An Interview with Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner

This is an interview with Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, co-editors of Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (3rd edition).


What has changed (about our culture, the church, the debate, etc.) since Women in the Church was first published in 1995?

I think our culture is even less convinced that there are differences between men and women that would warrant reserving the pastorate for men. Hence, we need to continue to show that the biblical text teaches such even if it doesn’t fit the Zeitgeist of our time. In fact, for many the question may seem archaic in light of the fact that same-sex marriage has been legalized (even declared a constitutional right) and that the transgender revolution is underway.

Many egalitarians argue that Paul prohibits women from teaching men in 1 Timothy 2:12 because women were generally uneducated in his original context. How does studying ancient Ephesus shed light on this issue?

First of all, there is no evidence that ancient Ephesus was a feminist enclave. At the same time, the notion that no one was educated in Ephesus is clearly baseless. We have to beware of imposing a situation into letter instead of relying on the train of thought Paul gives.

As S. M. Baugh shows in his chapter in the book, Ephesus was a city much like many others in the first-century Greco-Roman world, with an essentially patriarchal leadership structure. Thus the notion of “feminist Ephesus” turns out to be a myth and the argument fails that Paul merely sought to rein in women in an unusual or untypical cultural context.

Why is the term αὐθεντεῖν (“to exercise authority over,” ESV) so important for this whole discussion?

Many egalitarians argue the word has a negative nuance, so that it designates an improper use of authority. However, Al Wolters, in a compelling and painstaking chapter, shows that the term has a non-pejorative, non-ingressive sense. In non-technical terms, this means that Paul prohibits women from exercising authority over men in the church in general, not merely in some negative sense.

It also means that Paul does not merely prohibit women from “taking up” or “assuming” authority over men as the NIV has recently rendered the phrase. Rather, women are not to exercise authority (or to teach) men in the church. This is part of Paul’s larger argument that the church is God’s household, and that men were in charge of the church just as they were in charge of the natural household. What is more, Paul did not merely ground his prohibition in a cultural rationale but in God’s order of creation (1 Timothy 2:13).

In the book, Al Wolters has written a new chapter on the meaning of αὐθεντεῖν. How does his work break new ground?

Al Wolters, as mentioned, concludes that the word has a non-pejorative, non-ingressive meaning. He makes his case by examining four different kinds of evidence apart from that of the immediate context: (1) the term’s eight occurrences prior to AD 312 when the church was officially recognized by Constantine; (2) ancient versions; (3) patristic commentaries; and (4) the term’s usage after AD 312, where he distinguishes seven different columns of categories, most of which have to do with the exercise of authority.

Wolters also shows that two kinds of dubious evidence have been advanced in the discussion, namely etymology and the speculative reconstruction of the historical-cultural background. Not only is Wolters’s treatment exhaustive, it is also exceedingly judicious and erudite and virtually irrefutable.

Dr. Schreiner, you write, “When I first began studying this issue in earnest, I wanted to believe that Scripture places no limitations on women in ministry and that every ministry position is open to them.” And yet, you ultimately found yourself “unconvinced intellectually and exegetically that the new [i.e., egalitarian] interpretations of the controversial passages were plausible.” What would you say to someone who finds themselves in the same position you once were as a young student?

Our hearts and minds must be captive to the word of God. It is imperative that we don’t let our desires and prejudices rule over what Scripture says. We must be humble enough to recognize that we are wrong about many things and let Scripture correct our thinking. It doesn’t mean much to accept Scripture as our authority if we only accept it as such if it agrees with our biases.

To what extent should Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 be applied outside of the local church? For example, do you believe that this passage prohibits women from teaching men in the context of a college or seminary?

That is a very difficult question and one we don’t resolve in the book. There are many opinions on this. I, Tom, think Paul is also talking about function and not just office. Where lines are drawn isn’t easy to determine in some cases. At the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, women don’t teach in New or Old Testament, Systematics, Preaching, Church History, and Theology.

That said, we commend the virtual roundtable at the end of the book to those who are interested in the application of this passage to a variety of issues and contexts. In this panel, several godly and discerning women and men from a wide variety of backgrounds discuss what they’ve learned about the identities and roles of men and women and how they would relate it to the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

What does Paul mean when he says that women will be “saved through childbirth” in 1 Timothy 2:15?

