Does Paul Really Forbid Women to Speak in Church?

A Closer Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15 

By C. Raymond Holmes, DMin 

Author, The Tip of an Iceberg 

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe [saved] through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” 1 Timothy 2:11-15, NIV 

According to the Andrews University press release, October 22, 1998, announcing the publication of Women in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives , the book consists of a response to two questions posed by “Adventist Church leaders”: “May a woman be legitimately ordained to pastoral ministry?” 1 and “If so, on what grounds?” 

In our collective search for answers to these fundamental questions the Word of God must be our guide rather than prevailing social opinion, the supposed offensiveness of male leadership in ministry, the giftedness of women to serve as pastors, or their sense of call to ministry. We serve a cause that transcends our own span of life that transcends the way we personally feel about things. This cause represents values that need caring for and that may require vigorous defense from time to time. We must never allow ourselves to take positions that we do not really believe simply to soothe feelings or rid ourselves of a sense of threat or insecurity. To use an expression from Scripture, this is a time for the patience of the saints. 

Some among us feel that we should not be discussing the issue of women's ordination at all because it is potentially divisive and might destroy the unity of the church. Others feel that we should be broad-minded and simply resolve the issue on the basis of human rights and gender equality. Still others feel that the issue distracts us from the mission of the church and that we should simply drop it and get on with the business of evangelism. Some even hold that theological and doctrinal pluralism makes it impossible to arrive at any kind of resolution. But none of these arguments is satisfactory because, practically speaking, they constitute burying our collective heads in the sand of indifference to truth. 

If we accept theological and doctrinal pluralism, there is no way to settle the issue of women in ministry. Indeed, any issue becomes nothing more than a power struggle to see which view has the most votes. But power struggles are not the way the business of the church should be carried on, a business that involves both proclaiming and guarding the truth. 

The question of women in ministry is charged with emotion, making it difficult to stay focused on the issue itself. We are obligated, therefore, to keep before us our oneness in Christ and the fellowship we share in His church. We must recognize that in our fervor and zeal to express views that may differ, there is always the danger of causing hurt that is abhorrent to sincere advocates on either side. However, precisely because of its critical nature and implications, the issue obligates us all to a thorough study and discussion of the subject in the context of Christian love. There must be no lack of compassion. We must resist all expressions of an overweening righteousness. To disagree is one thing, but to do so without a credible alternative is to invite ridicule and astonishment. 

Unfortunately, decisions have been made before the discussion phase has been completed and a consensus achieved, producing a desperate need to find theological justification for those actions. Something in human nature finds it difficult to face the possibility that actions may have been precipitous and that, in this case, we may have run ahead of the Holy Spirit. 

Women who have ministry as a career goal tend to see ordination as the ultimate symbol of approval. Some of them testify to insensitivity, abuse, and cruelty by men, and therefore resent any interpretation of the Bible, no matter how sound, that denies this approval. Denial of their desire to be ordained is viewed as discriminatory, unjust, oppressive, an extension of male domination and abuse. Some see the denial of ordination as a human rights issue, an attack on a minority, something to which American society has become very sensitive in the latter half of the twentieth century. Therefore, whatever is said or written in the discussion must reflect sensitivity to such feelings. Having said this, however, we must also note that the Seventh-day Adventist Church holds the unswerving conviction that to obey what the Bible teaches is the way of happiness and blessing for every believer and is basic to the success of the church's mission. 

Some among us believe that every office of ministry should be considered open to women. However, many others of us remain convinced that the male headship argument is Biblically valid, a position to which even Women in Ministry bears witness. 2 Furthermore, after many years of study and debate, we are still unconvinced that the so-called “progressive” interpretation of key Bible passages can be sustained. We see such interpretations as regressive, moving back, away from the historic interpretation. Partly because we are unwilling to ignore or leap over Biblical evidence for purely social or cultural reasons, we have the impression that the view held by the Christian church for almost twenty centuries is being abandoned far too easily. 

