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 Gospel 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. 

Is Big Brother listening to your sermons?

Ok, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 at the moment, as it seems many people are doing! Leaving aside the somewhat hyperbolic imagery, there are important observations to be made regarding the interactions between Churches and the public space.

Would you like the media to enter your home and report to the world what was spoken? Would you appreciate a journalist attending a local club meeting and sharing the juicy bits on social media? Are you ok for a reported to look around your Facebook page and to publish content on a newspaper?

This week Israel Folau has provided our media with a new installment of gossip, slander, and innuendo. He was preaching on Sunday at his church in Western Sydney and the sermon was uploaded to the church’s Facebook page. It’s not as though a journalist took the time to visit the church and to hear everything that was said and done that morning and to observe all of Izzy’s words and interactions that morning. Rather, they listened to the sermon (and quite possible only parts of it), and with the nuance of a tank the headlines in our newspapers were,

“Folau launches fresh attack on gay and transgender people”

“Israel Folau intensifies stance on homosexuals”

“Israel Folau launches new LGBT attacks in church sermon”

“Israel Folau launches fresh homophobic attacks in church sermon”

Rugby Australia, Qantas, and much of the media have already succeeded in their quest to have Folau sacked and publicly disgraced for comments he made earlier in the year on social media. It appears as though the wolves are still hungry for more.

folau

This isn’t the first time that journalists have taken the courageous step to digging up church sermons in order to publicly tar and feather Christians. Back in 2016, there was a media campaign to have churches banned from renting public buildings in schools on the Central Coast, NSW. These churches were accused of homophobia and inciting hatred against gays and lesbians. Of course, this wasn’t the case, but telling the whole truth doesn’t always fit the narrative that click-bait journalism is seeking to portray.

There is today a growing antagonism toward Christianity, at least much of the media and among the back slapping cultural dominants in Australia. We are to be suspicious of Christianity. Engaging with the Christian message on its own terms isn’t required anymore, but ignorance necessitates a flurry of rhetorical bashing against those who believe Jesus is Lord. Of course, recent scandals and sins among some Christian organisations have understandably dented public trust. It would be unhelpful to judge those who judge churches for the terrible things down by supposed ‘men of God’. Nonetheless, the Folau controversy has nothing to do with these issues.

There are States around the world where officials are sent to visit local churches, to check on what is being taught and said. Thank God that’s not happening here in Australia. Instead, we use the media and public opinion to manipulate and to scare.

The media’s trolling of Israel Folau’s church raises questions about the dynamics and interactions between Churches and outside entities. Consider these other recent inquisitions:

  • In Victoria, Religious Instruction classes have been driven out of public schools.
  • The attempt has been made (and temporarily thwarted) to install the Government as an Ecclesiastical figure to oversee Christian schools, with the purpose of influencing doctrine and determining what is and isn’t ‘inherent belief’.
  • Sporting codes (and allegedly major corporations who sponsor them) are pressured into preaching the new moral orthodoxy and to provide special education classes to players who are found to hold a heterodox sexual ethic.
  • Universities are cracking down on faculty and students who articulate theological views that are not in keeping with the slippery and ever-changing moral environment of these institutions.

Of course, the situation differs from State to State, and from school to school, and from club to club. Many Aussies are reasonable and fair and think that the ‘God’ police are ridiculous and overreaching their authority.  The situation before us is one where secularists are attempting to take religion out of the public area and they are also beginning to step into the religious and to make pronouncements about that space also. This is somewhat concerning.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the freedom to preach was taken away in England. Preachers and pastors who didn’t comply with the State’s oversight of religious affairs were imprisoned and congregations shut down. We may look back to that era and think how ridiculous and unnecessary it was. Of course, we don’t want Government intruding upon traditional religious beliefs and practices. Don’t we believe in a separation of Church and State? This distinction never meant that there is no overlap between religion and State, for that is an impossible and undesirable position to hold. To make the public square and the political arena void of religious ideas is to attempt the status quo of China. As China exemplifies, it is an impossible task because it necessitates the Government to introduce policies about religion and to intrude into the religious space as well.

