Women in the Church and 1.Timothy 2.Priesthood.

Women in the Church

Topic 1   Which Book Came First—Timothy or Romans?

Topic 2   Looking at Women from the Context of the Priesthood


The issue of what women can or cannot do in the church continues to rage on.  Christians for Biblical Equality have two good magazines to offer:  one is Priscilla Papers and the other one is Mutuality.  They have some excellent articles, a scholarly approach, and information to help the reader work through the challenges that seem to be ever present with ‘the woman issue’ in the church today.

The following are selected excerpts from two articles.

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Topic 1   Which Book Came First–Timothy or Romans?   Having a Consistent NT Interpretive Approach

Title:   On Developing a Consistent Hermeneutical Approach to the Application of General Scriptures

by Cynthia Long Westfall, Ph.D.


Topic 2 Looking at Women from the Context of the Priesthood

Title:   Incarnation, Trinity, and the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

by John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D.


Topic 1

Which Book Came First—Timothy or Romans?

Title:  On Developing a Consistent Hermeneutical Approach

to the Application of General Scriptures

by Cynthia Long Westfall, Ph.D.


What is 1 Tim 2:8-15 really about?  This is the primary passage that has been used to exclude women from teaching and leadership in the church.  However, a careful examination of the passage in its context shows that it is most likely addressing false teaching and myths about marriage and childbirth that were spreading from house to house.

In an article, authored by Cynthia Long Westfall, we pick up some intriguing facts.  Westfall begins her discussion by acknowledging that the 1 Corinthians passage on spiritual gifts reflects the Holy Spirit’s primary role in the distribution of the gifts.  The problem in the evangelical church is that it has had a dominant hermeneutical approach which inserts 1 Tim. 2:12 as an a priori assumption over the distribution of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The result is that “women find that they hit unanticipated glass walls because they are dealing with embedded theologies that are far more restrictive and confusing than what is actually articulated or permitted.”  Westfall states clearly that in practice a veil is placed over Rom. 12:1-8 when a woman reads it.  The point is that anyone who studies Scripture, whether woman or man, needs to apply sound hermeneutical principles consistently when studying this passage.

“Inconsistencies in the hermeneutical approach applied in regard to women result in theological inconsistency and patterns of injustice.”

Three of Paul’s epistles act as a template for the believer’s function in the church:  1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians. These letters were written around A.D. 55-60.  The Epistle to the Romans is the least occasional of Paul’s epistles and is the most systematic, with the most explanation and clarity.  Paul never visited the Christians in Rome.

“If there had been essential constraints on women in the exercise of spiritual gifts, this would have been the time for Paul to make such constraints clear.”

Romans provides a significant contrast with 1 Timothy in a number of ways:

  • Romans was written to a group in a place that Paul never visited.

  • 1 Timothy was a private, intimate letter to a member of his ministry team, which by nature assumes a very high level of shared information.  Key information for outsider interpretation is omitted because the recipient understands the context.

  • 1 Timothy is highly occasional, embedded in a particular context in Ephesus.  Paul was addressing a number of specific issues and problems caused by false teaching.

  • 1 Timothy was written as much as eight years after Romans was written.

  • The alleged interpretive grid in 1 Tim. 2:12 contains a number of significant interpretive problems.

  • When the eight-year span between these two letters is considered, the use of 1 Tim. 2:12 as an interpretive grid for Romans is anachronistic.


Interpreting the Scripture skillfully involves:

  1. Not basing a doctrine on one verse.

  1. Not basing a doctrine on a verse or passage with interpretive problems.

  1. Giving preference to the clearer passage.



  1. Rom. 12:1-8 is a unified thread and 12:9-21 is closely related.

  1. Parallel passages in 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4:11-15 elucidate Paul’s theology of spiritual gifts and can be used legitimately to interpret each other.

  1. Regardless of one’s translation theory, in the Greek, humas (you plural) and adelphoi (siblings/brothers and sisters) refer to both women and men.  This is made explicit and emphatic in 12:3—these instructions are addressed to every single one of the believers.


Rom. 12:1-2:  Priesthood of the believer, authenticity, and transformation

“The exhortations in 12:1-2 are couched in terms of worship, so that the believer is depicted as both the priest who serves and offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice that is being offered.  Worship in the Old Testament, including the sacrifice and the priesthood, is now being fulfilled with the inauguration of the new age.”

“One of the common arguments used to support the prohibition of women from the priesthood or pastorate is that Old Testament priests were male.  But here we have the priesthood of believers in a ministry/gift context, and there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female in the priesthood.  This is consistent with the argument in the book of Hebrews . . .”

Since Christ offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, then all believers stand on the same ground before God.  Each believer now has the right, the authority, to follow Christ into the Holy of Holies functioning as priests.

“If the Old Testament teaching role actually belonged to the priests rather than the prophets, then the teaching role would be extended across the racial, social, and gender lines also.”

