Women in the Church:
An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15
Andreas Kostenberger and Thomas Schreiner (Baker, 2005)Blurb Review by Dr David Gibson
Review by Dr David Gibson
Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (eds.)
(Baker Books: 2nd Edition, 2005)
This excellent book deserves a review on a website devoted to biblical theology for a number of reasons. First, the passage in question ties the issue in question right back to the pre-fall Genesis narrative. This means that, whether being read in a complementarian or egalitarian way, the text itself forces the reader to adopt a way of interpreting the Bible that takes in the big picture and not merely the immediate passage. Following the text, this book actually makes biblical theology key to its interpretation. Second, the reference to Genesis in this passage notwithstanding, the issue of men and women's roles in Christian ministry is often contested within some pre-conceived framework of redemptive history, usually that provided by Galatians 3:28 and the numerous hermeneutical issues that a text like this throws up. Some form of biblical theology tends to exist in the position we adopt on women in ministry whether we aware of it or not. Third, on the micro rather than macro level, this volume models in an exemplary way the various aspects of a biblical theology that is exegetically responsible in relating the parts to the whole and then vice-versa. This can be seen not just in the way the contributors co-ordinate their exegesis of this passage with the rest of Scripture but also in the way the study deliberately moves from socio-religious-historical-context, to lexical study, then to syntactical exegesis, then to an overall reading, then to a discussion of hermeneutics (that takes in both the hermeneutical approach of the writers and the dominant differing approach), then to application. This is how biblical theology should be done. I will outline a few exceptionally minor quibbles and then review the book's contents with some comment along the way.
The volume reviewed here is the second edition and I have not read the first edition. By all accounts this edition offers improvements over the first and also has the benefit of showing substantial interaction with the reviews of the first edition (see particularly Köstenberger's essay). Others have pointed out the main differences between the two editions, but I confess to being disappointed that some of the first edition essays were not included again in the second edition. No real reason is given for this and it is hard to see why it was not deemed best to have as much detailed argumentation for the book's thesis as possible. But by far and away the biggest frustration with this book is the irritation of having the footnotes published as endnotes at the back. Given that huge portions of the book involve interaction with the views of those who differ from the writers, it becomes very annoying to have to constantly flick to the back to get the specifics! (A substantial part of Köstenberger's essay is interaction with the reviews of his first edition essay and Schreiner's essay alone boasts over 260 endnotes!) If there is ever a third edition perhaps this change can be made.
The first chapter is by S. M. Baugh: ‘A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century'. It is a challenge to those lines of egalitarian interpretation which base their exegesis on a reconstruction of first century Ephesus as a feminist society which in particular gave women tremendous socio-religious power in the temple cult of Artemis. Perhaps most well known here is the work of Richard and Catherine Kroeger in their book I Suffer Not a Woman (Baker, 1992). Those who adopt this understanding of Ephesus therefore hold, in one form or another, that Paul is not providing once-for-all time principles in 1 Timothy 2 but merely trying to curb the excesses of certain Ephesian women who are more influenced by Artemis than the Christian gospel. (That this view is extremely prevalent can be seen in the fact that a version of it was endorsed by a scholar as influential as N. T. Wright in 2004). However, by a careful study of all the relevant sources, Baugh shows how this understanding of Ephesus must be deemed incorrect. He provides a clear outline of Ephesus in the first century by answering a range of questions: what was its culture like? Who was in charge? How did the Ephesians worship Artemis? What was she like? In many ways his article is a summary of both his own and some other work which appears to prove quite devastating to the Artemis and feminist Ephesus hypothesis.
