Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Authority in the Church Beth Moore

Authorised and Gifted for Ministry

A while back, Bible teacher Beth Moore made this comment before she began teaching to a large audience where men were present:

“The gentlemen who had such courage to come into this place tonight . . . I do not desire to have any kind of authority over you.” (Source)

What bothers me about these words is that it shows that Beth has, what I consider to be, a mistaken view of the nature of spiritual authority. (N.B. You can read more recent statements from Beth Moore here.)

My understanding is that spiritual authority is the calling and gifting that God gives to a person, or group of people, to engage in a certain ministry. It is evident that God has given Beth Moore the spiritual authority for her ministry as a Bible teacher, and her ministry is a blessing for the church.[1]

Even though Beth has been authorised and commissioned by God to function as a Bible teacher, she does not have authority over men, nor does she have authority over women. Beth is influential but she does not have authority over anyone in her audiences or over anyone who uses her teaching materials.

In the New Testament, we read that Christian ministers, including leaders, are given ministry gifts (charismata) from God that enable them to function in ministry (Rom. 12:6-8). Christian ministers who have been truly authorised and gifted by God, like Beth Moore, similarly have a functional authority to engage in a certain ministry (or ministries), but that doesn’t mean that they have authority or power over another adult Christian.

Functional Authority, not Personal Power

It seems that many Christians are overly concerned with the issue of who has authority over another person. In particular, they are concerned about whether a woman can have authority over a man. I believe that the word and concept of “over” is the problem. I would be worried about any person, man or women, who wanted to have authority “over” another fellow believer.[2] And I would be worried about anyone who actually believed that they have some sort of God-given authority and power “over” another.

In the Greek, there is no word that means “over” in Bible verses that speak about ministry, including the ministries of leadership and teaching. Unfortunately, some English translations have added the word “over” in verses that are about authority (e.g., Heb. 13:17])[3] or seem to be about authority (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:12.)[4]

Perhaps the difference between having authority over another person and having an authority to function in a ministry is subtle, and the line between them may be blurry at times, but I think it is helpful to make the distinction. Importantly, no person, ministry leader or not, should ever impinge on another person’s ability to use their God-given free-will, or compel someone to act against their own conscience.[5]

Authority, Service, and Community

A church minister does not have authority over those he or she cares for. A minister does, however, have a responsibility towards them. But then again, every member of a church community has a responsibility concerning the well-being, love, and spiritual nurture of the church members. In fact, in the Bible we see that it is the church community as a whole that has authority to act and decide on matters, not just the senior ministers.

I think we need to get rid of the word “over” when we discuss authentic, godly leadership in the church, and instead have Jesus’ words on leadership at the forefront of our minds.

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over (katakourieuousin) them, and their high officials exercise authority over (katexousiazousin) them. Not so among you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slaves –just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:25-28

The authority to function as a minister is the commission to serve as a slave. Much has been said about “servant leadership,” yet many church leaders still seem too concerned about maintaining a position, a job, a level of status, and a level of control and clout, rather than working and serving alongside other community members.

Paul was very sure of his calling to ministry, and he wrote authoritative letters to churches, yet he did not assume that he had authority over individuals. In 2 Corinthians 1:24 we read that he did not want to lord it over the Christians in Corinth, rather he wanted to work together with them in a partnership.[6]

Conclusion

So who has an authority to function in a ministry? Anyone and everyone whom God has authorised, gifted and equipped for that ministry, whether that person is male or female.

In the church age, the Holy Spirit equips both men and women for ministry. In every New Testament passage that speaks about spiritual gifts, there is no gender distinction implied or stated, even for leadership and teaching gifts.[7] The Holy Spirit gives his gifts as he determines without apparent regard for gender (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4).

The authority to minister comes from God. It is an authorisation to engage in a certain ministry on his behalf.[8] Hopefully, the church recognises the gifting and calling from God in individuals, and allows, endorses, and encourages the ministry of these people.

The authorisation to minister is not an authority over another person, so the question about whether a woman can have authority over a man is largely irrelevant and shows a mistaken view of godly authority and ministry gifting.[9]

Footnotes

[1] I do not make an artificial distinction between certain types of church meetings. When Christians are gathered on any day of the week for the purpose of worship, teaching, practical service, or fellowship, etc, it is a church meeting. It doesn’t matter whether they are gathered in a hall, house, purpose-built sanctuary, or even outdoors.

[2] In a healthy and safe secular society, authority is limited. Politicians, policemen, teachers, employers, etc, have strict guidelines which limit their power. For example, the prime minister or president of a country may have authority as a legislator, but he or she does not have the legitimate power to personally compel a law-abiding citizen to do something that the person does not want to do. Much more could be said to refine and define this point, but I’ll leave it at this.

[3] For some reason many English translators have made a meal of Hebrews 13:17. The KJV translation of this verse is particularly strong, and wrong; the NIV isn’t completely accurate either. Huper with the genitive (as it is in the second half of this verse) typically means “on behalf of” or “for,” and not “over.” There is no “over” at all in the first half of Hebrews 13:17, or in any other verse about church leadership.

[4] The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not against a godly woman who has a legitimate authority from God for ministry. More on this here.

[5] When bad behaviour is a problem in a meeting or in another situation, it is not necessarily the job of the leaders to address this. Any member of the congregation can ask a person to behave or leave. Moreover, it seems that in New Testament churches, issues of church discipline were decided and implemented by the church community. The church community had the authority to decide who is part of their fellowship (koinonia).

[6] Partnership or fellowship (koinonia) is a word that often appears in his letter to the Philippians also. Paul regarded the Philippian Christians as partners with him. Paul referred to several ministers, including three women, as his co-workers (sunergoi): Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:6); Urbanus (Rom. 16:9); Timothy (Rom. 16:21); Titus (2 Cor. 8:23); Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Phil. 4:3); Aristarchus, Mark and Justus (Col. 4:10-11); Philemon (Philem. 1:1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Philem. 1:24). Paul shared his ministry.

