If A Woman Can’t Be Ordained, She Can’t Be Married

If A Woman Can’t Be Ordained, She Can’t Be Married April 1, 2018

…the reality is that whoever wrote this letter, whether Paul or his disciple, they (in the same fashion as Paul in 1 Corinthians) were expressing a ‘desire’, not an imperative they believed was sent from God or even official church teaching they were passing on. They were giving personal commentary.

NOTE: I’ve written more at length on this issue in an article for Spectrum Magazine, which I encourage those who want a more robust argument to read. However, considering that the following small note about the Greek is typically unheard of often in this specific debate, I wanted to share it on my blog here at Patheos as well, in the hope that it might get more traction with those involved in these theological battles.


As is well known by many who undertake a detailed study of the letters found in the New Testament, there are times when Paul (author of nearly half of the material found in the New Testament) would write that he knew all too well that what he was writing down was not something he believed was a command or imperative that God was impressing upon him, but merely a human opinion or idea of his own.

We see examples of this most clearly in 1 Cor. 7:6-8,10 and 12 when he says he’d like it/prefer it if people never married and remained celibate.

He gave this advice because in his limited and human understanding, he believed that Jesus would come likely before he died. There was so little time before the return of Christ that there was, in his opinion, no need or time to burden oneself with marriage. This was his thinking. He was, of course, wrong.

Almost everyone (there’s always that one crazy person) understands this is his opinion, which is why Christians today and those in the ancient past ultimately ignored his “advice.” Had we listened, there would no longer be any Christians left today. His advice was, quite to the point, fatally flawed.


Interestingly, the debate on 1 Timothy 2:11-12, a major text in the all too heated discussions regarding women’s ministry, can be shown to be just as fickle.

A number of churches and individuals (almost always male) usually cite these verses as proof that women are barred from serving in ministry within the same ordained capacity that most men are allowed to.


I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. (1 Timothy 2:8–12; NRSV).


As one of only two passages attributed to Paul which speak on this subject (the other being one which is textually suspect),¹ it is fascinating that the text does not begin in verse 11 with the injunction to not speak (which is where most begin reading or quoting from), but in the rarely referenced verse 8 where the author writes “I desire that…”

His desire is three-fold: that men pray with lifted hands, women dress moderately with no jewelry and that they do not have authority over men.

The writer uses the Greek word βούλομαι, which means a personal desire or wish. This little detail seems to be missed by those in this debate.

As some may be aware, there are significant debates as to who actually authored 1 Timothy, whether Paul or a disciple of his after his death. These are very important questions that Biblical Scholars have explored and continue to look deep into.

But regardless of these ongoing questions, the reality is that whoever wrote this letter, they (in the same fashion as Paul in 1 Corinthians) were expressing a “desire“, not an imperative they believed was sent from God or even official church teaching they were passing on. They were giving personal commentary.

So in other words, for anyone to make a case based on Timothy that women can’t be ordained is as shaky an argument as to claim that because of Paul’s opinion found in 1 Corinthians 7 we should not be marrying.

In conclusion, without the context of what is being said, the debate can quickly become muddled and lose focus. The question then properly, is not “what does scripture teach” but “what did Paul personally desire that is recorded in scripture?”

That little change of focus I believe shifts how many would approach this passage and also how they might think to apply it in the life of the church.

¹ The passage is 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and many biblical scholars view it with deep suspicion in terms of its textual authenticity. The two verses are found in different places in different ancient manuscripts and this is usually an indication that the verses are foreign and have been inserted into the text by other hands. Newer Bibles sometimes demarcate these verses for readers with brackets or some other means so that readers are warned not to trust them as much as the surrounding text. If an ancient manuscript, which comes from a trustworthy textual family, were ever to be shown to be lacking these verses, future Bible readers can expect that these verses will stop appearing in future translations.

IMG_1306Matthew J. Korpman is a minister-in-training, Young Adult novelist and published researcher in Biblical Studies and Church History. Graduating from the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School later this year, he is completing four degrees in fields such as Religious Studies, Philosophy and Archaeology before continuing his studies at Yale Divinity School. He is an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist church whose research interests include everything from the Apocrypha to the Apocalypse.

