Who is qualified for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

Many Christians acknowledge that spiritual gifts are given to both men and to women, and that these gifts are vital requirements and qualifications for ministry. Many Christians also acknowledge that Christian leaders need to be respectable people who meet certain moral standards and qualifications (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-6; Tit. 1:6-8). But still further qualifications are required for those who want to be equipped for “every good work”, as Paul put it (i.e. good and noble work without constraints or artificial limits).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 speaks about one such qualification for ministry. Here’s my paraphrase:

All scripture is divinely inspired and invaluable for teaching doctrine, for refuting error, for correcting fault, for training in justice (or righteousness), so that the man or woman of God may be fully qualified,[1] being fully equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

These verses show that a thorough knowledge of the scriptures is an important qualification for a ministry which includes a variety of “good works”. What struck me, however, is that these verses, like other New Testament verses about ministry, are not gender specific.[2]

The Man or Woman of God—2 Timothy 3:17

While Paul, no doubt, had Timothy in mind when he wrote verses 16 and 17, he does not address Timothy directly. Instead, Paul speaks about “the person of God” (ho tou theou anthrōpos) in the third person. (This phrase has traditionally been translated into English as “the man of God”, but it can also be translated accurately as “the person of God”.) There is no real reason to think that Paul was limiting the principles in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to Timothy alone, or only to men.

Reliable Men and Women—2 Timothy 2:2

Perhaps Paul also had in mind the people who Timothy was to train for teaching ministries. In the previous chapter Paul had written: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust ‘to reliable people’ (pistois anthrōpois) who will also be qualified[3] to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Being reliable and having a good handle on apostolic teaching are two more qualifications for Christian ministry.

It was the knowledge of Jewish sacred literature that had helped Timothy to find salvation in Messiah Jesus. And a knowledge of these scriptures, as well as apostolic teaching, were vital to Timothy’s current ministry. While stationed in Ephesus, Timothy was surrounded by pagan and profane influences outside the church, but also inside the church. So it was vital that he discern between good and bad teaching, between the sacred and profane.

Christians today are bombarded with a multitude of teachings, philosophies, and ideologies. Perhaps more than ever we need ministers in the church who are qualified by their thorough knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, correctly interpreted. Along with spiritual gifts and certain moral qualities, it is this knowledge of Holy Scripture that qualifies and equips a minister for “every good work”.

A Qualified Woman of God in the Ephesus

Not all Christians are convinced that the New Testament teaches that women can be ministry leaders. So what happens today if a woman ticks all the qualification boxes as, in fact, some do? Do we ignore their knowledge of scripture, their spiritual gifts, their exemplary morality, just because they are female? Do we hinder or bar them from the good works they are qualified and equipped for? . . . that they are called to?

Paul did not ignore the women who were qualified for ministry. At the close of his letter, in his final greetings to Timothy, he sends greetings to Prisca and Aquila, and the house of Onesiphorus, in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19). Notably, Prisca’s name is listed first.[4]

Prisca, also known as Priscilla, was a close friend of Paul and a ministry colleague (Rom. 16:3-5). She knew the scriptures, as well as apostolic teaching and doctrine (Acts 18:26); she and her husband taught doctrine to Apollos and corrected a fault in his teaching (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). Prisca had spiritual gifts and discernment; and, no doubt, was a respected person with high morals. Prisca was a woman of God, equipped for every good work, and she and her husband led a house church in Ephesus. Paul did not hinder Prisca or the many other godly women who were ministers in the churches he founded. He valued them and their work.

Paul wrote 2 Timothy, with all its instructions, encouragements and warnings, while Prisca was a leading minister in Ephesus. What a pity there are no surviving letters from Paul written to her.[5]


Endnotes

[1] The Greek word which I’ve translated as “fully qualified” is the adjective artios. BDAG gives the definition of artios as “pertaining to be well fitted for some function, complete, capable, proficient = able to meet all demands”.  (p. 136)
The Greek word which I’ve translated as “fully equipped” is a participle related to artios. (The participle is built on the verb exartizō.)

[2] 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 are about curbing bad behaviour from certain women. They are not about silencing godly teaching from qualified women.

[3] The Greek word which I’ve translated as “be qualified” is the plural adjective hikanoi. The second definition BDAG gives for this adjective is “pertaining to meeting a standard, fit, appropriate, competent, qualified, able with the connotation worthy, good enough . . .” (p. 472)

[4] Paul also passes on a greeting to Timothy from a woman called Claudia (2 Tim. 4:20).

[5] There is some speculation that the New Testament letter to the Hebrews was written by Prisca.


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At Home with Priscilla and Aquila
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos? 
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Can a woman be a pastor? Yes or no?
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender?
Paul’s Qualifications for Ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-6)
Equality and Unity in Ministry (1 Corinthians 12)