Home General Biblical Feminism: Women in Ministry (Part 1)

Biblical Feminism: Women in Ministry (Part 1)

by Cyrus Wardly
Biblical Feminism: Women in Ministry (Part 1)

A well respected pastor named John Macarthur recently set the internet on fire with two words directed at Beth Moore: “Go home.” Outside of the church, we see the rise of radical feminism (see our writing on this) advocating for pro-death and anti-male ideologies. Any other notion of womanhood is immediately taken to be sexist. It seems then that in today’s world more than ever, a proper biblical view of feminism is necessary to correct errors that come within and without the Christian community. The goal of this article is to provide an exegetical examination of key biblical texts and hopefully provide a balanced perspective on the issue.

If I was asked to state my view in a few words I would summarize the stance of Dr. Michael Heiser with, “there is a case to be made either way and to be honest I don’t see why I should care.” I do think it is important to note that people who are against women pastors should not be painted as sexist, nor should those who support women pastors be painted as liberalizing Scripture. That’s uncharitable because both sides wish to stay true to what the Scripture teaches. It is God who decides what the proper role of His creation should be. Just as men cannot give birth, so too it may be the case that woman cannot preach. It is a fact that men and women are different in important and meaningful ways and it could be the case that this is just one of those differences. So if woman aren’t allowed to preach, or the Bible does not rule it out, then we should follow the evidence where it leads.

The Issue
The question is usually phrased as, “Can women do ministry?” but in reality, the question is actually “Can women be pastors?” No reasonable person thinks women cannot be involved in ministry of any kind. Childcare, women’s Bible studies, or other supportive roles in the church are obviously kinds of ministries. The question then is, what does the Bible teach? Part 1 of this series will consider 1 Timothy 2:8-15, with special attention paid to 2:12. Fair warning: this will get technical. Afterwards, in Part 2 we will take a look at what I have often called “The Feminism Chapter”or Romans 16. Then finally in the last (planned) part of this series, we will examine the Biblical view of women in general from equality with men to the role in family and more. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

1 Timothy and its Context
1 Timothy is a letter the Apostle Paul writes to his disciple Timothy, who he thinks of as a son. Timothy was on a mission to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus had been infiltrated by people teaching false ideas that were so bad, Paul described them as “doctrine of demons” [1], which were advanced by people like Hymenaeus and Alexander [2]. Their false teachings included myths, endless genealogies [3] and forbidding certain foods [4]. We know specifically that part of their false teaching had to do with the relationship between men and women because Paul mentions they were forbidding marriage in 1 Timothy 4:3.

As Paul is instructing Timothy, he gives these words:

8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (ESV)

Now many scholars who are against women in pastoral and teaching roles find this verse to be pretty clear (at least it seems so in English). Women are not supposed to teach or have authority over men. Many use context to say that Paul is talking specifically about Church life, that means there can still be women school teachers and government leaders. More scholars would say specifically that women are not to teach Christian doctrine to men but could still be women’s or children’s ministers. This opposition would also say that Paul is not citing his personal opinion or a cultural limitation caused by the situation going on in Ephesus. They, who include Dr. James White [5] (my favorite Calvinist), argue that because Paul cites the creation story of Genesis 1 he is, therefore, making the case that this teaching is to have a universal application – this is how God wanted it from the beginning and forever after. This argument is similar to when we argue against plural marriage by pointing to Genesis and the pattern of marriage God established which we know to be the prototype for the rest of humanity. We will revisit this point about Paul citing the created order later on. 

For a long time, I must admit that I didn’t think too critically about my view of women being ministers. I honestly just thought of the positive examples of women ministers in Scripture (more on this in Part 2) and I was comfortable with the “cultural” explanation for 1 Timothy 2:12. Later on after hearing the argument about the created order, I still didn’t find reason to doubt my prior view (again because of the positive examples) but I placed a question mark over the whole passage and said I would look deeper into it one day. When preparing to write this article I’ve given myself a headache by finally taking that closer look at this passage. I’m comfortable to say that this passage has a lot of questions that hang over it and the real meaning is not as clear as it appears in English Bible translations. Andrew Wilson, teaching pastor at Kings Church London, offers 12 possible readings of the 12 words in this one verse [6].

