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As most readers of this blog will know, a new version of the NIV is going to be released by Zondervan in 2011. The translation and the introductory notes are already available online. One of the early controversies surrounds the rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12. The 1984 NIV reads: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”  This verse was changed in the 2005 TNIV: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” The new NIV keeps the TNIV reading (and drops the TNIV footnote unfortunately). Since the 1984 NIV and the TNIV are being made obsolete with this new edition, the NIV now has “assume authority” instead of “exercise authority” for this crucial verse.

Denny Burk has written a fine piece criticizing this decision. I won’t repeat his arguments here. I think H. Scott Baldwin and others have demonstrated that the best rendering of the Greek in 1 Timothy 2:12 is “exercise authority.” I’m no professional, but from all I’ve read I think “assume authority” is a mistake on translation grounds. At the very least, it’s odd that the NIV thinks the meaning of authentein has gotten less clear from 1984 to 2010, when the scholarship that’s taken place in the last 25 years suggests the NIV got it right back then.

But I don’t want to talk about Greek. I want to talk about English and what the word “assume” means. Many complementarians object to the new NIV translation, not only because egalitarians have been pushing for this rendering (as Burk points out), but because “assume authority” communicates something different than “exercise authority.” For their part, the Committee on Bible Translation (the group of scholars responsible for the NIV) insist that “assume authority” was chosen precisely because it does not side with either egalitarians or complementarians. Craig Blomberg and Doug Moo, for example, maintain that the NIV rendering does not tip the scales one way or the other. Their goal was to stay neutral and bow to no theological agenda.

Blomberg and Moo are among evangelicalism’s best scholars (and complementarians too). I use one of their books almost every week it seems. They deserve our respect and trust. We should take them at their word: CBT was not trying to play favorites in the debate over gender roles.

But acknowledging this does not mean we can’t still disagree with the CBT’s decision on 1 Timothy 2:12. As I said earlier, quite apart from the Greek, I think their English rendering does not do what the committee thinks it does. The new NIV obviously moves away from a complementarian-friendly translation of the text (as per the 1984 edition). The 2011 NIV may strive for neutrality, but on this issue it’s definitely migrated in a certain direction.

More to the point, look at these two quotes which defend the CBT approach to authentein. The first from is Blomberg:

I can tell you authoritatively that we did NOT choose this rendering to tip the scales one way or the other. Whether you are a complementarian or an egalitarian, you have some view of what Paul thinks women should not do here, in terms of exercising authority. When they violate that, whatever it is, they inappropriately assume authority. That’s all we were saying.

And here is Moo:

Moo wrote, “[T]he translators believed that ‘assume authority’ could be taken in either direction. We often use this phrase in a neutral way (e.g., ‘When will the new President assume authority’?). … [I]t is our intent to provide a translation that is faithful to the text, bowing to no particular theological agenda.

The argument is that “assume authority” is neutral because it can be read in two different ways. Indeed, the first two definitions for “assume (used with object)” in this online dictionary are: “to take for granted or without proof; suppose; postulate; posit” and “to take upon oneself; undertake.” The third definition is closely related to the second: “to take over the duties or responsibilities of.” So “assume authority” can mean “supposing you have authority (that you don’t have)” or “taking on the duties or responsibilities of authority.” The first definition in the last sentence sounds more like “usurp,” which strengthens the egalitarians case. The second definition sounds more like “exercise authority,” which helps the complementarian side (and is truer to the Greek in my estimation, the KJV rendering notwithstanding). The CBT figures “assume authority” plays it safe in the middle; neither side can claim it for their own.

The problem, I fear, is that most English speakers will hear “assume authority” in the “usurp” sense, not in the “exercise” sense. Moo gives the example: “When will the new President assume authority?” He argues this shows “assume authority” can be quite neutral and need not imply a wrongful grabbing of authority, which is what egalitarians hope the verse says, because then Paul is forbidding the illegitimate appropriation of authority not the exercise of authority itself.

But Moo’s example may not be the most germane. First off, it’s a question. And second, it looks to the future. In asking “when will the President assume authority?” we know by context that a neutral view of “assume” is in view. No one asks, “When will the President begin to assume authority he doesn’t have?” By asking a question that looks to the future we know “assume” means something like “take over the duties or responsibilities of.” But when we tell someone “do not assume…” most hearers are already thinking of a pejorative sense of the word. Unless we are talking about presidents or generals coming to power, we don’t normally use “assume authority” in a neutral sense. I would argue most of us hear “assume authority” as “presuming to have authority (we don’t)” or “taking authority for oneself.” In both cases, the problem is not with the authority per se, but with the means of obtaining it.