Every believer can share knowledge even though every believer may not have the gift of teaching.

All functions in ministry flow out of the concept of the priesthood of the believer.

  • “Every member of the church shares in the church’s ministry and mission.”

  • “Where there is a priesthood of all believers, there is no spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy.”

One’s theology of ministry will either include or exclude women from positions of authority.  Therefore, “arguments that exclude women from so-called positions of authority are based on an incorrect theology of ministry.”

In the book, How to Think Theologically, there is a helpful distinction between deliberative theology and embedded theology.

  • Deliberative theology is intentionally drawn from interpreting the Bible.  Scriptures are studied and developed into a coherent worldview.

  • Embedded theology is our autopilot—our unspoken, unwritten, unexamined rules by which we live.”

Westfall recounts that Christian women today have been “educated, tested, trained, certified, elected, and proven to function in an expanding variety of different roles and responsibility and leadership.”  She notes that an interesting statistic is that:  “women now make up 50 percent of the student body of some seminaries.”

Basically women’s “personalities, abilities, potential, and development are not inherently broken—they are an essential part of our authenticity.”

Westfall has been keenly observed that there is a reluctance to question or contradict a man’s call, even if he appears to lack the gifts and social skills deemed appropriate for ministry.  Yet, when a woman “determines her call by the same model, using the same criteria, if she comes to the same conclusion, she is told that her navigational system is broken.”

Women are told that utilizing emotion and experience is invalid in discovering their call–if they come up with the “wrong” conclusion.  This is ironic, because women follow the same procedures received directly from the unified witness, teaching, and example of men in the pulpit, adult Sunday schools, Bible classes, theologians, and writers of commentaries.

As a result, in practice, a man’s experience and emotions are treated as normative regarding his call to ministry, but a woman’s emotions and experience are treated as suspect.  Her findings can be cancelled out by being outside of wherever “they” draw the line of what the appropriate sphere of ministry is for women.  Westfall further notes that, historically, the line has been drawn in every conceivable place.

But, in the two passages that explicitly address the basis of the function of ministry, 1 Corinthians 12 and Roman 12, there are two primary determinants of gifts and function:  the realistic estimation of the individual and the Holy Spirit who gives gifts to every individual just as he determines (1 Cor. 12:11).  This would argue against the theology of “drawing a line” and creating a priori rules of how God works that cancel out the clear theology of these two passages in regard to women.”

Westfall zeroes in on the fact that there is a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that is pervasive among conservative evangelicals which has been used to interpret and judge a woman’s identity as well as her behavior.


Romans 12:6b-8:  Gifts given to meet the needs of the body

“When a man looks at Romans 12:6-8, he sees a non-exhaustive list of possibilities through which he may interpret himself and his calling.” . . . “Men are free to consider any gift as a possibility.  On the other hand, sometimes there is flat denial that a woman could be gifted in the majority of the gifts based on whether they involve authority, speaking, or passing judgment based on 1 Timothy 2:12.”

“Men are saying to gifted women, “I have no need of you,” which is a clear violation of Scripture (1 Cor. 12:21-26).  Consequently, women who show themselves to be gifted in areas other than service, showing mercy, giving, and faith are prey to being underutilized, misused, or even treated with hostility.  The principles governing the exercise of spiritual gifts are clear when applied to men, but they are not understood or applied with any rigor or consistency to women.”



“Women are not permitted to interpret or apply Romans 12:1-8 in the same way as the men who teach them and lead them by example.  In essence, they are not allowed to apply sound hermeneutical principles consistently.  A passage becomes something else—in some cases, the exact opposite principle is asserted based on gender considerations than the one which the passage espouses or illustrates.”

“A man can approach spiritual gifts as spiritual possibilities, but a woman may be unsure of what she is allowed to do.  She becomes immobilized.”

Westfall defines the problem as using 1 Tim. 2:12 as a hermeneutical grid when interpreting Rom. 12:1-8.  She affirms that the Roman church “could not have used it as an interpretive grid.”  Using one verse, which has interpretive problems, is unwise.  Preference should be given to the clearer passage in Romans over the less clear passage in 1 Timothy.

“If Paul was deeply troubled about Judaizers requiring circumcision, what would he think about the intentional restraint and immobilization of the Spirit’s gifts for ministry?  Pragmatically, the use of 1 Timothy 2:12 involves a sort of “hermeneutic imperialism” that cancels out the clear teaching of Romans 12:1-8.  The effects of this practice results in complex patterns of injustice.  Ultimately, it generates a different theology for women than for men.”

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From Priscilla Papers, Volume 24, Number 3, Summer, 2010.


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Topic 2

Looking at Women from the Context of the Priesthood

Title:  Incarnation, Trinity, and the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood

by John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D.


