© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Some Old and New Testament passages affirm women involved in speaking and leadership roles in mixed gender contexts. Other Scriptures, in particular 1Timothy 2:11,12 (in its literal meaning, and apart from its context) appear to forbid this. What are we supposed to make of this apparent contradiction? Who decides which texts should take precedence over the others? Or is there something we are missing?

Keener, a (mild) egalitarian who was formerly a complementarian, says there are four options:

1. ‘One group of texts is mistaken. (This is not an option for conservative evangelicals, including the contributors to this book.)’
2. ‘The Bible permits to women some kinds of ministries but prohibits others.’
3. ‘The Bible prohibits women’s ministry under most circumstances but allows exceptions in specific cases, in which case we should allow such ministry today in exceptional cases.’
4. ‘The Bible permits women’s ministry under normal circumstances but prohibits it in exceptional cases, in which case we should allow it under most circumstances today.’

I would suggest an important perspective relevant to the discussion:

That perhaps the historic interpretation of the two key New Testament texts has been conditioned by our historical context of a patriarchal and male-dominated culture/society, which viewed women as inferior to men and less intelligent than men, less educated than men, restricted to extremely limited roles in the workforce, without the right to vote, and whose possessions automatically and legally became the property of their husbands upon their marriage. All of this has obviously changed. But the historic Christian writers and preachers from that era reflected without question the mindset of their age, and have moulded the Christian mindset.

Keener sums up the egalitarian/complementarian debate this way: ‘... in the end is it not as dangerous to risk forbidding what God endorses as to risk promoting what he forbids?’

The current complementarian and egalitarian debate challenges us to revisit the Scriptures and to carefully consider how many of the church's interpretations of key verses are a hangover from a past era of our own history and how many actually, accurately and honestly reflect the meaning of those texts in their own historical NT context.


Married women first permitted to hold property in their own name [instead of husband’s] – 1890s.
Women’s right to vote: Australia 1902, Queensland 1905
Universities open to women: Australia: 1880; Queensland 1911
Women’s right to stand for Parliament: Australia 1902, Queensland 1915
Women in wide range of positions in the workplace: 1940 onwards [impact of WWII].
Equal pay for work of equal value: 1972 [but not mandatory equal pay]
Freedom to get a passport without husband’s authorisation: Australia 1983


The resources consulted during the preparation of this study include: -

John Dickson (mild complementarian): ‘Hearing Her Voice’
John Dickson: ‘How can one guy be so wrong in so many ways?’
Craig Bromberg (mild complementarian): ‘Women in the pulpit?’
Ian Powell: ‘Personal reflections on a misplaced personal reflection’
Andrew Judd: ‘Wrong in the right way’

Barclay, William: The Letters to the Corinthians [not really helpful]
Bardsley, Rosemary: Women in the Church and Biblical Foundations of Marriage and Studies in Genesis [mild complementarian]
Calvin, John: Sermons on Ephesians
Dickson, John: Hearing Her Voice, Australian print edition [mild complementarian]
Gundry and Beck, (Ed): Two Views on Women in Ministry, revised edition. [two complementarian views; two egalitarian views]
Powers, B. Ward: The Ministry of Women in the Church, [Appendix to Notes on the Pastoral Epistles]
Schaeffer, Francis: Genesis in space and time
Stott, John: Issues Facing Christians Today
Vine, WE: Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
Wuest, Kenneth: Word Studies in the Greek New Testament
Young, Edward J (old school traditionalist): Genesis 3