The reader must understand at the outset that we are not anti-women-in-ministry. On the contrary, we encourage qualified women to seek and prepare for positions in ministry. But we are concerned that such positions be supported by Biblical authority. We believe that this is what the church-at-large desires, and we are bound by conscience to participate in the search for that authority. 

The Text 

There are a number of New Testament passages pertinent to the role of women in ministry, such as 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, 14:33b-38, Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and 1 Timothy 3:1-4. 

None of these passages is problematic, obscure, or painfully puzzling. All are written in clear prose and do not contain typological, figurative, symbolic, or poetic language, which means that they are not difficult to understand. It does not take a scholar to interpret them. Any believer in the Bible's authority and divine inspiration can do it and be confident about conclusions. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, since its inception, has held to the conviction that the responsibility for interpreting the Bible belongs to the whole church and not just to scholars. This is the philosophy behind Sabbath School classes, which are such powerful instruments in building faith, molding character, and motivating the mission of the church. The primary prerequisite for interpreting and understanding the Bible, for both layperson and scholar, is faith in the Bible as the inspired, infallible, and unerring Word of God. 3 

Concerning principles of interpretation (hermeneutics). Seventh-day Adventists have consistently held to the Reformation position that the Bible interprets itself and that it is to be interpreted literally unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. 

In this chapter we will concentrate on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, asking how this passage in particular helps in the search for answers to the two questions posed in our first paragraph: “May a woman be legitimately ordained to pastoral ministry?” and “If so, on what grounds?” 

As has been shown elsewhere in this book, several of the authors of Women in Ministry argue that the traditional interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 has not taken into account what is “now known” to be the “initial situation” that Paul was addressing in Ephesus. They speculate that the apostle's restriction on women “teaching and having authority over men” was due to the infiltration of the false teaching of the cult of the mother-goddess, Artemis, and protognostic doctrines in the Ephesian church. On this hypothesis, Women in Ministry argues that Paul's statement is not applicable today. In the opinion of the book's scholars, Paul did not allow women to “teach and have authority over men” because he sought to restrain “certain assertive women in the church” or “wives domineering over their husbands in worship settings” or even some “unlearned women” who at that time were “instigating violence” because “they had not learned sufficiently.” 4 

Against this view, I am going to argue that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not as problematic as Women in Ministry would want readers to think. The passage can be understood literally, at face value, taking into account the general and immediate context, thus permitting the text to teach us principles that are universally applicable to the relationships of men and women and to the question of ordaining women to the headship role of elders or pastors. 

The Context 

In the immediate context, Paul establishes his apostolic authority (1 Timothy 1:1, 12-17; 2:7) and warns against the teaching of “false doctrines” (1:3) that “promote controversies rather than God's work” (1:4). When he says, “I do not permit” (2:12), he is not expressing a personal opinion but is exercising his proper authority as an apostle. He appeals to the order of Creation (2:13), basing what he says on God's revelation, not on any other source. His appeal is to a universal principle applied to a specific situation, and what he says is an apostolic command. 

Chapter 1 indicates that the letter was written to assist young Timothy in the correction of false teachings that had crept into the church at Ephesus (1:3, 4, 6, 7)—and, by inference, to assist all pastors wherever similar teachings might appear down through the ages. Paul identifies two people by name, Hymenaeus and Alexander, as responsible for false teachings, and he boldly condemns them for what he terms their blasphemy (1:20). Already at the outset, and in light of this correction, it is sound interpretation to conclude that the ideas dealt with in chapter 2, verse 12—which is at the heart of the passage we are dealing with and most in dispute, namely, about women teaching men and/or exercising authority over men in public worship—are on the list of false teachings that Paul intends to see corrected. 

Chapter 2 consists of instructions concerning public worship. In 2:1-10 Paul discusses prayers of intercession and thanksgiving that are to be offered and also the need for modest attire on the part of women in worship. He follows this counsel (in 2:11-15 with instruction that women are to give deference to male leadership in public worship. 

