Why I Write: For the First Time, Women Are Less Religious Than Men

I haven’t been posting much on my blog lately, partly because I’ve been working on some other writing projects but also because I’ve taken a position at my church as the executive pastor. But recently Christianity Today came out with a report that explains why I write, why I believe God has called me to throw my hat in the ring with so many others who are discussing what the Bible does and does not say about women.

“With Gen Z, Women Are No Longer More Religious than Men” details recent research demonstrating that the differing rates of religious involvement for men and women in the United States, which previously has always shown higher rates among women, has reversed in younger generations. It is no surprise that compared to previous generations there are more nones (who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular) among all Gen Zers (women and men). The startling fact is that this is the first generation in which women nones outnumber men.

Historically, about 5 percent more American women than men have reported holding some form of religious belief. This still holds true for Americans over the age of 50 but begins to flip as we come to younger Americans. The lines meet somewhere around age 35, and by the time we get to 20-year-olds, it is men who are about 5 percent more likely to be religious than women, at least in the population as a whole.

This shift has occurred primarily among White non-Hispanics, where the discrepancy is greater than 5 percent. Among young Asians and Hispanics, women remain more religious than men; among Gen Z Blacks, women are slightly less religious than men. But when it comes to young Whites, women are significantly less likely to adhere to any faith, lagging behind men by 9 percentage points.

Traditionally, there has been an even wider gap in church attendance. In evangelical churches, on average, women have comprised about 60 percent of people in pews. Once again, this still holds true for older generations but has reversed among those under 40. 

For the over 70 crowd, men are about 8 percent more likely than women to report that they never attend church. Among those under 20, however, women are some 3 percent more likely never to attend. Also, while Gen Z men are slightly more likely to attend religious services than men over 70, Gen Z women are about 6 percent less likely to go to church than their older counterparts. 

Reading these stats transported me back to a conversation I had with a council member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood a few years ago. When I suggested that evangelical women were struggling with the way their identity and place in the church has been presented, he quickly responded, “Women are fine. It’s men who need help.” He went on to cite various statistics demonstrating that women are doing much better than men.

It is true that women are pursuing college education at higher rates, graduating more often, advancing more professionally, and earning more than they used to. Women have also adjusted more easily to a modern economy that no longer provides as many employment opportunities in traditionally male occupations, such as manufacturing and mining. 

This has resulted in some of the lowest employment rates for men that the United States has ever seen, with only some 70 percent of men in the workforce compared to 85 percent in the mid twentieth century.[1] It has also resulted in women in their 20s outpacing men in earning power. In addition, men report higher rates of various addictions, from substance abuse to online gaming,[2] suffer “higher poverty rates than their counterparts 40 years ago,”[3] and are much more likely than women to live with their parents in their 20s and 30s. Clearly, men face significant challenges in America today.

Yet none of the issues facing men is causing them to leave the church in droves. In fact, if there is any connection between cultural issues and men’s involvement in religious activity, it may be that these challenges are having the opposite effect, pushing men toward faith rather than away from it. As I mentioned earlier it is interesting, in a world where adherence to any type of belief system is decreasing, that Gen Z men are slightly more likely to attend religious services than their counterparts over 70.

What I tried to explain to the CBMW council member that day was that the unique challenges men and women face arise from different sources. Men, and perhaps White men in particular, are facing new hurdles in the outside world, as detailed above. But women, and perhaps uniquely White women, are facing a situation within the church that is prompting them to step out for good.

The question is this: Why are women, who historically and across the globe have been more religious, leaving the church and even the faith in such high numbers?

I can only answer that question anecdotally. From my experience, the driving motivation is that women, especially younger women, do not feel as respected in the church as they do in society at large. In today’s world women can aspire to any profession and any position. Their agency as decision-makers in the public arena is affirmed. In most cases, women are treated as just as intelligent and capable as men, if not more so.

Then these women go to church and are taught that the woman was created second because women need guidance, because women need leadership from a man. They are told women were created to follow and support, but not lead, and that the essence of a woman’s identity is submission. They are trained to believe they must listen to and learn from men who may never take the time to listen to and learn from women. 

And though they have spent decades or years or days loving the God of the Bible, they begin to wonder if he’s truly good. For how could he be good if he created one sex to rule the other, one sex to be listened to and one to listen, one sex to command and the other to obey? And yet that is apparently what the Bible itself teaches about this God of Creation, this Ruler of the Universe, this Lover of their souls, at least according to what they have heard at church.

These women don’t need a pep talk, they don’t need to be patronized by those who laud the wonders of the hierarchical ordering of male and female, and they don’t need a sort of aggrandized, paternalistic “protection” from men who are neither their fathers nor their bodyguards nor the cop on the beat.

What they need are answers rooted in scripture, a believable explanation of the text that makes sense, that is faithful to the ancient historical context, that relies on the text as written and doesn’t add or subtract words here or there to prove that the “plain” sense is truly plain,[4] that doesn’t jump to modern conclusions in a modern context about what some or other passage must mean.[5]

And they need to know their value, they need to know God loves them and that he created women, just like men, to participate in the ruling and subduing of this little planet for his glory, and that it brings him honor when they do so.

This, my friends, is why I write.


Image byJack Sharp on Unsplash.

[1] The male civilian labor participation rate was some 85 percent in the 1950’s but so far this year (2022) it has hovered around 70 percent.

[2] According to Andrew L. Yarrow, a senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute, twice as many men as women report being hardcore gamers. See his “Why Progressives Should Stop Avoiding Men’s Issues” in the Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Many translations add “a sign of” or “a symbol of” before the word “authority” in 1 Cor. 11:10. Also, “she” has often been changed to “women” in the first half of 1 Tim. 2:15, giving the impression that the “they” in the second part of the verse refers to women, which is not at all apparent from the original wording. The updated ESV also has also changed “your desire shall be to your husband” to “your desire will be contrary to your husband,” based on an understanding of Gen. 4:7. 

[5] An example here would be that because the Bible emphasizes the submission of wives to husbands (though it demands the mutual submission of all believers), Christian marriage must be arranged hierarchically, with one person (the husband) holding personal and absolute authority over another (the wife). The error here is the same as assuming that because the Bible enjoins obedience of slaves to masters and citizens to emperors, we must arrange our employment and government systems hierarchically, with one person (master, emperor, king) holding personal and absolute authority over another (slave, citizen). But very few people believe that. Mostly, we know that systems where power is shared are more in line with principles of Scripture than those that grant absolute authority to one individual. So we have employment systems based on contracts and laws and government by rule of law rather by the personal power of one or even a few individuals. For more on this, see my article “Rethinking Christian Marriage.”

So Yes, I Do Want Authority

There’s a lot of talk about authority in Christian circles these days – who has it, who does not, who should, who should not. It has become a dividing line between truth and error, solid ground and slippery slope, particularly when it comes to who holds authority in the church and in the home. 

