Why Body Image is an Australian issue

Australian of the year 2023, Taryn Brumfitt, is a worthy winner who is fighting an issue that is literally aimed at saving the lives of children. Brumfitt came to prominence through her relentless work to fight for children who grow up hating their bodies. 

Brumfitt believes that issues surrounding children’s negative views of their bodies is “a paediatric health emergency.

“”We really need to help our kids across Australia and the world because the rates of suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, steroid use, all on the increase related to body dissatisfaction.”

She argues that this relationship with our bodies results from ‘learned behaviour’. Key to her message is that “we weren’t born into the world hating our body”. In other words, our society is teaching and influencing our children to have negative thoughts about their bodies, which of course can lead to serious consequences. 

Brumfitt’s mission is to influence and encourage children to embrace their physicality, and not be defined by social influencers and so called culturally perfect images. 

Any parent with a daughter (and sons for that matter) is committed to the well-being of our children. Sadly, this isn’t always the case but it is true 98% of the time.  I imagine millions of parents, and Aussies more generally, resonate with and applaud the message from our new Australian of the year. We may or may not have first hand experience with body image disorders, but it is clear to most of us that Brumfitt is alerting us to a real problem that is capturing our young people. As Brumfitt testifies, it’s not only teenage girls who experience harmful views of their physical selves, but boys as well, and it is also present among young children, 

“It’s getting younger and younger I have to say, I only spoke to a six-year-old recently who was dieting”.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

There is something right and beautiful about Taryn Brumfitt affirming the goodness of the human body.

Australia has an uncomfortable relationship with the human body. As I heard the news of our new Australian of the year,  it’s hard not to notice a massive disconnect, not in what Brumfitt said in her Australia Day speech but in the broader narrative in our society. You see, there exists a sizeable disjunction between the message Brumfitt is advocating and what is now mainstream thinking about the human body. 

I don’t know Brumfitt’s views about transgenderism and how she makes sense of this new and sudden wave of bodily denial, but one thing is for certain, her calls to embrace our physical body is at odds with the ideology that is now sweeping our society and being forcibly taught and embraced from GP rooms to school classrooms and TikTok ‘programs’.

Our culture has adopted a modern day Gnosticism, where the ‘truest’ self is divorced from the physical. We are taught that the real you isn’t the physical body you inhabit but the immaterial desire and feelings that one experiences in the mind.  Gender has been divorced from sex and personal identity cut away from physicality. We can’t of course reduce our humanness to physicality for we are spiritual and social beings and thinking and feeling beings. We are more than flesh and blood and DNA but we are not less than those things. 

We are witnessing a generation of young people who no longer feel comfortable in their own skin, but are now taught from school to TikTok that their physical bodies betray them, and they may well be living in denial of their true selves.

The end result is that now 34% of 18-24 no longer believe they are heterosexual, embodied beings attracted to the opposite sex, but rather they are spread across an imprecise and growing spectrum of self-defining and often bodily denying sexuality and gender. 

Many girls and boys now undertake psychological and medical pathways to transition away from their physical sex. The number of young people beginning hormonal medications, psychological treatments, and eventual surgical mutilation of the body, is skyrocketing. We are talking about an increase in gender dysphoria by 1000% in just the space of a few years. Call me, Wiliam of Ockham but this drastic and sudden increase cannot be explained by natural selection. There is something else in the water. Indeed, the iceberg that looms beneath the surface is rightly scary and we’re ill equipped to do little more than chip away at it. 

While gender related rejection of the body is deeply personal and impacts the individual, the worldview attached is fast becoming compulsory across all spheres of life.  For instance, in the United Kingdom, women are having to fight the government to prevent male rapists from being sent to women’s prisons because the man wishes to identify as female. The World Athletics body has agreed to let transgender women compete against women. The next women’s soccer world cup will be open to men competing (those who say they are women).  And when women speak up, they are ridiculed, ostracised and at times threatened. Take note of how the disgusting treatment toward JK Rowling. 

Do we see the confusion? Here I say confusion because one wants to think the best of people‘s intentions. Parents who see their children in torment will do anything to find relief. And so if a doctor or counsellor says transition, then I understand them trusting the advice of the professionals. But surely there is also an ear of hypocrisy as well. How can we preach on the one hand, be comfortable in your body, and then insist on the other,  reject your body and have it mutilated and permanently damaged in the name of this Gnosticism?

In her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, journalist Abigail Shreier explores the transgender phenomenon. She blames an ideology that has captured the heart of western cultures. It’s what Carl Truman refers to as ‘expressive individualism. Gender expression has become the trend, and because it’s now described in terms of human rights,  no one is allowed to question, doubt or help adjust a child’s sense of identity. 

In today’s Australia even questioning a child’s ‘felt’ gender is paramount to the worse kind of blasphemy. In Victoria, parents, teachers, pastors,  and pretty much anyone can find themselves charged by the police and imprisoned should they not fully affirm and support a person’s preferred gender identity. We are now forcibly required to ignore the physical body and appearance. 

Leaving aside the elephant in the room, it is a good thing when our Australians of the year highlight important social issues that impact the lives of real people. It’s one of the gains in recent years that has been awarded to us through this prestigious accolade.

Those living with discomfort and disconnect with their bodies need our care, not hatred, our kindness not our complicity with a dehumanising project. As much as awareness of these issues helps and as much as positive thinking and imaging may benefit youth as they learn to live in their body, I think Christianity has something to add.  The Bible gives us what I believe is an even better message, one that is more secure. The ultimate resolution doesn’t lay in the self, for the self is existentially unstable. If the best of me can fail and disappoint, what about the rest of me? If this was not the case, we wouldn’t have a generation of Australians journeying down this dangerous and harmful pathway to physical destruction and mental anx. The Bible gives us a better story and greater hope. 

Psalm 139 exclaims, 

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”

Grounding our personhood in the knowledge that we are wonderfully made by God, is liberating and securing. The Bible’s story doesn’t end there. The Scriptures also acknowledge ways we often hide from ourselves (and from God). The Bible points out the realities of the darkness in the world and in our own hearts. The story however doesn’t end with darkness and despair, for the Scriptures move us to the culmination of the story, 

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

There is a constancy in our world of body image flaws and troubles. There is an anchor for all the spiritual and material wants and sins. This Jesus, the eternal Son of God, didn’t abandon the body; he became human for us. He entered the physical and spiritual turmoil that fills the world, taking its sins and shame in order to bring redemption and life. He understands. He makes atonement. He helps. That is a good news message for Australians today. 

Before you watch Harry & Meghan

Before clicking play on Netflix to watch Harry & Meghan or purchasing a copy of Spare, consider how doing so will add to the sordid affair.

Unless you’re still sailing to Hobart from Sydney with a broken mast and no satellite dish, you’re hearing the names of Harry, Meghan, William and Kate every few hours. With the launch of the Netflix series, and now with Harry’s memoir released and a series of television interviews ready to play, everyone is talking about Britain’s Royal family and offering their thoughts, opinions, and evaluations. It’s as though we’re all the butler with eyes on the inside of the Winsdors’ hearts. 

Harry and Meghan are everywhere. As much as I’m trying to avoid them, the latest revelations are headline news for newspapers and the late-night news on tv. I’ve taken to wearing noise-cancelling headphones everywhere I walk (metaphorically speaking) as I way to block out the latest stories of who did what to whom. And because repeating them here makes me an accessory to gossip I have no intention to repeat the stories here. Although, I am tempted to make one comment about the scary headline of ‘brother fights brother’. Have there ever been 2 brothers who’ve never punched, kicked, or wrestled each other? Beating up my baby brother was familial routine…until he outgrew me!

Leaving aside my own family history, I’m not writing to offer a commentary about the Royal family or to take sides. Doing so would shred the very point that I wish to make. I want to offer a short word to everyone who is quick to read, watch, and repeat opinions about what really is a sad state of affairs. Let’s not do those things.

There is wisdom in the book of Proverbs,

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. (11:13)

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. (16:28)

Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. (26:2)

Participating in the mob may give us a certain degree of justification and even moral uprightness. It allows us to feel part of the crowd.  We’ll have something to say at work while everyone lines up to grab another cup of stale coffee. The reality is, all we are doing is gossiping.  

Gossip is one of the oldest sins and for some odd reason, it is too often treated as an acceptable one.

 We all know that sharing another person’s secrets is a no go zone. We all know that breaking trust and retelling personal details can rip apart a friendship, and yet most of us a guilty of doing so…even at church as though faux concern legitimises the action! Whether the subject of gossip is the Royal family or my neighbour or best friend, take note of this Proverb,

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts. (18:8)

The age of the internet accelerates the pace of rumour spreading from the old school gossip magazines and water coolers. Twitter and Netflix are the latest machines for globalising gossip.  My secret today can be the topic of public scrutiny tomorrow.

The thing is, by watching and reading and gossiping, we’re leaping into a carefully managed trap. We’re suckers for a good juicy story about a family imploding. And what’s bigger than that family being our King and Princes? Far from satisfying our own grubby hearts, we’re falling for the very thing publishers and marketers are dreaming of. They’re gambling on our ability to read and repeat another person’s private life. The reality is, we’re adding just a little more oxygen to build the bonfire no one needs out bush in the middle of summer. 

I’m not .suggesting who is right and who is wrong, or who in the Royal family has said or done what to whom. Not at all. Does the Harry-Meghan saga boil down to money? Is it a case of old fashion greed or revenge or is it about a man defending his wife against torrents of abuse? One thing we do know is this, I don’t know the truth and neither do you. The public outing of private lives is certainly unsanitary and our public gaze is guilty of participating and even egging it on. I won’t bet my crown on it, but I’m pretty sure the Windsors can do without my psychoanalysing. 

I hope that with time and humility and eventual public boredom, these two brothers and their families are able to find whatever repentance and forgiveness are required in their hearts and be reconciled. For our part, perhaps the wisest thing to do is remember that gossiping isn’t a virtue. It really is quite ugly and unhelpful. So let’s keep our eyes, ears and noises out of this story. 

Don’t let the Christ message slip off the radar 

Carols by Candle Light at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne is an annual pilgrimage for thousands of Melbournians. For many more, the 3-hour Christmas extravaganza provides background Christmas mood music on tv and radio for families madly wrapping Christmas and preparing food for the big day.

Perhaps it’s my grinch-like tendencies, but my enthusiasm for watching what is essentially a pentecostal styled pop concert (or Wiggles for grown-ups!) doesn’t appeal to my musical sensibilities. It’s hard not to notice the jarring vibrato of Australian artists singing the most sublime truths known to the world while disbelieving them in their hearts and lives. 

Half of my readers are probably letting out a quiet nod of agreement (and the other half now have confirmation that Murray is the grinch). With that confession (or rather a criticism) out of the way, I want to share something that did strike me even as the show played on in the background of my home.

One of our nephews was performing and so we had instructions from the family to keep an eye (and ear) open for him. The band played on through our television when two quite wonderful performances came on stage, one after the other, both causing me to pause eating  Christmas lunch ahead of schedule. 

Silvie Paladino sang the not so Christmas carol, ‘How great thou art’, and then the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir sang an old German carol in their own native tongue, Western Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara language. This 19th century carol arrived in central Australia when Lutheran missionaries came to share the good news of Jesus. Generations later, these songs about Jesus have formed part of the local culture and are now been sung beautifully in aboriginal languages. The choral performance was indeed a special moment.

Anyone who watches Candles by Candlelight will know that the music is mishmash of secular and sacred songs. Rudolph with his red nose and Santa Claus coming are intermingled with ‘The First Noel’, and without any sense of distinguishing between fiction and fact. The entire evening is a jumble of feel good old time tradition. 

Silvie Paladino’s song choice, at least for me, interrupted the show in the same way a lit candle intrudes on a darkened room.

She sang, 

“And when I think that God, His Son not sparing

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in

That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing

He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art”.

These words reflect the heart of the Christian message. Christmas is about preparing for and pointing to that cross.

