Can Women Teach Men?

At ETS this past November, Dr. Harold Hoehner of Dallas Theological Seminary presented a provocative paper arguing that women can teach Christian doctrine to men in the church. Dr. Hoehner’s session was packed out, and I couldn’t even get into it. But I heard all about it because it generated a great deal of discussion both during and after the presentation.

Jim Hamilton has posted a short blog in response to Dr. Hoehner’s thesis: “Pastors Are Not Elders: An Egalitarian Suggestion?” Jim disagrees with Dr. Hoehner’s interpretation and gives several biblical reasons for doing so. I commend it to you.

As far as I know, Dr. Hoehner’s paper is not available online. But you can read the thrust of his argument in his commentary on Ephesians.

32 Responses to Can Women Teach Men?

  1. Billy December 7, 2006 at 12:59 pm #

    I am not a seminary student or professor, so I may be looking at this a bit simplistically. Why do people so often use obscure references to scripture in order to contradict what has been distinctly stated in other scriptures(i.e. 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:34)

    Does what these verses have to say seem fair in a society which promotes gender equality? Absolutely not. Does that mean the scripture should be incorrectly interpreted in order to suit our preferences? I don’t believe it should. I think some Christians need to realize that god’s word and the commandments therein can’t be altered because of our own desires and preferences.

  2. Paul December 7, 2006 at 1:05 pm #

    It’s interesting here. Much as Hamilton claims that Hoehner is dismissing Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy, he turns around and dismisses Phyllis’ teaching in Acts.

    I think that the idea of spiritual gifts is an intriguing one. What if God gives the gift of teaching to a woman? I think that certainly leaves many doors open which few would disagree with, like teaching women’s groups or Sunday school to kids. However, where does the line get drawn? Are women allowed to bring male souls to Christ? After all, that would be teaching on some level, would it not? Are women allowed to lead Bible studies? Or are we thinking that anything, anywhere at anytime that might be construed as teaching to men supposed to be off limits?

    This is a serious question.

    Thanks in advance for your reply,


  3. jason allen December 7, 2006 at 1:18 pm #

    Thanks for the post. I assume if you come across Hoehner’s paper online you’ll link that. I’d be interested in seeing it.

  4. Scot McKnight December 8, 2006 at 11:49 pm #

    Do you have Morna Hooker’s commentary on Mark or Margaret Thrall’s on 2 Corinthians? Or, have you ever read any of them? Now the obvious: how do you distinguish that kind of teaching with what you think Hoehner’s wrong about? (I didn’t get to hear Harold.)

  5. Jim Hamilton December 9, 2006 at 9:58 am #

    Hi Scot,

    We shook hands briefly at ETS on Friday at lunch time.

    Interestingly, the most recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, published by CBMW (, is subtitled “By Women for Women.” The editor, Pete Schemm of Southeastern Seminary, recognizes that most of JBMW’s readership is male, and he asks whether men should read this issue of the Journal?

    He then follows John Piper in charting two scales when it comes to teaching. The first scale goes from personal instruction to non-personal instruction, and the second scale charts directive instruction to non-directive instruction.

    The most personal form of instruction we ever experience should be from those who are shepherding our souls before God in the church, those who will give an account to God for our souls, who walk with us through the valley and rejoice with us when we triumph. I think a live video stream is moving toward being non-personal, and for this reason I have serious concerns about what is happening to the idea of what a pastor is in those places where a “pastor” is streamed to multiple campuses. Similarly, written instruction is down on the non-personal end of the spectrum.

    Since the church has the ability to enforce its teaching (formative discipline/discipleship) through corrective discipline/discipleship, the teaching that happens in the church is on the directive end of the spectrum. The only power a book has to enforce its teaching is through persuasion–which is hopefully not lacking in more directive forms of teaching! But the point is that a book is on the non-directive end of the spectrum.