Clearly and unmistakably, the context of chapter 2 is that of public assemblies for worship. Everything that Paul says in this passage must be understood in reference to public worship. 

Thus 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (our main text), together with 1 Timothy 3:1-4—which clearly reserves the office of “overseer” (elder, pastor) to men—is a crucial passage concerning the role of women in ministry. Because it is one of the Pauline passages most passionately disputed by advocates of women's ordination, we sense the great importance of understanding it correctly. We certainly cannot ignore it in any serious attempt to find reliable answers to the questions posed above: “May a woman be legitimately ordained to pastoral ministry?” and “If so, on what grounds?” 

Some people conclude that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is irrelevant because it says nothing specifically about women in ministry or about their ordination or commissioning. But if a specific reference to ministry and ordination were a valid criterion for judging relevancy, then on what basis may proponents of women in ministry use Galatians 3:28 (which says that in Christ Jesus “there is neither male nor female”) to support their position? But the questions that must be asked are, What contribution does our passage make to the broad issue of the role of women in public ministry? and What universal principles does it provide? 


(1) Paul's use of the term “woman” does not refer only to one female, as some have suggested. The immediate context, in which Paul uses the plural “women,” indicates that the reference is to all Christian women. 

In 2:8 Paul addresses “men.” In 2:9, 10 he addresses “women.” Then in 2:11, 12 he switches to the singular term “woman.” In verse 15 the plural form “women” is again used. Obviously “woman” is not a reference to a particular unnamed woman, but in the context refers to any woman among many women. Furthermore, this cannot be a reference to married women only, for instructions concerning them do not appear until 3:11, specifically referring to the wives of deacons. In order to deny that verses 11-15 apply to church life, one must limit the instructions on dress and adornment found in verses 8-10 to apply only to the home setting, a view no Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventist will support. We may conclude that 2:9-15 applies to all women in the church, whether single or married. 

(2) First Timothy 2:11-15 does not prohibit women from learning, reassuring us that Paul appreciated a woman's intellectual ability. It does not follow, however, that because women have the requisite gifts of intelligence and ability to learn, they are eligible to exercise a teaching role over men in public worship. 

(3) It is enlightening to discover the kind of teaching referred to in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Other passages can help us. First Corinthians 12:28, 29 tells us that “in the church” God has appointed teachers. Ephesians 4:11 tells us that Jesus gave teachers to the church for the specific purpose of preparing “God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Paul referred to his own appointment as “a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles” (1 Timothy 2:7). In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul refers to the teaching function of the God-breathed (inspired) Scripture, “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul admonished young Timothy: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching,” roles that Timothy was authorized to perform “when the body of elders laid their hands” on him (1 Timothy 4:13, 14). Timothy was further admonished to watch his “doctrine closely” (4:16). The ones who are to benefit from this teaching ministry “are believers” (6:2). This teaching is to be done with “careful instruction” and involves “sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, 3). James 3:1 is a solemn warning to teachers within the body of Christ, the church, who “will be judged more strictly.” 

These are not references to teaching general knowledge, but specifically to the teaching of the Gospel, the message and doctrine concerning Christ, that is entrusted to elders or pastors within the fellowship of the church. In the light of the wider context of Paul's Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus, as well as the immediate context that links this form of teaching with exercising “authority over men,” we may conclude that Paul is here prohibiting women from the kind of teaching done in the capacity of a leader of the church. In other words, the apostle Paul is not forbidding all teaching to women, but only the kind of “teaching” in the church that gives women a position of authority over men. 

(4) First Timothy 2:11-15 does not forbid women teaching women and children. After all, Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Titus 2:3, 4 admonishes women to teach other women. In all candor we must note that Priscilla joined Aquila in explaining to Apollos “the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26), but her assistance was not given publicly during a gathering of the church for worship. Then there is the kind of teaching and exhortation that takes place among the members in the church, in which both men and women legitimately participate as they fellowship and socialize, conversing, sharing, and testifying (Colossians 3:1-17). Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Sabbath School classes help to fulfill this admonition. 

