Question: In 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul says women are not to usurp the authority of men in spiritual matters. Doesn’t CBE’s view of women in ministry twist what the Bible says?
Answer: We are glad that you, like us, take the Bible and its message seriously. But we also believe that all of the Bible must be taken seriously — not just a selective verse here or there. Some people take I Timothy 2:12 as a universal principle (“I do not permit a woman to usurp authority over a man”), but do not apply universally what comes before it (“Men are to lift up holy hands when they pray … women are not to wear braided hair, or pearls or gold”).
We do not believe in “selective literalism.” Rather, we seek to understand all that the Apostle Paul was saying here and elsewhere. That means looking at the historical and cultural situation he was addressing, and examining the exact language used to get the full message.
I Timothy was a personal letter from Paul to his good friend Timothy who was in a difficult place in Ephesus, facing many problems that are unknown to us. Paul did not spell out the problems (he didn’t need to, Timothy knew them), so we do not know what those problems were.
We do know that Paul was not speaking of ordinary “authority,” because the Greek word he used (authentein) is never used in the other places where Paul speaks of authority. Elsewhere he always uses “exousia.” “Authentein” never appears elsewhere in the Bible, so it is very difficult to ascertain its meaning. In fact, it is rare even in classical Greek language, and it seems to have many strange meanings. If you want to know more about this, I suggest that you read the book “I Suffer Not a Woman” by Catherine and Richard Kroeger.
Furthermore, Paul in his own experience seems to commend women in leadership. For example, in Acts 18:24-28 we see Paul’s co-worker Priscilla teaching Apollos with her husband Aquila. In Romans 16:1-2, Paul commends Phoebe, a deacon, and says she has been “a great help to many people, including me.” Since none of us believes Paul was a hypocrite, we must look at the total teaching of the New Testament — including that of our Lord Jesus whom Paul worshipped.
Jesus gave the most important message the world has ever received (his resurrection) to women and told them to make it known to the disciples. The Gospel of Luke is full of other examples. When Paul wrote about spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12:4-11, he never made any gender distinctions about who received which gifts.
It is because we take the Bible so seriously that we want to see all women and men use all their God-given gifts for the cause of his kingdom.