I am not suggesting that journalists, skeptics, and the irreligious shouldn’t visit a local church or listen to their sermons online. This blog regularly has journalists, social commentators and politicians reading it. Hey, I’d love them to also listen to our sermons at Mentone Baptist Church, so long as they quote words in their real context! Better still, come and visit us on Sundays. But there is also an element of hypocrisy in the interest surrounding Folau’s sermon at his local church. At a time where the secular world is wanting to squeeze religion out of the public sphere, the same people are peering into the religious arena and wanting to interfere that in that space.

This is not all bad. It’s a good opportunity for churches to ask some important questions. Why do churches post sermons and messages on websites and social media.? Is it for public consumption and education? Is the aim to provide a service to church members who couldn’t be present for that Sunday? Who the intended audience is and who else may end up listening?

If a church isn’t prepared for ‘outsiders’ to listen and to critique, my advice is, don’t publish your sermons online. Do we however really want to create a culture in Australia whereby churches no longer feel free to publish sermons online or are pressured into leaving out bits of the Bible because of who might hear and report on it in a skewed fashion? At the same time, there is a positive lesson and opportunity here. Preachers ought to take care of what we say and how we speak these words. This is no reason for watering down the good news of Jesus Christ but it is a great incentive for us to teach with clarity and compassion, faithfully and thoughtfully.

John Bunyan lived at the time of the restoration and was imprisoned for his preaching and for organising a church gathering that wasn’t sanctioned by the Government. His initial term of imprisonment was extended from 3 months to 12 years because he refused to cease preaching upon release from jail.  He famously said,

“What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.”

This isn’t an argument for blunt and insensitive preaching. Bunyan wasn’t suggesting that we teach the Bible without appreciating its nuances or ignoring the real lives of the real people who are listening. The conviction was that truth and goodness is not defined by a poll or by the academia or even by the Government, but by God himself as revealed in his written word about his Son Jesus Christ. It is a word that challenges our moral preferences and even our deepest heartfelt intentions, not to crucify us but to redeem us and to fill us with a life of immeasurable joy.

At the end of the day, what we are discovering is that Aussie society doesn’t know what to think of Christianity. And I suspect many Christians are also unclear and they are unsure about how to go about relating to the broader culture: to love, be kind, and to relay a message that many find unfit for human consumption.

12 Lessons from Jeremiah

I am currently preparing for a sermon series at Mentone on the book of Jeremiah. It is a daunting task, not least because of the size of this volume; Jeremiah is the longest book in the entire Bible. More than that, the message that God speaks through his prophet is often distressing and frightening. God’s indictment of Judah and on the nations is terrifying in what it reveals about the human heart. The sheer number of words given over to spell out the charges and judgment can be overwhelming to read.

Jeremiah2.jpg

 

Here are 12 things that have struck me as I’ve been meditating on the book Jeremiah:

1. Disobeying or making light of God’s word is dangerous and reckless.

“‘How can you say, “We are wise,

    for we have the law of the Lord,”

when actually the lying pen of the scribes

    has handled it falsely?

 The wise will be put to shame;

    they will be dismayed and trapped.

Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,

    what kind of wisdom do they have?”  (Jer 8:8-9)

Refusing to accept, believe and obey God’s word led to an entire nation being destroyed, its cities made rubble and survivors sent into exile.

2. God not only uses history to achieve his purposes, but he shapes history according to his purposes.

For example, God’s orchestrates Babylon’s rise to regional power and they will become an instrument to punish Judah, and yet Babylon is not exempt from being accountable for their own actions.

 

3. God’s warnings about judgement are also an expression of grace.

Within lengthy passages where God expounds his pronouncements on Judah, we also find words of grace and mercy.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:14-15)

God loves to show mercy. God longs for his people to repent and to return to him.

 

4. Social sins (i.e caring for the poor) are integrally connected to spiritual sin (what we think of God and his law).

“But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.

They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’

Your wrongdoings have kept these away;
your sins have deprived you of good.

“Among my people are the wicked
who lie in wait like men who snare birds
and like those who set traps to catch people.

Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful

    and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.” (5:23-28)

5. Fake repentance is a thing

“In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord.” (3:10)

6. God’s promise of judgement is not merely rhetorical:

God promises:

“I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.” (21:10)

God acts:

“In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it.” (39:1)

“Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.The Babylonians set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.” (39:7-8)

 

7. God is serious about his 10 commandments

22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward”. (Jer 7:22-24)

 

8. Wrath is often a slow drip rather than a sudden flood

Jeremiah’s public ministry extended for almost 40 years, and there were prophets before him and afterward, who warned God’s people about their sin and who called them to repentance.

During the latter years of Jeremiah’s ministry, 13 years separated Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion of Judah, and of his final defeat and destruction of Jerusalem.

This gradual unfolding of wrath and periods of ‘relief’ was sometimes interpreted as evidence that Jeremiah was wrong. It was not God who was lying, but Judah’s leaders and prophets,

“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:2)

 

9. Not every story ends with grace, judgment can be final.

“There at Riblah the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah.” (Jeremiah 52:10)

 

10. Leaders of God’s people must not twist or ignore God’s word.

The strongest warnings and judgments are directed toward Judah’s teachers and priests, those who claim to speak for God and yet deny him with their words and actions. Churches leaders cannot afford to trivialise, ignore, and remove words of Scripture, simply because they are unpopular or difficult.

“They dress the wound of my people

    as though it were not serious.

“Peace, peace,” they say,

    when there is no peace.

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?

    No, they have no shame at all;

    they do not even know how to blush.

So they will fall among the fallen;

    they will be brought down when they are punished,

says the Lord.” (8:11-13)

 

11. Divine grace and forgiveness is more astonishing and wonderful than we can ever imagine

“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

This is what the Lord says:

“The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”

The Lord appeared to us in the past,[a] saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.

Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.

There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”

This is what the Lord says:

“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.” 
(Jer 31:1-11)

 

12. Jesus is the promised redeemer in Jeremiah

“the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.

10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:6-13)

Bishop Curry and his Royal Sermon

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

 

Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon has been the hot topic of conversation over the last 2 days. Newspapers, television shows, and social media are alight with opinions over the bishop and his sermon.

I have heard people speak favourably of the preacher because of his energy and enthusiasm.

Some people are admiring Michael Curry because in their opinion, he has broken with royal convention and stuck it up at English tradition.

There were voices praising how this is a sign of dismantling white privilege and power.

Others were warmed by Curry’s message of love

Other again, were annoyed because he spoke too long.

Some people, including Christians, thought he preached an amazing Gospel sermon, while others have criticised Curry’s message for being Gospel absent, perhaps even implying an alternate gospel.

In other words, there are many very different reasons why people responded positively and negatively to this wedding sermon.

abc royal wedding.png

My reaction? I was partly pleasantly surprised, and also profoundly concerned.

Did Michael Curry say some things that were true and helpful? Yes. Did he speak too long? For a wedding, probably yes, but every preacher know that temptation. Was it positive to see an African American preaching at a royal wedding? Absolutely. Maybe in the future we’ll see a Chinese or Persian Pastors preaching the Gospel at such an auspicious occasion. Did the bishop say anything unhelpful or untrue? The answer is, yes.

One Anglican Minister made this astute observation,

“Here’s the biggest problem I have with it: The Archbishop has made our love of others the driving force of the renewal of the world.

“Dr. King was right: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love.

And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”

According to Archbp Curry, Jesus dies to save us, but it’s *our love* of the other, including in marriage, that ultimately renews creation.”

If this is the case, then there is a significant theological problem with the message.

The one comment that I did share on social media Saturday night, wasn’t about the sermon or about Michael Curry’s ethnicity or personality, but one glaring point that was being overlooked. As someone who has the joy of marrying couples, I found it ironic, and sad, that the invited preacher doesn’t believe in the definition of marriage that was articulated in the wedding ceremony. I can’t imagine a church inviting someone to preach at a wedding service who doesn’t accept the understanding of marriage being declared, and who is also known publicly for their errant views.

The view of marriage that was read out loud at the start of service comes from the Anglican book of common prayer, and it is a beautiful expression, theologically rich and Biblically sound. The wording is so clear and helpful, that many other Christian denominations use the language themselves. As another friend noted, ‘it almost makes one want to be Anglican!’

