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In the last post, I wrote about a certain angst I sometimes feel when the subject of complementarity is discussed, and more importantly when things turn from discussion to practice.  The angst is fueled by the sense that our practice of complementarity too often fails at affirming a big, biblical, essential, positive role for women in the church and the home.  There’s a “Christian” species of “women’s work” that reduces women to second-string players or second-class citizens.  The failure, imo, comes from emphasizing defense of right things (male headship, for example) to the detriment of promoting other right things for women.  When that happens, we at least limit our sisters and often hurt them.

One area where I think this happens is in the area of teaching.  In fact, squabbles over the role of women in teaching ministries is the third rail on the complementarity issue.  On one side, egalitarians argue that there is no role that men play that women can’t play.  So, they make an illegitimate play for female leadership in the church, including the pastorate and preaching.  Meanwhile, among some complementarians there is such a defensive reaction that the pendelum swings toward “women should never open their Bibles in public, and if they do they must read silently without moving their lips.”  Some of my brothers can be like Eli accusing Hannah of impropriety because she prayed publicly (before a man), lips moving.  I once had a lovely brother tell me that because the culture has swung so far toward obliterating gender distinctions and roles the church must swing far in the other direction to hold the line.  But that kind of over-reaction fuels the egalitarian instinct in so many people, and fails to demonstrate why complementarity is not only bibilical and right but beautiful, balanced and empowering too.  If we’re defensive reactionaries we reinforce caricatures and stereotypes and we hurt our sisters.

So, what about this issue of women teaching and being taught?  What meaningful role may women play, if any?

As I said, this is the third rail, or at least the flash point for much of the debate about gender roles.  Many fine works have been written giving fuller treatments of this issue.  And nothing I say here is meant in any way to undermine qualified male leadership in the church.  If you leave this post thinking I’m trying to undermine the biblical pattern for gender roles, either you’ve read me wrong or I’ve written poorly.  I’m a complementarian.  But…

I think the Bible teaches the necessity of both teaching women and of having women teach.  In this post, I want to (1) perhaps shift the locus of conversation a bit, (2) discuss the necessity of women being taught, and (3) suggest ways women should teach and be fully encouraged to do so.

Shifting the Focus a Bit

Usually the issue of whether women can teach gets debated from 1 Tim. 2:11-12.  “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” My complementarian comrades (I’m a complementarian) move to this passage in a defensive posture.  We may become zealous for making sure no woman ever instructs any man in any setting.  We make of Paul’s words a strong citadel guarding the throne room of church leadership and teaching authority.  And it is good, right, biblical, holy and beautiful that we should see in these words God’s design for men and women in the local church, delegating the teaching authority of the church to select qualified men.

But perhaps we should add something to this prohibition.  What if we also discussed women teaching in the broader context of Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission or Missionary Mandate?  Then, the discussion is not simply a negation or defense but also an affirmation opening positive and necessary roles for our sisters.  Unless we imagine Matt. 28:18-20 only applies to men (a manifestly untenable position), we’re forced to see that all our sister disciples must experience and complete what Jesus demands in Matt. 28:19.  In other words, women are meant to play a central role in fulfilling the Great Commission, working to make others what they now are: disciples.

That means, women must be taught and they must teach.  Women must be taught and must teach “everything Jesus commands,” which necessarily means women must be serious students, understanding biblical texts, systematic theology, and biblical theology to start.  Otherwise, there’s no way to appropriately teach what Jesus commands.  I could not agree more with Piper’s comments at the True Woman conference a couple years back: “Wimpy theology makes wimpy women.”  Or the visionary aside he shared at T4G 2008, when he called for churches filled with women sages, mighty oaks, to whom women of the church streamed.  (I think he said he could marry them all; but I’ll stick with the one strong woman the Lord has blessed me with! :-))

The basic point is this: If we put this discussion in the context of the Great Commission, then we must envision a critical and meaningful ministry of the word in which our sisters vigorously participate, being discipled and discipling others.  Which means women must be taught.

Women Must Be Taught

This simply flows from Jesus’ words in Matthew 28.  And it’s explicitly stated by Paul himself in 1 Tim. 2:11–“Let a woman learn….”  Because of our defensive instinct in complementarian circles, we tend to hear the second half of the sentence most clearly: “Let a woman learn with all submissiveness.”  We emphasize “she is to remain quiet” (v. 12b).  But I think the radical part of the sentence in Paul’s day and our own is the first part: Let a woman learn.  Submissiveness must certainly be her heart’s posture, but she must positively be a learner, a disciple.

A woman’s learning is taken for granted in most developed western nations today.  But in most of the ancient world and in many parts of today’s world, female education could not be taken for granted.  Indeed, in most of the religious world today (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.), teaching women is not a spiritual priority.

So when Paul writes these words he ignites an explosive, counter-cultural charge right at the foundations of so much male-female inequality.  Though Paul’s comments in 1 Tim. 2 preserve God’s complementarian design, his words actually create equal opportunity to learn for both men and women.  One wonders why Paul’s words should now be counter-cultural inside many of the congregations so fiercely Pauline in their theology!

Paul’s charge to Titus makes teaching women a pastoral responsibility.  “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. … Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine” (v. 1, 3).  Note carefully: Titus the pastor must teach older women sound doctrine and how to live lives as older women that adorn the gospel.  This makes women, and older women in particular, a primary target audience for a pastor’s teaching ministry.  If we haven’t figured out how to do that well, we’re failing at a basic charge that affects the entire disicple-making ministry and mission of the church.  “We ought to have an intentional, deliberate approach to female discipleship because men and women are different, and these differences need to be recognized, taken into account, and addressed in the course of Christian discipleship” (Duncan and Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, p. 40).

It is a sinful neglect to relegate older women uninstructed to a basement corner of the church building to work on quilts while “the real ministry” goes on elsewhere.  There is absolutely no grounds or basis for a pastor saying (as one commenter recounted), “I don’t teach the women of my church; I go straight for the men.”  Or a pastor being disinterested in what their ladies are studying, as though it’s “women’s stuff.”  Or a pastor, appropriately wanting to be watchful of his life, shying completely away from the women of his church.  We can be appropriate, sensitive, and watchful without neglecting the spiritual teaching needs of our sisters.

As far as I can tell, the Bible emphasizes the necessity of women learning the whole counsel of God.  This means, brother pastor, we must consider and include our sisters as a primary audience in our teaching.  And, sister, this means you should eagerly come to the teaching table with mouths wide open and eyes fixed on being theologically sound, biblically faithful, joyful and eager students in the school of Christ.  Our complementarian vision must include a picture of women who are well-taught theologians, women who know their God and know His word.

Women Must Teach

We must envision a church filled with well-taught women because we need a church full of women who in turn teach.  To fulfill the Great Commission women must teach.

This is  where the angst begins for my complementarian brothers who care about being faithful to the Bible’s ordering of our congregations and worship.  Part of the problem, however, stems from opting to protect male leadership by severely limiting the ministry of the word by women.  Which reveals another problem we sometimes face: a narrow understanding of “the ministry of the word” as pulpit ministry only.

The Bible records a range of teaching activities undertaken by women in the church.  We see older women trained to “teach what is good” (Titus 2:3-4), women discipling their children at home (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14), women praying and prophesying in church services with men being edified (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:31), Priscilla helping in the discipleship of Apollos (Acts 18:26), and women teaching along with the entire congregation during congregational singing (Col. 3:16).  That’s actually a wide field of teaching activity with a wide vision for “the ministry of the word” in a local body.  A woman’s teaching role is not limited to the creche or VBS.

If we don’t take this view, then  1 Cor. 11:2-16 becomes most problematic for a complementarian view that severely limits women in this area.  In that passage–admittedly filled with difficult things to interpret like head coverings and “because of the angels” (v. 10)–Paul states two things clearly: (1) the headship of men in the church is grounded in the creation order and reflects the authority of Christ over the church, and (2) women indeed prayed and prophesied in the public meetings at Corinth.  Paul maintains a strong understanding of complementary gender relationships with male headship or authority.  But read that passage slowly several times and you’ll notice something astounding.  The man who does not allow women to teach or have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:11-12) does not bat an eye at women prophesying in Corinth!  In a letter filled with correction after correction, Paul corrects the Corinthians’ poor understanding of headship but does not disallow women prophesying.

How do we hold 1 Cor. 11:2-16 together with 1 Tim. 2:11-12?  The passages are friends, not enemies.  There are two possible solutions depending on how one defines prophesying.

One solution is to argue that the prophesying in 1 Cor. 11 is something other than teaching.  One writer suggests that the women’s prophesying activity finds its closest analogy in the public reading of Scripture in today’s church.  I deeply respect that scholar, as much for his godliness as for his scholarship.  But if we define prophesying that way in 1 Cor. 11, it’s difficult to see how that same brother defines prophesying in 1 Cor. 14 as spontaneous revelation from God spoken in the assembly.  Whether you define prophesy as foretelling, forthtelling, or spontaneous but fallible revelation, there’s no escaping (a) the edifying effect of such prophesy (1 Cor. 14:31), (b) that the content of such prophesy necessarily teaches or else it could not edify, and (c) that women prophesy in the early NT assembly.  Distinctions between prepared sermons and spontaneous utterances, though plausible, don’t really solve the problem.  For, pragmatically, one could make the case that we’d rather a woman prepare thoroughly before speaking in any forum than that she should in the name of Spirit-given spontaneity stand up and say unprepared things.

The second solution might be to make a distinction between function and office, activity and authority.  For example, one can “do the work of an evangelist” and not hold the office of evangelist.  Or, one can “practice hospitality” and not be an elder, who must be hospitable.  A person can be an apostle in the ordinary sense of taking the message to unbelievers, and not be an apostle in the unique sense of the twelve.  Function or activity may be divided from formal office and authority.  That’s no less true of teaching or prophesying in the local church.