From the Church’s Past

In an article by John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D., he takes a hard look at the culture wars around the topic of the ordination of women.  Davis observes:

“With regard to “culture wars,” cultural conservatives tend to see the ordination of women as symptomatic of a feminist movement that destabilizes the family and society generally; cultural progressives and egalitarians tend to see male-dominant readings of Scripture as increasing the dangers of domestic violence and abuse.”

Davis goes on to reminisce about how certain beliefs, that were held strongly in the church over time, were later reconsidered under duress of the evidence presented and were forced to painfully adjust accordingly:

“During the Galileo controversy, the Vatican could rightly point to a patristic and later church tradition that was solidly on the side of a geocentric understanding of biblical texts such as Psalm 19, Joshua 10:13, and Psalm 9:1, and yet, as history shows, the church was later to correct its earlier understanding of these texts in the light of new evidence and better hermeneutical principles.”

Davis concludes that this also may be the case with regard to traditional understandings of the biblical texts regarding the ordination of women.


The Maleness of the Priesthood

When it comes to the argument of the ordination of women beginning with the male gender of Jesus, an obviously valid point, there are a number of serious problems with proceeding with this line of argument.  Davis points out the following:

  1. This line of argument overlooks the fact that the nature of priesthood was fundamentally changed in the transition from the old to the New Covenant.  In the New Testament church, all believers are priests, offering the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. 

“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Pet. 2:5, 9

 One does not have to look very far to realize that both male and female are now ‘priests’ in the New Testament usage of the term.  Believers are no longer dependent on a single human mediator, but have immediate access to the Father, by faith in Christ alone.  From Hebrews and Revelation, we note two verses: 

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”                                      Heb. 10:22

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”                    Rev. 5:10

  1. The idea of the male priest as “icon of Christ” argument demonstrates a misunderstanding of the purpose of the incarnation.

Though Jesus became incarnate, as a male, the main point is that God took on a full and complete human nature.  This human nature fully represented both male and female.

The introduction to the Gospel of John states that:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . .”  (John 1:14).  It does not say:  “And the Word became a male.” 

The outstanding point with the incarnation was that Jesus was not only a male by gender, but more specifically, he was a Jewish, unmarried, physically unblemished, male.

When one reads the fine print in Lev. 21:17-21, it is also clear that in order to be ordained to the Levitical priesthood that the candidate could not be:  blind, lame, deformed, crippled, or have any eye defects.

Davis concludes that since it is unlikely that anyone would argue today that a priest, to be an “icon of Christ,” must be an unmarried Jewish male.  He points out that “such characteristics are circumstantial rather than essential characteristics of one who is to assume a full and complete human (not merely male) nature for the purpose of redeeming human nature, both men and women, and bringing them to God.”

Since both male and female are made in the image of God, according to the account in Genesis 1:17, both genders reflect the character of God.

Therefore, from the fact that God became incarnate as a Jewish man:

  1. It does not follow that Jews can be closer to God than Gentiles or that Jews are better “icons” of God than Gentiles.

  1. Nor does it follow that males are inherently better “icons”  of God than women.


The good news has always been that in the New Covenant these distinctions are overcome, according to Gal. 3:28:  “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”—all have equal access to God and to God’s grace.


Davis drives home the point that:

  1. Maleness is not more similar to the divine essence than femaleness and

  1. The male language of the Trinity is a circumstantial (though not arbitrary) and not an essential characteristic of the Trinitarian revelation of Scripture.

How does human language describe some aspects of God?

  1. God is a spirit by nature and so is not literally a gendered being.

  1. The word “Father” is predicated on a human father.  Though God is like a human father in some respects, he is not just like or only like a human father, but infinitely greater than any human father.

  1. God is also described in Scripture in terms that are impersonal such as:  God is a Rock; a consuming fire; God is light, etc.

  1. The fundamental core assertion of the Triune name of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the personal nature of God.



In a nutshell, Davis points out that since the Triune community is the basis of all human community then the use of “male” language of the Trinity is an analogical revelation of strength and power of God to create and redeem.

“The male language of God is power language that signifies that God is powerful to create and to save—that God is indeed the true God; there is no other.”


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From Priscilla Papers, Volume 24, Number 1, Winter, 2010.


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With Special Thanks to Christians for Biblical Equality

for their ongoing ministry and excellent material on these topics.



Helpful Resources

In order to access further articles on the topic of biblical gender equality, please contact Christians for Biblical Equality.

  • Request information for:  Priscilla Papers or Mutuality.

  • Request CBE’s informative online newsletter called Arise.


Link:  www.cbeinternational.org


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For Further Reflection

1 Timothy 2:1-15 (NIV)

Instructions on Worship 

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—

2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,

4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people.  This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission.

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.


a. 1 Timothy 2:11 Or wife; also in verse 12

b. 1 Timothy 2:12 Or over her husband

c. 1 Timothy 2:15 Greek she

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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.