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  • Iain Lovejoy

    Regardless of authorship, regardless of authority, regardless of whether it is an opinion or a command, the passage doesn’t in any event say anything definitive about whether women should be preachers or teachers. Firstly, “in silence” is actually more “quietly” and “full submission” more “obedient in every way”, which is how everyone would normally be expected to behave towards a teacher at the time. Your translation also distorts the point of v.11 because it misses out the “but” between verse 11 and verse 12. Verse 11 is an instruction that women should be allowed to learn, with v12 a caveat / restriction: i.e. Paul is answering in the affirmative a question asked as to whether women should be allowed to learn at all, then going on to say how far that permission does or doesn’t extend.
    Verse 12 is also badly mistranslated. The Greek actually says “I do not permit a woman … ” and may equally be about a specific woman or situation as a general statement about what all women should do, and it absolutely does not say “have authority over”: the verb actually means to “seize control over / from” and the passage may be summarised as saying that a women should be allowed to receive instruction so long as she doesn’t try and take over the class. There is nothing in the passage to suggest that a woman once properly instructed cannot herself teach others, and there are plenty of examples in the New Testament of women doing exactly that.

  • soter phile

    One doesn’t have to agree with complementarians to understand their argument.
    This article does not. It only addresses straw men.

    In 1 Tim.2, complementarians point to v.13-14, where Paul explains the basis of his teaching.
    They note that he appeals to creation & the fall.
    If accurate, that basis transcends cultural context, the opposite of being “just Paul’s desires”.

    But the article’s author conspicuously stops quoting at v.12 and fails to address this primary point of contention.
    That’s exegetically inexplicable, but becomes a liability in a debate between complementarians & egalitarians.
    It demonstrates either a lack of awareness or – much worse – a purposeful attempt to misrepresent.

    Additionally, even if one grants (as complementarians sometimes do) that Paul is merely speaking his culturally conditioned desires in v.8, there is still the matter of his quite different language in v.12 – which begins with the much stronger language of “permit”.

    Again, one doesn’t have to agree with complementarians to understand their argument.
    But certainly any attempt at honest dialogue should avoid straw men.
    The arguments found in this article fail to do either.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    If (and I explain below a reason for thinking this) Paul is referring to a situation where a woman wants to receive instruction but is trying to overrule / instruct her (male) teacher, Paul’s reference to Adam being “born first” in verse 13 makes perfect sense, since Eve arrives after and then leads him astray. If the issue were of women generally and men generally, Paul would say “Adam was the man / husband … ” This section tells us nothing about a situation where a woman is by knowledge or status already the senior in the relationship.
    (I agree BTW that one shouldn’t ignore bits of the Bible we don’t like in the way the article suggests, but the example of this passage indicates to me that where a particular verse or section does appear illogical, inexplicable or out of place, it is unwise to base an entire theology on a passage that may be simply misunderstood.)

  • soter phile

    “The main question here is whether Paul means by ‘aner’ her husband or any man in the community. It would be pleasant for those who seek relief from the stringent patriarchalism of the passage to report that it refers to only the woman’s husband, but in fact Paul’s other usage (e.g., Rom.7:2-3; 11:3-4; Eph.5:22-23; Col.3:18-19) and, above all, the use of ‘aner’ immediate before this in 2:8 make it more likely that Paul means any man in the assembly (see also 1 Tim.3:2,12; 5:9).”
    – Luke Timothy Johnson

    The vast majority of biblical scholarship, especially historically but even recently also, stand against your reading here.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    What, in your reading, is the connection between v11 and v12? There has to be a connection since the “but” requires v12 to be a limitation, qualification or elaboration of v11. If in v11 the woman is learning, in v12 the man must be teaching, and it is the authority of the man as her teacher that she is usurping by purporting to teach him.
    The meaning of the verse is greatly in dispute, in particular the meaning of the word authenteo, which in the mildest suggestion as to its meaning means to seize or assert authority over something, rather than neutrally exercising it. Your quote is odd since it fails in fact to address at all the principle disagreement over the meaning of the verse.

  • Betsy Brandt

    Your point is well taken. “one does not have to agree with complementarians to understand their argument” but unfortunately one has to LIVE with their viewpoint in major church denominations. Making many women feel “less than” and not capable of leading or teaching men is ridiculous! It is as ridiculous as a strict “young earth” interpretation of scripture. No wonder churches are shrinking and will continue to shrink. Love thy neighbor as thy self includes allowing everyone to realize their full potentials and career desires. Go ahead read the bible literally after following these 5 easy steps!