To use another example: I’ll have a guest preacher visit FBC in a couple months.  He’ll expound the Scriptures.  And his teaching will convey the authority inherent in the word (God’s authority).  But he will not have any authority or position in this local congregation. All that he proclaims will be superintended by the elders here.  My people will be under the authority of the word itself as it’s rightly proclaimed, but they will not be called to submit to our guest preacher in a Hebrews 13:17 manner as they would with the elders.  Activity and authority will be safely separated.  Function and office will be distinct.  The word will have an authority of its own, but the brother preaching will have none in the ongoing life of this local church.

Might the same be said of the prophesying and teaching of women in the local church?  Might we also safely distinguish between the general activity of teaching in the local church and the specific authority and teaching of church leadership, restricting the latter to qualified men and opening up the former for enhanced roles for gifted sisters in the church under the authority of the elders?  One dear brother writes compellingly about the structure of authority and the role of men and women in 1 Cor. 11:2-16 when he states:

God is honored when the women pray and prophesy in such a way that they display their submission to male authority. God is also honored when the men pray and prophesy in such a way that they show both that they have authority over the women and that Christ has authority over them. Observing these gender roles to the honor of Christ honors God.

Women may–and I would argue inescapably must–convey the teaching of the scripture without usurping leadership or headship authority in the church.   There must be a way to do this wherein each gender uniquely honors God in the use of every freedom and privilege Christ gives.

Here, we should respond to one frequent objection: the slippery slope.  Some will certainly feel that widening “the ministry of the word” to include women would be to embark on the path to egalitarianism.  And, indeed, it has been the case that the Bible’s teaching on gender roles has been eroded in the church and home by what seems like a series of smaller concessions leading to a great departure.  Even so, the fear of the slippery slope should not hinder us from placing our feet on every patch of ground the Bible allows us.  For the freedoms the Bible grants are not the slippery slope.  Our task is to hold all truths in tension and equilibrium.  By God’s grace, we’re able to affirm complementarity while simultaneously encouraging robust lives of faith and service for women as disciples.  It’s the only way to make complementarity big and beautiful, rather than peevish and burdensome.  Don’t fear the slippery slope, brothers.  Endeavor to stand on the whole counsel of God, then your feet will be sure.


What am I arguing for in this post?  Preservation of male headship, authority, and leadership in the local church consistent with the complementarian vision of the Bible, along with a wider understanding of how women may serve the church in the Great Commission under the authority of the elders by using their teaching gifts perhaps more widely than is sometimes allowed in complementarian circles.  I think we’d be healthier churches and our sisters would have healthier experiences in our churches if we could envision a wider field of usefulness for women that includes teaching in appropriate settings and does not view every instance of teaching as a threat to male headship.  I’m a complementarian, but the Bible teaches that there’s more women can and should do in this area without overturning the structure of authority also plainly taught in the Bible.

I’m happy to hear feedback pro and con.  Please sharpen this where it needs it.

Some Additional Resources:

J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church

Grudem and Piper, “Are You Saying It’s Alright for Women to Teach Men Under Some Circumstances?

CBMW articles and resources on “prophesying”

View Comments


70 thoughts on “I’m a Complementarian, But… Women Must Be Taught and They Must Teach”

  1. Laura says:

    Oh, man… Pastor T, you sure painted a few targets in this post, brother! :D

    These are really good, helpful thoughts and I’m looking forward to reading more. Thanks!

  2. Richard says:

    I found the argument compelling and I agree to a certaint extent, especially in the context of your allegory of the guest speaker visiting your church. However, while I believe you explain 1 Cor. 11 adequately for your argument, I do not think you explain 1 Tim 2 sufficiently (not to me at least).

    I would quibble particularly with verse 12 where it says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet” (emphasis mine). I’m not familiar with the Greek, so you’re going to have to help me on this, but I believe the simple reading of this verse says “I do not permit” applies to both dependent clauses before (“teach”) and after (“exercise authority”) the conjunction “or”. That means I think this verse would imply that Paul is teaching Timothy to instruct women both to not teach (function, activity) and to not exercise authority over men (office, authority).

    If you can comment on that, that’d be great. Thank you.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for the comments brother. Very helpful and sharpening, as I’d hope the comments would be and have been thus far.

      I agree that “I do not permit” applies to both clauses, “teach” and “exercise authority.” Yet, we cannot conclude that Paul means absolute silence or an absolute prohibition against any teaching activity by women. We know that because of the instructions he gives to the Corinthians about their public worship, instructions that clearly assume speaking roles for women (prayer and prophesying). A good brief treatment of this by Grudem and Piper is here:

      But there’s still the issue of defining what teaching and speaking Paul has in mind, and to what extent the prophesying in 1 Cor. 11 and 14 includes teaching, if at all. Nevertheless, from the other passages we can see that absolute silence is not Paul’s intent.

      So, what is Paul prohibiting? From the continuing statements in Timothy, I think Paul means to prohibit that teaching activity connected with the elders’ authority and office, teaching to which the entire church is bound. I say that because the next thing Paul addresses is qualifications for the office of elder. So, women are to be quiet with respect to exercising authority in the church and teaching with elder-level, congregation-wide, submission-invoking authority (Heb. 13:17).

      But that’s a fence guarding a smaller area than is sometimes acknowledged by us complementarians. It’s an important and critical fence protecting a vital area; but our discussions and practices sometimes extend the borders of this fence well beyond what Paul seems to have in mind here (to things like women in public office or leading in the workplace).

      We might think of it this way. Part of our task is to build a high strong fence around the complementarian structure of the church and home, including male headship. But where would we first place the stakes for that fence? Should we place them as far and wide apart as possible, or should we begin marking the stakes as close to the explicit requirements of the scripture as possible? I’d suggest the latter. We begin fencing teaching and authority with the fence stakes as close to the known explicit borders of the protected areas as possible, and then move out where scripture warrants. If we do this, we keep the main things the main things and we limit the likelihood of annexing our neighbor’s yard accidentally. We grant the wide open freedom of everything outside the fence, while clarifying, cherishing, and protecting everything inside the fence. This, I think, grants much wider freedom to our sisters to serve in roles necessary to the Great Commission.

      Which, I think, has another benefit. A clear, tight fence around the main thing makes it easier for us to tell when someone inappropriately desires and reaches for what is off limits. If we prohibit things well beyond the Bibles teaching (i.e., speaking or teaching in any capacity, leading men in the workplace), we actually make it more difficult to recognize sinful ploys for what should be protected. By blurring the lines between the permissible and impermissible, everything becomes suspect and unclear. We heighten the tension and provoke the need for advocacy for genuine freedoms and opportunities. But building the fence tight and expanding out from the center only where warranted actually clarifies and strengthens the biblical complementarian position, imo, by removing the clutter and clamor and helping us to spot the sinful over-reach when it happens.

      Let me use an analogy. God creates Adam and Eve, places them in the garden, instructs them to subdue the earth and multiply, and prohibits Adam and Eve from eating from one tree in the middle of the garden. He gives them a global mandate, then makes a solitary prohibition. He didn’t call our first parents to work with shrubs, plants and trees, then tell them ambigously, “Try not to do anything that disturbs a tree I’d like protected.” He shows Adam the tree, names the tree, and gives the specific prohibition. Consequently, when Adam and Eve transgress, the transgression is all the clearer because of the tight fence. That kind of clarity, I hope, would be one effect of championing greater usefulness for our sisters while building a tighter fence around the complementarian position.

      Hope that helps, brother. Let’s keep the conversation going, and hopefully benefiting our churches.


      1. Thank you so much for this, Thabiti. The really careful examination of the texts is obvious, and very helpful. It’s dense reading – as in, it’s weighty, and my head is dense enough that I’ve had to read it twice, slowly, to get its meaning. :)

        But it seems that, in this post, when it comes to who is permitted to teach what in the church, the issue is one of teaching that informs versus teaching that enforces. You are proposing that both men and women are permitted to teach the whole body in ways that inform; men are permitted teach in ways that inform and/or enforce. Is that close?

        Given the role of elders in activities such as defending doctrine and, particularly, exercising church discipline, this seems, at the very least, consistent. If I’ve understood you correctly.

        The challenge, for me at least, would be in the specifics. Sunday School but not the main service? Systematic theology vs. “Practical” living (I believe thats’s a false dichotomy. :) ) Any day or night of the week except Sunday? It seems like there’s have to be a lot of delicate, intentional thought put into that, as well as much grace extended between churches as to what is deemed appropriate or not.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Rachael,

          Thanks for the encouragements, clarifications and insights. I think you’re correct about the delicacy of the specifics, and to some extent the arbitrariness of some of those distinctions. But I like the way the Session at Tenth Presbyterian framed this in a statement dating back to 1992:

          “The Session of this church affirms that all positions of leadership and service are open to women, except for the authoritative teaching and disciplinary role that the Bible, in 1 Timothy 2:12-14, reserves for men. In the Presbyterian form of church government that role is embodied solely in the Session, composed of ruling and teaching elders. Aside from that function, women are encouraged to seek out all avenues of leadership and service, including Bible teaching, leading small groups, serving on the various church boards and committees, assisting in deaconal work and by any other means fully exercising their gifts for the greater benefit of the body of Jesus Christ.” (Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy: Reformed Expository Commentary (P&R), pp. 97-98)

          Seems to me that this says what I’m trying to say, only more succinctly and clearly. But I think a lot of complementarians would be fearful of implementing this because it would seem to compromise their view of prohibiting teaching and their view that any teaching is inherently authoritative.