Presuming what Jesus, Peter, and Paul really meant when it comes to men and women and womanhood and manhood, authority has become a line in the sand, the rails that tell us who grew up on the right side of the tracks and who still hangs out on the wrong, who is in and who is out, who deserves admiration and respect, who is worthy of heartfelt love, and who deserves nothing but scorn. 

More than anything, conceptions of authority govern who speaks and who is silent, who leads and who follows, who decides and who agrees. In extreme cases, authority grants one Christian the right to tell another she must not leave her violent husband. In more run-of-the-mill scenarios, authority justifies affixing “unbiblical” to a union where the husband listens to his wife as much as she listens to him, where responsibility, decision-making, and initiative are shared, where the hopes and dreams of both are equally cherished. 

On both sides of the deck beliefs about who has authority, how authority functions, and who may sit in official positions of authority define the limits of the pool.

I doubt that Jesus is happy about this. We are so often at odds, divided, devouring one another in our quarrel over authority. It must grieve his heart. 

Sometimes I simply want to bow out of the fight. 

Yet now, unexpectedly, I can’t. I’ve been launched into a position of authority so, like it or not, the battle has invaded my peace. 

My role is a supporting one.[1] Still, it entails a title, a platform, and includes leading, directing, teaching, and preaching. There is value in this positional authority, in the authority granted by a community of believers to those entrusted with oversight. We need structure. We need to know where to turn, whom to ask, what to follow. Someone, or some ones, need to bring focus, clarity, protection. 

I do see that.

But what I want to tell you is that the authority established by humans, the authority associated with a role, a position, or a title, is not important to me. It’s not been something I have looked for, desired, or run after. 

The authority I care about is the authority Jesus grants, the authority he demonstrated on a daily basis, the authority that sets people free. I want the authority that comes through humility, service, faith, love, pure-heartedness, and compassion, the authority that comes from walking with Jesus.

Jesus healed the sick, set demoniacs free, raised the dead, and forgave sinners. The crowds were amazed because Jesus spoke with authority – unlike the elite, those teachers of the law who whipped up so much batter about their positions of authority while their words fell flat as pancakes.

One day Jesus encountered two wildly violent demon-possessed men and set them free with a word. The demons jumped into a herd of pigs, cascaded them off a cliff, and the townspeople asked Jesus to hit the road.

Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (Matt. 8:34)

Jesus’s authority was way too much for the town, too dangerous, too uncontrollable.

The religious leaders were infuriated with Jesus, asking by what authority he went around doing so much good. Who did Jesus think he was, restoring a man’s hand on the Sabbath? Who did he think he was, forgiving sins, driving out demons, raising a girl from the dead? Who gave this interloper from the wrong side of the tracks the right, the authority, to do any of this?

Yet all their scurrying about, their flying accusations and whispered conspiracies could not stop Jesus. Their claims to power, their fantasies of control, could never hinder Jesus from doing what he was put on this earth to do. 

And that’s just it. You can’t control real authority, the authority backed by the power of God, no matter how hard you try. You can say it’s unauthorized and refuse to permit it in your circles, but you can’t control it.

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …After this the Lord appointed seventy-two and sent them two by two…. (Luke 9:1-2; 10:1)

I have no interest in the authority that can do no better than spend ten years working with a guy yet at the end all the poor man can do is barely manage his addiction. I couldn’t care less about the authority that has nothing more to offer the brokenhearted than a pat on the back and a tuna casserole, a hug and a don’t-give-up.

I will pass on the authority that holds onto its money and convinces itself it deserves this perk or that, this special treatment or that indulgence. I’m not interested in the authority that leads to arrogance and selfishness, to the quenching of every good and perfect gift. I recoil at the authority that twists the tangible work of Christ into warrant for abuse. I can live without the accolades, the deference, the respect, if Jesus will but work through me to set captives free.

Which I’ve seen a few times. 

I’ve seen a daughter, pushing seventy yet still traumatized by childhood suffering, by the abuse of a wicked father. I’ve seen her set free in a moment, in a prayer. 

I’ve seen a father sick, helpless, and virtually bedridden for three years, yet choose to worship God anyway. I’ve seen him touched and healed and restored to purpose and destiny.

I’ve seen a son, bound by pornography and all its destructive effects, helpless to help himself. I’ve seen him walk clean and clear, mind and heart free and alive.

I’ve seen a mother, overwhelmed by the death of her twelve-year-old daughter eight years running, released to move forward, to start living life again.

I’ve seen a husband, born with a broken body, bullied incessantly and struggling with despair and thoughts of ending it all, encounter the love of God in a real and tangible way, finally knowing that he is a true son worthy of love and respect and hope and destiny.

I’ve seen eyesight restored, demons cast out, hearts set free. 

So yes, I do want authority. 

Because I want to see more. I want to see more spirits and hearts and minds and bodies restored. I want to see purpose and destiny and healing released, freedom and joy experienced, life and love expressed. Sometimes it’s a process; sometimes it occurs instantly. 

Either way, I’m all in.

If you hold a position, the title of pastor or leader or elder, and Jesus has imbued your ministry with true authority, with the power that sets people free, I rejoice with you. The reason you have been given this platform, this role, is so you can do the work Jesus did, the work of rescuing, saving, delivering, setting free.

Never forget that.

If I speak and people listen, pray and demons flee, touch and hearts fly free, these are not from me; they are from Christ. On my own I can do nothing, I control nothing, I have authority over nothing.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

And I’m absolutely fine with that. 

He must increase, but I must decrease. He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30; NASB and NIV)


[1] Executive pastor. To understand why I believe women can be pastors, please reference my articles on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2:12.

Can a Woman Be a Pastor’s Right-Hand Man?

Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the pastor’s Girl Friday, who pens the letter in his name, buys the coffee at Costco, and types the announcements into the bulletin. Neither am I referring to the pastor’s Yes Man, the one who is uniformly loyal, gets behind every plan, and takes the pastor’s side in every disagreement. 

What I’m thinking of is that person who can be fiercely loyal yet also possess the courage to speak the truth, who is overwhelmingly supportive yet can correct or admonish when necessary, and who does so only out of a pure and undefiled love of God. It’s the one who hears from God and can speak for God not just out of their own wisdom, however valuable that may be.

I’m talking about the person God uses as a prophetic voice in the life of the pastor.

And since, in most cases, the senior pastor is a man, I’m going to focus on whether God might ever call a female leader to serve as a male lead pastor’s right-hand, truth-speaking, prophetically-gifted “man.”

The prophet Nathan, in his relationship with King David, might be the closest biblical example of this role. We only have record of a few of his interactions with the king, but those we do shed light on how God uses someone in this position.

We encounter Nathan for the first time in 2 Samuel 7. David is at rest from his enemies and settled in his palace when he turns to Nathan, apparently one of David’s regular palace companions, and states that he would like to build a permanent home for the ark of God. 