[7] In the Greek, there is no hint in any of the verses which speak of spiritual gifts, including those of leadership and teaching, that they apply more to men than to women. On the contrary, every New Testament verse which speaks of spiritual gifts, manifestations or ministries is free of gender bias in the Greek: Acts 2:17-18; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 & 27-28; 1 Corinthians 14:26-33; Ephesians 4:11-12; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Peter 4:9-11. The verses which seem to restrict the ministry of women are few indeed.  [My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here and here.]

[8] Some people do not think that it is scriptural for women and men to minister in the church as equals because they have a conception of church and of ministry that is foreign to the New Testament. Contrary to what these people think,

Paul had a conception of the church as an organism in which Christ through the Spirit was constantly directing every member into ministerial service. . . Jesus is the par excellence apostle (Heb. 3:1), teacher (Mark 4:38), pastor (John 10:11; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4), episkopos (1 Pet, 2:25), minister (Rom. 15:8 cf. Mark 10:45), and all ministerial functions derive from his living presence in the church.
George Caird, The Apostolic Age (Duckworth, 1975), 150.

There is no evidence that women were excluded from any ministry in churches founded by Paul. (See my articles on Paul and Women here.)

[9] The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not against a godly woman who has a legitimate authority from God for ministry. More on this here.

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Related Articles

Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel
Unity and Equality in Ministry
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters

Wade Burleson takes a brief look at authority in the church and the history of the Greek word ekklēsia (“congregation/church”) in his article entitled Who’s the Boss at Your Church?  And in this video he takes a look at the word “over” (or the lack of it) in the Greek of Hebrews 13.

Postscript: May 3 2013

Here’s an image I saw on Facebook today that shows the difference between exercising authority over another person, or people, and having authority to function in ministry as a leader.

Authority in the Church

Postscript: May 3 2018

Beth Moore has written an important “Letter to my Brothers” that is a must-read.

62 thoughts on “Authority in the Church

  1. As I was looking around for exhortations to leaders and such, it seems to me that that there is a difference between exercising ministerial, directive leadership and authority “over” an individual. The meaning of proistemi has to do with standing before, which indicates some degree of management and guidance. I’ve always thought of it as steering, facilitating, such as one who has experience and direction from the Lord turning and calling others toward God. As well, guides such as a forest hiking guide direct not only through their experience and knowledge but because they have dedicated themselves to protect and serve the welfare of others.

    Good and complicated subject.

    1. Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth! Thanks for all you do!

  2. Also, Hebrews 13:7-8 and Heb. 13:17 bear considering.

    Neither the word rule or obey is in the Greek. Rather we have “remember those leading you” and follow or imitate their faith considering it’s outcome. IOW we have to look at the results of beliefs before giving our whole acceptance, if possible. The implication is to think of them with respect and honor and not fight against them.

    Verse 17 is something like Be willing to be persuaded and yield, because our leaders have devoted themselves obediently to God’s directives to serve you and we should not make that more difficult than it already is. We want them to enjoy serving us not have grief because if we cause them grief it is less profitable for us. We may miss out on the blessings God has for us through them.

    So, while Christian leaders don’t have the kind of authority that corporate owners exercise over employees, this does not negate a certain respect and honor that we are to give them along with a willingness to hear and consider what they have to say if we see that it works God’s goodness in their and other’s lives. So both leaders and those being led need to be submissive to each other, supporting, honoring, considering each other’s needs. Paul told the Roman believers to give Phoebe whatever she needed in order to do her job. Respect and support needs to go both ways.

    1. Exactly

  3. Thanks for your comments TL. It is a complex subject and my article doesn’t begin to address various related issues.

    Basically, I’ve just shared some of my thoughts on the nature of authority in the church and whether women have any.

    Any organisation, including a church of more than a couple of dozen people, needs leadership. Paul mentions church leadership in some of his letters. The inference in his letters is that New Testament churches were led by a group of ministers.

    The idea of a church being led by a solo minister with quite a lot of personal power came later. Ignatius (martyred c. 110) was among the first to push for churches to be led by a monarchical, male bishop, supported by male-only deacons and presbyters. He believed this structure of leadership was the best defence against the threat of false teachers. Sadly, he was persuasive, but not all churches used his structure.

    I fully agree that “both leaders and those being led need to be submissive to each other, supporting, honoring, considering each other’s needs.”

  4. Teamwork is the way to go IMO. But even in teamwork there is going to be one or two who God uses to steer. I would love to see a church with leaders in the fivefold ministries all contributing to the church with equal respect among them. It is interesting to note that each can be a preacher who preaches from their particular emphasis in calling. And the church body needs all the angles in order to be benefitted in every aspect of their lives.

    1. The people in a team God uses to “steer” will vary and move around if it’s really a team following Christ. If it’s the same people too much, run. That’s not healthy and will result in de-facfo one man rule even when everyone is insisting the team is equal. When one leads too much, others get lazy and dependant. Over -functioning teachers and leaders need to be trained to refuse to lead and encourage others to lead more when they see imbalance happening, just like parents perpetually encourage their kids to tackle as much as they can themselves from babyhood until death. Elders HAVE to work themselves out of a job just like parents because they will either move on in ministry or die someday.

  5. Thank you for writing this article on how leaders in the church have authority to go about the ministries God has given them rather than having authority over people. It took me a long time to realize this; in fact, it was just this summer that I left a church with an unhealthy view of authority (think John Bevere… his/my old church’s teachings were “cousins” of the shepherding/discipleship movement). I had been attending this church for years and just putting up with the hurt before realizing the errors in their doctrines and leaving. After I left, it took me months to come to terms with what had happened… Breaking out of the mindset I received from attending there and leaving that environment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I hope that those in churches that teach an unhealthy view of authority come across this article and give it an honest read.

  6. Sarah, the church my older son goes to uses the John Bevere DVD series about authority as the major part of their new members’ classes. (Or at least they used to.)

    I’ve tried to read a few John Bevere books. I’m sure he has some good things to say, but I can drive a truck through the holes in some of his arguments. The logic is poor, and the scriptures he uses to back some of his claims are so arbitrary at times. I’ve given up trying to read his books.