Subjectivity Or Ad Hoc-ness
The first issue when trying to understand the meaning of this verse is the possibility that Paul could be citing a personal opinion and not God’s command. Paul on occasion would give his personal take on a topic that is not meant to be seen as universal. An example of this is 1 Corinthians 7 verses 10 and 12 where Paul is careful to separate his own thoughts from the command of God with the phrases “give this command (not I, but the Lord)” and “To the rest, I say this (I, not the Lord)

Such a situation is a result of the confluent inspiration of Scripture. Scripture is the product of God through man. But the Holy Spirit did not take over the authors’ hands as Scripture was being written, rather it can be thought of more as a partnership of God and human. The authors’ life experiences and unique vocabulary are still present in the final product and this necessarily means that on occasion a degree of personal opinion comes into the text as well. 

But what are the clues that in this particular instance Paul is speaking in his own opinion? Well just on the surface of it, without looking at the Greek, Paul uses the words “I desire” to frame this whole section. At least to me reading as a native English speaker in the 21st century, Paul is saying what he wants to see happen in the community at Ephesus. This then carries on with the first person phrase “I do not permit” it is of course still possible that Paul is citing his preference but also intends it to be common practice for all time. 

A second clue about the limited nature of this verse is to be found in the particular word used at the beginning epitrepō (permit)Epitrepō is consistently used in the New Testament in an ad hoc sense of asking for permission or allowing. This point is made pretty well by Jeff Niehaus of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary [7] in a debate on this topic.  Niehaus brings up the scene where Jesus epitrepō (permits) a legion of demons to leave a possessed man and enter a group of pigs. “Jesus is not commanding all demons to enter all pigs in this case.” If Paul meant 1 Timothy 2:12 to be a directive for all time the more appropriate word to use here would have been paraggelia, which is used elsewhere in this very same writing (1 Timothy 1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17). 

A Particular Man and Woman
Another awkward feature of this passage is the switch from men/women in general (plural) in 1 Timothy 8-10 to man and woman (singular, maybe particular) it almost appears Paul has in mind a specific man and woman who he’s directing his statement towards. There is the possibility that there is a particular married couple behind Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, 15. Marg Mowczko (who is a major source that I utilized for this writing) says this. [8]

…perhaps verses 11 and 12 and 15 are speaking about an anonymous woman, like “Jezebel” who was teaching and leading astray Christians in the church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:20). Whether a wife or not, Paul’s remedy is that a woman must learn . . . quietly (1 Tim. 2:11).

The space between teaching and authority.
This next section is scaring me even right this moment as I form the words and scan through my outline. We are likely going to get very into the weeds talking about Greek vocab words, syntax and you will likely learn a few technical terms from New Testament studies. So get ready because we will spend a lot of time discussing the space between “teach” and “authority”

The first question to consider here is did Paul mean the words didaskein (to teach) and authentein (have authority (more on this word to come)) to have a positive or negative connotation? In linguistics, denotation means the dictionary definition of a word (a rat refers to the rodent creature) but connotation is the associations the word brings to mind but are not necessarily part of the definition (e.g, calling a person a rat – negative connotation – you’re calling them dirty and other insults). If didaskein and authentein have a negative connotation then Paul is only forbidding women from teaching FALSELY and STEALING (LORDING, CONTROLLING) authority. But if these words are positive that means he is saying that women cannot teach men or have authority over them at all. In the former case, Paul is correcting a bad set of circumstances in the latter, he is giving a universal command.