    I think Paul is addressing what happens when Christians gather for worship in 1 Timothy 2. Therefore, it seems that Paul is saying that there is something important about the personal and directive teaching and authority that takes place in church. It seems to me that male teaching and male authority is fatherly, and this helps us know our Father in heaven. Where teaching is non-personal and non-directive, it doesn’t seem that gender is an issue.

    Further, if Paul is prohibiting what happens in the gathered congregation, would it apply to written instruction? There are some things in the Bible that were written by women, such as the songs of Hannah and Mary, and these were written for our instruction. . .

    Sorry for the longish response,


  6. Jim Hamilton December 9, 2006 at 10:10 am #

    Paul (#3 above),

    I’m not sure exactly what teaching of Phyllis you’re alleging that I’m dismissing.

    If you mean Priscilla, as I said in my post, Luke doesn’t tell us who did the talking when Priscilla and her husband Aquila took Apollos aside and explained the way of God more accurately to him.

    I have no desire to dismiss that incident. I simply don’t think that what might have happened on that occasion (Priscilla talking to–conversing with–Apollos, one man–not a gathering of men and women–in private, with her husband present) overturns Paul’s explicit prohibition. I think Luke and Paul traveled together, and I doubt that Luke intended to subvert his traveling companion’s views on this point.



  7. dennyrburk December 9, 2006 at 3:29 pm #


    Yep, I’m know Hooker and Thrall. Margaret Thrall’s commentary on 2 Corinthians is probably my favorite commentary on that book. I also loved her little book on particles. She’s good with the Greek.


  8. Scot McKnight December 9, 2006 at 6:12 pm #

    You’re being evasive. Do you “learn” from her “teaching” as “written”?

    Jim’s response above shows to me little more than exegetical gymnastics: what Paul says in 1 Tim 2:12 can’t really mean exactly what it says, so we’ll make some exceptions — what Paul says is that he does not permit a woman to teach … he does not say he does not permit a woman to teach in Sunday morning preaching or intensely pastoral moments, but he does not permit a woman to teach.

    Denny, I’m dead serious — and that is because I think the whole approach to 1 Tim 2 is wrong on the part of complementarians — I’m serious that it is logically impossible to believe in Paul’s words as written and read Thrall (you don’t read her for anything other than being taught). My larger point: we make exceptions because there were exceptions, and perhaps the exception was totally unlike the gymnastics outlined above by Jim.

  9. Scot McKnight December 9, 2006 at 6:18 pm #

    I’ll put this another way: what I see above is modification of “to teach” by appealing to the context or by appealing to the meaning of “authentein.” Fine — appeal to context and appeal to authentein. The result is that “to teach” is modified — in the context you’ve got no clue to suggest this impersonal/non-directive stuff. What you’ve got is creation/Eden/fall and you’ve got deception.

    Is there something in the letter’s context that might help us understand why “deception” is brought in to connect to teaching?

    This view modifies — by context. Once you open the door to that, you open the door to other contextual suggestions, none of which can be supported by the gymnatic interpretations above.

    I know you can take my direct language. If I were sitting at coffee with you, you’d just come straight back — and we’d not raise our voices or emotions.

  10. Jada Bown Swanson December 9, 2006 at 8:09 pm #

    First let me say, I am not a Theologian. I am a Professor of Music at a Christian University, as well as a Worship Director and have held other staff positions at various churches, but in no way do I consider myself in y’alls league regarding theology.

    With that said, I don’t consider myself (nor does my husband who IS a Pastor) either complimentarian or egalitarian. Why? Because I don’t fully agree with either side. In fact I had never heard the terms until reading this blog.

    Jim #6 and anyone else desiring to comment: Jim stated, “The most personal form of instruction we ever experience should be from those who are shepherding our souls before God in the church, those who will give an account to God for our souls, who walk with us through the valley and rejoice with us when we triumph.”

    Am I correct to assume that you are referring to Senior Pastors? If this is true and that ‘personal form of instruction’ is to come from the Senior Pastor of the church we are attending, then I guess, I don’t get this. My SP is a wonderful man, but he knows very little about my valleys, rejoicing times, triumphs, etc. Not to mention little if anything about my life spiritually.