    I go to a church that has a very healthy view of church leadership. No solo alpha-male, vision-caster, but a team of men and women with varied gifts and personalities. Moreover, input from everyone in the church, about the direction and scope of ministry, is genuinely asked for.

  7. This article has produced some discussion, which is not surprising as some of the claims I make are not clear cut. As I said, “the difference between having authority over another person and having an authority to function in a ministry is subtle, and the line between them may be blurry at times.”

    One of the reasons I wrote this piece is because I believe some English translations of the New Testament are misleading in how they translate certain verses which are about authority (e.g. Hebrews 13:17), or seem to be about authority (e.g. 1 Tim 2:12). They have added the word “over” which complicates and skews the issues of church authority and women in ministry.

    The Greek does not say “authority over” in any New Testament verse about church authority.

    However, I am certainly not saying that churches shouldn’t have leaders, or that people shouldn’t exercise authority.

    I should add that Beth Moore’s teachings do not appeal to me personally, but I recognise that others are blessed by her ministry.

  8. Marg, I just want to thank you for this posting and for your blog in general. As a 65-year-old male, I am turning here and to Rachel Held Evans for a dose of common sense and insight as I struggle with misogynistic nonsense in my own church.

    I do not find the two concepts you mention to be very difficult to separate. One is authority over, the power to dominate and rule, which power must be obeyed or face some retribution. This is a very worldly concept, and nothing to do with the servant leadership of Christ.

    The other separate idea is “authorisation to do something”, which is the giving of permission or license. This is very consistent with the ideas of being gifted with certain charisma, being assessed by how those charisma work out in your own life and the lives of those around you, and having communal assent to fulfil a role such as teaching.

    And I entirely agree with you that an acknowledged gift which the community allows you to exercise (such as when we call a pastor) has nothing to do with legalistic domination.

    As a side note, special thanks for sharing your scholarship about Greek. That’s one aspect of theological study I regret missing out on.

    Blessings on your work. I look forward to the further exercise of your charism!

  9. Hi Peter, Thanks for your comment and encouraging words.

    You’ve explained the difference between exercising power and exercising functional authority better than me. 🙂

    Here is one of my favourite Greek words which, surprisingly (considering the topic), didn’t make it into the article: exousia. This word is common in the NT and is usually translated as authority, right, freedom, etc. I liken the meaning of exousia to having a driver’s licence. When you have a driver’s licence you have the authority, right and freedom to drive a vehicle on public roads.

    (As I’m sure you know, exousia is not the word used in 1 Tim 2:12.)

    1. I’m commenting in hope of confirmation, but if not that then correction. It must have been at least 20 years ago that I heard a sermon on Mt7 that included the etymology of exousia (out of + to be). So that when the crowds were amazed it was because there was integrity between his being and his message. His ideas were consistent with the life he’d lived and resonated with the crowd’s experiences and aspirations. The scribes, on the other hand, relied on the power intrinsic to their position. Jesus used his authority, his person, to issue an invitation to follow him, to be caught up in a new vision of what could be. In my understanding, any attempt to introduce some kind of power dynamic corrupts the invitation.

      1. Hello Grove,

        I can see why someone might think the etymology of ex-ousia is “out of” + “to be.” I haven’t thought about the etymology before, and I have a full day today. I’ll investigate this idea further when I have more time. Though I’ll quickly say that there are numerous Greek words we don’t know the etymology of and, also, etymology often doesn’t give a real sense of how a particular was actually used.

      2. Hi Grove,

        I’ve checked, and the etymology of exousia is ek (a prefix meaning “out from”) + eimi (the verb “to be”).

        The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ exousia (power/authority) but the etymology of the word doesn’t explain the difference between the authority of Jesus and the lesser authority of the Pharisees.

        I’ve written a few articles on verses where exousia is a keyword:
        https://margmowczko.com/tag/exousia/
        And there’s more here: https://biblehub.com/greek/1849.htm

  10. Hi Marg, thank you for this article. Do you have a bible verse for reference where NT churches are led by a group of ministers instead of a solo minister? I could google it, but just wondered if you have one that you think explains it particularly well?

    Also, just wondering, in regards to endnote 2, what do you make of authority in society in general? Is having a certain degree of authority “over” someone important, such as a parent to a child? School teachers to children? The subject is just confusing me a little bit.

    Thanks

  11. I think capable people should have authority over incapable, or less capable, people for the sake of their protection, education and nurture. These less capable people would include children, minors, people with a reduced mental capacity, and also criminals. When/if these people become capable or rehabilitated there is no longer a need for them to be under the authority of their protectors, teachers and keepers.

    I think very few New Testament churches if any, were led by a solo minister; however the owner of the house where church meetings were held would, in most circumstances, have had been one of the main ministers.

    The church in Antioch appears to have been led by a group of prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1). Paul addresses his letter to the Philippians to overseers/bishops (plural) and ministers/deacons (plural) (Phil 1:1). Titus is instructed by Paul to appoint elders (plural) in every town in Crete (Tit. 1:5). “Elders” and “overseers” seems to be used interchangeably in the New Testament letters (cf 1 Peter 5:1-3).

    Importantly, the authority of the church in New Testament times is given to the church as a whole, not just to the people who have leadership functions. Most of Paul’s letters are addressed to local churches as a whole (e.g. 1 Cor.1:2).

    The idea of a church being led by one overseer/bishop is plainly stated in the letters of Ignatius which were written at the beginning of the second century. From his letters we learn that Ignatius was himself the bishop of the church of Antioch, Onesimus was the bishop of the church at Ephesus, Polycarp was the bishop of the church at Smyrna, etc. However, these bishops had elders and deacons helping him. The roles of elders and deacons in the first and second century church were very different to the roles of elders and deacons today. These elders, and especially the deacons, were very active in important ministries.

    Ignatius advocated for the rule of bishops over their respective churches because he was worried about the influence of false teachers; he believed that if the church obeyed the bishop, the church would better stand against heresy.

