© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

[1] There are three main questions involved in the debate, each with associated secondary questions, and each requiring definition of key words:

(1) Does the Bible teach male/female equality?

In Genesis 1 and 2?
After Genesis 3?
After redemption?

(2a) Does the Bible permit women to teach men? [which requires a biblical definition of ‘teach’]

In any context including public worship?
In any context except public worship?

(2b) Does the Bible permit women to occupy positions of authority in the church?

All positions of authority at any level?
Any position except key leadership positions?

[2] Two further questions that need to be considered are:

1. To what extent have changes in contemporary Western secular attitudes generated the current Christian debate about gender roles?

2. To what extent should the movement in secular attitudes be considered by Christians debating the issue?

To what extent should the Church alter its practice to remove perceived stumbling blocks to faith?

Is the gender roles issue one that can be accommodated so that the Church, like Paul, becomes all things to all men? Or is it biblically non-negotiable?

What is the biblical ‘bottom line’ which must not be moved?

[3] An important consideration when assessing various viewpoints is: What is this person’s position concerning the nature and authority of the Bible?

The answer to this question is not as simple as may be thought, because even within evangelicalism there are different views. The presence of Charismatic Christians in the debate, with their perceptions of contemporary ‘prophecies’ as God giving ‘revelation’, raises questions about their understanding of the finality, and therefore the reliability, of the Scripture, regardless of any formal affirmation of that reliability. Indeed, Charismatics of the ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ persuasion openly and unashamedly teach the incompleteness and limited relevance of the written Scriptures for the twenty-first century, and openly claim that God is giving fresh authoritative revelation today.

[4] It is also important to note that scholars engaged in the debate validate their interpretation of biblical texts on the basis various ancient, historical and contemporary Christian and secular documents. These documents give a very mixed message about both the cultural practices of the New Testament era, and the biblical and secular usage of the words used by Paul in the debated verses. Scholars soften, harden or completely change their position because of these non-canonical documents. Although research and scholarship are to be commended, we must remember that God has given us both his Word which contains all that we need for truth and godliness, and his Spirit, who opens our understanding of the Word.

Traditionalist – usually applied to the historical view that men rule, women submit, before the current debate emerged. Some held that women were created inferior to men. This fitted well with historical secular views and practice (when women were uneducated or denied higher education), and in patriarchal cultures.

Complementarian – (a more recent term), generally not as hard line as traditionalists, affirming ontological equality, but sustaining a clear distinction of role and/or function between male and female in the church on the basis of their interpretation of biblical texts. [There are significant differences among them concerning what women are permitted to do.]

Egalitarian – holding total equality of being (except physical), and of roles and functions that can be occupied or engaged in by women within the church.

Positions range from extreme emphasis on male dominance and superiority to extreme emphasis on equality. These positions are briefly identified below:

Extreme emphasis on male dominance and superiority
(This is mostly, but not exclusively, seen among unbelievers.)
Men: Abuse of women, sex slavery, basic rights of women denied, women seen as sex objects, women seen as the possession of men.
Women: Female attitudes of servility, manipulative weakness, uselessness, etc.

Traditionalist attitudes within the church
Women are forbidden [1] to hold any position of authority in the church and [2] to teach men in any context within the fellowship of believers.

Reduced restriction on women in the church
Women are permitted to speak to mixed gatherings but not in church worship services.

Further reduced restrictions
Women can fill speaking roles in church services, except preach the sermon, or, in some denominations, officiate at/lead the Lord’s Supper.

Mild complementarianism
Women can fill all roles and speaking functions except that of elder/pastor or lead elder/ lead pastor, and/or ‘teaching’ in a very limited, technical sense.

Mild egalitarianism
Believes the Bible makes no restrictions on women serving in the church in normal circumstances, but prohibits certain functions in exceptional circumstances.

Extreme egalitarianism in the church
Women are permitted to hold any position of authority in the church and to teach men in any context, without restriction or limitation.

Extreme emphasis on equality
(This is mostly, but not exclusively, seen among unbelievers.)
Radical feminism. Abortion on demand. Transgenderism. Homosexuality. Same sex marriage. Male passivity. Men abdicate their leadership role.



Allow – 1Corinthians 13:34; 1Timothy 2:12 – epitrepo.
This refers to giving permission or liberty, or having permission or liberty.

To have authority - 1Timothy 1:12 – authentein.
Infinitive of the verb authenteo. Not a noun. Not the normal NT words for ‘authority’ or for exercising authority, and has no relationship to any of those NT words. This word is used only here in the Bible, and only rarely in non-biblical Greek.

It is difficult, therefore, to determine its exact meaning, and what Paul’s intention was in using it here. Its usage in secular Greek up to this time included the meanings ‘commit an act of violence/murder’, ‘kill with one’s own hand’, ‘had my way with’, ‘dominate/domineer’, and ‘author’. The composition of the word is auto [a reference to self] and hentes [an obsolete word for ‘worker’ or ‘working’]. This suggests an attitude of working/acting on one’s own initiative, instead of acting in keeping with the appropriate order. [It is in the far distant etymological background of our words ‘authentic’ and ‘authenticate’.]

Authority - 1Corinthians 11:10 - exousia.
Power, particularly the power of right/position, freedom of action, delegated authority. [Unusual use of the word in 1Corinthians 11]. [NIV has added ‘a sign of’.] [But note the freedom of action evident in the woman of Proverbs 31 – see notes below.]

Disgraceful - 1Corinthians 11:6; 14:35 – aischros.
Adjective. Opposed to modesty or purity. Interpreted by some to mean opposed to the appropriate order.

