Biblical Patriarchy and 1 Timothy 2:12

12 in the Greek BibleMy wife and I have a friend from college who has asked some insightful questions in the comments section of my previous post, “Postscript on Women in Ministry.” Our friend’s questions bring to the surface some of the practical issues upon which Complementarians have yet to reach consensus. One of the chief issues that Complementarians disagree on is whether it is ever appropriate for a woman to teach Christian doctrine to men in the church.

I am posting my response to my friend below. This response does not comprise everything that needs to be said on this issue or this text (1 Timothy 2:12), but I hope it can serve as a spark to ignite a conversation that needs to take place among Complementarians.

For a broader treatment of this topic see Russell Moore’s “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Evangelical Gender Debate.”


Dear Friend,

Thanks for your comment. You have hit a point upon which complementarians have not reached consensus. What complementarians agree on is summed up in the Danvers Statement that I alluded to earlier. But they are not in agreement upon everything.

In short, complementarians agree that the Bible teaches a principle of headship that must be observed within the church and within the home (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3; Ephesians 5:21ff). For most, the practical implications of this principle are twofold: (1) the office of pastor/elder is only to be held by qualified male believers, and (2) the husband is the leader in his home.

Nevertheless, many Complementarians continue to disagree concerning how this principle of “headship” should be observed within the church. While there is agreement that pastors/elders should be male, there is disagreement concerning what the Bible says about women teaching mixed audiences. Some complementarian churches do not allow women to teach mixed adult audiences, while other complementarian churches do allow it. On this particular point, there is agreement in principle (observing headship), but disagreement in practice (teaching mixed audiences).

To some extent, I’m sure the disagreement is probably driven by pragmatic considerations. But to some degree, the disagreement is also due to conflicting interpretations of the Bible, especially 1 Timothy 2:12. Commentators point out that 1 Timothy 2:12 has at least two possible translations/interpretations:

Translation #1: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.”
Translation #2: “I do not allow a woman to teach with authority over a man.”

Notice that the first translation prohibits two things: teaching and exercising authority. Notice that the second translation only prohibits one thing: a certain kind of teaching.

Complementarian churches that allow women to teach mixed audiences tend to favor the second translation. The idea seems to be that a woman can teach a mixed audience as long as she does so under the “headship” and authority of the pastors/elders and her husband. When she teaches under the auspices of those “heads,” she is not violating the command in 1 Timothy 2:12 which prohibits “teaching with authority,” because she is teaching while under authority. You mentioned Beth Moore’s ministry in your comment. I know, for instance, that this “headship view” is what is practiced at her church, the First Baptist Church of Houston. FBC Houston claims to be a complementarian church, but Beth Moore and other women frequently teach mixed audiences at that church.

What is my view on this question? I agree with the first translation that I listed above. The best I can tell, Paul teaches that women cannot be pastors/elders (a la “exercising authority”), and they are not to teach Christian doctrine to adult male believers. The dispute over the proper translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 does not come down to what is the most literal rendering. All sides agree that the literal rendering is the one reflected in Translation #1. The question is whether or not Paul is using a figure of speech called hendiadys.

A hendiadys is a figure of speech in which an author expresses a single idea by two nouns instead of a noun and its qualifier. I can give you example of this figure of speech in English. Consider the following sentence.

“He came despite the rain and weather.”

Doesn’t this sentence really mean this:

“He came despite the rainy weather.”

In other words, by separating the term “rainy weather” into “rain” and “weather” the speaker accentuates the adjective by transforming it into a noun.

Some commentators think that this is what is happening with 1 Timothy 2:12. Therefore they translate it so that “authority” modifies “teach.” So “to teach or to exercise authority” becomes “to teach with authority.” My main problem with this translation is that I am convinced that the words that are used in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 2:12 are not the kinds of words that ever get used in this figure of speech called hendiadys (see Andreas Köstenberger in Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15). So my reasons for rejecting Translation #2 are exegetical.

The result of my understanding of Paul’s teaching is that gifted women teachers do need to exercise their teaching gift. I think there are innumerable appropriate contexts in which they can and should teach (e.g. Titus 2:3 and the list in my previous post). But in the church, they would want to be careful not to violate the scripture’s command not to teach Christian doctrine to men.