    The threefold structure evident in the letters of Ignatius soon became permanent in the early church: (1) one bishop, (2) elders or priests, and (3) deacons. But the roles and functions of these ministry positions changed over time.

    I hope this helps. The issue is not clear cut.

  12. Could you recommend any books on the subject of authority in the church? Or leadership in the church?

    1. Hi Ashley, the only book I can think of is hard to get. I had to get it direct from the author.
      Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1989)

      If I think of others I’ll post the title in subsequent comments.

      1. You might want to listen to the talk by Dr Chris Forbes on this page on the topic of Professional Church Leadership: http://cbesydney.org.au/events/

  13. I see what you mean about that book being hard to find. Thank you for your suggestions.

  14. I was wondering if you had read Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the roots of our church practices?

    1. I read it ages ago, but can’t really remember it.
      I have “Reimagining the Church” by the same author.

  15. What did you think of reimagining the church?

    1. I’d have to look at it again to refresh my memory and make a meaningful comment. But I do remember that much of what he said resonated with me.

      I’ve got my head in so many books at the moment. I just don’t have time for another one right now. But I’ll try and look at it again in a week or two.

  16. “I would be worried about anyone who actually believed that they have some sort of God-given authority and power “over” another.”

    Like me, then, we have a lot to worry about ☺

    1. Hi – just came across this article – Difficult subject to digest in its entire reflection of scripture. Curious on your thoughts about who is to administer church discipline, admonish, rebuke, and make authoritative decisions about who is teaching what in regards to doctrine when the assembly meets. Said differently, doesn’t Paul, Peter and John admonish us to watch over the flock, o guard against heresy and false teaching? Who is to do that if there is no “over” authority?

      Looking to learn
      ep

      1. Hi Erik,

        It is a tricky subject, and I think it would have been a lot easier in New Testament times, when churches were housechurches, and the host(s), along with their housechurch, made decisions (guided by apostles and apostolic teaching) about which visiting teachers were welcome and which were not (cf. 2 John).

        According to the Corinthian letters, Paul seems to say that it is the church as a whole that administers church discipline. Along similar lines, his early letters (on a variety of issues) are primarily addressed to the church as a whole, not just to the leaders.

        Leaders are authorised to watch over and care for the flock, but I don’t believe that, in Jesus’ scheme, leaders have a greater authority over a fellow brother or sister than a Christian who is not especially authorised to watch over and care for the flock.

        In ideal situations, all of us watch out and care for our fellow members and doctrines are worked out in community. Leaders facilitate this.

        1. Thank you for the extra quick response.

          Was also curious how James 3:1 fits into this discussion on elders, authority, submission……since those who teach will be judged more harshly.
          It would seem that the positions or offices of deacon and elder are administrative, not only in church polity but also in doctrinal stalemates.

          Thoughts?

          1. James 3:1-12 is all about controlling the tongue, that is, controlling what we say. All of us have the power to bless and curse, to heal and to wound, but since the primary ministry of teachers is verbal (using the tongue), and since they have a recognised and authorised ministry as being teachers, they have more responsibility in how they control their tongues. They need to be more careful with what they say. Accordingly, they are warned that they will be judged more harshly. Still, others have to be careful about their speech as they will be judged also.

            All of us need to take special care with the responsibility and authorisation we have been given. But does this responsibility come with authority over another capable adult? In healthy relationships among Christian brothers and sisters, one person must never impinge on another person’s ability to freely make their own choices, especially on important matters. The other person must be free to accept, reject or ignore a teaching or directive.

            It certainly has been the practice of leaders in the higher echelons of Christian communities to formulate and agree on doctrines and policies, especially after the church became more centralised at the beginning of the fourth century. Though, this is changing. Nowadays, all interested Christians are increasingly able to have input in various discussions about doctrine and politics, as we are doing now.

            Let me add that not all churches had the same terminology or the same structures of leadership in the first and second centuries. Paul used various terms for ministers in a fairly fluid way, sometimes using several different terms for the one person, and he avoided using terms that denoted a top-down dynamic. The words he used most often for fellow ministers were (in descending order of frequency) “coworker (synergos), brother (adelphos) [or sister (adelphē) as in the cases of Phoebe and Apphia], minister (diakonos) and apostle (apostolos).”
            E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers”, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (eds) (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 183.

            Paul never names or identifies any person as a supervisor (episkopos) or elder (prebyteros), or as a pastor, for that matter. Though our current concepts of a pastor may be different to the pastors Paul envisaged in Ephesians 4:11. Our current concepts of an elder may also be different.

            Ignatius, writing in the early second century, regarded elders as having a supporting role in leadership, with the main work being done by only one supervisor/bishop per church and at least one deacon per church. Ignatius mentions by name the bishops of the churches he writes to, and he names many of the deacons, he only names two elders/presbyters in total. Ignatius depicts elders/prebyters (i.e. older people) as a faceless collective who seem to have acted mainly acted as consultants. For Ignatius, these three kinds of leaders–bishop, a group of presbyters, deacons–had an authority akin to the authority of God. This is not how Jesus and Paul envisaged leadership in the New Covenant community of God’s people.

            Elders in the New Testament churches, which included women, may or may not have functioned in similar ways as elders and presbyters today. The word presbyteroi (“elders”) is used in various ways in the NT letters. One thing that the word always means, however, is “older people.”

            There was not one standard or fixed pattern of terminology or of offices for church leadership in the first and second centuries.

            That’s not to say certain men and women didn’t have clout and authority in first-century churches, they did. And there is no doubt that leaders did use their authority in less than ideal ways. Nevertheless, I maintain that we are all brothers and sisters, and that none of us have a greater or lesser authority over another capable adult person. But we do have different functions and ministries to perform, ministries that we hopefully share with others. Doing ministry on your own is not the ideal, but that’s another story.

            Hebrews 13:17ff is a passage that some have read as supporting the idea that church leaders have an authority over people. (Note that a few verses in this passage are poorly translated in some versions.) I’m not so sure it does support the idea of “over”. But if it does, it does not represent the ideal Jesus spoke about or what Paul was hoping for. Either way, we need to be complying with ministers and cooperating with worthwhile ministries, and not working against them.

