Women and Authority

My Grove booklet Women and Authority: the key biblical texts is now available (after a small printing hiccup!) from the Grove website.

My final conclusion was a reflection on the process of engaging with these texts:

“On a personal note, engaging again with these texts has been a challenging and transforming experience for me. I have come to this task with experience of a number of different theological traditions, including Roman Catholic and Free Church, and have been engaged in conversation across the views within the Church of England.

But as I have spent time considering these texts in detail over the last 18 months, I have been struck afresh by the radically egalitarian and counter-cultural nature of what Scripture says about gender, and the challenge to the church to be constantly reformed and reshaped by Scripture’s perspective, even if that means letting go of cherished traditions of interpretation.”

You can find some other extracts under the category ‘Women and authority’ on the right.

I would be interested to here comments from readers of the booklet and suggestions for revision, disagreements, or things you would like me to expand on.

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20 thoughts on “Women and Authority”

  1. Good job Ian! My mother-in-law will love your booklet.

    There is a Christians for Biblical Equlaity Conference in Seattle July 29-31 or arond that time. It would be good for Grove to send some copies to that conference. I will be there so I can help if you are interested. Email me or use F’book.

  2. Ian,

    here is my 8 cents worth. Let me first say that I bought your pamphlet because I WANT to endorse women leadership. I want to be able to teach and show that women and men in Christ are in all things equal and I want to be able to understand and rightly appropriate passages like 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2. My evangelical background, however, frequently prompted me to be the devil’s advocate while reading your essay and I often found myself writing in the margins of your essay “What about…?”

    Having said all this, I wanted you to know that I enjoyed what you wrote a lot, but I wished you had been stating the case more forcefully, especially at the end. I WANT you to convince me, alleviate my doubts. I can see what points and arguments you have in your mind, but I would have liked you to string them together more explicitly, in particular in chapter 5.

    So here is a detailed feedback:

    1. I liked chapter 2 on Genesis a lot. I really liked that you repeated and used the result of the Genesis chapter on p. 24 (“Creation Order”), though I felt it could have been clearer by adding repetitions or summary statements, e.g.: “Paul is not saying, then, that a women can usurp or misuse authority, that is teach in a domineering way over men, because she is less sinful than a man; to the contrary, both men and women are sinful. Both, in fact, have no grounds of asserting authority over the other.”

    2. I would have loved for you to be also stronger in the paragraph before, p. 23-24 (which I think you were in your blog), e.g. “If a woman is not to misuse her authority while teaching, in all cases we can assume then that Paul envisages female teachers.” Perhaps we can picture a man teaching the congregation, who suddenly is harshly corrected (and subsequently taught) by a female (authority) figure in the church meeting causing him to loose face (“murdering his authority”) and perhaps confounding non-believers in the audience. This is a situation which Paul might try to counteract.

    3. In the same paragraph there is a point that needs more explicit addressing: in 1 Tim 2:11 it speaks of women learning, and in v. 12 of them not being allowed to teach (seemingly setting up a contrast between learning and teaching). This might counteract your treatment of v. 12. In other words, are women only allowed to learn, and not to teach? You did of course deal with this implicitly, but it might help to address the “devil’s objection” here, e.g.”Otherwise we would have to envisage a situation were women can be in church leadership (Phoebe etc), but never teach.”

    4. On p. 13, last paragraph I wrote in the margin: This is an argument from silence; do we know Priscilla was teaching? However, I was really happy when I flipped the page and saw how you dealt with Phoebe and Junia, and although the teaching element still is not explicit, it would seem odd for a deacon, prostasis or someone “prominent among the apostles” to never teach.

    5. In your conclusion section a few “peppered” sentences would have helped me; e.g. at the end of the first summary: “This means, that the creation account gives no theological basis for either sex to claim authority over the other. That in fact is the result of sin. The exercise of authority in the church context can therefore not be based on the creation whatsoever. Otherwise we would have to admit that church order submits to the Fall.” The third summary says that women were teachers, which is conjecture (although mitigated by the “appeared”) unless you mention Titus 2:3.