          But as you point out, the challenge is in the specifics. I certainly don’t have it all worked out, and I’m sure there are pitfalls to be aware of. But it seems the Bible models or allows more than is commonly practiced in the church.


  3. Dear Thabiti:

    This article is so well constructed, lovingly attentive to the hearts of Christian women yet faithful to Scripture, and so honoring to the Lord. You have done an excellent job, no small wonder God has you as an ordained pastor.

    Your article is so thought provoking, balanced, and full of rich Biblical truths, that it will take me some time to pin point an area of concern (to narrow my response), because you covered so much territory.

    I loved this in particular: “The basic point is this: If we put this discussion in the context of the Great Commission, then we must envision a critical and meaningful ministry of the word in which our sisters vigorously participate, being discipled and discipling others.”

    This is the “voice” I was looking to have confirmed for Christian women; I agree with women being silent in the church, but just how far, vast and wide some people take this silence to mean, and to what extremes, was my REAL concern.

    If we are to confess God before men (Luke 12:8), and go and tell (Matt 28:7), it would be pretty hard to do that without having a right to speak of such godly things, and I see no where in Scripture that these verses are directed only to men, on the contrary, two women were instructed by an angel to go and tell the disciples that Christ had risen from the dead.

    Thank you so much for this well articulated article.

    More later, I need more time to digest it all.

  4. Thabiti, I appreciate the tone and direction of your thoughts here, and want to agree, but I still have some reservations. Would you care to comment on 1 Corinthians 14:33-35? That passage and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 seem somewhat at odds.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Barry,
      Thank you for joining the chat with us, brother. And thanks for the question about 1 Cor. 14:33-35, which reads:

      “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

      Here’s how I understand this in brief:
      1. In the context, Paul is addressing orderly worship, particularly the need for tongues to be interpreted (vv. 26-28) and prophets to speak in turn with others evaluating what is said (vv. 29-32). So, Paul is giving practical instruction to keep the assembly orderly when various people are to speak to the congregation.

      2. Verse 33 begins the ground clause; it states the reason for Paul’s instruction in 26-32. Our services should be orderly and peaceful because God is orderly and peaceful.

      3. Verses 33b-34 provide a specific application to women regarding this order. It applies to all the churches, so it’s not culturally conditioned or bound. That’s important because many egalitarians try to assert that Paul’s concerns were limited to the first century world or to particularly unruly women in Corinth. But it’s clear this application is universal.

      4. The application to women is that “should keep silent in the churches. For they are nor permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” Either Paul now addresses what he glossed over in 11:2-16, women speaking in the assembly. Or, this is still not an absolute prohibition against women speaking but a more particular concern. I think “silent” here goes hand-in-hand with “submission.” In other words, the way submission is reflected in the assembly is through the silence of the women in the congregation.

      5. But Paul seems to have in mind married women. Hence, “let them ask their husbands at home.” So, perhaps there are two levels of complementarity at play: male leadership in the church and male leadership in the home. If that’s the case, we’re still left wondering what single or widowed women should do when they have questions in the church. I suspect they’re to talk with their elders/pastors, but not during the service. Otherwise, this absolute silence means some women won’t be taught, which I find difficult to maintain.

      6. Finally, some commentators suggest that the speaking prohibited here has to do with questioning the prophesying (v. 29–“Let two or three speaks, and let the others weigh what is said”). That’s the take Jim Hamilton pursues:

      Before we move on, we should pause here to consider the fact that this passage indicates that it is acceptable for women to pray and prophesy in church. On the other hand, 1 Cor 14:34 says, “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak …” The best conclusion is not that Paul is contradicting himself. The difference between these two contexts is that in 14:29 Paul had said, “let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.” Then when he says in 14:34 that women are not to speak but to keep silent, I take it that he is referring to the evaluation of the prophecies. Further, we should acknowledge that there is a distinction between “praying and prophesying,” which the women are permitted to do in 1 Cor 11:4-10, and “teaching and having authority,” which the women are not permitted to do in 1 Tim 2:12. Many texts seem to indicate that “prophesying” is a Spirit-inspired utterance, not a sermon (cf., e.g., Matt 26:68; Luke 1:67; John 11:51; Acts 2:17-18; Rev 10:11).

      You can find the full sermon here: I think his solution harmonizes the passages rather well.

      As always, I think Paul in 1 Cor. 14 upholds the structure of authority requiring male headship in the church and the home, in this case silencing disorderly questioning of women with husbands in the gathered assembly. So, I’m a joyful complementarian and think it matters for how we organize our worship. But, I think we sometimes extend an instruction and application for gathered worship beyond the context and limit our sisters unhelpfully. If that’s so, I hope we can find some good adjustments and affirm the wider usefulness of our sisters.

      Let me know what you think.

      1. elisa says:

        I’d like a little more clarification on point 3, which you mentioned, about culture. I think I have always felt okay with the idea of women speaking in church, but not having a position of authority over men (pastoring men vs. teaching). I have always heard the concept of the cultural context of the time. I am not sure where I learned this, yet for some reason I have the idea of women yelling across the church to their husbands (sitting in different areas), asking disruptive questions throughout the service. Hence, that verse was not so much about teaching for “speaking” but about the disruption of the service. Then again, in 1 Tim. 2 passage, again it is continuing with being silent due to the fact that the women were still new Christians and learning. I think the main context I grasp with both of these prohibitive passages is that women need to be learning from their husbands, rather than teaching them as they do not know enough (in Tim.) to teach, while in the Cor. passage it’s to be done probably as you described it permissible (which I think I agreed with what you said entirely). I would love your point #3 to be expounded upon why this silence for women is not just an action of cultural respect (after all, if a woman was teaching in that culture, it could seriously turn many men away from Jesus)for the 1st century, even though it was for all the churches, as you said.

        Also, in 1 Tim. 2:12, can’t that be translated as she should not teach or assume authority over her husband (rather than men at large)?

        I think another reason I have a problem taking that passage fundamentally is that women would also have to stop wearing the wedding rings (gold, pearls). Can we take one literally without the other in the same few verses? As Western Christians, we easily explain away those verses by the letter vs. Spirit of that law- be modest. Don’t focus on outward beauty. Don’t be trying to draw attention to yourself. I by all means believe we should follow the Bible, but I do take issue with churches which do not allow women to teach, while also not selling everything they have and giving it to the poor. If we can pick and choose what we want…

        But your point, which I highly value and respect, in writing this blog post is NOT about the letter of the law, it is about what IS permissible. It is about the gospel going out to the world. In this way, I think I would default on allowing women to do more (although maybe not being pastors, or using other obvious authority over men) because maybe whom one follows (apollos vs. Paul, vs. the teachers that Paul didn’t like- but didn’t totally disregard because the most important doctrine, Christ, was being preached).

        I have preached at different churches as a guest speaker. I don’t want to justify this if this is wrong, but I am not convinced it is wrong. I was under the authority of a man leader, like my big-brother (before I was married) who arranged it with a man pastor. Even so, those two sections of verses, and reading how others view those scriptures is frustrating. I go back and forth between being almost egalitarian to being much more compartmentast (whatever you called those two sides, offically).

        I think I highly value the authority structure, God created men to be over women. Yet, according the the verse which says we are all one in Christ, slave, free, man, women….makes me believe that we are still equal. That God does not love men any more than women. Yet the injustices that continually take place around the world I believe are not God’s will. And scripture is sometimes used to justify that. In fact, even the following verses in 1 Tim. 2 normally get a rise out of me. Sometimes I still just want to think it is just Paul’s opinion rather than the direct word of God (such as in that other passage, where Paul distinguished his wise view with that of God’s spoken word). Paul sounds so sexist, to me. Yet then I can go back to God, remembering He loved + saved me, creating me to do good works for Him. I can trust Him, even when I don’t understand the Bible all the time concerning women. Sometimes it seems to liberating (such as the women who funded Jesus, or the servant-leader, deaconess)while other times it seems demeaning (By Paul or in some of the Proverbs). Regardless, I tend to lean towards fighting injustices rather than following the law perfectly. Yet as I work out my faith (and help all those whom I influence, and as staff at my church, that is many) I want to be in submission to God’s word. Yet understanding the role of women, my role, its tricky.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Elisa,

          Thanks for the comments and engaging this conversation. In point #3, I’m simply saying that Paul does not ground his prohibitions in something cultural at the time, or in some specific disruption going on with women in the church. He’s not saying, “This is how you do it in Corinth” (when in Rome), nor is he saying, “Only because you have some unruly women….” Quite the contrary. He says this is what he teaches in all the churches; so it is a universal apostolic requirement. And when he bases his argument on the creation of Adam and Eve (as in 1 Tim. 2), he’s appealing to the creation order itself, which transcends time and culture. Therefore, we can’t limit what he says there to the first century or to a particular locality.

          I think we have to understand 1 Tim. 2 to apply to the public meeting and a woman having authority over men in the church because of the context. Paul speaks first of his teaching authority (v. 7). Then gives instruction for prayer and modesty in the assembly (v. 8-10). And he follows the verses we’re considering (vv. 11-12) with a justification based on creation (v. 13) before moving into church officers (chap. 3). And he says explicitly that he has written these things so they may know how to conduct themselves in the household of God, which is the church (3:14-15). So, I think it’s difficult to take these things in any way other than applying to roles and authority in the church. Realizing that should protect us from applying the verse beyond the context of the church.