Nathan, speaking out of his wisdom, loyalty, and knowledge that God’s favor rested upon the king, encourages David to do “whatever you have in mind” (v.3). However, that night the word of the Lord comes to Nathan declaring that David is not the man for the job. Nathan has to eat humble pie and reverse himself, delivering an unhappy and unsettling message to his friend. 

Yet that is exactly what is required of Nathan as a prophet of the Lord.

The next time we see Nathan he is confronting David for taking Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed in battle (2 Sam. 12). If you think telling David he was not the guy to build the Lord’s house was rough, imagine confronting the most powerful monarch in the ancient Near East about abuse of power, adultery, and murder. And then imagine that insanely powerful man’s response to your challenge.

What comes to mind is a Mark Driscoll screaming at the top of his lungs, Who the **** do you think you are??[1]

Yet David wasn’t that man and didn’t respond to Nathan’s rebuke like that at all. 

Sure, Nathan was savvy, presenting David’s sin to him in the form of a parable about a poor man and a rich man. The poor man had only one little lamb while the rich man had many, yet, in unconscionable selfishness, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and served it to his guest.

Initially David responds with outrage at the heinous deed, declaring that the man who did this ought to die. But when Nathan confronts David with the words, “You are the man!” (v. 7), David is immediately repentant, admitting, “I have sinned” (v. 13).

What do we learn from Nathan? What does this right-hand man role consist of? 

At its core it is not something that can be conjured up, that results from our own wisdom and insight and knowledge. It is truly God who appoints, authorizes, validates, and verifies this ministry. 

Most of the time we speak out of our understanding, which of course is valid and necessary. Yet sometimes in our understanding we are at complete loggerheads, we are blind to our sins and failings, or we have simply missed God somewhere along the way. 

It is in these moments that we need an intervention, a supernatural intervention. The point is, even if we permit God to speak, which does not always happen, we don’t get to choose the vessel. We might think it should be this person or that person and not this one or that one, but it’s not up to us. We can listen all we like to the wisdom of the saints, but if God has not chosen to speak through them in a specific instance, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Yes, discernment must be activated and whatever is said must be weighed according to the scriptures and the witness of the Holy Spirit within the broader community. No doubt there are false “words” and false messengers. 

But there are also true words and faithful messengers.

All of this brings us back to our initial question: 

Would God position a woman as a male pastor’s right-hand man?

How do we answer this question? By proof-texting one verse? Or do we consider how God himself used the voice of women in Scripture?

You can probably guess what I think.

The New Testament is very clear that God will speak prophetically through both men and women. Peter, quoting Joel 2, declares:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

In the church age, no longer would God speak prophetically through a few “professional” prophets. Now this anointing would spread wide, without the limits we are so accustomed to placing on God regarding who he may or may not use to speak his truth. Young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free all received the Spirit, and all could be used by God according to his will and his purposes (Gal. 3:28).

Paul agrees with Peter, assuming as an established practice that both women and men will prophesy in the worship service:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as having her head shaved. (1 Cor. 11:4-5)

Yes, men and women were to abide by culturally determined dress codes, but their freedom to prophesy publicly was not restricted according to sex.

So what, precisely, do we think these women in the early church prophesied about? (Just pondering here for a moment.) Who was going to win Sunday’s chili cook-off? Or who should have kitchen duty that week? Or perhaps which babies would sleep through the church service and which would fuss for an hour?

Or do you think these first-century churchwomen prophesied like Elizabeth and Mary and Anna, who were among the first to speak forth the identity and work of the Messiah (Luke 1:42-43; 46-55; 2:38)? Or Abigail, who prophesied David’s future kingship yet warned him, very personally and very directly, not to jeopardize all that in the heat of the moment (1 Sam. 25:28-31)? Or perhaps Huldah, who interpreted Scripture, speaking the word of the Lord to the king and the nation, giving them God’s bad-news-good-news report of the day (2 Kings 22:15-20)? And then there’s Deborah prophesying to Barak, directly and personally instructing Israel’s top military commander on his role and responsibility in God’s plan for the nation (Judg. 4:6-9).

Well, how do you think God used women in the early church, and how do you think God might choose to use them today?

It’s been a few years now, but I’ve seen God use women in this role. In most cases it wasn’t planned and was never officially acknowledged; it just happened. No one was more surprised than the senior pastor himself, for it was a God-move, a God-anointing, a God-position.

So perhaps, when God moves into our pre-planned and prearranged and perfectly-ordered systems, we should simply get out of the way.


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

[1] “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast series by Christianity Today contains this audio. If I remember correctly, the quote airs on every episode and is discussed in its context on one of the later episodes.

When is a Brother a Sister? Gendered Language and Bible Translation

It was a pretty typical home group, with everyone sitting around expounding on what the passage of the evening meant to them, saying all the usual things. I can’t remember exactly what Bible text we were discussing, but it might have been this one:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)

Then Rick spoke up, altering the course of our discussion with one simple comment. He told us that he had recently been praying, talking with God about his relationship with fellow believers. Basically, Rick said, he was thinking he was respectful of others and careful to make things right if he had mistreated someone. He was pretty sure he was doing a good job of being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

His confidence was flying high. 

That is, until a still, small thought came to mind: 

What about your wife?

Continue reading “When is a Brother a Sister? Gendered Language and Bible Translation”

Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture

Probably most egalitarians have been accused of claiming there’s no difference between men and women.[1] It’s a common response to the view that both women and men are full image-bearers of God and therefore equally participate in the fundamental human calling of leadership on this planet. 

Mine came in a private conversation with one of the speakers at a theology of marriage event at my seminary. I was surprised he assumed that everyone in attendance agreed with his belief that men lead and women follow, and he was surprised when I said I did not think this paradigm described the difference between women and men at all.

Incredulously he asked, “Are you saying there are no differences?”

Continue reading “Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture”

Are Men More Accountable to God than Women?

The other day I heard a Christian author say that men and women are assigned different roles in Scripture. “For example,” she said, “men are responsible for their family. That’s in the Bible and I believe the Bible.” She didn’t directly state that women are not responsible for their family, but that was the implication. Nor did she mention where in Scripture she finds this idea. 

Her comment reminded me of the many times and various ways I’ve heard people claim that although women are accountable to God in some sense, men are more accountable. God may call women to account for their personal actions and responsibilities, but men will answer for the overall picture, the larger narrative. A woman may be answerable for her “domain,” but a man is “lord of the earth,” responsible for everything that happens under the sun.[1]

Continue reading “Are Men More Accountable to God than Women?”

Abigail and David’s Comrades: A Case of Great and Not-So-Great Advice

David, the future king, is on the lam. Except for brief moments of skin-deep remorse Saul is bent on impaling the young man who replaced the troubled king as the focus of public adulation. Seriously, how could the groupies do any less than swoon over the ruddily handsome warrior who took down a lion, a bear, and Goliath? And how could Saul do anything other than become absolutely, insanely jealous? So throughout the second half of 1 Samuel, Israel’s new hero is on the run.