Yes, it is great to see people talking about love and especially God’s love. We should pray that it will cause people to seek out a Bible believing and Jesus loving Church, and even to open a Bible for themselves to discover this extraordinary God who loves so much that he sent his only son into the world to atone for our sin. We cannot however ignore the fact, that despite his proclamations of love,  Michael Curry is partly responsible for leading an entire Christian denomination away from the Bible, and in so doing, is fracturing the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Michael Curry has not shied away from his belief in same sex marriage. He has publicly acknowledged that his views are out of sync with conservative Anglicans, and he has insisted that his American churches would not be returning to an orthodox view of marriage.

Many leaders in the Anglican Communion, including from Australia and especially from Africa and Asia, have explained their considerable concerns over Bishop Curry’s teaching and how it is causing harm both within the American Episcopal Denomination and Anglicans globally. The problem is most poignant for thousands of Anglicans in America who love God and his word, but who now face losing their church property and financial security, should they not conform to the newly fashioned views on marriage. Indeed, this is already happening.

My understanding is that in 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, agreed to the wishes of the International Primates, and so sanctions were imposed on the American Episcopal Church, whose presiding bishop is Michael Curry.

The decision made by the American Episcopal Church is not insignificant; our view on marriage has important corollaries including how we understand the cross, sin, the Bible, ethics, and many other matters. This is unsurprising given the connection the Apostle Paul made between sex, sound doctrine, and the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:9-11). Relevant to the running theme of love, it is worth grappling with Paul’s logic in 1 Timothy ch.1 and how love is integrally tied to what is taught.  Love is not without definition and intent, but promotes truth.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 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.”

This matters because both love and truth matter, and to deny one is to reject the other. Without God’s truth, what remains is a sentimental religiosity, powerless to change and save. 

When it comes to weddings, couples are of course free to ask for someone outside the local church to marry them or to preach at their wedding. The presiding clergy however have the right and the responsibility to say yes or no to that request. Given the present suspension over the American Churches, which the Archbishop of Canterbury had agreed to follow, it is difficult to fathom how this decision came about. No doubt, there were many closed door conversations and internal pressures, but at the end of the day, was the decision so impossible to make?

The sheer volume of excitement over Michael Curry should at least make us ask the question, why is the media and the public so enamoured by his message? Is it because the message of love is universal and it hit the right spot? Is it because his message of love was broad that most people found nothing offensive about it? Maybe, a bit of both.  Perhaps I’m a little skeptical, but I think Jesus was also skeptical about the world loving him and his Gospel.

Will the decision to invite Michael Curry help heal deeps wounds within the Anglican Communion, or further alienate evangelical congregations  and confirm to them that her leaders lack the courage to stand on their own doctrinal positions?

These are very difficult times for Anglicans worldwide, especially for our brothers and sisters who live and serve in Dioceses that are moving away from the Gospel. Is it helpful for the rest of us to be praising a preacher who is leading his denomination away from Scripture, and in so doing, straining and even dividing the Communion?

We can be grateful for things said that were true, but let’s be slow to join the Michael Curry facebook fan club. The issues at stake here are far greater than a wedding sermon. The excitement and enthusiasm will soon disappear from news headlines, but the word of God remains, and I reckon it’s better for us to keeping believing God and not getting swept away by a few moments in Windsor.

 

 

 

For a slightly different but helpful take on the sermon, read Michael Jensen’s piece in the SMH

Why I value expository preaching

Yesterday while enjoying a final day of annual leave, as a family we visited another church in Melbourne, which we enjoyed. The preacher took us to Colossians 1:15-29, exhorting us from Scripture to avoid domesticating Jesus and instead capturing a vision of this Lord of creation and Lord of the Church. It was a hot day and the building didn’t have any air conditioning. Did I mention, it was hot?! The poor kids did well, although they let out the occasional groan, as a reminder to Dad and Mum that they were feeling the heat. That aside, it was a joy to hear the Bible being opened, and the truth of Jesus Christ being affirmed and expounded.

5758e5c6607b91d110404889

One of the highest and most humbling opportunities I have as a Christian minister is to preach God’s word. Preaching is an exciting yet fearful task. It brings immense pleasure and yet requires great earnestness.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

According to Paul, the aim of preaching is not to mystify people or to promote a personality or to gain profit, rather it is to ‘set forth the truth plainly’.