I’m not a perfect man or a perfect exegete. But I have been looking at this issue for many years, and this is the best I can make out of what Paul is teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12. This isn’t, by the way, the view that I had when we were in college. To be quite honest, back then, I hadn’t really even thought about this verse or these issues very carefully. When I started college, I was more or less a default egalitarian. So now you know that I have come to this view rather late in my Christian walk.

I hope that I can rally other complementarians to this point of view because I think it is the correct understanding of the text, not just of 1 Timothy 2:12 but also of the Bible’s comprehensive vision of complementarian values.

Well, that’s a long comment, and if you made it this far, you deserve a medal. Thanks for reading my blog, and thank you for your comment.

Denny Burk


Postscript on Women in Ministry

A spirited discussion continues under my previous post “Evangelical Gender Wars and the Authority of the Bible.” In the comments under that post, one of the items in contention is the idea that complementarians limit/restrict women who want to serve in Christian ministry.

While it is true that complementarians hold that some offices and teaching situations are for qualified men only, complementarians affirm that faithful Christian women should have vital ministries within the church of Jesus Christ.

Since 1987, the Danvers Statement has long been recognized as an overview of the core beliefs of complementarians. This document has an important word of affirmation concerning the need for women to serve in Christian ministry:

With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world (1 Cor 12:7-21).

In John Piper’s essay “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity,” Piper actually expands upon this section from the Danvers Statement and lists scores of ministries that are vital and in which women can and should be involved (see list below). But even Piper admits after his long list that many more ministries could and should be added.

In light of the expansive opportunities for women in ministry that are cited by complementarians, I do not think that it is credible to argue that complementarians want to relegate women to the sidelines in Christian service. Quite the opposite is the case. What we are saying is that all of the ministries of both men and women should be done with deference to the principle of headship that God has established within the created order (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-33).


Ministries to the handicapped

Hearing impaired

Ministries to the sick

Hospice care-cancer, AIDS, etc.
Community health

Ministries to the socially estranged

Emotionally impaired
Recovering alcoholics
Recovering drug-users
Escaping prostitutes
Abused children, women
Runaways, problem children

Prison ministries

Women’s prisons
Families of prisoners
Rehabilitation to society

Ministries to youth

Open houses and recreation
Outings and trips
Academic assistance

Sports ministries

Neighborhood teams
Church teams

Therapeutic counseling


Audiovisual ministries


Writing ministries

Curriculum development
Institutional communications
Journalistic skills for publications

Teaching ministries

Sunday school: children, youth, students, women
Grade school
High school

Music ministries


Evangelistic ministries

Personal witnessing
Parachurch groups
Home Bible studies
Outreach to children
Visitation teams
Counseling at meetings
Telephone counseling

Radio and television ministries

Technical assistance

Theater and drama ministries


Social ministries

Drug rehabilitation
Pastoral care assistance
Newcomer welcoming and assistance
Food and clothing and transportation

Prayer ministries

Mobilizing for prayer events
Helping with small groups of prayer
Coordinating prayer chains
Promoting prayer days and weeks and vigils

All of the above across cultures

Support ministries

Countless “secular” jobs that undergird other ministries
The awesome significance of motherhood
Making a home as a full-time wife

Where were you on September 16, 2001?

Worship Service at Clifton Baptist ChurchWhere were you on September 16, 2001? Yes, you read the date correctly. I didn’t mean September 11. I am asking if you remember where you were five days later, Sunday, September 16, 2001.

I remember where I was. I had just begun my Ph.D. studies at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and my wife and I were still visiting churches in thearea. That Sunday, we attended Clifton Baptist Church. Dr. Tom Schreiner, my doctoral supervisor and the pastor at Clifton, delivered a message from Luke 13 and reminded us of the sobering warning from Jesus: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

I heard a word from the Lord that Sunday morning, but I wonder if other Americans heard the voice of God in the sermons they listened to on that day. People turned out in droves for church on September 16, 2001. So much so, that some evangelicals predicted 9-11 to be the catalyst to jar a godless nation into repentance and revival.

I think it’s safe to say now, however, that the spiritual awakening that many anticipated did not happen. Nevertheless, the preached word that I heard on that day is what has left an indelible and lasting mark on me.

The two most memorable September 16th sermons that I heard were preached by two men ministering in very different parts of the country. The first was from John Piper (audio, transcript), pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the second from Tommy Nelson (audio), pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.

In some ways, these sermons were very similar. They both built on the theological foundation of the sovereignty of God over all things, which includes His sovereignty over calamities like the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Both sermons also expressed the grief appropriate for the occasion.

