BRETHREN AGAINST CHRIST: An Indictment of The Brethren in Christ of North America’s “The Biblical Basis for Women in Church Leadership and Pastoral Ministry”
© 2011, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.
All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
There is a slogan popular among Evangelical Christians that goes as follows: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Though it is popular, it is not correct; it should say, “The Bible says it. That settles it. I believe it.” For the Evangelical Christian, indeed, for all serious Christians, the Bible is the absolute, inerrant word of God and the only authoritative rule of faith and practice for the Church. To know what to believe and do on any issue, including the role of women in church leadership, the only arbiter is Sacred Scripture. It is through careful study of the Bible that we know what is right and commanded in this matter.
Furthermore, we do not discern what the Bible says merely for knowledge; we seek to know what we should do in order that we may do it. Those who love the Lord must obey Him (Luke 6:46; John 14:15; John 15:14; 1 John 5:3 et passim), according to the Scriptures which Jesus said “cannot be broken” (John 10:35b).
So let us see what the Bible says about this issue. There are three main passages that are germane to this topic:
1 Timothy 2:12-14: “And I do not permit a woman to teach (didaskein) or to have authority (authentein) over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
- This passage, in the context of church structure and operation, clearly forbids a woman to hold an authoritative teaching position or position of authority vis-à-vis Christian men in spiritual matters. That disallows women, inter alia, to be pastors or elders. The command is rooted in both pre-fall creation order and the basis of the woman’s fall, and not in any contemporary cultural feature.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35: “As in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”
- The context is the judging of prophetic utterances; this important leadership function is forbidden to women.
1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5: “An overseer then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach … one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?) …”
- The overseer (the most general term for church leaders) must be the husband of one wife, which is something no woman can be. Furthermore, here male headship in the church is paralleled to male headship in the home, which is something that is taught in many places in Scripture. We cannot get rid of the former as long as the latter stands.
Proverbs 18:17 says,
The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him.
We have stated the cause for disallowing women from “church leadership and pastoral ministry.” Let us now see what the Brethren in Christ of North America’s “The Biblical Basis for Women in Church Leadership and Pastoral Ministry” has to say.
Part I: Introduction by Janet M. Peifer, DMin
One would hope that a paper about an important topic that a serious church would see fit to post on its official website would be characterized by sober and careful exegesis of relevant Scriptures, combined with a call to obey what these Scriptures teach. Such a hope is in vain as far as this Introduction by Janet Peifer is concerned. Instead of a straightforward look at what Scripture says, we see emotional manipulation and red herrings that seem to be trying to prejudge the matter in the minds of the readers. How embarrassing.
Part I does not look at any Scripture at all. It is, of course, the prerogative of an author to decide the order in which he presents his material. However, it is questionable to act as if the matter is already settled before even looking at Scripture. Without doing anything to establish that women can legitimately hold such positions, Peifer proclaims it true by fiat and calls it “good news”, casts the debate as “encouragement” (a positive thing to describe her position) versus “over-look[ing]” (a negative thing to describe the opposite position), subtly appeals to the natural desire of the male to help and succour the female (“Will these young and middle-aged women find encouragement from pastors and church leaders or will they, like so many women in past decades, be over-looked?” Cue the violins.), and speaks confidently of “the numerous women who served as leaders in the early church” to plant the idea that there were such leaders, which of course must make it right, when in fact there weren’t any such leaders. It is hard to quell the suspicion, then, that such language is used to get the reader “on side” with Peifer ere she even begins to exegete Scripture.
It gets worse.
Peifer gives us a “Rationale for an Order of Biblical Study on Women in Ministry” followed by a list of eight “Principles for Biblical Interpretation,” viz.
- Always interpret a passage in agreement with its context.
- Interpret a passage in the light of its probable meaning to the person for whom it was originally written.
- When interpreting a passage, consider the customs and events taking place when it was written.
- Interpret a passage in the light of all other Scripture.
- Do not use an obscure passage to disprove one with clear and obvious meaning.
- Interpret a passage according to the best use of the original language.
- Interpret social teaching in line with doctrinal teaching.
- Apply principles in a passage in harmony with their original use.
Points 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are sound, but 2, 3, and 8 are flawed. The problems with these should be obvious. First, how does someone in the 21st century AD climb into the mind of someone in the 1st century AD (or the 15th century BC) and discern what a passage’s “probable meaning” was for him? It’s impossible.
But there are more serious Biblical problems with these points. Evangelicals believe, on the basis of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture viz. that in Scripture God has given us all we need to know for life and Godliness, but points 2, 3, and 8 necessarily mean that we need extrabiblical knowledge to understand Scripture properly.
Furthermore, these points come from the liberal presumption that Biblical writers couldn’t possibly “write better than they knew,” since they deny the supernatural element in Scripture. Each author wrote only to a specific audience in a specific culture, time, and place, and the best that we can do is glean principles from what they wrote. Yet the Bible flatly denies this. Consider:
Romans 15:4: “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” [underlining added]
1 Corinthians 9:9-10: “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.” [underlining added]
1 Corinthians 10:6-11: “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” [underlining added]
1 Peter 1:10-12: “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to you they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.”
So what we see is that, under God’s sovereign direction, what the Scripture writers wrote was not only for the original audience, and sometimes not even primarily for them, but for all believers in all ages; indeed, as the passage from 1 Peter tells us, the writer himself may not have understood what he wrote, but only we upon whom the ends of the ages have come. So Scripture must be exegeted as it stands, to see what it says to us; we are not simply peeking into millennia-old third-party mail.