    I actually think the Genesis bit is one of the strongest points, and I did briefly discuss with my wife on what Biblical grounds any person can exercise authority over another, in particular in the light of your Genesis discussion, Gal 3:28 and 1 Peter 3:7. If it is not creation order, then it can only be divine order, that is, authority is attached to the role of church oversight (comparable to children and parents). Since men and women are spiritual equals, and no creation order or divine command prohibits them from leadership (now this is a strong argument from silence), then men therefore ought to submit to female leaders as to Christ.

    Anyhoo,I hope I was not too unkind.

    In Him,


  3. Ian,

    Thank you for your helpful booklet.

    Ch. 2 could be strengthened by taking into account two important pieces of work.

    G. Ramsay, “Is name-Giving an Act of Domination in Genesis 2:23 and Elsewhere?”, Catholic Bible Quarterly 50(1988), 24-35 shows (contra P. Trible) that Gen. 2:23 does use a standard ‘naming formula’, one of two forms used in the OT, apparently without difference in meaning. He then shows that in the OT naming is not an act of domination but of discernment of who/what is named or of the situation in which the naming occurs. This fits both the naming of the animals and of the woman in Genesis 2. Adam discerns the nature of each animal and that none is a suitable helper, and that the woman is the suitable helper.

    C. Meyers, “Gender Roles and Genesis 3:16 Revisited” in C. Meyers & M. O’ Connor, The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth, Eisenbrauns, 1983, 337-354, argues that Gen. 3:16 has been widely mis-translated and mis-interpreted because the word usually taken to mean pain in child-birth here never has that sense elsewhere in the OT, which has a different vocabularly for the labour of child-birth, and is used in v17 of Adam’s pain/toil in physical labour. So, she argues, v16b refers to both physical labour in making a living from the ground and pregnancy. The woman shares the increased labour of the man and also has to cope with pregnancy.

    I find both of these convincing pieces of work that are not as well known as they should be, especially outside the community of OT scholars.


  4. Ernest, thanks for these–nice to be in touch again!

    I was aware of the Ramsay article, which was in my wider reading list, but will need to look again. From the Hebrew, I think I will be hard to persuade on the ‘formula’ question, but I agree with the issue of ‘recognition’ rather than authority over.

    I *think* David Firth’s comments in this section took into account the Meyers article…but I will check.

  5. Just purchased booklet from Grove – but a little disappointed in the general trajectory of exegesis.
    It seems from the beginning eg pp5-6, there is an undercurrent which determines the flow – ‘hierarchy’, ‘lesser status,’superiority’, ‘authority’ are all dealt with to this end that Gen 1/2 teaches ‘equivalent status’
    Now the importance of this is not insignificant, since this ‘equality’ paradigm is then used, p 24,to interact with Paul in 1 Tim 2.8f.
    To reduce the male-female relationship to equivalent status’ – nothing wrong with that in its place,eg Gal 3.28 – but to flatten the male female relationship without developing how it functions throughout scripture, in terms of its distinctions,eg in home, priesthood, church, does not seem to me to be the best way of devoloping the themes that one would have expected in a booklet entitled – Women and Authority.

  6. William, thanks for reading and for commenting. I had 32 pages to fill–I am not sure which parts I could have omitted in order to address the questions you raise.

    Having said that, I think that what you are suggesting is that, whilst Scripture might well see the genders of equal status, in fact they have distinct roles. I am not sure that I see any clear prescription of roles in Scripture. Clearly men and women are different, but I wonder where we might find prescriptions for this rather than simply descriptions of the cultures in which the Bible stories are located.

  7. Re the Grove booklet – still needing time to order and read this. Ian, I recommended on John Richardson’s blog the ground-breaking (in my view anyway and that of many others!) title by Dr Jon Zens: ‘What’s With Paul & Women?’. I think you mentioned you would get this on my recommendation, and I wonder if you obtained a copy and had time to read this?

    Although much of the material in JZ’s book is not completely new, the way in which he exegetes 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14, and the cultural background will certainly be new for many readers, and presented with grace considering the nature of the current controversy.

    Something of a theological bombshell perhaps? I think so because I believe that the traditional view of women being “silent” in the church needs the sort of exposure which Jon’s book presents for the debate is far from over. – what do you think?

  8. Graham, yes I did get this and read it. I think he says very much the same sort of things I do about these texts, though in slightly fuller form.