Of course, a chapter like this raises the issue of a scholarly priesthood for interpretation. In a very real sense we are in the hands of the experts here and very few of us (certainly not this reviewer) will be able to competently verify all the arguments which Baugh outlines. Some will be tempted to suggest that one's feeling about a chapter like this will owe more to existing commitments to either complementarianism or egalitarianism than to being able to properly engage with the data. However, this is not necessarily the case and in a number of respects we are not at the mercy of the experts. First, we should note how some of the evidence Baugh does cite, which must be acknowledged by all sides, shows how it is simply not possible to portray Ephesus as a feminist society in the first-century. Baugh is not alone in his judgments and it is certainly possible for non-experts to acknowledge that the weight of scholarship appears to be on his side. Second, it is important to note how most of Baugh's chapter reveals not so much a conflict of interpretation over the Ephesus evidence (although there is some of that), but rather a paucity of Ephesus evidence so that in view here is actually a fundamental question of historical methodology in handling classical and archaeological sources of investigation. Baugh is measured and judicious, urging great caution in the analysis of the data and this approach automatically exposes the foundations of the feminist interpretive framework as altogether more speculative. Second, we should also note the problems that the ‘feminist Ephesus' hypothesis creates for contemporary exegesis and application. If we are to hold that in 1 Timothy 2 Paul is only requiring that certain Ephesian women do not teach or exercise authority over men, then how do we apply the text to us today? Perhaps an application of the text is that there might well be certain circumstances today when some contemporary women should not teach or exercise authority over men. But how would we know when we had reached such a position? Who would decide? What kind of contemporary context would so closely parallel the Ephesian context so that the text's strictures would again be warranted? Or if the egalitarian approach here is to attempt to discern the underlying principle from the text and apply that today, rather than its particularly Ephesian specifics, then it is not at all clear what sense is to be made of the creation principle that informs the particular injunction given that the principle is gendered. All of this is to stress that even in assessing a chapter as technical and remote from us as Baugh's we are not at his mercy in terms of how we think about the issues he raises about historical method and exegetical consequences. His overall position fares better than the alternatives when considered from these perspectives, never mind what appears to be his extremely compelling reconstruction of Ephesus.
The chapters by Henry Scott Baldwin (‘An Important Word: Authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12') and Andreas J. Köstenberger (‘A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12') in my judgment form the most impressive part of the book. For all their individual merits, they combine to provide a truly exemplary model of wisdom in working out the respective parts of the exegetical tasks. For example, Baldwin's chapter is a word study which seeks to show what the hapax legomenon authenteo in 1 Tim 2:12 does, and does not, mean. However, his study is alert to all manner of evils which tend to bedevil lexical study. He outlines both the limitations of word studies and their correct methodology - in terms of the latter, the verbal form should be considered separately from the noun and adjectival forms and actual use should be deemed more important than etymology. From an analysis of an exhaustive list of the ancient uses of the verbal form (85 occurrences), Baldwin outlines a range of possible meanings which are all united by the underlying concept of ‘authority' and this data is also assessed according to its chronological use. He then narrows the range of meanings which might fit in 1 Timothy 2. The benefit of this approach is seen in the fact that Baldwin is actually reluctant to even suggest a firm meaning for the word without reference to Köstenberger's essay, precisely because of his conviction that the meaning of words is intrinsically bound up with their syntactical relationship to other words.
This conviction comes into its own in Köstenberger's chapter. He provides an explanation and analysis of the syntax of 2:12 (consisting of a negated finite verb + infinitive + oude + infinitive). He conducts a study of 53 syntactical parallels to 2:12 (parallels of verbal forms as well as of infinitives) and finds that every time this structure is used the correlative conjunction oude either coordinates activities or concepts that are viewed positively in themselves but which are prohibited due to conditions adduced in the context, OR it coordinates concepts which are viewed negatively and hence their exercise is simply prohibited. Vitally important is the result that oude is always used to coordinate activities that are either both positive or both negative (p57). This means that in 1 Tim. 2:12 there are only two acceptable ways of rendering the passage: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach [error] or to dominate over a man' OR ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over man' (60). Note how in the first example both infinitives are viewed negatively and in the second positively. Köstenberger then proceeds to show how this syntactical use of oude is paralleled in extra-biblical Greek literature and the pattern discovered for biblical Greek is confirmed. (Importantly, this aspect of Köstenberger's essay has received almost universal support, even among egalitarians). It is at this point that all the relevant parts of the exegetical scaffolding begin to come together in a compelling way. He shows how didaskein is used in the NT in overwhelmingly positive ways so that this is by far the best way to read didaskein in 2:12 - and therefore authenteo must also carry a positive sense as well i.e. it cannot refer to some such negative aspect of authority like being domineering or overbearing. In a lengthy interaction with works published since the first edition of his essay, Köstenberger shows the strength of his position and the superior sense it makes of the text. Perhaps most interesting here is his response to Howard Marshall who accepts the force of Köstenberger's syntactical analysis but still opts for a negative interpretation of both infinitives. In my opinion, Köstenberger, along with Mounce and Blomberg, convincingly show the problems with this view.