The question, then, is how we see Scripture: If it is purely a human product, we will accept Peifer’s points 2, 3, and 8. If, on the other hand, we see it as the God-breathed word of the Lord, we will reject these points.
With this proviso, we can agree with the general order for exegesis outlined in the list of points, but then we note that Peifer does not actually follow them! Under the title “Rationale for an Order of Biblical Study on Women in Ministry,” she suggests a whole different way of hermeneutics when it comes to the issue of women in church leadership and pastoral ministry. Instead of looking at the passages that actually address this topic, she wants us to “start at the beginning when humankind was created in God’s image,” and then “give as much attention to the women of the Old Testament as to the men … [so that] the general tenor or thrust of Scripture can be discovered as a foundation upon which all beliefs and practices are built.” Then we are supposed to “look at the life and ministry of Jesus and his modeling of wholesome relationships with women” and, oh, yes, “not skip over the importance of the pivotal events of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and Pentecost” and remember that “the tenor of Scripture includes the building of a covenant relationship between God and God’s people which required his plan for the redemption of humanity for deliverance from eternal separation from God.” “Then and only then,” she claims, “is one ready to look at the individual cases of the first century church and put the instructions of the Apostle Paul in the light of God’s total package.”
Peifer calls this “a more responsible plan of study” but it is the opposite. Why not start with the actual relevant passages? I have seen quite a number of liberal feminists go the route Peifer is suggesting, and always it is for one reason and one reason only: to draw unwarranted speculations about male/female roles from passages that don’t actually address that topic, and then use these speculations to “poison the well” against the plain meaning of “the instructions of the Apostle Paul.” We shall see if Peifer does better.
What we see in the rest of her Introduction, however, does not engender much hope. Under the rubric “The Church Fathers on Women,” she next lists some anti-woman quotes from six so-called Church Fathers (four of whom are from the era of the heretical State-Church). What is the point of this? Evangelicals recognize only the Bible as authoritative, not the so-called Church Fathers, so their opinions are irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Of course, no one wants to be linked the outrageous statements listed here; I would hate to think that Peifer’s goal is to put those who hold that women are not to be church leaders on the defensive through guilt by association with these statements.
Finally, Peifer gives us “Recommended Reading” list of eight books. I am struck by the omission of such works as Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper & Wayne Grudem (Crossway Books, 1991, 2006), which is probably the single best book on the topic. Where is the magisterial Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, edited by Kostenberger, Schreiner, and Baldwin (Baker Books, 1995)? Of course they are not there; every book on Peifer’s list comes from the liberal feminist perspective. And most, if not all, of them, have been thoroughly demolished by the scholars of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (https://cbmw.org/)
Part II: From Genesis to the Gospels by Janet M. Peifer, DMin
In this part, Peifer looks at what she designates as “crucial verses in the early chapters of Genesis” and promises to “highlight women in leadership in the Old Testament.” Right away, we will note that the Old Covenant is not like the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-32; Hebrews 8:8b-9), so even if there were “women in leadership in the Old Testament,” it would not override clear statements in the New Testament that women are not to hold church leadership positions (which is why Peifer really needs to deal with those passages, instead of what she is doing now). Furthermore, the issue is leadership in Spiritual matters (as per being in church leadership), not civil leadership. Remember that 1 Timothy 2:12 is very specific: women are not to do anything that involves didaskein (authoritative teaching) or authentein (having authority) vis-à-vis Christian men in spiritual (church) matters. Examples of women doing something other than this is pointless in establishing that they can do this.
So let us see what Peifer has to say about “crucial verses in the early chapters of Genesis”.
First, under the rubric “Mandate for Gender Equality and Mutuality in Relationships,” Peifer claims that Genesis 2:8 cannot be used to teach that “the woman is the lesser of the human creation.” Peifer makes a number of errors here e.g. the man and the woman are given the command to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” in Genesis 1:28, not “to take care of all creation so that it would be fruitful and multiply” as Peifer has it [bolding and italics added]; ezer means help or helper, not power (the main Hebrew words for power are koach and oz). The point, though, that according to the Bible man and woman are ontologically equal is certainly true.
However, Peifer then does what seems to be a bait-and-switch, saying that, “we cannot be responsible interpreters of scripture when we used Genesis 2:18 to describe women’s role in the world as inferior or subordinate in any way” [bolding and italics added] and using, as her rubric, “Mandate for Gender Equality and Mutuality in Relationships.” [italics added]. Genesis 2 certainly does not indicate that the woman is ontologically inferior to the man, but it says nothing about roles or relationships. In fact, the two are not linked. By way of clear illustration, consider that all the twelve tribes of Israel were equally descendants of Abraham, so that the men of the tribe of Judah could not be considered ontologically inferior to the men of the tribe of Levi. Nevertheless, only the men of Levi could serve in the priestly functions. This shows unmistakeably that ontological equality says nothing about having distinct roles as God sees fit to assign.