The question the text seems to ask, especially in chapters 24-26, is whether David will stoop to Saul’s level. Under the pressure of the crazy king’s unrelenting pursuit, will David become just as murderous? Will David permit the strain of the continual fighting for his life, barely evading Saul here, there, and everywhere, to consume his heart and destroy his integrity? Will he allow his sense of responsibility for Saul’s ruthless slaughter of the priests of Nob to push him over the edge?[1]

Yet even as the text confronts David with three sterling opportunities to take a wrong turn, it also turns the spotlight on who advises David well and who counsels him poorly.

Guess who lands on the right side of history.

Continue reading “Abigail and David’s Comrades: A Case of Great and Not-So-Great Advice”

To Help or Not to Help, that is Not the Question: Gen. 2:18, Woman as Man’s “Helper,” and Issues in Translation

Recently I took the time to do an in-depth study of ezer, the Hebrew word describing the first woman in Gen. 2:18, 20 that is often translated “helper” in English. Though I’ve spent way too many years reading every scholar I could get my hands on, I mean every scholarly comment I could get my hands on, as so far I have not laid hands on any scholars, when I finally studied ezer in depth I could not help being more than mildly surprised. Frankly, unless someone can send me a suitable helper to help me see the light, I can’t help but question the helpfulness of “helper.”

You see, I had heard that while ezer-helpers aren’t always subordinate, they can be. Though ezer is used mostly of Yahweh in the Old Testament, the one being who is vastly superior to anyone and everyone, it is said that the word itself doesn’t tell you whether the helper is inferior or superior to the person they’re helping.[1] So, an ezer-helper could supposedly be either, though when it’s the woman it means inferior. Inferior in rank, that is, not in essence.[2] Continue reading “To Help or Not to Help, that is Not the Question: Gen. 2:18, Woman as Man’s “Helper,” and Issues in Translation”

The Double Standard, Men as Victims of Adultery, Prostitution, and Jesus: A Look at Proverbs 6:26

In reading commentaries for my post The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife, I ran across an interpretation of Proverbs 6:26 that I’m not convinced is entirely accurate. This is the verse that seems to say it’s okay for a man to visit a prostitute, though he’d better stay away from another man’s wife. I don’t know about you, but it would not be okay with me if my husband dallied with any other woman, no matter who she was or how she made a living.[1]

For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life. (Prov. 6:26, NIV)

The comparison between the toll exacted on a man for having sex with a married woman versus a prostitute appears to imply that sleeping with the second is no big deal.[2] Even though it’s not entirely clear how to translate the Hebrew (it may mean that a prostitute reduces a man to a loaf of bread), becoming a pauper is not as bad as losing your life.[3]

What’s going on here? Tremper Longman III explains it like this: Continue reading “The Double Standard, Men as Victims of Adultery, Prostitution, and Jesus: A Look at Proverbs 6:26”

The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife: Understanding Proverbs in its Original Setting

I’ve come across a couple of sources lately that argue the book of Proverbs teaches that wives have a tendency to be complaining, contentious nags. One author believes that in this ancient book of wisdom we learn about “gender sin,” which consists of anger for men and nagging and complaining for women.

A gender sin is a wrongful action or attitude commonly displayed by one gender as opposed to the other. Gender sin may not be in the dictionary, but Proverbs attributes “anger sin” to men and “nag sin” to women. Of course, wives get angry and husbands gripe, but every time Proverbs mentions a nagging, grumbling, contentious person, it is a married woman, a wife.[1]

Others seem to think, based on the book of Proverbs, that if a woman feels like her husband is mistreating her it is most likely her own attitude that is really the problem.[2] After all, Proverbs never says it’s better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome husband, does it? Or that dwelling in the wilderness is better than living with a contentious and angry man? No, Proverbs consistently hangs marital dysfunction on the wife.[3] Continue reading “The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife: Understanding Proverbs in its Original Setting”

Emotion or Reason? What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Embracing a Full Humanity

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit distracted by the Coronavirus crisis. My youngest daughter is a trauma-ICU nurse in Nashville and she’s scared. They don’t have enough personal protective equipment and although her unit is not focused on COVID-19 patients, the physicians move between the emergency department and the trauma ward on a regular basis. One doctor has already tested positive and a few patients are pending. She texted me to say, “You and Dad aren’t going out, are you? You’re isolating, right?”

This sort of emotional response may seem like overkill to some. A longtime friend complained on Facebook about Colorado’s stay at home order, arguing it is unnecessary in such a sparsely populated state. This perspective may come from the fact that at the same time our governor is telling us to stay home, he is also trying to reassure us that only about 10% of cases need hospitalization and only 5% of those are critical. And when Time magazine reports a worldwide case fatality rate of 4% but a U.S. rate of 1.7%, no wonder people are complaining.

Yet those numbers belie the truth. Continue reading “Emotion or Reason? What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Embracing a Full Humanity”

“Does Gender Matter?” My Latest Podcast Interview with Dr. Juli Slattery

It feels strange to post about ordinary things – like the meaning of masculinity and femininity – in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Life has been put on hold in so many ways here in Colorado with school, restaurant, retail, resort, and government office closings. Applications for unemployment insurance have skyrocketed in the state over the past week, as thousands of people are suddenly out of work.

And yet I wanted to let you know about my latest podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy, if for no other reason than that the Java With Juli podcasts are only available to the general public for six months. After that you have to subscribe to listen.

Here are a few comments about the interview: Continue reading ““Does Gender Matter?” My Latest Podcast Interview with Dr. Juli Slattery”

My First Article Published by Fathom

This week my first article for Fathom Magazine came out. It’s more personal (and shorter) than most of what I write here. So if you’ve been wondering what in my story has made me so passionate about women and their identity as image-bearers of God, take a look! It’s very strange to me now that I did not see anything wrong with the concepts of male priority I was taught when I was young. I was just a teenager though, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Continue reading “My First Article Published by Fathom”

“Around the House, Women Rule” and Other Marriage Myths

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I’m hearing that women rule the roost. Recently I had a conversation with a Christian leader who said that it’s women who have the power at home. He went on to explain that, for example, men ask their wives for permission before heading out to the golf links on Saturday.

Then I ran across an article at the Love and Respect website where Emerson Eggerichs responds to concerns of wives whose husbands seem less respectful toward them since doing his study. After citing numerous Proverbs that warn about contentious wives, Eggerichs quotes a couple of sources including a USA Today article that claims “around the house, women rule.” Eggerichs goes on to say that the true problem in these marriages may be “a contentious wife who is expressing her disgruntlement over the fact that periodically her husband puts his foot down and breaks the pattern of her getting what she wants.”