    My Sunday School Teachers, a husband and wife team who both have Theological degrees from a Seminary and teach a mixed class, know this to a point about me, yet even they are not privy to the innermost areas of my spiritual life. Not like other people in my life, such as small group and especially my mentor/accountability partners.

    I hope that makes sense. I, in no way, am putting down my Senior Pastor, he is a great man, but he doesn’t know me that way. He knows my husband because he is on staff and they meet weekly and such. But our church is upwards of 500. I doubt, except for a handful of people, that he knows the lives that deeply of few of his church members. He is a great teacher and shepherd to many, I am sure.

    But can one man (or woman however your view is on this) actually shepherd that many people, or even be expected to do such? I mean TRULY SHEPHERD a flock? Or is this when it is best to lay that mantle onto others on staff such as Youth Pastors, Worship Pastors (as my dh totally considers himself the shepherd of his team members–about 100+), Children’s Pastor, etc.?

    So I guess I am just pushing back not so much on ‘can/should women teach men’ but if church is where the Senior Pastor should have the most personal role in my (and other’s) spiritual growth and development, I propose the question is it really happening? And is it really possible? In fact is it really ‘personal’ in that I merely sit in service on Sundays, of course serving in various areas not just warming a pew. But in reality is it PERSONAL to merely hear a sermon given by someone?

    I feel that my small group, which consists of men and women who actually hold me accountable, teach me, pray for me, basically walk that ‘personal’ journey with me, much more so than the Senior Pastor.

    As well you made the comment, “Similarly, written instruction is down on the non-personal end of the spectrum”.

    I am thinking you weren’t referring to the written word as in the Written Word of God, the Bible. Personally speaking, my time in the word, alone, with a journal and a pen (or my laptop as that is my journal nowadays), is much more personal than sitting in a congregation of 100’s of people and hearing a sermon. And during that time of reading the written word and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me and show me how to apply a passage to my life, specifically, I find very personal and meaningful.

    I also can remmeber a time when my husband and I both were on staff at a church in sepearte positions and well, our SP, was not gifted in the area of teaching so we had to rely on our personal time in the word, books, and tapes sent to us by family and friends to teach us, to keep us going in a diffcult ministry setting (for various reasons). Therefore, the relationship with the SP was not ‘personal’ either.

    The other comment I want to address is: “Since the church has the ability to enforce its teaching (formative discipline/discipleship) through corrective discipline/discipleship, the teaching that happens in the church is on the directive end of the spectrum.”

    I guess this depends on what you consider the ‘church’, yes? Is it just what happens in the building, during a service on a Sunday morning, a sermon given by a Senior Pastor or other Teaching Pastor? Or is it more broad a term to include small groups, accountability groups, people with whom you truly have personal relationships and ‘do life’ with daily, etc.? I guess I define the church as a living, breathing, organism, comprised of a body of believers doing life with one another, sharpening one another spiritually, rejoicing with one another, disciplining one another, praying for one another, holding one another up through hard times, etc.

    I in no way want to come across as negating the office of pastor, as my husband is a pastor. However, I think it impractical, if not impossible to say that that relationship is personal and the form of instruction given by a pastor is personal. Oftentime, that personal instruction is given to upwards of 500 people, if not more, at one time. That doesn’t come across as personal to me.

    Maybe I am missing it. I am not trying to be argumentative. I have really been processing this, as well as other blogs Denny has written re: this issue, not to mention others.

    Sorry to interrupt y’alls scholarly debate with perhaps, ‘common’ questions, and take this in another direction. Feel free to ‘x’ this comment, Denny, if necessary. This just got me thinking.

  11. dennyrburk December 9, 2006 at 9:39 pm #


    I’m sorry the last post sounded evasive. I didn’t mean for it to come across that way. I just wanted to post something short until I had time to come back and give you a more thoughtful response.

    I don’t think that the real difference between us has to do with our opinion of female commentary-writers. The primary issue concerns the nature of the apostolic prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12. I believe Paul prohibits women from teaching and exercising authority over men, and you don’t.