I don’t know about you, but when I heard those words, something good stirred inside. We’ve done a fine job sanitising the birth of Jesus, washing over many of the particulars that make the incarnation so extraordinary and thwart with danger and awe. However, it’s not so easy to give a PG rating to that bloodstained cross. 2,000 years on and that cross remains the most ignominious moment in history. We like the Christmas part of the story, but the death part? No one has lived as pure and innocent a life as Jesus, and yet he willingly walked the road to crucifixion and experienced the worst of evil. The cross is both the world’s greatest horror and the world’s greatest hope. The cross stupefies human power trips and intellectual exercises. The cross exposes human hubris, the reality of evil, the holiness of God, and the nature of true Divine love. 

It’s hard enough convincing Aussies today of the reality of Jesus’ birth, let alone the death absorbing and life giving hope through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And yet, as Silvie Paladino sang, ‘That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin’. 

As I read my Bible, I read something about the death of Jesus every week. Each Sunday as I have the privilege and responsibility to preach at church, I have the opportunity to explain this ancient story that continues and will forever define every generation and part of the world. At Christmas, I want to hear about the cross. The Bible tells us, that Jesus’ birth is designed to prepare for that cross and to miss it is to keep wonders from peoples’ minds and hearts.

Stan Grant wrote a moving piece on ABC about the Nick Cave concert he recently attended. 

“But I sensed a space between the religion that Nick Cave speaks of and the desire of many in the audience for some connection.

They wanted the personal touch of Nick Cave the rock star. But did they want the touch of God?

Some, perhaps many, just like me, no doubt would have. But I could not help but think that many – if not most – in the audience would have been more comfortable with a spiritual experience.

This was a secular audience. How many of those with their hands outreaching would likely be found in the pews of church?”

Stan Grant points out, as does Nick Cave, the expressive individualism that dominates our current cultural sensibilities isn’t producing the freedom and life that we are looking for. Rather, it agitates and further debilitates the human longing. Stan Grant reflects on his indigenous heritage and points us to the same saviour whom the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir sang about and whom Silvie Paladino sought to highlight on Christmas Eve

“In times of grief, catastrophe or tragedy, do the secular shibboleths of reason or science or law or rights fill the God-shaped hole?

Cave says the modern faiths of politics or identity don’t answer those questions for him.

Religion matters, church matters to Nick Cave. It is where he draws closer to the crucified Christ.”

If this is the real thing, then the hymn writer is right to exclaim, 

“Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art”

How much better is the story that God is there and he is greater and better than we ever imagined. It is more satisfying and exciting to consider this Jesus story than to carry around the baggage of self-hope and self fulfilment and self defining reality. 

The Apostle Paul explains it this way, 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Here’s my final word for 2022, don’t dismiss the songs we sang on Christmas day. Don’t disregard the message we heard as we visited Church over Christmas. Instead, consider, that maybe, just perhaps we ought to take another look at this message of the Christ. 

Essendon apologizes to Andrew Thorburn

Religious freedom received an early Christmas present this year with Essendon Football Club today issuing an apology to Andrew Thorburn. 

The forced resignation of Andrew Thorburn in October, following less than 24 hours in the job as Essendon’s new CEO, was one of the biggest stories in Victoria for 2022. After journalists dug into his church’s website, they found sermons where both homosexual practices and abortion were referred to as sinful. 

It was a classic case of cut and paste; find something controversial and ignore the rest. There was one insensitive analogy contained in one of the quoted sermons, but otherwise, the views expressed by Thorburn’s church are what you will find in any Christian Church across Australia. City on a Hill, is a mainstream Anglican Church that preaches the sermon Gospel that is common around Australia and which is deeply embedded in historic Christianity. In today’s age of tolerance and diversity, classical Christian views are considered today’s heresy and worthy of public humiliation and even loss of employment. Thorburn’s sin was that he attends COAH and until recently served as Chair of the Council. 

The Essendon board clearly thought that were acting with the backing of the new moral majority. Certainly, there was plenty of outrage found in printed media and Premier Daniel Andrews was quick to grab the footy and run with it. Perhaps the more accurate metaphor was that Andrews tackled the man without the ball! He said,  

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

Business columnist for The AgeElizabeth Knight, argued that the Thorburn case is proof that religion and business don’t mix and Christians holding to, you know, Christian things, should be excluded from the business world.

“Business doesn’t mix with religion in the same way it doesn’t mix with pleasure. Some would argue that AFL is a religion among its legion of fans, but first and foremost it’s a business. Andrew Thorburn and Essendon’s management that stupidly appointed him as the chief executive should have understood this.”

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

At the time, Andrew Thorburn released a statement in which he fairly summed up the situation,  

“ today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square.”

While Essendon FC initially responded in tune with the public cheer squad, they almost certainly acted outside the law. Legal experts have for months suggested that Thorburn has a case against the football club for unlawful religious discrimination. 

Andrew Thorburn engaged with lawyers and has now engaged with Essendon. Today, the football club has formally apologised to him and donated an undisclosed sum to an ethics institute. Thorburn has agreed to drop all legal action against the club. 

Will others follow suit and apologise for their role in this unnecessary saga?

This is a welcome outcome. One, it communicates to the business world that you can’t push out Christians (and people of other faiths) from the workforce on account of their religious associations or beliefs. More importantly, as someone who has been watching at some distance, I am thankful for the way Andrew Thorburn has responded throughout. I didn’t read or hear any vindictive words or slanderous retorts, as did fill much of the discourse surrounding the story. Rather, he approached the club and offered to help on a volunteer basis. He didn’t demand financial recompense as he might have done, instead, the agreed sum is going to a charity. 

The Bible verse that comes to mind as I learn of how Andrew Thorburn has behaved is 1 Peter 3:9.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

While the law may have come to Thorburn’s defence in this instance, Victorians are very much aware of how religious freedoms have diminished somewhat in recent years. And given the Government and current cultural preferences, these freedoms are likely to further narrow in times ahead. So while we were shocked by the appalling treatment Thorburn received by Essendon, our Premier and others, I’m grateful for the gracious way Thorburn has responded, and it’s one that we may do well to consider for ourselves when that day arrives. 

You see, Christians can hold to Jesus’ teaching about marriage and about life, and treat others with kindness and grace. Accepting the Bible’s vision for human life and human sexuality doesn’t breed bigotry, but a profound desires for the best for others. Holding these things together may be anathema to our zealous culture, but they can and do belong. Christians don’t choose between truth and love, or between grace and goodness. Indeed, this is one of the wonders of the Christmas message.

When it comes to Christmas, once we’ve unwrapped all the pageantry, presents, and tinsel, we find the message of God come to earth. The infant born in Bethlehem was the universe’s maker, true God from true God. God didn’t leave heaven to experience the most ordinary of beginnings because his view of the human condition is one of a premiership winning footy team. God saw helpless, hopeless, sinful people breaking all the rules of the game and thumbing their noses at the umpire. Knowing this, God determined, in love I want to redeem them.

The Bible text for my Christmas Day sermon puts it this way, 

“ we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)

Today is a good day for Victoria. Christmas Day points us to an even better day that can be known every day regardless of how the wind is blowing in old Melbourne town. 

Who am I? Psalm 139 gives a sublime answer

Who am I? Who are we? How can we even begin to navigate these questions?

I don’t know who needs to read these words, but I pray that they will reach many who are finding life distressing, overwhelming, and as though they are fighting a hopeless battle against despair.

This week I’ve been meditating on a prayer, Psalm 139. It is both poetry and prayer, communicating extraordinary truths about both God and us. It will be my privilege to teach Psalm 139  at Mentone Baptist Church on the first Sunday of 2023.  But I thought I would preempt this upcoming sermon and share some reflections on this Psalm of David here on the blog.

I am hearing so many stories of people struggling with mental health issues, men and women trying to understand questions about personal identity and worth, and families trying to keep everything together in the midst of financial hardship. 

Today, The Age headlined this story, ‘Mental health disorders increase among children as young as 18 months’. Yesterday, the media reported the dire situation facing families trying to access mental health care for their children.

There is also much anger and distrust being vented in society; much of it is justified, while some is misplaced. Far from communities becoming closer together, we are becoming more fractious.

Just as lurking behind the excitement and successes of the Football World Cup are terrible injustices and abuses, underneath the veneer of Australia’s prosperity are millions of Aussies feeling lost and searching for meaning and hope.

This is where Psalm 139 offers us insights into God and ourselves that are wonderful and necessary, poignant and so refreshing. My aim here isn’t to offer a detailed explanation of every word or sentence, but hopefully to say something of use that will encourage you the reader to ponder the words of Psalm 139 yourself, and even to share it with others.

The author of this prayer is David, the famous King of Israel. Despite his position ruling over a nation, he addresses God in a personal way. For David, God isn’t a remote or abstract Divine Being who is somewhere responsible for everything. He calls God, ‘Lord’, which is God’s special name given to his covenant people for them to address Him. To know God as Lord is to enjoy a personal connection and relationship with Him.

The Psalm consists of 4 stanzas. I’ll quote each stanza in turn, and offer a brief comment about each one. 

1. God knows us intimately

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

This is a message that’s worth us getting our heads around: We are not unknown to God. In fact, David recognises how the Lord knows him better than David knows himself. We all have someone idea about our deepest convictions, desires, fears, and joys. We have some ability to hide aspects of our personality and ambitions from others. We might even successfully block out aspects of hearts from our own consciousness. 

God however sees everything. He wouldn’t be much of a God if he doesn’t. David talks about how God peers into our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows what I’m going say before the words leave my tongue. This isn’t some spooky kind of trolling, but a picture of God who both understands us and who cares for us. For example, the metaphor in verse 5 of, ‘you lay your hand upon me, speaks of a gentleness and love that is active in God toward us. 

I love David’s reaction in verse 6.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

He isn’t just saying that this is an intellectual absurdity and therefore cannot be true. David’s point is,  ‘God, you blow my mind’.  God is above him in wisdom and comprehension. Einstein and Mozart are like simpletons, compared to the mind of God. This knowledge is formidable but not scary because this personal knowing is from the God who cares for us. This knowledge brings David comfort and assurance; God understands me.

2. We can’t hide from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Jonah famously tried to do a runner and escape God, as though we can outstride or out-think God. As David exclaims, where can we hide from the God who made the universe? In our bedroom? In the desert? Under the ocean? What if I close my mind to God and eat the key? 

Running away from God is futile and David knows it. As he considers the God of the Bible, he doesn’t want to remove God but instead rest in Him. Because God is truly God, we are safe in Him.

3. You made me

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

These verses are replete with exquisite images that fill life with meaning and awe. Take for example, the stunning metaphor in verse 13, ‘God knitted us together in the womb.’

No wonder, David’s mind is again blown away, 

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

These words are true not only for David but also for every human being. This testimony has profound meaning and implications for how we view other people and also ourselves. 

As the artist is devoted to his/her work and as a composer imprints their own glory in the music, so each and every human being has intrinsic value, glory and worth. Monet’s Water Lilies were no mistake and Schumann’s Piano Concerto was no misstep or blunder. You are not a gaffe or error. You are not a waste. You are not insignificant. We are profoundly known and loved by our creator God. 

4. God, change me

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!

20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.

I appreciate how these verses may make some of us cringe or feel a little uncomfortable. Aren’t we meant to forgive everyone? Should we not look for the best in people?  

There are a number of threads appearing in this final stanza, which are each true and somehow need to be held together despite apparent tensions or even contradictions with other parts of the Bible. 

  1. David is expressing to God how he is feeling as he reacts to enemies who are seeing his demise. 
  2. It’s okay to long for justice and for God to punish evil. We don’t want evil to win out in the end, but for wrongdoing to be punished, whether the perpetrators are individuals or corporations or institutions. Asking God to bring justice and to judge wickedness is an entirely right and good prayer. Christians may not stop at that point, for we also long for mercy and forgiveness, but we also believe in and trust in God who is righteous and who will hold the world account.
  3. David’s enemies were often political, whether rebels attempting to usurp his throne or competing nations who waged war against Israel.  David’s prayer reflects the system of government that existed and set the boundaries of God’s people at that particular time. This isn’t our situation today.  The Church isn’t a nation-state or system of government. As we discover in the New Testament, our King is the true David, Jesus Christ. When churches are oppressed, our answer isn’t to go to war or to hunt down assassins, but “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14) and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” Luke 6:27).   
  4. It is important to continue reading as the Psalm doesn’t end at verse 22, but with verses 23-24. David doesn’t end on a note of vengeance but with a plea for God to examine his (my) own heart.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

It seems as though David’s aware that strong emotions can be misleading, and mixed up, and that he himself might have sin lurking about in his own life. David is praying, Lord is, sift through my prayer because you know what’s true and what’s not true, and where I’m right and where I’m wrong. You are able to do this because you know me well.  Where and if there’s anything offensive in me, lead away from it and to the way everlasting. 