This is the problem with the NIV rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12. “Assume authority” will be heard, despite the intentions of the CBT, as authority inappropriately gotten. People will not think of “assuming the responsibilities of the office” as in Moo’s example. Why would Paul prohibit persons from assuming the responsibilities of their office (ala the President) anyway? No, to “assume authority” implies the authority was not simply exercised but was taken wrongfully.

I believe we see a tacit admission of this point in the Blomberg quotation above. “Exercising authority” is used broadly in the second sentence; then “assume authority” is used negatively in the third sentence with the adverb “inappropriately.” If “exercise authority” is the best translation, then authority is the problem. If “assume authority” is the best rendering, we are dealing with the inappropriate assumption of authority. This change’s Paul’s prohibition considerably. The CBT cannot have it both ways. In the Translator’s Notes the CBT states, “The exercise of authority that Paul was forbidding was one that women inappropriately assumed, but whether that referred to all forms of authority over men in church or only certain forms in certain contexts is up to the individual interpreter to decide.” But is the interpretation really up for debate if it has already been established that the problem in Ephesus was  with authority “women inappropriately assumed”? Does this not suggest Paul’s command is about the assumption of authority, not the mere exercising of it? And even if “assume” leaves the door open for a more neutral interpretation, is this really how most English speakers will read the text?

Taking into account the ear of English readers–which is the NIV’s translation philosophy–I have to conclude that the NIV rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12 is not neutral. At best, “assume” still implies taking authority. At worst (and more likely), the NIV makes it sound like Paul is against the inappropriate assumption of authority, not women-over-men authority in general. And this understanding is precisely what egalitarians have been arguing for and what, according to recent scholarship, the usage of authentein in Greek literature argues against.

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80 thoughts on “Assuming Too Much about “Assume” in 1 Timothy 2:12”

  1. Sandy Grant says:

    Jake, you wrote…

    I did not notice a reference to the Collins database in either Dr. Blomberg’s or Dr. Moo’s defense of their choice, but if the CBT is trying to be neutral here, and if the Collins database supports this use of “assume,” what’s the problem with it?

    Just for the record, the research from the Collins database did not address the use of “assume” at all in any way. You can read it here, but in brief it addressed three issues in current English use:
    (i) the use of generic pronouns;
    (ii) the use of mankind and synonyms;
    (iii) the use of forefather and synonyms.

  2. Sandy Grant says:

    Sue, thanks for agreeing that the evidence for seeing didaskein as negative in Paul is “thin”.

    Several comments in regards to your posts.

    1. BDAG also lists to “assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to” alongside the meaning of “dictate to” that you mentioned for authentein.

    2. You wrote…

    In fact, throughout history there has never been a tradition of interpreting authentein in a positive way, until recently.
    I am wondering if present day complementarians believe that traditional commentaries have been mistaken as to this word for 2000 years.
    If authentein had a positive connotation, why was that unknown until the last century or so?

    I agree your evidence of how translators and commentators understood the term has some importance.

    However your own evidence indicates that your claim here is overstated, given you also said

    “To have authority” appears in Tyndale and Geneva but has no traditional precedent or translation history supporting it.

    So it was translated positively as “to have authority” in English several centuries before the last century.

    One of the problems is that by and large (unlike today with NIV-CBT et al) we do not always have access to the translators’ notes or commentaries from the key translators of KJV and Geneva and Tyndale and so it is somewhat speculative to guess why they picked usurp authority or exercise authority.

    Further, I understand there are examples where further research into original languages has overturned traditional translations popular throughout the history of Bible translation. That is, poor translations sometimes crept in quite early and were passed on effectively unchallenged for centuries, before being corrected only in recent times. A quick limited example might be what NIV 2010 does with ‘valley of the shadow of death” in Ps 23:4.

    So the history of translation you provide is important evidence but not decisive in itself. For example, the extensive computer aided searching of the growing body of extant ancient Greek texts just was not available in early centuries.