    We can quibble all day about how Paul’s prohibition applies to contemporary situations (like commentary-writing), but that conversation will be totally unfruitful if we cannot agree on what Paul meant by his original prohibition. And therein is the rub. You and I do not agree on what Paul meant, therefore we will not agree on how we should apply his words to women who write commentaries.

    I am resistant to questions like the one you asked in your first comment. Not because I think there is no good Complementarian answer. But because it sets the conversation up so that you can do an end-run around exegetical arguments. If I say “Hooker and Thrall write great commentaries,” then you declare Complentarianism a farce and inconsistent. If I say that “Hooker and Thrall shouldn’t write commentaries,” then you declare complementarianism unjust and fundamentalistic. And everybody get up in arms while not stopping to discuss what the meaning of the text is.

    How are you and I going to discuss how Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 apply to commentary-writing when we can’t even agree on what Paul meant?

    I have more to say, but I’ll let this be a start.


  12. Scot McKnight December 9, 2006 at 10:08 pm #

    I think you’ve put the point clearly: the viewpoint you take along with the praxis you advocate push back against one another. If you think what I assume you do about 1 Tim 2:12, then you cannot logically let Morna Hooker teach you by writing a commentary on Mark.

    On this one, it has nothing to do with what I think, but with what you teach. Women are not to teach. Any notion that reading women commentaries is not receiving their teaching is an evasion of the meaning (as you understand it) of 1 Tim 2:12.

    As it turns out, I do have a view of 1 Tim 2:12 (along the lines of those who see a particular cultural context shaping the point of the text), and I think it is responsible and more consistent with the behavior of women in Paul’s churches.

  13. dennyrburk December 9, 2006 at 11:06 pm #


    You wrote: “Women are not to teach. Any notion that reading women commentaries is not receiving their teaching is an evasion of the meaning (as you understand it) of 1 Tim 2:12.”

    I guess you don’t understand what I think about 1 Timothy 2:12. You should reread Moo in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

    “In prohibiting women from teaching, what exactly is Paul prohibiting?… In the pastoral epistles, teaching always has this restricted sense of authoritative doctrinal instruction… We argue that the teaching prohibited to women here includes what we would call preaching …, and the teaching of Bible and doctrine in the church, in colleges, and in seminaries. Other activities-leading Bible studies, for instance may be included, depending on how they are done. Still others-evangelistic witnessing, counseling, teaching subjects other than Bible or doctrine-are not, in our opinion, teaching in the sense Paul intends here” (pp. 186-87).

    I don’t think Moo is being evasive, it’s simply a conclusion based on Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy. Paul’s other uses of the DIDASK- word group tell us a lot about what Paul means in 1 Timothy 2:12 (once again, see Moo). Moreover, Paul tells us that he is especially concerned with how things are to be ordered within the church. Remember 1 Timothy 3:15, “I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” I think this is why Moo writes, “It is appropriate to note here that Paul’s concern in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is specifically the role of men and women in activities within the Christian community, and we question whether the prohibitions in this text can rightly be applied outside that framework.”

    How to apply a complementarian reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 to situations outside the church or within the parachurch is a matter of some debate among complementarians. Not all complementarians agree with that last quote from Moo. That being said, I think you are incorrect to assume that reading commentaries by females is an “evasion of the meaning” of 1 Timothy 2:12, if we understand “teaching” in the sense that Paul meant it.


  14. Debbie Wimmers December 11, 2006 at 4:03 pm #

    I was wondering about something. A guy is 47 and has the mentallity of a 13 year old. is it permissible for a spiritually mature woman to him if there is any hope at all for him to comphehend?

  15. dennyrburk December 11, 2006 at 4:19 pm #


    Do you mean, to teach him?


  16. debbie December 12, 2006 at 3:00 pm #


  17. Paul December 12, 2006 at 3:30 pm #


    Denny answers everyone’s questions but mine.

    I wonder if this is how he teaches his students in his class?