And then Christian therapist Kevin Leman, in his book for wives frustrated by their husbands’ irresponsibility and insensitivity, writes that “in the midst of all this struggle for power in a unisex society, guess who rules the roost? No doubt, it’s you women!” Leman references the article Eggerichs cites and another from the same journalist to support this claim.[1]

So here we have three highly influential Christian authors responding to women’s marital frustrations by explaining that wives have misconstrued the situation. In truth, we are told, women have the power in marriage and men are just trying to find a place at the table so they can be equal.

Rooting around on the Internet I found the USA Today articles plus others along the same line. With taglines like “Study: Women Are in Charge at Home,” “Women rule the roost, and that’s OK with men,” “Wives have the marriage power,” and “Women Call the Shots at Home,” one would think wives’ dominance of husbands is firmly established.

Until you look at the research it’s based on, that is.

It turns out that all of these articles are based on the same two studies, one by Pew Research and one from Iowa State.[2] Eggerichs also cites the work of widely respected marriage researcher John Gottman, though he leaves out salient parts of the paragraph and appears to misunderstand the terminology.[3]

I don’t have time to look at all of this in detail today so I’ll focus on the Pew study, a phone survey interviewing couples about who makes more decisions at home, the husband or the wife.

Pew asked 1260 men and women who was more likely to make the decisions in four common household scenarios. Here is the exact wording of the questions: Who decides what you do together on the weekend? Who manages the household finances? Who makes the decisions on big purchases for the home? And who most often decides what to watch on television?

Results showed that in 43% of couples the woman makes more of these decisions, while only in 26% of couples does the man make more. From this arises the idea that “women call the shots at home.”

Frankly, when I read the Pew study I was more perplexed than convinced. Does it really prove that women are “the boss” at home? Does it prove anything? I wondered what the outcome would be if different questions had been asked.

For example, who decides how much personal leisure time each partner gets while the other cares for the home and kids? Is this a decision the couple has worked out together or does one person have the upper hand here? Is the fact that many men let their wives decide what they do together on weekends a function of a mutual agreement they have made – as long as I can play golf Saturday morning, honey, whatever you want to do Saturday night is fine with me – or indicative of an unfair arrangement – I’m playing basketball two nights a week this semester, just so you know – that makes him feel guilty and her resentful, so he pacifies her by going along with her dinner plans? Or is it truly a case of the woman controlling leisure time? It could be any of these, but from the way the survey was set up we have no way of knowing.

Instead of asking who manages the finances, what about finding out who decides how funds are allocated in the first place or, for that matter, who is left with the grunt work of paying the bills and balancing the budget? The women I know who manage the household finances (I am one) do so for one of two reasons: either they and their husbands agreed she would do it (because she is more naturally suited to it or has more time) or their husbands refused so the wife stepped up.

It is true that the person who handles the finances has a better grasp on what the couple can and cannot afford, so a wife managing the day to day finances may result in a husband asking his wife if it’s okay for him to make a purchase. But this may not be about getting permission from his wife, but rather from the budget. In our case, my husband has certain goals for our finances and so do I. We talk about these and agree upon priorities, then I work out the details in a practical plan.

As for big purchases for the home, my question is how things would fall out if the question was about big purchases for the garage. Is the fact that women make more decisions about appliances and sofas related to men’s lesser interest in these items compared to cars, boats and tools? We don’t know since the survey didn’t ask the question. Numerous longitudinal studies do indicate, however, that although men have gained some traction with respect to household purchases women still take the lead in buying toilet paper, cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, and bedspreads.

If that means I call the shots at home, well, I don’t know what to say.

The bias in the methodology here may be comparable to the bias inherent in some studies of who works more, men or women. Some data has indicated that women work an entire second shift compared to men, when total working hours (at home and at a job) are calculated. However, the main study asserting this inequity was based solely on women’s assessments of how much they work compared to their husbands. More accurate research indicates that on average stay-at-home wives/mothers work the fewest total hours, husbands/fathers with full-time jobs work about the same total hours as wives/mothers with part-time employment, and wives/mothers with a full-time job work a total of about one hour more per week than anyone else, varying a bit by country.

When it comes to television I wonder if the survey respondents assumed the couple was watching a show together, since a question about who handles the remote would seem to imply they’re both watching. And when they do, the wife is more likely to decide what they view.

But is that because she dominates, or because he’s fine with what she wants as long as he gets to watch his game on ESPN and play a few rounds of his favorite video game first? And does he even want to watch TV with her, or is she the one looking for some couple time in front of the tube? I don’t know; I’m sure there are couples where the wife is insensitive to her husband’s interests and dominates time spent as a couple, but I don’t think you can prove a general trend by this question.

Beyond these weaknesses, to me the Pew questions seem trivial. Bigger issues in my mind are things like who decides how household responsibilities are divvied up or how much extra work each partner gives the other through their thoughtlessness or selfishness. Is one person tacitly saying, I’ve done my share; the rest is yours? And if a wife manages the family’s social schedule, does that mean she’s dominant or that no one else is willing to do it? Or has the couple agreed that she play this role? It could be any of these.

And how about some questions relating to interpersonal interaction, like who decides when it is okay to be angry and when it is not? Does one partner believe his or her anger is warranted but the other’s is unprovoked? Who decides when a “sin” issue necessities intervention and when it’s “no big deal”? Who decides when something “makes sense” and when it does not, when “this conversation is over” or when it’s okay to say “I don’t need your approval to do this.” I think when either partner dominates does these things it is a much stronger indication that they “rule the roost” and, frankly, that their marriage is in trouble.

Back to the original illustration of a man asking his wife if it’s okay for him to go golfing on Saturday. Is this really an indication of a woman holding power in the home? Or is it simply common courtesy? What else should the man do – announce he’s leaving as he walks out the door, without checking if his wife has an appointment and needs him to watch the kids? And is that what his wife should do as well? Announce her departure as she heads out for a hike with a friend, without asking if her husband needs something first?

Perhaps checking with your spouse about personal leisure time is simply a reflection of the fact that when we live together in family we meld our schedules and priorities with each other, working things out in a mutually satisfying way so that we have time together but also time to pursue individual interests. As Jesus said, if you recall:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Caring enough about your spouse to consider their needs reflects a fundamental Christian principle, not some sort of dysfunctional codependency.

The bigger question in all of this is simply why. Why do some of our most influential marriage teachers think they need to convince husbands and wives that, actually, women are dominating men at home, especially when the studies they cite do not support this claim?

Yes, some research does demonstrate that women place a higher premium on closeness in marriage while men assign a greater importance to autonomy. So a couple may have different goals for their relationship and different feelings about their relationship dynamics. This is where compromise and the commitment to create a mutually satisfying marriage are needed. But perhaps it explains why a man can view running his Saturday plans by his wife as demonstrating her power over him while she thinks of it as common courtesy.