Craig Keener pointed out in his JETS review of the first edition that one of the implications of Köstenberger's study is the challenge it poses to moderate complimentarians who hold that women can teach men provided they are under male authority i.e. by showing how didaskein and authenteo are distinct yet related items, this essay shows the close relationship between teaching and authority so that it is not really possible to separate them. Köstenberger acknowledges Keener's point but does not expand on it in any forceful way and it is an area where just a little bit more application would have been helpful. It would also have been helpful to spell out a little more clearly the relationship between the two infinitives in terms of their overlap and yet distinction and to show precisely why and how the two infinitives show a move from the specific to the general (p40).
If these first three chapters of the book involve looking through a microscope at the text, Thomas R. Schreiner's chapter takes a step back and offers a coherent reading of the whole passage. I have little to say here by way of comment. Utilising as it does the work of the other contributors, it offers a sensible and straightforward account of all the parts that fits impressively into the context of 1 Timothy, the shape of the Pastorals, and a whole Bible biblical theology. Following Philip Towner's work Schreiner provides an example of the judicious use of background information and makes a good and important case for how teaching in the pastorals refers to explicitly congregational contexts - this helped me see more than I had done previously what a key issue this is. The treatment of the Genesis material is persuasive and interestingly in this essay Schreiner mentions two ways in which his mind has changed in recent years (on the exact meaning of women being ‘silent' and on the connection between Eve's deception and women not teaching). The reader might also be interested to know that the Editors of this volume themselves disagree over the meaning of the verb sozo which appears in 2:15. Against Köstenberger and others who hold that it refers to spiritual preservation in this context, Schreiner argues that it refers here to spiritual salvation. This essay is the place to go if you don't have time to take in the whole book in detail and simply want a sense of the whole passage.
Robert Yarborough's contribution is titled: ‘Progressive and Historic: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15'. It appears to be the chapter that received the most criticism in its first edition form and it is not hard to see why. I say this not because I think it is wrong in what it argues, but because his chapter is necessarily a step removed from the exegetical details of the text and a step closer to contemporary social location and what Yarborough perceives its ailments to be. He provides a clear outline of the Copernican social revolution of the mid twentieth century and a catalogue of its ongoing depressing aftermath, all the while implying that the egalitarian reading of Scripture is a reflex of the zeitgeist more than it realises or may care to admit. This chapter cuts a bit more deeply than the others. I find his outline of the social revolution compelling and I for one think that both current evidence is on his side and that time will continue to prove his analysis perceptive. At the same time, I would suggest that there are some unfortunate moves in his argument which, while not actually undermining the whole, are weaknesses which might require further work.