            I am in no way advocating for rebelliousness, even if church structures are not the ideal. But we can advocate for a change of thinking to a more level and participatory, rather than a hierarchical, model of ministry and leadership, where the words over and under have no place.

          2. Thanks again – good thoughts.

            I have often wondered if our 21st century hasn’t clouded a biblical understanding of submission. As believers we are to submit to the teaching of The Word. I Timothy 5. IIThes 5. Heb 13:17. It is very chic in 2018 to be egalitarian. Indeed the church in Acts shared all things in common, prayed, and broke bread together. However, the teaching of the scriptures was, (is) a gift, and special place of honor.

            Logically then, there are those in authority over us in the teaching of doctrine. Without that authority, the teachers words are vanity and without merit.

            It seems to me that all authority in heaven has been given from God. Further, that authority has been placed for the protection of the flock.

            Said differently, submitting to authority is an act of humility,….. just as Christ gave his life for the church, so to are we to submit to those who teach us.

            The question is, does an MDiv. give us that authority? I say not. It seems the local church should raise up and ordains teachers, and some should be sent, (evangel).
            I Timothy and Titus clearly give us qualifications for those who lead us in the teaching of the mysteries of the faith, and that authority should be submitted to, lest their be division in the body. However, we should all study and be on guard for false teachings.

            All this predicates on authority. Otherwise, if no-one has authority how can anyone correct, rebuke and reprove? The assembly would simply say “under what authority do you correct me in this teaching?”, and a dismembered body is the result.

            Still trying to understand…….

          3. I totally agree that our communities should be characterised by submission. Firstly, submission to God and his Word and, secondly, submission to one another. We need to remember what Jesus said about community, that ultimately we have one teacher and one Father and one leader/instructor, and we are all brothers and sisters, or even “students” (Matthew 23:8-12).

            Also, submission is not the opposite of having authority. We can choose to submit (i.e. humbly defer and acquiesce to) someone with no authority or power over us, and vice versa. This mutual submission is the aim in the Christian community. Submission and equal regard and treatment very well together.

            I believe teaching is important and only a few are authorised to a permanent function, or office, of teaching. My point isn’t that no one has authority. We all have authority in some regard. We each have a functional authority to perform certain ministries, but we do not have authority over another capable adult brother or sister. Furthermore, the church as a whole has authority and has been authorised for various missions and functions. These understandings facilitate the unity of the body, rather than dismember it.

            Moreover, though there are different ministries and functions, there should be no difference, whatsoever, in status or honour among our brothers and sisters. We need to give each other equal honour, which, according to Paul, means giving extra honour to people who seem unqualified for “honorable” ministries. We shouldn’t give the people already engaged in “honourable” and prominent ministries, or those holding “honourable” and prominent positions in the church, more honour than “the least of these” (1 Cor. 12:23). I write about this here: https://margmowczko.com/honour-for-underdogs-1-cor-12_12-31/

            Many churches really need to rethink how they are treating their leaders and how they honouring their members who are less qualified to lead.

            Also, anyone capable can correct, rebuke and reprove, and I imagine that oftentimes, the official leaders are not the best person to do this, rather, the person closest to the one who is going astray should do this. I have received correction (and encouragement) from certain brothers and sisters over the years and I have never asked them about their authority to do so.

            It seems we have different ideas about how the body of Christ should operate. It does involve authority and submission and honour, but it does not involve one person having personal power or authority over his or her brother or sister.

            And, of course, an M.Div cannot bestow authority. Only God can do that. The knowledge achieved through education is a tool; it’s part of the equipment of some ministers. It has no authority or authorisation in itself.

            I have been teaching for many years, and I have never thought once, not even for a split second, that I was over anyone, or that I had more authority than anyone else, or even that my role is more honourable than others. I am deeply grateful for all the gifts and abilities my brothers and sisters have. Each of us simply offers and does what they are gifted for depending on the present need and according to each situation.

            It is not a person’s position, or authority, over another person which determines whether their words are vanity and without merit, or worthwhile and credible. I must admit I do not understand this idea at all. Surely is the words themselves, and the character of the person saying them, that determines the level of merit.

          4. Thanks – good thoughts –
            I think we agree far more than not.
            I am not an advocate for any any expansive heirarchy in the church.’
            I am an advocate for authority in the church, so far as scriptural interpretation goes.
            I am an advocate for submission to authority.
            I am an advocate for elders and deacons, and only those qualified can hold those positions.
            I am an advocate for honoring, (doubly) those who teach.
            I believe only those qualified can teach, and only few should.
            But……having authority in scriptural matters necessarily means that the flock is “under” that authority.
            Christ is the head of the church.
            In 2018, submission and authority have become vulgar words.
            I believe the “church” is different from any other organization….ever.
            It is God’s vehicle or catalyst for his people. It is spiritual in nature, not a quasi-politcal entity, or any resemblence of democracy, nor should follow Robert’s Rules of order……..

            The church is not for unbelievers, seekers, philosophically minded…….it is for those who are already in the flock, those who have repented of their sins, self-described sinners saved by Grace, who desire to be with God’s people, pursue righteousness, become more like Christ through the reading of the Word, and look forward to His return together.

            “Holding fast to the word which was given to them” means someone has to know the word, and then be in charge of holding fast to it, lest anyone walk through the doors to change it. Which brings us back to leadership…….who is qualified to lead?

            Looking at the breath of scripture, it is clear that God is ordered, created an order, and it is in our best interest to follow that order. Part of that order can be found in the Old Testamment, and then echoed in the New. Any deviation from that order, may not be sinful, but is certainly not “the best” God wanted for us. He always wants what is best for us.

            We live in a fallen word. The church is to be separate from that fallen word. The church s to not follow the patterns and traditions of this world…………………..