(5) Though women are not prohibited from prophesying, the text prohibits them from teaching men in the specific situation of public worship. The counsel is consistent with 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where Paul tells us that women who have the gift of prophecy must use it in ways that do not undermine male leadership. The context in 1 Corinthians 11 and 12 is also that of public worship. Evidently the gift of prophecy given to women can be exercised without violating the Biblical principle of male headship or the prohibition against women teaching men. The prime example of this for Seventh-day Adventists is the ministry of Ellen G. White, who did not hesitate to use to the fullest the prophetic gift given her by God, but without ordination and with no claim to leadership of the denomination (see Testimonies for the Church , vol. 8, pp. 236-238). 

(6) There has been a heated debate over the proper translation of the Greek word in 1 Timothy 2:12 rendered “authority” in the New International Version and in some other versions. Translations such as “engage in fertility practices,” “instigate violence,” and “originator of man” have been substituted. Such substitutions leap over the contextual evidence. It is the context that supports “authority,” for it constitutes the specific application and meaning of “full submission.” The New International Version's “have authority” is a bit weak. The King James Version's “usurp authority” is a bit strong. The New American Standard's “exercise authority” best conveys the original meaning. The context clearly reveals that women are not prohibited from the exercise of authority in a setting that harmonizes with their distinct roles, such as women teaching women or children. They are prohibited only in the specific situation of public worship and in respect to men. 

(7) Paul includes qualifiers. First, he says that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission” (1 Timothy 2:11). We cannot ignore the fact that the focus here is not on the learning itself—Paul takes it for granted that women legitimately should learn—but on the attitude the women bring to that learning. (In such a setting, verse 12 [“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent”] does not prohibit women from teaching men only until they are properly educated, despite what some have claimed.) The word “quietness” in the New International Version is a good translation, because Paul does not mean to enforce absolute silence on these women learners. This is apparent by his choice, under inspiration, of the Greek term en hesychia, which means “peaceable and nonargumentative,” implying respectful listening. Another Greek word was available, sige, had he wished to indicate total silence. The “quiet lives” of 1 Timothy 2:2 and the “quiet spirit” of 1 Peter 3:4 are certainly more realistic understandings than absolute silence. Whoever heard of an absolutely silent person! The same word is used in verse 12 where women are enjoined to “be in quietness,” that is to say, to be peaceable and nonargumentative, rather than to teach or exercise authority over men in public worship. 

Paul's second qualifier is that women must learn in “full [all] submission” (1 Timothy 2:11). In context, this cannot refer to submission to God or to the congregation or to what is being taught. Verse 11 actually begins with “in quietness” in the original Greek, and verse 12 ends with "”n quietness,” like the covers of a book framing the contents. The two verses are closely linked and constitute a unit of thought in which women are encouraged to learn but prohibited from teaching men. They are to learn in “full submission” and not “exercise authority over men” in public worship. The use of the word “submission” with reference to husband-wife relationships in other passages, such as 1 Peter 3:1-7, is not compelling enough to assume that Paul uses it the same way here in 1 Timothy 2. The context of 1 Timothy 2 simply does not support such an assumption. First Peter 3 speaks specifically about husband-wife relationships; 1 Timothy 2 does not. Once again the immediate context, which focuses on public worship, helps us understand that the submission Paul requires is submission to the male leadership in public worship. He appeals to the order of Creation, in which “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13), as his authority. The submission of women to men is to be demonstrated by refraining from teaching or exercising authority over them in public worship. 

Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul recognizes the significance of the “Adam first, then Eve” sequence. It is much safer to trust the apostle Paul in this regard than to rely on the opinions of contemporary scholars. The reference to the creation of “Adam first, then Eve” is to a reality, a fact, that stands independent of any local or specific situation. 