Andreas Köstenberger professor of New Testament and director of Ph.D. studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has written the definitive work on this topic [9]. Köstenberger takes a look at the Greek the word oude (or) which is the conjunction that connects didaskein and authentein. After analyzing 100 parallel uses both in the Bible and in other Ancient Greek literature Kostenberger has virtually proved that oude was always used to connect like verbs. This means that in this passage Paul either means the verbs to be both positive or both negative but not positive and negative. Despite being challenged by feminist scholars like Philip Payne, Köstenberger has rebutted and his findings stand with authority [10]. The significance is that if we can prove that either of these verbs has a certain connotation, like a math equation, this would also prove that the other verb has the same connotation. 

Kostenberger who is against women preaching and teaching goes on to argue that didaskein (to teach) usually has a positive connotation in the Pastoral Epistles and this leads him to conclude that authentein must also be positive. Therefore Paul is forbidding woman from teaching and preaching in the universal sense. But on the other hand if one could show that authentein inherently has a negative connotation then it could be shown that women teaching and preaching is only forbidden in a negative way. And thus we have to go on a complicated road trip before we come back to the space between didaskein and authentein.

What exactly does authentein mean?

Authentein is a strange word choice on the part of the Apostle. This is not the usual word for “authority,” that word would be exousia. Finding the precise meaning of this word is difficult because authentein is a New Testament hapax legomenon. If you’ve read my writing on tattoos from several years ago you will remember that a hapax legomenon is Greek for “(Something) said (only) once.” Over time the meaning of words is lost or change and at times it is necessary to compare uses of the same word to get a better idea of what the word means in different contexts. The issue is authentein is only used once in the Bible and so we have to look at other works of Ancient Greek to get a sense of this word’s full meaning and meaning at the time of Paul (since the meaning of words can change with time).

The word authentein may originally be related to the concrete noun authentēs, which in Classical Greek meant “to kill a family member” and later (in the Hellenistic Period) came to mean murder, mastermind. [11].

There are rare examples of the word authentein being used around the time of Paul. Only 9 such examples are known including 1 Timothy 2:12. And of these 9 only 6 are for sure because in three of these cases the documents are damaged (they are ancient after all) and scholars speculate that the word authentein would fit the context. I am including a useful table I found that shows the 6 examples of authentic alongside translations given by some well-known scholars. [12]

What is clear here is that there is little agreement on this word. The only unanimous translation seems to be that when Ptolemy uses it he means to dominate. What is clear also is that authentein has a number of possible meanings so the traditional reading “to have authority over” is not the single and/or most obvious use of the word.

Notice also that every instance of the word could easily be read with negative connotations. This may be a gross overstatement by me since the evidence we do have is so limited but it appears that maybe the typical use authentein is in the negative. If this case could be made stronger with additional research, it would (a la Kostenberger) go a long way to show what Paul really meant in this passage. Also, one must ask if this word is meant to be positive in the first place. Why were translations such as domineer (negative) and usurp authority (negative) ever accepted as reasonable?

There is also a very interesting feature of authentein. It appears to have an element of self-reference and this will be important later when I propose an alternative translation of this word. As noted by Jamin Hubner [12],

“When one studies the morphology of authenteō/authentein, taking notice of the initial morpheme, a striking pattern among similar NT words emerges: 

authadēs = “self-satisfied”
authairetos = “of one’s own accord” 
automatos = “by itself”
autarkeia = “self-sufficiency”
autarkēs = “self-sufficient”
autokatakritos = “self-condemned” 
autocheir = “with one’s own hand” 

So what does this all mean? Can I just make the suggestion that if Paul uses an unusual word, maybe just maybe, he was addressing an unusual circumstance? What is clear is that while we have a decent idea of what this word means, there are aspects of it that still elude us and we cannot be completely certain why Paul chose to use this term. To me, however, this word alone puts a big question mark on women being pastors and it seems foolish to build a strong doctrine off of an obscure verb.

Please don’t hear me saying that because we lack of information on one term that we should permit something that many would have a problem with. What I am saying is can we have a little bit of grace and admit there is room for nuance? I’m asking some of you to tolerate (or treat as a secondary issue) female preachers based on the ambiguity in the text. Later on, I hope to make a case for accepting women preachers and not just tolerating them but this is coming in part two. For now, let’s go back to that space between didaskein and authentein for one last exploration of this troublesome gap.

