"Does 1 Timothy 2:11-12 exclude women from ordination?"
The question of whether the apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, prohibits
women from being "ordained" is a controversial one. This text has frequently
been used to exclude women from leadership and teaching roles in the church.
However, there is a new perspective emerging on the interpretation of this
passage of Scripture and on the appropriate application of this text to our
modern world. Although a singular conclusive interpretation has not been
reached, I believe that the contemporary egalitarian position is a more
balanced argument. This view sees this text as "context-specific" to the
church at Ephesus during a time of upheaval and not applicable to all
churches for all time. The broader emphasis of the Scriptures points to a
"partnership" between men and women, each using their God-given gifts for
the benefit of others. Therefore, if a woman has a gift of teaching or
leadership, opportunity should be provided for her to minister for the good
of the church, just as it should be for a man with either of these gifts.
"Does 1 Timothy 2:11-12 exclude women from ordination? "
In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the apostle Paul says, "A woman should learn in
quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have
authority over a man; she must be silent." (NIV) These verses have caused
much discussion and debate, especially in recent years, as to whether or not
women can have leadership roles in the church. This passage (along with 1
Cor.14:33-35) has often been used to silence women in the church and to
restrict them from positions of leadership.
A few things should be noted: this is a very complex issue, debate is
healthy and necessary, and it is possible that we will never reach a
consensus on this matter. As we read the Bible, we do not do so in a vacuum.
We all come to the Scriptures with inherited church tradition and personal
experiences, which can easily colour our interpretation. As a result, there
is not one "orthodox" position and another "heretical" position. There are a
variety of views and numerous styles of implementation within two main
The two views that have emerged as the major, viable, Biblically based
options are the "hierarchical view" and the "egalitarian view". We will
summarise them briefly then seek to address the question, "Does 1 Timothy
2:11-12 exclude women from ordination?". In doing so, I am not going to seek
to establish the "true" interpretation of this controversial passage. What I
plan to do is to address how we can work out a theology of the sexes when
the one text that has been quoted as the ultimate proof of one point of view
cannot gain an agreed upon interpretation.
THE HIERARCHICAL VIEW
The hierarchical view generally permits women to be involved in ministry but
sees the Bible giving timeless restrictions on women as the authoritative
teacher in the church, often associated with the office of elder (presbyter)
This view interprets Paul's words to Timothy at Ephesus as an indication
that God's will is for women to refrain from teaching or leading (having
authority) within the church community. These two functions are to be
reserved for the men. Therefore, no woman should be "ordained" or given a
position of authority within the church at any time.
Proponents of this view recognise that Paul's letter is occasional in
character, nevertheless, they believe that it continues to speak
authoritatively to all times and cultures as a theological or ethical norm.
Therefore, Paul's instructions are forever binding on those who embrace the
authority of the Scriptures. This fundamentalist approach believes that what
the text says must apply one for one in every place for all time.
They argue that Paul's reasons for establishing this binding instruction is
the "order of creation", which they conclude establishes a permanent and
transcultural "legitimate role difference between men and women". Man and
woman are both made in the image of God. Therefore, they are "equal as
persons". However, they are "different in role" (or function). Man was
created to be the leader and to rule because he was created first. Women
were created to serve and support as a "helper" to man. This "creation
order" is God's ideal given before sin entered the world and is no way
annulled by the coming of Christ.
Women are to always submit to men's ultimate leadership in the church and
the home. This subordination of women is not seen as making them in any way
inferior as persons. It should be noted that this modern day hierarchical
approach is different to the many church leaders throughout history who have
seen women as inferior ontologically (because she was created second) and as
more prone to sin and error than men.
Genesis 3 is the story of how the woman usurped a role of leadership in
place of her husband, her "head". This resulted in both of them disobeying
God's commandment and reaping severe consequences (Gen.3:16). For some
hierarchicalists, Eve's sin demonstrates that "women are more liable to
deception, more gullible, and more easily led astray than men."
Jesus treated women well but made it clear that only men should be leaders
in the church community, illustrated by his appointment of twelve male
apostles. Paul taught that man is the "head" of the woman (1 Cor.11:3) and
that the husband is the "head" of the wife (Eph.5:22). Wives are to be
subordinate to their husbands, clearly showing that men and women have
different roles (Eph.5:22. Col.3:21. 1 Peter 2:18). Because the "headship"
role has been given to men in the home, they should lead in the church.
Women should not exercise authority in the home or the church, especially
through teaching men (1 Cor.14:34-35. 1 Tim.2:11-12).