This does not mean that all women are to be in submission to all men at all times. Why not? Because not all men engage in authoritative teaching when the church assembles for worship. The only conclusion that does not ignore or leap over the context is that women are to learn in submission to those men who do engage in such teaching. In the worship life of the church, women, though equal with men, are to submit voluntarily to male leadership. 

(8) How long would Paul's prohibition be valid? We must remember that as far as the Bible is concerned, principle always transcends occasion. While each of Paul's letters addresses specific situations, all of them appeal to principles that are transcendent. They cannot be dismissed as inapplicable to the life of the Christian community in subsequent ages. The principles governing the ministry in Timothy's time apply to the ministry of today. References to the “later times” (1 Timothy 4:1) and the “coming age” (6:19) support the universal application of principles governing ministry and the roles of both men and women in that ministry. The general context indicates that the prohibition was not meant to be local and temporary, for a certain place and period, but universal for all time and all places. The whole of 1 Timothy consists of Paul's instructions for “the church of the living God” (3:15) through the ages to the “later times” (4:1). Dismissing the instructions of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 on the claim that they were directed only to a specific situation in Ephesus effectively destroys the intent of the entire letter. 

Therefore, any idea that this text is applicable only to a specific situation in the Ephesian congregation, where Timothy was ministering, and not to any other period or place in the history of the Christian church, especially our own, is untenable, unacceptable, and must be rejected in the strongest terms. Otherwise we would have to conclude that the rest of 1 Timothy is not applicable to our time, together with all the rest of Paul's writings as well as Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Ultimately, such reasoning would force the conclusion that the whole of Scripture is not applicable to any other time than when it was written—which would do violence to the truth that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NASB). Scripture is for all time, all places, all situations. The teaching of the New Testament cannot be limited to apostolic times; it is “for the church of Christ in all ages.” 5 The interpretive principle is, “These messages were given, not for those that uttered the prophecies, but for us who are living amid the scenes of their fulfillment.” 6 

(9) It is significant that 1 Timothy was not addressed to the church at Ephesus but to Timothy himself. Thus the occasion was not simply a specific problem in that congregation, but rather the need for the young evangelist-pastor to be instructed in the principles for ordering the life of a congregation. Timothy would minister elsewhere during his career and face similar situations. He could not change the principles from situation to situation, congregation to congregation, nation to nation, culture to culture, any more than we can. While times may change, there are permanent Biblical principles governing the life of the Christian community wherever it is found. 

(10) First Timothy 2:13 (“For Adam was formed first, then Eve”) is central to Paul's argument. There are those who say that the prohibition against women teaching and so exercising authority over men in public worship is attributed to mankind's fall into sin and the subsequent curse (Genesis 3), which Jesus atoned for on the cross. By reason of the cross, they say, this prohibition along with all other consequences of the Fall is wiped away. But we must remember that Paul, the apostle of redemption, does not use Adam and Eve's sin to justify the prohibition. Rather, he rests it squarely on the creation of man and woman, “Adam first, then Eve,” which preceded the Fall and involved no sin at all (Genesis 2:4-25). 

As mentioned above, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not complicated. It is plain that Paul bases his prohibition on the Creation account, “Adam first, then Eve.” Why does he do this? Because he wants to let us know that there is a significant difference between the roles of men and women in the worship life of the church. The fact that Adam came first in the order of Creation is the reason why men are given the primary role of authoritative teaching in the church. That this makes Paul a male chauvinist who regarded women as inferior is utter nonsense. The idea that a distinction between the roles of men and women implies that women are of less worth than men is not Biblical. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that men and women are of equal worth, while at the same time having different roles. 