    But the real difficulty is that what he (and I) are saying is hardly a bombshell to anyone who has done some basic theology. I can quite understand churchgoers not being aware of this, but anyone involved in academic study shouldn’t need to think for a second about the meaning of hesychia or authentein…

  9. Ian. Quite agree with your second para. Perhaps the real problem arises when the relatively non academic churchgoer reads stuff like your Grove booklet or JZ’s work, and discovers perhaps for the very first time that the NT reveals that sisters have as much potential for ministry as their male counterparts. This discovery does not mean that they necessarily run towards ordination, but it does pose the question for them – how then can I contribute spiritually to the body of Christ gathered when the great majority of churches (including non Anglican) have static and institutional structures which preclude “laymen/women” participating much, if at all?

    If women too are free to ‘speak’ usually the only opportunity is in an informal ‘ladies meeting’ or similar mid week meeting, which is not, I think what Paul had in mind in the Corinthian passages when dealing with ministry, gifts, and the functioning of the whole body together – not merely one part – i.e. “the minister”.

    I realise this raises wholly different issues concerning the nature of the church and ministry in it!

  10. Hi Ian,

    Thanks again for this resource. I am planning on using it for my upcoming class. I wanted to confirm, though, in the last para. on p. 17, there is a typo, right? You say, “The list in 1 Cor 11.3 ‘man…Christ…woman…man…Christ…God’ does work if it relates to authority–but it is in the correct order if kephale is understood as ‘origin.'” You mean “does NOT work if it relates to authority,” right? I know this seems obvious, but I before I assign it as a textbook, I wanted to be sure. Thanks.

  11. Hi Ian. Just working my way through this excellent Grove book! May I ask a silly question please? I detected that most of the Scripture quotes in it seem to be from the NIV. The Ephesians one seems to depart form this and I can’t track down the translation being used. Can you remember?? Shalom. TJ

  12. Hi Ian, I’ve just come across this booklet as I have been spending some time looking at this issue. I like some aspects and disagree with others. I think what I struggle with regarding the Genesis text, is, while a completely agree with what you said about hierarchy. However, I understand things not in terms of hierarchy but in terms of differing responsibilities. Adam was given primary responsibilty to work the garden, Eve was given primary responsibility to help and support Adam. So while not a hierarchy, clearly still God given differing responsibilities. Which is expanded by the fact that women are given to having children. A very clear differing responsibilty- which is a clear theme throughout scripture which is also maintained in all of Paul’s writings- distinct responsibilty based differences. So while I agree regarding a hierarchy between men and women, this does not address differing God given differences in responsibilities.

    There were a few other things but one thing that also stood out to me was the comment regarding Junia/Junias. While the text could mean she was a female apostle, it is also a little ambiguous. The name, while likely female, was also used as a male name a different times, so we cannot be certain. Also, there is a lot of debate over whether she was just well known and of good reputation amongst the apostles. While You can source those who have said it means that she was an apostle, it is not 100% definite and could easily have meant that she was of good reputation. Thirdly, even if it was sure that it meant she was regarded as an apostle, it doesn’t mean she was a member of the primary decision making apostles, which are generally just the 12 apostles, which were all men. apostle can just mean sent one or denotes a special messenger. Missionary workers, sent by their church on a missions trip, could be said to be on an apostolic mission. The ambiguity for me therefore is too much to add much weight to the argument. Especially considering other texts suggesting that apostles were men and that the decision making apostles were the 12. I’m not saying it is not true, only that, basing a theological position on something that ambiguous is, for me, too much and unreliable. It seems to be to come down to personal inclination, egalitarian will read it to mean she was A. definitely female and B. definitely a decision making apostle. I find it hard to believe especially as Paul was so clear regarding Elders being male.

    • Thanks for commenting. I don’t doubt that Adam and Eve were given different roles. What is odd is that for some people, the only expression of difference they can imagine is one of hierarchy.

      I don’t think you are right on Junia. The male version of the name is unknown in the period. Do see the short book on this by Eldon J Epp.

      • Hi Ian, thanks for your reply. I still believe though that without hierarchy, the distinction supports different roles within church structures including women not being elders. Which, again i do not see as a hierarchy but just differing responsibilities. I agree that Junia was likely a female, but even so, there is still enough ambiguity in the text regarding if she really was an apostle and even then, if she was a decision making apostle or someone of perhaps many people who were sent. Still ambiguity exists even if she was definitely a female.


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