The NT uses the nouns elder and overseer [episkopos] interchangeably, and refers to them as ‘shepherding’ God’s people.

Head - 1Corinthians 11:1ff – kephale.
Head, that is, the physical head of a physical body. It is used almost exclusively in this literal sense in the Gospels and Acts; the only exception is reference to Christ as ‘head of the corner’ (see also 1Peter 2:7]. In Revelation it refers only to physical heads – of Christ, or of various characters in visions. Paul uses it in 1Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 in reference to the male/female relationship; in Ephesians 1, 4 & 5 and Colossians 1 & 2 in reference to the relationship of Christ to (1) Christians and the Church, and (b) principalities, powers, and all things. Historically Paul’s usage has been understood to refer to the position of ‘authority’.

More recently the concept of kephale as ‘source’ has been proposed. This is used in the egalitarian argument about the male/female roles/relationship, and has limited support among complementarians. If there is any sense in which ‘source’ is a valid meaning, the context of some of Paul’s use of ‘head’ makes it impossible to make ‘authority’ and ‘source’ an either/or question; they can only be both/and.

Husband - aner,
Husband; also the only Greek word for the male human, as distinct from the female human.

A reference to the male human, as distinct from the female human; it is also the only Greek word for ‘husband’.

Man = ‘human being” as distinct from animals etc, inclusive of both male and female.

Only used of Christians in Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts given to the church. However in 1Peter 5 the cognate verb poimaino is used of elders/overseers. [Complementarians tend to see ‘pastor’ ‘elder’ and ‘overseer’ as the one position.]

Prophesy [Prophecy, Prophet]propheteuo [propheteia, prophetes].
Literal meaning: to tell forth, to speak openly. Prophecy is the declaration of the will and counsel of God. [Among the Greeks prophetes referred to a person who interpreted the oracles of the gods.] There is a wide disagreement among complementarians and egalitarians about what prophecy is. All agree that both men and women prophesied in both the OT and NT. Some see prophecy as similar to preaching – proclaiming the Word of God - and conclude women can preach sermons. Some limit prophecy to spontaneous ‘inspired speech’, communicating new revelations from God, quite a different action from presenting a prepared talk or sermon, - and therefore having an inbuilt limitation of what women were doing. [But if that is what prophecy is, then it is far more open to deception than carefully prepared sermons.] Some see it as one of the gifts of the Spirit that ceased with the end of the apostolic age – making it irrelevant to the current debate. Some see it as an on-going gift of the Spirit given to both men and women for the edification and encouragement of the church, and therefore bearing God’s authorisation of women speaking to men. Traditionalists limit female prophecy to all-female meetings.

Quietness - 1Timothy 2:11 – hesuchia.
Not the absence of sound, rather the absence of clamour: it means ‘peaceful, peaceable, undisturbed, undisturbing’. See verse 2.

Silent - 1Timothy 2:12 - hesuchia
See ‘quietness’ above. Same noun. Women are ‘to be in’ this peaceful, undisturbing state.

Be silent - 1Corinthians 14:28,39,34 – sigao.
In most of its NT uses this verb is used to refer to what happens when people who are talking stop talking. The KJV often translates it as ‘hold (or held) their peace’. It seems to refer not so much to the absence of talking as to the stopping of talking.

Speak - 1Corinthians 14:34 – laleo,
‘To make vocal utterance’, ‘to exercise the faculty of speech’. Variously translated ‘speak’, ‘say’, ‘talk’, ‘utter’, ‘tell’, ‘preach’; used in both personal and public contexts. It is a very general word; just about anything involving the act of talking is covered by it.

Submission - 1Timothy 2:11 – hupotage.
Derived from the verb hupotasso – see below. This noun is only used here in the NT in relation to women, and it is here about how women should learn – ‘a woman should learn in ... full submission’. Sometimes translated ‘obedience’ or ‘subjection’. Used elsewhere only in: 2Corinthians 9:13 referring to the right response to the Gospel; in Galatians 2:5 of Paul not giving in to Judaisers; and in 1Timothy 3:4 of an elder’s children being under his authority/control.

Submit - 1Corinthians 14:34 – hupotasso [hupo – under; tasso – to arrange].
The word is ‘primarily a military term, to rank under’ (Vine). It is thus a reference to the appropriate order. It is variously translated ‘subject’, ‘submit’, ‘be obedient’, ‘subdue’ ‘put under’. In reference to the place/attitude of women it is always in the Middle Voice, which means it is something done by the women to themselves. It is not done to the women by the men. Women put/arrange/rank themselves under the men – it is an action they choose, not what the men enforce. A correct understanding of the Middle Voice removes any preconceived or male-dictated notions of female inferiority, subjection, subordination. A woman who, like Christ, willingly puts aside the ‘rights’ indigenous to her equality of essence and her equality in Christ, is not a victim. By this choice she seeks the well-being of her husband, the well-being of the male leader of the church, and in doing so, the advance of the Kingdom of Christ.

Teach - 1Timothy 2:12 – didasko.
To give instruction. [There are also other verbs for ‘teach’.] John Dickson, supported by other scholars, suggests that in the Pastoral epistles [1 & 2 Timothy, Titus] Paul uses didasko not in its broad, all-inclusive, sense, but in a technical way to refer to passing on and preserving the apostolic teaching. He maintains what Paul is forbidding to women is not teaching in its ordinary sense but teaching in this limited technical sense, which was of critical importance in the early church when there was no New Testament. (See Dickson: Hearing Her Voice available as a free pdf.)

The only Greek word for ‘wife; also the only Greek word for ‘woman’.