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Does 1 Timothy 3:8-13 discount the possibility of women deacons? Not at all.

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The occasion for writing the following article is this: at a recent summer convention [probably 1893] a young lady missionary had been appointed to give an account of her work at one of the public sessions. The scruples of certain of the delegates against a woman’s addressing a mixed assembly were found to be so strong, however, that the lady was withdrawn from the programme, and further public participation in the conference confined to its male constituency.

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In every corner of the world, religious teachings on gender and power have an enormous impact on human lives, especially those of girls and women. For this reason, Christians have a responsibility to accurately critique biblical teachings on gender. This booklet summarizes the egalitarian position of Scripture—that Christians, both female and male, are equally called to exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in the church, home, and world.

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We Lutherans all want to argue on the basis of God's revealed truth in the authoritative Scripture. Yet all of us come to this debate with our own personal history and agenda. My own history includes aversion to women in the public ministry as a result of experiences, first as a teenager, then as a student in Germany. More recently, I have developed a growing understanding of the just claims of Christian women who have been disempowered and marginalized in the church and a horror for what has been perpetrated in the name of male headship. A re-examination of the texts and another (this time happy) experience of having a woman as my pastor in the United States about a decade ago led me to abandon my previously held view that the ordination of women is not the Lord's will for his church today. I am now convinced to the contrary, although I do not like using the broad term feminist. My own personal pain is not only that close friends and relatives hold an opposing view, but that I fully understand that view as one who once held it (this is not said in any spirit of superiority).

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La ocasión para escribir este artículo es esta: en una reciente convención de verano [probablemente en 1893], se le había pedido a una joven mujer misionera que hablara sobre su trabajo en una de las sesiones públicas. Algunos de los delegados tenían tantas quejas sobre una mujer hablando a una asamblea de hombres y mujeres que sacaron a la dama del programa y después de esto solamente dejaron que los miembros varones participaran en la conferencia pública.

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First Timothy 2:12 has played a defining role in the Christian debate about the role of women in ministry, especially in American evangelicalism. The text appears to forbid some kind of behavior involving women teaching men. For that reason, exegetical studies about this verse have been numerous and exhaustive.

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While it is now generally agreed that 1 Tim 2:8–15 is directed against the heresy that had taken hold within the Ephesian church, the key question is whether the passage is directed against the content of the heresy or is concerned to establish a process that will eventually see the victims corrected and the heresy expunged. If concerned with the content of the heresy, the instructions may be directed at restoring a hierarchical framework. If the passage is concerned with process, however, Paul’s demands are shaped by the particular nature of the heresy and its form of transmission in Ephesus.

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In the women-in-ministry debate, the verb authenteō in 1 Tim 2:12 has played a crucial role. As a result, a plethora of scholarly efforts have aimed at uncovering what exactly the term meant during Paul’s time and what it meant specifically in 1 Tim 2:12. Despite such painstaking work, there remains considerable disagreement about what the term means. Both egalitarian and complementarian evangelicals claim the research is in their favor. To complicate matters, Bible translations continue to vary over the term and the verse’s phrasing (sometimes newer versions of the same translation). All of this prompts scholars to step back and ask, what does the research actually show? And more importantly, how should Christians translate and understand the meaning of this term and verse as they regularly read their Bibles?

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The battle over women leaders and the church continues to rage unabated in evangelical circles. At the center of the tempest sits 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Despite a broad spectrum of biblical and extra-biblical texts that highlight female leaders, 1 Tim. 2:11-15 continues to be perceived and treated as the great divide in the debate. Indeed for some, how one interprets this passage has become a litmus test for the label “evangelical” and even for salvation.

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