Yet in many other ways, the sermons were very different. On the one hand, Tommy Nelson exuded patriotism, nationalism, and a sense that America would rise up in its righteous might to settle accounts with its terrorist enemies. Nelson offered the assurance that America would prevail in the coming military conflict because God supports nations that support Israel.

On the other hand, John Piper called his listeners to turn away from their implicit trust in American military might and national prosperity. Americans by and large had taken for granted their own security in the world. Piper said 9-11 proves what the Bible already teaches—that such security is an illusory fiction. Our hope is not in the military and its ability to protect from all danger. Our hope is in Christ, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39).

As I remembered the tragedy of 9-11 this past week, I also remembered these messages. I am thankful for the reminder that I serve a God who is sovereign over all things, that I serve a Christ who once looked into the cold eyes of at a heartless Roman govenor and said, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” I am thankful that while we have no basis for confidence in military might (Psalm 20:7), we have every reason to be confident in King Jesus who has promised to come again and to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). I am thankful for a Christ who loves sinners and who will one day banish evil from the new heavens and the new earth.

Calamaties will come, and calamities will go. But God’s word will never pass away. These sermons are a study in contrasts, but I encourage you to take some time to listen to both of them and to set your hope completely on Christ.

“A Service of Sorrow, Self-Humbling, and Steady Hope in Our Savior and King, Jesus Christ” – by John Piper

“9-11” – by Tommy Nelson

Rosie O’Donnell: Christianity Is More Dangerous Than Radical Islam

Rosie O'Donnell & Elisabeth Hasselbeck on 'The View'Maybe you missed it, but Rosie O’Donnell made some outrageous remarks on “The View” this week. In an exchange with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, O’Donnell said that “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have a separation of church and state.”

You can watch the video of O’Donnell’s remarks by clicking here.
Hasselbeck countered O’Donnell’s comments by saying that, “We are not bombing ourselves here in the country. We are being attacked.” Even cohost Joy Behar was compelled to respond to O’Donnell’s outlandish claims saying, “Christians are not threatening to kill us. This group (radical Islamists) is threatening to kill us.”

I think most people will recognize that Rosie O’Donnell is way off the mark on this one. But I was surprised at the audience’s reaction to what she said. When O’Donnell said that Christianity is just as dangerous as radical Islam, the studio audience erupted in applause.

That such a thing could be spoken in America today and that it could be met with such gushing approval prove that we are indeed living in the midst of a post-Christian culture.

Christians have been the objects of slanderous attacks throughout the history of the church. In the early centuries of the church’s history, pagans accused Christians of being cannibals and of committing incest. Neither of these charges were true. The pagans were simply distorting the Christian teaching on the Lord’s Supper and on the status of married Christians who called one another “brother” and “sister” in Christ.

We should not be surprised that Christianity has its detractors even today. The most important thing for Christians to do in response to slanderers like Rosie O’Donnell is not to insist that she be removed from “The View.” The most important thing that we can do is to testify to the glory of Christ in both word and deed. That testimony includes loving Rosie O’Donnell and praying for her. When the body of Christ bears faithful witness to its crucified and risen Head in this way, no amount of slanders will prevail against it.

“AFA calls on ABC, O’Donnell to apologize for comments” – Baptist Press
“Rosie O’Donnell’s Remarks on ‘Radical Christianity’ Draw Fire” – Christian Post Reporter

David Dockery Responds to NY Times on Baptist Colleges

David DockeryLast week, I commented on an article that appeared in the New York Times about the battle that’s going on for Baptist colleges in various states around the country. In a Baptist Press piece today, David Dockery also responds to the New York Times. The integrated vision of faith and learning that Dockery commends is the ideal that we all should be striving for. Therefore, I recommend his article to you: “Christian commitment & intellectual inquiry.”

Is Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Murder?

Tony SnowDoes the destruction of human embryos amount to murder? White House spokesman Tony Snow put this question on the front burner last week when he described President Bush’s position as follows:

The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it’s inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He’s one of them. The simple answer is he thinks murder’s wrong (source). Continue reading Is Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Murder?

The New York Times on Southern Baptist Colleges

The New York Times reports today on the struggle between Baptist Colleges and the state Baptist conventions that run them. Many people are aware of the conservative resurgence that began in 1979 in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). That resurgence returned the convention’s institutions and seminaries to conservative evangelical principles. Continue reading The New York Times on Southern Baptist Colleges