Modern day hierarchicalists are usually open to women speaking and
ministering in the church community, which is consistent with other texts
written by Paul about the activities of women in the early church. However,
any ministries they are involved in are subordinate to male leadership
within the church and women should not function as pastors, elders or
overseers. In contrast, a stricter and more literal application of this
text has occurred throughout most of church history where absolute silence
has often been demanded.
Any other than this "historic" interpretation is often seen as being
unfaithful to the authority of the Scriptures and as giving in to the
"liberalising attitudes to women's and men's identities and roles" of our
modern culture. To reject this clear Biblical teaching of the different
roles of men and women is to reject the authority of the Bible. Egalitarians
who argue for the equality of the sexes have given in to the spirit of our
THE EGALITARIAN VIEW
The egalitarian view agrees that the Biblical writers did in their day
forbid women from holding certain leadership positions in specific
situations, but that the rationales for these restrictions do not
necessarily transcend time and culture (similar to the fact that we no
longer wash one another's feet or require women to wear hats in church).
Egalitarians stress the equality of men and women, not merely in personhood
and salvation, but in opportunities to hold every office and to minister in
every role that exists in the church.
This view interprets Paul's words to Timothy at Ephesus as a specific
instruction for women to refrain from teaching or leading (having authority)
within the church community at that time. Paul commands women not to teach
in church or exercise authority because certain women were teaching heresy
in Ephesus. Paul had generally encouraged the ministry of women in the life
of the church, so it was only when the behaviour of some women threatened
the well being of the church that Paul gave these "exceptional rulings".
Egalitarians do not see Paul's supporting reasons, where he makes reference
to Adam and Eve, as establishing any permanent or binding "order" within the
home or church. They see that the Biblical ideal is "equality of
consideration and equality of opportunity to use God-given gifts, which may
include teaching and exercising authority by women." Paul's prohibition on
women teaching or exercising authority is "historically and culturally
limited to the context in which they were addressed."
Man and woman were both created in the "image of God", equal in dignity and
status. God has revealed himself as one God existing in three persons
dwelling together in perfect unity and partnership. Adam and Eve were
created to reflect this image through their partnership in taking dominion
over creation (the dominion mandate) and populating the earth (the domestic
mandate). They had a shared leadership responsibility using their
complementary spiritual gifts to carry out these God-given tasks (see
Gen.1:26-27). There is no subordination of the woman before the fall.
Unfortunately, both Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command and this sin
damaged God's creation and dramatically affected our world and especially
human relationships. "Gender Wars" and the "battle of the sexes" entered
humanity. Mindsets like male chauvinism and then, more recently, the rise of
secular feminism, demonstrate this tension. The fall brought division and
dominance, which resulted in a broken, fractured relationship that left
partnership behind and established hierarchy in its place. Before sin, man
and woman ruled together. After the fall, man would "rule" over the woman
(Gen.3:16-19). Male dominated societies are not part of God's original
society; they are a result of the curse. The image of God is "male and
female" (Gen.1:27), not male over female or vice versa.
Hierarchicalists highlight the fact that Jesus only chose twelve men to be
his apostles, which to them is an indication that women are not to function
in leadership roles. However, Jesus never actually commented on the issue of
whether women are to teach or have authority in the church community. Jesus
most likely chose male apostles because of the custom that communal leaders
at that time were men. It was also a fact that women could not be a credible
witness. Giving witness to the resurrection was one of the primary roles of
the first twelve apostles.
The church, God's new community, gets back to the principles established in
creation - partnership in ministry. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured
out on men and women, old and young (Acts 2). The one hundred and twenty
disciples who gathered together for prayer in the upper room were both men
and women. The Spirit was poured out on all of them. All can receive and
minister in the power of the Spirit regardless of gender. The male
priesthood is gone. No longer one man, one gender, one nation, one tribe,
one family, one age (30-50), or one day of the year like in the Old
Covenant. We are a new creation and a new community of the redeemed in which
all distinctions based on gender and age are laid aside.
Peter tells us in his sermon in Acts 2 that God's intention was that, in the
last phase of history, he would pour out his Spirit on all believers - so
that they would prophesy (the highest OT activity). Only select, privileged
individuals had access to the work of the Spirit under the Old Covenant. Now
everyone, including sons and daughters, has access to this ministry because
the Holy Spirit is available to all believers. Ministry was opened up to
everyone, even to those who occupied the lowest rung of the social ladder.
