Authority: The Role of Women

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.


I have established the point that God has ordained three institutions in human society to which He delegates His authority.  In addition, He does not leave the representative heads and members of these institutions with no idea about how to function.  Instead, He has given specific, written instructions about the form and function of each institution in the Bible.  I have also shown that entrance to these societal institutions is by means of a sworn oath in which the participant agrees to be bound by the specific, written terms of  form and function for the institution.  Lastly I argued that each representative institution is granted a monopoly of power that is to be used to discipline the members of the institution.  At this point a legitimate question that should be raised is this, “What are the qualifications to hold office in these institutions?”  That question brings up the more exact issue of the role of women in institutions that represent the authority of Jesus over heaven and earth.

I Timothy 2: 11-14 says:

Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.  For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.

Evangelical interpreters go to great lengths to try and make this passage say something other than what it is obviously saying.  Because of the presuppositional bias that believes that the Church is an example of an institution that is functioning under service/contractual authority, it becomes necessary to interpret this verse in some fashion that will allow women to teach and exercise authority (of the service type, they say) over men.  However, the Church is not an example of an institution that operates under service authority.  There can be no doubt that the Church is a God ordained institution that operates under His representative authority (the covenantal type).  In I Timothy we have a passage in which Paul clearly spells out the role of women in the Church and, by direct logical extrapolation, in other societal institutions that operate under the representative/covenantal authority of God.

The exhortations of Paul should not be surprising or difficult to understand.  We have seen perfect consistency in his arguments that those who are lower in the chain of authority are to submit to those who are above them.  He begins his teaching to Timothy by reiterating the position that should have been well known to all:  women are to submit to men.  This was clear in the Family.  It should be clear in the Church.  In fact, there has never been any reason to believe that women should ever be above men in the chain of representative authority.  (Note:  In cases of single women, they are not exercising authority over men because there are no men present.  A single woman is the head of her own household.)

Paul then argues from the lesser to the greater when he says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man”.  Teaching is an authoritative activity.  The elders in the church are the ones who should be doing the teaching  (I am not speaking of teaching children here).  Teaching is one of the spiritual gifts by which an elder may be identified (Titus 1:9).  Beginning with the specific example of teaching, Paul then moves on to the general principle of exercising authority.  A woman is not permitted to teach in particular because a woman is not allowed to exercise authority over a man in general.  Even a rudimentary understanding of the doctrine of biblical authority makes this point abundantly clear.

Paul concludes his argument for not allowing a woman to exercise authority over a man by appealing to the same historical reality that he appealed to when teaching that a wife is to be submissive to her husband:  the creation and fall.  There is nothing that is new in what Paul is saying.  He is simply being consistent in his application of the principles of authority in the three different covenantal institutions.

That having been said, one of the errors that frequently is associated with this view is the fallacious argument that a woman is forbidden to teach at any time.  It is important to remember the chain of authority in covenantal institutions.  A woman may not exercise authority over someone who is above her in the chain.  However, a woman may exercise authority over someone who is equal to or below her in the chain.  Who is equal to or below her in the chain?  Other women and children are proper subjects for instruction.  Paul’s prohibition against teaching does not apply to women teaching children (anybody less than 20 years old, Numbers 1: 2-3) nor does it apply to women teaching other women.  Those who argue that a woman may never speak in a church building and may certainly never teach any other human being are completely missing the point about representative authority.

Ignorance of the doctrine of authority has also resulted in a commensurate ignorance of the doctrine of ordination.  Ordination has always been recognized by the orthodox Christian Church throughout history as the outward ceremony that recognizes that a man has been called to hold an office of representative authority.  (In the case of deacons, who are considered qualified for that office on the basis of their demonstrated service authority; they are installed, rather than ordained, to their office.)  Evangelical churches have done a lot of fancy footwork to try and get around the plain teaching of Paul on the role of women with respect to representative authority.  One step in that dance has been to ordain women to the office of elder and then describe that office as an “office of service”.  It is obvious what is going on.  Once again, the presuppositional bias that authoritative offices within the Church are established on the grounds of service authority appears.   The fact that a person is ordained to the office of elder confirms the reality that covenantal authority is being recognized.  There is no way that a church can be faithful to the specific, written instructions God has given the church about the qualifications of His representatives and ordain women to the office of elder at the same time.  So what is to be done with women who appear to be able to teach and seem to have leadership abilities?

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