And yes, it is also true that women are more likely to push for change in a relationship no matter who brings up the problem. Husbands, on the other hand, tend to “demand” (press for change) when they point out an issue but withdraw in the face of their wife’s concerns. However, as Gottman notes, in healthy marriages husbands learn to respond to their wife’s “demands” rather than withdrawing from conflict. Though a wife’s compliance in the face of her husband’s withdrawal can lead to short-term marital satisfaction (perhaps this is why Eggerichs’ ideas seem to work at first), it is also highly correlated with long-term marital dissatisfaction and divorce.[3]

So, no, there is no compelling evidence that, in general, women rule the roost. An individual woman may dominate her home life, of course, just as an individual man may. Those things need to be figured out and worked out on a case by case basis, not by broad, inaccurate brush strokes.

Yet all this talk of women having the power at home is causing a lot of damage in circles where it is embraced as gospel truth. If we’re going to make claims about what is universally true in marriage we need to take the time to investigate the research rather than default to unsubstantiated myths.

We can do better than this.


[1] Have a New Husband by Friday, 29-30.

[2] The Iowa State study is also mischaracterized by the popular media, though it does demonstrate that wives are more likely than husbands to press for change in the relationship. Husbands push for change when it’s an issue they brought up but often withdraw and avoid if their wife chose the topic. Husbands are also more likely to be convinced of their wife’s arguments and agree to changes than the other way around, but this may be a sign of a healthy marriage according to the study’s authors. John Gottman would concur.

[3] Eggerichs drops the part that a wife’s “highly emotional” interaction includes “both positive and negative emotions.” He also leaves out the corresponding assessment of men’s interaction: “Men, on the other hand, have been described as conflict-avoiding, withdrawing, placating, logical, and avoidant of emotions.” Also, these comments are located within a section explaining that male socialization that results in avoidance of emotion “will have serious consequences when love relationships bloom and become serious in young adulthood.” John Gottman, What Predicts Divorce? The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes (Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994) 283. Gottman also explains that a wife’s push for change is positive as long as the husband responds to her needs rather than stonewalling her. In fact, he has a section entitled “Embrace Her Anger” (p. 131). Gottman also notes that a wife’s agreeableness and compliance in the face of her husband’s withdrawal and avoidance correlate to short-term marital satisfaction but long-term dissatisfaction. That is, the stonewall-comply marital dynamic is a high predictor for divorce (p. 131-135). Eggerichs also gets the page number wrong, so it took me a long time to find the quote. The correct page is 283, as noted above.

Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question

In my last post I mentioned a conversation I had with a speaker at a recent theology of marriage conference. I have since learned that he is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which may explain why our conversation was like two trains passing each other in the night.[1]

Anyway, this man joined my table during lunch, asking what we would have said if we had been part of the panel discussion that had just completed. Since the topic was one of my interests – gender differences – I jumped in and said I don’t believe the difference between men and women is a matter of leading and following, as had been implied by the panel. Ruling authority is granted to all human beings equally in Genesis, and since leadership and authority go hand in hand, it does not seem that there is any basis for claiming men were created to lead and women were created to follow. Continue reading “Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question”

In Search of Male Leadership: The Logical Inconsistency of Defining a Man’s Initiative in One Way and a Woman’s in Another

Recently I attended a conference on the theology of marriage hosted by Denver Seminary. Over lunch I had a brief conversation with one of the presenters, a megachurch pastor and chair of the theology department at a school in another state. 

We were talking about whether the differences between men and women have to do with leading and following or with something else. My discussion partner explained that he does lead his wife and that this is a very important aspect of manhood in general and his manhood in particular, since he views himself as the priest of his home. As an example of his leadership, he mentioned that he often says to his wife, “Let’s pray.” She usually does the praying, he noted, since she is better at it than he. But his point was that he is doing the leading by suggesting they pray. Continue reading “In Search of Male Leadership: The Logical Inconsistency of Defining a Man’s Initiative in One Way and a Woman’s in Another”

What I Learned from the “Perfect” Wife: Sarah, Abraham and 1 Peter 3:1-6

I’ve mentioned this here before, but my marriage went through a radical transformation a number of years ago. For a long time my husband and I tried to work out our relationship according to traditional “biblical marriage” teachings, with him “leading” and me “submitting.”

We were committed to this path since we thought it was the only “biblical” way, even though we ended up far more frustrated than happy. Then about ten years ago we went through a crisis that brought all of our unhealthy relational patterns to the surface. At that point we either had to figure out how to change or face the possibility of losing everything we had worked toward for so long.

After a couple of years of struggle we did end up successfully changing not only our marital dynamics but also our fundamental conception of what a Christian marriage ought to look like. A big part of this process entailed my realizing how I had listened to the wrong voices and embraced the wrong ideas. I found it difficult to change, but in the end it was more than worth it. My life, my marriage, and my heart have been transformed in a beautiful way.

Just not in the way you might assume. Continue reading “What I Learned from the “Perfect” Wife: Sarah, Abraham and 1 Peter 3:1-6″

John MacArthur, Beth Moore, and Jumping to Conclusions: The Assumptions Behind a Hierarchical Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12

Last week I listened to a podcast where two women explained how they “stand with the Bible” when it comes to their hierarchical interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12. As far as these Sheologians[1] are concerned, this verse proves that women should not teach the Bible to men, be in positions of authority over men, or be pastors and elders. The meaning of the verse is plain as day, they argued, so anyone who disagrees with their view is ignoring scripture.

These ladies went on to mockingly characterize women who believe God has called them to pastoral ministry as obsessed with selfish ambition. Women who “feel called” to church leadership, they laughed, go around whining about what they will do if they can’t be elders or pastors, as though there’s nothing else that needs to be done! As though men who aren’t called to be elders or pastors should go around complaining that there’s nothing for them to do, especially when there’s more than enough work to go around![2]

Then over the weekend a video of John MacArthur telling Beth Moore to “go home” hit the internet. After the laughter and applause died down Mac Arthur added, “There’s no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher. Period, paragraph, end of discussion.” MacArthur went on to explain that “when you literally overturn the teaching of Scripture to empower people who want power, you have given up biblical authority.”[3]

Aside from the fact that the tone of both interviews was dishonoring, the idea that there is no room for differences of interpretation on this topic is presumptuous. John MacArthur and the women on the podcast are not “standing with the Bible” as they claim, but with certain interpretive assumptions they bring to Scripture, especially to 1 Timothy 2:12. This is what we need to grasp.

And this is why it is vital to take the time to identify those suppositions and determine if there are compelling reasons to accept them as a convincing argument for gender hierarchy in the church. We can do this with an attitude of respect toward those who come to different conclusions than we have. We do so by focusing on the ideas rather than attacking and mocking individuals.

So today I want to identify the main traditions that lie behind the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that is said to prove male authority in the church. As you read you can think through the validity of the preconceived notions you have brought to the text. I won’t accuse you of rebelling against Scripture if, after weighing the evidence, you land on a different island than I have. I only ask that you take the time to listen, think, and perhaps do a bit of research.

