Michael Bird

I have a few posts on this website about women Bible scholars, translators, and commentators and how the acceptance (or rejection) of these women and their ministries varies widely among complementarians. The acceptance and even the endorsement of women scholars and teachers by some complementarians seems to contradict their basic stance that a woman cannot teach a man. This stance is typically based on one verse, 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul says that he is not allowing a woman to teach or “to usurp authority” of a man.[1] 1 Timothy 2:12 has become the sticking point for many Christians on the topic of women in ministry and is widely used to keep women out of influential teaching ministries in churches.

Australian scholar Michael Bird recently published an ebook in which he discusses the issue of women in ministry. He has a paragraph on the discrepancies between the ideology and practice of some complementarians who allow women to lead and teach men in some situations. Here’s what he says:

As to the complementarian and egalitarian application of this text [1 Timothy 2:12], I am going to try to thread an exegetical needle between them. I think it is worth pointing out that complementarians themselves qualify or tone down the full implications of their view, and herein is the weakness of their position. For example, some complementarians allow a woman to teach men indirectly through books, radio, and websites but will not permit them to teach men in person. A woman can write a commentary on Hebrews to be read by men but cannot preach or teach men on Hebrews. A woman can be president, a prime minister, a CEO, a general, or a police officer, but she cannot serve as a pastor.  A woman can teach men French or piano lessons but not the Bible or theology. A woman can teach Bible and doctrine to unbelieving men but not to Christian men. The problem I have here is that some complementarians appeal to Genesis and the order of creation to show that it is inherently wrong for a woman to be in a position of authority over a man, and yet they only apply that restriction to church life or Sunday worship.  But that is like saying that it is okay for someone to commit adultery as long as they do not do it on Sunday or in the church auditorium. Or it is like saying that it is okay to commit adultery as long as you do it with an unbeliever. If it is such a clear violation of God’s ordering of creation for a woman to have authority over a man, then this should apply to all spheres of life whether it is business, government, politics, civil service, or church because God is sovereign over all institutions, and all of life is lived before God and under God. (Italics added.)

Michael F. Bird (2012-12-25) Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry) (Kindle Locations 516-526) The ebook can be purchased here.

What do you think of Michael’s statements?


[1] The precise sense of the Greek word authentein, which is translated as “to usurp authority” in the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:12, is uncertain. I have written about authentein in a technical article here and in a short, simple article here. Other challenges involving the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 are discussed here.

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Related Articles

All articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
1 Timothy 2:12, the created order, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
Women, Teaching and Deception
Women Bible Scholars and Translators in the Church
Complementarians and Women Bible Commentators
Authority in the Church