          I want to encourage you to embrace the passage as literal because that will lead to the most faithful understanding of it. The issue with gold and costly apparel is not a prohibition of jewelry categorically, but of that apparel and bejeweling that is not modest. See how Paul contrasts modest adornment and self-control proper for godly women with hairstyles, jewelry and clothing that’s immodest. The literal interpretation is only problematic if we apply it beyond reasonable bounds (for example, if we say because men lead in the church they must lead in a small business). You can hold a robust complementarian view without surrendering the beauty, dignity, and unique usefulness of womanhood. Don’t give up on sound interpretation–or let my posts lead you from it! :-)

          As for Galatians 3:28, that passage certainly affirms the equality of men and women in Christ. Complementarians do not deny the equality and dignity of both genders. But that passage does not overturn other passages that distinguish in roles. Think of it this way: A basketball point guard and a center are equal as players and human beings. But they play different positions, the point guard primarily handling the ball and calling the plays, while the center specializes in rebounds and interior defense. They’re on the same team, like Christian men and women, but they play their respective positions. And the team only functions well when they do.

          Hang in there. Fighting for good, deep understanding can be real work, but it’s worth it. Remember that God is good in all His ways; His commandments are not burdensome. Whatever He ordains is for His glory and for our joy–even if at first and second glance it doesn’t seem so to us. We can trust God’s heart even when we can’t trace His hands. He is being good to us when he defines and limits the roles we should play. You can trust and embrace that.

          Grace and peace,

          1. Carrie says:

            This is something I am also working through. One thing that bothers me about the whole thing, emotionally, is that God never seems to limit the roles of men. Although complementarians speak of equal and different roles, how it ends up looking is that men can do anything they want (within moral guidelines), while women have limits as to what they can and cannot do in the church. Therefore, the roles certainly look different to me, but not equal.

            At some point in my life, maybe reading these verses about the “headship order” will bring me joy–but currently they simply make me feel weak and restricted. I know that you and others with similar views about gender roles are looking at the Bible and trying to interpret it as best as possible, but even if this is where you come out, sometimes I feel like it is not acknowledged enough that these roles really do not seem fair. There is no equal and opposite “men should not” as there is to the “women should not.”

            In short, I am not disagreeing with your point of view, but raising the question: If male and female are completely equal in the sight of God, why did He design it so that one has more opportunities than the other?

            On top of that,sometimes I feel like females who feel confused and bewildered as to why this is, and how this changes their involvement in the church and the way God views them are ridden off as feminists who are out to usurp God’s perfect authority structure. I know that you cannot speak out as anything different than a man, and I appreciate that you do so, but I imagine that it is easier for men to consider this order in worship to be beautiful, since they are not the ones at the bottom of it.

            1. Nate says:

              I think it is helpful to note, as many sound teachers on this topic do, that it cannot be looked at merely as what men can do and what women cannot do. That is not the spirit of any of these passages being cited, and it is certainly not Thabiti’s goal to simply define what woman are not allowed to do. When considering the qualifications for elders (the only thing being said as off-limits for women, from what I can see), the Biblical passages are not saying any man can be an elder: the qualifications include being a male, but they also include other qualities that narrow the field, even among the men in a church.

              If we round up all those who are not (and perhaps cannot be) elders in the Church, obviously the group will include both women and men. For this reason, I don’t think these passages should discourage or limit you, especially not because you are a woman. I think Thabiti’s whole point was that you have gifts you can use to serve the Church, and a Biblical complementarian position among your church leaders does not and should not restrict those.

  5. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    You can only imagine what a blessing it is to hear a pastor connected with T4G and respected in my family of churches say things like: “Part of our task is to build a high strong fence around the complementarian structure of the church and home, including male headship. But where would we first place the stakes for that fence? Should we place them as far and wide apart as possible, or should we begin marking the stakes as close to the explicit requirements of the scripture as possible? I’d suggest the latter. We begin fencing teaching and authority with the fence stakes as close to the known explicit borders of the protected areas as possible, and then move out where scripture warrants.”

    Years ago, my critiques of my own church’s practices and pastoral statements with regard to women were along these very lines ( I still believe that the Duncan / Hunt book you reference draws the lines of teaching and discipling women and allowing women to minister MUCH too narrowly (far more narrowly than Scripture) and yet it represents a step in the right direction for many of our complementarian churches that focus primarily on sexual hierarchy. Thankfully, my own church has improved a great deal in recent years with regard to the way pastors talk about / relate with women. But this message is still very needed and since we women may not be heard or perceived as credible when we try to address this with our own pastors, I am all the more glad to hear you address it.

    Sadly, the complementarian plank in the T4G platform has left some of us reeling… we read it and we hear every restrictive thing CBMW has affirmed in the past… we ask ourselves if the heart of gospel centered ministry is really about cutting us out of lay discipleship classes (as my church still does, since these classes are for “identifying and cultivating leaders”)…

    And we grieve… as I have done for years. And then, while still loving my local church, I’ve mostly decided to focus my energies elsewhere. There’s a world that needs loved, evangelized and ministered to… And while my church may not have that many avenues for me to serve and be trained in my areas of gifting, that doesn’t mean the need disappears. So, we get what we can in our church and seek training elsewhere… from books, on blogs, etc… It’s hardly the same in terms of fellowship, but it’s more training than a house church leader in China gets, so we certainly can be very thankful for what IS available to us.

    I’m conflicted even in posting this, because I love my church and it is getting better and I don’t want to be critical – but I so appreciate you actually saying speaking to the need for elders to train and release women to teach and minister in more ways. The direction you are advocating for churches within our stream of evangelicalism has the potential to be freeing for many women and to spare others some of the hurt I’ve felt.

  6. elisa says:

    I thought this analysis was great. I have been struggling with this issue on and off the past years. I want to follow the Bible, but its obvious I am both a leader as well as someone who can teach and pastor well. I firmly believe in the authority structure, man as the head, but I have not been too sure how to understand scripture in a way which allows me to use the gits God has given me. I have pretty much come to your above conclusion from what I understood of the Bible, and wanting to embrace that freedom- yet part of me still didn’t feel like I had a good analysis of these, as to present the case for women teaching/leadership (in a context under the authority of men). Thanks for your help and encouragement!

    I thought your description of our call to live out what the Bible teaches, as opposed to staying away from something which could lead to evil because of the slippery hill, was great too. I think Jesus prefers us to live the way He has called us to live, depending on His forgiveness for our sins when we mess up- rather than not living the way He has called us (such as often is the case in traditional American Christianity) but maintaining a holiness, trying to prove to God we are good enough. We aren’t called to be religious + good (pharisees), we are called to be followers of Jesus (dependent on His grace as we love Him by loving others). I think the point you laid out in regards to women being allowed to teach, can be applied to so many areas, were we stay away from what is good because we are afraid of the something else which we believe is bad. Yet in reality, I would say not allowing people to be whom God has called them to be is a sin, as well. Oppression and quenching the spirit are horrible affronts to God, as well.

  7. Chrystie says:

    I am enjoying this series very much! It has been very educational and clarifying. Thank you for taking the time to weigh in on this and for the beautiful way in which you talk about your sisters in Christ.

  8. Hayden says:

    I too am enjoying this series.

    I Pastor a church that has come out of the Vision Forum camp (very destructive).

    But here is where the ‘rubber meets the road’ for me. Would you have a woman come into the church and teach the assembled congregation while you were there or abroad? Is that a fencepost? Or are you saying just as long as she was teaching and not teaching with authority you wouldn’t have a problem? (this is an honest question, honestly)

    Another question is: are you equating the teaching in the 1 Timothy passage with the prophesying in 1 Cor 11?

    1. Matt says:

      I suppose my question is close to that of Hayden. I agree with everything you have said, and I absolutely appreciate the depth to which you have researched and sought out a true, Biblical viewpoint on this topic.

      I guess I’m wondering that if we accept everything you have stated, then what specific, tangible areas of teaching are open to women in the church? Can they lead small groups that have male members? Can they teach at a youth group in support of the youth pastor when young men are also gathered, or should it only be when the genders are split? Can they teach a smaller, member only church service that is not open to the church as a whole? I guess what I’m looking for are specific examples of where this teaching could take hold in the local church and what are areas that need to continue to be separated. According to your understanding of the Bible, are women just not allowed to hold the office of overseer/elder and teach the gathered church as a whole?

      Thank you for your faithful service!!

      1. Thabiti says:

        Hi Matt,
        Thanks for the great questions/scenarios brother. Here’s a quick bulleted list of responses about the areas women should teach:

        * Lead small groups with male members: yes, with some prudential caveats. The woman should be married and participating in the group with her husband as a leader. I’m deducing this from Priscilla and Aquila teaching Apollos; assuming Priscilla can play a part in discipling a church leader, it seems she could play an appropriate part in discipling a mixed small group. Again, though, I want to hasten to add there are a host of prudential matters to take into account. Everything that’s permissible isn’t necessarily good.

        * Teach at a youth group: Yes. Most churches already do this in some form, unless they restrict all teaching by women. In one sense, the practical issue is how the church defines “men,” that is, “men” women are not allowed to teach. Assuming the youth group isn’t populated by “men” and that it’s not the gathered assembly, yes women can teach there. And should especially given attention to the girls in the group (Titus 2:3-4).

        * Smaller church service not open to others: I’m not sure what yo mean here. Since it’s a church service, however small, I’m going to say “no.” But if you want to clarify further, I’ll try to give you a better answer.

        * Sunday school classes: Yes. We have women teach a women’s Sunday school class. I suspect that’s not a challenge for most people, unless you think women shouldn’t teach in any setting, including small groups of other women.

        * Women’s fellowship: Yes.