  • AndersInChicago

    Why do we say “This is the word of the Lord” in church following readings when we really can mean “This is the personal desire of Paul”? Why do we accept Paul’s word as the Word especially when it’s not in synch with Jesus, or even referring to his teachings? Paul is the epistle writer of his time in defining Christianity, but is that faith about Jesus or Yeshua, as he was called before being rebranded into a foreign Greek culture? I’ll consider you another post-Jesus called Apostle Matthew and welcome your more contemporary and relevant epistles. We need life and vitality in Christianity, not hair splitting debate about a zealot who appointed himself Yeshua’s imaginary friend!

  • Triggerman1976

    Let’s be clear here, “ordination” is entirely dependent upon context. There’s two things that get missed in this discussion: first that Paul is using an imperative form of the verb in in v11 to correct an apparent problem, something that will be hinted at later in 2 Timothy; second that the issue was causing problems in the immediate context.
    Women were apparently being excluded from the discipleship of the church and, out of out of a desire to learn may have been turning to false teachers. The fact that these women may have fallen under the sway of such, made them suspect. The throw back to Genesis seems to make that point evident.

  • TinyDocHolliday

    It isn’t the fault of scripture (or the complementarians who honor it) that a woman would *feel* “less than” or “incapable.” That is on the individual. Scripture speaks of the designed role of both men and women within relationship to each other and within church structure. If someone thinks that God’s design makes someone “less than” then they need to take that up with God. He made men and women different. I defy anyone to argue otherwise. He made them *different*. Which means they can serve different roles without being “better” or “worse” than the other. It’s ok for them to be different. God made them that way. The striving for “sameness” between the genders is absurd and dangerous. The egalitiarian movement in the church is simply an outflowing of the cultural movement for sameness, and fatal mistake made by the feminist movement starting over 40 years ago. Somewhere along the line people got the twisted idea that in order to be “equal”, the genders must be the “same.” It has now spilled over into the church, and the enemy is laughing and rubbing his hands together in delight.

  • Fran Mayes

    Actually there is more in common than different about human bodies. The sexual structures are the same in the embryo until 13 weeks. Then, in the presence of the sry gene, gonads become testicles secreting testosterone, while in the presence of the gene for femaleness, they become ovaries secreting estrogens. These hormones drive the development of external genitals. Phallic tissue becomes either a penis or a clitoris, a scrotum is fused labia, etc. Since other hormones from the mom’s body and fetal adrenal glands are also present, these can confuse development. There is actually no criterion that can neatly divide human bodies into only two categories. e.g. There are 23 combinations of sex chromosomes compatible with human life, everyone is not either XX or XY like you learned in Junior High.

  • TinyDocHolliday

    I’m trying to figure out exactly what your post has to do with the price of tea in China, but I haven’t been able to make the connection yet.

    Is your position that: (a) because our physical bodies have “some” similarities, then (b) men and women are not, in fact, “different” as I asserted in my post? Is this a real life ? You don’t think men and women were created different from one another? Why, pray tell, did God create Eve then? If she’s really no different than Adam, what was the point of the whole “help-meet” thing? Why not just make another Adam?

    No, I imagine you (just like everyone else) knows full well that there are major differences between men and women. For some twisted reason you don’t want to admit that, which is beyond me, but you know it all the same. Because it is self-evident.

    There is nothing wrong with men and women being different and serving different roles. In fact it’s really good. For both men and women, it is really really good. Because God designed it that way. The feminist movement mistaking sameness for equality (and the subsequent leakage of this culture into the church) has resulted in a lot of misery for both genders. According to scripture, God absolutely intended for women and men to play different roles within relationship/family structure and within church structure. Disregarding and discarding that design and the clear directives contained in the Bible does not end well for either relationships or the church.

  • Fran Mayes

    “Men” and “women” are social constructs. There is a male-female continuum and it’s actually much more complex than that. If you can’t divide people into only two categories, how can you assign separate roles?

  • TinyDocHolliday

    LOL. The world has truly gone insane.