David isn’t self-righteous or strident or judgmental. His prayer is, Lord, change me. This is of course a far cry from our cultural sermons which defines change as heterodox. Our prayers today are less, ‘Lord, change me, they are more often, ‘God affirm everything about me’. Our 21st Century prayers often finish at verse 22, judge my oppressors and justify me. 

No wonder our streets and suburbs are filling with growing vexation, anxiety, and melancholy. The burden we are placing on ourselves is too great. 

This Psalm can speak both of wonderment and of wrong. Wonderment in God who made us and wrong in what others do and even what I have done. Our culture can’t sustain this tension. The Bible is able to both speak of immense value and worth of every human being and also remind us of profound sinfulness. Any time when we hold onto one of these truths and not the other, we are only a short journey away from an identity crisis and social catastrophe. David was conscious of both and he found resolution and peace in the fact that hope isn’t found in himself, but in a God who can be trusted. 

The ultimate and final fulfilment of this Psalm is found in that little child born in Bethlehem whom millions around Australia will soon be singing about as Christmas approaches. 

The book of Hebrews reminds us,

“we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:9-11)

A Christian responds to Victoria’s State Election

On Saturday morning before going to vote at the Victorian State election, I sent out this tweet, quoting Psalm 146,

“Do not put your trust in princes,

    in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

    whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

This morning, the day after the election, I retweeted these Bible verses. The reason being, the words of the Psalm remain true, before and after the votes had been cast and counted.

 I understand that in quoting Psalm 146, some people might be a little annoyed and perhaps a tad angry,  especially among voters disappointed by the election result. I certainly don’t mean to sound unfeeling or facile, as though the election was unimportant. I happen to believe elections do matter because government plays a significant role in the life of society; controlling much power and influence. After all, Government is a legitimate institution that falls under the banner of God’s common grace. It may not be the main game, but government nonetheless plays an important supporting role. 

It is also the case that Government has less influence in setting the direction for society as it is about providing the legal, economic, and social mechanisms by which society moves in the direction that it is already preferencing. The old adage about politics being downstream of culture is complicated but still true. 

The reason behind sharing the Psalm 146 quotation is that I’m wondering if we are attaching too much responsibility on Government for fixing social ills and rectifying economic currents. This is true for both the left and the right of politics. Have we become too dependent upon Parliaments and MPs for addressing what was once the prevue of churches, synagogues, media, and an array of social organisations? If we have lost trust in those civil and religious institutions (which seems to be the case), faith in our governments is also in sharp decline. There lies perhaps some of our misplaced faith and therefore frustration and despair at the political scene. We are not meant to burden Government with all our hopes and demands and needs. A healthy society needs to spread that load. Indeed, a truly healthy society would not require government to create what we have in Australia: a society wrapped in red tape and wads of laws and rules stickier than gaffer tape.

There are better governments and worse; it’s rarely a zero-sum game.  More Victorians than not prefer the given election outcome over the alternatives. After all, that is what the votes indicate. Many Victorians are pleased with the outcome, with many others perplexed or angered, and more than a few are underwhelmed by the choice of candidates that were on offer. I suspect there is also a deep suspicion of and discontent toward political parties across the spectrum. Sometimes it’s a case of choosing the least bad option available, or at least that’s how many voters are feeling: I don’t like this candidate, but at least they’re not the other candidates! 

How did we respond to the election at church today? This morning my church prayed for the new state government, as we do regularly for whoever is in charge at Spring Street and in Canberra. And we also prayed for our local representatives in Parliament. That’s what Christians do. It’s one of the few constancies in the unpredictable world of politics; churches pray for those in authority. To the reluctant among us, let’s consider it this way, if the Apostle Paul could pray for the Roman Emperor, then we ought to pray for our governments. 

We should pray for our political representatives because they carry significant responsibility. Given the platform that we build for our leaders (or scaffold as it may be), praying is the right thing to do. Of course, government isn’t the big game in town, but its role impacts life at every level and therefore great wisdom, patience, integrity and compassion are necessary.  

Without some kind of cultural reorientation, I suspect Governments will become bigger and bolder. It is interesting to see how Australians, or at least Victorians, have become more comfortable with authoritarian personality and political styled governing. The myth of the convict, bushranger, and nonchalant Aussie digger may still exist in local sporting clubs, but as a people group, we are quite accepting of big government and monocratic-styled leadership. I’m not arguing a case either way here but simply noting the public trend.

Of course, my eyesight is myopic and so looking at the next 4 years is an imprecise art. There are, after all, no more prophets! My guess is that in the name of freedom, more laws and regulations will be introduced, and in the name of economic prosperity, more debt inducing spending will occur. If we follow the now predominant current, I anticipate that we’ll see tighter controls on social behaviour, fewer parental rights and a more pronounced religion-socio education drive.

I would not be surprised if we see religious freedoms further eroded during this next term of government. That’s no scare campaign, I’m simply noting the growing list of legislative changes that have been enacted in Victoria in recent years: from removing freedoms from religious organisations and schools to employ people of faith, to banning some religious conversations and prayers with threats of criminal charges and prison time, and now to Premiers interfering with workplace appointments because a football club appointed a Christian man who also serves on the council at his local church. I’d be surprised if the cultural vultures do not require more blood to be taken.

Of course, what Victoria is experiencing is simply a few steps ahead of the rest of the country and it’s indicative of an entire part of the world that has not only lost its moorings but is consciously tearing them apart and doing so without realising that without these foundations, we are left to be smashed about by the wind and waves.

So I go back to the verse in which I began, Christians should not look to government to be the saviour of society. Don’t put your trust in princes and premiers. Honour them and pray for them, but let’s not expect government to rescue society from the deepest and darkest of places.

This is one of the flaws present in left-leaning politics; it believes Government is the answer.  Hence it’s no surprise to see legislative agendas enveloping society around a new moral religion. God is optional in the new religion, but the worship of the sexualised individual is compulsory. Anyone thinking otherwise just isn’t listening to Daniel Andrews and Victoria’s Human Rights Commissioner and a hundred other bureaucrats working with the Government. 

There is a counterpoint emerging on the right side of politics that is also deeply concerning, and perhaps more so. Daniel Andrews may talk about how his catholicism influences his life, but people can see through the disconnection. Christian nationalism, on the other hand, has started to captivate some pew sitters and pastors and therefore it is more likely to create issues for Gospel ministry in Victoria. This theorem is thankfully marginal and I pray it doesn’t take hold as it is doing in parts of the United States, but nonetheless, I don’t wait for 100 mosquitoes to enter my house before dealing with the first one.

Christians, be careful of voices that speak more about politics than they do the Great Commission and use more words of anger than they do words of compassion and mercy. By all means, as commitment to common grace and out of love for your neighbour, keep government accountable. Christians might join a political party and stand for Parliament, but even the most Christian of political leaders and most Christian of political agendas isn’t going to redeem society. That kind of thinking ignores the testimony of Scripture, namely that the gospel is God’s power of salvation and the church is God’s big game in town. Our churches are more likely today to sit on the sideline of culture and be ignored by many,  but nonetheless, the church is the centrepiece of God’s work. Therefore, whatever you do in the name of political inspiration, aspiration or disappointment, don’t confuse it with the Gospel, don’t conflate common grace with saving grace, and don’t fuse the church with the state. 

The best way we can love our fellow Victorians is by serving your church and being clear on the gospel.

I’ll finish up here with one final word about misplacing hope and faith in political elections. During the Premier Daniel Andrews victory speech last night, he said, “Friends. Hope always defeats hate.”

The statement is true, although one might like to fill the word hope with some content and also define hate as something more than an imprecise aspersion on your opponents. 

Also, the irony of this comment was not lost. The election campaign was about as spiteful and negative a campaign as I’ve seen, and it was true across the major parties. And yes, our Premier’s chosen rhetoric can at times be described as hateful. In fact, I can think of few political leaders excising as much hateful language as Mr Andrews, especially as he describes people of faith in Victoria. His verbal attacks are often little more than vicious mischaracterisations of people (think Andrew Thorburn), but verbal attacks of this kind garner wide support in Victoria because it fits the religious narrative that now dominates the horizon. 

Daniel Andrews is not only an advocate but a victim of a worldview that sees all other views as anathema and a danger to society. The new dogma that he seems to preach demands that we either agree and follow the new moral absolutes or we belong to the devil. Love means full acceptance and tolerance means public affirmation, and any diverging from the narrow path is justification for public humiliation by our Premier and others. It’s a tricky path though because the definition of acceptance and tolerance are continually changing, like the staircases at Hogwarts. Orthodoxy one week is heresy the next, as public figures are finding out once they’re cancelled. 

 I am forever grateful to Jesus who didn’t affirm everything about me, and who didn’t accept some of the desires of my heart. God did something far greater and more loving. God disagreed and even called out my living as sin. The Bible even says it’s worthy of death, and yet God loved disagreeable people and his only Son gave his life on the cross. So yes, hope has defeated hate. 

Biblical Critical Theory is launched

Last night in Melbourne, Christopher Watkin’s new book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense, was launched. There will be further launch events in Sydney, UK and the USA over the coming days.

The room at RTC (Reformed Theological College) was filled with many uni students, academics, pastors in attendance, and many others from various works of life. The food, wine, and conversations kept flowing late into the night (in the end I had to ask people to go home!). Each one of the 4 speeches last night was impressive and interesting, reflecting on the content of Chris’ writing (of course!) and the value this book may bring to the world of thought, university, church, and society.

The only downside of the evening was that we couldn’t get our hands on enough copies of the book. The first print was sold out even prior to its formal release date. People took a number and we swirled those little pieces of paper in a large bowl and then picked out numbers. 12 very excited persons (think of the atmosphere for a winning auction bid), then purchased a signed copy of Biblical Critical Theory.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. As a reviewer recently said of Biblical Critical Theory, all the hype really isn’t exaggerated, and each of the addresses last night, given by Dr Sarah Irving-Stonebroker, Mr Barney Zwartz, and Dr Andrew Moody, testified to this. I am hoping that these talks may become available on The Gospel Coalition Australia website in days to come.

Allow me to share what I said at the beginning of the evening and the prayer in which I closed the event.

“Good evening and welcome. On behalf of The Gospel Coalition Australia, it is wonderful to see you all this evening for this special event.

My name is Murray Campbell. I serve on the National Council and State committee for The Gospel Coalition and I serve as the Senior Pastor at Mentone Baptist church. It is a joy to call Chris a friend and brother. I’ve had the privilege to know Chris and Ali for the past 9 years and have followed his work and writing with great eagerness and interest and benefit.

We are here to launch Christopher Watkin’s new book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense

The author of the monumental work the City of God, Augustine, lived during the turbulent times of the Roman Empire crumbling.

Augustine wasn’t from the City of Rome, although he would visit during the course of his life. He was born in the small provincial North African town of Thagaste. He would later live in Carthage. Yet, Augustine’s influence reached Rome and throughout the Empire, and indeed even throughout the world today. 

Perhaps Yorkshire is a bit like Thagaste, and Melbourne is a modern-day Carthage.

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense offers readers a comprehensive view of the world through the lens of the Bible. 

Chris’ writing is clear, irenic, and profound. Chris understands the complexity of both the Bible and our culture. The work is deeply biblical and culturally masterful.

Time will tell how important this work will become, but I suggest that this is a significant body of thought that we will do well to read slowly and carefully and consider with seriousness.

Tonight we have 3 guest speakers with us who are each going to give a short address speaking to the book. 

Dr Sarah Irving Stonebraker is a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Western Sydney. 