The reference to Adam and Eve in verse 13 cannot be to their marital relationship, for the context does not support such a view. It is the God-designed sequence, “Adam first, then Eve,” not the marital relationship, that the inspired apostle cites as the authoritative basis for his command. In light of this, the rendering of verses 11 and 12 offered by Charles B. Williams, and approvingly quoted in Women in Ministry —“A married woman must learn in quiet or perfect submission. I do not permit a married woman to practice teaching or domineering over a husband”—is neither a legitimate translation nor an acceptable interpretation. 7 

The Gospel does not abolish Paul's instructions. To discover the proper role for women in ministry we must study the Gospels and all other relevant passages of Scripture, just as we do with all doctrinal matters. The prohibition found in 1 

Timothy 2:11-15 is not contrary to the Gospel. The Bible teaches that though men and women are equal in Christ, they have been given different roles. What we must do then is establish the means, the polity, by which those differing roles are permitted to determine and shape the role of women in ministry. 

(11) Verses 13 and 14 must be viewed as a unit. In verse 14 Paul wrote, “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” As difficult as it may be for all friends of women to accept, this sentence indicates that besides the order of Creation, an additional reason for the prohibition against women teaching men in public worship is that Eve was deceived, not Adam. Observe that Paul never says women suffer deception more than men. Yet he twice says that Eve, the first woman and mother of all women, was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14 and 2 Corinthians 11:3). In light of Paul's earlier assertion that the order of Creation establishes the man as the head, this second reason strongly suggests the danger of deception any time women (and men) attempt to violate God's divine arrangement. 

Note that by directing his temptation to Eve instead of Adam, who had been charged with the leadership responsibility concerning the dangers of the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:16, 17), Satan struck at the headship principle governing the functional relationships between men and women, and he succeeded in disrupting the harmony our first parents enjoyed while they lived out the principles enshrined in God's arrangement. Both of our parents were responsible for the Fall—Eve usurping Adam's headship, and Adam failing to exercise his responsibility to protect his wife and guide her to obey God. 

When Satan tempted our first parents, his ultimate goal was to lead them into thinking that they could be “like God” (Genesis 3:5). To do so, he approached Eve with the suggestion that she could attain a higher role than that which God had assigned her at Creation. Thus, Eve took the first step in her desire to be like God when she usurped the man's headship role. Ellen G. White explains: “Eve had been perfectly happy by her husband's side in her Eden home; but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her. In attempting to rise above her original position she fell far below it. A similar fate will be reached by all who are unwilling to take up cheerfully their life duties in accordance with God's plan. In their efforts to reach positions for which He has not fitted them, many are leaving vacant the place where they might be a blessing. In their desire for a higher sphere, many have sacrificed true womanly dignity and nobility of character and have left undone the very work that Heaven appointed them” ( Patriarchs and Prophets , p 59). 

Thus, Paul's second reason for prohibiting women “from teaching and exercising authority over men” (i.e., “Eve was deceived”) strongly underscores the danger of deception that arises whenever women attempt to violate God's Creation arrangement of male headship. We must reiterate strongly that Paul's statement does not make women inferior to men, nor less intelligent or capable. It simply recognizes and illuminates a fact of Creation: men and women are inherently different. God made them that way, and He likes them that way (Genesis 1:31). Male and female have different weaknesses, generally speaking, as well as different strengths. Is it possible that, by virtue of their more caring and kindly natures, women aspiring to male headship roles are an easier target for deception? Is it possible that this is why Eve was the serpent's chosen target instead of Adam (Genesis 3:1-4)? 8 Affirmative answers to these questions harmonize with the context. The charming gifts of sympathy and compassion given to women in abundance by God, and so desperately needed in an uncaring world, must be used by women in ministry in ways appropriate to their nature and role. 

(12) “But women will be kept safe [saved] through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety" (1 Timothy 2:15). This verse completes Paul's argument. He is not saying that women are saved on the basis of their having children, or because they go through the birth process. That would contradict everything he says elsewhere about salvation by grace through faith. Taking into account the whole context, the meaning of this concluding verse is obvious. The reference is to childbearing, a woman's primary role and most glorious calling. It illustrates the major difference between women and men. The verse ends with the qualifier, “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” Paul underscores the idea that the fulfillment of proper feminine roles in the church, combined with the virtues of faith, love, holiness, and propriety, is tangible proof of salvation. 