        * Outreach events like Upward Basketball: Yes. There are some ladies who share a 5-minute testimony of their conversion with the gospel or a brief exhortation from the scripture at half-time during the games. This is not a gathering of the church like that in view of 1 Tim. 2. And it’s primarily evangelism, which most people seem to put in a category other than “teaching”.

        * Guest preaching at other churches: Maybe. I had the interesting situation of a dear sister in our church being asked to preach at a special service at another church. She came humbly and submissively to ask if it would be okay if she taught or if I’d rather her not. Before she came to me she spoke with her husband as well. The church leadership there had already invited her. Her husband gave her leave to do so. And I wish I could have assigned her 1 Tim. 2 as her text! :-)

        Hope that helps clarify a bit.

        1. Matt says:

          Thank you for the response. I guess my main question comes in the form of when it is acceptable for women to teach in a setting that includes men. Your answer definitely helped clarify where you stand on the issue. Again, I appreciate your thoughtful answers, and taking the time to post them. Considering how divisive and touchy this issue is, you have done a wonderful job laying out a convincing case for how we can honor women and the gifts they have while still staying faithful to God’s instruction as we best understand it. Thanks!

        2. Jobey McGinty says:

          Hi Thabiti, I know this post is old, so I don’t expect that it might get noticed.

          Great, great articles…as a church planter of a 10 month old church, these are some of the issues we are wrestling through as we aim to set our church up for good, healthy, biblical, long term growth for the whole body.

          I have a question in particular to your response above concerning Small Groups. We have a young gal (mid 20’s) leading a Small Group of people with mixed backgrounds: married, single older men, single younger men, etc. She and her mom basically co-lead the group, and from all accounts she is doing an incredible job. Our Groups are sermon based, so all the questions, etc., are written by me (which I think makes even a small difference in the nature of the group).

          You mentioned that women can lead the groups, but only if they are married and co-leading, based on the partnership of Priscilla and Aquilla. Do you think that may possibly presume too much, using a “descriptive” element to make a “prescriptive” practice? If the issue is in teaching with Elder-like authority, I’m not sure I see how being married makes any difference, as long as the woman is clearly submitted to the Elders. I understand she would be submitted to her husband, but I would think, at least in the Small Group case, a single gal who facilitates discussion well, and is clearly submitted to the Elders and teaching of the church, would be just as qualified to humbly teach men in the environment as a married woman would be.
          The issue, I think, is submission to the Elders and their teaching, not so much being submitted to a husband. I think that since the bible is silent on whether a woman has to be married or not to operate in these functions (whether public prayer, prophesying, or leading Small Groups), it may be best to allow both single and married rather than just married. After all, what if it’s an older widow? Or is there something that I am missing?

          Thank you for the posts, they have been really, really helpful for me. The complementarian issue needs as much ease of clarity in our churches as it can possibly get.


    2. Thabiti says:

      Hi Hayden,
      Thanks for joining the discussion, bro. I pray you’re well and ask the Father for His best in the life of your church.

      Great “bottom line” questions, bro. I would not have a woman teach the assembled congregation while I was here or abroad. But we regularly have women read the Scripture, pray, share a testimony, and sometimes they’ll offer a brief exhortation before they read or pray.

      The reason I take the above position relates to your second question. I don’t think the teaching of 1 Tim. 2 is the same as 1 Cor. 11, even though I do believe 1 Cor. 11’s “prophesying” must certainly have teaching elements in it. In other words, I don’t know what it would mean to prophesy in any meaningful sense while not at the same time informing, instructing, or teaching. So to the extent 1 Cor. 11 is different from the normal authority/teaching of 1 Tim. 2, happens in the gathered assembly, and includes women… I’m happy to have women play that role in the assembly.

      That’s what’s prompting me to think about whether episodic teaching should be a fence post. I’m like most complementarians who make pulpit preaching/teaching a fence post. But I’m made jittery when most complementarians then extend the post to things like, “Women shouldn’t teach at conferences with mixed audiences” or “Women shouldn’t teach at a special church event (unless it’s an afternoon women’s day celebration)”. I don’t think a parachurch conference is the same as the gathered worship of a local congregation with elders.

      Now, let me stress: All this turns on definitions of prophesy and teach in 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2. If prophesying includes no element of teaching, then I’m right there with those who see 1 Tim. 2 as a pretty strong prohibition against any form of teaching in the public assembly.

      If you’re a fairly traditional complementarian (as I regard myself in most ways), all this makes you a little nervous on some level. But, personally, I’d rather nervously risk appropriately putting my sisters to greater use for the kingdom than to comfortably deny things Christ has won for them.

      Does any of that (a) make sense and (b) help? :-)

      1. Hayden says:

        OK, you have walked me back off of the ledge a bit. :) I wouldn’t have too much difference except that I think I have a different take on prophecy (but that is for a different time).

        I agree with the conference and para-church organizations but I would put this caveat on asking the ‘why do it’ question (that many do not ask at all). I would have no problem listening to Joni Erickson speak or reading a book by a woman (one of my favorites on parenting is by ginger Plowman ‘Don’t Make Me Count to Three’). I do not see that the ‘teaching restriction’ means that a woman has no voice or input into the life of the church. (what a sad church that would be)

        I definitely think that women are undervalued in some complementarian churches, no doubt, but I do not want to react to their overreaction (make sense?). I have my wife disciple and teach many of the young women in our church to great affect while I stay at home and watch the kids. I then talk with her and we discuss and she goes back to said counselee/disciplee. (It helps that my wife is very wise in counseling and an extraordinary teacher).

        I would say that the reason that I see a woman restricted from the Sunday morning pulpit as a preacher is because of the office. Even when I have another preacher in, I check to see that (to the best of my ability) that they are qualified to fill the role of elder. They may not be an elder in the sense of being a permanent elder in our church, but I view them entrusted with the ‘office’ while there. They are to be respected and listened to as if it where me or any elder in the church.

        I think that we have a hard time with this one a little because of the Baptist ‘independence’ of the local church. In NT times the churches all sat up when Paul came and were much more closely linked. I think our friends in the Sovereign Grace movement have a good take on the role of’ apostle’ in the NT church though I do not agree with all of it. (ask Jeff Purswell for his 18 page paper on the topic) Again, another topic for another day :)

        This topic has many different facets that hit ecclesiology which is where I predict this will land.

        Keep working this one out my friend. This is a profitable discussion, just be careful to make sure you are clear here because many people look at what you write and look to you for guidance outside of their local church. Face it dude, you’re a superstar pastor and not an ordinary one like me :)

        Look forward to learning with you.

        1. Thabiti says:

          Perhaps this would be a good time to quote lyrics from Trip Lee’s song, “I Ain’t No Superstar.” I’m certainly your average Baptist pastor pulled from behind the plow and harnessed to the pulpit!

          I appreciate your admonition to be aware of those who may be helped or hindered by any comments I make. I appreciate that.

          So please help me with my blind spots. Do you see places where you think I’m over-reacting thus far? What’s making you nervous? I’d happily welcome feedback. It helps to know what others are hearing and whether that’s what I’m trying to say.

          I’m intrigued by your comments about the guest preacher being a kind of ‘visiting elder.’ I’ll think more about that. I certainly believe that inviting someone to guest preach is an endorsement of sorts. But, I can easily imagine a lot of people I’d happily invite to preach, though I would not endorse as an elder at our church, nor would they in good conscience serve as an elder. An easy example might be a dear Presbyterian brother who could come and preach but whose baptism views I wouldn’t share. We could use other issues like eschatology as another example. So, perhaps there are some limits to the visiting elder view, and surely a wise visiting pastor would not preach on controversial topics.


          1. Matt says:

            Not to interject, but John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at his DG conference is a great example of what you are speaking of here. I doubt Piper would ever invite Warren to be an elder in that church, but he gave him a platform to speak nonetheless.

            1. Hayden says:

              No, I was just poking you a little. (Hard to see my smirk through the computer screen)

              You are always thoughtful here on the blog and I do not see you overreacting. I just wanted to remind you that this is not just a private conversation over the phone with other pastors or a round table with the guys at T4G but a blog that many folks from different backgrounds are looking to for clarity on issues. (I know you will arrive at a clearer position at the end)


              I would say that Piper did elevate Warren to the ‘elder’ position of the church. (Although there is a little leeway because this was a conference and not a Sunday morning service.)

            2. Matt,

              I wanted to come back to your comment because a different but related type of scenario happened at our church, and it taught me a lot about how difficult these issues are.

              Our womens’ ministry sponsored a half day seminar on prayer. The speaker was a retired missionary to Pakistan who was well into her seventies. Our pastor had known of her years ago, and a woman who was good friends with her insisted that she’d be a wonderful speaker. So she came.

              To put it simply, it was a train wreck.

              At least, it should have been. But the reaction of many of the women in the congregation, as I kind of internally hyperventilated, both educated and distressed me. There were many who I overheard talking about how wonderful it was, how much they’d learned, etc. (One example of what they learned – that you could walk up and down the streets of your neighborhood waving your hands to sprinkle the blood of Jesus in protection over the houses.) It was 1 Tim. 2:14 in technicolor.

              The immediate aftermath was incredibly encouraging – our pastor apparently got an honest report from his wife, and he immediately got on the phone and called a sampling of women who were there. When he kindly welcomed honesty, I told him what I thought. He thanked me, and apologized that it had happened.