Barney Zwartz is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity and was the Religions Editor at the The Age for many years

Dr Andrew Moody is a Melbourne-based theologian and Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition Australia. 

I’d like to invite Dr Christopher Watkin forward and hand over to him.”

“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the mind and understanding you have given Chris. We thank you for this book written to help us understand your world and life in it. We pray that you will use Chris’ writing to give people confidence in the Bible, to see that it is a fountain of knowledge and wisdom and goodness, and a lens through which we can understand the world. 

May it be read widely and deeply and be part of that chain of Christian thought that echoes through the generations, to point people to your Son.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Baptists haven’t sold their soul, they are following God’s heart.

No, Baptists have not sold their soul over same-sex marriage. What they have chosen is faithfulness to God and upholding gospel unity.

New South Wales Baptists have reaffirmed the Bible’s teaching on marriage and are following Jesus’ teaching on human sexuality. They have also reaffirmed the importance of the Baptist doctrine basis by requiring accredited pastors and churches to affirm these statements.

While the majority of Baptist delegates have supported the motions, not everyone is happy and for several different reasons. Some dissenters don’t subscribe to Baptist theological beliefs nor do they accept the classical definition of marriage. Indeed, among those who reject the classical understanding of marriage, they often find issues with many other basic Christian beliefs. There are others Baptists, who have expressed concern at the NSW and ACT decisions because they value the idea of autonomy over and above other baptist principles. 

Erin Martine Sessions is a delegate at the NSW and ACT Baptist Assembly. She is one of a minority of baptists who disagrees with the direction taken in NSW and she’s written a piece on the ABC Religion and Ethics site, Have Baptists just sold their soul over same-sex marriage?’

At times, it is hard to manoeuvre around Martine Sessions’ use of language and hyperbole. Describing the meeting as The Red Assembly is kind of silly.  Invoking the Spanish Inquisition and using analogies such as stake burning and the  Spanish Second Republic-inspired thought-policing, does little to forward this important discussion. And the inclusion of Moore College and Sydney Anglican as a wink-wink swear word is a cheap and unnecessary shot.

Let’s look beyond the colourful and misleading rhetoric and point out two basic problems with Martine Sessions’ argument, namely that the Assembly decisions go against Baptist principles.

First of all, the author neglects much of Baptist history. It is true that Baptists view autonomy highly, but it is also true that Baptists in association gather around shared theological foundations. Both things are true. She asks,

“Why did we suddenly depart from history and make a new category of statements we must support? To put it bluntly, because Baptists don’t have a doctrine of marriage”

Throughout the history of the Church, many confessions, statements, and creeds have come about as the result of doctrinal crises, social change, and political necessity. It’s not as though these beliefs only came into existence when a Council met or Assembly approved, but rather,  what was already orthodox became formally recognised in writing. Issues surrounding sexuality, marriage, and gender are but the latest theological and moral ground that requires Churches to affirm Biblical teaching. Historically, Baptists are not exempt from or non-participants in this process. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, Baptists historically associate together around common theological convictions. Indeed Baptists have written and affirmed more statements of faith and association than possibly any other Protestant denomination. 

in the case of marriage, in 2011 Australian Baptists Ministries affirmed that marriage is, “the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. Baptist marriage celebrants can only conduct weddings according to this definition. Although, there are examples of pastors and churches deliberately circumventing these rules in a variety of ways, and thus acting against Baptist belief and practice.

This position on marriage was not invented in 2011, rather due to social and political changes, baptist leaders wisely decided that it’s necessary to make explicit in writing what has always been the case, indeed, to affirm what is the historic Christian understanding of marriage. 

For Martine Sessions to claim the NSW motions are unBaptist, is to grab hold of one strand of baptist thought and to ignore the others. Baptists have always made and required statements of faith and practice for association. As someone pointed out to me, it’s somewhat amusing to read that in order to reject Baptist confessionalism, she relies on a confession of sorts, one that she teaches her students!

The article also underplays how the issues at hand relate to vital Christian beliefs upon which fellowship is had or not. The majority of churches understand that this is the case. Martine Sessions misrepresents the nature of the topic at hand when asserting, they don’t want to associate ‘with people and churches who think differently to them’. This isn’t just about ‘thinking differently’, this is about believing basic, obvious, and essential Christian teaching. To categorise the issues as a matter of ‘thinking differently’ is quite an understatement.

For an association to not only exist but grow and be healthy, there need to be shared values, identity and purpose. No one is suggesting uniformity across the board, but agreement upon the basics. Advocates who place autonomy near the top of the list often have a habit of limiting or downplaying what is required for association. I happen to think that the autonomy of the local church is an important principle, but I also note that an association of churches, by definition, requires sufficiently shared common ground. The issues at hand are, contrary to Martine Sessions, crucial and necessary for genuine Christian unity and partnership. How can fellowship exist when there isn’t shared belief in the same Gospel? How can churches partner in mission together when one says repentance isn’t required and the other says it is? How can churches serve together when one accepts the words of Jesus about marriage and another does not?

We can’t disconnect our view on marriage from other parts of Christian theology. Those small number of pastors and churches who no longer accept the Baptist view on marriage are also redefining many more Christian teachings, including the gospel itself and sexual morality and repentance and our doctrine of scripture. 

Imagine a player at a cricket club who decides that they no follow the rules for LBW. In their mind, it’s an unfair rule and disadvantages players who like to use their pads in front of the stumps. Or what of a coach who declares that instead of playing cricket, the team should be playing a hybrid version of cricket/ golf, as though golf will broaden the appeal of the game and attract more players. In both cases, the answer is no. One may reject the shape of the game and one can call it whatever you like, but it’s not cricket. As someone who has been part of cricket clubs for over 10 years, I suspect that any player or coach who tried to introduce such changes would be told either to shape up or move on. I realise the examples are somewhat goofy, but the point is clear.

When Jesus defines sexual relations outside marriage as immoral and when the Apostles describe sexual relations outside marriage as keeping people outside God’s Kingdom and contrary to the Gospel, how can baptist churches argue that we can remain in partnership together? 

Surely, it comes down to the question, do baptists believe we can associate & partner with churches/pastors who hold, teach (and at times, practice) SSM? (and the theological corollaries that give rise to and flow from this position).  The majority of delegates in NSW have said the answer is no, while a significant minority indicate the answer is yes (they may not agree with SSM but believe it is possible and even desirable to partner with SSM affirming churches. The issue isn’t just autonomy, but it’s also about what theological and spiritual unity is required to work together 

I appreciate how a lot of Christians are concerned about using categories of sin in relation to marriage and sex. Doesn’t it make evangelism more difficult? Doesn’t it come across as harsh and unloving. What are we saying to our neighbours by insisting on our churches sticking with classical marriage? Aren’t we saying, that Jesus knows best? Aren’t we saying, that people matter so much that we won’t let our churches blow here and there along with the current cultural whim? Aren’t we saying that God’s vision for humanity surpasses the dominant view in any society? Aren’t we saying, that in Christ, both truth and love are found and that both holiness and mercy are uncovered?

These Baptist motions follow a similar trajectory to Jesus who, when confronted by progressive ideas about marriage and sex, reaffirmed the Biblical pattern. Of course, orthodoxy without love is like a saucepan lid crashing onto a tile floor. However, love without orthodoxy is nothing more than sentimentalism that misleads. We don’t need to choose between truth and love, for they are necessary and beautiful partners. In Christ, we see truth and love in perfect union. It is unloving for Christians to affirm same sex marriage or to teach that God is okay with forms of sexual expression that contradict his word. For Baptists to affirm Jesus’ teaching is not less than unifying, it is essential for maintaining genuine Christian unity. 

Erin Martine Sessions is one of a number of baptists who are concerned by the events at last weekend’s NSW Gathering. I have already responded to the arguments put forward by Mike Frost (whose ideas I believe shaped Martine Sessions own article). Others are thankful that Baptists are declaring their faith in God and trusting his word and ways, and acknowledging that partnering together into the future is more faithful and fruitful when we can soundly affirm the foundations of the faith. 

New South Wales Baptist motions should be welcomed warmly and not with frost

New South Wales and ACT Baptists are meeting tomorrow to discuss and decide an issue that denominations across the world are facing. There are a set of motions requiring churches and accredited pastors to affirm “Marriage is a covenant relationship ordained by God as a lifelong faithful union of one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy outside such a marriage relationship is incompatible with God’s intention for us as his people”.

The topic is broader than sexuality. In 2021 the NSW & ACT Assembly affirmed that both churches and accredited pastors be required to affirm the “basic doctrines, objects and values of the Association”

A detailed read of the motions can be found on John Sandeman’s blog.

Depending on the outcome of the Assembly meeting, Baptist Churches that don’t affirm these positions may be required to leave the association and pastors lose their accreditation. This is of course a significant subject and one where we pray Christians will speak and listen graciously and especially listen to and believe what God has spoken in the Bible. Affirming marriage should not be a controversial issue among churches, and it is a sad indictment on churches that there is any dispute or disagreement here. To believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman and that all other sexual relationships are sinful is doing nothing more than believing what Jesus taught and what the Apostles affirmed. 

Sydney Baptist and Morling College lecturer, Mike Frost, has expressed disagreement with the move. He has written an article to presumably dissuade delegates from supporting the motions. While he is not saying that he supports same-sex marriage (I suspect he doesn’t), he argues that baptists can and should remain together even when we disagree over this issue. Frost’s position is problematic for several reasons. 

First, he makes an important category error. He puts same-sex marriage under the umbrella of ‘non-core issues’.  He uses the phrase repeatedly throughout his piece and he concludes with this sentence,

“But instead of rallying to fulfill these bold visions for Christian mission, we’re debating the ins and outs of how to expel a tiny number of churches that don’t agree with the majority on yet another non-core issue.”

Contrary to what Frost asserts, our understanding of sexual relations is a gospel issue. Our understanding of sexuality and marriage is connected to our view of Jesus, the Bible, the nature of sin and salvation, and more. Jesus was clear when he described sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a woman is porneia.

The Apostle Paul is also clear, 

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Jesus and Paul define homosexual relations as sinful and keeping people outside the Kingdom of God. I don’t see how Frost can declare that this is ‘yet another non-core issue’ when the Bible is pretty clear that it is.

In 1 Timothy Paul spells out as unambiguously as anywhere in the Bible how any sexual relations outside marriage contradict sound doctrine and the gospel,

“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

Mike Frost telling his readers that this is a non-core issue, doesn’t stack up according to the Scriptures. These are not matters on which Christians can agree to disagree. This is a gospel matter. Where people cannot agree on the gospel, how can there be partnership and association?

Second, Mike Frost makes another category error. His heading proposes that requiring common assent to Baptist doctrine is, ‘Breaking up the family in pursuit of uniformity’. 

The suggestion of uniformity is misleading. This isn’t about uniformity, it is about standing together on clear and gospel issues.

No Baptist is asking for agreement on every dot and flick and iota. No Baptist is demanding a uniform position on eschatology or the gifts of the Spirit. No one is asking for uniformity in the style of church service. Frost’s own article provides several examples of where Baptists have agreed to disagree. In suggesting that same-sex marriage is on par with these other issues is a serious mistake. Again, if Jesus calls an activity sin and if Paul says an activity keeps a person outside the Kingdom of God, how can we partner with churches who teach this harmful idea?

Genuine Christian unity is both theological and spiritual,  and the two belong together. Paul writes to the Ephesians, 

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”

Unity requires speaking truth in love and standing against teaching that is false and dangerous. It is because Christian unity is so precious, that remaining in that which unites is of such importance

I have argued elsewhere that baptists historically have written and affirmed doctrinal statements and positions when the need arose. There is a popular view today among Baptists that we are anti-creedal and that we don’t want or need statements of faith in order to join together. The saying, ‘no creed but Christ’ may sound appealing, but it’s neither historically true nor wise.

Throughout 400 years of Baptist history, various baptist fellowships have written confessions and statements of doctrine and required assent to them. One of the little-known facts about baptists is that we have more doctrinal statements than probably every other protestant denomination! The desire among NSW baptist churches to stand on the Christian view of marriage (and more) isn’t less than baptist, it is in keeping with many baptists historically (including those in Australia).

