēr εἷς γυνή,” (the husband of one wife.)  In the Greek however it reads differently, “one women man” or “one women husband.”  Some argue this is referring to divorce, that a bishop must have only had one wife, others argue it to refer to polygamy.  I lean to polygamy; however, the dominant thought here is if it is a man who holds the office of a bishop, he must be monogamous.

The preacher did agree with me that women could serve as deacons, this was where we both agreed.  However, I pointed out that the same exact phrase existed with the qualifications of the deacon, anēr εἷς γυνή (husband of one wife).  I also pointed out that if the phrase “husband (anēr) of one wife” and the use of the word anēr meant leadership was truly male then there existed a contradiction in Scripture as Romans 16:1 lists Phebe as “a servant,” that is, a diakonos, a deacon, the same exact word used in 1 Timothy 3:12.  This presents a serious problem for those believing that women cannot serve as either deacons or ministers.  This word is translated as “minister” 14 times and “ministers” 6 times in the KJV.  Regardless, it is an office one holds within the church hierarchy.  A position as Timothy3:13 says, well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. 

What we have to take from this is the phrase “husband of one wife” does not disqualify a women from the church office of minister or deacon, but is there as a qualification to any male holding such office to be monogamous and not a polygamist.  This is the only understanding that makes sense with the context, especially since the Scripture clearly demonstrates women holding the offices.  And it eliminates the view that the use of anēr (a man, husband) in verse 2 means the high office of bishop is limited to males only.  Clearly the context is just placing more restrictions upon the man than the women minister.

  2. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce an Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds) (Leicester: InterVarsity, 2005), 211.
  3. (
  4. (Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 292.)

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