Is There a Hendiadys in 1 Timothy 2:12
Another difficult aspect of 1 Timothy 2:12 is whether or not Paul intended to include a hendiadys to link teaching to authentein. A hendiadys is Greek for “one through two” and it describes a figure of speech that is a compound concept [13]. In English, we have compound words, (remember from elementary school?) such as moonlight and classroom, one word made out of two other words. Similar to this a hendiadys is when two words are used to describe one concept. An example is Mark 11:24 where the Greek text literally says “whatever you pray and ask” but the two words (pray and ask) get joined to communicate one concept and translated as “whatever you ask in prayer.” The significance is that if teaching and authentein are connected then one word would qualify the other. That is to say it would be a specific set of conditions where women are not allowed to teach, not a universal prohibition.

So does 1 Timothy 2:12 contain a hendiadys? This question has been greatly debated. Scholars like Philip Payne have tried to make the case that when the Greek words ou(k), oude, and alla appear together in a sentence, as they do in 1 Timothy 2:12, it is always a hendiadys. But Payne’s claim has been met with a lot of skepticism [14]. The consensus is that Payne’s arguments are inconclusive at best and pretty weak.

The problem is that the typical and accepted construction of a hendiadys is when the word is connected by the Greek conjunction kia (and) the argument is that in order to be a hendiadys the sentence should be verb kia verb.  It is argued that oude (or) was never used to form hendiadyses and of course as we have already seen the conjunction that links didaskein (to teach) to authentein is oude. Notice also how the verbs that are being linked to form one larger idea are right next to one another in the typical construction. Some also argue that because didaskein (to teach) and authentein are separated by five words in Greek, it is impossible to consider this a hendiadys.

For all the debate back and forth on kia being necessary to link these two concepts, there is at least one possible example in Ancient Greek that uses oude to form a hendiadys. The Greek historian Polybius who lived 200 years before Paul and Jesus seem to create a conceptual link with the word oude instead of kia [15]. I simply bring this up as a possibility but I won’t get into the ins and outs of this passage. Just know that is accepted by some that this is a case of oude hendiadys but it’s hardly a settled issue [16]

However, there is a deeper challenge to discuss. If 1 Timothy 2:12 does not hold a hendiadys, then only authentein is grammatically linked to men but not to didaskein (to teach). We discussed subject-verb agreement in my third part in the series on Demonology called, “Origins of the Demons Revisited.” What I said there is that the Greek language has different forms verbs can take. Often times, to know what an author of Scripture is writing about, the case of a verb has to match the case of the subject. In 1 Timothy 1:12 men is linked to authentein but the case for didaskein (to teach) doesn’t match. [8]  So if there is no hendiadys, then Paul is not saying women cannot teach men. The prohibition against women teaching is not about men at all without the link. 

There is no “over”
Just a final comment on the space between didaskein (to teach) and authentein there is no word “over” [17] in Greek but it often gets included in English translations as a “helping word” to make the passage clearer to us. The inclusion of the word isn’t necessarily incorrect but also one has to question its inclusion to qualify authentein when as we have seen there is a range of meanings for the word. 

To originate man
For the last section of this article, I want to offer up a proposed translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that is given by Catherine Kroeger founder of the organization Christians for Biblical Equality. Now I am going to be honest with you dear reader. There are certain strengths to this translation but there may be more weaknesses. Grammatically speaking, it is hard to make the case that this was Paul’s intended interpretation but to its credit, this translation seems to naturally fit the context of this passage and could make much sense of the cultural challenges the Church was facing at Ephesus. 

There are examples both before the New Testament and afterward of the word authentein meaning “the originator of.” As was noted above, there is an aspect of the semantical domain of authentein that is self-referential and self-authenticating. This can also be seen in authentein‘s relationship with the English word authentic. If a baseball card is authentic, it is original. 