In Yarborough's view, the social emancipation of the mid-twentieth century, consisting in a weakened commitment to traditional male/female role distinctions, actually precipitated a marked decline in the fortunes of women and children. He provides evidence from this aftermath period (largely from the USA) and argues that from the latter part of last century until the present we have witnessed a downward spiral of abuse, neglect and economic depravation for women and children. I doubt many will dispute Yarborough's outline of the aftermath; I also doubt that all will be convinced by his straightforward connection between the social emancipation per se and the social decline that followed. Again, I actually do not doubt the connection myself (see his argument on p129) - but I am not sure Yarborough will easily convince those who do. He offers a number of caveats to state that he is not suggesting that all of the emancipation was bad or that the lot of women was not radically improved in certain respects. However, in reality his essay does not give time or space to distinguishing positive from negative emancipation or to teasing out extremely carefully the ways in which such emancipation (either intrinsically positive or negative) led to negative consequences Some will doubtless feel that all he shows here are connections between negative forms of emancipation and decline, and that there is an important distinction to be made between these and what positive emancipation bestows on a society. The result is that Yarborough's argument in places borders on an unfair representation of egalitarianism in relation to the social aftermath.. For instance, he states:
Those who feel justified in endorsing our zeitgeist's convictions that women ought to hold church office and be on radically equal footing with husbands in marriage will continue to hold 1 Timothy 2:9-15 as interpreted elsewhere in this volume at arm's length. But for others, omnipresent heartbreaking social carnage, the scope of which we have only sketched briefly, could encourage a new sympathy with much-vilified "traditional" Christian teaching (p132).
This argument gives the impression that egalitarians are concerned with emancipation and hang the consequences, both socially and exegetically; complementarians are the ones who see the carnage and that the right response to it is to move away from an egalitarian reading of Scripture. It is this which I don't think Yarborough's essay actually proves. More precisely, the focus of his argument is how the lot of women and children has rapidly declined since the 1960's and he does not prove, with documentation and hard evidence, how the declining lot of women and children (which he does document) was actually caused by the female emancipation which women experienced. I can well imagine egalitarians responding, for instance, that a dominant cause of the aftermath to the revolution was actually male anger and disorientation at the fracturing of the traditional male world, so that the problem lies not in the liberalisation itself but the sinful reaction to it. In an important interaction with Rebecca Groothius (p133n72), Yarborough acknowledges this and even states that he thinks men are more directly responsible than women, but then states that ‘recent innovations in views of gender roles are of a piece with recent demolition of the social fabric'. This assertion adds no more explanation for how and why the recent innovations themselves, rather than merely adverse (male?) reactions to them, have contributed to the social wrecking ball. All I am suggesting here is that more detail is needed to strengthen the argument. If the connection was documented by tracing cause (precisely defined forms of emancipation) and effect (forms of social decline) more clearly than Yarborough does, then one of his other pieces of evidence would take on damning force. He provides an (admittedly rough) outline of the relative new-ness of the progressive hermeneutic as evidenced from New Testament Abstracts on 1 Timothy 2 since 1956 showing how recent is the current line of egalitarian interpretation. This certainly appears to tie egalitarian hermeneutics to social liberalisation and if more explicit evidence were documented to tie egalitarianism to social decline then its hermeneutics would hopefully experience more neglect among evangelicals.
Another unfortunate move occurs in Yarborough's anecdote about un-churched men and women ministers; I say unfortunate because it might rub some egalitarians the wrong way while obscuring the fact that he actually has a point. Yarborough suggests that many un-churched men he knows, because of their stereo-types about women, will never darken a church door if they know the church boasts a female minister. However in a chapter alerting us to the danger of worldly influences on ecclesial practices it is a little ironic to suggest that an obstacle to female ministers is what the world might think of them. Many egalitarians will simply respond that it is for the church to take the lead in overcoming such sinful stereotypes. The problem with the anecdote is both that it uses un-churched men as the example (might Yarborough's concerns be best explored by carefully researching over a lengthy period of time the effect which female church leadership has on the male congregation of a church?) and that it is just that - an anecdote. It falls flat when it meets a different substrata of modern un-churched men who are repelled by the idea of women barred from the ministry. Nevertheless, Yarborough is dealing with the feminisation of male leadership and many will feel that he is on to something. The fact that women's ordination in the national Churches of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales has occurred alongside a radical decline in church attendance at the very least shows that there is absolutely nothing intrinsic to women's ordination which makes it an automatic corollary of church relevance and growth in the modern era. The growing feminisation of the church is a vital issue demanding careful analysis; it does indeed seem to be the case that men attract men, not least at the level of leadership; the effect of strong, clear, loving, male leadership on families and churches seems clear. But the point here is that all these kinds of social observations cannot really be used to carry force in the kind of essay Yarborough is writing without more evidence from the accepted canons of social study and analysis.