  3. Sandy Grant says:

    Sue, you are certainly correct that there just are not many uses of the word authentein in the century or so either side of Paul’s writing. So any conclusions must be tentative due to paucity of evidence close to relevant time.

    Some uses appear to be negative. However I note you mentioned

    The other reference is (2nd century) Ptolemy Tetrabiblos “If Saturn alone is ruler of the body and dominates mercury and the moon.”

    I am not convinced that’s an example of negative use. It’s just descriptive of influence, and I agree with Baldwin that dominate and domineer are not automatic synonyms. Still it is not speaking of people here, of course.

    Chrysostom gives some help, because although he dates later, around 390 AD, he uses the word a number of times. You are right, and Baldwin agrees, that the use in his comment on Colossians regarding husbands and wives is negative, where a husband is not to authentein (“act the despot”).

    However the use is intransitive here (i.e. wife is not the object of authentein, contrary to what you have written elsewhere).

    In my view not all Chrysostom’s uses of the word are negative. God and the Lord Jesus rightly authentein. Elsewhere, you have suggested that this is something that only properly belongs to God.

    But I think Chrysostom has some positive uses of humans.

    In the Homilies on Acts, Chrysostom writes of Peter taking the lead in seeking a replacement for Judas in chapter 1 as follows, “For observe, they were a hundred and twenty, and he asks for one out of the whole body: with good right. He has authority (or ‘gives orders’ BDAG) firstly of (‘in’ or ‘regarding’) the matter[= Gk prΩtos tou pragmatos authentei] as having been put in charge of them: for to him had Christ said, “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

    (This is the Parker translation. However, I have inserted the additional words in italics of the relevant textual variant, translated by me. It appears Parker left the variant untranslated. Baldwin appears to not have noticed this in the first edition of the book I have and wrongly italicized the following phrase as a translation of authentei.)

    So, if I have understood this correctly, the key thing is that Peter is the subject of authentei and Chrystostom entirely approves of Peter taking the lead in this matter of appointing a replacement for Judas. In context, this is clearly a positive use. James and the other Apostles are commended by Chrysostom for willingly accepting Peter in this role. So the variant shows a use of authentein in a positive way, with a human subject.

    In the Homilies on Genesis Chrysostom writes of Eve, “the woman was given to you as a helper, not as being in charge [= Gk authentousan,]; as one who agrees, not as mistress of the manor; as of one mind, not as tutor; as yoked together, not ruling; as subject to, not highest over; as being in concert with you, not as prevailing over.” It seems that in this series of antitheses, the second in each case is not a bad thing in itself, just something in Chrysostom’s view not given to Eve. For example, it seems to me that being a female household ruler, or a tutor, or ruling others would be legitimate human activities in the right context, although not in Chrysostom’s view, given to Eve in her context.

    Lastly, I would also note Chrysostom’s Sermons on Genesis, where he mentions that Eve once taught (= Gk didaskein) Adam and exercised authority (= Gk authentein) over Adam, in each case he adds an adverb “wrongly” (= Gk kakΩs) to modify the verb. This provides evidence that the verbs didaskein and authentein by themselves were not unambiguously negative, but were wrong for Eve in her context.

    Again, it is fair to say the Chrysostom evidence is later than the NT, but it does provide evidence from the one author that there are a range of meanings for authentein, positive as well as negative.

    That being the case, it makes the agreed thinness of the evidence for didaskein by itself being negative in Paul important, given Kostenberger’s observations about syntax.

    You will note that I have not entered into the NIV 2010 translation of the verse.

  4. Amazing to me that so much energy and time is going into the nuance of interpretation here. Realizing that the bigger issue is the seemingly never-ending debate of whether women are scripturally justified in teaching/preaching to men. In light of Jesus example in his dealings with women, which were nothing short of culturally revolutionary and religiously heretical in that culture; why are we having this discussion? He commissioned a Samaritan woman to evangelize her community, he first appeared in resurrected form to a woman and told her to spread the news…we all know the stories. Clearly, Paul is dealing with a particular issue of women’s behavior in the teaching atmosphere (which they were brand new to) which is both specific and cultural. Phoebe was recognized by Paul as a “diakonos” “deaconess” which means she was doing the work of a teacher/preacher. Why would Paul contradict himself?