              What was disappointing – there was never any general word from the pulpit about what had happened and why it had not, well, been what they might have hoped for. I do understand how difficult that might have been. But if it had been done, it would have signalled many good things
              – that the elders were taking their Titus 1 responsibilities seriously,
              – that this wasn’t insignificant given that it was “just a womens’ event”
              – that, like all men, they’d made a mistake in not being careful
              – that some (much!) of what had been taught did not line up with what God says about the subject
              – that they wanted to make it right by (insert appropriate mechanism – maybe offering suggestions on books, or just dedicating that week’s sermon – this is really where it would get delicate)

              As it was, none of those things happened. The event just kind of faded into memory. And what that said, at least to me was “Oh, I get it. It was just a womens’ thing.” Meanwhile, there are some women who probably still have the little multi-colored prayer dolls this dear old lady handed out, using them as evangelical rosaries.

              There’ve been a couple of other incidences like that – materials not vetted well, that kind of thing. And we go to a good< church. We have some solid men, especially our pastor. I don’t think for a second these men were intentionally neglectful in their responsibilities at all. I just think they knew far more about what they couldn’t do than what they ought to do, and they kind of unintentionally punted. But, to echo what Thabiti has said elsewhere, “everything teaches”.

      2. Well, I hope it’s okay to comment on this thread, but it certainly helps me. And given that Hayden and I are good friends through both his beautiful wife and shared church background, hopefully he’s okay too. Hi Hayden. :)

        With respect, even the model you’ve described as current in your own church is pretty “on the edge” for the churches I’ve been a part of. The approach you’re tentatively arguing for seems more broad even than that! The most succinct way I can describe it is that most other approaches seem very law-based, while this approach seems very grace/gospel-based. Ask me which I prefer. :)

        I’ve been pondering how the discussion began – with a concern about the need to turn the conversation from what’s forbidden women, to what’s permitted. That’s always been my concern too. I was just interested in how you began to address the concern. I expected you to start with God and his nature – one God, three persons, the relative roles of those persons and how they coexist , both in eternity past and future, as well as when Jesus was on earth –
        then move to Genesis 1 – how men and women were created to reflect Him in His fullness, equal, yet obviously very different. Then there’s the Fall where sin corrupts, the Cross, which restores, and the Kingdom, in which we’re called to proclaim to the church and the world who Jesus is and what He’s done, until He returns.

        All the passages you’ve laid out so carefully provide guidance in some specific aspects of this Kingdom work (even if they themselves aren’t as specific as we’d like!). But it seems that using “I do not permit” as the foundation of our definition of complementarianism (and you are not doing this, you were raising concerns with that approach, it’s just been articulated elsewhere on the TGC web), we risk, as I said earlier, falling back into the law, instead of pushing forward with the gospel. And that’s where we risk unnecessary offence, restriction and, ultimately, a diminished witness to the world.

        It just seems that the approach you’re arguing for better illustrates God’s story, as it were, and glorifies Him in it. Which is the goal, yes? I’m just thinking of some pastors and friends I know who would initially respond to this argument with, ahem, a prayer meeting, with you as its sole object. ;)

        Of course, it probably also means an entire book, instead of a series of blog posts.

        Not that that would be a bad thing, of course. But I’m sorry for the book length comment – you’re giving me a lot to think on!

        1. Thabiti says:

          Hi Rachael,
          You’re always welcome to comment here. And any friend of Hayden’s is a friend of mine (and potential source of joking material! :-)).

          I’m sure I’ll be prayed for, and I welcome it! And, I must say, I’m not trying to write as if I’m making some final pronouncement on how all this gets applied. I’m pushing myself, and perhaps a few others, but I’m not suggesting I’ve got it figured out. It just seems quite clear to me that we can do better for our sisters, freeing them and encouraging them, especially in some areas where we’ve perhaps gone beyond what is written. At the very least, we can talk about these things in ways that are affirming and life-giving, not just prohibitive. I’m a complementarian, but….


        2. Hayden says:


          You and your lovely family are welcome to move to Gainesville Florida and help us with our lovely church re-plant :) We would be more along the lines that Thabiti outlined.

          Give a call to my lovely wife soon. We would love to hear from you. And if the open road is calling, come on over for a visit.

  9. TC says:

    This post was right on time! I am an African-American female. I hold an MA in Biblical Counseling w/a minor in ethics in issues related race and the church from SEBTS. Lately, I have wondering if there is a “place” for me within the church. So, thanks for the encouragement as I seek Gods will for me. Also, I have greatly enjoyed your books. Blessings

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear TC,
      Thank you for dropping a note and for the warm encouragements. I’m glad the Lord has made the books useful in some way. And, sister, there certainly is a “place” for you in the church. The Lord has designed it that way. Each part is indispensable, whatever part we happen to be (1 Cor. 12). So, hang in there. Do everything to maintain the unity in the bond of peace and serve like Jesus would. The word will guide you.
      Much grace, love, and peace,

  10. Brad says:

    Hi Thabiti,

    This is a very thoughtful, honest and mature discussion – hopefully I don’t ruin it!

    I would classify myself as a complementarian who is being swayed more and more by some of the egalitarian arguments.

    I have a few observations. The first two are from relationships around me and the third is a concern I have as I work my way through the arguments.

    1) I have complementarian friends and egalitarian friends. I have noticed that a healthy complementarian relationship looks very similar to a healthy egalitarian relationship. In fact, I think I have learned a lot from my egalitarian friends about serving my wife and loving her in ways that help her to flourish. Also, in my own marriage I have found that our relationship works best when we both focus on trying to out-love and out-serve each other. Our greatest problems arise when one or the other believes he/she is the leader or has unquestioned authority. Just being honest.

    2) I also think this is such a touchy issue because of our culture. It is assumed to be evil and wrong to discriminate based on gender. It infuriates people. In fact, I would get fired from my job if I disqualified someone for leadership or advancement simply because she is a woman. And I am required to submit to female leadership often. It is very difficult for a non-Christian, and even many Christians for that matter, to live in that atmosphere and then go into a church context where the teaching seems to be very unjust. I don’t always think that women are being oversensitive or hyper-feminist when they react strongly to a bald complementarianism that emphasizes what women can’t do. Coming from our cultural context, it really does seem demeaning and offensive. Any words of advice here?

    3) Finally, as I read all of the arguments it seems like mild-complementarians have to make all kinds of distinctions and qualifications when it comes to application. The problem is that these distinctions, in my mind, are pretty difficult to defend from a straightforward reading of the texts involved. It ends up looking like a man-made way of controlling power. However, the egalitarian position seems much more Spirit-led and grace centered. They say, “Let’s submit to the Spirit and determine roles and leadership based on the strengths and gifts that have been poured out on the congregation, regardless of gender.” In that model, the Spirit and not gender is authoritative. So in some ways, my reaction is to give up and either apply the complementarian texts in a very literal and rigid way or become an egalitarian – even though either choice leaves me discontented!

    Not sure if that made sense. Kind of thinking out loud. I would appreciate your insights!


    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Brad,
      You’re not ruining the discussion at all. I appreciate your observations and candor. Feel free to contribute as you feel lead.

      A couple things in response:

      1. You don’t have to lean toward egalitarianism. I think there is a way to be a joyful complementarian if we put more rhetorical and practical energy in stressing some positive things rather than defensive things only. The complementarian position, imho, is really the correct biblical position, even if we’re still working on practicing it well. Better to hold the truth and struggle with applying it (we all do that on various issues) than to perfect apply a falsehood, right? Remain in God’s truth; joyfully embrace complementarity and work for a healthy culture of it in the church.

      2. I think you make a good observation about some complementarians living indistinct from egalitarians. That can happen for two reasons, one good and one bad. First, many complementarians are functional egalitarians. That’s a bad reason for the similarity. It means what we hold with our heads hasn’t yet worked its way to our hands. But second, many complementarians look like egalitarians because there is a rich ethic of serving the other rather than self. Selflessness tends to look like egalitarianism because leaders (men) consider their wives (1 Pet. 3:7) and die to self to love their wives as Christ does the church (Eph. 5). So, the key question is which of these reasons is at work in a complementarian couple that looks a lot like egalitarians.

      3. No doubt you describe the culture’s attitude really well. We should not capitulate to the culture, which lives at enmity to God. But we should recognize that a joyful, robust, enrichening, freedom-giving practice of complementarity actually helps our witness. As long as the perception is complementarianism equals 50s-style Ward Cleaver autocracy, then we need to do some biblical work. That’s work you and I can do in our own relationships and model in our churches. We have to realize that the basic mistake of egalitarianism is that it doesn’t recognize the differences between men and women as God’s design, and doesn’t recognize that that design is good. So, we can be ambassadors for what’s good about womanhood and manhood within the design of God. And we can trust that that will be compelling in the long run.

      4. Finally, don’t forget that Spirit and word belong together. It’s not Spirit-led to pursue an agenda independent of the word. But neither is it Spirit-led to apply the word without grace. What we want is the Spirit’s illumination so that our application of the word is faithful, full of grace and truth. If anyone says “Let’s submit to the Spirit and determine roles and leadership based on…” anything other than the word, then they’re very likely not being Spirit-led and grace centered, but man-led and preference centered. One powerful thing about the word of God is that it frees us from the tyranny of man-made preferences and wisdom.

      Don’t give up. Embrace the Scripture, being filled with the Spirit, and live out the word knowing the grace and love of Christ. For the Master says, “If you love me, obey my commands.” Because we love Him–or rather, He first loved us–we should seek to live in joyful obedience to His word. He will reward your life with eternal joy in His presence!


      1. Hayden says:


        If you have a copy of “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood” by Piper and Grudem, check Chapter 11. Some helpful material is there. I took a course by Grudem on this topic in seminary and he was excellent. (It was a 1 week course and you will never guess where it was at) He spoke of some good distinctions and he has outlined them in this article:

  11. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    I appreciate Brad’s humility in the way he’s thinking out loud here. And yours, Pastor T, in being willing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable for a complementarian to think…

    My husband and I aren’t very far into marriage, but where we are taught for him to ask “how can I lead you better” and me to ask “how can I better respect / submit” to you, we both instead seek to ask, “how can I serve you in this situation” or “are there any ways I can love you better.” Biblically, it seems like a male eldership is clearer in Scripture than that the husband is the God-appointed leader (that word doesn’t even show up in Eph 15, although it gets preached into it mighty often).