The famous Greek Grammarian, Aristonicus of Alexandria, [19] writing in the year 27 BC, used a form of the word authentein as an articular participle. [20] In this form the phrase can be translated “the author of the message,” “the one self-accomplishing the speech” or “the originator of the speech.”

A few hundred years after the time of Jesus and Paul some of the Church Fathers also use the word in a similar way. Eusebius of Caesarea, the first Christian Historian (not including Luke) used authentein to mean “to begin something, to take the initiative, or to be primarily responsible for it” in writing about the creative activities of God. The great theologian Athaniaus who defended the Trinity during the Arian debate says we should have grace for those Christians who defected under compulsion but had not themselves instigated (authentein) the problem. [21]

Commenting on Kroeger’s theory, Mowczk makes the point that this meaning for authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 isn’t impossible but is a grammatical stretch. 

If authentein does mean “to be the originator/author” then the statement in 1 Tim 2:12 would read, “I am not allowing a woman to teach nor to be the originator/author of a man . . .” Too many extra, helping words are needed to make the statement, “I am not allowing woman to teach nor to claim she is the originator of man . . .”  [11]

But if 1 Timothy 2:12 has a hendiadys and if authentein means “originator” the meaning could become, “I am not allowing a woman to teach that she is the originator of man.” Now take a look at what this meaning does to 1 Timothy 2:12-14

12 I am not allowing a woman to teach that she is the originator of man she should remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 

Paul was Correcting Early Gnostic Lies
Gnosticism was a heretical branch of Christianity that started cropping up as early as the New Testament. 1 John was written to correct the beginnings of Gnostic teaching. This group was a blend of Pagan, Christian and Jewish ideas and they were famous for writing fake Scripture to support their views. Gnostics twisted everything from Genesis to the Cross to support weird ideas.

Gnostic writings had very distorted views of Eve’s relationship to Adam. The Apocalypse of Adam (written between AD 50-150) claims that Eve taught Adam the “word of knowledge of the eternal God.” The Gospel of Philip (between 180 and 250 AD) says that Adam was born from two virgins one of whom was Eve. Eve gave birth to Adam. The Hypostasis of the Archos is a commentary on Genesis 1-6 (between 200-300 AD) in it Adam says that he was given life by Eve. This commentary also says that the serpent was a “teacher” who was taking orders from a kind of goddess. The Origin of the World (270 to 330) has Eve claiming to be the first virgin who without a husband gave birth to her first child. Here Adam also states that Eve is the daughter of Sophia the female “divine force” and it was Eve who created him.

Most of these works were written after 1 Timothy but as is often the case, those ideas were probably around for a long time before they got written down. There are clues in 1 Timothy itself that it is being written to correct early Gnostic ideas and the Church Fathers (who likely had more information than us because their lives were only 100-200 years after). Irenaeus (author of Against Heresies), Tertullian (an early Charismatic), and Eusebius (First Christian Historian) all said that 1 Timothy sounded like it was addressing the Gnosticism that existed in their life. [22] Ephesus was also the center of worship of the Pagan Artemis (Acts 19) that includes temple prostitution, female priestesses distorting the Word of God, worship of the divine feminism. These are all things that would have made Ephesus an incubator for Gnostic distortions of Adam and Eve.

I really favor this translation because it nicely addresses Paul’s citation of the Genesis creation order while still making sense of the limited, subjective language in 1 Timothy 2:12. It would not be a foreign interpretation to the context of the passage and cultural situation of the day. But in all fairness, more scholarship needs to be paid to this theory before it can ever become a consensus interpretation.


My genuine hope is that whatever view you bring to the question of females being pastors, you have found this examination of 1 Timothy 2 to be fair and honest to the text. I hope that I have spelled out many of the difficulties involved with translating and understanding this passage. I hope that we are open enough with ourselves to see that this passage is difficult to use to build a strong doctrine against women teaching men in a universal sense. I’ve at least given some a reason to consider tolerating ladies in leadership. Now that we have examined the case against women preaching or teaching, the next part of this series I will seek to take a look at the positive case for women leaders from the Scripture and from history.