A Word About Biblical Headship 

Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have affirmed the validity of the Biblical teaching of male headship—a theological concept which means that within the loving relationship of male-female equality and complementarity, God calls upon men to be heads of their homes (as husbands and fathers) and churches (as elders or pastors), and that He holds them accountable if they refuse to shoulder leadership responsibilities. 9 In recent times, however, some pro-ordination scholars have questioned the validity of the Biblical doctrine of headship in the home and in the church. 

One Adventist author writes: “Since ‘headship' is often shorthand for hierarchy and control, and this type of hierarchy is directly linked to abuse, it is imperative for Christians to establish a Biblical view of the relationship between women and men. Clearly any model that endorses abuse is questionable for any who take Jesus seriously, for He said: ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly' (John 10:10, KJV), and ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28, KJV).” 10 The same author concludes that “there is no such thing as Biblical ‘headship.'” 11 Another Adventist author does not so radically reject headship, but confines headship and submission to the relationship of husbands and wives: “This post-Fall prescription of husband headship and wife submission was limited to the husband-wife relationship.” 12 

However, 1 Corinthians 11:3, which refers to the relationship of men and women in public worship and not to the husband-wife relationship, presents us with an unmistakable order of headship: God, Christ, man, woman. The word translated “head” carries the meaning of “over” in the sense of a distinct position. God the Father occupies a distinct position over Christ, Christ over the man, and the man over the woman. Without some such order society would disintegrate, as would the organization of the church. Biblically speaking, headship was never intended to be dictatorial, but benevolent. First Corinthians 11:11, 12 indicates that though men and women occupy distinct positions in the divine relational order, this does not grant them the right to abuse one another. The problem is never with the Biblical view of the divine order, but with the people who distort it. Instead of trying to change what Scripture says, why not submit to God's revealed truth and preach it in such a way that people are changed? 

Without a doubt we must have a Biblical view of male-female relationships. We dare not cast aside the Biblical teaching of male headship in home and church merely because some men have abused it. Should we stop eating good food because some of us eat too much of it and by doing so abuse ourselves? The Bible does not teach abusive but loving headship, sacrificial headship, the kind that is willing to die for the loved one. See Ephesians 5:24-28: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” 

Of course, headship has the potential for abuse, but so does love when misunderstood. Women can abuse men by a manipulative use of submission and get almost anything they want from their men. Submission, too, must be Christlike. 


Does 1 Timothy 2:11-15 help us find answers to the two fundamental questions: “May a woman be legitimately ordained [commissioned, appointed] to pastoral ministry?” and “If so, on what Biblical basis?” Let us briefly review the salient information the passage presents. 

1) The context indicates that the passage refers to the specific situation of the public gathering of believers for worship. 2) The reference is to all Christian women, not just to married women. 3) While the text does not prohibit women from learning, it prohibits them from teaching men and exercising authority over men in public worship in the role of the leader of the congregation, the church family. 4) The prohibition is universal, for all times and places. Paul stated his purpose in writing the epistle: “I am writing these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14, 15, emphasis mine). 5) The basis for the prohibition rests on the order of Creation, “Adam first, then Eve.” 6) The text illuminates the differences in male and female roles. 7) Finally, the text is not confusing or problematic and can be understood by all. 