The Fall and the Curse (Genesis 3:1-7; 13-16)
Under this rubric, Peifer uses one of the standard arguments of liberal feminists, the old canard that male headship is a consequence of the fall and has been reversed in Christ. This is wrong in every way. First, Peifer’s claim that “When Jesus died, having said, ‘It is finished,’ the effects of the curse were reversed,” is erroneous. The results of the fall were both eternal (spiritual death/separation from God/hell) and temporal (physical death, pain in childbirth, struggle in work), and it is plain that, while Christ dealt with the eternal consequences of the fall, the temporal consequences remain and will do so until the Second Coming.
But this is hardly worth mentioning, since the quintessence of Peifer’s contention, that male headship is the result of the fall, is fundamentally wrong. Consider 1 Timothy 2:12-14 again:
And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
So, then, the word of God gives the reason for the ban on women in church leadership, and the first reason is the order in which man and woman were created. This has nothing to do with a curse or the fall, but was God’s intention and act before there even was a fall! So Peifer’s claim that “Clearly, the dominion or rule of man over woman was part of the curse (descriptive for the results of the Fall), not prescriptive as God’s original plan for humankind,” flatly contradicts the Bible.
It is not at all clear, by the way, that the second reason given (v. 14) is a result of the fall, either. The woman was deceived before she fell, so v. 14 may be referencing something fundamentally different in the male and female psychological makeup that would have a bearing upon church leadership suitability, rather than anything related to the fall. Be this as it may, there can be no question but that v. 13 tells us that male headship is rooted in God’s chosen creation order, and not the fall, so any attempt to call for having women in church leadership “to reverse the effects of the Fall on the relationships between women and men” is fatuous.
We note, also, that Paul is writing to Christians about how they “ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1b); he is writing to people living under the “revers[al of] the effects of the Fall on the relationships between women and men,” and it is to them that he is commanding that women not hold didaskein/authentein positions, which clearly means that the “revers[al of ] the effects of the fall” has not reversed this – and no wonder, since it was not occasioned by the fall. To accept, therefore, Peifer’s claim would mean that Peifer understands the Gospel better than Paul, indeed, better than the supposedly God-inspired words of Paul’s letters. In that case, the whole Bible ought to be discarded.
Finally, as a point of interest, let us consider Genesis 3:16b:
“Your desire shall be for your husband,
But he shall rule over you.”
Clearly, Peifer’s understanding that this, too, is a reference to male headship as a result of the curse is wrong, since, as we have seen, male headship is intrinsic to God’s creation order. So what does the verse mean?
This is certainly a cryptic verse, but by using exegetical point 5 (in the via positiva, i.e. interpret a cryptic passage in light of a clear one), we can understand it. There is one other place in the Bible where there is a parallel statement, and it is Genesis 4:7:
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)
Here, the context makes comprehension easy: Obviously “sin[’s] … desire is for you” means that sin wants to control Cain, but Cain is to rule over sin i.e. resist sin’s efforts to control him, and maintain his own control. Applying this to Genesis 3:16b brings the matter to light: “Your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall rule over you” means that henceforth the woman will try to assume headship over the man, but he is to resist that. So Peifer again has things exactly backwards; it is not male headship that is a result of the fall, but woman’s resentment of male headship and rebellion against it that is a result of the fall. (Such rebellion is manifested in, for example, agitating for women in didaskein/authentein roles in the church in defiance of what the Bible says.)
Women Leaders in the Old Testament
This section is actually funny. As we have said, even if Peifer could show women leaders in the Old Testament who held leadership positions analogous to pastors and elders, it would not prove that such roles are allowed in the New Testament. But to even attempt to make that case, Peifer should at least show some examples of “women leaders” in the Old Testament who held positions analogous to pastors and elders (doing didaskein and authentein in spiritual matters), but she fails to adduce even one. What she does is list a number of women who manifestly did not hold such positions: Miriam, Huldah, Ruth, Deborah, and Queen Esther.
Peifer tries to tell us that
The prophet Micah (Micah 6:4) records Miriam’s name as a leader.
Actually, what Micah 6:4 says is
“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
This does not make Miriam a leader, however. As Peifer rightly says, “Miriam was the prophetess who led the Israelites in singing a song of praise to the Lord,” and neither of these are didaskein/authentein roles. A prophet simply passes on immediate messages from God; he does not exegete, interpret, or apply them, or teach and defend sound doctrine or impose church discipline, as one doing didaskein/authentein does.
Huldah, too, was a prophetess and did nothing more than pass on the immediate word of God. She did nothing that was didaskein/authentein. Ruth was an immigrant who got herself married to a rich kinsman; why anyone would bring this up in a discussion about women holding didaskein/authentein positions is exceedingly hard to see.
Deborah also was a prophetess. She did judge Israel, but that is in civil matters, not spiritual, and it is not clear that God authorized her to do even this. Queen Esther interceded with her husband to protect the Jews; again, why anyone would bring this up in the context of the discussion at hand is again not at all clear. Then, moving on from the wrong to the ludicrous, Peifer writes,
Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Abigail, and the Shunamite woman are others who were leaders in their own right.
Not one of them was a leader, let alone in a didaskein/authentein role.
Did God use women in the Old Testament to serve Him? Yes. Did He use any in didaskein/authentein roles? Peifer has failed to adduce even one example, and no wonder; there aren’t any.
Observations of Jesus’ Interactions with the Women of His Day
Not much needs to be said about Peifer’s comments about this, as they are beside the point. Did Jesus treat women with respect, speak with them, teach them, etc.? Of course. Does that mean they can hold didaskein/authentein positions in the church? No.