    Ahhh, yes. “Social Constructs.” “Men” and “Women” are mere figments of human imagination. There’s no real difference. It’s a “continuum”. There are no “natural” gender roles. Just social fabrications. Just like there are no gender roles in the rest of the animal kingdom. Oh, wait. There are? Like clearly defined by nature? Shoot, that doesn’t fit well with the social construct narrative. Umm, ok then, well . . . it’s a social construct only in humans. There’s no reason for men and women to be different from one another. Just a slight fold of skin here, a hormone there . . . nothing all that different really. They should be seen as exactly the same. They possess no different innate traits. They hold no distinct natural tendencies or abilities, and certainly none that would make them more fit for certain societal roles.

    This is utter madness. The world desperately needs to celebrate masculinity and femininity, and embrace the God-given differences between them. Not squish them all into an amorphous, unidentifiable blob of who-knows-what and then pat itself on the back for being so “enlightened.”

    God made them male and female. For a reason. They complement each other. Become something even better together than separately. Fill different roles that strengthen them as individuals and as a family unit. Same thing in the church. Men and women are very much different. And that is beautiful and good.

  • Nancy MacLean Coppola

    My thoughts are What has being a man or woman got to do with being fully awake? this other stuff is so far from shunyata that, to me, it is nonsensical to dissuss it.
    Again,to me, this is what religion does: tries to control our minds. I loved Toni Packer for jumping out of the box! thank you.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    Hey, lets get this hashtag going. Saw it on a female preachers blog earlier and I like it, because it is shit like this that is exactly why you will find me #NeverAtChurch!

  • Nick Kavanagh

    By the way, “Biblically Literate” makes as much sense as “Superbly Awful” or “Military Intelligence”.

  • Glenn Harrell

    Thanks Matthew. My how young you are and already entrenched in the academia whirlwind. Well, it has to begin and it must follow each generation.
    If you must, lock step with all who “suspicion” the texts that might contradict the otherwise restrictions. Finding the “scholar” who will do this is easy and you may chose to be this man one day.
    Look for debates, debacles and denials. (great sermon) There are no shortages of these in the Seventh Day Adventist world of theology.

    So who is this bad guy putting a cork in the bottle of “success” for women in ministry everywhere?
    The scriptures–GOD– prohibits women from leading the church as Elder, Bishop, Presbytery, and Overseer. Why?
    To use the same scriptures, there are these reasons given to us:
    1-The order of creation–Adam, then Eve.
    2-The entrance of sin into the world–Eve, then Adam. (I Timothy 2:11-14)

    Incorrect Assumptions
    Not because Jesus or the Apostles were male.
    Not because men are superior.
    Not because women are inferior.
    So God is the bad guy after all?

    We can debate this, bash it, de-bunk it, disqualify it, cover it, cut it out, or any other diminishing attempt.
    And we do. Then we wait to see if God will remain silent or take sides.

    Then we create God around
    Dr. I’mdegreed– PhD. Lmd. Rtc. DMin. Thd. Omy-me. because he believes the way we do.
    We create God around The Right Rev. Getbackinyourplace and women resume slave status.
    We trust that maybe, just maybe God is protecting us from ourselves yet once again
    while we once again clamor and beg to be ruled by Kings.

    II Corinthians 10 reminds us that this subject of position-equality we now strain at is not new.
    But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved,
    but the one whom the Lord commends.” (II Corinthians 10:16-17)

    From my view, the Lord has not commended anyone who is in direct disobedience to the word of truth. (including female Elders) We set up ourselves for human commendations and make big splashes as we do. We carry on in pretension and pride, fussing over titles, salaries and balanced quotas. We deny biblical governance in preference to CEO and corporate niceties.
    Servanthood takes an back seat when I have no intention of being a servant.

    Might we consider that the reductions and death within main-line churches has to do with the emasculation of men? Men leaving or never joining the church care not if the women take their place in home and church responsibilities.

    The bride and the groom are necessary to each other and it does matter who wears the dress in the family.

    The only thing more over estimated than being an elder/pastor to a bunch of stubborn sheep and children in adult bodies is natural childbirth. You just think you can do it. Speak to those men who have lived and served this role for many years and ask them just how “qualified” they feel. They will readily tell God to give it to the women, children and anyone else who wants it. Why should men have all the suffering? What’s that? I should not mention childbirth and women in the same breath? sorry-

  • The Invisible Hand

    Your argument is an appeal to ignorance.
    “We can never be sure what the Bible *really* means, so let’s just assume everything *I* believe is true!”