    Unbelievable to me that we will spend so much time and energy “protecting” the “church” from women called by God, wanting to teach or preach the Gospel. What are we protecting people from?? All of this exegetical gymnastics has nothing whatsoever to do with the heart and mind of Christ. It is poorly spent scholarship which attempts to exploit Scripture to substantiate a personal and culturally biased perspective. Our hypocrisy shows when we disregard the first part of this verse which condemns women wearing their hair in braids or gold jewelry. Why is it so easy for us to see the cultural, irrelevance of this injunction and yet cling to only that part of it which may be a bit of a challenge for men?
    We are all called as believers to “submit” first and foremost to the Lordship of Christ. This blanket gender discrimination wrapped in the “guise” of scriptural interpretation by leaders who are gifted and called is truly disheartening and disappointing.

  5. Mike says:

    Loralee, I can’t speak for most complementarians, but I did not come to my conclusions because of any discrimination against women. For me, I see the issue as being similar to Calvinism. Nobody is born a Calvinist, humanly speaking :). We are brought up in a culture that emphasizes self-determination and freedom of choice. We are told that we are the ones ultimately in control of our own destiny. I would imagine most of us went through a difficult time accepting what the Scriptures say on the matter. The same goes for egalitarianism. We are brought up in an egalitarian culture, and the pull is strong to comform. If not for the Scripture, I would go along with it. The world wants to make it a power issue, but it really isn’t. I love the sisters, I love what God is doing through them. But I love God more, just like you do. Please don’t vilify us as hypocrites and gender biased. Ultimately, aren’t we on the same side? God bless you!

  6. Sue says:

    One of the problems is that by and large (unlike today with NIV-CBT et al) we do not always have access to the translators’ notes or commentaries from the key translators of KJV and Geneva and Tyndale and so it is somewhat speculative to guess why they picked usurp authority or exercise authority.

    We certainly do have access to Erasmus Latin translation of the Greek text. It was published side by side with his Greek NT on the same page, and is available online. We also have access to Erasmus notes and Latin paraphrases of the NT.

    First, I do not find Erasmus in any way an egalitarian, (except for some of his marriage dissertations on the wife in the home having a certain authority.) I am also not claiming that he was egalitarian, or that an egalitarian interpretation is traditional.

    I am claiming that there is a range of traditional interpretations, and the present complementarian translation is only one among several options.

    Back to Erasmus. He used “auctoritatem usurpare” with the note that it might mean “cogere” to compel. Unfortunately from this computer I do not have access to the facsimile dtatabase for Erasmus. His intent was to create a more exact and scholarly Latin translation than that of Jerome.

    My point is not that you would accept my egal position, but rather, that you would understand that current complementarian scholarship on this issue is in my view, shallow, dating back to 1984. THere needs to be more openness to the NIV 2011, which has a traditional translation of this word authentein.

    But from “auctoritatem usurpare” in Erasmus, there was a wide range of derivative translations. They included “have, use, exercise, assume and usurp authority.” It is clear that those translators, who like Lancelot Andrewes, chose “usurp,” did indeed think of this as a very negative term. We know from Lancelot Andrewes sermons that a usurper was a criminal worthy of death.

    My initial research indicates to me that Erasmus and Andrewes were superior Greek scholars to Tyndale, and I am convinced that Tyndale did not base his choice of “to have authority” on superior Greek scholarship, but on his interpretation of auctoritatem usurpare in Erasmus. He seems to have decided that this was an acceptable English equivalent.

    I may be wrong, but for lack of having anyone else to engage in this discussion with, I hold this opinion. Tyndale is deeply indebted to both Erasmus and Luther, we know that. I would look to them first. Luther had “to be the lord of” and Calvin had “auctoritatem sumere.”

    My overall point is that this verse is unclear, is not of simple and undisputed meaning.

    As a woman, I wasted 50 years in an extremely unfortunate circumstance of being subject to complementarian whimsical and shifting theology, and I regret it very much. I had to move on.

    Women should not be held hostage spiritually to such a contentious issue, about which it is extremely difficult to come to any sure conclusions.

    I will pick up on other threads of the argument later.

  7. Sue says:

    I am just commenting here to correct my link and respond briefly to this.

    For example, the extensive computer aided searching of the growing body of extant ancient Greek texts just was not available in early centuries.

    I am not aware of new evidence for authentein. I have the full text of the [supposed] only two early occurrences of authentein, on my blog, as complete passages. They don’t give much support for much of anything at all.