I, Tom, have a different opinion than Andreas on this! I think it means spiritual salvation. Paul says women are saved if they persevere in godliness (last part of v. 15). Women express their godliness by living out their role as a woman, which for most women means having children. Clearly, Paul isn’t saying that women must have children to be saved. That would contradict 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul encourages singleness. Furthermore, it would suggest a kind of salvation by works—birthing children. Hence, I think Paul uses a representative example of what it means to live out your life as a godly woman. He selects what separates women so dramatically from men—only women can have children! Still, the verse is difficult and it could be misunderstood easily. We want to rely on what the Scriptures clearly teach elsewhere.

I, Andreas, believe the verse is not so much about salvation as it is about spiritual preservation, a common theme in the letters to Timothy and Titus. That is, Paul here teaches that women will be preserved from falling into Eve’s error, namely straying from their God-ordained role centered on her family and her home, if they devote themselves to their proper sphere of primary involvement. Tom and I agree on the latter point—that “childbearing” is a synecdoche encompassing a woman’s role not only in giving birth to children but also in her familial and domestic role at large. We differ on the meaning and import of the Greek verb translated “saved” (most English translations) or “preserved” (NASB; cf. 1 Timothy 4:16), respectively. When you realize that in the Ephesian church false teachers were trying to drag women away from their proper role in their households, it makes sense that Paul wanted them to be protected from Satan and the false teachers (note the close verbal parallels with 1 Timothy 5:11-15).

The fact that we disagree on the interpretation of verse 15 shows that we’re not merely starting out with a conservative set of presuppositions and then interpret the passage (including v. 12) accordingly. Rather, we are both coming to the passage with an open mind, honestly trying to determine what message Paul intended to convey to his original readers.

If the “teaching” and “authority” referenced in 1 Timothy 2:12 most naturally relate to the authoritative teaching of the elders, does that mean women could be permitted to teach men in other, non-authoritative contexts within the life of the local church (e.g., a Sunday school class, a small group, etc.), so long as such teaching was not confused with the authoritative instruction of the elders?

I, Tom, don’t think so since I think the function, and not just the office, is prohibited. I, Andreas, concur with Tom on this point.

That said, it is of course true that “teaching” and “exercising authority over men” are functions exercised by elders in the church (cf., e.g., 1 Timothy 5:17).

Even among people who agree on the basic meaning of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, you note that “the significance of Paul’s teaching in this passage is multifaceted.” What do you mean by this? How should a Christian discern the limits to how Paul’s teaching should be faithfully applied in the life of the church?

Well, there are areas where believers disagree. We don’t want to write a Mishnah for every situation. When does a boy become a man? Is a woman worship leader legitimate? What ministerial positions are permissible? Local churches with elders should decide such questions.

Also, the virtual roundtable at the end of the book provides an illuminating and judicious discussion of many such questions that, we believe, alone warrants buying this book and pondering the wisdom and truth it contains. Our heart is not merely to inform the academy but more importantly to equip the church in this important area with significant implications for ministry.

You note that “the complementarian position seems unloving and discriminatory to many.” Undoubtedly, much of this is due to ungodly examples of the improper exercise of male leadership from both the past and present. What are some things careful complementarians today can do to rehabilitate the reputation of a concept that often carries a host of negative connotations?

The best thing we can do is to have marriages where wives are respected and loved. Furthermore, we need to be loving with those who disagree with us. It is very important in our local churches that we celebrate and promote the various ministries of women and that we treat them with respect and honor.

To be self-critical, this is where we have often failed in our churches. What we advocate is not merely conservatism or traditionalism but faithfulness to God’s Word, which we believe teaches not only male leadership but also male-female partnership in the home as well as in the church.


Andreas J. Köstenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is a prolific author, distinguished evangelical scholar, and editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. His books include The Heresy of Orthodoxy, God, Marriage, and Family, The Final Days of Jesus (with Justin Taylor), and God’s Design for Man and Woman (with Margaret Köstenberger). Dr. Köstenberger and his wife have four children.

Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds an MDiv and ThM from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has published a number of articles and book reviews in scholarly journals.

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