In one of the most famous charges ever given to a pastor, Paul says to his apprentice, Timothy,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)

This is such a helpful passage for understanding the work of the preacher:

  • We’re told what to do: preach.
  • We are told what to preach: the word.
  • We are given a context for preaching: all the time is the season for preaching. 
  • We are given a set of aims in preaching: to correct, rebuke and encourage those listening.
  • We are given instruction as to the manner in which we preach: with great patience and careful instruction.
  • We are not however given a method. Having said this, I believe the Bible comes closer to methodology than we at first realise, for the content and aim of the sermon must surely drive the method. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there is only one way to preach. There are several valid styles of preaching including topical, doctrinal and narrative. Even among expository preachers we discover slightly different approaches: Dick Lucas, Don Carson, Tim Keller and Phillip Jensen are all well known for their expository preaching and yet no two are alike in their preaching. 

Broadly speaking, all preaching ought to be expository preaching, in the sense that the content of our sermons must come from the Bible. The authoritative, true and sufficient word that God has given to us is the Bible, and as 2 Timothy 4:2 reminds us, it is a God given mandate that our message be this word.

Evangelistic, topical and doctrinal sermons all can and ought to be exposition of Scripture. By this I don’t mean the verse by verse exegesis and application of consecutive passages, but that the point of the sermon must be grounded in and shaped by the word of God. In fact, a sermon may pool together several different Bible passages and yet teach them in such a way that they are being explained and applied correctly.

More specifically, expository preaching is an approach where the preacher takes a self-contained portion of the Bible (usually a book, which is subsequently divided into its constituent sections and then systematically preached over a number of weeks or months). He then explains and applies that passage according to the natural parameters set by the text, which includes genre of writing, the original audience, place in salvation history, its theme and tone. This may take the form of a careful verse by verse exposition, or it may cover several chapters in a single sermon with the preacher teaching and applying the main points that are contained within it.

While this method for preaching is not dictated in Scripture, it is the approach to preaching that I have found most helpful as I seek to be faithful to 2 Corinthians 4:2 and 2 Timothy 4:2.  Here are 8 reasons:

  1. Expository preaching shows that the authority lies in the word not in the preacher
  2. It helps ensure that it is God through his word who is setting the agenda, and not the preacher or the congregation or issues around us.
  3. Expository preaching helps me to be clear in my preaching. There is a structure and message in the text. My role isn’t to create a message, but rather the passage gives me the parameters.
  4. I want to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. All Scripture is God-breathed and is for our benefit, so we should aim to eventually preach through the entire Bible (one very long term project!).
  5. I want the church to value the whole Bible. Scripture is an incredibly rich book and I want people to explore all of it.
  6. Far from creating dull or irrelevant preaching, expository preaching keeps me interested and challenged in my preaching, and it pushes my congregation There are 66 different books in the Bible written at different times in history by different authors, in more than 12 different genres, exploring hundreds of themes. The literary diversity of the Bible also helps the congregation to sustain interest in the preaching.
  7. It helps the church to follow the preaching from week to week as they can read ahead.
  8. It is harder for the preacher to ignore difficult and unpopular topics.

In a season where confidence in God’s word is diminishing as people read the Bible less, and the Bible is less frequently read and preached in Church, expository preaching offers a significant antidote.

There is more to preaching than method, and admittedly, there are potential dangers in preaching expositorily, but they have more to do with the preacher than the method: i.e. a lack of training, limited experience, or a preacher who takes short-cuts in their preparation. If I am aiming for my preaching to be faithful, clear, interesting, and compelling to the hearer, then expository preaching will serve me well.

The preacher’s task is immense: heaven and hell are the outcomes, life or death are on offer. Surely it is wise to pursue an approach that will help our preaching to be as faithful and clear as can be.

New Sermon Series on Romans 9-11

JoiningGodsMission

What is God’s mission into the world?

What is our role in God’s work?

What is the relationship between God’s Gospel at the people of Melbourne?

At Mentone Baptist we will be working through Romans 9-11 (Sept 28-Dec 13). It will be exciting. It will be challenging. It will be hard. It will life changing.