  8. Sue says:


    I agree that you have established that authentein is rightly used with regard to:

    1. the ruling of one astronomical body over another
    2. God’s sovereign power
    3. Peter’s role with respect to the other apostles, (in a document written at the time of pope Innocent)

    I would point out that this in no way indicates that any NT author would ever have used authentein as the proper designation for leading in church. I argue that this is not possible.

    If we look at 1 Peter 5:3, we see the word katakurieuein. This word in the gospels is used as a synonym of kurieuein, to be the lord of. I understand that the gospels and epistles explicilty deny church leaders sovereign rule over church members. This is my understanding. My the time of the popes, they were called “lord” and this is something which appears in contradiction to the NT.

    That authentein is modified by kakos also does not indicate that authentein was a neutral word when unmodified. We designate people all the time as having difficulty, or having mild, moderate or severe difficulty. On its own, difficulty is not a neutral word.

    I suggest that complementarians have presented a simplified exegesis to the public when they go online, and on radio, against the translation of the NIV2011.

    As a former member of the church where Dr. Packer attended, I am ashamed of my association with someone who declares that the TNIV and possibly the NIV 2011 are untrustworthy. This is a shame in the Christian community. This is a besmirchment of the reputation of Christ, that his followers slander each other in public.

  9. Mike,

    Please don’t misinterpret my comment with regards to hypocrisy.(hmm easy to see how even contemporary communication is subject to misinterpretation?) I was not directing that personally. My statement was that we were hypocritical in our Scriptural scholarship if we held that only one part of Paul’s letter was to be interpreted literally while another part is not.

    My point is that seen in the overall New Testament picture of how Jesus elevated and promoted women’s roles in the church and value in society, to hang an entire theology that discriminates against women preaching the word on one or two isolated verses of Scripture with obscure intent that are open to interpretation, is simply intellectually irresponsible if not morally questionable.

    We live in a culture hemorrhaging from the wounds of polytheism, agnosticism and relativism. I would think that if we were truly “all on the same side” you would be welcoming every member of the team to work side by side in the emergency room instead of spending time bickering over who is “allowed” to treat the sick and who isn’t.

  10. Sue says:

    I did not treat the citation of Chrysostom on Genesis with enough detail,

    We see that authentein is in line with,

    – mistress [despote] of the manor;
    – tutor;
    – highest over;
    – prevailing over.”

    It seems that in this series of antitheses, the second in each case is not a bad thing in itself, just something in Chrysostom’s view not given to Eve. For example, it seems to me that being a female household ruler, or a tutor, or ruling others would be legitimate human activities in the right context, although not in Chrysostom’s view, given to Eve in her context.

    I believe that in the NT, this kind of leadership is not in view, in the church or home. Although it is said that the wife is to be the householder, the head of the house, I doubt very much that authentein is in view, or sovereign rule is in view for church leaders, or for either husband or wife. I do not find even one reference in the NT to “rulers” used of leaders in church and home. They are always “Roman rulers.”

  11. Dr. Michael Conforti says:

    Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize winner and survivor of the Holocaust, once said that “with the advent of the rational mind came the capacity to rationalize anything and everything.” Anything and everything can be absorbed into a particular bias and subjective relativism to satisfy deeply personal needs. Interpretation of any Scripture, of any phenomena is just that..interpretive, which means speculative and full of conjecture.

    Translation, on the other hand, is much more exacting and honoring of the letter of the word itself and it’s original intent and ontology. So many religions, philosophies and psychologies become ideological Rorshachs; where we can imagine and project anything we want onto any phenomena.

    People are deeply hurt and wounded when subjective biases are paraded as Scriptural truth. So too with this discussion about whether women have the right to teach and preach. These opinions about the role of women are not only archaic and exemplify poor scholarship; but are also oppressive, destructive and abusive.

    When one believes they speak for God, we sail in dangerous waters between the Scylla and Charybdis when we believe we have a monopoly on what God is saying. In far too many cases, our opinion of what God said represents a corrupted opinion of our own personal bias. Basically every mythological story involves a human’s attempt to usurp the workings and intention of a God. This is inflationary hubris. Like Bruggel’s Icarus, one flies too high believing their ascent is in service of a divine plan. These are wings made of wax. And a true God would only laugh and scorn the one parading as a vicar of God on earth.