The challenge facing the church today is not that of women preparing for ministry, but their proper training. Instead of preparing them for a role in ministry that would violate the instructions given in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (and in other passages as well), why not prepare them for the role for which they are suited and to which God is calling them? That role is clarified for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the following counsel regarding specific ministry for women: 

“There are women who should labor in the Gospel ministry. In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God.” 13 

“The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. . . . The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their labor is needed.” 14 

“Those women who labor to teach souls to seek for the new birth in Christ Jesus, are doing a precious work. They consecrate themselves to God, and they are just as verily laborers for God as are their husbands. They can enter families to which ministers could find no access. They can listen to the sorrows of the depressed and oppressed. They can shed rays of light into discouraged souls. They can pray with them. They can open the Scriptures, and enlighten them from a ‘Thus saith the Lord.'” 15 

“You are to do your duty to the women who labor in the Gospel, whose work testifies that they are essential to carrying the truth into families . . . . The cause would suffer great loss without this kind of labor by women. Again and again the Lord has shown me that women teachers are just as greatly needed to do the work to which He has appointed them as are men.” I6 

Without question this counsel is based on Biblical evidence and authority. Mrs. White was specific as to the nature of the ministry to which women are called by the Lord. It is a caring and compassionate ministry, once called “soul care,” for which women are especially suited and qualified. It is ministry to families in their homes. It is a unique ministry, as important as the work of the minister but differing from it. For this specific ministry women must be trained. 

Finally, we will not solve the present conflict over ordination by changing the subject or by substituting words like “commissioning” and “appointing” for “ordaining” in reference to the method by which the church sanctions its ministers. Any proposed solution must clearly accord with Scripture, which is our ultimate authority. 

Does Paul really prohibit women from speaking in church? Wrong question! The right question is: Does Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, prohibit women from teaching and exercising authority over men in public worship assemblies as the leader of the congregation? The answer, no matter how difficult it may be to accept, is Yes, he does. Our time and energy would be much better spent were we to use them seeking to understand what Paul means by what he says, and in learning how to apply it, than in trying to prove that he doesn't really say what he says. 




1. Currently the words “commissioned” and “appointed” are often being used in place of “ordained.” 
2. See Samuele Bacchiocchi, Women in the Church: A Biblical Study on the Role of Women in the Church (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Biblical Perspectives, 1987); C. Raymond Holmes, The Tip of an Iceberg (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventists Affirm and Pointer Publications, 1994); and Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Searching the Scriptures: Women's Ordination and the Call to Biblical Fidelity (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books, 1995). See also Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books, 1996), pp. 115-129; and Adventists Affirm 1/1 (Spring 1987), 1/2 (Fall 1987), 9/1 (Spring 1995), cited in Mercedes H. Dyer, Prove All Things: A Response to women in ministry 
3. See Ellen G. White, Selected Messages , bk. 1, p. 17; The Great Controversy , p. vii; The Ministry of Healing , p. 462. 
4. For documentation, see Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, “Are Those Things So?—Part I: An Evaluation of the Biblical Arguments of Women in Ministry ,” in Mercedes H. Dyer, ed., Prove All Things (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventists Affirm, 2000), pp. 179-218, especially the section on “Speculative Interpretations,” pp. 191-195. 
5. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy , p. viii. 
6. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages , bk. 2, p. 114. 
7. Cited in Women in Ministry (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1998), p. 278. 
8. See Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15: A Dialogue with Scholarship” in Women in the Church , Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, H. Scott Baldwin, eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), pp. 144-146. 
9. Unsigned editorial [J H. Waggoner, resident editor], “Woman's Place in the Gospel,” The Signs of the Times , Dec. 19, 1878, p. 38. Key portions of this editorial are reproduced in Mercedes H. Dyer, ed., Prove All Things (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventists Affirm , 2000), p. 291. [For a recent restatement of the Biblical teaching of headship, see Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . , pp. 303-305. 
10. Sheryll Prinz-McMillan, “Who's in Charge of the Family?” in The Welcome Table , Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart, eds. (Langley Park, Md.: TEAMPress, 1995), p. 199. 
11. Ibid., p. 216. 
12. Richard M. Davidson, in Women in Ministry , p. 284. 
13. Ellen G. White, Evangelism , p. 472. 
14. Ibid., pp. 464, 465, emphasis mine. 
15. Ellen G. White Manuscript Release #330, in Manuscript Releases , vol. 5, p. 327, emphasis mine. 
16. Ellen G. White, Evangelism , p. 493, emphasis mine.