Let’s review the passage first. We’ll look at vv. 8-15 since there’s wide agreement that these verses go together.

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Tim. 2:8-15)

Okay, here we go.

Assumption #1: The setting is the church meeting.

Women can teach men or be their supervisors elsewhere, it is argued, but 1 Timothy 2 is about what happens at church, so women aren’t permitted to teach or supervise men in church. This is a widely held view on all sides, yet it seems to arise primarily from church tradition. The passage itself has no markers to indicate that it has to do with a congregational setting such as “your meetings” (1 Cor. 11:17), “when you come together” (1 Cor. 14:26), or “as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people (1 Cor. 14:33).

Also, the earlier commands about women dressing modestly and men praying without disputing point away from the church meeting, since presumably women should dress modestly everywhere and men should pray without arguing everywhere (as v. 8 states). At minimum it must be acknowledged that the congregational setting is an assumption, not something stated directly in the text.

Assumption #2: The switch from plural men and women to singular woman and man is inconsequential.

Virtually all hierarchical interpretations blow past this change that comes between v. 10 and v. 11, claiming that the singulars point to women and men in general. But in vv. 8-10 Paul was already speaking of men and women in general, so why the switch? And why the argument that the “plain sense” of the passage demands that a woman does not teach/exercise authority over men, when in fact all it states is that Paul does not want a woman to teach/exercise authority over a man?

Also, most hierarchicalists permit women to do the one thing the passage appears to prohibit, i.e. teach a man privately one-on-one. It is the public teaching of God’s word to a group of men that is forbidden, they say. Yet if we hold to a high view of the inspiration of scripture we ought to do our best to apply what is stated rather than what is not stated. We should also assume that Paul made the switch from plural to singular for a reason. Has, in fact, the setting shifted from men and women in general to the individual man and woman in relationship, perhaps in the home as husband and wife?

Assumption #3: The term translated “have/exercise/assume authority” is a general term simply meaning to be in a position or role of delegated authority over others.

The fact is that the word in the original language, authentein, is very rare and historically has proven extremely challenging to understand. Though modern studies have demonstrated that authentein is not a general term for exercising authority but rather has connotations of domination, domineering, and control, it is very difficult to turn the Titanic of hundreds of years of English Bible translation away from the iceberg of accepted interpretation. When your interpretation is unsinkable, why would you jump ship?

Even Chrysostom, who believed wholeheartedly in male authority in marriage, told men they should not authentein their wives. Clearly he did not understand the word to refer to a rightful use of authority, or he would not have forbidden it. An informed understanding of the word therefore indicates that Paul is not disallowing proper delegated authority or a position of authority, but rather inappropriate sinful dominance.[4]

Assumption #4: The prohibition on teaching combined with the one on exercising authority refers to the role of elder/pastor.

This one is a big leap. Even when I understood the passage hierarchically, it never occurred to me that it was talking about elders and pastors. In contrast to 1 Timothy 3 which explicitly deals with leadership roles in the church, chapter 2 does not mention them at all. Perhaps now that some of the foremost complementarian scholars acknowledge that neither 1 Timothy 3 nor Titus 1 prohibits women from becoming elders and pastors, it is seen as necessary to build the case from 1 Timothy 2.

So it is argued that since teaching and having authority are functions of church leaders, what Paul is actually prohibiting is the promotion of women to these specific roles. Yet a plain reading of the text would not lead one to the conclusion that it forbids women from becoming pastors and elders, but rather that an individual woman should not have an inappropriate relationship of dominance over an individual man.

Assumption #5: Verses 11-14 are perfectly clear even though v. 15 is not, since an understanding of v. 15 is not essential to Paul’s main point.

Hierarchicalists tend to throw up their hands over how in the world a woman can be saved through childbearing/childbirth, yet treat the difficulties posed by v. 15 as inconsequential or at least secondary. Read as a whole, however, it is apparent that in v. 15 Paul is responding to the issue that caused him to place restrictions on “a woman” in the first place. The passage builds to v. 15 and finds its climax there. For that reason it is essential to come up with a coherent explanation of v. 15 before we can assume we understand vv. 11-14. Without this, we do not know what problem Paul is addressing.

If v. 15 is understood in its simplest sense – that a woman will be kept safe through the ordeal of childbirth – it completely changes our conception of the situation Paul was addressing and the focus of his restriction. But my main disagreement with the traditional interpretation on this point is their claim that vv. 11-14 are plain as day while at the same time they struggle to make sense of v. 15. The two do not go together. At minimum it ought to be acknowledged that many unanswered questions remain that can and do affect the interpretation of vv. 11-14.

Assumption #6: The appeal to creation in v. 13 points to a fundamental hierarchical ordering of man and woman.

Since the man was created first, so it goes, men are created to be in authority over women. Yet Paul never says anything about men having dominion over women. His focus is that a woman (or a wife) should not teach a man (or a husband) in a domineering way or, perhaps, dominate him through her “teaching.” In other words, the appeal to creation may simply be a warrant that lends support to the idea that it is wrong for a woman to dominate or control a man, particularly her husband.

I believe we can agree that it is wrong for anyone to dominate another. Jesus called this “lording it over” others and strictly forbade it, even by those in proper leadership positions. The Bible never states that it is fine for a man to authentein a woman nor are men ever encouraged to exercise “proper” authority over women (echein exousiazo), but only to love them as Christ loved the church.

Assumption #7: The appeal to the fall in v. 14 demonstrates that women are inherently unsuited for leadership.

Paul’s point, hierarchicalists argue, is that women should not fill church leadership roles because they are more easily deceived than men. Yet Paul does not say that women in general are more easily deceived. It is a leap to assume this is what he meant and then apply it to all women everywhere, though that is precisely what was done throughout church history up to the modern age.

It is just as possible that Paul used Eve to communicate that some women in Ephesus were being deceived, just as he used Eve’s example to warn the Corinthians about the deception they had fallen prey to (2 Cor. 11:3-4). And in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 it seems that the specific deception had something to do with childbirth, explaining Paul’s focus on the women in this passage.

Assumption #8: The individuals who need to exhibit godly character in v. 15 are women.

This assumption has been reinforced by Bible translations that have changed the wording of the original language to “clarify” the meaning. Instead of what is stated in the Greek – “she will be saved/kept safe through childbirth if they continue…” – some English Bibles say “women will be saved/kept safe through childbirth if they continue…,” giving the impression that if women will continue in godliness God will reward them in some way. But the word “women” does not occur in the Greek of v. 15 and the verb “be saved/kept safe” is singular, so the subject is “she.”