    Humility and receptivity speak more to a spiritual life, than damnation and oppression. I pity all the people who have been oppressed by so-called religious beliefs: those who were told dancing was not acceptable, and that women’s roles are subservient to men and to all those others oppressed by this so-called divine plan.

    Why not take time to explore what is in fact spiritual and remove it from the canons of theological dogmatism?

  12. Mike says:

    Loralee, thanks for your generous clarification. As I said before, I agree that we can make too much out of the exact nuance of the translation in this verse. However, I don’t agree that we should consider some parts of Scripture as “isolated” (though I agree that they are open to interpretation). As for “working side by side,” I don’t see how that is very different from the “working together” of complementarianism. We don’t just “live in a culture hemorrhaging” from the wounds you spoke about. There are more than enough sick people that need help. We don’t need to worry about who is to treat them. Consider the incredible number of hurting women. Many of them are going untreated, and nobody needs to be in a teaching position over men to help them. I’m with you — let’s role up our sleeves and get to work together in the Spirit of God. (Also, if I may gently say this, your comment that our interpretations are “intellectually irresponsible if not morally questionable” doesn’t help any. The immediate context of the passage, especially the following one in vv 13-14 are not easily dismissed by many of us, though I am certainly open to being proved wrong. I hope you can accept that.) May God be glorified in our disagreement.

  13. Jeff says:

    Mike wrote: “We are brought up in an egalitarian culture, and the pull is strong to comform. If not for the Scripture, I would go along with it. The world wants to make it a power issue, but it really isn’t. I love the sisters, I love what God is doing through them. But I love God more, just like you do. ”

    This is just classic! You launder your sexism through God: “It’s not that I want to be chauvinist, but God makes me!”

  14. Mike says:

    Jeff, let me rephrase it since I apparently didn’t communicate my intent very well: “My culture says one thing. I interpret God’s Word to be saying another thing. This causes a dilemma for me because I love the sisters and they might think wrongly toward me. Nevertheless, I feel I must come down on the side of God’s word (albeit, my particular interpretation of it) because he takes a higher place in my life.” Now, just because I have this certain interpretation of Scripture doesn’t necessarily follow that I must have less love for my sisters, or be sexist (in your estimation). Perhaps my original wording “love for God” should have been “desire to obey God” Does that make it any clearer? God bless you, Jeff.

  15. Jeff says:

    “or be sexist (in your estimation)”

    My estimation? Sexism has a definition that you can look up in the dictionary. What definition are you using?

  16. Mike says:

    Jeff, I have considered whether all this is merely sexism in disguise. Let’s look at the definition from Wikipedia: “Sexism, a term coined in the mid-20th century, is the belief or attitude that one gender or sex is inferior to, less competent, or less valuable than the other.” How that is determined varies, but American culture enforces a fundamental belief: the greater/higher (or less) the position, role or level of authority one has, the greater (or less) the corresponding status, value and worth of the person. Americans like to talk otherwise in their egalitarian culture, but this equation is drilled into them from the day they are born, wouldn’t you agree? But Jesus and the apostles turned this equation on its head. Our value is not longer tied to our position, role or level of authority, because of Christ. Hallelujah! Unfortunately, the American worldview is a strong one, and breaking free from it is a struggle. Jeff, can you imagine a society where everybody has rejected this equation and lives at peace with one another in terms of value, worth and status? It’s called the Kingdom of God, and we can experience it now. I feel for the sisters due to the torment they feel over this equation. Let it rot in hell, where it came from. Instead, let us embrace our value in Christ, regardless of where we find ourselves in our
    individual ministries. Jeff, that’s the way I see it from my global reading of Scripture, not just this passage. Blessings, brother.

  17. Sue says:

    There are more than enough sick people that need help. We don’t need to worry about who is to treat them. Consider the incredible number of hurting women. Many of them are going untreated, and nobody needs to be in a teaching position over men to help them.

    Actually, female missionaries challenged the boundaries of their own day, entered medical school and graduated as doctors and worked in many countries offering medical services to women. As medically trained personnel, some of them trained young men and women under them and administered hospitals.

    Women do need to teach, and have leadership at the highest levels to alleviate the suffering of women. Catherine Booth preached and addressed the parliament of her day on the behalf of young girls trapped in sex slavery. Anyone who denies women leadership, anyone who subjects women, makes women subject to the sins of men. That is just the way life works. Everyone who speaks for the subjection of women, causes damage to women, although perhaps not intentionally. Egalitarianism will not make life perfect.