    But the marriage questions stray from your topic… God’s church… and the roughly half of redeemed image bearers who are female. And the nagging question for me has been, if my complementarian friends who emphasize sexual hierarchy and God-ordained limitations on women are right, then are women never fully redeemed? do we suffer under a curse that the cross can’t remove? because of our first mother’s sin? Is that what Paul is saying in the “I do not permit” passage?

    Getting in the practical weeds a little more, Pastor T, would you be willing to look at the qualifications for deacons in this series? Are these chosen servants of the church to be male only? Especially considering that they, in many cases, do provide some level of leadership in – though not governing – the church? Translation wise, is it correct to say in I Tim 3:11 “likewise the women” or “also their wives”?

    Appreciating the discussion… and your heart for releasing women to serve as God intended – without fencing us out more than that…

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey Sis,
      Lord willing we’ll talk a bit about deacons. Pray for me! :-)

  12. Hayden says:


    Here is the tension. How can we appreciate and elevate the vital ministry of women in the church without sending the signal that there are no differences in the offices? Here is an example.

    If I want a young man from a home where his Dad is absent to see that he needs to be a teacher and a leader in his home, how is that conveyed by putting him in Sunday School classes that are only populated by women teachers until he gets into college group? Women often say that they do certain ministries ‘because the men won’t do them’, then my question is ‘How are we helping the men to do these ‘duties”?

    I look in the Scripture and I see women as being an integral part of the ministry of Jesus (Martha, Mary, Salome, etc. ) but they are not the 12. Their ministry is vital no doubt, but different. Some people say this is cultural, but it was not cultural to have any women ‘disciples’ at the time. Instead of Jesus being restrictive, He was expanding the role of women.

    This tension is difficult. I want to teach everyone in the church not just by the Words that I preach but the way that I lead and model.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Bro. Hayden,
      Reminder accepted and very much appreciated. Thanks for the blog love! :-)

      I have some sympathy for the “signal effects” associated with who appears up front. As one dear mentor says, “Everything up front teaches.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that. We definitely teach by modeling, and we ought to be thoughtful about that, paying attention to our particular group of people as we do certain things. I can well imagine that what might be done in one congregation that is well-taught and solidly complementarian, might not be done in another congregation for which this teaching is new. So, elders must be wise.

      Having said that, I guess the burden of the post is to ask, “Are we aware of other things we’re teaching in our model that we may not intend to teach?”

      So, saying a man should never wander into a Sunday school discussion lead by a woman teaches what about the value of women in the church? Saying we only have men play up front roles because we want to model male headship says what about the importance of modeling female service? What does insisting that women not pray in the service, as some churches do, teach about fidelity to the scriptures (women pray in 1 Cor. 11) and about the importance of our sisters’ prayers? If we only have men up front in every conceivable situation, do we teach (as one sister said to me) that there is women’s ministry off to the side but really the entire church is “men’s ministry”?

      If we take setting a model too far, we actually teach other less helpful things, too. And I think we put too much premium on being “up front” or the public teaching activity of the church as a way of modeling/teaching complementarity. There are plenty of churches that don’t have women play anything near a public teaching role where men still don’t lead their homes. Some churches would do well to not rely so much on the “signal effect” of these public roles and to do more specific, intentional work with men on their roles.

      I just received an email from a church in the Middle East asking me to participate in their regular men’s meetings, where they teach a couple hundred of their men theology, church, and biblical manhood. Here’s the schedule for the first half of this year:

      29th Jan, 2011 Theology session 1: What is Theology?; Theology session 2: What is the Bible?

      12th March, 2011 Manhood session 1: What is Biblical Manhood?; Manhood session 2: Who leads the Church?

      16th April, 2011 Church session 1: What is the Church?; Church session 2: What is the Mission of the Church?

      4th May, 2011 Theology session 1: The Trinity; Theology session 2: Apologetics Topic

      18th June, 2011 Manhood 1: Man & his Wife; Manhood 2: How to Shepherd your family?

      Looks like a thorough approach to me. It’s more explicit than the symbolic work of up front modeling, and probably provides more modeling and applied discussion than simply preventing the genders from mixing.

      Again, I’m not denying the importance of modeling up front. I think there are others things being modeled as well that we might want to think about, and there are more explicit ways of working for a joyful complementarity.


    2. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

      One question, Pastor Hayden, why the “only” in your scenario? I’ve heard examples like yours given many times – and they ARE very legitimate. But why not cultivate a team leadership ethic. Because men and women have both been given wisdom and gifts that the church needs and individuals learn to respect and relate with both sexes best when they see strong spiritual role models in each. If your youth leader is male (or female), why can there not be men and women – older singles – or a married couple who come alongside to help him/her mentor the young people in the church.

      Jesus was expanding the role of women in his time… but are our churches doing their best to constrict it? The young man w/out a father in the home needs male role models. And so does the young woman w/out a father in the home. But that’s hardly an excuse to restrict women from using their gifts of leadership and teaching – to not cultivate them… is it? Is not the church healthier when both men and women are modeling spiritual leadership and submission to the Word?

      Yes, we lose out when women do the leading in the church because men won’t “step up.” But we also lose out when women just fade into the decor… the training and development is male-focused and so are the opportunities… even the fellowship… even the prayer can be that way… For instance, if your church has small groups, when was the last time that a woman was asked to open or close the group meeting in prayer?

  13. I noticed that in a couple posts here (sorry, I cannot remember which specific ones), that the caution to be Biblical and set correct boundaries/parameters for women within the confines of the church, was of paramount importance, clearly reminding all us of the old adage, that if you give someone an inch, they will take a mile.

    My question is, do Christian men fear that this will be the result if due emphasis is not put on the roles women are designed to submit to within the home and the church? Is this a legitimate fear on the part of Christian men? I see this same fear equal to, and analogous to, stretching grace so far that it gives one a license to sin.

    Have we somehow singled out this issue as being of greater importance than other sins committed in the governance of the church? I know of cases where Biblical warrant for ordaining Elders was not followed to the letter of Scripture, but that seems to fall by the way side, and is not seen to be of equal importance.

    What I am trying to say is, a true Christian woman has a strong regard for God’s Word and male authority in the home and in the church. Which can be likened to Christian women having the same regard for grace not being a license to sin. The tendency is for all of us to take a mile and broaden the path of sin and disobedience, if not kept in check by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

    So, could this fear of women taking a mile, be misplaced a bit, and be equally meted out in the fullness of all sins being an abomination to the Lord? I know the discussion is specifically about gender-specific roles in the church, but I am wondering, again, if undue fear, on the part of Christian men, may be a bit misplaced?

    I hope this post can be taken in the vein it was meant, humbly and reverently, but with obvious questions? This has been such a learning experience and a wonderful topic for discussion, and I am not saying it is not worthy of our time and effort, because ALL of God’s words are of equal importance and value. Absolutely! A hearty amen, to that!

    1. MET,

      That was what I was alluding to in my previous comment – “Alert the watchbloggers!!! Thabiti’s going liberal!!” :)

      I think you’ve raised one of the many big questions about this. Those I know who would respond that way are the very ones most in need of some pastoral correction. They’ll insist it’s all about the holiness of God and the purity of truth, when with every belittling action and demeaning word re: women they’re offending the very holiness of God they’re claiming to defend. They’re fixated on this issue (and its cousin – homeschooling) – and the philosophy of the two tend of feed off eachother. I don’t know what the answer is from a leadership perspective, but from a personal one, I think James’ admonition to be peacable and open to reason really apply. We speak very much as Thabiti is modelling – affirm what God emphatically affirms and raise questions about what is not as firm, with grace and humility. Then, we leave the results up to God.

  14. Mitch Freeman says:

    Thanks, T.

  15. MSN says:

    Thank you. I found this a really helpful discussion. God bless.

  16. Hi Rachael:

    Sorry my reply is late. I find myself arguing against either extreme, egalitarianism or hyper-complimentarianism. Although I do favor C, it is a choir sometimes to listen to childish interpretations, whether they come from a man or a woman. Women can be staunch, hyper-C’s, as well, and very misguided in their views.

    I desperately want to be Biblical on this issue, as with all other doctrines in Scripture, but it is difficult to listen to the way this entire C thing gets distorted. I tend to find comfort in this: women have a role as a helpmate, but are equally created in the image of God, just as the Holy Sprit has a unique role as a helper, but equally God. He has a unique role, and we as women have a unique role. And frankly, I love the role God has designed for me.

    I was admonished, on another forum, by a women and a man, for trying to teach the men, and was told I should not be doing that. I was a bit surprised, since when does “discussing” the Bible make one a teacher? This is my real concern, I expressed it in another post, when and where is it appropriate for women to have a voice for the Lord? Besides, being a teacher is not even my gifting. I am more into the helps ministry; I love to care for the body of Christ. It is a natural for me; I am out of my element teaching, although I have taught Sunday School in the past.