In passing, we’ll mention that most of what Peifer says about the status of women in Jesus’ day is wrong, and her account of what happened with the Samaritan woman, which is based on these wrong ideas, is also wrong. I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into details about this, since it is not germane to the topic at hand. Those who are interested should consult The Sufficiency of Scripture by Noel Weeks to learn the truth about the status of women in Jesus’ day.
So we have finished two parts our of the four that Peifer has written on this important topic, and she has yet to say even one thing that actually bears on the matter of women in church leadership and pastoral ministry. This is exceedingly strange. However, let us move on to Part III.
Part III: A Review of Women in Leadership in the First-Century Church and the Apostle Paul on Women in Ministry by Janet M. Peifer, DMin
If we had gone immediately to Part III, perhaps we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and trouble. Consider the following statement from Peifer:
The New Testament foundation for utilizing the gifts of every believer must rest squarely on Jesus (the accounts of his interaction with people in the Gospels), on Pentecost, and on the founding of the first century church (the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles). The Epistles must, therefore, be interpreted through the light of the gospels and Acts, and not vice versa.
We will be greatly aided in our contemporary culture if we come to believe that Jesus set the precedent, that is, set the direction in which people were to follow in their relationship to women and the utilization of their gifts for leadership. The first century church leaders then worked at specific applications to the teaching and modeling of Jesus to give direction to new believers and to get wanderers back on track with Christ’s teaching and example. One is on shaky ground to build doctrine for the 21st century church on the applications and guidelines of a newly formed and often floundering first century group of believers. Doctrine and practices regarding women in ministry must be built on the foundation of God’s redemptive plan for humankind as fleshed out in the life, teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In case this is not clear, allow me to offer my interpretation of this statement:
Our opinion regarding women in church leadership and pastoral ministry will not be determined by what the Scripture actually and explicitly says about this topic. Instead, we will use the fact that Jesus was nice to women to leap to the unwarranted conclusion that they can indeed serve as church leaders and pastors, and explain away the explicit statements to the contrary as applying only to specific time-bound situations that we will make up to fill the bill. Never mind that “all Scripture” is God-breathed and that Jesus said it cannot be broken; if our basis for doctrine is simply that Jesus was nice, we can pretty much draw any doctrinal conclusion we want.
Any Christian who is serious about the Bible can stop reading at this point. Peifer’s approach is clearly diametrically opposed to what Evangelicals, following the example of Jesus Himself, hold to. No one ought to listen to Peifer; as the very Scriptures that Jesus affirmed say,
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
Still, let us continue on through Peifer’s material. She next claims that “There was no shortage of women leaders in the First Century church” and adduces putative examples. Let us consider these:
Phoebe is officially recommended and endorsed in the position of “deacon” or “minister” (v.1,2). The word used is in the masculine form and is the same word used in 1 Cor. 3:5 when the Apostle Paul speaks of himself and of Apollos, and in 1 Tim. 4:6 of Timothy. There are no grounds then to distinguish between her and the male ministers … Williams asserts that “there is no reason to suppose that Phoebe does not hold a ministerial office. She undoubtedly performs ministerial functions which are equally shared by Paul and others. Thus no sexual qualifications are made here for such ministry” (Williams, 43).
This is absolute nonsense, showing an ignorance of Greek that is truly appalling. The word in question is διακονος (diakonos), a perfectly good Greek word that existed long before there was such a thing as church or church leadership. It means “servant” or “minister,” “minister” in the sense of one who serves or looks after others, and not “minister” as we use it in English as a synonym for pastor. It has no connotation of authority!
The word appears thirty times in the New Testament, and twenty-eight times it is translated as “servant,” or “minister” in the sense of servant, because that is the actual meaning of the Greek term. Later on, it took on the secondary meaning of a particular church office (“deacon”) which initially was probably just an administrative post and did not involve didaskein/authentein (cf. Acts 6).
Since servant/minister is the overwhelmingly dominant meaning of the term, it always translated as such unless there is clear indications in the context that the church office is in view, and that happens only in 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:12, the chapter about church leadership positions. When Paul and Apollos are called διακονοι (diakonoi) in 1 Corinthians 3:5 and Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6, it carries no connotation of authority, nor does it with Phoebe. (By the way, Paul never sat on a deacons’ board; he was not a “deacon.”) Proper exegesis, then, requires that diakonos be translated servant unless there is compelling context to do otherwise, and there is none in Romans 16; thus, Phoebe was a “servant of the church in Cenchrea,” not a deacon, let alone one holding a didaskein/authentein role. To say that “She undoubtedly performs ministerial functions which are equally shared by Paul and others,” then, is complete rubbish and not even remotely true.
“Prisca or Priscilla (16:3-5) was in ministry along with her husband Aquila. They are called fellow-workers, a term of equality elsewhere used of Paul and Apollos (1Cor. 3:9). When the couple is mentioned in writing, Priscilla’s name is listed first, indicating that she may have been the leader of the two.”
Aquila and Priscilla are described as Paul’s sunergoi (“fellow workers”), which means they worked together to advance the kingdom of God but says nothing about what role they played nor is there a hint that either of them held a didaskein/authentein position. They are mentioned a total of six times in the New Testament; three times Aquila is named first and three times Priscilla is named first. To draw any conclusion about roles from this, let alone to conclude that Priscilla held a role expressly forbidden in Scripture, is fatuous.