    As C. S. Lewis said, democracy is the worst form of government there is, except for every other form of government. Our democratic countries have many problems, but we don’t want to return to an absolute monarchy, or to an imperial system or a dictatorship. If men don’t want this, why would women?

  18. Sue says:

    I meant to say, “Egalitarianism will not make life perfect either.” But in comparison to other systems, it is the best we have.

  19. Mike says:

    You made some valid points, Sue. I also appreciate the work women have done in positions of leadership. Right here in Asia I have female missionary co-workers who are going into places that really need all the leadership they can offer, including teaching men the Scriptures since there is nobody else to do it. And they are doing it with all humility in the Lord, which is a real testimony. So, I totally agree that there are times when women must take the lead, and God will help them to do it, but I just don’t see that as a general pattern in Scripture.

    Hopefully you and others have read my previous posts. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m advocating “the subjugation of women,” but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are speaking in general terms. You’ve got a sharp mind, Sue. May God use you in great ways.

  20. Mike says:

    After reading my above post, I should clarify that when I said “And they are doing it will all humility in the Lord” I was thinking of their conservative background and how they would have been reluctant to do so under other circumstances. I did not mean to imply that women aren’t normally humble when doing so.

    Ok, I will probably make this my last post. For those two or three who have stuck it out to the end, thanks for sharpening my thoughts on this. Every blessing, Mike

  21. choppie says:

    I think that Paul thought that women were only good for one thing. If a leader of a church marries, it is simply so that he can fulfill “urges” that Paul himself could control. However, if unable to control your urges, than you should marry so you are not tempted by women of ill repute. So… I guess now I know why ministers marry! It is a shame that it is not for actual love… or something non-Paulian like that…

    I am obviously no theologian, but there are verses from Paul that are never discussed that show me he was quite sexist and opinionated about women, and perhaps what Jesus said should carry more weight. Of course Jesus told the disciples to wear two robes and carry two swords for their protection after he was crucified, and to stay in the home of someone where they were teaching, and if they are not accepted, wipe the dust of the town off their feet etc…

    The changes away from these verses are due to cultural changes over the years, however the only verse that does NOT ever change is the one thought to prohibit women from ministering. I don’t know, but in my simple mind, it seems that changes that make the men more comfortable are simply culture, but women should still be servants in all areas… It just shows that sexism is alive and well.

  22. Jeff says:

    “Jeff, can you imagine a society where everybody has rejected this equation and lives at peace with one another in terms of value, worth and status? ”

    Mike, okay, why don’t you let this glorious servanthood begin with you? In your church, why don’t you take the role of having to be silent, obedient, and not being able to be a pastor, and let the women have the upper position? Any man (or woman) would say this is a just blatantly sexist.

  23. Martha says:

    I’ve been following these postings with great interest, respectively disagreeing with my complementarian brothers. But this is quite grievous to me:

    “Right here in Asia I have female missionary co-workers who are going into places that really need all the leadership they can offer, including teaching men the Scriptures since there is nobody else to do it.”

    So…because there are no longer…or were never…men to teach the scriptures…I guess we can settle for women doing it?! So our practice is not based on our conviction…but perceived need?!

  24. Sue says:

    Much of China was evangelized by Bible women who had rejected the patriarchal expectations of their own culture. Some very influential Chinese women rejected marriage and became full time evangelists, one of whom eventually came to the US and addressed students in seminaries – Christina Tsai. I cannot help but think of how many women worldwide have made enormous sacrifices, only to be insulted by the notion that they ought not to have taken initiative since that is the prerogative of men. I hope that these ideas about women will be marginalized and eventually be considered only a remote and unrepresentative imitation of Christianity.

  25. Anthony says:

    You know what happens when you assume….

  26. Ashley Thayer says:

    Loralee, Sue, Sandy, HELP!!! I need more resources and reading material that explores egalitarianism and gender roles in an academic manner. I have been in despair over what I see as sexism in the church body and a lack of sermons and discussion over the difficult texts regarding gender roles in scripture. I want to hear more about translations and yes, I’ve read Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Keller. Is there any way to have an email discussion apart from this public blog?

  27. Sue says:

    Hi Ashley,

    My email is suzmccarth at

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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