            For example: I have a seven year old daughter. I learn from her everyday. She is under my authority. She has no authority in my church, yet folks who talk to her may learn deep spiritual truths from her. Her opinon is valued, yet she has no authority. I will not submit to her interpretation of scripture at this time should she and I have a disagreement over it. She is to be submissive to the authority over her, which means there is tremendous trust on her pat, and tremendous care and love from her authority. So to I must submit to my elders, who have authority in my church. They were given authority by the assembly to study scripture, because they met the qualifications of being an elder. If I cannot come to an agreement with them about scripture, and if I am unwilling to submit to their teaching, I should leave the church for the health of the body, as a last resort.

            I appreciate your conversation with me. I need to remember not to confuse leader style, personalities, and method with God’s format for his church order.

            Certainly not the papacy and other highly liturgical formats.

            Thanks again

          5. I think the words “authority” and “submission” are necessary and biblical, and not at all vulgar. Authority and submission are very much part of church life. It’s the words “over” and “under” that have no place in the body of Christ.

            We should cooperate with, and submit to, the authorised ministry of others; nevertheless, we are not children (unless we are seven-year-olds). We are brothers and sisters, and there is no hierarchy of personnel among siblings.

            I’ve appreciated our conversation too. 🙂

            P.S. “Double honour” is not the only interpretation of διπλῆς τιμῆς in 1 Timothy 5:17. See the NLT, HCSB/CSB, ISV, etc.

          6. Right – the seven year old example is however akin to those mature in the faith, and those who are “novices”. Each needs different teaching, support, encouragement etc. Chronological age is very different from spiritual maturity. Those needing “meat” can no longer survive on “milk”.
            We are cautioned not to put a novice believer in a position of authority Paul says, that they might become arrogant or puffed up. New believer should “sit at the feet”, so to speak of those more mature, learn from their wisdom which is gained through years with the Lord, and experience interacting in but not of this world, lest they fall into temptation.

            I like the idea of the concept that all have authority…………..but not sure how that functionally operates in a real body of believers assembly in a practical way, (i.e. someone has to say, “this is what we are studying today”, and “this is what I think the scriptures say on this matter”).

            Yes – thanks for the I Timothy reference. I have of late been troubled by the vast numbers of versions of the Bible being printed, dare I say, confusing the issues of church leadership with so called “up to date” language. “Head” and “source” as in I Corinthians 11:3. for example is all the rage and really changes things. What English translation or version of the Bible do you think is the most accurate to the textus receptus? My church at the moment is struggling with many of these issues.

          7. Hi Erik,

            You may be missing my point about functional authority. Authority does exist in the church. (I hope I’ve made that clear.) And, hopefully, everyone has it in some manner and to some degree. A new believer will not have much authority; nevertheless, a mature believer is not over him or her in regards to personal power.

            For example, we had a member of our church whose capacity was diminished due to excessive drug use, and he was not a mature believer. But he was authorised to control the computer attached to our overhead screen. He was in no way treated as a less-honourable, or less-honoured, person.

            The person who decides a topic of study, in your example, has the functional authority to do that (unless it’s a group decision) and other members voluntarily cooperate with that person’s decision. But the person who makes the decision, or even the person(s) who runs the study, does not have authority over the people doing the study, even the new Christians.

            Functional authority means that people do make decisions, they do perform authoritative ministries (or less authoritative ministries), they do run organisations. But in a healthy Christian community, only God has authority over another capable adult believer.

            A person must be able to have the freedom and the right to say no, to walk away, to have a different opinion, to disagree, with a fellow believer, even though the ideal is cooperation, deference and submission. But they cannot say no to God, or walk away from him, or have a different opinion and disagree with him, without real consequences.

            About 1 Timothy 5:17: it’s not the different English translations that are the issue. The noun timē, used in this verse, often means “price” and it often means “honour” in Greek literature within and outside of the New Testament. “Honorarium” is a good translation of this word.

            I read the New Testament in Greek, so the issue of translations doesn’t apply to me personally. I really don’t have a favourite translation, though I don’t believe the Textus Receptus is the best because it relied on the Codex Bezae for the book of Acts. The differences between the Textus Receptus and the most recent Nestle Aland Greek text really are negligible. I’ve written about the KJV here, and my preferred English translations here.

            Anyway, we need to be careful that we do not neglect to honour the people and the ministries that God sees as honourable and we mustn’t keep honouring the prominent people who are already honoured. This will lead to abnormalities and disease in the body. (In case you’re interested, I have written about Paul’s use of the word “head”, and there are several articles about it on this website.)

            I’m grateful that I have the freedom to use my functional authority but I hope I have never exercised any kind of authority over another person. When I have asked for their help, or I have given advice, or I have taught them, it has never been because I had authority over them.

          8. Hi Marg – after reading your public stances on these issues, I can now see why your logic leads to fear of the words “over” and “under”.

            1. I am sorry – we are farther apart than I realized.
            2. We are mishearing each other with the word authority as well. Again – do not confuse leadership styles with scriptural authority. I am not referring to a CEO, or aggressive communication style, or domineering leader. I am referring to ONE WHO HAS SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY TO TEACH…………..Simple question I would ask of you would be, “are you under the covering of your pastor”? (If you are an overseer, then even overseers have overseers from whom they are accountable and learn from). If so, then I am thankful. If not then Jesus was truly the founder of church communism, (as a friend of mine believes), with no teaching elders with more authority than others……
            I do not see that model in the new testament, and I do see biological sex roles, (gender has nothing to do with it)

            May God continue to move through the nations,……….. in spite of me.

            Good Day Marg –

            Erik

          9. I think we do have a different view of what constitutes legitimate or ideal authority in the church. My views have nothing to do with fear, however, but are derived from Jesus’ teachings on leadership and community. I don’t even understand why or how fear might be a factor.

            While I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “covering”, I’d say that I am not under any “covering” of the pastors of my church. There is no Bible verse that says pastors (or any other minister) provide a “covering” for other members. Nevertheless, I fully cooperate with my pastors and affirm and support their ministries and their authority, as they do mine. My pastors have a different authorisation to me but they are not over anyone.