Third, Frost speaks of a bold vision for mission, but how can there be a shared mission when churches (or pastors) don’t share the same message? 

Mission is about telling people the good news of Jesus Christ, but if two churches believe two different gospels, how we can partner together?

For instance, Baptist pastors and churches who support same-sex marriage do not accept that repentance is required, rather these relationships should be celebrated by churches. How can two churches go on mission together when one says repentance is necessary and the other says it is not?

Our neighbours and communities don’t need churches that play the lyrebird and mimic back to them their own moral and spiritual proclivities. The gospel of Jesus Christ is far more compelling, subverting and beautiful.

I recall an observation made last year by British historian Tom Holland, 

“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.

Affirming basic Christian beliefs will serve both our churches well, and our local communities. Anything else is a pathway to a brittle skeletal institutionalism and an irrelevance to the Kingdom God is building.

While it’s great to hear Mike Frost advocating mission, he’s sticking a cork in the breech here. How can shared mission take place when there isn’t agreement on the gospel and what it means to repent and what it means to be saved? Indeed how can there be partnership in any meaningful way when the very thing that unites Christians is disputed and even denied by some?

While Frost wants everyone to keep singing together, the reality is those baptists who advocate same-sex marriage are singing a different song, with different lyrics and melody. Their position not only contradicts the formal position on marriage, some are actively seeking to change this established position. The point is, these Baptists are unlikely to be satisfied until such time the denomination has changed to Australia’s latest views on sexuality and gender. After all, if they are serious about this being a justice and gospel issue, as I have often heard, how can they rest until the baptist view accepts same-sex weddings and marriages?

The notion that we can and will all live together in a joyful forward movement mission is somewhat disingenuous, given the ambition of some baptists is to change core baptist convictions. 

I’m praying for tomorrow’s meeting. Of course, it is difficult. If our churches are not able to have these important conversations and if we are not prepared to affirm the very things for which Christ died, then what are we about? God honours the faithfulness of his people. It may not win us popularity votes or praise in ecclesial halls, but there is something remarkably simple and attractive and good about faithfulness and sticking with what God says.

The people who often suffer most through these conversations are same-sex attracted Christians who believe in Jesus and are living faithful and celibate lives for the sake of the Kingdom. To have churches teaching that they need not repent and should instead live out their desires is a great and terrible disservice to these brothers and sisters. Should we not support and encourage them in godliness by affirming the same Gospel together?

I trust other State Unions may look on at what is transpiring in NSW and take courage to also stand and make these clear affirmations and positions for the sake of the Gospel around Australia. 

Understanding 1 Timothy 2 Today

Below is a discussion paper shared among a leadership training group at Mentone. It’s not attempting to answer every question or to journey down every pathway, but to outline the how and what and whys of our understanding of this passage of Scripture. This paper (and the seminar) served as background to a sermon series on 1 Timothy in 2022.

i. Introduction

The New Testament’s vision of Christian ministry and mission is often likened to a household. There are many people in a house. Everyone is valued and essential. Everyone is identical in our union with Christ and also differing in the ways we contribute and serve. The Church is also likened to a body. Christ is the head and each member belongs and performs an integral role albeit in many different ways. The New Testament teaches us that it is only as the body works together in unity that churches grow and become healthy and mature. 

As we read Bible passages such as Romans ch.16 and 2 Timothy ch.4 we find men and women partnering together for the Gospel. It is a wonderful display of grace and how the Gospel reorients lives. At the same time, the testimony of the Scripture doesn’t ignore God given order and cohesion. The New Testament demonstrates men and women contribute to the maturity of the local church and to the growth of the Gospel in ways that often overlap and at other times are quite distinct. One of the difficulties for churches today is to uphold both overlap and distinction without losing either one.

The focus of this paper is the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The reason behind this restriction isn’t a belief that this is the most important Bible passage addressing the issue of men and women in the church. As I’ll explain below, reading the entire Bible is vital for understanding what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman and how the two relate in the various contexts of life, including church. The reason for narrowing the focus here is a straightforward one: at Mentone, we are preaching through 1 Timothy in 2022, and given the controversial nature of some of Paul’s words in ch.2, I believe it is worthwhile providing a more detailed explanation in a paper, in addition to the sermon that will be preached. This paper will also provide material that will be used at a seminar for leaders at Mentone. 

I also want to acknowledge that while many Christian brothers and sisters will agree with much, if not all, of the material I present in this paper, others will disagree with aspects. Disagreement on these issues can occasionally be a primary issue, depending on the nature of the objection. Disagreement can also be significant and not rank as a first order issue. On other occasions there can be room and grace to continue partnering together on mission and ministry projects.

Before we come to the text of 1 Timothy ch.2 it may be helpful to explain something of where I am coming from and also to outline some broad biblical themes that aid us in reading the text in the bigger picture of biblical revelation and God’s plan of salvation. I’ll begin with highlighting two foundational beliefs. I will then offer a word in raising awareness of how existing assumptions and commitments can impact the way we read the Bible. Finally, before discussing 2:11-15, it is worthwhile providing a summary of the broader context for 1 Timothy.

ii. 2 Foundational Beliefs

As we begin, it’s important to highlight two beliefs that I am convinced about and that form part of the background to my reading of 1 Timothy ch.2: the nature of Scripture and the nature of male and female.

The first is this, I believe God’s Word is both true and good. What God teaches about men and women, family, church and about life and society isn’t designed to destroy or harm or abuse, but presents to us the good life. If we come to the Bible with the assumption that the Bible is wrong or harmful, it makes the following conversation difficult. It also reveals that you are turning to another authority to shape your views about men and women. 

Second, men and women are not interchangeable, meaning that alongside our shared humanity and intrinsic dignity, there are also creational and God glorifying differences.  I believe this for several reasons: 1. the Bible says so. 2. Observation and experience affirm this is so. 3. Science confirms this is the case.  The purpose of this paper isn’t however to explore personal observations or scientific evidence for what constitutes male and female, but it is to outline the message of 1 Timothy ch2.

Assuming the Bible is both true and good, we want to let God’s word be our guide on these matters. 

At the very beginning of the Bible, we learn that there is one race (mankind) and there are two genders (male and female).

Built into Genesis 1:27 are these 2 key components between men and women: There is both equality and difference. Male and female equally bear the imago dei and they are differentiated.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

In our Western cultures, we have seen a gradual shift in the way we think about men and women1. There are societies in history that have not thought of women as having equal status as men. Such attitudes contradict how God made things in the very beginning. Indeed this is one of the subversive ideas found in the Lord Jesus and in the early Church; women are elevated. 

As we consider the past we ought to tread with some caution. Suggestions that women were always treated inferior to men, especially prior to the 20th Century, is far too simplistic, historically myopic, and can even be a case of enthocentrisicm. Sadly, this was often the case, but not always and it is hubris for 21st Century people to look down on previous generations with automated smuggery. For example, we can say that churches who followed the New Testament’s teaching on men and women did in fact view women highly.  We can also recognise that much good was accomplished in the 20th Century to restore the dignity and equal worth of women (ie education, voting rights). However, the thinking didn’t settle there. The pendulum has moved and has swung from ‘equal and different’ to the idea that women are no different to men. Whatever men can do women can and ought to do.  This is often referred to as second wave feminism. In more recent years societal thinking has again shifted, to the point where gender no longer exists in any objective sense. Gender is fluid and therefore men can be women and vice versa, sex and gender have been divorced from each other, and there is a growing number of gender options. As I write, some people suggest there are more than 70 genders, while Facebook provides a list of 58 gender options. 

I’m assuming that we (who are present at this seminar) affirm that a man is a man and a woman is a woman2. If the two sexes differ and yet complement each other, how do they differ and complement?

If there are two sexes and these two sexes complement each other, they must therefore have some distinguishing features. Is this explainable purely by or limited to biological differences? Are the differences simply cultural conventions? Does the Bible teach that the two sexes are complementary? If so, how so? 

If someone asked, what does it mean to be a boy or what does it mean to be a girl, what might you say? There is much in common between boys and girls because of our shared humanity. We want to stress how these shared attributes weigh more heavily than any difference but is nothing distinct? Is there anything that differentiates boys from girls and girls from boys? The point in raising the question here is to demonstrate that we know intuitively that there is difference and there must be difference, and yet it is often difficult to suggest that this is the case.  Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that in today’s culture it is unpopular to suggest there is difference. Not only are men and women equal, but the culture is trying to eradicate any differences, whether it is biological or psychological or theological. This intentional obliteration of gender identity and roles cuts against sound judgment. For example, common sense tells us that fathers and mothers are not identical in their roles; there may be much overlap but they are not synonymous. As another example, when it comes to mentoring it is wise for a younger woman to be discipled by another woman and a man discipled by a man. These are not merely social constructs, but instinctive understandings of what works and is good, and these cross cultural boundaries and times.

There are two dangers that I believe we need to avoid: 1. Making too much of the idea of difference between the sexes, and 2. Making too little of this reality. Either excess will see us damaging the body of Christ, individual lives, and our Gospel witness to the world. At the same time, and without diminishing the Bible’s teaching, we will see churches coming to slightly different conclusions as we grapple with God’s purposes. In trying to faithfully apply Scriptural principles churches will make decisions that differ; not fundamentally different but rather, variations on the biblical theme. This requires us to exercise grace toward one another and not assume motives or fidelity because of these diverse applications.

1 Timothy 2 is not the only Bible passage that talks about men and women. There are many Bible passages that teach a God given anthropology about men and women. Developing a full biblical picture requires us to examine more Bible and theology than time permits. However, the task before us in this paper is to understand 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

iii. Recognise a priori preferences

Before we examine the Biblical text it is important to acknowledge a simple fact; no one comes to the Bible without ideas and desires, as though we are neutral. We don’t live outside our cultural moment. We live and breathe at a particular time in history and in a country that exudes certain cultural preferences, orthodoxies and heresies. In addition, familial influences and personality play a role in developing life’s thesis and antithesis. Life experiences, both positive and negative, the encouraging and the painful, all influence the way we think and the attitudes we hold. 

Thomas Schreiner recently wrote a short article for Christianity Today where he responds to suggestions that a classical reading of gender roles in the Bible is more the result of cultural baggage than it is the teaching of Scripture. He reminds us that cultural prisms are something we all must contend with but such imports don’t make reading the Bible an impossible task,

“There is always a danger that we have reacted to or imitated the society around us. We are all influenced by culture and should receive any critique that returns us to scriptural witness in good faith. We should listen charitably to brothers and sisters who view things differently—and none of us should be above reforming and nuancing our views… there are social and cultural forces operating on both sides. No one is exempt, and no one inhabits a neutral space when it comes to gender dynamics.

Every argument for every perspective should send us back to the biblical witness. The word of God still pierces our darkness and can reshape how we think and live. The Bible can and should still be heard, believed, and followed—even though we are all fallible and culturally situated.”3

Every word and every phrase in 1 Timothy 2 has been pulled apart and a thousand opinions offered. The careful study of Scripture is of insurmountable value and has been the practice for believers since the words first came upon the pages of the original manuscript. However, one gets the impression that some new interpretations of ch.2 require an understanding of the Greek language that is greater than what even most first-century readers had and require us to know what may or may not have been going on in Ephesus and other Ancient civilisations. 

I want to contend that reading the Bible text accurately and faithfully is not as difficult as many people make it out to be. I don’t mean that a cursory or sloppy reading will produce a faithful interpretation, but it is not the near impossible task that we are sometimes led to believe. Remember Paul wrote his letters to be read broadly across churches, some would probably have little knowledge of the particulars of the original recipients and these Scriptures were inspired by and preserved by the Holy Spirit for churches across cultures and time.  Of particular interest is 2:8 where Paul indicates that his instructions are not limited to Ephesus but for ‘everywhere’. 