  18. Bryan L December 12, 2006 at 9:02 pm #

    It seems like you’re restricting the “didask” words to the English word “doctrine” and then narrowly defining what doctrine means to exclude all the other meanings that the didask word group carries and then importing that meaning back into your explanation of what Paul meant when he said teach in the Pastorals.
    To be a little clearer Denny, how do you define authoritative doctrine? Is that the same as theology? If theology (or doctrine) is based on the Bible and is dependent on the correct interpretation and understanding of what certain verses mean, then why is it you can learn from a woman (only through her books) what a passage means, or even the theology of a particular author in the NT, but then she’s not allowed to teach how that relates to theology (if that’s what you mean by doctrine)? Why is it you can learn the exegetical meaning of a passage by reading a woman’s book but then she’s not aloud to actually teach you that in person in a seminary or church.
    Why would you trust a woman to tell you (through her book) the original meaning of a passage but not the relevance of that passage to our day-to-day lives?
    Also Denny it seems in your last quote of Moo you suggest that this may only apply in the church and not outside (such as seminaries I guess)? I’m I reading that correctly? How does that even make sense? A woman can’t teach a man in the church but the pastor that will be teaching the church can go to a university (or seminary maybe, or even the book store and pick up a book) and learn greek and how to exegete from a woman?
    To be honest Denny this all seems very inconsistent. And I find it ironic that just as complementarians accuse egalitarians of putting the culture above the word of God, it seems like a complementarian understanding of 1 Tim 2:12-15 that allows a man to learn from a woman through a book but not in person is guilty of the same charge of putting the culture above the word of God since it seems a hundred years ago this wouldn’t have even been a question or issue in our culture among complementarians (anachronism I know).

    I hope your not done responding to the comments because I’d really be interested in your views on this.
    Thanks for the discussion and your graciousness Denny.

  19. dennyrburk December 12, 2006 at 9:06 pm #


    I refer you to Jim’s remarks above in #6. Some Complementarians use John Piper’s personal/non-personal and directive/non-directive categories in applying 1 Timothy 2:12. I think Piper’s words are helpful on this point.

    Paul, I’m not ignoring you. What question did you want me to answer?


  20. Bryan L December 12, 2006 at 9:44 pm #

    So then this teaching thing in 1 Tim doesn’t apply to seminaries and universities? Again it seems like you’re just narrowly defining the English word “doctrine” and then importing that meaning of “doctrine” back into the didask word group.
    Also in regards to Jim’s comments in #6, I think Jada Bown Swanson brought up some important insights or points in response to what Jim said, that were never addressed or answered.

  21. dennyrburk December 12, 2006 at 9:50 pm #


    In answer to your question, please reread the third paragraph in #14 above.


  22. Paul December 13, 2006 at 1:06 am #

    From #3 above…

    I think that the idea of spiritual gifts is an intriguing one. What if God gives the gift of teaching to a woman? I think that certainly leaves many doors open which few would disagree with, like teaching women’s groups or Sunday school to kids. However, where does the line get drawn? Are women allowed to bring male souls to Christ? After all, that would be teaching on some level, would it not? Are women allowed to lead Bible studies? Or are we thinking that anything, anywhere at anytime that might be construed as teaching to men supposed to be off limits?

  23. dennyrburk December 13, 2006 at 1:09 am #


    I would say there’s no “if” about it. God gives the teaching gift to women. The question is not whether certain females have this gift, but whether God appoints a certain field for them to work in so that a principle of male headship can be maintained.


  24. Jim Hamilton December 13, 2006 at 9:49 am #

    For those interested, Wayne Grudem addresses some of these issues in an interview here:

  25. Paul December 13, 2006 at 12:27 pm #


    that answers the easily answered half of the question. The much harder part is this: can a woman witness to a man, or is that considered teaching in a way that Paul would have disapproved of? Can a woman teach kids in a sunday school setting, even if there are boys present? Is leading a Bible Study considered teaching, or just merely having initiative?

    I’d like your input on this.