Next, Peifer writes,
In Romans 16:7, Paul mentions two persons who labored faithfully with him–Andronicus and Junias (or in other translations, Junia, the feminine form of the name). The phrase “they are men of note,” literally reads “they are of note.” “Men” is absent in the Greek text, and is inserted by the translators. It is possible that this was a Jewish husband-wife team who were among the first believers to witness the risen Christ, for Paul states of them, “they are of note among the apostles.” Williams believes that “only an extra-Biblical assumption that a woman could not be an apostle keeps most commentators from reading Junias as Junia” (Williams, 45).
Even Peifer does not know whether this is Junias, a man, or Junia, a woman, and to attempt to overturn the clear injunction in 1 Timothy 2:12 on the basis of something of which we cannot be certain surely violates her stated interpretive point 5, “Do not use an obscure passage to disprove one with clear and obvious meaning”, stated above, so why she is even bringing this up is not clear. In any case, it does not matter whether Junia(s) is a man or woman, for what does “they are of note among the apostles” mean? In fact, the Greek means that they are well known to the apostles (i.e. among the group that are apostles), and not that they themselves are apostles. So there is nothing here to challenge 1 Timothy 2:12.
We will consider Peifer’s next paragraph in detail, as there is so much balderdash here it must be dealt with point by point. My responses are in bold type:
Other women mentioned in Romans 16 who served as co-laborers in Paul’s ministry were Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, Persis, Julia, and the sister of Nereus.
None of these held a didaskein/authentein role, so this is also irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
The Acts of the Apostles records the ministries of Dorcas, Lydia,
Neither of these held a didaskein/authentein role, so this is also irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
and the four daughters of Phillip who prophesied or preached.
This seems disingenuous. The word “or” is a logical disjunctive, so the statement is true as long as one of the actions is true, but Peifer may as well have said “the four daughters of Phillip who prophesied or played basketball” or “the four daughters of Phillip who prophesied or flew to the moon” and these would also technically be true. The fact, though, is that what Acts 21:8-9 tells us is that
On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
“Prophesied,” not “preached.” As we have said already, prophesying is not a didaskein/authentein activity and is certainly allowed for women.
The Apostle Paul clearly utilized women’s God-given leadership skills and gifts for ministry.
Certainly, but not in the forbidden didaskein/authentein roles. Peifer has yet to show even one example.
Alvin John Schmidt in Veiled and Silenced states that “the apostolic church was very relevant to the women in that it gave them unparalleled freedom and released them from centuries of cultural oppression. That is why women were so extensively and intensively involved in the life of the apostolic church” (Schmidt, 219).
Certainly, but not in the forbidden didaskein/authentein roles. Peifer has yet to show even one example.
With the examples of women who served with Paul in leading the developing churches, why would he say that he did not permit women to teach or have authority over men in 1 Timothy 2?
Here the gambit is sprung. We are supposed to think that Paul couldn’t really mean that women cannot hold didaskein/authentein roles since there are so many “examples of women who served with Paul in leading the developing churches.” But, as we have seen, there is not one such example. And, of course, Paul wrote what he wrote because the Holy Spirit inspired it, including 1 Timothy 2:12, and so what he wrote is “the commandment of God” (1 Corinthians 14:37b). Our only choice, then, is to obey it or disobey it.
Or, how could the same person who wrote words of gratitude to eight or nine women in his Roman’s letter, say so emphatically in the letter to the Corinthian church that women were to be silent in the churches and were not allowed to speak (1 Cor. 14:34)?
He can do so because gratitude for their service does not mean he cannot instruct them to follow the Lord’s commandments in regard to their roles, and, by his own admission, “the things which [he] write[s] to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37b), and they hold for all the churches (1 Corinthians 14:33b).
Either Paul was the victim of a personality disorder or there is more than meets the eye in these several short verses of biblical text.
Peifer’s snide remark fails, because there is nothing inconsistent between appreciating fellow workers doing tasks for the kingdom of God that they are allowed to do while passing on God’s instruction regarding what they are not allowed to do. Peifer has given us no reason at all to accept that “there is more than meets the eye in these several short verses of biblical text,” or to “think beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6b).
1 Timothy 2:11-12
Quelle surprise. Sooner or later, Peifer has to deal with the explicit prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and now she tries to do so, by attempting to convince us that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 doesn’t really mean what it so clearly says. However, this gambit is already dead in the water, because it depends on showing that women in the early church held didaskein/authentein roles, and Peifer has been unable to do so. Accordingly, we need to follow what the text says, instead of proffering speculative reasons why we should not do so.
Paul’s seemingly prohibitive statement about women in public ministry is likely a response or plan of action to deal with women who were new Christians, talented, and endowed with spiritual gifts of leadership, but not yet trained and seasoned for leadership in the congregation. These new Christian women likely were also mixing pagan practices and Christian doctrine.
Then why did Paul not write, “I do not allow an untrained, unseasoned person to teach or to have authority over a man”? If that was really his concern, then by writing what he did, he would be (i) allowing not yet trained and seasoned men to lead; (ii) barring women who were trained and seasoned from leading; (iii) allowing untrained and unseasoned women to lead other women and children, since the prohibition is only against teaching and having authority over men; and (iv) allowing men who were mixing pagan practices and Christian doctrine to lead congregations. Was Paul that stupid? Or the Holy Spirit who inspired what Paul wrote? To ask the question is to answer it: Paul wrote what he wrote because he was forbidding women per se to hold didaskein/authentein positions; it had nothing to do with their lack of training.
