This ​page is home for ordained and lay voices from around the diocese, with the aim of generating discussion on a variety of topics.

As such, they represent personal opinion, and do not constitute the views of the Diocese of Guildford.

A Woman in the Church, Part 2

17 May 2017

 Revd Esther Prior continues her exploration of 1 Timothy 2


As I sought to answer the question: ‘what is ministry, how is it to be done and by whom’, I discovered some liberating biblical truths in the New Testament.  With the coming of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit, I discovered a shift in understanding that had profound implications for ministry.  The body of Christ, the church, was now God’s new temple and all believers his priests!  I discovered teaching in the NT that an individual member, along with their gifts and talents given as the Spirit wills, are God’s gift to the church.  In this respect no limitations of gender is indicated. Obviously local congregations need leadership, but leaders are no more than stewards for Jesus who is the head of the church and this stewardship is about servant-hood not competition for ruler-ship or positions of authority.

Furthermore at Pentecost, Peter announced that, as a result of the new availability of the Holy Spirit to all believers, everyone would have access to the ministry of prophecy. This ministry of the word, alongside teaching and preaching, had a place of primacy in the early church. As the church grew, so did the number of prophets, teachers and preachers – the strategy was to entrust the apostles’ message to faithful people (men and women) who will be able to teach others well. 

women priests

 Women taught and exercised leadership in the early church: some with Paul’s knowledge and approval. 

  • It was Mary Magdalene who was the first to see and testify to the risen Lord.
  • Priscilla with her husband Aquila was a valued teacher who led Apollos to a knowledge of truth. Apollos was ranked with Paul in early church leadership.
  • Euodia & Syntyche (in Philippians), inspite of their quarrel, were women who laboured in the gospel.
  • Philip the evangelist had four daughters who were prophetesses.
  • And there is many a woman’s name held in honour for the labours for the gospel in Romans 16 – including one female apostle called Junia.

The existence of these authorised female teachers and leaders should be made to bear on the interpretation of the controversial Timothy passage. 

"Paul’s teaching in Tim 2:9-15 cannot simply be dismissed as culturally conditioned and therefore irrelevant to church today."

With this biblical background of open ministry to all as the Spirit enables, Paul’s scattered restrictions, including those in 1 Tim 2:9-15, come as a shock. Moreover in light of his own track record with female co-workers and his declaration of the equality that Christ ushers in, this prohibition sounds oddly discordant with the rest of his teaching and practice.

Which begs the question: what was going on in Ephesus?  What was Paul addressing there?

There is overwhelming evidence in the NT that the church in Ephesus was the site of an acute crisis created by a massive influx of false teaching and cultic intrusions.  Ephesus was the economic, political and religious centre of Asia Minor.  The temple to the goddess Artemis was a central feature and female leadership dominated this religious scene and the cultic intrusions had a lot to do with this.    Such circumstances demanded extraordinary measures and undoubtedly the restrictive measures prescribed by Paul in Timothy played a decisive part in the doctrinal survival of the Ephesus church. 

Paul’s teaching in Tim 2:9-15 cannot simply be dismissed as culturally conditioned and therefore irrelevant to church today, as many are tempted to do. Nor should it be seen as a decree of timeless and universal restriction and punishment but as a corrective.  The norm was the unrestricted priesthood of all believers, but there were situations, such as the one in Ephesus that called for restrictions. Paul chose to deal with the particular threat to the integrity of the gospel by refusing women permission to teach. His words to Timothy lay down a principle that protects the teaching ministry and the exercise of authority functions from incompetent persons and this is a principle that is valid for all time. 

It is good to interpret scripture in light of scripture and to interpret the more obscure texts in light of the clearer.  In the face of a challenging text like 1 Timothy 2, it is important to seek to discover what the bible as a whole says about women. Instead of reading scripture through the lens of 1 Tim 2:9-15, a thorough attempt must be made to explore the thematic horizon of the whole of scripture in order to provide the starting point for interpretation. Women are called to give of themselves to Christ’s service, which makes it of critical importance to wrestle with and to appropriate apparently contradicting texts. 

Having come to what I believe is a faithful biblical understanding that the Spirit of God chooses to empower both men & women for leadership, I went through the process that led to my ordination in 2003. 

women priests

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