I suspect some of our difficulties lie not with the Biblical text as much as they do with our cultural lens and expectations. For example, many see the word ‘submit’ and assume that this is a morally objectionable notion. Yet, the Bible tells us that God the Son submitted to his Father. Similarly, we read the word, ‘authority’ and our natural impulse is to resist and even treat the word as a synonym for abusive power. However, the Scriptures tell us that all authority and power have been given to the Son, and the Bible exhorts believers to obey all kinds of earthly authorities (whether parents or governments or church elders).  To take one further example, there are some churches (albeit a very small number) who see the word, ‘quiet’ in 2:12 and wrongly conclude that women should never speak in church.

Our cultural preferences and influences are not an irreducible tunnel resulting in us being unable to truly know what the Biblical text means. It is, however, crucial for us to humble ourselves before the Lord, to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to check our motives and grant us understanding and a heart to embrace what God says. 

Also, the way in which biblical principles work out in practice will vary among fellow believers and churches. It’s not that the principles are hidden in a London fog, but it is inevitable that there will be variations as the same theme is applied in local situations. The shoe may be the same, but we may wear different sizes and walk across different terrain. Clarity and humility work together. Conviction and compassion are perfect partners.

iv. Reading Bible texts in their context 

Despite the way v.12 is sometimes perceived (or used), I am not employing this sentence as the lynchpin for interpreting all other Bible passages. A similar mistake is to treat Galatians 3:28 as the pivot verse for understanding the roles of men and women in the church. I believe that both verses are important and I would argue from the text itself, 1 Timothy ch.2 is providing a pattern for churches beyond Ephesus, but one thing we must avoid is playing Scripture against Scripture or ignoring verses that challenge the way we think.

To decide how narrow or broad we are meant to take the instructions of ch.2, we are helped by these 3 rings of context. 1. The instructions themselves, 2. The broader teaching in 1 Timothy, and 3. the broader framework of both the NT and the OT. On this point, I wish to offer a brief comment about context beginning with the outermost ring and making our way inward.

1. The Context in all Scripture

Genesis ch.s1-3 are pivotal to reading 1 Timothy ch.2 as the Apostle uses them to explain why congregational preaching/teaching is limited to qualified men.

The position I am convinced of is one that most Christians have believed and taught for millennia, namely,  when it comes to the dignity, identity, and roles of men and women:

  • A pattern is established (Genesis 1 and 2). 
  • The pattern is overturned and frustrated (Genesis 3).
  • The pattern continues and is protected under the Mosaic law but is frustrated through sin and the fall (OT).
  • The pattern is affirmed and also redeemed by Christ (The Gospels). 
  • The pattern is expressed in the home and in the church, with the added meaning that men and women are imaging the ultimate: the heavenly bride and bridegroom (Epistles, Revelation, Gospels).

My hypothesis is this: the pattern for relationships and God’s concern for order and godliness found in 1 Timothy is consistent with and supports other parts of the Bible. 

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments men and women know and serve God. There are many men and women who are noted for their faith and obedience to God, and who are used by God to achieve his purposes. Romans ch.16 is a wonderful passage filled with the names of numerous women and men who are serving alongside Paul for the sake of the Gospel. Gospel ministry requires and gains from a team working together.  Men and women are necessary coworkers, without which, the Gospel will not advance. It is however a mistake to conclude that there is no pattern established for church order or no difference between the two sexes. For example, Ruth is one of the giants of the Bible, a truly monumental model of faith in God. Ruth did not however nor did she attempt to, assume any of the roles reserved for men.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament demarcate some differences in gender roles. Christian Ethicist Andrew Walker uses the language of, “Not Identical, Not Totally Different“. 4

For example, the task of priest, of shepherding, and of ruling is given to men: whether it is Noah, Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses, Aaron and the priesthood, Joshua, Gideon, Elijah, David and the Kings that follow, the 12 Apostles, Paul and so on. This is not to say that men take primacy of place in God’s work. Far from it. Women regularly feature in the Biblical story and are held as examples of faith. It is however a mistake to conclude that prominence equals ‘leadership’ or that equality means sameness. Sarah, Ruth, Naomi and others did not function as rulers or priests, but that does not denude their extraordinary contributions in God’s redemptive purposes. Some of these women were influential, such as Queen Esther and Deborah. In the case of Deborah, one of the issues of her day was men sidestepping responsibility. While Deborah heralds as a godly Israelite, she steps up because others were not. Even then, the book of Judges notes that when it came to military matters she did not overturn Barak’s job in leading the army. We should say, look at these women of God and learn from them and be encouraged by them. And we can uphold these examples without making them into something Scripture does not describe or prescribe, just as we should not misattribute to men in the Bible characteristics and roles that are not present.

There is a consistent pattern in both the OT and the NT for certain leadership roles. Why this may be the case will be considered later on. I will however make one comment for now, lest readers assume that I’m affirming a ‘patriarchal’ position (I’m using the word in the way it is commonly used today). Just as the teaching of Scripture conflicts with certain contemporary understandings of what it means to men and women, the Bible’s narrative does not fit neatly into the ‘patriarchal’ norms of other Ancient Near Eastern Civilisations. At various important points, both the OT and the NT clash with views about men and women from Egypt to Babylon and to Greece. Both Israel and the Church are called to be separate from and stand out from the world around. In fact, one of the repeated dangers for God’s people in both Testaments is an eagerness to borrow from and adopt the sexual ethics from surrounding cultures, and hence why God frequently calls for sanctification: 

“Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:5b-6)

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

2. The context of the whole letter

The broad context of 1 Timothy shows us that ch.2 is exploring a subject bigger than men and women; this is about God’s church and how God’s household is to conduct herself. The reason why a church’s shape and structure matters is because of God’s intent for the church to be a visible representation of God’s truth. In the way we live and organise ourselves, the Church is designed to reveal God’s truth to the world. This central message of 1 Timothy is articulated in the very middle of the letter, 

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 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. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.” (1 Tim 3:14-16)

Paul is convinced that God’s church is a particular type of community. We are not free to organise ourselves in any fashion. God owns his household and his church is to be built on God’s truth. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore to find Paul giving Timothy instructions about right conduct. These instructions include barring false doctrines and teaching sound doctrine and organising orderly and godly public worship, properly functioning leadership, and godly relationships between various members of the church.

3. The immediate context: 1 Timothy 2:1-7 is about the Church’s godliness and Gospel witness.

The setting for Paul’s instructions in ch.2 is the public gathering of the church.  This section isn’t dealing with the workplace or general society or the home. There are Bible passages that address those settings. 1 Timothy ch.2 gives instructions for relationships in the church. What is evident is Paul’s concern is not only with what takes place in these gatherings but how we exercise these activities. 

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Therefore…”

A new section of Paul’s letter begins in 2:1, as the opening words indicate.  Paul combines the strong conjunction, ‘then’ (literally, ’therefore’), with the adverb ‘first of all’. Together these serve to introduce new material, much like a chapter heading.

The verb, ‘to urge’, “implies urgency but also encouragement. Paul is about to describe a positive priority. The importance of what follows  is underscored by “first of all.”5

New Testament scholar Robert Yarbough makes an interesting point about the prayers of vv.1-3: God is concerned for good order in society, for kings and authorities and how we live in goodness under them for the sake of the Gospel. Our life in the broader world matters and so does our life together in the church. It should be of no surprise to see God not only desiring good order in society but also in the church. 

The same ‘therefore’ is used again in verse 8, and this serves to connect vv. 8-15 with vv.1-7. Therefore is both pointing readers back to what has just been said and forward to what Paul is about to teach. The reason for these prayers is so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives in godliness and so that the church can offer an attractive Gospel witness. Verses 5-7 function as a parenthesis, expanding on the evangelistic desire expressed in vv.3-4. Given that v.8 hangs off vv.1-7 (and note the continuing theme of prayer), Paul is not changing course from the topic of public gathering but is continuing to outline what should take place when the church comes together. As Yarbrough says, 

“He [Paul] is rather refreshing the focus of his discourse, which is worship and prayer. In vv. 3–7 he veered a little to the side; v. 8 and following pick up where v. 2 left off.”6

In other words, the instructions given to men and women in the church are set in the context of godliness and Gospel witness. Chapter 2 then functions as a precursor for what Paul has to say about leadership roles in the church in ch.3, namely Elders and Deacons and their qualifications. This organising of God’s household serves to further display that we belong to God.

“While ch. 2 focuses on worship “in God’s household, which is the church” (3:15), ch. 3 moves to the character of those who qualify to be appointed to preside in that worship and oversee in that household. Neudorfer notes that none of the qualifications or qualities about to be set forth are merely local or “just cultural” in nature, raising the question of why many find it so easy to apply those labels to much of ch. 2.”7

It would be strange to suggest Paul’s teaching on Elders and Deacons contradicts what he teaches in ch.2. But of course, what we find is congruence between the two chapters. Note these two aspects of teaching from ch.3: First, Elders are to be men (cf Titus 1:6). “The Greek is explicit that the overseer is a male.”8 + 9 Whereas Deacons may be male and female, both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 make the point that the Elders/Pastors are to be men. Second, one of the few features that distinguish Elders and Deacons is that Elders must be able to teach.

v. The Text 2:8-15

 Therefore I want all people everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

The word Paul uses here to address men is different from the word for men in v.1. The NIV is correct in rendering it ‘all people’. Paul uses anthropos in v.1, a word that can mean humanity or mankind; it’s not gender specific. However, Paul’s choice of word in v.8  is gender specific. 

Also notable is the generalisation of Paul’s instruction. He indicates that these commands are not just for one place and time, it’s for men everywhere, beyond Ephesus, “I want men everywhere to pray”.

This isn’t the only instruction that’s given to men in this letter, far from it. Whereas most of Paul’s words for men will be positive, this however concerns turning from a negative and instead adopting a positive posture in the church. Why does Paul’s teaching to men focus on ‘anger’? Surely anger isn’t only a male attribute?

1 Timothy 2:8 seems to support the idea that anger is a greater issue among men than it is for women. In a paragraph where Paul is making distinctions between men and women in the church, it is observable to Paul that a proclivity toward anger is one characteristic that sufficiently differentiates men from women. It’s not the only distinctive attribute but it is one. 

It’s not that women don’t experience anger. Of course, women can be angry, for good reasons as well as for sinful reasons. Is there however something in Paul’s statement that rings true? 

In 2018, The Conversation published an article on differences between men and women. The focus was on ‘happiness’ and how men and women experience happiness in different ways. The article also speaks of the converse. According to the piece, research demonstrates that men and women express anger differently. 

“Psychologically it seems men and women differ in the way they process and express emotions. With the exception of anger, women experience emotions more intensely and share their emotions more openly with others.”

“However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.

When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to internalise and direct the anger at themselves. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.”

This makes sense of Paul’s observation about men raising hands in anger. It’s not that 1 Timothy 2:8 is valid because of what researchers are learning, but rather we shouldn’t be surprised to find reality matching what Scripture teaches and affirms. Paul wants sinful behaviour to be repented of and replaced with godly action, which in this case means prayer. 

From v.9 Paul shifts his attention from men in the church to women. V.9 begins with the adverb,  ‘also’ (or ‘similarly’). Just as men are to behave in a certain way in church, similarly women are to behave in a certain way. The fact that Paul gives separate instructions here for men and women is evidence of there being a differentiation of the sexes in terms of roles.  Given the connection between v.8 and vv.9-15, it is also difficult to argue for the contemporary relevance of the instruction for men and then argue for culturally bound and therefore non applicable instructions for women. In addition, Yarbrough makes this salient point by quoting another scholar, Thomas Oden, 

“The actual subject of this paragraph [1 Tim 2:9–15] is extraordinarily deep-going theologically—not merely petty moralism or culture-bound moral advice. It ranges widely over subtle themes of the relation of outward and inward behavior; the nature of leadership and its relation to sexuality; and salvation history from the fall to redemption, from Eve to incarnation. Hence it is regrettable that some treat it only as a petty moral regulation so filled with sexual bias that it is disqualified from serious modern consideration.”10

There are two sets of instructions given to women here: the first relates to clothing and the second concerns learning. In terms of dress Paul wants women to emphasise the heart over fashion, and good deeds over style. 

 I also want the women to dress modestly

with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, 

not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 

10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 

The second instruction concerns learning and teaching in the context of church gathered. 

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.