No one in the community was exempt from doing ministry and no one was
excused from it.
In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor
free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to
Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise"
(NIV). Paul tells us that we are one in Christ and that gender distinctions
cease to matter. This demands an end of prejudice based on difference. This
is not the end or removal of differences or distinctions; however, these can
no longer be the basis for restricting our relationships and roles in the
Kingdom. God's new community lays aside all distinctions based on ethnicity,
social class, gender and age. Racial, social (economic) and gender prejudice
are exposed and nullified by the cross and grace of Christ. The New Covenant
brings us back to the original intention of God in creation before the fall.
Spiritual gifts are given to each believer (1 Cor.12-14. Rom.12. 1 Pet.4).
Gifts are given to each one as the Lord determines. There is no mention of
gender qualifications or of age or marriage requirements in any of the New
Testament teaching on spiritual gifts. No one is excluded or excused from
spiritual gifts or ministry. Every person, regardless of gender, is
individually accountable for the use of their resources - time, energy and
Women are included in many church ministries listed within the New
Testament. Paul's ministry team included women. Paul discarded his inherited
cultural prejudices as uninformed and outmoded for kingdom living. He
honoured the women who laboured with him in the gospel, recognising that God
had created them for partnership. He released women to serve in God's
kingdom. Paul was surrounded by women in his ministry and they fulfilled
various roles including leadership positions in the church (see 1 Cor.1:11.
Phil. 4:1-3. Rom.16. Tit.2:3-5).
Paul refers to the husband as the head of the wife (Eph.5:22), but
emphasises the servant leadership aspect exemplified by Jesus, not an
authoritarian leadership style. Men and women are to complement each other
standing side by side, not with the man standing over the woman.
Hierarchicalists sometimes see egalitarians as seeking to establish "total
sexual equivalence" , something that most egalitarians openly dispute .
As can be clearly seen, these two views are substantially different from
each other and far enough apart to be mutually exclusive. The heart of the
issue seems to be whether the Scriptures forbid women from leadership
because of the "created order" or not. Neither position is conclusive,
whether hierarchicalist or egalitarian. We have to decide which makes the
most sense and seek to apply the principles of Scripture faithfully in our
own contemporary context.
Proper hermeneutics requires that a conclusion on any subject must be drawn
from what the entire Bible has to say on that subject (both directly and
indirectly), not from one or two isolated texts. This difficult and
controversial text must be interpreted in light of the whole context of the
Paul's theology of ministry is based on the belief that all ministry in the
congregation is Spirit-given and the Spirit gives these ministries to "all",
men and women (1 Cor.12:4-11. Rom.12:4-8. Eph.4:11-12). His theology is
matched by his practice. He endorses the ministry of a women apostle
(Rom.16:7), women prophets (1 Cor.11:5), women co-workers (Phil.4:2-3.
Rom.16:6,12), women house church leaders (Col.4:15) and women teaching at
the church in Ephesus for some years until he brought it to a stop for some
reason. On this reading 1 Cor.11:2-16, 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are
"regulative rulings dealing with women creating particular problems for some
reason: not covering their heads when leading in prayer and prophesying,
asking disruptive questions and possibly give false teaching
The hierarchical view gives weight to 1 Tim.2:9-16, which aims at correcting
a specific problem rather than Paul's overriding theology and practice when
it comes to women's ministry. Surely texts that give Paul's theological
understanding of ministry should be taken as "normative" not his "regulative
rulings that speak to specific abuses". We should not take what is
secondary and make it primary. Using this text to forbid women from teaching
and leading for all time would contradict Paul's theology and practice. It
is something "exceptional" that isn't confirmed by other texts, therefore
indicating local application to the church at Ephesus at that time, not to
all other churches in every situation.
To build a case for the permanent subordination of women from one or two
texts in the face of numerous other texts that give freedom to women to
minister and lead is weak indeed. For the sake of consistency,
hierarchicalists need to show that women are permanently subordinated to men
throughout the entire canon of Scripture and they should also include every
sphere of society in this injunction, not just the church and the home.
This egalitarian viewpoint seems to be more congruent with the positive
attitude towards women and ministry seen in the Scriptures and especially
the New Testament. It is also more ethically sound in that it does not
subordinate or discriminate a person based on their gender.
Men and women are all one "in Christ" and may minister and lead together in
the church, God's redemptive community. The New Covenant brings us back to
all that was lost in Eden and even more.