Then Peifer writes,
One must keep in mind that prior to this time, only the men had the privilege of learning through formal study. Paul’s assertion in verse 11 that “women should learn” was indeed a new day for the believing woman.
Wrong again; actually, most men did not receive formal training either. Formal training is not on the list of requirements for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In fact, we read that Peter and John, such important apostles, “were uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13b). It is undeniable, then, that lack of formal training was not an impediment to leadership. And, again, if it were then that is what Paul would have written.
Responding to the women’s lack of training and maturity, Paul therefore declares, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she is to keep silent (2:12 NRSV).
As we have seen, this was not a response to “women’s lack of training and maturity” but the Lord’s command for all churches based on creation order.
Peifer then claims that
The literal translation from the Greek is, “I am not presently permitting a woman to teach or to have authority over men…” The verb used is present active indicative. It was never intended to be a prohibitive statement or a prescription for all times, places, and cultures. If it had been written for that purpose, there are Greek verbs and tenses which would have been used to clarify the intention.
Yet again we encounter nonsense. The present active indicative is used to describe actions that are on-going, regular, or repeated, the very nature of teaching that would be required for pastoral ministry. This is what is forbidden. The claim that the “present active indicative … was never intended to be a prohibitive statement or a prescription for all times, places, and cultures” is wildly wrong and risible, and this is easy to demonstrate. Consider the following:
Acts 17:30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent …” The word “commands” is in the present active indicative here, so does Peifer want us to believe that repentance is not “a prescription for all times, places, and cultures”?
Romans 16:19b “… I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” The word “want” here is in the present active indicative, so does Peifer want us to believe that in other times, places, and cultures Paul does not want people to be wise in what is good?
1 Corinthians 12:1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” The word “want” here is in the present active indicative, so does Peifer think that in other times, places, and cultures Paul does want people to be ignorant?
We could give many more examples, but I think these are sufficient to knock what Peifer is claiming into a cocked hat.
It is important to reiterate that any attempts to speculate about local reasons for what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:12 are not just wrong but bogus, inasmuch as Paul gives the reasons in 2:13-14. It is not correct, to say the least, to ignore these stated reasons and insist the reasons are something else that are located in local circumstances. The reasons Paul gives were already four thousand years old in Paul’s day and applied every bit as much then as they do now. So this injunction cannot be done away with.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35
Quelle surprise; Peifer trots out the old canard that
the verses 14:34-35 which have been interpreted to prohibit women’s leadership in the church cannot co-exist with chapter 11 where Paul outlines how women are to appear when thy [sic] preach and pray in public services.
In Chapter 11, Paul writes of women praying and prophesying, and it is unclear why Peifer illegitimately changes “prophesies” to “preach.” Neither praying nor prophesying is a didaskein/authentein activity and both are fully permissible for women as well as for men. In the context of chapter 14, the prohibition is against women speaking in the evaluation of prophetic claims, which is a didaskein/authentein activity.
Nor does the appeal to Gilbert Bilezikian help, for he offers nothing but unwarranted speculations. It is not true that “quoting the words of the opposition is not unusual in this letter for it was done in numerous other places”; the truth is that some liberal scholars have pointed to some passages and suggested that they might be the words of his opponents, with not a shred of evidence to back up any of these claims. In fact, this is a mish-mash of nonsense. Consider:
There is only one place where Paul explicitly says that he is responding to something asked of him (and there is no reason to think this was asked by “opponents”), 1 Corinthians 7:1a, which says, “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:” and even here it is not at all clear that he actually quotes the words of the original query (ιn fact, the context indicates that he didn’t). So there is no reason to believe that Paul is “quoting the words of the opposition” anywhere in 1 Corinthians, and the claim that doing so “is not unusual in this letter for it was done in numerous other places” is completely unsustainable as far as actual evidence goes. Furthermore, the expression “Now concerning” does appear six times in 1 Corinthians, where Paul is indicating that he is beginning a new topic, yet we do not see even this expression at 1 Corinthians 14:33b, let alone any indication that he is responding to “opponents.” So this suggestion of Bilezikian’s can be safely discarded out of hand.
As to the claim that “the thought pattern of 33a” may “connect well with verse 37,” that is a matter of opinion, and but this “thought pattern” certainly connects well with v. 33b, which is not a surprise, as the entire passage is a coherent whole. Finally, the content here is not “in juxtaposition to Paul’s other teachings” but lines up perfectly well with 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Timothy 3, whereas Peifer has failed to show any teaching from Scripture that would contradict these passages.
I must admit that the mind boggles at what comes next. Peifer avers that,
During my academic studies, I researched this passage (14:26-36) and translated it following a careful look at each phrase.
By coincidence, so did I, and I can say without hesitation that if “two biblical Greek scholars have affirmed the following translation of verses 33b-36 as being true to the original text,” then shame on them; this is not a “translation” but a rewrite.