The verb ‘should’ isn’t a suggestion as it may be read in English. In the original language it is a present imperative, which means it has the weight of a command with ongoing relevance: ‘Let a woman learn”. Also note how the imperative isn’t pitched primarily at women in the church, but as Yarbrough explains, this is “to Timothy as the person responsible for oversight of Ephesian worship. The sense of Paul’s command is “See to it, Timothy, that the woman who seeks to learn does so.”11

The manner in which women should learn is twofold. There is a word for silence and Paul doesn’t use it. Rather he says, quietness, which denotes an attitude of attentive listening. Paul reiterates this concern for quiet learning in v.12. In a useful essay on 1 Timothy 2:11-12, New Testament theologian Hefin Jones explains, 

“The kind of “quietness” envisaged has been much discussed since both biblical and non-biblical usage suggests either a “silent attentiveness” or a “freedom from disturbance. While neither necessarily implies absolute silence, and both imply that the function of quietness is to aid learning (2:11), the idea of “freedom from disturbance” chimes with the instruction to men to pray “without anger or disputing” (2:8).” 12

The fact that Paul exhorts submission in other places, including men submitting (ie 1 Corinthians 16:15-17; Ephesians 5:21), does not take away or weaken what is prescribed here.

’Full submission’ further confirms the manner in which Paul sees women learning in the church gathering. Rather than contesting or arguing (perhaps this was an issue in the Ephesian church), they should submit to the teaching of God’s word. Again, this should not be understood as a negative, but rather  Paul is arranging the church meeting such that women can attend to the teaching of God’s word. On this phrase about submission, the Apostle is not advocating a universal submission of women to men, an interpretation that is not only incorrect but is fraught with moral and social problems. Again the context is speaking of the church gathered and the time for the public teaching of God’s word. 

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  

Following the positive instruction in verse 11, Paul gives this prohibition in verse 12. It is joined to the previous sentence with a small adversative, ‘and’ or ‘but’. The prohibition is teaching and having authority over a man, and the setting for this imperative is the local church, as opposed to other situations. 

More words have been written on each word of this sentence than can be read or responded to for a paper such as this. I highly recommend these two excellent volumes which address many of the alternate views that have appeared in recent years, as well as providing a lucid and convincing explanation for the classical Christian reading.13 Rather than diving into the rabbit hole and responding to all the possible explanations, I will try and outline the essence of this verse, and then explore Paul’s grounding for this instruction. 

The Apostle does not permit in the local assembly women to exercise two activities: teaching and authority over men.  What does teach mean and what does authority mean?

First of all, there is some debate over the syntax of this verse: is Paul speaking of two separate activities (teaching and authority) or one (authoritative teaching) or something else? Andreas J. Köstenberger and Tom Schreiner are among those who maintain that Paul is speaking of two activities14. Whether Paul has in mind one or two activities, the reality is, Elders exercise their authority primarily through teaching (1 Tim 3:2) and teaching is most often an authoritative action (cf 1 Tim 5:17). 

The verb ‘to teach’ signifies the transmission of the faith to the people of God15.

“Teaching here involves the authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures (1 Cor. 12:28–29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; James 3:1).  The rest of the Pastoral Epistles makes clear that the teaching in view is the public transmission of authoritative material (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13, 16; 6:2; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:7). The elders in particular are to labor in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17) so that they can refute the false teachers who advance heresy (1 Tim. 1:3, 10; 4:1; 6:3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9, 11). It is crucial that the correct teaching and the apostolic deposit be passed on to the next generation (2 Tim. 1:12, 14; 2:2).”16

Paul uses a rare word for ‘authority’ in v.12. The fact that this particular word only occurs once in Scripture isn’t problematic, nor is it an argument for claiming we can’t really know the meaning of the word. In the  First Epistle to Timothy Paul uses more than 60 hapax legomena!17 Throughout the New Testament, 100s of words appear only once.

Al Wolters is among notable scholars who have undertaken extensive research into the use of this word in ancient literature18. He concludes that ‘exercise authority’ conveys the right meaning. Coupled with teaching, Paul is describing two positive actions. In the Greek language, when 2 infinitives are coupled together they carry the same direction, either both a negative or both a positive. In this case, it would mean Paul is prohibiting wrongful teaching and wrong authority or he is prohibiting women from exercising teaching and authority. Given that ‘to teach’ is denoted positively in the NT it follows grammatically that ‘authority’ also holds a positive meaning. In other words, the view that Paul is only banning ‘domineering behaviour’ doesn’t hold up to either the word studies or Greek syntax.19 

At Mentone Baptist Church we currently use the NIV 2011 Bible translation. While the NIV is on the whole our preferred translation, like all other Bible translations, it suffers from some problems. The 2011 revisions made one change that is unfortunate and needs to be explained here lest readers misappropriate how 2:12 reads in this translation. NIV has changed from “have authority” (in the 1984 edition) to “assume authority”. It is not that “assume authority” is incorrect but that it is less clear. The Committee on Bible Translation made the decision because they did not want to present either a complementation or egalitarian reading of the word, and hence settled on a translation that was believed to be neutral.20 How so? If having or exercising authority is the better translation, then the issue Paul is addressing is authority. If “assume authority” is the more accurate rendering, then the problem is one of an inappropriate assumption of authority.21 In other words, is Paul arguing that women should not teach or exercise authority over men in the church or is he arguing against an inappropriate styled authority, hence the Apostle is supportive of women exercising due authority over men in the church? On this point, I agree with Kevin De Young who notes the advances of etymological studies over the last 30 years and how this has clarified the meaning of ‘authority’,  not made it more ambiguous as the NIV now leans. In contrast to the decision made by the NIV Committee, other new Bible translations, such as the popular ESV and also HCSB, stick with the more literal and transparent  “exercise authority” and “have authority”.

Another approach to minimising the contemporary relevance of this Scripture is the cultural argument. There is now a significant body of work dedicated to proving Paul’s instructions in vv.11-12 are dealing with a specific issue in Ephesus and are therefore not active today. Of course, Paul is speaking to particulars going on in Ephesus, but that does not mean his instructions are only intended for that specific church, place and time. The fact that there was false teaching in the Ephesian church is undeniable. It would be quite bizarre to suggest otherwise given Paul speaks about false teaching in his letter on a number of occasions (1:3-11; 4:1-3 6:2; 6:20). It is possible that women were participating in this teaching but that is far from clear). On the other hand, Paul does name men who are espousing falsehood.

Thomas Schreiner is among recent scholars who have demonstrated the paucity of these reconstructions, “some scholars are far too confident about their ability to reconstruct the life setting in some detail.”22 Schreiner isn’t saying that none of these proposals have merit. Rather,  he is rightly pointing out that it is unwise to reframe the reading of Scripture based on fragmentary evidence that lies outside the Bible and which requires theorising and drawing firm conclusions from scant secondary information.

As Schreiner notes, even if one could firmly establish, as an example,  that the cult of Artemis had unduly influenced the behaviour of women in the church and was behind his prohibition on teaching, it is still a leap in the dark to conclude that Paul’s teaching can only be situational and not hold universal relevance. As we will see shortly, Paul grounds his instructions not in Ephesus but in creation. Not only this, but these instructions fit well with what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament about including Titus 1 and 1 Corinthians 11. 

“Even if some women were spreading the heresy (which remains uncertain), we still need to explain why Paul proscribes only women from teaching. Since men are specifically named as purveyors of the heresy, would it not make more sense if Paul forbade all false teaching by both men and women?”23 

“If we were to claim that documents written to specific situations do not apply to the church today, then much of the New Testament would not be applicable to us, since many New Testament books were addressed to particular communities facing special circumstances. Universal principles are tucked into books written in response to specific circumstances.”24

Limiting the application of vv.11-12 to the Ephesian Church poses other textual issues, both in the immediate context and in the broader scheme of things. For example, egalitarians are then required to change vv.13-15 from being the reason or grounding for Paul’s teaching, to Paul providing an illustration of what not to do. The example of Eve becomes an illustration of women behaving badly rather than the theological frame of the creational order which provides a pattern for order in the church. Again, Schreiner is helpful here, 

“Those who adhere to the egalitarian position argue that the γάρ (“for”) introducing vv. 13–14 indicates not reasons why women should refrain from teaching but illustrations or examples of what happens when women falsely teach men. This understanding of the γάρ is unconvincing. When Paul gives a command elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, the γάρ that follows almost invariably states the reason for the command…Frankly, this is just what we would expect, since even in ordinary speech, reasons often follow commands.”25

How do we decide how and when principles are applicable and when they are not? We are aided by the words themselves as they are explained and argued by the biblical authors and arranged in the context in which they were written down.  There is one further reason and it is provided by Paul in verses 13-15.

In these 3 sentences the Apostles gives us a reason for the instructions he has just outlined,

13 ForAdam was formed first, then Eve. 

14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 

15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

“For” (gar) indicates that Paul is giving a reason for his counsel about women.”26 The instructions are not grounded in Ephesian culture (although they certainly speak into it) but according to the creational order which God brought into being before there was any sin in the world.

Paul is not only stating that there was an ordering in creation, he is saying that it remains today. “Paul draws, then, on the protology, chronology, and teleology of Gen 1–2 to make application in his own time in Ephesus”27. It should be noted that Jesus provides a similar argument when he affirms God’s intention for marriage according to Genesis 1-2. 

These verses provide us with the threefold summary of salvation history: there is creation (v.13), and the fall (v.14) and redemption (v.15). 

V.13 affirms the goodness of creation. There is no inequality between the first man and the first woman, and there is distinction: God made male and female. The fact that Adam was made first is reason for intending certain men to lead in the church and not women. In other words, there is something built into the way God made us that God intends certain men to take the responsibility of church leadership (primarily exercised through the public teaching/preaching). I understand why in our egalitarian societies we struggle with this notion, but that is what the text says. Given (as I said at the outset) that I believe God’s word is good, it means that we may need to think harder about why we resist what God is saying. One of the shameful ways these verses have been read on occasion is by voices (who’ve sadly held much sway in some past generations) who have diminished the value and role of women, rather than building up women and praising God for their indispensable roles. God does not squash women and where churches and men have done so, repentance is necessary. 

V.14 is not acquitting Adam of responsibility for the fall and placing all blame onto Eve. Far from it. In the letter to the Romans Paul makes Adam culpable for bringing sin into the world and with it, death. 

“just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12)

“For as in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 5:22)

It is also true that Eve was deceived. Paul is alluding to how Eve overturned the order of creation by taking the lead instead of Adam. But the story doesn’t end with Genesis ch.3 and with 1 Timothy 2:14. Verse 15 speaks of redemption.

V.15 is in my opinion the most difficult one to comprehend in the entire passage. The phrase, ‘saved through childbearing’ may come across as confronting for our society. Too often in public rhetoric and in private lives, having babies has become an obstruction to womanhood and even a sexist suggestion. When a woman bearing children is considered a disruption or problem, it reveals how much how messed up our society has become. Children are an incredible blessing and good, they are not an obstacle to avoid or overcome. But what is Paul getting at in v.15? 

The verse can’t be saying that salvation comes literally through giving birth to a child because salvation is received through faith alone in Christ alone, and not by anything we do. Paul isn’t contradicting what he has already established in ch.1:12-17. 

There are 2 main lines of interpretations and both have merit. He may be using child bearing as an analogy, to speak of the coming of Christ. That is, the one by whom salvation comes, was born of a woman. Through Eve who eventually became a mother, came the promised line of the serpent crusher, Jesus (cf Genesis 3:15).  This is a possible interpretation and it highlights the privileged role a woman had in God’s plan of salvation, a unique gift given to her.

More likely however is that Paul is saying to women in the church, be the women God desires you to be. This makes greater sense of the final phrase in v.15, “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” It is important to stress, Paul is not saying that every women can or ought to have children (clearly that is not the case), but he is using as an analogy, a characteristic that is unique among women. In other words, women are not saved by subverting God’s purposes in creation and in the church, but by being the redeemed women God has called them to be in Christ Jesus. Therefore, don’t diminish your womanhood, but glory in it, in Christ Jesus.

