Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

man of God, 2 Timothy 2.2, faithful men, 2 Timothy 3.16, priscilla

Many Christians acknowledge that spiritual gifts are given to men and to women, and that these gifts are vital requirements and qualifications for ministry (e.g., Acts 2:17-18; Rom. 12:6-8). 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). Still, further qualifications are required, however, for ministers who want to be equipped for “every good work,” as Paul put it.

The Man or Woman of God (2 Timothy 3:17)

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, being fully equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17[1]

These verses show that a thorough knowledge of the scriptures[2] is an important qualification for a ministry that 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 in the Greek.[3]

While Paul, no doubt, had Timothy in mind when he wrote verses 16-17, he does not address Timothy directly. Instead, Paul speaks about “the person of God” (o 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.” Paul was not necessarily limiting the principles in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to Timothy alone or to men alone.

Reliable Men and Women (2 Timothy 2:2)

Perhaps Paul had in mind the people who Timothy was to train to be teachers. In the previous chapter of his letter, Paul had written, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust (paratithēmi)[4] to reliable/ faithful people (pistois anthrōpois) who will also be qualified (ikanoi)[5] to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Having a good handle on apostolic teaching and being reliable, or faithful, 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. A knowledge of these scriptures and of Paul’s apostolic teaching was 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.

Christians today are bombarded with a multitude of teachings, philosophies, and ideologies. Perhaps more than ever we need ministers who are qualified by their understanding of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) and also the New Testament. 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 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 character and 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 women who were qualified for ministry. At the close of his letter, in his final greeting to Timothy, Paul sends greetings to Prisca and Aquila, and to the house of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 4:19). Notably, Prisca’s name is listed first. Prisca’s name is also first in the long list of Christians who Paul greets in Romans 16:3-16. First!

Prisca, also known as Priscilla, was a close friend of Paul and one of his ministry colleagues (Rom. 16:3-5). She knew the Jewish scriptures, as well as apostolic teaching and doctrine—she and her husband corrected a fault in the doctrine of Apollos who was himself a teacher (Acts 18:26; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). It is likely 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 and, later, in Rome.

Paul did not hinder Prisca or the other godly women who were ministers in the churches he was associated with. He valued them and their work for the gospel. Paul wrote 2 Timothy, with all its instructions, encouragements, and warnings, while Prisca was seemingly a leading minister in Ephesus. What a pity there are no surviving letters from Paul written to her.[6]

Footnotes

[1] The Greek word 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”.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, (BDAG) revised and edited by F.W Danker, s.v. ἄρτιος, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 136.
The Greek word that I’ve translated as “fully equipped” is a participle related to artios. (The participle is built on the verb exartizō.)

[2] At the time 2 Timothy was written, the New Testament had not yet been compiled. The Greek Old Testament is the scriptures referred to in 2 Timothy 3:16. Moreover, Paul seems to give credit to Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois, for his education in the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-15).

[3] 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. More on these verses here and here.

[4] The verb “entrust” (paratithēmi) is related to the noun parathēkē which Paul uses for the “deposit held in trust” that he has been entrusted with and the “deposit held in trust” he has entrusted to Timothy. This deposit is the sound message of the gospel.

Timothy, guard ‘what has been entrusted’ (parathēkē) to you, avoiding irreverent and empty speech and contradictions from what is falsely called knowledge. By professing it, some people have departed from the faith. 1 Timothy 6:19-20 (CSB)

I am persuaded that he is able to guard ‘what has been entrusted’ (parathēkē) to me until that day. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good ‘deposit’ (parathēkē) through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1:12-14 (CSB).

[5] The Greek word that I’ve translated as “be qualified” is the plural adjective ikanoi. 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 …” Bauer and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. ἱκανός, 472.

[5] There is some speculation that the New Testament letter to the Hebrews was written by Prisca. However, the author remains unknown.

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6 thoughts on “Qualified for Every Good Work (2 Tim. 2:2; 3:16-17)

  1. Thank you for a very interesting article, Marg. Being a month into my first serious attempt at reading the whole Bible in one year, I found a lot of encouragement in what you wrote about 2 Tim 3:16-17.

    Also, being a bit of a language geek, I enjoy comparing different Bible translations, and I’m particularly intrigued the differences in nuance between my native Swedish and English. Since you mention in your article that the original Greek isn’t gender specific, I thought you might be interested to know how the two main Swedish Bible translations handle 2 Tim 3:16-17. One uses the phrase “den som tillhör Gud”, which means “the person who belongs to God”. The other translation uses the word “gudsmänniskan”, that is, “the person (lit. ‘human’) of God”. The word is constructed in the same way as “the man of God” (Swe. “gudsmannen”) found in for example 1 Kings 13:14.

    Grace and peace.

    1. Thank you so much for telling me how the verses are translated in Swedish. Could it be that some of the main English translations favour tradition over accuracy?

      The English NRSV is more gender inclusive than several other English translations: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And “. . . . what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Tim 2:2).

      The NIV 2011 and a few newer translations are also fair in their translations of these verses when compared with the NKJV, ESV, HCSB, Berean Literal Bible, and most older English translations.

      1. I think your hypothesis of tradition over accuracy is probably valid, sadly. Just out of curiosity, I dug out some older Swedish Bible translations (published 1873 and 1917, respectively) and both use the gender neutral “människa” (= person, human) in both 2 Tim 2:2 and 2 Tim 3:17. Like many languages, Swedish sometimes uses a grammatical gender, mainly in Writing, which is usually masculine. Generally, this means applying a male pronoun in the singular when giving general examples or instructions, even though the situation could be practically applied to either men or women. There is, however, one curious exception and that’s when referring to humanity, or specifically the word “människa”. This can make for some interesting reading, linguistically speaking. The first example that comes to mind is Matthew 16:24,26 (my painfully literal translation): “If someone wants to follow me, he is to deny himself and take his cross and follow me […] For how does it help a human if she gains the whole world but loses her soul?”

        Also, thank you for recommending the NRSV. It’s not a translation I’m very familiar with, but I Think I’ll look into it. I like the NIV 2011’s consistent use of the singular “they”.

        1. Interesting.

          I’m a fan of the singular (gender neutral) “they”.

  2. Marg, thank you for this article. Can you add a comment or footnote about the meanings and translations of the words anthrōpos and anthrōpois?

    1. Hi Bob,

      Anthrōpos is a noun which means “human being”. It is singular, masculine, and in the nominative (or, subject) case.

      Anthrōpois is the plural of anthrōpos. It is also masculine but in the dative case. Datives often function as indirect objects in sentences. Anthrōpois can be translated as “to/for/by people”, hence pistois anthrōpois means “to reliable/faithful people” in 2 Timothy 2:2.

      Even though both nouns for “person/s” are grammatically masculine in 2 Tim. 2:2 and 2 Tim. 3:17, it does not follow that these verses are only referring to men. Grammatical gender often has no bearing on the actual sex of the person/s being spoken about.

      For example, John 3:16 is written with a masculine adjective, article and participle, which can be translated as “everyone who is believing/trusting”. This verse applies to everyone, both men and women.

      Another example about grammatical gender: I was reading about Jesus’ baptism yesterday, and it mentions “a voice from the heavens saying . . .” (Matt. 3:3) The Greek word for “voice” and the participle for “saying” are feminine. Nevertheless God has no actual gender, and neither has his voice.

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