Here is Pfeier’s “translation”:
This matter of order brings to the fore the practice in all the churches of the saints where a woman is not permitted to speak or where the rule is, “let a woman not be permitted to speak but let all women subordinate themselves even as the oral law dictates.” And further, you appeal to the oral law which says that if a woman wants to learn (has an unquenchable desire to learn) let her ask her own husband at home, but refrain from speaking of any kind in the assembly, because it is commonly held that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Nonsense! Do you think the word of God (his will for the church) emanated from you, or that you men alone are the ones whom his word has reached? (Peifer, “Problem at First Church in Corinth: Worship as Spirited Zeal Without Ordered Truth,” research paper submitted at Messiah College, 1988; and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1991).
Here is the actual Greek of the passage, so anyone who knows Greek can see immediately how drastically Peifer’s “translation” deviates from the text:
Ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων αἱ γυναῖκες ὑμῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν ἀλλ᾽ ὑποτάσσεσθαι, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναιξὶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ λαλεῖν ἢ ἀφ᾽ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν ἢ εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν (1 Corinthians 14:33b-36)
For those who cannot read Greek, here is a word-for-word translation, which shows how far off Peifer’s “translation” is:
As in all the churches of the saints your women in the churches let be silent for it has not been permitted for them to speak but to be in submission just as also the law says and if something to ask they wish at home let them ask their own husbands for a shameful thing it is for women in church to be speaking (regular/repeated/continuous) or from you the word of God did go forth or to you only did it come?
Now let us go through Peifer’s translation in detail and add our comments (in bold):
This matter of order brings to the fore
- This is not in the Greek and is not necessary to make the passage clear.
the practice in all the churches of the saints where a woman is not permitted to speak or where the rule is, “let a woman not be permitted to speak but let all women subordinate themselves even as the oral law dictates.”
- Here the order has been inverted to make it seem that Paul is describing what is actually happening in churches by putting the 3rd person imperative (“it has not been permitted for them to speak”) before the 2nd person imperative (“let your women be silent”) and then misrepresenting the 3rd person imperative as an indicative to make it an existing “practice” of the churches instead of the command that it actually is, and then putting the 2nd person imperative into quotation marks and turning it into a “rule” of those churches rather than Paul’s command by adding “or where the rule is” although there is no such thing in the Greek.
And further, you appeal to the oral law which says that if a woman wants to learn (has an unquenchable desire to learn) let her ask her own husband at home, but refrain from speaking of any kind in the assembly,
- Here “you appeal to the oral law” has been added to put what is actually Paul’s reference to the law into the mouths of his putative “opponents.” The word “oral” has been added though it is not in the Greek and it is probably not the “oral law” that Paul has in mind at all. And μαθεῖν θέλουσιν (mathein thelousin) simply means “wants to learn”, not “has an unquenchable desire to learn.”
because it is commonly held that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
- Here “because it is commonly held that” has been added although it is not in the Greek, to change it from what Paul is commanding to what his putative “opponents” are saying.
Nonsense! Do you think the word of God (his will for the church) emanated from you, or that you men alone are the ones whom his word has reached?
- Here, “Nonsense!” has been added although it is not in the Greek, to make Paul disagree with what he actually affirms in the Greek! And “men” has been added although it is not in the Greek to make it look as if Paul is shooting down male headship.
To make this clearer still, the following is Peifer’s translation, with everything that is actually in the inspired Greek text underlined and everything Peifer has taken it upon herself to add in bold type:
This matter of order brings to the fore the practice in all the churches of the saints where a woman is not permitted to speak or where the rule is, “let a woman not be permitted to speak but let all women subordinate themselves even as the oral law dictates.” And further, you appeal to the oral law which says that if a woman wants to learn (has an unquenchable desire to learn) let her ask her own husband at home, but refrain from speaking of any kind in the assembly, because it is commonly held that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Nonsense! Do you think the word of God (his will for the church) emanated from you, or that you men alone are the ones whom his word has reached?
So what do we see? We see that Peifer’s “translation” has dramatically altered what the inspired Greek text, the word of God, says, and in a very specific way, viz. to take what Paul wrote (which are “the commandments of God” 14:37b) and ascribe it instead to his opponents, and then add words to make Paul oppose what in the actual text he affirms! This is completely unacceptable to anyone who cares about the truth and about following the word of God.
Next, Peifer writes,
There are numerous other verses in the epistles which are worthy of careful study and translation so that one might arrive at a better understanding of the challenges the New Testament church leaders faced when they endeavored to carry on what Jesus of Nazareth had taught and modeled with respect to women’s roles in leadership.
This is empty babble. There is no evidence, nor has Peifer produced any, to suggest that “New Testament church leaders faced” any “challenges … when they endeavored to carry on what Jesus of Nazareth had taught and modeled with respect to women’s roles in leadership.” In fact, they were guided by “the commandments of the Lord” mediated through Paul, which made the truth of male headship in the church crystal clear. As to Peifer’s claim that “There are numerous other verses in the epistles which are worthy of careful study and translation so that one might arrive at a better understanding” of this issue, it is similarly empty babble. She shows no such actual verses and, in fact, there aren’t any. And the ones we do have – 1 Timothy 2:12-14; 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35; 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5 – are sufficient to give us a full understanding of the matter.
Peifer finishes this section by citing Joanne Krupp, who argues:
One can not take an isolated social issue, use a few proof texts and make them say what one wants them to say, disregarding all previous principles and moral imperatives that have already been laid down. Psalm 119:160 declares, “The sum of Thy word is truth.” As it relates to our issue, all biblical teaching in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles tell of woman’s place before and after the Fall. They show how God accepted, released, and anointed women, thereby reaffirming His plan for equality. To isolate and interpret Paul’s writings for what they appear to be saying would negate all that the Scriptures have taught previously which we simply do not have the liberty to do (Krupp, Woman: God’s Plan not Man’s Tradition, 47, 48).