These quibbles aside, however, I think this is one of the most important chapters in the book precisely because of its wider concerns and Yarborough's essay is clear and courageous. His criticism of the Stendahl/Bruce interpretation of Galatians 3:28 is extremely important as this text is so crucial in many forms of egalitarian exegesis. Further, his humble suggestions about the ways in which the historic hermeneutic actually does need to become progressive through, not least, a fresh repentance, and his appeal to egalitarians to look beyond the West and consider the effect of their arguments on the world Church that lacks the same conception of individualistic freedom in its various cultural contexts, are both moving and salutary for both sides of the debate. Yarborough's argument helps complementarians to see that banging the drum of male leadership is not the appropriate response to last century's social liberalisation but rather the need is for radically Christian male leadership which leads by loving, giving and dying.
(Incidentally, I cannot help wondering if a lot more has still to be said here about a fully theological account of masculinity and femininity. This is not a criticism of this book as it has a specific focus. But I wonder if one of the main ways we as men fail our wives and our churches is not by being too domineering and harsh in our understanding of headship but rather in our failing to lead by speaking. How pervasive is the common stereo-type of silent men/husbands and verbose women/wives? Are there any grounds at all here for wondering if a lack of speech is a common way of a man abdicating his responsibility to lovingly care for his wife and to sacrifice himself for her? Is there some warrant for suggesting that the 1 Tim. 2 grounding of women's ‘silence' in creation and fall is tied theologically to a view of male headship which sees one of its primary expressions as leading-by-speaking? These questions might be worth some careful consideration).
The final chapter by Dorothy Kelley Patterson, ‘What Should a Woman Do in the Church? One Woman's Personal Reflections' provides a worked out application of the exegetical study. Patterson outlines her understanding of the passage as one which prohibits her from a) occupying the ruling position of pastor or elder in a church, b) teaching men in a church and c) even from teaching men in a Seminary setting. It is generally very helpful in accomplishing its aims. However, as both Patterson and the Editors point out, it does leave a whole host of other practical questions untouched and one wonders here if it would have been helpful if Patterson had attempted to provide some guidance on some of the grey areas that the issue of women's ministry throws up. For instance, I don't think Patterson is crystal clear on the precise thinking underlying the limiting of her seminary teaching to women - should this be all subjects or just Bible? Does the same thinking apply to teaching church history as it does to the theology of John? Why or why not? What warrants the precise connection between the congregational teaching in view in the 1 Timothy text and the seminary classroom? Also, what about the issue of small group Bible studies or youth Sunday school classes - what is appropriate and most biblically faithful for women to do in these areas? Patterson would not need to have been prescriptive here while also giving some guidance about how she understands the meaning of 1 Timothy 2 to apply to issues like these.
This excellent book is highly recommended for the encouragement it gives the interpreter who suggests that what the text seems to be saying is what it actually does say. The fact that this confidence has been so undermined in recent years arguably says so much more about our contemporary location than the difficulties of the text (although 2:15 surely does count as difficult to understand)! The first edition made this book the definitive exegetical study of the passage and this position is further strengthened by the second edition's extensive interaction with all subsequent work on the passage. It will be an indispensable resource for those wanting to study the issue of complementarianism vs egalitarianism, and a must read for any minister preparing to expound 1 Timothy 2:9-15.
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 John
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Timothy
- 2 John
- 2 Kings
- 2 Samuel
- 3 John
- Biblical Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Old Testament Theology
- Song of Songs
- Wisdom Literature