[1] 1 Timothy 4:1
[2] 1 Timothy 1:20
[3] 1 Timothy 1:4
[4] 1 Timothy 4:3
[5] White, James R. Pulpit Crimes: the Criminal Mishandling of God’s Word. Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006.
[6[ “Twelve Words, Twelve Interpretations: 1 Timothy 2:12.” What You Think Matters, 1 Feb. 2012, https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/twelve-words-twelve-interpretations-1-timothy-212.
[7] Egelatarian vs Supplementarian, YouTube, 18 Nov. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chSsWbkUWrY&t=3438s.
[8] Mowczk, Marg. “6 Reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 Is Not as Clear as It Seems.” Marg Mowczko, Marg Mowczko, 17 Sept. 2019, https://margmowczko.com/1-timothy-212-not-as-clear/.
[9] Köstenberger Andreas J., and Thomas R. Schreiner. Women in the Church: an Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Crossway, 2016.
[10] A. kostenberger. “Was I Wrong on 1 Timothy 2:12?” Biblical Foundations, 14 Aug. 2017, https://www.biblicalfoundations.org/was-i-wrong-on-1-tim-212/.
[11] “The Meaning of Authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12, with a Brief History of Authent– Words.” Marg Mowczko, 2 Aug. 2019, https://margmowczko.com/authentein-1-timothy2_12/.
[12] Translating (authenteō)in 1 Timothy 2:12 Jamin Hübner https://www.cbeinternational.org/sites/default/files/pp292_4tai1t-2.pdf
[13] “Figures of Speech – Hendiadys (Two for One).” Truth Or Tradition? 5 June 2014, https://www.truthortradition.com/articles/figures-of-speech-hendiadys-two-for-one.
[14] Scott. “Hendiadys and 1 Tim 2:12.” Hendiadys and 1 Tim 2:12, 1 Jan. 1970, http://the27.blogspot.com/2008/05/hendiadys-and-1-tim-212.html.
[15] Polybius History
[16] a forum thread of Greek students discussing Polybius Oude. Some agreeing, many not
[18] 1 Timothy 2:12 in the original Greek language.
[20] A participle with an article before it gives the participle “the character of a noun.” Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Harvard University Press, 1920, 1984), 454.
[21] Part FIVE: Greek Verb ‘Authentein’ Not to Be Translated ‘Have Authority over.’” Reading 1 Timothy 2:12 in Its Context, 16 July 2013, https://1timothy2.wordpress.com/greek-verb-authentein-not-to-be-translated-have-authority-over/.
[22] Mowczk, Marg The Consesus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12 July 2, 2014


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Jesse S. November 11, 2019 - 8:29 pm

Thorough and well-thought. I appreciate the time you invested in this article. It is a hard subject for many, but to simply cut out so many wonderful women because they feel called to preach/lead is sad. I will always test the fruits, but I’ve found many women to be wonderful leaders.

Thomas March 8, 2020 - 12:05 am

This was very informative, and wow, I have a lot more respect for those who study ancient Greek (and Hebrew) now. I still can’t decide what interpretation I think is most accurate. One thing you didn’t get into though, which happens to be the first interpretation I’ve hear on this, is 1 Timothy 2:12 refers to a wife and a husband, since the word for woman in Greek can mean either. In the sixth footnote Andrew Wilson briefly brings it up and dismisses on the grounds that most of First Timothy 2 is talking about men and women in general so it wouldn’t be about married couples. One problem I have with his reason for brushing it aside so quickly is this: Paul changes from using plural men and women to singular woman and man and to me this could be because he was trying to indicate that he was switching from talking about women to wives. Further, with this interpretation the reference to Genesis would still make good sense, as you mentioned Adam and Eve were the prototype for how marriage was intended. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.


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