    Anyway, I make a great chicken soup that ends up on the doorstep of anyone who is sick. It is guaranteed to make the lame walk, make the blind see, and rid the body of arthritis. Lol!!! Secret ingredient…lots of garlic. :)

  17. Sorry, I meant to say chore, not choir. Although it is a chore for me to sing in the choir. :) And for anyone who has to listen to me. :)

  18. Jason says:

    Whatever context women were praying and prophesying in at Corinth, Paul is clear that it was not to be in the corporate (and coed) worship of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:31-34 states, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted…The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.” The “all” of verse 31 is modified by v34. Also, 1 Timothy 2:8 says, Therefore I want the men in every place to pray…” Throughout 2:1-8, Paul uses the generic term for man “anthropos” meaning “mankind”, both men and women, but when he gets to the specific task of praying in “every place” he uses “aner” meaning men only. In coed worship, Paul is clear, men take the lead in praying, prophesying, leading, and teaching (1 Tim 2:12). I am all for the verbal participation of women in body-life, but she must “remain quiet” with regard to those specific activities in the presence of men.

  19. Puritan Lad says:

    “Unless we imagine Matt. 28:18-20 only applies to men (a manifestly untenable position), we’re forced to see that all our sister disciples must experience and complete what Jesus demands in Matt. 28:19.”

    I’ll take it a step further. The Great Commission was given to the church, not to individuals. If you apply it to women, then you must also grant the authority of women to baptize.

    That doesn’t mean that individuals, including women, shouldn’t evangelize. But the Great Commission is not a good passage to support this.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey brother,
      Thanks for the comment. The Great Commission, whether given to the church or addressed to individuals, calls us all to make disciples. Ultimately, individuals make disciples–whether it’s one one one, small group, or congregation wide preaching. 1 Tim. 2 restricts congregation wide preaching and leadership to men, but it does not prohibit women from making disciples in other contexts. Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the word. Older women are to teach younger women. There is the historical incident where Aquila and Priscilla instruct Apollos. All of these are ways women are participating in the Great Commission.

      Baptism is a sign of discipleship. It’s really not the point to me, even though it’s going to be some individual–call him pastor or elder–that actually performs the baptism. Baptism is given to the church, but individuals administer it. I think you’ve posited a distinction without a difference.


  20. Puritan Lad says:


    “Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the word. Older women are to teach younger women. There is the historical incident where Aquila and Priscilla instruct Apollos”

    Absolutely. Women are to share their faith, teach their children at home, and teach younger women how to be good wives and mothers. But they are clearly forbidden to preach to teach in the context of the corporate worship in the church.

    I added more on the Great Commission on the third page of your series. Individuals evangelize, but do not “make disciples” because they lack the authority of church discipline. The church, particularly the leadership, makes disciples. It is the same with baptism. Though an individual performs this sacrament, he does so only as an ordained minister of the church. One cannot separate the parts of the Great Commission and remove some of them from church authority. They all stand together as a Commission to the church.

  21. Dinah Clarke says:

    I am glad you at least promote learning and teaching as a suitable activity for a woman.

    I am saddened by your stance on “headship” and “male-only” leadership …..

    What saddens me most of all, is that men I respect read the Bible in a way that is so committed to promoting the permanent subordination of women. In so doing, some passages are classified as “cultural” and some, even in the same passage, are classified as “binding for all time”.

    It is so unjust! … it breaks my heart, for will not the Lord of all the Earth do what is right and good?

  22. I think women should not be in a position to teach a man on how to be a man.
    Issues of masculinity are srticly man to man.
    Women who cross this line emasculate men rather than edify them.
    It’s true a woman should not teach or exercise authority over a man in this sense.
    Teaching a man on how to be a man also tends to carry with it the weight of authority. Men tend to see these teachers as ‘father figures’ and as such they allow them to have authority over aspects of their lives. This is definatley an area that is off limits to women.

  23. Rick L says:

    My concern is that your comments on 1 Cor 11 seem to equate prophesying with teaching, and thus allowing some level of women teaching men publicly. This is a misnomer, and a big one. The whole concept of “teaching” in both OT and NT is that it carries the authority of sanction. That is, the OT priests were responsible for teaching the Torah to Israel, and they had the authority to correct/punish those who disobeyed. In the NT–believe it or not–Paul seems to have an expectation that pastors/elders/overseers ought to be listened to in the light of obedience, just as he–as an apostle–was listened to. However, prophesy never carried the authority of sanction for Israel or the Church. Prophesy comes with the warning that God will act one way or another depending on the people’s response to the prophet, but the prophet had no authority to exercise disciple or punishment. That argument about prophesy in 1 Cor 11 gets used over and over and over by the feminist-evangelicals, and it disturbs me to see it used here, in an otherwise thoughtful article. Sorry, this doesn’t work.

  24. Little Sheep says:

    One thing rarely discussed regarding complementarianism is why contrary to scripture …it’s erroneously presented as something beautiful & wonderful. Genesis 3:16 doesn’t present it that way & neither does Paul. We don’t try to dress up pain in childbirth or men having to work from the sweat of their brow because the ground was cursed, why then do we seek to redefine the role of women’s subjugation (which was punishment for sin) to men in a manner that Paul the Apostle himself clearly does not? Why not just accept it for what it is? The commentaries on Paul’s verses from the Matthew Henry & John Gill are much more honest in admitting the subjugation is a result of the curse & not a blessing from God.
    Here are their candid observations … “Women were last in creation yet first in transgression.” “The woman, for her sin, is condemned to a state of sorrow, and of subjection; proper punishments of that sin.” “”The determination of thy will shall be yielded to thy husband.” “Henceforth, therefore, woman was to be relegated to, and fixed in, her proper sphere of subordination. On account of her subjection to man’s authority a wife is described as the possessed or subjected one of a lord.” “This is to be understood of her being solely at the will and pleasure of her husband; that whatever she desired should be referred to him, whether she should have her desire or not, or the thing she desired; it should be liable to be controlled by his will, which must determine it, and to which she must be subject, as follows: He shall rule over thee, with less kindness and gentleness, with more rigour and strictness: it looks as if before the transgression there was a greater equality between the man and the woman, or man did not exercise the authority over the woman he afterwards did, or the subjection of her to him was more pleasant and agreeable than now it would be; and this was her chastisement, because she did not ask advice of her husband about eating the fruit, but did it of herself, without his will and consent, and tempted him to do the same.”
    Women are subject because of Eve’s sin, not because it’s the ideal. Paul continually refers back to Eve’s sin/deception as the root cause for why women have lost the equality with men. It is what it is & believers (men or women) should not mislead others about the origins of Paul’s stance.

    1. Nate says:

      To equate the post-Fall state of female subjugation with the Christ-echoing marriage model espoused in the New Testament is perhaps a mistaken critique. Paul seems to be teaching a restoration of what was lost in the Garden, the woman-as-a-helper model, involving a loving husband who is neither cruel nor domineering (despite his headship). 1 Peter 3 echoes this, in presenting the restored model as honorable and praiseworthy, and as echoing the holy women of old (Peter references Sarah, who referred to Abraham as her master).

      From this it would seem that Eve was under the authority of Adam from the point she was taken out of his side; she was his helper, had the responsibilities of feminine duty (rearing their future children, among other things), and submitted to his authority long before the serpent came along. It is not egalitarianism we lost at the Fall, but simply sinlessness.

  25. Gloria says:

    As an Egalitarian, I have to take my hat off to you on your balanced approach to this topic! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    However, as a Prophetess, I have to say that you don’t understand “Prophesy” as well as you understand Women in teaching positions and male headship in Churches.

    You dangerously under-defined the origins, purposes, activities, call, purposes and offices of those who prophesy, whether occasionally or regularly; male or female or otherwise and how it relates to the service of the entire Church body, whether complementarian or otherwise..

  26. Destiny says:

    Hi there,

    I am a college student and haven’t come to a full consensus of where I stand on this issue. I had one question in particular, when you mentioned in the conclusion that ” if we could envision a wider field of usefulness for women that includes teaching in appropriate settings…” What would you consider appropriate settings? Or is that something you would leave up to the pastor and the elders to decide? I have heard some people say that women should never preach at the pulpit and they should only teach those who are younger than them or other women. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on that.



  27. Jade says:

    Thank you for this article. I have found this very helpful. While it’s ‘easy’ for a man to make statements about a women’s role in the church I find it ‘difficult’ as a women because we actually have to live it out and ask ourselves these questions over and over again, as we are personally accountable for our attitudes and actions.

    For me personally it has come down to the matter of authority and submission, both of which involve the heart attitude. There are many ways a woman can undermine the authority and leadership of the elders, but likewise there are many ways she can use her gifts in submission and humility. While certain lines are helpful and need to be drawn (only men appointed as pastors and elders), I think that we create too many ‘rules’ to suit our own understanding of how women may use their gifts – erring on the side of caution. However, this is precisely why our leaders are to be wise and discerning: not to make extra blanket rules to protect to rule of male leadership (I find that can become quite Pharisaical) but to actually exercise discernment each time anyone comes to use their gift. Male or female. Are the gifts being exercised for the edification of the body, and are they being used in the correct spirit? There are many women who should not be teaching in any forum, because they are hungry for approval and fame, but there are others with a submissive and humble spirit who should be permitted in the appropriate setting. We cannot simply keep making rules, but our leaders always need to be wise and discerning.

  28. Matt Boga says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,
    I know I’m a bit late to the game on this post, but I was hoping you could clarify something for me. Perhaps you do it in the later posts, but I have not yet read them. You mentioned at the very end that we should encourage women to teach in “appropriate settings” (completely agree), but earlier you used an analogy about a guest teacher that fulfilled a role but not an office during his Sunday stint teaching at the local gathering. My question is: what are the “appropriate settings” you are referring to? My initial understanding would exclude the pulpit at a Sunday gathering, but your examples and brief explanation of 1 Cor. 12 & 14 seem to allude that you would not exclude that area. Some clarification would be of great help!
    And thanks for your writing and general ministry. I am constantly challenged and edified through your labors.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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