In this truly bizarre argument, Krupp (and Peifer) seem to want us to think that the fact that the sum of God’s word is truth means that we should not follow what it clearly says in 1 Timothy 2:12 et al! It seems that by “sum” she means general principles discerned by her, which overrule the actual specific words. Bizarre indeed! Let’s deconstruct her argument point by point. Her argument is given again below, with my comments in bold type:
One can not take an isolated social issue, use a few proof texts and make them say what one wants them to say,
- Actually, when one wants to know what God has to say about an “isolated social issue,” the first thing to do is to look at the actual “proof texts” that address that “isolated social issue.” These must be understood according to the proper rules of exegesis, which we have done (we have not “made them say what one wants them to say,” but have discovered what they actually say) and shown clearly that women are forbidden to hold didaskein/authentein roles.
disregarding all previous principles and moral imperatives that have already been laid down.
- There are no “previous principles and moral imperatives” to contradict the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12. Ontological equality does not obviate distinctions in roles. We have already shown that Peifer’s attempts to show such overriding principles against the prohibition have been a signal failure.
Psalm 119:160 declares, “The sum of Thy word is truth.”
- It certainly seems that Krupp wants us to think that only the “sum” (overall conclusions) from the Bible are true, not its individual parts; that’s the only way her argument here can make sense. However, she is wrong; every word of Scripture is true (Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 4:4b) – including 1 Timothy 2:12-14, I Corinthians 14:33b-35, and 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5, with their undeniable prohibitions against women holding didaskein/authentein roles.
As it relates to our issue, all biblical teaching in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles tell of woman’s place before and after the Fall. They show how God accepted, released, and anointed women, thereby reaffirming His plan for equality.
- Yes, but as we’ve seen, none of “all biblical teaching in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles … show how God” allowed women to hold didaskein/authentein roles. The clear prohibitions are in fact consonant with the theme of God-designed male headship in the home and the church.
To isolate and interpret Paul’s writings for what they appear to be saying would negate all that the Scriptures have taught previously
- Yet Peifer has failed to show even one thing “that the Scriptures have taught previously” that is negated by 1 Timothy 2:12 et al. And we have shown through sound exegesis what Paul’s writing say, not “what they appear to be saying.”
which we simply do not have the liberty to do
- What “we simply do not have the liberty to do” is to disobey the clear teachings of 1 Timothy 2:12 et al which prohibit women to hold didaskein/authentein roles. These prohibitions are clearly “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37b) and the Lord Himself has said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Finally, we call to mind Point 8 of Peifer’s “Principles for Biblical Interpretation,” viz. “Do not use an obscure passage to disprove one with clear and obvious meaning.” In violation of this rule, Peifer has adduced many passages that say nothing about the issue at hand, has drawn idiosyncratic and invalid deductions from these, and tried to use these deductions to obviate the “clear and obvious meaning” of 1 Timothy 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, and 1 Timothy 3:2,4-5. How can anyone who cares about the truth of God’s word accept such an approach?
Part IV: The State of The Brethren in Christ Church on Women in Ministry: Then and Now by Janet M. Peifer, DMin
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
In this last section, Peifer surveys the history of the Brethren in Christ Church on the matter of women in church leadership and pastoral ministry, which surfaces the fact that there has been significant disobedience to God’s word in this matter throughout the history of the BICC. Peifer then presents the results of her surveys of BICC pastors to show their openness to women in such roles. All this material is presented as a call to the BICC to move full speed ahead in developing and utilizing women in didaskein/authentein roles.
The fact that many churches and denominations have embraced such a thing is not surprising; the word of God warns, in the passage above, that the days will come when Christians and churches will not put up with sound, Biblical teaching but will do whatever their itching ears tell them to do. However, no matter how many churches and denominations do it, it remains wrong. Peifer has made a comprehensive attempt to convince us that the Bible does not forbid women to hold didaskein/authentein positions, and, as we’ve seen, her attempt fails utterly. The commands in 1 Timothy 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, and 1 Timothy 3:2,4-5 continue to stand unscathed; they are “the commandments of the Lord,” and if we love the Lord, we must obey His commandments (John 14:15). All of the commandments, including these ones.
Church leaders need to remember that the first and most important duty they have is to teach and defend sound doctrine; this is what is emphasized repeatedly in the pastoral epistles (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:3, 4:6, 4:13, 4:16, 5:17, 6:3-5; Titus 1:9, 2:1). They need to pay particular attention to 1 Timothy 4:16:
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
and realize that people’s salvation depends on sound doctrine, because there is no such thing as safe disobedience. Disobedience will always lead to more ungodliness, and perhaps eventually to outright apostasy. So as church leaders hear the siren call of various liberal feminists insisting that women should hold didaskein/authentein roles in the church, whereas, as we have seen, the Bible forbids this, the choice they face is clear. To paraphrase Peter and John from Acts 4:19, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to liberal feminists more than to God, you judge.”
 Peifer, Janet M. “The Biblical Basis for Women in Church Leadership and Pastoral Ministry.” Archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20151115011851/http://www.bic-church.org:80/women/resources/foundations/peifer_intro.asp