            Perhaps the church as a whole provides some kind of “covering” or security, but each of us has a responsibility for our own actions, and each of us has a responsibility to care for and serve the church. Anyone can pray for and help another church member, spiritually and/or practically. Some people, however, are specially called and gifted to pastoral ministry and authorised for such ministry. We need to recognise that authority. But no single person, no matter how gifted, “covers” another capable adult person. We each have direct access to God. We do not need any other mediator or protector other than Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

            I still think you may be missing the distinction between functional authority and personal power. A minister at the top of hierarchical church structure can, and should, minister in such a way that they have no authority over another person, though this is not always the case. It certainly is not the case in some denominations and in some cultures. This is sad, because only God has that kind of authority and power.

            We have a derived authority as agents of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Spirit. We have an authority to act, it may even be an authority to lead, but it is not an abiding authority over a person. We mustn’t presume to take God’s place. Hierarchical governmental church structures are usually not the optimum system for a healthy body.

            It really is quite simple. We need to use our gifts and do what we are called and equipped to do without thinking that we are over someone, or that some people are under us. We are all at the same level. We are all brothers and sisters. There is no actual hierarchy in God’s scheme even though most churches choose to operate with one.

            I appreciate that you have been willing to think this through, even if we see things differently. 🙂

  17. Hi Marg 🙂 I a new reader to your blog and have found it very helpful. You mentioned in the article that the word over is not found in the Greek in Hebrews 13:17. I do not read Greek. I have recently been referring to the Interlinear in two different websites. When it Bible Hub and the other has Blue Letter Bible they both insert a Greek word for the word over. Can you explain this to me? I also find it interesting that both Interlinear texts differ regarding the word father/parent in Matthew 6. All of my biblical resources up until recently have been complementarian and I am trying to find new sources that are unbiased in their interpretations. I have recently switched from the ESV to the CSB. Any help you have in this regard as I reevaluate all of my beliefs would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Teri,

      Pleased to “meet” you.

      The Greek word huper (υπερ) occurs once in the Greek of Hebrews 13:17. Huper can mean “over” in certain situations but usually not when followed by a noun, or nouns, in the genitive case, which is the case of “your souls/lives” (των ψυχων υμων). I explain this briefly in endnote 3.

      But compromises are always made in translation, and “watch over your souls/lives” sounds better and more natural in English than “watch for your souls/lives” or “watch on behalf of your souls”. So I do understand this translation choice.

      The King James Bible, however, has another “over” in Hebrews 13:17, in the phrase “that have the rule over you”. This entire phrase is the KJV translation of one Greek word that means “leaders” (ηγουμενοι). I believe this is a very poor translation. Moreover, good Christian leaders do not “have the rule over” fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

      The Greek word for “father” occurs a few times in Matthew 6. Was there a particular verse you had a question about?

      I’ve written about my preferred Bible translations here: https://margmowczko.com/best-bible-translation/

  18. So how are you so easily dismissive of his teaching?

    1. Your question doesn’t make any sense. A quick look around my website will show you that I take Paul’s words very seriously.

  19. Let’s start again then. Question for you so I can understand your overall understanding of scripture.
    What would you say is the reason God made two distinct sexes?

    1. For procreation.
      Just as many other animals, and even some plants, have male and female, so do humans.
      The command to procreate is the first ever given to humanity. These are the very first words recorded in the Bible that God spoke to humans: “Be fruitful and increase in number . . .” (Genesis 1:28).

      1. It is interesting that Gen 1:28 is uttered BEFORE the creation of woman. I do not know what that means, except there was no suitable partner for Adam until woman was created.

        1. Genesis 1:28 was said to the men and women after they were created. (“Created” is a past tense word.) You need to read the text much, much more carefully!:
          “So God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them . . .”

          In Genesis 1, both male and female humans have the exact same status, the exact same authority/authorisation, and the exact same purpose. And God blessed both and spoke to both. More on this here.

          In response to your comment below, testicles are not needed to look out for the spiritual well-being of a loved one. Your concept of manhood and of personhood is too small. And no one wants you to be castrated.

          1. Metaphorical of course, not literal castration.
            Still waiting for your response to my question to you “Is God male”?

          2. Is God male?

            Jesus is male, but God the Father and the Holy Spirit are not. The first and third persons of the Trinity do not have sex or gender.
            https://margmowczko.com/is-god-male-or-masculine/

            I do realise you were speaking metaphorically about castration, but I am not: you don’t need testicles to care for someone spiritually.

            And on that note, I’ll finish this “conversation”.

  20. There are many more reasons God made humans to bear his image.
    But what other reason is there for being male and female?

    1. This is the mystery which I cannot explain except through the Word of God. In it I see a marked difference in the sexes which goes beyond biology. Adam was responsible for the actions of his wife. Eve was not responsible for the actions of her husband. This clearly shows who is going to be accountable to God in a family dynamic. Whether I like it or not, I am going to have to answer for my wife’s spiritual protection. To castrate males of this responsibility is not liberating for women, but dangerous.

      1. There is a difference between the sexes. This is not in dispute. But the reason for male and female is procreation. This biological difference, however, affects more than just procreation.

        Some of your observations of Genesis 3 are incorrect. Adam was not held responsible for Eve’s actions. He was responsible for his own actions.

        God questions Adam and Eve individually (e.g., Gen. 3:13). God holds each accountable for their own actions, and they each receive their own punishments.

        Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a husband has to answer for his wife’s spiritual protection. Nowhere. But we should look out for the spiritual well-being of those around us.

        The statements that you are making and are claiming are “clear” in Genesis 3 are not there at all. Please read the text again carefully.

        1. The Lord comes to Adam first in the garden.
          He does not come to Eve.
          In Romans, it is Adam who is mentioned by Paul in the fall, and not Eve, as in saying the buck stops with him.
          It is Adam The Lord gives the command to not eat of the tree of knowlege of Good and evil.
          He did not commmunicate this to Eve clearly enough, nor was he protective enough of her.
          He says to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife…………..”
          Adam WAS responsible for his wife’s actions.
          She was decieved.
          Adam was not.
          He knew what he did was wrong.
          Eve did not KNOW, she was deceived.
          She is the weaker vessel.
          She is accountable to her husband, her husband is accountable to God.
          She is not to teach. She is to be submissive to her husband for the sake of both their souls.
          Yes, there is more to the sexes than just biology. To castrate a males spiritual responsibility is not liberating for women….it only puts them in danger under the precepts of God.