If we take the original wording at face value, the “they” most likely refers to the man and woman of vv. 11-12. Except for Adam and Eve (who are past needing either salvation or protection) they are the nearest antecedent, and hence the most likely referent. If this is the case v. 15 would mean that a woman will be preserved through childbearing if she and the man she had previously been attempting to dominate (perhaps her husband) would now join forces and pursue faith, love, and holiness with propriety together.

Assumption #9: Submission and quietness are timeless feminine ideals.

Hierarchicalists teach that submission in quietness is the timeless role of women. This means women are to submit to the limitations and expectations placed upon them by men in the church and in the home, and they are to do so with a joyful spirit of servanthood. Men, on the other hand, are to establish those limitations and expectations with a humble spirit of servanthood. Both are called to servanthood, the one by following expectations and the other by setting them.

What we need to recognize here is that submission and the lack of agitation and aggressiveness entailed in the Greek word “quiet” or “quietness” were considered fundamentally feminine virtues by ancient Greeks and Romans in the same way that obedience was considered a fundamental virtue of slaves. There is undoubtedly a cultural component behind the application of these specific virtues to women in this setting.

I am not saying that women need not submit to proper Christian teaching or that they may be aggressive or contentious in learning environments. My point is that to take the words Paul used here and assume they describe the foundational calling of womanhood takes the passage out of its context. The New Testament teaches that submission and quietness are fundamental Christian virtues. All believers are called to submit to church leaders and Christian instruction without becoming contentious, so it is not surprising that Paul brings this up here.

Assumption #10: The Artemis/Isis cult background of Ephesus does not influence the interpretation of the text.

A recent study has demonstrated significant links between 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and the Artemis cult so predominant in Ephesus.[5] Strong parallels exist between the behavior and attire of first-century goddess worshipers and Paul’s instructions. The immodesty, the plaiting of the hair with gold and pearls, and the domineering aggressiveness Paul prohibits were all key components of the cult. In addition, Artemis was connected with the goddess Isis in a way that indicates an ancient myth that asserted the woman was created first and the man was deceived enjoyed some acceptance in Ephesus.

In addition, we know that Artemis was worshiped as the “savior.” One of the key ways she functioned in this role was by protecting women through the ordeal of childbirth, the greatest threat to a woman’s health in the ancient world. Women were terrified of death or disability resulting from pregnancy and childbirth, and therefore were devoted to their goddesses of fertility. Walking away from paying homage to Artemis as part of their newfound Christian faith would have been terrifying, since the goddess was known to be vindictive toward those who dared to cross her.

With all of this in the background, it would not be surprising that some of these women were questioning their safety in childbearing and becoming contentious about certain Christian teachings, like the fact that they needed to turn away from idolatry. Paul wanted them to calm down, learn the truth, and be reassured that they could safely turn away from Artemis worship because Jesus would take care of them.

Whether you accept this precise reconstruction or not, it is difficult to argue that the Artemis background makes no difference to an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, as many hierarchicalists seem to assume. One way or another, it needs to be integrated into our understanding of this passage.

The Path to Hierarchy

The path to an acceptance of gender hierarchy in the church includes, of necessity, grappling with the verifiability of these ten assumptions. As in a steeplechase competition, you can’t go around a barrier or skip a water jump and claim you finished the race. You may have gotten a lot of exercise, but you didn’t do the steeplechase.

In the same way there is no honest path to a hierarchical reading of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 that goes around any of these points. You have to go through them. In the end it was this weighing of all of my preconceived ideas that changed my views on the subject, though I’ll admit it took a lot of reading, a lot of study, and a lot of time.

If you take the time to work through each assumption yet still settle in the land of hierarchy, I respect your decision.

But at least you know how you got there.


[1] Their self-designation and the name of their organization. My earlier footnote here mentioned that I was unable to ascertain the names of the two women, but thanks to a reader I have learned that they are Summer White and Joy Temby. The confusion resulted from inadvertently accessing Summer’s earlier website at sheologian.com. The current site is sheologians.com. Thank you, Maria!

[2] “Why We Aren’t Egalitarian” by Sheologians, on podcast.apple.com, accessed 10/15/2019.

[3] “John MacArthur Beth Moore Go Home,” youtube.com, posted by reformationcharlotte.org, accessed 10/18/2019.

[4] On authentein see: Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 227; Klyne Snodgrass, “A Case for the Unrestricted Ministry of Women,” The Covenant Quarterly 67/2 (2009), 38; I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (New York: T. & T. Clark, 1999), 457-58; Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women in Christ (London: InterVarsity, 2019), 268-70; Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 290-94.

[5] Gary G. Hoag, Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus, Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplements, vol. 11 (Winona Lake, Indiana; Eisenbrauns, 2015).

It’s Good to Be a Woman Day Retreats

A few years ago I was asked to join a team of young women who hoped to reach the women of their generation with a conference designed specifically for them. Feeling that the women’s ministry of our church catered to an older generation, these young leaders were hoping to capture the hearts of their peers.

What struck me that day was what these women hoped to communicate through their conference. A lot of ideas were knocked about but in the end it came down to this: our generation needs to believe it’s good to be a woman. Some of those present expressed the idea that it can be easier to think it’s good to be a woman out in the world than it is in the church. Once a woman becomes a Christian, a whole new set of expectations and limitations is placed upon her that can cause her to doubt the goodness of being female.

We’re at a point in time when women need to know that God created a good thing when he created woman. Rightly understood, what the Bible teaches about womanhood is empowering and freeing. Women are both fully human and fully woman. Women fully represent God in his eternal essence, just as men do. Women also reflect humanity as the object of God’s affection.

There is a lot of confusion in current Christian teaching on gender and “gender roles,” however. In some cases fundamental human qualities are ascribed to men alone, leaving the impression that women are somehow a bit less than fully human. In others, differences between women and men are minimized or ignored. And, very often, the fact that a husband and wife point to the greater “marriage,” that of Christ and the church, is taken to mean all sorts of things that it does not.

For this reason I have launched my It’s Good to Be a Woman day retreats.

Continue reading “It’s Good to Be a Woman Day Retreats”

Five Reasons I Don’t See Male Authority in Genesis 1-3

I recently recorded another podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery, cofounder of Authentic Intimacy and author of Rethinking Sexuality. This time the discussion was about husbands and wives who control their spouses. The other guest that day was Dr. Ron Welch, a counseling professor at Denver Seminary and author of The Controlling Husband.

Our topic was prompted by this response to an earlier podcast Juli had done with the Welches about how Ron had overcome his tendency to be a controlling husband.

Juli, I would love to hear you discuss this topic, with the added element of spiritual abuse. My husband sounds so much like Dr. Welch, except he also acts as the voice of God in my life. He accuses me of resisting God, of being unsaved and not the kind of woman God esteems, etc. I’m in counseling and have had a pastor friend reach out to him, but he refuses to consider marriage counseling or meeting with a pastor. He says I’m unempowered by God because I’m seeking outside help.[1]

Continue reading “Five Reasons I Don’t See Male Authority in Genesis 1-3”

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