Scriptures such 1 Timothy 2 must be interpreted in light of their local
historical and cultural context, as well as in the light of all Scripture.
Upon further investigation, it seems that these Scriptures have direct local
application to situations where women were causing unrest within the local
congregation. We must not build our practices for the contemporary church on
instructions given to churches experiencing extreme dysfunction. It is
conceivable that, if it had been a group of men creating the same unrest
that the scripture may have read differently.
To take a literal approach to the interpretation of these scriptures would
be to contradict other passages that speak about women leading, prophesying
or ministering in various church gatherings (Rom.16. 1 Cor.11:4-5). In these
other passages, Paul clearly demonstrates his approval of women in ministry
and leadership. Therefore, the above texts cannot be used to prohibit women'
s ministry in all situations. His teaching is limited to Ephesus and to
other churches facing similar crises in this period of the church's history.
Kevin Giles summaries recent options when debating the ordination of women
1. Accept that the Bible permanently subordinates women to men.
2. Reject the authority of the Bible and leave the evangelical fold.
3. Seek a new interpretation of the key texts quoted to oppose women's
emancipation in the home and church.
Though each of these possibilities has found a following, Giles now sees a
fourth option for evangelicals in the post-80s context. Many now believe
that they can argue with a clear conscience that a text such as 1 Timothy
2:9-15 does not apply in our time. It is "context-specific" and need not be
obeyed in our contemporary world.
The study of hermeneutics teaches us to ask two questions of every text:
"What do these words mean in their historical context?" and "How does what
is said apply to our very different historical context?" So the question
becomes, "Can we apply this text directly to our contemporary context?" A
solid theology demands that we hold a conversation between the authoritative
norms of Scripture, the historical traditions of the church and our
post-modern cultural context.
Life in Ephesus at the time of Paul was characterised by unquestioned
patriarchy. Men were the leaders in the government, in religion and in the
home. Public life was the domain of the men and the home was the domain of
women. Both Jesus and Paul were counter-cultural in their attitude towards
women. Nevertheless, Paul occasionally introduced rules for the women to
ensure that the church maintained a good standing within society at that
What is "normative" (or "prescriptive") and what is merely "descriptive"?
Narrative simply tells us what happened back then but to what degree does it
tell us what should happen now or for all time. What does Scripture actually
teach and how does it apply to today?
Certain specific customs from New Testament times such as foot washing
(something Jesus commanded his disciples to do - Jn.13:14) and women
covering their heads during worship (1 Cor.11:2-16) are obviously not
applicable to the contemporary church which exists in a completely different
cultural setting. It is one thing to rightly interpret these texts through
sound exegesis. It is quite another thing to rightly apply them to our
culture through sound hermeneutics.
We must carefully determine how to properly respond to apostolic commands,
directives and exhortations today, whether that is as a literal application,
a principle to be applied or something that is no longer relevant (such as
taking Paul his cloak and scrolls - 2 Tim.4:13).
Many hierarchicalists criticise this approach to hermeneutics, expressing
concern that it undermines the authority of Scripture and opens the way for
the arbitrary endorsement of other practices forbidden by the New Testament
such as homosexuality. However, this reaction is highly emotive, as
egalitarians do not endorse homosexuality because there is clearly not one
positive mention in the entire Scriptures supporting this particular
lifestyle. Also, in relation to the issue of the ordination of women, we are
looking at a justice matter as to whether women should be discriminated
against. The matter of homosexuality is a morality issue, in that this sort
of behaviour is clearly against God's laws regarding sexuality as revealed
in the Scriptures.
Theological debates like this have occurred all throughout church history
and have often resulted in differing outcomes, each building a strong
Biblical case for their side of the issue. With the issue of women in
leadership there is no clear consensus and two or three positions exist,
each vigorously defended by their proponents. Thankfully, this issue does
not involve the fundamental core beliefs of Christianity (upon which our
salvation depends) and therefore, it is important for both sides to disagree
in love and to move ahead with the work of the church despite their
I believe that ministry and leadership within the church should be based on
godliness and giftedness not gender. Hence, if a person has godly character
and a gift of leadership, then they should be released to use that gift for
the church's benefit in whatever role or function is appropriate - the
gender of the person in this context is largely irrelevant.
Men and women are redemptively equal and all may function in any area of
ministry and leadership according to the spiritual gifts Christ has given
them. Both men and women should be "under authority" to Christ and his Word.
We should work together for the establishment of the church of Jesus Christ
and the fulfilment of the Great Commission (Mt.28:18-20).
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