          1. God does come to Eve and he speaks to her.

            Nowhere does it say that Eve is accountable to her husband. Eve is accountable to God.

            You’ve mashed a lot of verses and concepts in your comment. Some remarks you give soundly. Others are a little off and don’t take into consideration why Paul said what he said.

            Importantly, Genesis helps us to understand Paul’s comments, but it does not necessarily work the other way round. It is not wise to use Paul to understand Genesis. Genesis 1-3 needs to be read on its own terms. Paul often uses Old Testament examples, types, to make a point that was not necessarily the point in the original. For example, 1 Corinthians 10:3-4.

  21. The authorisation to minister is not an authority over another person, so the question about whether a woman can have authority over a man is largely irrelevant and shows a mistaken view of godly authority and ministry gifting.[9]

    I have been saying this for years and am so glad to see a scholarly articulate person saying it too. That if people gave up ungodly ideas about authority and position, the woman question would largely go away.

    What crazy pushback you got about this. Erik doesn’t realize that he is reasoning exactly like a Catholic. I have a theologically trained Facebook friend who recently converted to Catholicism who uses the same arguments. They believe the apostles authorized them to interpret scripture correctly so everyone needs to submit to their teaching. There isn’t even a command in the NT to “teach scripture” though I’m sure they did. Today every believer in the Western world has access to completed Bibles and virtually unlimited Bible study resources and teaching. We are not in the same position as 1st century believers. Yet we prove over and over that we need more than head knowledge to be the healthy Body of Christ.

    1. Also wanted to say I have learned tons thru Frank Viola and his coworkers who I know personally. Also various unconnected missionaries have leaned by experience similar truths. People like Erik need to sit in healthy church life for a while in order to understand. Some things you have to experience to understand. Otherwise it’s like trying to describe a rainbow to a blind man. I have experienced these things for 40 years off and on. It really helps to understand the NT when you are living like them. But I have sat in a class where an elderly missionary was trying to teach these things {which he had learned on the field and practiced for years there and in America) to younger missionaries and all they did was argue with him that open meetings and non- heirachy would never work.

      1. LOL. Yeah Eric had a difficult time getting his head around the idea that the authorisation or responsibility to minister is not an authority or power over another capable brother or sister in Christ.

        Jesus never tells the Twelve that they are leaders or that they must lead, but in Matthew 28:18-20 he does tell them to teach. And Jesus’s words to Peter in John 21:15 to “feed my lambs” may well mean “teach new believers.”

        In Acts, the Twelve are described as teaching, but I have no doubt some women were also teaching. Here’s are two excerpts from a book chapter I’ve just written.

        “The apostles were proclaiming the gospel, teaching new believers, healing people, and performing miracles. They were meeting daily with the community of believers, the church, in the temple courts and in homes (Acts 2:42-46; 5:42).”

        “Luke tells the stories of only some people in the Jerusalem church. He does not tell us about the activities of Mary the mother of Jesus or of Mary Magdalene or Joanna, for example, yet we can assume they were doing some of the same things that the men were doing.”

        Did you see that I mention Frank Viola in a postscript?

        You might like this article about the job description of Jesus’ apostles: https://margmowczko.com/jesus-apostles-servants-witnesses-and-a-shepherd/

  22. I recently discovered your website and it’s been helping me a lot with my deconstruction. I greatly appreciate your genuine pursuit of the truth rather than an agenda and your gentle-but-firm, reasonable, non-snarky tone. So many who disagree with the white church establishment, particularly in the US, lack this grace and character. Thank you for your ministry 🙂

    The resource you linked to by Frank Viola is unavailable because it’s been turned into part of a book that’s no longer in print. Do you know of another way to access it or another resource that explains these ideas? Thank you!

    1. Hi Hannah, I’m so glad my website is helpful to you. And thanks for letting me know about the linked resource. (I’ve just now removed the link.) I don’t know how to access Frank’s article/chapter.

    2. Your best bet would be Frank’s book Reimagining Church which is widely available both used and new. It is a fantastic resource and deals with autbority. Also I would peruse his extensive blog, and the website of his friend Jon Zens who has a doctorate and has been writing on the same things for 50 years. Jon also has some wonderful books including 58 to 0, How Christ Leads thru the One Anothers, and What’s With Paul and Women. I know these guys personally and they are very wonderful people.

      Our answer to your question would be that Christ retains His authority over the church personally – He doesn’t delegate it to a pope, bishop, denomination or pastor. And since He indwells each of us we share authority and leadership and service in the church. Anything else is really a deistic philosophy — Christ left and we run things without Him now, instead of Him directly leading now.The NT records consensus decision making and teamwork and not hierarchy, as people discern together what the Lord is speaking to His Body.

  23. Wonderful article and just what I needed in my studies today 🙂 Thank you!

  24. I think I found the answer to why the references to Adam and Eve…https://engagingtruthministries.com/the-truth-about-women-in-ministry-examining-paul/

    1. I like how the author of this article has laid out information about certain texts of 1 Corinthians 14, but there is zero ancient evidence that the devotees of the Ephesian Artemis believed that Eve was the source of Adam’s life. There is no record of Adam and Eve in any surviving ancient document of any kind associated with the cult of Artemis Ephesia.

      Eve as the source of Adam’s life and Adam as the transgressor are gnostic ideas, not “doctrines” of the Ephesian Artemis.
      https://margmowczko.com/adam-and-eve-in-gnostic-literature/

      Unfortunately, there are a few ideas about Artemis that are often repeated but that are not based on any evidence. There is also no evidence Artemis was a fertility goddess in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
      https://margmowczko.com/regalia-artemis-ephesia/

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