VI. Objections to the classical reading of 1 Timothy ch.2

I have mentioned some of the objections to the classical view of 1 Timothy ch.2 throughout this paper, although my aim has not been to focus on these but rather it is to outline the positive and what I believe is the most compelling case. 

To get a sense of the wide ranging arguments against the classical reading of 1 Timothy, see this summary by Yarbrough,

“For exposition and refutation of egalitarian claims that this text is unclear or not central to Paul’s argument (M. Evans, G. Fee), that it nullifies logic and justice (S. Motyer), that redemptive history has moved on from Paul’s circumstances (W. Webb), that Paul’s argument is illogical (P. Hanson, P. Jewett), that Paul was speaking only of women who spread heresy or were uneducated (G. Bilezikian, B. Mickelsen, P. Payne, P. Zehr), that Paul is calling only for conformity to norms of his time (P. Towner), and many other objections, see Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15,”.28

To repeat and respond to every proposed reading is simply not possible here, given there are literally dozens of objections and suggested alternative interpretations.  However, to give readers a sense of the main kinds of objections to the classical reading of 1 Timothy ch.2, I’ve summarised them under 4 broad themes.

1. Paul is wrong and the text is therefore irrelevant. Paul represents a patriarchal society and promotes a misogynist view of women; this needs to be rejected.

In response, without question misogyny is sinful and should be opposed in and by churches. But to call hateful any view that affirms some kind of male and female difference in church is untrue and intellectually irresponsible. Also, to conclude that the writings of the Apostle Paul are wrong is to presume we know better than God and to place ourselves over and against Scripture. As Christians, this is not a position we can hold.

2. Paul is addressing a specific cultural issue that renders the prohibitions irrelevant today. 

What these ‘cultural issues’ depend on which commentator is espousing the theory.  I acknowledge that each biblical book was written for an original audience prior to ourselves, and this group of believers were facing particular cultural and spiritual issues, and these often shaped the way the biblical authors wrote their material. These cultural issues are clear and apparent, other times they are not. In the case of 1 Timothy 2, attempted historical reconstructions that are used to remove the contemporary significance of Paul’s instructions suffer the following problems: First, Paul grounds his argument in creation. Second,  they depend on hidden backgrounds that are not at all apparent or are based upon fragmentary pieces of evidence Third, the issue is not women wanting inappropriate authority (misread of the verse) but authority exercised over men in the context of the local church. Fourth, when it comes to false teaching in Ephesus while women may have been involved, Paul names specific men tied to this teaching but not women. In other words, the issue of false teaching is not a gender related issue.  Five. the letter to Titus contains similar teaching and yet is written to a different setting (Crete, not Ephesus).

While we shouldn’t discount recent scholarship and it is wise to carefully weigh up new insights and information, we should at the same time be wary of new interpretations that don’t find deep historical support. We should be wary of extra-biblical material that’s deemed necessary to rightly read and interpret a biblical text. Extra-biblical information may enhance our readings and enrich our applications, but we should take care if these should significantly change our readings of the biblical text and therefore the way we conduct ourselves as God’s church. 

3. The words used by Paul have a technical or narrow meaning, which does not prevent women from preaching and teaching God’s word in the public assembly or prevent women from serving as Elders.  I’ve commented on some of these arguments throughout the paper.

4. What about the other parts of the Bible? Aren’t women leading elsewhere, and if so, is it right to place this Scripture over and above other Scriptures? Please take note of the following: 

4.1. Be careful of arguing false equivalencies. For example, the NT shows us women praying and prophesying in the church but these activities are not preaching or pastoring. Women serve as deacons but concluding from this that they also served as Elders is a false equivalence. For want of a better analogy, to illustrate the problem with this line of argument: men and women are equal, therefore men can be mothers!

4.2 Paul argues for a creational order that is evident in the home and in the church. He argues for equality, not sameness. 

4.3. Other NT teaching is congruent with the understanding outlined in 1 Timothy ch.2.

4.4. We make our churches poorer and even disobedient if we are not encouraging women in ministry and to teach and lead in a whole range of areas. Anyone arguing that because men should be elders, women therefore shouldn’t serve publicly or in any capacity, is another example of false equivalence. Not only that, this view is simply wrong and unhealthy.

VII. Implications from 1 Timothy ch.2

This chapter of Scripture signals several important lessons and encouragements about the way we conduct ourselves as a church. 

i. God is concerned with godliness for both men and women

ii. God is concerned with order and right relationships in a church

iii. God is concerned with salvation. This cuts against the grain of ancient societies where a woman’s eternal status was often not cared about

iv. God is concerned with Gospel witness. How we relate to each other posits a positive witness to the world around us. This is of great significance in our current age where there is so much confusion about gender matters.

v. God is concerned for women and men to learn and grow in Christ. 

vi. The formal preaching/teaching of the church and the role of Pastor/elder is reserved for qualified men.

Vii. Don’t undermine creational mandates and patterns, and appreciate how Christ redeems.

Because of the way we sometimes read these verses (both complementarians and egalitarians), I want to stress that 1 Timothy ch.2 is not saying that women should not have a public role in church. This cannot be the case. The view that women should not speak at church gatherings is countered by the Scriptures themselves. For example, Ephesians 5:19-20 and Colossians 3:16- 17 address the entire congregation and exhorts everyone to speak and teach God’s words to one another in song. Interestingly, both of these passages then proceed to discuss marriage and uphold distinct roles within marriage. 1 Corinthians 11 begins a lengthy discussion on church life and Paul includes a discussion about women praying and prophesying during the gathering. In Romans ch16 Paul names many women and men who form his ministry team and who are serving Christ together in a variety of ways.

Neither are these verses saying that women can never teach the Bible. The Bible encourages and gives examples of women teaching other women and children. Timothy’s mother and grandmother are given special mention for their Christ-like example to him. Priscilla and Aquila together discipled Apollos. As I have mentioned earlier, we must be careful and avoid making the Bible say more than it is communicating or less than what it is teaching us. The examples of women teaching and being involved in Christian ministry is not an argument for women exercising any role in the church, and neither is Paul’s prohibition on teaching in 1 Timothy 2 a ban on all teaching and ministry for women in the church. 

Rather than signalling a negative view of women or Paul necessarily dealing with an issue of unruly or heresy teaching women in Ephesus, his positive emphasis on letting women learn reveals a very high regard for women in the church. Here lies the issue, in our current societal thinking we struggle to hold together both affirmation and difference, or equality with distinction. What we discover in 1 Timothy and elsewhere in the New Testament is God’s reconciling and sanctifying power at work, not to defuse creation, but to redeem men and women.

Conclusion 

The fact that there is nothing new or innovative in my explanation should give cause for encouragement, not suspicion. Surely, Western readers of the 21st Century are not the first to read this passage faithfully. We do not sit above churches in the rest of the world, whether those existing today or from 100 years ago or 1500 years ago. There must be very good reason established from Scripture and in support by Scripture for churches to change doctrine on any matter. In my view, the new readings of 1 Timothy ch.2 fail to meet the necessary standard.  

I recall Claire Smith sharing the story of a university aged woman who had just become a Christian29. The woman was from a non Anglo-Saxon ethnic background. She read 1 Timothy and Claire asked her, did you find ch.2 difficult? The woman replied, 

“No, it’s easy. Paul is saying women shouldn’t teach in church, because that’s the way God wants it.” 

Smith then admits how some people will support that “her ethnic cultural background probably made it easier for her to do that.” But Smith continues: “But can you see that the opposite might also be true—that our culture influences our reading of the text, and that many of the difficulties we find in it might exist because of our culture and our personalities and not because of the text itself?”

I appreciate that there are Christian brothers and sisters who will disagree with some of what I have written, perhaps with much. I am aware of how cultural preferences and pressures can influence the way I read different parts of the Bible. I do also believe it is a cop-out to say that we cannot know what the Bible means today for this presses against the God who gave us his word that we might know him and know how to live godly lives together for his glory. I also think that it is hard to deny how much the massive cultural changes of our times have influenced the way we view life, especially topics relating to family life and marriage and even what it means to be a man and to be a woman. 

Thomas Schreiner suggests,

 “It is a modern, democratic, Western notion that diverse functions suggest distinctions in worth between men and women. Paul believed that men and women were equal in personhood, dignity, and value but also taught that women had distinct roles from men.”30 

“It also seems to ignore how many women, through the ages and around the world, have found the Bible and its message far more liberating than oppressing. This largely Western, university-based hermeneutic seems out of touch with perhaps most women who are active in the church as Bible readers and believers worldwide.”31

To capture a more complete view of men and women and how we serve together in the local church we need to consider the full portrait given to us by God in his word. But as I explained at the beginning of this paper, my aim here is to outline a treatment of 1 Timothy ch.2 in light of the forthcoming sermon series on this Epistle at my church. For an example of these interdependent connections and service, we may turn to Bible passages including 1 Timothy 5, Titus 2, Romans 16, amongst others.

The vision God gives us in his word is one worth pursuing and it is important and worthwhile having these conversations together as we sit under His word. One of the tremendous blessings at Mentone is how God’s people believe in the sufficiency and authority of God’s word. Even when we disagree on some matters or share different insights, we have this common base from which we grow together in love and grace and truth.

In 2015 Morling College hosted a symposium, The Gender Symposium: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life. David Starling offered this encouragement in conclusion to the event, and it is my encouragement also to those who are reading this paper,

“the conversation goes on, with us or without us on board. And it is a conversation worth having. If the gospel is about the Lordship of Jesus over all things; if it teaches us a wisdom that touches on every aspect of human life and relationships; if the saving purposes of God made known in the gospel embrace the whole of our humanity (and indeed the whole creation), then this is not a topic we ought to shrink back from or push to the margins as unimportant. The gender conversation is a conversation worth having. Somewhere within the big, swirling ocean of public conversation about gender that we participate in as Christians (and amongst the various private and sub-cultural tributaries that feed into it) is the particular conversation we have been engaged in today: the in-house conversation between Christian brothers and sisters who love the same Lord Jesus and who read and believe the same Scriptures, yet differ on how those Scriptures are to be interpreted and applied to matters of gender.”32


Endnotes:

1 see Carl Trueman’s excellent treatment of the subject, ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution’ (Crossway, 2020).

2 We acknowledge there are medical conditions, commonly referred to as intersex, whereby a person is born with both male and female biological features. Intersexuality is extremely rare.

3 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/january-web-only/complementarians-egalitarians-gender-compromise-culture.html

4 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/beautiful-complementarity-male-female/

5 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 180). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

6 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 194). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

7 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 218). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

8 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 223). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

9 Paul uses the gender specific andros rather than anthropos

10 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 178). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

11 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 202). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

12 See the chapter written by Hefin Jones in Murphy, Edwina., ‘The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life’. Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

13 Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Eds. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Tom Schreiner. Tim Keller and D.A Carson speak highly of Robert Yarbrough’s Pillar commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. 

14 Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

15 John Dickson (who is a convinced complementation, holds that the role of Senior Pastor is reserved for qualified men) argues that Paul has in mind a narrow view of teaching here. He believes the verb to teach in v.12,  

“is not about conveying Christian truth in all its forms. It is about transmitting and preserving for a congregation the apostolic traditions of the gospel. It certainly does not refer to all that one might include under the modern rubric of a “sermon.”

Dickson’s view (which he has adopted from a small group of evangelicals from previous generations) however has found little traction amongst New Testament scholarship.

16 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (pp. 190-191). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

16 hapax legomena is the technical phrase for words that appear only once in a document

17 cf Wolters chapter, ‘The Meaning of Αὐθεντέω’ in Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 65). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

19 cf Kostenerberger’s contribution, ‘A Complex Sentence’ in  Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 117). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

20 It should be noted that among the scholars who serve on the NIV translation committee are complementarians, and so one should not assume that they are supportive of a egalitarian rendering of v.12

21 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/assuming-too-much-about-assume-in-1-timothy-212/

22 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 171). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

23 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 173). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

24 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 168). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

25 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 200). Crossway. Kindle Edition.  

26 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 211). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

27 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 211). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

28 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 370). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition.

29 Claire Smith, God’s Good Design (2nd Edition), 24.

30 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (pp. 201-202). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

31 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 175). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

32 Murphy, Edwina. The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life . Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.