  26. jeff miller December 13, 2006 at 5:35 pm #

    Because the world, or part of it, is temporarily taking a progressive, if unrealistic, approach to male /female social order, we might be tempted to think of ourselves as the ultimate guardians of that social order. But taking such a role makes the understanding and application of 1Timothy 2:12 all the more difficult; especially difficult if we are trying to understand it, and make application of it, in a way true to the passage’s New Testament context. Paul and the Gospel discount (reduce the value) of this age and its necessary/practical structures which in normal thinking would include male headship/leadership. These are the norms, yet they don’t seem to be norms a disciple is to die for.
    When it comes to giving “equal place” to women, I would think the surrounding culture was more conservative than Paul and the Gospel are. So that what you have in1Timothy 2:12 might be called a concession to the common sense of this age: a well ordered society must normally maintain male headship of families, armies, governments, and so on. According to the culture, males should at least fill the role of figure-head authority. And so, if the churches are going to keep from being anti-social and destructive they must not tear down (actively or passively) the required social posture of male headship. Our difficulty now is that western culture itself is willing to put the test to whether or not male headship really is a practical necessity for this age. (By the way, this is a self-correcting test for the world, and I don’t think it is of primary concern for the disciple.) We, after all, have the primary concern of being witnesses to Jesus…the way into the age to come. And in Christ there is, and will be, neither male nor female.
    So for now, while we remain under the age of Adam and Eve (the reference is given by Paul for the argument of restraint among the newly liberated Christians)shouldn’t we admit there is room, and even requirement, for the sort of considerations made by Paul, and by Piper on this issue. The churches are responsible to maintain complementary order in practice, even while we embrace in principle a willingness to be emptied (kenosis?) of hierarchical ascendancy. We bow to the order of male headship even while we embrace an egalitarian love for all those around us.

  27. dennyrburk December 13, 2006 at 5:50 pm #


    But this argument is not about whether we should have “egalitarian love for all those around us.” I think everyone agrees that Christians should love one another, as well as our enemies and our neighbors.

    The question is whether the scriptures teach a principle of male headship. You seem to indicate that male headship is necessary result of living in a fallen world that will be done away with in the new creation. Yet such an argument contradicts 1 Timothy 2:12-13, where Paul roots his prohibition in the pre-fall created order. There will be hierarchy in the new creation (1 Corinthians 15:28), just like there was in the pre-fall order.

    Thanks for reading and for your interaction.

    Denny Burk

  28. Paul December 13, 2006 at 8:04 pm #

    But once again, I ask, just how far do we go in pursuing that male leadership? How much can women do before they cross whatever line that Paul drew in the sand?

    Still waiting for an answer to that one.

  29. dennyrburk December 13, 2006 at 8:08 pm #


    I think you are asking the wrong question. The question is how can women exercise their gifts faithfully and glorify God through their deference to the biblical teaching on headship.

    So, if I am a gifted female teacher, I should be most concerned with asking God to make me fruitful in teaching other females, my own children, etc. I’m not looking to find out how close I can get to line in the sand without stepping over it.


  30. bryanl1 December 13, 2006 at 8:38 pm #

    You said in #28,
    “Yet such an argument contradicts 1 Timothy 2:12-13, where Paul roots his prohibition in the pre-fall created order.”

    I think all it contradicts is your interpretation of what Paul says when he refers to Adam and Eve, and your belief that Paul is appealing to a pre-fall created order. Others (like Gordon Fee) interpret it as Paul using the Genesis story as an analogy that is relevant to the current situation going on in Ephesus that he is addressing.
    Also it’s not so evident that there was hierarchy in the pre-fall creation. And 1 Cor 15:28 doesn’t say anything about there being hierarchy among people much less men and women.


  31. Paul December 13, 2006 at 9:18 pm #


    I’m not necessarily wondering how close a woman can get to a line without crossing it. I’m more interested in finding out exactly where that line starts and ends. Which brings me again to questions of witnessing and the like.




  1. Subverting Mediocrity - December 7, 2006

    Women in Ministry…

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